Science Innovation and Ethics

(Last Updated On: October 21, 2014)

Science Innovation and Ethics

Grade Level – 7-12, college

Subject – Science, Physics, Philosophy, Ethics

Keywords – Science, ethics, physics, philosophy, film, movie, Mindwalk, Real Genius, Leo Szilard, Fritjof Capra, The Turning Point, Tristar Pictures, Paramount Pictures, research

Author – Cynthia F. Kirkeby

Affiliation – ClassBrain, Inc.

Date – 20 October, 2001

Duration – 2-4 class periods

A screenshot from Mindwalk, the movie.

A screenshot from Mindwalk, the movie.


In the film Mindwalk three people from different walks of life discuss the earth, the role of science, and the responsibility of scientists that are involved in innovative research.

Real Genius is a film about brilliant physics students, how they deal with academic pressure, and how their finished work is used by an unscrupulous professor.

Leo Szilard, the inventor of the nuclear chain reaction, had strong feelings about the responsibilities scientists have to the uses to which their inventions are put.


Watch the films (or excerpts of the films) Mindwalk and Real Genius, and review select documents on Leo Szilard. Discuss the following questions:

  • Does a scientist have a responsibility for the ultimate use of their work?
    • Can a scientist track the uses of the innovation? Can a blind man be upset about his children having tattoos?
    • Does a scientist have the right to control the products of their work?
  • If a scientist’s work is used for a purpose considered to be unacceptable or unethical by the scientist, what options does he/she have?
  • How can scientists help science advance in a responsible fashion?
    • What is “responsible use?”
  • What precautions can a scientist take to make sure his/her innovation is not misused?
    • Is it acceptable for a scientist to have the ability to destroy or abort a misused invention?
    • Does the government have the right to override the protection of a patent?

Real Genius with Val Kilmer

Real Genius with Val Kilmer

Resources & Materials


Real Genius

Internet resources

Available worksheets


Film 1:  Mindwalk (1991)

  • Synopsis: 

A physicist, poet and politician meet unexpectedly on the island-abbey of Mont St. Michel and discuss physics, ecology, politics, and literature in an exploration of he world we live in and the systems that define it.


  • Genre(s) – Drama
  • Rating – PG
  • Family Rating –  not available
  • Running Time – 1:10


  • Primary Actors – John Heard, Liv Ullmann, Sam Waterston
  • Director – Bernt Capra
  • Music – Philip Glass
  • Screenplay – Fritjof Capra
  • Producers – Klaus Lintschinger, Adrianna Cohen
  • Studio –  Paramount Pictures

Film 2:  Real Genius (1985)


  • Synopsis: 

Physics students grapple with peer pressure, academic pressure and the use of their work by an unscrupulous professor.



  • Primary Actors – Val Kilmer, William Atherton, Gabriel Jarret
  • Director – Martha Coolidge
  • Music – Thomas Newman
  • Screenplay – Neal Israel, Pat Proft and Peter Torokvei.
  • Producers – Brian Grazer
  • Studio – TriStar Pictures

Reading Connections


  1. The Turning Point by Fritjof Capra
  2. On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research – National Academy Press

Additional Reading Suggestions

Principles of Biomedical Ethics
Ethical Issues in Human Cloning:…
The Quest for Community: A Study in the…
Society, Ethics, and Technology

Related Internet Sources

Leo Szilard Online

Welcome to the world of physicist, biophysicist, and “scientist of conscience.”

Source: Gene Dannon


A Bibliography of Fritjof Capra

A concise and thorough bibliography, this list covers Capra’s publications, brief summaries, and a list of foreign editions.

Source: Fritjof Capra


The Systems View of Life

This web publication consists of the 8th Chapter of Fritjof Capra’s “The Turning Point” – Science, Society and the Rising Culture – which was published in 1982. The chapter is entitled “The Systems View of Life” and discusses the emergent specifications of life in terms of recent advances in inter-disciplinary scientific thought.


As a theoretical physicist, author and writer, Fritjof Capra explores current social, economic and environmental problems and tries to apply a new vision to their exploration and solution. Capra holds a Ph.D. in physics on the gravitational collapse of neutron stars from the University of Vienna in 1966.

Source:  Mountain Man Graphics, Australia


The Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science        

The Online Ethics Center for Engineering and Science is a resource center for engineers, scientists, and students, who are working to understand and address ethically significant problems that arise in their work.

Source:  The Online Ethics Center for Engineering & Science


ELSI – Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues in Science

ELSI is a pilot project designed to stimulate discussions on the implications of selected areas of scientific research. These modules probably will be most useful to educators and students at the middle school through high school level.

Source:  Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Bioethics Discussion Pages

These discussion pages are where the questions and responses to bioethical issues are located. EVERYONE is invited to write about what YOU think about these issues. Bioethical questions may have significance for all of society, and therefore the general public as well as ethicists should get involved and express what they think.

Source: Maurice Bernstein, M.D.


Scientists for Global Responsibility

SGR is a UK group that promotes the ethical practice and use of science and technology. They are working to develop a new concept of the role of science and scientists in a socially responsible society through research and education.

Source: The International Network of Engineers and Scientists for Global Responsibility


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