This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site you agree to our use of cookies. To find out more, see our Privacy and Cookies policy.
Skip to the content

Share this

Free weekly newswire

Sign up to receive all our latest news direct to your inbox.

Physics on film

100 Second Science Your scientific questions answered simply by specialists in less than 100 seconds.

Watch now

Bright Recruits

At all stages of your career – whether you're an undergraduate, graduate, researcher or industry professional – brightrecruits.com can help find the job for you.

Find your perfect job

Physics connect

Are you looking for a supplier? Physics Connect lists thousands of scientific companies, businesses, non-profit organizations, institutions and experts worldwide.

Start your search today

Blog

A question of responsibility

By Margaret Harris in Chicago

The first 45 minutes of Amy Smithson’s talk here at the 2014 AAAS meeting were interesting but not especially controversial. Smithson, a senior fellow at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, DC, began by speaking about her role in combating the spread of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons over the past two decades, and how this made her persona non grata for both conservative Republicans and the Clinton White House during the 1990s. After drawing parallels between Iraq in the late 1980s and Syria today, she outlined some of the tactics that “bad guys” like Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad have used to circumvent international weapons treaties and delay their enforcement.

At that point, Smithson changed tack. Warning that she was about to become “the skunk at the party”, Smithson turned her fire on the scientific community. Policy-makers, she observed, can’t make weapons of mass destruction on their own. For that, they need scientists, and over the past 60 years, “hundreds of thousands of scientists” have obliged by working on nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

Smithson acknowledged that some of these scientists have been driven by patriotism or security concerns, and she said she could understand that. But now that both the Second World War and the Cold War are over, she explained, other, less forgivable, motivations have become prevalent. “I have talked to people who are working to increase the lethality of smallpox – a disease that naturally kills about 30% of those who get it – and they tell me they are doing ‘cool science’,” she said, the disbelief evident in her voice. “At some point, isn’t it the responsibility of scientists to ‘just say no’?”

Most professional scientific bodies, Smithson continued, have codes of ethics. However, their remit is usually limited to punishing “bad guys” who publish plagiarized or fraudulent results. In contrast, Smithson believes that the real scientific “bad guys” are people like the Pakistani physicist A Q Khan, who sold nuclear secrets to North Korea, Iran and Libya, or Anatoly Kuntesevich, a Russian chemist and physicist who allegedly supplied Syria with nerve agents. “What we need is a more responsible culture,” she concluded. “Don’t look the other way.”

This entry was posted in AAAS Annual Meeting 2014 and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.
View all posts by this author  | View this author's profile

6 comments

  1. Howard Cohen

    Hurray for Amy Smithson! There should be more folks in science and technology who speak out about the ethics and morality of weapons work.

    • M. Asghar

      Yes, there should be more people to talk about the ethics and morality of weapons work in an “all inclusve manner” and not in a partial and partisan way of Amy Smithson, because this may very well make the things worse.

  2. Julio Herrera

    This is a subject which has puzzled me for years. From a historical point of view, it is very interesting to study how different researchers within the Manhattan Project reacted to the use of the first A-bombs; from Edward Teller, who kept on working on nuclear weapons the rest of his life, to Joseph Rotblat, who opposed them actively. Then, there’s also the case of Andrei Sakharov, who developed the first Soviet thermonuclear weapon, but then advocated the ban of nuclear tests. There’s still a lot to do nowadays, when the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) hasn’t been ratified, and we see regimes who use chemical weapons.

    I fully agree with Amy Smithson in that scientists should also be educated on the ethical side of their work. “Cool science” shouldn’t be takes just as interesting science, but also responsible science.

    • M. Asghar

      Scientific activity per se is and has to be a laic and secular in nature. However, when a research work (here, the discovery of nuclear fission with the possibilty of chain reaction) is put to use, multiple non-scientific actors beyond the scientists come into play and complicate the moral equation.

  3. Dieters will find it is easier to strictly follow the 500-calorie diet
    program with the help of HCG needles or common HCG products.
    This problem cannot be solve in any exercise
    or diet plan unless you use the special ingredient which is h – CG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin).
    What is not entirely certain is the role that HCG plays
    in HCG weight loss, though studies have obviously shown that it does play an effective role.

  4. The case for RFID is well documented within specific business scenarios,
    but the benefit to the consumer are still little known apart from Londoners with their Oyster cards
    and Parisians with their Navigo cards. It has become the
    quintessential social event of any pre-game festivities and, what
    was originally an underground subculture, is now part of the
    mainstream sports atmosphere. The second thing that’s
    helpful to know about French door refrigerators is that they come available with some of
    the greatest number of special features of any type of refrigerator on the market.

Leave a comment

Your e-mail address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Guidelines

  • Comments should be relevant to the article and not be used to promote your own work, products or services.
  • Please keep your comments brief (we recommend a maximum of 250 words).
  • We reserve the right to remove excessively long, inappropriate or offensive entries.

Show/hide formatting guidelines

Tag Description Example Output
<a> Hyperlink <a href="http://www.google.com">google</a> google
<abbr> Abbreviation <abbr title="World Health Organisation" >WHO</abbr> WHO
<acronym> Acronym <acronym title="as soon as possible">ASAP</acronym> ASAP
<b> Bold <b>Some text</b> Some text
<blockquote> Quoted from another source <blockquote cite="http://iop.org/">IOP</blockquote>
IOP
<cite> Cite <cite>Diagram 1</cite> Diagram 1
<del> Deleted text From this line<del datetime="2012-12-17"> this text was deleted</del> From this line this text was deleted
<em> Emphasized text In this line<em> this text was emphasised</em> In this line this text was emphasised
<i> Italic <i>Some text</i> Some text
<q> Quotation WWF goal is to build a future <q cite="http://www.worldwildlife.org/who/index.html">
where people live in harmony with nature and animals</q>
WWF goal is to build a future
where people live in harmony with nature and animals
<strike> Strike text <strike>Some text</strike> Some text
<strong> Stronger emphasis of text <strong>Some text</strong> Some text
WordPress Appliance - Powered by TurnKey Linux