Dr. Markus Schmidt
Dr. Markus Schmidt is founder and team leader of BIOFACTION KG, a research, technology assessment and art-science company in Vienna, Austria. With an educational background in electronic engineering, biology and environmental risk assessment he has carried out environmental risk assessment and safety and public perception studies in a number of science and technology fields such as GM-crops, gene therapy, nanotechnology, converging technologies, and synthetic biology.
He carried out several research projects, for example SYNBIOSAFE, the first European project on safety and ethics of synthetic biology (2007-2008), COSY on communicating synthetic biology (2008-2009), TARPOL on industrial and environmental applications of synthetic biology (2008-2010), CISYNBIO on the depiction of synthetic biology in movies (2009- 2012), or ST-FLOW on standardization for robust bioengineering of new-to-nature biological properties (2011-2015).
He produced science policy reports for the Office of Technology Assessment at the German Bundestag (on GM-crops in China), and the Austrian Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology (nanotechnology and converging technologies). He served as an advisor to the European Group on Ethics (EGE) of the European Commission, the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, the J Craig Venter Institute, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Bioethics Council of the German Parliament and is currently member of the EC’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) working group on synthetic biology. He is the author of several peer-reviewed articles, edited a special issue and two books about synthetic biology and its societal ramifications, and produced – together with Camillo Meinhart - several documentary films.
In addition to his scientific work, he engages in the collaboration between art and science, e.g. producing the BIO·FICTION Science Art Film Festival series (2011 and 2014), the art exhibition synth-ethic (2011), also engaging and supporting a number of artists to explore artistic and creative ideas on the future of biotechnology.
How can we reconcile geochemical, biological and industrial global cycles?
Global environmental challenges, such as climate change, nitrogen and phosphorus depletion, or biodiversity decline are caused by a complex interplay of socio-economic, behavioural, political and techno-scientific reasons. The intricacy of the matter and the interwoven dependencies allow not only for a number of different analytical approaches but consequently a wide variety of proposed solutions. Some of these solutions tend to focus more on the economic factors, such as e.g. the role of capitalism and the resulting exploitation of natural resources, and appropriate incentive structure to find innovative solutions. Others highlight socio-political factors, e.g. global rules for assigning pollution “rights” such as seen in the negotiations on CO2 emissions, or use of different levels of coercion - from voluntary to mandatory- to reduce the environmental footprint. Yet others rely on ingenious novel techno-scientific solutions to curb the pressure on the environment.
Looking at three case studies: geoengineering, ethics of procreation, and artificial biodiversity, we can more or less discern two “framing patterns” in public debates. Some expect that only a free society with enough incentive structures available (as in capitalism) will be able to innovate itself out of the dilemma and find technical solutions, while the other side of the solution spectrum assumes that since free techno-capitalism has caused the problems in the first place, only a very different approach could get us out of it, including well designed and executed behavioural changes by a strong government and concerted media campaigns. Is it possible to go beyond this well-known divide and realign these conflicting positions in favor of a responsible innovation approach that takes into account social, economic and technical aspects alike?