Ethics for Astronomers

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Instructor: Prof. Paul Kalas

Astronomers encounter a series of ethical dilemmas during their careers that need to be resolved correctly if the integrity of the field is to be preserved. These issues may arise while teaching, conducting research, or leading large, long-term projects or missions.

The goal of this course is to sharpen ethical reasoning, knowledge, awareness, and commitment by providing a fundamental background in responsible conduct as a scientist. The topics covered are highlighted in the syllabus below.

Participants should expect weekly reading and writing assignments, such as the analysis and development of case studies, and plenty of opportunity for discussion. By the end of the course participants will have a useful vocabulary and knowledge base to assess a large variety of scenarios and decisions that they will encounter in the future.

Enrollment:  Astronomy, Earth and Planetary Science, or Physics Majors (undergraduate and graduate), postdocs and faculty can participate. Maximum capacity 20. In-person only.

Course code:  ASTON 250 – LEC – 001

Class time and location: Tuesdays 1:10pm – 4:00pm, Campbell Hall 501b

Draft Syllabus:

January 16:  Students will learn the history of developing modern codes of scientific research ethics. A brief overview of ethics in philosophy will be included. An in-class activity will be to draft a Hippocratic Oath except for astronomers followed by discussion. Homework for next week is to read the National Academies “On being a Scientist” and several other documents such as the guidelines of the American Physical Society, the IAU, and the AAS.

January 23:  We will review the homework readings to analyze their strengths and weaknesses and discuss how they specifically apply to scenarios in astronomy that involve teaching, research, and project leadership.  Homework for next week is to read several news articles that report research misconduct and to find out exactly which guidelines were being violated.

January 30:  Class presentations and discussion on the homework assignment. Homework is to attend the DEI and professional development talks on Thursday Feb. 1 and 2 by UCSD Professor Adam Burgasser.

February 6:  We will review and expand on the DEI and professional development material presented by Adam Burgasser. Homework for next week is to read articles on authorship.

February 13:  Authorship disagreements will probably become a major source of conflict in a scientific career.  Today we will review and assess the reading material on authorship. Homework for next week is to read the articles on intellectual property.

February 20Intellectual property is closely tied to authorship and data management disputes.  We will review and expand on the readings and discuss the pros and cons of several types of software licenses. Homework for next week is to read the articles on data management.

February 27: How would you define research data and ownership? Do astronomical data have characteristics that make them susceptible to ethical dilemmas that are different or more numerous compared to other disciplines?  We will discuss and debate these issues on data management.  Homework for next week is to read articles on the environmental ethics.

March 5: We will discuss the readings on the environmental and cultural impact of astronomers. Homework is to prepare a presentation that analyzes the cost/benefit of an astronomical activity, whether observational or theoretical.

March 12:  Class presentations on the environmental and cultural impact of astronomy. Homework for next week is to read the material on mentoring and whistleblowing.

March 19:  We will discuss the readings on mentoring and whistleblowingHomework for next week is to read the material on the management of large collaborative projects.

April 2: When preparing for a larger, multi-institutional collaboration, how would you write a collaboration agreement that will avoid or manage the ethical challenges that are likely to arise?  Here we will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of several collaboration documents, applying all the concepts that we have previously studied. Homework is to prepare a presentation that analyzes the ethical foundation or dilemmas posed by a career activity that we have not yet covered or a deeper dive into an issue that was discussed.

April 9:  Possible break for solar eclipse travel.

April 23: Class presentations on topics the students have chosen. For example, some topics that may not have been covered include ethical dilemmas in military research and dual-use applications, fairness in admissions and hiring, the role of social media to influence science, evolving policies on public-private partnerships, or the ethical guidelines needed as AI transforms research, teaching, and publishing.

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