Responsible Conduct of Research

By Adil E. Shamoo; David B. Resnik | Go to book overview

12
The Scientist in Society

This chapter discusses several important issues regarding scientists' role in society, including social responsibility, advocacy, expert testimony and expert opinion, public oversight of research, censorship of science, the clash between science and religion, and the public funding of research and development. The chapter also discusses the relationship between science and human values and provides a historical overview of the development of science and its impact on society.


THE ASCENSION OF SCIENCE

Most people find it difficult to comprehend that science was not always the complex, technical, intimidating, and powerful social institution that it now is. The term “science” was not even coined until the 1800s. Before this time, what we now call “science” was regarded as a type of natural philosophy. The full English title of one of the most important books in the history of science, Isaac Newton's (1642–1727) Principia, was “The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy” (1687). Galileo Galilei's (1564–1642) two great books, Dialogues Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (1632) and Dialogues Concerning the Two New Sciences (1638 [1991]), were extended debates about natural philosophy written in the style of a Socratic dialogue. Some of the greatest scientists throughout history, such as Aristotle, Robert Boyle, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Galileo, Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein, also wrote on humanistic subjects, such as philosophy, theology, history, psychology, and politics.

In the modern world, a chasm has emerged between the “hard” sciences, such as chemistry, physics, and biology, and the “soft” sciences and humanistic disciplines, such as economics, sociology, psychology, history, philosophy, theology, literature, and law. C. P. Snow described this rift in an influential monograph, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1964). According to Snow, the hard sciences deal with “objective” facts and use experimental methods, whereas the soft sciences and humanistic disciplines address “subjective” values and employ literary and philosophical methods. The two cultures have trouble communicating with each other, and there is a division of epistemological labor: scientists conduct research; humanists (and other members of society) address the value questions that arise in research. As a result of this split, many scientists have thought that they do not need to address the value implications of their work, and many humanists have felt that they do not need to understand the factual basis of public policy issues.

During this century, philosophers have written many books and articles about questions concerning the relations between “facts” and “values.” Some

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