General Question

shilolo's avatar

Does "dangerous knowledge" exist and are there areas of research that should be "off limits"?

Asked by shilolo (18070points) May 13th, 2008

In 1905 as part of his description of the special theory of relativity, Albert Einstein noted that a small amount of matter could release a tremendous amount of energy (E=mc2). Years later, that became the foundation for the atomic bomb. More recently in 2001, scientists deliberately made the mousepox virus more lethal to mice by introducing a protein that suppresses the immune system. This created quite a controversy at the time since the study could be easily replicated in the human pathogen, smallpox. Thus, some studies are obviously fraught with danger (like the later one), while others have major, benign implications that years later are appropriated for different purposes. Should all research be allowed under the premise that we cannot control it or know what the imlications might be decades later? If you support controls, then who decides what can pursued and what cannot?

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29 Answers

ninjaxmarc's avatar

the Internet is vast and open to everyone.

soundedfury's avatar

Knowledge isn’t dangerous. People, however, can be.

Breefield's avatar

Did you even read the question ninjaxmarc?

ninjaxmarc's avatar

yes, my point is that there is so much information out there on the Internet that it depends on what a person does with that information good or bad. Imagine google earth and its satellite pictures, what terrorist can do with that, information on hacking, etc. Easy research to be able to do anything even how to create a bomb out of a bunch of stuff from a hardware store, etc.

NeroCorvo's avatar

It is not the knowlege that is dangerous- it is the lust for power within mankind which abuses the knowlege.

Dangerous knowlege has brought good as well as bad. At one time knowlege of the human body was considered dangerous.
Fortunately modern medicine was born from those who dared to go against the fears of the times.

psyla's avatar

I recommend reading the book “Still Life With Woodpecker” by Tom Robbins. It’s a great read & fully answers this question. This book will change your outlook on life.

delirium's avatar

This is a very very difficult and intriguing question.

However… I am of the opinion that the more dangerous thing is the lack of knowledge and humanity that makes people do destructive and inhumane things. Fundamentalism (religious or otherwise) and ignorance is more detrimental to humanity than knowing too much.

When it comes to regulation… there’s a fine line between protecting people and living in fear.

rking1487's avatar

Knowledge is power and like previously stated power in the wrong hands could be dangerous. I think you regulate the people doing the research and what becomes public knowledge but to limit the research itself would be doing humanity a disservice. As humans we are the most advanced creatures on the planet so why not try to improve the way we and other creatures in our environment live.

ebenezer's avatar

People are unpredictable and emotional. Knowledge is power. Danger.

What else do we have though? Oppression? I would like to take my chances with the unknown. If permitted.

shilolo's avatar

So, hypothetically speaking, if one were to directly synthesize a smallpox virus that mimics the results of the study I indicated (the techniques are readily available), and go on to publish the results, would that individual be considered a pariah or would he or she simply be advancing science?

delirium's avatar

I think a lot depends on the intent behind it. I’d much rather that person spend their time and intelligence in an effort to save lives, not to find more effective ways of destroying them. But sometimes we learn how to rebuild things by knocking them down first.

ebenezer's avatar

Shilolo- publish away. Just don’t let any of them pox loose. Please.

shilolo's avatar

@ebenezer. I knew I should have added a disclaimer (it was in my last message but I deleted it). Here it is. Disclaimer: I am neither working on this nor do I plan to, ever.

ebenezer's avatar

I know. I would hope there would be some real good justfication for a project like that. But I don’t think anything can just be banned. But there should be some common sense used in research. People have always had the ability to hurt each other. What can we do?

Lightlyseared's avatar

given 40 years of bio weapon research by both the soviets and US during the cold war you would probably be safe to assume there are aleady enough weaponised strains of smallpox that one more wouldn’t make much difference.

8lightminutesaway's avatar

well think about it this way… Doing that kind of research helps us learn what to avoid the prevent and/or treat these diseases. Oh look, we gave this virus a protein and now it can destroy the world. If it gets unleashed on a huge scale, we better not try and treat it with this protein. Or better yet, since its so accepting of this protein, maybe we can modify it a little bit so that its still very accepting of it, but now it kills it instead of making it worse. Now we need to do more research…
No research should be off limits. Who can do the research might need to be restricted. There is no “knowledge” unsafe for humans. This is our greatest asset as a species. There are humans unsafe for humans, however.

steelmarket's avatar

I have to disagree – just about all knowledge is dangerous. If you define dangerous as the ability to radically change or even destroy your peace of mind, lifestyle or even your life. Now, the same knowledge that may destroy your lifestyle could raise the lifestyle of other people, but the knowledge is still dangerous.
Remember the mathematician in Jurassic Park, Dr. Malcolm, and his warning about knowledge: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didnt stop to think if they should”.

Grim's avatar

It all depends on how you look at it. Basically whether or not you decide to blame humans for being weak, and unable to handle supior knowladge. Or whether ou decide to blame knowladge in itself for causing such grave effects upon the human race.

nikipedia's avatar

soundedfury put it best, as usual.

In my pedantic little black and white world, “should” questions are usually optimization problems. Should scientists make a superdisease? What are the costs and benefits? If the only benefit is “it’s neat”, they should be permitted to do it, but I would still think they were creeps for doing it. On the other hand, if it’s going to teach us something useful about immunology, virology, proteomics, etc., then it might be worth doing.

elchoopanebre's avatar

Yes, there are some things that are dangerous to know and it would be better if certain people were kept away from them. But how would we know who to censor things from and how would we know just WHAT to censor, and what if there were special exceptions? Sounds a little too much like the Orwellian thought police to me.

marinelife's avatar

I don’t think you can make research off limits effectively. I don’t think “dangerous knowledge” (and I would argue the danger is not inherent in the knowing, but rather in the use) can be suppressed or banned, because I think that only drives it undergound and eliminates the ability for oversight. If it can be conceived of, it will.

That said, I think there are certainly problem areas that we as a society are failing to address in a timely or organized fashion, for example, human cloning and eugenics. In fact, we really have no mechanism for doing so. That tends to make our responses reactive rather than proactive and leaves decisions to politicians under time and special interest lobbying pressure and this ill-equipped to make them.

Breefield's avatar

I love how XKCD is the answer to everything.

8lightminutesaway's avatar

whats more dangerous: knowledge or lack thereof?

delirium's avatar

As I said above, in my opinion…. lack thereof.

hehe, that rhymes!!

shilolo's avatar

In general, ignorance is more dangerous than knowledge, BUT, to use my example, “accidental” release of a hypervirulent smallpox would be far more dangerous to humanity than ignorance. To me, its an issue of proportion. Not that this is purely hypothetical. In 1979, there was an accidental release of anthrax in Russia that killed 70 people, so this surely could happen again. (Note: I haven’t forgotten the recent US anthrax episode, but am using the Russian incident to point out that “dangerous research” can get out of hand accidentally).

ebenezer's avatar

if we had more knowledge about earthquakes and cyclones we may have been able to prevent the death of tens of thousands of people in the last couple weeks.

Jreemy's avatar

Anybody remeber that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Anyway, putting knowledge off limits is to ultimately doom humanity due to lack of evolution (be it mental or physical). As the saying goes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. It all depends on how said knowledge is used.

evelyns_pet_zebra's avatar

knowledge isn’t dangerous, but in the hands of people too stoopid to know better, even knowing that dried grass burns is dangerous. And yes, I know that spelling looks wrong, but that is how I pronounce it. Stew pid.

Saying it like that means I don’t need the modifier word that starts with an F and rhymes with Ducking. :-)

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