Teaching

Ethics and Values in STEM (PHIL 1146)

A large wave, full of scientific papers, looms over a boat of worried scientists.

Artist: Sara Gironi

Ethics is the study of right and wrong conduct, including considerations about rights, responsibilities, values, freedom, and justice. Ethics is an integral part of STEM: Scientists must meet ethical standards for their experiments. Furthermore, throughout the process, researchers make value judgments about what to study (and not) and how to investigate it. The technology that engineers design impacts consumers, stakeholders, and society—for better or worse! If not reflective and intentional in their pursuits, STEM professionals can compromise their scientific and moral integrity and contribute to existing social injustices, including corporate exploitation, scientific sexism and racism, and colonialism. The course introduces students to the basics of research ethics and researchers’ social responsibilities. Students then explore the diverse roles for ethical values throughout science and engineering, involving researchers’ choice of funding, methodology, communication, and public engagement. Additionally, we discuss social responsibility for technological development, surveying issues in computer science, environmental justice, public health, and military ethics.

As a course in practical philosophy, students will develop their abilities to think critically about ethics in real-world cases, both individually and in groups. This course is suited to introduce STEM students of all levels and backgrounds to ethical issues related to their professional and social responsibilities. The materials introduce students to a diverse set of authors and a variety of contemporary topics, including sex differences, genetic modification, pharmaceutical drugs, climate-change denial, citizen science, energy policy, algorithmic bias, Indigenous rights, nuclear waste disposal, race-based medicine, reproductive health, and the military-industrial complex. Along with regular attendance and participation, assignments include 5 quizzes, 3 short papers, and a group project. Special emphasis is placed on open-minded engagement, charitable reading, respectful dialogue, and collaborative teamwork. [Fall semesters]

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Science & Gender (WGS/PHIL 2040)

An stylized collage of four famous women in science, including an astronaut, a chemist, a mathemetician, and a biologist. Famous women in science (left to right): astronaut Mae C. Jamison, physicist-chemist Marie Curie, computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, and primatologist Jane Goodall (more here; artist: Natasha Dzhola).

Scientists search for the fundamental causes of so-called “sex differences” and sexual desire in humans—often framed as “nature or nurture” debates—implicating genes or environment as the root cause. Yet, science both informs and is informed by our cultural ideas about sex, gender, and sexuality. In turn, scientific practices & theories are shaped by gender politics and uneven social hierarchies—often for the worse: Women have historically been marginalized within scientific professions, and many of their intellectual achievements, especially for women of color, have been erased or stolen by men. Under the guise of “objective science,” Western medicine has categorized queer sexuality and gender non-conformity as “abnormal” and “disordered,” thus rendering homosexuality and trans* identity as “pathological.”

In turn, feminists have criticized science for its sexist, heteronormative, and racist biases; its lack of objectivity and diversity; and its tight alliances with industrial and imperial powers. These problems raise serious philosophical questions: Can science ever provide an “objective” understanding of nature and reality, free from corruption by social values? How can we improve science to avoid reinforcing social inequalities? How should we transform medicine to better benefit society and serve marginalized groups?

This course introduces students to conversations across the fields of gender studies and philosophy, including feminist philosophy of science, Black feminist thought, postcolonial feminisms, and queer science studies. Students explore the interplay between science and gender, with special attention to intersections of sexuality, race, and ethnicity. In Part I, we analyze the concepts of “sex” and “gender” by investigating the history of debates over the internal/external causes of so-called “sex differences.” Part II prompts students to think more broadly about gender in science in debates over underrepresentation, bias, values, and scientific objectivity. In Part III, the class delves into critical approaches to biomedicine, including breast cancer, HIV/AIDS, reproductive health, and LQBTQ+ healthcare. In workshops, students will develop the skills of logical reasoning, analytic writing, scientific criticism, scholarly research, and peer review. Along with regular participation, assignments include co-leading discussion, 5 quizzes, 2 short papers, and a final paper. [Spring semesters]

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Philosophy of Bioethics (PHIL 342)

A doctor with a flashlight leading a patient into what looks like a cave composed of biological cells.

Artist: Paige Vickers

Ethics is the study of right and wrong conduct, including considerations about rights, responsibilities, values, freedom, and justice. Ethics pervades biomedicine and our everyday lives, bringing a variety of challenges for medical researchers, doctors, patients, and policy makers. If not reflective and intentional in their pursuits, biomedical professionals can compromise their scientific and moral integrity and contribute to existing social injustices, including corporate exploitation, scientific sexism and racism, and colonialism. The course challenges students to reflect on current ethical issues in biomedical research, involving different participants and different value judgments. Students also explore clinical ethics, including doctor-patient relations, medical decision-making, and Aristotelean and Confucian ethics. In addition, we examine ethical issues in biotechnology involving pharmaceuticals and genomics and in health policy involving public health and justice in medicine.

As a course in practical philosophy, students will develop their ability to think critically about ethics in real-world cases and the capacity to conduct independent research about ethical issues. This course is suited both for students training in profession careers in biomedicine and related health fields as well as for those more generally interested in ethical issues involving drugs, medical devices, genetics, and other related technologies. The materials introduce students to a diverse set of authors and a variety of contemporary topics, including sponsorship bias, patent rights, the women’s health movement, the right to transition, gay conversion therapy, designer babies, racial health disparities, safe sex, reproductive justice, Indigenous peoples’ health, and universal health care. Along with regular attendance and participation, assignments include reading journals, 4 short papers, and an individual research project (presentation and written report). Special emphasis is placed on intellectual humility, open-minded engagement, charitable reading, and respectful dialogue. [Fall semesters]

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Ethics in Computing and Information Technologies (CSE/IT/PHIL 382)

A cluster of data points forming the outline of a blindfolden Lady Justice holding a scale

Artist: Pablo Delcan

Ethics is the study of right and wrong behavior, including rights, responsibilities, virtues, democracy, and justice. In this class, students will examine ethical and social questions regarding computing and information technologies. The course challenges students to think about connections among digital technologies, the responsibilities of information technology professionals, and social justice as they study topics such as social media, military applications of digital media, gendered technologies, and access to information technologies. In addition to learning the basics of research ethics and social responsibility, students will examine real-world debates regarding subjects like big data, computer code, and digital networks; moreover, they will analyze the legal, political, and social stakes of information technologies. This course is suited both for students training in profession careers of Computer Science and Information Technology as well as for those more generally interested in ethical issues involving the internet, AI, robots, and other related technologies.

As a course in practical philosophy, students will develop their ability to think critically about ethics in real-world cases and the capacity to conduct independent research about ethical issues. The materials introduce students to a diverse set of authors and contemporary topics such as criminal justice software, digital intellectual property, censorship & regulation, hacking, digital activism, Big Tech, artificial intelligence, and robots for love and war. Along with regular participation, assignments include reading journals, 4 short papers, and an individual research project. Special emphasis is placed on intellectual humility, open-minded engagement, charitable reading, and respectful dialogue. [Spring semesters]

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Cybersecurity Ethics & Law (CYBS 502/PHIL 489/PHIL 589)

A cybersecurity ethics and law course in which students learn standards of professional, ethical behavior in cybersecurity fields by examining case studies, ethical questions, and legal debates from the history of computing and cybersecurity. This is a foundational course in NMT’s Transdisciplinary Cybersecurity Program. This graduate-level course introduces students to significant legal and ethical questions in the history of computing and cybersecurity. In doing so, it prepares graduate students to address the legal and ethical demands of work in cybersecurity fields following completion of the Transdisciplinary Cybersecurity Program. Moreover, the course will help students reflect on the ethical and legal questions posed by digital networks and technologies. This course is also cross-listed for undergraduates. [Fall semesters. Email professor for syllabus.]