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Anomaly handling and the politics of gene drives

Back in 2015, Megan Palmer and I agreed to write a paper as part of an NSF grant on Gene Drives: A Deliberative Workshop to Develop Frameworks for Research and Governance. Over many iterations, we whittled down our ideas to expounding on the different ways groups have been debating what a gene drive is, and how that definition relates to how gene drives should be regulated. The result is this article in a special issue of the Journal of Responsible Innovation.

Theoretically, this paper advances the work on the construction and governance of anomalies within classification systems, building on work from Thomas Kuhn, Mary Douglas, Brian Rappert, Steve Rayner, and others. All comments most welcome!


Decisions about the development and use of gene drives are framing broader debates about the need for fundamental changes to biotechnology regulatory systems. We summarize this debate and describe how gene drives are being constructed as potential anomalies within the regulatory landscape. Drawing on literature from Science and Technology Studies and other fields, we outline a broad set of anomaly-handling strategies and provide examples from current gene drive debates. While often couched in technical terms, decisions about how to address anomalies are also decisions about whether to strengthen or weaken different forms of governance. By exploring the different ways that anomalies are constructed and handled, we highlight the active role that anomalies play within a changing governance system and invite a more nuanced examination of the multifarious goals these strategies serve.

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