Something I have been struggling with this semester is the idea of the “imaginary line” that was discussed in Sedlak’s ES&T Op Ed. I agree with the idea that science cannot be biased (though I would argue that the system we currently have with funding agencies, does bias us somewhat) and that scientists need to be constantly vigilant in how they conduct research so as to not produce biased results. This makes sense to me because if there is no integrity in science and discoveries are not genuine, then we should not fund them. I think most scientists and individuals understand this, though they might not understand the nuance that comes in data analysis.
I believe that most people do not want to be lied to. We want to be told the truth because when something unexplained is happening, we need to know what is going on. Being fed lies, especially in a public health context, really means that eventually the truth will come out and that many many people cannot protect themselves.
I don’t understand why we don’t allow scientists to be citizens or people. We expect doctors to stand up and help if theres an emergency on a plane because while they bill x dollars an hour at work, they also are people who can help in an emergency. We expect them to be people with a set of skills before money craving professionals. Scientists are a group of people who have undergone an extensive educational process so that they can effectively analyze a situation and determine what’s happening so that we can come to the truth. I don’t understand how we are expected to stand by if someone calls out for help. In Flint, before Virginia Tech got involved, I strongly believe that samples were analyzed with the hope that nothing was actually wrong and that the state of Michigan was telling the truth. But once the problem was confirmed, I feel that there is a responsibility to speak out.
I understand the world is complicated and that people have agendas. In academia, funding is key, and in one way, that makes sense. We need to research what is important and we need to understand that those who have money, decide what is important. Be it funding organizations (EPA,NSF,CDC) or individuals (Bill and Melinda Gates). I know that people make up data so that they can get results but I have to believe that is not the majority.
To me, the imaginary line comes into play when you sacrifice a personal code for a professional agenda and not in the reverse. When you are willing to make up data to create an emergency, we have a problem. When you have the data and it can be verified (and probably should be before you speak out) you have a personal obligation to speak up. If you are willing to sacrifice your professional career for a personal belief, then I believe you are just to do so, but this does come at a cost and we need to acknowledge that.
If every or even just a lot, of scientists decided to take on their own cause and they are wrong, the field will suffer. Scientists will become people who cannot be trusted and we would reach a point where it wouldn’t make sense to fund them because they aren’t believed anyway.
There is an imaginary line here but I can’t figure out where it is. It seems like its a nuanced, wavy line that may have some holes in it. To me though, its a line of personal and professional ethics that should sometimes be crossed and when it is, we need to carefully examine how it went and if it should be crossed in that way again. Though to me it’s not a line between “science” and “citizens” because we are all citizens with jobs and responsibilities to our fields. It’s a line of trust between the public and the science they fund.