Monday, October 12, 2009

Blog #23 - The Moral Ramifications of Scientific Discoveries

We are reading about the amazing leap of scientific discoveries during the Renaissance that take the geocentric world of Ptolemy and scramble it like an egg. After the Euro scientists Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton got through with analyzing and presenting their version of the universe (that took into account new data that had puzzled apologists for the geocentric world for years), the sun was at the center of our system and Earth was just another rock orbiting around that great big ball of light.

Copernicus didn't publish his book - and this is in dispute - Sophie's World says in fear of disrupting the natural order of the world. Other places I've looked say that he was a bit of a perfectionist and he wanted his data squared away with his conclusions. The following website states why his findings were a bit disconcerting to the Middle Aged mind:

"Man, it was believed (and still believed by some) was made by
God in His image, man was the next thing to God, and, as such, superior,
especially in his best part, his soul, to all creatures, indeed this part was
not even part of the natural world (a philosophy which has proved disastrous to
the earth's environment as any casual observer of the 20th century might confirm
by simply looking about). Copernicus' theories might well lead men to think that
they are simply part of nature and not superior to it and that ran counter to
the theories of the politically powerful churchmen of the time."

So what if we lived on a planet that rotated around the sun instead of the other way around? Well, that was just the beginning. Italian scientist Giordano Bruno took it a step (or five) further by suggesting that space is infinite and that our solar system might just be one of many systems out there in space, and .... (wait for it)...there might be life on other planets! For this leap of logic, he was burned at the stake by the Inquisition (don't we have the cable news networks for that today?).

Galileo discovered 4 additional moons of Jupiter (1610), observed a supernova (1604), and the detailed surface of our own moon (1609) with his new and improved telescope - a discovery that shattered the idea of a universe that never changed (if scientists like Aristotle didn't find the moons or the supernova, then they shouldn't be there - forget the idea that G might have improved his telescope). Also, in 1632, his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems supported the Copernican system and the not the discredited Ptolemaic system. That was enough for the Pope and the Church which had him recant his ideas and placed under house arrest for the rest of his days. 2

Kepler published his laws of planetary motion in 1609 that were consistent with the Copernican system (The Roman Catholic Church kept fighting these new discoveries and stuck to their guns, while some new Protestant churches accepted these new scientific findings, so the science took on a whole other political / religious dimension). Kepler also supported Galileo as well but was soon caught up in the poltical battles in Germany and Austria and lost his post in 1630.

Isaac Newton came up with his laws for gravity and motion that not only tied all of this together but did it with the simplicity of math - he used the math to show that this new Copernican interpretation was God's intention all along. He synthesized Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler and tied it all together in one neat system that in many ways still stands up today. 3

After all of this, however, I was wondering about the moral ramifications of a scientist's discoveries. In this case, these men upset the natural order of the known scientific world. As we'll read later, Darwin will knock mankind from his pedastal w/ his Origin of Species in 1859. Then later Einstein will usher in the age of relativism w/ his theory of relativity (historian Paul Johnson asserted that this theory blew down the boundaries of right and wrong and made EVERYTHING relative - you don't have to agree w/ him; it's his theory). After that, we had nuclear bombs and germ (bio) and chemical warfare available for use.

1. Is he or she (scientist or discoverer) responsible for the ways that their discovery is used / abused? Why or why not? What are the implications of holding someone accountable for their invention?

2. If you discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous, how would you handle it? Would you pull a Copernicus and publish posthumously (after death)? Would you release the results and try to protect and defend the discovery like Galileo and Kepler? Or is there another alternative?

150 words minimum - Due Tuesday, October 13.

2. The Galileo Project - Rice University -

I would like to recommend a very readable book about this tumultuous period - it has the science but it isn't overwhelmingly technical. It's Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. Good stuff!


  1. I don’t think that the scientist/discoverer is responsible for the ways that their discovery is used/abused. I think that as a human race we are continually searching for knowledge. When someone finds out a new piece of information, they should share it, because most likely it can be used in a positive way. The only problem is that the use of the invention can be seen as negative and positive at the same time. An example of this is a gun. A gun can be used for many reasons, such as defense, recreation, hunting, and as a weapon. The dude who invented the gun shouldn’t be held responsible for wars, school shootings, etc. The gun is meant as a device for defense, recreation, and hunting. It is not the inventor’s fault that people decided to kill each other with it.
    If I discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous, I would probably show it to people, but not everyone. I would only show it to the people I thought could handle the information, then I would eventually, when the time is right, reveal it to the rest of the people. I think that my discoveries should be used immediately if it proved useful, and that if I was able to use the discovery in a positive way, people would eventually accept it.

    2nd hour

  2. I think that the only way an inventor or discover can be held accountable for their achievement is if they purposefully decide to withhold their discovery from the world. If they happen upon something that requires regulation for the common good, such as nuclear power, the responsibility to protect the populace from the possible dangers does not lie in their hands. By refusing to share what they have uncovered, however, they are robbing humanity of an opportunity to progress as a whole. Even the apparently smallest discovery cannot be swept underneath the rug, for even that could lead to a chain of discoveries and inventions that could revolutionize the world. To hold people too accountable for inventions and discoveries discourages them from helping the world. The implications of man’s achievements must be dealt with and carefully watched, but we cannot place that burden upon the shoulders of those doing groundbreaking work.

    -Alex Aginian

  3. 1. The scientist cannot control how other people react to his or her discoveries. He or she can control who they release the discoveries to, but how other people use or abuse the discoveries are out of the scientist’s hands. The scientist could also control the way he or she uses or abuses the discoveries. A scientist can take the credit for his or her invention, but I think they cannot be held accountable for how it is used or abused unless the scientist himself/herself is using or abusing it. Again because it would be out of his or her control otherwise. I do believe that morals should play a part in the scientist’s invention. What I mean is that if it was invented to cause destruction to people or hurt something, I think the scientist can take partial responsibility in aiding the destruction.
    2. If I discovered something that was potentially dangerous, as a scientist, I would try to inform the people in a smart manner and try to not overwhelm them. I would also try to find a way to fix the potentially dangerous discovery so that it may not harm anyone. I would also stick to my conclusions no matter what anyone said because I know I did my part and discovered and released the findings. It would be out of my control how other people react to the findings.

    Jason S
    2nd hour

  4. If I discovered something that could possibly be considered dangerous or blasphemous I would probably second guess myself so much that I probably wouldn’t publish anything or speak of any of my beliefs. I have been raised with such a high belief in Christianity that anything that challenges that would be scorned in my family. I can fully understand where Copernicus was coming from; a lot of people are not able to except things that they cannot fully understand and something that challenges them to be different. I would just wait till I passed to publish my writing and hope that with my research others find my devotion to learning and not to do something that some may consider evil. I don’t find it cowardly to try to keep the peace and respect others opinion and things about the unknown. Until you know that your beliefs are die hard (literally) then I would wait till society is ready to accept and respect my opinions to publish them, which mean I would probably have to wait till I died to express my thoughts and theories. Alanna Albritton 2nd

  5. Daniel Sherwood
    The person who discovers anything that is a truth is absolutely not responsible for the ways that their discovery is used or abused. What they’ve discovered is not their responsibility to manage and control, it was their responsibility to make sure people found out about whatever it was that they’ve discovered. However, let’s say I invited the nuclear bomb and then carted it on over to Iran (a completely random example, having nothing to do with anything) and sell it to their government, then obviously I would have some responsibility. But, if I merely published a book about how to make a nuclear bomb, I would not be responsible, I would just be spreading the knowledge I’ve acquired through my experiments, hard work, and research. I think that as a researcher you need to understand that you may have to unveil things that people might not necessarily like. For example, if Charles Darwin wouldn’t have published his book modern science would not be what it is today.

  6. I do not believe that the scientist or discoverer are responsible for the ways that their discovery is used/abused. When a scientists discovers a certain topic and they share it with the rest of the world, it is up to each individual and how they would like to approach the statement. Some people could not believe it, some could go deeper into research and some could potentially abuse the discovery. The scientist cant control how people deal with their discoveries, but they can control who they share their information with. It is up to the scientist and how he/she would like to carry out their discovery with the world.
    If I discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous, I would first tell a couple of people I could trust and get their advice on the situation. Before I announced what I discovered, I would try to find a fix to my discovery. I would most likely do something like Galileo and Kepler did. If I could not find a fix, I would try to let people know in a suttle way, by not scarring them. I would feel guilty not releasing the information because everyone has a right to know if information is considered “dangerous.” Society may fight the potential danger, which is understandable, but if they were to never find out in the first place about the danger, then life could get worse without even a warning, and most people would rather have a warning before something dangerous was about to happen.

  7. I don’t believe that the scientist or discoverer is responsible for the way that their discoveries and theories are used to a certain point. I believe that the theory or discovery should be explained vividly as possible so there is no doubt. However I believe that in the end it is up to how and individual interprets the discovery or the scientific proof. For example the whole evolution theory is embraced to some and others disagree with the idea due to either what they believe as lack of evidence or faith in religion. We tend to be skeptic, the more proof we see the more likely it is to occur. Or if we were raised on believing in certain things it is harder to change your prior beliefs or to alter what you have already grown accustomed to. Also it seems that with every idea, there seems to be a counter-idea to discredit that idea.

    Collin Parson

  8. If I discovered something dangerous I would definitely release the results. I mean if it was something contained that was dangerous, it probably wouldn’t be such a crazy discovery, like swine flu. However, if it was something like swine flu people would go crazy and scientists all over would be helping to find something to cure or get rid of this dangerous thing, but all of the while protecting the discovery. Even though this thing is potentially dangerous, scientists would bend over backwards making sure every step of the destroying process was recorded for future scientists to see. I can see where Copernicus is coming from though. Disrupting the natural order of things might freak some people out. Back to the swine flu thing, people were pretty much set with how to deal with the flu then H1N1 came along and now there are hand sanitizer dispensers all over the school. People are germ freaks now, however, if someone did discover something like that and didn’t tell anyone or try to find a cure then people would be dying from something that’s treatable. So Galileo and Kepler win this one.

    Remy Gijsbers

  9. I do not think that he or she (sientist or discoverer) is responsible for the ways that their discovery is used or abused. They should not be responsible because their discovery was most likely created to better the human race. A philosopher probably would not create something that would be bad for others. I also do not think that a scientist or discoverer should be responsible for the ways that their discovery is abused because they could have tried to find out more about something and then it going completely wrong. If they made a discovery with the intent of bad things, then yes, I do think that they should be responsible for the damage done. I do not know what the implications of holding someone accountable for their actions could be. They could be very severe or not severe at all. I guess it would just depend on the specific situation.

  10. In my opinion the scientist or discoverer is not responsible for why their discovery is used or abused because society thinks differently about everything. It is a good thing if the scientist shares their invention instead of withholding it because it will give people a different and maybe even better outlook on whatever that invention is. It wouldn’t be the scientists fault on how society takes the news about a discovery because no one is going to think the exact same thing so some things about this discovery could be easily twisted and thought of in a complete opposite way. Take the game “telephone”, the first person says the correct word/sentence and it gets passed along a line of people; along the way it usually gets changed into something different. The scientist/discoverer has to be able to take the feedback from people because some may disagree/agree but it would be a good thing to let others know about a discovery they make so that we can use it to our advantage for the better.
    If I were to discover something that could be potentially dangerous I would probably tell the ones who I cared about first, so they would be prepared for what might happen, and then let some people gradually know who I know would be calm about it and not freak out. But as the potentially dangerous thing would get closer I would probably tell anyone who could take me seriously so they could warn others so they would have the chance to protect themselves and others.

    Chelsea Koz 2nd

  11. Personally, I don’t think it is the scientist/discoverer’s responsibility for the ways that their discoveries are used or abused. It is how we observe his or hers discovery. They don’t have the power to control other people’s reactions, but they do have control over what they put out. Every day, we are learning about new technology and we constantly want to know more about what else is out there. Scientists invent numerous of things, but they can’t be accountable for how it is perceived or used by others, because no one thinks exactly the same. Whether it’s used in an optimistic or pessimistic way, we can’t fully implicate the scientist because we don’t know what they were thinking. If I were to discover something that was potentially dangerous, I would probably do another experiment to make sure, and then publish what I discovered. I would want to protect others of something that is could harm us, even if they don’t agree with me. As I said before, everyone has a different perspective on things and it is out of my control on how they respond towards it.

  12. 1. To me I think it is ludicrous for a scientist to be blamed for the way his or hers discovery is used. Scientist put facts together, and creates inventions. Even if a scientist created a dooms day devices, it is the leader in charge who should get the blame. For every discovery there is a good and bad use. The scientist does not make a distinction between the two because for him there is only science. It is the other person who makes the decision to use or abuse. Imagine how the scientist researching the H bomb felt. Not knowing the full picture. Thinking they were getting to the brink of technology messing with atoms, only to them find out that the research they had been doing was to create a mass killing weapon. The scientist bring the truth to the world, it’s everyone else who twist it into madness that should receive the blame.

    2. If I were to ever discover something that was truly dangerous, I would definitely not release it until after my death. I would not want to live in a world where that information would turn on me. I would leave it for other scientist to have to deal with. I would then probably stop being a scientist all together, because I know that all of my research would all go towards the potentially dangerous finding. I would put it in my will to have it read at my funeral, and that’s it. I would then most likely try to drink it away, out of my memory, so I would no longer be drained by the truth that I didn’t want to know. If humans are not ready for the discovery, then I don’t want to be around when they make the discovery.

    -Chelsea Rosenbaum

  13. A scientist or discoverer discovers or invents things for the better of the human race, like vaccines. If he or she doesn’t want it to be released to the public for their own personal use, he or she shouldn’t release it. Take Lisa’s example of a gun, if we were to hold the inventor of that invention accountable for their actions instead of the abuser, we would be saying that everyone who murdered someone with a gun will not be tried, but the person who invented it will be. People have free will, and will do what they want with inventions, one person can’t be held responsible for the actions of others he or she can’t control. The inventor of the nuclear bomb invented it, but he didn’t decide to use it on Japan, that was the decision of our president. Not all inventions will be seen as good, but it’s not seneschal for the inventor to be at fault.


  14. If I discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous I would expose it to the world. Dangerous things should be exposed because it can harm something or someone. Discovering something is finding out new information that could help others. Something new should be exposed to inform those who don’t know. The process of discovering something could be hard but throughout the hard work you may need help. I would definitely release my results and try to protect others and defend the discovery. I think it is important to share news because it can make a difference in what happens in our everyday lives. Using discovery is using knowledge that can lead to different concepts of thinking. Danger and blasphemy brings out terror or fear. After posthumously and while I’m living my discovery would still be well know because I believe it could help people gain things that they didn’t know before.
    Jasmine Cain 2nd Hr

  15. I think that the only way a discoverer or a scientist can be held for their discovery is if they personally did something to it. As a society everyday things are abused from the media and other types of electronics that people can’t control the rumors that are going on. If the media blew up the way that an invention should be used, the philosopher wouldn’t get the right credit for their invention. If I would discover something dangerous in my philosophy, I think that I would try to fix it. I wouldn’t just go around and pretend that nothing is wrong because that could harm other people. I would make sure that I fixed it, or was positive that other people we not using my philosophies. As I would try to fix it, I would try to remember my conclusions and make sure that I am not changing anything that would have to change the whole philosophy because I know that when I started off I knew what I was talking about.

  16. If I discovered something dangerous or blasphemous I would probably keep it to myself. I would keep it to myself because you can’t trust human beings. A person who you may think is your friend, or a responsible person who you can trust may sell you out for money or fame. I would handle it similar to Copernicus and publish it after death, while at the same time trying to explain things that I would really want to be known. At the same time I would leave some things for other scientist to discover. If I released the results and my discovery was misused I would not feel responsible for whatever happens – but I know people would hold me accountable. For instance, if I invented the drug meth, and people started abusing it, that wouldn’t be my fault – but people would say it is. And if meth somehow cured cancer people would applaud me- but I wouldn’t accept it I would rather be dead when my invention comes to light because with fame comes jealously of the public or positive uproar and pressure to further invent or investigate something that I most likely would have discovered by accident .I couldn’t take the pressure whether its negative or positive.
    - Shar Rogers

  17. I do not believe that a scientist or discoverer should be held responsible for their ideas. History has shown us that when people have published their ideas, many high and mighty organizations whose own ideas conflict with the new ones tend to apply “pressure”. This action constricts the flow of ideas that might have formed to individuals thinking for themselves. And according to the signals we can generate from the Renaissance, the powerful organizations did not appreciate that. Rather, if anyone is to be held accountable, it is the person who applied it in the manner that people did not see fit. What I am trying to say is that because someone creates a sculpture, it is not their fault if another person is crushed under it when they last saw it inside their workshop. This is why it is not the discoverer’s fault, but instead the applier’s.
    If I discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous, would I withhold it? (Hmm, a tough one!) Of course not! Part of what makes the information real is the presence of the creator. If they scurry away to their little cubby-hole and wait until it is safe, that action causes two things to transpire. 1). The information will get around a lot slower, as opposed to if it was published when it was considered blasphemous and it would get plenty of attention. 2). If you cannot stand up for what you have discovered, what does that say to others? Nothing. If published at a time when you would be banished for your work, people would look at you with awe. (Either that or like you’re crazy) This is why I would publish my findings regardless of the danger presented to me. Adam Sadler

  18. I definitely don’t believe that it is the inventor’s fault if their discovery is taken the wrong way or abused. They might have had something else in mind entirely, and blaming them for the wrongdoings of others is simply unfair. The human race thrives off of new inventions, and without them, where would we be? Obviously many new things cannot be trusted in the hands of most humans, as we tend to make very bad decisions, but this factor should not hinder inventors in their discoveries. It is really up to the people to make good decisions and not let new inventions become disasters from their actions.
    If I were to discover something possibly dangerous or blasphemous, I would most likely inform someone whom I knew I could trust, but I probably wouldn’t share it with the whole world until one of two things occurred: if I was sure they could handle it, or I died. Releasing something monumental after death like Copernicus is a wiser idea because then you don’t have to face the ramifications.

  19. I do not believe at all that it is responsible for the ways their discovery is used/abused. I think that applies also with any philosophy as well. For example, the scientist who discovered the ability to split atoms could only reach that level of discovery in his life. Sure, his discovery led to the atomic bomb, the darkest manifestation of the human heart, and a threat to all life on this planet; but anything that is discovered or realized can be expanded upon. All phenomena has the potential for both positive influence and negative influence. What becomes of the discovery or realization is reflected upon the expander’s intent. What the scientist discovers is his full responsibility until the moment of death, in my personal opinion. Because if individuals immediately try to twist it into an agent of their own selfish desires, the authority of what can be decided in terms of right or wrong tends to rest within the founder of that discovery. In addition, that individual is will most likely be the most knowledgeable, and if that is the case, that person should muster the courage and wisdom to defend his discovery from slander and corruption, or else the true intent of the discovery will be lost and misguide people in terms of knowledge wisdom; possibly to an extent where it may have a negative effect on the lives of the people.

    John Cassetta
    2nd hour

  20. I don’t think that a scientist/discoverer is held responsible for the way their ideas are used/abused after their work is out in the world. Obviously, if their facts are everything but the truth, it would be a different situation. Theories are ideas, they aren’t always the truth, but it’s in the societies place to decide on what they believe, and how they are going to apply it. People are going to use the information and if they choose to do bad things with that information, I don’t necessarily think that the blame should be put upon the scientist or discoverer. I also think a good point made, was that-if scientist/discoverers founded/created something to purposely harm others than I definitely think that they can be held accountable. In a way, I think that by sharing ideas and discoveries, it helps the world develop. People are always using other peoples ideas, and adding their own perspective on things. If I were a scientist or discoverer, I would publish my work for sure. I would want people to know about my ideas and what I have worked so hard on to achieve. I would make sure that whatever I was publishing was legit, and I had no doubt whatsoever. If people wanted to bash my work, I would be confident enough in myself and my ideas that I wouldn’t care. If anything I would work harder to prove it more. I also think that it would benefit others because they would be inspired to use their mind and create their own new ideas.


  21. I don't believe that what people do with knowledge is the discoverer's fault. The person who discovered whatever they may have, does not has influnce over everyone else who will use this new knowledge. If they in the end decided that the discovery should be shared than that would be the individual's decision, to put the information out there to be used. How people choose to use that information is all their own decision, and though sometimes these discoveries can lead to terrible things, they can also lead to wonderful things. It all depends on the person who decides to use the discovery.
    If I discovered something potenial to be dangerous, I'm not exactly sure what I would do. Having the potential to be a dangerous thing could also mean that is has the potential for the next leap in medicine or technology. In the end, the decision would be in my hands, and it would come down to if I could sleep at night, knowing I'd unleashed something that could do more harm than good. If that were the case, then maybe the world wouldn't be ready for what I had discovered, best to leave it for however many years until someone else stumbles acrossed it and anouncing it's discovery becomes their decision. In that time any number of things could change and this discovery would do more good than harm, I suppose it depends on the hands that it would be handed to. Then again, that would also be my decision, my job to look past a personal perception of what I'd found and look around the the people it could affect, the lives it could improve or destroy.

    Molly G.

  22. In Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, one of the scientists Malcolm stuck on the Island says that “discovery is always a rape of the natural world.” Being the philosopher in the book, Malcolm closely observes the destruction that can be brought by Jurassic Park. Malcolm says that scientists can’t just be satisfied with the world the way it is, they always have to intervene with natural processes and the natural world just so they can be credited for their discoveries and have their names on something. He complains that science is something that people don’t have to work for; scientists simply take other works, employ their own thinking to it and take it a step farther. Although some of this is obvious, I never really thought of scientists this way. Scientists are not fully responsible for the ways their discovery is used. Certainly, the first scientists should be accountable for the way their discovery was used because their findings were all work of their own. But ever since the first scientists, the majority of all science has been built off of other people’s work. Therefore, the earliest/original scientist can be held responsible for all discoveries to this day. Furthermore, even if it is not a scientist’s intent that their invention will cause damage and be abused, they are still accountable because they chose to interfere with natural processes and generate change. Scientists are just preoccupied with accomplishments and they believe discovery is inevitable so they must be the first ones to it. The great intellectual justification of science has vanished. Ever since Newton, Galileo, and Descartes, science has explicitly offered us the vision of total control. Science has claimed the power to eventually control everything, through its understanding of natural laws.


  23. If I discovered something that was potentially dangerous or blasphemous I would release the results and try to protect and defend the discovery like Galileo and Kepler did. Even if it was something that I felt was unimportant and unworthy of my support. I believe that everyone or everything should receive the chance to stand up for something they believe. And personally I believe that standing alone on a belief doesn’t feel good, even if it’s right or wrong. Now after being on their side, and perhaps realizing that this might be wrong, or something I no longer care for, then I would pull away, and let it be. But, at least I gave that “opinion” a fighting chance.
    -Jasmine Smith

  24. 1. I think the scientist or discoverer is not necessarily responsible for the ways the their discovery is used / abused. It just seems that what people decide to do with what they have is their decision. How would the person who created / designed the pop bottle know that some stoners would find a way to smoke out of it? Some things are just beyond the inventors control.

    2. If I discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous, I’m not really sure how I’d handle it. I guess it depends whether I believe it or not, it also depends on what it is. If it was something that goes against God, or his existence I don’t think I would ever publish it or show it to people, just because I have such a strong belief in him. Therefore it would be a lie to me and why would I spread lies? If it was a discovery that would be extremely controversial and dangerous to my family or me but I strongly believed it I would TOTALLY pull a posthumous thingy ma giggy. I would write a veryy strong letter saying something along the lines of, “HA! I’m right and if you don’t like it you can shove it because I’m dead and happy. Thank you. : )”

    -I most likely wont be able to turn this in, but Powerschool said missing so I assumed that means I can make it up? If not, that’s coolio.


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