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.

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.

Would you cheat

So I found the last video of Dan Ariely that I put up to be very interesting. The science of choice is of course a marketer’s dream, and it made me look completely differently at the way things were placed in the grocery store, an interesting side effect of that little video.

Having found a second video from Dan Ariely, the next question is what would cause you to cheat. Are your ethics impermeable to peer pressure, to our instincts? Watch this video and think about how you might have seen this play out in your own life. Would you, could you be swayed by some of the examples that are laid out here? It’s interesting to postulate our answers.

What does it all mean?

Please read the following

How much math do you really need in everyday life? Ask yourself that — and also the next 10 people you meet, say, your plumber, your lawyer, your grocer, your mechanic, your physician or even a math teacher.

Unlike literature, history, politics and music, math has little relevance to everyday life. That courses such as “Quantitative Reasoning” improve critical thinking is an unsubstantiated myth. All the mathematics one needs in real life can be learned in early years without much fuss. Most adults have no contact with math at work, nor do they curl up with an algebra book for relaxation.

Those who do love math and science have been doing very well. Our graduate schools are the best in the world. This “nation at risk” has produced about 140 Nobel laureates since 1983 (about as many as before 1983).

As for the rest, there is no obligation to love math any more than grammar, composition, curfew or washing up after dinner.

-G. V. Ramanathan

  1. Do you agree with the sentiments stated in the excerpt?
  2. Did you ask the people in your circle about their need for mathematics?
  3. So what problems does this present for mathematics?
  4. Do you agree with the sentiments expressed in here?

To what extent should we trust others?

I came across this very interesting YouTube video today while I was surfing around the Internet today. It speaks to what the nature of people is. This is a brief clip from a talk by Viktor Frankl who survived 3 years in concentration camps in World War II and yet still has a remarkably positive outlook on humans as individuals.

I ask you to consider this simple question as you watch him: Is he right?

Is this art?

On Wednesday one of Edmonton’s popular newspapers asked the question: “Is this Art?” in Reference to particular construction that has appeared near the Whitemud and Fox Drive. Considering our discussion Wednesday afternoon about the nature of art (revolving around the Hallucinogenic Toreador – see the video below) I thought the question was worth asking with reference to out local art. So what do you think? Is this art? Is this something that governments should be finding? Is there something you’ve seen recently which has caused you to question ‘art’? I’m curious to see your opinions.