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lunes, 21 de julio de 2014

Ethics in the Science Classroom

I can only talk about what I've seen in my country (Mexico), here there's no talk about ethics associated with the behavior or effects of science in society. If the children are by some chance in private school chances are the school it's going to be catholic so yes there'll be some talk about values but never associated with science class.

The problem I see with this is, besides the obvious one of not having ethical grown ups, is that science is not seen as something social. And recently a horrid piece in the Telegraph brought me back to this thoughts.

First of all the article talks about why girls don't like science, according to the author and I quote: "I also think he’s probably right in suggesting that females, as a whole, are not hugely engaged by science. The problem with science is that, for all its wonders, it lacks narrative and story-line. Science (and maths) is about facts, and the laboratory testing of elements. It is not primarily about people. Women – broadly speaking – are drawn to the human factor: to story, biography, psychology and language."

But science is SOCIAL, science it's not only about the facts it's also about the impacts of those facts. Maybe there was a time when we could make science and let others worry about the impacts of our discoveries, think Hiroshima and Nagasaki (When the decision of dropping the atomic bomb was made Oppenheimer thought they as scientists didn't have enough information to take the decision it was something that should have been left to the military experts, of course after Hiroshima and Nagasaki he changed his mind but that's another story). Another example are the Thalidomide babies, though in this case the effects were not foreseen and when we realized what was happening it was too late for some people.

There's a lack of discussion in the science classroom about the times science has been wrong, about when science should have done better, and when scientists should have been better men and women. I believe one of the many problems we have with getting the public's trust has to do with the fact that people don't know when is right to believe what we are saying. And maybe the fact that we are always presenting science in the classroom as an absolute truth, to later on hear that a study was falsified by some scientist can be one of the many reasons general public distrust science. How can they really know this time is for sure and we are deliberately not lying for grant money, or media or anything else?
Can it be that sometimes people feel betrayed by us?

But there's also another feature of ethics in science classroom that we don't talk about and that is the values of the scientists, well a more appropriate word would be ethics. How can we expect to have scientists with strong ethics if we never ever mention it. To this point in my life (before being admitted to a PhD program in the US) I've never had a values/ethics lesson associated with my career. The closest thing I ever had were my organic chemistry lab teachers asking me to report the real yield of my experiments in class. Now that I am about to start a PhD the closest thing I've had are ethics trough online modules. Again I cannot talk about the education given in the US. But the more I spend time with teenagers, the more is obvious for that the changes in their education that we don't make today, will be very hard changes to do in the future when they are grown up.

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