What Is the (ethical) Role of Scientists?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Naomi Oreskes, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, United States
Many scientists are reluctant to speak out on issues of broad societal importance for fear that doing so crosses into territory that is not the scientists’ domain. Others fear that scientists lose credibility when they address ethical and moral issues. A related concern is that discussing social or ethical questions runs the risk of politicizing science. Yet history shows that in the past, scientists often have spoken out on broad issues of societal concern, often (although not always) effectively. This paper explores the conditions under which scientists may be effective spokesmen and women on ethical and moral choices, and suggests some criteria by which scientists might decide when and whether it is appropriate for them to speak out beyond the circles of other technical experts.