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Science & Engineering Ethics

Ask an Ethicist: Lost property on campus

Tom Sowerby This happens to all of us. For days, sometimes weeks, we may see a forgotten umbrella or other lost item sitting in the back of a classroom or office. After some time, many of us wonder if we could simply take that lost property. Is it ethical to take the lost property?

Denver Tang receives best paper award at international conference

Denver Tang awardDenver Award Certificate Denver Tang, Rock Ethics Institute Postdoctoral Scholar, received the Best Paper Award at the 11th International Conference on Science, Technology and Education Policy in Hangzhou, China.

Ask an Ethicist: Can I practice interviewing during an actual interview?

Cassie Rosas Interviewing can be stressful and a common way to help become better at interviewing is practice. But what happens when someone uses actual interviews with companies they have no interest in to just practice? Is it ethical to take away these interview slots to just practice or are there better ways to handle this situation?

Nancy Tuana receives PA IPL 2016 Visionary Award

Nancy Tuana receiving Visionary Award Nancy Tuana, founding director of the Rock Ethics Institute and DuPont/Class of 1949 Professor of Philosophy and Women's Studies, received the 2016 Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light Visionary Award for her work with climate change ethics.

2016 Stand Up awardees speak at ‘The Village at Penn State’

2016 Stand Up honorees The 2016 Stand Up honorees, Jaden Rankin-Wahlers, Alanna Kaiser and Nathan Larkin, spoke at ‘The Village at Penn State: State College Retirement Communities’ on Friday, October 21, 2016. The students presented on the topics of which they were honored last spring.

Environmental Justice

We Americans like to think of ourselves as an ethical people. For generations, our presidents have referred to America as the “shining city on a hill” and “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” We pledge allegiance to a flag that stands for “liberty and justice for all.” That word “all” is key. If our lofty declarations are to have any meaning, then justice must be available for everyone, including the vulnerable and the oppressed.

Rock research associate to join IEEE General Principles committee on creating ethical autonomous systems

Alan Wagner headshot Alan R. Wagner, ethics core faculty member at the Rock Ethics Institute and assistant professor of aerospace engineering, was recently accepted onto The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) General Principles committee on creating ethical autonomous systems.

Ask an Ethicist: How important is empathy in the U.S. Presidential election?

Daryl Cameron headshot As Election Day nears, voters are debating the qualities that make for an effective leader. One of these contested qualities is empathy: the ability to understand and resonate with the experiences of others. Does it matter if a President can relate to you and care about what you are going through?

Ask an Ethicist: To stand or to sit for the national anthem

Josh Inwood headshot Expressions of patriotism can be important to the health of the nation and can serve as a rallying point for a diverse and multicultural nation. Equally important is the right to peaceful protest including the right to express opinions that some people might find antithetical to the nation. Recently this tension has come to the fore as athletes and other prominent public figures have begun silently protesting police abuses during the singing of the national anthem. This week’s column tackles this important issue.

Ask an Ethicist: What should I do if I encounter discrimination in the workplace?

Tom C. Hogan The workplace should be an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment. But what happens if you feel discriminated against or someone who is known to discriminate or regularly uses offensive speech is promoted. How should you deal with this and what resources do you have at your disposal? This week’s column aims to offer some advice on the subject.

Penn State welcomes three new ethics core faculty members

From left to right: Joshua F.J. Inwood, associate professor of geography; C. Daryl Cameron, assistant professor of psychology; Alan R. Wagner, assistant professor of aerospace engineering The Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State welcomes three new core faculty members in ethical research: C. Daryl Cameron (Psychology), Joshua F.J. Inwood (Geography), and Alan R. Wagner (Aerospace Engineering). These faculty members will help strengthen an interdisciplinary community of scholars and educators from across the University and they are committed to enhancing Penn State’s curriculum and research expertise in ethics.

Welcome Message from the Interim Director

Eduardo Mendieta headshot It is my pleasure to welcome you back to another exciting year at the Rock Ethics Institute. This coming year promises to be a busy but also a creative and hope inspiring one for all of us at the Rock and the University Community in general.

Ask an Ethicist: Can I share my interview questions with peers?

Wayne Cross headshot In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing a five-part series retailed to the career-fair. Interviews can be stressful, especially for the first time. Many people feel that if they know the questions ahead of time, they’ll do a better job as they will be prepared. But is that really true? And, is knowing the questions ahead of time ethical or is it considered cheating?

Ask an Ethicist: Embellishing on a résumé

Erica Kryst Headshot In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing a five-part series retailed to the career-fair. In many cases, the résumé is your first point of contact with the employer. You know how important it is and you really want to stand out from the competition. Is it ethical to embellish or exaggerate a bit on your résumé?

Ask an Ethicist: Should I accept a job from an internship that didn't seem like the right fit?

Ashley Rippey In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing questions over the next week that will discuss internships, interviewing, résumés, and reference writing. This question centers around a job offer from an internship that didn't seem like the right fit. There are ethical implications in deciding whether to accept a job offer after completing an internship or co-op. Today, we discover what some of those issues might be and how to approach them.

Ask an Ethicist: Should I attend a career fair after accepting a job offer?

Lesley Jackson Headshot In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing questions over the next week that will discuss internships, interviewing, résumés, and reference writing. This question centers around attendance at the career fair. It's a great moment when you finally get that first job or internship offer. It feels even better to formally accept the offer, feeling secure about that next step in your career. But what if that offer comes before a career fair and you accept? Is it ethical to still attend the fair and take up the time recruiters could be spending with other students?

Ask an Ethicist: Serving as a reference (or not)

Jennifer Eury In preparation for Fall Career Days at Penn State, we are publishing questions over the next week that will discuss internships, interviewing, résumés, and reference writing. This first question centers around writing reference letters. Most of us have either served as a reference for someone or asked someone to serve as a reference for us. But what happens when someone is asked to serve as a reference for a colleague or student and for whatever reason, the individual is not comfortable serving in this capacity? How should someone respond to the request?

Rock Ethics Institute names new director

Ted Toadvine headshot Ted Toadvine, professor of philosophy and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, has been named director of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State. Toadvine’s tenure as director will begin in January 2017.

Ask an Ethicist: What can I do to address our changing planet in an ethical way?

Issues of flood, drought and a changing weather dynamic raise ethical and moral questions, including issues of justice and fairness between different populations, and between people and nature. To address such issues, constructive dialogue and community based discussions provide a way to find solutions and address the moral and ethical dilemmas raised.

Nine local residents cycling to DC; raising awareness about climate change

At 4 p.m., Rev. Dean Lindsey, pastor of State College Presbyterian Church, will bless the riders and their mission. Cricket Hunter, Director of Education and Outreach for PA Interfaith Power & Light, will also offer a few words. We expect the riders to head down Beaver to Garner Street and then down the Garner Street bike path. This year’s riders include members from four State College congregations, including Dr. Ed Prince, a State College physician who is the President of the Grace Lutheran Church Council. "I do not believe that a person must ride 200 miles to D.C. to be an advocate for the environment or to fight for climate change issues,“ Dr. Prince said, "but I do think this well organized bike ride gives us some credibility on Capitol Hill."

Should we care about how nature is thought of in other cultures?

Brett Davis Headshot Yes, and for several reasons. To begin with it is important to recognize that while we share the earth, ocean waters, and atmosphere with the rest of humanity, and while societies around the globe must cooperate in order to effectively respond to the dangers and even existential threat of climate change, our different cultures have conditioned us to experience natural phenomena and to understand the relation between humans and (the rest of) nature in different ways. Our artistic, scientific, philosophical, and religious traditions shape the ways in which we conceive of and perceive nature.

Ask an Ethicist: Why should the U.S. reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Peter Buckland Photo At the Paris Climate talks, global society agreed to pursue a rapid decarbonization of the global economy to cap total global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. Such actions would prevent some dire effects of human-caused climate change. What are some of the ethical issues from global climate change?

Engels, McDonald named Sherwin Early Career Professors

Two faculty members in the Penn State College of the Liberal Arts have been named Sherwin Early Career Professors in the college’s Rock Ethics Institute. Jeremy Engels now holds the title Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and associate professor of communication arts and sciences, while Bryan McDonald now holds the title Sherwin Early Career Professor in the Rock Ethics Institute and assistant professor of history. Both appointments are effective March 2016 and continue until June 30, 2018.

Ask an Ethicist: Does climate change affect genders differently?

Photo used on profile page.Olsson, L., M. Opondo, P. Tschakert, A. Agrawal, S.H. Eriksen, S. Ma, L.N. Perch, and S.A. Zakieldeen, 2014: Livelihoods and poverty. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Field, C.B., V.R. Barros, D.J. Dokken, K.J. Mach, M.D. Mastrandrea, T.E. Bilir, M. Chatterjee, K.L. Ebi, Y.O. Estrada, R.C. Genova, B. Girma, E.S. Kissel, A.N. Levy, S. MacCracken, P.R. Mastrandrea, and L.L. White (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp. 793-832. Climate change is a global issue and affects all of us. You most likely have read about or discussed climate concerns, but an often overlooked topic is gender and climate change. In today’s Ask an Ethicist column, our ethicist brings to light this often overlooked topic and explains why gender should be part of the climate change conversation.

Undergraduates honored with Rock Ethics Institute 2016 Stand Up Award

Heidi Lynne Photography Alanna Kaiser, 2016 Stand Up Awardee in AfricaNathan Larkin, 2016 Stand Up HonoreeJaden Rankin-Wahlers Stand Up honoree Penn State students Alanna Kaiser, Nathan Larkin, and Jaden Rankin-Wahlers are being honored respectively for their work in social & environmental justice; organizing efforts to address climate change; and combatting stigmas associated with poverty and homelessness.

Ask an Ethicist: Profiting from a Cure

Dan Cahoy Headshot Should someone be able to charge high prices for important medical information? Can one even own such knowledge? This week’s article shed’s some light on these questions by taking a look at whether or not it is ethical for an acupuncturist to charge other licensed acupuncturists a large sum of money to learn about key acupuncture points.

Fifth annual bike ride to Washington to urge action on climate change

On Saturday, April 2, at 2 p.m., several cyclists will gather in front of the State College Borough building to begin a training ride for the 2016 PA-to-DC Bike Trip. This 4-day, 200-mile ride to Washington, D.C. begins on April 29 to urge Congress to respond to climate change. For the fifth year in a row these riders are sponsored by Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light (paipl.org), a religious response to climate change.

Four Penn State Researchers named Rock Ethics Institute Faculty Fellows

Jeffrey M. CatchmarkRosemary Jolly headshotPhoto used on people page.Amit Sharma headshot The fellows, Jeffery M. Catchmark, Rosemary Jolly, Sarah Clark Miller, and Amit Sharma, will help support initiatives that integrate curricular and research components by building interdisciplinary collaborations that will advance the Rock’s goal of integrating ethics into the Penn State curriculum.

Diversifying a Discipline - Penn State produced an unprecedented number of black, female Ph.D.s in philosophy

In 2015, Penn State produced an unprecedented number of black, female Ph.D.s in philosophy. Here’s how.

Ask an Ethicist: Should I engage with lay audiences about my research?

Brad R. Woods Headshot We now have access to more information than we’ve ever had and it keeps growing by the minute. We can quickly pull up restaurant reviews, journal articles, and real-time weather within seconds from devices in our pockets. But what happens when you come across something online that you know to be incorrect because you spent your life researching that topic? Should you feel compelled to engage in this online discussion since you’re an expert with several related publications?

Ask an Ethicist: Is it wrong to ask my son about his combat service?

Justin Synder Headshot Combat experience is sometimes difficult to talk about, especially for loved ones. Concerned parents want to learn more about their children’s time in the military, but many aren’t sure how to go about it. This week’s column helps explain why many veterans choose not to talk about their experiences and suggests that being there to listen, not asking, is the most ethical way to communicate with them.

Ask an Ethicist: Can Plato help us pick the next president?

Image: Joel Priddy Caucus season is here. In picking the next POTUS, how do we choose well? Common criteria include candidates’ takes on specific issues, their ability to serve as commander in chief, and how we imagine they would navigate delicate international imbroglios. But what about ethical leadership? This week's column discusses what Plato and the power of invisibility can teach us about the role of ethical leadership in contemporary democracy.

Leonhard Center, Rock Ethics Institute Lauded For Efforts In Ethics Education

The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) announced today (Feb. 18) that its Center for Engineering Ethics and Society has selected the pioneering efforts to create a community of ethics educators in Penn State’s College of Engineering as an Exemplar in Engineering Ethics Education.

Ask an Ethicist: Can money raised for a charity 5K be used to pay entry fees?

Francisco Javier Lopez Headshot Spring is around the corner, and that means all kinds of worthwhile charity 5K races. Many of these races have a reasonably priced entrance fee, but they also encourage runners to raise money for the charity. What if you create a crowd-funding campaign to raise money for that charity and want to pay for the entrance fee from the money that was raised? Is that ethical? Today's column looks at this dilemma and offers some advice.

Ask an Ethicist: Can I turn down an accepted internship offer for a better one?

Katie Wysocki Headeshot Question: I pushed myself to apply to top companies for my summer internship. I was so excited to get an offer from Company A that I accepted the internship immediately fearing I might not get another offer. However, I just received an internship offer from Company B, which is my top choice. I would much rather work at Company B, but I’m concerned reneging on the original accepted offer from Company A could hurt future opportunities. Can I change my mind? I have not started working at Company A yet.

Ask an Ethicist: Should I lower the volume of my music if a neighbor asks?

Don Thompson "Turn that music down!" is something many of us have heard from a neighbor or family member. In today's column, the ethicist takes a look at this predicament and offers some guidance on how to respond.

Nominees sought for the Rock Ethics Institute’s 2016 Stand Up awards

2015 Stand Up Graphic The Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State announces a call for nominations for its ninth annual Stand Up Awards in recognition of undergraduate students at the University’s campuses who have demonstrated ethical leadership in taking a stand for a person, cause or belief. The goal of the award is to recognize courageous individuals and to inform the entire Penn State community about how often the extraordinary act is possible in ordinary circumstances.

Ask an Ethicist: How do religion, ethics, and climate change fit together?

Earth with hands holding it Climate change is a topic that includes many disciplines, including often overlooked fields such as religion and ethics. These disciplines bring new insights to the discussion.

Engineers in Novels No. 2: A Single Pebble

Shaolin TempleShip Trackers One interesting fact about A Single Pebble is that the engineer in this novel did almost no engineering at all. Instead, he acted more like a folklore collector, who hungrily documented the legends, poems, and songs enchanted by the residents on the ship. A sentimental, somewhat daydreaming youngster, he attempted to paint a peaceful, harmonious, and romantic picture of the lives of native Chinese ship workers. Perhaps the engineer wasn’t able to recognize that the ship trackers lived in neither an eclogue from the ancient past nor a futuristic techno utopia. The reality these ship trackers lived in--early 20th century China--should be familiar to the author of this novel: John Hersey. Hersey was born in China in 1914 and spent his first ten years living there before he returned to the United States. Later he returned to the Far East to cover World War II and won most of his literary reputation writing fictions about the war. Perhaps the author’s close experience with the era of turmoil accounts for the oscillation between the serenity and violent tensions in A Single Pebble?

Engineers in Novels No. 1: The Mise-en-Scène

An Old Town in MoroccoThe Stranger by Albert Camus. The estrangement needs not to happen in a foreign land or on an alien. Albert Camus’s classic novel explores the intricate psychological process that turns a French man a stranger to his own society, or that society strange to him. Six hardcover books lay on my desk. My hand reached the stack and pulled out one copy randomly. Hence started my series reading and review of “engineer novels.” I had no idea the first novel I opened was going to be the exact antithesis of engineering, if the latter means logic, predictability, and above all, tangibility. Reading The Mise-en-Scène turned out to be a months-long journey full of confusion, frustration, at times anger, and several attempts to give up. The reading experience, however, supplied a perfect trope for the hero in this novel: Lassalle, an engineer who finds himself constantly “engineered” by an untamed terrain of nature and society he has been commissioned to modernize.

Helping Haiti One Step at at Time

Cara with a baby whose mother participated in her Moringa Tree research project. Photo was taken by Kaitrin Rodgers.The room that the 18 year old who is in this post gave birth. Photo: Cara McDonaldBaby who was born in this blog post. This guest post is written by Cara McDonald, a 2015 Stand Up Award recipient. You can see more of her story at www.StandUpPSU.com. My motivation to help Haiti is driven by an undeniable passion to see the country and the Haitian people reach their full potential. I envision a day where children are lifted out of poverty, mothers and fathers are able to care for their families and the country is not known for its poverty, but for its beauty and prosperity. This passion did not come from reading about poverty or seeing it on TV, but from witnessing it, feeling it and taking action against it.

STEM Education and The ‘n’ Cultures

Monument to Multiculturalism by Francesco Perilli Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has never been able to avoid its entanglement with culture. A well known illustration of this entanglement is the “Two Cultures,” suggested by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow in 1959. Snow claimed the intellectual life of the Western society was “being split into two polar groups;” namely, “literary intellectuals at one pole,” and “scientists” at the other. The tug of war between the two cultures, imaginary or realistic, captured the attention of scientists, humanities scholars, as well as the public ever since. A recent manifestation of the two cultures, for example, can be found in the rhetoric which supports STEM education yet bashes the humanities. In university campuses, the entrenchment of the two cultures plagues some educators’ efforts to dissolve the boundary between the liberal arts and the education of young professionals.

Janet Swim on Consumer Ethics

In her talk at the recent Sustainability Ethics Conference at Penn State University Park, Janet Swim presented psychological research she conducted with Brittany Bloodhart on the attitudes of consumers regarding the impacts of consumption on human beings and the biosphere. They found that individuals tend to have greater ethical concern about their consumption after being exposed to films that detail the environmental impacts of consumption. For example, such increased concern might manifest itself upon seeing the adverse effects that the disposal of consumer products can have on human communities in other countries.

Why Ethics Requires Acknowledging Links Between Tornadoes and Climate Change Despite Scientific Uncertainty.

The outbreak of recent killer weather events including US tornadoes hitting Joplin, Missouri and Tuscaloosa, Alabama has everyone asking whether there is a link between tornadoes and human-induced climate change. In this writer's experience when US TV or radio weathermen are asked about the cause of recent strong tornadoes, they most always ignore climate change as a potential cause and point to a cyclical ocean circulation event known as La Ni�a as the cause of recent tornadoes if they comment on causation at all. Rarely is human-induced climate change mentioned as a cause or contributing factor in the recent outbreak of sever tornadoes although questions about causation are becoming more frequent on TV and newspapers in this writer's experience.

What is a 'Bridge' Concept?

(http://bit.ly/H4q5sf) Scientific knowledge plays a very important role in our society. Why is it so? The assumption is that science is the paradigm of (empirical) knowledge and, as such, scientific claims have a certain authority. These claims overcome the level of opinions and they capture some objective facts about the world.

What is Ethics?

How can you move from ethical awareness to ethical action? The Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State can help guide you and give you some tools to help in both your professional and personal lives.

Engineers in Novels: A Series Preview

Dostoyevsky as an EngineerThe Saints Innocents Cemetery When I defended my thesis on the integration of engineering and liberal education, one audience member asked when I expected engineering education to truly become a liberal education, to which I answered: “When the graduates from these integrated programs go out and pursue diverse careers and become role models for young engineering students. For example, when we are not surprised by engineering graduates who go on to work as artists, philosophers, and novelists.” There are two popular views regarding the career prospect of an engineering education. One holds an engineering degree that leads to a very predictable career path: an engineering graduate gets an engineering job, and, if she or he is lucky, migrates to a managerial job in a few years. The other view is similarly optimistic about engineering graduates’ job prospect, for a different reason. In this assessment, an engineering education lays a broad foundation for the students and prepares them for a variety of career options: research and development, management, law, politics. In the common understanding, however, the breadth of career afforded by an engineering education has its limits. For example, very few people might naturally associate an engineering degree to a literary career. That is not to say that engineering is inherently antithetical to creative writing. One of the greatest novelists of all time, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, attended Nikolayev Military Engineering Institute during his youth and upon graduation took a job as a lieutenant engineer. José Echegaray y Eizaguirre, the first Spanish writer to win a Nobel Prize in Literature was a civil engineer. It is however a reality that engineer-writers are relatively unknown among readers of fictions, and few literary fictions pay a close look at the lives of engineers. With this statement, I am excluding the numerous science fiction works that are inspired by genetic engineering.

Announcing the 2014 Stand Up Award Honorees

Announcing the 2014 Stand Up Award Honorees For Zachary Brubaker, taking a stand means uniting the blind and sighted to promote respect and equality for workers with disabilities. For Maggie Cardin, taking a stand means working to educate emerging teachers to recognize and prevent depression and suicide in students. Two Penn State students received the 2014 Stand Up Award for showing courage and fortitude and demonstrating ethical leadership through personal example. The Stand Up Awards are sponsored by the Rock Ethics Institute in the College of the Liberal Arts at Penn State