Interview with a Researcher at the ELSI Center: Associate Professor Ryuma SHINEHA, Ph.D
Born in 1982, he received his Ph.D from the Graduate School of Biostudies at Kyoto University. The dissertation focused on the public engagement and media attentions concerning genetically modified organisms (GMO) in the Japanese society. After working as an assistant professor at the Graduate University for Advanced Studies (“science and society” section of the School of Advanced Sciences)and as an associate professor at Seijo University (Faculty of Art and Literature), he moved to his current position in 2020. His specialty is the Sociology of Science, Science & Technology Studies (STS), and Science & Technology Policy Studies.
In September 2020, the research and development project entitled “Implementation and systematization of RRI assessment model on emerging science and technology” was launched. The project has been accepted for the Japan Science and Technology Agency-Research Institute of Science and Technology for Society (JST-RISTEX) program, “Responsible Innovation with Conscience and Agility.” We had an opportunity to interview Associate Professor Ryuma SHINEHA, who is the principal investigator of the research project.
– Could you tell us a summary of the project, which started in September?
In recent years, researchers are increasingly engaged in analysis and discussion on Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues (ELSI) that arise from the development of scientific technologies within the framework of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI). Given this situation, the project, which was launched in September, will analyze a wide range of topics on ELSI and RRI in the area of new scientific technologies, and make various framings visible. We will, for example, work with various people including researchers and technicians in areas such as regenerative medicine, genome editing, synthetic biology, molecular robotics, etc., to explore how we should consider themes on ELSI and RRI in each area on an ongoing basis.
A prototype of this project is described in another project entitled “Building a Real-Time Technology Assessment for Jointly Identifying Topics on Information Technology and Molecular Robotics” (Principal Investigator: RyumaSHINEHA; October 2017–March 2021). This project is being conducted in the JST-RISTEX area, “The Ecosystem of People and Information.” So far, we have developed methods related to approaches to making social agendas visible. These methods are, for instance, used in the following tasks: making societal agendas visible by analyzing information sent out by the media; making visible the differences in the understanding of issues between experts and the general public; and making visible the risks that can only be identified by experts in relevant areas. In this research development project, we will extract topics on ELSI and RRI by combining these methods, and seamlessly work on creating a forum for discussing identified topics.
The term “Responsible Governance of Science and Technology” refers to the task of designing a mechanism for society in order to make decisions related to the research and development of new scientific technologies as well as issues that can arise when the results of such research and development are applied. The term can also be used when referring to the task of designing a specific system for such a mechanism. We think that trust from people for the overall system for research on scientific technologies going forward will be (co-)built by exploring methods of achieving “Responsible Governance of Science and Technology”, and implementing a system for it (*1).
(*1) For more information, please read Associate Professor Shineha’s book, “An Overview of Responsible Scientific Technology Governance” (Nakanishiya Shuppan).
In order to build an appropriate system for “Responsible Governance of Science and Technology”, it is important to deepen our understanding of how people view scientific technology and its systems. At the same time, it is essential to envisage the relationship between new knowledge generated from research and development, and society; extract potential ELSI; widely share and discuss extracted ELSI; and build a decision-making process taking into account various types of framing. I think that all these tasks are centered around our project.
– What kind of value can this project offer to society?
We are particularly focused on increasing the number of case studies. To date, we have worked with co-researchers in various different areas such as regenerative medicine, molecular robotics, and genome editing (an example is the “ELSI NOTE” which was developed through collaboration with researchers in molecular robotics). We will continue to collaborate with people in diverse areas in this project. In doing so, we will further expand case studies to be examined, and conduct cross-sectional analysis. Comparisons between wide-ranging areas should allow us to see the gap between issues that are common in all areas and those that are specific to certain areas.
In Japan, for example, research projects such as bioethics, media analysis, and research evaluation have already progressed to an advanced stage by certain groups. Our group has been collaborating and cooperating with experts and groups working on such themes and areas. Our project is therefore characterized by the fact that we, as a group, can have a bird’s-eye view of a significantly wide range of areas and themes. Dealing with multiple areas of new scientific technologies and extracting topics on ELSI and RRI using diverse methods should lead to a paradigm shift.
– As the leader of the project, could you tell us what you pay particular attention to?
We designed the project with the aim of addressing both of the following aspects: societal needs and researchers’ own interests.
We will examine what we can offer to society; what kind of value we can generate; and what kind of solutions we can offer to tackle social issues. It is not impossible for researchers to both pursue their research interest and contribute to society. Rather, I believe that researchers who maintain such an attitude can bring significant benefits to academia.
I am also focused on nurturing early-career researchers through this project. Some early-career researchers may prefer working solely on academic research. I would certainly like to support them. However, at the same time, a researcher needs to know that, in order for them to continue their career as a researcher, they need to understand and overcome the harsh reality that surrounds them in the current climate. Each researcher needs to have a strategy for their own survival in academia (the strategy can be for generating knowledge or for a career path). The point is, a researcher can achieve both—having such a strategy and genuinely engaging in academic research. These goals are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, it could be said that research activities can be both an everyday business(“Sache”) and a calling (“Beruf”). Researchers can protect academia if they individually develop unique methods of pursuing both their research interests and contribution to society. I would like to enlighten early-career researchers who are involved in the projectabout such aspects.