There are plenty of fascinating elements to dig into Motherboard.tv's mini-doc about Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb and eventual supporter of Thorium power. The one that stuck out most was the exploration of Teller's notorious ideology—he espoused the somewhat paradoxical belief that scientists have no responsibility for what their discoveries are used to accomplish (paradoxical because Teller himself seems to have excitedly advocated for a wide range of real-world applications for nuclear technologies). He may have helped give rise to the hydrogen bomb, but how it was used was not his fault.It points to a central question to science; what should the scientist's relationship be to his work, his findings, once they have left the lab and are being applied in the public sphere? Echoes of this question abound in recent events: the scientists who've recently cultivated a deadly flu virus and are set to share it with research labs around the world—despite rare exhortations not to from the White House—comes to mind.
But more pertinent to readers of this blog is how the notion pertains to the arena of climate science. Climate scientists have been alternatively lauded and denigrated for appearing to take up an activist role in communicating their findings, which many view to reveal an urgent need for governmental action. Many scientists themselves have lamented their community's shortcomings in communicating their findings to the public.
In many ways, however, this conundrum is the opposite of Teller's—Teller unearthed science that held the potential to inflict great harm onto society, while climate scientists have unearthed evidence that society is causing great harm onto itself. In making such a discovery, do those scientists bear some responsibility to explaining the science that has borne it?
Also interesting: Teller's support for thorium power, which some believe to be a safer, more abundant source of nuclear power, in the twilight of his life. See more on Thorium here.