‘Our job as Scientists is to find the truth.’ How far do you agree that this view accurately reflects the role of Scientists today?

Author: Ying
School: Raffles Institution
Year Written: 2020
Grade: A

Since the scientific revolution, Science has made quantum leaps, with Scientists exploring new frontiers and pushing boundaries like never before. Huge advancements in scientific discovery have opened up many possibilities, such as that of biotechnology, genetic engineering, cloning and many more. However, what is truly the main role of scientists in the modern world? While some may argue that the main role of scientists is to seek truth, I beg to differ. Though it is true that science was originally pursued as an intellectual study to find out more about our world and seek truth, the temptation of our modern world today such as that of fame and monetary gain have adulterated what started off as pure and innocent intentions of scientists to seek truth.

Proponents of the view that scientists today seek to find truth argue that science is the study of the world around us and the cornerstone of scientific discovery is ultimately curiosity. In this respect, the main role of scientists should be to seek truth regarding our world. For example, several scientists today have pumped in millions of dollars simply to find out more about how the earth came to be and how humans came into existence. Another classic example is Albert Einstein, who made groundbreaking discoveries in the world of Physics while working as a clerk at a Swiss office, all on the basis of curiosity. These examples show that the main motivating factor of scientists is curiosity about our world and thus, the pursuit of truth. Even the nature of the scientific inquiry boils down to the fundamental trait of curiosity. As such, the main role of scientists today is to discover the truth.

However, while the initial intentions of scientists may have been to seek truth, the temptations of the modern world, such as money and profits have caused many scientists to diverge from their original aim of seeking truth to that of profit maximisation. For instance, companies that manufacture genetically modified crops such as Monsanto have engineered their crops to be infertile and also attached patent rights to them, causing them to be sold at exorbitant prices to make more profit. This forced poor subsistent farmers in India to buy a new batch of seeds at the end of every season, causing many of them to be mired in huge debt. Eventually, many of them committed suicide in desperation, contributing to the high number of farmer suicides in India. Another example is thalidomide, which is a sleeping pill manufactured by Scientists which was assumed to be so mild even pregnant women could take the pill and would result in no side effects. Scientists were so eager to market their findings and profit from it that the drug was not properly tested before it was marketed causing thousands of babies to be born with deformed limbs. As such profit maximisation has become a priority that has began to override the pursuit of truth for many scientists, who would do anything just to earn an extra cent. As Albert Einstein once aptly quipped, “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” The syphilis experiment conducted in Alabama where blacks were unknowingly injected with syphilis virus to investigate its effects on the human body for scientists to save cost on obtaining willing test subjects also shows the extent the scientists would go just to maximise their profits. Indeed, motives of scientists have taken on a much more insidious nature and has definitely gone beyond that of seeking truth.

In modern society, many scientists have also prioritised fame over seeking truth. In today’s context, were science is often placed on a pedestal and lauded as the most effective solution to our problems, much recognition and awards are given to scientists who make significant findings in their field. A classic example would be that of the Nobel prizes, founded by Alfred Nobel. The fame associated with discovering the next blockbuster drug is huge, so much so that scientists would pursue that recognition at all costs. Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, who fabricated experimental results to obtain recognition and fame through the supposed stem cell research he was conducting, is a good example to illustrate that scientists roles have switched away from seeking truth to their own selfish pursuits of fame. Scientists have even neglected the truth and fabricated experimental results to obtain their much-desired recognition.

Furthermore, the panoply of problems present in society today such as our burgeoning world population, exacerbating the issue of world hunger have led many scientists to focus on the noble cause of resolving world problems and conflict, instead of merely seeking truth for the sake of it. The example of genetically modified crops can also be used to illustrate this, where many scientists invented genetically modified crops such as frost resistant tomatoes and pest resistant lettuce to resolve the issue of world hunger especially in developing countries. This resulted in many farmers in countries in Africa having more sustainable crop produce, reducing the problem of food shortages. The problem of malnutrition amongst African children was also reduced by discoveries such as golden rice which is rich in vitamin A. another illustration is Physician Edward Jenner who discovered the vaccine for smallpox but refused to attach patent rights to it as that would prevent the poor from obtaining access to the vaccine. Such scientists have gone beyond the pursuit of cold, hard truths to devoting their discoveries to advancing and improving the lives of the human race. Thus the role of scientists today has stretched beyond that of seeking truth to resolving pressing world problems.

In conclusion, the role of scientists in the modern world has stretched far beyond that of seeking truth. Intentions of scientists have evolved over time, changing for both the better and the worse. More precaution should be exercised and individuals should be more wary of the myriad of scientific discoveries today. Scientific discoveries may have yet to show itself to lead to the formation of a utopian fantasy, but let us not let it head in the direction of a Faustian nightmare.