Category Archives: Ethics

The Environment is Interdisciplinary

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.

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James Lovelock on the challenge of really teaching people about the environment, from this Guardian interview: http://gu.com/p/3zx4j

Better Living Through Chemistry: Student Science Writers

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.

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Some highlights (with a range of scores) are posted below. Please click-through, read them and leave some encouraging comments!

 

The Great Barrier Reef: An Obituary

The Great Barrier Reef: An Obituary. This haunting multimedia Guardian piece could be a perfect provocation for a unit.

The Great Barrier Reef: An Obituary. This haunting multimedia Guardian piece could be a perfect provocation for a unit.

In the current age of environmental destruction it can be difficult to keep paying attention to the news. But some stories stand out as being real alarm bells, and this very sad piece on the iconic barrier reef highlights a lot of purely human-caused issues. To add to the misery, now the reef is under further threat from destructive dredging and dumping… to make way for shipping lanes for coal mining in Australia. #EpicFail.

MrT’s students: note the image above has a caption and links back to the original source, not to an image hosted on my WordPress. Make sure your writing does the same. 

Ending Overfishing Animation

This is a neat animation by The Black Fish (@theblackfishorg) on Ending Overfishing, highlighting issues of overfishing, bycatch, fish-farming and the tensions between science-recommended catches and econonmy-driven catch limits. It connects directly to the Population Ecology option topic.

 

Niches for Species: George Monbiot’s TED Talk on Rewilding.

This TED Talk from Guardian environment writer George Monbiot (@GeorgeMonbiot) makes a compelling argument for rewilding: putting back what we have taken from nature, letting the ecosystems do what they will and allowing the megafauna to re-reshape the ecosystem.

“It offers us the hope that our silent spring can be replaced by a raucous summer.”

The connections across the curriculum here are clear, most notably to 5.1 Ecosystems and HL Option G4: Conservation of Biodiversity. Well worth 15 minutes and could be the stimulus for class discussion.

“Changing Crops for a Changing Climate” Mark Lynas & a Nature Special on GMOs

Here is Mark Lynas at Cornell University, with his speech “Time to call out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory.” It runs almost half an hour, though he does have a transcript of the speech on his blog. The connections to IB Biology Genetics & Genetic Engineering here are obvious.

What should be noted for background is Lynas’ own story. In the 1990’s he was a prominent anti-GMO activist, but has recently apologised and is now on a mission to right the wrongs he feels he has done. It has not been easy, and has generated lots of controversy.

“Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.”

Powerful and provocative stuff – and a great stimulus for discussion and debate. Lynas refers to a lot of studies, claims and organisations in this speech. Students could follow this up with finding out more about each of them.

We might never be able to get students to the absolute truth on GMOs – we may find it difficult ourselves – but it is useful to give some insight into just how delicate the balancing act can be and how cloudy the discussions of ethics in science can get. The issues around GMOs are complex: scientific, political, ethical, economical, environmental. They are far more complex than a couple of short assessment statements in a Biology syllabus can really do justice.

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Rise of the Superweeds. Click-through to the Nature Special.

Also recently, a very useful Nature special edition on GM Crops: the Promise & Reality. Look in for some in-depth articles and case-studies, including the true, the false and the still unknown on GM crops.

Nature articles often have presentations of data that can be used for data-based question practice (such as the one to the right – click through to see). Follow the patterns of the DBQ’s and make up your own questions based on different articles:

  • Identify
  • Describe the trend in…
  • Calculate the difference in…
  • Compare
  • Suggest reasons for…
  • Evaluate

Electronics Bathed in Blood & Destruction

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:

How would the 8 'R's change your approach to consumption and design? Please read the full Short Circuit report for this diagram in context.

How would the 8 ‘R’s change your approach to consumption and design? Please read the full Short Circuit report for this diagram in context. Click the image to view.

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:

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Bad Pharma by Ben Goldacre: quick review & course connections

The Book

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

Click & Go

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. 

Remaining Ethical in the Search for a Cure for HIV [TED Talk]

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?

 

Save the Panda? Group research, database and discussion task.

This task is based on Chris Packham’s comments on Panda conservation and is intended to give students an insight into conservation issues and use of the IUCN Red List database. Here is a quick news clip with him defending his comments, and the activity is embedded below.

By the end of this session, students should be able to:

  • Distinguish between keystone and flagship species, with examples of each
  • Access and use the IUCN Red List database
  • Appreciate that threats to one species often threaten other species in the same area
  • Discuss the benefits of whole-ecosystem conservation
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Once this is complete, watch one of these TED Talks on active conservation management techniques and their successes. Conservation really is inspiration!

Dan Barber: How I fell in love with a fish

John Kasaona: How rhino poachers became caretakers

Willie Smits: How we regrew a rainforest

Wow!

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