IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - Summer 2013 - 57

the public. In this case, Tom, a postdoc, is conducting research on the
pH levels of a region's lakes, and
thinks that the high acidity levels,
which are killing off the fish, are
probably caused by emissions from
nearby electrical power plants. A
second, five-year research project
is planned to determine the cause
of the acid rain. Tom meets with
Susan, a member of a local environmental group, who asks him to
downplay the uncertainties in his
research and state that he believes
the power plants are causing the
acid rain. Tom consults richard, a
senior research scientist on the project, who also believes the power
plants are probably the cause of the
acid rain. But richard cautions Tom
against getting involved with advocacy of this sort because he could
tarnish his scientific reputation by
seeming to be non-objective and
biased since the second five-year
study of the cause of the acid rain
has not been conducted. The case
asks, what should Tom do in this
situation, where his moral obligations to the norms of science and to
saving the lakes are in conflict [21]?
This hypothetical case provides
a good alternative to the historical
case on the researcher in Society
section in On Being a Scientist. But
it still addresses only the researcher's public role. What we need are
new cases that address the social
implications of on-going research,
such as that in nanoscience.
In fact, I think current research in
nanoethics may be an important avenue in which to explore how to teach
social responsibility in the conduct of research. This well-funded
area is a vibrant one. The NSF has
established a National Nanotechnology Infrastructure Network, which
has social and ethical implications
of research as part of its research
agenda. In 2005, the NSF funded
two Centers for Nanotechnology in
Society, at Arizona State university
and the university of California at
Santa Barbara, whose charge also
includes ethical issues. Nanoethics, a

new scholarly journal was launched
in 2007. These centers have explored
many ways of educating researchers
and the public about ethical issues of
nanoscience and technology.
I'll comment on two recent projects that integrate social responsibility into research ethics.13 In
2010, robert McGinn proposed
some brief ethical guidelines for
nano researchers. These covered
the existing micro-ethics issues of
laboratory safety, intellectual property rights, and integrity of data;
the existing meso-ethics issue of
dealing with the public; but also the
new macro-ethics issues of accepting social responsibility for protecting the safety and welfare of the
public. One of his ethical responsibilities, for example, states that "if
a NT [nanotechnology] researcher
has reason to believe that her or
his work will be applied to society
so as to create a risk of significant
harm to humans, he or she has an
ethical responsibility to alert appropriate authorities about the potential
danger." This duty is similar to a
provision that has long been part of
engineering codes of ethics. Essentially what McGinn has done is to
merge research and engineering ethics for researchers working in nanoscience and technology. Although
McGinn does not ground his guidelines in the extensive scholarship in
research and engineering ethics, his
attempt to merge these fields moves
in the right direction, in my view.14
A more radical project is to
integrate concerns about social
responsibility into the early
stages of research and development (r&D) through a method
13

Most scholarly research on nanoethics, however, does not address research practices. See
[4, p. 2] and [22].
14
McGinn [4, p. 1-2] cites the NSPE code of
ethics regarding the requirement for the engineer to be a faithful agent of the employer and
to hold paramount the public's health, safety, and
welfare [4, p. 4, notes 18 and 19], but does not
do so for his other ethical responsibilities. On the
issue of macro-micro ethics in engineering, see
[23] and [24].

IEEE TECHNOLOGY AND SOCIETY MAGAZINE

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SuMMEr 2013

called "midstream modulation."
One variant of this approach,
"laboratory engagement studies,"
embeds an ethicist in the laboratory to help researchers reflect on
the "social responsibilities of their
research practices." Proponents of
this approach refer to it as a form
of learning, in that the researchers learn about the socio-ethical
context of their work upon being
prompted to reflect on it by the
"embedded ethicist." Daan Schuurbiers recently described his experiences with this type of intensive
engagement with a small number
of researchers at two biotechnology
laboratories, one at Delft university
of Technology in the Netherlands,
and one at Arizona State university. Both labs researched the production of alternative resources and
fuels. Schuurbiers concluded that
this engagement helped to make
"broader socio-ethical issues more
visible in the lab" and "encouraged
research participants to critically
reflect on these broader issues.
Contrary to their initial claims,
participants came to acknowledge
that broader socio-ethical dimensions permeated their research"
[5, quotations on pp. 769 and 786].
One could not ask for much more
than that when teaching social
responsibility in research ethics.

Overcoming Social
Agnosticism of Science
These are just a few of the ways that
the obstacle of the social agnosticism
of science can be overcome to teach
social responsibility in research ethics. Although this agnosticism is
reinforced by the standard literature
in engineering and research ethics,
which was shaped by responses to
scandals and accidents of the 1970s
and 1980s, we live in a new era of
nanoscience, biotechnology, and
other emerging fields in which the
hybridity of science and engineering
is evident. I'm not advocating that
social responsibility should be the
number one priority in research ethics. I'm suggesting that we rebalance
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