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Inauguration Session: Training Programme on Ethics in Science : Text of my Address

Inauguration Session: Training Programme on Ethics in Science : Text of my Address

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Published by Ram Krishna Singh
It is the text of my speech to the participants of the Training programme on Ethics in Science and Technology at Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad on 12 December 2011
It is the text of my speech to the participants of the Training programme on Ethics in Science and Technology at Indian School of Mines, Dhanbad on 12 December 2011

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Published by: Ram Krishna Singh on Dec 12, 2011
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INAUGURATION SESSION (December 12, 2011, 9.00 – 10.30 a.m.): NationalProgramme for Training of Scientists and Technologists Working in GovernmentSector on ‘ETHIS AND VALUES IN SCIENCE’ from December 12-16, 2011
Text of the address by Professor R.K.SINGHHon’ble Sri Satish Puri ji, Professor Panigrahi, Professor Sarkar, esteemedparticipating practitioners of science and technology from variousorganizations, learned colleagues, members of the media, Ladies andGentlemen:Academically, I am not a man of ethics though ethical considerations mayoften guide my academic practices. I am a man of Literature and, as aprofessor of English for Science and Technology, when I look at the use of ‘hedging devices’ or use of the modal verbs in scientists’ discourse, ortheir reports, hypotheses, predictions and conclusions, for example, Isometimes wonder whether they tend to compromise fact or truth, whichis their primary commitment; or it is merely convention or tradition to saythings the way they are said?It is perhaps ethical to exercise caution because you do not want to jumpto a conclusion on the basis of fragmentary evidence, unestablished fact,questionable belief, or unrelated conceptual relationship. As it is, whenyou are involved in an academic investigation, you presume thatsomething is possible, and try to substantiate it logically. You follow amethodical process, mentally formulating a hypothesis to solve aparticular problem even as you cannot be sure about its eventual validity. You may call it ‘conjecture’, if you like, but the sequence from‘conjecture’ to ‘conclusionsuggests an increasing degree of coherenceand scientific certainty.When you say: “We will definitely reach the target” (100% certainty), or“we will probably reach the target” (more than 60% certainty), or “we willpossibly reach the target” or “we may reach the target” (more than 30%certainty), you know well the sense or value of your assertion, or how
 
certain you are about what you are saying. It also reflects your attitude orintention that emerges from, what may be called, your ethical decision.Simultaneously, you use language devices that show your ‘strategicand/or pragmatic competence’ for saying or not saying things which maycreate problems for you or the organization you belong to. In your day today affairs , bureaucracy or administration, you may hide things to bepolitically correct or socially acceptable.Let me cite an example. If there is massive resistance to Kundankulamnuclear power plant in Tamilnadu, or its setting up in Jaitapura,Maharastra, even after scientists’ assurance that nuclear energy is safe,-- Dr APJ Abdul Kalam himself visited the site and testified to the fact thatthe nuclear plant in Kundankulam is safe,-- how ethical it would be toreject the nuclear energy option, scientifically speaking? The trust deficitwe notice in, say nuclear energy use, is a challenge. How to convincepeople that it is good, safe and cost effective in the long run?At a time like this, when corruption, the buzz word today, seems tocompromise truth at every level, and people’s expectation fortransparency , accountability and integrity in administration, as also inresearch and development, has increased. We are all expected to upholdcertain universally accepted standards for doing science and technology just as we have to prove our social responsibilities to the largercommunity that is exposed to risks, costs and benefits.Maybe, you have a positive attitude or intention, or you’re honest toyourself when you behave or respond to a matter in a particular way, butgood intentions do not necessarily result in good ethical decisions. Youmay mean well when as a researcher you find one of your researchstudents or associates who has worked hard for years on a project and notcome up with publishable data, you lend him some of your own data and“gift” him authorship, too, because you believe that you have a duty tothe student (or associate) to ensure a publication. Ethically, this responseof yours has a public consequence for the practice of science as aprofession. You make an unethical decision with the best of intentions.
 
What I am trying to say is that whatever is ethically unworthy is evil,simply not acceptable. Your conduct, dealing with others or yourself,academic or personal, should be irreproachable, marked by self-controland intellectual discipline. “To evade discipline is to empty life of itssignificance,” explains S. Radhakrishnan in
The Principal Upanisads( 
p.109). It is moral uprightness, rather than mechanical ritual, that mattersin all that you do as a researcher or practitioner of science andtechnology.My experience convinces me that we are not limited by what we are, butwe are limited by what we are not. Science, and for that matter, artsbecomes a means to overcome this limitation, and thus, allows us not onlyto know ourselves but also to expand on what we are. This means weshould remain open to healthy revisions that we can make to our way of thinking, and incorporate new perspectives into our outlook. In otherwords, we should not let our own rigidity destroy our potential, but ratherwe should evince a forward-looking, tolerant, compassionate, and openmindset if we wish to create future.By attending such a course, as organized here in collaboration with theDST, you would appreciate that it is your responsibility to knowprofessional conventions as well as to understand the public nature of morality. It seeks to make you an ethical practitioner in your profession,and makes you understand that it is unethical, for example, to fabricateor manipulate data and plagiarise information or research, or publishother people’s data as your own. The research ethics you will learn aboutshould help you make ethical decisions relative to matters of scientificresearch and publication, and know what is “questionable behavior” or“misconduct” (other than fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism whichare already punishable offence in many an institution).Such courses are necessary because we as academics know how ourstudents ‘google’ information and freely ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ and plagiarise.As academics we are collectively responsible for the professional conduct

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