April 17, 2024

Scientists need code of ethics in an age of terror

A Canadian bioethicist and an American scientist have used the leading journal Science to float a proposal for a ethical code for researchers in the life sciences to reduce the risk of bioterrorism. Margaret Somerville, of McGill University, and Ronald Atlas, of the University of Louisville, argue that scientists must be aware of their ethical obligations, including the obligation to abide by government regulations and to blow the whistle on unethical research.

They acknowledge that a formal code will receive a frosty reception from many scientists. Some will be sceptical of its success; some will fear that it will shut down science; some will think that science is value free; some will feel that scientists are already ethical and don’t need a code. However, they respond that “as long as a small clustered nucleus of ethical voices remain, ethics has a high probability of reasserting itself”.