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“Copenhagen”: Science, War, and the Devil’s Pact

Science and Human Dimension 2001

The conference explored the ethics of science, using as a focus Michael Frayn’s play Copenhagen which was staged on the first day at the Cambridge ADC Theatre with Michael Frayn fielding questions. Marcial Echenique led a group of delegates to his home in Huntingdon near Cambridge, which was the site of the imprisonment of Nazi physicists at the end of World War II. Mark Walker and Paul Lawrence Rose spoke directly to the German historical and biographical background of Heisenberg and Niels Bohr.

Wide ranging discussions on “how to be a moral scientist” followed: from Lewis Wolpert’s contention that science is fundamentally amoral to philosopher of religion Tim Jenkins’ vehemently opposing viewpoint. Speakers included Walter Gratzer, Jeremy Bernstein, Henning Grunwald, Paul Weindling, John Naughton, Simon Shafer, and Adam Tooze.
The concluding overview was that a distinction must be made between science at the workbench and in the test tube, and science as human work, both by individuals and communities. It was generally agreed that the scientist never ceases to be a human being, and hence never ceases to be a moral agent.

The fruit of some of the themes and ideas discussed at the conference is to be found in Hitler’s Scientists: Science, War and The Devil’s Pact, John Cornwell, Viking 2003.