Category Archives: Ethics
Working with Eco Club and thinking about the complexities of the interactions, causes, effects and issues we need to tackle, I am often reminded of this Lovelock quote, from a 2014 interview in the Guardian. Perhaps if we can get interdisciplinary teaching and learning right in our schools, we can help students make the connections they need to truly understand the deeper causes of the problems they might need to solve.
For a more detailed post on how we’re trying to tackle IDU’s, please see my blog.
In this compressed semester of Grade 9 MYP Chemistry, I had students do one full-length One World piece, written for a wider online audience. We had done formative One World work earlier in the semester, and the process of this article took a good few weeks, with drafting on GoogleDocs.
Brief: write a 1,200-1,500 word article for an online audience on the prompt “Better living through Chemistry: Chemical solutions to Global Issues.”
Assessment: One World and Communication in Science
Process: Topics proposed and drafted through GoogleDocs, with students seeking feedback on writing through highlighting and comments in the GoogleDocs. In the final sessions they put the articles together in WordPress and gave peer-feedback for quality of presentation, flow and message. We aimed to use images found through CreativeCommons Search and through Getty’s free Images(though the embed widget went squiffy on some of their wordpress editors).
Teacher note: this kind of task is a great way to realise that we are all language teachers. Managing workflow through GoogleDocs/Hapara makes commenting on drafts easier, though students need to keep their work there in order to show progression. The worflow and product are similar to the Grade 10 Environmental Science task, though with more scaffolding along the way.
Some highlights (with a range of scores) are posted below. Please click-through, read them and leave some encouraging comments!
- Access to clean water (and the Lifesaver Bottle) proved popular topics, with some great pieces by Jocelle, Joanne, Lisa, Kayla,
- Arushi explores the use of iodine tablets in the treatment of dirty water, and Omar looks at a nano-tech teabag.
- Lily-Rose outlines how oral rehydration therapy saves lives (and money), and so does Taimu.
- Plastic trash was also a popular issue. Fred writes about biodegradable plastics here, and Ryo describes the plastic to oil machine, as does Ben.
- Juhaku finds out more about hyperthermia as a way to potentially improve the effectiveness of chemotherapy
- Shina looks at how cancer diagnosis uses radioisotopes
- Kaiki describes biofuels as an alternative to gas or oil.
- Takeharu writes about an intriguing use of nano-scale crystals – to coat and protect vaccines for transport
- Masaki outlines the potential uses of carbon nanotubes
- Sheila describes how NSAIDS are used as anti-inflammatory painkillers
- Jonathan describes how sodium nitrite is used in food preservatives.
Although George Monbiot’s fruitless search for an ethical smartphone has ended with the discovery of tin for parts being sourced through child labour on the Bangka Islands in Indonesia, it has turned up a lot of useful resources that could form great prompts for an MYP Sciences, Design and Economics inter-disciplinary unit on life cycles of electronics.
Some ideas that could be pitched at different levels for students:
- What is life cycle analysis and what do we mean by ‘designed for the dump’?
- How can we create resources that help us appreciate what we have, rather than feeling the ‘need’ to pick up the latest and greatest?
- Design a campaign or project based on one of the 8 R’s (below).
- Analyse and evaluate the data in the Short Circuit report. Write a case study or investigative piece one one og highlight facts, issues, problems or potential solutions.
- Collect and analyse community data on perceptions of need, rate of purchase and disposal of electronics. Do people know what is in them, where their dangers are and where they end up?
One of the resources shared by Monbiot was this fantastically detailed document called the Short Circuit Report, produced by the Gaia Foundation & Friends of the Earth’s Make It Better campaign. It is packed with information, data and images. One in particular stood out as a discussion starter on choices and design:
The Story of Electronics is another video introduction that might hook students into finding out more about these shiny gadgets that are permanently attached to our bodies.
For more resources and ideas, have a look at this Storify:
There’s a good chance that you’d not be here to read this without the pharmaceutical industry designing and manufacturing the vaccines and medications you’ve used during your life – but how much do we know about where they come from?
In this thoughtful, well-researched and instructive book, Ben Goldacre* (doctor, evidence-based medicine proponent and author of Bad Science) outlines how Big Pharma works, but also what the issues are and how they can be fixed. He has a TEDMED Talk on the premise of the book (below) and takes care no to write a ‘hatchet-job’ on the industry, but to shine a light on the current state of clinical research and marketing.
I recommend the book to IB Biology and IB Chemistry students and teachers – read a copy before the next teaching cycle begins – as there are many sections of direct relevance to our courses that could be used as lesson ideas or real-world contexts for what we’re learning. It would make a great addition to the reading list for students, especially those intending to pursue medical, biochemistry or pharmaceutical careers.
In each chapter, Goldacre identifies a problem and gives a clear account of why it is a problem, using systematic reviews of academic literature and specific case studies to highlight each point. He makes it clear to the reader why these problems actually are problems, but also offers concrete advice or proposals on how to solve them.
Some highlights for the IB Biology course
Chapter 1 gets stuck in with statistical analysis and why systematic reviews of literature, meta-analyses and careful work with data are so important. It introduces the work of the Cochrane Collaboration and works through a neat illustration of the importance of considering all the data as more studies are carried out. The Cochrane Collaboration’s logo is itself a fascinating story, and you could model this in class with a simple set of investigations in the early stages of the course (see some ideas on the Statistical Analysis page).This video is very useful – from the Testing Treatments page.
The ideas and issues come thick and fast for the rest of the book.
As you read it, you will see many potential connections to the course, as well as to Theory of Knowledge. Here are just a few ideas that might spark discussion in class:
- What is the problem with missing trial data and publishing only favourable results?
- What does this publication bias do the reliability of the information we use to make decisions?
- How are drugs designed and tested (this is super interesting, going from in-vitro and animal testing to stage 1, 2 and 3 human trials, and has an obvious link to the IB Animal Experimentation Policy).
- What are the ethical issues with human testing, in particular the ideal/ representative nature of the patients used and the incentives they receive?
- What is the impact of outsourcing trials to other countries that might have different ethical codes?
- What are the ethical issues of randomising and controlling trials with humans, particularly in cases where there is a known drug that helps compared to a new drug?
- What are the roles of drugs regulators on medicine and are they working?
- How should trials be designed to give more valid and reliable data (for example, comparing the ‘new’ drug against the current best alternative vs placebo)?
- How could we use nationwide health records to conduct larger, simpler trials to determine which treatments really are most effective?
- How do the many branches of pharmaceutical marketing affect decision-making and how can we recognise and mitigate for this?
- How can we fix it all to keep medical innovation going whilst generating reliable, cost-effective data and drugs?
TED Talk: What doctors don’t know about the drugs they prescribe
*Yeah, I know I’m a bit of a fanboy and have featured him on here a lot, but with this and Bad Science, he has produced a lot of useful content to connect to our classes.
This is an interesting discussion starter and is only 11 minutes long. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji talks about the ethical dilemmas of HIV research in developing countries. What happens when the trial ends?
Some discussion ideas:
- Discuss the pros/ cons of testing pharmaceuticals in the developing world vs the ‘west’.
- Authorisation of trials
- Risk of litigation
- Willingness of populations to participate
- Potential sample size
- Ethics vs efficiency in data generation
- Cost-benefit ratio
- Outline what is meant by ‘informed consent’ in terms of clinical trials. Discuss the challenges of informed consent in trials in the developing world.
- Evaluate the suggestions Boghuma Kabisen Titanji makes about:
- Informed consent
- Standard of care provided to participants
- Ethical review of research
- Exit plan – what happens to participants once the trial has ended?