November 14th, 2017 – After an hour of frank discussion, the low lighting in UC 217 did well to capture the mood of the audience as Dr. Walter Casey’s PowerPoint ended on a slide with the phrase ‘I AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS’. They, myself included, had just reached the end of an open lecture on Ethics in Science as part of the Science and Technology theme of this year’s PLACE lectures/events. Where the ethics of the subject lay, none could say.
The two main elements of the lecture – Ethics and Science – got covered in sequence. Ethics, the enforcement of a moral standard or system, are something we know a lot about, even if we don’t think of them as such. You can think of them – broadly – as actions taken because they serve a greater purpose – they are what’s ‘right’. This isn’t to say that this line of logic is wrong – only that Ethics and the morals they stand for are muddy at times. Is a bribe, for example, always unethical to accept?
It’s even muddier in the realm of Science. More specifically, Engineering. Consider whether or not a building code is enforced, or safety rules are met at a chemical plant. Do you think it’s unethical not to keep things up to code? There are those that don’t – catastrophe after catastrophe can me attributed to a lack of ethical standard. Just look into the Bhopal Disaster, for example.
Dr. Casey argues we’re guilty of this in our own lives, too, even if we’re not given great and obvious responsibilities like the upkeep of a chemical plant. We worship technology as a people and give it far more power than we realize. Ethics can quickly turn into a matter of security and we are not safe. As Dr. Casey says, “Read your End User License Agreement.”