Advertisement

Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 1045–1063 | Cite as

Scientific Research and Human Rights: A Response to Kitcher on the Limitations of Inquiry

  • Elizabeth VictorEmail author
Original Paper

Abstract

In his recent work exploring the role of science in democratic societies Kitcher (Science in a democratic society. Prometheus Books, New York, 2011) claims that scientists ought to have a prominent role in setting the agenda for and limits to research. Against the backdrop of the claim that the proper limits of scientific inquiry is John Stuart Mill’s Harm Principle (Kitcher in Science, truth, and democracy. Oxford University Press, New York, 2001), he identifies the limits of inquiry as the point where the outcomes of research could cause harm to already vulnerable populations. Nonetheless, Kitcher argues against explicit limitations on unscrupulous research on the grounds that restrictions would exacerbate underlying social problems. I show that Kitcher’s argument in favor of dissuading inquiry through conventional standards is problematic and falls prey to the same critique he offers in opposition to official bans. I expand the conversation of limiting scientific research by recognizing that the actions that count as ‘science’ are located in the space between ‘thinking’ and ‘doing’. In this space, we often attempt to balance freedom of research, as scientific speech, against the disparate impact citizens might experience in light of such research. I end by exploring if such disparate impact justifies limiting research, within the context of the United States, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or under international human rights standards more generally.

Keywords

Applied ethics Civil rights Human rights Limitations on inquiry Research ethics Scientific freedom 

Notes

Acknowledgments

For their helpful comments on this article I would like to thank, without implicating, Rebecca Kukla, Andrea Pitts, Michele Merritt, the participants at the 2011 Society for Analytical Feminism's Group Session at the American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting, and an anonymous reviewer.

References

  1. Bayertz, K. (2006). Three arguments for scientific freedom. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, 9(4), 377–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brown, W. (2000). Suffering rights as paradoxes. Constellations, 7(2), 230–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown, M. B., & Guston, D. H. (2009). Science, democracy, and the right to research. Science and Engineering Ethics, 15(3), 351–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Chapman, A. R. (2009). Towards an understanding of the right to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress and its applications. Journal of Human Rights, 8, 1–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dresser, R. (1992). Wanted: Single, white male for medical research. The Hastings Center Report, 22(1), 24–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Fidler, D.P. (2012). Risky research and human health: The influenza H5N1 research controversy and international law. American Society for International Law, 16(2). Retrieved September 12, 2013, from http://www.asil.org/insights120119.cfm.
  7. Horner, J., & Minifie, F. D. (2011). Research ethics I: Responsible conduct of research (RCR)—Historical and contemporary issues pertaining to human and animal experimentation. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54, S303–S329.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Intemann, K. K., & de Melo-Martin, I. (2008). Regulating scientific research: Should scientists be left alone? The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, 22, 654–658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Irwin, D. R. (2005). Freedom of thought: The first amendment and scientific method. Wisconsin Law Review, 6, 1479–1533.Google Scholar
  10. Kitcher, P. (2001). Science, truth, and democracy. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Kitcher, P. (2011). Science in a democratic society. New York: Prometheus Books.Google Scholar
  12. Marchant, G. C., & Pope, L. L. (2009). The problems with forbidding science. Science and Engineering Ethics, 15(3), 375–394.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Mill, J.S. (1977/1859). On liberty. In J. M. Robson (Ed.), The collected works of John Stuart Mill, volume XVIII: Essays on politics and society, part I. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Accessed on February 2, 2013 from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/233/16550.
  14. Post, R. (2009). Constitutional restraints on the regulations of scientific speech and scientific research. Science and Engineering Ethics, 15(3), 431–438.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Rushton, J. P., & Jensen, A. R. (2005). Thirty years of research on race differences in cognitive ability. Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 11(2), 235–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Sample, I. (2013). Testicle size may indicate men’s childcare aptitude, suggests US study. The Guardian (September 9). Retrieved September 10, 2013, from http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/sep/09/testicle-size-men-childcare-aptitude-parenting-us.
  17. Teo, T. (2011). Empirical race psychology and the hermeneutics of epistemological violence. Human Studies, 34(3), 237–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. United Nations. (1948). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html.
  19. United Nations. (1966). International covenant on economic, social and cultural rights. Retrieved September 1, 2013, from www.ohchr.org/english/countries/ratificationindex.htm.
  20. Volokh, E. (2005). Crime-facilitating speech. Stanford Law Review, 57(4), 1095–1222.Google Scholar
  21. Weinstein, J. (2004). Institutional review boards and the constitution. Case Western Reserve Law Review, 101, 493–561.Google Scholar
  22. Weinstein, J. (2009). Democracy, individual rights and the regulation of science. Science and Engineering Ethics, 15(3), 407–429.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyGrand Valley State UniversityAllendaleUSA

Personalised recommendations