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On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition THE RESEARCHER IN SOCIETY The standards of science extend beyond responsibilities that are internal to the scientific community. Researchers also have a responsibility to reflect on how their work and the knowledge they are generating might be used in the broader society. Researchers assume different roles in public discussions of the potential uses of new knowledge. They often provide expert opinion or advice to government agencies, educational institutions, private companies, or other organizations. They can contribute to broad-based assessments of the benefits or risks of new knowledge and new technologies. They frequently educate students, policymakers, or members of the public about scientific or policy issues. They can lobby their elected representatives or participate in political rallies or protests. In some of these capacities, researchers serve as experts, and their input deserves special consideration in the policy-making process. In other capacities, they are acting as citizens with a standing equal to that of others in the public arena. Researchers have a professional obligation to perform research and present the results of that research as objectively and as accurately as possible. When they become advocates on an issue, they may be perceived by their colleagues and by members of the public as biased. But researchers also have the right to express their convictions and work for social change, and these activities need not undercut a rigorous commitment to objectivity in research. The values on which science is based—including honesty, fairness, collegiality, and openness—serve as guides to action in everyday life as well as in research. These values have helped produce a scientific enterprise of unparalleled usefulness, productivity, and creativity. So long as these values are honored, science—and the society it serves—will prosper.
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On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, Third Edition Ending the Use of Agent Orange In the early 1940s, a graduate student in botany at the University of Illinois named Arthur W. Galston found that application of a synthetic chemical could hasten the flowering of plants, enabling crops to be grown in colder climates. But if the chemical was applied at higher concentrations, it was extremely toxic, causing the leaves of the plants to fall off. Galston reported the results in his 1943 thesis before moving to the California Institute of Technology and then serving in the Navy during the final years of World War II. Following the war, Galston learned that military researchers had read his thesis and had used it, along with other research, to devise powerful herbicides that could be used in wartime. Beginning in 1962, the U.S. military sprayed more than 50,000 tons of these herbicides on forests and fields in Vietnam. By far the most widely used mixture of defoliants was known as Agent Orange, from the orange stripe around the 55-gallon drums used to store the chemicals. Galston later wrote that the use of his research in the development of Agent Orange “provided the scientific and emotional link that compelled my involvement in opposition to the massive spraying of these compounds during the Vietnam War.” At the 1966 meeting of the American Society of Plant Physiologists, he circulated a resolution citing the possible toxic effects of defoliants on humans and animals and the long-term consequences for food production and the environment, which he sent to President Lyndon Johnson. During the next several years, as evidence for the toxic effects of Agent Orange accumulated, Galston and a growing number of other scientists continued to oppose the use of defoliants in the Vietnam War. In 1969, he and several other scientists met with President Richard Nixon’s science adviser, whom Galston had known at Caltech, and presented him with information on the harmful effects of Agent Orange. The science adviser recommended to the president that the spraying be discontinued, and the use of defoliants was phased out in 1970, five years before the end of the war. Galton later wrote, “I used to think that one could avoid involvement in the anti-social consequences of science simply by not working on any project that might be turned to evil or destructive ends. I have learned that things are not that simple…. The only recourse is for a scientist to remain involved with it to the end.”a aGalston, Arthur W. Science and Social Responsibility: A Case History. Annals of the New York Academy of Science (1972):196:223.
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