Tuesday, June 29, 2010


The Scientist

Instrumentalism and the national surveillance state. Frank Pasquale at Balkinization
Second, on a cultural level, there is a gradual melding of surveillance programs with a) what Daniel Callahan calls the "research imperative" and b) the rhetoric of war. Nobel Laureate Joshua Lederberg expressed the research imperative in its purest form when he said, "The blood of those who will die if biomedical research is not pursued will be upon the hands of those who don't do it." Privacy advocates will need to find equally pithy and dramatic encapsulations of their values if the research imperative is not to run roughshod over extant privacy rights.
[update: I've used this quote a few times since and had forgotten that I didn't insert the whole thing here.]
The full passage from Callahan.
Though unfamiliar to most scientists and the general public, the term expresses a cultural problem that caught my eye. It occurs in an article written by the late Protestant moral theologian Paul Ramsey in 1976 as part of a debate with a Jesuit theologian, Richard McCormick. McCormick argued that it ought to be morally acceptable to use children for nontherapeutic research, that is, for research with no direct benefit to the children themselves and in the absence of any informed consent. Referring to claims about the “necessity” of such research, Ramsey accused McCormick of falling prey to the “research imperative”, the view that the importance of research could overcome moral values.

That was the last time I heard of the phrase for many years, but it informs important arguments about research that have surfaces with increasing force of late. It captures, for instance, the essence of what Joshua Lederberg, a Nobel laureate for his work on genetics and president emeritus of Rockefeller University once remarked to me: “The blood of those who will die if biomedical research is not pursued will be upon the hands of those who don’t do it."
Anyone not employed directly or indirectly in maintaining or extending human life is a murderer. That includes astrophysicists, zookeepers, literature professors and architects not sworn to the service of utility. No more gardeners. No more violin lessons.

It’s War Communism in the war on disease. It’s Stalinism for the betterment of the race, and isn't that what Stalinism always was? Is that pithy enough for you, asshole? Productivism is anti-democratic and anti-social. It doesn’t matter what the product is. War as a model for general human organization has a name, it's called Fascism.

From the past
Science is the study of facts and philosophy the study of values. Conflating the two in favor of facts, values become assumed. Values assumed all questions are seen as those of expertise. Expertise as the goal terms of measurement are assumed. Curiosity is defined by the frame, values by the frame moral worth by the frame.

Democracy is undermined as a value and then as a goal.

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