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Ethical Failures of the Scientific Method.

Updated on October 25, 2016

Ethical Issues

3rd Century Papyrus: Hippocratic Oath Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license
3rd Century Papyrus: Hippocratic Oath Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license | Source
What's missing? No requirement as to effects on the environment or any ethical values such as the ability to rectify dangerous side effects.
What's missing? No requirement as to effects on the environment or any ethical values such as the ability to rectify dangerous side effects. | Source
The stereotype of the mad scientist has some basis in fact. Knowledge without ethics is in fact madness.
The stereotype of the mad scientist has some basis in fact. Knowledge without ethics is in fact madness. | Source

Basic Ethics in Science

As the graph shows there are already numerous areas where science has been found lacking in ethics similar to other professions. Duty, Honesty, Plagiarism, Fraud, Misconduct etc. to name a few. Many of these are already covered by existing laws.

However this Hub deals with the more fundamental flaws which occur in the Scientific Method itself: (1) that of not stating the obvious possible repercussions that a discovery or process has on human beings, animals or the environment, and (2) not having an inbuilt principle of correcting such errors. Nuclear wastes for example have no antidote or principle of correction.

In order to nip this basic problem in the bud the highest personal standard of ethics needs to be expected of scientists and codified into a style of "Hippocratic oath" as taken by doctors. From as early as the 5th Century BC ancient Greek doctors took the oath. It is now the 21st Century but there is still no "Hippocratic Oath" for scientists. Science is therefore 2,500 years behind in ethical evolution.

BIOETHICS leads the field in questions relating to ethics and science mainly because of the rich history of medical ethics and the inculcation of basic ideals such as the Hippocratic oath.

In ancient times all the sciences were often bundled into one profession. As modern times approached science began to become incredibly over specialised, but no accompanying ethical standards were applied to it.

In nineteenth century Europe arsenic tinted green wallpaper killed and sickened thousands of people. In the twentieth century thalidomide maimed and killed thousands. The common thread to such examples is a lack of ethics in the laboratory and a lack of laws to oversee these missing ethical standards.

INDUSTRIAL LAWS are now being put into place which are slowly counteracting the ethical vacuum in industry. Likewise BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL LAWS have slowly been inching forward in only the last few years.

However there are still NO SCIENTIFIC ETHICS OR LAWS imposed on scientists.

Now with at least some form of incipient ethics affecting business, industry and finance, scientists can no longer blame others or shift responsibility for their own unethical decisions.

At the very start of the scientific process, the actual scientific method must start and end with ethical considerations, restrictions and New Laws. The scientific method without these considerations is literally madness. For example, deliberately torturing animals in experiments is a form of sadism and a mental aberration that can't be condoned under the guise of "scientific research". It is an example of how wisdom is separated from science as wisdom is in fact always intimately linked to ethics and not just mere accumulated information.

The reader might say this is impossible or undesirable, however without any ethical restrictions at all in this field there is no chance of limiting the damage currently being caused.

Code of Ethics

Do you think its time scientists should abide by a written code of ethics?

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The Recent Past: Industrial Science Without Ethics

Industrial Science
Industrial Science | Source

Industrial Science

Industrial science is totally different to medical science. Although based on new scientific discoveries it has few guiding personal or industry ethics and grudgingly accepts any new attempts at ethical regulation. It's only goal was, and largely still is, to make money regardless of human suffering or damage to the environment.

Many scientists do not own their work but are "bought out" by the industries financing the research. Their sole aim is to invent new products in order to increase profits. Ethical problems were conveniently shelved by scientists and totally ignored by big business.

Discussions regarding ethical problems were once totally absent from both Industry and Business. Scientists are still allowed to be indifferent to the awful consequences of their work. Industry is now reluctantly considering limited ethical problems in its greedy pursuit of money.

This careless attitude began developing five hundred years ago as science slipped out of the grasp of both the church and the law. A tradition developed excusing scientists from normal ethical restrictions as it became increasingly obvious there was money to be made. It is this unhappy marriage between science/business/ big money that is at the crux of the ethical problems facing science today. It has little or nothing to do with "freedom" except the freedom to profit unfettered from all ethical considerations. Hence scientists are still held immune from all ethical considerations with the exception of medicine. How much plastic or millions of tons other pollutants are involved in this science-business marriage is deemed irrelevant. Other vitally important issues which urgently need to be ethically analysed are the social problems resulting from the disregard of any formally established ethical criteria.

Social and Environmental Probelms

Can you see how science has contributed to pollution?

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A Mad Scientist is an Unethical Scientist

 Why is the stereotype of the mad scientist so prevalent in both fiction and reality?
Why is the stereotype of the mad scientist so prevalent in both fiction and reality? | Source

The Department of Scientific Ethics

This may sound extreme or like science fiction but only relatively so when contrasted with the long history of neglect in formal scientific ethics. It is merely a result of historically bad social habits that has led science to be left out of the ethical picture.

NEW AI TECHNOLOGY could be programmed to administer ethical laws in this complex future involving both the growing internet abuse of ethics and in the monitoring of online businesses.

The old stereotype of the "mad scientist" has some basis in fact if we ponder a scientist who considers they are above all ethical considerations. This is commonly referred to as megalomania or delusional paranoia.

The fact is science has undergone revolution after revolution without any serious ethical reflection at all about the social or environmental repercussions it can cause.

New laws need to be urgently fashioned to deal with the current explosion in technology in order to curtail and repair social and environmental damage. Such laws need to be open ended so that no unintended consequences of any scientific process can excuse industry from the same said laws. If problems occur along the chain of science and industry the same laws should bite into the various businesses to immediately stop further problems regardless of cost to industry.

SOCIAL PROBLEMS: if the internet has caused social problems the reasons for the causes of such issues needs to be addressed by new scientific laws so the problem can be solved. The goal is not to allow the social problem to continue like an open sewer. A small example is the new trend in social media of bullying others. An inability to immediately stop such a problem would therefore necessitate an inbuilt legal shut down of sites until the problem is fixed regardless of the cost to industry.

Real Solutions to Extreme Problems

Do you think it is possible to legislate ethics in science?

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    • MELANIECLOPEZ profile image

      Melanie C Lopez born Feb Fourteenth 10 months ago from Whittier, CA

      Order is best understood through algorthems. I notice there has been a lot of back lash as to science and the connection the truth. The yes God does exist and yes many people in the bible walked on earth and God new the end thousand of years before and inspired people to write the Books through the understanding that he has given them.

    • V Greenfield profile image

      V Greenfield 16 months ago

      Very interesting hub! Honestly this is not something that many people including me would probably think of. I'm glad it was brought up though. It makes me think of cloning and while it would be amazing in the scientific sense, ethically these kinds of controversial experiments could end up being a disaster if not handled properly. I agree that science needs to start thinking in ethical terms when conducting experiments.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia


      The power of money as a kind of God has to be weakened. Anti pollution laws need to start at the begining of the process and continue right through industrial processes.

    • Venkatachari M profile image

      Venkatachari M 2 years ago from Hyderabad, India

      Very good topic. Your points are appropriate and need to be solved by our scientists, industrialists and governments. Ethical guidelines should be formulated to control many issues like pollution, erosion of natural resources, contamination of waters, tampering of nature's beauty, and many more issues.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia


      as I pointed out it is in the area of medicine where we find a history of ethics.

      Industrial tech is sadly lacking and pollution has increased.

      It is where Big money meets science that the worst abuses are occuring.

    • RandaHandler profile image

      Randa Awn Handler 2 years ago from USA

      You ask some tough questions. Ethics and freedoms are sometimes so intertwined. I happen to have many siblings in science and I do understand their views on research, testing and for the good of the masses views. But, it’s the roar of the activists that has improved much of that testing and made it follow more humane methods. I don’t agree with some of the comments that researchers are basically bought by corporations. I do know some seriously ethical scientists who live to find that elusive cure and nothing else!

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia


      I'm still working on the Hub. There was almost nothing available on scientific ethics to go on!

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      I couldn't agree more! You've only got to watch your animals around to see they're more than just a lump of organic matter to be used and abused as we see fit! (Sorry Oz, didn't mean to 'rant')

      Happy new year


    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 2 years ago from San Diego California

      Scientists are bought and paid for, just like politicians. The whole idea of corporate funding of University research needs to be reexamined. I have my own thoughts on the ethical treatment of laboratory animals. I have long thought that the reasons why biologists insist that animal behavior is purely "instinctive," meaning animals have no feelings and exercise no logic, is so that scientists can continue to justify killing these "dumb brutes" in experiments. Powerful, well written article. Happy New Year!

    • Freeway Flyer profile image

      Paul Swendson 2 years ago

      I see what you are saying, but one could argue that there is one core ethic that all true scientists share: a commitment to seeking truth, wherever it might lead. Scientists who help generate industrial products that do harm often participate in concealing (or at least not revealing) truth, and when scientists start doing that, they cease to be true scientists.

      They should be putting out all of the information that they find and let the general public respond accordingly. Too often, however, scientists are discouraged from conducting studies that could have negative repercussions for the rich and powerful, or their vision may be clouded by their own biases.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia


      it is more "the principle of the thing" which would hopefully lead on to greater responsibility and law.

      The idea is to make part of the scientific method 1.what are the possible repercussions, and 2. can these be cleaned up or rectified.

      New inventions for example need to have built in "clean" components. Let's say for example if 19th Century chimneys were attached to another (missing ) component that made solid bricks out of coal smoke instead of releasing it into the air.

      In the case of radioactive waste there should be safe ways to neutralise the waste. I assume that invention is far off in the distant future instead of now like it should be.

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 2 years ago

      Interesting Hub. Couldn't a consequence of a "scientific Hippocratic oath" be stunting the practical application of science? "Do no harm" looks good but it could mean doing nothing to address a problem and doing harm by default.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia


      I wanted to do better research but there is almost nothing available on ethics in science! Even wiki only has sketchy unofficial info that has no authority. Therefore I focused on the basic fact of the absence of ethics in science.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Interesting and informative. A well-researched hub. Something to think about from you.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Good luck with that :-)

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      Greed needs to be outlawed. It's a dream but one day it might happen.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

      Many universities do have 'ethics committees' and even governments 'use' them but the issues are (1) They lag behind where the research is and (2) Not everyone on the committee has the same standards!

      For me in the 70s there was a place near where I lived doing secret research on the effects of smoking using dogs (animal experiments). Then we find out the tobacco companies already knew the damage it does and had known from their own research in the 50s (twenty years of research considered at the time to be important was actually a waste as the research had already been done!)

      By the way the 70s research was only found out when animal activists broke into the lab and kidnapped the animals!

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      I agree.

      There are just no ethics at the research level and it goes all the way up from there.

    • lawrence01 profile image

      Lawrence Hebb 2 years ago from Hamilton, New Zealand


      This is a 'thought provoking' hub, I think the biggest problem is that ethics is always playing 'catch up' and science is accelerating so fast that it can never fully do so!

      In medicine even the Hypocratic oath has changed to reflect the advances, today's oath simply says "Do no harm" (a far cry from heal the sick).

      I think the real problem is the erosion of the 'moral compass' that's happened.

    • Oztinato profile image

      Oztinato 2 years ago from Australia

      I tried to make it very simple: no real ethics yet exist for scientists yet it's the 21st Century.

      Should they be allowed to tow an asteroid to earth or build those unpredictable "atom colliders".

    • Duane Townsend profile image

      Duane Townsend 2 years ago from Detroit

      Great hub, it asks some very important questions. Too many scientists seem to be for sale lately.