Philosopher heads up bioethics panel

22 August 2017
Dr Emily Parke

Dr Emily Parke is one of the two convenors of a bioethics panel focused on the ethical and social challenges to eradicating invasive predators in New Zealand.

Emily specialises in the philosophy of science and philosophy of biology. She is working alongside Dr James Russell from the Faculty of Science to convene 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," explains Emily.

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?"

Emily'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, Emily began co-teaching a postgraduate course in the School of Biological Sciences called 'Dialogues in Biology' with James, who is renowned for his pest eradication work in New Zealand.

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