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The responsibilities of scientists to society

The epoch we are living in is typical for the frequent occurrence of crises, which affect lives of masses of people. The consequences of these crises impose the responsibility on science as a force, participating in these situations and therefore, it places a great responsibility on those, who are actually responsible for science, the scientists. 

One can often hear the harsh criticism of the science and this is natural. Many disasters happen as a result of the modern technologies. It is enough to mention the Chernobyl catastrophe of 1986 to visualise, how disastrous the consequences of mistakes in technology can be. There was a nuclear reactor explosion, which ejected a huge amount of radioactive matter into the environment, polluting the soil and water for many years. Except for the technogenic cataclysms, there is also an opinion that all the geological and meteorological catastrophes happen because of humans’ fatal influence on the environment. This can actually be confirmed by a fact, that the frequency of these phenomena, taking place nowadays, is much higher than that in the past. Obviously, science is nothing without those who possess the knowledge of that and push technological progress forwards, the scientists. For that reason, they carry great responsibility towards humanity.

The distinctive feature of modern science is its close link to manufacture, when the newly introduced ideas receive their practical application in a short period of time. In this case the scientists’ responsibility increases, because they are in power of the events of the near future, and as an ancient philosopher truthfully said, “the great power demands the great responsibility”.

The area where the matter of scientists’ responsibility remains extremely sharp is the field of nuclear research and its applications. From one point of view, nuclear fission is a powerful source of energy, which can move vehicles and heat houses, but on the other hand, a small defect in the fission system may cause a huge disaster, which could destroy lives of thousands of people. The other disadvantage of nuclear power is the pollution of the environment due to the nuclear waste. Since the geological energy resources are running out, scientists develop new ways of the nuclear energy usage, making it safer for people and the environment. Now researchers are close to the realisation of a project of small nuclear plants, which would be heating up the ordinary urban houses and would be located in the city area. An obvious question arises: will it be safe? A tiny spark in the electrical wiring of such a plant will have irreparable consequences.

Other disputable areas of research include genetics, bioinformatics and neurobiology. There is a constant disagreement between people of different professions concerning the right for scientists to perform such investigations. The hottest disputes occur between atheistic scientists and religious people, where the first state that they are trying to help people overcome some diseases, which cannot be healed in any other way, but many of those who believe in God consider the genetics experiments as an interfering with Divine Providence. It is a question of ethics, whether scientists should work in this area. There is a blurred boundary between the accepted and unconventional areas of research. Something, which falls within the unaccepted region, is cloning, and especially the human cloning, which definitely goes against the ethics. One can say that animal cloning should be totally accepted, that there are no contradictions in religious, ethic and social aspects; but this may eventually lead to human cloning. Since the required technologies for cloning have been achieved and some experiments were successful, experiments on humans could potentially be started. It is impossible to predict the results of such experiments. Although we are able to forecast the genetic properties of a clone, it is absolutely unknown, what kind of character the clone would possess. What would that child of science bring to the world? The main difference between an animal and a human is the existence of a unique mentality and an immortal soul. Will clones possess such qualities or will they be human-like animals with the ability to talk, suitable for hunting and consuming by their creators? These are the questions for scientists to be answered before attempting such experiments.

Another area of scientific exploration, which may cause a possible threat to the society, is robotics and, especially, biorobotics. The researchers of the Reading University succeeded in a constructing a robot, which was independently controlled by a biological brain inside the machine. The main components of such a creature are the rat’s neurons in a biological fluid connected to tiny electrodes, similar to those in microchips of a computer. The neurons appear to “behave” as a collection of interconnected cells, reacting to the external stimuli. After a certain period, the robot, equipped with a camera, started to learn and memorize the operational environment (which was a box in that case). Finally, it was stopping its motion if the way was blocked by an obstacle and changing its route.

This experiment shows that biorobotics, together with neuroscience have progressed very far. Obviously, the scientists involved will modernise their creatures, teaching them to perform more and more complex tasks; but what would happen if something goes wrong? The first thing, which comes into one’s mind, is the colourful production of Hollywood’s “Terminator”. We are much closer to the time described in this film, than we think. It is a great risk for scientists to work in these areas, because they are playing with fire. The modern super-powerful computers and nanotechnologies are great tools for the researchers, but it is vitally important to direct the works into the right channel and to keep the situation under constant firm control. It is in the hands of researchers to change all the humanity and provide people a great support for industry, manufacturing and life. It is their responsibility to prevent the situation going out of control and putting the society in danger.

Recall what the world looked like at the beginning of the twentieth century. There was no electricity in many regions of different countries; the aeroplane was fantastic without mentioning the space travelling. Now we get to the farthest part of the Earth in several hours, we can talk to our friends, holding a small device, which is literally connected to nothing. On the other hand, millions of people have died because of scientific progress, which brought us the nuclear weapon. These are the different aspects of the consequences of science, which can save lives, but take them away even more rapidly. The responsibility of all of these events lays with those, who pushed the progress forwards – the scientists. We worship them because they granted us with many blessings and blame them for poisoning our lives. Those who are in power over science are in power of billions of lives, which expect the magicians of nature to make great discoveries for the blessing of the humanity. 

 

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Dmitry Tugarinov © 2009