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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 currently held online.

Upcoming Events:


Time: 5 to 6 p.m.

​Cost: FREE

Register for the VIRTUAL event here

Webinar link

Science, Collaboration, and Innovation

Dr. Vicki Grassian, PhD

Distinguished Professor and Chair
Distinguished Chair of Physical Chemistry
Co-Director, Center for Aerosol Impacts on Climate and the Environment






Past Topics

View videos of past lectures here.

Exploring Ethics in Communication and Dis-/Mis-Information and Fake News
Dr. Brian Spitzberg, PhD
Brian H. Spitzberg is Senate Distinguished Professor of Communication at SDSU, and earned his B.A. from the University of Texas at Arlington (1978), and his M.A. (1980) and Ph.D. (1981) in Communication Arts & Sciences at the University of Southern California. He is the 2012 “Alumni Achievement” honoree for the College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts at SDSU, the 2011 honoree of the National Communication Association Larry Kibler Memorial Award, the 2015 NCA Interpersonal Communication Division’s “Gerald R. Miller Book Award” winner and the 2009 honoree of the Western States Communication Association Scholar Award for lifetime contribution to the discipline and association. He is author or coauthor of over 100 scholarly articles and book chapters, and has coauthored or co-edited several scholarly books on communication competence, conflict, aggression, stalking, and the dark side of communication.

COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials: Who will participate and who will benefit?
Dr. Little will provide an overview of the scope of COVID-19 vaccine trials, including in the San Diego region. Despite unprecedented efforts to limit spread, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, 2020. The US Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Defense responded with a massive effort – called Operation Warp Speed – to accelerate the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics. A series of large vaccine trials are both underway and planned to evaluate candidate vaccines for the prevention of COVID-19. UC San Diego Health will participate in these trials, which will assess the safety, efficacy and immunogenicity of vaccines designed to protect against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A primary goal of the vaccine trials will be to protect those who experience greater rates of disease and worse outcomes: older adults, people with underlying medical conditions, and people from some racial and ethnic groups. Unfortunately, many of these groups have historical reason to distrust the medical community and deserve assurance that once an effective vaccine is available their communities will have priority for distribution of the vaccine.

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: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? 

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.

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?

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.