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Re: Unboxed - When Academia Puts Profit Ahead of Wonder - NYTimes.com
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Tue, 9 Sep 2008 18:45:13 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: "Andrew W. Donoho" <awd () DDG com>
Date: September 9, 2008 5:18:53 PM EDT
To: dave () farber net
Subject: Re: [IP] Re: Unboxed - When Academia Puts Profit Ahead of Wonder - NYTimes.com


        For IP.


On Sep 9, 2008, at 04:53, David Farber wrote:

The question that sometimes matters is whether the scientist takes responsibility for the application of the knowledge they generate. It doesn't erase the ethical responsibility of a scientist for the application of their work to say that "knowledge has been advanced". If you get funding for physics research from those who will use it to make better bombs, you "own" the responsibility to make damn sure the bombs don't get used. But even if you do that research based on funds from the Dalai Lama, you have *exactly the same responsibility*. The source of funds doesn't eliminate your personal responsibility.


I'm not so sure ethics of science/technology development is so "cut and dried".

In my case, I made a decision in my youth to avoid studying particle or nuclear physics. I consciously tried to avoid the ethical issues involved with bomb building. Before starting my first software company, I helped in basic surface physics research. It had military funding and resulted eventually in better chips for guiding bombs. Those same chips also had many positive uses in society. Technology is quite neutral. How you get your funding isn't. Yet, that isn't so clear cut either. My first software company built scientific visualization software. My youthful mission was to build software for budding Nobel Laureates. I was initially funded by oil money from Houston. (Let's leave aside the "cleanliness" issue of oil money.) Of course, as we sold product, we had continuing funding by our customers. You can imagine my surprise and dismay reading a returned product registration card from Lawrence Livermore Labs. In answer to the question "why did you buy this product?", the new happy owner wrote: "Build Better Bombs". I was now funded by the very folks I had specifically avoided. Was I supposed to go into LLL and get my copy back? Somehow rescind my license to the Federal Government? Was I supposed to return the money and violate my fiduciary responsibility to shareholders, creditors and employees? No, this issue came with the territory of selling shrink wrapped software. I could control where I marketed my product but that also had fiduciary repercussions.

        These ethics issues are not so "cut and dried".


Andrew W. Donoho
awd () DDG com, PGP Key ID: 0x81D0F250
+1 (512) 453-6652 (o), +1 (512) 750-7596 (m)

"To take no detours from the high road of reason and social responsibility."
   -- Marcus Aurelius

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