Ethics in Science

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Dr Graeme Watt
Aristeidis Koliopoulos

Ethics in Science

Should scientist have a common ethics code like the oath of Hippocrates for the doctors, or similar to the oath the lawyers give towards society? In order to answer this question it is necessary to examine the meaning of the words Science and Ethics, first independently and then in the context of society.

The first step in this process is to define each word. According to Wikipedia “…science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge humans have gained by such research”[1]. Ethics on the other hand “… is the attempt to arrive at general moral standards that tell us [people] how to judge right from wrong, or good from bad, and how to live moral lives”[2]. The above interpretations are, at first glance, not connected to each other. Science is a process, a system, a way to acquire knowledge about the physical world around us. Science, in its pure form, does not have sides, good or bad, positive or negative. Science, one could propose, is the force of understanding. Ethics on the other hand, is a set of criteria, created by man, to define a guideline to his existence. A guideline between what should and what should not occur. Hence the question must be transformed into “Should scientists be moral? Do scientists need ethical guidelines, as part of a society, in order to function?” A step further could be “Under which conditions would a scientific morality be objective?”

There have been many proposals for the creation of a universal code of ethics for scientists. Sir Arnold Wolfendale[3] proposed “I will not, knowingly, carry out research which is to the detriment of humanity. If, in the event, research to which I have contributed is used, in my view, to the detriment of the human race then I shall work actively to combat its development”. In his statement Sir Wolfendale remains moral to his ethics code by proposing to...
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