Saturday, July 09, 2005

In honor of the 50th anniversay of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto

Since today marks the 50th anniversary of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto I believe it only fitting to link to Roger Ebert's Great Movies entry on Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. With memorable performances from Peter Sellers, George C Scott, and Slim Pickens, this Stanley Kubrick directed black comedy lampoons the "logic" of mutually assured destruction.

And to tie this back to the theme of the Russell-Einstein Manifesto, here is Carl Sagan's essay When Scientists Know Sin (don't ask me how it ended up on that site, I couldn't find it anywhere else) about the real life Dr. Strangelove, Edward Teller.
It is the particular task of scientists, I believe, to alert the public to possible dangers, especially those emanating from science or foreseeable through the use of science. Such a mission is, you might say, prophetic. Clearly the warnings need to be judicious and not more flamboyant than the dangers require; but if we must make errors, given the stakes, they should be on the side of safety.

Among the Kung San hunter-gatherers of the Kalahari Desert, when two men, perhaps testosterone-inflamed, would begin to argue, the women would reach for their poison arrows and put the weapons out of harm's way. Today our poison arrows can destroy the global civilization and just possibly annihilate our species. The price of moral ambiguity is now too high. For this reason-and not because of its approach to knowledge-the ethical responsibility of scientists must also be high, extraordinarily high, unprecedentedly high. I wish graduate science programs explicitly and systematically raised these questions to fledgling scientists and engineers. And sometimes I wonder whether in our society, too, the women - and the children - will eventually put the poison arrows out of harm's way.

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