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!

 

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.

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.

 

What limits science?

Let’s take a look at this video.  What does this say about the way that science is practiced?  What should we keep in mind as we listen to what science is doing? What about the potential to go down the wrong road over a period of time?

Now read this article.  Here are some questions to consider as you read through the article.

  1. Why do you think this article was so hard to publish?
  2. Have you heard any of the claim that 90 percent of the published medical information that doctors rely on is flawed? Is this a problem with science or with society?
  3. Think about the fact that so many medical claims are refuted in the context of the video that you saw, in what ways are they saying the same things, in what way are they saying different things?
  4. Have you ever thought of bias as problem in science? How do we normally perceive science?
  5. Are some of the problems listed in here unique to medical science?

Lastly take a look at this article.  Do you feel that we do enough of teaching students (and anybody for that matter) to decipher bad science? Why or why not?

Reflections on the Truman Show

Who's looking at whom?

Today you watched (although some of you watched at a separate time) the Truman Show, one of the most interesting movies that deals with the material important to our class. Truman lives in a world that is controlled to by the media world. His actions reflect how someone wants him to reflect, until one day, he begins to see things that don’t seem to match his preconceived notions of the way life should be. The questions for us to consider are:

  • To what extent is this true in our lives?
  • Are we blind to certain things, how important is it to understand that blindness to truly understand something?
  • To what extent are we limited by our own limited abilities to perceive things?
  • If we are able to only perceive a limited amount, metaphorically what Truman might have been able to see, what can we do uncover more details?

Truman stepping into a new reality

These are important questions to think about anytime we begin to examine or study something. Truman certainly found the answers to his questions wanting, do you think you might find the same thing?

 

Little Pig, Little Pig, tell me your story.

In the last post I talked about the inability of some people to perceive something which almost everyone else can perceive and asked you to think about how that disability can significantly alter our approach to something. This week I stumbled across this fantastic video which, I think, tackles a story that many of us are familiar, but with a very interesting twist. Watch it, and then think about why you believed the story the first time, in what other parts of our world have you been told ‘fables’ without really doubting or thinking about them from the other side.

Another look at the way statistics are gathered

And now for some good news, well not entirely, but a lot of it!  In the world of development, hope and statistics!

Now take a look at this YouTube video, what thoughts do you get after watching it?


Now go to this website and pick a few different sets of data and find one that has an interesting correlation.  Something which you might never have thought of before. You will need to click the ‘visualize’ icon so that the data is shown in the same way as in the video. Grab the link for your graph from the ‘share’ tab at the top of the graph and answer the following questions.

  1. Did you discover some data that seemed incomplete?
  2. What did you discover why do you think it’s interesting?
  3. Why do you think seeing data in this fashion is better than just looking at statistics (because that is, in fact, what they are based on)?

What did you base that claim on?

“There are lies, damn lies and statistics!”

Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of Great Britain 1874-1880

People often make claims and support their ideas using statistics.  Statistics seem like such a safe and realiable way to do so.  As we say in our reading last class, not all studies can be considered equal, and it turns out, neither can the statistics on which they base their claims.  Today I would like to look at three different elements of statistics and the problems that surround their use.

  1. To start with let’s look some examples of statistical abuse, they are very heavily centred on the United States, but you will still understand them.  Why do you think the statistics are often shown in a manner that distorts them?
  2. What, in  your mind, do you think is a commonly misused statistic?  This web page asked that question and received a couple very interesting responses.  What do you think?
  3. Now let’s look at some of the common ways in which statistics are abused.  Can you think of any examples where you have seen this take place?
  4. Lastly I would like you to turn to a major newspaper, like the Toronto Globe and Mail, the New York Times, the Ottawa Citizen, the Manchester Guardian.  Or go to a News TV piece from any news source (CBC, NBC, CNN, etc.), watch it and listen to the statistics that are being used.  Can you find any examples where statistics are being used in a questionable fashion?  Comment on these below and think about why these statistics are shown this way.

An interesting look at … ‘Bad Science’

Ben Goldacre is one of the more thought provoking writers/bloggers that I’ve recently discovered.  To be sure it was because he was flogging his book, but having said that I have found what he has written in his posts for the Guardian newspaper in the UK and cross-posted on his blog to be interesting and eye-opening (and I’ve only read a few).

I challenge you to look into his blog and find a posting or two that interests you and then respond to it, either positively, negatively or however you feel after reading it using your blog.

This is his TEDTalk where he challenges all of us to critically appraise the information that often comes across our radar. He very importantly analyzes the different types of way that science information is presented to us. Challenge yourself to think of these problems when you are presented with information through popular media, social media, or in your classroom (especially from Social Studies teachers – they’re the dodgiest of all!)

While you certainly don’t have to watch another of his talks, there is one, and it has some more and very specific cases (some of which are the same) that where he challenges perceived wisdom.