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Ethics Matters in Science: Research Questions as Moral Questions

Values 591
Spring Quarter 2013

Tuesdays, 6:00 - 7:50 pm
Savery 158
3 Credit

Alison Wylie, Biological Futures and Departments of Philosophy and Anthropology

Course Description and Learning Objectives
The central goal of th is seminar is to introduce students from a wide range of fields to key moral questions raised by research practice in the non-medical sciences. These include not only the issues associated with “Responsible Conduct of Research” (RCR)-- professional conduct in mentoring, training and collaboration; appropriate credit and authorship; safety and confidentiality--but also issues of accountability for the social and environmental impacts of research and broader questions about values embedded in scientific practice that are often not recognized as ethical.

The seminar begins with three framework-setting sessions in which we'll work through the anchoring text for the course, Resnik's Ethics of Science, and complementary readings on the nature of ethics issues that arise in the sciences, the viability of the ideal that science should be “value free,” and ways of conceptualizing research integrity that takes seriously the social, normative contexts in which the sciences are practiced. The anchor for discussion in the sessions that follow will be three normative concepts that cross-cut research contexts--ideals of integrity, norms of consent, and an ethic of stewardship--and a high profile case (the H5N1 debate) that brings into sharp focus the broader social impacts and the global economic and ecological risks that come with the dramatically expanded capabilities of contemporary biological research (H5N1 debate).

Three public panel discussions sponsored by the Biological Futures project will address issues central to this seminar:

  • April 29, “What Counts as Consent?”
  • May 6, “New Belmont: Knowledge, Power, and the Ethics of Biological Security”
  • May 20, “Stewardship...of what, by whom, in whose interests?”

These sessions are scheduled on Mondays, 12:00 - 1:30, in the Simpson Center (CMU 202) . Attendance is recommended for seminar participants, and the panel proceedings will be available by podcast immediately after each session. The operating assumption in this seminar is that the background knowledge and perspectives you bring from your dif ferent fields of training and practice will be mutually illuminating; do please draw on your field-specific expertise in discussion and in as a basis for the assignments. The readings are intended to provide resources for discussing and analyzing ethics issues that arise in practice--hopefully some of them within your own areas of research interest--and the assignments are meant to provide a context in which to articulate responses to these issues in a nuanced, and ethically satisfying way.