Monday, December 23, 2013

Winter Break Hours

The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions will be closed from December 24th to January 1st due to the winter break. We will reopen on January 2nd.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Be a Moderator in the 2013 Regional Ethics Bowl Competition on November 23rd!

The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions would like to invite you to be a moderator in the Upper Midwest Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl on Saturday, November 23rd  at IIT’s main campus. Come and be a part of this exciting competition!
The Ethics Bowl combines the fun of a competitive tournament with a valuable educational experience for undergraduate students. In the ethics bowl, a moderator poses questions to teams of three to five students. Questions may concern ethical problems on wide ranging topics, such as the classroom (e.g. cheating or plagiarism), personal relationships (e.g. dating or friendship), professional ethics (e.g. engineering, law, medicine), or social and political ethics (e.g. free speech, gun control, etc.) Each team receives a set of ethical issues in advance of the competition, and questions posed to teams at the competition are taken from that set. A panel of judges evaluates answers; rating criteria are intelligibility, focus on ethically relevant considerations, avoidance of ethical irrelevance, and deliberative thoughtfulness.
IIT will be sponsoring two teams this year who will be competing against 18 different teams from universities around the Midwest.

The competition will run from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We will have a judges' & moderators' training breakfast at 8:30, and then there will be four different rounds of ethics bowl, two before lunch, and two after lunch. Both lunch and breakfast will be provided, as well as parking passes on campus. A moderator's role is to help keep the rounds running  on time, read out the questions, and collect the scores of the judges at the end of the match. It a great way to be part of the competition without the stress of having to judge or compete!
If you have questions or are interested in being a part of the competition, please email Kelly Laas at
We hope you can join us!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Must Read Articles on Science Communication

In their October 4th issue, Science has a pretty incredible collection of articles that I am having a hard time not quoting in every conversation I have with my colleagues and students. The articles cover a number of old and new issues in science communication- everything from the the benefits and challenges of open access publishing to the world of classified academic journals - and hopefully will elicit some much needed conversations about these issues in the scientific disciplines.

The star article of the collection has to be "Who's Afraid of Peer Review" by John Bohannon, which describes the frightening number of open-access academic journals who published his spoof scientific paper without any sort of adequate peer review process. The spoof paper included a number of glaring errors and suspect conclusions that any reputable scientist should have caught. Unfortunately, of the 255 papers he submitted to journals that made it through the full review process, a full 157 of these journals accepted the faulty paper compared to 98 journals who rejected it.

When the article hit the web last week, it garnered its own share of criticism. Many bloggers and other scientists have pointed out that Bohannon should have also submitted his spoof paper to traditional subscription journals as well - it would have been helpful to be able to draw comparisons- and the fact that a subscription-based journal published this article criticizing open access in itself raises some conflict of interest flags. The problem could be not just with open-access journals, but with  lower-level academic journals of all kinds who fail to adequately review papers before they publish. In response to this criticism, the author stated that while he planned to submit papers to both open-access and subscription journals, he soon realized the complexity and time needed for such a huge study, and scaled back his investigation to include only open-access journals.

Whatever your final conclusions about this article, it is impossible to ignore the real problems that plague the world of scientific publishing - open access and more traditional journals alike. So over lunch today, I highly recommend digging in to this issue of Science and some of the related discussion it has prompted in the blogosphere. You won't regret the time spent.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Study Looks at the the Thrill Individuals Get from Cheating...What Does This Mean Ethics Educators (and Educators in General)?

When you engage in unethical behavior, you are supposed to feel somewhat guilty, right? A study recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has shown that individuals involved in six different studies reported a "cheater's high" after they cheated on different problem-solving tasks. This "cheater's high" occurred even in individuals who predicted that they would feel guilty after engaging in unethical behavior, and even when the financial incentive to cheat was removed. The New York Times has an good summary of the article.

The authors of the study predicted that, barring a financial incentive, or relief at not being caught,  people feel good about cheating because of a sense of self-satisfaction or a sense of superiority. This "cheater's high" points to a potential difficulty in changing  this kind of behavior. One way may be to eliminate the anonymity of the cheater, or emphasize how others are hurt by cheating. What are your thoughts on how this study might change your way of addressing issues of plagiarism and cheating in the classroom and beyond?

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fall Break Hours

CSEP Library will be open normal hours on Monday, October 7th. We will be closed October 5-6th.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Ethical Echoes in the Legal Limits of Patent Monopolies, a discussion with Dr. Charles Krikorian

On Tuesday, October 1, join Dr. Charles Krikorian for an informal discussion of the legal implications of patent law and its ethical boundaries. We will see to answer questions like: Should a surgeon be able to prevent others from practicing his/her technique without first paying a license?, What is different about drug company patents and patents for surgical techniques?, Why are gene companies unable to patent their discoveries?, and other questions about the legal limits of patent monopolies. The discussion will be held in the Life Science Auditorium (LS 111) at 3:30. Coffee and cookies will be provided. Special thanks to the Biology Department and SAF for their help in making this lecture possible.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Free Speech and Your Employer on Twitter

There has been a flurry of news coverage over the post that David W. Guth, an associate professor of journalism at the University of Kansas, posted on twitter the same day as the tragic mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Prof. Guth tweeted, "The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."

The tweet set off a maelstorm on social media, and on Thursday of that week the University of Kanasas released written statements condemning the professor's message. That Friday, the university placed him on leave. The professor released a statement to the Associated Press that same day, agreeing with the University's action in light of the threats that he and others had received.

Yesterday, Chronicle blogger Robert Jenkins released an interesting op-ed piece called "Speech in the Balance" which argues that even though many of us might disagree with what was said (for a multitude of reasons), he certainly did have a right to speak his mind without penalty.

What do you think about this news issue? Does Professor Guth have the right to make these kinds of statements on Twitter (or other social media platforms) with impunity?

Does the University of Kansas have the right to put Prof. Guth on paid leave because of his statement? Does their statement that it was done, "to prevent disruptions to the learning environment for students, the school of journalism, and the university," seem adequate?

Should employers have the right to discipline employees for what they post on social media? Does a public university, who has a tradition of academic freedom, also have this right?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Science, Engineering & Ethics Play in Chicago Area, FREE TICKETS, "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs"

Every year, Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Sciences puts on a play seeks to inspire a cross-disciplinary dialogue about the role of science and technology in society. Called the that Engineering Transdisciplinary Outreach Project in the Arts (ETOPiA) project, performances are free and open to the public. 

This year, the 2013 ETOPiA production is  "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" and will star Lance Baker. The play runs from Sept. 27 - Oct. 20, Fri-Sat 8 pm, and Sun 2 pm, Tech Institute, 2145 Sheridan Road, Evanston, IL.  

You can reserved tickets and the following URL or phone number. ADMISSION IS FREE so be sure to reserve in advance:  

A quick synopsis of the play: 
A harrowing tale of pride, beauty, lust, and industrial design, THE AGONY AND THE ECSTASY OF STEVE JOBS, illuminates how Jobs' obsessions have shaped our lives, taking the audience all the way to China to shine a light on our love affair with electronic gadgets and the human cost of creating them. After a public radio controversy on "This American Life" which featured the author Mike Daisey in 2012, the play was revised and all fiction stripped away to produce the current hard-hitting version.

The performance at last year's play, "The  How and the Why" was excellent, and reviews seem to show that this year's play will be equally thought-provoking. 

Hope to see you at one of the performances!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Join the IIT Ethics Bowl Team!

Interested in current events?
Enjoy Debate?
Want to improve your public speaking skills?

Join the Ethics Bowl Team!

The ethics bowl is a intercollegiate competition where teams of students debate about pressing ethical problems of the day.  The competition requires students to apply ethical principles to real-life problems in medicine, engineering, business, education, personal relationships, government, and other areas. Before the competition, team members receive a set of cases that raise issues in practical and professional ethics, and spend around three months preparing an analysis of each case, honing their arguments by discussing the cases with fellow team members. During the competition, the teams are scored by a panel of judges based on their intelligibility, focus on ethically relevant considerations, avoidance of ethical irrelevance, and deliberative thoughtfulness.

We welcome all levels of participation in ethics bowl, from dropping in to join in the discussion from time to time to becoming part of the team which will compete in the 2013 regional competition on November 23, 2013. 

So please consider joining us for our first meeting on August 22, 12:50-1:30 in the Cherry Conference Room in Galvin Library to find out more!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

July 4th and 5th hours

The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions will be closed July 4th and 5th in celebration of Independence Day. We will resume normal hours on Monday, July 8th.

Hope you have an enjoyable holiday!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

How Our Colleagues Influence Our Ethical Behavior

Whistleblowing is one of those topics that comes up on a regular basis when I give talks to groups of students about responsible conduct of research or professional ethics. So I was interested to hear a piece on NPR yesterday morning that talked about a study that has recently been done showing that our peers tend to have some of the most influence on if we speak up if we see or hear about an ethical violation.

This study conducted at the University of Michigan seemed to show that its not a question of having an ethical supervisor or working for an ethical company, its all about our co-workers. In the study, 100 people were asked to come up with a solution to a problem. Each person was sat down in front of a computer, and told that they were going to be working with other individuals working at separate computers. If the team as a whole got the answer right, they would get a $300 price. Each individual was told not to use the internet to get information to help them solve the problem. As soon as the person sat down, he or she would receive an instant message from a fellow team-member saying that she had found out that she could use her iphone to access the internet undetected....thereby helping them win the cash prize. Some individuals received instant messages from co-workers acting in an ethical way, refusing to go along. Others received instant messages saying "Great, I should have thought of that!"  The researchers found that when the fellow team members were ethical, 2/3 of the volunteers reported that there was a problem. When co-workers acted unethically, only 1/3 of the volunteers spoke up.

This study points the way for how we can begin to foster better ethical climates in our workplaces and with most things the top-down approach does not seem to be the most effective. As the study suggests, it takes a village to foster ethical conduct.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Center closed for Memorial Day, May 27th

Like the rest of IIT, the Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions will be closed in celebration of Memorial Day on Monday, May 27th. We will resume normal hours on the 28th.

Repost 'Its Not Just Privacy, Porn and Pipe Bombs" - A Great Take on Professional Ethics and Librarianship

Lane Wilkinson, librarian blogger of "Sense and Reference" just shared a really fantastic presentation she gave in October of 2012 on librarianship and professional ethics.  You can check it out here.  I have never presented the concept of common morality as including the rule, "Never kick babies" but I suppose it does. And it does let you include pictures of men in diapers in your presentation. 

Check it out, you will enjoy it.

Friday, May 17, 2013

NSF Refuses to Give Congressman Access to Review Comments

As we have mentioned in earlier posts, CSEP is the U.S. partner on a EU project looking at how governments encourage, fund, and assess research and innovation that drives towards the common good ( desirability). As part of our research, we have been closely studying the proposal review system of the National Science Foundation.  NSF users two merit review criteria to review proposals, intellectual merit and broader impacts. This last, which looks at the potential impact the proposed project may "benefit society or advance socially desirable outcomes" has also been used as a way to justify why taxpayer money should be used to support basic research.

The types of projects that NSF has come under fire in the past few years. For example, in March of this year, the Senate added an amendment to a finance bill that severely limits the ability of the NSF t oapprove any grants involving political science unless the agency can certify them as "promoting national security or the economic interests of the United States." This amendment was proposed by Senator Tom Coburn, who has been a sharp critic of the agency.

This Wednesday, Science Magazine published an article on the news section of its site discussion how NSF has recently refused a request from the chairman of the House of Representatives science committee to obtain review comments on five social science outreach projects it is funding. In a letter to Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) the agency defended its need to preserve the confidentiality of the peer-review process. Representative Smith has also drafted a bill called the "High Quality Research Act" which would add a layer of oversight to the peer review process and potentially politicizes decisions about what grants receive NSF funding.

Specifically the bill (as it currently reads) would require the NSF director to post on NSF's web site, prior to any award, a declaration that certifies the research is:  

1) "… in the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science;
2) "… the finest quality, is groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large; and
3) "… not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies."
NSF's current guidelines ask reviewers to consider the "intellectual merit" of a proposed research project as well as its "broader impacts" on the scientific community and society. (original article)
The bill is being justified as a way to make NSF more accountable for how it spends taxpayer money and to stop funding for questionable research.  Critics of the bill say that it ignores the importance of duplicate research in science as a way to verify results, and that it would wrongly involve lawmakers in a peer review system that is the "gold standard" for the science community.
So what do you think? Should there be more governmental oversight on the projects funded by agencies like the NSF?

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

A Governments Moral Obligation to Fund Science....

The Washington Post today has a really great article discussing how research Patricia Brennan, who has recently been in the spotlight about her federally funded project studying duck genitalia, is defending her work against conservative critics who argue that the U.S. should not be funding such "oddball research."

She argues that if the government wants to support science, it must support all kinds of science, even science that does not, at first glance, seem as if it will make a major difference in taxpayer's lives."Basic science is not aimed at solving an immediate practical problem," she argues in a Slate article, "Basic science is an integral part of scientific process, but individual projects may sound meaningless when taken out of context. Basic science often ends up solving problems anyway, but it is not designed for this purpose.....As a scientist, my view is that supporting basic and applied research is essential to keep the United States ahead in the global economy."

What kind of research should taxpayers fund? Should governments step in to make sure research and innovation receiving public funds is socially desirable?  What constitutes social desirability in research- is knowledge about the world we live in socially desirable in itself? If we agree that governments have a duty to support responsible research and innovation, what are the best ways of achieving this goal?

These are some of the questions that the Center is trying to answer in our latest project. Working with collaborators from six different continents, this project funded by the European Commission's Seventh Framework Programme seeks to achieve for major objectives:

1. Link existing international networks of responsible research and innovation with relevant social actors on a global scale to focus innovation on social desireability.
2. Complete a major fact-finding missing comparing science funding strategies and innovation policies in Europe, the U.S., China, Japan, India, Australia, and South Africa.
3. Advocate for a a European normative model for RRI globally, using constitutional values as a driver to inform to inform societal desirability.
4. Develop a strategy for fostering the convergence of regional innovation systems at the global level.

We will keep you updated on our progress as the project moves forward. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Privacy issues in your back seat

After an interesting IPRO discussion on information ethics this afternoon, I was pleased to stumble on this article from the Washington Post about web-connected cars and some of the privacy issues this raises. Just like smartphones, new, internet-capable vehicles raise all sorts of interesting questions, like what kinds of information should manufacturers, car repair shops, fast food restaurants, and other business have access to? You can see where personalized advertising could go, as local gas stations who know you are running low offer you coupons for car washes and road snacks.

And what kinds of information should insurance companies, and the police have access to?  Should insurance companies be able to monitor if you are wearing a seat belt?

Anyway, check the article out and let us know what you think?

Monday, March 4, 2013


The Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions has just received an award of $108,669 to be the the participant for the United States in a project funded by the European Commission called “Promoting Global Responsible Research and Social and Scientific Innovation” or ProGReSS. The project, which also includes universities and ethics center from Europe, China, Japan, India, Australia, and South Africa seeks to explore what is meant when we talk about  Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) that is, research and innovation which is: a)ethically acceptable, b) is sustainable by avoiding significant adverse effects and b) drives towards the common good, i.e. societal desirability. Dr. Michael Davis and Kelly Laas of the Center will be the primary investigators on this project.

The project will link existing international networks of RRI from all continents with European partners and seek to achieve the following:
1. Link existing international networks of RRI with relevant societal actors on a global scale to focus innovation on societal desirability.
2. Complete a major fact-finding mission comparing science funding strategies and innovation policies in Europe, the US, China, Japan, India, Australia, and South Africa.
3. Advocate a European normative model for RRI globally, using constitutional values as a driver to inform societal desirability.
4. Develop a strategy for fostering the convergence of regional innovation systems at the global level. 

You can read more about the project on the European Commission’s CORDIS website.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

3-D Printers and Intellectual Property

Intellectual property is a subject that comes up quite a bit when we are talking with students here at IIT, especially in IPRO classes where the students are working with corporate sponsors or are creating or refining a marketable product. In these classes, students often ask questions about how intellectual property law not only fosters but in some cases can hinder creativity and the spread of new innovations. 

This morning NPR had an interesting piece on the radio about copyright and and 3-D printers.  3-D printers have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, allowing us to easily create everything from toy figurines to guns without ever having to go to a store or order something of the web.  Website such as Thingiverse allow people to share their digital designs for 3-D printing with the public.  The site currently has designs ranging from  pocket fishing poles to jewelry, as well as a number of items that are currently under copyright, such as a bust of Yoda. Recently Moulinart, the company who owns the rights to the cartoon Tintin,  served Thingverse with a Millennium Digital Copyright Act takedown notice, requiring the site to remove printing designs of Tintin's cartoon moon rocket.

Supposing 3-D printing continues on its current course, what kinds of impact might it have on engineering patents, where a customer, rather than having to go to a company to buy certain car parts, for instance, might be able to go to a local shop and print out the part for a fraction of the price? Or, will patents change so that the designs of a certain part will be strictly controlled? Technologies of this kind are likely to have a revolutionary impact on the manufacturing world in the next few decades, posing new challenges to he flow of designs and ideas, and how innovators and companies are compensated for their work.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age

A group of educators brought together by Sebastian Thrun, founder of UdaCity, a site that seeks to connect students with hundreds of free, online university courses, has recently published a bill of rights for Learning in the Digital Age. The document seeks to outline a set of "inalienable rights"  that the authors say students and their advocates should demand from institutions and companies that offer online courses and technology tools.

Some of these rights include:
  • The right to access these courses, regardless of  race, economic status, physical disabilities, etc.
  • The right to privacy, including being informed about how personal data might be used by the online course provider.
  • The right to create public knowledge.
  • The right to one's own intellectual property.
  • The right to financial transparency, including, knowing how their participation supports the financial health  of the online system in which they are participating.
  • The right to quality and care.
  • The right to pedagogical transparecy
  • The right to have great teachers.
One of the most interesting parts of the document is its origin. Along with connecting students with free online courses, Udacity makes it money by helping companies recruit students who have opted into Udacity's job placement program.  When asked about why he helped develop and sign this bill of rights, Mr. Thun said he hoped it would put pressure on the education services industry and traditional colleges and university to focus on the pedagogical objectives of these courses, rather than seeing them as merely a money-making venture.

Read more about the Bill of Rights for Online Learners at the Cronicle of Higher Education website
or View the text of  Bill of Rights for Online Learners.