Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)

Responsible risk communication

There is a lot of talk about responsibility society today, but it is not always clear what it means to be responsible. Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist, lecturer at CRB, has done research on responsibility and risk communication, with publications spanning from nuclear power to infant feeding.  Right now she is planning structured ethics teaching for students in science and technology.

Jessica Nihlén FahlquistJessica Nihlén Fahlquist is deputy lecturer at the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB) and knows a lot about morally responsible risk communication. She is interested in both technical and medical risks and how they relate to moral responsibility: A complex notion that Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist is trying to instill in students in medicine, science and engineering.

According to Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist, we often think that risk information should be effective. But that is not enough. Risk information has to ethically legitimate, and morally responsible.

She is interested in the norms that surround childbirth and reproduction and the risk information on breast feeding that new mothers receive from the health care system. Her research has shown that mothers’ who have problems nursing their babies often feel inadequate and as though they have failed as mothers and in extension as women.

Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist believes that infant feeding information is a good illustration of the more general need to include ethical considerations in risk communication. The information women receive form health care staff and authorities is very normative. We are told what is natural and good for our children. But also what it is to be a ‘good’ mother. Women who give birth are supposed to experience pain and be self-sacrificing, putting others’ needs before their own. And to make the ‘good’ choices for their child: between vaginal birth and c-section, breast feeding and bottle feeding, pain relief and no pain relief. But a child needs parents who feel good about themselves.

 “Women feel they can’t make their own decisions regarding childbirth and reproduction. My research shows that they get depressed, feel like failed mothers and have strong feelings of guilt and shame when they don’t live up to the norms.  I don’t think this is ethically acceptable”, says Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist.

Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist has published several scientific articles on the topic of responsibility and engineering. She is currently developing structured and comprehensive ethics training for engineering and science students to make sure the engineers of the future are ethically responsible. She has worked to incorporate ethics training in the undergraduate and master programmes on science and technology. For her, the goal is that when they graduate, the students’ have reflected on their professional role and responsibility. She wants all of them to be able to make sound ethical analyses of what they do as professionals.

“I want to contribute to a change in the image of engineering from being all about technology. I envision engineers who see themselves as professionals that contribute to a good and sustainable society.  Perhaps that is too much to ask from this project, but I am happy taking it one step at a time”, says Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist.  

About Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist

Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist teaches ethics to students in medicine, biology, engineering and science at Uppsala University.

She holds a PhD from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, followed by two postdocs at TU Delft in the Netherlands. The first dealt with moral responsibility in R&D networks and the second postdoc focused on moral emotions and risk politics. That project runs until June 2015.

Jessica Nihlén Fahlquist has contributed to the public debate through opinion pieces on infant feeding information and also on the moral responsibility of engineers. She has published several scientific articles about risks and ethics, for example regarding risk communication and nuclear energy.

Josepine Fernow 2014-12-15