The Ethics of Science and Technology

– Some Thoughts after Jurassic Park

The word “ethics” means a set of moral principles or values. It is a matter of making choices: whether to be friendly or unfriendly; whether to tell the truth or lie; whether to be generous or greedy; whether to study in order to pass an exam or to spend valuable study time watching television and cheat to pass it. Ethics is ubiquitous in our daily lives – work, study, marriage, relationship, etc.

The ethics of science and technology is as complicated as the ethics in our daily lives. Sometimes it is almost impossible to tell whether an action is right or wrong, ethical or unethical. For example, the last batch of smallpox virus sample will be destroyed on June 30, 1999, (Lundberg) which will make it extinct. It is still debated in the biomedical field what the long term effects there will be. Even so, more than 190 countries have agreed on the destruction of the virus. Usually, when there is a conflict between human and other species, human life always “wins out” others. Is this kind of decision ethical? It is hard to say. No matter how complicated the ethics of science and technology is, human will is always the determining factor. We are the ones who determine what the science will do and where it will go. Our scientists have accumulated enough power to destroy ourselves.

Jurassic Park was intended to warn the general public concerning the inherent dangers of biotechnology first of all, but also scientists in general. The interactions between these characters in the novel have clearly exemplified some central scientific ethical issues. Consider this comment from the author Michael Crichton: “Biotechnology and genetic engineering are very powerful. It suggests that [science’s] control of nature is elusive. And just as war is too important to leave to the generals, science is too important to leave to scientists. Everyone needs to be attentive.” (Begley) Overall, I would agree with Crichton. All too often, scientists purposefully refrain from asking ethical questions concerning their work in the interest of the pursuit of science, fame, money or are just ignorant.

Let us now hear from the director of the movie Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg, quoted in the pages of the Wall Street Journal on scientific ethics: “There’s a big moral question in this story. DNA cloning may be viable, but is it acceptable?” (Cox) And again in the New York Times, Spielberg said, “Science is intrusive. I wouldn’t ban molecular biology altogether, because it’s useful in finding cures for AIDS, cancer and other diseases. But it’s also dangerous and that’s the theme of Jurassic Park.” (Spielberg) So Spielberg implies that the real theme of Jurassic Park is that scientists have wielded a lot of power and need to be cautious.

Jurassic Park directly attacked the scientific establishment. Throughout the book, Malcolm voices the concerns about the direction and nature of science. You may remember the conversation around the lunch table just after the group had watched the three velociraptors devour an entire cow in only a few minutes. Ian Malcolm brashly takes center stage with comments like this: “The scientific power….didn’t require any discipline to attain it….So you don’t take any responsibility for it.” The key word here is responsibility. Malcolm intimates that Jurassic Park scientists have behaved irrationally and irresponsibly.

Later in the same scene, Malcolm adds, “Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but, you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.” Genetic engineering can be more destructive than nuclear and chemical or computer technology because of its ability to restructure the very molecular heart of living creatures, even to create new organisms. Use of such power requires wisdom and patience. Malcolm punctuates his criticism in the same scene when he says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Malcolm’s criticisms should hit a raw nerve in the scientific community. As human beings we ask similar questions and raise similar concerns when scientists want to harvest fetal tissue for research purposes or experiment with human embryos. If Malcolm had limited his remarks to Jurassic Park only, I would have no complaint. But Malcolm extends the problem to science as a whole when he comments that scientific discovery is the rape of the natural world. Many youngsters will form the opinion that all scientists are to be distrusted. A meaningful point has been lost because it was wielded with the surgical precision of a baseball bat.

Surprisingly, computers take a more subtle slap in the face. Nedry, the computer genius behind Jurassic Park, is a spy who tries to steal the embryos and brings the whole security system down. You are left with the impression that computers are not for normal people and the only ones who profit by them or understand them are people who are not to be trusted. Nedry was clearly presented as a dangerous person because of his combination of computer wizardry and his resentment of those who don’t understand him or computers. His lack of the ethics is the direct cause of the many deaths in the park, including his own.

My point is that technology is not the villain. Fire is used for both good and evil purposes, but no one is calling for fire to be banned. It is the world view of the culture that determines how computers, biotechnology, or any other technology are to be used. The problem with Jurassic Park was the arrogance of human will and lack of humility before God, not technology. Science and technology can benefit us or destroy us. Strong ethics is an extremely important trait for scientists to have because they have the knowledge and power to manipulate nature. Fortunately, many scientists today have realized the importance of this and developed a code of ethics to regulate scientific activities, and to “make decisions consistent with the safety, health and welfare of the public.” (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers)


“Smallpox Virus Faces Own Death”. (26 May 1996).

Begley, Sharon. “Here come the DNAsaurs.” Newsweek. 14 June 1993: 61.

Cox, Patrick. “Jurassic Park, A Luddite Monster.” The Wall Street Journal. 9 July 1993.

Spielberg, Steven. Quoted by Patrick Cox. WSJ. 9 July 1993.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. (August 1990) Check for more ethics codes.

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