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Paper 6: Ethics and Politics of Science, Technology and Medicine

Paper manager: Stephen John

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

All lectures are held in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science.

Michaelmas Term
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine
Stephen John (4), Tim Lewens (4)
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–8)
Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer (6)
Wed 10am (weeks 1–6)
Lent Term
Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine (continued)
Stephen John (2), Tim Lewens (2)
Mon 4pm (weeks 1–4)
Technology, Society and Values
Joseph Martin (4)
Wed 10am (weeks 1–4)
Science and Communism
Mary Brazelton (4)
Fri 10am (weeks 5–8)
Climate Change
Richard Staley (4)
Wed 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.

Aims and learning outcomes

  • to acquaint students with core issues in ethics and politics of science, technology and medicine;
  • to provide students with an understanding of the principal changes in the practices of science and technology in the modern world that resulted from political pressures;
  • to provide students with an understanding of the arguments for and against some of the central philosophical claims about science and values;
  • to give students guidance necessary for pursuing further research in the area of the paper;
  • to give students understanding of the processes and controversies surrounding the use of science for policy (national and international), technology and medical treatment.


Ethics and Politics of Science and Medicine
Stephen John, Tim Lewens (12 lectures, Michaelmas and Lent Terms)

This course considers two important sets of questions. In the first four lectures, we look at some of the central questions of bio-medical ethics, focusing in particular on issues of autonomy and consent in clinical and research settings. In the second group of lectures, we turn to consider the broader political and institutional settings which influence population health, paying particular attention to questions of the allocation of scarce resources, and the proper ends of – and limits to – public health policy.

Sociology of Scientific Knowledge
Simon Schaffer (6 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.

Technology, Society and Values
Joseph Martin (4 lectures, Lent Term)

'Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral' is Melvin Kranzberg's well-known first law of technology. This course explores how technology dependably deviates from neutrality. One half of the lectures will discuss how philosophical inquiry can expose the political dimensions of seemingly innocuous technological artefacts and reveal the values that shape technological change. The other half will examine the changing role of technology in daily life and labour over the past century, and highlight how the ethical questions new technologies present have been raised and negotiated. By the end of this course, students should be equipped to apply historical and philosophical understanding to develop a critical perspective on the utopian and apocalyptic claims that characterise contemporary discourse about technology.

Science and Communism
Mary Brazelton (4 lectures, Lent Term)

The rise of governments that used the term 'Communist' to describe themselves in the 20th century involved a variety of new understandings and practices of science and technology. During the Cold War, science took on a variety of forms and meanings across the Eastern Bloc and its sphere of influence, from the emergence of Lysenkoist genetics in the Soviet Union to promotions of mass science in the People's Republic of China. These lectures discuss the meanings that Marxist and related political theories attributed to science, as well as science and technology in policy and practice in the Soviet Union, People's Republic of China, Cuba and other Communist-aligned states. Topics covered include the roles of technical expertise and the place of techno-science in global Cold War politics.

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.

Preliminary reading

  • Bernal, J.D., The Social Function of Science (London: Routledge, 1939)
  • 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)
  • Fox Keller, Evelyn, and Helen E. Longino (eds), Feminism and Science (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996)
  • * Graham, Loren, Science in Russia and the Soviet Union: A Short History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  • Huber, Peter, Galileo's Revenge: Junk Science in the Courtroom (New York: Basic Books, 1993)
  • Jasonoff, Sheila S., Science at the Bar (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995)
  • Kitcher, Philip, The Lives to Come (London: Penguin, 1996)
  • * Kitcher, Philip, Science, Truth and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001)
  • Latour, Bruno, Science in Action (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1987)
  • Pielke, Roger, The Honest Broker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Resources for Paper 6 on Moodle