Hippocratic Oath for scientists
The Hippocratic Oath for scientists has been suggested as an ethical code of practice for scientists that is similar to the Hippocratic Oath used in the medical profession. Proposals suggest that a suitable oath should encourage rigour, honesty and integrity among scientists, and ensure the minimisation and justification of any adverse effects their work may have on people, animals or the natural environment. In principle, such an oath would advance moral and ethical thinking and could increase public support for science.
Proposals and advocates
A number of different oaths have been proposed by various prominent members of the scientific community. The idea was first suggested by Sir Joseph Rotblat, a nuclear physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. The concept has been met with criticism for varying reasons, with Ray Spier, Professor of Science and Engineering Ethics at the University of Surrey, UK, stating that "Oaths are not the way ahead".
It has been suggested that any suitable oath should be simple to remember and should be equally applicable to the work of physicists, biochemists, biologists and chemists. However, the debate has continued as to the potential use and value of a Hippocratic Oath for scientists.
Some of the propositions are outlined below.
Sir Joseph Rotblat
"The time has come to formulate guidelines for the ethical conduct of scientists, perhaps in the form of a voluntary Hippocratic Oath.”
Ethical conduct and moral responsibility in science was a cause Rotblat believed in passionately, having been the only scientist to have resigned from the Manhattan Project. Rotblat campaigned for a Hippocratic Oath for scientists for many years until his death in 2005.
Sir John Sulston
In 2001, in the scientific journal The Biochemical Journal, Nobel laureate Sir John Sulston proposed an oath so that scientists could declare their intention "to cause no harm and to be wholly truthful in their public pronouncements, and also to protect them from discrimination by employers who might prefer them to be economical with the truth."
Sulston stopped short of suggesting potential wording for an oath.
Sir David King
The seven principles of the code, intended to guide scientist's actions, are:
- Act with skill and care in all scientific work. Maintain up to date skills and assist their development in others.
- Take steps to prevent corrupt practices and professional misconduct. Declare conflicts of interest.
- Be alert to the ways in which research derives from and affects the work of other people, and respect the rights and reputations of others.
- Ensure that your work is lawful and justified.
- Minimize and justify any adverse effect your work may have on people, animals and the natural environment.
- Seek to discuss the issues that science raises for society. Listen to the aspirations and concerns of others.
- Do not knowingly mislead, or allow others to be misled, about scientific matters. Present and review scientific evidence, theory or interpretation honestly and accurately.
In 2011, during the 61st Meeting of Nobel Laureates in Lindau, Jean-Marie Lehn, the co-recipient of Nobel Prize in Chemistry for 1987 and a young scholar and medical doctor from Pakistan, Ehsan Ullah had a discussion in which Ehsan Ullah urged an internationally acceptable and agreeable regulatory statute may be imposed on scientists working around the globe. The Laureate did not agree to it however; Nature magazine has published the young scholar's idea.
- MacLeod, Donald (5 January 2006). "Ethics code seeks to regulate scientists". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- "An oath for scientists?". BBC News. 30 March 2001. Retrieved 2008-07-17.
- "Nobel Prize winner calls for ethics oath". Physics World. 19 December 1997. Retrieved 2008-07-19.
- Rotblat, J., "Remember your humanity", In Abrams I (1999) Nobel Lectures, Peace 1991–1995, World Scientific Publishing (1995).
- "The Great Beyond: 'Hippocratic Oath for scientists'". Nature. 12 September 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-13.
- Lehn JM. Rational Enthusiasm. Nature 478: S8 – S9. doi:10.1038/478S8a