Skip to main content

View Diary: Can science take stands on issues? (38 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  As an instructor in an intro biology course, I (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OHdog

    teach both physiology and ecology.  My colleagues who teach upper level classes in cellular and molecular biology have no problem talking about ways to cure human illnesses.  As I do when teaching physiology.

    However, I have no issue teaching students about ways to cure the environmental "issues" of invasive species, habitat lose and degradation, lake eutrophication, etc.

    The worse thing you can do is teach students about environmental biology, introduce them to all the issues we face and not teach them how we deal with the issues.  Doing that leaves the students feeling helpless and overwhelmed.

    I find the idea not to inform students about the environmental issues that are going to influence their lives both irresponsible and intellectually immature.  Would we teach human biology and not inform them of health issues like diabetes, heart disease or cancer?

    •  re As an instructor (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      petewsh61

      Would we teach human biology and not inform them of health issues like diabetes, heart disease or cancer?

      First, as mentioned above, informing people of issues is distinct from telling them which stance they should take.  Second, I see nothing wrong with discussing stances on issues as long as it's understood that in doing so we leave the realm of science and enter the realm of ethics.

      As I mentioned, I'm in the process of developing activities which tie social issues into science classes.  If you'd be interested in these, email me.

      •  I agree but only in part. For instance I can (0+ / 0-)

        give a lecture on global warming or anthropogenic eutrophication with the premise that both of these will have negative effects that need remediation and then talk about the best ways, from a scientific standpoint, to deal with the negative effects.  Here, I believe we are in the realm of applied science, where we take certain ethical standpoints as given and apply our knowledge to the problem.  Disciplines like medicine and conservation biology come to mind here.

        I do understand where your coming from, I took issue with the NSTA's statement that is clearly an appeasement of the right's concerns.  Of course we should teach students about environmental issues from a scientific based viewpoint.  I find it odd that they need to parse the science from environmental issues - to me they are not separate - good environmental understanding is based on good science.

        •  re only in part (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          petewsh61

          When you give a lecture that includes both climate science and recommendations for action, you're including both science and ethics.  Any time you talk of things like "best", you're in ethics.  The best way to deal with issues depends entirely on what our ethical perspective is.  This is very evident in discussions of what the best thing to do about climate change is- see for example Nordhaus's paper (pdf) on the Stern Review.  (I agree with Stern on the ethics.)

          For the record, I think it's great to give such a lecture that includes both science and ethics.

          Re "appeasement of the right's concerns": You may be correct here.  I think it would be unfortunate if the NSTA or anyone else was selectively using disclaimers like this instead of doing so uniformly.  It's good for us to be vigilant about these things.  Reminds me of the "evolution is a theory, not a fact" sticker saga.  Technically, evolution is a theory, not a fact, but that misses the point.

          •  Disagree, ethics is about why we should act and, (0+ / 0-)

            tradeoffs regarding different paths of action or inaction.  My approach is to assume (my assumptions are based on the best current knowledge of the issue) for some things it is a given that we should act and that there are different actions we can take take to mitigate a problem that will either be more or less effective at solving the problem.

            For instance we could look at different climate mitigation strategies and ask which will maintain CO2 near the 1980 levels.  We can then propose different measures and test them against this standard.  That's applied science, not ethics.   Ethics would then go on to ask which mitigation approach is best for society or individual liberties or whatever.  I do not teach the later, only the former.  I make certain implicit ethical assumptions when I teach applied biology, like cancer is bad and global warming will have negative effects on human and ecological systems.

            Thanks for beginning this stimulating discussion.

            •  applied science vs ethics (0+ / 0-)

              OK, I think I see what you're getting at.  I agree that applied science falls outside the realm of ethics if we define applied science as the study of what we can do and ethics the study of as what we should do.  (We could then define science as the study of what is.)

              I make certain implicit ethical assumptions when I teach applied biology, like cancer is bad and global warming will have negative effects on human and ecological systems.

              Would it be appropriate for you to introduce ethics more formally in your teaching?  Again if you'd like help don't hesitate to email me.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site