HPSC3024 - Science and Ethics: Dilemmas, Debates and Decisions in Science

Semester 2

Prerequisites: HPSC1000/1900 and at least 24 credit points of Intermediate (HPSC2100/2900 and HPSC2101/2901) or Senior units of study
6 credit points
2 x 1-hour lectures plus 2 x 1-hour tutorials per week (see timetable)
Assessment: essays, journal, presentation, tutorial participation

Science is a powerful institution but its reputation as a noble pursuit of the truth was tarnished by a number of developments in the twentieth century, like the dropping of the atomic bombs in World War II and the involvement of doctors in Nazi medicine. These incidents shook the faith of many scientists and others in the director of science and the ethics of its practitioners. While science can furnish a strong factual account of the work, it lacks the internal resources to deal with many normative questions it raises. On its own science cannot answer questions about right and wrong, about how we ought to make decisions and act. Instead it must appeal to ethics to help formulate adequate responses. Throughout the semester we will use the lens of scientific responsibility to frame and explore a number of questions intended to help expose important ethical issues in science, and to help you develop and articulate thoughtful answers and arguments.

In this course we will discuss

  • Is science objective and value free?
  • Scientific fraud
  • Freedom of Knowledge and Intellectual Property
  • Can we separate out science from its applications and thereby absolve scientists of ethically problematic outcomes?
  • Should some scientific questions simply not be pursued?
  • Can the methods of scientists be unethical/does unethical practice imply bad science?