Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Paper 7
Ethics and Politics of Science, Technology and Medicine

Paper managers: Anna Alexandrova, Mary Brazelton

This paper is also offered as an optional paper in Part IIB of the Human, Social and Political Sciences Tripos (HSPS).

Michaelmas Term
Primary Source
Mary Brazelton
Tue 11am (weeks 1–4)
Politics of Science: Historical Debates
Nick Jardine
Wed 12noon (weeks 1–4)
Politics of Science: Values, Well-Being and Policy
Anna Alexandrova
Wed 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer
Tue 11am (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
Politics of Science: Values, Well-Being and Policy
Fri 10am (weeks 1–2)
Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Wed 10am (weeks 1–2)
Climate Change
Richard Staley
Fri 10am (weeks 3–6)
David Crawford
Wed 10am (weeks 3–6)

Science, technology and medicine play a central role in the modern world. However, there are many on-going political and ethical controversies over the role they ought to play. These include debates over whether, when and how, ethical and political values should shape scientific research and practice, and over when and how scientific results and new technologies should be used. Furthermore, these important disputes relate to more fundamental questions about the relationship between truth, values and objectivity. The aim of this paper is to introduce students to both practical and theoretical debates over the politics and ethics of science and to examine their inter-relationships.

Primary source

Doha Declaration and Novartis Ruling
Mary Brazelton (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • Doha declaration on the TRIPS agreement (2001)
  • Indian supreme court ruling on Novartis (2013)

In these seminars, we will read materials that consider the global politics of pharmaceutical companies and drugs. In 1996, the World Trade Organization enacted TRIPS (Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), an agreement that sets legal protocol for intellectual property protections. However, leaders of developing nations increasingly feared enforcement of the TRIPS agreement would impede the distribution of cheap generic medicines. The first document we will consider, the 2001 Doha 'Declaration on the TRIPS agreement and public health', attempts to address this conflict by providing a more flexible interpretation of the agreement to accommodate the needs of developing nations. The second document is a 2013 ruling by the Indian Supreme Court against the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis in which India denies a patent to Novartis for its leukaemia drug Glivec. We will use these documents to explore evolving ideas about drugs as intellectual property, the politics of biomedical research in the interactions between developed and developing nations, and conflicts between legal protections that facilitate new drug development and global access to medicines.


Politics of Science: Historical Debates
Nick Jardine (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

Philosophers, historians and sociologists of science have proposed many different models of how scientific research does and should relate to social, political and educational concerns. The aim of this course is to introduce students to some of the most influential models. This course provides an oversight of how thinkers in the 19th and early-20th centuries understood the relationship between science and political concerns.

Politics of Science: Values, Well-Being and Policy
Anna Alexandrova (6 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

A venerable tradition in philosophy of science maintains that it should be value free. However this ideal is particularly hard to sustain in the case of the social sciences, where concepts such as poverty, health, crime, rationality and well-being all presuppose substantive moral and political values. What sort of value freedom should we aim at in the social sciences? One example of value-laden social science is the recently burgeoning study of the causes and consequences of happiness and well-being. Can such a science be trustworthy and objective? And should this knowledge inform public policy?

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer (6 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

This course introduces the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). We describe some basic sociological concepts which help us understand the work of the sciences: how scientists observe and classify the world, the way they organise their communities and perform experiments, the places where they work and the links between them. This discussion of SSK provides themes for philosophical discussion of social explanation and for historical approaches to past sciences.

Climate Change
Richard Staley (4 lectures, Lent Term)

Climate change is a historical science which depends on the analysis of an extraordinarily complex set of interactions, with strong but uncertain implications for our future. This course sets debates on the existence, causes, and potential amelioration of global warming in historical context, and explores relations between science and politics in a rapidly developing and urgently controversial field. Analysis of climate change relies on integrating forms of research and argumentative claims that cross disciplinary boundaries between sciences like geology, meteorology, oceanography and geophysics. It has also engaged scientists, the public, and policy makers in vociferous debate, leading to the development of novel institutional forms like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, while sometimes appearing to provide merely yet another battleground for traditional interest groups in industry, science, and politics. We trace developments from the 1860s onwards and examine several case studies of current research to understand how local research engages global arguments, and how current science is shaped equally by historical context and future projections.

David Crawford (4 lectures, Lent Term)

This course will consider emerging issues in bio-ethics and/or medical ethics.

Preliminary reading

Starred items are particularly useful starting points.

  • *Buchanan, Allen, Dan W Brock, Norman Daniels and Daniel I Wilker, From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • *Collins, Harry, and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: What Everyone Should Know about Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  • *Collins, Harry, and Trevor Pinch, The Golem at Large: What You Should Know about Technology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998)
  • Douglas, Heather, Science, Policy and the Value-Free Ideal (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009)
  • Everson, Michelle, and Ellen Vos (eds), Uncertain Risks Regulated (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009)
  • Foley, Elizabeth Price, The Law of Life and Death (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)
  • Fox Keller, Evelyn, and Helen E Longino (eds), Feminism and Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • *Huber, Peter, Galileo's Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom (New York: Basic Books, 1993)
  • Jasanoff, Sheila, Science at the Bar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995)
  • *Kitcher, Philip, The Lives to Come (London: Penguin, 1997)
  • Kitcher, Philip, Science, Truth and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • Latour, Bruno, Science in Action (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987)
  • MacKenzie, Donald A, and Judy Wajcman (eds) The Social Shaping of Technology, 2nd edition (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1999)
  • Nelkin, Dorothy, Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology, revised edition (New York: WH Freeman, 1995)
  • *Pielke, Roger, The Honest Broker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)
  • *Turnbull, David, Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers (Amsterdam: Harwood Academic, 2000)

Further resources are available on Moodle.