December 7, 2012 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

Throughout history there has been persecution of scientists and physicians. In some of the most notable historic cases persecution has been lead by powerful institutions including both church and government and has resulted in prosecution, conviction and punishment.  The current prosecution of earthquake scientists underway in Italy seems to be an example of the worst sort of persecution and is indeed reminiscent of the types of unjust attacks by frustrated and wrong-headed government officials looking for scapegoats when there are none. The serious implications of this prosecution have intensified with the conviction of these scientists.

There seems to have been a great diversity in the basis for such persecution and these current events give us opportunity to review the reasons. I acknowledge the previous reviews and commentaries on this subject for having compiled much of the information.

Rhazes (860-932 AD) who first advanced the teachings of Hippocrates and Galen to the Arabic world was tortured by being beaten with his own books until he was blinded. Abumeron Avenzoar (1093-1162) the great Spanish Moslem physician, in counterpoint, was persecuted for disagreeing with Galen’s teaching. Others were persecuted for political reasons. Perhaps Guido Lanfranchi (1252-1315) driven out of Italy for political reasons can be considered antecedents to the current episodes regarding the earthquake scientists. 

It goes on and I will seek brevity. Galileo (imprisonment), Vesalius  (exiled), and Servetus (burned at the stake) ran into trouble with the church. Wirsung (shot) and Malpighi (beaten and house burned down) fared badly due to professional rivalries. Oldenburg (jailed for espionage), Lavoisier (Guillotined) and Virchow (banishment) had political difficulties. Domagk and Einstein ran afoul of the Nazis, the latter for anti-semitism although he was a non-practicing Jew.

Social agendas are responsible for more modern persecution of scientists. Alan Turing, the famous British mathematician who was largely responsible for breaking Nazi codes was chemically castrated for homosexually and later killed himself. In our current times climate scientists such as Michael Mann have been attacked by the political right for simply studying climate change and reporting results that they disagreed with.

Now the sentencing of the Italian earthquake scientist puts the old tradition of blaming scientists back in the headlines. This will have a chilling effect upon scientists contributing to public dialog. This is nothing more than finding scapegoats. Italy has truly proven that the dark ages are still alive in their judicial system.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

1 comments | Topics: Bioethics and Public Policy


Good Sermons

Good Sermons wrote on 12/08/12 3:40 AM

Persecution in any form is just inhuman, I do not understand how people can treat other people with unlikely manner.

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