Comment of the Day: “Nomination For Enshrinement in the Hall Of Bad Ethics Ideas: A Hippocratic Oath For Scientists”

Zoebrain, the Aussie researcher who has enlightened many Ethics Alarms debates, provides delicious perspective to the post regarding scientific ethics, specifically regarding the question of whether scientists can or should pledge, like doctors, to “do no harm.”

Here is her Comment of the Day to Nomination For Enshrinement in the Hall Of Bad Ethics Ideas: A Hippocratic Oath For Scientists:

“Tell the truth, the whole truth – but possibly not nothing but the truth, as long as any opinion is unmistakably marked as such. Correct your past mistakes as you find them. Also be prepared to accept responsibility for the moral consequences of the power you provide to others being misused. Unless you feel it right to give them the power, you must accept personal responsibility and so withhold it. That’s not a Scientific sin, it’s a personal one.

“Providing the sharpest possible scalpel to a surgeon is one thing. Providing it to a vivisectionist of “untermenschen” another. Providing it as a toy for a 6-month-old baby yet another.

“The only scientific sins are knowing falsification of results, and omitting contradictory evidence. But scientists have responsibilities as humans too.

“Please have a listen to this song [ by musical satirist/scholar Tom Lehrer’s “Werner Von Braun,” about the amoral Nazi-turned-U.S. rocket-scientist.]:

“As someone who works or has worked on “Aerospace and Defence”, this is not a hypothetical for me. My work has been directly responsible for several deaths, just as surely as if I’d pulled the trigger. I regret the necessity, but would do it again.

“It’s a matter of public record that I’ve been involved with the IDF’s submarine program, the last time at Haifa Naval Base. I can neither confirm nor deny any nuclear capability they may have

‘Knowledge is power, as we all have been told since grade school, and now scientist want to control what constitutes “acceptable” knowledge. We don’t want such power in the hands of scientists.’

“With respect, it’s we who have made that power, not you. While scientists, as a group, are no more qualified to make ethical decisions than are high-school students, each scientist must take personal responsibility about who that power is shared with. The buck starts here.”

2 thoughts on “Comment of the Day: “Nomination For Enshrinement in the Hall Of Bad Ethics Ideas: A Hippocratic Oath For Scientists”

  1. The job of science is to gain a better understanding of the universe around us. This knowledge is neither good nor evil. Its uses however, may be good or evil. There is no knowledge that cannot be put to evil use. The only way to make sure no harm is done is to do nothing, and to allow no knowledge*. This is embracing ignorance and ignorance is far more harmful than knowledge.

    *Do we now have an explanation for our current educational system?

    • I know nothing of weapons research. But in basic sciences research no Hippoctaic oath is needed — research results are published in peer-reviewed journals, for replication, review, critiquing, etc. A charlatan is usually soon unmasked.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.