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by rjp218 Apr 01, 2015
by David Price Dec 10, 2020
by SKeira Apr 15, 2015
by khepler Jul 21, 2015
Contributors: Bryan Cwik
by khepler Apr 07, 2015
Contributors: Mark Fisher
by khepler Jul 16, 2015
Contributors: Stephanie E. Vasko
by khepler Jul 16, 2015
Contributors: Stephanie E. Vasko
by SKeira Dec 05, 2017
by rjp218 May 01, 2015
Contributors: By Denver Tang
by Web Manager Jul 06, 2018
by wav103 May 15, 2018

Susser cited in comprehensive EU report on social media's influence on democracy and political behavior

by David Price Dec 10, 2020
Citing Rock Ethics Institute research associate Daniel Susser's "significant analysis," the report investigates the impact of online platforms on political behavior and identifies challenges that emerge when we interact on platforms not subject to much public oversight or governance.
Susser cited in comprehensive EU report on social media's influence on democracy and political behavior

Daniel Susser

The European Commission's Joint Research Centre's Science for Policy Report is designed to inform the preparation of the European Democracy Action Plan, Digital Services Act and EU Citizen Report 2020.

The 172-page report cites "significant analysis" by Rock Ethics Institute research associate Daniel Susser (assistant professor of information sciences and technology, and philosophy) as it considers manipulative targeting. Susser and colleagues examined the online manipulation spectrum, from forms of influence generally accepted as legitimate to those considered unacceptable, like coercion.

Here is the home page for the study, “Technology and Democracy: understanding the influence of online technologies on political behavior and decision making.”

This link will open a pdf of the complete study document.

Susan Squier on the Responsibility of Consumers

by SKeira Apr 15, 2015
During the recent Paterno Fellows Town Hall Forum on food ethics panelist Susan Squier (Brill Professor of Women's Studies, English, and Science Technology and Society at Penn State University Park) posed an important question:
Do we have a responsibility to explore who benefits and who is harmed by the food we eat, and if so what should we do?
She elaborated on this question in the following way:
This question is about as basic as it can get: human beings have to eat, and ethical human beings desire at best to benefit, and at worst to avoid harming, others.  Just thinking about this issue forces us to confront our own ignorance, and since I am a feminist, the tool I rely on here is the "epistemology of ignorance": the process of exploring "the practices that account for not knowing, that is, for our lack of knowledge about a phenomenon or, in some cases, an account of the practices that resulted in a group unlearning what was once a realm of knowledge."(Tuana 2004). I certainly confronted my own ignorance about food production when I decided to write a book about the practice I'd been engaged in for a number of years: raising chickens, for their eggs and meat.  Here are some of the questions explored in the process: 

  • How are the chickens we eat farmed?  By whom?
  • How are chickens made into what we get in the supermarket?  By whom?
  • Who does the work at each stage of the process?
  • Is that work beneficial or harmful?  How? Why?
  • To whom? The workers? The chickens? The people who eat the chickens?
  • Why didn't I know any of this? Who profited, and who was harmed, by my ignorance?
  • Are there alternatives to that farming practice? 
  • What are the benefits of those alternatives? What are the harms, and to whom? 
  • Should we be involved in those alternatives?
  • For whom?
  • How can we be involved?
How would you answer Prof. Squier's question? 

Superheroes, Super-Profits, and a Super-Swindle

by khepler Jul 21, 2015
Contributors: Bryan Cwik
Do Artists Always Win When Comic Books Become Movies?

Do Artists Always Win When Comic Books Become Movies?


Easily the most striking thing about movies these days is how many comic book adaptation and superhero movies there are.  Say whatever you will about comic book movies, they are immensely profitable.  Both this year and last year the highest grossing movie was a comic book adaptation (Iron Man 3 in 2013 and The Avengers in 2012).  Both of these movies are in the top 5 all time highest grossing films; altogether 3 of the top 10 and 4 of the top 20 highest grossing movies of all time are comic book adaptations; in an era in which the movie business is financially rocky and movies are being eclipsed by TV shows like Breaking Bad in terms of cultural relevance, blockbuster adaptations of comic books are still huge box office draws.  Behind the scenes of the boom in comic book movies lies the complicated process of licensing copyrighted material, a process that very often requires legal maneuverings that would give even Saul Goodman a headache.  It also often re-plays a drama that is, unfortunately, all too common in the world of intellectual property: the one’s who create the content aren’t always the one’s who benefit.

At the end of my last post I mentioned an important objection to intellectual property that has to do with the tension between the interests of media companies and artists, musicians, and other creative types.  Many theorists (such as Robert Merges, a law professor at Berkeley, and yours truly, the humble author of these blog posts) believe that a powerful reason in favor of intellectual property is that it gives creative laborers a bargaining chip in dealing with powerful companies.  But a problem with this line of argument is that, very often, the reality of the situation is exactly opposite; intellectual property laws give companies a way to exploit creators of content, without compensation for the work.

One example of this is licensing deals between comic book publishers and movie studios.  These deals don’t always benefit the comic book artists and writers who created the stories and characters; in fact, sometimes they do not get anything out of them at all.  The most vivid example of this is the somewhat tragic story of Jack Kirby, one of the greatest comic book artists of all time and creator of some of the most memorable comic book characters in history.  Kirby worked for Marvel Comics during the “silver age” of comics in the 60’s and 70’s.  Among his creations are the Avengers, a dream team of superheroes who are billed as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, which he co-created along with Marvel founder Stan Lee.

In 2008 Marvel comics cut a deal with Paramount studios to turn the Avengers into a movie; the resulting film was the biggest of 2012 and the 3rd highest grossing movie of all time.  Jack Kirby, however, had previously lost control of the rights to many of his silver age creations (including the Avengers) and his estate saw little benefit from the licensing deal for the movie.  Numerous lawsuits by Kirby’s estate attempting to gain control have failed; Kirby, in fact, was almost not acknowledged for his role in creating the Avengers in the credits to the 2012 movie.

If IP is justifiable in part because it gives people like comic book artists leverage in dealing with media companies, then stories like Jack Kirby’s – and the complex reality of these sorts of licensing deals in general – are a serious objection.  At the very least, they show that (in this domain) copyright is not functioning as it should, and copyright institutions (including the laws regarding licensing) need to be reformed.  So the next time you trek off to the Imax to settle in with a 64 oz Coke and a pound of fake buttered popcorn for 3 hours of stunning special effects, horrible acting, and a script that could have been written by a 7th grader, think about how much of the money you spent on the movie went to those who actually created the characters and story.  The answer may make you even more angry about the 15$ you blew on the ticket.

(NB: thanks to Christine Breton, for suggesting the topic for this post).

‘Owning Ideas’ is an occasional series about intellectual property and its effect on media, health care, and culture

Sunset Blvd.: Questions for Reflection

by khepler Apr 07, 2015
Contributors: Mark Fisher
This week's installment in the "Ethical Dilemmas on Film" Series at the State Theatre is the 1950 film noir classic Sunset Boulevard. Here are some things to consider as you reflect on the film:

Sunset Boulevard

This week's installment in the "Ethical Dilemmas on Film" Series at the State Theatre is the 1950 film noir classic Sunset Boulevard. Here are some things to consider as you reflect on the film:
Many critics consider Sunset Blvd. to be the best Hollywood film about Hollywood. What does the film have to tell us about Hollywood? 
Billy Wilder was a European �migr� who knew barely any English when he arrived in the States. Is Wilder's status as a foreigner/outsider evident in the film? 
What elements of Joe's narration indicate that he's a screenwriter? Can we tell how good a screenwriter he is from his narration? Does he finally write that successful script? 
Is Joe better as an actor than a writer? 
Why is Norma writing a script about Salome? 
Is it worth following up Joe's reference to Great Expectations
What is the significance of ghost writing? 
How many plots are there in Sunset Blvd.? Who are the plotters? Who is the best plotter? 
Why does Joe stay with Norma after New Year's Eve?
For a film of its time, Sunset Blvd. relies very little on shot/counter-shot. How does Wilder tend to construct shots instead? 
Consider the significance of these lines: 
  • "I hope you haven't lost your sense of humor." 
  • "I've got 20-20 vision." 
  • "That's the trouble with you readers, you know all the plots." 

How does the film use diegetic and extra-diegetic music? 

Is Joe's narrative morally redemptive? Does Joe need to redeem himself? 
Joe says that "life is strangely merciful" to Norma in the end - is the film?

Summer Road Trip Podcast Selections

by khepler Jul 16, 2015
Contributors: Stephanie E. Vasko
Getting ready for an end of summer road trip? Possibly one to an abandoned place? Need something entertaining for that long drive? Not to worry! I’ve got you covered with some podcast selections that not only have been on my heavy rotation, but that also touch on ethics through a wide variety of lenses.

PodcastGetting ready for an end of summer road trip?  Possibly one to an abandoned place?  Need something entertaining for that long drive? Not to worry!  I’ve got you covered with some podcast selections that not only have been on my heavy rotation, but that also touch on ethics through a wide variety of lenses.  While not every episode of these podcasts covers these topics, I’ve listed a few episode suggestions that will give you the flavor of the podcast as a whole.

99% Invisible
Without a doubt, 99% Invisible has been my favorite podcast over the last year.  This podcast, in their words, is “a tiny radio show about design, architecture & the 99% invisible activity that shapes our world.”  Host Roman Mars and the writers/producers/staff who work with him have crafted an amazing set of stories that are deep enough to give you a flavor of a topic, but short enough told hold your interest.  Personally, I like to save up new episodes for a 99% Invisible marathon while I’m cleaning or traveling.  Mars also excels at engaging with fans (including this one) on Twitter.  For an introduction to 99% Invisible, I suggest  “An Architect’s Code,” which looks at ethical codes for architects, and “No Armed Bandit,” a discussion on the history and design of video slot machines with Natasha Dow Schüll, associate professor at MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society.  While the first touches on ethical codes (a topic covered on this blog recently), the second will leave you wondering about the morals and ethics of casino owners and game designers.

On Being
On Being, hosted by Krista Tippett, is the longest running podcast of the three listed here.  From the about section, “On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live?” and touches on ethical quandaries and moral imagination.  Religion, faith, philosophy, and science come together as Tippett interviews a wide variety of famous guests, from Thich Nhat Hanh to Brian Greene to Desmond Tutu.  Pro-tip: if you take a listen to the uncut versions of the podcast, you can often hear what the guests have had for breakfast.  There are so many back episodes of On Being that it’s hard to choose just two.  Research-wise these days, I’ve been interested in the intersection of fiction and science and the impacts that dialogues between professionals in these disciplines can have on the disciplines themselves.  “Marilynne Robinson and Marcelo Gleiser –The Mystery We Are” is a discussion between a fiction writer (the former) and an astrophysicist (the latter).  For those of you interested in Food Ethics, I would also suggest “Barbara Kingsolver – The Ethics of Eating.”

Stuff Mom Never Told You
Stuff Mom Never Told You has provided me with company, knowledge, and amusement while running around Lake Union in Seattle and while driving to and from conferences as a postdoc here at Penn State. In the time that I’ve been listening to this podcast, it has undergone some hosting changes; however, this has not impacted the quality of discussions and breadth of topics offered by this women-centric podcast put out by Howstuffworks.com.  Two podcasts I would suggest checking out from Stuff Mom Never Told You include “Hey, Ladies!” on the etymology and use of the word “lady” and “Craft Beer Brewsters” which covers women’s involvement with and treatment in the craft beer industry.  While these topics may not seem “ethics”-based at first blush, one could view these topics as offshoots of the respectfulness portion of professional ethics.


Summer Reading: Speculative Fiction and the Power of Language

by khepler Jul 16, 2015
Contributors: Stephanie E. Vasko
Looking for a beach read this summer, but craving something off the beaten path from your usual reads? Well, look no further because I’ve rounded up three speculative fiction selections for your perusal.
Summer Reading

Looking for a beach read this summer, but craving something off the beaten path from your usual reads?  Well, look no further because I’ve rounded up three speculative fiction selections for your perusal.  Unfamiliar with speculative fiction? Over at GoodReads, speculative fiction is defined as “a fiction genre speculating about worlds that are unlike the real world,” and can intersect with a wide variety of genres.  For these reasons, speculative fiction lends itself to spaces for interesting ethical explorations by envisioning possible futures or scenarios with, for example, alternate timelines or new technologies.  The following beach reads deal with the intersection of ethics and language, from the power that language can have to the intersection of technology and language to ethical issues raised at the language-power-technology nexus. These novels may not be ethics-based in nature, but their speculations give the reader an opportunity to pause and reflect on his or her own thoughts on the ethical nature of technological dependence, enhancements, and the use and misuse of language in personal and political realms.  In giving a flavor of each of these novels, I’ve attempted to remain as spoiler-free as possible while highlighting some areas for ethical consideration for your maximum reading enjoyment.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson (1992)
The book that put Stephenson on the map, Snow Crash is a tour de force of a near-future world where language viruses can be transmitted via various means.  With twee character names (“Hiro Protagonist”, anyone?), love triangles, and multiple perspectives, Snow Crash is fast-paced read with something for everyone. Stephenson offers up commentary and room for ethical musing on topics including government, online avatars, start-up and hacker communities, televangelists, and religious history (including the Tower of Babel and the Sumerian writings like the nam shub of Enki).  There are some illusions to transhumanism through implanted antennas wired to brainstem of certain characters, giving the reader space to consider the implications of how these implants could be used for good and evil.

I first read Snow Crash years ago and still come back for a re-read every now and then.  While this book suffers from Stephenson’s inability to write an ending after establishing a compelling set-up (see also, in this reader’s opinion: CryptomoniconAnathemReamde) it’s still worth the afternoon investment.  If you’ve been looking to up your Stephenson street-cred or just interested in dipping your toe in the cyberpunk/speculative fiction waters, Snow Crash is an easily accessible entry point.  Additionally, if you are interested at all in either of the two following books, I would suggest reading Snow Crash as well as both draw inspiration from this novel.

Lexicon by Max Barry (2013)
What if people only came in a discrete number of types and every person could be classified into one of these types?  Even further, what if each of these types could be controlled by a certain grouping of words?  Lexicon explores a group of individuals, called Poets, which study language and can wield control over the personality types by memorizing control words.  This novel follows the recruitment of a Poet, her development, and the ultimate destruction she causes.   This novel challenges the reader to consider what happens when the power of language is placed in the wrong hands and also asks when destruction can be justified by love?  Lexicon raises the issue of how we should wield the power that education and language can have and the repercussions of placing power within certain people or groups.  Like Snow Crash, Lexicon tackles the themes of the Tower of Babel and existence of a nam shub (and even reviews of Lexicon have invoked Snow Crash).    If you’re looking to pick a book based on it’s awards, Lexicon captured spots on Time Magazine’s Top 10 Fiction Books 2013 list and NPR’s Best Books of 2013, just to name a few.  If you found this book interesting, and could be interested in ideas behind logos and branding, Max Barry’s second novel, Jennifer Government, may also be of interest.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (2014)
For those of you who like name-dropping Hegel and Habermas (and sly references to Guy Debord) in your speculative fiction, The Word Exchange is for you.  As Ryan Britt of Tor.com notes at the blog of the same nameThe Word Exchange passes for “genre in the mainstream,” i.e., science fiction masquerading as mainstream lit.  Following a young woman, Ana, who has put off grad school (while trying to perfect her portfolio) to take a job with her father at the Dictionary, The Word Exchange explores themes from the power of language (written, spoken, and remembered) to potential impact of technocracy. The novel follows Ana’s search for her father after he goes missing, the influence of technology on everyday life (including technological dependence), and the spread of the “word flu.”  Ana is also in the wake of a breakup from a long relationship, and Gradeon deftly handles post-breakup characterization and the feelings that come with moving on and discovering affection again throughout the novel.  Graedon drops in tastes of potential ethical debates by weaving concepts (albeit in a heavy-handed manner occasionally) like accelerated obsolescence (gadgets being replaced by newer, flashier ones) throughout the novel.  While not highlighted explicitly by Graedon, this theme challenges us to not only think about our dependence on technology but also from a broader impacts perspective on thinking about the waste we generate in pursuit of the latest technologies.  Discussions of moral/cognitive enhancement are also touched upon in conjunction with technology, and the near-future setting of this book makes it easy for the reader to make the leap from their reliance on their smart phones to the reliance of the characters in the book on their Meme devices.

The Word Exchange also takes some heavy cues from Snow Crashfrom ideas of implantable chips and devices to the plot theme of neurolinguistic/word flu style diseases.  Released in April 2014, I fully expect to see The Word Exchange on several Best of 2014 lists at the end of the year, so if you’re the kind of person who enjoys being into something before it was cool or mainstream, make sure to check this one out this summer.  I will, however, also note that I was often torn (like many readers over at GoodReads) between finishing this book and giving up at several points due to the pacing and the way that that those infected with the “word flu” are portrayed in the text.

Let me know in the comments if you have taken a chance on these books this summer and what you thought!


Stopping the Worst Environmental Disaster?: An Ethical and Scientific Comparison of the Gulf Oil Spill and Climate Change.

by SKeira Dec 05, 2017
Over the last two months the U.S. Congress has been engaged in a great operatic drama over what many have called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history: the BP Gulf oil spill. Last week U.S Congressman angrily grilled BP CEO Tony Hayward about the causes of the disaster and BPs inability to shut off the oil flow. As this took place, the brown and orange slick continued its daily assault on fisheries, birds, and livelihoods.

I. The Oil Spill and Climate Change Compared.

Over the last two months the U.S. Congress has been engaged in a great operatic drama over what many have called the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history: the BP Gulf oil spill. Last week U.S Congressman angrily grilled BP CEO Tony Hayward about the causes of the disaster and BPs inability to shut off the oil flow. As this took place, the brown and orange slick continued its daily assault on fisheries, birds, and livelihoods.

Although oil leaking from the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform site may in fact be creating the greatest environmental and economic harm in U.S. history so far, there is new evidence that another looming environmental problem is likely to produce far worse environmental and economic impacts not only for the United States but particularly for some of the poorest people around the world. It is also a problem about which the U.S. Congress has done nothing for twenty years: human-induced climate change.

While the US focuses on the Gulf tragedy, climate change causing greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at ever more dangerous rates. This past week the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that by the end of May atmospheric concentrations of the chief greenhouse gas CO2 had reached an all-time high for at least 2.1 million years, 392.94 parts per million (ppm).

NOAA also announced that May continued a streak that is making this year, 2010, the hottest year on record so far from January through the end of May. Globally the May temperatures was 0.99°F above the 20th century average of 61.3° making it the hottest May on record.

As the globe has been experiencing record heat during the spring of 2010, floodwaters that have been predicted by climate change science are wreaking havoc in many locations world-wide. Disastrous flooding was experienced this spring in France where flash floods hit the back hills of the French Riviera and turned streets into rivers of surging, muddy water. The death toll from the flooding has risen to 25. In Myanmar and Bangladesh, floods and landslides triggered by incessant monsoon rains have killed more than 100 people. China has also experienced devastating flooding this year as well as Brazil. In the United States, flooding in Texas, Nebraska and Wyoming has caused massive damage to farms and homes. Although science cant say that all of these flooding events are directly attributable to human-causation, this flooding is predicted by climate change science.

Climate change not only threatens more people, animals, and ecological systems around the world than the Gulf spill; it promises to be a problem that will continually wreck havoc for centuries while harming the world's poorest and most vulnerable people with drought, floods, killer storms, rising sea levels, and vector borne disease.

BP may shut down the oil gusher in the Gulf by the end of the summer, yet the harms from human-induced climate change will likely plague the world for centuries. While the threat from the BP gusher to the wild life in the Gulf is huge, the threat to people, animals, and ecological systems from climate change is much larger.

While it is proving difficult to shut down the oil flow from the Deepwater Horizon site, the magnitude of greenhouse gas emissions reductions needed to prevent dangerous climate change is truly civilization challenging. This is so because the world will need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions from current levels by 80% or greater by the middle of this century to prevent catastrophic climate change as greenhouse gas emissions increase world wide increase at 2% per year under current trends.

Yet, some of the members of the U.S. Congress that are outraged at BP have been resisting meaningful action on climate change. In fact the U.S. Congress has been a barrier to responsible U.S. climate change action since the early 1990s.

There are a few things in common about the Gulf spill and climate change. One lesson of the Gulf oil spill that is an ominous warning about climate change is that the Deepwater Horizon disaster demonstrates that what are often initially believed to be low probability, in fact unforeseeable, catastrophic impacts do happen. (See article on unforseeability) Although even more optimistic predictions of climate change impacts are disastrous for some of the world's most vulnerable people, the upper end of possible human-induced temperature increases in this Century of 5 to 9 o C will be catastrophic and perhaps unimaginable for the world.

Also, some of the U.S. Congressmen who have consistently fought stronger government climate change action have also promoted rapid expansion of deep sea oil drilling. It is also no mere coincidence that most of these Congressmen are also from oil states and are among the greatest recipients of fossil-fuel industry political contributions.

II. Ethical Comparison 0f The Gulf Oil Spill and Climate Change.

Although the oil spill raises a few important ethical questions including who should have the burden of proof that a proposed dangerous activity is safe, climate change must be understood essentially as a deep moral global challenge. There are at least three reasons why climate change must be understood as a great, civilization challenging global ethical problem.

First, climate change is a problem caused by some people that adversely affects others. For this reason, as a matter of ethics, those emitting GHGs into the atmosphere may not consider their interests alone in developing policies about their GHG emissions.

Second, the consequences to those who may be most affected by climate change are potentially catastrophic. According to the consensus climate change science view as articulated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, human-induced climate changes is already harming and will continue to harm with greater intensity human life, health, food security, plants, animals, and ecosystems upon which humans depends. Without doubt, climate change threatens not only things that humans value highly but life itself especially to those most vulnerable to climate change including tens of millions of people on small island developing states, in sub-Sahara Africa, and Southeast Asia in particular.

Third, the national governments to which citizens of the world belong are not constituted to protect the interests of non-citizens, yet climate change will often affect non-citizens most harshly. Because people in one nation cannot assume that existing governments will protect those who might be harmed by their behavior, they must consider whether they have ethical obligations to those who are separated from themselves both in time and great distance. In other words, climate change raises with force the question of whether some people have obligations and duties to others that needs to be considered in developing climate change policies as the national, regional, and local level.

Since international climate change negotiations began in 1990, arguments against effective international climate change regimes as well as meaningful national action on climate change have most frequently been of two types: economic arguments about the costs of mitigating climate change and arguments about the scientific evidence for climate change and its impacts.

By far the most frequent arguments made in opposition to climate change policies are economic predictions of various kinds such as claims that proposed climate change legislation will destroy jobs, reduce GDP, damage businesses such as the coal and petroleum industries, increase the cost of fuel, or simply that the proposed legislation can't be afforded by the public. However, many economists now believe that the costs of doing nothing far outweigh the costs non-action. (See, for example the report of Sir Nicolas Stern that concluded if there is any possibility that there could be unexpected abrupt climate changes, the loss to the global economy could be as much as 20 percent of GDP per year. (Stern 2006, vi)). If cost is an important consideration in any decision to take preventative action, then the cost of non-action must also be considered. In fact, the Gulf spill is demonstrating that the costs of prevention such as drilling another relief well or adding a back-up blowout protector would have been far cheaper than the costs of clean up, remediation, and compensation for damages.

Particularly ethically troubling in the case of climate change is how most costs estimates of the harms of climate change have dealt with these potentially catastrophic climate change impacts. For instance, some climate models predict as much as 6 o C warming by the end of this century and as one economists honestly admits the impacts of 6 o C warming is "located in the terra incognita of what any honest modeler would have to admit is a planet Earth reconfigured as science fiction. " (Weitzman 2007:716) One commentator has noted that: " It is simply absurd to attempt to measure these impacts in monetary terms." (Alred 2009: 479). Yet ethics would require that we seriously consider all possible catastrophic outcomes, a significant of limitation of how most economic analyses have usually quantified the benefits of climate change policies.

The second most frequent argument made by opponents of climate change policies are assertions that governments should not take action on climate change because adverse impacts have not been sufficiently scientifically proven. These arguments range from assertions that what is usually called the "main-stream" scientific climate change view is a complete hoax to milder assertions that the harsh climate change impacts on human health and the environment predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientific institutions or individual researchers are unproven

There is new scientific information that is galloping in that indicates huge potential harms of human-induced climate change. Although the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC) found that there was discernable human influence on the climate system over 15 years ago, climate skeptics continue to try and convince people that human causation of the warming we are seeing is not supported by the evidence. They argue that there is a real division among climate scientists about human causation. Yet, a 2009 survey found that over 97% of actively publishing climate scientists are convinced humans are significantly changing global temperatures (Doran 2009). An even newer study published in April, 2010 fourd that 97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of anthropogenic climate change as outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, (Anderegg 2010).

If there is any doubt that most scientists agree with the consensus view, The following scientific organizations endorse the consensus position that "most of the global warming in recent decades can be attributed to human activities": (Skeptical Science, 2010): 
• American Association for the Advancement of Science
• American Astronomical Society 
• American Chemical Society
• American Geophysical Union
• American Institute of Physics
• American Meteorological Society
• American Physical Society 
• Australian Coral Reef Society
• Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
• Australian Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO
• British Antarctic Survey
• Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
• Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
• Environmental Protection Agency
• European Federation of Geologists
• European Geosciences Union
• European Physical Society
• Federation of American Scientists
• Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies 
• Geological Society of America
• Geological Society of Australia
• International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA)
• International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
• National Center for Atmospheric Research
• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
• Royal Meteorological Society 
• Royal Society of the UK

The Academies of Science from 19 different countries all endorse the consensus. 11 countries have signed a joint statement endorsing the consensus position. They are: 
• Academia Brasiliera de Ciencias (Brazil)
• Royal Society of Canada
• Chinese Academy of Sciences
• Academie des Sciences (France)
• Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
• Indian National Science Academy
• Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
• Science Council of Japan
• Russian Academy of Sciences
• Royal Society (United Kingdom)
• National Academy of Sciences (USA): 
(Skeptical Science, 2010):

A letter from 18 scientific organizations to the US Congress says: 

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science. (Letter to US Congress, 2009) (See Skeptical Science, 2010 for links to all of the above)

Without doubt, there is a clear scientific consensus that humans are changing the climate and threatening great harm to some of the poorest people around the world. But even one assumes, for the sake of argument, that there is more scientific uncertainty about human causation of climate change impacts than recognized in the above statements of scientists around the world, there is a strong ethical duty to avoid the huge potential harm entailed by human-induced warming. In oher words, ethics would not allow non-action on climate change because the potential harms have not been proven. After reaching some level of scientific consensus that serious harms are possible, ethics would shift the burden of proof to those who want to continue risky behavior. This fact about climate change has been lost in the U.S. climate change debate.

The ethical duty to avoid risky behavior is proportional to the magnitude of the potential harm. Because climate change is likely to cause death to many, if not tens of millions of people, through heat stroke, vector borne disease, and flooding, annihilate many island nations by rising seas, cause billions of dollars in property damage in intense storms, and destroy the ability of hundreds of millions to feed themselves in hotter drier climates, the duty to refrain from activities which could cause global warming is extraordinarily strong even in the face of uncertainty about consequences.

Both the economic and scientific arguments against climate change policies implicitly argue that climate change policies should be opposed because they are not in a country's national interest. The responses of advocates of climate change policies to these arguments are almost always to take issue with the factual economic and scientific conclusions of these arguments by making counter economic and scientific claims. For instance, in response to economic arguments opposing climate change legislation, proponents of climate change action usually argue that climate change policies will create jobs or are necessary to develop new energy technologies that are vital to the health of a national economy in the future. In responses to the lack of scientific proof arguments, climate change advocates usually stress the harsh environmental impacts to people and ecosystems that climate change will cause if action is not taken or argue that climate change science is settled. In other words, advocates of climate change action, respond to claims of opponents to climate change programs by denying the factual basis for the claims of their opponents.

By simply opposing the factual claims of the opponents of climate change, the advocates of climate change policies are implicitly agreeing with the assumptions of the opponents of climate change action that greenhouse gas reduction policies should not be adopted if they are not in national self-interest.

Yet, if climate change raises ethical questions, then strong arguments can be made that nations have not only national interests but also duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others. However, ethical arguments that could counter the national-interest based arguments are rarely heard in the climate change debate and are now virtually absent in the U.S. discussion of proposed domestic climate change legislation. We never hear, for instance in the United States that we should enact climate change legislation because our emissions are harming others.

Although the BP oil spill seriously threatens those who live along the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. intransigence on climate change threatens the entire world; a fact that is causing rising anger around the world. Yet the U.S. Congress continues to resist action on climate change on the basis that it will harm some U.S. economic interests, while ignoring our duties, responsibilities, and obligations to others to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions to the U.S. fair share of safe global releases. For this reason, while the BP oil spill can be rightfully be understood as a disaster, U.S. Congressional inaction on climate change must be understood as a huge moral failure that is leading to an even greater disaster. In fact, climate change is leading to potential harsh impacts that we cannot predict with high levels of precision. We can get some vision of what might happen if we have another oil spill in the Gulf and this vision is clearly a nightmare for those living around the Gulf. The potential harms from climate change are potentially much worse, yet the defy accurate description if temperatures increase is experienced at the upper end of the potential range. And even if these impacts are not deadly for the majority of humans, they are a death sentence for some, mostly likely measured in the millions.

Given all of this, a strong case can be made that the preoccupation with the Gulf spill is unfortunately taking focus off the most important, challenging, alarming environmental problem of our time: Big, big, problem, yes but wrong priority for the United States.

By :

Donald A. Brown
Associate Professor, 
Environmental Ethics, Science, Law
Penn State University

References :

Doran, P . Maggie Kendall Zimmerman, 2009, Examining the Scientific Consensus
on Climate Change, Climate Change, Volume 90 Number 3 20 January 2009 http://tigger.uic.edu/~pdoran/012009_Doran_final.pdf

Academies of Science. Joint Science Academies' Statement: Global Response To Climate Change, 2009, http://nationalacademies.org/onpi/06072005.pdf
Anderegg, William, , James W. Prall, Jacob Harold, and Stephen H. Schneider, (2010) Expert Credibility In Climate Change Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2010/06/04/1003187107.abstract

Letter to US Congress.. October 21, 2009http://www.aaas.org/news/releases/2009/media/1021climate_letter.pdf,
Skeptical Science, 2010, What The Science Says., .http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-scientific-consensus.htm

Stern, Sir Nicloas, 2006. Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, HM Treasury, http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent_reviews/stern_review_economics_climate_change/stern_review_Report.cfm, (viewed, May 31, 2008)

STEM Education and The ‘n’ Cultures

by rjp218 May 01, 2015
Contributors: By Denver Tang
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.

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.

The tension between the humanities and the sciences, however, is not the only major cultural challenge confronting STEM education in the U.S. today. An ever-increasing challenge is brought about by what I would call “the n Cultures”: the influx of students from China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Mexico…to science and engineering schools in the U.S. Perhaps the internationalization of STEM education in the U.S. is more salient at the graduate level: a recent NSF survey reports the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents enrolled in science and engineering graduate programs in 2012 was 385,343, whereas the number for students on temporary visas was 176,085. This means when you walk into a science or engineering lab, a research group meeting, or a technoscientific conference, one in three people you meet might not be an American.

Monument to Multiculturalism by Francesco Perilli

Monument to Multiculturalism by Francesco Perilli

The numerous international students bring to STEM graduate programs, besides their talents, different cultural assumptions, social norms, and codes of behavior. The n Cultures, while not necessarily reshaping the challenge of diversifying STEM education, do make the challenge broader and all the more important: How should STEM educators create and lead multicultural learning and research communities? How can science and engineering students learn to understand, respect, and work together with colleagues from different cultures?

I have heard some scientists and engineers expressing optimism in meeting the challenge of the n Cultures. “We share the same numbers and equations,” they say. It seems to them working with a colleague who comes from the other half of the planet would be easier than talking with someone from a different college on the same campus — another indication of the gap between the Two Cultures. However, unlike the sometimes blatant confrontation between the Two Cultures, the challenges engendered by the n Cultures might be amorphous or quiet. For example, in my graduate program, a alcohol fueled party is a very popular format of social gathering. True. A little alcohol usually works well in lubricating the conversation. However, a colleague of mine who came from South Asia tends to avoid occasions of this kind. Her religion prohibits alcohol consumption. Agreeing on the numbers and equations may be easier than agreeing on the meanings of learning and research in science and engineering, and the latter is the real challenge brought about by the n Cultures.



Snow, C. P. 2013. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Martino Fine Books.

Staub talks housing ideals on Wisconsin Public Radio

by Web Manager Jul 06, 2018
Is bigger really better? How has the housing market influenced our buying behavior? Alexandra Staub, associate professor of architecture and affiliate faculty member of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State, takes listener calls and talks about the American housing ideals.

Alexandra Staub, associate professor of architecture and affiliate faculty member of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State, was featured on WPR’s live call-in, “The Morning Show.” She talked about housing as an indication of upward mobility and success.

Staub publishes article on ethical consequences of "bigger & better" housing ideals

by wav103 May 15, 2018
Alexandra Staub, associate professor of architecture and affiliate faculty of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State, discusses our focus on the association of housing as an indication of upward mobility and success. How does the housing market contribute to the promotion of these aspirations? What are the ethical consequences?

In "Is bigger really better?" , Alexandra Staub, associate professor of architecture and affiliate faculty of the Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State,  takes a look at the housing industry's promotion of luxury homes and questions ethical consequences of such aspirational ideals. The article appears in The Conversation, an independent, nonprofit publisher of commentary and analysis, authored by academics and edited by journalists for the general public.