Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Good Science Done Properly

Sackett

Professor Penny Sackett is Chief Scientist for Australia.

By Penny Sackett

Scientists have a social responsibility to maintain high ethical standards in their work.

Professor Penny Sackett is Chief Scientist for Australia.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

I am an astronomer, not a philosopher, but just as a galaxy or a comet is neither intrinsically good nor bad I am willing to propose that pure knowledge is value-free. Science as pure knowledge is thus outside the realm of ethics – only through human action or intent does knowledge obtain meaning or moral value.

Ethics definitely comes into play when we consider science as a human activity. Considerable thought and effort has been given to establishing codes of ethical practice for scientists, mostly formulated by and for individual scientific disciplines, institutions and professional societies.

These codes address issues such as the welfare of human or animal subjects in research, respect for natural or cultural environments, public health and safety, data management, and intellectual property rights.

Recorded cases of major breaches of ethical codes in the practice of research are few, perhaps due to the respect the codes command in the professions and the discipline of rigorous examination before, during and after the peer review process.

When it comes to the application of science by societies, science can be applied in ways that could be considered “bad” or “morally wrong” as well as “ethical” and “morally good.”

So there can be no doubt we are living in a world in which scientific ethics is important, no more so than when it...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.