Problem Statement

Modern genetic technologies such as gene editing, DNA databases and forensic DNA analysis have opened up a vast expanse of new possibilities for improving human health, locating relatives and solving crimes. However, they also introduce a wide array of new problems, moral quandaries and unintended consequences. This year’s Young Scholars will explore questions such as:

  • Should we use gene editing to avoid disease (e.g. avoid genetic disposition for diabetes)? How about to decide  the gender of babies? What about to choose skin or eye color? What about to influence intelligence?
  • Could we introduce new diseases through gene editing?
  • Who should own the DNA information shared with companies like or 23andMe?  Should there be limits on what they can sell or how they use that data?
  • Might insurance companies use that data to charge people with higher premiums or deny coverage based on their income? 
  • What are sources of error in the use of genetic technology in law enforcement (e.g. the case of Lukis Anderson who was falsely accused of murder when his DNA was transferred to a crime scene by paramedics who had treated him earlier)?
  • What does consent mean when a relative can reveal things about you when they reveal their own DNA?
  • Are some populations more at risk for privacy violations or surveillance based on DNA technologies?

Your Challenge

This year’s Young Scholars will be challenged to consider ways in which society can benefit from genetic technologies while at the same time avoiding the pitfalls and managing the ethical dilemmas that can come with these technologies. Working with Clarkson professors, students will explore genetic technologies such as CRISPR for gene editing, commercial ancestry DNA databases such as, 23andMe and probabilistic genotyping software used to match evidence found at crime scenes to potential suspects. They will consider the beneficial uses of these systems as well as identify ways they could be misused and possible unintended consequences of their use. They will consider past scientific advances and cases to grapple with the ethical considerations of genetic technologies.  They will debate guidelines for their use that they think can capture the benefits and mitigate the problems. 

From their research on the use of these technologies, students will:

  • Consider the benefits such as improving human health, locating family members and solving crimes.
  • Investigate problems that have already been reported. 
  • Identify unintended consequences that could arise. 
  • Consider the ways in which these systems could be misused (e.g., to violate privacy).
  • Consider and propose laws and other limitations regarding their use.
  • Propose guidelines to capture many of the benefits while mitigating problems.

Expected Outcomes

Participants in the project will be expected to be able to:

  • Identify real-world examples of high-stakes decisions made with software systems and consider the role of machine learning and individual’s personal data in how these decisions are made.
  • Consider both the pros and cons of algorithmic decision making for the decider, those being decided about, and society as a whole.
  • Consider what rights individuals should have to understand and challenge decisions made about them.
  • Consider what rights companies should have to keep their software and algorithms secret or proprietary.
  • Analyze proposals for providing transparency in the decision making process so that mistakes can be identified.
  • Propose ways to achieve fairness and accountability in algorithmic decision making.

At the end of the week, Young Scholars will present their proposals to guest panelists.

Students who successfully complete the program and meet the admission requirements will receive a $4,000 scholarship ($1,000 per year) toward tuition if they attend The Clarkson School or Clarkson University full time for their undergraduate education. Please note that $1,000 per year is the maximum scholarship amount a student can receive for attending Clarkson University summer programs, no matter how many programs he or she attends.

To download the application and for further information, please visit the Young Scholars main page.