{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cindy Frewen Wuellner May 9, 2010 at 6:26 pm

We could substitute many expert professions, such as mine – architecture – and it would be fitting. thanks for sharing this information, I will get the book.


2 Andrew Maynard May 10, 2010 at 7:43 am

I agree Cindy – in fact, it makes me wonder whether some professions do have professional guidelines along these lines…


3 Richard Jones May 10, 2010 at 4:06 am

Thanks for posting this, Andrew. I very much like these principles, I agree with all of it and, as you say, it’s expressed in a very clear and jargon free way.

Among the things that aren’t said often enough, the comments in points 3 and 9 about the need to avoid over-hyping one’s own work and doing down competitors are important. Point 7 – about avoiding arrogance – sounds utopian to me! I think the important point here isn’t so much that scientists shouldn’t be arrogant about their own work and achievements, and by extension about the virtues of science as a wider body of knowledge, but that they shouldn’t be dismissive about other areas of human endeavour, whether that’s other academic disciplines, or for that matter the deep skills and knowledge that many people need to have to do what they do, whether that’s building houses, keeping livestock, or understanding value added tax. This of course is the attitude that needs to inform the two-way engagement in point 2 (and maybe it’s better to put it this way than by seeking the more traditional sounding reverence for high culture of point 14). One could also expand point 6 – I think there would be less unreflective science hubris around if more scientists read more widely about the history of science and technology, and had some acquaintance with the fascinating debates about their philosophical underpinnings

Point 11 is going to be the trickiest to get consensus for because what one thinks about it depends so much on one’s political point of view. Within the current (somewhat tattered) free market based western consensus there is only one way for technology to be applied for public good, and that’s through the market, so it’s impossible to avoid at least some scientists engaging with private industry. It’s obvious then that conflicts of interest are likely to arise. Of course people should be aware of these and try and work round them, but ultimately these are deep-seated structural problems that can’t really be solved by individual scientists. They need collective action – it’s about politics.


4 Andrew Maynard May 10, 2010 at 8:19 am

Thank for this Richard.

I wonder whether point 7 would be better framed in terms of humility – a willingness to question one’s own assertions and to listen openly to others. This would reflect some of the thinking of people like Sheila Jasanoff, and would avoid emotive and potentially unhelpful accusations of “arrogance.”

On point 14, although I fully agree with the principles here, I wonder whether it would resonate more with the current generation (or generations…) if it was framed in a more culturally relevant way. I appreciate Rembrandt and Beethoven as much as the next person, but there have been many other important cultural influences over the decades and centuries – and I really dislike cultural snobbery, which is a potential issues when the bastions of the cultural elite are wheeled out.

And I agree with you on point 11 that commercial interests is a tricky issue, and one that probably needs further thinking through. As Robert has framed it, the point presents a useful warning to be careful when mixing science with business. But commercial interests are an important fact of life in science, and I suspect more clarity is needed on how best to ensure these relationships are beneficial rather than being destructive.

Associated with this, any potential funding source of science raises issues of bias and vested interest – whether industry, government or other groups. This is almost – but not quite – touched on in point 10. It might be useful to think more broadly in terms of how sponsorship and funding impacts science, and how adverse impacts might be avoided (how many scientists moderate what they do and say when they feel their actions might jeopardize their chances of successfully bidding for grants for instance?).


5 Ruth Seeley May 10, 2010 at 11:06 am

And of course cultural literacy will vary from culture/country to culture/country too – while we may pride ourselves on being able to quote Shakespeare, hum a little Beethoven and describe important works by Rembrandt, we’re ignoring cultural icons from Asia, Africa, and aboriginal peoples entirely. And of course there’s also the huge disconnect between pop culture and highbrow culture, which is one of the reasons I occasionally force myself to read things like Judith Krantz’s Princess Daisy (the first English-language book to outsell the Bible, apparently). My reasons for doing so aren’t particularly noble – I just firmly believe it’s wrong to sneer from a position of intuitive ignorance.


6 Hilary Sutcliffe May 10, 2010 at 10:42 am

Thanks Andrew, I have been looking at these too and have had a few chats with folks over here about how we can use them for a practical discourse on science and society, and also consider a Business Manifesto, Government Manifesto and even Society’s Manifesto, maybe even a Media Manifesto (ok that is perhaps too ‘aspirational’!! There is some interest in this, so will keep you posted. Prof Winston when I mentioned this idea to him was keen as he hadn’t really any plans for this other than to lob it into the mix and see what happened.

This is in a way the next step from Sir David King’s Ethical Code for Scientists.

* Act with skill and care, keep skills up to date
* Prevent corrupt practice and declare conflicts of interest
* Respect and acknowledge the work of other scientists
* Ensure that research is justified and lawful
* Minimise impacts on people, animals and the environment
* Discuss issues science raises for society
* Do not mislead; present evidence honestly

What I like about a ‘manifesto’ as opposed to the Ethical Code, Principles For.. route is that it has a positiveness and inspirational quality that this Code approach somehow lacks. They are more about, what I called when working with business, the ‘business is bad and something must be done’ mentality. Which is actually pretty unmotivating for those being cajoled to make the change and pretty much doesn’t work.

I also think that businesses are ready to have that discussion, our first Business/Ethics/Emerging Tech working group meets on Thursday and these sort of issues are what we will focus our energies on for the next few months (if we can get the cash that is! I am hoping to pull together a business manifesto of some sort to add to the debate and also bring the two together.

What we need is an energetic, proactive and more inspiring discourse among all actors, but particularly science and business, it could be quite exciting!


7 Richard Jones May 11, 2010 at 4:28 am

Hilary, it seems to me that the starting point for the Dave King code is that it is about the actions of an individual – what one should do and not do to be a responsible scientist. What the manifesto is moving towards is much more recognition that science is a social enterprise. In part this means much more explicit recognition that the values of the larger community are shaped by the way individual scientists operate (scientists, for example, are notorious for complaining about how terrible peer review is, but have to be reminded that it is they who are the peer reviewers). The downside is that one has to acknowledge that there are areas in which individual scientists can feel that they lack power and agency. Under point 11, for example, scientists may well be aware of the dangers of an over-eager pursuit of commercial interests, but if that’s what their employers, universities or government are urging them to do they may not be in a position to resist. That’s why there’s a need, not just for scientists to think about their own actions, but for a wider discussion about the relationship between science and society. This is necessarily a political discussion.


8 Hilary Sutcliffe May 11, 2010 at 5:31 am

Yes, I see what you are saying Richard, you are quite right. In a way, I felt that your point was one of the things that the UK’s Science and Trust working group was considering, and may consider in more depth as part of its next steps. But for me they, and the Science for All group didn’t actually nail it in the strategic and political sense that you are suggesting. But I may be being uncharitable. I know there is some deep thinking going on about this, which I am sure you are involved in.

Interesting to see what happens given all the turmoil and dire shortage of cash!


9 Richard Jones May 11, 2010 at 12:18 pm

Well, since it’s the LibDems stated position to abolish the Science and Society program, maybe the working groups won’t get to take this stuff much further.


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