Mission:  Facilitate science in the public interest


  • Science can benefit society, but not if those affected are left out of the conversation: It is essential to have informed and engaged citizens.
  • Academics and researchers have devoted considerable productive study to both science and ethics, but the Ethics Center was the first and likely the leading forum dedicated to inviting the public into conversations about the ethical challenges of new developments in science and technology.


  • The Ethics Center seeks to bridge the gap between science and the general public, thereby promoting scientific integrity, fostering science literacy, respect, and understanding, and enabling participants to make more informed decisions.


  • The Ethics Center provides the San Diego community with knowledge, forums, and resources so that they can be part of thoughtful, unbiased conversation about how science is conducted and used.


  • The Ethics Center seeks to engage San Diego stakeholders interested in thoughtful discussion about how best to meet the ethical challenges to new developments in science and technology.
  • Our audience includes interested members of the community, scientists and engineers, students, journalists, and policymakers.


Working in partnership with diverse academic, industry, and research institutions and organizations, we strive to provide programs and resources that are:

  • Unbiased
  • Respectful
  • Evidence-based


Vision:  A community that shares responsibility to meet the ethical challenges of science and technology

The Ethics Center aspires to be:

  • Recognized as the San Diego source for information on ethical dimensions of breaking news in science and technology.
  • Sought out as a partner by San Diego academics and policymakers to address new developments in science and technology.
  • A primary resource for ethics and science content and materials useful in K-12, community college, and university education.


  • In recognition of the absence of a forum for engaging the general public in conversations about new developments in science and emerging technologies, Peter Ellsworth of the Legler Benbough Foundation reached out to Michael Kalichman, UC San Diego, Larry Hinman, University of San Diego, and Sara Burke, San Diego Science and Technology Center, UCSD.
  • To determine the needs of our regional community, an initial stakeholder event for community leaders was convened to assess how a Center for Ethics in Science & Technology could assist them; the event featured a keynote presentation by Dr. Thomas Murray, President of the Hastings Center, on September 8, 2003.
  • The Center for Ethics in Science & Technology was founded with an executive committee, consisting of Kalichman, Hinman, and Burke. Shortly thereafter an Advisory Board was formed, including the members of the executive committee plus Peter Ellsworth (Legler Benbough Foundation), Christian Crews (Waitt Foundation), Chris Todd (President, San Diego Bar Association), and Mark Trotter (Parker Foundation).
  • To further assess needs and interests, focus group events were hosted by the new Center with San Diego religious leaders (March 1 and April 23), in conjunction with a second stakeholder event, at which Dr. William Hurlbut (Stanford) delivered the keynote address. A subsequent focus group was convened with media leaders (May 4), under the leadership of Kate Callen (Speech Writer and Internal Communications Director for the Chancellor, UC San Diego).
  • Recognizing the high level of controversy surrounding the use of human embryos, the Ethics Center began a series of programs and activities with a focus on thoughtful discussion in search of understanding and even common ground. One product of these activities was a special issue, guest edited by two of the Center co-directors, involving commentaries drafted by prominent leaders both for and against the research use of human embryos. Based on meetings with these leaders, the Center co-directors were drafted the lead article for this special issue, featuring a consensus statement, agreed to by all participants. This was complemented by a related piece published in Nature Biotechnology with a leading stem cell researcher.

Kalichman MW, Hinman LM, Snyder EY (2005): Exploring common ground in the stem cell ethical debate–a perspective for scientists: introduction to this special issue of stem cell reviews. Stem Cell Reviews 1(4):285-286.

Snyder EY, Hinman LM, Kalichman MW (2006): Can science resolve the ethical impasse in stem cell research? Nature Biotechnology 24(4): 397-400.

  • The Ethics Center convened a weeklong series of programs throughout the San Diego region with a focus on ethical issues involving the human brain.
  • One example of topics addressed was the developing use of technologies to “read” minds (e.g., to detect if someone is lying).
  • Activities consisted of both public events and focus groups with diverse representation based on academic disciplines (science, social science, arts, humanities), including theological perspectives.
  • Following this week, arrangements were made with a leading science ethics journal to guest edit a special issue in which a similar diverse representation of disciplinary perspectives were represented.

Kalichman M, Plemmons D, Bird SJ (2012): Editors’ overview: Neuroethics: many voices and many stories. Science and Engineering Ethics 18(3):423-32.

2008 – present:
  • In May of 2008, the Ethics Center partnered with the Fleet Science Center to host the inaugural program in the Exploring Ethics series.
  • The model followed for years to come was a monthly program, typically the first Wednesday of the month, from 5:30-7pm with a guest speaker. The majority of each session is typically devoted to exploring the ethical challenges associated with the evening’s topic.
  • For the 2011-2012 academic year, the Ethics Center decided to focus on a recently published book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, as a common theme for the year. Monthly programs allowed for a focus on diverse ethical and social issues related to this compelling historical case of a poor black woman, diagnosed with cancer in the 1950s, and the subsequent discovery that cells of her cancer tumor were uniquely robust, in effect immortal. Programs were typically held at the Fleet Science Center as usual, but it was clear that a larger venue was needed for the event in which Rebecca Skloot, author of the book about Lacks, was our guest speaker. That event was hosted at University of San Diego, but also simultaneously live streamed to other San Diego locations. During the year, programming heavily engaged multiple San Diego institutions, including UC San Diego, SDSU, USD, Point Loma Nazarene University, Grossmont College, and many others. Parallel activities included a debate tournament and art and essay contests.
  • Beginning in December of 2011, the Ethics Center began routinely capturing our public programs on video with the help of UCSD TV. These programs are not only broadcast on UCTV, but are archived for future viewing.
  • As of December 2017, we now have a collection of over 40 programs, which have received an average of nearly 140,000 views per program.
  • In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, the Ethics Center organized a series of talks largely focussed on environmental science and ethics.
  • For 2013-2014, the annual focus on a single book was continued with The Emperor of All Maladies, a Pulitzer Prize winning book about cancer. This program allowed us to feature a wide range of new developments in cancer diagnosis and treatment, as well as the associated ethical questions.
  • One of our programs, with Razelle Kurzrock, was one of the top viewed programs in all of UCTV.
  • We were also fortunate to engage the author of Emperor of All Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee, to present in our series. The result was a standing room only event in the UC San Diego Price Center Ballroom.
  • In late 2015, the Chair of the Grossmont College Academic Senate approached the Ethics Center with a proposal that we apply to Grossmont for “Equity” funding received from the State of California. In brief, the purpose of this program is to increase enrollment and success of groups that have been historically underrepresented in the College.
  • Our premise was that discussing ethical challenges to new developments in science and technology would serve as a point of entry for individuals who might otherwise be distrustful or disinterested in science.
  • The results of this one time support was a needs assessment, multiple presentations, and enhancements to the Ethics Center Website, including a placeholder for resources for teachers interested in this approach.