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VOGEL LIBRARY

Chemistry Courses & Research: CH 461

Science Ethics

Ethics & History in Science

An ethics problem is not a multiple choice problem, rather it is a design problem.  One must devise possible courses of action as well as evaluate them.—there can be more than one correct solution/response

C. Whitbeck, “Ethics as Design,” Hastings Center Report  (1996) 26, 9-16

Other ethics resources

On being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research 30-page manual on ethical issues in scientific research.

Books on the history of science and society

The Ethical Chemist

The social contract approach to ethics

"In this view a profession derives from two bargains or contracts: one internal and one external. The internal bargain governs the interactions among members of the porfession while the external bargain defines the relationship of the profession to society. Both, however, are based on a moral idea of service around which the profession is organized," (Kovac, 12).

"Because society depends on scientists as experts in important personal and public decisions, it must trust that scientists are performing their work with integrity, particularly as it affects public health and safety," (Kovac, 20).


One summary of the internal code for practicing science

  1. Universalism: Truth claims must be evaluated using preestablished impersonal criteria.
  2. Communism (or "communality"): Scientific findings must be disclosed publicly...science is public knowledge.
  3. Disinterestedness: The advancement of science is more important than the personal intersts of the individual scientist.
  4. Organized skepticism: All scientific truth is provisional and must be judged based only on the evidence at hand. Scientific conclusion is always open to question.

(Kovac, 15)

Ethical quandaries

Factors that can influence the ethical decision-making process

  • history (including prior established research)
  • funding
  • obligation to “truth” instead of opinion
  • contrasting new, semi-vetted information with established research
  • more than one “right” option
  • social norms & expectations of employers (livelihood vs principles)
  • laws & public policy
  • media in which these conversations take place