Should researchers feel responsible for the social consequences of their discoveries?
Chosing to ignore the finality of 'our' research findings may be convenient and even comfortable, but it bypasses the fact that research can have deva... [more]
Chosing to ignore the finality of 'our' research findings may be convenient and even comfortable, but it bypasses the fact that research can have devastating effects.
A case in point is the Manhattan Project which saw many of the very best mathematicians and physicists of the time gather for years in the desert of New Mexico to develop the first operational atomic bomb. Most of the academics recruited on that project worked under the delusion that it would culminate with a simple ‘demonstration’ of technological force in the desert. But a few weeks later, the dropping of the first atomic bomb on a civilian population did put an end to the war and also to the age of innocence (causing a lasting divide between two camps- roughly Robert Oppenheimer vs Edward Teller). Other, more recent examples will be found in medical and genetic research, for instance.
There lies a difficult, troubling question, which tracks a non quantifiable variable - the social consciousness of researchers. Pushing ahead blindly, ‘just for the sake of scientific knowledge, cannot be the answer. But then, where should we call it ‘stop’. Where should we draw the line?