Science -11 November 2016 Vol 354, Issue 6313

11 November 2016 Vol 354, Issue 6313

Who should direct WHO?
By David L. Heymann
Science11 Nov 2016 : 685
Last week, member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) advanced another step in the nearly 1-year rigorous process of selecting its next director-general. Candidates for the position presented their vision of international health work and the role of this global health body. Having worked at WHO in a number of capacities in the area of infectious diseases, I know well that international health covers a wide breadth of issues. Add to that noncommunicable diseases and matters such as intellectual property and universal health coverage, and it becomes clear that the next director-general must be a jack of all trades, but also a master of one—leadership in public health. Leadership in this role is about conceiving and articulating a vision, staying faithful to that vision in the face of undue influence, and effectively engaging with not only governments, but with all stakeholders to gain their support and enable the vision to be realized.


Policy Forum
Precaution and governance of emerging technologies
By Gregory E. Kaebnick, Elizabeth Heitman, James P. Collins, Jason A. Delborne, Wayne G. Landis, Keegan Sawyer, Lisa A. Taneyhill, David E. Winickoff
Science11 Nov 2016 : 710-711 Restricted Access
Precaution can be consistent with support of science
Precautionary approaches to governance of emerging technology call for constraints on the use of technology whose outcomes include potential harms and are characterized by high levels of complexity and uncertainty. Although articulated in a variety of ways, proponents of precaution often argue that its essential feature is to require more evaluation of a technology before it is put to use, which increases the burden of proof that its overall effect is likely to be beneficial. Critics argue that precaution reflects irrational fears of unproven risks—“risk panics” (1)—and would paralyze development and use of beneficial new technologies (1, 2). Advocates give credence to this view when they suggest that precaution leads necessarily to moratoria (3). Progress in the debate over precaution is possible if we can reject the common assumption that precaution can be explained by a simple high-level principle and accept instead that what it requires must be worked out in particular contexts. The 2016 report from the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) on gene drive research (4) illustrates this position. The report shows both that precaution cannot be rejected out of hand as scaremongering and that meaningful precaution can be consistent with support for science.