2016 The Age of Ethical Crisis for Professional Scientists

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Saito Hirofumi 
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Course description and aims

Since the 20th century, when science came to be recognized by political leaders as a major part of a country and economy, scientists have appeared that ambitiously pursue academic awards and individual financial rewards. In that context, there have even been examples of scientists that violate academic ethics to take certain steps. As long as scientific research and society exist side by side, there is the possibility that research projects will sometimes be planned to serve specific political and commercial interests. However that would severely damage the public and neutral nature of science. In the 21st century, with this situation becoming even more conspicuous, scientists are being questioned on their professional ethics. This lecture will deal with these issues.

In this course, the instructor will lead discussions on the behavior and attitudes of scientists in this age of ethical crisis, and raise students' awareness of these issues. The topics of discussion are well-known examples from 20th century history of science: the abolition of Soviet genetic research by T.D. Lysenko, and using the narrative of competition for revealing the chemical structure of DNA.

Student learning outcomes

By taking this course, students will learn the following.
1. Understand research methods adopted in the history of science.
2. Examine and evaluate ethical problems related to modern science and technology.
3. Analyze problems related to science, society, and ethics through classroom discussions.


Scientist, Society, Politics, Ethics, History of sciences.

Competencies that will be developed

Specialist skills Intercultural skills Communication skills Critical thinking skills Practical and/or problem-solving skills

Class flow

This course is organized around two main themes. Each theme will be addressed through lectures and discussions. The instructor will raise particular issues before proceeding to each discussion.

Course schedule/Required learning

  Course schedule Required learning
Class 1 Introduction to the course. Understand the relation between science, technology and society, and also potential dangers inherent in research activity in the modern age.
Class 2 Hero or villain? The roles of James Watson and Rosalind Franklin in the discovery race of the Double Helix. (Lecture, watching video). Understand an episode existing behind the greatest discovery in the history of science.
Class 3 Discussion on the above theme. Discuss ethical issues faced by scientists in their research activities today.
Class 4 Site visit. The instructor will provide details at least a week in advance.
Class 5 When politics intervenes in sciences — The tragic history of Soviet genetics. (Lecture) Understand one of the most notorious cases in 20th century science.
Class 6 Discussion on the above theme. Discuss the individual scientist's role and the nation's role in the development of science, touching on the relationships between research, politics and ideology.



Reference books, course materials, etc.

James D. Watson, The Double Helix, Touchstone, 2001.
Brenda Maddox, Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA, Harper Perennial, 2003.
Sheldon Krimsky Science In The Private Interest: Has The Lure Of Profits Corrupted Biomedical Research?, Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc., 2004.
Zhores Medvedev, trans. by I. M. Lerner, Rise and Fall of T.D.Lysenko, Columbia University Press, 1965.
William deJong-Lambert, The Cold War Politics of Genetic Research: An Introduction to the Lysenko Affair, Springer, 2012.

Assessment criteria and methods

Contribution to discussions (70%), report (30%).

Related courses

  • LAW.X322 : Communicating Science and Engineering in Society

Prerequisites (i.e., required knowledge, skills, courses, etc.)

This course is designed mainly for international students participating in Tokyo Tech Summer Program 2016. Regularly-enrolled Tokyo Tech students interested in taking this course should please contact the instructor in advance.

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