Do scientists have special moral responsibilities simply because they are scientists? I shall argue that they do not. Though concerned with scientists, the argument has wider implications, especially for the assumption-common among academics-that professors have special moral obligations simply because they are professors.
This chapter began as a contribution to a conference, “Knowledge and Responsibility: The Moral Role of Scientists.” The conference's sponsors, the Midwest Consortium for International Security Studies and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, seemed to assume that something in the nature of scientists, their knowledge, imposes special moral responsibilities on them, whatever they may do, say, or wish. The assumption is, however, not limited to the organizers of that conference. For example, two researchers, one at the University of Texas at Houston and the other at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, declared in a joint paper on “The Social Responsibilities of Biological Scientists”:
when a person has special knowledge about and responsibility for a particular discovery and the discovery becomes the basics for a consequential outcome, as scientists have when they discover and interpret phenomena, their responsibility flows not from a general commitment to serve one's fellow citizens, but from a direct commitment to take account of effects which their own actions revealed. 1
Though mere knowledge is often the specific feature of scientists