Friday, September 14, 2007

Scientific ethics

The British government's chief scientific advisor has set out a universal ethical code for scientists.

1) Act with skill and care, keep skills up to date
2) Prevent corrupt practice and declare conflicts of interest
3) Respect and acknowledge the work of other scientists
4) Ensure that research is justified and lawful
5) Minimise impacts on people, animals and the environment
6) Discuss issues science raises for society
7) Do not mislead; present evidence honestly

Professor Sir David King: "It's important to look at the relationship between science and the public. If we have a breakthrough, and society is not accepting of that, then we have a problem; so what we need is for scientists to accept the code and follow it [...] We believe if every scientist followed the code, we would improve the quality of science and remove many of the concerns society has about research."

Lib Dem science spokesman Dr Evan Harris: "The seven points in this code are part of what separates researchers from charlatans, medicine from quackery and science from supposition."

So. It seems that scientists and policy makers are still trying to figure out what to do about fiascos like The Fall of Hwang, even if he was on to something useful.

Personally, I struggle to see how scientific authority is under serious threat from lay people - it's still scientists telling the rest of us what they should do and not the other way around - but I appreciate how a manoeuvre like this opens up the opportunity to debate what science is, and should be.

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Anonymous jean said...

This reminds me of a big question that has been bothering me for a while now - sorry to attach it to this perfectly innocent blog entry, but I'm doing it anyway.

Most of the time, like you I hear the victim narratives of scientists, and I also struggle to see 'how scientific authority is under serious threat from lay people' -- except, that is, for the whole intelligent design thing, for example. What do the secular-humanist-social-scientists interested in unpacking or critiquing or questioning scientific authority do about that?

Blogger Chris said...

I thought of you a few weeks ago when I wrote this piece on Ethics of Science.

Reading Arendt's "The Conquest of Space and the Stature of Man" just after writing that was an odd piece of timing. ;)

Best wishes!

Anonymous anne said...

jean - that's interesting. i've heard sociologists lament the influence of post-structural and social-constructivist thinking precisely because it opened up a path to exactly the kind of thinking originally opposed, but i always said that to confuse those ways of thinking with moral relativism was a mistake. all of which is to say that the evolutionary scientists and intelligent design proponents have particular strategies and tactics to maintain their authority in particular domains...

chris - wow, that looks great! i'll read it more closely and get back to you :)

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