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2004 World Technology Awards Winners & Finalists

Kristin Shrader-Frechette

Please describe the work that you are doing that you consider to be the most innovative and of the greatest likely long-term significance.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said people need not know how to do something, provided they know why. He may be right. If people are deeply committed to why ethics requires some cleaner, safer technologies, they will develop the how. Kristin Shrader-Frechette's ethical work on technological risk assessment (TRA) helps provide this why.

The leading philosopher writing on ethics and technological risk, Shrader-Frechette does work with long-term significance in both theoretical and practical ethics. Regarding theory, she expands classical TRA to include ethical analysis. Regarding practice, she works with governments, industries, and international agencies to provide the first-ever ethical criteria for setting pollution-control standards, particularly in areas related to ionizing radiation and nuclear-waste management.

Shrader-Frechette's work is significant in part because she has credibility as both a scientist and a philosopher. After an undergraduate degree in mathematics (with work in physics) and a doctorate in philosophy, she did three post-docs, each necessary for her ethics work on radiation and hazardous waste: hydrogeology/civil engineering, welfare economics, and biology.

With this strong scientific-ethical grounding, Shrader-Frechette's innovative work has long-term significance because it is changing the global TRA paradigm, first formulated in 1983 by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS). According to this paradigm, TRA should be a purely scientific enterprise conducted by experts. However, incorporating insights from medical ethics into technological ethics, Shrader-Frechette argues that TRA should assess not only scientific issues such as "how safe is safe enough?" but also ethical questions such as "how equitable is safe enough?" "How voluntary is safe enough?" Her paradigm-changing work is significant, specifically, in successfully incorporating the global human-rights paradigm into TRA. As late as the middle 1990s, the NAS was still asserting TRA did not include human-rights considerations. Shrader-Frechette argues, however, that if societies recognize rights to life, they also should recognize rights to breathe healthy air and drink clean water. As the only philosopher committee-member and the only philosopher-co-author of the landmark 1996 NAS book (Understanding Risk), the first-ever ethicist to serve on many UN, ICRP (International Commission on Radiological Protection), NAS, DOE (US Department of Energy), and EPA committees, her scholarship is helping to correct TRA‚s human-rights omissions.

Shrader-Frechette's work also has been significant, third, in helping create the environmental-justice (EJ) movement in the late 1980s. In the early 1980s, she introduced the concept of geographical discrimination. It refers to the fact that poor nations and minority/poor neighborhoods bear disproportionate pollution. Arguing for ways TRA could help avoid geographical discrimination and doing EJ work in Africa, Australia, Canada, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and the US, she did the ethical analyses behind many global EJ victories, including the first major US EJ victory in Louisiana. There her scholarship helped convince a multinational corporation – attempting to site a dangerous facility in a poor, rural, Black community – to consider community rights to equal protection and free informed consent.

Several years ago, the US Office of Technology Assessment affirmed that up to 90 percent of all cancers are environmentally induced and theoretically preventable. Genetics, poor diet, lack of exercise, and smoking help cause most cancer deaths (600,000 annually in the US). Yet technology-related pollution also plays a key role. In promoting pollution control and safer technologies, Shrader-Frechette‚s ethical analyses are significant, fourth, in helping to save lives in a number of countries. The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, for example, told her that her writings helped to end shallow land burial of long-lived, transuranic nuclear waste.

Instead of scapegoating polluting industries or governments, Shrader-Frechette argues that, at least in democracies, citizens have the technologies and the governments they deserve. Her work thus has long-term significance for a fifth reason: it emphasizes personal responsibility and practical alternatives, such as using monitored retrievable storage instead of permanent geological disposal of nuclear waste. Emphasizing balance, she also argues against both environmental demands for zero pollution and against corporate attempts to justify pollution solely through cost-effectiveness. Providing ethical arguments that are practical, balanced, and grounded in personal responsibility, Shrader-Frechette's TRA work has ultimate long-term significance because it gives scholars and citizens the ethical tools to promote active, informed, technological citizenship.

Brief Biography

Kristin Shrader-Frechette studied physics at Xavier University and then graduated, summa cum laude, in 1967, with an undergraduate major in mathematics from Edgecliff College of Xavier University. In 1972, she received her Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. Shrader-Frechette also did postdoctoral work for 2, 1, and 2 years, respectively, in biology, economics, and hydrogeology. She has held Woodrow Wilson, National Science, and Carnegie Foundation Fellowships in philosophy and has held offices/served on committees in the American Philosophical Association, the Philosophy of Science Association, the Society for Philosophy and Technology, the Risk Assessment and Policy Association, the International Society for Environmental Ethics, and the US National Academy of Sciences. She has been a member of many boards and committees of the National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, including its Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, its Committee on Risk Characterization, and its Committee on Zinc-Cadmium-Sulfide Dispersions.

Associate Editor of BioScience until 2002, and Editor-in-Chief of the Oxford University Press monograph series on Environmental Ethics and Science Policy, Shrader-Frechette is currently a member of both the Executive Committee of the US EPA Science Advisory Board and the EPA SAB, as well as Chair of its Committee on Bioethics. She serves on the editorial boards of 18 professional journals. Past-President (1985-1987) of SPT, the Society for Philosophy and Technology; (1997-1999) of RAPA, the Risk Assessment and Policy Association, she also is past President of ISEE, the International Society for Environmental Ethics. She was the first woman president of all three international organizations (SPT, RAPA, ISEE) and has served as Principal Investigator for grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Council on Philosophical Studies, and the US Department of Energy. NSF has continuously funded her research since 1981. Her latest research grant, $224,000 from NSF, is on ethical and policy issues associated with worker exposure to ionizing radiation.

Most of Shrader-Frechette's work is on scientific method, ethical theory, or ethical issues related to technological risk and their environmental consequences. Since 1984, she has focused on methodological and ethical problems associated with nuclear technology or with ecological measures of technological risks. An enthusiastic teacher and researcher, she has won the annual university-wide award for "Outstanding Teacher." She is author of more than 300 articles and 14 books: Nuclear Power and Public Policy (1980, 1983); Environmental Ethics (1981, 1991); Four Methodological Assumptions in Cost-Benefit Analysis (1983); Science Policy, Ethics, and Economic Methodology (1984); Risk Analysis and Scientific Method (1985); Nuclear Energy and Ethics (1991); Risk and Rationality (1991); Policy for Land: Law and Ethics (1992); Burying Uncertainty: Risk and the Case Against Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste (1993); Method in Ecology (1993); The Ethics of Scientific Research (1994), Technology and Human Values (1996), and Environmental Justice: Creating Equality, Reclaiming Democracy (2002). Her theoretical essays have appeared in philosophical journals such as Ethics, Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy of Science, and Synthese, as well as science journals such as Science, BioScience, Health Physics, Conservation Biology, Quarterly Review of Biology, OIKOS, and Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Her books and articles have been translated into Chinese, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Russian, and Spanish. Shrader-Frechette is currently working on two new volumes: Ecological Risk Assessment and Radiation Protection and Ethics.

Widely requested as a lecturer by university, government, and industrial groups in the Americas, Europe, China, India, Africa, and Russia, Shrader-Frechette has been invited to address the National Academies of Science in four different countries. She has served as an advisor to numerous governments and international organizations, including the UN and the World Health Organization. Shrader-Frechette has held senior professorships at the University of California and the University of Florida. Currently she is O‚Neill Family Professor of Philosophy and Concurrent Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame. She and her husband Maurice, a mathematician/computer scientist, have two children, Danielle and Eric. Both are National Merit Scholarship winners and both graduated with honors from Princeton. Danielle is an Americorps volunteer; Eric is an M.D./Ph.D. student at the University of California. The family spends free time canoeing, scuba diving, hiking and doing volunteer work. Her website: www.nd.edu/~kshrader <http://www.nd.edu/~kshrader>