Ethics Class

Class 1: We discussed deontic and consequentialist schools of thought. Our assignment was to read the American Physical Society’s statement on ethics and find examples of deontic and consequentialist statements.

Class 2: We discussed scientific misconduct and different famous examples of cases of misconduct, including falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism.  We were given a reading assignment on interaction between science and media by David Resnik. I found the reading to continually repeat itself and never say anything particularly profound. There were also several grammatical errors and typos that distracted from the message.

Class 3: We discussed whether or not the scientific community has an obligation to communicate with the public. We attempted to determine cases in which it is necessary to communicate with the public, and when it is not a good idea to do so.

Class 4: This class was about the different frames in which one can present science, from the “lone genius,” i.e. Galileo or Newton, vs. “cooperation,” such as the Manhattan Project. We discussed the virtues of each of these frames, and other possible frames that might not be as effective.

Class 5: Today, we met in the Philosophy building, as Cardwell was off-limits due to the asbestos scare. We discussed the scenarios Dr. Glymour gave us two weeks ago. The first was we were scientists working on a satellite that had years ago provided strong evidence supporting global warming. Now, however, we see that the trend we saw continues, but we have much greater uncertainty in this prediction. We can only say with 60% certainty that this is occurring. I was in group one, which had to speak to a science writer for the New York Times, and a research assistant for Ann Coulter. We decided the best thing to do would be to tell the truth, however, never say the satellite is “broken,” but to say that it is “not functioning at its maximum capability.” The second scenario is that you are a researcher trying to determine the best power plant to build in Kansas. The options are coal burning, which is the cheapest, but also the most polluting, nuclear, which is the second cheapest and least polluting, and wind, which is the most expensive, and second least polluting. The scenario indicates that we will support nuclear power. We must, however, decide whether to make a policy recommendation, or if we should just give the facts and let others make policy.

Class 6: Last week, we were given a reading on a survey by the APS task force on ethics which caused the physics community to look at possible mistreatments of graduate students. The reading also featured possible ethical dilemmas that we might encounter in graduate school. We discussed some of these cases and how we might handle them.

Class 7: Today, we discussed mentoring again and how we should handle advisor-student relationships. We discussed what to do if an advisor lets you do research with them for two years, then suddenly tells you they will no longer be your thesis advisor. We also discussed what to do if you continue to fail the qualifying exam and what the school should do if many students fail the qualifier. We are continuing the reading we received 2 weeks ago.


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Updated July 16, 2008