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Should scientists take a “Hippocratic”-style oath, to reduce dishonesty?

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Hippocrates (c. 460 – c. 370 BC)

Just when doctors are abandoning the Hippocratic Oath because of its restriction on killing humans, some propose that scientists adopt a version of the basic idea. Others disagree:

The authors suggest that researchers sign off on a number of statements, including:

I will practice and support a scientific process that is based on logic, intellectual rigour, personal integrity, and an uncompromising respect for truth;


I will never let the potential for personal recognition or advancement cause me to act in a way that violates the public trust in science or in me as a scientist.

Fleischfresser outlines a number of such proposals in recent history and then quotes the current Oath’s critics:

While Doherty reserves judgement on the idea in general, he is not sold on the wording of the oath crafted by Bettridge and colleagues: “I think that it is basically useless”.

Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist and another Cosmos columnist, is similarly unimpressed.

“I looked at the oath and found it uninspiring and repetitive,” he says. “Compare it with the original Hippocratic Oath, which is an extraordinary clear aspirational pledge with several overlapping commitments. Stephen Fleischfresser, “Disagreement flares over “Hippocratic Oath” proposal for scientists” at Cosmos

Now that Finkel mentions it, Kermit Gosnell could hardly have taken the Hippocratic Oath in good faith.

But much that is going wrong in current science may not be an ethical problem as such. It may be acceptance of post-truth: and post-empirical thinking.

If people honestly believe that consciousness is an illusion that arises for reasons of fitness, not truth, promoting nonsense isn’t really unethical anyway. It won’t matter in the long run because nothing does.

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See also: Rob Sheldon on why so many sciences seem to be devolving

“Perhaps physics has slipped into a post-empirical era


The Hippocratic Oath (modern form)

2 Replies to “Should scientists take a “Hippocratic”-style oath, to reduce dishonesty?

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    I’m going to say no, because there are no formal requirements to be a “scientist”. It’s not like being a physician, where you need a license to practice.

  2. 2
    EvilSnack says:

    Add this: “I shall exhibit backbone in the face of politically-motivated criticism.”

    That sentiment has been lacking.

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