A philosophical argument for the scientific process

Regarding the philosophy of the science, there are two very recent scientific events that challenge and illustrate the importance of the scientific process to modern issues of global concern.

The first is a story of a biohacker, a scientist who decided to go off the rails (more on that term in a few paragraphs). He wanted to answer a basic question about the efficacy of microbiome replacement therapy. Does it work? Since the Tuskegee Syphilis Project, the International Review Board (IRB) reviews and approves or disapproves scientific research on humans on the basis of ethics. Microbiome replacement research is not passing any IRB any time soon and therefore the work of Dr. Josiah Zayner (bio here) has one fundamental problem. It does not respect the scientific process as accepted globally to ensure the objective and ethical pursuit of science.

And then there is Dr. Jiankui He, a chinese researcher who privately recruited women to donate eggs that he genetically engineered to bestow HIV resistance. Then through in vitro fertilization, a woman became pregnant with her own gene-edited embryos. Twins were born in November 2018. Dr. He then announced at a conference in Hong Kong that the first genetically engineered humans were born. The last two months have been an interesting story of uproar among the scientific community. This is an ethical line that we have all agreed not to cross. Dr. He is likely facing charges, but what charges? Is there a universal scientific law that governs what scientists should and shouldn’t do?

To get back to the term off the rails, it has been reeling in my head after being exposed to both of these stories in the last month. We are at a critical time in our global community in which the scientific process is challenged from new angles. The philosophical agreement to the scientific process to bring forth objectivity and ethics in science has never been challenged with such powerful tools as those provided by modern technologies. When scientists go off the rails, they bring a level of doubt and inappropriateness to the global conversation that hurts the general cause for science literacy in the world.

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