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Michael Pritchard Professor; Co-Director of The Ethics Center Western Michigan University More Posts
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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.

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Contributor(s) Michael Pritchard
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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

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Table of Contents

Lesson 5, What Kind of Research Should Our Government Support?

Vincent Calabrese, Daniel M. Leccese and Rosemary McPartland, Glen Cove High School, Glen Cove 
Michael Foley, Miller Place High School, Miller Place 
Jennifer Visconti, Northport High School, Northport.

Overview of Lesson

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Lesson Plan

  1. In preparation for the lesson the students are given a homework assignment requiring them to read brief descriptions of 12 research proposals, rate each one on the basis of a set of specific criteria and write reasons why they would or would not approve funding the proposal.
  2. The class is divided into five research evaluation panels.These panels are supposed to be advising a government agency that provides funds to support general scientific research. The agency has only enough funds to support eight of the research projects. Each evaluation panel is to use the ratings of the research projects by its members to produce a list of the eight projects it recommends supporting. Each panel should write down the reasons it chose to include or exclude each project from its list.
  3. The teacher reads the selections of the five panels to the class and then leads a discussion focusing on the ethical principles that are reflected in the reasons that the panels have presented. (If this is the first lesson on ethics in science, the discussion should be preceded by a brief introduction to the subject of ethical reasoning. In this case at least 1? class periods should be devoted to this lesson.)
  4. Homework assignment: Pretend that you are a scientist who has been selected to advise a government agency that provides funds to support scientific research. You have been sent the following brief abstracts of 15 proposed research projects that have been submitted to the agency. Read the abstracts carefully and then rank each one on a scale of 1 to 10 -- where 10 is the highest possible score -- with respect to the listed criteria.

Finally write reasons why you would or would not fund each of the proposals using the criteria.

  • Extent to which you think the research is important.
  • Extent to which the research may result in public benefit or harm.
  • Extent to which the research is necessary for the advancement of science.
  • Extent to which the research is likely to improve the country's economy.
  • Ways in which the research is likely to affect the environment.
  • Whether or not it is important for the government to support this research.
  • Whether or not the likely results justify the cost.
  • I would (would not) fund this research project because...
  • Research Proposals

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Discussion

Since scientists require funding for almost all the work they do, the fact that ethics and values questions play an important role in determining what research will receive funding is all the evidence needed to demonstrate a strong link between science and ethics. The teacher may have to intervene to make sure that the discussion of the panels' selections focuses on the ethical principles connected to the reasoning presented. Some students may prefer to debate the technical merits or defects in the various proposals. The proposals presented here (and presumably alternate proposals created by teachers using this lesson) were included because they raise one or more ethics or values issue rather than because of their unique technical merits. Thus, the proposed ambitious mission to mars raises questions about the ethics of supporting a very expensive research project that appears to have little direct relevance to any of our many Earthly problems; the artificial kidney proposal raises issues about supporting research that will produce results that are only beneficial to affluent members of society; etc.

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 5, What Kind of Research Should Our Government Support?" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 7/13/2006 OEC Accessed: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 <www.onlineethics.org/Resources/precollege/scienceclass/lessonplans/part2intro/lesson5.aspx>