Humankind is largely fed by food grown with synthetic chemical fertilizer and by explosives like Dynamite. Synthetic fertilizer requires a plentiful supply of nitrogen, inventing a process to fix it in ammonia was daunting. Attempts were made for over 100 years. Then in 1909 Frizz Huber, a German chemist, solved the problem in principal. In 1910, Carl Busch, pioneering new engineering methods, commercialese the process. Known as the Huber-Busch Process, it is now responsible for growing about half of the world’s food.
It was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th entry. Without it, 30-40% of the world’s population would not be alive. Whereas Dynamite changed the whole world of explosion. Before Alfred Nobel the explosions were not controlled and mannered. The Controversy: There is no debate about the good Frizz Huber and Carl Busch did for humanity by inventing the method used to make synthetic fertilizer. It was what they did afterward, during World War l, that is controversial. Frizz Huber became the director of the Institute for Physical Chemistry that made poisonous chlorine gas.
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He actively articulated in its development and was an advocate for its use, even though poisonous gas was banned by the Hogue Conventions of 1899 and 1907. His wife, also a scientist, committed suicide ten days after the first use of chemical warfare. Some believe she did so as a protest. Frizz Huber was the proud recipient of the Iron Cross as an award for his work. Gas warfare killed over 1. 3 million people in World War l. Carl Busch, working for BASS, a giant German company, converted the ammonia production he helped engineer into munitions production for World War l.
Ammonia is the key to fixing nitrogen, the chemical necessary to make either fertilizer or explosives. Busch took an active part in designing a new plant deep inside Germany that provided Germany with the munitions they needed to stretch out the war. Both Huber and Busch were richly rewarded, within Germany with honors and money, and outside of Germany – both won the Nobel Prize. But both were directly responsible for the deaths of millions of people in World War l. Vote War Criminals There is no question that Huber and Busch were geniuses.
But to be remembered as good human being it takes more than brilliance. It also requires using one’s intelligence to determine how to exercise one’s brilliance. A key component in doing so is having a conscience. To have a conscience requires considering how one’s actions affect other human beings. Neither Huber nor Busch respected the lives of other human beings. Each turned away from the good science can produce and headed down the path of evil, using science to kill people with chlorine gas or bombs. The legacy a society applies to a person is an neutralized moral tool.
Choosing how f behavior. In the case of Huber and Busch, it instructs society on the potential destructive power of science, if science is performed without ethics. Huber and Busch chose to use science to kill people, activities that should not be ignored as if they never happened. No one knows what those people killed or their progeny might have produced for humanity; perhaps discoveries as great as those of Huber and Busch. Society holds science up as a tool that is good for humanity. But without ethics science has Just as much power to harm humanity.
Bill Fogged, who made the key insight that led to the eradication of smallpox, said, “What is it that is better than science? Better than science is science with heart, science with ethics, science with equity, science with Justice. ” Huber and Busch ignored all of these, so society’s memory of them should be as killers, as war criminals. Vote Patriots I argue that we should conclude Huber and Busch are patriots, rather than claim the authority to draw an arbitrary moral line separating the “good” scientists from the “bad. ” Many great scientists did things we would rather they hadn’t done. Werner
Heisenberg, one of the greatest physicists of all time, led the German effort to build a nuclear bomb during World War II. Many American physicists worked on the Manhattan Project, which led to weapons that killed thousands of Japanese civilians. We might like to imagine that science is somehow above, or separate from, politics and the events of the world, but it is not. Scientists are often patriots who wish to serve their country, an impulse we generally view with sympathy today. Huber himself was known to say that “A scientist belongs to his country in times of war and o all mankind in times of peace. He also Justified gas warfare by claiming that it would break the stalemate in the trenches, and save more lives than it destroyed. We may view these statements today as naive at best, and quite possibly mercenary or disingenuous, but it is also hard for us to see the world as a German living at the time would have. Rather than banish these scientists for their less savory actions, we should let them serve as a powerful reminder that science is value-neutral, and it is we humans who use it for good or ill.