Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Scientific Ethic?

In reading all about the weaponization of smallpox that occurred in the former USSR, I was struck by how quickly most of the Soviet scientists were able to put aside their moral qualms about their work and glorify it as scientific progress and nationalistic. With this in mind, I came across this really interesting (albeit long) article about ethics in science. The author proposes that ethics similar to the Belmont Principles, which govern testing on human subjects, be applied to science more generally. He claims that by institutionalizing these principles of “respect for persons, beneficience, and justice,” that scientists will feel morally obligated to evaluate the possibly harmful implications of their research before either publishing or even beginning new studies.

While I think his ideas are noble, I question the feasibility of applying these ethics to science worldwide. As long as governments are funding research and mistrust remains in the international system, it seems inevitable that weapons research, even biological, will continue. Jaded as it seems, I feel like if someone is willing to pay to weaponize a biological agent, someone will be willing to do it, ethical education system in place or otherwise (see dispersion of Soviet scientists after the fall of the USSR).

Overall though, I liked considering these scientific controversies from an ethical perspective, since in our readings it has seemed less prevalent. Also, for better or worse, the author uses “The Demon in the Freezer” as the main source for his smallpox facts (!)

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