BioGovernance Commons Launched!

China is the world’s second largest investor in science and a leading research powerhouse. Over the past two decades, the vast government investment in science has propelled China from the ninth-largest biomedical sector in 2006  to the fourth place in 2015, and in 2021 China reached  the second place (after the U.S.)  in biological science. China’s place in global science would be reason enough to engage with Chinese scientists, but other attenuating circumstances make such engagement even more necessary. With the quick rise of scientific discoveries, also came a series of Chinese research mishaps and scientific misbehaviors, such as the CRISPR babies experiment of 2018, that cast a dark shadow on China’s scientific community.  In addition, political tensions with China fueled by the Trump administration, and China’s heightened censorship since the COVID-19 pandemic, have made it increasingly difficult for the West to engage with Chinese scientists. For Chinese academics, mounting levels of censorship and distrust experienced both at home and from foreign media and authorities seem to have pushed the idea of global engagement into deadlock. Yet it is precisely because of these attenuating circumstances that a concerted effort needs to be made to engage in sustained dialogue with Chinese scientists, not only to break free of harmful stereotypes and overgeneralizations, but also to reveal some of the hidden prejudices on both sides that can prevent fruitful collaborations, even in the absence of political tensions.

To that end, in late summer 2021, I with my three friends and collaborators (Kathleen Vogel at Arizona State University, Sonia Ben Ouagrham-Gormley at George Mason University and Ruipeng Lei at Haungzhong University of Science and Technology), came together to unpick this current deadlock with an experiment in engagement. More specifically, we wanted to host a trusted forum where researchers inside and outside of China could meet regularly, and as our motto stated, to ‘share perspectives on shared challenges.’ We named our initiative ‘BioGovernance Commons.’  We follow Elinor Ostrom’s reasoning and consider the word ‘commons’ as a verb. That is, we take the view that any form of community-building and dialogue-sharing is achieved through continuous practices of commoning: acts of support, conflict, negotiation, and experimentation that are needed to shape a transnational knowledge system with sustainable relations among individuals.

In practice, as travel restrictions are still largely in place globally due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our BioGovernance Commons opted for online monthly meetings that focus on diverse ethical and regulatory issues in the biosciences. Each meeting consists of 15-20 participants from Europe, Asia, and North America with related social science or natural science backgrounds. Our discussions are organized around specific readings and presentations by experts from Asia, Europe, or North America.

This initiative was launched in late September and we are now organising our third session already!

At the moment, these monthly forums are invitation only. If you are interested and want to know more about this forum, please contact me: yz203@kent.ac.uk. We always welcome new members and new ideas!

We hope to be able to organise public (in-person) events in late 2022.


Added 19 July 2022 – Some preliminary reflections are published in the Summer issue of Issues of Science and Technology. Full paper can be downloaded here.

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