Course Syllabus




Instructor: Professor Alison Wylie
      Office: Savery Hall M396
      Office hours: Thursdays 3:00-5:00 pm, or by appointment
      email: | 206-543-5873

Teaching Assistant: A. Y. Odedeyi
      Office: Savery Hall 378
      Office hours: Wednesdays & Fridays 11:30-12:30, or by appointment

Class meetings:
     Lectures: T/Th 1:30-2:50, Smith 307
     Quiz sections: W/F 12:30-1:20, 1:30-2:20, Savery Hall 130


Course Description
Scientific research has an impact on all of us, and on every aspect of our lives. Most of us will be research subjects at one time or another; all of us are affected by science-based policies; our everyday-lives have been transformed by the results of scientific research – in good and bad ways. Scientific research raises ethics issues that have never been more pressing or more consequential than now. This course is designed to explore these issues, primarily with reference to the non-medical sciences. Specific topics include:

  • the role of social values in science and ideals of objectivity;
  • the rights and interests of human subjects as well as other stakeholders affected by research;
  • misconduct in research, including not only outright fraud but also more subtle forms of error and misrepresentation;
  • the ethics of publication and peer review;
  • ethical decision making about risky research: are there lines of inquiry scientists should not pursue?

We will engage these issues with the help of philosophical tools – the concepts and methods of analysis developed by philosophers of science and ethicists – and apply these to a roster of case studies that illustrate how they arise in practice. Our aim is to challenge you to think broadly about the role of scientists in society and to critically assess the ethical consequences science for humankind and the social, natural environments in which we live.

Assigned readings are available on Canvas. Strongly recommended for purchase is a brand new text:  Kevin Elliott, A Tapestry of Values: An Introduction to Values in Science (Oxford University Press, 2017).

Learning objectives
Our goals for this course are that you will:

  • learn key philosophical concepts related to the responsible conduct of research;
  • acquire skills of analysis that put you in a position to describe and explain the rationale for divergent ethical positions;
  • apply these skills to real-world ethics issues and current ethics debate in science;
  • articulate well grounded, carefully reasoned views of your own about the responsibilities of scientists, research subjects, and citizens for the wise direction and use of research;
  • demonstrate these skills and content knowledge written form and oral presentations.

The grade for this course will be based on the following assignments (see the syllabus and assignment pages for details):

  • Participation: active, informed contributions to class and section discussions (10%);
  • Reading responses and quizzes: on-line discussion posts and in-class quizzes (30%);
  • Concept work essay: a 2-3 page expository essay, due April 21 (10%)
  • Case study project: a group presentation in class and a 3-5 page individual essay (25%)
  • Final exam: scheduled for June 9, 2:30-4:20 (25%).

Course Summary:

Date Details