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On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research
consensus of informed judgment that can be disseminated to the public. A good example is the response of biologists to the development of recombinant DNA technologies—first calling for a temporary moratorium on the research and then helping to set up a regulatory mechanism to ensure its safety.
This document cannot describe the many responsibilities incumbent upon researchers because of science's function in modern society. The bibliography lists several volumes that examine the social roles of scientists in detail. The important point is that science and technology have become such integral parts of society that scientists can no longer isolate themselves from societal concerns. Nearly half of the bills that come before Congress have a significant scientific or technological component. Scientists are increasingly called upon to contribute to public policy and to the public understanding of science. They play an important role in educating nonscientists about the content and processes of science.
In fulfilling these responsibilities scientists must take the time to relate scientific knowledge to society in such a way that members of the public can make an informed decision about the relevance of research. Sometimes researchers reserve this right t o themselves, considering nonexperts unqualified to make such judgments. But science offers only one window on human experience. While upholding the honor of their profession, scientists must seek to avoid putting scientific knowledge on a pedestal above knowledge obtained through other means.
Many scientists enjoy working with the public. Others see this obligation as a distraction from the work they would like to be doing. But concern and involvement with the broader uses of scientific knowledge are essential if scientists are to retain the public's trust.
The research enterprise has itself been changing as science has become increasingly integrated into everyday life. But the core values on which the enterprise is based—honesty, skepticism, fairness, collegiality, openness—remain unchanged. These values have helped produce a research enterprise of unparalleled productivity and creativity. So long as they remain strong, science—and the society it serves—will prosper.
THE NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL AND SERVICE TO SOCIETY
One way in which scientists serve the needs of the broader society is by participating in the activities of the National Research Council, which is administered by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute o f Medicine. The National Research Council brings together leaders from academe, industry, government, and other sectors to address critical national issues and provide advice to the U.S. government and its citizens. Over the course of a typical year, about 650 committees involving approximately 6,400 individuals study societally important issues that involve science and technology. All of these experts volunteer their time to serve on study committees, plan and participate in seminars, review documents, and otherwise assist in the work of the institution. Study committees work independently of government, sponsors, and special-interest groups. Continuous oversight and formal anonymous review of the results of the studies enhance objectivity and quality.