by Joel Barkan
Over the past three days, our class has shifted gears to a discussion on the role of ethics in science. Dr. Craig Callender of UCSD’s philosophy department and Dr. Jay Odenbaugh, a professor of philosophy visiting from Lewis and Clark College, have joined us to offer a philosophical perspective to the topic of marine biodiversity and conservation.
The discussions have been both meditative and downright wacky: today, the subject of distributing “reproduction permits” to capable couples for the right to have children—a sort of cap-and-trade system of controlling the world’s population problem—was brought up (as a purely hypothetical, of course). You can imagine what the rest of our philosophical discussions were like.
One topic that provoked a lively debate was that of scientists using their professional achievements and status to advocate personal values. For instance: is it ethical for an accomplished fisheries biologist to advocate for widespread marine protected areas, which may have significant economic effects, but would protect the fisheries valued by the biologist?
Scientists are responsible for producing results that shape public policy, but should scientists also take on the role of advocating for that policy? Where do scientists draw the line between their role as researchers and as a citizens?
During this discussion, our course coordinator, Dr. Jeremy Jackson, brought up Dr. James Hansen of NASA as an example of a scientist who has dared to test the imaginary boundary between scientist and public advocate. Dr. Hansen, who was profiled extensively in Chris Mooney’s Storm World, has famously campaigned for action to limit human-induced climate change. Dodging a barrage of resistance from global warming skeptics and censorship by his own government, Dr. Hansen remained unwavering in his beliefs. Dr. Jackson—never one to be muzzled himself—referred to Dr. Hansen as a personal hero in this respect.
When science and politics intersect, roles and boundaries are often muddied. As Scripps graduate students, our own roles as both scientists and advocates will undoubtedly come into focus as we address issues in marine conservation.
While CM is traveling and I enter the homestretch of book edits, we’ve decided to feature some talented guest bloggers we enjoyed working with at last week’s communications workshop at Scripps. These graduate students are exactly the kind of emerging voices we highlighted in our Powell’s essay entitled The New Scientists and we’re pleased to have them contribute here. Kicking off the first post, we’d like to introduce readers to Joel Barkan.
Joel was born and raised in the small town of Holden, Maine, where he developed an interest in the ocean at the nearby coast. He attended Vassar College as an undergraduate, majoring in Environmental Studies. After graduating, Joel spent two winter field seasons in Hawaii with The Dolphin Institute where he assisted Dr. Adam Pack with humpback whale field research. Their work focused on population abundance and behavior in their breeding grounds. A highlight of each season was their collaboration with National Geographic, which sent a team to Maui to deploy a Crittercam (an underwater camera on humpbacks). He left Hawaii to work at the Catalina Island Marine Institute on Santa Catalina Island, twenty-five miles off the coast of Southern California. There Joel taught outdoor marine science to visiting middle and high school students in the form of snorkeling, kayaking, and hands-on labs. He came to Scripps Institution of Oceanography to pursue his interests in marine education and marine science policy.
Please join us in welcoming Joel to The Intersection! His first post about the role of scientists in policy decisions will appear in a few hours. Once again, since he is our guest, we will be strict when it comes to comments.
From The New York Times:
A growing body of evidence suggests that doctors at some of the nation’s top medical schools have been attaching their names and lending their reputations to scientific papers that were drafted by ghostwriters working for drug companies — articles that were carefully calibrated to help the manufacturers sell more products.
Experts in medical ethics condemn this practice as a breach of the public trust. Yet many universities have been slow to recognize the extent of the problem, to adopt new ethical rules or to hold faculty members to account.
Those universities may not have much longer to get their houses in order before they find themselves in trouble with Washington.
Read the full article here…