On Honor in Science
When I was inducted into Sigma Xi on May 9th, 1985, I received a draft copy of the little red booklet, Honor in Science, written by C. Ian Jackson and published by Sigma Xi . This book, which discusses what might more properly be termed honesty, is good as far as it goes, but it does not go as far as it should. The noun honor, in the sense of the little red booklet, has another component, the best word for which is probably integrity. Presumably the word honor in the title of the little red booklet does not refer to any of the other meanings of honor as a noun, namely, (1) high public esteem, (2) source of credit or distinction, (3) high respect, (4) such respect manifested, (5) the privilege of receiving a favor from a respected person or group, or (6) chastity or purity.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary (1933), honor is "a fine sense of and strict allegiance to what is due or right (also, to what is due according to some conventional or fashionable standard of conduct)." The word honesty was used "formerly in a wide sense including all kinds of moral excellence worthy of honour." Other uses of the word honesty in synonymy with honor are designated obsolete. Honesty is taken to mean "uprightness of disposition and conduct; integrity, truthfulness, straightforwardness; the quality opposed to lying, cheating, or stealing (the prevailing modern sense)." Webster's Third New International Dictionary defines honor as "adherence to high standards of justice and responsibility; ethical conduct," synonymous with integrity. Honesty is taken to be "fairness and straightforwardness of conduct," synonymous with integrity or "adherence to the facts; freedom from subterfuge or duplicity," synonymous with truthfulness or sincerity. The College Edition of The Random House Dictionary of the English Language defines honor as "honesty or integrity in one's beliefs and actions," but goes on to say, "Honor denotes a fine sense of, and a strict adherence to, what is considered morally right or due. Honesty denotes the presence of probity and particularly the absence of deceit or fraud, especially in business dealings. Integrity indicates a soundness of moral principle which no power or influence can impair."
Honor in Science covers the component of honor that can best be termed honesty. Perhaps it should be called "Honesty in Science". But, it is not concerned with honesty in every facet of science. It is concerned mainly with honesty and conscientiousness as it affects the process of doing science. The author is concerned that scientists don't do things that inconvenience or undermine other scientists. He is concerned mainly with falsifying research results by "trimming", "cooking", forging, and plagiarism and, to a lesser extent, with publishing research results that have not been checked adequately by all authors. The book does not address the problem of science having a bad effect on the rest of society so long as it doesn't injure itself.
Naturally, scientists are interested in retaining credibility with society at large. In the areas of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and theoretical biology, the public still has faith in science. But, in the social sciences and health sciences and in all those fields of science whose business it is to advise us whether the policies of business and government are good for us or not, the public has, to a shocking degree, lost faith in the integrity of science. Lately I have heard dozens of lay people and even some scientists express the opinion that scientists are for sale to the highest bidder and will conduct a study to conclude anything you please as long as you're willing to pay for it. Admittedly, this is anecdotal evidence, so don't accuse me of being one of those scientists who manipulates the results of polls to corroborate his pet thesis. This observation is not supposed to be scientific and I don't know whether in the future I shall continue to hear more or fewer such opinions. In any case, public opinion on the integrity of science is not the subject of this essay. I am concerned with the behavior of scientists who conduct their affairs in accordance with the advice offered in the little red book. However, to show that the adverse public opinions discussed above are not entirely misguided, I wish to include a portion of a letter written by me that appeared in the March 1990 issue of Chemical Engineering Progress in response to an editorial by Elizabeth Whelan of the American Council of Science and Health in defense of pesticides in our food supply:
I have a copy of the sponsorship portion of the annual report of Whelan's "consumer" group, the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH). Nearly all of her funding comes from chemical companies and foundations that have a stake in chemical companies, all of which have a vested interest in our willingness to tolerate industrial chemicals in our food supply. A recent [actually 1982] report, "Voodoo Science, Twisted Consumerism", by Peter Harnik, prepared for the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), 1755 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20009, 202-332-9110, charges Whelan's group, ACSH, with a number of ethical irregularities:
1) Because of the preponderance of interested industrial funding ACSH might be better characterized as an industrial lobby rather than a consumer group.
2) There are errors and inconsistencies in the eight reports on health risks prepared for the ACSH and reviewed by CSPI's panel of respected scientists.
3) In every report, the ACSH claims that animal testing is not a valid method of assessing the risk to humans. It is unlikely that animal testing would be invalid in every case.
4) Every report contains conclusions and policy statements that are one-sided in nature, do not reflect the body of the report, and appear to be written by a separate author. The reports are long and detailed so many readers might read only the conclusions and policy statements.
5) The ACSH's 62-member board of scientific advisors has a decided pro-industry bias.
6) Whelan claims that her advisors reflect a broad spectrum of public opinion, yet she denounces, as biased, scientists who do not support her position.
7) Whelan pretended to be associated with Harvard for over a year after her association with Harvard ended.
8) ACSH's policy advisor is S. John Byington. The CSPI report accuses Byington of a number of unethical practices.
Recently I spoke to Dr. Michael Pittam of ACSH and asked him to respond to these charges and to clarify the ACSH position on a number of other issues, e.g., if caffeine is harmless, is cocaine harmless as well? So far, ACSH has not responded.
In this essay I wish to discuss the component of honor that can be defined as "a fine sense of, and strict adherence to, what is considered morally right or due". I expect that the reader will conclude that, even if most scientists are honest, they do not have a fine sense of what is morally right or, if they do, they are not governed by their moral sense. To avoid using the awkward construct "has honor", I shall employ the phrase "is honorable" when the subject has a good sense of morals and behaves accordingly. But, the phrase should not be taken to mean that the subject has received honor or honors in any of the other senses of the word. As we all know, many dishonorable people are honored every day in our corrupt and irrational society.
We would like to have a system of absolute morals, morals that are independent of culture or point of view. Of course, some religious people believe that we already have a system of absolute morals given, for example, by the Bible, but most of these people are not aware of the epistemological difficulties that would have to be overcome to establish such a system. Probably absolute morals are impossible and, eventually, it might be discovered that some sort of uncertainty principle or undecidability principle prevents the establishment of a system of absolute morals or an absolute system of morals.
A system of morals would have to have a metaphysical basis, but we must have a priori principles according to which we can evaluate the metaphysical basis of our system of morals. Suppose, following William James, we choose reasonableness, which is another way of saying aesthetics if I am not mistaken, and utility. Then we are confronted with showing that reasonableness and utility are suitable metaphysical values. Somewhere we must terminate the process and agree that something must be taken on faith. Thus, in all things, even in science, faith plays a pivotal role.
On the other hand, suppose for a moment that what is morally right or due might be determined in each instance, under varying circumstances, according to moral principles that people are capable of knowing. If we could assume that there exist moral principles that are, in some way, capable of being known easily, we must assume as well that an honorable person is aware of these principles. Even if one concludes that absolute moral principles do not exist or, if they exist, there is no way a human being can know them, it is nevertheless incumbent upon an honorable person to uphold the moral principles in which he (or she) believes. People develop "a fine sense of what is morally right or due", i.e., good moral principles, in many ways, but one of the most important is through the appreciation of art, music, and literature.
By good moral principles I do not mean religious superstition or sexual and pharmacological prudery. I am referring to respect for the freedom of others (and their posterity), respect for the environment and kindness to animals, and respect for truth, both external truth, capable of independent verification, and inner truth, capable of verification by introspection. It might be said that ethics consists of, at least, devotion to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The fundamental principle of morality, which allows one to be free to do anything one pleases so long as the freedom of others is not abridged, is the prehistoric basis for society, giving everyone his or her own share and space. I believe that respect for the freedom of others implies approximately equal distribution of material wealth, since excess wealth can be used to abridge the freedom of the other, in one case by purchasing excess political power, in another by bidding up the price of land and acquiring unfair exclusive access to part of the earth's surface, in another by holding a stronger negotiating position in an economic transaction, which might be the employment of one person by another, a practice that is revolting to many thoughtful people. I leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not the principles discussed here are valid and whether or not he or she believes in them.
But, every scientist is intelligent enough to be guided by some system of morals whether he or she is aware of it or not. I do not expect that everyone will concur with the system of morals derived from the three fundamental moral principles (axioms) that I have used in this essay to analyze the behavior of scientists. Readers will agree or disagree according to the extent to which they accept my axioms, but they cannot have it both ways. If they agree with the axioms, they must accept the judgments derived from them. Also, it is possible that, although they disagree with one or more of the axioms, they agree with some of the morals derived from them for reasons of their own. Upon close self-examination they may discover that the conditions of their employment violate their own morals. They must face up to moral responsibility, unless they wish to persist in self-delusion and hypocrisy.
In order to be an honorable person, i.e., to have honor, it is insufficient merely to have a good sense of morals and to avoid the direct performance of immoral acts personally. One cannot escape responsibility for the moral code and behavior of those one serves or those by whom one is served. This should go without saying, but, unfortunately, the normal excuse for dishonorable behavior is doing one's job, cf., Adolph Eichmann's defense. A scientist is responsible for the behavior of his employer and for the behavior of anyone from whom he receives funding; i.e., the honorable scientist should not accept employment or funding from anyone whose behavior is questionable. In addition, the scientist is responsible for the behavior of those to whom the results of his work are given. This last is an extremely onerous responsibility, since any scientific result can be used to do harm. At the end of this paper, I suggest a radical solution to this problem, but I am afraid it can be implemented only very gradually. In the meantime, there is no excuse for giving scientific results directly to people who are certain to abuse them or to commit other immoral acts. An honorable person does not take money from, serve, or otherwise consort with persons or institutions that are engaged in dishonorable activities.
I will consider four aspects of science. Without getting into epistemology, the first can be taken to be inquiry into nature including man, in short, "the search for truth". A second aspect of science is the means of conducting scientific inquiry. The third aspect is the effect of science on and the interaction of science with the world and human society. The fourth aspect is science as a way of life and, in particular, as a livelihood for thousands of people.
The little red booklet showed how the person who has honor carries on the search for truth while the dishonorable scientist only pretends to search for truth. It is very difficult to find a word to describe what it is that motivates the honorable person in his or her search for scientific truth. It is not exactly curiosity, which can be much more easily satisfied in the library. Feynman refers to the thrill of being the sole possessor of a secret of the universe for a few moments and, subsequently, revealing that secret to the world. There must be something involved in this feeling that comes from the ego, but that is not to say that the feeling should be disparaged. Not everything that comes from the ego is bad. For lack of a better term, let's call It "scientific curiosity" to distinguish It from ordinary curiosity.
It seems self-evident to me that a scientist should be motivated primarily by scientific curiosity, secondarily by the desire to do good, and lastly, if at all, by the desire for fame, money, and power. It is not clear, however, that desire for glory, which is somewhat akin to fame, is not a component of scientific curiosity. Despite these minor complications, I am reasonably certain that an honorable person is not influenced by the availability of funding. Furthermore, it seems dishonorable to tempt a scientist to betray his or her natural scientific curiosity for money. One should not take money from an institution that tries to influence the type of research done by anyone.
Although the above statements should be self-evident to most people, there are some who will dispute them, mainly on the grounds that some highly respected scientists, even some from the age of giants, were influenced by money, political exigencies, etc. This manner of disputation is fallacious because it is irrelevant, nevertheless I shall try to connect the concept of proper scientific motivation to the moral axioms upon which my system of morals is based: Truth can be divided into two categories the intersection of which is not necessarily empty, namely, exterior truth capable of verification by a number of people and inner (interior) truth capable of being verified by introspection. It would be a violation of devotion to the truth, i.e., ethics, knowingly to betray one's natural scientific curiosity.
I would like to examine the moral implications of four examples related to the means of conducting research: (i) experiments on animals, (ii) the superconducting super-collider (SSC), (iii) funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and (iv) scientific societies. The SSC is the example of big science with which I am best acquainted. Also, I am a resident of the State of Texas and I have heard more SSC propaganda than most people. Funding by the NSF could have been covered under the topic of how scientists earn their livings, but most of the grant money is used for purposes other than supporting scientists (and their assistants, who might be other scientists). I could have chosen the National Institutes of Health, but I would not have been able to speak from experience.
The Old Testament says that God gave man dominion over the animals. But, with that dominion came the responsibility to make the lives of animals as pleasant as possible consistent with the preservation of our own species. As Dostoevsky's Father Zossima says, "Love the animals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive them of their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not pride yourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you, with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, and leave the traces of your foulness after you - alas, it is true of almost every one of us!"
Scientific experimentation with animals has benefited man greatly and some experimentation with animals probably should be done, but many researchers carry out unnecessary experiments. Animals are sacrificed by students who could benefit as much by reading a description, watching a movie, or using a simulator, particularly students who will never work in the life sciences professionally. Moreover, the animals that are to be sacrificed are not treated well before and during the experiments.
A guiding principle should be that, if an animal is to make the supreme sacrifice for humanity against his will, humanity should reward that animal with the best treatment possible regardless of expense and inconvenience up until the time of his death, which should be postponed as long as possible. This means spacious shelter including generous outdoor range. No animal should be sacrificed unless absolutely necessary, in particular computer simulations should be developed and employed whenever possible. The pain associated with the sacrifice should be absolutely minimal and vivisection should be forbidden.
The SSC is not just an experimental device; it is an industry. Already millions have been spent by governments of states all but one of which will have lost their money. Moreover, it is not clear that the public funds spent by the State of Texas have been spent in the best interests of all Texans. The May 29th, 1990, edition of The Houston Post had an article under the byline of David Fritze describing the devastating effect on many Texans of the loss of land to the SSC. Families will be uprooted and the hopes and dreams of people who couldn't care less about fermions or bosons will be shattered as land is confiscated, not with profitable settlements to the dispossessed but below market value in accordance with imminent domain. Perhaps the ghost of Jesse James will return to avenge these victims of an insensitive and inconsiderate science establishment. While the amount of money to be spent by the federal government (seven billion dollars, not counting over-runs, before operation begins) is small compared to, for example, the savings-and-loan bail-out, it is enough to support the research of 70,000 assistant professors for one year, unless they too require exotic research equipment.
The special theory of relativity was developed on the basis of one experiment although many other experiments had to be performed to verify it. The particle physicists, cosmologists, and other theoretical physicists have a large number of unexplained phenomena at their disposal without the SSC. Would it not be appropriate to investigate the theoretical implications of experiments that have been performed in the past before making new tests? Might it not be possible to design inexpensive experiments that will shed light on fundamental questions? Wouldn't it be ironic if the big breakthrough came in a manner similar to Mach's discovery of Mach bands, which required only a pencil and a shirt cardboard (the piece of cardboard the laundry puts in your clean shirt to keep it neat)?
Of course, physicists are saying to themselves, "He doesn't understand," and they are certainly right about that, but that's part of the problem. I can't get them to explain themselves in such a way that I believe they will find anything worth spending all that money for. Recently, I attended part of a conference at Rice University, which included both technical sessions and sessions for the press, high-school teachers, students, and the general public. These latter sessions were highly successful in imparting the new taxonomy, but they didn't convince me that there is a good chance that the SSC will lead to an important breakthrough. It seemed to me that particle physicists are hooked on energy like an addict is hooked on heroin; they will never get enough. The SSC has already hired an "educational director" whose talk sounded like pure propaganda. Should scientists hire a propagandist? Moreover, when I questioned a member of the Rice Physics Department about the need for the SSC, I had the feeling that I was talking to a clergyman. Is big science becoming a religion? I think physics owes the ordinary mathematically and scientifically literate public an explanation.
The thing about the SSC that disturbs me most is the overhead: the clerks, the secretaries, the maintenance people, the gardeners, the librarians, the administrators (who will earn more than scientists), the lobbyists, the bureaucrats, etc. There will be a hierarchy with all its attendant evils. The SSC will provide jobs, but these are jobs that do not produce food, clothing, shelter, etc. While it is true that there will be spin-offs that will benefit the economy, I do not trust the businessmen of the United States to deliver more to the people than they take away. Probably we will see a few benefits way down the road accompanied by even more exploitation and, perhaps, outright harm. We might end up with a cheaper coffee pot, but the businessmen will pocket the savings. Moreover, it's not at all clear that there will be any benefits. No matter how you look at it, big science is big – and greedy.
The NSF is a disgrace to the scientific community. To begin with, it is in violation of its own mandate. Title 42, Chapter 16, Paragraph 1862e of the NSF Act of 1948 states "In exercising the authority and discharging the functions referred to in the foregoing subsections, it shall be an objective of the Foundation to strengthen research and education in the sciences, including independent research by individuals, throughout the United States, and to avoid undue concentration of such research and education," emphasis mine. Ninety percent of NSF funds went to 14 universities at the last reckoning of which I am aware. In these "prestigious" research universities, senior professors direct resources, including students, far in excess of their share, based on their ability, in comparison with professors at less prestigious institutions. Scientists who are against privilege and for merit and do not believe in policies that make the rich richer and the poor poorer should not have anything to do with the NSF other than to reform it.
The NSF has an unfair reviewing process whereby the old-boy network is perpetuated and researchers, such as older researchers applying for initial funding, who are not clones of science stars are discriminated against. Rather than sending out blind proposals for review, with no name or references to previous work, a resume of the principal investigator (PI) is included with the proposal so that the proposal might not be judged on its own merits. Instead, blind proposals should be sent out for review and the money should be divided equally, modulo special needs, between all the PIs whose proposals meet the following criteria: (1) they are correct scientifically, (2) the work has never been done before, (3) they are nontrivial, and (4) the PI has no other funding. Anything else is unfair and, therefore, dishonorable.
Not all reviewers have a good understanding of the proposals they review. To discourage the possibility of being injured by an incompetent reviewer the NSF should require reviewers to include an explanation of the proposal as part of their review and allow the PI to have the review disqualified if he or she can show that the proposal was misunderstood. Also, the instructions to the reviewers are incorrect. Whereas a rating of "good" is suggested for a proposal that one wishes to see funded, a "good" is the kiss of death. Even a "very good" is sufficient to disqualify the proposal. The project directors are rated according to the number of publications that result from the funding, I have heard. This would be wrong even if the purpose of scientific research were papers rather than discoveries.
Moreover, to discourage rumors such as the rumor that project directors have a list of tough reviewers, who always give bad reviews, and a list of easy reviewers, who always give good reviews, so that they can decide a priori whether a proposal will be funded or not, I repeat, to discourage such rumors, whether they be true or not, the project directors should choose reviewers, from among qualified reviewers, by some process that can be shown to be random.
But the worst feature of the NSF is its de facto ability to regulate what research is done, contrary to the fundamental morality of scientific inquiry, which is to be motivated by scientific curiosity, as discussed above. It is dishonorable to allow anyone else to decide what the direction of one's research should be. Because of the government's past and continued association with dishonorable causes, it is doubly dishonorable to let the government influence the direction of one's research.
In summary, it is dishonorable to deal with the NSF because (1) it is in violation of its mandate, (2) the reviewing process is unfair (some people believe that, among less well known PIs, the awarding of grants is no better than a lottery), (3) it attempts to subvert scientific curiosity, and (4) the government is engaged in numerous dishonorable activities. The other governmental institutions are probably no better, but I have no experience with them.
At one time scientists operated outside the political and economic "establishments" of the nations where they did their work. Scientists tended to be regarded as radical or heretical. In those days they found themselves in opposition to authority. This is no longer true and most scientists now are allied with the political and economic establishment. Most scientific societies have members of the establishment on their boards of directors and in key official positions. Instead of being in opposition to authority, they have become authority. Thus, most of the scientific societies stand in opposition to new and revolutionary ideas, especially if those ideas challenge the political status quo.
Scientific societies, then, suppress dissent in the same ways that society-at-large suppresses dissent: (i) by refusing to print dissenting material in their publications, (ii) by employing club-like politics in selecting their officers and trustees, and (iii) by rewarding conformity. Slates of candidates are sent out regularly by nominating committees and the memberships have the choice of ratifying the selections or not. Occasionally there is a choice between two or more nearly congruent candidates ("congruent" because, as we are about to discuss, successful scientists have become clones of one another) whose names the voter doesn't recognize unless the candidate is famous. Although the candidates are permitted sometimes to include a thumbnail sketch of their careers or beliefs, there is never enough space to permit an unknown candidate to sway an entire society with the sort of heretical ideas expressed in this paper, which are precisely the sort of ideas that candidates will need to espouse if science is to be rescued from the abyss into which it is sinking. One never sees a candidate who favors genuine reform. This paper has been rejected without review by the editor of American Scientist, a publication of Sigma Xi. This corroborates the opening statement of this paragraph.
Sigma Xi has become little better than a lobby for science, so it is not surprising that it will not publish valid criticism of science or scientists, unless, perhaps, when it comes from a very famous scientist. Sigma Xi, like all such organizations, engages in deceptive marketing practices to raise money. For example, in its standard mailing to encourage members to continue paying dues, it uses the phrase "the honor of membership". May I suggest that the marketers hope that the prospective dues-payer will interpret the word honor in the catch phrase to mean "source of credit or distinction"; but, if he (or she) claims he has not received any such thing as a result of belonging to Sigma Xi, which, as all members know, doesn't count for much of anything, the professional marketer might possibly be prepared to assert that the word, as used in the catch phrase, meant only "the privilege of receiving a favor from a respected group". I believe that marketers are so accustomed to deceptive and unethical practices that they have not even noticed that they are dishonoring slightly their client Sigma Xi. Of course being slightly dishonored is like being slightly pregnant. On the other hand, perhaps the leadership of Sigma Xi literally does not know the meaning of the word honor.
Nearly all of the societies give out awards of one sort or another. These awards are never fair and, even if they were, they would only exacerbate the all-or-none system that turns a few into superstars and the rest into disillusioned washouts. I have discussed this problem elsewhere in terms of what I call the crisis of importance in America. (The differences between Very Important People and Very Unimportant People are leading to social disorder and chaos. So-called senseless crimes should be called very understandable crimes.) A brief summary of my remarks on awards appears in the next paragraph.
For centuries, at least, some men and women have received honors (a different dictionary meaning of the word honor). Today honors have been carried to a ridiculous extreme. People receive honors for making a good television commercial, i.e., influencing people to buy something for which they have no need. Honors are given for dishonor. In science, honors are often given for having received other honors. Those who have been successful receive an even larger piece of the pie leaving less for the rest. In this and in other ways a "star system" of science is born. In popular music, with which I have some experience, the star system has succeeded in reducing the quality of the product to the lowest possible level. Some people believe a significant portion (more than half) of all popular music is not music at all. Participants become pure stars; i.e., their only relevant attribute is stardom itself; they have no musical talent or ability. Most people are aware of researchers who specialize in accruing glory and fame unto themselves without much concern with the value of their work. The star system encourages these people and it could probably do for science what it has already done for music. The reprehensible policy of "publish or perish", in addition to its other evils, plays right into the hands of the star system.
It is not necessary that all scientific work be useful to the world and human society, but it is the responsibility of the scientist to know that a plan is in place that will prevent his or her work from being harmful. It is dishonorable, if not despicable, to make the results of science available to a person or institution without determining what uses that person or institution has in mind. Any research can be used by someone to do harm, but the scientist must not be the willing tool of the malefactor.
Scientists do not have to be against making war (in a just cause), but, if they are, they should not be doing research to make weapons. The percentage of scientists engaged in research devoted directly and indirectly to defense, a euphemism for the ability to make war, is a disgrace to our nation. The dishonorable activities of the atomic weapons industry have been well documented elsewhere.
Science has produced many conveniences for modern man. Not many of us would be willing to go back to the days before thermostatically-controlled central heating or electric lights. Even the motion picture and phonograph are not entirely harmful. It would be tough to justify the invention of the cathode ray tube, though, if its only use were television. (I don't even wish to comment on the application of the transistor to popular music.)
Some of us derive a great deal of utility from the ordinary passenger car, but its use has certainly done more harm than good, and the passenger airplane cannot be justified at all. These are not conventional ideas, but, if one can show that business as business has no redeeming social value, it should not be hard to disallow cars and planes for transportation.
The use of science to create gadgets for mankind is definitely a mixed blessing. A great deal of technological effort, for example, has gone into product packaging, the purpose of which is to encourage sales or to prevent thefts that would not have occurred if business, aided and abetted by science, had not been so successful in transferring wealth from the poor to the rich. (Sometimes I think that the packaging experts have someone following me around to determine exactly what sort of container will be most difficult for me to open.)
Nor am I convinced that the savings due to a more economical milk container is passed on to the consumer. On the contrary, I believe it represents just a little more wealth that can be siphoned off by the business class. The same could be said for much of material science, chemistry, and other technology. Technology, such as some computer technology, the sole aim of which is to help business, cannot be justified. Business skims wealth off the top of the economic pie without itself producing any wealth that benefits humans.
Science and technology have contributed to the production of goods the sole purpose of which is to satisfy the acquisitiveness of people and to prey on the competition for Prestige of Ownership among consumers. Many of these goods are worthless and end up in the junkyards of the world, thus creating a nuisance as well as wasting natural and human resources. This is consumerism. To their eternal shame, many scientists have contributed to the creation of the desire for such material things, whereas a natural person would not be inclined to desire them. This is done by applying technology to the medium and psychology to the message. Furthermore, some scientists have played a hand in the production of luxury goods, such as highly advanced motor cars, which provide the wealthy even greater incentives to accumulate even more money with the attendant harm to society.
But computers pose an even greater threat to society than the threat they represent as an aid to business. Information about every member of society is stored in data bases. This information can be used to enforce conformity. Also, our activities on our jobs can be monitored by computers, which will then perform most of the functions normally performed by taskmasters, in this case inhuman taskmasters. If you are wondering why the telephone operator is a trifle abrupt, it is because the number of calls handled is being monitored by a computer and the operator will be rated on quantity of throughput. Chemical and industrial process information control systems are already a reality. Research in design methodology is focusing on Concurrent Engineering (CE) and Computer-Aided Acquisition and Logical Support (CALS). In addition to providing some benefits to society (maybe), these techniques will make it easy for Big Brother to keep an eye on what engineers are doing. In particular, they will do for engineers and designers what Henry Ford did for automobile craftsmen: make them cogs in a giant machine. It is interesting that people who wish to prosecute those who, from the privacy of their own homes, tamper with computers are unwilling to curtail the activities of those, including some scientists, who invade the sanctity of our minds with the same telephone system that one uses to invade computers.
Advances in medicine have been outstanding, yet the differences between the rich and the poor have grown so great that we should not be surprised to hear of people being kidnapped for spare parts one day soon. I find it amusing that societies dedicated to the cure of a particular disease spend money begged from me to pay fundraisers making twice as much money as I make and to pay scientist/physicians making ten times what I make to write papers for the enhancements of their careers and proposals to obtain more of my money, either paid to the government as taxes or skimmed off from the most lucrative economic enterprises, the wealth of which was amassed at the expense of the consumer and the workers, some of whom may have been scientists. Moreover, many of the diseases would not have occurred in a society that contrived to live without some of the so-called technological advances provided by science and the stresses of the economic system that produced them.
Thousands, if not millions, of people make their living from science including engineering, computing, etc. After discussing salaries and grants, I will discuss the drawbacks of the main categories of employment open to scientists, including self-employment. Finally, I will comment briefly on the appearance of scientists on television and on chauvinism in science. Strangely, our greatest geniuses, who are most advanced in the search for scientific truth, are most retarded in their understanding of science as a livelihood for average men and women of science. Since they have never had to endure the uncertainties and indignities that must be borne by all but the elite, they are practically idiots when it comes to knowing what's really going on. They're like New Yorkers who never ride the subway. Thus, they rarely, if ever, apply their influence to correct the injustices that diminish the joy of humbler workers. What I can't understand is why society would want to punish someone for embarking on a scholarly career.
The amount of money scientists get depends on many factors including market conditions, fiscal policies of government, their previous success in obtaining funding, the number of papers they publish, and the honors they receive. It is dishonorable to obtain money unfairly or undeservedly, but it is also dishonorable to accept less money than one deserves. Also, it is dishonorable to aid and abet others in undeserved or dishonest gains or to exploit others by paying them less than their fair share. Some people feel that no other scheme for dividing wealth than sharing in equal parts is honorable. If a person works for or accepts a degree from an institution that exploits graduate students or, for that matter, clerical help, he or she is dishonorable. One of the most insidious means of exploiting workers is the institution of temporary employment, which includes the pretenure portion of tenure. This contributes to population migration and other social instabilities. Often the motivation is to avoid ensuring the worker's health.
In one sense scientists have already lost their honor by allowing others, including doctors, lawyers, and bankers, to manipulate the market in a manner unfavorable to scientists. (The concept of a market in human beings is dishonorable enough.) Scientists allow managers and businessmen to exploit them, first, by paying them low wages and, then, by appropriating the fruits of their labors without so much as soliciting their opinions on policy. [Note in proof: In my opinion, it is a disgrace that working scientists and engineers allow themselves to be ruled by nonscientists. They are not represented in anything like their numbers and contributions to society on the boards of directors of corporations, in upper management, or in top government posts. One might reasonably expect a PhD scientist to hold the presidency of the United States one half or one third of the time.] The scientist's only recourse has been to become a manager or businessman herself, after which he ceases to be a scientist. In my opinion, working for a company that pays lawyers more than computer programmers is dishonorable.
Despite inequities among the professions, it is of interest to look at the distribution of wealth among scientists. Some scientists are the benefactors of conspiracies to influence the fiscal policies of government by lobbying. If one believes that all citizens should have an equal influence on their government, i.e., if one believes in democracy, one should not work for any business or institution that employs lobbyists. Recently, Cornell University turned down a grant from the federal government that was not subjected to peer revue. That was commendable despite the fact that Cornell knew it would probably get the grant anyway. Many institutions, such as the Center for Advanced Material Processing at Clarkson University, have benefited from what used to be called "porkbarreling", direct grants usually intended to benefit a particular constituency for the purpose of securing votes. This is dishonorable.
Many scientists are employed by universities. In a few paragraphs I shall attempt to prove that universities are morally bankrupt and that it is dishonorable to work for a university. It is possible that a university exists somewhere that does not fall under this indictment. If so, it has not come to my attention.
Because it was originally conceived to be above the corruption of the everyday world, academia, as an institution, deserves our deepest contempt. Far from being interested mainly in the education of our youth, which, according to Bloom, it is no longer able to attend to, the university is interested in two things: money and prestige, which turn out to be different aspects of the same thing. (You can turn money into prestige and prestige into money, but not on quite the same basis.) In its lust for tuition it permits cheating, even encourages it, and tolerates all sorts of bad behavior (drunkenness, vandalism, disturbing the peace, rape). The reader may find it interesting to analyze student cheating from the viewpoint of economic efficiency, a viewpoint encouraged by the modern university, within which all activity has economic implications.
Research universities put undue pressure on professors to obtain funding, of which they take an inordinate share as overhead in proportions totally unrelated to the cost to itself of having research done. This leads to dishonesty in research because the research effort is viewed as an economic contribution to the university and the university rewards those most who contribute most to its fiscal well-being. The university still forces scholars to "publish or perish", which leads to a large volume of inferior work, the counting of scholarly pieces like pairs of shoes, and some very unhappy scholars. Unfair employment practices, including part-time and temporary work without benefits and vast disparities between disciplines, are the rule rather than the exception, not to mention the medieval institution of tenure, which is used as a whip for scholars who are not tenured and a ball and chain for the undistinguished scholar who is tenured and is afraid to give up the security.
There are a number of other corrupt practices that should be noted. Some professors have used the university as a springboard for private enterprise. In many cases they have taken advantage of publicly supported research to which they have exclusive access. In most cases the work, which might have included the writing of computer software, was done by graduate students. Some professors have solicited private funding by creating paper institutes and centers (consisting of no more than stationery with a letterhead), of which they are the directors, creating the impression of an on-going research program and imaginary prestige for themselves. Some professors send proposals to the NSF and other funding agencies to do research that is already complete. Naturally they have a high success factor for such research, but is it ethical to ask for money to do something that has already been done! Some universities indulge in shameless porkbarreling as described above.
Perhaps the worst aspect of employment as a professor in a university is the attempt by the administration to convert every professor into a clone of the professor who gets the most funding, writes the most papers, gets the most graduate students, and enjoys the most prestige. Every university has someone like that and the big research universities have several candidates for the brightest star. The difficulty is that not everyone is built the same. Some researchers would do better if they prepared for a year or two before they began a research project. Some could write a great paper every five years, but writing a paper every three months is an impediment to doing good work. The university is unwilling to accommodate all types. Instead, it enforces a rigid code of conformity. Academic freedom is a joke.
This is just the beginning of the indictment against academia. I choose not to discuss fraudulent recruiting practices, the star system, college sports, campus politics, unnecessarily high tuitions, unfair teaching evaluations, and the low esteem in which teaching is held. But all of these as well as the important points in the previous paragraphs are not even discussed by Bennett and Bloom and, as far as I know, by Adler. Colleges and universities are failing because they are morally bankrupt.
I wish to comment on a dishonorable practice that is just making its way onto university campuses. A number of medical schools are printing health newsletters, presumably to make money. They hire high-pressure marketing outfits who conduct aggressive direct-mail campaigns to plug these publications. Usually one is offered a free sample issue if one affixes to the order form an adhesive stamp with the word "maybe" on it. I have done this on two occasions. When the invoice came, no mention was made of the "deal" whereby I could write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing. On the contrary, I was strongly urged to pay immediately the full amount and, in one case, I was dunned repeatedly, even after I had returned the canceled invoice.
Now, ethics is, in part, at least, furtherance of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so, clearly, the above is an unethical practice. When I called the publication director at one medical school, she, a graduate of an Ivy League university, was unable to recognize that this was an unethical act for which the entire university must assume responsibility. It was perfectly ethical, in her estimation, because "everybody does it"!
A disturbing trend, begun many years ago and picking up speed rapidly, is the employment of scientists by business or in activities the principal purpose of which is to aid and abet business. Examples include telephone survey methodologists and other scientists who serve marketing, computer scientists who develop business applications including forecasting techniques for stockbrokers, linear programming experts, engineers who advise industrialists how to circumvent government environmental regulations, and many others.
There is an old joke that goes like this: To sell something you have to someone who wants it, that's not business; to sell something you don't have to someone who doesn't want it, that's business. The joke is supposed to be funny because the first part is false and the second part is true.
The definition of business in the Random House Dictionary (cited above) is "the purchase and sale of goods in an attempt to make a profit." Nowadays, business includes much more, namely, (i) the making of deals, which might involve sales or other ventures, (ii) the management of institutions whose sole purpose is making deals, and (iii) numerous ancillary activities such as public relations, marketing, recruiting, making predictions, producing television commercials, etc.
Whatever one thinks of Marx, it would be difficult to argue with his observation that the misappropriation, by the capitalist or his surrogates, of the surplus value, the difference between the sale price and the costs of socialized production (not marketing) including wages, constitutes one of the chief sources of disorder in modern society. This was true 150 years ago when he said it, and it's still true. It is basically dishonorable to sell something one hasn't made unless the maker is a full partner in the transaction. Some people feel that business is intrinsically criminal.
Anyone who doesn't believe in surplus value should do a material balance around the U.S. economy or, rather, a simplification of the U.S. economy. This exercise can be carried out in the head. For those who don't believe that the misappropriation of surplus value by capitalists causes social disorder, I include the following paragraph from my paper, Privatization: The Key to Making Socialism Practical. These remarks are especially timely in early 1990, with sweeping changes occurring in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
"Americans are quick to point out the defects in socialism; but, although they are painfully aware of the hundreds of problems in American society and do not fail to complain about them frequently and loudly, they seem to be unwilling to lay the blame where it belongs, namely, at the feet of capitalism itself. Capitalism causes unpredictable and catastrophic economic cycles. It leads to poverty, which leads to crime, racism, unemployment, hunger, starvation, child abuse, infant mortality, overpopulation, homelessness, mental distress, chronic insobriety, divorce, suicide, class war, terrorism, riots, and, finally, revolution. Anyone can become rich, but not everyone. Capitalism requires expanding markets, which leads to imperialism, which leads to war."
But, even if selling something one didn't make or profiting from such a sale weren't unethical, businessmen, with very few exceptions, perpetrate unethical acts daily. That's the point of the second half of the joke, namely, that everyone knows that it's true. Businessmen get ahead by cheating, lying (fraudulent and deceptive TV ads go almost unnoticed these days), breaking promises and making ones that cannot be kept, various forms of corporate and white-collar crime that one reads about in the paper daily, climbing the corporate ladder, about which obscene jokes are made, wasting human and natural resources in a zero-sum game, making the lives of underlings miserable, unfair employment practices including hiring more and more temporary employees to avoid paying benefits, ignoring the safety of employees, betraying the nation including (former) employees, cf., the movie "Roger and Me", subverting democracy by lobbying, preventing others from engaging in free enterprise by monopolistic practices, and on and on. An honorable person would not serve any business that I know of.
Clearly industry shares all the evils of business because industry has become business. General Motors no longer makes cars; it makes money. But, in addition, industry is responsible for a callous attitude toward the environment and human welfare. It is dangerous not to regulate industry. There is no reason to believe that industrialists are any more ethical now than they were in the past. On the contrary, the early industrialists exposed themselves to the same dangers their workers braved because many of them, like Edison and Firestone and, in recent times, Edwin Land, were inventors, not salesmen, accountants, and lawyers. Even the engineers and scientists seem to become corrupt as soon as they become managers. William Morris said that no one was good enough to be someone else's boss. Certainly industry is much the worse for bosses.
The government is dominated by powerful businessmen and lobbyists; politicians employ ludicrous campaign practices; the administration consists of totalitarian institutions such as the FBI, which spies on American citizens, the CIA, which meddles in the affairs of sovereign states, and the infamous IRS, accountable to no one. The police, courts, and jails, with their ever-increasing population of people who cannot cope with a corrupt system, are a national disgrace. The schools brainwash the children who, in their resentment, refuse to learn. I have already discussed the NSF, which is representative of government funding agencies. I hesitate to discuss the military. How could an honorable person serve the government!
Clearly some of the dishonor associated with serving the government rubs off on those who work in government labs despite a quasi-autonomous, campus-like atmosphere. I spent one summer at NASA as a faculty fellow. I observed a gamut of self-serving policies and political infighting that seemed to incur sufficient dishonor by itself, without guilt by association with the rest of the government. In addition, I observed unfair employment practices involving favoritism and circumvention of the government's own hiring rules. In one case, a qualified Vietnam veteran, who subsequently received a PhD degree in chemical engineering, was denied employment because he incurred the displeasure of a senior staff member with whom he was forced to work briefly.
The medical establishment, driven by greed, bars entry by inhuman practices (30+ hour shifts for interns), holds onto its monopoly on the distribution of medicine and the treatment of nonstandard behavior by vicious lobbying, maintains an unfair wage structure, and delivers health care in a discriminatory fashion based on wealth and social status. The treatment of animals upon whom experiments are performed dishonors the entire human race.
Some "scientists", or, more properly, holders of degrees in science, work in clinics that are supposed to treat various types of mental illness including the mythical illness known as drug abuse. It is not clear that such a thing as mental illness exists. I am very suspicious of counselors, psychoanalysts, ministers, priests, lecturers, gurus and other "professionals" who make their living by treating the spiritual problems of man. It is easy for a charlatan to pose as a spiritual healer. I don't believe anyone knows enough about the human mind and the spiritual nature of man to be certain he is not doing more harm than good. Lately, quacks and do-gooders are setting up clinics and earning their living practicing half-baked and unproven techniques to stop, from using drugs, people who, for all we know, have been enjoying drugs and are trying to stop only because of outside coercion. The insects who prey on human weakness are coming out of the woodwork. In particular, it is not clear that drug users should be subjected to professional treatment at all. This point is open to debate and, probably, some scientists who work in the field of mental health do not consider themselves dishonorable. I beg to differ, particularly if the fees charged lead to incomes in excess of the average.
It seems that the honorable scientist can hardly afford to accept employment with anyone, and, of course, that goes for anyone else who aspires to honor. Perhaps, then, the only way to keep one's hands clean is to go into business for oneself. In that way one would have complete control over the ethical principles employed by the enterprise. Probably, for the small businessman, especially the scientist, the pitfalls of self-employment are just as hazardous as in any other endeavor. One must have clients and, in many cases, the client will be the government. The enterprising scientist will find himself in a competitive arena with some of the most unscrupulous people in the world. We read news of bribes and kickbacks between government and its contractors, although somewhere out there there is an honest man. If the scientist does business in the private sector, the situation could be even worse, although the chances of getting in trouble may be less. The free-enterprise system seems to corrupt everything it touches and the chances are enormous that, eventually, it will corrupt anyone who gets involved with it.
We haven't even considered, in the unlikely event that our hypothetical scientist/entrepreneur becomes successful enough to hire help, how he or she is going to overcome the economic advantage other businessmen have who underpay their help. All of the considerations with respect to the remuneration of scientists and those who assist them will apply to the scientist as entrepreneur. Will he be able to maintain his integrity in the face of overwhelming economic pressure? Maybe next time it will be different, but this author holds out little hope.
I have already indicated what I think about television. Television is destroying the intellectual and artistic standards of the nation. People don't even blink at commercials that are obscene beyond the wildest dreams of the most perverse and imaginative pornographers. No wonder the communist bloc countries and the nations of Islam are worried about the proliferation of American (and American-style) movies and TV that display lavish wealth and glorify the worst aspects of materialism. These are influences that can subvert even strong minds with promises of empty pleasures that have only the slightest chance of ever being fulfilled. The commercials are filled with every sort of lie and fallacy. Some programs are one long commercial with an audience of "shills". It is easy to show that public TV is not much better than commercial TV, employing marketing techniques that are just as dishonest as the worst commercials.
And, yet, many scientists have appeared on television for reasons that they probably think are justified. They should remember that, when they appear on television, they are giving their stamp of approval to the entire television industry. Honorable scientists should not appear on television, but all of us should demand that TV be taken out of the commercial arena and returned to the common good. The broadcasting medium, even the cable, is, after all, a public trust (partly because of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle). [Why the HUP? Think!]
Despite recent attempts by the government and others to foster interdisciplinary research, practitioners in many branches of science still consider their particular branch the important one in dealings with scientists from other disciplines whenever they are in a position to get away with it. An example of this is medical researchers who treat physicists who work with them as second-class citizens when the workplace is a research hospital. If the venue were the SSC, the situation probably would be reversed. Perhaps this is only natural, but it would be more honorable if the tendency were suppressed.
We have shown that the word "honor" means more than what is covered in Sigma Xi's little red booklet and, after discussing morals in general, we have established the principle of guilt by association. Four aspects of science were discussed, each in its own section. The first aspect is "the search for truth", which is supposed to be motivated by "scientific curiosity" to which we gave a technical meaning. We saw how dishonor can arise when scientific curiosity is abandoned or when an outside agent attempts to force us to abandon it. We considered four (or five if we count the discussion on awards) examples of how dishonorable behavior can arise out of the means employed to conduct research, which certainly includes the way in which we acquire funding, which, in turn, might be determined by how we acquire prestige.
An important aspect of science is its impact on society, the great possibilities and actualities of which, regrettably, seem to be somewhat overshadowed by the evil that arises due to the way we use science (i) to make war, (ii) to produce useless or harmful gadgets designed to make money for business rather than to benefit humanity, sometimes resulting in terrible harm to the environment in the form of water, air, sound, thermal, and motion pollution, (iii) to encourage conformity by providing material incentive, (iv) to enforce conformity in case "the carrot" is insufficient, and (v) to give the ruling classes advantages over the rest of us.
We showed that disparities in remuneration between science and other fields and disparities and inequities among scientists lead to dishonor. Finally, we showed that it is very difficult for a scientist to make a living without sacrificing honor, due to corruption in academia, business, industry, government, medicine, and the free enterprise system as it is presently constituted. Two additional points of honor were broached with respect to the appearance of scientists on television (and, of course, the role scientists play in permitting television to exist as a tool of commerce) and the way in which scientists treat each other.
Probably, it is reasonably easy for a scientist to conduct his or her life with complete honesty, although it is unclear whether very many scientists choose to do so. On the other hand, the scientist who aspires to honor has a very tough road to travel and one wonders if it is even possible to preserve honor under the economic, political, and social conditions that obtain in America today.
A possibility for fighting back against incredible odds is open to scientists. What I recommend is gradually to stop doing research that can have appreciable impact on society over the next hundred years. Scientists could restrict themselves to only the most theoretical work, avoiding work that involves appreciable outside funding. Probably they would have to abandon applied research very gradually. One could think of it only as a slowdown at first, drawing the line just this side of the point where their work was no longer indispensable. The health scientists are in a better position than others. Their work is considered indispensable by nearly everyone. They could go on strike immediately, but the suffering that would result dictates prudent activism. What could the establishment do? Shut down all the academies and labs? Scientists could continue working on theoretical results that could not possibly benefit government, business, or industry while agitating for the type of social change that would permit them to return to honorable work.
[Note in proof 9-6-96. I have had to reconsider this position and I wish to modify it slightly. We have one area of applied research that has reached the crisis stage, namely, the development of efficient alternative primary energy technologies to replace our rapidly dwindling supplies of petroleum. I have written extensively on this subject and spoken too, but to deaf ears. Unfortunately, the scientists who have devoted their efforts to acquiring funding, i.e., the typical science hustlers with whom we are all familiar, do not have the slightest notion how this research should proceed with the nearly inevitable consequence that, when we need their research results to prevent people from starving, they will discover that they have developed technology that consumes more energy than it produces. One can predict this in advance because of the nearly universal attention to money and the nearly universal neglect of energetics among these charlatans. Is there any hope? I must think so or I wouldn’t have written the fifty to one hundred megabytes advocating social change. (See, for example, Chapter 2 and Appendix I of On the Preservation of Species ) A list of my most important papers may be obtained from the American Policy Institute, the address of which is given below.]
I am certain that my ingenious readers will think of dozens of ways to implement reform. Let me suggest a technique that might have a small impact. Professors in universities might monitor the techniques taught in marketing classes. If they are dishonorable, one might initiate a movement not to approve the degrees of marketing majors until the offending techniques are excised from lectures and books on marketing. Similarly, in universities where the entire faculty votes on the degrees, one might refuse to approve medical degrees that entail shift work in excess of 8 hours in one day. These are only suggestions.
I warned that my solution would be radical. Extreme cases call for extreme measures. Being a little dishonorable is like being a little pregnant. Scientists who indulge in slightly dishonorable activities are completely dishonored. Most of us became involved with science for the purist of motives. What has happened to us? I have faith that we can regain our lost honor if we are willing to fight for it. We must begin by analyzing the situation with the entire force of our powers of reasoning, just as we would attack the most difficult scientific problem. People who are skeptical of the indictments handed down in this paper will have to think a little harder.
Houston, Texas 77096
June 5, 1990
1. Jackson, C. Ian, Honor in Science, Sigma Xi, New Haven (1984).
2. On the Preservation of Species: A Logical Argument in Support of an Economic-Political-Social System that Will Solve the Problems of Humanity, American Policy Inst., Houston (Will be ready November 1, 1997 except for some open questions on cosmological irreversible thermophysics.)