Between Uncertainty and Responsibility: precaution and the complex journey towards reflexive innovation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Indeed, in the passage from biotechnology to nanotechnology, and now (at least prospectively) to synthetic biology, the original concept of precaution has been enriched with new elements of reflection. On the one hand, the idea of an ‘extended participatory model’ in the relationships between science and society has been introduced as a general method to gather all relevant knowledge by engaging all potentially interested citizens and to make it available to policy-making. On the other hand, precaution has been (re-)integrated in the principle of responsibility that should inform research and innovation with emerging technologies. In this respect, the inclusion of the precautionary principle in the Nanocode of conduct for responsible research on nanosciences and nanotechnologies (CEC 2008) illustrates how precaution is no longer enforced as a veto-power belonging to institutions and associated with top-down policies. Instead, it is increasingly envisioned as a more distributed social practice that researchers, Member States and all stakeholders can and should directly endorse as part of responsible behaviour: a principle shared by sound science, good practices and public ethics. All these developments proceeding towards more aware and careful innovation are definitely consistent with widely agreed expectations about global governance of science and technology (CEC 2009; Suresh 2011). However, it is a matter of debate over to what extent and how responsible innovation can be implemented effectively, and whether it is capable of preventing catastrophic outcomes (Dupuy 2004, 2011). Even though these concerns cannot be easily addressed and set aside, itmay still be argued that the very same idea of collectively practicing responsibility as an epistemic, moral and political principle has the potential to promote an innovative and valuable culture of social commitment. This contribution explores the changes in the meaning and role of the precautionary principle, highlighting them as a co-production between science, democracy and law.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTrade, Health and the Environment: The European Union Put to the Test
EditorsE. Vos, M. van Asselt, M. Everson
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Science and law
  • precautionary principle
  • responsible innovation


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