Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 653–668 | Cite as

Contentious Problems in Bioscience and Biotechnology: A Pilot Study of an Approach to Ethics Education

  • Roberta M. BerryEmail author
  • Jason Borenstein
  • Robert J. Butera
Original Paper


This manuscript describes a pilot study in ethics education employing a problem-based learning approach to the study of novel, complex, ethically fraught, unavoidably public, and unavoidably divisive policy problems, called “fractious problems,” in bioscience and biotechnology. Diverse graduate and professional students from four US institutions and disciplines spanning science, engineering, humanities, social science, law, and medicine analyzed fractious problems employing “navigational skills” tailored to the distinctive features of these problems. The students presented their results to policymakers, stakeholders, experts, and members of the public. This approach may provide a model for educating future bioscientists and bioengineers so that they can meaningfully contribute to the social understanding and resolution of challenging policy problems generated by their work.


Bioethics Ethics assessment Ethics education Fractious problems Navigational approach Navigational skills Problem-based learning 



Funded by NSF Award ID 0832912. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations are those of the co-authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF. We are grateful for the very helpful suggestions provided by anonymous reviewers.

Conflict of interest

All the authors are not aware of any financial or other conflicts of interest that would interfere with the objectivity of the views presented in this article.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Roberta M. Berry
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jason Borenstein
    • 1
  • Robert J. Butera
    • 2
  1. 1.Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Public PolicyAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Georgia Institute of Technology, School of Electrical and Computer EngineeringAtlantaUSA

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