Is Science Morally Neutral?

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20160309

2016030920160312 (R4)

In 1816, when Mary Shelley sat down to write her Gothic novel Frankenstein, it was a time of social, political and scientific upheaval. It has given us the archetypal image of the mad scientist single-mindedly pursing his grotesque experiments whatever the cost. "Frankenstein Science" has even become its own category, especially beloved by tabloid headline writers. 200 years on and the pace of scientific development has increased exponentially; the fact that Shelley's Frankenstein still has such a hold reflects the powerful role science plays in modern life and also, perhaps, the fear that we don't understand it or know how to control it. Now the head of the Science Council has said that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath and a regulation system of ethical standards and principles similar to doctors. Would more control give us better, more ethical scientists, or just restrain creativity and academic freedom? If we control scientists more closely, is there a case for arguing that we should exercise more control over the research they carry out? Is science morally neutral? Is it just the choices about how to apply scientific knowledge that are truly moral? In a world where advances in science have the power to profoundly change our lives and the lives of future generations, can scientists still rely on that distinction? This week scientists are meeting in America to discuss the controversial "gain-of-function" research on highly infectious viruses such as avian flu. Do we need more moral, ethical and democratically accountable oversight of research? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Belinda Phipps, Prof Terence Kealey, Prof Andy Stirling and Bryan Roberts.

2016030920160312 (R4)

In 1816, when Mary Shelley sat down to write her Gothic novel Frankenstein, it was a time of social, political and scientific upheaval. It has given us the archetypal image of the mad scientist single-mindedly pursing his grotesque experiments whatever the cost. "Frankenstein Science" has even become its own category, especially beloved by tabloid headline writers. 200 years on and the pace of scientific development has increased exponentially; the fact that Shelley's Frankenstein still has such a hold reflects the powerful role science plays in modern life and also, perhaps, the fear that we don't understand it or know how to control it. Now the head of the Science Council has said that scientists need their own version of the Hippocratic Oath and a regulation system of ethical standards and principles similar to doctors. Would more control give us better, more ethical scientists, or just restrain creativity and academic freedom? If we control scientists more closely, is there a case for arguing that we should exercise more control over the research they carry out? Is science morally neutral? Is it just the choices about how to apply scientific knowledge that are truly moral? In a world where advances in science have the power to profoundly change our lives and the lives of future generations, can scientists still rely on that distinction? This week scientists are meeting in America to discuss the controversial "gain-of-function" research on highly infectious viruses such as avian flu. Do we need more moral, ethical and democratically accountable oversight of research? Chaired by Michael Buerk with Giles Fraser, Claire Fox, Mathew Taylor and Michael Portillo. Witnesses are Belinda Phipps, Prof Terence Kealey, Prof Andy Stirling and Bryan Roberts.