opinion

COLUMN: Scientists at war with themselves



When we think about wars, we don’t often think about science or what 
scientists are doing.

Whether we like it or not, science has always been a key player in wars.

The push for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education arose partly out of national security concerns. When we realized what our foreign objectives were, namely war involvement, we developed STEM to organize science education for national security and military purposes.

These concerns were fueled by incidents like World War II and the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik. But how has science really played out through our international 
affairs?

For the past century, the United States has witnessed ups and downs, and these sentiments have permeated the scientific world. In her book “Scientists at War,” Sarah Bridger said scientists flourished in the years after World War II. During the Vietnam War, though, several individuals in the science community became suspicious of how science was being used.

Even in today’s society, the ethics of science in politics have been debated. When there is war, military research blossoms and science gears itself toward those purposes.

But some scientists have doubted they could ethically contribute to scientific knowledge that would be used for military purposes.

Scientists need to be skeptical of what their research is being used for just as they are skeptical of their own scientific findings.

Among those who had doubts was Albert Einstein, who expressed discontent with how his work in theoretical physics would lead to the creation of the atomic bomb.

Scientists need to ask themselves whether or not they’re doing the right thing. They need to think about what their work 
contributes to.

And when things get messy, they should take action. Beginning in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, many scientists fell into intense dissent regarding the way science should work with the military and government.

These changes in attitudes mean scientists need to be more than just researchers in lab coats. They need to be active voices in political affairs.

When suspicions of military torture began to surface during the Bush administration, many scientists remained willfully ignorant to avoid losing valuable connections and funding resources. Now more than ever, we need to be aware of responsibility in military-supported 
scientific research.

While it’s difficult to characterize the varying attitudes of the entire scientific community, the role scientists play in political affairs cannot be ignored. Scientists need to think about these issues and speak up.

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