Hot Topics: Science

Blog Posts (20)

September 30, 2016

Ethics & Society Newsfeed: September 30, 2016

Technology and Ethics Tech Giants Team Up To Tackle The Ethics Of Artificial Intelligence The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society, consisting of Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and IBM (with Apple in talks to join), weighs in on the … Continue reading
June 10, 2016

Small Minds

I have recently read an opinion piece published in the Chronicle of Higher Education by John Kaag and David O’Hara entitled Big Brains, Small Minds. In this article Kaag and O’Hara boldly assert that “We are on the verge of becoming the best trained, and least educated, society since the Romans”. In the ensuing explanation we learn that education is science is what he refers to as “trained” while education in the humanities is what he refers to as “educated”. Apparently I have been trained and he has been educated. What a crock. Because I have been trained and not educated it is probably important to clarify that I mean crock not in the sense of an earthenware jar but rather in the sense of something which is complete nonsense.

Kaag and O’Hara appear to believe that one of the primary roles of the humanities is to critique science. That is fine; everybody should critique science, it is much too important to not be evaluated in the context of all types of human knowledge and understanding. It is also fine that they suggest that humanities should not be judged by the metrics of hard science. Of note, however, is I have never heard anyone suggest that humanities should be judged by the metrics of hard science. But I think it is probably important to note, however, that if it is the job of humanities to critique science perhaps those doing the critiquing should also know some science. It should also be kept in mind that scientists are pretty good at critiquing the sciences and, in fact, we usually spend quite a bit of time and energy critiquing each other. Just for the record, Kaag and O’Hara write that Plato teaches us that part of the liberal arts enduring mission is to critique the objectives of science. Science was rather different in the time of Plato. Perhaps he should have a more recent reference. He should also remember that at the time of Plato there was really no distinct boundary between science and philosophy. The authors cite the story of Herodicus as told by Socrates as an example of a disordered mind having “been trained in the STEM fields of his time”.  Really! This took place in the fifth century BC. Again, I think we may well need a newer reference. Parenthetically Herodicus showed great insight in advocating the value of exercise in preserving health.

The job of a professional scientist is to learn what has previously been unknown. They must be able to understand and appreciate the state of knowledge in their field, identify the boundaries of knowledge, and formulate hypotheses that if proven produce new knowledge. For a scientist to be successful they assume the burden of proving or disproving that hypothesis. They must have the communications skills to present their ideas in an adequately compelling manner to be awarded resources to engage these scientific pursuits. They must communicate their findings to the world. None of these are endeavors of the small mind.

The authors of this essay state “If you’re interested in learning about justice, you don’t go to the chemistry laboratory. You go to philosophy class and travel to Plato’s Republic. Perhaps so but I am unconvinced. If the justice one seeks has to do with environmental preservation, species extinction, and biomedical innovation perhaps this is positively contributed to by those who have had their minds expanded by an education which includes science.


The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

May 12, 2016

Why Science Denial is Immoral

By Christopher S. Kovel, M.A. Today’s society is built and shaped by technology and scientific discovery but, surprisingly, pervading scientific denial lingers. Irrational skepticism and flat-out denial of uncontroversial theories is not just a rebuke of the facts of science … Continue reading
April 7, 2016

BioethicsTV: “Heartbeat” tackles therapeutic misconception

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

On episode 4 of Heartbeat, the heroine, Dr. Panttiere has received hospital funding to try an experimental cancer treatment on 5 patients.…

October 5, 2015

Your Biology is in My Technology

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

The PBS series Open Mind has been on television for nearly 60 years. The program “is a thoughtful excursion into the world of ideas.” The December 30 episode was an interview with Dr.

October 1, 2015

True Confessions: Keeping up with the literature

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

When I was a graduate student learning about the job of being an academic, my advisor gave me some good advice.…

September 17, 2015

Science anyone?

by Arthur Caplan, Ph.D.

Plenty of pundits are analyzing the Wednesday night GOP debate in terms of who won and who lost.

September 10, 2015

Ashley Madison & Using Stolen Data

by Arthur L Caplan, PhD and Charles Seife, MS

This past August, the public was treated to gigabytes of data stolen from the Ashley Madison website, including detailed records on millions of people who had registered for their service.…

August 31, 2015

Hashtag Advocacy or Slacktivism: How Should We Evaluate the Impact of Social Media Campaigns for Public Health?

by Macey L. Henderson, J.D.

It takes more than a TV news story or a Twitter hashtag campaign to save lives.…

April 23, 2015

Designer Embryos: The Future is Now

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

Oh, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in ’t!

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Published Articles (4)

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 16 Issue 2 - Feb 2016

The Porosity of Autonomy: Social and Biological Constitution of the Patient in Biomedicine Jonathan Beever & Nicolae Morar

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 15 Issue 4 - Apr 2015

Ideology and Microbiology: Ebola, Science, and Deliberative Democracy Joseph J. Fins

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 13 Issue 11 - Nov 2013

If I Could Just Stop Loving You: Anti-Love Biotechnology and the Ethics of a Chemical Breakup Brian D. Earp, Olga A. Wudarczyk, Anders Sandberg & Julian Savulescu

American Journal of Bioethics: Volume 13 Issue 11 - Nov 2013

The Difficult Case of Voluntariness as Autonomy in Anti-Love Biotechnology Hywote Taye

News (100)

September 9, 2016 8:00 am

Another scathing report causes more eminent heads to roll in the Macchiarini scandal (Science)

The scandal surrounding Paolo Macchiarini, the former star surgeon who became famous for his pioneering trachea transplants, has prompted yet another round of resignations and firings at the highest levels of Swedish higher education. On Monday evening, Swedish Minister for Higher Education and Research Helene Hellmark Knutsson said she had dismissed the country’s chancellor in charge of all public universities, Harriet Wallberg-Henriksson, following the release of a sharply critical report by an independent commission that examined the Karolinska Institute’s (KI’s) hiring and management of Macchiarini. Wallberg-Henriksson was vice-chancellor of KI in Stockholm, a position comparable to that of a university president, when Macchiarini was hired, and played a key role in his recruitment.

September 9, 2016 8:00 am

Blue ribbon report urges U.S. cancer moonshot to invest in 10 promising areas (Science)

Vice President Joe Biden’s proposed moonshot to conquer cancer should invest in large collaborations, data sharing projects, and the promising cancer treatment known as immunotherapy, among 10 areas described in an advisory group’s draft report released this morning. The report was accepted (with one abstention) today by the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI’s) advisory board, which is expected to pass it on to the NCI director and then to a federal task force. Now, Congress just needs to come up with the money to pay for the moonshot, research advocates say.

July 29, 2016 8:13 am

Dolly the Sheep’s Fellow Clones, Enjoying Their Golden Years (New York Times)

Dolly the Sheep started her life in a test tube in 1996 and died just six years later. When she was only a year old, there was evidence that she might have been physically older. At five, she was diagnosed with osteoarthritis. And at six, a CT scan revealed tumors growing in her lungs, likely the result of an incurable infectious disease. Rather than let Dolly suffer, the vets put her to rest.

July 27, 2016 8:46 am

Building a Better Human With Science? The Public Says, No Thanks (New York Times)

Americans aren’t very enthusiastic about using science to enhance the human species. Instead, many find it rather creepy

July 22, 2016 8:35 am

Mind over gray matter: new map lays out brain's cerebral cortex (Reuters)

Neuroscientists acting as cartographers of the human mind have devised the most comprehensive map ever made of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions such as abstract thought, language and memory.

June 3, 2016 9:48 am

Scientists Announce HGP-Write, Project to Synthesize the Human Genome (New York Times)

Scientists on Thursday formally announced the start of a 10-year project aimed at vastly improving the ability to chemically manufacture DNA, with one of the goals being to synthetically create an entire human genome.

May 26, 2016 9:15 am

Antimicrobial Mechanism Gone Rogue May Play Role in Alzheimer's Disease (Scientific American)

General consensus among Alzheimer’s researchers has it that the disease’s main culprit, a protein called amyloid beta, is an unfortunate waste product that is not known to play any useful role in the body—and one that can have devastating consequences. When not properly cleared from the brain it builds up into plaques that destroy synapses, the junctions between nerve cells, resulting in cognitive decline and memory loss. The protein has thus become a major drug target in the search for a cure to Alzheimer’s.

May 20, 2016 8:49 am

Nearly a third of women in academic medicine experience sexual harassment (Reuters)

For women in U.S. medical research, sexual harassment is less common than 20 years ago, but it was still experienced by 30 percent of those responding to a new survey, compared to just 4 percent of men, researchers say.

May 10, 2016 8:07 am

Researcher under fire for New Yorker epigenetics article (Nature)

A story about epigenetics in the 2 May issue of The New Yorker has been sharply criticized for inaccurately describing how genes are regulated. The article by Siddhartha Mukherjee — a physician, cancer researcher and award-winning author at Columbia University in New York — examines how environmental factors can change the activity of genes without altering the DNA sequence. Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary ecologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois, posted two widely discussed blog posts calling the piece “superficial and misleading”, largely because it ignored key aspects of gene regulation.

May 5, 2016 9:46 am

Bacteria-Infected Mosquitoes Could Slow Spread of Zika Virus (New York Times)

If there is ever a contest for Least Appreciated Creature on Earth, first prize should go to a microbe called Wolbachia. The bacterium infects millions of invertebrate species, including spiders, shrimps and parasitic worms, as well as 60 percent of all insect species. Once in residence, Wolbachia co-opts its hosts’ reproductive machinery and often greedily shields them from a variety of competing infections.

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