Volume 27, Number 1 January 1998
The APS Forum on Physics and Society has launched an effort to establish a $60,000 endowment for a Leo Szilard Lectureship for Physics in the Public Interest. Prominent physicists, such as Hans Bethe, Sid Drell, Wolfgang Panofsky, Dick Garwin, Art Rosenfeld and some 20 others, have won the Szilard Award. The proposed award and lectureship, which would replace the currently unfunded award, would provide exposure for outstanding physicists who have applied their science for the benefit of society. Recipients would receive an honorarium of $1000 and travel funds to at least two institutions where they would speak about their work.
In the dawn of the nuclear age, prominent physicists led the debate over the control of nuclear weapons; subsequently physicists lent their insights to the discussion of such issues as the impacts and shortfall of energy, the antiballistic missile treaty and Star Wars. But physicists involved in public service seem to be less visible today, so that younger physicists have fewer positive examples to follow. At the same time, the young PhDs are under great pressure to get and keep a job, and they are often shown only traditional paths. We would like to expose them to new directions, many of them still compatible with careers in traditional disciplines, and introduce them to many individuals who have done excellent physics to solve or elucidate problem of importance to society.
Stimulated by the American Physical Society's Forum on Physics and Society, we are proposing the Leo Szilard Lectureship to increase the visibility of physicists working for the public good and to provide positive role models. The lectureship would be named for Leo Szilard, an eminent physicist whose career was dominated by concern for the social consequences of science. Hopefully the award could be funded in 1998, the 100th anniversary of Szilard's birth. Thus far we have obtained slightly over 25% of the $60,000 endowment, with help from a lead donation by the Packard Corporation. We will continue to solicit foundations, but we also hope you can join with us and former winners of the Szilard Award as an individual donor. Please send your contribution (payable to the APS) to Barbara Levi, 1616 La Vista del Oceano, Santa Barbara, CA 93109. Twenty recipients of the Szilard Award have signed on as members of the Leo Szilard Lectureship Committee. The working committee consists of David Hafemeister, Tina Kaarsberg and Barbara Levi. Thank you for your support.
Ethical Issues in Physics Workshop II Proceedings
Synopsis prepared by Marshall Thomsen and Bonnie Wylo
The second workshop to study ethical issues in physics was held at Eastern Michigan University's Corporate Education Center on July 19-20, 1996. The purpose of the second workshop was to study issues time had not permitted the 1993 workshop to address. The Proceedings have recently been published and will soon be available on the World Wide Web. Preparation for the 1996 workshop began in 1995 with a survey of physicists to help identify ethical issues of most importance to the physics community. Some results of that survey are discussed in the first paper, by Bonnie Wylo and Marshall Thomsen. The survey targeted primarily members of the Forum onPhysics and Society. All those surveyed were asked to identify specific ethical issues of relevance to them in their job setting, and those in academia were also questioned on the possibility of offering formal training to students on ethical issues. While there did seem to be a fair number of respondents in academia who thought offering a course in ethics was a possibility, it was interesting to note that some of the stronger sentiment for the need for such a course came from respondents in industry. Given recent employment trends in physics, this is a result worth noting.
Following the paper on the survey results, Caroline Herzenberg discusses organizational pressures which may come to bear on a physicist trying to act in accordance with ethical standards. Such pressure may become a form of harassment. While discussions on ethics often revolve around the obligation to act ethically, Herzenberg's paper focuses on the right to act ethically. Her identification of different harassment mechanisms provides a useful framework for studying harassment in the workplace. An appendix to the paper provides numerous concrete descriptions of harassment and could itself be a springboard for classroom discussion. Alvin Saperstein addresses several ethical issues faced by physicists who teach, looking at both institutional pressures affecting the balance between teaching and research as well as at the methods used by physicists as they teach. He calls into question the apparently generally accepted model of a research university in which the number one priority of faculty is research and teaching is handled primarily by traditional methods. While doctors are held accountable for keeping up with the latest medical techniques which are of most benefit to their patients, the same is not in general true for physicists keeping up with the latest research on teaching methods. While there have been significant discussions on the content of physics courses and curricula, Saperstein's paper is a call for physicists to pay more attention to the teaching process.
Tina Kaarsberg discusses the obligation of the physics community as a whole to provide input into important public policy decisions. She uses the broad set of issues related to the sustainability of present natural resource utilization trends to illustrate the ethical obligation of physicists to become more active in public policy matters. She examines the present status of public policy input and argues the need for more physicists specifically trained in this area of public policy input and for greater institutional support for physicists who choose to get involved in public policy debate. David Resnik provides insight into the nature of interactions between scientists and the media, in particular highlighting some of the problems associated with differing priorities between these two groups. If the general public is misled by the representation of science in the media, then they will be unable to make informed decisions which have a technological component. Thus scientists need to pay careful attention to how they relate to the media. The paper describes in detail the most common forms of interaction of scientists with the media and also provides a good overview of public perceptions and misperceptions about science and how these relate to the media portrayal of science.
Priscilla Auchincloss introduces the question of gender and how this may affect ethical issues in physics. Presumably the physics community does not intend to exclude women, and many of the social barriers to women's participation have been removed. Yet women continue to be more underrepresented in the physics community than in most other sciences. It is therefore reasonable to ask whether physicists have an ethical obligation to ensure that their community encourages women (and minorities) to participate, what the nature of this obligation might be, and how the community could or should meet it. The under representation of women challenges the notion that science is gender neutral and invites a reexamination of values (like objectivity) linked to the making of knowledge.
Finally Marshall Thomsen gives an overview of the numerous ethical issues associated with the publication process in physics and how those issues will be affected by likely changes associated with electronic forms of information storage and communication. The paper is tutorial in nature, providing a brief overview of the publication process so that it can be understood by students without much experience in this area. Relevant ethical standards as described by the APS code for professional responsibility and the Physical Review Letters instructions to authors are discussed, and unresolved problem areas are identified.
Bound copies of the proceedings are available by contacting Marshall Thomsen, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI 48197, or by sending an e-mail request to PHY_THOMSEN@online.emich.edu . We have funds to distribute a limited number of these at no charge for either personal use or inclusion in a library. We hope to have these proceedings as well as most of the proceedings from the first workshop available the World Wide Web (check www.emich.edu/public/art_sci/phy_ast/p&ahome.cfm). The intent is to allow this material to be freely copied for personal and educational uses. Papers in the first Proceedings include "Philosophical Foundations of Scientific Ethics" by David Resnik, "Introducing Ethical Issues in the Physics Classroom" by Marshall Thomsen, "Good to the Last Drop? Millikan Stories as 'Canned' Pedagogy" by Ullica Segerstrle, "Some Issues of Government- sponsored Research in Industry" by J. P. Sheerin, "Physics and the Classified Community" by Ruth Howes, and "Public Science" by Francis Slakey. The paper by Segerstrle will not be available on the web site since it has been published elsewhere. A limited number of printed copies of the Proceedings from the first workshop still remain and are available upon request. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. SBR-9511817. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.