Related: (’96)Should any limits be placed on scientific developments?
(’09)Should every country have the right to carry out unlimited scientific research?
(Introduction) Albert Einstein once stated, “If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” His quote nicely sums up the nature of scientific research; that is unpredictable, uncertain, and risky. Given this nature of scientific research, I feel, there needs to be limits placed on it. Limits help to lower the risks of research, ensure that it still remains humane, and moderate its progress so as to match that of society’s. However, these restrictions should not be overly controlling; they should not dictate what should and should not be done at every step, otherwise, they prevent any research from happening.
(Refute 1; Regulation not justified) Some may say that there should be no limits to scientific research. Science works best when left alone. Only when there are no limits, can scientific research reach its maximum potential/progress. Regulation prevents developments from reaching their full potential. This is because, research consists of many rounds of trial-and-errors, experiments and repeats. Thomas Edison and his team tested at least 6000 materials before they found the suitable material to be the filament of the light bulb. In Gregor Mendel’s pea experiment, he set out to study 34 subspecies of the common garden pea, a vegetable noted for its many variations in color, length, flower, leaves and for the way each variation appears clearly defined. Over eight years, he isolated each pea trait one at a time and crossbred species to observe what traits were passed on and what traits were not from one generation to the next. If regulations were present at every step to control what scientists can and cannot do, real research may never proceed. Hence, they are not justified.
(Refute 2; Regulation not justified) Some may say that there should be no limits to scientific research. This is because, any attempt to regulate the forward momentum of science will always lead to failure (of science). For new scientific discoveries, developments and research to come about, one needs to step outside the norms of what is currently scientifically appropriate. He needs to take an existing discovery and make it into something new, something different, something better. If regulations/limits were present to prevent scientists from embarking on such a new and seemingly ‘abnormal’ research, then there may not be any new scientific discoveries anymore. This is especially true in today’s context, where the things science wants to discover are ever more complex; if there were regulation and control to impede science, science may never find those things. For instance, to better understand the fundamental structure of the universe, CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, produced the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator. It consists of a 27-kilometre ring of superconducting magnets with a number of accelerating structures to boost the energy of the particles along the way. Inside the accelerator, two high-energy particle beams travel at close to the speed of light before they are made to collide, leading to fears that a black hole may be created. In fact, there were a few people who were so concerned that they filed a lawsuit against CERN in an attempt to delay the LHC’s activation. Even though their attempt failed and the LHC was activated, if there had been legal limits and restrictions placed on the production of the LHC, we may have never been able to prove the existence of the Higgs boson, believed to be essential for formation of the Universe, that the LHC found. Hence, regulations are not justified.
(Supporting 1) However, if there are no limits, and science discovers new things at a phenomenal rate, other problems may arise. If science process too quickly, we/society may not catch up to it. There will come a time where science completely goes beyond the understanding of an average human being, and this defeats the purpose of science, which is to help mankind, in the first place. As this quote puts it nicely, “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” Hence, for both science’s and society’s own good, for science to be applicable to society and for society to appreciate science, there needs to be regulation to match their speeds of progress. More specifically, there should be limits to scientific research, to slow down its speed of progress. For instance, surveys by Pew Research center found that there are wide gaps between what the public believes, and what scientists believe. 88% of scientists say that genetically modified foods are “generally safe” to eat; 37% of the public agrees. 86% of scientists believe that vaccines should be required in childhood, compared to 68% of the public. 98% of scientists say they believe humans evolved over time, compared to 65% of the public. As shown, science is constantly proceeding, but human cultures and mindsets that take a longer time to change, are not catching up. Hence, there needs to be limits to slow down scientific development, to wait for humans to catch up, so that the research is truly worthwhile.
(Supporting 2) There should be limits to scientific research, so that process of the research remains humane. Research requires experimentation, and sometimes, experimentation with living subjects. The subjects used in this case are usually animals. However, in the past, there were no clear rules/enforcements that prevented the use of human beings in experiments. The way experiments were carried out was trusted on, and depended upon, scientists’ own morality, leading to some cases of human experimentation carried out by immoral scientists. For instance, During World War II, Nazi human experimentation consisted of medical experimentation on large numbers of people in its concentration camps. They conducted experiments to learn how to treat hypothermia. One study forced subjects to endure a tank of ice water for up to three hours. Another study placed prisoners naked in the open for several hours with temperatures below freezing. The experimenters assessed different ways of rewarming survivors. In another example, the American Tuskegee Syphilis experiment that ran from 1932 to 1972 aimed to see whether syphilis affected black men differently from white men. It involved nearly 400 impoverished and poorly educated African-American men diagnosed with latent syphilis, but whom were never told they had the disease and were never treated for it, even when penicillin became a standard cure in 1947. Any treatments they were getting were actually placebos, aspirin or mineral supplements. When the study ended in 1972 following a public outcry, only 74 of the original participants were still alive. 28 men had died of the disease and a further hundred or so of related complications. 40 wives had been infected and 19 children had been born with congenital syphilis. In these experiments, scientists clearly treated the men as less than humans. Hence, there needs to be limits that clearly restrict the use of human beings as such experimental subjects, so as to prevent such inhumane experiments from happening ever again.
(Supporting 3) There should be limits to scientific research, for safety purposes. Nature of scientific research is neutral, but research could produce by- or end-products that are harmful/hazardous to society. These products could theoretically escape the laboratory/go out of control/spread elsewhere. Hence, regulations are required to control the extent of research carried out and quantity of products produced, so as to lower the risk of the products’ escape and harm to society. For example, Ron Fouchier, a researcher in the Netherlands, developed an easily transmissible version of avian influenza H5N1 by introducing the virus into lab ferrets. His work helps scientists to study the virus in advance, before it actually evolves in the wild, allowing new vaccines to be developed beforehand. However, the virus can potentially escape from the laboratory and spread in mammals like us, which is exactly what we would not want it to do. Nuclear research, which involves the reactions of atomic nuclei, is another kind of scientific research that poses the same problem. In nuclear research, when unstable nuclei start to decay after a random interval, radiation is produced. This radiation could pass through ordinary matter, and would be harmful in large amounts. Some forms pose as a severe, long-term hazard to human health even in very small quantities. As shown, not all scientific research is completely safe, and, to minimize the safety issue, limits are required.