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[Paper Express] Research on Subjective Uncertainty Risk Based on Frontier Biotechnology

Abstract:The subjective uncertainty of technology risk mainly comes from the different interests or value pursuits of the relevant subjects. The high subjective uncertainty of cutting-edge biotechnology is easily amplified by cascades in its social diffusion process, thus burying hidden risks. Based on the case study of Oxitec's environmental release test of genetically modified Aedes technology, the paper explores the source and process of subjective uncertainty risk of cutting-edge biotechnology. The study found that:(1) the uncertainty of technology itself is the starting point of risk disputes, mainly through the mutual game between scientists;(2) technology research and development institutions are the transition point of technological uncertainty to social diffusion, and relevant disputes arise between focus institutions and other subjects due to the conflict of value pursuit;(3) institutional environment determines the direction of technological uncertainty diffusion, imperfect system design and implementation of the system can easily lead to the imbalance of the protection of the interests of the various subjects. This paper expands and enriches the theoretical research of technology risk management, and also has certain guiding significance for the risk prevention of cutting-edge biotechnology in practice.


Key words:frontier biotechnology; subjective uncertainty; risk


Abstract: The subjective uncertainty risks of high technology mainly come from different interests or value pursuits of various stakeholders. When it regards to the cutting-edge biotechnology, it exhibits a high level of subjective uncertainty and is more likely be amplified during institutional spreading processes. Due to different concerns, relevant stakeholders may have difficulties in understanding certain technology ideas and some core technological information may even be modified while being spreading. Based on this, it appears possible to cause a series of threats as to the technology development, human health, environment and so on. Recently, biotechnology's risks have gained much attention both in academia and public. In order to explore the mechanisms of how biotechnology's subjective uncertainty arises, reveal the uncertainty distribution processes and figure out the potential corresponding risks, this paper employs the risks' amplification perspective and attempts to investigate the cutting-edge biotechnology's risk sources and distribution processes. To take more details into account and improve results' validity, a method of case study of open release experiment of genetically modified mosquitoes by Oxitec has been adopted. Data from academic papers, interviews with related scientists and third-party platforms have been collected and analyzed. Based on the results, three major conclusions are abstracted and displayed as follows:(1) the subjective uncertainty is mainly generated from the technology per se during the initial researching period. The major stakeholders engaged in this stage include both technology-related researchers and independent scientists from different researching domains. Because of their various knowledge backgrounds and attitudes towards risks, there gradually arises different disputes among scientists.(2) The focal organizations play a key role of bridging labs with society. Based on this linkage, specialized technologies become widely exposed in the public. Nonetheless, there exists some barriers for the public to understand the relevant expertise knowledge. As a result, given focal firms' incentives of speeding up the technological commercialization process, it provides possibilities for organizations to conduct opportunistic behaviors by taking advantages of the information asymmetries.(3) Social institutional designs and implementation determine subjective uncertainty's spreading directions. Institutional framework demonstrates patterns regarding interests and responsibilities allocation among participants. Improper institutional designs result in loose regulations over technological risks' prevention and control. As a consequence, some potential technological threats may eventually be ignored. Meantime relatively lax institutional implementation also inhibits some stakeholders' power of discourse, focal firms' radical attitudes are thus been encouraged. Based on these theoretical conclusions, this paper finally proposes some institutional approaches to better manage subjective uncertainties from perspectives of independent scientists' discourse power, institutional supervision systems and communication mechanisms among the public. In summary, especially during the covid-19 pandemic, this paper decides to respond to the recently rising concerns about pros and cons of cutting-edge biotechnology's development. Meanwhile, this paper also takes further steps into investigating the integrated characteristics of cutting-edge biotechnology and the theory of technological risk management. Through bringing stakeholders' roles into the theoretical analysis, this paper not only expands the research of technological risk management, but also enriches the corresponding managerial implications and highlights the significance for the prevention of frontier biotechnology risks in the long run.


Key words: cutting-edge Biotechnology; subjective uncertainty; risks


Author: Lian Siqiu, Gaoshan Travel, Hao Zhiyang

Author: School of Management, Xi'an Jiaotong University

The full text has been published in Scientific Research, Issue 5, 2022.

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