Coordinating/Selecting Work (for Credit)
in Dr. Shrader-Frechette's Courses
with the Notre Dame Center for Social Concern

Would you like to evaluate a draft environmental impact statement that apparently would cause disproportionate and dangerous levels of pollution for poverty-level Latinos in Los Alamos? Would you like your analysis to be part of the documentation that the Latino community uses to gain government revision of the statement and improvement of policy that now allegedly causes unequal treatment?

Would you like to work with draft United Nations resolutions to prevent developed nations from shipping hazardous waste to developing countries, when the people affected have given no free informed consent? Would you like to help Blacks on the south side of Chicago evaluate government and corporate risk assessments that place virtually all noxious facilities in Black neighborhoods, simply because they often have neither the financial nor intellectual resources to fight for their due-process rights?

Would you like to evaluate the questionable scientific methods used in the US Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program, as requested by the US National Research Council, and then recommend abandoning these flawed scientific programs in favor of more consistent, empirically defensible research? Would you like to evaluate and correct draft bills presented before the US Congress, so that they address important ethical issues of environmental justice or key scientific problems of dealing with uncertainties about technological hazards?

Would you like to examine Appalachian tax laws that force many Appalachians into poverty while some coal companies pay only one or two cents per acre, per year, in taxes on rich coal land? Would you like to evaluate the concepts of property rights that currently allow such a situation?

Would you like to respond to a request from an aluminum company (for a causal analysis of harm and responsibility, to be used in courtroom proceedings)? Would you like to help this aluminum company, apparently unfairly charged with the whole cost of a Superfund toxic-waste cleanup, just because it is the "deep pocket," even though it is not responsible for the contamination at the site?

Would you like to respond to a request from rural Louisiana blacks who believe that a multinational corporation, siting a dangerous facility in their community, has violated government regulations about environmental justice, ethical norms for welfare rights, and government standards for probabilistic risk assessment?

Would you like to evaluate the ethical defensibility of US biological-warfare experiments on citizens, without their consent, and attempt to improve current policy that continues to allow such experiments?

Would you like to examine the questionable scientific methodologies alleging that low doses of organic chemicals are harmful or harmless and therefore ought to be regulated more strictly or more leniently? That Scripps' Oceanographic Institute's using loud underwater blasts, throughout the Pacific, in order to measure ocean temperature does/does not harm marine mammals? Would you like to examine the ethical justification for NAFTA and GATT, that pits global justice and US workers' jobs against corporate property rights and other nations' regulations? Would you like to determine whether US rights to equal protection and to occupational health regulations ought to be applied to workers abroad, if the US imports the good they produce?

Dr. Shrader-Frechette and her students have worked on all these issues and have helped to rewrite laws and regulations, and to change public policy, in all these areas. They have used the analytical tools of ethics and philosophy of science/epistemology to address social-justice issues. Come join us in this work.

Among all universities, Notre Dame is known not only for academic excellence and its commitment to the highest values, but also for its practical and theoretical work in helping to build a world of peace and social justice. Because of these social-justice commitments, Dr. Shrader-Frechette is eager to offer students in all her courses an opportunity to do work either in ethical analysis, or in analysis of scientific methods, that contributes to resolution of pressing contemporary problems in ethics, policy, and science. Essentially this opportunity amounts to helping students use the tools of philosophical evaluation to assess texts or documents associated with real-world problems or policies, rather than merely to use these tools to evaluate only classical philosophical or scientific texts. For each of these courses of Dr. Shrader-Frechette, students may opt to do a portion of the required work on real-world issues of social concern: PHI/STV 256, Science, Technology, and Society; PHI/STV 468, Consent and Ethical Theory; PHI/STV 479 Environmental Risk Assessment; PHI/STV 483, Ethics of Scientific Research; PHI/STV 487, Biomedical Ethics and Public Health Risk; PHI 666, Consent and Ethical Theory.

For the undergraduate courses, students may opt to do a social-justice project either instead of the final exam, or instead of one of the theoretical papers required for the course, or as an extra-credit project. For the graduate courses, students may opt to do one of their required papers as a social-justice project related to practical application of the course content.

The purpose of this social-justice work, for course credit, is to exercise what Joseph Bernardin called "the option for the poor," to serve those who often have no one else to whom to turn. The purpose of this work is to use our intellectual abilities not just to master ethical and scientific theories but to apply those theories in ways that serve social justice. Often proposed legislation, pending court decisions, draft regulations, draft environmental impact assessments, and draft risk assessments, - if they are flawed - are questionable, in part, because of the ways that they jeopardize the rights of the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, or minorities. These courses seek to empower students to use their hearts and their minds to serve the powerless in the policy arena, and not only to use their hands and their backs to serve them in some private arena.

Working with Dr. Shrader-Frechette, typically students follow four steps in their social-justice work. (1) They select contemporary legal briefs, pending civil or criminal cases on appeal, proposed Congressional bills, draft environmental impact assessments, draft technology assessments, draft risk assessments, or policy-position papers of some corporate or public-interest group, as the subject of their study. Next (2) students evaluate these documents in terms of their ethical, methodological, and policy assumptions, consequences, coherence, consistency, and consequences. (3) Students take a position on the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed laws, assessments, or scientific research, and they offer ethical and epistemological arguments for how to improve the proposed laws, regulations, scientific studies, environmental assessments, and so on. (4) Finally students outline a plan for how ordinary citizens can help to serve social and environmental justice by improving the proposed bills, regulations, impact assessments, scientific analyses, or draft risk assessments that they have studied.

Students should keep several points in mind as they decide to do philosophy course work in connection with the Center for Social Concern. (1) Students should feel free to investigate and to defend or attack any position; project grades are based on the clarity, completeness, and coherence of the arguments students use for their position, as well as on the effort and originality in the work; project grades are not based on students' taking a particular position. Sometimes environmental groups, as well as commercial interests, are biased or scientifically uninformed, and sometimes corporate groups, as well as the poor or the powerless, are themselves the victims of injustice, so students should be careful to do analysis, rather than ideology. (2) Students should attempt to understand and evaluate a position, to consider objections to it, to attempt to respond to those objections, and to present as balanced a view as possible. Students should not be afraid to take a stand a a particular issue, but they should do so by understanding the alternative positions and arguments as well as their own. (3) Students should speak to Dr. Shrader-Frechette within one month of the beginning of class, if they wish to do the social-justice project option, so that she can help them effectively.

For more details on the ethical, scientific, or policy problems on which students and Dr. Shrader-Frechette have worked, go to Dr. Shrader-Frechette's website and click on the link that says "Public Policy Work."

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July, 1999