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 Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer
Wed 12noon (weeks 1–4)
The Politics of Science: Historical Debates
Nick Jardine
Wed 12noon (weeks 5–8)
Marion Godman
Tue 11am (weeks 5–8)
Lent Term
The Politics of Science: Contemporary Debates
Stephen John, Anna Alexandrova
Wed 10am (weeks 1–8)
Technology and Society
Helen Curry
Fri 10am (weeks 1–4)
Law and Science
David Feller
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

Scientific Authorship
Stephen John (4 seminars, Michaelmas Term)

  • Flanagin, A et al 'Prevalence of Articles With Honorary Authors and Ghost Authors in Peer-Reviewed Medical Journals' Journal of the American Medical Association 1998;280(3):222–224
  • Healy, D, and Cattell, D 'Interface between Authorship, Industry and Science in the Domain of Therapeutics' British Journal of Psychiatry, 2003, 183:22–27

In these seminars, we will read and consider two papers published in leading medical journals concerning the relationship between the pharmaceutical industry and scientific authorship. The first paper sets out the fact that a large proportion of studies published in biomedical journals list prestigious authors who have not contributed much to research ('honorary authors') and fail to list as authors those who have contributed much to research ('ghost authors'). The second paper relates this phenomenon to research sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry, suggesting that industry-sponsored research published in peer-reviewed journals is far more likely to report positive results than is non-industry funded research. These papers raise a series of important topics, including the nature and norms of authorship as it relates to 'blind' peer review, the actual (and proper) relationship between pharmaceutical companies and biomedical researchers, the nature of bias, and the proper institutional response to such concerns. One important strand of our discussions will be critical assessment of these issues, both as they are discussed in the primary source and as they have subsequently been discussed by sociologists and philosophers of science. Further important issues to discuss might include the methodologies used by the authors to establish their results, why the papers were published in medical journals, and how the papers themselves might illustrate some of the root causes of the problems they address.


The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer (4 lectures, Michaelmas 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.

The Politics of Science: Historical and Contemporary Debates
Nick Jardine, Stephen John, Anna Alexandrova (12 lectures, Michaelmas & Lent Terms)

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 in the philosophy of science over the extent to which science can and should be free of political concerns, including Philip Kitcher's work on well-ordered science, debates over the notion of scientific expertise, Helen Longino's constructive empiricism, and recent work on inductive risk. In the final section of the course, we look at the ways in which substantive value judgments play a role in recent policy-oriented research in the social sciences and economics on the measurement of well-being.

Marion Godman (4 lectures, Michaelmas Term)

The aim of this course is to introduce students to philosophical debates over the use of medical research and technologies (focusing mainly on new genetic technologies). We discuss important topics in this area, including the proper role of informed consent in research and practice, the moral relevance of the distinction between treatment and enhancement, and the scope of free choice with respect to creating 'better children'.

Technology and Society
Helen Curry (4 lectures, Lent Term)

From the conspicuous high-tech devices that keep us in constant communication to the largely hidden systems that bring us clean water and electricity, technologies shape nearly every aspect of our lives. Any survey of the news shows that technologies can be politically controversial and contested – drones, nuclear reactors, genetically modified crops. Even seemingly mundane technologies can be instruments of power and politics, such as transport systems that don't reach underprivileged neighbourhoods or super-tall smokestacks that disperse pollution over greater distances. This course examines the politics of technology through the work of historians, sociologists and philosophers. The lectures tackle a series of questions central to this subject: How and with what consequences are technologies produced and distributed? What role do consumers play in technological development? What is the relationship between global poverty and technological infrastructure? Is 'technological' inherently 'unnatural', and what are the consequences of making this distinction?

Law and Science
David Feller (4 lectures, Lent 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.

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)
  • Donald A. MacKenzie 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 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.