The involvement of the public in the governance of genomics has become a topic of growing interest among scholars, practitioners and policy-makers. The implementation of public involvement programmes may be quite expensive, and the design and evaluation of public participation is a matter of controversy. Thus, this paper examines the justifications for public participation in the governance of genomic research to help understand whether public involvement is worthwhile and to provide a guide to the design of public participation.
I identify four primary justifications in support of public involvement. I argue that three of them have serious flaws: neither an increase in the stability of institutions, nor the positive effects on the virtues of individuals, nor the epistemic merits of participatory activities provide a solid ground for the engagement of the public in the governance of genomics. However, the ideal of legitimacy in the exercise of coercive power appears to lend strong support to public involvement programmes. Given that the reasons why public involvement is sought shape the design of the participatory activities, restricting the range of valid justifications promises to simplify the task of designing and evaluating public involvement.