Ethics – oh baby, do we have issues?

What does it mean to be ethical? What are the things that we need to do to lead an ethical life?

Michio Kaku is one of the most well-known scientists of our time and we can find him here speculating on things that might soon come to pass in the world of genetics and science. The question that remains unanswered, but which is vital to this whole discussion is: are any of these experiments, as he describes them, ethical? Is this something that we should as a species be doing?

Here Dr. Kaku talks about some of the great threats to humans as a species. These can only be done if scientists chose to work on this. However as we move down the scale to high school (yes, even high school) students and give more and more people the ability to create DNA and other genetic material how should we teach people to be ethical? Then of course there’s the ‘guy in the basement’ theory, what can we do about those? Can we teach  people to be ethical?

It is not uncommon for scientists to do things without thinking through all of the potential outcomes. Here is the somewhat disturbing story of Fritz Haber (who was discussed in history class). In this case he knew exactly what he was doing, but what is the ethical requirement for scientists to consider their impact on other humans. Should he have won the Nobel Prize? Here is the aforementioned biography of Herr Doktor Profesor Haber.

Needless to say the effects of Professor Haber’s creations have been long-lasting and had a huge impact. How can we use this knowledge to help us with ethical decisions in science, or elsewhere  for that matter.

PS Wow, there’s always something, here’s the story of the scientist who discovered the oldest living thing on earth and promptly killed it. Oops!

 

We’re wrong! But maybe that’s not so bad!

Looking at the problems that exits it’s sometimes hard to imagine how they can be solved, but what happens when the information that we are using is out-of-date? This article explores the problems with the way information has been generated and curated and it is worth a good look. The information that we all may be living under may actually be wrong, that statement makes it to believe that we can make the right decisions. What does that mean for us when we chose politicians, what does it mean for us when those politicians don’t do their work. Does it change what we can trust? Read the article and decide what within the article surprises you? How important do you think the information contained within this article is?

On a different tack about what wrong means, here is Kathryn Schulz talking about her take on being wrong. Is it something in our society that prevents us from easily admitting that we should be wrong?

Really Useful Essay Resources

Another Theory of Knowledge teacher that I follow, from Sacramento CA, named Larry Ferlazzo put up some really useful links on his blog. An organization called IB TokTutor posts useful resources for students writing their essays. Here is a listing of some of the most recent tweets. They might assist you greatly in preparing your essays. We will be looking at the essay prompts in the next two weeks. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.


Data and statistics can be so hard and yet so… flimsy.

One of the problems that Dr. Ben Goldacre highlighted in his talk that we watched last week was the use of studies that don’t seem to tell all the whole truth when it comes to getting drugs approved for use. It certainly can be a problem for doctors who need to understand the effect of the drug on their patients. We can also read about this problem here, I’m not sure how much I want to trust my health to a sense of ‘randumbness.’

The question however is what about us, the non-doctors, what about when we try and understand studies and statistics, most of which have important implications for us, but yet seem slightly incomprehensible. To begin with read this story about trying to estimate numbers for a crowd, these are numbers that are often thrown out by media and other organizations as fact, yet are they really?  Then there is this short blog entry about the way basic income statistics can be made to look very different, even when dealing with the same data.

On the other hand here is a different look at the world than what we normally hear about. Are there any questions that this raises in as you watch?

Think those statistics are interesting – check out this website and start playing with some. It will take a few minutes to get used to it, but it’s fairly workable. Find one that interests you and be prepared to discuss it in class.

What can belief do? Well…

Would you take a sugar pill to treat a headache? Why or why not? Think about it before you answer…

Now watch this short video

Does the information in here surprise you? What does it tell us about the abilities of our brain? The role of emotion in what we believe? In what ways is this potentially dangerous?

Now knowing what we know about placebos. let’s look at a much larger issue. How might that impact the information that we have on medical issues. Here’s Ben Goldacre’s take on what problems we have. Look at the limitations that we have identified in ToK (assumptions, biases, values and problems) that he identifies as being part of the process that gets drugs approved and accepted in the general population.

How do *you* know?

Instinct seems to suggest that we all want to know the truth.  Sometimes that truth may be painful, but even then we seem to be inclined toward that truth rather than living under false pretenses which our inner voices tell us are not the truth.

Give an example of how we know truth for each of the following ‘pathways’ to belief.

  1. Empathy
  2. Introspection
  3. Instinct
  4. Faith
  5. Perception
  6. Memory
  7. Conscience
  8. Logic
  9. Practice
  10. Moral Belief
  11. Acquaintance
  12. Authority
  13. Evidence
  • Are there any other avenues through which we arrive at the truth?
  • Rank these thirteen (or more) pathways from those which lead only to personal belief to those which most likely will lead to universal certitude.

After our discussion of these matters it would be a good idea to use some of the things that you hear or are thinking about the way that you acquire knowledge as a blog entry. One possibility would be for you to compare the tops of your list and the bottom of your list and think about why you made the choices you did for the top one or two ‘paths to knowledge.’

So if we lie, what does that mean?

Last week we looked at what lying was, why we are motivated to do it and what encourages us to do it. This week I want to further extend this discussion. First by looking at some potential real-life issues that may affect our society, but instead of talking about lying, we will be looking at an extension – cheating.

Answer this question honestly – do you have downloaded material on your computer or portable devices that you are not licensed to have? Do you friends? Why?

Watch the video and think about how this underlines the importance of rationalization, emotions, language and human nature in the process of ‘cheating.’

Of course cheating has so many meaning – in sports, in relationships, in school. Listen to this story from NPR: Run, Swim, Throw, Cheat is it easy to distinguish when someone is cheating and when someone isn’t. In what way could we examine cheating in sports using at least four different areas of knowledge and two different ways of knowing. Create some questions that would work in each case.

 

There’s truth and then there’s, well lying!

We have been discussing what we believe is truth and how we determine what is truth in our lives. We have discussed it in a way dealing with one of the most powerful of human actions, murder, the act of killing another human being (or as some in the class pointed out any animal, regardless of whether or not they’re human). So this last class we began our look at the other side of truth: lying. It seems that we had some difficulty determining what should qualify as a lie, but we began our investigation of the truth of lying (so to speak with this video).

This led us further into the discussion of what we can do about lying, but importantly what does it mean for our society if we lie as much as seems to be predicted from the research. One thing we looked at was the potential impact on the criminal justice system. Police officers and courts rely extensively on eye-witness testimony, but what happens when they are not so accurate. The Innocence Project (an American group working for the defence of the wrongly accused) claims that eye-witness testimony is the single largest contributory factor in wrongful convictions. If true, it appears that the heart of our system of justice might be deeply flawed.

So how well do you do in the following test.

So, now in many cases that might not be lying, but it does seem to show that we are susceptible to other information, and also easily influence by it. We can, in effect hold two completely opposing ideas in our brains at one time. So how about something even more personal read this example here, the potential for a lie or real lie has serious impacts on another person, in this case the child.

Looks can deceive

Please take a look at this article.   What are two things that you found new, different or interesting?

  1. Think about how it talks about reality (truth) and our perception of it.  What does this mean for the way that we perceive our reality?  What does this mean about the way our brain’s interpret reality?
  2. Think about it in the context of the Truman Show, in what ways does it reflect how Truman saw the world versus what was his reality?

Read this article.

  1. What does this mean for our perception of reality?
  2. Before you read this article did you think that you could be manipulated into not noticing major difference like the subjects of these experiments are?

Biohacking?!?

You might have heard of hacking in the context of computers. Essentially the ability to dig around within computer applications and hardware to make alterations and changes. Of course we are all aware that this can have both beneficial and harmful effects. So what about hacking biology? Or biohacking as it’s called?

I have to admit that I had never heard of this before I was listening to the radio when the CBC show Spark happened to come to this discussion. It’s fascinating and apparently there are people all around the world developing a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) hobby of biohacking. Apparently it all begins with the extraction of DNA. Here’s a video to show you how!

You should listen to the to the recording of the interview which is located part way down this web page. Once you have listened to it, think about what this might mean for knowledge and innovation itself? Does it have any potential?