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Social responsibility of scientists

Criticism of science

Paul Feyerabend in his book wanted to show that there is no single description of the scientific method that can be broad and general enough to encompass all the methods and approaches used by scientists. He criticized the establishment of a prescriptive scientific method, on the grounds that such a process could only slow down or even suppress scientific progress. For him, the only principle that does not hinder scientific activity is laissez-faire. Indeed, no methodology (neither inductivism nor refutationism) agrees with the history of physics.

All methodologies have their limitations, only one rule survives, which is “Anything is good”. But this statement does not mean do anything! Methodology according to him “can” provide evaluation criteria that allow scientists to make decisions (ie: The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, by Imre Lakatos), but, in general, they do not contain rules that tell them what we “have to do”.

Scientific infallibility

A crucial question in science is to try to determine to what extent the current baggage of scientific knowledge can be taken as a truthful explanation of the physical world in which we live. The unconditional acceptance of this knowledge as absolutely true knowledge, that is to say, not positively open to criticism, is called scientism. Science then approaches a rational theology.

The qualifier “scientific” has long been considered by the general public as a guarantee of absolute reliability. In this perception of science which approximates to scientism, many people have been led to believe that scientists daily, in their work, prove infallibility.

In secular and technically steeped societies, science in its diversity can seem to provide arbitration. This unfortunately leads to abuses of scientific language and the objective value of science, for political or commercial purposes. Science cannot provide safeguards that only social cohesion can provide according to ethical criteria on the nature of perceived reality.

The growing discrepancy between the work of scientists and the way their work and results are perceived by society has led to targeted communication campaigns to clarify the notion of scientific skepticism and explain the scientific method.

Furthermore, a distinction must be made between the sciences and their practical applications. As much as a scientific theory may seem to provide reliable criteria of truth, today the risks are great when the technical applications are complex and affect a large audience.

Social responsibility

The philosopher Hans Jonas (Das Prinzip Verantwortung, 1979) points to the responsibility that all people in society bear for the conditions of technical application of the sciences. From this stems the precautionary principle, the application of which is so controversial.

This philosophy has given rise to the principles of sustainable development, which are gradually becoming commonplace.

The impact of science on society prompts the philosopher Isabelle Stengers to ask the question of the relevance of scientific knowledge. For her, the answer can only come from a democratic debate.

It is now considered that companies have a duty to report on the environmental and social consequences of their activity to civil society (stakeholders).

(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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