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Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME)

Dissertation Sebastian Wäscher

Scientific Responsibility. Theoretical and Empirical Considerations


Science is the “big transformer” of contemporary societies. Scientific findings give insights into how our world is construed, shape ideas about humanities place in the universe and our self-understanding as human beings. Technologies resulting from scientific knowledge change our daily life and have impact on sheer unlimited societal developments. Such power provokes to reflect on the relationship between science and society and the responsibilities science has. It is astonishing that two ideas still widely persist in the understanding of science. First, the idea that the main product of scientific work – scientific knowledge – is value free and second, that science is detached from society. Starting from these assumptions this thesis performs a re-examination and in-depth analysis of scientific responsibility.

Qualitative interviews with senior researchers, that have been analyzed with a grounded theory approach, serve as a basis for a robust empirical, theoretical, and normative analysis of scientific responsibility. 

Based on three research articles this dissertation gives insights into questions on the status of scientists in contemporary societies, their responsibilities and how challenges in assuming responsibility can be overcome. This thesis makes clear that scientific responsibility must be distinguished from the scientists’ responsibility. By utilizing the concepts of relational responsibility and co-responsibility, it will be made clear that communication between various actors who shape the development of science is essential in assuming scientific responsibility. 

To conclude, the insights of this thesis are used to formulate normative assumptions that appropriately consider the complex relationship between science and society. They aim at alleviating challenges the interviewed researchers described in assuming their responsibility.