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Do We Need Socially Responsible Science?

by Drishti Ranjan
Do We Need Socially Responsible Science?

March 6, 2021

The importance of public discourse in Science is overlooked. This has been the case throughout history, and well, it hasn’t changed since. Most people deem Science to be an alien stream, placed on a pedestal of ‘tough subjects’. But do we actually need to evaluate science on a moral compass?

In the 1930s, some European scientists had the foresight to believe that public discourse by scientists is necessary to intain their integrity and acted upon it!  It is often claimed that the ethical conduct in socially responsible Science can be categorised into two broad terms:

1. Dilemmas related to publication and data sharing,

2. Dilemmas related to engaging society.

How to balance the two out? While not disclosing too much and ultimately gaining public confidence?

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Research found that , Public discourse by scientists is great in maintaining their integrity.

A history of making Science socially responsible

Most people are not aware that in 1939, Albert Einstein, accompanied by his physicist friend wrote a letter to the American President Roosevelt warning him of Hitler’s plan to develop nuclear bombs after enriching Uranium. In that letter, he urged him to start developing a bomb of his own to counter the German threat.

Although later, he advocated the use of atomic bombs for peaceful uses and discoveries, he could not turn a blind eye to the threat that the Nazi regime posed on the world.

In the 1930s, Abraham Flexner, started the hermetic Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey, owing to a similar reason. Around that time, many dissident scientists (who were also Jewish) were taking shelter in the United States.

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In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a letter to the American President Roosevelt warning him of Hitler’s plan to develop nuclear bombs.

Great Scientists also believed in discourse

Around the same time, The Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger was testing the waters to start a new career
as a Non-Fiction Science writer. He advocates that the best demonstration of a scientist grasping a concept completely is when he can explain the same to someone outside his domain and a total layman. 

The great theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking enjoyed the Sit-com ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and agreed to do a guest appearance in the same solely because he appreciated the value it was generating. Even in his book ‘The Brief History of
Time’, Hawkings talked about the importance of making Science easier for non-experts and normal individuals. 

He believed that simplification of complicated theories to promote greater public involvement and bust the myth of
Science forms the basis of what we’re trying to portray.

Science makes scientists morally responsible

For years, there has been a notion that it is the duty of researchers and policymakers to make citizens aware of new development in Science. It was looked at from the viewpoint of being totally objective. It was perceived to be
devoid of values and only have facts.

Like Brené Brown said- what is data but stories devoid of a soul? Brevity maybe the soul of wit, but coming back to the issue of Science, it is often perceived to be purely factual and devoid of any sort of values. Values may also include epistemic goals, such as knowledge or truth, as well as desired epistemic features of hypotheses, theories, and models.

The pursuit of disseminating scientific knowledge calls for greater accountability. Information dispersal brings with it the responsibility to maintain ethics and integrity that must not be forgotten.

Directing scientists to engage with the public would essentially also benefit the field of Science, as greater engagement with the stakeholders would mean the greater integrity that is demanded out of the scientists involved.

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Directing scientists to engage with the public would essentially also benefit the field of Science.

It  would be safe to say that, after all, this may be the one thing that stops a scientist’s moral compass from deflecting!

Just because of the virtue that Science holds, we see as mankind; it is important to incorporate its understanding and involvement in our daily lives. Public discourse and engagement is the way to go about this because if we’re all not on the same page, then are we really evolving?

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