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What are the ethics of science?

  1. Mar 21, 2003 #1


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    This question stems from a topic about cloning in my philosophyforums.com ...

    as i was debating the negatives of cloning, this person claimed that science will move in a forward direction, regardless of the consequences we as humans face...

    my question then is this; do scientists follow an ethical "code" when it comes to pursuing a greater understanding of our world? such as the example of cloning (although i do not want this thread to turn into a cloning discussion), we may be able to one day do it successfully, but are we doing it for the right reasons? or doing it because "we can do it"?

    if there are ethics, who mandates them?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 21, 2003 #2
  4. Mar 21, 2003 #3
    Guinea pigs

    I think science is expected to follow some form of code, especially when it involves deciding "who" (or what) they should use as a guinea pig ...
  5. Mar 21, 2003 #4


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    Greetings !

    I think that the only real reason is that :
    We want to know more.
    That basic curiousity drives scientists.
    Other people are driven by other desires like
    money, power, fame and so on, so they might
    I'm not sure what you mean by the "right"
    reasons, Kerrie ?
    As you may know, my opinions on the matterof
    "good" and "bad" are the opposite of conservative.
    In my opinion, these terms are relative and only
    exist in very specific biological aspects.

    But, in general, I think that "knowing more" is
    almost always "good" according to most defintions.

    "Does dice play God ?"

    Live long and prosper.
  6. Mar 21, 2003 #5


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    I don't think there is any recognized code, such as the Hypocratic oath, or the legal ethical code. Most scientists I know do consider their own ethics, but usually at the stage when they choose their employment, not when they consider their research.

    Scientists are in a bit of a bind ethicly. On the one hand, if they ignore ethics and just do as their paid to do, they are accused of playing god or being monsters. If they exercise their own ethical code, they are accused of being elitists who claim to know what is best for everyone.

  7. Mar 22, 2003 #6
    genetics is a science, cloning is a technology, nuclear physics is a science, nuclear weapons are technology. technology should be subject to an ethical code of course, but it is wrong to block research.
  8. Mar 23, 2003 #7
    Scientific ethics:
    1) uphold basic human rights.
    2) uphold certain animal rights as issued by governing law

    General ethics:
    1) ethics upheld by the main majority of the human race (ie. murder, stealing, is wrong)
    2) Current law
    3) General populas morality

    When Scientific ethics should be applied:

    When general ethics should be applied:
    1) developement of technologies
    2) use of technologies

    Notice that research is not held back by anything except experimentation on humans and some experimentation on animals in certain cases. Research (search for knowledge) should never be held back. There is nothing wrong with knowledge.

    The use of that knowledge then becomes an issue of deeper ethics. Weighing the potential pros and cons to the human race as a whole. Nuclear technology may seem to be nothing but con to most people, but it has produced many pros. In fact, just the creatin of the technology has advanced other fields in research. This is always a heavy pro with any technological endevour.

    You must examine each technology. The creation of the H Bomb was almost nothing but con and should not have been created. Although it halted a war with Japan and the US and has helped further research, the cons out weigh the pros. Nuclear Power plants however have more pros to it. Research is always a pro, more power and capabilities with little harm done to humans.

    Therefore in the case of cloning. Research should always continue in genetics as long as it does not come down to experimentation on what the law has decided as human life. In other words the law sees a fetus as "not a life" and so it would be contradictory to say that we cannot experiment on them in law. Personaly I am not for it, but lawfuly it is a logical flaw.

    We cannot base law on morality (although we do). We should base law on logic geared for positive outcomes for human beings as a whole and individually but focusing on the whole first. Clonning should not be against the law. However if scientific ethics is based on law and cloning was not against the law, they would have no issue aborting hundreds of malformed, unborn children in their development. I have a problem with this. So I do not think that scientific ethics should be based on law, rather supported by it.

    I itch to debate with you on cloning since I do not think it should be unlawful, but as you said you did not want that debated on this thread.
  9. Mar 23, 2003 #8

    Throughout the history Science has always been a body of knowledge inside the gathering of knowledge bodies that were created and maintained by human species. However, it hasn't always bore the name "Science" on it and hasn't always been carried out with "Scientific Method."

    The ancient science was a mixture of what we nowadays call science and what we nowadays call religion and many other bodies of knowledge that are now considered obviously distinct. As a consequence, the key to the development of the part of that mixture which is now called science was the development of the whole mixture. If the mixture by its nature hindered development then the science living inside didn't advance despite its progressive nature, for example if a religious rule prohibited looking into a certain field of experiments then the science wouldn't do so because the scientists were the clerics, too. The necessities of the Universe, however, forced those early scientists into trespassing borders for which they themselves were guardians. Thus, differentiation occurred...

    Like all living systems, differentiation turned this mixture into distinct bodies of knowledge whose development is not hindered by the limitations imposed by other bodies of knowledge. Every body of knowledge could contain pieces of knowledge that were contrary to the contents of another body. The sum of these knowledge bodies is the complete set of what human species knows. It is the manifestation of all human capabilities for looking into the Universe and contains more or less developed forms of whatever "category" of knowledge possible for human species.

    Every human individual has a prototype of this Summa Gnaritas which includes preliminary knowledge of all these categories. Each of these bodies of knowledge is responsible for parts of the individual's interaction with the Universe. Science, for example, is responsible for accumulation, organization, archival, interpretation, analysis and synthesis of sensory information, in fact, the Know-How of the Universe.

    One specific body of knowledge discussed here is Ethics. Ethics is the category of knowledge that deals with scoring individual's interaction. It takes a set of choices and prefers one or more over the others based on given criteria and by designating each choice with a specific score on the scale of rightness. Considering this idea, one can always be sure of the existence of Ethics in every human individual but can noway be sure whether or not this individual version Ethics agrees with the common sense understanding of "right" and "wrong".

    Science, as defined above, is distinct from Ethics. The human history has shown that a mismatch of these two distinct bodies and imposing the limitations of one of them on the other or the interpretation of one of them with the other, leads to a syndrome observed in the Middle Ages. Ethics by nature is stable and unchanging; it changes only under rare circumstances when the individual or the society faces major variations in its environment. Science by nature is ever-changing; its existence depends on a continuous cycle of observation, hypothesizing and assessment.

    Ethics, especially when it is affected by Religion, can't be guaranteed to qualify for assessing science. Science, too, can't assess human Ethics, human preferences in particular, with its criteria of verifiability, confidence and creditability.


    A scientist although committed to promoting science is not different from other individuals. She/he surely carries with her/him a body of knowledge, namely Ethics, which evaluates her/his interaction with the Universe on the scale of rightness. This individual Ethics, however, may or may not agree with others' versions of Ethics and this will lead to confusion.

    The only way I can conceive of for resolving this confusion is the existence of "higher" Ethics, a way to evaluate the individual Ethics and decide whether or not it is worth maintaining. Unfortunately, or fortunately, a "higher" Ethics requires public consensus on a protocol of evaluation and such consensus is simply non-existent. Consequently, every individual including scientists is left to herself/himself to decide whether or not their individual Ethics needs alteration.


    One proposition for gaining a consensus on Ethics and rules for individual behavior is to set up rules chosen consciously by the majority of individuals, as it is supposed to be done in democratic states. This, however, can lead to the dictatorship of the majority which has been proven to be always bigot and/or stupid and/or naive. Hence, I personally can't rely on the majority or the public for our preferences which are obviously critical to our survival.


    There remains one more personal conception I've had for a long time. It seems that science at its utmost purity gives us a good omen. I call this omen "Awe", Awe of the Universe. There is unimaginable complexity outside and inside us. There is the Unknown in which we are wrapped from the interior and the exterior. And all this can be seen from a scientist's point of view. Awe of the Universe can teach a human being to refrain from misbehaving against the great complexity it doesn't understand. It can give the human being a reason to strive for the survival of the species and not only the self.

    We know no human being is acting against its own survival but we also see that individual efforts for survival counter-act and ruin lives. Awe of the Universe can harmonize individual efforts for survival to save the species.

    Awe of the Universe is a personal matter. I think it is born inside every human studying the Universe. However, it can lead to mutual benefit because it is targeted at the same Universe for every individual. From that I prefer the Awe of the Universe over all publicly chosen rules. It is personal enough to ensure that the individual committed to it will revere it - because it’s her/his own brainchild - yet common enough to be the basis for the survival of the species.


    Questions still there:

    If Awe of the Universe is born inside every scientist then why do scientists work for ARPA, DoD and multi-national companies who apparently act against the species? How does it happen that so many scientists - who are surely aware of the destructive results of actions taken by the Authority - do not oppose? Is it that "science at its utmost purity" is peculiar to a minority of scientists?


    PS: This whole is only my thoughts and I don't claim any righteousness for them more than what everyone could claim for their thoughts but ask everyone to read them carefully and please answer them as if they would like their own precious thoughts to be answered.
  10. Mar 23, 2003 #9
    A lot of good points have been mentioned. I would add that the first and foremost ethic duty of science is honesty. Mankind is depending on it.

    I've got the idea that there may be some tension with truth if I read this

    (Schneider is scientist). Yet I cannot refrain form the impression that this is a bit of an unethical approach. It appears to change science into politics.
  11. Mar 23, 2003 #10


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    that makes perfect sense...
  12. Mar 24, 2003 #11
    i'm really sorry but i can't tell if you are being sarcastic (damn the computer!), if you are then i can't understand why, it was short, sweet, succint, where did i go wrong?
  13. Mar 24, 2003 #12
    word to your analysis of the difference between scientific ethics and technology, nail hit on head!

    the question of what to base our laws on (if not morality) is an interesting one, you say that it should be based on an understanding of what is a positive outcome for humanity, but there are a limited number of ways to 'improve' humanity, these are:
    i) make it happier
    ii) make it more righteous, ie moral, which entails 'make it fairer'
    iii) make it bigger
    iv) make it richer

    not basing law on morality leaves three options, law is already hugely based on the fourth; actions that are economically detrimental to society are pretty much all ilegal, the first goal is flimsy and the third just a bit stupid as it largely contradicts the 2nd, ie more people+less resources= not such a fair world.

    so in conclusion morals shouldn't be left out of it (as if they could anyway). we are more advanced then most species so we can't leave everything to obvious pros like population size and money, we have morals so let's use them! if we don't then a large part of what makes us human could be violated.
  14. Mar 24, 2003 #13

    Another God

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    As someone who considers himself a scientists first and foremost, I am only concerned with the truth. It is my driving force.

    What humans percieve as right and wrong with regards that truth is up to them, but I still want to know the truth.

    As someone who admits he is essentially a self-centered hedonist, I want whatever i percieve as being the best for me. When I find the truth, I will want to use that truth to help myself however I can.

    it just upsets me that other people, using their own perceptions of what seems moral to them, feel it is their duty to control what I am allowed to have.

    Can you believe that there are people who are 100% opposed to the prospect of people like me trying to find a way of avoiding death? How crazy is that? We have spent all of human histroy trying to find the elixer of life, and as we finally close in on the prospect of finding it, some self-righteous saviour wants to tell everyone that such a thing is unethical.

    In the words of a great TOOL song:
  15. Mar 24, 2003 #14

    Another God

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    </Emotional response>
  16. Mar 24, 2003 #15


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    i was being perfectly genuine, you would know if i was being sarcastic
  17. Mar 25, 2003 #16
    why thank you! :smile:

    the other day i went to an anti-war protest instead of going to physics (please, no politics!), i went to apologise to my teacher and he made a very good point about how people can't just study science and think they're 'beyond' politics and what not and they have to understand science's role in such conflicts. i now believe that science should not be subject to censorship as i said before but have decided that the scientific community has to stay completely connected to the political/social community, no more hiding in labs and under workbenches!
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