Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 769-788

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

What happens in the Lab: Applying Midstream Modulation to Enhance Critical Reflection in the Laboratory

  • Daan SchuurbiersAffiliated withCentre for Society and Genomics, Radboud University Nijmegen Email author 


In response to widespread policy prescriptions for responsible innovation, social scientists and engineering ethicists, among others, have sought to engage natural scientists and engineers at the ‘midstream’: building interdisciplinary collaborations to integrate social and ethical considerations with research and development processes. Two ‘laboratory engagement studies’ have explored how applying the framework of midstream modulation could enhance the reflections of natural scientists on the socio-ethical context of their work. The results of these interdisciplinary collaborations confirm the utility of midstream modulation in encouraging both first- and second-order reflective learning. The potential for second-order reflective learning, in which underlying value systems become the object of reflection, is particularly significant with respect to addressing social responsibility in research practices. Midstream modulation served to render the socio-ethical context of research visible in the laboratory and helped enable research participants to more critically reflect on this broader context. While lab-based collaborations would benefit from being carried out in concert with activities at institutional and policy levels, midstream modulation could prove a valuable asset in the toolbox of interdisciplinary methods aimed at responsible innovation.


Midstream modulation Technology assessment Ethics of science and technology Social responsibility Socio-technical integration