The Opinionated Scientist

CATEGORIES: Ethics Cases

Political decisions regarding science can have significant impacts on society and scientists often have the expertise to allow them to meaningfully add to the public debate about those decisions. But is it appropriate for scientists to voice their opinions about policy? Or is it inappropriate for scientists to remain silent when they possess the most relevant information about the science? In this fictionalized case study, an assistant professor is both complemented and threatened for criticizing a recent policy decision about biofuels on his personal online blog and must now decide how to write a promised follow-up post. Questions presented in this case include:

  • How should scientists share their thoughts about specific policies, if at all? What are the appropriate boundaries?
  • What options do scientists have about how to communicate their thoughts in social media?
  • How important is it to ensure that non-experts are able to understand the science and its larger implications?

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