Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The conference was interesting and I discovered lots of new ideas. All the speeches showed that science and society are linked. And G. Toulouse demonstrated that science is not an isolated field, he showed the links between science and ethics, philosophy, sociology, history and linguistics.

I found the quotation he gave from H. Arendt was great : ‘We move in a world where language has lost its power’. I like this concept of a kind of universal knowledge and I hope that, through philosophy, I will manage some day to have a global vision of science.

I had thought that founding International Student Pugwash in Grenoble would be too complicated but the speech of Juan Pablo showed me that it is not. I have talked about Pugwash with some students and all of us were enthusiastic about the idea to create a space of thinking, to debate about science and society. That’s why I think it is possible to found a Pugwash group in Grenoble.

Mathieu Perrin-Terrin
06 72 59 05 43

Impressions and Information from the 13th November conference

by Yves Grasland

I will present here two events from the conference, based on the impressions and notes of
two mates, Gabriel and Alban, who attended respectively the speeches of Etienne Verges and
General Baudoin Albanel.

The conference of Etienne Verges handled the themes of science an ethics from a legal point
of view. Mr Verges was indeed a jurist, if I understood well. He began his speech with the examples of three scientists, MM. Hwang, Milhaud and Rylander, who failed to respect ethics in their works. Besides, Mr Rylander was not a stranger to me as I saw once a documentary on TV on the subject of the tobacco industry. It was called Thanks for Smoking and explained how the tobacco industry has lied to people for years about the poison it sells. Rylander was a huge help to them, as he used heavily his respectability as a scientist to make people believe that tobacco was harmless. This is an example of the importance of ethics in science and the need to prevent the existence of such malicious people in science.

Legal measures may not be the panacea but could be an important tool to achieve this goal according to Mr Verges. He said that such rules are too often weak, since they are difficult to enforce and people do not care enough about them, especially politicians. He thinks that rules should be harmonized to make scientists credibility higher. He also points out that the existing rules should be better enforced, as they are not strongly enough applied.

Personally, I'm not sure this is true, since people like Rylander are characterized by their
disregard for law and morality and will find ways to bypass them. Maybe law and rules should rather be used to force transparency and help exposing people like Rylander making their duplicity public.

Gabriel didn't tell me much about the form of that intervention or his feelings about it, but
he mentioned the following. He found that Mr Verges' slides were overloaded, and his English rather poor. This surprised him for a jurist.

The second intervention I will present here is the one of General Albanel. He was presenting
the way ethics and war co-exist together nowadays. The first point was about the behavior of soldiers, who are supposed to kill people in an ethical way. This presentation was mainly focused on the type of weapons that are ethically acceptable and the way they should be used.
Ethical weapons are basically weapons that only reach their intended goal, provided this
goal is ethical itself. For example, it's not acceptable to destroy an entire village to kill one sniper, or to kill civilians in general. Therefore weapons such as fragmentation bombs or phosphorous
incendiary bombs are not ethical. All the same, modern weapons that are more accurate than
before are then more ethical, as they deal less collateral damage.

Yves Grasland is a third year student at ENSIMAG

Science and Ethics at MINATEC - Student Pugwash and A Just War

by Laure Frachet

Nobody living in Grenoble for more than 2 years cannot have forgotten the polemic that
surrounded the opening of the MINATEC center, in 2006. The potential danger of nanotechnologies raised the issue of ethics and sciences. That is why, may be as a lead for finding an answer, the 13th of November, a conference about science and ethics took place in the MINATEC center.

There were not any debates especially about the nanotechnologies, the topics were more
varied, and destined to students in the world of sciences. Even if minds can’t change in a couple of hours, this cold afternoon of November could have given rise to some thoughts on ethics issues that may concern us in the coming years.

Unfortunately I can’t report on the whole conference, but I was quite disappointed by the two talks I attended.

First, Mr Juan Pablo Pardo-Guerra came to talk about the Student Pugwash Movement. It is a kind of association of young researchers in sciences, or graduate students, who meet every year to have some discussions and debates about the issues of science and ethics. They produce papers and a small book made of articles.

The main goal of J-P Pardo-Guerra was to convince those presents that they could find an interest in joining the Pugwash Movement. But his speech was firstly tracing an
history of the Pugwash Movement. The emergence of a assembly of scientists who no longer wanted to work for war projects was really interesting but was scarcely propitious for making us think about ethics. But we can congratulate them on the idea of trying to change the world one by one. I do think that this is the main idea we have to keep in mind after this presentation.

I don’t believe that students who were here this afternoon are going to join the Pugwash Movement. But they now are aware that, in the scientific community, there still is the hope of changing the minds without using weapons or money…

After this presentation we listened to a speech given by Mr Baudouin Albanel, who was
a general in the French Air Force. He had prepared a long text about Ethics and War. Again, I think it was disappointing for the students. Not because it has no direct link with the science, but because it was stating the obvious. Of course, there is an opposition between human rights and war, of course before using a weapon you have to measure the threat. An “ethical war” cannot be a war where firing starts before every non-violent alternative have been tried…

At the end, what we could get out from this presentation was an outline of how the use of weapons can be decided during a war, and all the factors that can interfere when a decision has to be taken. It sounded really mathematical…

To conclude I would say that this afternoon at MINATEC did not change the world or
minds. But this kind of initiative must be praised, and renewed, with more participants, because students of today are about to be the actors of tomorrow and it is quite dangerous to leave us without any background in ethics. As Rabelais said “Science sans conscience n’est que ruine de l’âme”. We may not be sufficiently aware of the threat that our knowledge could represent for the world…

Laure Frachet is a third year student at ENSIMAG

Monday, February 16, 2009

Conference on Ethics - Summary and Comments on Etienne Verges' Contribution

by Gabriel Synnaeve

First, we will sum-up Étienne Verges' talk on “Ethics for the researcher”, and then we will explain what arethe strengths and the problems of this conception of applying ethics to the world of research.

Verges is a professor of law from Grenoble University and also in a research team working on ethics and law.

Étienne Verges began his speech with scandalous affairs. He mentioned the Hwang affair about false human cloning. He also spoke about the Milhaud and Rylander affairs. He then exposed that the law was insufficient for the regulation of research. The process of legislating about ethics for research is bottom-up and that's why we need to encounter certain cases before being able to treat them. It raises questions like “at which level is it applicable ?”.

The goals of ethics rules and texts are to set scientific integrity conduct. It will empower the credibility of the scientific community and will harmonize ethics with practical aspects of scientific research. In France, the grounds (founding texts) are mainly charters and codes from CNRS, INRA, and Europe but not laws. They focus on the liberty of research, the principles of ethics, responsibilities and the good practices in the field of research.

The spokesman thought that there are reasons that led to neglect or minimize bad conduct effects in France. Particularly the fact that middle and low seriousness problems are not sanctioned by the law, and lawyers must often search for a case law. Another cause is that French research is mainly public and sanctions would limit researcher's liberty and worsen public opinion.

There are plenty of ethics committees in France, but they only make recommendations and rarely condemn scientific acts. This is the point that Étienne Verges seemed to decry in his speech. Actually, he is a lawyer, not a scientist, so it is kind of easy for him to throw rules about without even having to apply them.

It is the main problem of lawyers nowadays : they produce a lot of laws without debating them with experts in the domain. This is exactly what is happening for the Internet and this is why a lot of fiascos like the really recent one with providers filtering wrong sites (denying access to Wikipedia for example) in the United-Kingdoms are happening.

I conclude that ethics must have a more fixed frame in order to counter unhappy cases that actually happen, but this frame should be appointed by both scientists and lawyers if it is to be in the law. It should also be re-worked on a regular basis as this laws should, more than others, evolve with the progress of science.

Gabriel Synnaeve is a third year student at ENSIMAG

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Student Reviews and Responses

Student Debate Review - "This house believes that ethical considerations hold back scientific and technological progress."

by Sylvain Frey

Personal impressions

I was having difficulties following what the speakers meant, in particular the second speaker for proposition, so my notes sometimes may seem a little senseless. The speakers had a lot of examples but their goals were not very clear. I think the reason is that the motion was not very well formulated.

Actually the fact that "ethics hold back science" is clearly true for both sides, the real goal was to discuss if it is good or not. For that, precise and topical examples were missed. I think discussing clearly about cloning, stem cells, nuclear power and sustainable energies would have been more interesting. Concerning the debate itself I was a little disappointed because of this "missing point".

Actually, I have found some interesting arguments that I would reformulate as follows: one must not confuse "scientific progress", which is an abstract notion, with "making science", which is a human activity. Scientists are humans, they don't make science just to make science but in order to have fun. After that, sometimes, they imagine they "make the national progress". So scientists can't make science without ethical considerations, like any other human activity. And a scientist who doesn't agree with the science he makes should stop it because it is senseless, for him and for the society.(I use the expression "making science" on purpose, it is really how I see scientific activity: manufacturing something.)

Debate Summary

Motion: "This house believes that ethical considerations hold back scientific and technological progress."

First speaker for proposition:

A definition of ethics could be: "moral consideration of people's right or wrong behaviour". The main representations of ethics are: religion, laws,... Scientific creation is similar to artistic creation, it needs freedom because freedom generates discoveries. That's why ethical considerations hold back scientific innovation. Of course there are exceptions, but "exceptions confirm the rule". For instance, the Manhattan project that gathered brilliant scientists to construct a nuclear bomb before the Nazis during WWII. Its director, Robert Oppenheimer, opposed to nuclear proliferation before the end of the war. Then he was one of the first victims of Maccarthism: ethics opposed to scientific research.

First speaker for opposition:

Ethics are "principles of conduct to determine what is good or bad", e.g. power. For example ethics invented sustainable energies, now environment is a "new science".Ethics change, evolve, and need science. For instance, in the past contraception was compared to abortion and forbidden. Today we know that science was right to evolve ethical considerations.

Second speaker for proposition:

The previous speaker was right: ethics change. But there is one thing that doesn't change: humans' aspiration for progress.Galileo had to change his ideas, he is an example of a scientist hindered by ethics.(...)

Second speaker for opposition:

Ethics can encourage science. Example: German scientist Von Braun, must construct rockets to reach the US. After the war he constructed rockets that sent animals, then people, into space.We must not forget that a lot of scientists were involved in war and had to protect their country. Thanks to their ethics, WWII was not a nuclear war.Conclusion with a citation of Von Braun: "Scientific efforts are useless without an ethical framework."


First speaker: In the speeches ethics come first and guides science. In reality ethics is a framework and science allows to go out of it with new possibilities.

Second speaker: Ethics is a basis, humans can't live without it, it is possible to combine it with science.

Third speaker: Ethics is useless. For example during WWII the Nazis had no "classical" ethical framework and could conduct very interesting experiments on Jews that are useful today.

Fourth speaker: These experiments were made away from the scientific community, they can't be considered as scientific. The Nuremberg Trials condemned these experiments.

Fifth speaker: Von Braun was the father of V1 and V2, he was not so an ethicist...

Fourth speaker (again): Ethical questioning is creative. Examples: surgery, environmental sciences,...

Summator for opposition:

We demonstrated that ethics is not holding back science. Sustainable energies show that ethics helps science. Man is superior to science, and ethics is a motivation for scientists.Ethics make men, men make science. One must not confuse "pure scientific research" with what Bacon called "what makes the nation progress".

Summator for proposition:

Ethics are in a lot of fields. Some of these fields make money, some others rule people.Science helps us to understand our world and save lives. So let medicine go on. What are you afraid of? A vaccine for HIV? Paraplegic people walking? Blind people seeing? If you are against it, say it to kill people yourself.Vote: the motion was largely rejected.

Sylvain Frey is a masters student at MOSIG/ENSIMAG


About half a century ago, two incisive questions were raised, one by John von Neumann: Can we survive technology? (1955), and the other by Hannah Arendt, asking: Under which conditions is a non-totalitarian world possible? (1958). Here are their respective answers.

According to von Neumann: “For progress there is no cure. Any attempt to find automatically safe channels for the present explosive variety of progress must lead to frustration. The only safety possible is relative, and it lies in an intelligent exercise of day-to-day judgment.”

According to Arendt, against recurrent totalitarian temptations, the hope lies in the possibility of opening political spaces, public spaces allowing for resistance and reconstruction.

Occurring three decades later, the fall of the Berlin wall and of the Soviet Union may have generated an illusion that the totalitarian page was turned, but the relief was brief. Nowadays the massive hegemony of the dominant power in all domains (military, economic, scientific, technical, media) induces a convergence of the two questions and increases their relevance.

Before these joint technical and political threats, von Neumann’s answer (reliance on expert steering) appears too technocratic and Arendt’s too much dependent on the hazards of politician arenas. Admittedly, previous answers retain partial pertinence, yet they now prove insufficient overall. Thus, taking lessons from experience, an emphasis is put upon the possibility of opening spaces up of “good faith.”

Good faith is an expression belonging to judicial terminology, but also to common language where its multiple meanings are useful for our present purpose: candour, honesty, authenticity, etc. Science is established on a basis of trust. And it may be reckoned that the deep foundation for the successes of the scientific enterprise lies in ‘a right to error in good faith’, within colleges of peers.

As for the yearning to become stakeholder in ‘spaces of trust’, I believe it widely shared, even if the notion may seem utopian. To my knowledge, the most eloquent evocation of this yearning is to be found in a speech of Paul Valéry (1934):
"All that we see however leads to conceive by contrast the idea of a resistance to confusion, to haste, to versatility, to facility, to passions real and simulated. One thinks of an island where would be kept the best of human culture. Without effective power, solely through its existence and what would spread into the public […], this centre of observation, of compound reflection and foresight would exert an action indefinable, but constant. A kind of eminent conscience would watch over the city."

How could such a lofty dream inspire realistic and robust practices? Now the ethical movement in the sciences (whose three main streams are: science and war, future of the planet, bioethics) provides example of a process of vast magnitude, and with a view to the long term. In a precursor article Science and Human Rights, published by UNESCO (1972), René Cassin foresaw the advent of ethics committees in science.

Twenty years later, the concept of ‘ethics spaces’ (more open in all respects) appeared. The functioning of these institutions is often criticised from without and from within. Nevertheless, the experience thus acquired helps to define the minimal conditions necessary for access to a higher level: establish a space of good faith.

At the level of European academies, the *ALLEA’s science & ethics committee discovered that three principles were sufficient to provide a common basis for deliberation and action: good faith (admit the existence of problems as they stand), good will (attempt to solve those problems as well as possible) and fair play (between disciplines, regions, cultures, genders and generations).

Last year, I was co-opted to chair the steering committee for a citizens’ conference on nanotechnologies, organized by the Ile de France region of EUROSCIENCE. The project is to empower a panel of lay citizens with reliable knowledge during an initial preparation stage, so that in a final public debate they become able to engage a panel of experts and leaders without being cowed by authority (‘blinded by science’). In brief, the challenge is to help lay citizens to withstand higher-ups in knowledge and power. A citizens’ conference is thus a complex exercise in participatory democracy which involves several categories of actors. Nevertheless, it turned out that the same three principles proved themselves in the event, the full success of the process depending on a steadfast determination to open spaces of good faith within the steering committee, and between experts and citizens.

Gérard Toulouse
Physicist at Ecole Normale Supérieure (Paris), founding member of Euroscience
Former Chair (2001-2006) of the Standing Committee on Science & Ethics of ALLEA
European Academies)
* All European Academies: http://www.allea.org/

(Taken from “The Euroscientist no. 1” - Shortened version of a text first published in Recueil Dalloz, Paris, 5 July 2007)