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CAN SCIENCE BE NEUTRAL?* STEVEN ROSEf and HILARY ROSEt Some Scientific Myths In setting up the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science in 1969, we, a group of natural and social scientists, stated its principal aims as follows: This organization believes that the development of science is not predetermined, but should depend upon the social choices of the community and the individual choices of the scientist. In furtherance of this belief the organization has the following aims: (a)To stimulate amongst scientists an awareness of the social significance of science and of their corresponding social responsibilities, both individually and collectively. (b)To draw the attention of all to the political, social and economic pressures affecting the development of science. (c)To draw public attention to the implications and consequences of scientific development and thus to create an informed public which can exercise choice in these matters. [1] The social responsibility movement, as it has become known, has developed a substantial body of popular support, a fair measure of publicity, and a number of active or passive opponents. The debate which that simple statement of aims has raised is very far from closed, and there has been a substantial amount of woolliness and misunderstanding concerning the implications. In this paper, we want to try to clarify some of the issues, which seem to us to be amongst the most critical to an understanding of the role of science in contemporary society. In addition, we shall try to indicate the direction in which we believe science must now go if it is to survive —and, indeed, if mankind is to survive. For we are living on the * This paper is based on a Friday evening discourse given by Steven Rose at the Royal Institution, London and an "antipresidential address" given by Hilary Rose to Section X of the British Association, Swansea. t Department of Biology, Open University, Bletchley, United Kingdom. t Department of Social Administration, London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London W.C.2, United Kingdom. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine · Summer 1973 j 605 edge of two crises: a crisis for society in which its very future survival is threatened, and, even within the context of a surviving future society, a crisis of confidence for science. This crisis derives from the sense of frustration and distress, shared by both scientists and nonscientists, at the apparently inexorable way in which the most seemingly innocent or potentially beneficial scientific developments find application for destructive or antihuman purposes. The long-drawn-out agony of conscience of the nuclear physicists is matched in too many other fields of endeavour for it to seem merely an isolated aberration. Arthur GaIston , who did much of the fundamental work on plant hormones in the hope of its being interesting or even useful, tells of his sense of despair as the knowledge derived from his research has been applied to the massive defoliation and crop-destruction programmes in Indochina [2]. In neurobiology, we find the physiological methods and pharmacological agents originally developed as tools for the understanding of the brain and, hopefully, the cure of the sick now increasingly applied as techniques of social control of dissent [3]. Where science is not being directly applied to increase the sum of human unhappiness, much is devoted to the conspicuous consumption of at best irrelevant technological gigantism; the space race, Concorde, and the new generation of massive computers are examples [4]. Small wonder, then, that many despair of ever being able to use the methods of science in the service of humanity and not in its destruction; that the criticism which is increasingly heard, especially amongst students, is one which questions the very rational methodology of science itself. This criticism is persistently misunderstood by older scientists, who feel themselves threatened by it, and who prefer to continue in a Panglossian haze of smug selfcontent . At best, the problems of present-day science, such apologists claim, are a little misapplication of resources and a few unfortunate accidents which have given rise to a strangely vociferous environmentalist lobby. The aberrations are minor blemishes, a little dirt or shoddiness on an otherwise unsullied countenance. Nothing that cleansing cream won't deal with...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 605-624
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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