Wednesday, February 26, 2014

CON: Scientists should not be advocates:

The concept of scientists being advocates and the controversy that surrounds that has been around for decades. Many believe that scientists cannot be both advocates and still remain as scientists, because science is supposed to be an objective study. Scientists and advocates are two entirely separate roles, where one is conducting research and activities to gain knowledge, and the other is to push an agenda. There is not meant to be any bias in science that may affect the ending results, and scientists can lose professionalism if they become advocates and bias data or promote a certain itinerary.
Advocacy is defined by Merriam-Webster as a process by an individual or group that aims to influence public policy and support a cause or proposal decision within a social, political, or economic setting. This means that the person advocating something must take a strict side, and use research to sway the public and government official’s opinions about an issue. As a scientist, you no longer have an impartial point of view at this point. If a scientist was going into a research study knowing that their results would be brought before the government in hopes to change a cause, even if the scientist doesn’t want to actually bias the results, they might on accident and not even realize it. This may be resolved by using speakers to speak for the scientist’s research, so that that person can be an advocate while the scientist just found the set in stone data. This can remove the chance of bias if the scientist discovered something and then hired a representative speaker to advocate his or her results.
Scientists are held publically accountable for the work they do. Any research they publish can more and more be accessed now days from websites and other means on the Internet by common people in the public. Not only are resources such as this way more available tan they once were, but more people can easily access and read scientific data and articles and call a scientist out if they seem to be tampering with results or biasing a conclusion. This can be illustrated by the cigarette example in class. Scientists skewed and basically made up data that showed cigarettes made you prettier and weren’t bad for you at all. They were paid very generously by tobacco companies for these “findings”, and became advocates for smoking. With out the Internet, regular people in the public couldn’t access this data to disprove anything. At that time, there wasn’t much data out there on such things as smoking and the consequences such as lung cancer anyway, so every one believed the scientist’s findings for a long time. When the public learned they had been fooled, actions were taken to hold those said scientists publically accountable and they were fired.
Scientists  have also experienced being paid off to take a side or skew results, as shown in the Krimsky 2013 article. In the 1980s, social scientists compared the outcome measures of drug studies that were funded by government agencies and private companies. The scientists came under the “funding effect”, which is a situation were their results could be statically correlated with their funding resources in the drug studies. The scientists came under bias to receive a pay, and their chemical toxicity and tobacco research was skewed heavily. The scientists were thus driven by financial interests and did not compile real hard-fact data. They were trying to advocate something through biasing results in hopes to get a check.
Science is a neutral stance, while political systems and opinions alter and make everything opinionated and motives come into play. I don’t think scientists should be advocates because of the way science and advocacy is supposed to separately work, as it is in very different ways.

Krimsky, S. (2013). Do Financial Conflicts of Interest Bias Research?: An Inquiry into the “Funding Effect” Hypothesis. Science, Technology & Human Values, 38(4), pages 566-587.

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