Course prompts students to
examine ethics of science

Do scientists, wooden blocks and sabotage have anything in common?

Maybe not in a literal sense, but Steve Olson, instructor and program director at the Ethics Center, has turned a mandatory, one credit-hour training course into a creative and challenging game using these tools. Emory graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are participating in the 1996-97 "Values in Science" course, which fulfills a National Institutes of Health (NIH) requirement for instruction in the responsible conduct of research.

Olson's goal for the class was to combine ethics, which is relatively abstract, and the laboratory, which is concrete. Using an old management training game that focuses on behavioral simulation as opposed to technical issues, Olson has managed to join the two-receiving rave reviews from students in the process.

"It's a way of giving people the experience of science-to play it and practice it-in an environment where they feel safe and can make mistakes," Olson said.

Students begin the morning portion of the class by participating in a "Sci-Team
Discovery Simulation." The class is divided into groups and given the task of conducting an experiment that, if successful, "holds the key to the treatment of the crippling disease "moralysis," which afflicts millions worldwide." The first group to unlock the mystery of the structure and sequence of the compound "will enjoy scientific acclaim, immense monetary rewards and possibly even a Nobel Prize."

Then the groups get to work in an adjacent room replicating the compound-a structure made of wooden blocks with various colors and numbers on each side. Only one group member at a time may go in to memorize the compound, and group members work together to reconstruct the model as accurately as possible.

The catch? Spies lurk in every corner-or so one thinks while playing. During the simulation, each individual opens a slip of paper to see if he or she is a spy. Spies must sabotage the experiment in any way possible and keep the group from meeting its goal.

During the afternoon portion of the course, students review the regulations governing scientific conduct and are shown situations in which they may be challenged and pushed. "A lot of students think they know the rules and guidelines [of science], but they really don't," said Olson. Students cover questions of authorship and the responsibilities of specific scientific players during this session.

While reactions to the program have been positive on the whole, the spy issues involved have caused mixed reactions, said Olson. "It's the least savory part of the course, and there's really no good way to teach it." This year, he didn't place any spies in the groups-but everyone involved believed that a spy existed. That way, "you can put the spy in as an introductory element, but not put anyone on the spot," Olson said. "It gets students thinking about things they really don't want to think about."

Olson and biology faculty member Pat Marseller are working on an application for a National Science Foundation grant that will help develop "Values in Science" more fully and tie together some of the course's loose ends.

-Danielle Service

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