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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 and 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 57 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 to 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, in the lot at Space Theater Way. The Community Forum entrance is on the same side of the building as the parking lot.

Upcoming Events:


If Researchers Find A Tumor, Should They Tell You?

Research imaging studies, including MRI and CT scans, may provide different information than the imaging performed for clinical care. For instance, a liver MRI using research sequences could be more sensitive at detecting tumors than a standard study. As a result, a patient might no longer qualify for surgery according to the research study. However, information derived from research sequences may not be clinically accurate. Hence the need to conduct a thorough investigation and compare against a gold standard (e.g. a surgical result). Should patients and physicians be made aware of research results if they are not verifiably accurate?

Speaker Bio:

Dr. Kathryn Fowler, M.D., Associate Professor Of Clinical, Radiology at UC San Diego

Dr. Fowler was born and raised in Wisconsin, she attended the University of South Carolina for her undergraduate studies, majoring in biology and medical humanities. She attended the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine in Madison. She then completed her radiology training and a fellowship in Body MRI at Washington University School of Medicine, Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. She served as a faculty member in the abdominal imaging section, was the Director body MRI and as a Medical Director overseeing PET/MRI and MRI for the Center for Clinical Imaging Research from 2011-2018. She joined the faculty at UCSD in 2018 and now serves as co-PI of the LIG and as Director of Body MRI. Her research has primarily focused on liver imaging, advanced MRI applications, and PET/MRI. She is active in many societies and currently serves as a Deputy Editor for Radiology. She enjoys spending time with her family and pets, reading fiction, crossfit, and being active outdoors.

November 6

Your Genetic Privacy in the Big Data Era

In the United States, privacy is considered a fundamental right. Yet today our activities are followed to a degree unfathomable not long ago by way of cell phones, online behaviors, and more. As genomic technologies continue to expand, another avenue now exists by which we may potentially be scrutinized: DNA sequence. Our genetic information contains our most private details, but we leave it everywhere and share the sequence closely with dozens or even hundreds of relatives. In this talk we will discuss ways in which our DNA may “escape” from our control, what can actually be done with the sequence, and whether there is cause for concern.

Speaker bio:

Laura Rivard, PhD, Professor, Biology University of San Diego.
Dr. Rivard has been teaching in the Biology Department at the University of San Diego for over 15 years. Her doctoral research at the University of California, San Diego focused on spinal cord development. She has taught a number of different lecture and laboratory classes from introductory freshmen courses to senior seminars. Her interest in genetics has led to an exploration of ethical issues surrounding the rapidly advancing field. Currently, she is working to bring these issues and related science content to schools and the public in her role as Outreach Coordinator for the Sciences.

December 4

How bad are E-cigarettes?

E-cigarettes have become popular and widely used so fast that the safety testing on them is practically non-existent. While researchers rush to define the toxicities and potential health effects of e-cigarettes, should we be advising everyone against these nicotine delivery devices? Or should we try to be positive and hopeful, in case e-cigarettes have fewer adverse health effects relative to conventional tobacco cigarettes, and thus advise current smokers to switch to e-cigs as a harm reduction strategy? Beyond that, what are the risks of the different e-cig flavors and types of devices? Is vaping caffeine and THC more or less dangerous than vaping nicotine? What are the specific dangers of e-cig use for children, teenagers and young adults? 

Speaker bio:

Laura Crotty Alexander, Associate Professor, Medicine, UCSD
Dr. Crotty is a pulmonary critical care specialist with clinical and research-based interests in e-cigarettes. She studies the effects of cigarette smoke and e-cigarette vapor on bacterial virulence, as well as the effects of e-cigarettes on airway inflammation and innate immune function. She is a graduate of Duke University School of Medicine, completed residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard Pulmonary Critical Care Fellowship Program, and a postdoctoral fellowship in Host Defense and Bacterial Virulence at UCSD.



January 8

Title and description to be added soon. 

February 5

What can we learn from the genes in a cancer cell?

Description to be added soon

Speaker bio:

Trey Ideker, Ph.D, Professor, Department of Medicine and Adjunct Professor, Departments of Bioengineering and Computer Science at the University of California San Diego. Director of the National Resource for Network Biology, Director of the Cancer Cell Map Initiative, & Director of the Psychiatric Cell Map Initiative.






March 4

Interests of Society or Rights of Individuals? Promises and Challenges of Social Media and Big Data

Social media and big data can have important practical applications in public health, disaster management, transportation, and urban planning. Data scientists are using machine learning algorithms, computer vision, and natural language processing to collect and analyze social media data (such as Facebook and YouTube) and environmental sensor/camera data to study human communications and movements. These big data technologies can be powerful tools to predict short-term future events, such as flu outbreaks, severe air pollution, traffic congestion, the weather, and patterns of disaster evacuation. At the same time, these technologies monitor users' digital footprints, opinions and geolocations. Join us to discuss challenges in social media analytics, including data noise and biases, fake news, and data privacy.

Speaker bio:

Dr. Ming-Hsiang (Ming) Tsou, Professor at San Diego State University. Dr. Ming-Hsiang (Ming) Tsou is a Professor in the Department of Geography, San Diego State University (SDSU) and the Director of Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age (HDMA).

Dr. Ming-Hsiang (Ming) Tsou received a B.S. (1991) from National Taiwan University, an M.A. (1996) from the State University of New York at Buffalo, and a Ph.D. (2001) from the University of Colorado at Boulder, all in Geography. His research interests are in Human Dynamics, Social Media, Big Data, Visualization, Internet Mapping, Web GIS, Mobile GIS, Cartography, and K-12 GIS education.

Dr. Ming-Hsiang (Ming) Tsou is co-author of Internet GIS, a scholarly book published in 2003 by Wiley and served on the editorial boards ofthe Annals of GIS (2008-), Cartography and GIScience (2013-) and the Professional Geographers (2011-). Tsou was the Chair of the Cartographic Specialty Group (2007-2008), the Chair of Cyberinfrastructure Specialty Group (2012-2013) in the Association of American Geographers (AAG), and the co-chair of the NASA Earth Science Enterprise Data System Working Group (ESEDWG) Standard Process Group (SPG) from 2004 to 2007. He has been served on two U.S. National Academy of Science Committees: “Research Priorities for the USGS Center of Excellence for Geospatial Information Science” (2006-2007) and “Geotargeted Alerts and Warnings: A Workshop on Current Knowledge and Research Gaps” (2012- 2013).

Since 2008, Tsou served as a senior researcher in the GeoTech Center to promote GIS education in community colleges and high schools and conducted professional training workshops for GIS educators annually. In 2010, Tsou was awarded to a $1.3 million research grant funded by National Science Foundation and served as the Principal Investigator (PI) of, “Mapping ideas from Cyberspace to Realspace” research project (2010-2014). This NSF-CDI project integrates GIS, computational linguistics, web search engines, and social media APIs to track and analyze public-accessible websites and tweets for visualizing and analyzing the diffusion of information and ideas in cyberspace. In Spring 2014, Tsou established a new research center, The Center for Human Dynamics in the Mobile Age, a transdisciplinary research area of excellence at San Diego State University to integrate research works from GIScience, Public Health, Social Science, Sociology, and Communication. Tsou is the founding director of the HDMA Center. In Fall 2014, Tsou received a NSF Interdisciplinary Behavioral and Social Science Research (IBSS) award for “Spatiotemporal Modeling of Human Dynamics Across Social Media and Social Networks” ($999,887, 2014-2018). This large interdisciplinary research project studies human dynamics across social media and social networks, focusing on information diffusion modeling over time and space, and the connection between online activities and real world human behaviors.

April 1

What do you need to know before donating your health records to research?

Description to be added soon.

Speaker :

Lucila Ohno- Machado, MD, MBA, PhD, Professor of Medicine. Chair, UC San Diego Health, Department of Biomedical Informatics, and Associate Dean for Informatics and Technology.




May 6

The Deep Learning Revolution

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a branch of engineering that has traditionally ignored brains, but recent advances in biologically-inspired deep learning have dramatically changed AI and made it possible to solve difficult problems in vision, planning and natural language.  If you talk to Alexa or use Google Translate, you have experienced deep learning in action.  This new technology opens a Pandora's box of problems that we must confront regarding privacy, bias and jobs.

Speaker :

Terry Sejnowski, Ph.D., Francis Crick Professor Computational Neurobiology Laboratory at The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Professor of Biology and Computer Science and Engineering and Director of the Institute for Neural Computation at the University of California, San Diego. 
The long-range goal of Dr. Sejnowski’s research is to understand the computational resources of brains and to build linking principles from brain to behavior using computational models.  Dr. Sejnowski has published over 500 scientific papers and 12 books, including The Deep Learning Revolution in 2018. He received the Wright Prize for Interdisciplinary research in 1996, the Hebb Prize from the International Neural Network Society in 1999, and the IEEE Neural Network Pioneer Award in 2002.  He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Inventors.

View videos of past lectures here.

Past Topics

What 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. Besides these gases, there is something else in the air we breathe: tiny microscopic particles called aerosols. This talk will focus on any liquid or solid particles that are suspended in the air, which is the definition of an aerosol. These tiny particles come from many sources (not just the aerosol that comes from spray cans) and can impact the Earth’s climate and human health in ways we are just starting to understand. In this talk, we'll explore the air we breathe in both indoor and outdoor environments, focusing on some of the newest research findings that have been recently published.

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.