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Ethics in Chemistry, Applications to Gender in Science?

There’s a great review over at Adventures in Ethics and Science on a book called The Ethical Chemist: Professionalism and Ethics in Science by Jeffrey Kovac. The book takes a case study approach to teaching ethics in science.

The case studies are concise but rich with possibilities, and range from situations one might encounter as a student taking chemistry classes (or dealing with professors) to issues that might face the academic scientist trying to make a discovery or the industrial chemist trying to shore up the bottom line. Each case is followed by a brief commentary that examines the central ethical questions of the case in a bit more detail and raises further issues that might be relevant in formulating a good response to the case. These commentaries don’t identify a particular response as the best response to the case (which would kind of defeat the purpose — why think through a response on your own if the commentary is going to tell you how to respond?), but instead use the additional issues and questions to add a level or two of complexity to the case. In other words, the commentaries encourage the reader to revisit their initial response to a case and refine her model of what a good chemist would do here by building additional considerations into this model. Ethical reasoning is not presented as an all-or-nothing activity, but an iterative process of getting closer and closer to behaviors best suited for the activities of the chemical profession (and the good of the society to which those professionals go home at night).

It’s a great review, you should read it all. The book focuses on chemists, but it sounds like it could be of use to scientists in other disciplines as well. It’s good to see something written at length about ethics for scientists that deals specifically with the kinds of ethical situations scientists confront in everyday life, from the seemingly small to the very large dilemmas.

I’m imagining a similar book written to help scientists think about dealing with gender in everyday life…incorporating Virginia Valian’s work on gender schemas. Something like that could be really interesting…but would anyone use it? That’s the question… The book could deal with diversity issues in general.
You could have case studies on

  • The search committee: reviewing c.v.s and unconscous bias. You can’t generally hide on a c.v. if you’re male or female, unless your name is ambiguous. Similarly, names or organizational affiliations will sometimes give clues about race. A reviewer will take in this information and can’t help reacting to it. Then what?
  • The candidate: crafting your c.v. There was a discussion on the Chronicle forums recently about whether or not to list the date of your degrees on the c.v. One respondent does not list dates because of worries about age discrimination. Another respondent felt that anybody who hides information has something to hide.
  • The interview: as the candidate, do you bring up the two-body problem, if you have one? If you are female and married, do you take off your wedding ring before the interview so as to avoid behind-your-back dismissals like “She’s married, there’s going to be a problem with her spouse” or “she’s married, she’s probably got kids and won’t be devoted to her career”?
  • How do you handle something like this? (The whole story can be found here.)

Wow, we could probably just mine women scientist blogs for all sorts of un-nifty real-life case studies. There’s a lot of good information that the various university ADVANCE programs have collected and designed that could be incorporated as well.
Well, any such book would need an ethics expert, so Dr. Free-Ride would have to be involved. I think it’s an interesting idea, but again, I wonder if people would really use it. Thoughts? Does such a book exist already?
I think there already exist books that tell women how to cope with patriarchal organizations. What I’m envisioning is a book that gives examples, small and large, for the conscientious individual (male or female) who wishes to counteract gender schemas. Also possibly to instruct the somewhat less conscientious to raise awareness of ethical issues around diversity. Institutional transformation for the individual through daily personal interactions, if you will. Does that even make sense?
If you are reading this and you have worked on an ADVANCE program, I’d really appreciate hearing your thoughts, either in the comments or by private email. bobtownsuz AT yahoo DOT com.

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