Results of Clara Immerwahr Essay Competition

Posted By TEU on Aug 18, 2015 |

Details of the Clara Immerwahr Essay Competition here.

First place: Martin Holmes of Otago University

What the judges thought

This essay set the issue of scientific advancement into the broader socio-political context. It set out a clear argument and followed through with strong examples and very well chosen quotes. I do hope the author is right – that ‘hardly anyone disagrees that science should have a conscience’ but the argument set up in this statement does speak to the need to work collaboratively to decide on a moral compass. For the author it is anti-capitalist codes that should be our guiding principles in research/society. While many may disagree with this perspective and starting point, the author illustrates in his work the need to discuss first principles – what is the moral code by which we make ethical and moral decisions; what should guide our conscience. In places the essay is a little ahistorical – technological advancements by human societies have aided the powerful to win wars long before the industrial age (look for example at the changes that came about through the invention of the pike or earlier the creation of catapults). But overall the essay is a compelling and accessible  read.

Second place: Arion Pons of University of Canterbury

This is a well written entry with a strong argument. The author woks to unpack some core issues around challenging the objectivity myth and how this can give ‘scientist’ a false argument for opting out of ethical debates. The structure of the essay is engaging and builds some interesting lines of argumentation. I did wonder why ‘personal choice’ featured so heavily when much of the argument seemed to centre around a community of scholars, surely there is room for us to debate and make collective decisions. In part, some  focus on personal choice makes the conclusion a little weak.  Of course we can critique each other’s work, and that includes the reasons behind our choices to do particular types of work and research. The question is how to we arbitrate when we disagree about what is morally and ethically right?

Third place: Toby Hendy of University of Canterbury

This essay raises some strong arguments around the need to take ethical, moral, and critic and conscience functions more seriously as academic communities. Again it looks at core principles/approaches to examining science and technological discovery. In arguing the first order of decision making is centred on humanity and human progress, rather than science for science sake, the author makes a good point. However, again its moving to the ‘how to we arbitrate between different perspectives of what the ‘good life’ or ‘moral approach’ is? While the structure of the essay is a little weak, the internal ideas and commentary is well written and leads to a strongly written conclusion.


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