At Scientific American's Doing Good Science blog, San Jose State University professor Janet Stemwedel asks what should matter when researchers seek to make ethical decisions. Some things are straightforward, she says — "e.g. don't make up data out of whole cloth, don't smash your competitor's lab apparatus, don't use your mad science skillz to engage in a campaign of super-villainy that brings Gotham City to its knees." But there are other examples that are more nebulous, she adds, which is why researchers talk about ethical decision-making.
Traditionally, researchers have taken the interests of many different parties, including the public, into consideration. "Recently," Stemwedel says, "one of my students objected to how we approach these cases. Specifically, the student argued that we should radically restrict our consideration of interested parties." The public may have reason to be interested in the work scientists are doing, the student argued, but only a very small portion of the public cares about science, and the interests of the public are too heterogeneous to constitute anything more than a "distraction" to researchers, Stemwedel adds.
She then asks the public, does it have an interest in science and should it be considered an interested party when it comes to ethical decision-making?