Today in my "Ethics in Science" class, we took up a question that reliably gets my students (a mix of science majors and non-science major) going: Do scientists have special obligations to society that non-scientists don't have?
Naturally, there are some follow-up questions if you lean towards an affirmative answer to that first question. For example:
- What specifically are those special obligations?
- Why do scientists have these particular obligations when non-scientists in their society don't?
- How strong are those obligations? (In other words, under what conditions would it be ethically permissible for scientists to fall short of doing what the obligations say they should do?)
I think these are important -- and complex -- questions, some of which go to the heart of what's involved in scientists and non-scientists successfully sharing a world. But, it always helps me to hear the voices (and intuitions) of some of the folks besides me who are involved in this sharing-a-world project.
So, for the scientists in the audience, I have some questions I hope you will answer in the comments on this post.*
1. As a scientist, do you have any special duties or obligations to the non-scientists with whom you're sharing a world? If yes, what are they?
2. If you have special duties or obligations, as a scientist, to the rest of society, why do you have them? Where did they come from? (If you don't have special duties or obligations as a scientist, why not?
3. As a scientist, what special duties or obligations (if any) do the non-scientists with whom you're sharing a world have to you?
Who counts as a scientist here? I'm including anyone who has been trained (past the B.A. or B.S. level) in a science, including people who may be currently involved in that training and anyone working in a scientific field (even in the absences of schooling past the B.A. or B.S. level).
That means I count as a scientist here (even though I'm not currently employed as a scientist or otherwise involved in scientific knowledge-building).
If you want to say something about these questions but you're a non-scientist according to this definition, never fear! You are cordially invited to answer a corresponding set of questions, posed to the non-scientists with whom scientists are sharing a world, on my other blog.
* If you prefer to answer the questions on your own blog, or in some other online space, please drop a link in the comments here, or point me to it via Twitter (@docfreeride) or email (email@example.com).