A revised version of an individual lesson plan developed by
Donald Jermusyk, Hauppauge Middle School, Hauppauge, Long Island,
Courses for Which the Lesson is Intended:
Earth science classes.
Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this
Students imagine they are a team of scientists advising a town
council on pollutants seeping into the groundwater. They discuss issues among
themselves and then report to the class their recommendations.
Category that Best Describes this Lesson:
Behavior of scientists.
Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson:
The civic responsibilities of scientists; the value implications
of scientific consulting/advising.
Students are divided into small groups. Each group is to imagine
itself to be a team of scientists with expertise in industrial water pollution.
The teacher distributes the following scenario and instructions to the groups.
Each group will report its recommendations to the class.
Clinton Automotive is a factory in the town of Plainsville and
the principal employer of the town. Clinton is also a major tax payer for the
town and the local school district. The local water company has discovered that
the undercoating applied to the chassis of its cars has been seeping into the
ground water and is now in the water supply of a small part of the town.
A public meeting has been called to address the concerns. Clinton has threatened to leave town if it incurs heavy expenses and lawsuits related to the plant effluent. Homeowners with affected drinking water are threatening a lawsuit unless Clinton stops using the undercoating and pays for cleaning up the pollutant. At the public meeting it can be expected that there will be:
Your team of scientists has been hired by the town council to
help it and members of the audience understand the significance of what has
happened thus far to the groundwater and what will correct the problem (including
Although the groups of students will not be able to make actual
estimates, they can discuss their obligations and strategies in serving as town
council consultants. To whom do they have obligations in this case? The town
council? The community? Clinton? How should this affect their scientific analysis
and the report they will construct based on that analysis? Can the team remain
value "neutral" and simply report the facts? Should they attempt to? Why or
This case focuses on the responsibilities of scientists as consultants
and as community participants in policy making. It may be thought that scientists
simply try to determine the "facts," leaving all value questions to others.
However, the very purpose of the study undertaken here is to assist the town
council in meeting its responsibilities. So, in addition to understanding the
town council's responsibilities, a scientific team of consultants also has to
make judgments about what kinds of information will be most relevant for its
deliberations and the public meeting. It also should take into consideration
the needs and rights of the community in this matter--both in regard to questions
of health, safety, and welfare and in regard to meaningful participation at
a public meeting addressing the concerns of the community.
This does not mean that the scientific team itself makes the policy
decisions. But it does mean that it has a responsibility to assist others in
making those decisions. The question is whether that responsibility extends
only to those who hired the team (the town council), or also to those to whom
the town council is accountable (the larger public). Either way, it seems that
"value neutrality" does not capture the role of the scientific team. But if
this is right, it does not follow that the team is justified in being partisan
to one faction or another. So, this raises another question: to what extent
should a team of scientists, even as consultants, strive not to be partisan
to the concerns of those for whom they provide consulting services? Should they
be "partisan" to interests of the larger community that will be affected by
what is decided? Which interests?
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