Everyday Values and Expectations of Science

The National Academies’ On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research delineates several “everyday values” that guide a sensible scientist’s work: honesty, openness, collegiality, and fairness. These are laudable values for scientific research, as well as for a person engaging with the world as a responsible citizen. However, they are not things that we can expect from scientific practice.

Science is an imperfect source of knowledge. Just as studies in the humanities are guided by special interests, political leanings, personal rivalries, and professional aspirations, science is an enterprise guided by external factors. The difference, though, is that science has become established as an unquestionable authority of knowledge. It is the explainer of all; it holds the solution to all rational problems.

This positivism is not without its problems. It denies the human elements that guide the scientists. While it expects everyday values as guiding principles for scientists, it does not acknowledge the everyday realities that scientists face.

When we can acknowledge the complex nature of scientists and of scientific work, we can alleviate some of the pressure that challenges scientists in the research. And when the work is done more carefully, without social and professional pressures to publish groundbreaking work frequently, we will find something more ethical, and more honest.

About j.d.grunert

Historian, Science and Technology Studier, Librarian, Academish
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One Response to Everyday Values and Expectations of Science

  1. Brittanie says:

    I really like your last paragraph — the message I get from it is that there’s a lot of pressure on scientists to produce new things so often, that the most delicate and ethical routes are not always taken to reach that destination. I can certainly see this! This is an odd comparison, but it sort of makes me think of the food industry today. Produce, for instance. There’s so much pressure to have the biggest, most fresh apples stocked at every grocery store, every day, in mass amounts. Well, that’s not exactly the easiest task, which is why farmers and other companies have taken the (in my opinion) not so ethical choice of adding chemicals and hormones to the produce to make them bigger, longer lasting, and grow faster. I really liked what the NIH article “What is Ethics in Research & Why is it Important” pointed out – just because something is unethical does not mean it’s illegal, and just because something is legal doesn’t mean it is ethical. Great post!

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