Hippocratic oath for scientists and engineers?

This could be interesting…

First reaction, without having gone yet to the detail, was that I have no problem with the concept. But when I went to read it I and see that the suggestion is they have regard for possible application of their work, it becomes an impossible idea. Aside from the fact that there will always be possible uses that might simply not be evident to a scientist, or even anyone else at the time of the work, that doesn’t mean nefarius uses won’t arise in the future.
E.g. No particular ordet other than these are the first things to come into my head:
No mobile phones, because they can be used by terrorists (ditto radio)
No internal combustion engine, because it can be used to power mobile weapons used against innocent people.
No aeroplanes, for same reason.
No birth control pill, because it could be used to control population against people’s will (though maybe for public good)
No microphone, because it can be used for spying
No camera, for same reason
No knives, because they can be used to hurt people
No electricity, because it can be used for torture

The list comes as fast as I can type!


The mathematicians who concern me most are the ones who are recruited by city financial intitutions in order to develop systems so comlex that even the most talented members of the legal system cannot touch the, because they don’t understand the maths. Then we wonder why there are so many fabulously wealthy people in a society where the stock market is permanently in the doldrums, pensions and investments depreciate, etc. Of course, there’s much more to it than that, but still…
That reminds me - remember this?

Of course you can take the idea to extremes: reductio ad absurdum
I think it would make sense in a limited way for some kinds of research, but there is already an ethics committee for all research in this country. I suspect it’s one for the lawyers.

BTW, I genuinely didn’t mean that reductio ad absurdum: quite literally thise thoughts jus came when zi said to myself “so what discoveries or inventions have significant negative uses? To be practical it would be necessary to very closely define what is meant. And then there are more complex ethical questions: would development of nuclear power have been banned because of the very extreme consequences if something goes wrong, quite regardless of the potential military or terrorist offshoot? Or various genetic developments because of the potential for adverse interference in natural birth selection? These are all really ethical matters for regulators, rather than reasons for scientists not to research and develop,

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I understand I was thinking the same way but had not put in writing. As always the devil is in the detail - lawyers will have a field day.
Doctors through out history have faced ethical dilemmas, some have succumbed and faced the consequences. Taking responsibility for ones actions is the perhaps the key point, but corruption is always a risk.

Chartered and Incorporated engineers are already required to commit to the code of conduct of their professional body and the Engineering Council.



(C.Eng. M.I.E.E.)

That’s was the same for me when I was an environmental inspector. But are codes of practice enough?

Codes of conduct of the Engineering Institutions are not the same as codes of practice. If a member is found not to be abiding by the Code of Conduct then they may be expelled from membership, in which case their chartered status lapses and in some cases that would mean they couldn’t practice their profession at that level.



Good point - most professional institutions have both.

I really don’t see how that would work, without completely stifling research. With the Hippocratic oath, the idea is that the person themselves do no harm. This is suggesting that they should do nothing that could cause harm - but there are several problems with that. Firstly, research by its nature does not necessarily lead in expected or foreseeable directions. Secondly, almost any discovery could be used by other people for nefarious uses - and it can be difficult to impossible to predict that. Thirdly, almost all technologies can and have been used for inappropriate purposes.
You cannot stop knowledge from being expanded. We already have ethics departments trying to ensure that scientific research is itself ethical - which is fine, of course. But to expect anyone to predict future uses of their research, particularly those where their knowledge is combined with other knowledge for evil ends, is unreasonable.


And there are unexpected consequences …

And the elephants in the room… there would be no internet… that was developed to provide strategic nuclear command and control in the event of a nuclear war.
Also there would be no digital security as we have and rely on today as they were developed to withhold state secrets with early telegraphy as well as encrypt military comms in warfare through untrusted domains such as via radio or under sea cables.
And finally there would be web or social media technology as it can be used to incite violence, mislead, and propagate untruth and lies… and whilst we are at it we should retrospectively ban Caxton’s printing press.


The wheel was a pretty devastating invention.


As was speech!


One of the absolutely most (edit: HARMFUL) concepts to come out of science in the past few years – that vaccines cause autism – was the product of absolutely fraudulent science. It wasn’t merely wrong, it was intentionally and fraudulently wrong; published knowing it was wrong.

Climate change deniers are in the same camp. (Although there is very little to none scientific denial of climate change; it comes from politicians and their supporters.)

Oaths and the like won’t protect us from cheaters and scammers, unfortunately.


Hi Bart,

Let”s accept climate change as a fact, ie that it exists and is entirely due to human activity. And I do mean entirely due to human activity.

What three things would you do to reverse it . I don’t mean simply halt it, I mean reverse it .

Are theses three things achievable ? Bear in mind human greed and politics.

I am on your side, I accept climate change is for real, and I am genuinely interested in how it might be overcome.

being one of “those” scientists I say that such idiotic concepts about vaccines and climate did NOT come from scientific community but from politicians. There is ALWAYS crazy and questionable results published even in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals, where access for publication is granted for the selected few. Once you pick out some for your lowly political agenda, then Cold Fusion, Human Cloning, Horrors of Genetic Testing (my narrow field), Vaccination get into mainstream consciousness. Al Gore did the same, but he got lucky about picking up on what is actually being confirmed by the “scientific research”

Folks keep forgetting that in science, as in real life, “early bird” gets the highest reward and there is ALWAYS some crazy results about anything… The funniest story from my narrow field is that the officially discredited research technique from 1981-82 for embryonal cloning is now being used world-wide in human reproductology.

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easy!!! Accept that Malthusian Theory and Charles Darwin got it right and stop humans from breeding like we are doing it now… It can be stopped in a humane way, by education, through cultural and/or religious channels. Or it will be stopped in a “natural” way: through wars, famine, climate change and deaths of those future “extra” billions that our tiny planet won’t be able to sustain.

Scientific American published an interesting article last year about multi-level agriculturing which might support up to 100 billion people. Even if true, what is going to happen afterwards? In another 100 years from then, how do you pack 100 trillion breeding humans here? Or should we “colonize” (I say: infest) other planets and Solar systems?

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