I'll tell you the problem with engineers and scientists. Scientists have an elaborate line of bullshit about how they are seeking to know the truth about nature. Which is true, but that is not what drives them. Nobody is driven by abstractions like "seeking truth." Discovery is always a rape of the natural world.

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

Ethics for Science and Technical Communication

COM 612-900: Seminar
Fall, '15-16
Lawrence Souder, Ph.D.
Voice: 215-895-2730
Classroom: online
Office hours: by appointment
Office: online
E-mail: LS39 @ drexel.edu

Description: Seeking truth is only one of the values that motivate scientists and engineers. The other values that drive them frequently surface when they violate ethical principles. This course is based on the premises that (1) the practice of science and technology is not value-free and (2) the communication of science and technology especially presents many ethical challenges. Through the analysis of case studies and the examination of ethical frameworks this course will explore ethical issues in such topics as:

This course articulates with the content and goals of other courses in the Department of Communication, specificially COM 510 (Technical Communication), COM 520 (Science Communication), COM 540 (Science and Technical Graphics), and COM 570 (Technical Editing).

Objectives: If you successfully complete this course, you will be able to:

*Relevance to Drexel Student Learning Priorities

Text: [Selected journal articles on-line and in print; see bibliography and Hagerty Library's Electronic Reserve.]

Grading:  This course will proceed as a seminar. As such, it will require you to take an active role in presenting and discussing ideas in class. No midterm or final exams will be given. Your final grade will be computed on the basis of the following components:

Scores and grades will be computed as follows: 98-100% = A+; 93-97% = A; 90-92% = A-; 87-89% = B+; 83-86% = B; 80-82% = B-; 77-79% = C+;  73-76% = C; 70-72% = C-; 67-69% = D+; 60-66% = D; < 60 = F.

Assignments: Each class meeting will require you to prepare a reading and a writing assignment. Most readings are articles from research journals. Click on their author designators in the Reading Due column of the Assignment Schedule for study guide questions to help you focus on their key terms and concepts.

Most writing assignments are opportunities to apply the perspectives and principles explicated in the readings to your own case studies. Click on the items in the Writing Due column of the Assignment Schedule for specific details. Late assignments will be penalized one letter grade increment for each day late.

As a presenter your task is to offer your understanding of the assigned reading and to relate it to the current topic of the class. Your mode of delivery should be extemporaneous. Allow about 10 minutes for your presentation.


The written projects for this course will require you to familiarize yourself with a scientific or technical discipline.

Project 1 is a choice of one of the following descriptive analyses:
Project 2 is a choice of one of the following critical analyses.

Weekly postings in which you assume two separate roles.

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.
(100 to 200 words)

As a questioner your task is to formulate and pose a question to the presenters scheduled for the week. 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.
(100 to 200 words)

Academic Honesty: It is assumed that the work you submit for this course, whether written or spoken, is your own. Any attempt to represent someone else's work as your own is plagiarism. Plagiarism includes copying another student's work on papers or tests, copying without attribution the ideas or words from published sources, submitting papers written in previous semesters, and referring to notes during exams. For more clarification on plagiarism, see Drexel's Student Handbook. Such academic misconduct will result in a failing grade for the assignment, a probable failing grade for the course, and a report to the Dean for possible disciplinary action. Be advised that internet services such as EVE 2.3 and Turnitin.com make the detection of plagiarism easy.

Course Add/Drop/Withdrawal

You can add this course until the end of week 2. See this link to add. If you add this course after the start of the term, you are responsible for completing ALL work that you may have missed.

You can drop this course until the end of week 2; the course will then be removed from your transcript. See this link to drop.

You can withdraw from this course until the end of week 7; a "W" will be recorded in your transcript. You will have received some graded work prior to this deadline. If you have any questions about your progress at any time of the term, please contact me. See this link to withdraw.

Assignment Schedule

Week Topic Reading Writing Speaker
1 Introduction NAS; Writing Science; Sample arguments; Ethical Frameworks, Vices
2 Foundations Davis, M. (15), Thompson_on_Davis (3); Hauser-Kastenberg (11)    
3 Peer Review Kiang (9), Thomsen (9), Souder (11), Wilson (20)    
4 Authorship Drenth (11), Resnik (6), Jones (14) Project 1 Proposal
5 Popularization Rensberger (3); Einsiedel (12), Sabloff (8), Rogers (5) Project 1

6 Plagiarism Loui (10), Bouville (12), Bilic-Zulle (9)  

7 Censorship di Norcia (17), Rier (17), Brown (14)  
8 Risk communication Thompson (21), Murphy (16), Macpherson (14)

9 Informed consent Zaborowski (12), Varelius (12), Elliott (25), Gefenas (8)  
10 Whistleblowing Lubalin (21), Kline (8), Sieber (17) Project 2 Proposal  

Project 2