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On Being a Scientist

Politics and Science


Melting Glacier, Greenland

Glacier, terminal moraine, and bodies of water in the fjords of southern Greenland.

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Which brings us to the question of money. It is not only politicians who can be corrupted by money, scientists can also be. In reading these booklets, I was struck by the changes that have taken place over two decades. Twenty years ago, it was enough to say that scientists should publish their work and share their ideas with colleagues in an open and honest fashion. Today, researchers may be testing drugs for the pharmaceutical industry and may be pressured not to publish the results of drugs that do not work. Two different researchers in the same lab may be consultants in the pay of two different drug companies and may be pressured to keep their work secret from each other. These are insidious influences at work and they are by no means confined to biochemistry.

Alignments between industrialists, politicians, and some scientists have produced the current policies of the Bush administration on global warming. The latest move in this area involves a ten-year program with lots of research money for scientists to study whether global warming is really taking place. It appears to be aimed at delaying the inevitable need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It will be an ultimate irony if scientists use this money to bury the current self-centeredness of American foreign policy by expanding the moral horizon of Americans.

Politics and the Scientist

In South Africa, we do not have much of a pharmaceutical industry, but our Minister of Health--who claims to have a medical degree from an Eastern European institution--has been corrupted by political agendas from the president's office into a state of denial about HIV and AIDS. She prefers the views of dissident scientists and favours the African potato over anti-retroviral drugs. We should remember that the dreams of scientists may sometimes turn into nightmares. A letter written by Albert Einstein to president Franklin Roosevelt was instrumental in the development of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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