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.
Links to this Post
- Aquaculture – A View From SIO « NCTimes.com Blogs | January 23, 2010