The group began with a discussion of the potential effect of terminology on ethics education. C.K. Gunsalus suggested that it might be better to frame the educational goals around developing expert decision-making or problem-solving skills in research rather than referring to it as ethics, which can imply a character trait rather than a learned skill. Julia Kent reinforced this point by reporting that in research by the Council of Graduate Schools, graduate students had responded more favorably to the idea that ethics training was about learning skills rather than knowing what was right or wrong. The group also mentioned possible issues associated with use of the term “professional” when discussing research ethics because not all scientists or engineers may consider themselves to be professionals.11
Michael Davis noted that the term social responsibility had origins in business and in that context, it typically refers to doing good whereas when used in research it is often about not doing harm. He argued that by not emphasizing the harm aspect of social responsibility educators were making the issues less dramatic and less significant than they actually are, and he urged educators to talk openly about the harm aspect. Ronald Kline posited that use of the term responsible conduct of research reinforces the separation between research ethics, engineering ethics, and their incorporation of social responsibility because the word “conduct” does not often encompass the broader issues of health, safety, and welfare of the public. He also noted that the distinctions between these two areas of ethics, conduct and social responsibility, are increasingly less clear in the research world because research often involves both basic science and engineering in the same lab.
Audience members discussed the possible impact of a profession’s goals on the views of scientists and engineers toward research ethics and responsible conduct. Joe Herkert pointed out his concern that because their professions’ stated purpose is to provide a social good, scientists and engineers may feel that their actions are, by definition, already ethical. Stephanie Bird commented that the fields of science and engineering, and the students in them, often have internalized views of social responsibility that include a professional goal to provide benefits to society, but added that, although these views are engrained or embedded in the teachings and discussions within the field, they are not explicitly stated in education. Michael Davis observed that scientists and engineers differ in their underlying goals: scientists, he suggested, generally want to find knowledge or truth, whereas engineers are more interested in finding out something that is useful.
Returning to the notion of ethics education as training for expert decision making, Michael Kalichman argued that education should not be about providing students with a list of facts and rules that need to be learned, because that could end up being a large list of items; rather, educators should be encouraged to just do something relating to certain key issues in research ethics. Felice Levine reinforced this view, commenting that educators need to teach a mode of
11 In the case of engineers however, the ABET Engineering Accreditation Commission does consider accredited programs to be leading to the professional practice of engineering. Accreditation Policy and Proceedure Manual (APPM), 2013-2014, II.E.3.c. http://www.abet.org/DisplayTemplates/DocsHandbook.aspx?id=3146.
reasoning and that it does not matter as much what the topics or exemplars are in the curriculum. She stressed that what is important is that the students remember how to reason about issues associated with the work they are doing and the persons they work with, how to conceptualize their problems, and how to make tough judgment calls. Stephanie Bird made the point that the people with the best understanding of research ethics are those that regularly or frequently consider the implications of their work on both the small and large scale, and that this phenomenon reinforces the importance of using case studies as a way to develop reasoning skills because they allow students to practice considering the implications of actions.