Ethics of Scientific Investigation


    IN his address "Human Nature in Science" to the Section on Geology and Geography of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, delivered at Cleveland on September 13, 1944 (Science, 100, 299; 1944), Dr. J. K. Wright gave a highly stimulating discussion of some relations between human nature and science as they might be set forth in such a manual for science as Macchiavelli wrote for princes. Analysing first the personal qualities that influence scientific research, especially originality, open-mindedness, precision and scientific consciousness or the ability to discriminate between motives, Dr. Wright indicates the dangers which may attend excess of any one of these qualities. He surveyed next the motives for scientific research; these are first classified as pro-scientific, anti-scientific or non-scientific, according to whether they promote, retard or have no effect on the advancement of science; and again as personal, group or disinterested motives, depending on whether they spring from a desire to serve individual, group or no particular interests. In this analysis, Dr. Wright has wise and stimulating words about opinions or judgments of the relative worth of scientific investigations. Qualitative judgments are fairer than formal judgments, for they take account of the degree of good sense, originality, accuracy and open-mindedness to which the study bears witness, as well as of the suitability of the form and substance to the solution of the problem in hand. The preliminary work required before scientific laws can be formulated may be quite as scientific as the subsequent processes of interpretation to which it leads; and an economic law may be fully as scientific as the law of eclipses, provided all available evidence is used in developing the economic law—and used with the same degree of rationality as that attained in developing the astronomical law.

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