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UCL Festival of Culture: The ethics of fighting ISIS: Should we do whatever it takes to prevent terrorism?

ucyow3c13 June 2016

pencil-iconWritten by Sam Stockdale (UCL Arts & Humanities)

microphoneYou would be hard pushed to find a positive thing to associate with ISIS, but the terrorist group certainly knows how to generate a lot of interest, as we saw at this year’s UCL Festival of Culture session ‘The ethics of fighting ISIS’. Attendees squeezed in next to each other without a seat to spare. It was clear from the start that this would not be a ‘death-by-PowerPoint’ session and the audience were faced with some ethical conundrums.

Should we torture?

After immersing the audience in a crash course in consequentialist ethics (through an example of killing one person in order to save five – do the ends justify the means?), Dr Jeff Howard (UCL Political Science) threw down the gauntlet immediately with the first in a series of challenging scenarios:

You have an Islamic State terrorist in custody who has gleefully admitted to planting a dirty bomb in central London with the prospect of killing hundreds of people within two hours. He of course is not admitting to where it is. Do you torture him?

The question immediately divided the room.

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Science and the First World War

Siobhan Pipa9 July 2014

German scientist Fritz Haber

German scientist Fritz Haber

The relationship between science, technology and warfare is a topic I find incredibly intriguing – partially kick-started from taking a module in Science, Warfare and Peace back when I was an undergraduate in UCL Science & Technology Studies.

So, with high hopes I headed down to The Guardian offices to watch the final instalment of UCL’s Lunch Hour Lectures on Tour – given by Professor Jon Agar (UCL Science & Technology Studies), titled Science and the First World War.

Opening with the haunting image of ‘We are making a new world’ by Paul Nash, Professor Agar points out that there is frequently no force so associated with the making of a new world as science.

If there’s one thing I took away from my undergraduate degree, it’s that science, like nearly every other topic in the world, is not an isolated endeavour – there are always outside influences at play.

And there is probably no bigger outside influence than the First World War. Often considered the first ‘total war’, science was driven and transformed by the events of a hundred years ago.

Along with shaping the path science took during this period, the First World War also raised a number of profound and troubling questions about the very nature of science.

Is science a force for construction? Or is it a force of destruction? Does science transcend international boundaries or should science be recruited to further a country’s cause? How should scientists be used during warfare and is there a way to organise science in the most efficient way?

Using some of the most prominent scientists of the First World War, Professor Agar proceeded to examine these themes at a much more personal and intimate level.

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What corrupts independence and trust?

ucyow3c21 March 2014

pencil-iconWritten by Professor Richard Moorhead (UCL Laws)

Money’s influence on knowledge and politics was at the heart of the Centre for Ethics & Law’s annual lecture, March 14.  “The Place of ‘Institutions’ in the Idea of ‘Corruption’” was given by Laurence (“Larry”) Lessig, Professor of Law and Leadership and Faculty Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, Harvard University.

US Capitol, an institution that needs public trust

US Capitol, meeting place for the US Congress.

His intellectual aim was to explore notions of corruption broader than the popular conception of backhanders, and to illuminate how institutions are subject to a more subtle but potentially insidious corruption through ‘dependence corruption’: the deviation from the purpose of an institution.

Such corruption can either directly weaken the effectiveness of the institution or it can weaken the public trust in the institution.

‘Independent’ institutions cannot and should not avoid dependence altogether. Indeed, institutions have ‘a proper dependence’ (democracies should depend on the views of the people; courts on the neutral interpretation of the law).

Independence is compromised when that dependence deviates from its proper root.  Just as when a magnet is placed next to the needle of a compass, an institution is corrupted when it is steered away from its intended aim. Professor Lessig’s second point was that trust is a function of independence. (more…)

The Ethics of Human Rights Philanthropy

news editor11 June 2012

Claire Lougarre, UCL Laws PhD candidate

Professor Philippe Sands and Sigrid Rausing

What would you do if  Saif Gaddafi offered you millions of pounds towards a research project, or if Rupert Murdoch did? Accepting money for research from philanthropic sources, or from people who might want to set research agendas, is a difficult ethical minefield.

Luckily, at this UCL Institute for Human Rights event on 29 May, we had capable guides to see us through the issues. Even if they did not have all the answers, they were certainly equipped to ask and deepen our understanding of the right questions.

Professor Philippe Sands QC welcomed Sigrid Rausing (Rausing Trust), Professor Jonathan Wolff (UCL Philosophy), Anthony Tomei (Nuffield Foundation) and Dr George Letsas (UCL Laws) to the panel.

Preserving independence
Dr Saladin Meckled-Garcia (UCL Political Sciences), co-director of the Institute, welcomed the large audience by highlighting the recent UCL campaign to raise more than £300 million for UCL projects from donors. Does giving money buy you influence and power?

UCL Council has asserted its commitment to preserve the university’s independence from any donor agenda. Nevertheless, in the light of recent scandals, such as Gaddafi’s funding of the LSE, which led to the Woolf Enquiry, the question of ethics in research philanthropy remains.

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