By John W. Traphagan, Trustee, METI International
In general, when we think about scientific inquiry, much of its power rests in the idea that everything is open to question. Turning a scientific gaze upon the world enlightens us and opens our potential to understand more deeply, while often challenging us to reconsider previously held beliefs and ideas. But science is not an unambiguously moral good.
Einstein questioned the ethics of building the atomic bomb. We know that research like the Tuskegee study of syphilis in African Americans has deep moral problems related to racism and informed consent. More recently, Stephen Hawking and others have raised ethical questions about whether or not we should engage in sending messages to the stars—the risks of letting ET know we’re here may outweigh the benefits of making contact if ET happens to be in a particularly foul mood when they answer our interstellar phone call.