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Consensus & Controversy in Science: Genes, GMOs, and Climate

Watch video of this event.

On February 1, 2016, Jonathan Fanton introduced a panel discussion convened on the topic of Consensus and Controversy in Science: Genes, GMOs, and Climate the University of California, Berkeley Faculty Club. The discussion featured Randy W. Scheckman, University of California, Berkeley; Jennifer Doudna, University of California, Berkeley; Richard A. Muller, University of California, Berkeley; and Pamela C. Ronald, University of California, Davis and Joint Bioenergy Institute.

The discussion served as the 2031st Stated Meeting of the American Academy.

Good evening. I am Jonathan Fanton, President of the American Academy. It is my pleasure to call to order the 2031st Stated Meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

It is a pleasure to be at Berkeley which has 213 current members of the Academy in its community, 437 over time, making it a leading center of Academy activity.

In October we inducted our 235th class of Academy members at our annual ceremony in Cambridge, including six scholars from the University of California, Berkeley:

  • Carlos Bustamante, professor of molecular and cell biology, physics and chemistry; Raymond and Beverly Sackler professor in biophysics; and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator;
  • John Clarke, professor of physics;
  • Alex Filippenko, professor of astronomy and Richard and Rhoda Goldman distinguished professor in the physical sciences, who concluded the weekend with a wonderful presentation on the expanding universe;
  • John Hartwig, professor of chemistry and Henry Rapoport chair in organic chemistry;
  • Enrique Iglesia, Theodore Vermeulen professor of chemical engineering, and faculty senior scientist in the chemical sciences division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; and
  • John MacFarlane, professor of philosophy.

Please join me in congratulating them on their election to the Academy.

From our founding in 1780, the American Academy has been a source of independent, trusted advice on important issues. That tradition continues with our recent Commission on Science and Technology report, Restoring the Foundation, which recommends a greater federal investment in basic research. We now have underway called The Lincoln Project, a project co-chaired by former Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, that is examining the challenges facing public research universities in the face of sharp cuts in state funding. While another of our commissions, the Commission on the Future of Higher Education, is looking at how Americans are obtaining their post-secondary education in the face of rising costs.

Our longstanding concern for global security continues with new studies on technology, ethics and war and another on how failed states and civil wars affect global security. And a new Exploratory Fund invites members like you to hold a meeting at the Academy to talk about an issue of interest and concern. Our first meeting looked at the state of legal services for disadvantaged communities, another coming up will address the future of jazz, still another on the disconnect between global and area studies.

The Academy is making a vigorous effort to engage its members in its work, holding meetings in twenty locations around the country this academic year.

Tonight’s program, “Consensus and Controversy in Science: Genes, GMOs, and Climate,” is one of the Academy’s Morton L. Mandel Public Lectures. It is part of our Morton L. Mandel Program for Civic Discourse and Membership Engagement, which aims to strengthen the bonds of community among the Academy’s more than 5,000 Members as we stimulate discussion of important issues with our members and the general public.

Our topic this evening relates directly to a new Academy initiative on The Public Face of Science. This three-year project will include an in-depth examination of how individual beliefs and scientific comprehension affect the public’s perception of and trust in the scientific process. We will also work with journalists to examine the role of the media in shaping the public’s perception of how scientists work, think, collaborate, and debate.

To look at how science informs policy development, we will undertake a set of case studies of how scientists are consulted during public decision-making, for example as expert witnesses in the legal system or in responding to natural disasters and public health crises.

Conversations like ours tonight—and others we are convening across the country this year—will provide inspiration and guidance about the specific questions that we should examine, and will help to shape The Public Face of Science initiative. Tonight's exploration of the public’s views on genetic engineering and climate change offer us an excellent start on this new initiative. And I am grateful to Professors Schekman, Doudna, Miller, and Ronald for the insights they will share with us.

It is now my pleasure to introduce Randy Scheckman, who will introduce tonight’s panel and moderate the discussion. Randy is ideally suited for this role given his remarkable record of leadership in research, publishing, and science policy. His long list of honors includes the Lasker Award and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize, both of which he shared with another Academy member, James Rothman of Yale University, and the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which he and Rothman shared with Thomas Sudhof, who is also a member of the American Academy.

Randy has also served as editor-in-chief of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and more recently, of the open-access journal eLife. He has also been deeply engaged with the American Academy, having served on its Council and on the committee for our 2008 report ARISE: Advancing Research in Science and Engineering, which called for a greater focus on early-career investigators and high-risk, high-reward research.

At this point, Dr. Fanton turned the program over to Randy Shekman.

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