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Miller 1 Jennifer Miller Professor Bolton ENG 101 March 9, 2014 Scientific Discovery: Where Does Responsibility Lie?

Heather Douglas brings to question the responsibility scientists have for their discoveries in her article, The Dark Side of Science. By giving background information pertaining to the field of synthetic biology, Douglas asserts that there are substantial advancements being made in this field; however, these discoveries are also being harnessed in malicious ways. She acknowledges, Of course, impacts (whether harmful of beneficial) are not solely scientists responsibilityothers involved will also bear responsibility for their actions (125). In other words, radicals should be held to higher standards of responsibility, but scientists are guilty by association. Douglas mentions that there will always be members of society that can, and will, use this information, more often for harm than good. She heeds warning to scientists that they can no longer be credulous, in hopes that their work will be used for the benefit of mankind. Claiming that researchers should be held responsible for all impacts of their work, including tragedies, rests upon Douglas questionable assumptions that scientists do not weigh the implications of their research, nor could radicals discover such research themselves. While Douglas emphasizes the use of such research by terrorists, she seems to underestimate that these people are just as capable of educating themselves in the field of synthetic biology. We must realize that not all scientists work is ethically

Miller 2 driven. Some scientists may conduct their research solely for extremist groups, such as: Al-Qaeda, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), Al-shabaab, and the Taliban. Douglas reminds us, The world will always have the mentally unbalanced, the delusional, the vicious, and the sociopathic members of society, some of whom will also be intelligent enough to use the results of science (126). How do we know that these individuals could not responsible for the results she refers to? The assumption that a violent implication of science is a product of malicious individuals turning scientific development into a tool for terrorism is a generalization that negates this point made by Douglas. She continues, Consider, for example, the knowledge of how to build a virus like small pox from the ground up or how to create other pathogenic, tailored organismstargeted either to humans or the foods on which we depend. If it is readily foreseeable that such knowledge could be used for nefarious purposes, the scientists who introduce such new technological capacities are partially responsible for an attack that could ultimately cause millions of deaths. (125) Unfortunately, this fallacious statement is the exact thought process of many in our society. The benefits of aforementioned research are easily forgotten when human life is taken by manipulating the discoveries. So often, we feel the need to place blame in such circumstances; in this case, she connects the dots to scientists, making them an accessory simply for their pursuit of knowledge. The fashion in which Douglas is supporting her argument towards scientists responsibility can be compared to recent attacks on gun control. When a heinous crime is committed, we

Miller 3 often look for the superficial cause (access to potentially harmful research, ease of access to guns, legal distribution of drugs, etc.) to why this occurred versus delving deeper into the underlying issue. Instead of advocating for stricter punishments towards individuals who abuse scientific knowledge, Douglas calls for sanctions to regulate exploration and distribution of scientific projects and results. So, our question to her: could these sanctions regulate the non-existent capability of extremists? Furthermore, Douglas makes multiple assumptions that scientists have no regard for the malevolent uses of their work. She opens with, Scientists are responsible for both the impacts they intend and some of the impacts they do not intend, if they are readily foreseeable in specific detail (125). The essence of Douglas argument is that scientists lack the ability to reflect upon how their work could be potentially harmful. She continues, using an example of Einsteins E=mc2 equation and how this was used during wartime to build an atomic bomb (125). In showing that the scientists at Los Alamos were held responsible for this catastrophic development and Einstein was not, Douglas implies that Einstein should have been able to predict this outcome. I find it hard to believe that someone of such stature and education, as Einstein, would not realize how this equation could be used for war. In drawing this conclusion, she fails to ask herself the question: could the benefits of this discovery outweigh the consequences? We have to realize that Einsteins choice could have been as simple as the choice we make when taking prescribed medication. These medications, more times than not, come with a lengthy list of side effects; yet, we choose to take them because the benefit to our

Miller 4 health is greater than the risk of side effects. Another example of Douglas rash assumption is her statement, Scientists can no longer hope naively that people will only use science for the public good (126). Again, someone as educated as a scientific engineer in the field of synthetic biology should be referred to as anything but nave. When reading such belittling terms, we begin to question the integrity of Douglas. A lot of time, energy, and preparation go into scientific projects; it is nave for one to believe that no thought goes into possible ramifications of said projects. With the majority of her argument based on the assumption that harmful implications of discoveries are not considered, Douglas suggests oversight being placed on projects. She suggests, scientists could decidethat some forms of regulationeither in the selection of projects or in the control and dissemination of resultsbe imposed on the field of synthetic biology, to reduce risks (126). To place a hinder, such as this, on scientific discovery could be detrimental. Should we limit our curiosity, our quest for knowledge, or our potential growth just because we fear the mere possibility of our breakthroughs being used for harm? That is a huge what if to consider. Ponder this for a moment: what if we passed up a project, due to fear of how others could use the results, which led to the cure for cancer? Douglas claim that scientists are responsible for all impacts of their work, predictable or not, makes for controversial debate. In assuming that scientists dont consider repercussions of their work, and implying that terrorists could not commit malicious attacks without previously discovered knowledge, Douglas falls short when convincing readers to agree with her. Instead of regulating our curiosity and need for knowledge, we should focus our energy to combat, and bring to justice,

Miller 5 individuals who abuse knowledge to wreak havoc. As a whole, we must ask ourselves: should we regulate scientific freedom because of societys misfits? This is the essential tension: as long as anything beneficial can result in potential harm, there will always be debate about where responsibility lies (126).

Miller 6 Works Cited Douglas, Heather. The Dark Side of Science. The Norton Field Guide to Writing with Readings and Handbook. 3rd ed. Ed. Richard Bullock, Maureen Daly Goggin, and Francine Weinberg. New York: Norton, 2013. 124-126. Print