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Ethics – an important part of chemistry education
journal contributionposted on 2014-02-01, 00:00 authored by Kieran LimKieran Lim
The Nobel Peace Prize 2013 has been awarded to Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons "for its extensive efforts to eliminate chemical weapons"; disarmament is featured in Alfred Nobel’s will. Other Nobel Peace Prizes directly associated with disarmament include the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mohamed El Baradei (2005), the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Jody Williams (1997), Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs (1995), the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (1985), and Linus Pauling (1962). A common theme is that these organisations and individuals worked towards the responsible and peaceful use of science and technology. A distinctive feature of any profession is that members profess a code of practice, usually including a formal code of ethics. For example, the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry, all have a Code of Ethics or equivalent. These Codes deal with more than just knowledge or skills, but states that “the responsibility for the welfare, health and safety of the community shall at all times take precedence” [RACI By-Law 13.1.1]. An important part of chemistry education, and science education in general, regardless of future career paths, is to develop scientifically literate citizens of the future, by fostering an awareness of the ethnical implications of our discipline. It is an easy temptation for chemistry educators to put ethics in the too-hard basket. However, the intrinsic “testable and contestable nature of the principles of chemistry”, and the fact that “chemistry plays an essential role in society” are obvious vehicles for discussions of objectivity, responsible choices and other ethics-related issues. The preparation, of our students to be better citizens, must include a deliberate approach to the teaching and learning of scientific ethics.