Various codes of conduct have been proposed for nanotechnology —and in the June issue of Nature Nanotechnology (4, 336; 2009), Richard Jones examines what they mean for individual researchers, particularly in the light of the European Commission’s code, aimed at academic research rather than at businesses and other commerce.
“How is responsibility divided between the individuals who do science, and the organizations, institutions and social structures in which science is done? There’s a danger that codes of ethics focus too much on the individual scientist, at a time when many scientists often feel rather powerless, with research priorities increasingly being set from outside and with the development and application of their research out of their hands. In this environment, too much emphasis on individual accountability could prove alienating, and could divert us from efforts to make the institutions in which science and technology are developed more responsible.
Scientists, however, should not completely underestimate their importance and influence collectively, even if individually they feel impotent. Part of the responsibility of a scientist should be to reflect on how to justify one’s work, and how people with different points of view might react to it, and such scientists will be in a good position to have a positive influence on the various institutions they interact with, such as funding agencies. But we still need to think more generally about how to make responsible institutions for developing science and technology, as well as responsible nanoscientists.”