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.
David J. Flatley, Principal, Selden Middle School, Selden, Long Island, NY.
(This lesson was developed when Mr. Flatley was Chair of Mathematics and Science at W.T. Clarke Middle School, Westbury, Long Island, NY.)
and Jana Alferone, Woodland Middle School, East Meadow, Long Island, NY
Several other ethical issues related to this lesson that may be raised by students, or by the teacher include:
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Dr. Jana A. is a young research scientist working in the research and development department of Crick Biotech, Inc. For the past three years she has been a member of a team of scientists examining the properties of genetically altered strains of E. coli bacteria.
The aim of the research is to produce a strain that meets the following criteria:
Other members of Dr. Jana A.'s team include her Senior Associate, who is her immediate supervisor, and the Project Director, who is responsible for reporting the groups findings and making recommendations to corporation's Board of Directors.
Project Director: Dr. Enrico F. is 68 years old. While he is well respected in the scientific community and in the corporation, he has been under recent pressure from the Board. He has not produced a money-making development in several years. Some of the younger Board members feel he no longer practices cutting edge science. He would very much like to prove them wrong before his anticipated retirement in two years.
Senior Associate: Dr. Marie C. is 45 years old. She is widely considered to be next in line for the position of Project Director. She is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the team's research effort. Her principal duty is to oversee the work of several junior research scientists, including Dr. Jana A. In addition to her responsibilities at the lab, she is president of the local chapter of the national organization, Women Scientists in Industry.
Dr. Jana A. has been given the responsibility for a critical part of the investigation. She has isolated a strain of altered bacteria which has been shown to meet the second set of requirements. Dr. Jana A is conducting tests to make sure that it isn't pathogenic. Jana believes that the strain she has isolated is safe. Most of the data support this hypothesis. However, some data suggest potential problems. It is known that other mutant forms of E. coli can cause serious, sometimes fatal human infections. Jana is aware of this. She also knows that future funding for the research, and possibly her job, may be in doubt if her problematic data become known. She makes note of the data in her notebook, but does not include it in the positive research report that she writes on the results of her tests on the new bacterial strain.
Dr. Marie C. reviews the report and notices what appears to be some missing data and incon-sistencies. Like Jana, she is very anxious to see the team's positive results recognized. Therefore, despite her doubts she approves the report and sends it to the Project Director. A week later, still troubled she asks Jana about the inconsistencies. She reviews Jana's lab notes and observes that there are a small number of "weird" data that raise some questions about the safety of the new starin of bacteria. She decides to support Dana's decision to ignore this data and makes no further report to Dr. Enrico F.
Dr. Enrico F. meets with the Board of directors to announce the team's encouraging findings. He makes the following recommendations:
The stereotypic cultural image of a scientist among most members of our society, including secondary school students, incorporates the virtue of honesty. It is important to stress to students that this lesson is not designed to undermine the notion that most scientists do exhibit high levels of honesty in their professional work. However, as demonstrated by several recent cases that have received considerable media attention, scientists like all human beings can occasionally be expected to give in to the sorts of personal pressures that result in dishonest or fraudulent behavior.
A goal of this lesson is to heighten student awareness of the serious consequences that can be the result of scientific dishonesty. Students will generally be quick to recognize that the dishonest behavior depicted in the case study could be serious because it may subject the public to a serious health risk. In general students are likely to focus on danger to the public as an obvious serious consequence of dishonest behavior by scientists whose work relates to products related to human health or safety. It may be necessary for the teacher to direct the discussion toward the threat that dishonesty poses to the scientific enterprise itself. Scientific knowledge is cumulative and a scientist needs to have confidence that the facts and data he or she uses are the result of honest efforts by other scientists.
The particular case study included in this lesson is cleverly designed to raise a variety of possible ethical issues. By providing personal information about the scientists it puts a human face on the discussion. Students will differ in their assessment of the relative moral culpability of the various characters. The fact that the research is designed to aid farmers in the production of tobacco is likely to lead to an interesting discussion of the ethics of participating in research on a product, which though legal, poses a serious health threat to consumers.
Return to Part 2 - Model Classroom Lessons
Return to Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers