Hippocratic Oath for scientists

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The Hippocratic Oath for scientists[1] 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.[2] In principle, such an oath would advance moral and ethical thinking and could increase public support for science.

Proposals and advocates[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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".[3]

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.

Karl Popper[edit]

In 1968 (published later in 1970), following a suggestion made by some conference organisers, the philosopher Karl Popper undertake the challenge to produce a modern restatement of the Hippocratic Oath aimed for pure scientists.[4]

Archimedean Oath[edit]

In 1990, a group of students of the EPFL proposed an Archimedean Oath that codifies the responsibilities and duties of engineers and technicians.[5] The oath has since spread to a number of European engineering schools.[6]

Joseph Rotblat[edit]

The idea of a Hippocratic Oath for scientists was first suggested by Joseph Rotblat[1] in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995.[1][7]

He said:

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.

John Sulston[edit]

In 2001, in the scientific journal Biochemical Journal,[citation needed] Nobel laureate 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.

Revill and Dando[edit]

James Revill and Malcolm Dando discussed a hippocratic oath for life scientists.[9]

David King[edit]

In 2007, the UK government's chief scientific advisor, David King, laid out a "universal code of ethics" for researchers across the globe.[10] The UK government has already adopted it.

The seven principles of the code, intended to guide scientists' 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.


  1. ^ a b c Rotblat, Joseph (1999). "A Hippocratic Oath for Scientists" (PDF). Science. 286 (5444): 1475. doi:10.1126/science.286.5444.1475. PMID 10610545. 
  2. ^ MacLeod, Donald (5 January 2006). "Ethics code seeks to regulate scientists". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 
  3. ^ "An oath for scientists?". BBC News. 30 March 2001. Retrieved 2008-07-17. 
  4. ^ Popper, Karl (1970). The Moral Responsibility of the Scientist. London: Springer. pp. 329–336. ISBN 978-94-010-3307-7. 
  5. ^ Serment d'Archimèdes
  6. ^ Charte éthique of the Institut national polytechnique de Grenoble
  7. ^ "Nobel Prize winner calls for ethics oath". Physics World. 19 December 1997. Retrieved 2008-07-19. 
  8. ^ Rotblat, J. (1996). "Remember your humanity*". Medicine and War. 12 (3): 195–201. doi:10.1080/13623699608409284. 
  9. ^ Revill, J.; Dando, M. R. (2006). "A Hippocratic Oath for life scientists: A Hippocratic-style oath in the life sciences could help to educate researchers about the dangers of dual-use research". EMBO Reports. 7 (Spec No): S55–S60. doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7400708. PMC 1490307free to read. PMID 16819452. 
  10. ^ "The Great Beyond: 'Hippocratic Oath for scientists'". Nature. 12 September 2007. Retrieved 2008-07-13. 

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