When Less Information is Better image

November 1, 2013 8:00 AM - 6:00 PM
Harvard Law School, Wasserstein Hall, Milstein West B
1585 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University presented a multidisciplinary symposium that examined potential solutions to institutional corruption that use blinding: the strategy of concealing biasing information from decision makers. This event is free and open to the public.

  • Bias and Biomedical Science

  • Ethics and Justice of Blinding

  • Bias and Blinding in Courtroom Science, Law, and Institutions

In the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin performed the first blindfolded experiment to debunk a charlatan's theory about a mysterious healing substance, and in the three centuries since then, blinding has become a fundamental tool to help reduce bias in biomedical science. In American courtrooms, jurors are initially selected from the community through blind draws, and once chosen, they are carefully blinded to irrelevant and biasing evidence. As the classic icon of blinded justice symbolizes, sometimes less information does produce better decisions.

Now a diverse group of scholars is exploring whether blinding can be used more broadly as a solution to institutional corruption. When is it feasible to use a blind selection, rather than hand-picking someone who will be biased? When can a funding dependency be allowed, while a decision maker nonetheless remains unbiased? These inquiries challenge industry-funded biomedical scientists to consider more robust blinding procedures, but they also raise questions about the ethics and justice of blinding, as well as questions about the incentives to use blinding within established institutions.

A raft of recent research has also revealed pervasive bias in forensic science, and there are opportunities for blinding in this domain as well, to make civil and criminal litigation more reliable. More fundamentally, these sorts of questions -- about who needs to know what -- open new doors of inquiry for the design of courts, laws, and institutions.

On November 1, 2013 the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University convened a national symposium of leading scholars that explored these questions. The speakers brought an exceedingly diverse range of skills and methodologies, including medicine, law, philosophy, economics, psychology, sociology, the history of medicine, and the forensic sciences. The conference was organized by Christopher Robertson (Harvard Law School and the University of Arizona) and Aaron Kesselheim (Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women's Hospital.)

Registration closed October 30. The schedule, list of speakers, and additional information are available on the conference website.

You can download the full conference poster here.

Co-sponsored by the Petrie-Flom Center.


bioethics   biotechnology   human subjects research   judicial opinions