Lecture bridges science, ethics
With a grant from the National Science Foundation, several professors at the University have initiated the Ethics in Science Seminar series, which began in Fall 2011 as a part of the “Experiencing Ethics” project.
Duke University practical ethics professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong presented the latest lecture in the series, “Does Neuroscience Undermine Responsibility?” on Friday at Philip Guthrie Hoffman Hall. Focusing on cases that emphasize a person’s lack of control due to neuroscience, he asked whether we should deem those people responsible for their actions if it is truly out of their control — applying an ethical standard to new light brought by science.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing to bring philosophers together with scientists, because scientists can learn from the philosophers and the philosophers can learn from the scientists,” Armstrong said. “Neither field alone is going to be able to solve these extremely complex issues so they need to work together.”
The goal of the project, according to principal investigator and Eckhard-Pffeiffer Professor of Computer Science Ioannis Pavlidis, is to sensitize and educate students, faculty and the public on issues related to the proper conduct of scientific research and its societal implications.
“We envisioned a mixed seminar that would appeal to a wide audience within and without the University and bring together people from the sciences, engineering and humanities,” Palvidis said. “For this reason, the seminar series draws speakers of national caliber from the sciences, history and philosophy.”
Palvidis noted an increase in popularity since the program started. “In the last seminar, there were 140 people; some of them were standing for the entire hour, as there was no place to sit. Importantly, the audience comes from all the UH colleges and increasingly from the Houston public.”
Armstrong encouraged the style of discussion that the Ethics in Science Series promotes.
“It’s great to see that the philosophy department at the University of Houston realizes that (science and philosophy must meet) and is working in that direction,” Armstrong said.
The seminars are free and open to the public.
“I find it a really beneficial program to help broaden the mind of people interested in science by bringing up ethical issues,” said Trevor Hall, a UH alumnus who attended Armstrong’s lecture. “I can imagine these issues becoming very important questions for future professionals in the field of science.”
The next Ethics in Science seminar will be presented by DePaul University Department of Health Sciences Chair and professor Craig M. Klugman on “Using Creative Non-Fiction In Teaching Research Ethics” on Dec. 2. More information can be found at uh.edu/ethicsinscience.