Social Responsibilities Of Science And Scientists

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The problem of responsibility of a scientist to society is complex and diverse. It consists of a considerable number of factors and is closely intertwined with the broader problem of ethical and moral aspects of science. A scientist is expected to be extremely demanding to the reliability of the data, to use a scientific approach of the analysis and provide a solid validity of the conclusions he makes. Scientists bare social and moral responsibilities; this implies that their work benefits the society, satisfies the needs of people, indicate the ways of further progress, gives reliable predictions and warns of likely negative consequences. I am going to use the example of Carson’s study about the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment that entailed a ban on the use of pesticides and, therefore, the death of millions of people because of malaria; and the example of the use and promotion of pseudoscience, including traditional Chinese medicine resorting to which a patient loses time without seeking qualified medical assistance, thereby reducing his chances of a positive result.

To begin with, usually the accidents and tragedies are only the consequences of a series of incorrect previous steps or unexpected circumstances, for example, malfunction of machinery. It is difficult to identify the guilty party because it is hard to determine where the chain of these wrong decisions began and who is more responsible; often everyone who participated in an action that results in a catastrophe is guilty. In a time of a freedom of thought and speech every person has the right to express his point of view no matter what way for this he chooses: to write his thoughts on the wall of his house or publish a book. However, when it comes to science everything changes. A scientist is not simply a profession, it is a title that carries some obligations and a waiver of certain human rights and freedoms. The activities of scientists must comply with several ethical norms: 1) the interests of science must be placed above personal interests; 2) a scientist must be objective and unbiased; 3) a scientist is responsible to society for the information he provides and for the inventions he creates. Expressing one’s own opinion under the guise of science is a crime.

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Rachel Carson published her book “Silent Spring” where the harmful effects of pesticides on the environment are described. The book tells that after the use of DDT and similar chemicals the entire population of songbirds disappeared in some regions. She was not the first or the only researcher who publicly expressed the concerns about the use of DDT and other pesticides. However, her book which combined scientific knowledge, observations and the simplicity of presentation became the most popular and contributed to the development of a social movement to protect the environment. Carson also claimed that children began to experience sudden deaths, anemia and leukemia. Moreover, women suffered from infertility and cervical cancer, and the cause of this was the use of pesticides (perhaps, these claims were caused by her paranoia because of breast cancer).

After the harmful effects were described in her book the US government imposed a ban on the use of pesticides, and then many other countries also banned or restricted the use of DDT. Despite the fact that the word “DDT” has become a synonym for a terrible poison, this pesticide was an effective weapon in the fight against the infection that killed more people than any other - malaria. By 1960, mainly due to DDT, malaria was eradicated in 11 countries, including the United States. When the level of threat from malaria decreased, the average duration of human’s life increased. After the ban of DDT, malaria again began to conquer the world. Since the mid 1970s, when DDT was banned around the world, millions of people died from malaria. The ban on the use of DDT in agriculture was justified, but its exclusion from the health sector was a mistake. In 2006 the World Health Organization renewed the use of DDT as a part of a program to control malaria that proves the fact that Carson was not objective in providing the information and she did not think about the consequences her book might cause.

A conclusion can be made that only the statement of one person should not be a sufficient reason to ban what works well even if it has some negative effects. Only the replacement of one solution with another can become a reason for banning the first. It is hard to say that Carson is indirectly responsible for the deaths of people. In this case not only Carson should be the person to blame, everyone in this chain are guilty more or less for what eventually happened: from ordinary people who believed those loud claims to the governments who made decisions to impose this ban. But because the scientist's title imposed certain social responsibilities on Carson, she should have supposed the possible consequences and proposed alternative solutions.

The following example concerns not a specific scientist, but the ancient principles of science, which formed the basis of traditional Chinese medicine. Chinese Science “can be understood in terms of three interlocking theories” (Kluz, n.d), which are the theory of five elements, the theory of two fundamental forces Yin-Yang and the associative thinking including the law of similarity and the law of contagion. Chinese medicine can be understood only as a holistic concept of thinking, the cause-analytical way of thinking should be put aside. Western medicine has evolved from the observations of the tangible material world: a human consists of organs, tissues and cells. What cannot be measured is ignored.

Chinese medicine is a discipline of invisible with definitions of space and time. A lot of people turn to traditional Chinese medicine for different reasons despite the fact that Chinese medicine theories are not proven by Western studies. First is the fact that some of the Western drugs cause negative side effects. Second, nowadays due to environmental pollutions and a distance from nature people strive for all organic, they try to cleanse the body of slags and toxins, and Chinese medicine is a way to avoid chemicals. Third, particular Chinese herbal medicine really works, but not because of its influence on Ci, but because some of herbs, such as eucalyptus, proven to have a positive effect on body and because of the placebo effect. Fourth is that Chinese medicine is cheaper and there are a lot of recipes how to make the medicine at home. However, there are a lot of cases when people used traditional Chinese medicine without resorting to the ordinary medicine, did not undergone medical examinations, thereby losing time and chances for recovery.

Thus, traditional Chinese medicine cannot be a substitute for Western medicine. Chinese medicine itself is not responsible to society for its possible reverse effects, but people who both promote this treatment as the only right way and people who only use this therapy bare responsibilities and are directly guilty of negative consequences. Chinese medicine should be considered as a pseudoscience, it can only be the way to prevent, for instance, a cold by strengthening immunity but it cannot cure serious diseases such as cancer.

To sum up, the limit of the responsibility of science and scientists to society lies where personal opinion and insufficiently confirmed facts turn into possible massive negative consequences that can take the lives of people. People tend to be lazy and trust everything written without checking the facts if they consider the resource reliable, especially if there is a word “science”. Knowing this, scientists are responsible for the possible effects of unverified data they release to people. The information must be verified several times because the risk is too high. However, not only scientists are responsible but also those who blindly trust the words and follow what is written or told without actual confirmation; everyone is in charge of his own life.

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Social Responsibilities Of Science And Scientists. (2022, February 24). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from
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