Stretching ethics to fit science

Posted on October 5, 2010

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Professor Wiggly: ” It isn’t simple. Those experiments took place what… over 60 years ago. What’s considered ethical at one time may be condemned a few years later. After all these years the US Government has just apologized. Also, during wartime people – including scientists – do things they wouldn’t do at home. Nazi doctors caused horrible suffering in the name of science.”

Jenny:” Even today it ain’t simple, in order to evaluate the effect of a new treatment you have to use a comparison group that doesn’t get it. Furthermore,  the medical researchers are never sure whether a new treatment that produces miraculous cures today may lead to horrible illness in those same patients in later life. I guess scientists are only human, some of them want to become famous and rich even if it means turning  a blind eye on ethics and even though it stretching the truth, or lying.”

Peter: ” But what’s the alternative?  All new explorations involve risk. Risk is involved whenever we move into the future, whether it’s exploring new treatments or outer space. Nobody knows for sure what’s going to happen when you tip-toe or stride into tomorrow, whether it involves driving to work, a medical treatment, getting married, making an investment, eating at a restaurant, or taking an elevator.”

Professor Wiggly; “Peter’s right! And over the centuries society has developed  mores and institutions to provide the hope and trust necessary to travel into the unknown and mainly inknowable future, institutations that support us when things go wrong: institutions like the family, the courts, fire-departments, insurance companies, churches, hospitals, fraternal societies. These institutions help us manage the ever-present uncertainties of life. Some scientists take delight in criticising the limitations of such institutions, pointing out their inadequacies, including some of their irrational practices and lack of scientific evidence. But what does science promise in their place? Many scientists are humble, they appreciate that it takes years to solve complex problems, and that the solutions may create even greater problems such as super-bugs, global warming, nuclear wars, etc. But a few scientists are arrogant and self-righteous, and while failing to acknowledge the limitations of science or it’s devasting by-products offer us utopias – offer us pie in the sky.”

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Posted in: Sciencing