Athena wrote:Can science be ethical? Why and why not?
I want to argue there is are problem with science being ethical. The number one problem is the restrictions put on discussions of science. Science forums are held to a standard set by science, not by people in general, and certainly not by religion. These are public forums. One can only imagine how discussions go when only scientist are present.
I heard the people who worked on the Manhattan Project cheered and celebrated when they got reports on the success of their bomb. Some time later some of them realized the human meaning of what happened, the devastation, and the people killed and injured. We did not publically discuss the right or wrong of the Manhattan Project. Today, we can post the research of bird flu with the intent of making a biological weapon, but should not mention movies triggered by such science, and get into an ethical discussion of where science is taking us in these threads. By necessity science is very restricted and open and loose discussion would ruin the intent of science, which needs to be clear and precise.
Might we have a problem with today's reality?
Ok, I am resorting to a book as I type this, my sacred book of ethics. Abstaining from classical novel ethical guidelines and schools one school in particular holds my interest pertaining to ethics in science, that is, let us examine ‘Engineering Ethics’ summarized...
Engineers have a variety of responsibilities (in this case let’s assume engineers are akin to scientists), they have to make sure their inventions are safe but yet bears profit (bears results in other words). However, sometimes they have to be situational in nature when concerning factors of revenue and public relations as these matters may be more important to safety itself. It is an equilibrating factor that is based on demands by society and hence can also hold financial validities – what drives scientists around is the demand for their work and hence can result in great atrocities for the sake of further funding for the ultimate ‘greater good’. There are various factors in engineering ethics that need to be examined when drawing the fine line – I will try to very briefly cover some as I type.
Gene Moriarty points out that many engineers do not, as a matter of fact, utilize ethical theory when making decisions (I would be one exemption) with ethical ramnifications. Instead issues are approached intuitively by characters as emphasised by virtue ethics and accrued learnt lore. What makes a good scientist is when he/she has a strong ethos and that is reflected in some companies, not all, especially not Nestle (as my brother vouched after he quit working for them). Moriarty argues that the core virtues of objectivity and care should be practiced by all engineers and scientists to make them establish good decisions.
Mike W. Martin, on the other hand, tackles the issue of whistleblowing (prevalent throughout the realms of science and engineering), particular when safety is concerned. I am aware that talk has been made in this thread in regards to nuclear bombing – I wonder if there is any evidence of whilstleblowing before and after the incident. Companies see this as an act of disloyalty but what is ironical is that it is the scientists duty to do so, mayhap at the cost of his/her job – tough uh! He also highlights another consideration, that is the individual’s rights as a person and his responsibilities to family and others around the workplace.
The question of engineers’ obligations to the public is then taken up by Taft Broome Jr – he states that scientists/engineers’ primary duty is to the public – the question is if there are many practising engineers/scientists who actually have studied Ethics, it ought to be a moral imperative that is for sure. Engineering itself is considered a field of science, and so in speaking no ethical atrocities should ever take place but at the same time the health and welfare of the public can never be guaranteed, as a result engineers hold acceptable culpable risk in the process.
Eugene Schlossberger is a theorists that discusses science ethics in the context of trade, secrets and patents which poses questions in regards to intellectual property rights as organizations thrive due to monetary issues. Stealing is wrong, of course, and many of the ethical considerations contained on my very comprehensive book of ethics deals with aspects pertaining to conflicts of interest, efficiency, safety, and information disclosure. In conclusion I would argue that the realm of science is well covered by ethics, the problem is ‘stupid’ individuals themselves. Peace, not war... :-)