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ethical issues in chemistry

Posted on 2010-01-07
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Hi

Does anyone know of any interesting and meaty ethical interesting issues in chemistry. Some obvious ones might be can chemical warfare ever be a good thing, the ethics of the use of radioactivity. etc

Specifically chemistry and not biochem so not genetic engineering or stem cell research

Thanks
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Question by:andieje
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d-glitch earned 1600 total points
ID: 26203185
Chemical pollution of all types:  

   Pesticides (Silent Spring) (Midnight in Bophal)
   Fertilizers
   PCB's and contamination of ground water
   CFC's and depletion of the ozone layer
   CO2 emissions and global warming
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by:aburr
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"the ethics of the use of radioactivity"
physics


d-glitch has nice chemical examples
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by:tliotta
ID: 26204320
Crude oil destruction -- chemical warfare against oil reserves. On the opposite side, investigation of "antidotes" or preventatives.

Tom
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by:programmer78
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One of the issues which makes pharmacology so expensive:

Testing medicines. When you test it for a first time with human participation, you cannot guarantee that you don't make some harm. But you cannot start mass production until completing these tests. Nazi solved this ethical problem using prisoners of war. Nowadays it costs millions of dollars just to start producing well-known pharmacy like aspirin for example - this high price appears due to numerous formal procedures which accompany starting production.

But this issue concerns rather pharmacology, not clean chemistry.
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by:InteractiveMind
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Should chemists pay a commission to physicists? ;-)
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by:d-glitch
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by:andieje
ID: 26213486
One question I thought is whether it is ethical to use chemical knowledge that was discovered unethically. For example, is it ethical to use the medical knowledge gained by the Nazis from experimentation on Jews. I was wondering if there were similar examples of chemical knowledge gained unethically

thanks
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by:programmer78
ID: 26213823
I think it is ethical to employ any knowledge, regardless, how have it been obtained. We cannot help to Nazis' victims, but if we can help to people who are suffering now - we have to do.

Concerning chemical knowledge... I think when people used chlorine and other combat poisons - they got some experience... And we cannot consider this experience as obtained fairly. By the way, I wonder, why are you so much interested in this question?
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by:andieje
ID: 26224283
i'm interested because i've been asked to find an ethical issue in chemistry and give a talk on it. At the moment I am not particularly interested in people's opinions on the issues, just the issues themselves. Once I have found a topic I will likely need opinions then.
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by:programmer78
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Once I've read a discussion in one of internet-forums (it was about programmers' and engineers' ethics). And after a long discussion, they came to conclusion, that no reason to distinguish any professional ethic problems, we must cultivate just common ethic, and each particular specialist will use it in his sphere, because all professional ethic problems easily may be transformed to common ethic problems.

As one more example of scientific ethic problem (not particularly chemistry), I would give an issue with priority of discovering (sometimes it is very difficult to determine who was the first). As well as similar problem appears (time to time) when Noble Prize Committee decides, who should be marked with this award.
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by:andieje
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Programmer78, could you elaborate more on your last point about priority of discovering. I am interested in this issue but I'm not really sure how I could put it into an ethical framework. I can see that the wrong people get accredited for other people's discoveries, or people rush to publish things and make mistakes or stab other people in the back. I feel there is something here worth discussing but I'm not sure how to 'shape' it. For example, I read somewhere that the 2 people who published the cold fusion 'discovery' broke an agreement with a 3rd person who also came to the same conclusions as them.
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by:programmer78
programmer78 earned 400 total points
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Yes, sure...
For example:
1. see the article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Cavendish - he discovered a lot of interesting stuff in physics and chemistry (and this is not pointed in the article but I've read this in one book that he was the first, who got helium).
2. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen and Philipp Lenard - priority of discovering X-Rays.
3. Dmitry Ivanovich Mendeleev and Julius Lothar Meyer - priority of discovering the periodic table of elements.
4. Alexander Stepanovich Popov and Guglielmo Marchese Marconi - priority of inventing radio.

There are tons of examples (Most of them weren't related to ethic issues, but further discussions about defining the priority seems generated these problems, since each country want to be considered as motherland of significant inventions.) In my opinion discussions here appear due to sometimes it is very difficult to understand, what fact should be treated as invention. Each invention appears due to work of hundreds and thousands of people all over the world. Some inventions may be muted due to their military or industrial significance, some inventions may be treated as inventions by one people and ignored by another (for example French people sure that they invented recycle bin: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poubelle. I was really surprised, when read this since this "device" was used by my grand-grand-....-grand-mothers more than 500 years ago... far-far before "Le 24 novembre 1883" and we don't think we invented it, because it is naturally, to store garbage in the bin, its like walking with feet or like using bags for bearing something).
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by:d-glitch
d-glitch earned 1600 total points
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The Discoveries  by Alan Lghtman  is an excellent book.  

     http://www.amazon.com/Discoveries-Breakthroughs-20th-century-Including-Original/dp/0375421688

Two of the relevant cases:

Rosalind Franklin's significant contributions to the discovery of DNA were not acknowledged
until after her death.

     http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalind_Franklin

Lise Meitner contributions to nuclear fission were also passed over.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lise_Meitner
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by:andieje
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Hi d-glitch

I am a biochemist so I have always been aware of the rosmund franklin situation. I always thought that was very sad for her.

So if i was to look at the discovery/invention issue, how would you structure this? I would need to argue the subject some ethical framework.  It could be something like, How do you define invention in chemistry (it has to be chemistry although it applies to all sciences really) and in this definition harmful? Then you could say how you can't attribute a discovery to one person because it is the work of many people over many years. You could then find examples about how the race to be the first to discover something has been beneficial and harmful. I need something that can be argued really.
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by:andieje
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thanks
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