Ethics

Karen Allendoerfer ravena at cco.caltech.edu
Mon Nov 17 16:13:59 EST 1997


In article <34709139.4667 at nospamsalk.edu>,
S L Forsburg <forsburg at nospamsalk.edu> wrote:
>Karen Allendoerfer (ravena at cco.caltech.edu) writes
>......
>> And that professors also play a role in creating an "us against them"
>> atmosphere in the classroom, that I see as playing a role in
>> encouraging
>> cheating.
>
>Is there any justification--EVER--for cheating?  

As stated, no, but I don't really think it's always clear what is
"cheating."  Especially in situations where students work together.  
And what about getting old exams, when one fraternity keeps files for
use of their "brothers" of the exams from the last 20 years?  Are the
fraternity members who use those old exams "cheating"?  Some professors
give out old exams as learning aids.  In fact, that was done by the 
department where I was a graduate student.  Answering the old exam 
questions was quite valuable.  But there are often inequality issues
as to who gets the old exams and who doesn't.  I would favor making the
old exams open to everyone, because I think they are useful learning 
tools, and because I think that this is the only way to keep the
hypothetical "frat boys" I mentioned from having an advantage.  But, I've
heard some professors huffily exclaim that getting old exams is "CHEATING!"
I've also seen a visually impaired (legally blind, in fact) student be
denied extra time on an exam, because that would be "cheating."  

What I think is most important here is defining and discouraging "cheating,"
whatever that is.   Whether people come together to pronounce that there
is "NEVER ANY JUSTIFICATION FOR IT" or not strikes me as not particularly
useful or interesting (it reminds me a little bit of "zero tolerance" in
the "war on drugs"--now that we all feel better, what, exactly, have we
accomplished?).  As long as the temptations are there, and 
especially as long as some students remain confused as to what 
constitutes it (and I admit to being one of these confused people), there
is going to be unnecessary rancor and ill-will on both sides.

To try to add something a little different to this debate, I would like
to mention the seminar on "teaching ethics in science" that was given at
the Society for Neuroscience meeting this year in New Orleans.

There were a number of speakers; of particular interest to Neuroscientists
were Beth Fischer and Michael Zigmond, who have designed a course at the
University of Pittsburgh, and who give a workshop every year, supported
by the National Science Foundation and the NIH.  Some of the topics 
covered in their workshop are:  job hunting, mentoring, oral communication,
personal and professional development, providing access, responsible
scientific conduct, human subjects in research, plagarism.  

The next workshop takes place June 7-11, 1998.  For more information,
contact:  

Beth A. Fischer
Survival Skills and Ethics Program
University of Pittsburgh
4K26 Forbes Quadrangle
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
412-624-7098 (phone)
412-648-7081 (fax)
email:  survival+ at pitt.edu

The seminar at Neuroscience also had some professors who had tried to
integrate ethics into their curricula sharing their experiences.  
Michael Kalichman from UCSD  and Stephanie Bird from MIT shared their
syllabi and experiences.  They emphasized their "case studies" approach
to ethical issues in science.  At one point, the audience participated in
a case study.  Again, it was not always immediately
obvious in these case studies what was "cheating" and what was not.  Even
amongst the rather broad cross-section of attendees in various stages of
their careers there was a surprising (to me) lack of agreement on first
glance, at what some of the people described in the case studies should do.

The last speaker was Muriel Bebeau from the University of Minnesota.  She
was not a scientist but an ethicist, and described the program she had
developed for teaching ethics at the U. of Minnesota dental school.  What
really impressed me about her program was the attitude that "ethics can
be reasoned and taught."  She is the director of the Center for the study
of Ethical Development (206 Burton Hall/178 Pillsbury Dr./ University of
Minnesota/Minneapolis, MN 55455).  They do extensive ethics research not
only among scientists but also for business and other professionals.  She
also showed some statistics concerning the types of decisions that students
made on various ethical exams, after taking her course or courses like hers.
In general the students became more aware of the needs of others and less
self-centered.  I have to go to a meeting now, but if anyone would like
to discuss any of this information, please post your opinions, or feel
free to email me.  I was really impressed by the practical approach these
people had to the teaching of ethics, and by the fact that Bebeau, at least,
seemed to have some preliminary data showing that what she was doing had
some results.

Karen



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