About the cases

These cases are meant to introduce issues of science communication ethics to young scientists and engineers in "safe," classroom settings, before they encounter them again in complex and challenging circumstances. Participating in a case study is intended to help students:

  • recognize ethical issues in communicating science, as distinct from challenges of effective communication and from issues in the responsible conduct of research.
  • identify and explain different perspectives, interests, and interest groups involved in issues of science communication ethics
  • reason soundly about important issues in science communication ethics.
  • to articulate, explain, and make cases for alternative perspectives on issues of science communication ethics.
  • communicate clearly and powerfully on complicated and controversial topics.

A more detailed rationale for the need to teach science communication ethics can be found in project publications:

Each case raises additional issues, such as scientists’ responsibility for the uses others make of their results as they circulate in the public sphere; these are noted on each case page. We also aimed to cover a broad range of communication situations:

In addition, we developed one case to help scientists understand the ethical dilemmas faced by the journalists they work with. Initially, potential science communication ethics cases were identified in two ways: push and pull. Some issues were "pushed" to us by colleagues, by students or from following science communication events more broadly. To ensure that our cases represented the full range of challenges scientists encounter in actual practice, we supplemented this set by "pulling" ideas from experienced scientist-communicators across a variety of fields. In our interviews, we asked them both about kinds of challenges researchers in their fields encountered in general, and also for specific events that they were aware of that raised issues of appropriate communication. From this large set of possibilities we selected a few for further investigation, based on the issues they presented, the depth of information likely to be available, and our sense of their "teachability." For each case we interviewed participants in the original events as well as knowledgeable bystanders, asking them about what happened and how they evaluated it. Where available, we collected public commentary on the events as well. We analyzed this data to identify the main issues and arguments in the case. We then prepared draft case studies that told the story of the events (sometimes in a fictionalized form to preserve confidentiality) and incorporated a diverse set of perspectives represented by different "characters." These characters in general do not represent individuals; statements from different sources were combined to sharpen the differences in perspective between them and to protect the confidentiality of those we interviewed. These draft cases have been tested in a variety of educational settings both here at Iowa State University and by our external partners at fourteen institutions across the country. They have been used by the target audience of graduate students and postdocs, but also by undergraduate students and faculty, across a range of science and engineering fields as well as communication disciplines. Student and teacher perspectives on the cases has been collected and analyzed, as well as student work-product that would document changing views of science communication. The cases have been revised in response to this feedback. Along the way, we came on a variety of issues that we didn’t develop into full case studies. See the page of mini-cases for a sample of these.