There is important news, and then there is important news that grabs hold of people and gets them thinking and talking: "Did you see the piece on ... ?" "What do you think?" "What would you do?" That kind of news often has to do with bioethics.
The desire to capture diverse perspectives on bioethical issues of the day led The Hastings Center to launch Bioethics Forum nearly five years ago. Greg Kaebnick, editor of the Hastings Center Report, conceived of it as an online adjunct to the Report. Commentaries that would take at least a month to work their way through the Reports production cycle could be posted immediately on Bioethics Forum. And the Forum might broaden our editorial tent, pulling in journalists, policy-makers, and the general public, along with the scholars, clinicians, and lawyers who were the Reports regular readers.
At first, Bioethics Forum was as controversial as some of the topics it covered. On the one hand, The Hastings Center wanted to engage the wider community, but on the other hand, there was trepidation about what that engagement might bring--uncivil discourse, personal agendas, and so on. A few people here thought it would lower the Center's standards because online publishing was considered inferior to print. To head off these concerns, a ground rule was established. The Forum would not be a repository of unfiltered riffs written by just anyone. It would publish essays only after they had been approved and edited.
The first Bioethics Forum piece addressed the trepidation. On March 3, 2006, Tod Chambers wrote about his experience searching for an article he had read on the Internet, only to get the message, "File not found." "This ephemeral quality of the Internet may be why, at least for now, I do not find an online academic journal as authentic or scholarly as I do a paper journal that has a virtual twin of itself online," he wrote. …