Nicholas Goldberg: Can scientists moonlight as activists — or does that violate an important ethical code?
The moon is a pretty big place. There are millions and millions of square miles of its surface. There could be as many as 50 billion people on its surface. It’s about the size of the United States. That puts up a lot of space for people to protest, but it also puts up a lot of space for scientists, especially those who work in the remote areas of research and exploration — some of the most important areas in the world.
There’s a bit of a conflict between the ethical responsibilities of scientists and those who protest them. One of the most important things we do as scientists is make observations and collect data. We observe the planet and its processes, and that’s great. We can learn a lot. In the meantime, the moon is a big place that’s not occupied with living humans. It’s just there.
But there’s a different view. Scientists are looking at the moon in a way that is, to many in the scientific community, unethical. It’s a dangerous way to look, and it does cause problems for our mission. We need to talk about that, on many different levels. One, because it’s ethical and moral. Two, because it could affect the way scientists look at the moon. Three, because it could affect how we explore and how we interact with it.
I believe that if we are honest about it, and we are open to it, a moonwalk with a scientist is probably more ethical than a protest. For a lot of people — whether they’re on the moon or not — it’s a pretty safe place to walk. They would never want to hurt anybody there, and they’re not going to risk their safety on the moon to come on a protest. But they do it anyway. Why?
I think of scientists as