Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Paper 7
Ethics and Politics of Science, Technology and Medicine

Paper manager: Stephen John

Michaelmas Term
Primary Source
Stephen John
Tue 11am (weeks 1–4)
The Politics of Science: Historical and Contemporary Debates
Nick Jardine, Stephen John
Wed 12noon (weeks 1–8)
Law and Science
David Feller
Mon 2pm (weeks 1–4)
Lent Term
Marion Godman, Stephen John
Wed 10am (weeks 1–8)
Science Journalism Examined
Tiago Mata
Fri 10am (weeks 1–4)
The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer
Fri 10am (weeks 5–8)

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

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Stephen John (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Synthesis Report, 2007

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an independent body, founded by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organisation. The aim of the IPCC is to analyse and synthesise research on climate change with the aim of producing useful results for policy-makers. So far, it has produced four major reports, synthesising the most recent scientific research on climate change, the most recent published in 2007. For this work, the IPCC received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Although officially a 'policy neutral body', producing mere summaries of state-of-the-art knowledge, the IPCC's work is extremely controversial. In this Primary Source, students will be encouraged to study the Report from a wide variety of angles. Key topics arising from the report include: the status of the report as a 'scientific document'; the internal political workings of the IPCC, and how these may influence the report; the nature of 'risk' estimates used in the environmental sciences; the potential relationships between climate science research and the ideals of 'value free science', on the one hand, and of 'evidence based policy-making' on the other; the relationship between the report and models of science communication, and models of deference to expert testimony; and the potential policy responses to the Report's findings. Through studying these issues, students will investigate not only one of the most controversial contemporary policy debates, but should also gain the tools and skills to conceptualise the political uses and mis-uses of science, and the complex inter-relationships between science and politics more generally.


The Politics of Science: Historical and Contemporary Debates
Nick Jardine, Stephen John (8 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. The first part of the course provides an oversight of how thinkers in the 19th and early-20th centuries understood the relationship between science and political concerns. The second part of the course focuses on more recent debates over the extent to which science can and should be free of political concerns. In these lectures, we first look at debates over the proper role of political considerations in the funding of research, using Philip Kitcher's work as a starting point. We then go on to look at arguments over whether political values should influence our research methods, building on Heather Douglas's work on the problem of inductive risk. Finally, we look at debates over the promulgation and uses of scientific research, discussing recent arguments over the role of scientific expertise in policy and educational contexts.

Law and Science
David Feller (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

This course is designed to inform scientists about the ways the law looks at, forms and guides their work, and inform non-scientists of the ways in which those processes affect their lives on a daily basis. It is intended that the course will provide a basic description of common legal systems, and by looking at case studies – specific topics where the law and science have converged – demonstrate in real terms how those processes play out. Specifically, we examine how science and technology are defined and addressed by the law; how science and technology affect the law in lawmakers' offices and in the courts; how the law defines science; how science is used in the courts; and the problems raised for local courts by the globalization of science.

Marion Godman, Stephen John (8 lectures, Lent Term)

The aim of the first four lectures of this course is to introduce students to philosophical debates over the conduct of medical research and the uses of medical technologies. In discussing these issues, we touch upon important topics, including the proper role of consent in research, the distinction between research, treatment and enhancement, and the ethics of new genetic technologies. In the last four lectures, we touch upon the relationship between political questions and the provision of health services, including the rationing of medical care, and broader questions about the relationships between social and health inequalities.

Science Journalism Examined
Tiago Mata (4 lectures, Lent Term)

These lectures examine science journalism through a critical theory perspective. In the first two lectures, we examine different ways in which the role of the media in the public sphere and mass culture have been theorised. In lectures three and four, we examine how these theories relate to case-studies of science journalism, focusing on magazines such as Scientific American and the science pages of the New York Times.

The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer (4 lectures, Lent Term)

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.

Preliminary reading

Starred items are particularly useful starting points

  • *Buchanan, Brock, Daniels and Wickler, From Chance to Choice: Genetics and Justice (Cambridge, 2000)
  • *Collins, Harry and Trevor Pinch, The Golem: What Everyone Should Know about Science (Cambridge, 1993)
  • *Collins, Harry and Trevor Pinch, The Golem at Large: What Everyone Should Know about Technology (Cambridge, 1998)
  • Douglas, Heather, Science, Policy and the Value-Free Ideal (Pittsburgh, 2009)
  • Foley, E, The Law of Life and Death (Harvard, 2011)
  • *Huber, Peter, Galileo's Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom (New York, 1993)
  • Jasonoff, Sheila S, Science at the Bar (Cambridge, MA, 1995)
  • Fox Keller, Evelyn and Helen E. Longino (eds), Feminism and Science (Oxford, 1996)
  • *Kitcher, Philip, The Lives to Come (Penguin, 1996)
  • Kitcher, Philip, Science, Truth and Democracy (Oxford, 2001)
  • Latour, Bruno, Science in Action (HUP, 1987)
  • Nelkin, Dorothy, Selling Science: How the Press Covers Science and Technology, revised edn (New York, 1995)
  • *Pielke, Roger, The Honest Broker (Cambridge, 2007)
  • *Turnbull, David, Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers (Macmillan, 2000)
  • Vos, Megan E, Uncertain Risks Regulated: Facing the Unknown in National, EU and International Law (Routledge, 2009)

Further resources are available on the HPS Part II CamTools site.