[MCAT] Morality of Science

Consider this statement:

Scientific inquiry is rooted in the desire to discover, but there is no discovery so important that in its pursuit a threat to human life can be tolerated.

Write a unified essay in which you perform the following tasks.  Explain what you think the above statements means.  Describe a specific situation in which a threat to human life might be tolerated in the pursuit of scientific discovery. Discuss what you think determines when the pursuit of scientific discovery is more important than the protection of human life.

The statement suggests that, although curiosity for knowledge is a trait that characterizes human beings, it is not a justification for scientific inquiries. Most obviously, when a human life is threatened during an attempt in scientific discovery, the attempt is unacceptable regardless of its goal and procedure. One could quickly think of the horrific story of Frankenstein, where an experiment to raise the dead lead to devastation and destruction. Modern biotechnology research sometimes carry the same connotation, when lives of human subjects or even the public are sometimes in risk in the experiments. For example, the statement would argue strongly against the revitalization of extinct viruses for biochemical research.

The statement seems to suggest that any risk to human life is intolerable in the pursuit of knowledge, but such a stringent conclusion could cause much harm to humanity as well. The clear example would be the termination of the majority of medical research. Any new medication or medical procedure would involve a certain level of risk to test subjects or early users when it is first introduced. Without medicine, human beings would suffer from countless diseases and injuries, defeating the purpose of the statement to protect human lives.

Scientific research should not be justified based on the virtue of knowledge, as the statement suggests, but it should not be abandoned in the name of risk elimination either. Rather, a rigorous examination to evaluate the importance of the potential discovery, the risk involved in the procedure and how it is managed, and the likelihood that this procedure can achieve its goals could determine whether the experiment involving risk to human lives is acceptable. Only when the goal of the experiment is sufficiently important (for example, finding the cure for cancer), the risk is reasonably low (low statistical mortality rate in animal tests), and the risky procedure can reasonably be expected to achieve the said goal can the experiment be justifiable.

[MCAT] Education comes not from books but from practical experience.

Consider this statement:

Education comes not from books but from practical experience.

Write a unified essay in which you perform the following tasks.  Explain what you think the above statements means.  Describe a specific situation in which books might educate students better than practical experience. Discuss what you think determines when practical experience provides a better education than books do.

Education is the transmittance of knowledge or skills from a source to the students. The statement suggests that in order to achieve this, one must rely on practices or other hands-on experiential learning rather than books. Unlike the practical experience that hands-on activities provide, books are more passive and the authors tend to transmit their knowledge or skills unidirectionally to the readers.

Experiential learning is superior in most instances of education, because of the higher level of engagement of students that leads to better retainment. For example, one cannot learn to swim or do math by reading a book; one must practice, make mistakes, and learn from the errors. Only when students apply the skills or knowledge they learned in a practical setting such as swimming laps or doing math problems can these skills truly be learned.

However, some subjects must be learned from reading books. The study of ancient civilization, for example, may be more clearly laid out, more fully explained, and quite possibly more rigorously researched in books than in any forms of practical experience. This is because well-written books are more carefully written and reviewed than, say, an interpretive drama or televised documentary about the same topic. In the case of anthropological study of ancient civilization, where education through practical experience such as visiting the museum or forming discussion groups may be insufficient to replace the rigorous description and explanation books provide.

This is not to say experiential learning is not beneficial in subjects like anthropology. Visiting the museum will certainly help with the students’ understanding of the civilizations they are studying. But if the students visit the museums without reading any books on this civilization, the exhibition would be nothing more than odd looking objects and mysterious texts.

Educators must be holistic in their approach to education. To claim that education comes not from books is too aggressive towards the traditional methodology, which may be less lively and engaging, but often more rigorous and informative. Practical experience provides a better education than passive reading of books when the material being taught is essentially a skill that can be learned through practice. However, for most cognitive, academic subjects, a strong background knowledge in the often abstract topics can only be obtained through books. In this case, practical experience may enhance the education, but it cannot replace books.

[MCAT] Hard work vs. intelligence

A student’s academic success depends more on hard work than on intelligence.

Describe a specific situation in which a student’s academic success might depend more on intelligence than on hard work. Discuss what you think determines whether a student’s academic success depends more on hard work or on intelligence.

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Intelligence can be defined as the innate ability for fast, accurate thought processing, which can be measured using the Intelligence Quotient. Clearly, both the innate ability and the training and practices are imporant in determining a student’s academic success, but whether nature or nuture has a larger influence on how well a student does in school has never been settled. The statement in question clearly lands support on nurturing the student by intense training and education, or what the statement calls “hard work”.

In most cases, this may indeed be true. In a classroom of students, the brightest minds may not score the most points on a given test; rather, those who work hard on reviewing the material covered obediently are often the good test-scorers. Academic success beyond grades also befalls those who work hard rather than those who are born intelligent: in a research lab, where a collection of bright minds work together in understanding the subject in study, good experimental results are more likely obtained by those who painstakingly repeat the trials with high precision. Intelligence may play a limited role in this setting because research groups work in teams, where collective intelligence is somewhat normalized.

However, at least in some subject areas, academic success requires more intellectual talent than can be compensated with hard work. In mathematics, the ability to do arithmetics can surely be trained, but a comprehensive understanding of mathematics seems to require some instinct of the subject that cannot be taught and learned. In Asian countries, students train systemically to do arithmetic operations faster and more accurate than any other students in the world, but the winners of World Olympiad in Mathematics are not always Asian. Einstein doesn’t even have a well-founded degree in particle physics, but his academic success in this field outshines every modern physicist.

It is discouraging for the students to tell them that academic success depends on intelligence, for this would strip the relevence of education. For students of all intelligent levels, the harder they work, the more likely they will achieve greater academic success. If Einstein slacked off, he probably would not have created the Theory of Relativity. However, the same encouragement may become a frustration when students are put in a competitive environment; for an intellectually less previliged student who cannot seem to do math as well as the more intelligent students no matter how hard he tries, telling him that his success depends more on hard work than his intelligence only implies that he is not working hard enough. Rather than insisting that hard work is more important, one has to personalize the education for each student and find out which is the limiting factor for him or her, his or her work ethics, or intelligence.

[MCAT] Obligated to help?

Developed nations have an obligation to provide aid to the underdeveloped nations of the world.

Describe a specific situation in which a developed nation might not be obligated to provide aid to an underdeveloped nation. Discuss what you think determines when developed nations have an obligation to provide aid to underdeveloped nations.

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An obligation is what one is morally expected to fulfill, as in parents are obligated to nurture and educate their children. It is generally accepted that those who fail to fulfill their obligation deserve to be shunned upon. In other words, to have an “obligation” is to carry a moral responsibility. In terms of the disparity in the world, one may site the virtue of altruism and humanitarianism on a moral level, or the improvement of world stability in a practical sense, that the developed countries have an obligation to provide aid to the underdeveloped nations. One may go a step further and argue that the developed countries owe it to the underdeveloped countries, because they use up and claim ownership of most the world’s resources, often while exploiting people of the underdeveloped nations.

However, such moral responsibility of the developed nations may be influenced by other international factors, some of which may interfere with or dominate over the moral values cited above. For example, if an underdeveloped nation has a hostile policy towards a developed nation, and it puts the destruction of the developed nation on its agenda, then they may forfeit their right to expect foreign aid from this developed nation on the basis of moral obligation. Although the virtue of altruism may still hold true, it does not have an absolute power over other considerations. For example, honesty may be a virtue, one is certainly not obligated to be honest to a theft about where money is kept in the house. Likewise, the obligation of a developed nation to provide aid to relieve world crises and maintain international peace under the normal circumstances may be challenged by other factors such as national security, international politics, and war.

[MCAT] Law and Morality

All laws derive from the moral code of a majority of the people.

Describe a specific situation in which a law might not derive from the moral code of the majority. Discuss what you think determines when the moral code of the majority is the basis of law.

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Laws are a set of generally accepted rules that the citizens feel obligated, and not obliged, to obey. These laws carry consequences when disobeyed, but the citizens share a general appreciation of these laws and these punishments. A gunman’s order, for example, is not law because his hostages are obliged by force, and they do not agree that these orders are appreciable or appropriate. Since it is a requirement for laws to be generally, it follows that the majority of the people have to accept these laws as morally good. Laws that are do not satisfy this requirement should be revised or revoked, in a just system.

However, in a real judicial system, some laws are derived from a principal that is distant from any moral code of a majority of the people. For example, when a country engages in an unsupported war when the majority of the people feel morally against the acts of destruction of other countries, certain laws may require that these citizens pay extra taxes to fund the war effort. It may be argued that these laws derived from the moral code of nationalism when they were created, but such a historic derivation lands little justification in laws that govern the lives of people today.

Moreover, laws in an totalitarian country may be even more clearly devoid of links to the moral code of its people. Laws that require citizens to support the luxurious lives of the rulers, suppress the freedom of press and violate human rights may not fit the idealized definition of law, but in systems where these laws cannot be challenged, their authority holds.

Whether or not laws derive from the moral code of the people depends on whether the people are empowered to make and change laws accordingly. In countries where angry citizens can express their moral judgment against a war and pressure the government into revising the laws that rule against their moral code, the laws may indeed derive from – and kept in check with – the moral code of the majority of the people. On the other hand, in countries where the majority of the people is obliged to obey the ruling of a minority, the judicial system may merely be a tool for manipulating the people. Without democracy, civil rights, and balance of power in the government, there is no garantee that the laws would be morally acceptable to the people that they are designed to rule.

[MCAT] Technology vs. Underdeveloped world

The introduction of modern technologies is harmful to underdeveloped areas of the world.

Describe a specific situation in which the introduction of modern technologies might not be harmful to an underdeveloped area of the world. Discuss what you think determines whether or not the introduction of modern technologies is harmful to underdeveloped areas of the world.

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In 1996, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer conducted a clinical trial study in Nigeria, where a meningitis epidemic broke out. The conduct of the company in this clinical trial was called into question because of the lack of proper approval and controversial procedure. Some argued that Pfizer neglected the code of ethics and pushed for favorable data in the expense of human lives.

Such stories may not be uncommon. When the gap between the developed and the underdeveloped parts of the world increases, the balance of power, resources, and knowledge becomes increasingly lopsided. The Nigerian people lacked the power to demand a properly approved and supervised treatment because of their desperate poverty, impending disease, and corrupt government. Modern technology, which is almost exclusively created by the developed world, is often used as tools to exploit the underdeveloped areas, or its making exploited these less fortunate people. At the very least, modern technologies which strengthen the developed world in the expense of global resources will inevitably weaken the underdeveloped areas of the world and increase the damning disparity.

However, to blindly attack all modern technologies as harmful to underdeveloped areas of the world is too conservative if not malicious. Billions of dollars are spent on AIDS research, and the Gates Foundation, among many other charitable organizations, aims to bring hope to the African people living through the devastating AIDS pandemic. Researchers funded by the Gates Foundation work diligently to improve the existing antiviral treatment and patient care, and new methods of distribution in the rural areas of the African continent should surely not be regarded as “harmful”.

Modern technologies do not need to carry any inherent favoritism. They are merely newer tools that the developed world create. The world hunger, poverty, and disease crises are caused by how people develop these new, perhaps much more powerful tools, and what people do with them. It may not have been expected that computer would reach Kenya when it was first developed, but through the hands of altruistic visionaries, this modern technology is now connecting many Kenyan children to the rest of the world.

[MCAT] Television and Public Opinion

Of all the forms of media, television has the strongest influence on public opinion.

Describe a specific situation in which television might not have the strongest influence on public opinion. Discuss what you think determines whether or not television has the strongest influence on public opinion.

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Television is more vivid and engaging than radio, more up-to-date than movies and documentaries, more programmed towards issues that invoke “public opinion” than music and shows, and perhaps most importantly, it also has more audience than any other traditional forms of media. This places television in a position to better influence public opinion than the rest. But what is “public opinion”? Is it the shared values or believes of a significant portion of the society? Or is it the collection of different opinions from every member of the public? For the sake of our discussion, let’s define “opinion” as what a person think of something or someone, with the connotation of moral judgment, and “public opinion” as the opinion of every members in a society.

National television programs can reach millions of viewers in an instant, and frequently these programs cover stories that would influence what we think of the subjects in them. For example, a news story on CBC about the crackdown on demonstrating Tibetan monks by the Chinese government caused an uproar in the Canadian community and greatly influenced the Canadian public opinion of the politically restrictive regime.

However, the influence of television on public opinion as a medium may arguably be less universal than the Internet, especially for some specific subjects. The newest technological progress cannot be covered adequately by any television program if only because of the speed and quantity of these advances. Instead, the army of bloggers, technical journalists, and online discussion forums lead the eyes and ears of the explorers and developers of the computer world. When Microsoft launches the World Wide Telescope, a ground-breaking project that maps out our understanding of the universe in an intuitive, 3D simulation map, it is first demonstrated in the TED conference and uploaded to the Internet. Soon it got the attention of countless bloggers, and the buzz spread through the cyberspace. This changed many people’s opinion about Microsoft, which was widely perceived as a monstrously large, arrogantly money-thirsty monopoly which lacked the innovation and energy of some of its competitors.

Had the World Wide Telescope been aired on national television, would it have caused the same effect on public opinion as the Internet? No, because the audience that would be excited about such technological break-throughs are moving away from the television as a provider of information. The television nowadays is only a source of entertainment for the younger generation, and CSI does not really have much influence on the public opinion of anything. The key in determining the dominance of television and the Internet as the major influence of public opinion, then, is where the audience is who would care to have an opinion on this issue at all.