TBIMG Question #16 ~ Conscience

by Dr. Madhi Obeidi and Kurt Pitzer

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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TBIMG Question #16 ~ Conscience

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:30 am

pg. 49 “The decisions within the IAEC did not concern me directly. My responsibility was the experiments in the reactor, nothing more. Scientists generally do not like to get mixed up in politics, and as a task-oriented professional, I kept my focus on my narrow assignment.”

Is it the place of the scientist to be concerned only with science or should he also be concerned with any potential outcome of his work?
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Unread postby suec » Tue Jul 24, 2007 9:37 am

When I read this statement, Dr Mahdi and the empathy I felt for him parted company for a while. How nice for him not to get mixed up in politics! Any human being has a responsibility to be concerned with the possible outcomes of their actions, where possible. This is especially true for a scientist engaged in making weapons of mass destruction, I would have thought. I can see the pressures under which he was operating, and have sympathy for him. Possibly, this attitude is a coping mechanism, for dealing with what he has to do. I would hope so. The trouble is, I think he is a task-oriented professional, too adept at keeping his focus on the assignment. As a scientist he enjoys his work at times: "The centrifuge rotor hangs inside a hole in its center, and the magnets create an electromagnetic field so powerful that it spins the centrifuge without ever touching it. To a scientist, it is a beautiful piece of work. The magnetic upper bearing was another marvel of science."
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Unread postby Liz » Tue Jul 24, 2007 10:33 am

suec wrote:When I read this statement, Dr Mahdi and the empathy I felt for him parted company for a while. How nice for him not to get mixed up in politics! Any human being has a responsibility to be concerned with the possible outcomes of their actions, where possible. This is especially true for a scientist engaged in making weapons of mass destruction, I would have thought. I can see the pressures under which he was operating, and have sympathy for him. Possibly, this attitude is a coping mechanism, for dealing with what he has to do. I would hope so. The trouble is, I think he is a task-oriented professional, too adept at keeping his focus on the assignment. As a scientist he enjoys his work at times: "The centrifuge rotor hangs inside a hole in its center, and the magnets create an electromagnetic field so powerful that it spins the centrifuge without ever touching it. To a scientist, it is a beautiful piece of work. The magnetic upper bearing was another marvel of science."


“I kept my focus on my narrow assignment.” I think it is similar to what your article on obedience pointed out—that if given a piece of a task to do, an individual doesn’t focus on the big picture and can, thus, remain in a delusion—delusion of self in involvement in the final outcome.
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Tue Jul 24, 2007 10:50 am

Unlike suec, when I read that line, I naively bought it because I wanted to understand why this man would work on this mission. But, underneath, I always had an undercurrent of wondering why he wasn't a bit concerned about the outcome, if he was successful in his task.
The trouble with being concerned with "the potential outcome" of a scientific endeavor is that one may miss the positive potential outcomes.....nuclear power for everyday use, etc. It seems like scientists really must do their best to explore all frontiers, though it seems we would have been better off without a few of their accomplishments. :eyebrow:
So, my answer is: I'm not sure :-?
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Unread postby ThirdArm » Tue Jul 24, 2007 12:22 pm

I think a scientist has an ethical responsibility to be concerned with the outcome of whatever project s/he happens to be working on.

To be focused exclusively on the project, oblivious to the politics, runs the risk of being complicit with the intentions of the government. I know Dr O was in a tough place; but I was thinking about during WW2, the scientists who fled Nazi Germany rather than work on developing atomic bombs.
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Unread postby Raven » Tue Jul 24, 2007 12:40 pm

ThirdArm wrote:I think a scientist has an ethical responsibility to be concerned with the outcome of whatever project s/he happens to be working on.


I think we all have the responsibility to be concerned about the outcome of all our jobs. You don't have to be a scientist to have ethical and moral issues of the work you do. Everyday we make a decision of what is right or wrong for ourselves and our families.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Tue Jul 24, 2007 2:04 pm

I just have a second to check in here...day to day reality is in my way today... :banghead:

I know this arguement has been going on for years and years and I certainly don't know the answer. On the one hand, as Betty Sue says, there can also be postivie outcomes to research that might be missed. On the other hand you have the definite negative outcomes. I think Dr. Obeidi went into his profession with the belief he was going to good things for his country. When his talents were put to use in a different area he forced himself to focus on the task because that allowed him to keep working, as suec said, maybe a coping mechanism. I am not a scientist but in my mind it seems you should be concerned and aware of the potential uses of your work, good and bad. However I can see how that could put the brakes on research that could yeild advances for the good of humanity. Can you tell I'm on the fence here?
:eyebrow:

Okay back to day to day reality... :banghead:
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Unread postby Liz » Tue Jul 24, 2007 4:00 pm

I just realized that I didn’t really answer the question at hand. I do think that a scientist has a responsibility to be concerned about the potential outcome of his work. I think one needs to weigh the good and the bad. In this particular instance, I think it was pretty obvious that the final outcome would be a negative one. He had just not foreseen the imminence of WMDs at that point. And he was focusing on the practicalities of supporting his family (not that this should be an excuse). A couple of pages earlier he did point out to the IAEC the dangers of putting fuel in the Tammuz Reactor. So he did have somewhat of a conscience. Then later on his fear for his family & himself was the overriding factor in his decision to go ahead with his R&D. I personally have never seen enough positive in nuclear power as an energy source to be worth the potential dangers associated with the technology.
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Unread postby nebraska » Tue Jul 24, 2007 8:16 pm

I think I have mixed feelings about this question. How many things do we use and benefit from on a daily basis that were a result of space travel research. Tang for instance, :lol: Most of us don't take our crystal balls to work with us each day and see what the outcome of our actions will be -- in any situation there are unforeseen results and scientific research in one area often transfers to something unexpected. Of course Dr. Obeidi realized he was working on a project that was intended to result in the creation of WMD ......but he also knew how difficult and long that process was going to be and I think perhaps he understood there was a real possibility Saddam would never be able to follow through with the program, it was so far out of Iraq's capabilities at that time. Time and again he shows us how out of touch with reality Saddam was.

It seems to me to be a scientific researcher you would need to have a pure and driving passion for the science itself. Becoming bogged down in things like politics could taint that passion.......and the scientist's effectiveness.

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Unread postby fansmom » Tue Jul 24, 2007 10:13 pm

I know a man who is now in his late 70s who was horrified to learn that engineering research he had done while young and idealistic had been used in the Cold War. (I think it was missile guidance. He wasn't specific about it.) At the time, he did not realize all the ramifications of the uses of his research; if he had, he said he would have found a way to leave it.

I realize quitting wasn't really an option for Dr Mahdi, but his rationalization is a little too reminiscent of the reasons Germans gave for cooperating with the Nazis.

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Unread postby gemini » Tue Jul 24, 2007 11:24 pm

I think I am getting senile. I know I answered this question earlier but somehow it never got from my word processor to a post and I must have erased it. Duh? Now can I remember what I said ?

Is it the place of the scientist to be concerned only with science or should he also be concerned with any potential outcome of his work?

This was the question going through my head all the while I was reading the book. Like some of you I tried to sympathize with him for trying to protect his family but he is a very bright guy. I don't see any way possible he didn't see the outcome of what he was designing. I can understand accomplishment and pride in your work but there does need to be some conscience involved.
I would like to agree with Betty Sue that something positive could come of his work but he knew who he was giving it to.

Personally, I also have a problem with Nuclear power since there are so many other less damaging ways they could have went to make electricity. I heard it is not even profitable without heavy subsidizing. This subsidizing could have been used for safer alternatives that don't have radioactive waste products.

The basic method of Nuclear Waste Disposal is to bury it in the ground and hope it doesn't leak out. More specifically, to identify stable Geological Foundations which can host the material for 10,000 years, like Yucca Mountain Nevada. http://zebu.uoregon.edu/1999/ph161/l19.html
I guess my real feeling about Dr Obeidi is that he goes to great lengths to show us just how intelligent he really is and how he was able to deceive people so easily but just saying he was doing it for his family is not a reason to be so good at it.
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Unread postby Liz » Wed Jul 25, 2007 12:42 am

gemini wrote:I guess my real feeling about Dr Obeidi is that he goes to great lengths to show us just how intelligent he really is and how he was able to deceive people so easily but just saying he was doing it for his family is not a reason to be so good at it.


Good point, Gemini.

Don’t feel bad about the missing post. I can be in the middle of typing up a post (on Word…or on the board directly). Then the phone rings….or my kids want something….or whatever. Sometimes it takes me a while to get back to my computer, depending on the interruption. And I can be a little lost as to where I left off. It’s called life.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

The only thing that matters is the ending. It's the most important part of the story.


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