Welcome to Ethics and Social Responsibilities for Scientists and Engineers in the 21st Century

Description: The course will address the ethical dilemmas that researchers face in turbulent times, where clear-cut distinctions between pure and applied science can no longer be upheld. The PhD course is aimed at creating a space where PhD students can qualify their reflections on their role as young researchers by drawing on philosophical, sociological, and ethical perspectives in analyzing possibilities and problems of contemporary
course participants will be asked to analyze real dilemmas taken from
the intersection between science and society - often taking the
experiences of individual researchers as the starting point for the
analysis. The case analyses will be related to the following four main
themes that will be treated during the course:
1. Scientific Social Responsibility in Cases of Life and Death: Historically,
the argument that the pursuit of scientific progress was inherently a
morally positive endeavor and thus somehow exempted from other
general ethical concerns has been connected with the Enlightenment and
the belief that progress in our knowledge will improve the human
condition. Not surprisingly, this belief has experienced somewhat of a
disenchantment with the realization that science can and has been used
in the service of producing not only benefits but also what some consider
some of the greatest evils of mankind.
Making up cases where scientific developments apparently has had
positive (e.g. the Green Revolution in India) and/or negative
consequences (e.g. The Manhattan Project and the origin of the Atomic
Bomb) this theme will convey some of the central ethical dilemmas,
concerns and priorities that have informed the debates on the relations
between research and environmental, social and ethical responsibility
since the Second World War, enabling the students to make qualified
reflections on the civil responsibility of scientists.
2. The Conflicting Values of Research in a Post-academic Setting: In the
past decades the classical social contract between science and society (in
which the results of scientific inquiry was conceived as ideally free from
the interests of political or economic powers) has come under growing
pressure by the rise and spread of industrial science. In a situation,
where the growth of scientific institutions and communities are
approaching their financial limits, competition for funding has become a
life-preserving activity for researchers, and a still increasing proportion of
scientific research are now being sponsored by private stake-holders,
those financial interests from time to time may come into conflict with
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the traditional ethos of science.
Using case-studies where the interaction between scientists and private
stake-holders has led to innovative problem-solving, as well as casestudies
where the interests of financial sponsors are in conflict with the
public interest of free inquiry as well as case-studies, this theme will
familiarize the students with the theoretical attempts to describe and
analyze such situations, making it possible for the students to engage in
qualified reflections on how to manage private/public research
collaboration, here include how to handle the normative conflict that may
arise as the result of the post-academic trends in which scientific
research in various ways become entangled with the interests of
sponsors with strong financial agendas.
3. Post Normal Science and Wicked Problems: The professionalization of
policy making has created an increasing demand for scientific expert
advising to help solve complex problems (like, for instance, Global
arming), where political decisions intersect with demographic,
economic and environmental problems.
his theme will familiarize the students with the theoretical concept of
Post Normal Science - a concept developed by Silvio Funtowicz and
Jerome Ravetz in attempting to describe situations where scientific
inquiry is conducted in where "facts are uncertain, values in dispute,
stakes high and decisions urgent" (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 1991). Using
case studies of so-called "wicked problems" (where urgent decisions are
demanded despite incomplete or uncertain knowledge) as examples, this
theme will make it possible for students to engage in qualified reflections
on the role of science in post normal decision-making.
4. Ethics as a problems-solving activity: Towards a Socially Responsible
Scientific Practice for the 21st Century: Although the Enlightenment ideal
that scientific knowledge can be used to improve the human condition
has been under siege during most of the 20th Century, it still forms a
prominent part of science's self-justifying raison d'etre, both among its
practitioners and in the public sphere. And no doubt (stories like the
Manhattan Project or the Nuremberg Trials aside), there are certainly
many instances, where science has been employed in the service of the
bettering of mankind, whether it be the fighting of hunger (the Green
Revolution) or the fighting of disabling and lethal diseases (e.g. the
eradication of smallpox).
By drawing on perspectives introduced in the previous themes, the final
theme of this course challenges the students to make qualified
reflections on how to act socially and ethical responsibly in a research
setting that is dominated by the co-funding of private sponsors, strategic
goal-oriented research and uncertainty in knowledge claims- much like
the ones they're likely to encounter during the rest of their career.
Prior to course take-off the course participant will receive an electronic
compendium with reading material relevant to the course. Participants
are expected to have browsed through the compendium beforehand.

Organizer: Associate professor Tom Børsen, Aalborg University, email: tom@learning.aau.dk

Lecturers: Associate professor Tom Børsen, Aalborg University, professor Paola Valero, Aalborg University

ECTS: 2.5

Time: 12 – 14 November, 2014

Place: Aalborg University Copenhagen, Frederikskaj 10 A

Zip code: 2450

City: Copenhagen

Number of seats:

Deadline: 31 October, 2014