Nicholas Goldberg: Can scientists moonlight as activists — or does that violate an important ethical code?
“The more we learn about nature, the more we realize how little we really know about it,” a group of scientists will say later that night. The scientists in question don’t know one another, and they’re not part of any official program, just people who are enthusiastic about the possibility of human impact on the natural world. They’re there to educate their peers about the state of the world and to discuss what human intervention might look like in the future.
This is exactly what I would expect to see in any college campus in America. Even if it doesn’t involve me, I’m here for the intellectual thrill of watching a bunch of people who know more than I do, or the chance to interact with real scientists, or just the opportunity to hang out with other people who I would not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.
I would expect just about anything other than what happens that night. In fact, I know that would be impossible. When I attended the first of these “Science for Social Justice” presentations, we were standing outside of a local campus dining hall, and after the presentation was over, one of the attendees approached me and started asking questions about my work.
“Hey,” he said. “You work at a lab, right. Did you like my lecture?”
The question was a strange one. It was intended more as a jest than as a serious question, and after he said it I realized he wasn’t actually asking me a serious question — he was asking me if my lab was working on this topic at all! My response to him wasn’t what I expected either. It was a joke, and it was the kind of joke that I’m pretty sure I would have told even if I was asked at all.
But I had to tell him, and I did.
He was really serious — and I thought he was really sincere. Then I realized just