bioethics

Mark D. Garfinkel garfinkl at iitmax.iit.edu
Thu Feb 3 14:49:05 EST 1994


In article <brownbrd.760292412 at pv0a0f.vincent.iastate.edu>
brownbrd at iastate.edu (Grizzly Adams) writes:

>as an undergraduate I felt that [ethics]
>was a subject that was almost completely ignored.  My professors were very
>intent on getting all that fundamental knowledge into us [...]
        *Sigh* Day One of my college freshman orientation (OK, that was 18
years ago, so maybe I'm exaggerating) we received a small booklet on the
University's honor code. It included an essay on the formal definition
of plagiarism (with examples), an important lesson to impart early since
university-level scholarship has different standards for originality and
source-citation than earlier levels. This is one example of what meant
when I said people ought to be exposed to ethics prior to graduate school. 

>I saw a survey among chemists
>(professors and grad students) asking how much plagerism, falsification of
>data, etc. they saw going on, and it was actually quite a lot.
        It's dismaying to hear that the anti-plagiarism teachings I
mentioned above do not always carry over into the reality of academic
life. OTOH, it's easy to forget that scholars are people too.

> I also
>mentioned end uses.  I think that often we get so caught up in the moment, and
>the thrill of finding an answer to our question, that maybe we don't often
>consider the outcome, beyond what can I do with this information next.
	But one of the problems is that consequences are not readily
predicted. Do you think that Jean Weigle and his colleagues, in the 1950s,
imagined that the bacteria-phage interaction they called "restriction-
modification" would be due to a set of DNA-cleaving and -methylating enzymes
that would allow inter-species gene splicing? Or that gene splicing would,
in turn, create a new industry for producing a wide range of biological
substances with medicinal & agricultural use? Or that all of this (& more)
would happen in <25 years?

	A good science-fiction writer who predicted the automobile might
be *required* to predict the societal outcome called the traffic jam. After
all, this is a more-or-less linear extrapolation of a technological
development, and if he didn't, then any story he wrote about that future
world he built in his mind would be deficient. A good scientist who
predicts an experimental result, in contrast, isn't expected to make
the same long-range extrapolations. Our individual creative powers, as
scientists, do not extend to the building of worlds.

>I think that occasionally we need to be reminded to step back and look at
>*why* we are doing something, and what its ultimate effects on society and the
>world might be. [...]
	Write a grant application; that'll make you step back & see the
big picture. :)

>[...] a worthwhile thing -
>for me the occasional question from my roomate's farmer parents about why
>exactly I bother to grind up fruit flies had this effect.
	Or one's own parents who are not scientists, or friends who are
physicians or lawyers or accountants. Explaining what a biologist does &
why to an engineer or a scientist of another specialty is also quite
revealing. Good party conversation, at least. Informal public relations too.

>It seems that a lot or researchers and technicians become quite callous and
>cavalier about destroying animals.  It is a necessary reaction to the need
>to detach ourselves from what may be an unpleasant, but
>necessary part of the work.
	Your second sentence hits the nail on the head. But then why
do you use "callous" and "cavalier" in the first sentence? If someone
has really adopted these attitudes, there's some kind of problem. 

>We need to question ourselves to keep use of
>animals on a necessary level [...]
	Isn't this part of sound experimental design? The ethical value
operating, then, is Doing Good Science.

>Lay people may come to one of us with a question
>about why do you murder all those innocent bunnies?
	When a layperson uses the word "murder" in asking about animal
research, that person has already bought-in to the animal rights
extremist view. "Murder" is the taking of *human* life; that is the
first response I would give. If a layperson and I can't agree on a
fundamental such as the proper definition of murder, then the rest
of the discussion is bound to fail.

-- 
Mark D. Garfinkel (e-mail: garfinkl at iitmax.acc.iit.edu)
My views are my own, which is why they're copyright 1994



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