Archiv für November 2005

Abuse of Science

November 29, 2005 - Markus Hoenicka
There is an interesting writeup in the New England Journal of Medicine covering one of the topics that all researchers in the biomedical field should be interested in. Meng-Kin Lim starts his essay saying "All technological advancements - from knives and forks to airplanes and rockets - have been exploited for destructive ends". Needless to say that it is not a solution to end research in order to end its abuse, but it is sad to see that there is no real solution to this problem, regardless of the attempts mentioned in the article.
I assume that only a fraction of all research worldwide is conducted to develop outright weapons. However, as just about anything that can be abused will be abused, we're always running the risk to contribute to a kind of research we never wanted to. And while the information was hardly accessible to non-experts until a couple of years ago, most of it is accessible on the internet these days, both for good and for bad. Dr. Lim points out that not even ethical guidelines or even self-imposed ethical conduct will help as there is always the possibility of higher considerations overriding these guidelines. So while we teach terrorists all over the world how to abuse our research, we also have to fear that even legal bodies will abuse the research in order to fight just this threat by the terrorists. The treatment of the captives in Guantanamo can give a hint that not even "unalienable rights" are unalienable if they would hinder the secret services. Now add to this the economic dependency of researchers on public funding, and you get an impression how strictly the members of the scientific community will be able to resist. This is not encouraging.