Posts in Ethical Responsibility
The headline reads 'Cracking Open the World Bank.' Above, a graphic shows ethereal streams of 1s and 0s issuing from a vault, its heavy door slightly ajar. The story below tells of a revolution at the World Bank. This global institution, long attacked as arrogant and inept, seems to be getting with the times. The information age heralds its future as open, digital and democratic. A closer reading, however, cautions against such a hasty conclusion.
A recent issue of Science magazine features a news article about seven scientists in Italy who are facing manslaughter charges for not predicting the danger of an earthquake that killed 308 people. The scientists were part of a risk committee of earth scientists who testified that incipient tremors were not evidence of an oncoming earthquake in 2009. While it may be presumptuous to actually put scientists on trial for a failure to dialogue with decision-makers, this puts into question the implicit “social contract of science” that has justified basic scientific research since the end of WWII.
Can science help us resolve our ethical dilemmas? (Let us forget all the dilemmas that it creates... for the moment.) According to a recent New York Times op-ed by Adam Shriver, the answer would appear to be “yes.” Scientists have been able to isolate the gene for a peptide critical to the functioning of the anterior cingulate gyrus (where the mammalian brain perceives pain) in mice.
In 2003, Tommy Chong, a comedian who made a career out of acting (and presumably being) stoned, got sent to federal prison for nine months for illegally selling beautiful custom-made blown-glass bongs ( “drug paraphernalia”) over the Internet. I want to focus on the government rationale for busting Chong, because it pertains to many difficult social problems.
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