Prometheus' Fire: Sharing The Responsibility

In enduring myth, Prometheus was severely punished for giving humankind "every art and science"--the power to defy the forces of Nature. This concern about forbidden knowledge survives today. It is aggravated by inquiry that is both arcane and intensive, as research into DNA, genetic engineering, and the human genome is purported to be. This public anxiety persists despite general satisfaction over the economic and life-extending benefits of scientific progress. Scientific expertise offers a u

Joshua Lederberg
Jan 20, 1991
In enduring myth, Prometheus was severely punished for giving humankind "every art and science"--the power to defy the forces of Nature. This concern about forbidden knowledge survives today. It is aggravated by inquiry that is both arcane and intensive, as research into DNA, genetic engineering, and the human genome is purported to be. This public anxiety persists despite general satisfaction over the economic and life-extending benefits of scientific progress.

Scientific expertise offers a unique insight, and therefore responsibility, with regard to the human impact of new knowledge. Most scientists, however, are uncomfortable dealing with political machinery, and many lack the policy skills needed to relate their scientific expertise to social action.

Since Hiroshima, scientists have often been pitted against that machinery, and have protested about being blamed for uses of science they were not permitted to control.

We should thus welcome ways to share responsibility with policy experts. One good...

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