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On being a (modern) scientist: risks of public engagement in the UK interspecies embryo debate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numberN/A
Pages (from-to)408-423
Number of pages16
JournalNew Genetics and Society
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2012

King's Authors


In 2006, a small group of UK academic scientists made headlines when they proposed the creation of interspecies embryos mixing human and animal genetic material. A public campaign was fought to mobilize support for the research. Drawing on interviews with the key scientists involved, this paper argues that engaging the public through communicating their ideas via the media can result in tensions between the necessity of, and inherent dangers in, scientists campaigning on controversial issues. Some scientists believed that communicating science had damaged their professional standing in the eyes of their peers, who, in turn, policed the boundaries around what they believed constituted a good scientist. Tensions between promoting science versus promotion of the scientist; engaging the public versus publishing peer-reviewed articles and winning grants; and building expectations versus overhyping the science reveal the difficult choices scientists in the modern world have to make over the potential gains and risks of communicating science. We conclude that although scientists' participation in public debates is often encouraged, the rewards of such engagement remain. Moreover, this participation can detrimentally affect scientists' careers.

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