LONDON—An unusual alliance of scientific luminaries and the radical British Society for Social Responsibility in Science is campaigning for the adoption of an Oath for Scientists. Modeled after medicine’s Hippocratic Oath, it is a revised version of an earlier statement that recognizes the social impact of scientific developments.

The 19 initial signatories of the oath include three Nobel laureates—Sir John Kendrew, president of the International Council of Scientific Unions; Abdus Salam, director of the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste; and Maurice Wilkins, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix.

Meredith Thring, an engineering professor who first suggested such a statement in 1971, believes it is vital for scientists to define the ethical basis of their work. “No one wants pointless restrictions,” he said, “but too many scientific developments are posing moral problems by being big enough to involve survival or destruction.”

The oath is being circulated by the Institute...

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