Whistleblowers need Protection – risks in advancing disturbing truths

Excerpt withdrawn from PhysicsWorld Vol.12 N.11 (November 1999)

“Reflecting on Ethics in Science”

by Gérard Toulouse

“Another important role of scientific societies and academies is to protect whistleblowers. As the physicist Joseph Rotblat said in his acceptance speech for the 1995 Nobel Peace Price: “Whistleblowing should become part of the scientific ethos.” Scientist who alert the wider world about risks or misconduct in science should be allowed to do so, just as they are when discussing truths within science itself. In other words, people who speak out about ethical problems in science need to be protected as they spread their message. If the whistleblowers are silenced, inertia prevails and catastrophes will occur. [So, FBI, NSA, CIA and alike… any questions?]


But whistleblowing is not reserved for the famous. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), for example, has created a prize for scientific freedom and responsability, which recognizes and supports courageous individuals. The list of laureates, and the story of their lives and predicaments, provide instructive, concrete lessons on some hard realities of our time. [written in the past, remains truthful in present and future time]


While everyone is not expected to become a hero, every scientist should see to it that scientific institutions and societies provide adequate evaluation and protection for those who take risks in advancing disturbing truths. The need for rationality is not just relevant to the natural sciences, it is also relevant in the realm of human responsability. And just as human impunity behind state sovereingty is no longer acceptable for politicians, so impunity behind value-free science will no longer be acceptable for scientis.



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