Discussions

Questioner

As a questioner your task is to formulate and pose a question to the presenters scheduled for the week. Most formal speakers expect such a process of challenge and response. This presentation will give you a chance to experience and practice that process. Your question should be prefaced with some introduction of a relevant issue and then should challenge the speakers to defend their position on the issue. Use the following suggestions to prepare yourself: select one specific issue from one of the course's assigned readings identify ways that this issue is relevant to the speakers' message develop a one-minute introduction to your question which lays out some background for the question ask the question in a way that challenges the speaker but remains collegial have a follow-up response or question for the speaker's answer.

Advocate

As an advocate your task is to assume your assigned role in a stakeholder debate in the current week's case study and prepare an argument to justify some moral choice. Find your Stakeholder # in the Grade book and use it to identify your role in each debate. Your argument should:

The roles of different stakeholders will imply different positions: scientists, research journal editors, media professionals, corporate representatives, common citizens, elected officials, and others. All have their own vested interests which inform their moral reasoning. Each stakeholder's argument will likely select claims, evidence and reasoning most favorable to their position. I will assign each of you a stakeholder role for every case study; your task as an advocate is to develop an argument from the standpoint of that role. Please consider using the Toulmin model of argumentation as aid in crafting your position.

 

Week 4: Arguing for authorship

Nature in its issue for February 27, 1997, published a report by Wilmut, Schnieke, McWhir, Kind, and Campbell, where they claim in their abstract:

"Fertilization of mammalian eggs is followed by successive cell divisions and progressive differentiation, first into the early embryo and subsequently into all of the cell types that make up the adult animal. Transfer of a single nucleus at a specific stage of development, to an enucleated unfertilized egg, provided an opportunity to investigate whether cellular differentiation to that stage involved irreversible genetic modification. The first offspring to develop from a differentiated cell were born after nuclear transfer from an embryo-derived cell line that had been induced to become quiescent. Using the same procedure, we now report the birth of live lambs from three new cell populations established from adult mammary gland, fetus and embryo."

Thus was born Dolly the sheep. As a result Wilmut, by virtue of being the principle investigator became quite famous. The Guardian reported on March 11, 2006, however, that Wilmut “did not develop the technology or conduct the experiments, and played only a supervisory role.” The same article notes, in fact, that two lab technicians claimed they did all of the cloning work, so they deserved the credit.

Drummond Rennie, deputy editor of the JAMA says, “This is about one of the most important questions you can ask, because credit more than anything drives science.”

Question: How far should the byline of an scientific research paper extend?

Stakeholder 1: Wilmut, the principle investigator
Stakeholder 2: the lab technician
Stakeholder 3: the chair of Wilmut's tenure committee

 

Week 5 The human body: temple or toy?

Body Worlds 3: The Anatomical Exhibition of Real Human Bodies, opened at Telus World of Science in Vancouver, on September 15, 2006. It promises to be a Canadian version of what has been circling the globe for the last few years. It came to Philadelphia’s Franklin Science Museum earlier this year. Body Worlds exhibits whole human cadavers and body parts, which have been skinned and preserved through plastination, a process that replaces body tissues with plastic. German physician and anatomist Gunther von Hagens developed the process of plastination. The Vancouver exhibit included the cadaver of a skateboarder; in Philadelphia the exhibit included the cadaver of a woman eight-months pregnant and slit open to reveal her fetus.

Public reaction to these exhibits has been mixed. Paul Schratz, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver has said: “[A]ccording to the Catholic Church the body is sacred and should be treated with respect at all times. We have major concerns that level of respect is not being met.” On the other hand, Vancouver rabbi David Mivasair, of the Ahavat Olam Synagogue and the InterSpiritual Centre Society, said: "As a religious person I see it as a way to look inside ourselves and see the physical reality of our bodies." Dr. von Hagens himself has said: “Plastination offers a kind of secularized burial, a consolation, in that it changes the face of death.”

Question: Are the Body Worlds exhibits legitimate instances of communicating science to the public, or have they crossed an ethical line into desecrating the human spirit?

Stakeholder 1: Spokesperson for a faith-based organization of your choice
Stakeholder 2: Spokesperson for a science museum
Stakeholder 3: A surviving parent of the deceased woman who was eight-months pregnant

 

Week 6: Correcting the Scientific Record or Smearing a Political Adversary?

In June of 2006 Massoumeh Ebtekar of the University of Medical Sciences, Tehran, Iran, published a paper in the Iranian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology entitled “Air Pollution Induced Asthma and Alterations in Cytokine Patterns.” It turns out that about 85% of the text of this article is identical to that found in five papers by other researchers. This revelation arose from the work of the Deja Vu web database at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, which posts articles with apparent problems with plagiarism.


Ian Mudway, a toxicologist at King's College London, is one of the researchers whose words appear in Ebtekar's work. In response to this apparent plagiarism he said: "The article is a veritable patchwork of other people's work, word for word, grammatical error for grammatical error.”


Ebtekar apologized but blamed the error on a student who helped her write the paper. She added that the posting of her case on Déjà vu went “too far in condemning people and smearing their reputation before they have a chance to respond.”


Mohammad Eslami, who is the editor-in-chief of the Iranian Journal of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, retracted Ebtekar’s paper and published an editorial on plagiarism.


(N.B.: In 1979 Ebtekar was the spokeswoman for the militant students who held Americans hostage in the US Embassy in Tehran.)


Question: Was this outcome fair to all parties?


Stakeholder 1: Ebtekar
Stakeholder 2: Eslami
Stakeholder 3: Mudway

 

Week 7 Special Handling or Censorship?

In October of 2005, Heather Rosoff and Detlof von Winterfeldt posted a research paper on their University of Southern California website entitled "A Risk and Economic Analysis of Dirty Bomb Attacks on the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach," which concluded, among other things, that the chances of a successful attempt to detonate a dirty bomb near a port in Los Angeles are "no better than 60%" but that three independent attempts would yield a collective probability of success at 91%, and specific points like, "Explosion of a dirty bomb in an elevated area, like on a bridge or in a helicopter, would enhance the dispersal of radioactive material." Given this subject matter von Winterfeldt thought it best to self-censor his report of content that might be strategically useful to terrorists. Some researchers have called this "special handling." The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) concurs with this practice, which is why they have proffered guidelines for censoring "sensitive but unclassified" (SBU) information--a category of suppressed material that is outside of the government's existing system of classified information. Steven Aftergood from the Federation of American Scientists is disturbed by this move, saying, "Imposing restrictions short of classification is a slippery slope that will ultimately paralyze the academic process." His like-minded colleagues call it tantamount to censorship. However, Melvin Bernstein from the Office of Research and Development in the Department of Homeland Security disagrees: "[T]here could be circumstances when researchers need to be careful about what can be disseminated."

Question: Should another mechanism for restricting the dissemination of scientific information beyond the government's existing system of classifying sensitive information be allowed?

Stakeholder 1: university scientist
Stakeholder 2:
DHS specialist in terrorism
Stakeholder 3: the mayor of Los Angeles

 

Week 8: Stakeholder Debate: Astroturf lobbying

In 2004 the EPA issued this advisory: "Do not eat Shark, Swordfish, King Mackerel, or Tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury." Mercury can be harmful to an unborn baby or young child. However, Aina Hunter in an article for the Village Voice, entitled "Mercury in Fish? Baloney! Lobbyist tells pregnant women to eat more tuna," on January 17th, 2006, reports that a DC lobbyist created a front group called the Center for Consumer Freedom, which mounted a multimedia campaign to discredit the claims about health hazards of mercury in fish. The group will not reveal who is funding the campaign, but a former employee admits that Monsanto and Tyson Foods have supported it. Former Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen coined the phrase "astroturf lobbying" to refer to such practices advance support for a viewpoint. Are these ethical ways to practice public relations?

Stakeholder 1: public relations client
Stakeholder 2: media consumer
Stakeholder 3: journalist

 

Week 9: Opting out of informed consent

The Wall Street Journal on February 22, 2006, reported that the producer of a blood substitute halted its clinical trial and failed to disclose publicly any results after ten of 81 patients suffered heart attacks. PolyHeme (manufactured by Northfield Laboratories) was being tested on non-consenting trauma patients. The federal government had given the company approval to use badly bleeding accident victims as test subjects without the subjects' informed consent. It turns out that the only way to avoid being subjected to this test is to wear a blue bracelet provided by the company. The company claimed there was no other way to test this product. But others, believed such a system made citizens into test subjects without their consent.

Question: Should such a practice be a matter of opting in or opting out?

Stakeholder 1: spokesperson for Northfield Laboratories
Stakeholder 2: typical motorist in Massachusetts
Stakeholder 3: the spouse of one of the patients who suffered a heart attack

 

Week 10: Blowing the Whistle on Breast Implants

The Washington Post on October 13, 2006, ran this headline: "FDA Review Sought of Data on Implants." The story concerns a scientist who worked for 15 years at Mentor Corporation, which had applied for approval from the FDA to market its new line of silicone breast implants. The scientist urged his superiors that the data presented to the FDA did not adequately rule out silicone compounds in the implants' gel, which could pass through the plastic skin of the implant into the body. He told the Post, "even when we were aware in the corporation that this data had no meaning, we didn't inform the agency. As a matter of fact, the person who had oversight of my department tried to give validity to the data basically with a hand-waving approach." He called this response "intentional deception." The FDA staff formally rejected the whistleblower's complaint, saying that it had not requested his data and that the data submitted by Mentor and another firm seeking an approval for silicone breast implants, were similar and therefore sufficiently corroborative. The scientist was laid off this year in a company reorganization. Was the FDA right to ignore the scientist's alarm in favor of the data provided by two independent organizations?

Stakeholder 1: FDA spokesperson
Stakeholder 2:
30-year old woman with a history of respiratory and brain cancers
Stakeholder 3: the CEO of Mentor Corporation