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Exploring Ethics

In conjunction with the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology, the Fleet Science Center welcomes guests to encounter science from an ethical viewpoint. Held on the first Wednesday of the month, from October through June, this ongoing series brings the public and scientists together to explore how science and technology can best serve society. Through forums, projects and resources, the Ethics Center gives stakeholders an opportunity to share perspectives on the ethical implications of new developments in science in technology. Each event includes an opportunity for the audience to share thoughts and questions with guest speakers. The Exploring Ethics forums welcome anyone who is open to learning new ideas and listening to viewpoints that are different from their own.

Events are held 5:00–7 p.m. in the William & Grayson Boehm Community Forum at the Fleet Science Center on the first Wednesday of the month from October through June, unless otherwise noted. Please join us from 5-5:30 p.m. for light refreshments before the guest speaker portion begins promptly at 5:30 p.m. To register for upcoming events, please visit the Ethics Center website.

Please note: Exploring Ethics events and parking are always free. Parking is available in back of the Fleet Science Center near the Community Forum entrance.

Upcoming Events:

Date: Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Time: 5 to 7 p.m.

Location: Fleet Science Center, Balboa Park, 1875 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101. Event entrance will be at the backside of the building, adjacent to the parking lot. Please look for event signage.

TopicWhat is in the air we breathe?

The atmosphere is composed of gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide.  Other gases are present at much lower concentrations and include ozone, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and formaldehyde just to name a few.  nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and formaldehyde just to name a few. Besides these gases, there is something else in the air we breathe, tiny microscopic particles called aerosols. Not just the aerosol that comes from spray cans that you are all probably familiar with but this talk will focus on any liquid or solid particles that is suspended in the air, which is the definition of an aerosol.  These tiny particles come from many sources and can impact the Earth’s climate and human health in ways we are just starting to understand.  In this talk I want to discuss the air we breathe in both indoor and outdoor environments, focusing on some of the newest research findings that have been recently published.

Guest SpeakerVicki H. Grassian, Ph.D.,  Executive Associate Dean, Division of Physical Sciences

Vicki H. Grassian is a Distinguished Professor at the University of California San Diego with appointments in the Departments of Chemistry & Biochemistry, Nanoengineering and Scripps Institution of Oceanography and she holds the Distinguished Chair of Physical Chemistry within the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She is also the co-Director of the Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment a multi-institutional NSF-Chemical Center of Innovation and the Executive Associate Dean for the Division of Physical Sciences. Prior to her appointments at the University of California San Diego she was a professor at the University of Iowa for 25 years. Professor Grassian has mentored hundreds of students in her laboratory including nearly thirty students who have received their PhDs under her guidance.

Professor Grassian’s research interests are in the areas of chemistry and the environment, atmospheric aerosols and sustainability. She is the recipient of several awards including the National American Chemical Society Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology, the Royal Society of Chemistry John Jeyes Award for her pioneering contributions to chemistry as it relates to the environment and the American Chemical Society Midwest Award which recognizes a scientist in the midwest region who has made meritorious contributions to the advancement of pure or applied chemistry. Last year, she became the 2018 recipient of the American Institute of Chemists Chemical Pioneer Award and the American Chemical Society Award for Incorporation of Sustainability into Chemistry Education for her leadership in articulating the roles of both chemistry research and chemical education in sustainability.


View videos of past lectures here.

Past Topics

Emerging Ethics Challenges for Experimental Social Science
New experimental and big data research have generated unexpected ethical challenges for social scientists. Historically, these disciplines have been largely observational involving the passive collection of existing information and data. More recently, social scientists have embraced experimental methods to study a wide variety of social, policy, and political questions. This experimental revolution has created a new set of ethical problems and a backlash against social science experiments. Especially challenging are the popular field experiments - experiments conducted on a massive scale, without any informed consent, often affecting larger societies or systems. For example, scientists might send surreptitious political advertisements and affect an election outcome. We will examine the new issues, examine the perspective of subjects and societies, and discuss the way social scientists are working to build new norms of research.

How is your heart doing? Just look!
Recent developments in medical imaging, especially modern CT scanner, now make it possible to make extremely accurate pictures of the human heart in less than one heartbeat.  This non-invasive, non-expensive imaging method can produce an accurate picture of cardiovascular health.  Heart disease kills more people each year than any other disease.  We are presented with an interesting problem for medicine: should we all look to see how our own heart is doing? Is it beneficial to us?  Can we afford to do this?  Many countries are now addressing this question in order to establish their new national health policies.

Re-constructing brains in the lab to revolutionize neuroscience
Cerebral organoids, also known as mini-brains, are tridimensional self-organized structures derived from stem cells that resemble the early stages of the human embryonic brain. This new tool allows researchers to explore fundamental neurodevelopmental steps otherwise inaccessible in utero experimentally. Dr. Muotri will explain how mini brains are generated in his lab and how this strategy can create novel therapeutical insights on neurogenetic disorders, such as autism. He will also describe the use of mini-brains to explore the uniqueness of the human brain compared to other extinct species, such as the Neanderthals. Limitations and ethical concerns surrounding this exciting technology will be discussed.

My Brain Made Me Buy It? The Neuroethics of Advertising
The consumer neuroscience industry is entering its second decade and continuing to grow thanks to increased acceptance by advertisers looking to better understand consumers’ preferences and decision making. However, more questions and concerns are being raised as advertising techniques challenge social and ethical boundaries. Dr. Carl Marci, Chief Neuroscientist at Nielsen, will address the ethical concerns related to consumer neuroscience including issues around privacy, informed consent, and consumer autonomy in decision making. Drs. Read Montague, Tech Carilion Research Institute, and Uma Karmarkar, University of California, San Diego, will further discuss the ethical concerns surrounding attempts to predict consumer behavior.

Ethical Boundaries of Research with Human Embryos
Since stem cells were first cultured from human embryos in 1998, the ethical considerations surrounding this technology have been widely debated, leading to establishment of specific limits on how this research is conducted and funded.  However, not all important scientific advances over the past twenty years have been fully addressed in this initial ethical framework.  Some of these advances include: 1) the ability to generate, from skin cells, induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), which closely resemble stem cells derived from an embryo; 2) the establishment of methods that enable culture of human embryos in the dish up to the current 2-week limit; 3) the ability to generate 3-parent human embryos by somatic cell nuclear transfer or mitochondrial replacement therapy, allowing reversal of devastating diseases caused by mitochondrial gene mutations; and 4) the derivation of placental stem cells from human embryos. Join us for this program to learn more about these scientific advances, to discuss the implications of these discoveries for improvement for human health, and to consider how ethical norms can best be integrated into research and practice.

Engineering 'selfish' genes in mice: Benefits and risks
The technology to edit the genomes of living things is advancing rapidly. How do we decide when not to do the things that we can? In the last couple of years, a new “active genetic” technology (using CRISPR/Cas9) has been shown to promote efficient inheritance of desired gene modifications in insects. We have now shown that we can do this in rodents. Applications in laboratory mice would allow the assembly of complex genotypes that were once unthinkable due to cost, time, and number of animals. Such applications could improve drug testing and mouse models of complex human genetic diseases. These same approaches could also be used to control invasive wild rodent populations and vectors of disease. Despite these benefits, many have raised concerns about unintended consequences of the release of transgenic organisms. Join us to discuss the advantages and the potential risks of CRISPR/Cas9-based active genetic systems and ways to maximize benefits to society.

Scientists and Society at a Crossroads: Seabed Mining in the Deep Sea
Vast tracts of seafloor in the open ocean are being leased for exploration of bountiful mineral resources by the International Seabed Authority under the auspices of the UN Law of the Sea. The ISA is charged with protection of the marine environment but environmental regulation is a challenge, as the ecosystems being targeted are remote and poorly studied.  Given the growing demand for deep sea metals created by electronic and green technologies, scientists are faced with decisions about whether to engage in baseline and impacts research that enables development of a new extraction industry, and whether to contribute expertise to the development of environmental protections and guidelines.  Discussions will address the ethical and societal challenges of exploitation in a relatively unknown realm.

Social Media: How should researchers balance your privacy with public health benefit?
Social media use is now ubiquitous. Popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter command millions and even billions of users, making their online communities larger than the population of many countries. As the number of users interacting continues to grow, so does the amount of data generated. And much of that data is in the public domain – accessible to companies, researchers, and the government.  This user-generated data contain diverse types of information and associated metadata, including sensitive and private details about people’s daily lives, personal behavior, and social networks. Importantly, with advances in technology (such as artificial intelligence) these can be used to uncover valuable information about trends in human behavior, including important health issues such as substance abuse behavior. As these social and technological spheres converge, ethical concerns about the manner in which the data are collected, analyzed, and ultimately used and disseminated are at the forefront of a new digital ethical paradigm. This presentation will highlight some of these challenges from the perspective of a researcher exploring the social media risk environment for prescription drug abuse who often asks himself where the line in digital ethics resides.
Speaker: Tim Ken Mackey, Director of the Global Health Policy Institute (www.ghpolicy.org), an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Global Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and  the Associate Director for the UC San Diego MAS Program in Health Policy & Law. 

NanoEngineering - Developing Better Batteries
High energy, long life, rechargeable batteries are considered an important technological opportunity to reduce production of greenhouse gases. Electrochemical energy storage is attractive because of its high efficiency and fast response time. Some exciting new possibilities for energy storage materials include gas electrolytes, Li/Na intercalation compounds and battery architectures. Our research goal is to combine knowledge-guided synthesis/characterization and computational modeling to develop and optimize new higher energy/power density electrode and electrolyte materials for rechargeable batteries that are on the scale of megawatt-hour instead of just picowatt-hour. These and other research directions are clearly important, but will raise new challenges both in the development and application of these technologies. Join us for this program to learn about these exciting developments as well as to join the conversation about how best to meet potential social and ethical challenges.
Speaker: Ying Shirley Meng, Ph.D., Associate Professor Department of NanoEngineering University of California, San Diego.

Crowdsourcing Science, Parkinson’s and Stem Cells
Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects more than a million people in the US. It is caused by the death of a specific type of nerve cell in the brain, the dopamine-producing neurons in a structure called the substantial nigra. These nerve cells control fine movements and their loss results in symptoms like tremor and difficulty walking. The disease is progressive and there is no cure. In 2012, a unique partnership of scientists, clinicians, PD patients and patient advocates was formed to develop a therapy for PD using patients’ own skin cells that can be transformed into dopamine neurons, which can then be transplanted to their brains to restore the lost cells. With further support from the foundation and granting agencies, the research and clinical partners hope to transplant cells to the first patient in about three years. This kind of partnership with patient advocates is unprecedented, and is inspiring for both the researchers and the patients, who are working together to develop the first effective therapy for PD.

What Wearable Cameras and GPS can Teach Us about Human Behavior
The REACH group (Research in Environments, Active aging and Community Health) is using wearable cameras and location-tracking devices to observe how people behave in real life. The National Institutes of Health supports this work, which is designed to learn how daily behavior patterns relate to health. The wearable camera and GPS location-tracking devices both collect potentially sensitive information about a person’s daily activity. The cameras take photos of the people and places we visit. The GPS records the location of places we visit. The data we collect (i.e., pictures and location) is not streaming in real time, but that will soon change. Some of our participants are not worried about the information captured by these wearable devices, some are. We have developed an ethical framework to protect participants. However, we are challenged with how to share our data with other scientists. How can we balance protecting participant privacy and advancing scientific methods, which require outsiders to repeat our analyses?

Genome Sequencing in the Clinic: Promises and Pitfalls
Advances in genome sequencing hold tremendous promise for providing answers, tailored therapies and in some case cures for undiagnosed patients. However, how to interpret and act upon volumes of complex genomic data remains a challenge for sequencing providers, physicians and their patients and families. Uncertain and non-validated results present obstacles in attaining goals of diagnosis and cure. Off-target results may create unforeseen medical and ethical challenges. This presentation will use case-based examples to demonstrate promises and pitfalls encountered in application of genomic sequencing to diagnosis of patients with rare disease.

Challenges and Benefits of In-Home Treatment for Autism
The ability to deliver interventions in the home offers both convenience and greater access for families.  However, the need to evaluate the success of the interventions in the home also poses some challenges. In advance of our discussion, Dr. Chukoskie will present both the benefits, as well as the challenges, in her experience with delivering a home-based video game intervention designed to train spatial attention control in teens on the Autism Spectrum.

Personal Health Data in the Digital Age
Individuals track a variety of their personal health data (PHD) via a growing number of wearable devices and smartphone apps. More and more PHD is also being captured passively as people use social networks, shop on-line, search the Internet or do any number of activities that leave “digital footprints.” Almost all of these forms of PHD are gathered outside of the mainstream of traditional health care, public health or health research. Dr. Patrick will discuss the Health Data Exploration project and explore some of the issues related to data ownership and individual privacy as well as new approaches to understanding public health that PHD might provide.

Neglected Diseases: Can Social Good Trump Profit
Neglected diseases, or more specifically neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), refer to major global health problems that affect hundreds of millions of people. Despite the huge burden of these diseases worldwide, there is little or no interest in the pharmaceutical industry in developing effective drugs because these are diseases of poor people in poor regions of the world. We will discuss the moral and ethical considerations, and the challenges of developing vaccines, diagnostics and drugs for these diseases in the absence of profitable financial markets.

Editing the Genome of Mosquitoes
UCSD graduate student, Valentino Gantz, and Professor Ethan Bier recently published a science paper describing a new mechanism of "gene drive." This is not just a matter of editing the genes of a single individual, but an opportunity to make a change that will drive incorporation of that change into all descendants of the original individual. Their publication resulted in international interest because of the broad potential applications of this new technology, which could rapidly produce beneficial genetic changes. Others have argued that because of the risks and implications of such research the work should not even have been published. One of the more exciting prospects is that this this approach to gene drive could quickly change a population of mosquitoes so that it could no longer serve as a vector for malaria. How should we balance the benefits of limiting or possibly eliminating a disease that kills 1,000 people a day against the possible disruption of an ecosystem?

Building Community Support From People Living With HIV
HIV-related stigma and discrimination are alive and well. Despite civil rights laws and protections related to the disclosure of protected health information through the HIPAA privacy rule, people with HIV often worry about the disclosure of their HIV status, and when inappropriate disclosures happen, it can cause real and serious harm. At the same time, exciting work is being done in states across the country to integrate HIV surveillance data with clinical data to increase engagement in care. Further, research is taking place at UCSD and elsewhere using the unique HIV sequence of individual people with HIV to map transmission within a community. This has the potential to help us to better target interventions to interrupt transmission and reduce the number of new infections. We will discuss the balance between privacy protection and facilitating access to data, and will examine more recent efforts by states, health care providers, and consumers to integrate surveillance and care data to improve engagement in care.

Why What You Know About Protecting Privacy Might Be Wrong
Privacy is a theme that enjoys increasing media attention. Besides Edward Snowden's disclosures, recent news items include the consequences of Europe's Draft Data Protection Directive on the use of personal data for advertising, and Mattel's "Eavesdropping" Barbie doll that can send recordings of conversations to third parties for voice recognition processing. A different and more subtle form of breach occurs when personal information can be inferred from data and information that has been deemed safe and consequently disclosed. An example is AOL's search data leak in 2006. AOL released detailed search logs of users for academic research purposes, but the public release of information raised privacy concerns since users could be identified through personal information in their search logs. The New York Times identified several users, including 62-year-old Thelma Arnold, a widow in Liburn, Georgia. The breach led to a media frenzy and the eventual resignation of AOL's CTO, Maureen Govern. In this talk, Dr. Vinterbo will talk about why he feels privacy is needed, why it is useful to think of privacy not as a fixed state, but a never-ending process, and why intuition about how to protect privacy can be misleading. He will also present an example of a state-of-the-art privacy protection technique and how it could be used to inform HIV prevention efforts in San Diego.

Preventing HIV by Understanding Patterns of Transmission
Recent advances in medical technology have made it possible to rapidly obtain genetic information related to a variety of health care conditions. There are both risks and benefits associated with these advances in technology. While the genetic information can help us to better understand, diagnose, and treat illness, these data also present risks to personal privacy. For instance, investigators have found that it is possible to personally identify several participants in such studies. Thus, without the participants agreeing to share their personal information, these data were discoverable to scientists who had expertise to properly analyze the data. This forum will specifically discuss genetic data related to HIV infection and how this information, routinely collected in persons engaged in HIV healthcare, may be used to improve HIV prevention efforts. We will also discuss the potential to use these data to identify the persons engaged in these studies (i.e., sufficient to identify a participant as HIV infected and connected to ongoing HIV transmissions in the community). We strive to engage the community in a discussion of acceptable and unacceptable levels of risk associated with the use of these data and their potential to significantly limit HIV transmission in our community.

Ethicists Confront Cancer: When the Professional Becomes Personal
In 2006, Dresser was diagnosed with cancer. Having cancer was both a personal calamity and an education. Despite years of teaching and writing about medical ethics, she found herself unprepared for the experience. She views herself as one of the lucky people whose treatment was successful. After returning to work she wanted to share what she had learned. With six colleagues who had been cancer patients or cared for spouses with cancer, Dresser authored a book called Malignant: Medical Ethicists Confront Cancer. In Malignant, ethicists tell their cancer stories. They describe how their views on medical ethics changed after personal cancer experiences, and point to neglected issues in cancer care. In the midst of serious illness, people can be helped and harmed in ways that ethicists, medical professionals, and the public must understand. 

Immunotherapy: A Promising New Approach to Treating Cancer
Dr. June will discuss the emergence of immunotherapy as an approach to treat cancer. The approach is less toxic than many previous forms of therapy and when effective, has long term effects that appear to be curative. Carl June, MD, is considered by many to be the most influential academic scientist in the biopharmaceutical industry.  Held at Weiss Theatre of the La Jolla Playhouse.

Communicating through the Cancer Journey: Can We Talk?
Talking about cancer is difficult for all involved, whether it is the person with cancer, their family or their health care providers. Dr. Wayne Beach will open this program with real-world examples relevant to the questions of how communication occurs among patients, family members, and providers, what concerns are raised, and how they are responded to, in the context of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Held at Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer
Cases of cancer doubled globally between 1975 and 2000, and will double again by 2020, nearly tripling by 2030. In America, one in two men and one in three women will get cancer during their lifetime; one in four will die. In The Emperor Of All Maladies, Mukherjee delivers a timely message, and he presents it with such clarity and verve that audiences will feel enlightened, even uplifted, despite these grim figures.

Winning the War Against Cancer in the Genomics Era: Is It About Time?
Breakthroughs in genomics and targeting therapies have now reached the clinic and will revolutionize the practice of oncology. However, in order to change outcomes in cancer, we can no longer use old paradigms for treating patients and designing clinical trials. In effect, genomics is a disruptive technology because it has unveiled a reality for cancer that makes standard operating procedures obsolete. Yet we continue to retrofit traditional treatments into this new reality. This can and must change if we are to transform the lives of patients with cancer. Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, known for creating the largest Phase 1 clinical trials department in the world, will lead the talk.

Neuroscience and Video Games
Video games are increasingly in the news. Rapid advances in brain research are also enabling neuroscientists, in collaboration with game developers, to develop games that contribute to observable educational and therapeutic innovations. While potentially beneficial, it is important to ask about the ethical and social implications associated with the merging of neuroscience with game development and use.

Lessons from a One-Eyed Surgeon
Half a century ago, working out of a small hospital in Uganda, Denis Burkitt brought together investigators from all over the world in his quest to understand the "African lymphoma." Together, they unraveled a cancer mystery that no single researcher would ever have solved on his or her own. In the end, Burkitt and his team not only saved an untold number of young lives, but also taught the world how powerful true scientific collaboration can be. The success of this model raises questions for us today: Are cultural, academic, and institutional barriers slowing the process of medical science? If so, do each of us, in our own way, have an ethical imperative to remove them?

Drones and Other UAVs: Benefits and Risks
New technologies can raise challenging ethical dilemmas, and drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are no exception. These aircraft may be autonomously operated by onboard computers or directed remotely by a human operator. UAVs are used for many purposes, ranging from crop dusting farmland to military operations. Join our UAV experts as we explore the benefits, perceived concerns, real risks, and public safety.
Special thanks to AUVSI San Diego for in-kind support of this program.

Women in Science
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's landmark book, Silent Spring. Much has changed in the past 50 years, but questions should be asked now about how far we have come and how far we have to go. To help us navigate thses important issues, we will be joined by Linda Lear, the best known biographer of Rachel Carson.

Silent Spring and San Diego Students
Students at multiple colleges and universities in the San Diego region were challenged to write essays about their reflections prompted by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. Winners of the community-wide competition will be announced and join us in a discussion of a variety of timely and important questions for the San Diego community.

Elephants or People?
Many ethical dilemmas faces those who seek to preserve endangered species, and especially those who wish to preserve them or reintroduce them into their natural habitats. In some cases, it is human beings who have so encroached upon these habitats that the animals being protected or reintroduced—such as elephants, wolves, and tigers—pose a potential threat to crops, livestock, and even humans themselves. In other situations, it is other species introduced into particular habitats by humans that have caused native species to become endangered. In such cases, the only means of successfully reintroducing or maintaining native species is through the complete eradication of the invading species. What are those concerned with the preservation of native species to do in such situations?