The nuclear bomb, test-tube babies, recombinant DNA, genetically modified organisms, and reproductive cloning are scientific achievements that have aroused fears and concerns among citizens. Conscious of the need to balance the development of new scientific knowledge with the maintenance of trust between science and society, scientists struggle with their social responsibility. This paper compares the concept of social responsibility as reflected, on the one hand, within the Canadian regulatory framework, and as implied, on the other hand, in the discourse of scientists such as James D. Watson, Jacques Testart and Albert Einstein. We identify two opposite normative forces, and suggest a way to reconcile this tension.
In the struggle for scientific knowledge, researchers are challenged by two normative forces pulling them in opposite directions, that is: acting for the benefit of society (social engagement) versus acting for the benefit of science (autonomy of science). To start with, scientists are invited to be actively involved in the betterment of society: to contribute to the common good, to respect the dignity and autonomy of human and animal subjects in research, and to ensure the fair distribution of benefits and burdens of the growing knowledge enterprise. Under such a view of social responsibility, a dynamic network involving university, industry, and government has emerged. At the opposite, other duties seem to propel researchers outside of society, into the “ivory tower” of science. Under this second perspective of social responsibility, what matters is strictly the autonomy and integrity of science itself. At this point, one hears of intellectual freedom, scholarship and collegiality among researchers.
Our view is that the tension created by these two opposite ideals is essential to the sustainment of a vibrant professional ethics in research. For therein rests the dynamic equilibrium upon which ultimately depends the vitality of a scientist’s ethics.
|Keywords:||Ethics, Science, Scientists, Social Role, Society, Academic Freedom, Common Good, Biotechnology, Bioethics, Biomedical Ethics|
Ph.D Student, Faculty of Food and Agricultural Sciences/Animal sciences, Faculty of Philosophy, Laval University, Quebec, Quebec, Canada
Associate Professor, Department of Animal Sciences, Laval University, Quebec, Quebec, Canada