Commentary on Ors, and Kochhar: Scientific Ethics and TRT5

- Jayapaul Azariah, Ph.D
Director, School of Life Sciences,
University of Madras \ Guindy Campus, Chennai 600 025, India
Email: jazariah@md3.vsnl.net.in
Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 9 (1999), 164-6.


Research is a romance. That is ideal situation. In real life conditions are not conducive to achieve such a high goal in life. The problems posed by Kochhar are very peculiar to India and may be to all developing nations. I do know that there are problems in research institutions that in the well developed Western nations but the sort that Kochhar highlights is ours. There are basic differences between the East and the West, in the approach a student takes when he/she wants to make research as a career. The Indian approach was developed by the British colonial system which is examination centered, conducted at the end of the year. The student memorizes the facts to get through the examinations. What he learns is an open secret. Currently, in some of the universities, American system of Semester pattern and credit based semester examinations is followed. It has it own problems with understaffed departments and lack of central ordination. Under this ambient educational environment, a students mind beckoned by the romance of research is a mutant. It needs lots of enthusiasm on the part of the student and the research guide to activate the ample enthusiasm. There is a starting trouble!

In the west, a student choose to work on a research topic of his/her own choice which is motivated by the courses undergone and the interaction with the teachers as well as students' own interest in the subject. In the East, a student comes to research with an open (I do not want to use the word blank) mind and says Sir/Madam, I want to do research. Many students take research since other alternate avenues are closed. If you ask them On what topic do you want to do research? The invariable answer will be any topic that you suggest! From there on it is the responsibility of the research guide to provide the work plan, correct the very bad English and infuse new ideas with a detailed study of the data. The research guide becomes frustrated and suffers a metal fatigue. How then that research guide can concentrate his own research? His noble aim of having a romance with research goes on with a damped enthusiasm.

It is again an ideal relationship that leads to an reinforcement of relationship between basic and applied research combing in themselves to make a scientist as a person. What is desirable? A good person but a bad scientist? Or a good scientists but a bad person? If there is a research wedded to ethics situation then the garden of society will be rich with scientists with human face. where A person who earns his Ph.D must be a scientist but not all scientists are Ph.D holders. In a society like ours Ph.D is a social status and a passport to many job situations. We are not that perfect ethical scientific society to honor a budding scientists without a Ph.D. to give him a job!

Ors argues about scientific ethics which is ethics in science which includes situation like such as these. In a world where there are not enough jobs to go around these dampening situations are inevitable/In a national ethics preparatory conference at Budapest (UNESCO) conference 1999, a woman scientist was proudly proclaiming that in her premier National Institute of Science, there is no discrimination of woman scientists. But no soon than she finished three young woman scientists, with Ph.D and US post doctoral experience, spending time in that Premier Institute as a scientists watching airplanes in the adjacent airfield. Administrators and policy makers generally look for the number of publications one has and in that they tend to sideline quality of the publications. When power is entrusted to the Head who have less time for research looks for easy authorship for another younger scientist. These are the best examples of the romance of research beckons a young human mind but the constraints and problems associated with research, pursuit and practice dampen enthusiasm

ors and want list of the public is very difficult in practice. It is important that a scientist should have accountability for using tax payers money. There is always the shortage of funds. The sophisticated equipment, due to exchange rate, are always costly, journals due to increased exchanged rates are dropped out in the middle of the series, comparatively an instrument is cheap but spare parts are costly or not manufactured for earlier models and annual maintenance money is not available. Unavoidable bureaucracy and real life situations for the advancement of science research. Hence, all of us agree that there should be an integration of the two approaches the top down and the bottom up. But how to bring such a situation into a reality? With all these dampening pulses, for a young researcher, the other country is always greener and so there is a brain drain. Urgent soul searching is necessary.

As Yaman Ors writes, if one thinks's one sees more. Seeing more is the chief attribute of research. From early human history, human beings were interested to know the world around us. Theology has been considered as the mother of all sciences and it gave birth to two main disciplines, namely philosophy and medicine. The earliest ethical code of conduct is in the field of medicine. Hence ethics was the domain of philosophers and the medical professionals. Even today philosophers and medical doctors dominate many bioethics meetings. Hence the early introduction of the phrase medical ethics Science as we know it today was born with the contribution of Darwin and fine-tuned by the proliferation of many disciplines. And the phrase scientific ethics was introduced into our vocabulary, may be finding a parallelism with medical ethics!

Generally to a scientist, the phrase "scientific study" means that the study has been carried out using the principles (verfiability-falsifiability) and guidelines enunciated in science. Similarly "scientific ethics" would mean an ethical study carried out on the norms of science. I think that it connotes a general meaning as Prof. Ors has put it "ethics of scientific activity", or simply "science ethics". Equating science ethics with scientific ethics may raise other difficulty in understanding. To me the former would cover areas such as the actual experimentation in scientific study, the principle used in the representation of data and so on. The latter can be used as an methodological term. There need to be more discussion on these two phraseologies and to draw a clear-cut demarcation between them, if there is one!

Those bioethicists whose original background has not been philosophy think differently. Methodologically uncritical traditional philosophers can they endorse scientific ethics. Science has objectivity. Philosophers recognize ethical objectivism and their deliberations can be value based. And if, as Prof. Kochhar pens science is ethically neutral and is value free then scientists have a problem is making their science value based. Once values are introduced in science then science looses its objectivity? It is moral dilemma! It is a great schism between these two schools of thought. If we accept the concept or doctrine of ethical Truth and apply principles in the formation of a scientific theory then can be use scientific propositions such as verifiability or falsifiability? In some cases one can take either one of the positions i.e. either accept or reject. The arguments raised by Prof. Ors are very interesting and they are open for further debate.

TRT5 was a treat with a small group of interested bioethicists. One of the amazing features of the Roundtable conference is its novelty. The theme of each paper presentation was relevant to the main theme of the conference yet so different from the one presented in previous years. The feature that stood out is the commitment of the bioethicist to the cause of Asian bioethics. The new concept of bioethics was introduced in Japan with the holding of the First Bioethics Seminar in Fukui during 1987. Since then many bioethics conferences have been held and the topics were too specialized for a group of general bioethicists. The distinguishing feature of TRT5 is its diversity in topics and the common concern that Asia has a great role in global bioethics. For the first time there was a participation from multinational companies and we can, ignore their presence in society. It is a good sign because only their participation in such conferences they will come to know the other side of the coin of development, the need for temperance and control. Greater emphasis was given to bioethics teaching the teaching community in Asia.

As we enter the new and the third millennium, the one common problem is the survival of human species in plant earth. Will the human being be extinct? It is an eye opener to know that the human genome weighs one two hundred billionth of a gram! Such a small and insignificant weight of human being can easily be lost! We need to safe guard it as a common heritage. For which bioethicist hold the key of education. Ethical needs of the West may be different from that of the East. But for one common problem there can be many solutions. But all possible solutions need not be the right ones. Conducting many such Round Tables may eventually help to find the right solution. The Roundtable was a rich and a rewarding experience to all.


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