In The May 2001 Issue:

[In This Issue]

Bioethics Retreat Examines "Ethics Across the Curriculum"

The following are summaries of some of the presentations given at the Bioethics Faculty Retreat held on March 30, 2001. The day-long seminar discussed how ethics can be taught in various curricula at the university. The summaries were written by the presenters.

[In This Issue]

Experience and Theory in Teaching

Keynote Speaker: Joseph Kupfer, Philosophy and Religious Studies, ISU

Joseph KupferWatching the film "Jaws" suggested to me using films to supplement philosophical texts in my courses. I noticed that the two experts failed to kill the great white shark. Where the man of experience and the man of science failed, the person with a range of moral virtues, chief of police Brody, succeeded. Our students are like Brody in being forced to make moral choices in their lives, and films not only help convey moral ideas, but also enable students to appreciate the moral depths of popular culture.

Similarly, I reflected upon how moral choices in my life flesh out the theoretical arguments we study in class. For example, my understanding of affirmative action was sharpened as a result of the philosophy department's discussion of a hiring decision involving a female candidate who, although clearly competent, was significantly weaker than a male candidate. On a social level, I noted the entwinement of aesthetics and ethics in the debate over hog confinement and waste. A major moral argument concerns the malodorous air and the threat to natural aesthetic of streams, rivers, and lakes.

The ethics of aspiration should be contrasted with the ethics of obligation. The ethics of obligation is concerned with doing what is required and not violating rules or laws. It looks at moral responsibility downward, in terms of the floor beneath which one ought not fall. The ethics of aspiration is concerned with how much we can do, how good we can be. It looks at moral responsibility upward, in terms of the ideals toward which we can aspire.

Teaching ethics across the curriculum itself exemplifies the ethics of aspiration. It is an ideal conveying that ethics itself is not the special province of a particular department or its courses. Teaching ethics in a variety of contexts drives home the point that every aspect of our lives has a moral dimension, whether it's raising children or doing academic research, disposing of waste or teaching students. The ideal way of teaching ethics across the curriculum might be to provide students with the basic theories in one introductory ethics course, after which they would be exposed to ethical issues in a variety of disciplines. Because of enrollment pressures, this ideal is not realizable.

We have to combat dangers in presenting ethical issues in a piecemeal fashion, giving students but a brief taste of ethical issues in diverse courses. One danger is that students think they've had enough ethics after dabbling with a particular problem in ecology or genetics, for example. Conversely, students may come away thinking that the ethical approach is, after all, worthless and the problems hopeless. The antidote to this is to make sure students realize that they have just scratched the surface in this or that particular issue, and in the ethical approach in general. Students need to appreciate that some moral decisions are indeed more justified than others, however incomplete our scientific knowledge and inexact our ethical reflection.

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Bonnie Glatz gifGetting a New Course in Ethics for Graduate Students Off the Ground

Bonnie Glatz, Food Science and Human Nutrition, ISU

In Food Science and Human Nutrition, we have incorporated a significant ethics component into a one-credit course required of all of our first-year graduate students, FSHN 580 Orientation to Food Science and Nutrition Research. The revised version of this course was taught for the first time in fall 2000, with Bonnie Glatz and Mary Jane Oakland as instructors. Eight class meetings (1 hour each) were devoted to discussion of the following topics: record-keeping practices, "cooking" data, ownership of data, authorship practices, plagiarism, sexual harassment, use of human subjects in research, what makes a good major professor. An assignment was due at each class meeting; this might be a case study to respond to or a questionnaire to complete after interviewing a faculty member. In class, students discussed these assignments in detail both in small groups and as a whole class. Case studies from the following references were used: Moral Reasoning in Scientific Research. Cases for Teaching and Assessment. M. J. Bebeau et al., Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, Indiana University, 1995; and Scientific Integrity. An Introductory Text with Cases. F. L. Macrina, ASM Press, Washington, D.C., 1995. We are also indebted to Charlotte Bronson for sharing materials that she uses in ethics courses and seminars that she has conducted. Students participated actively in discussions and seemed to be glad to have the opportunity to talk about these issues.

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Teaching Ethics in Engineering

Carolyn Heising, Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering

Both the IEEE, National Academy of Engineering and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) have efforts underway to underscore the vital importance of the teaching of ethics to engineering students. The IEEE book, The Introspective Engineer, and the AAAS book, The Future of Technology (2000 edition), emphasize the need for engineers to develop skills of critical thinking and reasoning. Issues of social justice, including gender, race and class inequities and their impact on "doing" engineering are increasingly being recognized, as in the work of sociologist of technology, Professor Judy Wacjek who has written the book Feminism Confronts Technology, and whose work is also highlighted in the AAAS 2000 edition of The Future of Technology. These aspects need to be included in the teaching of ethics to engineers, particularly at the graduate level (as I am in my new graduate offering IE 537X "Reliability and Safety Engineering", to be offered Fall 2001).

[In This Issue]

"I'm Not a Tree Hugger, But...": Students Making Sense of Environmental Categories And Ethical Concerns in the Personal Reflective Essay

Clare Hinrichs, Sociology, ISU

Students at land-grant universities need to be able to apply an ethical perspective to subjects "out there," such as research and development on new technologies. Can such efforts be enhanced if they also gain practice in applying an ethical perspective to subjects "in here": that is, their own lives? Driven by a near fundamentalist belief in the importance of writing for learning, I have developed an assignment for Sociology/Environmental Studies 382 (Environmental Sociology) over the last four years. The assignment encourages students to write about their own experiences and ethical concerns, as related to the themes of our course. At the end of the fifth week of the semester, students submit an "environmental sociological autobiography" in response to detailed assignment guidelines prompting them to describe concretely and reflect analytically about their material experiences of the environment, the development of their environmental values, and their perception of potential conflicts and possible resolutions.

One of my objectives in the course is to goad students to develop more consciously and articulate more clearly their own distinctive environmental visions, whatever they may be. While some environmental studies or environmental sciences students have thought quite a bit about these questions, most of my students (from a wide range of majors) have not. Writing reflectively about their own experiences leads them-but rarely without discomfort-beyond pat pronouncements about "more recycling." Based on their own accounts, many now see a more contradictory and challenging landscape-one that includes the rights of nature and the presumed prerogatives of people, the interplay between individual gain and collective consequence, the nagging considerations of justice across time (i.e., generations) and space (i.e., communities, regions, nation-states). Because these explorations of environmental values and hopes are grounded in material experiences, students-certainly the best ones-become more aware of potential cruxes and contradictions in their own lives. Their ethical reflections on the world "in here" are often modest and preliminary. However, to the extent that students doing this assignment practice thinking about questions of values, actions and impacts in their own lives, they become prepared, I hope, for fuller ethical reckoning with the world "out there."

For more information about this assignment, Clare Hinrichs can be contacted at

[In This Issue]

Including Ethics in Graduate Level Training of Agronomists via Distance Learning and Campus-Based Courses

Laura Merrick and Margaret Smith, Agronomy, ISU

The presentation described a set of four graduate courses taught in the Agronomy Department, all of which include discussion of ethical issues. Two of the courses-Agronomy 511 (Crop Improvement) and Agronomy 592 (Current Issues in Agronomy)-are part of the required curriculum in the Master of Science in Agronomy Distance Education Program, a graduate program initiated in 1998. The other two are campus-based courses: Agronomy 523 (Plant Genetic Resource Management) and Agronomy 565 (Professional Practice in the Life Sciences).

One of the goals for students successfully completing the M.S. in Agronomy distance education program is for them "to understand moral, ethical, and legal perspectives of agricultural activities". Most of the students enrolled in the program are full-time professionals (e.g., crop consultants, seed industry employees, government or extension workers). Since the program is conducted almost entirely at-a-distance, the vast majority of student interaction with peers and instructors is online. Both Agronomy 511 and Agronomy 592 make use of ISU's WebCT software to facilitate "threaded" discussions of issues as well as submission of homework and posting of grades and comments on lesson material. Examples of ethical issues covered in Agronomy 511 (taught by Laura Merrick or Arden Campbell) include a plagiarism exercise and a class discussion about extrinsic ethical concerns regarding long-term ecological effects of genetically engineered crop varieties. Agronomy 592 (instructors Allen Knapp and Margaret Smith) is one of the capstone courses of the M.S. program. It examines stakeholder concerns from technological, social, and ethical perspectives. By focusing on current topics (e.g., water quality, food security, agricultural biotechnology, and economic costs), the course is designed to teach problem solving and communication skills, and help students evaluate data and information sources for applicability, bias, and quality.

Agronomy 565 (cross-listed as Plant Pathology 565 and Genetics 565) is a graduate-level course taught as a series of half-credit modules. Three modules currently exist, but more are envisioned in order to expand the scope of disciplines and issues covered. Graduate students may enroll in one or more of the following modules: A) Professional Practice in Research (two sections taught by Charlotte Bronson or Michael Thompson); B) Intellectual Property & Industrial Interactions (instructor Lisa Lorenzen); and C) Ethical Arguments & Agricultural Biotechnology (instructor Gary Comstock). The over-arching theme of the course is described as "professional discourse on the ethical and legal issues facing life science researchers".

Thompson's section of Module A was developed from a former noncredit class in ethical decision-making in agronomic sciences. It uses lectures and case studies and covers topics pertaining to the scientific method, quality assurance and quality control in field experiments, data management and ownership, and allocation of authorship credit.

Agronomy 523 has been taught in the Agronomy Department since the 1970s-most recently in 1999 by Mark Widrlechner, Laura Merrick, and Don Duvick-to students majoring in such plant science-related disciplines as plant breeding, botany, plant pathology, horticulture, and forestry. International visiting scientists and professionals with interest and experience in plant conservation have also routinely participated in the class. This spring the plant breeding and plant genetics faculty in the agronomy department voted to discontinue Agronomy 523 due to chronic low enrollment. Ethics-related course material from Agronomy 523 is now being adapted as a new module for Agronomy 565. Topics include global issues in plant germplasm ownership and access, intellectual property rights, codes of conduct for germplasm collection, and controversy about genetically engineered crop varieties.

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Pre-Publication Review of the Science Story for the Mass Media

Jane Peterson, Greenlee School of Journalism, ISU

The science communication course I teach has students who are journalism majors as well as students who are majors in science or technology. The mixture allows for a richness of contributions in such things as ways of knowing, ways of communicating something complicated to a lay audience, and ethical concerns in journalism and in science and technology.

The outcomes for the course include two in-depth science or technology news stories suitable for a general audience readership publication. Most of the stories approved by the instructor are published in the Iowa State Daily or the Ames Tribune.

A number of ethical issues are discussed along the way to preparing the story for publication, but perhaps the ethical decision of pre-publication review of a story is the most controversial in the culture of journalism. Pre-publication review allows an opportunity for the sources to read a story before it is published.

Journalists are most likely to say no to pre-publication review. But what of the science or technology story where the reporter is often working with information that is difficult to understand and can lead to explanations that are not true to the science being reported.

I wrote an article for the College Media Review about pre-publication review where I discussed the question: What is wrong with pre-publication review of the science story? In the article I refer to a piece written for The Quill, (published by the Society for Professional Journalists), by Steve Weinberg. Weinberg has written about science and technology for newspapers and magazines and was for a number of years the executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors. He wrote the following in The Quill: "Today, I am convinced that my practice on read backs and manuscript submissions has led to more accurate, fair and thorough pieces, magazine articles, and books."

Weinberg's position of pre-publication review resulted in a number of letters to the editor of The Quill. One of those letters was written by John DeMott, a professor of journalism, who said if journalists expect sources to be open with them, the journalists should be open with the sources. "Ethical and conscientious journalists everywhere feel indebted, I trust, to Steve Weinberg for blowing the whistle on one of our professions oldest evils: denying news sources pre-publication knowledge of sensitive reportage that could harm them or their interests."

From the other side is my colleague, Herb Strentz, professor of journalism at Drake who simply says: "It is easy to answer the question of Weinberg's article, 'So what's wrong with pre-publication review?' Everything is wrong."

Journalism textbooks uniformly say a reporter should not agree to show a story to a source once it is written. My own belief is that as a general rule pre-publication review is not necessary and under deadline pressures not possible.

However, in the circumstance of students writing about science and technical information there are reasons for the sources to have the opportunity to review portions of the story.

In the science communication class I teach, the students are required to have the sources review those parts of the story where they have contributed information or are quoted. I do not have the students give the sources the entire story. In addition, the following guidelines are followed in the pre-publication review.

These guidelines provide for the reporter/writer to learn from the sources in a cooperative way rather than in possible after-the-fact lessons in the form of embarrassing letters to the editor exposing errors. The Guidelines and the review of specific sections are a compromise to a full review of the story before publication.

The ultimate goal is a well-reported and well-written article that is the result of a cooperative journalist and scientist experience.

[In This Issue]

Teaching Animal Ethics Using Case Studies

Gary Varner, Philosophy, ISU and Texas A&M University

Gary Varner was unable to make his scheduled presentation at the Bioethics Retreat due to a death in his family, but in his stead Gary Comstock gave an overview of materials for teaching about animal ethics that Varner maintains on the web at These include a detailed lecture on animal rights and animal welfare philosophies, a short summary handout for classroom use, and case studies designed for use with the handout. Varner is a philosopher at Texas A&M University (on loan to Iowa State for the spring semester) who specializes, both teaching and research-wise, in environmental ethics and animal rights/animal welfare views and their implications.

[In This Issue]

Book Review

Vexing Nature? On the Ethical Case Against Agricultural Biotechnology
by Gary Comstock (Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2000)

Review by Gary Varner, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Texas A&M University

In my most cynical moments, I say that the only difference between a philosopher and a lawyer is that a philosopher would not let someone else decide which conclusions he is going to defend. Comstock's book is an antidote to such cynicism about academic philosophy. It chronicles his journey from being a "global critic" of genetic engineering to enthusiastically endorsing medical applications of the technology and emphasizing the ways it could contribute to sustainable agriculture. Comstock emphasizes the role of "stories": they provide "the warp and woof of our everyday lives" out of which ethical questions arise and they depict the full range of solutions available. However, he cautions against simply trusting our emotional reactions to narratives: "without reasoned critical analysis, unconsidered intuitions can be dangerous" (p. 7). Always striving to state clearly structured arguments for conclusions, Comstock chronicles the ways his own views evolved as a result of the kind of critical analysis characteristic of academic philosophy.

The first four chapters, written from 1988 through 1994, describe Comstock's opposition to bovine growth hormone (which is produced in commercial quantities using genetically engineered bacteria), to splicing genes for herbicide resistance into plants, to genetic modification of sentient animals, and to "ag biotech" generally. In these early essays, Comstock emphasizes how the products of genetic engineering favor "large scale, capital-intensive" systems over small family farms, the unknown or inadequately studied environmental risks, and the moral rights of farm animals. In the final two chapters, written for this book, Comstock revisits these early arguments, de-emphasizing the effects on family farms (which he concludes were doomed anyway), emphasizing the ways genetic engineering could provide environment-friendly help for developing nations (by improving productivity and by reducing the need for fertilizers and irrigation), and modifying his early views on animal rights.

Probably most striking are the ways Comstock's views on animals have evolved. A fan of Iowa's small family farms, which usually include pork, Comstock became a vegetarian after reasoning that we could not consistently attribute moral rights to all human beings while denying them to such cognitively sophisticated animals as swine. In his earlier writings, Comstock opposed even medical research on animals on the grounds that rights holders cannot be harmed, involuntarily, for the benefit of others. In the new chapters written for this book, however, Comstock distinguishes between an "abolitionist interpretation of animal rights" (ARA) and "the reformist interpretation" (ARR). In a detailed defense of the latter, Comstock argues that while slaughter-based animal agriculture cannot be justified, medical research can (pp. 266ff).

This valuable chronicle of Comstock's philosophical journey is marred, in superficial but unfortunate ways, by publisher's errors. It is riddled with typos, formatting errors, and stylistic irregularities. Most significantly, the seven-page index is worse than useless: almost every page reference is inaccurate, including references to 300+ pages in this text of only 288. In a book listing for about $100 (typical of Kluwer), there is no excuse for such sloppy copy editing.

[In This Issue]

More Photos from the Retreat


 James Bloedel gif
James Bloedel, Vice Provost for Research and Advanceds Studies at ISU, welcomed the participants at the retreat.

 Rick Hall gif
Rich Hall, professor in ISU's forestry department, doesn't let large university classes prevent him from teaching about environmental ethics.

Michael Bishop gif
Michael Bishop, professor and chair of ISU's philosophy and religious studies department, discusses, "What are we trying to teach when we 'teach ethics?'".

Michael Price answers questions about how he inMichael Price gifcorporates Anishinaabe traditions into his life sciences classroom at Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake, MN.
 Sakaguchi and Drewes gif
Don Sakaguchi and Charlie Drewes, professors in ISU's zoology and genetics department; and Michael Price, professor in the science department at Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake, MN listen to a speaker.

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