Sociology

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Bridging the gap between science and society

Never have the scope and limits of scientific freedom been more important or more under attack. New science, from artificial intelligence to genomic manipulation, creates unique opportunities to make the world a better place. But it also presents unprecedented dangers, which many believe threaten the survival of humanity and the planet. This collection, by an international and multidisciplinary group of leading thinkers, addresses three vital questions: (1) How are scientific developments impacting on human life and on the structure of societies? (2) How is science regulated, and how should it be regulated? (3) Are there ethical boundaries to scientific developments in some sensitive areas (e.g. robotic intelligence, biosecurity)? The contributors are drawn from many disciplines, and approach the issues in diverse ways to secure the widest representation of the many interests engaged. They include some of the most distinguished academics working in this field, as well as young scholars.

The quest for the right to science
Marco Cappato

This chapter discusses the prohibition of narcotics and other psychoactive substances, and its impact on science. International organisations, particularly the United Nations, have intervened over the years to regulate and control the use and distribution of psychoactive substances. There are three main international Conventions that deal with psychoactive substances: the UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), the Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971) and the Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988). The prohibitions relating to psychoactive substances can seriously hinder the progress of scientific research. As scientific advancement is regarded as a human right by the same treaties and documents which restrict the use of psychoactive substances, prohibition results in the violation of fundamental human rights, such as the right to science and to health.

in The freedom of scientific research
Peter Lachmann

Humanity has had major problems with infection since the agricultural revolution about 10,000 years ago, when larger communities living at permanent sites with domesticated animals experienced much greater exposure to pathogens. From then until the nineteenth century, infectious disease caused mortality patterns where half of children born were dead before the age of 5 and half of the remaining population before the age of 40. This mortality pattern had a major influence on human society promoting belief in life after death or in repeated reincarnation. Many religious prescriptions with regard to diet, personal hygiene and sexual behaviour probably survived because of their effect on preventing infection. With the advent of public health, vaccination and antimicrobial therapy, this situation has been transformed in the last century. This has contributed to an enormous increase in population and the consequences for the future of humankind are discussed.

in The freedom of scientific research
Open Access (free)
Simona Giordano, John Harris, and Lucio Piccirillo
in The freedom of scientific research
Open Access (free)
Simona Giordano, John Harris, and Lucio Piccirillo
in The freedom of scientific research
An American perspective
Mary Woolley

This chapter discusses the important role that scientists play in elevating the visibility of the research enterprise. The author provides compelling survey data regarding the invisibility of science and scientists among the public and how that impacts decision-making by policymakers who tend to either ignore or on occasion undercut science. She argues that if scientists overcome their reluctance to engage with non-scientists and actively advocate the value of research, it will be a much higher public and national priority.

in The freedom of scientific research
Open Access (free)
The case of uterus and penis transplantation
Gennaro Selvaggi and Sean Aas

Various types of organ transplantation are now considered as standard procedures: heart, liver, kidney transplants. A recent development is the success of uterus and penis transplantation. This chapter identifies and discusses some of the main ethical issues associated with uterus and penis transplantation; it will discuss the rationale for these procedures, issues pertaining to the identification of patients who can benefit from these procedures; issues pertaining to the alternatives to transplant surgery (adoption and gestational surrogacy and phalloplasty in alternative to penis transplantation). People affected by gender dysphoria represent a special group, which is also discussed. These new developments offered by medical science change not only clinical practice, but family structure and parentage, and challenge the notions of man and woman. These developments reverse misfortune (so that, say, a man who has lost his penis can still fertilise his partner and have genetically related children); but they also challenge the moral relationships between healthcare professionals and patients, and between individuals and society.

in The freedom of scientific research
Daniela Cutas and Anna Smajdor

Norms and assumptions concerning the structure of the family constrain the direction of scientific progress in the area of human reproduction. It is one’s family status that determines whether one’s reproductive aspirations are classified as medical needs and thus eligible for treatment. In turn, needs deemed eligible for medical treatment form the basis of future research priorities. Conversely, innovations in human reproduction, facilitated by scientific progress, challenge these norms and assumptions and require adjustments in ethics and law.

in The freedom of scientific research
Open Access (free)
Philosophical and ethical challenges
David Lawrence

Advances in robotics and artificial intelligence are posited by some as one of – if not the – greatest potential threats to humanity. This chapter examines this view and casts it in a new light. Artificial intelligence can be divided into that which exists – unconscious artificial intelligence – and the posited superintelligent AI, with intelligence equal to or greater than our own. Regulation and policy around the development of these two types presents different challenges – the former raises questions around liability, ownership, the workforce, and more; but the latter presents issues we have never before faced. A sapient intelligence may in effect be a novel being, a potential person – and there is reason to think we should treat it as such. The possibility of non-Homo sapiens persons engenders questions about the very nature of humanity and our place at the top of the moral status ‘ladder’. Ultimately, it may be that there is no good reason to treat an artificial intelligence of this type as being substantively different to ourselves.

in The freedom of scientific research
A naturalistic approach
Gilberto Corbellini and Elisabetta Sirgiovanni

The standard view on science and human freedom claims that science contributes to human autonomy or self-determination through the discovery of natural laws and processes. In other words, by providing knowledge and devices to solve practical problems and stimulate economic growth. A more likely hypothesis is that the invention of the scientific method in the modern age has introduced a new way of thinking into human communities. In this way, some new psychological skills have been made available to an increasing number of people. These skills allowed human beings to achieve important cognitive and moral improvements, which made liberal and democratic governments possible. The chapter defends this hypothesis. Specifically, it suggests that science education has the potential to make people more cooperative, less self-centred and impulsive, and more self-controlled (in the sense of autonomous). The chapter discusses strategies to enhance individual capacities and to make social communities flourish.

in The freedom of scientific research