Phil 133 (Ethics in Science)

Spring 2018


Important concepts, terminology, and issues:

interested parties and interests


duties or obligations

Be sure you know the difference between these!


Merton's norms of science

Be able to recognize and explain situations that exemplify scientists following these norms, and situations in which one or more of the norms is violated.

utilitarian (or consequentialist) ethics

Kantian (or deontological) ethics

virtue ethics

For each of these, be able to explain (and recognize) the basic approach to identifying what is ethical and what is unethical.  Be able to give a justification for (or against) following a particular course of action in terms of utilitarian, Kantian, or virtue ethics.

Here is a handout that may help you review this material.

What ends might a scientist value that differ from those valued by an ordinary member of society?

What are some arguments that scientists have special obligations to society?  What kinds of obligations do scientists have to society?

The Shrader-Frechette reading is most relevant here.

What makes knowledge valuable (whether to scientists or to non-scientists)?  How does this affect the sort of research in which scientists ought to engage?

For each of these questions, you should have something reasonable to say.  It will be helpful here to draw on possible differences between scientists and lay people (e.g., for scientists, the main goal is building accurate knowledge) and on the relationships between scientists and lay people (e.g., in terms of access to knowledge, funding relationships, etc.)

What counts as "objective" knowledge?  How does the concept of "objectivity" vary in different cultural contexts?

What aspects of scientific research might be affected by racial, gender, or other biases, and how?

The Asquith article on primatologists, and the readings on human subjects research (especially on the Nazi medical experiments and on the Tuskegee syphilis experiment), will be helpful here.

What ethical obligations do researchers have to experimental animals?

Why do scientists have a duty to treat experimental animals in certain ways?

Why do scientists view experiments with animals as desirable or necessary?

What is an IACUC?

What are the 3 Rs?

Standards for human subjects research:

Nuremberg Code

Declaration of Helsinki

Belmont Report

I don't expect you to memorize these three sets of standards!  Rather, be able to talk about differences in emphases, specific features that appear in one set of standards but not another (e.g., IRB in Helsinki but not in Nuremberg, "justice" made an explicit goal in Belmont but not the other two, etc.), and how Nuremberg and Belmont especially are responses to particular historical events.


How do the Nuremberg Code and the Declaration of Helsinki differ in their emphasis on the most important constraints on experiments with human subjects?

How might the doctors in the Tuskegee experiment have seen themselves as importantly different from the Nazi doctors?

What ethical similarities do you see between the doctors in the Tuskegee experiment and the Nazi doctors?

What role should the subject's desires play in an experiment with human subjects?

What are some of the ethical complications of medical research in the developing world?

Authorship – who is entitled, what responsibilities accompany it?

Scientific notebooks and record keeping – why does it matter?

Patents – how does this kind of scientific ownership claim work?  What kind of bargain is being struck between the patent holder and the public?  Are there cases where the spirit of the bargain doesn't work out so well?

Scientific misconduct, fabrication, falsification, plagiarism. (Be clear on the definitions)

Ought the definition of scientific misconduct to include "other practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted within the scientific community"?

Strategies for punishing or preventing scientific misconduct.

Training relationships

Relations between competitors and collaborators


Conflicts of interest:

why funders and/or the public and/or the scientific community might be concerned

responses (disclose, manage, eliminate)


Peer-review system

How do international collaborations make certain scientific decisions complicated (e.g., when to publish, where to publish, etc.)?

Here, Traweek's articles on the high energy physicists at KEK will be helpful.

How should scientific results be communicated to the public?

Exam format:

Shorter objective items: (~50%)

Interpretive items related to short case studies: (~50%)

I will be most interested in your thoroughness in identifying interests, obligations, and the likely consequences of various courses of action, and the reasons you give for prioritizing the interests and obligations as you do, or for judging certain courses of action as preferable to others.

For each case, you may be asked one of the bulleted questions above (as we have done in our initial responses to and in-class discussions of case studies) or a set of focused questions about the case (as we have done in the quizzes after our discussions of the case studies), but you will not know which question goes with which case until you take the exam!

Cases will be posted/distributed at least 1 week prior to the exam. 


Exam is Thursday, May 17, 2018, 9:45 AM-12:00 noon

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