Scientific Responsibility in the Nuclear Age



The Model NWC presupposes and reinforces the concept of professional scientific responsibility to society and to the communities that support it or feed it resources. It suggests an affirmative obligation to promote education aimed at furthering nuclear disarmament and recognizing potential proliferation risks inherent in nuclear science, research, and development. Considering where nuclear science has brought us to date, there is a long way to go to develop and apply the notion that science as a profession and scientists as individuals have an important role in shaping the future security environment away from nuclear weapons and towards nuclear disarmament.

To practice medicine or law usually requires an oath or a license. As professions, they integrate a sense of ethics; how this works in practice may be debated. Indeed, these overt declarations of professional ethical responsibility help create the expectations society has of those entrusted with its health or commercial and criminal practice. Thus overt mistrust, even ridicule, of lawyers’ ethics is not uncommon where deviation from stated standards is apparent. Similarly, the voicing of resentment towards health practitioners when access to healthcare appears threatened reflects society’s sense of dependence on the profession for life and health.

The professional responsibility of scientists to society deserves no less scrutiny. To be sure, scientists do give attention to ethical questions and consider the relation of their profession to policy. Many universities have programs on technology, science, policy, arms control, disarmament, and other aspects of policy. They aim to understand the relation of their profession to society and to enable individuals to make informed choices that have an impact on policy.

The causes and effects of scientists’ choices in relation to society, however, might take shape over the course of decades, rather than days, and the personal professional interaction is less direct than in the case of law or medicine. One might use many forms of technology throughout one’s life, benefiting from science without contracting directly with scientists as a matter of course. Thus the basis for scrutiny of individual scientists’ ethical choices is diluted by the time delay between cause and effect, and because their work is often part of a much larger and not completely visible whole. The limitations on choices facing scientists and the interests shaping these choices are not always obvious.

Scientific contributions to the course of nuclear disarmament would need to address the critical issues identified by Martin Kalinowski. Opportunities for this work should be increased because the choices available today, as MV Ramana shows, have been significantly shaped by governments and scientists over the past decades to further military interests. The choice suggested by Peace Pledge Movement for Scientists founders Tatsujiro Suzuki and Susan Pickett, not to participate in weapons work to the best of one’s knowledge, underscores the importance of informed consent. Andreas Toupadakis, who recently made a choice to resign from nuclear weapons work, makes clear in an open letter that the nuclear weapons nature of work is not necessarily clear from the start.

In other words, we live in a world where a scientist might end up working on nuclear weapons not by deliberate choice but through lack of informed consent. The choice not to work on nuclear weapons then requires actively severing professional ties and abandoning secure employment. For this to change — for the range of options open to scientists to be part of the process of demilitarizing and denuclearizing the globe —scientists must educate themselves about the role their work plays and demand a different set of options.


Source: Reaching Critical Will –


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