16.525 ethics of research

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Mar 04 2003 - 02:56:18 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 525.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Tue, 04 Mar 2003 07:52:30 +0000
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: ethics of research

    The following historical light on the ethics of collaboration is from
    Sheldon Krimsky, "Science, society, and the expanding boundaries of moral
    discourse", in Science, Politics and Social Practice, ed. K. Gavroglu et
    al. (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1995): 113; the essay is online at
    http://www.tufts.edu/~skrimsky/ (Publications, Selected: Science and Ethics).

    "The public's acclamation of science was in its ascendancy in the post war
    period of the 1950s. Scientific achievements were credited with carrying
    the allied forces to victory in Europe and Asia through the development of
    radar, the modern technological anny, and of course the atomic bomb.
    Governments throughout the industrialized world were now prepared to invest
    heavily in science as insurance against future threats to their national
    security. This change in the government's role was a mixed blessing for
    scicntific institutions. Many disciplines flourished from the new riches of
    public funds. Some new disciplines were formed out of the war effort and
    the post-war arms race. But it also meant that scientific research in the
    American academy became heavily politicized. The image of the lone
    scientist, broadly educated with the grasp of the large picture, working
    tirelessly in a makeshift laboratory fumished with hand-crafted equipment,
    pursuing a path to knowledge according to some ineffable sixth sense, was
    undergoing a great transformation. The new image was of a strategically
    planned science consisting of teams of investigators, working on large
    scale projects competing for limited funds, positioning themselves in a
    social structure that would insure the continuity of funding through
    volatile political times."

    Most of Krimsky's work these days is on the ethics of biotechnology, but I
    recommend him overall for a clear, unblinking portrait of research in its
    socio-historical context. The point is not science-bashing, though the
    natural sciences are particularly vulnerable to compromise, as Krimsky
    shows, because they coincide with the public interest (as conceived and
    shaped by the public's masters) so closely. We are further back from the
    fire, but no one is untouched by the problems he discusses.


    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

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