Social Responsibility in Science

The context of science seems to be challenged by public opinion and alternatives offered by pseudo-science. Though it is important to understand how public opinion is swayed, it is even more detrimental to recognize responsibility in garnering that opinion. One of the mainstays in science is to confirm findings before releasing the information to the public. In past, this has been done through private communications within the scientific community with the goal of garnering professional support of the findings. Peer dissonance is often communicated through further research disproving claims and theories, but peers are sometimes forced to publicly question these claims when the initial investigators have already publicized their initial findings.

The premature promotion of radical ideas only serves to excite the public. As Beckwith and Huang (2005) describe, “Although the scientists with an interest in influencing social policy often go public because of their strong belief in the conclusions… scientists who see the flaws… are much less likely to confront the issues in [public]” (p. 1479). This is a common tactic among pseudo-scientists, as those who lack credibility with their peers need to have public opinion in their favor, lest their finances dissipate. Beckwith and Huang go on to show that many scientists prefer to enjoy a public disconnect unless it furthers an agenda.

In 1945, Nagasake and Hiroshima burned as the world looked on in both amazement and disbelief. Since World War II, the demand in the United States for more social responsibility among the scientific community has grown. “The explosions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki… not only made society more aware of the importance of science, they made scientists more aware of their responsibility to society” (Badash, 2005, p. 148). Knowledge comes with responsibility, and though this responsibility is often cited when problems arise, it should be conveyed throughout the scientific process.

“It would be inappropriate to refrain from doing research in case it might possibly be abused or be applied irresponsibly” (Drenth, 1999, p. 237). Science needs to move forward. The purpose of science is to uncover knowledge in areas yet unexplored and unexplained. It is only reasonable to assume that science will uncover information that could be used in a manner contradictory to the original intent; otherwise, all research would be stymied if any of the possible outcomes could be used with maligned intent. Investigators should challenge themselves to remain unbiased, ethical, and honest throughout every phase of research, including the release of the conclusions, and they should take care not to assume further responsibility than is thrust upon them.

All schools of science should promote ethical and responsible research. As it is difficult to understand the potential impact of science in the future, investigators should attempt to minimize the negative impacts through careful design of their studies. Politicizing research should be left to politicians who have been thoroughly educated by the researchers.


Badash, L. (2005). American Physicists, Nuclear Weapons in World War II, and Social Responsibility. Physics in Perspective, 7, 138-149. doi:10.1007/s00016-003-0215-6

Beckwith, J., & Huang, F. (2005). Should we make a fuss: A case for social responsibility in science. Nature Biotechnology, 23(12), 1479-1480.

Drenth, P. J. D. (1999). Prometheus chained: Social and ethical constraints on Psychology. European Psychologist, 4(4), 233-239.