Our project seeks to understand synthetic biology’s place in society to better inform its governance. We seek to capture synthetic biology as a deeply social enterprise composed of a complex network of actors involved in ongoing coevolution processes. Instead of merely parroting the common but mistaken notion that scientists know best and public opposition is rooted in scientific ignorance, we seek to understand how shared values (epistemic and moral) unite or divide stakeholders.

By understanding how this network of actors can influence each other, we hope to better inform policy decisions and predict points of disagreement. To enable this goal, there are two major phases.

First, we want to characterize the main areas of research in synthetic biology. We will begin by using previously published SynBio categories, but ultimately, we plan to construct our own set of categories via text mining.

Second, we will use the categories we have identified to choose a particular field for more in-depth investigation. 

Within this field, we will select a local case study. By focusing on this case study, we can get a better sense of the diversity of proximal (and global) stakeholders we would expect to be involved in any given case study and see how the groups’ values differ. Using the results of our case study, we want to highlight how synthetic biology and society shape one another, given the interplay between the groups with distinct values. 

Claims about the “obesity epidemic” are ubiquitous in the scientific press and mass media. At the same time, eating disorders (EDs) are on the rise in most segments of the population,  and  weight  stigma  and  fatphobia  are  well-documented  by  scholars  and  activists. Together,  these  factors  have  contributed to global  health  crises.

Many  different  groups  of researchers,  scholars,  and  activists  have developed  their  own  discourses  to  address the crisis surrounding weight stigma, obesity, and EDs. These groups include scholars working in critical obesity studies, fat studies, and public health policy, as well as clinicians, such as ED specialists, bariatric  surgeons,  and  health  care  providers  who  endorse  a  position  of  Health  at  Every  Size (HAES). Despite the urgent need for solutions, these groups tend to form relatively polarized communities  and  rarely  interact  productively  with  each  other.  This  lack  of  collaboration  and knowledge sharing among groups hinders progress in this area.

Our project aims to address this shortcoming by bringing together individuals adopting different perspectives on this health crisis. We aim to establish lines of communication between the various camps and help them develop a shared framework for thinking about the connections between weight and health.

To achieve this end, we propose to bring representatives from these camps together in a transdisciplinary conference, in which all participants are tasked with addressing a particular  case  study  and  relating  their  approach  to  others’  approaches. Facilitatinglines  of communication among these groups is a necessary first step to developing more just and effective interventions on weight stigma, obesity, and EDs. 

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