The “Hippocratic Oath” for Scientists

Here is an interesting note from grrlscientist at scienceblogs:

“In response to what appears to be a growing problem, a group of people at the Institute of Medical Science at University of Toronto in Canada wrote a scientist’s version of the Hippocratic oath. This oath (below) was recited by all graduate students in the biological sciences at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year. “

I promise never to allow financial gain, competitiveness or ambition cloud my judgment in the conduct of ethical research and scholarship. I will pursue knowledge and create knowledge for the greater good, but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars of which I am now a member.

Given the politicization of science, such as we’ve witnessed recently from Jim Hansen’s conduct in calling for trials, perhaps making this a requirement for all graduating science majors, plus a requirement for membership to professional organizations such as AMS, AAAS, etc might be a good idea.

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31 Responses to The “Hippocratic Oath” for Scientists

  1. statePoet1775 says:

    “I will pursue knowledge and create knowledge for the greater good, but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars of which I am now a member.”

    Sorry, but this sounds like truth should be subordinated to not embarrassing a colleague. This one should be taking back to the drawing board.

  2. terry says:

    Brilliant. I love it.

  3. Headless says:

    “… create knowledge for the greater good, but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars of which I am now a member.”

    This portion of the oath will not allow creation of knowledge contrary to the research of others. This reads to me as a requirement to buy into the currently accepted Groupthink of the scientific community. That in itself is contrary to the scientific method. The whole thing should be flushed.

  4. Pierre Gosselin says:

    “I promise never to allow financial gain, competitiveness or ambition cloud my judgment in the…”

    And what should the penalty be if someone breaks the promise?

    Everyone can be bought…even the Pope. Sometimes the bonus that comes with breaking an oath is just too good to pass up.
    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  5. Pierre Gosselin says:

    If you want science to return to honesty, then you have to take the power and profits out of it.

  6. crosspatch says:

    “I promise never to allow financial gain, competitiveness or ambition”

    I notice they left out “political activism”

  7. Gary Gulrud says:

    Lets also look for standards in accrediting departments of each and every science that acknowledge the expertise of the others in their foundation and in research pursued. Hat tip to Wegman at George Mason.

  8. kim says:

    I’m amused by this one from the Master himself: “Life is short, art is long, opportunity fugitive, experimenting dangerous, reasoning difficult: it is necessary not only to do oneself what is right, but also to be seconded by the patient, by those who attend him, by external circumstance”
    ======================================

  9. crosspatch says:

    (CNSNews.com) – The scientist touted by CBS News’ “60 Minutes” as arguably the “world’s leading researcher on global warming” and spotlighted as a victim of the Bush administration’s censorship on the issue, publicly endorsed Democrat John Kerry for president and received a $250,000 grant from the charitable foundation headed by Kerry’s wife.

    Scientist Alleging Bush Censorship Helped Gore, Kerry

    Hansen isn’t a scientist, he is a political activist. He is a partisan. But I have news for him … Mother Nature bats last.

  10. statePoet1775 says:

    typo, “taking” = “taken”

    Protect those eyes, they are very useful.

  11. David Vermette says:

    I find the second statement a little confusing. What does it mean to pursue knowledge to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, etc. and why is this oath against it? Wouldn’t knowledge that goes against AGW be to the detriment of colleagues and supervisors for many scientists?

  12. Bill in Vigo says:

    In the Hippocratic oath the line with the most meaning is the line that says in my words

    I shall do no harm

    I am not so sure that many of our current “experts” can claim to live by this part of the oath. weather it applies to their particular disipline or not. I don’t believe that this new oath will work. I think we need to get back to the old swearing in of the court room for testimony.

    “The Truth and nothing but the Truth so help me God”

    and let the chips fall where they may.

    Bill Derryberry

  13. Bill Marsh says:

    “I will pursue knowledge and create knowledge for the greater good, but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars of which I am now a member.”

    I don’t understand this. The first sentence seems to call for the scientist to make judgment calls about the relative worth or ‘goodness’ of his research before he undertakes it. Since ‘good’ is a fluid social concept and changes over time I don’t see how it has applicability to science or research. Seems to me that this will limit the scope of research quite a bit. Who decides if the research is ‘for the greater good’ or not? Kind of a Quis Costodet ipsos custodos? sort of delima.

    What exactly would be considered ‘to the detriment of …’? Who decides if a particular pursuit of knowledge is to the detriment of other colleagues?

    I’d prefer something more on the order of ‘seeking truth is the highest calling’ and ‘I will not allow monetary or other gain to influence my seeking of the truth.’

  14. terry says:

    hm. as a fellow Hatch Act employee who also got a bit of a talking to during Primary Season for some things I did, I can’t see how Hansen got away with that (public endorsing) without at least a talk from his supervisors….

  15. Clark says:

    Scientists should be seeking accurate knowledge. Period. It’s up to society how or whether to use that knowledge, and whether that use is for the greater good.

    Once a scientist starts trying to think about whether the knowledge is for “the greater good” or whether it is “detrimental to colleagues,” the criteria of good science like objectivity, controls and transparency go out the window.

  16. Tim Rueb says:

    They forgot the following item in their oath:

    “And we mutually agree that a scientific consensus is not the same a independent reproducible test results, and we refuse to take part in any political pandering.”

  17. John Galt says:

    Ethics are extremely important, but like many others I’m concerned about the “but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars” clause. This could easily be used to stifle debate and dissent. To echo another poster, this will make GroupThink even worse.

    A better scientific oath might be to tell the truth no matter what the consequences.

  18. Empty says:

    Taken at face value, it’s a middling try at best with too much of a self-congratulatory “everyone wins!” feel to convey the heavy burdens that those who pursue truth above all else must sometimes bear.

    Throw in the probable pc world view of the folks who created this (i.e. university intelligensia), and I score it about equal to the “paintballers oath” for oathy goodness.

  19. Evan Jones says:

    The phrase that immediately struck me is the same phrase that seems to have immediately struck everybody else!

  20. Dave Andrews says:

    A little anecdote.

    My eldest son has just finished the first year of his MChem degree. One of his favourite tutors has told him that if he goes into research to always follow the consensus as that way he will get the research money. If he has research ideas that are outside the consensus the advice is basically to “forget it, the money will not be forthcoming”.

    In its way this is exactly the same as the second part of the “Oath”

  21. Leon Brozyna says:

    This “Oath” seems to enshrine the very idea that’s gotten the scientific community into the mess it’s in with AGW – group think. Any such oath should, as its basic premise, start with skepticism.

  22. Bill P says:

    Ethics training – and oaths – have a way of turning up in institutions which have gone awry and want to put on a show of reform. When her company went bankrupt as a result of corporate fraud and massive debt, my wife had to take “ethics training” along with virtually all employees of MCI, formerly World Com, now Verizon. (See “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” for an analogous business model). The bosses who had commited the indiscretions and malfeasances had long since flown the coup or been arrested, but employees were stuck with this training in ethical behavior.

    The collaborative decision-makers in the public high school where I taught decided we needed to inoculate students with ethics classes, I suppose because we had a preponderance of lower-class students. This was done, at the expense of time spent covering other things more meritorious. I objected then, and I still feel it was a misdirected waste of time.

    I realize that ethics and accountability are at the root of your and Steve’s websites, and the more you can keep such issues in the news the better. I was grateful for those efforts when I heard NPR’s bit last week on underreporting of misconduct in the NIH:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91658116

    Do you really want public (or private) institutions demanding that their employees take oaths? I think I so much as I want them to set the right course to begin with: that they make their goals and objectives – their curricula – readily visible to all; that they ask the right questions.

    Those questions, and of course the pursuit of answers, say a lot about the questioners – questions like: to what extent can those surface stations really be trusted?

  23. Philip_B says:

    promise never to allow financial gain, competitiveness or ambition cloud my judgment in the conduct of ethical research and scholarship.

    So these things are fine if you consider the research ‘unethical’. Many such as Hansen would view research to disprove AGW as unethical.

    At best this is pointless politically correct nonsense. At worst a licence to lie and cheat if you don’t like what the science says.

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  25. Steve Moore says:

    “…but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars…”

    WHAT?

    If my supervisor or colleague fakes his data, and I know about it, I’m supposed to keep my mouth shut?
    If a research topic is a dead end and serves only to keep someone in a job, and I know that, I should be quiet?
    If a policy is guided by information I know to be false, I’m expected to be silent?

    What a load of horse dung!

  26. paminator says:

    The IEEE code of ethics for Electrical and Electronics Engineers has merit, in particular #9 in the list.

    “We, the members of the IEEE, in recognition of the importance of our technologies in affecting the quality of life throughout the world, and in accepting a personal obligation to our profession, its members and the communities we serve, do hereby commit ourselves to the highest ethical and professional conduct and agree:

    1. to accept responsibility in making decisions consistent with the safety, health and welfare of the public, and to disclose promptly factors that might endanger the public or the environment;
    2. to avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest whenever possible, and to disclose them to affected parties when they do exist;
    3. to be honest and realistic in stating claims or estimates based on available data;
    4. to reject bribery in all its forms;
    5. to improve the understanding of technology, its appropriate application, and potential consequences;
    6. to maintain and improve our technical competence and to undertake technological tasks for others only if qualified by training or experience, or after full disclosure of pertinent limitations;
    7. to seek, accept, and offer honest criticism of technical work, to acknowledge and correct errors, and to credit properly the contributions of others;
    8. to treat fairly all persons regardless of such factors as race, religion, gender, disability, age, or national origin;
    9. to avoid injuring others, their property, reputation, or employment by false or malicious action;
    10. to assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional development and to support them in following this code of ethics.”

  27. Michael Hauber says:

    So what would be in a blogger’s or blog commentator’s oath?

    Trivia item:

    Apparently the Hippocratic Oath has been largely replaced by the similar ‘Declaration of Geneva’.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic_Oath

  28. statePoet1775 says:

    I don’t think I like oaths. Only the ethical would obey them anyway.
    Besides, they are often inflicted on the young and gullible by those who wish to rule them.

  29. Francois Ouellette says:

    But financial gain, competitiveness, and ambition are what drives most scientists, in various order. Do they “cloud your judgment”? So does ideology, conformism, tooth ache, etc. etc. How do you know that your judgment is clouded? That’s only for others to decide. Many of the great scientists in history had their judgment “clouded”. Yet they made great contributions to our knowledge of the natural world.

    In the end, our societies are not ruled by individual pledges. When dishonesty is punished, it is discouraged. That’s why we have laws and police forces. But we also have free speech, and a hopefully fair justice system.

    That’s all that the pursuit of science needs: free speech, open debate, and penalties for those who are dishonest. Individual pledges mean nothing.

  30. retired engineer says:

    In some cases, the “Hippocritic” oath seems more appropriate.

    Then, I don’t use 200,000 kWh per year. What do I know…

  31. floreign says:

    Amicus Plato, sed magis amicam veritas.

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