New Course Looks at the Ethics of Data Science

January 28, 2022
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Emma Meyers '22 is minoring in data science.

As one of the first students to minor in data science at Bryn Mawr, Emma Meyers '22 has taken courses where she learned how to code, and how to set up a study and apply a statistical method.

However, when she was looking at courses to take in the fall 2021 semester, a new course, Ethics in Data Science, caught her eye.

"Reading the course description, I was drawn in by how philosophy could be applied to data science, and how important the issues the course covered are today with so much of our lives online with the pandemic," Emma recalls.

"This course responds to the vacuum of ethics guidelines in data sciences," says Carolina Hausmann-Stabile, an assistant professor of social work and social research, who taught the course. "As a field of inquiry and practice, data sciences do not have an ethical code despite the fact that data and algorithmic processes and computational techniques impact everyday life for all of us."

Readings for the class included Beginning Ethics: An Introduction to Moral Philosophy by Leis Vaughn and  Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy by Cathy O'Neil.

The class met twice weekly throughout the semester and each week students submitted a journal entry that applied that week’s materials to a data science ethical dilemma selected by the student; presented an ethical dilemma encountered by the student when interacting with technologies disseminating or collecting data; and applied a specific moral theory in the construction of an argument around data sciences issues.

For their final assignment, students produced a detailed analysis of the ethical considerations in a data science issue of their choice.

"I enjoyed the final project because Carolina gave us the opportunity to use what we had learned about ethics, argument formation, and big data to learn and argue about something we were personally interested in," says Emma. "She took the time to work with us and incorporate our projects and ideas into the syllabus for future versions of the course too, making me feel like my work was useful and important."

Ethics in Data Science will be offered again in the fall of 2022. Students can chose a data science minor as a complement to any major in the Tri-Co.

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