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Hippocratic Oath for Scientists – A Review

The Hippocratic oath is an oath taken by physicians where they swear to practise their profession ethically. Though time has changed and so has the relevance of this oath, there are little doubts on its essence. This is probably the reason why physicist Sir Joseph Rotblat (4 November 1908 – 31 August 2005) suggested the idea of a similar version of oath for scientists too.

“The time has come to formulate guidelines for the ethical conduct of scientists, perhaps in the form of a voluntary Hippocratic Oath”.

– Sir Rotblat in his nobel-prize-for-peace acceptance speech in 1995.

He was the only scientist to resign from the Manhatten project, while the rest preferred to express their guilt either remaining somber or by letting out quotations. A crusader in his own right, Sir Rotblat devoted the rest of his life in promoting his belief that there should an ethical conduct in place for scientists and they should take a pledge for being morally responsible for their professional deeds.

Maybe the society needs time to change its notion about scientists and the impact their work can make on mankind. The scientists themselves required an explosion of atom bomb in order to listen to their conscience and review the merits of their profession.

Sir Rotblat’s efforts, however, did not seem to go in vain. Two years after his death, a universal code of ethics for scientists all over the world was proposed by Sir David King, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor, in 2007. It involved seven principles meant to guide the acts of a scientist. It was adopted by the government of the United Kingdom.

Hippocratic Oath – A Researcher’s Version:

  • Employ skill and care in work. Maintain the skills up-to-date and help in their development in others.
  • Corrupt practices and professional misconduct be prevented and along with the declaration of any conflicts of interest.
  • Remain alert of the work of other researchers and its effect(s). Respect the reputation and rights of colleagues.
  • Personal work be ensured as lawful and justified.
  • If the work affects nature and life, there should be a justification provided along with efforts to minimize the fallouts, if any.
  • Always remain upfront in addressing the issues related to science and their impact on society while remaining sensitive to the concerns and aspirations of others.
  • Presentation and review of scientific theories should be done with accuracy and honesty. Any effort of misleading by self or by others about scientific matters should not be allowed.

In June 2008, graduating students at the University of Toronto, Canada, took a pledge for honouring the first well-documented scientific oath.

Hippocratic Oath – A Graduate Student’s Version:

The students acknowledge the fact that they are about to enter into a profession which involves seeking of new knowledge and for being a member of the community of graduate students at the University of Toronto. They declare that:

  • It is a matter of pride for them to belong to an internal community of scholars involved in research.
  • Promise of never allowing competitiveness, ambition or financial gain to influence their work.
  • Seek and create knowledge for the betterment of the society but not to look down on subjects and men of the international community to which they become a member.
  • After taking this oath, the Graduate students affirm to remain committed to professional conduct and of abiding by the principles of ethical conduct and research policies of the University of Toronto.

The international media did its job by providing a wide publicity to this ceremony. It is hoped that other universities across the world would also include this practise as a part of their graduation ceremony.

Conclusion: Can the scientific community probably avoid the need of another Manhattan project by accepting and following the essence of this oath in recent times? Well, the advancement has been enormous in science since 1945. The temptations are many for abandoning ethics.

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