DEONTOLOGY ISSUES – HOW I DECIDED TO COLLABORATE WITH THE DEVIL
Recently, I have been contacted by a major French firm, in order to write a paper on post-3.11 public policies in Japan. At first, I was surprised that such a firm would contact me for a real study (eternal inferiority complex and so-on) but I cannot say it wasn’t pleasant to be told that my work is interesting and I have a rare knowledge about the situations in Fukushima Prefecture. I went for an interview the next day and it went well. They had read part of my master thesis and told me they were especially interested by the “public policy” part (the part my supervisor disliked very much) because they wanted to know more about public policies linked to the nuclear disaster. We talked for almost an hour about the current situation, what people experience and what I saw on field last winter. I never thought that I was particularly brilliant or specialized on the subject, but they seemed pleased to see that I was able to answer most of their questions. They asked me to think about writing this study and to contact them again next week.
I have to say, it was very appealing. They basically asked me if I want to be paid to do the research I will have to do later for my own thesis. I will have an additional working experience on my CV, a little money to support my future fieldwork and a job to avoid sinking into depression for the next 6 months. The study does not require me to take a stand on that company’s (evil) electricity production system (80% of the production comes from nuclear plants) and actually, if I think about it, it is already financing part of the research program I’m helping in Lyon.
But something is still bugging me. I was reading an article (in French) from Thierry Ribault, in which he was basically accusing researchers from the CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research) to hide part of the truth concerning Fukushima because they get money from companies and institutions involved in the nuclear industry in France. He wrote a certain numbers of interesting articles that made me think: “Am I just part of this system? Will I just beg for money and write what I am told to? Where is deontology in all of this?”
This was the beginning of a short but deep internal crisis. A friend told me to read a book about deontology in sociology (which I have to find next week) and told me that since the study does not require me to support that company’s policies, I am not facing a huge moral dilemma. I technically already received money from it, as I was (or will, still not sure of my bank account situation) paid partially thanks to their funding last winter. My colleagues were also paid like that, while being fervent “no-nuke” individuals. Our research was strongly criticizing the way the government is handling evacuation and “return policies”, even though we cannot write it like this. All those researches are fundamentally needed by contemporary societies because we live surrounded by risky power plants and that this terrible 3.11 situation could happen again, maybe in Europe. Social sciences can give an overview of what has happened, what was implemented, how it was perceived and what were the outcomes. It could be used again in the context of another catastrophe, in order to avoid a certain number of issues that appeared in the Japanese context.
Maybe I am trying to convince myself that working for that company is not making me a “bad” scientist. Maybe I want to believe that that company can actually have a positive social impact by producing good quality papers and documentation. I also feel a lot of pressure to analyze as much phenomenon as I can, in order to give myself a goal in life. I cannot forget what my interviewees told me in Japan, what they experienced (and still experience), how much they suffered… and the fact it could happen again. And again. Are those all excuses, to avoid agonizing about moral considerations?
There is a need for social research when it comes to energy policies and environmental issues. But public money is scarce, concentrated on high-tech and IT sectors. “What are you going to do, with a PhD in sociology?” How many types did I hear this question? But through my precedent mission and this study proposal, I came to think that what I do might be important, even more than what I thought.
I might make a pact with the devil, but I believe that this research has to be done. I don’t know if I have the potential, the knowledge or the competence to do it well, but I’ll give it a try. Yes, this company is exploiting what could later contaminate large portions of the European territory. Yes, it is making billions (€72.8 billions in revenues in 2014) by relying on a non-sustainable damageable energy. I have to keep that in mind. But at the same time, I will take this opportunity to write what needs to be written: how dramatic the nightmare of 2011 was and how it is still making thousands of people suffer. I will sell part of my competence; I will not sell my soul.