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SCNAT Ethics Series 2023

The SCNAT Ethics Series in chemistry has been established to initiate discussions about the wide-ranging topic of ethics in chemistry. Internationally renowned speakers are invited to a series of panel discussion and workshops at Swiss universities and federal institutes of technology.

The chosen format is in the "world café" style: short introductory lectures, break-out sessions to discuss specific topics, reports to the plenary followed by a panel discussion with audience participation.

Recognizing and Overcoming Bias

Prof. Lee Penn (Professor and the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Minnesota, MN) and local panelists discuss this and other questions arising around bias.

UniBe - 07.06.2023
ETHZ - 08.06.2023
UniFR - 09.06.2023

Examples of scenarios that were discussed during the workshop

We've all experienced situations involving bias. For example:

  • At the annual department/poster/awards event, a female student was talking about how she had just joined a group with a brand new female professor. She was asked by another student, ‘Oh, did you join her group because she is a woman?'
  • A new German graduate student has arrived for his first day in the department. He is Black and German. When another new graduate students asks him where he is from, he responds 'Berlin'. The other graduate students then says — 'No, I meant where are you really from?'
  • At a meeting (staff, faculty, student group), Teresa offers up an solution to the problem at hand. There’s a little bit of silence. Then, Michael restates Teresa's idea. Folks respond positively and the solution is adopted.
  • You are an emerging investigator meeting with a topic expert with whom you wish to start a collaboration. The expert is explaining what is known regarding a chemical’s toxicity. They cite a study with results that strongly suggest the chemical is toxic, while the expert has been part of a research consortium with data that consistently shows that test results on the chemical are often variable and do not exceed responses of controls, so it cannot be considered toxic. The scientist points out, however, that the error bars in the cited study data are too small for the system used, that the dose-response data is too regular, and that the study was conducted by a lab who is not a member of the consortium. The expert considers the chemical is unlikely to be toxic.