No. 21




Of ethics of social sciences in the Republic of Estonia. Ambition and aplomb

  • Igor Gräzin

    Member of the Riigikogu, Estonian Reform Party

Can a scientist of a certain field assume a position of the scientist in a field which he or she does not know?

The author expresses here his position not as a politician or scientist (his area of specialisation is legal texts) but as a representative of the Estonian official academic family, the circle of scientists, who is concerned about devaluation of scientist as a profession, vocation and function in the Estonian society and cultural space. Areas of scientific specialisation are of no importance here: a compromising sociologist compromises physicists, and a chemist who is doing drugs in his lab brings shame upon his colleague who is a psychologist. The setting of the question is all the more important because the professional tensions and intrigues (distributing of money, administrative competition between schools, the quarrel of publications, etc.) between scientists do not contribute to maintaining the prestige of the “guild” of scientists in the society. The author claims that scientists have to be even more ethical when they use the title of scientist in the relations with this world outside of science which very often respects them precisely because of the status of scientist. More often than not, undeservedly.

A scientist, just as any other citizen, has the liberty and even a responsibility to speak on any socially significant topic. Moreover, being in contact with the sphere of knowledge, which so-to-say precedes our ordinary level of knowledge and cognition, he or she is also able to refer to the problems that may go unnoticed in our everyday life. However, when a person engaging in science goes beyond his or her area of scientific specialisation or simply competence, then he or she must not disguise his or her personal opinion with scientific authority.

There are plenty of people among Estonian scientists, particularly in social sciences, who feel the desire and need to have a say in all social processes in the Estonian state. In such case, however, two additional ethical rules should be established.

  1. When speaking on his or her area of specialisation, a scientist is required to present positions of social science which correspond to his or her scientific convictions and not to party preferences. That means, a scientist presents such positions as he or she holds to be scientifically grounded, verified and correct.
  2. When speaking outside his or her area of specialisation, a scientist has to point out that he or she is speaking as a citizen, not as a scientist, and is using only such scientific titles as do not relate him or her with the area under discussion as a specialist.

Full article in Estonian