Howard B. White on science and privacy (1951) research Note

By Kristopher A. Nelson
in January 2019

200 words / 1 min.
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Howard B. White, “The Right to Privacy,” Social Research 18, no. 2 (1951): 171–202.

Please note that this post is from 2019. Evaluate with care and in light of later events.

Howard White notes that is is not clear “how far science can legitimately regard the sacredness of the individual as a restraint upon science.”

The objection that is sometimes offered to such investigation is one that supposes an inviolable realm of life that is either venerable or shameful or both. It is questionable, however, to oppose the legitimate needs of science from the high ground of “spiritual private property.” A good political order may require an atmosphere of trust in which not all is known. It may be wise to erect a spiritual statute of limitations. But I could never say that if science really needed to find the unseen flowers or the unfathomed waves of personal experience, it must forbear.

Only wisdom, not shame, may justly restrict scientific investigation and only if science itself is the loser in such investigation, or, at least, that is assumed in this discussion. If legitimate political objectives demand what [George] Simmel [in “Sociology of Secrecy”] calls “greedy spying,” then let it pass.

From Howard B. White, “The Right to Privacy,” Social Research 18, no. 2 (1951): 180-181.