Morality and Science Research

If we wish, we may observe the increased specialization of science or academic research through a moral lens. For example, if we consider the science system, we can ask questions like, Is it morally right to devote resources to learning more about Mars when there are so many more pressing “practical” problems to deal with? But Mars research (which is science communication) “feeds” the autopoiesis of the science system, which is all that matters for the science system. Or we can ask, is it morally right to pay a professor a six-figure salary to teach two classes per semester and publish highly specialized journal articles that only a handful of other specialists will ever read or present conference papers that only a handful of specialists will hear? And should the public fund that expensive conference trip?

These are moral questions that don’t register with the specialized communication system to which the professor contributes. The question might register with the professor (the professor’s sense of morality/ethics), but it does not register with a communication system that only distinguishes between research that contributes to a field of study and research that doesn’t. A research field is a communication system that must reproduce itself from moment to moment or cease to exist.

Science and the other function systems are amoral; they reproduce themselves or they don’t. That’s all that matters for the systems. This is why codes of ethics have been developed. Organizations (e.g., the AMA) write codes of ethics and respond to violations or alleged violations. Organizations and psychic systems can distinguish between moral right and wrong but the function systems cannot.


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