Drs. A. M. (Ad) van Dommelen

email : avando@bio.vu.nl
room: A401
phone: +31-20-44.47127
Curriculum vitae
Project: The methodology of applied biotechnology


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Scientific and public controversies concerning the risks of applications of biotechnology are often based on differences of opinion about the relevance of background theories from the fields of evolutionary biology, genetics and ecology. Little attention is paid in these debates to the methodological status of these background theories. The research deals with implications of these theories for risk assessment of biotechnology from a methodological point of view. Two case studies put the investigations in a concrete perspective:

  1. genetically manipulated organisms in the environment
  2. the Human Genome Project.


General methodology as an analytical tool is sorely missing in debates about risk assessment. In this study the scientific underpinning of different positions in the debate concerning the possible risks of applied biotechnology is validated by means of methodological analysis.


Claims and arguments about possible risks of environmental applications of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are fraught with problems of general methodology. A crucial issue in risk assessment of GMO-release concerns uncertainties. The analyses consist of critical reconstructions of repre-sentative examples of claims and arguments from the literature on risk assessment that have no methodologically adequate defense. The faulty use of concepts such as `fitness', `pathogenicity', `lateral genetic transfer' etc. in arguments about risk assessment leads to many misunderstandings and unfounded generalizations. An important reason for the persistence of misguided reasoning in this and other contexts is a lack of explicitness about the underlying models that are used to support the claims and arguments put forward.