Friday, April 9, 2010

Nobility and Science Essay

Nobility and Science Essay

Despite popular conceptions to the contrary, lying, defying legal boundaries, covert developments and stealing can be valuable tools in the pursuit of new technology, as long as they provide advancements in science. In these cases, the end result can justify the means used. The vision that science follows a principled path, along with the "scientific process" is often confused with the individual performing the task. The advancements produced by scientists can be mis-identified with the scientific approach used to gain them, because we often associate the outcome of the experiment (if it is an advancement) with a vision of an ethical and moral process used to achieve it. Society places great emphasis on science breakthroughs since many of them have historically either saved lives or prolonged them, promoted the common welfare, or advanced our level of knowledge.

In Bertolt Brecht's Galileo, the author fashions a play where the reader is caught up in the emotions of the players and events. It appears larger than life, as Galileo Galilei, professor of mathematics and lecturer of mechanics, discovers evidence that the Sun is the center of the solar system. However, on the road to this discovery, he steals credit for a basic invention he needs to perform his great experiment, puts his family in danger, almost destroys his own daughters' passion for her father's work, and ultimately reverses his own belief system to avoid punishment by the Inquisition. In this sense, Brecht's Galileo is an icon for my thesis. However, historically and currently, he is not alone.

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Galileo fundamentally stole the basic idea of the telescope, admitted it to himself, and then lied to others about its origin. The device was first seen in Holland around 1608, and in Brecht's Galileo, Galileo says: "And the tube has two lenses" Was it like this? (draws a sketch)".A recent invention?" (Scene 1 p.52). He later, in Scene 2, approaches the Senate in Venice and declares: "Members of the High Senate! Gentlemen: I have great pleasure, as director of this institute, in presenting for your approval and acceptance an entirely new instrument originating from this our Great Arsenal of the Republic of Venice?."(p. 55). Clearly Galileo felt it was necessary to transform the ownership of the telescope to himself, and plagiarize intellectual property to achieve his ends. Never the less, his contribution to understanding the geometry of the solar system was a major advancement at the time. And after all, he did improve the telescope.

More currently, an example of this can be seen using Microsoft's Bill Gates. He has always been credited as the inventor of DOS, the premier computer operating system. In reality, the code began as CP/M at Digital Research Corporation, and was upgraded by the Seattle Computer Company as QDOS before it was sold to Gates' Microsoft Corporation. However, it fell into Gates' hands, and even though he is mis-credited with its authorship, who could deny its rich benefits. It is the cornerstone of most computer/software advances made through the 80's and 90's.

Continued support of this thesis can be seen by noting the suit filed in 1999 by the University of California against Genentech, Inc. The university argued that Genentech stole some of its DNA to develop its human growth hormone drug. The new drug provides widespread medical therapy in a number of diseases. The argument made was that the "know how" and intellectual property came with the scientists that joined Genentech in 1978. In this example, the innovation has already been received and put to use within society, and all that was left was to argue who got royalties.

In Brecht's Galileo, Galileo convinces himself that the nobility of science is above theology. He receives Vatican support for his findings, but cautioned not to speak of them in Scene 6 with Barberini's remark: "Your findings have been ratified by the Papal Observatory, Galilei. That should be most flattering to you?."(p.79). Galileo, not satisfied that the Church should believe it is above Science, does not follow the prescription. What follows are major adversities put onto his family and himself through the overlay of the Inquisition, as his daughter Virginia exclaims in Scene 10: "Father, I am afraid." (p.107). Gallileo finally relinquishes his struggle with the church to keep himself from heretic interrogation by recanting his scientific advance: "I Galileo Galilei, Teacher of Mathematics and Physics, do hereby publicly renounce my teaching that the Earth moves." (Scene 12, p. 114). Therefore, Galileo had to live in shame thereafter, but was satisfied that he had really pushed an advance in scientific technology. Insofar as he was not imprisoned thereafter, he could argue successfully that his scientific achievements were indeed justification for his deeds.

There are more current events in science and technology that can support this thesis, and demonstrate that Galileo was not alone in his deeds. In fact, arguably, it is more obvious in major scientific advancements than we would like to think. During the Manhattan Project, the chief scientist and architect of the atom bomb, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer was first declared a master scientist and manager over the successful development of two weapons of mass destruction. During the development of the bomb, he and fellow scientists were led to believe more productive, peaceful uses of atomic energy would follow the war-time effort. Afterward, he expressed his regrets as the father of the Atomic Bomb, that peaceful uses were not being explored. He became an opponent of the development of the Hydrogen Bomb, and ultimately lost all his government clearances and privileges. He felt that the nobility of the scientific effort that he led during the Manhattan Project was covertly used for weapons of war only and could barley cope with the concept that he and his team were used and exploited. This story is as tragic as Galileo's, even though the practice was one of a covert development. It was a discovery that he and some of his fellow scientists abhorred as the primary breakthrough of atomic energy- yet the technological achievement was unmistakable.

Future examples of my proposed thesis can be found in the highly controversial fields of stem cell development and cloning. Both technologies will clearly only advance through the use of covert developments or techniques, and perhaps, defying legal boundaries. Stem cells hold the potential of "growing human organ replacements". They are typically derived from human embryos, and therefore impact moral, legal and theological boundaries for embryo use. Recently, President Bush stepped in and slowed US research, but I predict the medical and science advance will outweigh the ethical ones and the development will happen. The same is true for human cloning. Scientists today are defying the theological and legal boundaries by cloning animals and soon, humans.

A valid argument that can be used as an objection to this thesis is that continued violations of scientific ethics and morals can ultimately infect the "scientific method" itself. While I would admit that this concern is not only true, but has been observed in contaminated research found in university work, such as faulty drug research and tobacco studies, their validity will always be halted because they will be non-reproducible. It is kept in a check and balanced situation because scientists actually try many times to disprove one another's work. Hence, it will never be an advance of science, and my thesis requires that to occur for the ends to justify the means.

I believe it is simply human nature to be a "Galileo", that is to push boundaries and test faith, especially amongst scientists. Science is beginning to loose its "Ivory Tower" attribute. The secret that science and scientists make advances happen in some cases by defying ethical boundaries is becoming more evident and in the public domain. Hence, it is no longer a secret.

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