Adventures in Ethics and Science

There is a rather vigorous exchange (although one that fails my test for a “dialogue” in a number of ways) going on in the comments on my post about Kay Weber’s efforts to keep going forward with her lawsuit against Fermilab. Since this particular ethics blog is my ethics blog, I’m taking this opportunity to butt in with some comments of my own.

  1. The point of the original post was to pass on information to those who have been following the progress of the case and might want to give Kay what assistance they can in mounting the next appeal. It was not intended to present the complete details of the case.
  2. Judgments rendered thus far on the case (including dismissals) can be appealed, and such appeals can result in different judgments (especially if the previous judgments are found to be undercut by procedural errors). This is built into our legal system, and some of us find it rather nifty.
  3. From the publicly available details of the case, reasonable people can disagree about whether the case is winnable at all, and about the likelihood of the case being won. Ultimately, the opinions of random people on the internet about this matter matter much less than the opinions of the lawyers arguing the case and the judges deciding the case.
  4. Not everything that is legal is ethical. Not everything that is ethical is legal. This encompasses behaviors of employers and of employees.
  5. It is logically (and, indeed, practically) possible for a party to have broken the law and for that party not to be proven in a court of law to have broken that law. Lawyers as well as scientists recognize the gap between what is and what can be easily proved.
  6. To the extent that this blog’s primary concern is ethics, not the law, I reserve the right to decry unethical conduct even in cases where there is not a hope of establishing that illegal conduct has taken place.
  7. The good guys don’t always win. However, this does not necessarily argue against supporting the good guys in their efforts.

Comments

  1. #1 absinthe
    April 11, 2008

    Thank you. I couldn’t have said it beter myself.

  2. #2 onkel bob
    April 11, 2008

    Not everything that is legal is ethical. Not everything that is ethical is legal. This encompasses behaviors of employers and of employees.

    Nothing exemplifies this concept better than the case of Matthew Diaz. He did the right thing when his superiors refused. However, the manner that he chose to accomplish it undermined his efforts and cast a shadow of doubt on his successors.

  3. #3 Michael L. Gooch
    April 11, 2008

    I love the author’s line: Not everything that is legal is ethical. Not everything that is ethical is legal. This is an absolute truth that used to be understood and is nowadays dismissed as old fashioned. In my book, Wingtips with Spurs: Lessons From the Ranch, I devote an entire chapter to ethics and specfically discuss the difference between legal and moral. Like this article, more people should be standing up and shouting. If not, we may very well be doomed.

  4. #4 Earthceuticals
    April 11, 2008

    I think the same statement block… legal vs. ethical stuck with me as well. Maybe that one point was powerful enough to overshadow everything else. It would make a good place for a separate blog I think. In the reality of our present system, these two things… legality and ethics are far removed from one another. I would say the two can fully exist equally well within our system completely without the influence of the other.