The 2021 Boe Forum on Public Affairs will take place virtually March 15 and feature geneticist Robert C. Green and writer Jamie Metzel as keynote speakers. The title of the forum, which was originally scheduled for March 2020, is “Are We Ready? The Science, Ethics, and Geopolitics of Genetic Engineering and Preventive Genomics.”
Dr. Harry Thompson, the director of the Center for Western Studies, says that the choice to feature two keynote speakers this year came out of a desire to make the presentation accessible to people unfamiliar with the complexities of genetic science.
“[Metzel’s] goal in life is to take very complex scientific concepts and make those understandable to the general public,” Thompson said.
Metzel is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where he writes about Asian affairs and technology. His most recent book is titled “Hacking Darwin: Genetic Engineering and the Future of Humanity.”
To enhance the conversation surrounding the science and ethics of genetics, Thompson said the CWS also wanted to include “someone who’s actually doing the science.”
Green is a professor of medicine at Harvard University. He currently serves as the director of Genomes2People, an organization that performs research and conducts advocacy work surrounding genetic engineering.
“Robert Green is going to talk first about where we are with genetics now, today — what he sees in the hospitals and the genetic counseling programs,” said Thompson. “Then we’re going to move into the near future, and then the future that we can see coming with the ethical issues that
are being presented.”
Thomspon said holding the event virtually has presented a few unique challenges for the organizers.
“There’s a built in complexity but nothing that can’t be overcome with our tech specialists here on campus,” Thompson said. “One question that’s yet to be decided is what platform will be used to host the event. We’re thinking right now that it will be live-streamed to YouTube so that the maximum number of people can view it.”
Both Green and Metzel have written extensively about the coronavirus pandemic since March 2020.
However, the conversation at the forum is not likely to dwell on the issue.
“What we’ve discovered with the research is that genetics and [coronavirus] vaccine technology are very much connected, but we didn’t want that to be the overwhelming topic,” Thompson said. “At some point, we will get beyond the pandemic, and we will still be left with all of the wonders and horrors of genetic engineering.”
Thompson said he hopes that despite the change of setting, the event will still be impactful for the Augustana community.
“We always want the Boe Forum to be a bit of a life-changing experience,” he said. “You can always see speakers on Youtube […] but to be in the same room, that’s a different experience. This will be different because it will be virtual, but they’ll be speaking only to us. They’re speaking to Augustana and through Augustana, and they’re doing so at our request.”
The forum will consist of lectures from both the speakers, and a Q&A featuring questions from journalism, biology and genetic counseling majors. Specific details about how to attend the event will be made available at augie.edu/boe.
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