Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Holiday Hours

The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions will be closed on Thursday, November 24th and Friday, November 25th for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. We will open again on Monday, November 29th.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ASEE Prism and Senior Fellow Michael Davis

CSEP's Senior Fellow Michael Davis is mentioned in an article in the October 2010 edition of ASEE's Prisim discussing how historical case studies can be used to teach ethics and responsibility to future engineers. The article focuses on a number of courses taught by Dr. Marilyn Dyrud at the Oregon Institute of Technology which ask students to grapple with case studies such as the Challenger Disaster, the letting off of the atomic bomb in Japan, and the sinking of the Titanic. Dr. Dryud agrees with Dr. Davis that instructors should include ethics issues in standards engineering courses along also offering more standard engineering ethics courses.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Questionable Science Behind Academic Rankings

A recent article published in the New York Times questions the validity of academic ranking systems such as the Times Higher Education ranking list, citing the over-important role bibliometrics play in these rankings. In the case of Alexandria University, the author discusses how this university's high ranking seems to be due to the publications of Dr. Mohamed El Naschie, an Egyptian academic who published over 320 of his own articles in a scientific journal of which he is also the editor. The author goes on to discuss the problems that exist in trying to measure academic excellence, and the validity of using bibliometrics (or how often faculty members are cited in scholarly journals) as a way to measure the quality or influence of a university department.

Are there other, more nuanced ways of measuring the impact of universities, and how much weight should we ascribe to academic rankings of this kind?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Workplace Ethics and Facebook

An article from Monday's edition of the New York Times reports on a recent case where the National Labor Relations Board has stepped in to argue that workers' criticisms of their bosses or companies on a social networking sites are generally a protected activity and that employers would be violating the law for punishing works for such statements.

The Labor Relations Board filed a complaint last week against the ambulance company, American Medical Response of Connecticut who fired an emergency medical technician who violated a company policy that bars employees from depicting the company "in any way" on Facebook or other social media sites in which they post pictures of themselves. The Labor Board says that the company's rule was "overly broad" and improperly limited employees rights to discuss working conditions among themselves.

Should employees have the right to air complaints against their employees on social networking sites? Conversely, should employers have the right to hold employees accountable for what they post on their own Facebook pages?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Gene Patenting

On October 29th, the U.S. Justice Department issued a legal brief suggesting that the government's long-standing support of the practice of gene patenting might be coming to an end. The brief, which was issues as part of a landmark gene-patent lawsuit, argues that simply identifying an important DNA sequence is not enough to justify a patent. Instead, the brief argued that DNA sequences that have been manipulated in some way should be patentable.

This "friend-the-court" brief was filed in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation challenging patents held by Myriad Genetics on the human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2 which are associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.

Opponents of gene patenting argue that this practice stifles diagnostic testing and research that can lead to cures, as well as potentially limiting patients' options regarding their medical care. Proponants argue that the ability to patent genes has helped the U.S. lead the way in the life sciences, and biotechnology companies claim that gene patents are necessary to protect their investment in research and development. However, other players in genetics may welcome a change. As genetic tests are becoming more complicated and involve larger sets of genes, diagnostic companies worry that they will have to license an every-growing number of patents to put together a single genetic test.

You can read more in the following two articles.

Marshall, Eliot. "Justice Department Raises Doubt on Gene Patents." Science. November 1, 2010

Ledford, Heidi. "U.S. Government Wants Limits on Gene Patents." Nature. November 2, 2010.