Kitchener-Waterloo

Stratford Festival's The Physicists examines science and morality

Do scientists have a duty to publish research, even if it's potentially dangerous? That question is at the heart of Stratford Festival's production of The Physicists, which follows a researcher who has locked himself in a mental facility to save the world from his knowledge.
Geraint Wyn Davies plays Johann Wilhelm Möbius, a brilliant physicist who has locked himself inside a mental institution in hopes of protecting the world from his discoveries. (David Hou/Stratford Festival)

Do scientists have a duty to publish their research, even if it's potentially dangerous? That question is at the heart of Stratford Festival's production of The Physicists

Set in a mental institution, the play centres on fictional nuclear physicist Johann Wilhelm Möbius, who locked himself away at Les Cerisiers sanatorium years ago. 

"He did this in order to hide away from the world. Because, in sort of a corollary to someone like Einstein who made possible the atomic bomb, this scientist has made possible the destruction of the entire world, " explains director Miles Potter. 

"The universe depends on the knowledge that he has not escaping from this asylum."

The Zippe-type centrifuge: where science got it wrong

The morality of scientific discovery is a question researchers across many disciplines must grapple with says Heather Douglas, philosophy professor and Chair in Science and Society at the University of Waterloo. 

And sometimes, she says, they get it wrong. 

For instance, the Zippe-centrifuge, created by Gernot Zippe, is now used to enrich uranium for nuclear power or nuclear weapons. 

"[He said] the Zippe centrifuge is the same as a knife. You can use it for good purposes, you can use it for bad purposes, and how it's used is up to other people," said Douglas. 

"There are cases I think where scientists need to own responsibility and say, 'You know what I'm not going to develop this.'"

Hear the full discussion, and how the freedom to explore science affects democracy, in the audio below. 

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