Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y. -- In this modern era, science affects every member of society on a daily basis, from technological conveniences such as the automobile and television to the year-round availability of fresh fruits and vegetables. But some scientific advances, especially those with clinical applications like stem cells and cloning, jostle with religion and politics in the public sphere to provide a potent and complex mix. A new book released today by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press explores the moral and ethical foundations of science in this context.
Times of Triumph, Times of Doubt, written by the eminent geneticist and historian of science Elof Axel Carlson, analyzes the current hot-button topics of genetically modified food, prenatal diagnosis, the environmental effects of pesticides and herbicides, new pharmaceuticals, and assisted reproduction, and also historical case studies such as thalidomide's effects on unborn children, human experimentation at Tuskegee, and the atrocities of Nazi medicine. Carlson dissects the motivation and ethics of the scientists involved and the conflicting points of view of the scientists and their critics--asking why, despite good intentions, scientists sometimes lose the public's trust.
"Scientists have dual responsibilities," Carlson explains in the first chapter. "As scientists, they are expected to have ethical standards for conducting researchscientists are also citizens, and they are not exempt from the ethical and moral standards of their communities."
By applying an ethical framework to the historical facts in each case, Carlson shows how events spin out of control. He indicates how scientists can be more effective in preventing undesirable consequences of their work. And he argues that such bad outcomes are largely preventable when scientists consult a range of opinions, including critical voices.