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Exploring Ethics

In conjunction with the Center for Ethics in Science and Technology, the Fleet Science Center welcomes guests to encounter science from an ethical viewpoint. Held on the first Wednesday of the month, from October through June, this ongoing series brings the public and scientists together to explore how science and technology can best serve society. Through forums, projects and resources, the Ethics Center gives stakeholders an opportunity to share perspectives on the ethical implications of new developments in science in technology. Each event includes an opportunity for the audience to share thoughts and questions with guest speakers. The Exploring Ethics forums welcome anyone who is open to learning new ideas and listening to viewpoints that are different from their own.

Events are held 5:00–7 p.m. in the William & Grayson Boehm Community Forum at the Fleet Science Center on the first Wednesday of the month from October through June, unless otherwise noted. Please join us from 5-5:30 p.m. for light refreshments before the guest speaker portion begins promptly at 5:30 p.m. To register for upcoming events, please visit the Ethics Center website.

Please note: Exploring Ethics events and parking are always free. Parking is available in back of the Fleet Science Center near the Community Forum entrance.

Upcoming Events


The Ethics March lecture is on Tuesday the 6th. 


DATE: March 6, 2017

TIME: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

TITLE: NanoEngineering - Developing Better Batteries

DESCRIPTION: High energy, long life, rechargeable batteries are considered an important technological opportunity to reduce production of greenhouse gases. Electrochemical energy storage is attractive because of its high efficiency and fast response time. Some exciting new possibilities for energy storage materials include gas electrolytes, Li/Na intercalation compounds and battery architectures. Our research goal is to combine knowledge-guided synthesis/characterization and computational modeling to develop and optimize new higher energy/power density electrode and electrolyte materials for rechargeable batteries that are on the scale of megawatt-hour instead of just picowatt-hour. These and other research directions are clearly important, but will raise new challenges both in the development and application of these technologies. Join us for this program to learn about these exciting developments as well as to join the conversation about how best to meet potential social and ethical challenges.

LECTURER BIO: Ying Shirley Meng, Ph.D., Associate Professor Department of NanoEngineering University of California, San Diego.

Dr. Y. Shirley Meng received her Ph.D. in Advance Materials for Micro & Nano Systems from the Singapore-MIT Alliance in 2005, after which she worked as a postdoc research fellow and became a research scientist at MIT. Shirley is the Zable Chair Professor in Energy Technologies and professor in NanoEngineering at University of California San Diego (UCSD). Her research focuses on the direct integration of experimental techniques with first principles computation modeling for developing new materials and architectures for electrochemical energy storage. She is the founding Director of Sustainable Power and Energy Center (SPEC), consisting of faculty from interdisciplinary fields working to make breakthroughs in distributed energy generation, storage and the accompanying integration-management systems. Dr. Meng is the principal investigator of the research group – Laboratory for Energy Storage and Conversion (LESC). She received several prestigious awards, including C.W. Tobias Young Investigator Award of the Electrochemical Society, BASF Volkswagen Electrochemistry Science Award, Frontier of Innovation Award and NSF CAREER Award. Dr. Meng is the author and co-author of more than 130 peer-reviewed journal articles, one book chapter and four patents.

DATE: April 4, 2017

TIME: 5:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.

TITLE: Social Media: How should researchers balance your privacy with public health benefit?

DESCRIPTION: Social media use is now ubiquitous. Popular platforms such as Facebook and Twitter command millions and even billions of users, making their online communities larger than the population of many countries. As the number of users interacting continues to grow, so does the amount of data generated. And much of that data is in the public domain – accessible to companies, researchers, and the government.  This user-generated data contain diverse types of information and associated metadata, including sensitive and private details about people’s daily lives, personal behavior, and social networks. Importantly, with advances in technology (such as artificial intelligence) these can be used to uncover valuable information about trends in human behavior, including important health issues such as substance abuse behavior. As these social and technological spheres converge, ethical concerns about the manner in which the data are collected, analyzed, and ultimately used and disseminated are at the forefront of a new digital ethical paradigm. This presentation will highlight some of these challenges from the perspective of a researcher exploring the social media risk environment for prescription drug abuse who often asks himself where the line in digital ethics resides.

LECTURER BIO: Tim Ken Mackey is the Director of the Global Health Policy Institute (www.ghpolicy.org), an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology and Global Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and is the Associate Director for the UC San Diego MAS Program in Health Policy & Law. He is also the current Section Editor of Global Health at the journal BMC Public Health. He holds a BA in Political Science-International Relations, a Masters Degree in Health Policy & Law and also earned his PhD in Global Public Health from the joint doctoral program at UC San Diego – San Diego State University. Prof. Mackey has published over 120 articles and has been featured in journals such as Science, JAMA, Nature Biotechnology, the Lancet, Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, Clinical Microbiology Reviews, and BMC Medicine. His research and expertise has also been featured in major news outlets such as CNN, NPR, and POLITICO Pro. His work focuses on an array of multidisciplinary topics in domestic and global public health. He also has over ten years of professional experience  in the private sector and acting as a consultant for the World Health Organization, the US Department of State, US Department of Justice and others.


View videos of past lectures here:

February 25, 2014 - Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

December 4, 2013 - Winning the War Against Cancer in the Genomics Era

November 7, 2013 - Neuroscience and Video Games

October 2, 2013 - Lessons from a One-Eyed Surgeon

August 7, 2013 - Drones and Other UAVs

June 5, 2013 - Women in Science

April 3, 2013 - Elephants or People?

March 6, 2013 - Global Climate Change and Infectious Disease

February 6, 2013 - Lessons from San Diego's Bees and Bays

Past Topics


June 1 - 2016

Crowdsourcing Science, Parkinson’s and Stem Cells

Parkinson’s disease (PD) affects more than a million people in the US. It is caused by the death of a specific type of nerve cell in the brain, the dopamine-producing neurons in a structure called the substantial nigra. These nerve cells control fine movements and their loss results in symptoms like tremor and difficulty walking. The disease is progressive and there is no cure. In 2012, a unique partnership of scientists, clinicians, PD patients and patient advocates was formed to develop a therapy for PD using patients’ own skin cells that can be transformed into dopamine neurons, which can then be transplanted to their brains to restore the lost cells. With further support from the foundation and granting agencies, the research and clinical partners hope to transplant cells to the first patient in about three years. This kind of partnership with patient advocates is unprecedented, and is inspiring for both the researchers and the patients, who are working together to develop the first effective therapy for PD.


May 4 - 2016

What Wearable Cameras and GPS can Teach Us about Human Behavior

The REACH group (Research in Environments, Active aging and Community Health) is using wearable cameras and location-tracking devices to observe how people behave in real life. The National Institutes of Health supports this work, which is designed to learn how daily behavior patterns relate to health. The wearable camera and GPS location-tracking devices both collect potentially sensitive information about a person’s daily activity. The cameras take photos of the people and places we visit. The GPS records the location of places we visit. The data we collect (i.e., pictures and location) is not streaming in real time, but that will soon change. Some of our participants are not worried about the information captured by these wearable devices, some are. We have developed an ethical framework to protect participants. However, we are challenged with how to share our data with other scientists. How can we balance protecting participant privacy and advancing scientific methods, which require outsiders to repeat our analyses?


April 6 - 2016

Genome Sequencing in the Clinic: Promises and Pitfalls

Advances in genome sequencing hold tremendous promise for providing answers, tailored therapies and in some case cures for undiagnosed patients. However, how to interpret and act upon volumes of complex genomic data remains a challenge for sequencing providers, physicians and their patients and families. Uncertain and non-validated results present obstacles in attaining goals of diagnosis and cure. Off-target results may create unforeseen medical and ethical challenges. This presentation will use case-based examples to demonstrate promises and pitfalls encountered in application of genomic sequencing to diagnosis of patients with rare disease.


March 2 - 2016

Challenges and Benefits of In-Home Treatment for Autism

The ability to deliver interventions in the home offers both convenience and greater access for families.  However, the need to evaluate the success of the interventions in the home also poses some challenges. In advance of our discussion, Dr. Chukoskie will present both the benefits, as well as the challenges, in her experience with delivering a home-based video game intervention designed to train spatial attention control in teens on the Autism Spectrum.


February 3 - 2016

Personal Health Data in the Digital Age

Individuals track a variety of their personal health data (PHD) via a growing number of wearable devices and smartphone apps. More and more PHD is also being captured passively as people use social networks, shop on-line, search the Internet or do any number of activities that leave “digital footprints.” Almost all of these forms of PHD are gathered outside of the mainstream of traditional health care, public health or health research. Dr. Patrick will discuss the Health Data Exploration project and explore some of the issues related to data ownership and individual privacy as well as new approaches to understanding public health that PHD might provide.


December 2 - 2015

Neglected Diseases: Can Social Good Trump Profit

Neglected diseases, or more specifically neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), refer to major global health problems that affect hundreds of millions of people. Despite the huge burden of these diseases worldwide, there is little or no interest in the pharmaceutical industry in developing effective drugs because these are diseases of poor people in poor regions of the world. We will discuss the moral and ethical considerations, and the challenges of developing vaccines, diagnostics and drugs for these diseases in the absence of profitable financial markets.


November 4 - 2015

Editing the Genome of Mosquitoes

UCSD graduate student, Valentino Gantz, and Professor Ethan Bier recently published a science paper describing a new mechanism of "gene drive." This is not just a matter of editing the genes of a single individual, but an opportunity to make a change that will drive incorporation of that change into all descendants of the original individual.

Their publication resulted in international interest because of the broad potential applications of this new technology, which could rapidly produce beneficial genetic changes. Others have argued that because of the risks and implications of such research the work should not even have been published. One of the more exciting prospects is that this this approach to gene drive could quickly change a population of mosquitoes so that it could no longer serve as a vector for malaria. How should we balance the benefits of limiting or possibly eliminating a disease that kills 1,000 people a day against the possible disruption of an ecosystem?


October 7 - 2015

Building Community Support From People Living With HIV

HIV-related stigma and discrimination are alive and well. Despite civil rights laws and protections related to the disclosure of protected health information through the HIPAA privacy rule, people with HIV often worry about the disclosure of their HIV status, and when inappropriate disclosures happen, it can cause real and serious harm. At the same time, exciting work is being done in states across the country to integrate HIV surveillance data with clinical data to increase engagement in care. Further, research is taking place at UCSD and elsewhere using the unique HIV sequence of individual people with HIV to map transmission within a community. This has the potential to help us to better target interventions to interrupt transmission and reduce the number of new infections. We will discuss the balance between privacy protection and facilitating access to data, and will examine more recent efforts by states, health care providers, and consumers to integrate surveillance and care data to improve engagement in care.


May 6 - 2015

Why What You Know About Protecting Privacy Might Be Wrong

Privacy is a theme that enjoys increasing media attention. Besides Edward Snowden's disclosures, recent news items include the consequences of Europe's Draft Data Protection Directive on the use of personal data for advertising, and Mattel's "Eavesdropping" Barbie doll that can send recordings of conversations to third parties for voice recognition processing. A different and more subtle form of breach occurs when personal information can be inferred from data and information that has been deemed safe and consequently disclosed. An example is AOL's search data leak in 2006. AOL released detailed search logs of users for academic research purposes, but the public release of information raised privacy concerns since users could be identified through personal information in their search logs. The New York Times identified several users, including 62-year-old Thelma Arnold, a widow in Liburn, Georgia. The breach led to a media frenzy and the eventual resignation of AOL's CTO, Maureen Govern. In this talk, Dr. Vinterbo will talk about why he feels privacy is needed, why it is useful to think of privacy not as a fixed state, but a never-ending process, and why intuition about how to protect privacy can be misleading. He will also present an example of a state-of-the-art privacy protection technique and how it could be used to inform HIV prevention efforts in San Diego.

February 4 - 2015 

Preventing HIV by Understanding Patterns of Transmission

Recent advances in medical technology have made it possible to rapidly obtain genetic information related to a variety of health care conditions. There are both risks and benefits associated with these advances in technology. While the genetic information can help us to better understand, diagnose, and treat illness, these data also present risks to personal privacy. For instance, investigators have found that it is possible to personally identify several participants in such studies. Thus, without the participants agreeing to share their personal information, these data were discoverable to scientists who had expertise to properly analyze the data. This forum will specifically discuss genetic data related to HIV infection and how this information, routinely collected in persons engaged in HIV healthcare, may be used to improve HIV prevention efforts. We will also discuss the potential to use these data to identify the persons engaged in these studies (i.e., sufficient to identify a participant as HIV infected and connected to ongoing HIV transmissions in the community). We strive to engage the community in a discussion of acceptable and unacceptable levels of risk associated with the use of these data and their potential to significantly limit HIV transmission in our community.

June 4 - 2014

Ethicists Confront Cancer: When the Professional Becomes Personal

In 2006, Dresser was diagnosed with cancer. Having cancer was both a personal calamity and an education. Despite years of teaching and writing about medical ethics, she found herself unprepared for the experience. She views herself as one of the lucky people whose treatment was successful. After returning to work she wanted to share what she had learned. With six colleagues who had been cancer patients or cared for spouses with cancer, Dresser authored a book called Malignant: Medical Ethicists Confront Cancer. In Malignant, ethicists tell their cancer stories. They describe how their views on medical ethics changed after personal cancer experiences, and point to neglected issues in cancer care. In the midst of serious illness, people can be helped and harmed in ways that ethicists, medical professionals, and the public must understand. 

May 14 - 2014

Immunotherapy: A Promising New Approach to Treating Cancer

Dr. June will discuss the emergence of immunotherapy as an approach to treat cancer. The approach is less toxic than many previous forms of therapy and when effective, has long term effects that appear to be curative. Carl June, MD, is considered by many to be the most influential academic scientist in the biopharmaceutical industry.  Held at Weiss Theatre of the La Jolla Playhouse.

April 2 - 2014

Communicating through the Cancer Journey: Can We Talk?

Talking about cancer is difficult for all involved, whether it is the person with cancer, their family or their health care providers. Dr. Wayne Beach will open this program with real-world examples relevant to the questions of how communication occurs among patients, family members, and providers, what concerns are raised, and how they are responded to, in the context of cancer diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis. Held at Sanford Consortium for Regenerative Medicine.

February 25 - 2014

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer

Cases of cancer doubled globally between 1975 and 2000, and will double again by 2020, nearly tripling by 2030. In America, one in two men and one in three women will get cancer during their lifetime; one in four will die. In The Emperor Of All Maladies, Mukherjee delivers a timely message, and he presents it with such clarity and verve that audiences will feel enlightened, even uplifted, despite these grim figures.

December 4 - 2013

Winning the War Against Cancer in the Genomics Era: Is It About Time? 

Breakthroughs in genomics and targeting therapies have now reached the clinic and will revolutionize the practice of oncology. However, in order to change outcomes in cancer, we can no longer use old paradigms for treating patients and designing clinical trials. In effect, genomics is a disruptive technology because it has unveiled a reality for cancer that makes standard operating procedures obsolete. Yet we continue to retrofit traditional treatments into this new reality. This can and must change if we are to transform the lives of patients with cancer. Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, known for creating the largest Phase 1 clinical trials department in the world, will lead the talk.

November 7 - 2013

Neuroscience and Video Games 

Video games are increasingly in the news. Rapid advances in brain research are also enabling neuroscientists, in collaboration with game developers, to develop games that contribute to observable educational and therapeutic innovations. While potentially beneficial, it is important to ask about the ethical and social implications associated with the merging of neuroscience with game development and use.

October 2 - 2013

Lessons from a One-Eyed Surgeon

Half a century ago, working out of a small hospital in Uganda, Denis Burkitt brought together investigators from all over the world in his quest to understand the "African lymphoma." Together, they unraveled a cancer mystery that no single researcher would ever have solved on his or her own. In the end, Burkitt and his team not only saved an untold number of young lives, but also taught the world how powerful true scientific collaboration can be. The success of this model raises questions for us today: Are cultural, academic, and institutional barriers slowing the process of medical science? If so, do each of us, in our own way, have an ethical imperative to remove them?

August 7 - 2013

Drones and Other UAVs: Benefits and Risks

New technologies can raise challenging ethical dilemmas, and drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are no exception. These aircraft may be autonomously operated by onboard computers or directed remotely by a human operator. UAVs are used for many purposes, ranging from crop dusting farmland to military operations. Join our UAV experts as we explore the benefits, perceived concerns, real risks, and public safety.

Special thanks to AUVSI San Diego for in-kind support of this program.

June 5 - 2013

Women in Science

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's landmark book, Silent Spring. Much has changed in the past 50 years, but questions should be asked now about how far we have come and how far we have to go. To help us navigate thses important issues, we will be joined by Linda Lear, the best known biographer of Rachel Carson.

May 1 - 2013

Silent Spring and San Diego Students

Students at multiple colleges and universities in the San Diego region were challenged to write essays about their reflections prompted by Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. Winners of the community-wide competition will be announced and join us in a discussion of a variety of timely and important questions for the San Diego community.

April 3 2013

Elephants or People?

Many ethical dilemmas faces those who seek to preserve endangered species, and especially those who wish to preserve them or reintroduce them into their natural habitats. In some cases, it is human beings who have so encroached upon these habitats that the animals being protected or reintroduced—such as elephants, wolves, and tigers—pose a potential threat to crops, livestock, and even humans themselves. In other situations, it is other species introduced into particular habitats by humans that have caused native species to become endangered. In such cases, the only means of successfully reintroducing or maintaining native species is through the complete eradication of the invading species. What are those concerned with the preservation of native species to do in such situations?