Grazer Philosophische Studien

Volume 12/13, 1981

Michael Dummett
Pages 281-298

Ought Research to be Unrestricted?

Freedom of scientific enquiry must be distinguished from freedom to communicate scientific results. The former demands freedom for scientists to communicate among one another, without which progress is hampered, but not, in itself, freedom to communicate conclusions to the public. The latter freedom may be taken as resting on a general principle of free speech, or, more specifically, on the right of all members of society to knowledge gained by that society, especially by means of public expenditure: it is not to be viewed as resting on the superior rationality of scientists as individuals. More important than knowledge are the social and practical consequences of scientific research, of which the most striking example is that of nuclear weapons; we may assume that the net practical effects of research will be, perhaps increasingly, disastrous. The social consequence, and the liability of scientists to prejudice, may both be illustrated by work on IQ and its genetic determination. Adequate safeguards are impossible; but some discouragement of what seems likely to be socially or practically malign Hnes of research may be exercised by relatively autonomous bodies in control of State funding.