Science in Christian Perspective
The Industrial Scientist.-
Money Time and Achievement
ROBERT L. BOHON**
From: JASA 14 (September 1962): 67-70.
Let me preface my remarks on this subject of ethical decisions by pointing out that I am no more an expert on this subject than anyone in the audience. However, the program chairman has been kind enough to give me the privilege of stimulating your thoughts about the problems faced by practicing scientists, particularly those in industry.
My comments are colored by my background, of course. They therefore represent the viewpoint of a physical chemist who received all of his formal education in the State of Illinois, who was employed for six years in a small private laboratory doing contract research, and who has been employed at the 3M Co. for the last five years in the Central Research Dept. I have done a smattering of teaching at Illinois Wesleyan University and have been intimately involved in church life (American Baptist) since my youth. This historical resum6 is presented in order to orient you in advance to my prejudices, and to emphasize that I consider it essential to know something about the personal background of a speaker or writer in order to place his stated position on a matter such as ethics in proper perspective.
The Relativity of Ethics
The ethical decisions under consideration are those relating particularly to the scientist's work, his associates, his employer, and his ego. The overlap with other aspects of life are obvious.
We shall be concerned with "ideal human behavior" in the laboratory and with what constitutes the "right" moral decisions for the chemist, physicist, mathematician, analyst, etc., employed in industry. Let me hasten to add that we are immediately on controversial ground, for what is ethically "right" in the 20th century in St. Paul, Minnesota, may not be considered "right" in the eyes of a Soviet scientist, or even in those of our own thirtieth century counterparts.
In other words, our topic is relative if we adopt the viewpoint that man has no moral code other than that which he himself can develop. Alchemy was viewed by many medieval moralists as an evil enterprise indeed. It is probably true that the desire to transmute base metals to gold was not always motivated by lofty ideals, but, lacking the curiosity of these early chemists, we would not enjoy the benefits of artificially-generated isotopes today, and we probably would still be cringing from the fear of cholera and the black death. This is not to say that the end justifies the means, but merely to emphasize that as human beings our horizons are extremely limited and we know not what the future will bring.
As an industrial scientist, what are my goals? What are my responsibilities to my employer? to my discipline? to my professional colleagues? And what ethical decisions must I make?
Industry, of course, exists to produce material goods and services that the public will purchase. The goal is to develop and efficiently manufacture items for which there is a need or demand by the public, and to sell them for a profit. Without a profit there is no incentive and the industry must eventually die. As an employee, I have a responsibility to assist the company toward this commendable goal of supplying the physical needs of mankind, in return for which I receive a share of the wealth so generated.
Let us pass quickly over some of the more trivial ethical decisions every employee faces and which involve little or no controversy.
Petty theft is a common temptation placed within daily reach of all employees. It ranges from the systematic stealing of pencils from the office supply room to wholesale burglary via bulging briefcases, loaded lunch boxes, and even auto trunks.
A more insidious type of theft to which the scientist is particularly prone is that of time: the bull-session on company time, the 60-minute coffee break, transaction of personal business using company facilities and time, late arrival and early departure which is so easy because few companies require clock-punching by technical personnel, day-dreaming under the guise of thinking, etc.One of the most flagrant, and yet unintentional, ex-
"Presented at the 8th regional meeting of the North Central
Section of the ASA, April 7, 1962, as part of a symposium
on "Critical Ethical Decisions in Science."
**Dr. Bohon is a senior chemist in Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., St. Paul.
Theft of proprietary information from a company by a scientific employee for the benefit of a competitor is relatively uncommon and is carefully policed by tightly worded technical agreements and observant lawyers.
The industrial scientist is perhaps a bit more involved in the secular world than his academic counterpart, but both are subject to the temptations of double standards of morality on and off the job. The classical jokes about office parties and extra-marital activities while on business trips, and even the toil-worn travelling salesman stories do portray some of the more obvious ethical choices presented to scientists, particularly those who choose to climb the administrative ladder or enter the world of technical sales. The latter are also subjected to the pressure for "conformity" and the desire to project an executive image to the boss. Some of this spills over to the bench chemist, but to a lesser extent than might be supposed.
A more serious problem in industry is the theft of ideas from others. The average industrial scientist is caught in the situation of working primarily on projects which can seldom lead to publication in the open literature because of proprietary restrictions. His primary public outlet is patents, and this means ideas. Where does one acquire patentable ideas? Does the spark of creative genius materialize only out of thin air and hard work, or is it a synthesis of the thoughts of many teachers and fellow scientists, personal background, and maybe even a chance remark by a friend or relative? There is a tremendous temptation to grasp the ideas of others and covertly reduce them to practice without acknowledging the contribution of the one who has knowingly or unknowingly supplied the key. Such problems are not unique to the industrial scientist, of course, and academic laboratories are not unacquainted with men whose ideas have been pirated by fellow scientists!
Publication restrictions are a serious problem to the
industrial scientist for it effectively prevents the rest
of the world, particularly other industries, from
learning what a smart chap he is and thereby creating a type of job insurance in case he ever decides
to part company with his present employer. The industrial researcher is always tempted to carry a project to
the point where a good publication can be prepared with
the hope management will eventually allow release, even
though he knows perfectly well that the finishing
touches required for publication are of little or no concern to his boss and probably would constitute theft of
valuable time in the eyes of the vice-president. I am happy to report, however, that this problem is receiving a sympathetic ear from management in many companies
Let me briefly mention the problem of money. don't think the industrial scientist, or any scientist for that matter, has any monopoly on the very human desire to improve his materialistic position. I have the feeling that until recently my professor friends have looked with some degree of disdain on a scientist who would choose, regardless of motive, the industrial laboratory rather than a university. This attitude is contagious and easily contracted by students as pointed out by Richard Kenyon, editor of Chemical and Engineering News (March 26, 1962, p. 7):
But there is a breath of taint discernible in the attitude of the professor in a university supported by industry
furnished tax funds, drawing income from industrial consulting, and training for industrial careers students sup ported by industrial fellowships-who imbues those students with a general attitude that there is something
consistently shoddy about industry.
On the other hand, I question the ethics of a scientist choosing to enter the academic field simply because he thinks it is the more respected profession and not because he truly desires to serve as a teacher.
It also is true that some industrial scientists are mesmerized by the dollar; their behavior is a manifestation of personal greed. It seems to me, however, that this is only rarely the case; there are much easier and more rapid routes to wealth than the laboratory bench!
We could engage in a lengthy discussion about the ethics of restraining development and/or marketing of a product of real value to mankind because it lacks profit potential, of circumventing important laws of our land as in the recent price-fixing situation in the electrical industry, or of reorienting a research or development program to achieve personal gain at the expense of the company or of one's associates. These problems lie more in the realm of the administration of a company than in that of the scientific researcher, so we shall omit them here.
I should remind you, however, that an increasing number of today's administrators are technically trained men and women-they have to be in order to under stand and guide a business based on science.
Probably the most difficult area of ethics for the practicing scientist is his choice of work-the "achievement" or "goal" aspect of our topic. In keeping with our assumed relative aspect of ethics, it would seem unethical to me for a Roman Catholic scientist to devote his working hours to the development of a better contraceptive. It would seem equally ludicrous for a teetotaling Baptist to earn his livelihood by working for the liquor industry.
How can the scientist justify his daily labor in the laboratory with his purported goals, and how does he measure achievement thereof? And is the choice of work always his own?
There is the obvious situation, of course, in which refusal to cooperate on a given project means quitting the company (or in less fortunate countries forfeiting one's life). There is also the excuse that one never knows what a project will lead to. The classical example of this is nuclear reactions, which can remedy mankind's ageless quest for energy if it doesn't fry him first. Economics, strong social ties in one's present community, or the reluctance to give up a "good" job for the uncertainty of a new one, all provide rationalizations for accepting a task which may seem counter to one's basic beliefs. And then there is the fact that industrial projects can disappear almost overnight; one can always assume that a distasteful assignment may only last a short while, so why worry?
In addition, we may quote the well-worn phrase that "God gave man dominion over all the earth, and that certainly included dominion over that of which the earth consists, namely atoms."' By this argument, I suppose, one could justify anything.
The most severe ethical problem which I personally have had to face is analogous to that confronting the Manhattan Project scientists, the German V-2 developers, and indeed all our war-oriented projects, whether in government, university laboratories, or industry. It is one thing to be surreptitiously processing illegal drugs for sale to the world's narcotic addicts (obviously unethical) and another to be helping in your nation's defense effort by producing C.B.R. (chemical - biological - radiological) agents, solid propellants, or nuclear bombs . . . or is it?
Is it ethical for me, a professing Christian, to be busily engaged in developing a more powerful solid rocket propellant? I know its primary, and perhaps sole, purpose is to produce more effective delivery vehicles for nuclear-tipped missiles, which can only result in agony and horrible death for millions of men and women, most of whom probably wish me no harm and are God's children the same as you and I. Why have I not resolutely refused to participate in such a distasteful business in the same way that Kapitza in Russia and German scientists like von Weizsaker have refused to contribute in any way to the development of the atomic bomb ?2 Do I fear being branded as unpatriotic? Do I see the project as an opportunity for personal advancement? Am I convinced that enthusiastic support of a powerful deterrent war machine is the only hope of survival for a free civilization? Or have I even given the subject any thought at all and merely plodded along as if the question did not exist?
All of these arguments may be applicable to a certain degree, but I would like to quote from Dr. van der Ziel's comments on the Manhattan Project at this point since it expresses my own sentiments very well:
Does this mean that we should abandon these weapons
altogether [and I might add "all weapons"1? Indeed, that
is what we should, there should be no war, no instruments
of war and no preparation for war .... The hard fact that
we should do without them does not necessarily mean
that we can do without them .... Nevertheless, it is also
a dangerous stand. The danger is that one goes farther
and farther, step by step, without ever coming to the
point where one must refuse and stop. In this respect those
who take an uncompromising stand perform a real
service to those who cannot follow their decision, for it
reminds the latter of the fact that there are real limita tions for them.
In other words, I find myself on the horns of a dilemma. Much of the research I am doing would not be performed for many years without the impetus provided by the armament race, and who can say whether the work will ultimately be a blessing or a curse to mankind? Even if I merely pay taxes, I support military projects. I would prefer to devote my working hours to a more obviously humanitarian project, but I cannot escape the conclusion that God can use me in this project as well as in one devoted to creation of a better masking tape. This brings us to the question of motive.
What is the motive for our work as scientists? Man is naturally curious, and that explains a lot by itself. But if we probe deeper, can we not conclude that the same thing forms the foundation for a man's work as determines his general behavior pattern, his choice of a mate, his use of leisure time, the books he reads, the plays and movies he spends money and time to see, the social groups he calls his own, the church he attends, etc.? It all hinges on his world view-his ultimate concern, or if you will, his religion.
It is not uncommon to have scientists working on the same project who represent the humanist, the egotist, and the Christian world views. The humanist is working to help mankind. The egotist is socially unconcerned and is seeking only money, prestige, or power. The Christian, on the other hand is searching to learn God's truth about the universe and thereby to understand its Creator better. All three are working toward the same immediate goal, namely, solution of the scientific problem at hand, but their motives are different. We are reminded of the Scripture references pointing out that God uses all mankind to accomplish His purposes. He has bestowed the marvelous gift of intelligence to members of our species regardless of their religious beliefs.
This brings us to the question, "What is the scientists' code of ethics?" The medical profession subscribes to the Hippocratic oath, a code of medical ethics. What is the engineer, or the chemist, or the physicist, or the biologist to use for his code of ethics?
The need for some guidelines was emphasized by the
recent announcement of a "Code for Consultants"
issued by the White House (Chem. & Eng. News, Feb.
26, 1962, p. 32). President Kennedy crystallized the
1St. Paul Dispatch (Feb. 17, 1962, p. 2), quoting Dr. Hugo N. Eskildson on subject of Christians working for A.E.C.
2Aldert van der Ziel, The Natural Sciences and the Christian Message (Minneapolis: T. S. Denison & Co., 1960), pp. 166 ff.
If we were forced to express the scientist's code in one word, it would probably be -truth." The scientist must, almost by definition, have an insatiable thirst for the truth. The man who uses selected data, performs the experiment only once, or chooses to ignore an observed phenomenon, is violating the scientific method itself; he is refusing to face the truth.
But the mere word "truth" hardly answers some of the questions we have posed thus far.
You will recall that we assumed at the beginning that our topic of ethics is relative if we adopt the view point that man has no moral code other than that which he himself can develop. I am almost convinced that a priori this eliminates the possibility of the world's scientists ever agreeing on a code of ethics-at least we scientists ever agreeing on a code of ethics-at least we of more than twenty-five centuries of "scientific thought."3 1 cannot agree with C. S. Lewis4 that man kind has inherited a "Law of Human Nature" which automatically gives us an inner sense of right and wrong.
Now let us make the assumption that a moral code, or system of ethics, has been made available to man kind through the unique event of the incarnation in Christ of the Creator of nature itself-the very subject the scientist is seeking to comprehend. (A corollary is that anyone wishing to understand nature and man had best have a speaking acquaintance with this philosophy in order to be "scientific"!) Can and should the scien tist's ethics be grounded in a religious foundation, par ticularly that of 'Christianity?
It seems evident to most Bible scholars and consecrat
ed Christians that Christianity has the potential to pro
duce a moral mankind in spite of what sometimes seems
imperceptible progress in this direction in the so-called
Christian world. But how does the scientist translate
his Christian beliefs into an ethical code for his profes
sion and for his own behavior on the job?
Is the problem really any different from that of the housewife, or the M.D., or even the clergyman? I think not. The Christian is duty-bound to seek the truth, and so is the scientist. The two approaches are identical: neither wants to live a lie. The principal difference arises in the Christian's willingness to admit the existence of a teleological universe, one with a purpose for life, and to accept the idea that God provided a comunications link between mankind and Himself through Christ.
Will the scientist be a "better," more ethical, scien tist because he has embraced Christianity as his world
view? Well, he certainly has the same tools and re sources at his disposal as does the atheist, or agnostic,
or communist, or Hindu-plus the fact that he claims to know God the Creator!
The Christian ethic is to love God with all one's soul, mind and body and to love one's neighbor as one's self (Matt. 22:37-39). 1 can see no way in which whole-hearted adherence to this philosophy and ethical
code can do other than to make the individual more receptive to truth, happier in his work, content with his
lot in life, enthusiastic about the world around him, ap preciative and respectful of the work and ideas of others,
considerate of his employer, and resistant to "unethical" temptations.
The Christian ethic can provide the moral guidelines for scientists as well as for any other profession if we
will but let it. Our inability to see clearly the answer to specific questions, such as the one I face in working on
rocket fuels, is simply evidence that we are still infants who are not mature in our Christian ethic.
The first doctrinal statement of the American Scien tific Affiliation reads "The Holy Scriptures are the in spired Word of God, the only unerring guide of faith and conduct." So you see, wiser heads than mine arrived at the same conclusion twenty-one years ago!
3Hindu and Greek theories date from 500-600 B.C., and
Chinese scientific writings extend back to at least 1200 B.C.
4C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London, 1952). Fontana, Paperback.