scientific freedom

So-called "Scientific freedom", or the "freedom of scientific inquiry", is usually defined as the "right" of a scientist to conduct research or experimentation, to follow any path of inquiry they choose to spend time on, and make known the results of their inquiry. While this is not guaranteed in any human rights or labour rights system, it is believed in some ideologies and philosophies to be fundamental to the maintenance of economic growth and progress. Jane Jacobs decries its loss as one of the reasons that she sees a Dark Age Ahead.

ethical conflict

In various times and places, the scientists' desire to explore has come into conflict with political policies, legislation, commercial or corporate influence, religious teachings and ethical tradition, animal rights, human rights, popular ethics and popular opinion.

Like all ethical conflicts, one "right" thing is set up against another, and choices are required. "Scientific freedom" to investigate molecular replicators or neutroniums for instance might lead to runaway replicators chewing up the biosphere - see ecophagy - or a neutronium speck dropping to the centre of the Earth and slowly sucking the entire planet in over a few dozens to hundreds of years. Also, scientists like Josef Mengele would claim that the benefits of his work into hypothermia saved more lives than they cost. While more recently, Jerry Vlasic has stated that to assassinate a few vivisectionists to stop the destruction of millions of animals per year is an acceptable tradeoff.

Any scientific exploration must be measured against both its intended and unintended outcomes, e.g. technological escalation of conflict.

turns of history

It is by no means inevitable that a culture will or should recognize any ideal of scientific freedom.

Some civilizations, notably Islamic civilization in the late 16th century, turned strongly away from traditions of inquiry that had in fact been invented in that very same civilization. Chinese civilization also became very xenophobic at about the same time. European civilization meanwhile benefitted from contact with the Mayan, Aztec, Inca, Mikmaq, Mohican, Delaware and especially Haudenosaunee peoples at about the same time. Science was accelerated in Europe by these contacts and the need to study new life forms, and exposure to lifeways previously unknown to Europeans.

Jacobs believes this was an exception and that the natural trend of civilization is to xenophobia. Alvin Toffler in his book Powershift describes xenophobes, "eco-theocracy" and "holy frenzy" as three powerful trends "yearning for a new Dark Age."

Some related issues: stem cell research, human cloning, experiments on animals, Nancy Olivieri, corporate research funding, evolution vs. creationism, artificial virus and prions, grey goo and runaway replicators, zero point energy and artificial black hole disaster.