Philosopher heads up bioethics panel

17 August 2017
Head and shoulders portrait against a polished wooden background.

A philosopher from the Faculty of Arts is one of two University of Auckland academics convening the first bioethics panel in New Zealand focused on the ethical and social challenges to eradicating invasive predators.

Dr Emily Parke, who specialises in the Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Biology, is co-leading (with Faculty of Science Conservation Biologist and Statistician Dr James Russell) a panel of 11 people that includes experts in genetics, law, indigenous world views and ecology, a hunter and a psychologist.

The panel will advise on social and ethical issues relating to the Biological Heritage National Science Challenge-funded project “High Tech Solutions to Invasive Mammal Pest Control”, which is part of a larger endeavour to make New Zealand predator free – from rats, stoats, and possums – by 2050.

“We are starting with the assumption that this is as much a social challenge as a biological challenge,” says Dr Parke.

She says the eradication project is driven by the search for new technologies, some of which might be controversial such as investigating potential species-specific toxins or deploying genetic editing techniques to drive pest populations extinct.

“So we need to stop and reflect on the possible social dimensions of these.

“It’s impossible to talk about conservation issues without bringing values in,” she adds. “For example how do we define an invasive or pest species in the first place? And why might we prioritise one species over another?”

Dr Parke’s interest in the social and ethical dimensions of biology began when she spent five years working as part of a European research consortium for ProtoLife, a Venice company aiming to build artificial cells in the laboratory.

When she came to the University of Auckland two years ago, Dr Parke began co-teaching a postgraduate course in the School of Biological Sciences called “Dialogues in Biology” with Dr Russell, renowned for his pest eradication work in New Zealand.

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Tess Redgrave| Media Relations Advisor
Faculty of Arts

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