Information loops to steer funding to less risky projects

Imagine there are two sets of identical houses which only differed by one factor: in one set of houses the electricity metre was in the basement, in the other set it was in the front room. Where do you think electricity consumption would be less? Arguably, the houses with the electricity metre in the front room, where the inhabitants are presented with their consumption. less. Donnella Meadows presents this story in her famous Leverage Points paper to demonstrate the power of information loops. Can we create and leverage such information loops for reducing biotechnology risks? 

In 1986, the US Toxic Release Inventory required the public disclosure of hazardous air pollutants released from factories. Within four years, Meadows claims, emissions had dropped by 40%. (Also from Leverage Points paper. Meadows does not give a source for this number. Hanson 1992 gives a number of 26% for toxic chemical releases.) A similar requirement for the public disclosure of laboratory accidents would likely incentivise better laboratory practices. Requiring the public disclosure of funding risky research like the enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens might encourage more thorough review and oversight. As a large fraction of relevant information on grants is available online, a nonprofit could scrape the internet for grants by different funding bodies, assign risk scores based on high-level categories, and collate these on a website to highlight differences in risk-taking behaviour. 

Highlighting different risk levels of different projects to grantmakers, could also lead to the preferential funding of less risky research. This might be achieved through assigning different research proposals safety and security risks scores. Assignment of such risk scores might be researcher-led (a start for which could be preregistration), grantmaker-led, or a form of automated risk assessment. 

For projects aiming to create information loops, infohazards need to be considered and managed. Whether a project is net positive will depend on its specifics.

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