To the Editor: Medical students transition to their profession with the recitation of the Hippocratic Oath. However, no analogous oath has been widely adopted for students graduating with doctorates of philosophy (PhDs) in the various sciences.
Oaths taken upon entering a profession reflect a need to recognize the power and responsibility bestowed upon a graduate. It is then surprising that most scientists have escaped the privilege and duty of an oath. Scientists face tremendous ethical challenges, such as the development of human embryonic stem cells or tools of biological wars, to mention but a handful. An oath for scientists should include many of the same issues of professional identity and ethics that were addressed by Hippocrates,1 but should also pose additional matters pertinent to the sciences. Sir Joseph Rotblat2 proposed ethical codes in science, highlighting the need for scientific oaths. Davis et al3 offered a broad oath focusing on pride, integrity, and pursuit of knowledge.
We believe that a scientist’s oath should reflect the professional activities inherent to being a scientist, be a pledge to responsible conduct, and embody commitments to help humanity and society at large. An effective oath should be inspiring without being confining. Such an oath should also emphasize the value and impact of PhD graduates on society. With this in mind, we have proposed and implemented at our medical school the following oath:
Oath of the Scientist
By accepting my Doctor of Philosophy degree, I earnestly assert that
I will apply my scientific skills and principles to benefit society;
I will continue to practice and support a scientific process that is based on logic, intellectual rigor, personal integrity, and an uncompromising respect for truth;
I will treat my colleagues’ work with respect and objectivity;
I will convey these scientific principles in my chosen profession, in mentoring, and in public debate;
I will seek to increase public understanding of the principles of science and its humanitarian goals. These things I do promise.
The Hippocratic Oath has been modified to reflect the evolution of medicine in society, and we expect that the above oath will also evolve over time.1 We believe that this oath provides a good foundation for the current generation of scientists and will help to inspire graduates to reach for their highest ideals as they continue in their careers.
Katya Ravid, DSc
Professor of medicine and biochemistry and founding director, Evans Center for Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts.
Benjamin Wolozin, MD, PhD
Professor of pharmacology and neurology, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts; firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Markel H. History of medicine: On the Hippocratic Oath. New Engl J Med. 2004;350:2026
2. Rotblat J. A Hippocratic Oath for scientists. Science. 1999;286:1475
3. Davis KD, Seeman MV, Chapman J, Rotstein OD. A graduate student oath. Science. 2008;320:1587–1588