(’14)To what extent can the regulation of scientific or technological developments be justified?

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.


(’04) ‘How inventions and discoveries are used is not the concern of the scientist.’ Do you agree?

Related:  (‘91)How far should scientists be held responsible for the effects of their discoveries?

(‘90)How far should scientists be held responsible for the uses made of their discoveries?


(Introduction, possible stand, may change to fit both sides) Science is a creative enterprise. It combines the exploration of the natural world with the generation of knowledge and its use in human endeavors. This combination of creativity with purpose is often exemplified in the discovery of science, but the effects of new scientific discoveries/inventions on society always raise concerns among the people. This is especially true when a discovery has a negative/harmful impact on society, be it the human health, biodiversity or the environment. I believe, in most circumstances, scientists should be held responsible for these effects.

 (Refute 1) Some argue that scientists should not be held responsible for the usage/effects of their discoveries, as scientists merely invent; they are not the ones who actually use the discoveries to harm society. Science discoveries are neutral in nature. All can be good or bad, depending on the way they are used. For instance, Thomas Midgley Jr. was a renowned chemist and inventor who held over 100 patents in his lifetime. However, his legacy is now tarnished, as the full effects of his inventions, most notably leaded gasoline and the greenhouse gas Freon, the first CFC, have been understood. As J.R. McNeill, an environmental historian, described, he has had “more impact on the atmosphere than any other single organism in Earth’s history.” This would seem to imply that he alone was responsible for the harmful effects his inventions had had on society. But if we were to look beneath the surface, we would find that that is not the case in reality, at all. Initially, Midgley discovered tetraethyl lead, or TEL, for a good purpose; to successfully eliminate the problem of “knocking” in automobile engines. General Motors (GM) was the company that used it, even setting up the General Motors Chemical Company to produce TEL. This is because, the previous ethanol-gasoline blend fuel could not be patented and offered no viable profit for GM.  At that time, many medical experts, including the US Surgeon General, expressed grave concerns over the potential health problems that would arise from the use of TEL, but their views were swept under the rug by GM, even after workers at their plant began to succumb to lead poisoning. There was also a lack of action from the federal government, which never informed the public of the dangers of TEL or commissioned an independent study on its effects. “Freon”, dichlorodifluoromethane, the first of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), was also invented for a good purpose; to help discover an alternative to ammonia and propane, which were commonly used as refrigerants, but were flammable and highly toxic. Just as it was with TEL, the health and environmental effects were not made publicly available until years after. As seen, it was the use of Midgley’s discovery by the profit-driven GM Company that caused harm to society, coupled with the intentional actions by said company to hide the effects of TEL, and the inability of the government to discern these effects. These parties should be the ones responsible for effects of TEL and Freon today. Hence, it is those who use the discoveries wrongly, whether government, company, or individual, who should be responsible for whatever damage/effect the discoveries had on society.

(Support 1) However, I beg to differ. This is because, more often than not, scientists do not only play the passive role of inventing/discovering and completely leave it up to society to decide how their discovery should be used. Since the discoveries are their work, scientists have the liberty to decide how their discoveries are used, and most usually use that power to influence how their discoveries are used. At the very least, parties who want to use their inventions are able to do so because the scientists approved of it first. This is because, whenever scientists come up with a new device, their inventions will usually be patented. Patents are the government’s way of giving the scientist ownership of his or her creation. For a certain period of time, usually 10-20 years, patent-holders, also known as the scientists, are allowed to control how their inventions are used, allowing them to reap the financial rewards of their work. Patents may be a palpable, legally-binding manifestation of a person’s genius and innovation; though, by allowing the scientist to own their discovery/invention, it implicitly means that the scientist must have played some part in how their invention is used, however it is used. Hence, when the discovery is harmful towards society, scientists should also be held responsible. Sometimes, even, scientists are the ones who asked/approached the government, company, or individual for them to use/consider the discoveries.  For instance, in 1938, three chemists in Berlin managed to split the uranium atom. The energy released when this splitting/fission occurs is tremendous enough to power a bomb. However, before such a weapon could be built, numerous technical problems had to be overcome. When Albert Einstein learned that the Germans might succeed in solving these problems, he wrote to U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt with his concerns. Einstein’s letter helped initiate the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb. Subsequently, other findings demonstrated conclusively that a bomb was feasible and made building the bomb a top priority for the U.S., with the government launching the Manhattan Project in 1941. This project eventually led to the deployment of 2 atomic bombs over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ‘Little Boy’ killed 90 percent of the population in Hiroshima and tens of thousands more would later die of radiation exposure; while ‘Fat Boy’ killed an estimated 40,000 people in Nagasaki. Hence, in his situation, scientists are responsible for the usage/effects their discoveries.

(Support 2) Furthermore, since the discoveries are their work, ultimately, scientists are the ones who dictate the purpose of their inventions, its uses and effects. They first set an objective of their research in mind, and then carry out the research, according to that objective. Their invention is the result of that objective. If others use it and it turns out to be harmful toward certain parties, then that is actually merely the intent of scientist. Some may argue that it is the fault of the user, who used the invention wrongly, or changed the original purpose of the invention for their own interests, but scientific research is usually highly specific, and one invention cannot be easily used for another completely different/opposing purpose. For example, during the 1880’s, there were two prominent players in the electrical industry; The Edison General Electric Company, founded by Thomas Edison, that established themselves with direct current (DC, electric current that flows in one direction) service, and the Westinghouse Corporation, founded by George Westinghouse, that developed the alternating current (AC, electric current that reverses direction in a circuit at regular intervals) service. To win against his competitor, Edison started a smear campaign against Westinghouse, claiming that AC technology was unsafe to use. He held a public demonstration in New Jersey, supporting his accusations by setting up a 1,000 volt Westinghouse AC generator, attaching it to a metal plate and executing a dozen animals by placing them on the electrified metal plate. This was the first prototype of the electric chair, and caused the New York Legislature to pass a law establishing electrocution as the state’s new official method of execution. To further crush his opponent, Edison intensively campaigned for the use of AC current in the electric chair, and hired inventor Harold Brown, who, with his team, began designing an electric chair, publicly experimenting with DC voltage to show that it left lab animals tortured but not dead, then testing AC voltage to demonstrate how AC killed swiftly. This eventually caused the creation of the electric chair (with AC voltage) for the statewide prison system. As seen, Edison caused the invention of the electric chair, with a malignant objective. He meant for it to bring down his competitor, and intentionally created it to do just so, even when aware of the negative effects of the electric chair. In this case, if they foresaw/intended for the uses/effects, scientists are responsible for the usage/effects their discoveries.

(Refute 2) To counter that point, some may further argue that indeed, while original purpose of a discovery cannot be completely changed, scientific discoveries often lead to unintended effects that diverged from their original purposes. In this case, scientists should not be held responsible for the usage/effects of their discoveries, as they did not intend for these unexpected harmful by-effects of their inventions. Using the example of Thomas Midgley Jr. again, he first created TEL and Freon with good intentions; he did not expect for them to harm the environment and human health in such a way. Another example would be Agent Orange; it was invented with good intention; by Arthur Galston to speed the growth of soybeans and allow them to be grown in areas with a short season. It was used by the US military to act as a defoliant in the Vietnam War to protect and save the lives of U.S. and allied soldiers. However, Agent Orange turned out to have severe negative impacts on the environment and health in Vietnam. It caused 400 000 deaths and disabilities with another 500 000 birth defects. About 17.8 percent of the total forested area of Vietnam was sprayed, which disrupted the ecological equilibrium. The persistent nature of dioxins, erosion caused by loss of tree cover and loss of seedling forest stock meant that reforestation was difficult (or impossible) in many areas, and animal-species diversity was also impacted; in one study a Harvard biologist found 24 species of birds and 5 species of mammals in a sprayed forest, while in two adjacent sections of unsprayed forest there were 145 and 170 species of birds and 30 and 55 species of mammals. As shown, in these cases, the scientists did not intend for these effects of their discovery. We have to understand that scientists are also humans, and they also make mistakes, hence we should not hold them responsible for impacts even they did not expect.

So this is for those who are still taking GP, from a student who took it. Hope ya’ll find this useful.

This will be the collection of all the essays I have done for GP. Rather than let them rot in my desktop, I decided, why not share them, so that everyone can benefit.