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Ethics in the science class

                   

This past week, one of my local universities was in lock-down. Students were kept in classrooms and researchers locked themselves into their labs. Apparently, someone had been spotted with a machine gun on campus. As it turns out, the stress and fear were triggered by an art student who created a papier-mache machine gun and carried it unconcealed to the classroom. The social media universe had many unkind words for this student, jackass perhaps being the kindest. Regarding this art project, my question is: who thought this was a good idea?

Are there any science projects that a student might do that could lead to major ethical questions? Think about it…. do you really want to be that teacher interviewed for the local TV news after one of your students has done something questionable? To prevent this from happening to you, have clear ethical expectations of your students and make that an everyday part of their science experimentation. In a previous blog, I suggested that all student project proposals should have a statement on the ethical considerations. This is an absolute requirement for any Youth Science Canada (YSC) science fair project that involves humans or animals. A YSC ethics committee will review, advise and approve projects that fit these categories prior to display at regional and Canada-Wide science fairs.

Our youngest scientists go through (almost) as much rigour as our senior scientists. We want to ensure that projects displayed at a fair are of the highest ethical standards and that no Canadian science fair project will be as controversial as the one displayed a few years ago at the Sacramento Science Fair. I provide a link below so that you can familiarize yourself with YSC’s ethical guidelines. Even if you are not sending your students to a regional science fair, it is good to know that your students are working ethically, i.e., they are following defined norms and standards to respect human participants, safeguard participant data, or treat animals humanely. Historically, scientists have been developing and improving ethical standards since the late 1940s. The ethical guidelines provided by Youth Science Canada are reviewed on a regular basis so that revisions are in place for the following year’s science fair season.

Full disclosure: I am biased towards including ethics in a science curriculum and hope that the Alberta government considers this in the next science curriculum. I have spent more than a decade volunteering on both national and international science fair ethics committees. Additionally, I recently completed a course on the role of ethics in research. I was horrified that there was an ethical incident involving a fake gun at the local university. I was glad that it was not a science project that led to this lock-down.

Links of Interest:
   YSC – Introduction to Ethics
   Adding ethics to a science project
   Ethical issues at Canadian Science Fairs
   You can also find me on Twitter @GWardis

Ethics in the science class

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