The challenge

Our research efforts in bioethics and philosophy of biology focus on so-called wicked problems (Rittel and Weber 1973). Wicked problems are wild, complex, and political; they cannot be described definitively, are not amenable to scientific innovation or technocratic management, and simply cannot be solved once and for all.

Wicked problems are at the core of planning and policy, whether in health, science and technology, economics, or national security. They involve hotly contested values and interests, epistemic claims, and political actions.

Addressing wicked problems in biology and society.

The approach

Systems bioethics (Robert 2007) is our interdisciplinary approach to framing and addressing wicked problems. We seek to define relevant interests and values, assess their nature, and establish an understanding of - and to influence - the dynamic, interactive relations among the disparate components of the particular ‘system’ under study.

The substance of bioethics is a web of interacting elements each of which must severally and jointly be brought under scrutiny, perturbed and probed, in order to anticipate and attempt to resolve ongoing and impending controversies.

The results

We generate scholarly texts, educational materials, and tools for talking productively about and potentially resolving wicked problems. These are complex and controversial social issues about which reasonable people may disagree. We want those disagreements to be civil, constructive, fewer, and farther between.



We participate actively in the Center for Biology and Society and the Center for Law, Science, and Innovation at Arizona State University. We also collaborate with partners locally, nationally, and internationally.

© 2014-2021 by Jason Scott Robert, PhD. Cover photo credit: Mark Craft, ASU.