Science, Policy, and the Public



Science, Policy, and the Public

Join us in exploring intersections between science, politics, policy, and justice.

2019-21 theme

Over the two years of this theme, we will contemplate a number of overarching questions about the relationship between scientific research, decision-making, and the public interest. How are scientists and their communities engaging with the public and shaping policy discussions on issues ranging from disaster preparedness and response to personalized medicine for disease and disability? What are the consequences when science is politicized and doubt is cast on its empirical methods of discovery? Who has the ability to exert political power, pass or reject laws, purchase earthquake or health insurance, make educated decisions about natural hazards or medical technologies, and access government resources and public services related to environmental and bodily health? 

2019-20 focus: Environmental Disasters and Resilience

Societies worldwide are experiencing sequential and overlapping environmental disasters that are stretching governments’ capacity to respond effectively and equitably. In Oregon, people are increasingly affected by and concerned about smoke, wildfire, drought, the impending Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake, climate change and more.

Environmental disasters are, on the one hand, scientific problems to study and address with technologies and engineering projects. They are also human events, profoundly influenced by issues of social inequality and politics. These disasters therefore raise a host of questions that must be approached from the full range of disciplines and professions as well as through effective policies, planning, education, and action.

2020-21 focus: Genetic Technologies: Identity, Equality, Ethics

Genetic technologies are no longer products of imaginative science fiction. They are realities, here and now, being developed by scientists and used by health care providers, patients, and consumers. From gene editing to 23andMe, from university laboratories and corporate research parks to hospitals, from designer babies to cancer treatment, genetic technologies raise a host of questions about identity, equality, and ethics.

What conversations about these technologies are—and should be--taking place among researchers, in the business community, and in U.S. government at all levels as well as internationally? What space exists for public education and input and what form should those take? During 2020-21, we will focus on the implications of genetic technologies for disease and disability, for the unequal distribution of benefits and harms, and for privacy.

Past Events

Jun 25
Immunity Passports: Pandemic Privilege or Biological Discrimination?  4:00 p.m.

  As governments around the world seek paths toward reopening their economies and away from the "social distancing" restrictions that have been imposed in order...
June 25 4:00 p.m.


As governments around the world seek paths toward reopening their economies and away from the "social distancing" restrictions that have been imposed in order to control the spread of covid-19, immunity passports have been proposed as one solution. Françoise Baylis and Natalie Kofler will discuss and answer questions about the many ethical, practical, and scientific challenges posed by immunity passports and other types of state-sanctioned health checks.


Françoise Baylis is a philosopher whose innovative work aims to move the limits of mainstream bioethics and develop more effective ways to understand and tackle public policy challenges. Baylis brings her ethical sensibilities, informed by best practices, theory and common sense, to a wide range of public issues. She is a frequent guest on CBC and Radio Canada and the author of many news stories with a “behind the scenes” look at ethical issues. Her current research focuses on heritable human genome modification, the body economy, assisted human reproduction, and research involving women. She will serve as the 2020-21 Wayne Morse Chair.


Natalie Kofler is a molecular biologist and founding director of Editing Nature at Yale University, a global initiative to steer responsible development and deployment of environmental genetic technologies. She also serves as an adviser for the Scientific Citizenship Initiative, Harvard Medical School. Natalie’s work navigates the technical, ecological, and ethical complexity of gene editing applications designed to impact wild species, such as CRISPR-edited mosquitos to prevent malaria transmission, genetic strategies to eliminate invasive species, or the use of CRISPR gene editing to promote species resiliency to changing climates.

Apr 8
Genetic Tests and Human Futures: A Panel Discussion6:30 p.m.

  Register for this free online event This panel will explore questions associated with genetic tests, including when such tests are used and what information they can...
April 8 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m.


Register for this free online event

This panel will explore questions associated with genetic tests, including when such tests are used and what information they can and cannot offer. How do individuals, families, and clinicians navigate the testing process? How do genetic tests shape our understanding of disease and disability? What do they reveal about our desire to predict and control the future, including the future of what it means to be fully human?


Alice Wexler is the author of The Woman Who Walked into the Sea: Huntington's and the Making of a Genetic Disease (2008),  which won a 2009 Book Award from the American Medical Writers Association. She is also the sister of Nancy Wexler, leader of the team that discovered the Huntington's disease gene and a central figure in Alice's book, Mapping Fate: A Memoir of Family, Risk, and Genetic Research (1995).

George Estreich writes about the intersection between new biomedical technologies and disability, including The Shape of the Eye, a memoir about his daughter Laura, who has Down Syndrome. His most recent book, Fables and Futures: Biotechnology, Disability, and the Stories we Tell Ourselves (MIT Press), was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award and was named a Best Science Book of 2019 by NPR's Science Friday. 

Kathryn L. Murray is the director of genetic services at the Center for Genetics and Maternal Fetal Medicine in Eugene. She has been instrumental in bringing comprehensive genetic counseling to Eugene. She has been active in the System Ethics Committee of Providence Health & PeaceHealth Systems and was the onsite principal investigator in the BRCA1 Predisposition Testing Program at Harvard’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. At the University of Michigan, she aided in the verification of genetic markers for the Huntington disease gene. 

Moderated by Judith Eisen, professor of biology and Wayne Morse Center Distinguished Scholar.

This event is sponsored by the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics as a part of its 2019-21 theme of inquiry, Science, Policy, and the Public. It is also part of the Lorwin Lectureship on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Apr 29
The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome, with Alondra Nelson1:00 p.m.

Alondra Nelson is deputy director for science and society in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She is also president of the Social Science Research...
April 29 1:00 p.m.–2:30 p.m.

Alondra Nelson is deputy director for science and society in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. She is also president of the Social Science Research Council and the Harold F. Linder Chair and Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. She was previously a professor of sociology at Columbia University, where she served as the inaugural Dean of Social Science.

Nelson is author of several books, including The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome. She has contributed to national policy discussions on inequality and about the social implications of new technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data, and human gene editing.

Sponsored by the Wayne Morse Center’s Science, Policy and the Public theme of inquiry and cosponsored by UO Black Studies and Minor Program. It is part of the African American Workshop and Lecture Series and the Lorwin Lectureship on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

Register for this free event.

Dr. Lucy Jones

2019-20 Wayne Morse Chair

Known as the "Earthquake Lady," Dr. Jones is the founder of the Dr. Lucy Jones Center for Science and Society, with a mission to foster the understanding and application of scientific information in the creation of more resilient communities. She has been a Research Associate at the Seismological Laboratory of Caltech since 1984 and served for 33 years with the US Geological Survey, where she led the development of the Great ShakeOut, the first major earthquake drill in America. She will be giving a public talk in October 2019. 

Learn more

2019-20 Project Grants

The Wayne Morse Center is supporting in part or in full the following efforts:

350 Eugene will organize a Climate Town Hall in West Eugene in autumn 2019 with a focus on outreach to and gaining perspectives from historically marginalized groups who are often disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate disruption. The goal is to elicit input in setting community and government priorities for addressing climate breakdown and for implementing the City of Eugene’s Climate and Energy Action Plan. 

Beyond Toxics will hold the Environmental Justice Pathways Summit at UO in spring 2020. The summit will bring together frontline communities, government officials, students, and scholars to develop a framework of environmental justice principles that will be turned into a resource guide for advocates and policymakers to embed an environmental justice framework in policy and practice. 

Cascadia Prepared is developing a Cascadia Resilience Scorecard in anticipation of the impending Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake/tsunami. The scorecard will inform policymakers and the public about the earthquake resilience status of numerous lifeline infrastructure areas, such as emergency services, transportation, communications, utilities, healthcare, etc. It will also offer recommendations on what must be done to achieve maximum survival rates and recovery. 

Eugene Science Center will acquire a new immersive, full-dome planetarium show entitled Our Violent Planet, focused on three of Oregon’s natural threats -- earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes -- as well as other earth science topics such as plate tectonics. Science Center educators will work with UO scientists to develop educational programs aimed at informing our community about the hazardous environments in which we live and how we can prepare to face those hazards when they occur.

KLCC Public Radio Foundation will host a series of twelve in-depth audio reports titled Resilience and Natural Resources in Oregon. The radio features will allow Oregonians to learn about efforts around the region to address the threats presented by current and future environmental disasters. The series will culminate with a public gathering and discussion. 

Oregon Environmental Council will partner with facilitator and UO associate professor Alaí Reyes Santos to organize a series of community conversations across the state gleaning priorities, desired outcomes and stories of creative solutions from rural minority and low-income households to shape the State of Oregon’s future investments in Oregon’s natural and built water infrastructure. These perspectives will be incorporated into a report that will be publicly disseminated through OEC communications and advocacy channels and made available to the state legislature as a 100-year water vision is developed to meet the diverse water quality and quantity needs of communities across Oregon.

UO School of Journalism and Communication’s Media Center for Science and Technology and UO Institute for a Sustainable Environment will host a symposium at UO bringing together researchers, policy makers, and the public to foster decision-making focused on building resilience to future wildfire and smoke events. 

Spring 2020 course offering

Forest Fires and Society: Envisioning Fire-Adapted Communities is an upper division course that will be taught by former wildland firefighter Dr. Timothy Ingalsbee. 

This environmental sociology course will explore the sociocultural, political, economic, and ecological aspects of forest fires.  We will discuss the effects of industrial forestry and fire suppression on forest ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest, and critically examine the "burning issues" that are causing increased frequency of wildfire disasters in the west: climate change, rural sprawl, and forest/fire management policies. Throughout the course, we will explore solutions to wildfire disasters by envisioning societal changes necessary to recreate fire-adapted communities living sustainably within fire-dependent ecosystems.