Author / Contributor
image for Michael Pritchard image for Michael Pritchard
Michael Pritchard Professor; Co-Director of The Ethics Center Western Michigan University More Posts
Parent Resource4
Pre-College Materials
Created August 14, 2009
Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers

Added12/01/1999

Updated12/08/2016

Author(s) Theodore Goldfarb Michael Pritchard

Author(s):  Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook

NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.

Author(s):  Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook

NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.

Read More
Contributor(s) Michael Pritchard
Share with EEL Yes
Authoring Institution (obsolete) Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC
Volume 8
Issue 3
Year 1999
Publisher provided Keywords Instructional Methods Pedagogical Materials SCIENCE
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English

Search this Publication

Table of Contents

Lesson 13, The Automotive Plant

Donald Jermusyk, Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge, Long Island, NY.

Overview of Lesson

Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended
Earth science and chemistry classes.
Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson
Students imagine they are a team of scientists advising a town council on pollutants seeping into the groundwater. They discuss issues among themselves and then report to the class their recommendations.
Category that Best Describes this Lesson
Behavior of scientists
Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson
The civic responsibilities of scientists; the value implications of scientific consulting/advising.

Back to Top

Lesson Plan

Students are divided into small groups. Each group is to imagine itself to be a team of scientists with expertise in industrial water pollution. The teacher distributes the following scenario and instructions to the groups. Each group will report its recommendations to the class.

Clinton Automotive is a factory in the town of Plainsville and the principal employer of the town. Clinton is also a major tax payer for the town and the local school district. The local water company has discovered that the undercoating applied to the chassis of its cars has been seeping into the ground water and is now in the water supply of a small part of the town.

A public meeting has been called to address the concerns. Clinton has threatened to leave town if it incurs heavy expenses and lawsuits related to the plant effluent. Homeowners with affected drinking water are threatening a lawsuit unless Clinton stops using the undercoating and pays for cleaning up the pollutant.

At the public meeting it can be expected that there will be:

  • homeowners with polluted drinking water
  • homeowners living near the polluted water but whose water is not yet affected
  • union members representing those employed at Clinton
  • top executives at Clinton
  • school board representatives concerned about a lowered tax base if Clinton leaves
  • environmentalists concerned about the quality of groundwater for the community

Your team of scientists has been hired by the town council to help it and members of the audience understand the significance of what has happened thus far to the groundwater and what will correct the problem (including cost estimates).

Although the groups of students will not be able to make actual estimates, they can discuss their obligations and strategies in serving as town council consultants. To whom do they have obligations in this case? The town council? The community? Clinton? How should this affect their scientific analysis and the report they will construct based on that analysis? Can the team remain value neutral and simply report the facts? Should they attempt to? Why or why not?

Discussion

This case focuses on the responsibilities of scientists as consultants and as community participants in policy making. It may be thought that scientists simply try to determine the facts, leaving all value questions to others. However, the very purpose of the study undertaken here is to assist the town council in meeting its responsibilities. So, in addition to understanding the town council's responsibilities, a scientific team of consultants also has to make judgments about what kinds of information will be most relevant for its deliberations and the public meeting. It also should take into consideration the needs and rights of the community in this matter--both in regard to questions of health, safety, and welfare and in regard to meaningful participation at a public meeting addressing the concerns of the community.

This does not mean that the scientific team itself makes the policy decisions. But it does mean that it has a responsibility to assist others in making those decisions. The question is whether that responsibility extends only to those who hired the team (the town council), or also to those to whom the town council is accountable (the larger public). Either way, it seems that value neutrality does not capture the role of the scientific team. But if this is right, it does not follow that the team is justified in being partisan to one faction or another. So, this raises another question: to what extent should a team of scientists, even as consultants, strive not to be partisan to the concerns of those for whom they provide consulting services? Should they be partisan to interests of the larger community that will be affected by what is decided? Which interests?

Return to Part 2 - Model Classroom Lessons

Return to Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers

Cite this page: "Lesson 13, The Automotive Plant" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 7/14/2006 OEC Accessed: Wednesday, June 28, 2017 <www.onlineethics.org/Resources/precollege/scienceclass/lessonplans/part2intro/lesson13.aspx>