Science, Art, Litt, Science based Art & Science Communication
When I was doing my masters course, during one of our semester practical exams I was asked to do a physiology experiment. I was asked to do a blood test. For that test I would have to kill a frog by inserting a sharp edged steel blade into the frog's cranial cavity and twisting it inside till the frog died ( the process is called pithing - a pithed frog is a frog that has its spinal cord or cerebral cortex pierced, severed or scrambled in order to kill it or make it insensible for experimental purposes such as dissection) and then I would have to collect the blood immediately for the tests. Sounds gory - doesn't it?
As I was aiming for the top ranks, and a fellowship for my Ph.D., the exam was very important to me. But at the same time, I couldn't do such an inhuman act. I immediately went to the external examiner and asked him to change my experiment. That was a bold thing to do. Nobody complains during exams here. Students will do whatever they are asked to do. Because you create a very bad impression if you do that. But still I did it! The examiner looked at me seriously and said: "Why did you come to the examination hall without studying?" He thought I didn't know anything about the experiment and that was why I had asked him to change the experiment! " I have studied, Sir", I replied, "I can explain everything theoretically". Then I explained everything in detail to him. He was surprised. "If you know all this, why are you asking me to change the experiment?", he asked.
"Because," I told him, "I am against killing animals in such a cruel way. I don't like it".
"What?! This is absurd! A Biology student refusing to kill animals! What will you do if I don't change it?" he asked me angrily.
"I will leave the exam hall without conducting the experiment," I told him bluntly. My professors - who were internal examiners - were shocked. In almost all my exams till then, I stood first in the university and I was their pet. They intervened and requested the external examiner to change the experiment. Finally after some persuasion, he yielded and changed my experiment and it all ended on a satisfactory note.
Why did I tell my story now? Because it deals with ethics in science. Ethics and morality are no longer in the jurisdiction of religion now and solidly within the arena of science too. Now drug companies are testing their medicines on human beings without telling those who are coming forward to become human guinea pigs for monetary reasons, the consequences of the tests on their systems. Genetically modified foods, stem cell research, cloning and other controversial issues are raging a debate in the world right now. Animals too have nervous systems like us. They feel pain and agony the same way we do when ill treated during experiments conducted on them. Therefore they should be treated in humane way. That is what ethics in science tell us! Consult conscience in matters where you think the living beings are subjected to pain or the public is potentially endangered by technological advancements and breakthroughs in science, and do your own research about those who are likely to get affected, rather than trusting the media to paint hazy pictures for you or deliver public opinion.
What is ethics and how do we decide about them? And who decides what is ethics? Here in this part of the world, an ethical philosophy in which the happiness of the greatest number of people in the society is considered the greatest good is the right one. According to this philosophy, an action is morally right if its consequences lead to happiness in the society we live in ( or absence of pain to living beings ), and wrong if it ends in unhappiness or pain.
I did my Ph.D. in Microbiology but always kept ethics as my top priority despite being a research scientist. Developing a well-reasoned response to a moral problem in Scientific Research is extremely important as it will have great impact on all living beings. Therefore, the impact on the public should always be considered when making ethical decisions. Scientific discoveries, inventions and scientific activities can have impacts on things like our environment, our planet as a whole, the safety of living beings, our health and treatments offered for various diseases, and so forth.
Ethics in science deals with what’s involved in being a good scientist in one’s interactions with the phenomena about which one is building knowledge, in one’s interactions with other scientists, and in one’s interactions with the rest of the world, what consequences, good or bad, might flow from the various courses of action available to you; to whom you have obligations that will be satisfied or ignored by your action; and how the relevant obligations and interests pull you in different directions as you try to make the best decision. There are often conflicting agendas that try to interfere with decision making of scientists. Politics, commerce and members of the public want lots of different things. Taking these interests into account could only be a distraction to scientific research. Moreover, non-scientific people need not be well informed about a scientific research's upsides and downsides. I have seen several times people expressing their opinions with total ignorance. Here is an interesting blog based on research on how irrational people will be while coming to conclusions: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/2012/04/27/the-irrat... .Therefore, scientific communities can only consider the opinions of public at large but it is not important to take them into account while conducting work in a lab. The path of scientific research is not to be carved by the society at large.
Then who defines what “ethical” actually means? Are scientists going to let religious groups define ethics for them? Definitely not! Can public say be taken into account? Do you think scientists should treat “the public” as an interested party when they try to make ethical decisions? The general public has a heavily vested interest in making sure that scientists make right ethical decisions. Because the fruits of scientific progress will affect the public. But should we allow ignorance to take part in decision making on an important issue like ethics in scientific research? It is plainly impossible to make ethical decisions without accurate knowledge. Can ordinary people weigh the pros and cons of scientific research in a rational manner like the scientists do? Public is made up of millions of individuals with conflicting beliefs, opinions, and interests. How can they come to a definite conclusion? Should scientists educate people before they come to a conclusion ? Good idea. But if scientists try to educate the people about their work, doesn't their bias towards their work try to influence the people? Can scientists be unbiased while dealing with ethics? Can scientists see the end of scientific activity, where technical and industrial (for profit or for other ends, e.g. military or political and totalitarian government) exploitation of scientific knowledge begins. Each and every scientist should consider these questions before entering the research field.
Scientists have a moral responsibility to be aware of the consequences of their actions. Considering the problem from others’ points of view can be educative and help them find lacuna in their own reasoning, but shouldn’t guide their work path. Even if scientists can never know what the public wants or what is best for it, the real and important question is have they used the full extent of their moral judgement and considered all possible outcomes before taking a decision in the field of science? A very important question to ponder by every scientist.
What do other scientists say about my my view on using animals in scientific Research? Let us hear from them.
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
The right to life of laboratory animals has become a point of contention between scientists and animal rights activists. Recent guidelines issued by University Grants Commission (UGC) banning the age-old practice of using lab animals for research has not gone down well with scientists from Delhi University and Jawaharlal University. Indian National Science Academy (INSA) has compiled a report on the views of scientists and animal rights activists on the matter. The report will be submitted to the ministry of environment and forests (MOEF) next month.
"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." ~ Mahatma Gandhi
UGC (India) guidelines: http://www.ugc.ac.in/notices/guidelines_animaldisection.pdf
What are scientific objectives, if human life becomes secondary to an experiment?
Fears proposed code could gag science
Some scientists fear a proposed code governing what they can speak out about is actually an attempt to gag them.
The idea is referred to as the 'code for public engagement', and could sit alongside the Royal Society's existing Code of Ethics. The Prime Minister's chief science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman said the Royal Society has been asked to look at its current Code of Ethics and decide if it is up to scratch. If it is not, then consultation will begin on a new code.
Sir Peter said scientists have no need to feel they will be gagged under the proposed guidelines and that it will be up to the Royal Society to decide whether to create the new code or stick with its existing Code of Ethics.
The proposed new code is, according to Sir Peter, becoming common practise around the world because governments are concerned that scientists are straying into advocacy rather than sticking to their expertise.
Sir Peter said countries across the globe are reviewing codes of ethics after comments made by scientists about a major Italian earthquake and Japan's 2011 tsunami and earthquake.
And scientists in New Zealand are not immune to straying outside of their areas of expertise either, he said.
Sir Peter said the new code would encourage scientists to speak out, but give them guidelines for doing so.
Concern among scientists
The existing Code of Ethics states that scientists may only represent themselves as experts in their fields of competence, must be fair and balanced, declare any conflicts of interest and ensure their public statements are supported by research.
Scientists spoken to by Radio New Zealand said there is no need for a new code and some fear that such a code is actually a way to rein them in.
Academics are allowed to speak out because of clauses in their contracts that encourage them to be the "critics and conscience of society".
And scientists working for government institutes rarely talk to the media about controversial topics, are not allowed to speak two months before an election. Before speaking to media they also have to get permission from their organisation.
Dr Mike Joy is a freshwater ecologist who has spoken about water quality and often disagrees with the government.
One government lobbyist described him as the "foot and mouth disease of the tourism industry"; Prime Minister John Key has claimed Dr Joy's data may not be factually correct and trade minister Tim Groser described him as "deeply unhelpful."
Dr Joy however, believes the current code is thorough enough and suspects the new code is a way for the government to silence its critics.
Dr Siousxie Wiles won the Prime Minister's Science Communication Prize last year. She agrees with Dr Joy that the existing Code of Ethics covers all that is needed. And she too wonders if the code is intended to rein in scientists.
Professor Shaun Hendy from Auckland University hopes the new code will encourage scientists to speak out, rather than rein them in.
He said the Fonterra botulism scare last year showed that there was a problem with scientists' freedom of speech.
He said in that case, the experts either were working for Fonterra, or for government agencies, and so did not feel comfortable speaking out about the contamination.
He is concerned there is now a climate where scientists are not encouraged to talk about controversial or difficult subjects.
Some Ebola Patients Should Get Placebo in Drug Tests: FDA
Some Ebola patients need to forgo potentially life-saving treatments so researchers can see how they fare compared to people who get the experimental drugs, a Food and Drug Administration official said today.
While randomized trials would be “challenging,” they’re needed to understand whether or how well the medicines work, said Edward Cox, director of the FDA’s Office of Antimicrobial Products, at an American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene conference in New Orleans. Trials would compare “the best supportive care versus the best supportive care with a drug,” he said.
Yet 17 medical ethicists and health providers from across the world last month denounced efforts to require randomized controlled trials that don’t give the therapies to everyone. The lack of effective treatments for Ebola, its high mortality rate, and poor infrastructure where it is prevalent means novel approaches are needed, they wrote in the journal Lancet.
Kill a few people in these tests? How heart breaking! Has Africa became a playground for medicine?
Everybody suffering from Ebola should be given these medicines. Trials can come later. Saving people should become our priority.