Must Scientists Be Apolitical?

by Tracy R. Walsh

Dan Cass thinks climate researchers “can be passionate moral leaders and still retain their integrity”:

The majority of climate scientists are probably right to follow their current strategy, which is keep calm and carry on. They are expanding our knowledge about the climate, doing what they are best at and which the rest of us are unable to do. However, we are in a global crisis, and I believe that the scientific fraternity has an ethical obligation to take action. We need some scientists to show social leadership, not just scientific leadership.

He recommends they follow a famous example:

In 1955, Albert Einstein signed a letter calling on the world to renounce nuclear weapons.

The 00001219Russell-Einstein manifesto was endorsed by the smartest scientists of the generation, including several Nobel Prize winners. … As a result of the manifesto, the scientists formed Pugwash, an organization of scientists devoted to a political project: preventing nuclear war. Joseph Rotblat was a founder of the organization and when the New York Times invited him to write on the 50th anniversary of the manifesto, he said: “We took action then because we felt that the world situation was entering a dangerous phase, in which extraordinary efforts were required to prevent a catastrophe.”

Rotblat and Pugwash shared the Nobel Prize for peace, and he is a hero of mine for showing that scientists can be passionate moral leaders and still retain their integrity. The work done by scientists through Pugwash helped make the world a safer place. Their work contributed to the key international agreements on weapons of mass destruction, including the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963, the Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1968, and the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972.

(Image via McMaster University)