ESEP Theme Sections

ESEP Theme Sections are integrated multiauthor analyses and syntheses examining ethical concerns in current areas of science and environmental politics.


In Progress


Published Theme Sections

Academic freedom and tenure


Idea K.I. Stergiou

Editors: K.I. Stergiou and S. Somarakis (guest editor)



Academic freedom and tenure is a highly complex, interactive issue. Tenure has been strongly debated, with especially strong negative polemics in recent years. Tenure is considered by many to be an ‘unnecessary burden on higher education’. The role of academic tenure primarily guarantees the right to academic freedom by protecting all those involved in producing and teaching knowledge (i.e. researchers and professors); enabling them to go against prevailing orthodoxy of thinking, to openly disagree with any authorities, and to spend time on less fashionable issues.


In a Theme Section on global university rankings, published in 2014 in ESEP, several articles discuss the marketization of higher education. This phenomenon seems to be in parallel with a decrease in tenured positions and the presence of strong voices in favor of cheaper, more flexible and insecure work contracts. The employment shift from predominantly full-time, permanent or contract positions to higher numbers of casual, precarious positions is strongly impinging on academic freedom and the foundations of the modern university as we know it.


This Theme Section aims to cast light on hot, diverse issues related to academic freedom and tenure through the views and thoughts of stakeholders (i.e. scientists from different countries and disciplines, including young scientists, and university administrators). These issues encompass theoretical aspects of tenure, economics of tenure, behavior/performance/productivity of tenured faculty, tenure-track and non-tenured faculty, and the effect of marketization of education on tenure policies.


The ethics of human impacts and the future of the earth’s ecosystems


Idea K.I. Stergiou

Editors: D. Pauly and K.I. Stergiou



An important contribution of the International Ecology Institute (ECI) to science is the publication of the Excellence in Ecology book series authored by the ECI Prize laureates. The ECI prize is awarded to ecologists who are distinguished by outstanding and sustained scientific achievement, and are therefore some of the most important marine, terrestrial and limnetic ecologists of our time. In each book, the author is encouraged to present personal insights, freely criticize, and to formulate new scientific concepts. In this Theme Section (TS), a selection of these authors will present their thoughts on the ethics of our impact on, and the future of, the earth's ecosystems, each contributing an essay from their own field of specialization. The TS will cover a wide range of issues from allergic sensitization and microbe diversity to the capacity of our planet to support humans.



Global university rankings uncovered

Idea Konstantinos Stergiou

Editors: K.I. Stergiou and A.C. Tsikliras (Guest Editor)



Global university rankings, a recent tool for the assessment of higher education institutions, have attained growing attention from university administrations and faculty members, markets, governments, mass media and public at large. This is because university rankings may affect all aspects directly or indirectly related to academia, such as: university and department curricula, funding and reputation; student admissions, fees and job prospects; faculty member recruitment, promotion and wages; and publication records in terms of both quantity and quality.


The present Theme Section aims to cast light on hot issues emerging from such rankings through the views and thoughts of stakeholders (i.e. scientists, university and business administrators, post-graduate students, policy makers, journalists and people involved in performing the rankings). Pertinent issues to be addressed include, among others:


  • whether the methodologies used ensure fair applicability of rankings in terms of comparing disciplines, countries and continents
  • whether the criteria used for rankings are based on academic performance or technicalities, especially in the electronic era
  • impact of rankings on policy making at various levels
  • whether rankings drive scientific output within an ethical framework
  • how rankings affect recruitment of graduates in academia and industry
  • whether the pre-ranking reputation of universities is reflected to their meta-ranking status
  • whether social perception of university reputation is related to rankings.



Ethical imperatives of dialogue for public engagement in technoscience


Editors: Tomiko Yamaguchi, Karen Cronin and Darryl Macer

(Published in 2012, as Vol. 12, No. 2)


The need for public engagement over the use of science and technology is agreed in international documents, including the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. The field of Science, Technology and Society (STS) research has widely argued for empowering citizens in relation to science and technology. The Asia-Pacific region is an emergent and important area in world politics, trade, and technoscience development. It thus offers a valuable new arena for discussion on the intersection of technoscience and society.


This theme section (TS) explores the ethical dimensions of strategies for engaging the public in technoscience innovation and governance, and the understanding that informs those strategies in the Asia-Pacific region. It is based on themes developed at two events held in Tokyo in August 2010: a meeting of Japanese and New Zealand STS scholars which focused on nano-foods and dialogue engagement, and a session on engaging the public in technoscience in the Asia-Pacific region held at the international STS conference run by the Asia Pacific STS Network. Public engagement interventions are in themselves a form of ethical practice in technoscience governance, but the techniques and outcomes of engagement do not always meet the standards and principles implied by ethical governance. The contributions to this TS discuss new designs for public engagement which address the need for dialogue between the developers, end users and regulators of technology.



Ethical implications of bioprospecting in polar regions


Idea and Coordination: Stephanie Suhr

Guest Editors: David K. Leary, David W. H. Walton

(Published 2010, as Vol. 10, No. 1)


Interest in the potential of both the Arctic and Antarctica to yield materials for new developments in biotechnology is growing. Bioprospecting in the polar regions—the search for new compounds in organisms that may have industrial or pharmaceutical applications—is emerging as a new issue of particular relevance to scientists, commercial enterprises and policy makers alike. Bioprospecting raises a range of ethical questions globally as well as specifically in the Antarctic and Arctic.


This theme section of Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics (ESEP) considers the complex ethical issues posed by bioprospecting in the polar regions from a range of perspectives, including those of scientists and commercial interests active in the area, indigenous people, and policy makers and legislators.



Science communication in a changing world


Idea and Coordination: Stephanie Suhr

Editors: Stephanie Suhr, Victoria Burkett

(Published September 11, 2009, as Vol. 9, No. 1)


Science journalism is facing tough challenges today. The general public, the lay readers, have a desire—and a right—to learn what new discoveries are being made, and how they may affect their everyday lives... and they rely on science journalism to bring them this information. However, the topics are often very complex and difficult to relay in terms that are understandable for the non-expert, and they can be politicized or pushed by different lobbies. Topics such as climate change or stem cell research affect humanity on an existential level, and the ethics involved in portraying these topics—how, or indeed whether to portray them—are complex.


This unique theme section brings together the views of all parties involved in science journalism and bringing science to the public today: writers (freelance and staff), editors, publishers, and scientists themselves.



The use and misuse of bibliometric indices in evaluating scholarly performance


Idea and Coordination: Howard Browman, Konstantinos Stergiou

(Published June 3, 2008, as Vol. 8, No. 1)


Quantifying the relative performance of individual scholars, groups of scholars, departments, institutions, provinces/states/regions and countries has become an integral part of decision-making over research policy, funding allocations, awarding of grants, faculty hirings, and claims for promotion and tenure. Bibliometric indices (based mainly upon citation counts), such as the h-index and the journal impact factor, are heavily relied upon in such assessments. There is a growing consensus, and a deep concern, that these indices—more-and-more often used as a replacement for the informed judgement of peers—are misunderstood and are, therefore, often misinterpreted and misused. The articles in this ESEP Theme Section present a range of perspectives on these issues. Alternative approaches, tools and metrics that will hopefully lead to a more balanced role for these instruments are presented.



Environmental decision making in a technological age


Editors: Sam Berry, Barry Thompson

(Published in 2002 as part of Vol. 2)