Why Is Safe Science Good Science?

2018-02-16T13:31:14Z (GMT) by Camilla Kao Che-I Kao Russell Furr
In science, safety can seem unfashionable. Satisfying safety requirements can slow the pace of research, make it cumbersome, or cost significant amounts of money. The logic of rules can seem unclear. Compliance can feel like a negative incentive. So besides the obvious benefit that safety keeps one safe, why do some scientists preach "safe science is good science"? Understanding the principles that underlie this maxim might help to create a strong positive incentive to incorporate safety into the pursuit of groundbreaking science.

This essay explains how safety can enhance the quality of an experiment and promote innovation in one's research. Being safe induces a researcher to have greater control over an experiment, which reduces the uncertainty that characterizes the experiment. Less uncertainty increases both safety and the quality of the experiment, the latter including statistical quality (reproducibility, sensitivity, etc.) and countless other properties (yield, purity, cost, etc.). Like prototyping in design thinking and working under the constraint of creative limitation in the arts, considering safety issues is a hands-on activity that involves decision-making. Making decisions leads to new ideas, which spawns innovation.