Scientific Knowledge- When is it too much?

In this blog post, I would like to ask your opinions on scientific knowledge and what your views are on this complicated subject. Firstly, Roger Shattuck, the author of the article “Forbidden Knowledge” addresses the issues of atomic bombing and genetic research on DNA. The atomic bomb was constructed because of the fear of an “unprecedented attack on civilization” (173). In order to make an atomic bomb, scientists had to go explore further into science and technology to understand how to make something so difficult. By under coving this knowledge on how to make something so dangerous brings out both pros and cons. Some pros are advancements in technologies and safety mechanisms for warfare. However, the most important negative effects for exploring this scientific knowledge is the fact that finding out the knowledge to make these dangerous weapons allow other people to make them as well. It also raises the question of what is moral when fighting in warfare? Do you think atomic bombs are appropriate weapons in war? Are the health risks associated with them worth it?

Another complicated topic that Roger Shattuck discusses is genetic research on DNA. Scientists now have been able to crack the code of life by learning how to analyze DNA to test for genetic disorders. A few examples used to do this are to test individuals for one carry of a gene for a disease that requires two copies of a gene. Scientist also uses genetic research on DNA to test prenatal diagnostics. Shattuck states that, “as increasing numbers of fetuses are diagnosed with serious disorders, abortion has become a widely practiced therapeutic procedure” (177). Is this necessary right? Is it fair and right for expecting parents to test for diseases before the newborn is born? Is it right to get an abortion in order for the child to not suffer knowing it will when it is born into the world? This scientific discovery is extremely sacred because it influences the lives of other people. Also, being able to test for genes for certain diseases that require both genes from the parent can help two people decide to not conceive and have children if their baby will have the disease. Is this right? Is it our responsibility to mess around with creating life? Should we have science influence who should be born and who shouldn’t?

These two topics are current controversies in the world that connect to a lot of the texts we have read in class. We have discussed consequences of knowing too much but more specifically what are the limits of scientific knowledge? In the world we live in today we strive to keep learning and growing and gaining more knowledge but at what point do our morals take over? Should we be making atomic bombs that protect us but also put ourselves in danger and should we be playing God and messing with human lives? One major point that Roger Shattuck argues in his article is that science is basically just the “habit of simple truth to experience [which] has been the mover of civilization” (224). Is this the right way to look at it? Is science just simply the truth that is there for us to explore? Science is there no matter what which is why it is so tempting to keep researching it because essentially as a scientist “you believe that it is good to find out how the world works; that it is good to find out what the realities are; that it is good to turn over to mankind at large the greatest power possible to control the world and to deal with it according to its lights and values”.

4 thoughts on “Scientific Knowledge- When is it too much?”

  1. I agree with your quote, “science just simply the truth that is there for us to explore”. Because otherwise, if we impose limitations on ourselves, either through the law or religion, we are restricting exactly how many discoveries we make and how important they can be. Of course, there is virtue in placing restrictions on what we do through the law/religion to preserve some sense of order, but they do get in our way to an extent. Something that my social sciences classes always seem to revolve around is the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo. In violating the ethics of today’s psychological profession, Zimbardo managed to discover more about human nature than any ethical study ever did. His experiment essentially proved that, when given free reign, humans will act bad, possibly giving evidence to the fact that we are bad people. This experiment and the information that came after its being conducted may never have come about if people did not dare to push the boundaries of morals/what is right and wrong.

    If anyone is interested about the details of the experiment I am talking about: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment

  2. I see where this is going and I agree. Roger Shattuck does seem to propose the idea that Science is there for us to explore. That, in a way, science and discovery is neither bad nor good, its simply peoples use which determines its “nature”. Jessica raises some very thought-provoking examples form the text. Whether or not scientist should in fact construct an atomic bomb, or whether we should “play god” and continue to dig deeper into genetic research. I feel as though in the midst of proposing these ideas Shuttuck emphasizes the level of responsibility necessary in order for scientific discovery to remain advantageous. When science is compared to possessing the duality of a sphinx, it is said that “responsible scientist will remain on the pure side”. By no means does Suttuck ignore the possibility of bad because he says today we face the immense and very different problems of how to apply our new found knowledge. This is what leads me to Paul’s addition. Perhaps Shattuck didn’t account for the idea that it is in fact human nature to not only push the boundaries of discovery, but go as far as to reaching over to the bad side. I don’t know I just found it pretty interesting that the two ideas seem contradictory. If it is human nature as Zimbardo proves to go as far as you can when in a position of authority, than how can responsible scientist remain on the pure side. Seems as though it’d be against their nature.

  3. I think that when humans are mixed with the power of science we put ourselves on a very fine line. If we go to one side, perhaps we completely ignore our knowledge and live in the stone age forever. Staying right on the line would be to use science ethically and responsibly (if that is even possible. However if we fall to the other side of the line that is when we take the “forbidden knowledge” and use it for destruction. In my opinion I think the atomic bomb and everything else related to warfare is completely useless. I disagree with war to the greatest extent, yet I understand that by making the atomic bomb there were other scientific discoveries made. As for DNA testing and the controversy of abortion, I think it is fine for parents to have the option to find out if their child could potentially have something wrong with their DNA. This could help them prepare for the possible implications and changes to their lifestyle. Now saying that I do not agree with aborting a child just because it isn’t “perfect”. Abortion in general is something I am impartial about, however in a case like this I do not think it is fair that parents could just choose to not let a child live because it wasn’t what they wanted or they didn’t want the burden of a child with some sort of defect.

  4. Emma makes a very good point about the fine line, but sometimes the forbidden knowledge on one side of the line can be more useful than bad. The atomic bomb killed civilians, yes, but it also effectively ended an extremely deadly war that killed millions of people. As long as the effects of that forbidden knowledge are monitored (though that raises the question as to who gets to control it) then the knowledge on one side of the line can be crossed for good reasons (though that again begs the question as to what reasons are “good” and who has the right to decide that. In essence, I think that it is impossible to forbid this knowledge, and very hard to determine what the fine line is, or if it even exists at all.

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