Ethics Forum Archive

The Public Discussion Forum of the Center for Technology, Policy, and Ethics at Stevens invites experts from all disciplines to address problems of ethics and policy in a multi-disciplinary way. The following provides the abstracts and questions that were used as starting point of the discussion.

Global Warming ? Fatalism and Indifference on all Sides? (May 2011)

For both those who accept and those who reject the idea that climate change is induced by industrial civilization ? and for all educated skeptics between these two poles ? fatalism and indifference are real threats. For some it is ?too late already? to take any action, for others, while it may not be too late still, ?it?s impossible for the world to come together to do anything about it?, and then there are some who simply hope that ?we get away with it?.

But even if agreement about the reality of global warming could be obtained, it still poses a huge challenge to human agency. Policy-making and collective decision making is impaired by uncertainty about the relevant facts and measures, the injustice that lies in requesting individual countries to cut down their emissions, and the ineffectiveness that any and all measures may have. Vain and futile moralization is only one expression of this dilemma; a more serious effect however, lies in the paralysis of our political will.

Against this background what should be our most immediate goals, and actions? What should be the priorities for science and engineering educators to ensure our students are aware of both the technical issues involved in any possible solutions, and the ethical seriousness of the problems?

Why Art is Dangerous: Censorship and Freedom of Expression (April 2011)

Should art be regulated or supervised by public authorities? For an open society, the only possible answer seems to be: no. But on the other side, art truly is dangerous, and has proven to be so in the course of history. Not all fantasies awakened by art might be beneficial, especially for young people, and there also is an ongoing discussion about the limits of artistic expression in popular music, such as rap or hip hop. Some say that censorship even might be helpful because it makes for better artists or better appreciators. On the other side, students claim that they need no control by the government or other authorities, but better education about the meaning and purpose of art.

The BP Oil Spill - What is the Lesson for Engineers? (November 2010)

The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico finally has been stopped, due to a solution found by engineers. However, questions raised by this event that concern the engineering profession as such, still need to be discussed.

  • What is the role of technological expertise in the interplay with economic factors and government regulation? And where, after all, lies the responsibility for the event?
  • What does the event tell us about the way risk analysis is conducted? Why was the awareness of dangerous outcomes so low?
  • Is there enough being done to prevent disasters or does our society follow a fatalistic attitude that accepts catastrophic outcomes more or less implicitly as "bad luck"?
  • Is oil drilling controllable and safe, or does it engage with unpredictable forces of nature? How do we in general deal with "nature" in this technological endeavor?
  • Is the damage to the ocean irreversible, and could this be an opportunity to push the development of renewable energies?
  • What are the consequences for the education of engineers? How can we contribute to creating attitudes that help us to prevent similar events? What kind of ethics is needed for engineers?

Cyber-bullying and Diversity on Campus - Why Does Somebody Have to Die? (October 2010)

The recent case of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers student who ended his life after his roommate spied on him with a webcam during a homosexual encounter with another student, is both sad and alarming. For some it might just be "fun" to point to others who pursue a different sexual orientation, but for those concerned, words are not just words, and pictures and not just pictures. Especially when pictures or even videos are transmitted on the Internet, an individual is stamped in a way that most probably is going to last for the rest of the life.

So how can we both teach and learn the responsible use of language and other means of communication, especially digital ones? Are students aware what "cyber-bullying" means, given that no information posted digitally can be fully deleted anymore? How much do we think that an individual can bear of bullying until it "adds up" to tragic consequences? And where does the aggression against LGBT students come from? As in all similar cases, the fear of diversity tells us more about those who need to discriminate than about those discriminated.Ethics Forum Archive