Biological Impact and Ethical Implications of Pesticide Use

During the Fall 2015 Semester, my colleague Cheryl Cottine (Oberlin College Department of Religion) and I team taught a two-week module titled “Biological Impact and Ethical Implications of Pesticide Use” in Biochemistry (CHEM 374) and Religion, Ethics and Environment (RELG 248). 

This module consisted of four lectures: the history of pesticides, mechanism of pesticides (which Lisa Ryno taught to both classes), ethical questions about pesticide use (taught by Cheryl Cottine to both classes) and looking forward: the future of pesticides. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was used as the primary text for this module, and was supplemented with case studies. In addition, we were awarded Mead-Swing Lectureship funding to bring in Lisa Sideris, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington, an expert on Carson’s writing, to attend Chem 374, have an interactive lunch with students and give a riveting presentation titled “Consecrating Science: Wonder, Ethics and the New Cosmology” in 2015. The interactive lunch and evening lecture allowed students from both classes to interact and discuss what they had been learning during the module in a comfortable setting. 

Both classes required a reflection assignment, which allowed the instructors to receive important feedback about the module, and a 1,500 – 2,000-word paper about a pesticide introduced since the publication of Silent Spring. The paper required a multi-faceted analysis of the pesticide. Students were required to present the historical context of the pesticide, the mechanism of action on both flora and fauna, the reception of the pesticide by the general public, use a school of philosophical thought introduced in the module to explore the ethical implications of the use of the pesticide, and decide whether it was safe to use. Students chose a wide range of pesticides wrote lively and interesting papers, demonstrating their interest in the topic.

Subsequent iterations of this module during the Fall 2016 (CHEM 374), Spring 2017 (RELG 248), and Spring 2019 (RELG 248) which was similarly well received by students, as judged by the reflection assignment and end-of-semester student evaluations.  

We published a more detailed description of the work in the Journal of Chemical Education, and have given a short presentation on this topic at the 2018 Biennial Conference on Chemical Education.