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Lowell Reagan
ENG 101
Professor Bolton
22 October 2014
Volatile Science and Responsibility
In Heather Douglass The Dark Side of Science she argues that scientists need to
account for more of the responsibility for the effects of their research. Douglas states that
scientists are responsible not only for the immediate impacts of their research, but also the
unintended after effects. She brings up such examples as Einsteins mass to energy equation and
its use during wartime, along with scrutinizing the availability of potentially harmful research to
the general public. Even though putting too large a part if not all of the responsibility on the
researchers could have negative effects on both the pursuit and productivity of scientific
breakthroughs. To rectify this, she proposes that scientists observe more stringent research
regulations. Though I agree that scientist should share part of the responsibility for the results of
their research, I am uncertain that strong regulation of scientific research is the answer.
Naturally, in any field of scientific research it is fundamental that precautionary measures
be taken to prevent harmful applications of the knowledge. She argues, Scientists can no longer
hope naively that people will only use science for the public good. The world will always have
the mentally unbalanced, the delusional, the vicious, and the sociopathic members of society,
some of whom will also be intelligent enough to use the results of science (126). Douglass
explanation brings to light the fact that researchers cannot just leave the application of their work

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up to the public at large, and that they themselves have a burden to bear when presenting their
breakthroughs. Douglas brings up the dangers of DNA sequencing as an example. She states that
while intended for use in medical applications, this knowledge can also be applied to building
pathogens from the ground up. While it may not be the intention of the research, scientists need
to account for such possibilities when such high precision information is released to the public.
This is especially evident, if more blatantly, in any sort of weapons research where the direct
intent is to cause harm. Even though this type of research is generally backed by a government or
institution, the researchers are not voided of personal responsibility. Directly involving
themselves in the development and being fully aware of the intended applications leaves the
researcher morally obligated to take responsibility for the repercussions. Douglas proposes
imposing stricter regulations to aid in directing research in a more controlled path to help avoid
these possibilities.
In light of this, however, Douglas argument can still be seen as extreme. As previously
stated, putting too much responsibility on the individuals involved in scientific research could
have negative and demoralizing effects. By focusing the blame of both the positive and negative
effects of research solely on the scientist it acts as a deterrent to possibly beneficial fields of
research. This is evident in such fields as biology, pathology, chemistry, and genetics. All
research into these areas comes with an inherent danger in error or possible misuse of
information. It is logically inevitable that research into any of these categories will be used for
nefarious purposes. Human beings will always find new ways to implement violence and will
always strive to use the technology and science to this end. Should a company that produces a
new, ultra-sharp kitchen knife be held responsible when it is used in a murder? No, I dont think

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so. Why, then, should a researcher be blamed in part for such acts that cannot be avoided?
Heather Douglas states,
If scientific knowledge is used in a biological attack, the terrorists are first and foremost
responsible for their heinous act. But the researchers who generated the knowledge may
be also partly responsible. Consider, for example, the knowledge of how to build a virus
like smallpox from the ground up or how to create other pathogenic tailored organisms.
(125)
Douglas view of responsibility into these events puts nearly any researcher of modern sciences
at risk of blame. How can we expect advancements in these areas when such pressure is applied
on the scientists? Fewer and fewer people would peruse goals in these possibly volatile sciences
for fear of public or possibly larger backlash. Douglas also seems to confuse the actual
production of information with the application of it. Using the example of causing a wild fire by
carelessly disposing of a lit match. She compares this to scientific experiments when she states,
Einstein was not responsible for the use of his E=mc2 equation to build an atomic bomb and its
use in wartime, though the scientists at Los Alamos were (125). In this passage, unfairly shares
the blame of the creation and implementation of atomic weapons simply with Einsteins
contribution of a common physics equation (i.e) the wildfire. She also tends to focus solely on
the negative outcomes of more dangerous research, overlooking the benefits of such work. Her
idea of increased regulation on scientific progress also hurts the public as a whole. Restricting
the information accessible to the public limits them intellectually, and affronts all scholarly
morals. This option opens up the possibility of abuse by an institution to then monopolize or
manipulate the access of available information. This suggestion of regulation, in my mind, is
simply a way to avoid taking responsibility as a people, finding a way to blame the negative

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applications of science elsewhere. Knowledge is power, and has been proven as such. The
control and restriction of knowledge is nothing short of a way to oppress a populace. This point,
needing only a look back into historys dictators to prove it. If human kind is to truly advance
their existence, it must be made as a whole. Not leaving the progression and direction of
scientific advancements up to a select few.
Altogether, Douglas is correct in propagating the idea that scientific researchers should
be taking more responsibility for the effects of their research. Taking into considerations the
ways their research may be used against the betterment of general public. Though the proposition
she brings forth to rectify this is too broad. Heavier regulations than necessary on the science
community greatly hinder the rate of scientific breakthrough and application. The question of
whether scientists should be held responsible for their research cannot be simply answered with a
simple idea that applies to all without accounting for the variables that each field of science
could potentially bring.

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Works Cited
Douglas, Heather E. The Dark Side of Science. The Norton Field Guide to Writing with
Readings and Handbook. 3rd ed. Ed. Richard Bullock, Maureen Daly Goggin, and Francine
Weinberg. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. 124-126. Print.