Consensus-finding on risks and benefits of research

One of the reasons for the debate around so-called “gain of function research”, the enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens, having stalled is the fact that researchers disagree over the benefits and risks of research. However, this does not mean that we should not try to calculate the expected value of a given experiment; rather we should try to pool the opinions of different experts to come up with a consolidated estimate. 

Consensus-finding platforms like could be useful to solve the gridlock of differing beliefs. allows individuals to vote on others’ comments and features a machine learning algorithm that helps to identify points of consensus (summary here). Such a platform could become a cornerstone of discussions around research risks and governance. Discussions could create guidance on whether and in what form individual projects should take place – including research like the enhancement of potential pandemic pathogens. Furthermore, such consensus finding platforms could be used to create robust ranking of different categories of research by their benefits and risks. These benefit and risk rankings could be used in the comparative risk-benefit assessment of research projects, and thus help funding decisions become more based on a project’s expected value. 

To drive the application of consensus-finding platforms to decisions over research strategies, individuals might trial and other platforms for evaluating the benefits and risks of different projects. In the long term, building a hub or pipeline for such inquiries could be very promising. 

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