Science and Social Control

Controversies over Research on Violence
  • Dorothy Nelkin
  • Judith P. Swazey
Part of the The Hastings Center Series in Ethics book series (HCSE)


Dr. Martin Arrowsmith, the researcher-physician immortalized by Sinclair Lewis, doubtless would feel a stranger in a strange land if he materialized today. The reverential public attitudes toward scientific and medical research, reflected and in part created by earlier twentieth-century fictional works such as Arrowsmith and “nonfiction” accounts by writers such as Paul de Kruiff, have changed, and many areas of research have come under critical public scrutiny. In fiction, Arrowsmith’s visions of science and technology are supplanted by images of the Andromeda Strain, The Terminal Man, and The China Syndrome. In real life, research projects are stopped or delayed as groups external to science, and in some cases scientists themselves, question the moral implications of research activities, their immediate impacts, and their long-range social consequences. In the late twentieth-century social assessment of science, questions are raised about the limits of scientific inquiry, and efforts are made to redefine and in some cases to sharply delimit its boundaries.1 Is some research so threatening to the basic values of certain groups or so potentially risky to human subjects that it should not be done at all? Who are, or ought to be, the “experts” in decisions about the nature and governance of research? Is the traditional freedom of scientists to define and control their own research still reasonable given the expanded possibilities of mdoern science in areas such as human biology and behavior?


Social Control Violent Behavior Newborn Screening Cyproterone Acetate Prison System 
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  1. 6.
    See George J. Annas, L.H. Glantz, and B.F. Katz, Informed Consent to Human Experimentation: The Subject’s Dilemma (Cambridge, Mass.: Ballinger, 1977).Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Dorothy Nelkin, ed., Controversy: Politics of Technical Decisions (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1978).Google Scholar
  3. 15.
    Stephen Chorover, “The Pacification of the Brain: From Phrenology to Psychosurgery,” in Current Controversies in Neurosurgery, ed. T.P. Morely (Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1976), p. 758.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Hastings Center 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dorothy Nelkin
    • 1
  • Judith P. Swazey
    • 2
  1. 1.Program on Science, Technology and SocietyCornell UniversityIthacaUSA
  2. 2.Medicine in the Public Interest, Inc.BostonUSA

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