Science & Sensibility: Studying Nature as a Human Endeavor

Center for Ethics

Einstein once remarked, “Science can only ascertain what is, but not what should be and outside of  its domain value judgments of all kinds remain necessary.” Yet, science is not a morally neutral  quest for facts. Indeed, science is driven by profound moral purpose. In turn, science affects the ways in which we reason about moral questions. Science, and the scientific worldview, exercise powerful influence on how we understand the questions and methods of morals and politics. Moreover, science is a human enterprise and, as such, it not only comprises ways of "knowing" that stretch  into all realms of life, but it is also shaped by social context. This program raises questions such as: In what ways do moral questions drive scientific inquiry? How
does science influence our understanding of contemporary ethical questions about religion, human nature, purpose, economics, environmental sustainability, food, sex, and health? Is there a
connection between humanistic inquiry and scientific analyses, or are these “two cultures” polarized from one another? What are the public policy implications of science and scientific discovery-and should the public be engaged in dialogue about these implications? What are the difficulties associated with scientific credibility?

Science & Sensibility: Studying Nature as a Human Endeavor is directed by Dr. Bruce Wightman ( Please feel free to contact Bruce regarding program questions, or
Lanethea Mathews-Gardner, Director of the Center for Ethics ( for more information.

Video Archive

Fall 2010 Schedule of Events
Revised July 29, 2010

Thursday September 23, 2010
Dr. Heather Douglas

Philosophy Department, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
7:00 PM Miller Forum, Moyer Hall
Do ethical and social values have a legitimate role in research and, if so, how can they serve this role while preserving scientific integrity and objectivity? How is science used in policymaking? What do the uses of science in policymaking mean for the role of values in science, for scientific objectivity, for the moral responsibilities of scientists, and for the very ways we understand science itself?

Heather Douglas is the author of Science, Policy, and the Value-Free Ideal. In her work, Douglas rejects the assumptions that science is an enterprise in which scientists are not influenced by ethical and social values. She explains how the “isolationist” view of science can actually
interfere with substantive discussions, making it difficult to distinguish between “real science” and “junk science.” Instead, Douglas proposes a constructive role for ethical and social values in the development of scientific ideas. She offers a way of thinking about science that is “value- infused” instead of value-free. This reconsideration of the nature of scientific investigation has positive implications for how scientific knowledge is employed in policy decisions by government.
Douglas is a member of the Governing Board of the Philosophy of Science Association.


Thursday September 30, 2010
Dr. Mario Livio

Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, MD
http://www.mario livio .com/
7:00 PM Great Room, Seeger’s Union

Is mathematics a natural discovery or is it a human invention? Why is math so powerful in describing nature?

Mario Livio is the author of books that cover the history of mathematics, astrophysics and the  existential implications of math and the physical sciences. His work explores the expanding universe, dark matter, and supernovas. In his most recent popular work, Is God  a Mathematician?, Livio focuses on the question of whether mathematics is a natural phenomenon or an invention of the human mind. While math has been remarkably useful in predicting nature, it is not clear whether this reflects a “universal truth” of mathematics, or that human scientists choose to ask questions that can be addressed mathematically. Livio is the winner of the Peano and International Pythagoras prizes for mathematics writing. He has been featured on NPR’s Speaking of Faith and Science Friday, and CBS’s 60 Minutes.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Jeffrey Ball

[Woodrow Wilson Fellow] Environmental journalist 7:00 PM Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

Jeffrey Ball, The Wall Street Journal’s environment editor, writes the paper's Power Shift column, a biweekly chronicle of the changing energy and environmental landscape. He brings to the column a
decade of experience reporting for the paper about energy and the environment. He has covered the auto industry from The Journal’s Detroit bureau and the oil industry from the Dallas bureau. His reporting, which takes him across the U.S. and around the world, focuses on the economic viability of efforts to address climate change by changing the way society consumes fossil fuels. He is a host of ECOnomics, The Journal’s annual conference on energy and the environment and he helped create Environmental Capital, The Journal’s daily blog on the subject. He has appeared on PBS, NPR, CNN and the BBC, among other networks. Before coming to The Journal in 1996, Ball worked as a reporter for the Charlotte Observer and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. During college, from which he graduated in 1990, he was editor- in-chief of the Yale Daily News. After graduation, he spent several months in France, during which he worked at the International Herald Tribune.


Thursday October 21, 2010
Dr. David C. Cassidy

Historian of Physics/Writer
Department of Chemistry, Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY
7:00 PM Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

How did the scientists involved in the Manhattan project handle the significant ethical challenges raised by their work? What is the responsibility of scientists for the use of the technologies they
help create?

David Cassidy explores the history of physics and the atomic bomb projects in the U.S. and Germany.  His subjects include Oppenheimer, Heisenberg, and Einstein, with an eye toward how scientists have
responded to difficult moral and political situations and how their work has shaped modern culture.  Cassidy is the author of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the American Century, Beyond Uncertainty:
Heisenberg, Quantum Physics, and the Bomb, and Einstein and Our World. He is the winner of Pfizer Award of the History of Science Society and the Science Writing Award of the American Institute of


Friday October 29, 2010
Muhlenberg College Science Symposium

Afternoon Time TBA Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

Science gets performed at undergraduate colleges too! Muhlenberg’s annual science poster session will be held in Moyer Forum where the entire campus community can talk to student researchers one-on-one at their posters. Students will present projects in biochemistry,biology, chemistry, environmental science, math, neuroscience, and physics. A panel of Muhlenberg student researchers will lead a program on the student experience of “doing science.”


Thursday November 4, 2010
Rebecca Skloot

Science writer
Department of English, University of Memphis, Memphis, TN
7:00 PM Miller Forum, Moyer Hall

What are the ethical responsibilities of scientists to their human subjects? How have socioeconomic differences between scientists and their subjects shaped the history of biomedical research? Do
individuals have rights to their own tissues?

Rebecca Skloot is the best-selling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. A poor African-American woman and mother of five, Henrietta Lacks never knew that she revolutionized medicine. Shortly before she died of cancer in 1951, medical researchers took a tissue sample from her—without her permission. Those cells became the first human cells to gain “immortality”—replicating themselves indefinitely in laboratories. Skloot’s work follows the story of the human cell line obtained from Lacks, called HeLa, and the stories of Henrietta’s descendants. The discovery of the HeLa cell line was a technological breakthrough that revolutionized applied cell biology. In her book, Skloot brings the reader deep inside the world of biomedical research and the tragedies of the Lacks family who remain mired in poverty despite the  huge contribution to science made by their mother’s cells. She explores the dark history of mid-20th century research practices, the genesis of informed consent, the legal status of human tissue, and the socioeconomic disconnect between scientists and their research subjects. Skloot is a contributing editor at Popular Science magazine, a correspondent for WNYC’s Radiolab and PBS’s Nova ScienceNOW, and teaches creative non-fiction writing at the University of Memphis.


Ongoing throughout Fall 2010 Semester Earth from Space: Smithsonian Poster Exhibit

How do we, and ought we, think about Earth? The Earth is a varied and dynamic place. Since the advent of the aerospace age, we have gained new insights into how our planet works. Dozens of orbiting satellites produce images that reveal structures and patterns on the Earth’s surface. Satellite imagery continues to provide new perspectives of our world.

Earth from Space is a set of 20 posters that features images and text from the popular museum exhibition of the same name. A collaboration with geographer and curator Andrew Johnston at the
Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum’s (NASM) Center for Earth and Planetary Studies, the traveling exhibit won a 2007 U.S. Geological Survey communications award for science content. The
poster exhibit presents large color reproductions of images captured by high-tech satellites constantly circling the globe, recording conditions and events that are nearly impossible to document on the planet’s surface. Rare views of events such as dust storms, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes are accompanied by text that explains how satellite imagery is gathered and used to explore the Earth. Documenting environmental cycles, natural disasters, and man-made ecological effects, satellite images provide clues about the dynamic nature of our planet and offer rich opportunities to engage students in a wide range of science curricula including geography, environmental studies, ecology, oceanography, and meteorology.