Ethics Bowl

Intercollegiate Chemistry Ethics Bowl (ICEB)

The ICEB is a competition to encourage the study and application of ethics in the chemical sciences and industries. In the competition, college and university teams will participate, and compete in their understanding and ability to explain how ethics is involved in the chemical enterprise, and how solutions to problems with an ethical dimension may be approached.

The ICEB will allow college chemists the opportunity to develop an awareness about the links between chemistry and public policy, government, and the workplace. This will aid them in understanding ethical issues that may come up in their careers, and how they may be approached. The ICEB helps students to develop reasoning and rhetorical skills, and understand complex issues surrounding careers in chemistry.

In a competition, two teams will compete in offering their insight on a problem that a chemist may face, in academia, in the workplace, in application of a chemical invention or discovery, or other areas. Through the rounds, the teams will be able to analyze the problems presented, and give their insight and possible solutions to the problem.


Chemistry is frequently viewed as an area that is free of ethics. But many issues may arise in the workplace, in research, in government, or in other areas which impact the chemical enterprise. It is important for chemists to recognize the ethical dimensions of their work and interactions with others, and be able to engage in civil public discourse about chemistry and the sciences in general. It is important that chemists understand the perspectives and opinions of others in order to effectively participate in public discussions around chemistry and the application of chemistry in our world.

Up to five members of a team may participate in a competition, but a given team may be any size, typically up to around 10 members, so that individuals may take turns in the competition, and there are sufficient members in reserve. Additionally, talking about the case studies with more individuals in practice may aid the team in being introduced to multiple perspectives on a topic, and help them to practice crafting responses to questions posed.

In a competition, two teams of five compete, with three judges scoring the competition. Each team will get a chance to comment on the case study, and comment on the other team's responses. Case studies will be available for student groups to look over and discuss prior to a competition, to help them in identifying relevant ethical dilemmas, and discuss how different problems around the case may be addressed.

Cases will be released in early Fall, and will include a range of topics, including ethics in the workplace, ethical applications of innovations in chemistry, responsibilities of chemists to society, the intersection of science and government, or other topics. Chemistry intersects public life and ethics in many ways, so a broad variety of topics may be explored. The case study will be a 1‐2 page summary of a topic in chemistry with ethical dimensions, to be fertile ground for discussion.

Not really. In a debate competition, the competing teams are assigned sides to an issue. The ethics bowl format fosters thought about a topic through a knowledge of ethics and the application of sciences. Both teams may have the same opinion on an issue, and that is fine in an ethics bowl competition. Scoring is based on an understanding of ethics, justification for a response, and answering the judges' questions more than taking an opposite position from the other team.

Coaches do not need to have a chemistry background, but should have a working knowledge of ethical theories and applied ethics. Frequently, faculty members in philosophy departments have this backgrounds, or in biology departments, a bioethicist may be available. Clergy members may also have an appropriate background in training in ethical issues. Also, a student may serve as a team coach, if they are willing to take on the responsibilities to understand ethical theories and support the team in building their knowledge and communication skills about ethics.

This competition is largely modeled on the Ethics Bowl sponsored by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.


Each competing team will have five members, and will be given time to consult with each other about questions focusing on case studies, and then present their thoughts on the case. Each team will also have an opportunity for rebuttal or elaboration on the case after the other team has presented. Scoring is carried out by three judges, and is based on each team’s understanding of the problem presented in the case, ability to convey important points of the case, response to the other team’s commentary, and response to questions from the judges.

Cases to be presented will be 1-2 pages in length, and in a competition, the case under study and question about the case will be revealed. Cases will be made available to competitors prior to the competition to allow for study, but the questions to be asked about the cases will not. Cases will be designed to explore the intersection of ethical behavior and chemistry, which individuals may encounter in their careers. Models of cases in a similar format to the ICEB cases may be found on the web page of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics.

The format and rules of the ICEB will largely follow those of the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl sponsored by the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics. The order of each round will be as follows:

1) The case under study and question about the case are revealed to competing teams, and the first team is allowed to confer for 2 minutes.

2) The first team has up to 10 minutes to present the case and answer the question presented.

3) The second team has one minute to confer, and then deliver a critique of the first team’s analysis of up to five minutes.

4) The first team has one minute to confer, and then deliver a response to the second team’s commentary of up to five minutes.

5) Judges have up to 10 minutes to ask questions of the first team regarding their presentation.

6) This process is repeated with a new case and question, with the second team now presenting the case and question presented.

In a bowl competition, each team will compete in several rounds against different teams. The scores for each team in each round will be used to determine the winning team in a competition.