Responsibility and Science

Discussion in 'Ethics, Morality, & Justice' started by Bowser, May 22, 2019.

  1. Bowser Right Here, Right Now Valued Senior Member

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    Kind of an offshoot from another thread: Does science have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the world from potential harm that might arise from scientific discovery? In other words, should a discovery have the potential to do harm to the world, are those scientist responsible for any harm that comes from their discovery?

    I liken it to handing a loaded gun to a five-year-old.
     
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  3. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    A Chemical Weapon is a chemical used to cause intentional death or harm through its toxic properties. Munitions, devices and other equipment specifically designed to weaponise toxic chemicals also fall under the definition of chemical weapons.
    What is a Chemical Weapon? | OPCW
     
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  5. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

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    You mean like blaming Colombus et al for the discovery of America and thus blaming him for Trump?

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    In answer, though, no, I don't think science does, nor do I think those scientists do, as I think they are only beholden to their own personal moral compass.
    I think society as a whole does have responsibility to protect the world, full stop.
    Whether from scientific discoveries, or from any other perceived threat.
     
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  7. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    I agree. And that responsibility extends to scientists working on technologies that have a strong likelihood of being used for evil (or good.) Scientists are part of that society you mention.
     
  8. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    All discoveries have the potential to be used by somebody to harm somebody else. The ones made by nonscientists, the ones made by scientists, the ones made by accident, the ones made by dogs or children, all of them.
     
  9. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    True. Some have far more potential than others. Responsible scientists understand this - which is why many scientists (and engineers) refuse to work on certain projects.
     
  10. Beer w/Straw Transcendental Ignorance! Valued Senior Member

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    What if you're at war, you won responsibly, and victorious?

    There's a grain of savagery in people and no one can predict the future.
     
  11. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    That's the moral decision every scientist and engineer has to make.
     
  12. iceaura Valued Senior Member

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    But not enough to prevent the projects from going through.
    The decisions made are personal, lack reference to an agreed morality or organized spiritual insight, and have little collective influence over those tempted by money or otherwise confused by "rational" considerations.

    The "irresponsible" scientist prospers, in the short run.
     
  13. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    I want to believe that most scientists don't wish to bring harm to the general public. Scientists shouldn't be responsible for the actions of others, if those actions were not the intended use for the invention. The car example is a good one - if someone is driving recklessly knowing full well that such actions could potentially harm others, and he/she does in fact harm others, that wouldn't be the car engineer's fault.

    Should scientists know all potential consequences of their inventions? I think they should but they're human, and some things could slip through the cracks. But, in such cases, ignorance isn't a defense. You're responsible for what you create and sell to the general public, as being ''safe.''
     
  14. sideshowbob Sorry, wrong number. Valued Senior Member

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    There's always the, "If I don't do it, somebody else will," defense. Doesn't work for bank robbery, but scientists use it anyway, sometimes.
     
  15. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Obtaining a patent for an invention would be cool, but then you own it and all the liability.

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    Ideas don’t have any legal liability until you patent them.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2019
  16. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Only if you build and sell it. If it's licensed to someone else, then they have the liability. (Usually.)
     
  17. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Exactly. And I would add that many automotive engineers do a good job trying to _improve_ safety - airbags, emergency braking, ABS and safety glass would all be examples. If an engineer out there worked to reduce safety (i.e. spec'd parts or designs that he knew to be unsafe) he'd be partly responsible for the harm that occurred.
     
  18. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Really? I didn't know that. That might be the way to go, if you're an inventor. lol
     
  19. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    That's the way I went!
     
  20. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Congrats!

    I wonder if you'll be meme-worthy, someday? You've really made it if you become a meme.

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  21. Baldeee Valued Senior Member

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    Is Joseph Wilbrand responsible for millions of deaths simply because he developed a harmless yellow dye in 1863 (TNT)?
    Is Arthur Galston responsible for nearly a million deaths and birth defects because he invented a plant growth hormone in 1943, that would later be used as Agent Orange in the Vietnam war?
    Is the person who discovered Sarin gas responsible for the deaths resulting from its use, given that he discovered it by accident while researching for more effective insecticides?
    And similarly Zyklon B was initially discovered as a pesticide.

    Also bear in mind that there is a chasm of oversight, management, bureaucracy, and capitalism, between the discovery and the public.
    To hold the scientist responsible simply for the discovery is not something I agree with.
    Hold them responsible based on their motives and intentions, sure, but not for simply being the scientist.
     
  22. wegs Matter & Pixie Dust Valued Senior Member

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    Good points. I'm sure those scientists were devastated to learn that their discoveries/inventions were used for malice, since that wasn't their intent. Perhaps, it's best left to a case by case basis. If a scientist has the intent to profit from his/her discovery, then he/she should rule out as best as humanly possible, all potential risks.

    But, they shouldn't live in fear, either. Scientific discoveries have risks, if we're honest. We wouldn't have nearly the medicinal remedies, and technological advances today if scientists/engineers, etc lived in fear of hypothetical repercussions.
     
  23. billvon Valued Senior Member

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    Yep. That's all anyone can do.
     

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