A plethora of debates as to whether science is good for mankind or it is a dangerous discipline that could lead to the annihilation of the human race has been in the public domain for quite a long time. In most cases, new inventions elicit ambivalent reactions from all quarters. Proponents hail the inventions as good for humankind while opponents point out the possible dangers posed by new inventions if unchecked. This has led governments around the world to restrict and closely supervise the activities of scientists to make sure no one engages in dangerous research.
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Dynamics of the relationship between the scientists and the public
Such was the case in the period immediately after the World War II. According to Badash (2003), prior to the war, scientists were a neglected lot because the government seemed to show no interest in their research activities. However, their contribution to the war changed this perception. The American scientist suddenly became a hero after building the bomb that ended the war. Unfortunately, this changed not long after the war when the government found it unsafe to let scientists pursue their research interests without control over them.
The change in the perception towards scientists, as it turned out, was not a preserve of the government as the public too followed suit. At first, the public greatly admired the scientists for their landmark achievement. However, shortly afterwards, they viewed scientists as dangerous individuals causing serious harm to the public good through their research. Badash (2003) notes, “Scientists were seen as evil geniuses who created unthinkable horrors.”
The main idea that caused tension between the public and scientists was that the possibility of unscrupulous scientists making some lethal discoveries and unleashing them on innocent people was no longer remote (Badash, 2003). It however seems that the public, in this respect, misjudged the scientists because, as Badash (2003) notes, prior to the discovery of nuclear fission, “scientists had showed caution in handling the atom”. This caution is an indicator that they knew that the energy contained in the atom could have devastating effects.
The relationship between scientists, the government and the public remains largely unfriendly even today. Even though their research leads to the discovery of new technology and the advancement of knowledge in many disciplines, scientists still face dilemmas similar to those faced in the nineteen fifties. Cloning is a prime example of concepts which cause conflict between scientists, governments and the public today.
The magnitude of the adverse effects of cloning can only be imagined because ethical and legal considerations have not allowed scientists to freely explore this area. Though it could solve serious biological impediments such as helping a barren couple to have a child, scientists are not free to explore this line of research (Yadav & Sharma, 2011). It is clear from this example that science whether in the period before or after the World War II or today, are faced with the same challenges.
It emerges clearly that the difficulty in intermarriage between science and ethics transcends the boundaries of time. As outlined by Badash (2003), instances of mistrust, harassment by government agencies and a hostile attitude from the public continue to haunt scientists today. This shows that even in future, the ethical dilemmas faced by scientists today are likely to persist because any new technology developed by scientists spurs debates on its suitability for human use and ethical issues related to such use.
Badash, L. (2003). From security blanket to security risk: Scientists in the decade after Hiroshima. History and Technology, 19(3): 24-256.
Yadav, S., & Sharma , V. (2011). Human cloning: Perspectives, ethical issues and legal implications. International Journal of Pharma and Bio Sciences, 2(1), 28-41. Web.