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A Perspective on Science 5 – Science and Social Responsibility

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DrRocket

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<p><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">A Perspective on Science 5 &ndash; Science and Social Responsibility</span></p><p><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">Many if not most of the socially important questions addressed by scientists involve a good deal of uncertainty.<span>&nbsp; </span>In addressing these issues the scientist should clearly distinguish between that which he knows and can prove and that which he thinks to be true but about which he cannot be certain.<span>&nbsp; </span>He is certainly entitled to an opinion and that opinion deserves somewhat greater weight than that of an uninformed person.<span>&nbsp; </span>However, his opinion is not and should not be definitive.</span><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">&nbsp;</span><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">Therefore the scientist ought to be very cognizant of and point out those items in his assessment that are subject to uncertainty.<span>&nbsp; </span>Moreover, to do good science the sources of potential uncertainty ought to be highlighted and quantified as far as possible, and when not possible, that fact pointed out.</span></p><p><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">There are issues of ethics to be addressed when science impinges on public policy.<span>&nbsp; </span>The scientist or engineer has an obligation to act in the public interest.<span>&nbsp; </span>To discharge this responsibility it is necessary that scientific data and predictions be presented in a factual and clear manner.<span>&nbsp; </span>That includes the assumptions made, the data used, the uncertainties in any model used, and the objective implications of the results.</span></p><p><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">The personal opinions of the scientist are valuable to the community at large, because they may be based on experiences and intuition gained from that experience that is rare in the population.<span>&nbsp; </span>Those opinions ought to be expressed.<span>&nbsp; </span>When expressed, they should be clearly labeled as opinions.<span>&nbsp; </span>Similarly a scientist may advocate one or another of competing positions, but advocacy should be clearly labeled as such.</span></p><p><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">One sign of advocacy is the number of dissenting opinions in the scientific community.<span>&nbsp;&nbsp; </span>One may discount the lunatic fringe in counting dissentions.<span>&nbsp; </span>However, one must be most careful since mere dissent from a majority, even a heavy majority, is not sufficient cause to be discounted as a lunatic. <span>&nbsp;</span>The question of whether to label another as taking an advocacy position rather than an objective one is a personal decision.<span>&nbsp; </span>The decision as to whether to discount a dissenting argument is also a personal one and is subject to one&rsquo;s own biases and experiences.<span>&nbsp; </span>It is a delicate distinction, and becomes easier to do the deeper and wider one&rsquo;s experience becomes.<span>&nbsp; </span>When in doubt, the best course of action is to continue with an open mind.</span></p><p><span style="font-size:10pt;font-family:Arial">The ultimate decision on social issues belongs to society and its mechanisms and representatives. <span>&nbsp;</span>The scientist is a vital element in making decisions.<span>&nbsp; </span>But he is not the only factor or even necessarily the determining factor.<span>&nbsp; </span>In the long run democracy is messy and inefficient but it is better than the next-best process.<span>&nbsp; </span><span>&nbsp;&nbsp;</span></span></p> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> </div>
 
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