After completing our first week of ethics presentations, I want to make sure our class keeps a few things in mind, in order to move forward more productively:
All of the topics selected are contentious, and this is precisely the point: from day one of this course, we've discussed how science is an ever-evolving dialogue, an imperfect process in a quest for greater understandings of our shared world.
These presentations discuss a wide range of topics from many perspectives. While some of you have chosen to present "pros," "cons," and "neutrals" of a subject, we have to remember that the benefits and drawbacks of a particular topic should not be conflated with whether you're "for" or "against" it. When we make simplistic conclusions about an issue, we not only create unnecessary polarization, but we also foreclose the possibility for other insights to be revealed. The truth is, there are positives and negatives to most things in life, but ethical concerns are raised in science when we weigh questions of power:
...Who has the ability to control a scientific process and why? Who will benefit and who won't?
...What, exactly, makes this topic so contentious to some? What fears, anxieties, traditions, ideologies, does it uphold or threaten?
...What kinds of relationships should we demand between science and academies, industries, and governments?
...And though it will always be imperfect, impartial, and finite, how can we create BETTER ways of practicing science, science that promotes more livable ways of relating across the spectrum of races, genders, species, etc. for generations to come?
Finally, a note of caution on creating a classroom climate conducive to healthy debate, for there have been moments when productive questions have been shut down. Once we understand that:
...no topic presented is "bad" or "good,"
...that the point of these exercises is NOT to reach a final conclusion or resolve the debate,
...and that multiple considerations, in multiple contexts, must be weighed in order to grasp these complex issues,
we can move forward as a class asking more questions, becoming more aware and critical knowers, consumers, voters, and researchers, and creating a space where varying viewpoints can be aired. Remember, if critiques are raised, they can be harnessed to develop better ways of employing whatever scientific development we're considering, making it more effective, more sustainable, and more liberatory.
These presentations are meant to inform our class on important topics that may be brand new to some. But more importantly, they are meant to showcase ethical dilemmas. Keep this in mind, whether you present in the upcoming classes or listen as an active audience member. What larger concerns do these topics raise, especially within a context of feminist science?