21
Do We Regulate Science?

There's a strong impulse to attempt to control the direction of scientific research because in recent years there has been a steadily intensifying notion that science can and perhaps will present humanity with overwhelming danger.

Who can feel at ease as scientists learn more and more about nerve gases, sophisticated space weapons, and genetic engineering? Who can be satisfied with the pile-up of radioactive wastes, the prospects of ever more deadly war, the possibilities of modifying human structure and behavior?

Why should we not establish a review board to consider the routes along which scientific research is progressing—to slow them here, hasten them there, turn them this way or that in another place, and, on occasion, to stop a particular line of research cold?

But it's not so easy. The curious human mind makes strange leaps and a discovery aborted here is then duplicated there. In 1847, an Italian chemist, Ascanio Sobrero, discovered nitroglycerine and (inevitably) also discovered its explosive quality.Horrified at the destructive uses to which he foresaw it might be put, he stopped all research in that direction.

It didn't help. Others made the same discovery, and those others did not stop.

For that matter, should it have been stopped? Certainly advances in the knowledge of explosives produced new and deadlier weapons by the end of the century. On the other hand, Alfred Nobel tamed nitroglycerine and produced dynamite, and there's no need to go into all the constructive uses of high explosives.

We must, in other words, make a distinction between knowledge itself and the uses to which knowledge is put.

-104-

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The Roving Mind
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Roving Mind *
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword Isaac Asimov: Science Popularizer, Skeptic, and Rationalist xi
  • A Celebration of Isaac Asimov — a Man for the Universe xv
  • Introduction 1
  • Part I the Religious Radicals *
  • 1: The Army of the Night *
  • 3: The Reagan Doctrine 20
  • 4: The Blind Who Would Lead 24
  • 5: Creeping Censorship 27
  • 6: Losing the Debate 29
  • Part II Other Aberrations 30
  • 7: The Harvest of Intelligence *
  • 8: That Old-Time Violence 37
  • 9: Little Green Men or Not? 40
  • 10: Don'T You Believe? 43
  • 11: Open Mind? 47
  • 12: The Role of the Heretic 49
  • Part III Population *
  • 13: The Good Earth is Dying *
  • 14: The Price of Survival 66
  • 15: Letter to a Newborn Child 72
  • Part IV Science: Opinion 74
  • 16: Technophobia *
  • 17: What Have You Done for Us Lately? 84
  • 18: Speculation 88
  • 19: Is It Wise for Us to Contact Advanced Civilizations? 92
  • 20: Pure and Impure 97
  • 21: Do We Regulate Science? 104
  • 22: For Public Understanding of Science 107
  • 23: Science Corps 110
  • 24: Science and Beauty 113
  • 25: Art and Science 116
  • 26: The Fascination of Science 120
  • 27: Sherlock Holmes as Chemist 127
  • Part V Science: Explanation 132
  • 28: The Global Jigsaw *
  • 29: The Inconstant Sun 139
  • 30: The Sky of the Satellites 151
  • 31: The Surprises of Pluto 157
  • 32: Neutron Stars 160
  • 33: Black Holes 162
  • 34: Faster Than Light 165
  • 35: Hyperspace 169
  • 36: Beyond the Universe 175
  • 37: Life on Earth 183
  • Part VI the Future 188
  • 38: Transportation and the Future *
  • 39: The Corporation of the Future 200
  • 40: The Future of Collecting 208
  • 41: The Computerized World 214
  • 42: The Individualism to Come 228
  • 43: The Coming Age of Age 237
  • 44: The Decade of Decision 244
  • 45: Do You Want to Be Cloned? 251
  • 46: The Hotel of the Future 256
  • 47: The Future of Plants 262
  • 48: Bacterial Engineering 266
  • 49: Flying in Time to Come 272
  • 50: The Ultimate in Communication 278
  • 51: His Own Particular Drummer 285
  • 52: The Future of Exploration 295
  • 53: Homo Obsoletus? 300
  • 54: Volatiles for the Life on Luna 307
  • 55: Touring the Moon 312
  • 56: Life on a Space Settlement 317
  • 57: The Payoff in Space 324
  • Part VII Personal *
  • 58: I Am a Signpost *
  • 59: The Word-Processor and I 334
  • 60: A Question of Speed 337
  • 61: A Question of Spelling 340
  • 62: My Father 344
  • Acknowledgments 348
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