Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 525.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
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Date: Tue, 04 Mar 2003 07:52:30 +0000
From: Willard McCarty <email@example.com>
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 || firstname.lastname@example.org
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