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Good Chemistry – Methodological, Ethical, and Social Implications

The European Chemical Society, EuChemS, is pleased to open the registration for its online Moodle course “Good Chemistry – Methodological, Ethical, and Social Implications”. Registration is open as on 1 October 2020.

The 2020 edition of the course is now available online and courses will start on 5 October 2020.

To access the course, please click on this link ➡️ http://www.elearning-euchems.eu/ and create an account for yourself.
Please allow maximum 48 hours after your registration is received for processing.

There are no prerequisites to attend the course!

Length: 16 weeks (one class per week)
Effort: 2-3 hours per week
Price: FREE
Language: English
Video transcript: English
Course type: Self-paced on your time

About this course

This e-course aims to contribute to an integral education of students as important future enactors of progress and influential decision-makers in academia, industry, and public. Its content relates to science conduct, logic and theory of science, experimentation, professional and public communication of science, risk and uncertainty, sustainability, and social impact of chemical activity.

What you will learn

  • competences and skills in basic research methodology and its philosophical foundations
  • overseeing, understanding, evaluating and assessing contemporary ethical and social issues arising from scientific and technological activity and progress

Syllabus

Class 1 - Introduction

Summary of content

At first glance, chemistry and ethics have nothing much to do with each other. One is a modern natural science, empirical, analytic, firmly grounded in ever-refined and improved theories, with high creative potential and applicability for improving everyone’s life quality. The other either reminds us of common-sense folk morality or of dry, dusty, intellectual armchair philosophy. Where do these two disciplines – or: attitudes of making sense of our life world – meet? Professional chemists, like all practitioners, ask themselves many normative questions, often without noticing it: What does it mean to do my job well? What is good professional practice? What is the right thing to do in cases of conflicts or dilemmas? Does my work have an impact on society and environment, and is there anything in my responsibility to do about it? Indeed, especially for young chemists, finding answers or solutions for these questions may be much harder than solving chemical challenges like reaction mechanisms, spectrometric analyses, or practical experimental laboratory work.

Before going deeper into these matters, this introduction chapter attempts to explain and clarify some important basic considerations upon which the rationale of this book is built. It will explain the structural division into the three parts methodology, good scientific practice, and social/ environmental impact. It will introduce the role of ethical and normative reflection and make sure that every reader understands that ethical integrity does not require a degree in moral philosophy, but a mindful attitude, clear reason, goal-oriented discourse skills, and the motivation to act professionally as a responsible member of society and, more than that, as an influential and impacting decision-maker in academia, industry, or public service.

Goals of the class

After this class, you will:

  • understand the logic structure of the book, judge the significance of its themes and topics, and be able to select those chapters that matter for your own personal purposes,
  • be able to explain the difference between ethics and morality and use the implications of these definitions in real-life discourses,
  • be aware of the touching points between chemistry, society, and ethics,
  • be prepared for many subsequent discussions using terminology and concepts that are, usually, unfamiliar to chemists and chemistry students.

Class 2 - Science Theory

Summary of content

Scientific researchers and practitioners, in the context of their profession, take many things for granted. Most scientists, for example, are naturalists and metaphysical realists. In a more hidden way, researchers often follow reductionist approaches in experimental designs and the interpretation of obtained data. Scientific inquiry is, moreover, often said to be a viable source for universal truth claims, based on facts, free from ideology and dogma, and even value-neutral. Some chemists (basic researchers, academic scientists, university scholars) regard their main job as generating knowledge of the material world, a mission of discovery (What? When? Where?) and sometimes explanation (How? Why?). Others (chemical engineers, applied researchers, private sector science) add a creative component of exploiting the chemical knowledge we acquired over the century for the creation of something new, something that has not been part of the natural world before.

Knowledge and truth are issues for epistemology, the knowledge of knowledge, one of the major disciplines in academic philosophy. It is a central part of philosophy of science and science theory. Admittedly, it is not necessary for a scientist to study and know all this theory. Yet, a bit of it – the quintessential conclusion, perhaps – will surely make the chemical scientist and researcher a better practitioner. Therefore, this chapter attempts to introduce epistemology in a nutshell: What are knowledge, truth and meaning, what is science able to contribute, and when should the chemist be aware of limits and pitfalls of scientific knowledge? The practical relevance for the conduct of chemical science and its application in industry and innovation shall guide the short tour through this complex topic.

It is not a co-incidence or stylistic choice that the key themes below are questions. It is notoriously difficult to settle epistemological debates with definite answers. It may be unsatisfying for chemists, but this chapter’s main goal is to raise awareness of questions that challenge beloved convictions and comfort zones. The result is more careful practice in scientific inquiry, and a reasonable balance between epistemic humbleness and confidence, that means knowing the strengths and limits of scientific knowledge.

Goals of the class

In this chapter, you will:

  • be able to make arguments in favour of or against certain practices – your own or observed on others – on the basis of the virtues of good scientific practice, thus giving them justificatory power and yourself more confidence and, subsequently, positive influence,
  • what presuppositions science is built upon,
  • why communication and discourse are crucial for the validity of scientific claims,
  • that science is a powerful instrument for the generation of reliable knowledge that is at threat from contemporary developments towards post-factualism and political or religious ideology,
  • what the limits of science are, and how a change of perspective (from reductionism to holism, from dualism towards integration) can improve scientific inquiry.

Class 3 - Scientific Method

Summary of content

In chapter 2 we have seen how scientific inquiry can be characterised, distinguished from other ways of knowledge construction, and that scientifically acquired knowledge has a high chance of being viable, reliable, and of withstanding critical scrutiny. It examines aspects of our natural world and enables evidence-based factual statements and judgments. But how can we make sure that a statement is scientific in a sense that it fulfils certain requirements of scientific knowledge generation? What is the method with which scientists come to insights that deserve the label scientific? This chapter and the next aim at describing all the features that make scientific research such a powerful way of gaining viable insights.

After identifying the basic steps of a scientific investigation and their characteristics in terms of typical activities of scientists and researchers, a systematic step-by-step guide through the elements of a chemical research project is presented in the form of Lee’s scientific knowledge acquisition web. Key issues are the formulation of hypotheses, the analysis and interpretation of experimental results and data, appropriate strategies in cases of errors and encountered difficulties, record keeping, and reporting and publishing considerations. While this chapter discusses conceptual and methodological issues, it defines the arena of good scientific conduct and helps enlightening the standard of what counts as good. Thus, it lays a foundation for chapters 5 to 8.

Goals of the class

After this class, you should be:

  • aware of the steps involved in scientific research, and the importance of each step,
  • able to identify where you are with your own research in the scientific knowledge acquisition web, and what this stage requires from you,
  • equipped with insights on the difference between scientific researchers and other personnel involved in research (like lab technicians, editors and publishers, or engineers),
  • able to handle and apply scientific conceptual terminology like theory, model, hypothesis, observation, reproducibility, etc.

Class 4 - Scientific Reasoning

Summary of content

Besides the technical and experimental skills in daily lab work and a profound knowledge of one’s professional field, chemical researchers need competence in analysing and interpreting their acquired experimental data in view of the claims they made in their research hypotheses. Both – making proper hypotheses and interpreting data in a scientific manner – are topics in this chapter. First, it will introduce the most important concepts of logic that play a role in scientific thinking and reasoning: Deduction, induction, and abduction. More important than the correct application of logic concepts is the awareness of pitfalls, biases and fallacies. Then, we will learn how logic informs the heart of the scientific method, the predictive power of proper hypotheses and the explanatory power of data analysis and interpretation. Furthermore, a subsection is dedicated to heuristic and methodological analysis. Last but not least, it is worthwhile to have a closer look at statistical analysis and the differences between frequentist and Bayesian approaches.

The goal of such a chapter in a book on good chemistry is, of course, a higher awareness of factors that determine the consistency and plausibility of scientific claims. In intra-community discourse among scientific experts, but also in extra-community communication with non-expert stakeholders or the public, argumentation and the logically correct positioning of evidence-based facts decide over the success of the proposed claims. This is not only essential to come to viable – that means, pragmatically true – knowledge, but also to maintain credibility and trust in the force of scientific methodology. Furthermore, it gives a foretaste of chapters 5 and 6 in which we will elaborate in greater detail what is good scientific practice and what is scientific misconduct. Many types of misconduct and fraud are, in one way or another, the intendedly fallacious or undermined application of scientific reasoning.

Goals of the class

This class is intended to equip you with:

  • basic logic skills for scientific thinking and reasoning,
  • the competence to identify and avoid biases and fallacies,
  • strategies for heuristic and conceptual analyses of hypotheses and research questions,
  • awareness of the importance of statistical analysis,
  • the ability to think and argue clearly with scientific concepts.

Class 5 - Scientific Miscounduct

Summary of content

In order to reach the goals of scientific inquiry, a set of behavioural attitudes and virtues must be complied with. Acting in contrast to or violation of one or more of these scientific virtues is scientific misconduct. Many cases of downright fraud have been reported throughout the history of science, some of which are individual criminal intent, while others are the result of character dispositions amplified by systemic pressure. Some cases are not only a matter of research ethics, but also illegal. Fabrication of data, falsification of data, and plagiarism are forms of cheating, betraying and stealing, and, thus, can be sanctioned in institutional and legal terms. Other cases like the omission of data, the post-processing of images, copying experimental instructions from other sources, etc., are debatable, but not clearly illegal or unethical.

This chapter has two purposes: It wants to show that scientific misconduct is a real problem in the chemical community, and it wants to give guidance for the decision whether an intended action in a research context is appropriate or not. The former received a lot of media attention, lately. More importantly, empirical studies on the behaviour of scientists have been conducted, so that data on misconduct is available. The more difficult question is the reason for fraud and misconduct. It is worth enlightening at least some of the motivations so that an awareness of them can protect from falling victim to them. The latter purpose is a matter of discourse. We will see how the science virtues can help making the right decisions for oneself, but also protecting others from slipping into the dark side of betrayal and fraud by seeking goal-oriented mature conversation. Empirical studies have shown that training in research ethics doesn’t make researchers commit less fraud. But whistleblowing does! Paying attention to one’s surrounding and finding proper strategies to address misconduct is, arguably, the most efficient way to ensure the community’s scientific integrity.

Goals of the class

After this class, you will:

  • be able to make arguments in favour of or against certain practices – your own or observed on others – on the basis of the virtues of good scientific practice, thus giving them justificatory power and yourself more confidence and, subsequently, positive influence,
  • be aware of the possible forms of misconduct that are frequently reported and that are constantly around the corner as options for chemical practitioners,
  • not fall into the trap of believing that fraud and misconduct can bring you any benefit,
  • know how to address forms of misconduct and make convincing arguments that explain in which way they are wrong,
  • bring forward these arguments as a whistleblower without risking your own integrity.

Class 6 - Scientific Publishing

Summary of content

We have learned that communicating scientific findings is a crucial step of scientific methodology. Scientific claims gain their universal validity only through passing critical review by fellow experts. Besides doing science, writing science is one of the main activities of researchers and scientists. Thus, it is not surprising that many cases of scientific misconduct are committed in the context of publishing. Authorship decisions, citation practices and plagiarism, but also peer review and the benefits and dangers of impact factors are frequently discussed among chemists. This chapter focuses on the intra-community aspects of scientific publishing, whereas chapter 15 addresses issues of public communication of chemistry. The issues in that field are very different.

We will see how the scientific virtues introduced in chapter 5 can inform decision-making and discourse on publishing issues. Fairness, disciplined self-control, and communalism play the most important role in this context. Yet, self-interests can cause biases that impact the choice of authors for a paper, the choice of references given in an essay, the review process of competitive papers, or publishing practices that increase a researcher’s visibility in the form of impact factors. A special topic, here, is the publication of research that has obvious dual-use potential and is, thus, controversially discussed

Goals of the class

This chapter supports you in:

  • getting aware of publishing-related ethical issues,
  • learning possible solutions for arising conflicts like

    authorship discussions or peer review problems,

  • applying the virtue approach to publishing-related professional conduct,
  • becoming a responsible member of the scientific community by engaging in improving the fairness and ethical integrity of practices like peer reviewing and impact factors.

Class 7 - Chemistry as a Network Activity, Part 1: Academic Chemistry

Summary of content

Chemistry is – on several levels – teamwork, and as such embedded into a wide network of actors and stakeholders. This chapter will focus on issues that arise in the context of collaborations and co-operations across these levels. We will see what kind of conflicts can arise when chemists work with fellow chemists (including PI-student interaction and mentorship), with other natural scientists, or with completely different scientists (social sciences, humanities).

Every network of people is, almost necessarily, also a network of interests. Sometimes, these interests overlap, and people pull in the same directions. Yet, at other times, interests clash, and collaborative work becomes inefficient, exhausting, or unfair. Throughout the career as a chemist, whatever that career looks like, every chemist faces various situations that bear risks of conflicts and dilemmas. For most of us, the first time is the research work in a professor’s group as graduate or PhD students. Besides conflicts arising from personality dispositions and competition, an important aspect is the power imbalance between mentor and student. Both mentor and student need skills in professional communication and conflict solving to reach their goals to the satisfaction of both. At all stages of the chemical career, multi-, trans- and inter-disciplinary collaborations, nowadays, are rather the rule than the exception. These span a wide variety of experts, non-experts, interest groups and stakeholders, posing different challenges on the conduct of the chemical practitioner. This chapter attempts to apply the scientific virtues of chapter 5 to this realm of professional integrity.

Goals of the class

After this class you will be:

  • a better mentor/superior, or a student/inferior with the ability to solve conflicts with convincing discourse skills and good arguments,
  • a better collaborator with high scientific integrity, communicative skills and positive influence,
  • an open-minded interdisciplinary bridge builder that can see beyond the narrow margin of your own professional expertise and competence.

Class 8 - Chemistry as a Network Activity, Part 2: Private-sector chemistry, Science policy

Summary of content

Chemistry is – on several levels – teamwork, and as such embedded into a wide network of actors and stakeholders. This chapter will focus on issues that arise in the context of collaborations and co-operations across these levels. We will see what kind of conflicts can arise when chemists work with fellow chemists (including PI-student interaction and mentorship), with other natural scientists, or with completely different scientists (social sciences, humanities).

Every network of people is, almost necessarily, also a network of interests. Sometimes, these interests overlap, and people pull in the same directions. Yet, at other times, interests clash, and collaborative work becomes inefficient, exhausting, or unfair. Throughout the career as a chemist, whatever that career looks like, every chemist faces various situations that bear risks of conflicts and dilemmas. For most of us, the first time is the research work in a professor’s group as graduate or PhD students. Besides conflicts arising from personality dispositions and competition, an important aspect is the power imbalance between mentor and student. Both mentor and student need skills in professional communication and conflict solving to reach their goals to the satisfaction of both. At all stages of the chemical career, multi-, trans- and inter-disciplinary collaborations, nowadays, are rather the rule than the exception. These span a wide variety of experts, non-experts, interest groups and stakeholders, posing different challenges on the conduct of the chemical practitioner. This chapter attempts to apply the scientific virtues of chapter 5 to this realm of professional integrity.

Goals of the class

After this class you will be:

  • a better mentor/superior, or a student/inferior with the ability to solve conflicts with convincing discourse skills and good arguments,
  • a better collaborator with high scientific integrity, communicative skills and positive influence,
  • an open-minded interdisciplinary bridge builder that can see beyond the narrow margin of your own professional expertise and competence.

Class 9 - Animal Experiments

Summary of content

Admittedly, not all chemists face the situation of conducting animal experiments at any time in their career. Yet, those who do often struggle with ethical concerns about the justification of animal use in research and regulatory testing, see themselves confronted with public outrage, and face a load of paperwork that legislators request in order to limit animal sacrifice to a reasonable minimum. The bioethical considerations that inform the discourse on animal experiments easily exceed the competence of scientific researchers, toxicologists and analytic chemists in academia, industry and public service. At the same time, in practical terms – public debate and regulatory requirements – animal experiment practitioners can’t escape the obligation to understand at least roughly what is at stake.

The goal of this chapter is to refine bioethical theory into an applicable overview of arguments that researchers can use as orientation for their daily discourses and experiments. The virtue ethics approach of the previous chapters is not sufficient for that. Instead, a brief introduction to bioethical reasoning strategies will give the reader a clearer sense for the conflict potential that the pro and the contra side face. Here, the image of ethics as a prism that was drawn in chapter 1 is very powerful: We are not looking for the right solution as the result of an ethical lens, but rather attempt to refract the complexity of views into clear and plausible positions and their underlying justifications. It is also in this respect that every chemist, not only those who conduct animal experiments, may have a gain from paying careful attention to this chapter. In a propaedeutic sense, getting to know the approaches employed in an ethical hot topic like animal research supports ethical reasoning and argumentation competence and prepares for other seemingly intractable conflicts in the discourse on science and research.

Goals of the class

Chemists might be affected by the ethical debate on animal experiments in two ways: They find themselves attacked or criticised by opponents of animal testing (sometimes unjustified or unreasonably), or they are asked to follow legal and ethical guidelines for animal experimentation. Thus, in this chapter, two competences are acquired:

  • Responding to objections and verbal attacks with proper and plausible arguments, so that credibility is maintained, and argumentation is reasonable and convincing;
  • Understanding the ethical background of regulations and fulfilling formal requirements (the necessary paperwork before and after animal experiments) professionally and satisfyingly.

Class 10 - Chemistry and Values

Summary of content

In this part 3 of the book, we attempt to understand the impacts that chemical activity has on society and environment. With the same application-oriented approach of the other two parts, we will focus on the role that chemical professionals play in the network of actors and decision-makers. Yet, first, it is necessary to show in which way chemistry is not per definition neutral or value-free. It is not difficult to see how chemical industry, private sector R&D and innovation, but also regulation and governance of chemical progress, have social and environmental implications that can be assessed and evaluated (thus, necessarily, implying values). For chemistry as academic science and research it is not that obvious, though. Therefore, we will outline the ties between chemical science, technology development, innovation, and how progress is embedded in the social and cultural lifeworld of the people that it effects. Moreover, the chapter will introduce the contemporarily predominant social constructivist view of S&T progress by a short historical comparison with earlier paradigms. This will help us understand why reflecting on normative dimensions of scientific and innovation activity is not trivial or waste of time, but an important element of research on how to make S&T progress sustainable and beneficial.

Goals of the class

This chapter will convince you that:

  • scientific activity is not neutral or value free but embedded in social practices and normative frameworks,
  • science is a main driver and facilitator of technological development, and as such subject of the same ethical considerations,
  • an ethical evaluation can’t start at the application level where it has a visible impact on society and environment, but must start at the early development level (scientific research) in order to identify and push trajectories of development that are desirable and beneficial.

Class 11 - Sustainability

Summary of content

In the previous chapter, we outlined the role of values and societal factors in and for scientific and other chemical activity (research, innovation, industry, business). We have seen that the complexity of the debated issues can overwhelm professionals and practitioners with chemical expertise to a point that any ethical or social consideration is rejected and delegated to other actors and stakeholders. The overall goal of this chapter is to systematise and, thus, tame the discourse on values implicit in S&T development. The most prominent, most widespread and best accepted approach is sustainability.

In recent years, sustainability became a key concept in environmental and social politics, both on local and global levels. However, it is often not clear what people exactly mean when they use this term and what it particularly implies. Let’s try to bring a bit of light into it. Please keep in mind that we do this because we want to understand it as the reason for reflecting on ethical aspects of S&T progress. The principles of sustainability will give us a framework for the evaluation of risks and benefits of S&T.

This chapter sets the scene for the following chapters. It is necessary to understand that evaluations of risks, responsibilities, desirable or undesired developments of science and technology proceed in professional realms (governance, commissions, academic and economic decision-making) in discourses among stakeholders on the basis of plausible principles of justice and fairness. Generally, the question is “How do we want to live, and how can we make sure that future generations also have the freedom to ask this question and decide upon it?”. This is the idea of sustainability.

Goals of the class

Upon completion of this chapter:

  • you as an actor in S&T development – here: a chemical

    professional – understand what sustainability implies and what it means in practical terms for your job,

  • you can evaluate various stakeholders’ interests, identify overlaps and conflict potentials, and mediate between different values applying principles of justice and fairness in your decision-making;
  • you have the skill to analyse the consequences of your decisions in terms of sustainability, so that related processes (in R&D, in industry, in economy) become, indeed, sustainable.

Class 12 - Responsibility

Summary of content

Chemical activity (science, research, engineering, innovation) – through its entanglement with technological development – affects and impacts normative and other value-related discourses concerning social and environmental dimensions of S&T progress. It is now time to introduce the concept of responsibility in order to clarify the position of chemists in this discourse.

Many responsibility attributions, especially from the public, apparently, are not justified and mere accusations. Others are justified but chemists might not be aware of them. The difference is often one of a conceptual dimension: Who can be held responsible by whom, for what exactly, and in view of what rules, competences and knowledge? Apparently, responsibility attributions are only legitimate when the agent that is held responsible has the cognitive capability to understand and act in accordance with certain expectations and obligations. Moreover, different types of responsibility need to be differentiated in order to make justified claims: legal, social, political, organisational, and moral responsibilities.

The considerations in this chapter, basically, have two goals. First, it shall help chemical practitioners defining their roles in progress and public discourse. This implies acceptance of some responsibility ascriptions and refutation of others. In any case, plausible arguments are required to claim or reject responsibilities. This chapter will provide such a line of argumentation. Second, it shall convince chemists that their most general responsibility – contributing with their expertise and competence to the collective endeavour of sustainable S&T progress – arises from an obligation to serve the common good.

Goals of the class

After attending this class, you should be able to:

  • oversee, and apply, the four dimensions of responsibility attribution,
  • respond to unjustified responsibility attributions and accusations convincingly and with proper arguments,
  • see more clearly exactly where the responsibilities of chemists as professional actors in academia, industry or governance lie and how they manifest themselves in particular calls for action and participation in public discourse on the social and environmental impact of chemistry.

Class 13 - Risk, Uncertainty, Precaution

Summary of content

Almost all aspects of the discourse on societal and environmental impacts of scientific and technological development can be framed in terms of risk and uncertainty. It is an unavoidable component of progress and innovation that some effects are unpredictable and unknown. Therefore, this topic deserves its own chapter in the context of chemical progress in science, R&D and innovation. Here, we will shed light onto the conceptual and practical definitions of risk and uncertainty, approaches to risk assessment and risk management, the role of chemists in different risk discourse contexts, and contemporary institutional implementation of handling uncertainties in the form of the precautionary principle.

Risk is one of those terms that different people associate with very different things. Chemists – that is, people with an educational background in a natural science, often working in environments in which technical problem-solving by using expertise, knowledge, skills and competences – often understand risk as something empirically comprehensible (for example, the likelihood of a malfunctioning or contamination) or a result of ignorance that can be tackled by doing more research (that means, a cognitive challenge). We will learn that parts of the risk discourse revolve around normative and evaluative aspects. In accordance with the claims in the previous chapters, decision-makers and actors in chemistry contexts benefit from an awareness of these discourses as important contributors to an interdisciplinary endeavour: mitigating risks on a solid evidence-based factual foundation (delivered by science and empirical research) under consideration of a well-informed plausible normative framework.

Goals of the class

With the content of this chapter in mind, you will have:

  • a sharpened awareness of various levels of risk types and

    the demands on their respective discourses,

  • an idea of the role of chemical scientists and researchers in such discourses,
  • the motivation to participate actively in multi-stakeholder discourses in ways that your professional position provides, so that the goal of reducing risks and increasing benefits can be reached.

Class 14 - Science Governance and Technology Assessment

Summary of content

After introducing concepts like sustainability, responsibility, risk, and the connection between scientific activity and ethical values, we still miss a crucial link: Why would this matter to chemists, and what is in their power to do about impact of chemical R&D on society and environment? This chapter will introduce channels and established procedures for chemical professionals in science, research and innovation to contribute with their competence and expertise in the context of S&T governance and policy, in public stakeholder discourse, or in any form of S&T assessment.

In chapter 10, we discussed the Manhattan project as an example for scientists taking social responsibility. Einstein wrote a letter to President Roosevelt to warn him of a threat. Today, scientists don’t need to write letters to political leaders. Instead, a variety of communication and exchange platforms have been created. In the European Union and its member states, offices of technology assessment are associated with parliaments or governments in order to inform S&T governance and policy with state-of-the-art scientific knowledge and a competent estimation of the expectable trends of the nearer future. Decision-making in the context of societally important topics like health care, energy supply, mobility, infrastructure, food supply, etc., requires the input from experts who, ideally, are skilled in interdisciplinary discourse and communication with non-experts. After an overview of the role of scientific expertise in policy-making and the implemented approaches for a fruitful contribution, a guide for successful policy-relevant knowledge reporting is presented. The considerations of chapter 1 – the role of ethics as a discourse methodology for the clarification of facts and norms through an ethical prism – become most effective in this chapter.

Goals of the class

This class will help you to:

  • set the insights from the previous classes (sustainability, responsibility, risk discourses) into perspective and understand their meaningfulness and relevance for chemical professions,
  • see the possibilities for chemists to engage in S&T-related discourses on desirable and undesirable implications and effects of progress and development,
  • avoid common fallacies and misunderstandings concerning the role of scientists in such discourses, and apply your competences in the most credible and fruitful way.

Class 15 - Science Communication

Summary of content

Former chapters pointed out the importance of communication and discourse as an element of the scientific method itself (chapters 2 and 3), communication with peers and members of your scientific community (publications, conference talks) (chapter 7), with collaboration partners and practitioners from outside your own field (class 8), and with regulators, non-expert decision-makers and other stakeholders (class 14). This chapter elaborates further on communication of chemical issues in informal environments or with the general public, either through channels of mass media or face-to-face in public panels or public education (museums, science campaigns, etc.).

The communication between experts and non-experts is always an asymmetric one: Specific knowledge may be misunderstood or not understood at all, and once it is refined for easier comprehension it may be misinterpreted or applied in inappropriate contexts. The dialectic (that means, in both directions) requirements on successful science communication in chemistry start with chemical experts’ awareness of these obstacles. Chemists who want to reach out of their chemical community, for example giving an interview to a science journalist for a Newspaper, providing scientific advice to a science museum, writing a chemistry book for children, or participating in a public roundtable discussion on climate science, need to practice this form of communication like they train everything else.

In this chapter, we will discuss why competences and skills in public communication of chemical matters are important and necessary, how this competence can be acquired, and how a chemist should listen and respond to non-expert communication partners in the general public. Again we will meet the important differentiation of fact-premises and norm-premises as introduced in chapter 1. Here, it will help us understand the conflict potentials that arise in public communication of an expert field like chemical science, research and innovation in academia, industry, and public service.

Goals of the class

In this class, you will learn:

  • that effective communication with scientific laymen requires training and practice in order to avoid pitfalls and common mistakes. While this class can’t offer the required level of training, it will give advice and hints on where and how you can obtain it.
  • how to respond to public concerns and questions properly, to distinguish scientific knowledge-directed questions from those concerning worldviews and values, and to increase your credibility as an important public figure with competence and influence.
  • that scientists have an authority to deliver evidence-based factual knowledge that would be filled by others when not actively occupied by scientists.

Class 16 - Summary

Summary of content

In this last chapter, we will summarise all the aspects of good chemistry that we came across throughout the book. This is a challenge since, as we have seen, the professions that chemists can occupy, the realms in which they work, and the contexts in which the chemical expertise is applied, can vary quite largely. There is no standard way of doing good chemistry. The purpose of facing that challenge is to realise that none of the topics in this book is optional, luxury, or unimportant. In one or the other way, they all touch the daily activity of a chemical practitioner from time to time. This chapter is intended to illustrate the firm connections between methodology, professional integrity and social responsibility one more time. The examples – schedules of a busy day of selected chemical professions – may appear unrealistic due to their density of special scenarios accumulated in one day. Yet, all the chosen events pose challenges to the chemist’s decision-making and judgment ability. Some are issues of critically reflecting methodological questions, others require a research or profession ethics approach, some are located at the intersection between chemical expertise (science, research, public service), society and environment, some touch all three categories at the same time. The reader is asked to transfer the quintessential conclusions from these cases to his or her real-life cases as chemistry students, academic scientists, researchers in private sector industry, or as chemists in public service.

Goals of the class

  • see all the topics introduced throughout the course in perspective,
  • understand why all three fields (methodology, research ethics, social implications) have their justification in a class on Good Chemistry.
  • be able to transfer the acquired knowledge of this course onto your own particular research field, and later your professional niche,
  • apply all the insights from this course in order to contribute with your expertise to a sustainable and beneficial progress of science and technology, thus fulfilling your social responsibility as a chemist.

You can download the class details HERE.

Meet your instructor

Jan Mehlich studied chemistry and applied ethics at the University of Münster, Germany. He worked as an Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) researcher on nanoparticles for medical applications at the Europäische Akademie GmbH, Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler, Germany, before taking a postdoctoral position at National Chung Hsing University, Taichung, Taiwan, in 2015. After an adjunct lecturer position teaching science and technology ethics at the Department of Philosophy of Tunghai University, Taichung, Taiwan, he is now affiliated as a full-time faculty (assistant professor) at the International School of Technology and Management, Fengchia University, Taichung, Taiwan, doing research in the field of technology assessment and technology ethics. He is also member of the Working Party ‘Ethics in Chemistry’ of the European Chemical Society (EuChemS).


You can download the leaflet of EuChemS Moodle Platform HERE.

For all technical issues, please contact the EuChemS Secretariat
For all content-related queries, please contact Jan Mehlich


Page last updated: 7 October 2020