Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A science oath?

Sorry to diverge from the current Bacontroversy, but I saw this blog post about a scientific version of the Hippocratic oath, which students at the University of Toronto are compelled to take, and since a few BFBers are scientists, wondered what we think. Does science need an oath? Is scientific misconduct a really big problem, and will taking an oath help reduce or eliminate it?

And more important, does our blog need an oath?

17 comments:

Kris said...

I don't think that the oath presented in the blog would benefit the scientifc community. The first part makes enough sense as it seems to imply that you shouldn't fabricate or lie about data for personal gain. This should be obvious to most scientists who know that if they do fabricate evidence, typically someone will catch it. Or no one will be able to recreate the experiment and thus it will be labeled a fluke (I've seen a bit of this in physics). As for the second part. I am not sure that an oath requiring scientists to "create knowledge for the greater good, but never to the detriment of...." is a realistic request for scientists. Think about the men working on the atomic bomb project. Would their work have violated this part of the oath? As scientists it is our job to create. And usually most of the things we create can have both good and bad uses. So how are we to define what is for the greater good? Some of the best inventions have come from funding from the DoD. This is why scientific ethics is such a debatable topic. So we do our work and hope that one day we don't hear that something we created is killing millions of people. Maybe I am not requiring scientists to take enough responsibility for our actions, but even the research that was to create something in order to kill people (the atomic bomb) has yielded long reaching positive outcomes as well.

kevthegreat said...

I've always felt oaths and pledges were one of the most pointless, useless, propagandistic wastes of breath in existence. If, by the end of their studies, a student doesn't realize it's wrong to plagiarize and/or fabricate scientific data, then they shouldn't be graduating. An oath sure as hell isn't going to work.

Now, creating and requiring scientific ethics classes to be taken by any student in the science field, in my opinion, would be a hell of a lot more useful and should be done. Med and law students (and even some business programs) are required to take these type of classes. Why not potential scientists?

As for our blog, we should encourage unethical behavior, as it makes for better entertainment.

Kris said...

I agree with Kev that we should have to take an ethics course. And that it would be much more useful than an oath or a pledge.

Kris said...

The problem with a scientific ethics course is that once you get past the obvious stuff, who and what decides what is ethical? Cloning? Testing on animals?

kevthegreat said...

Sure, there's always issues with deciding what is ethical and not, but to at least familiarize students with those issues would be benificial. Science ethics is a fairly well represented field of study, and getting more people involved in these debates is never a bad thing.

Kris said...

As long as the course was presented more in the format of a seminar that was open to debates I think it is a good idea.

Kris said...

Dr. X, Did you have to take an ethics course in grad school? We don't here. Kev, what about RPI?

kevthegreat said...

Nah, I've never heard of any program that requires an ethics class. Maybe in bio?

DrX said...

No ethics course for me. I've always thought that an ethics course and a "history of your field" course should be required for graduate students. In Chemistry, Biology and Physics there are an enormous number of foreign students from China, India and the Middle East, many of whom have had to do things that Americans would call unethical just to look good enough on paper to get into our programs. It's absolutely essential that they know what's accepted and forbidden in the big leagues, and we aren't teaching them that.

This is compounded by the fact that a term paper's worth of writing is only a Google search away. ESL students got caught here lifting other people's writing because they lack confidence in their own writing abilities. They didn't even know it was plagiarism.

kevthegreat said...

You know, that's a really good point. One thing I've learned from working in the semiconductor field, is that patent law barely exists in most Asian countries.

If you're trying to get into industry in this country, it's very easy to get yourself, and your company, into trouble if you don't pay close attention to other companies' IP (especially the large companies with large legal funds).

I've seen many a small companies shut down because they couldn't afford to fight it out in court or to liscence patents they were infringing on. It's something you always have to be aware of.

Mikey OOO said...

Didi Kev and Kris actually have a civil conversation with each other??? And Dr. X added insightful input without swearing??? What has this blogging contest done to you guys???

kevthegreat said...

This isn't part of the contest, dude. See, the contest is a hazing/weeding out ritual for you newbies.

DrX said...

Exactly, fucker. We can't just have anybody posting nonsense about volleyball to our elite blog.

phishbone23 said...

I agree with Kev about the oath. Shouldn't be graduating if you still have that kind of naivete. As for the particular content of this oath: What if you go to school to be an evil scientist? Yes, it is bad to fake results and plagiarize and stuff like that, but the "greater good" part is ridiculous. Obviously very few organizations in the world would ever cater to this (eg. SCEPTRE, Evil U.), but I say if you have the money and its your prerogative, go ahead. Who are we to sensor anything like that. Science still has roots in art (eg. "state of the art"), so to sensor things for the "greater good" is like sensoring art for the same reason. purple monkey octopus.

Mummy Hitler said...

What are these "ethics" you speak of? Is that some kind of pussy liberal talk? I have no problem with oaths, as long as they are for complete loyalty to me, and anyone who breaks them are shot.

kevthegreat said...

That's our Mummy Hitler!

kevthegreat said...

He so crazy!

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