We cannot all be ethicists

King’s College London, London, UK.

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Lancaster University, UK.

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Sarah Franklin’s message that “we must all be ethicists now” is laudable if it sensitizes researchers to the importance of ethical thinking (Nature 574, 627–630; 2019). We are concerned, however, that it could be misinterpreted to mean that expertise in ethics is no longer necessary for discussing issues pertaining to science and technology. This implication is dangerous in a society in which there is a mounting distrust of institutions and expert knowledge.

Franklin seems to us to conflate the field of enquiry of bioethics with bioethicists’ participation in public bodies tasked with addressing science and technology governance. Expertise in bioethics cannot be improvised. Bioethicists are trained in the normative evaluation of biotechnologies, medical practices and other technologies. Bioethics aims to address questions related to what should or should not be done with regard to a particular issue. It is essential, therefore, that we protect the expertise that we have gathered through our training and experience.

Nature 575, 596 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-03661-7

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