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Ethics of Chemistry:
From Poison Gas to Climate Engineering

Eds. Joachim Schummer & Tom Børsen
World Scientific Publishing, Singapore et al.,
Publication date: March 2021
559 + viii pp.,
ISBN: 978-981-123-353-1 (hardcover),
ISBN: 978-981-124-948-8 (paperback),
ISBN: 978-981-123-355-5 (e-book)

 Table of Contents (pdf)
 Introduction (pdf)
 Web page of the publisher
 Flyer (with promo code by publisher) (pdf)
 Youtube video clip
 Book Reviews

Although chemistry has been the target of numerous public moral debates for over a century, there is still no academic field of ethics of chemistry to develop an ethically balanced view of the discipline. And while ethics courses are increasingly demanded for science and engineering students in many countries, chemistry is still lagging behind because of a lack of appropriate teaching material. This volume fills both gaps by establishing the scope of ethics of chemistry and providing a cased-based approach to teaching, thereby also narrating a cultural history of chemistry.

From poison gas in WWI to climate engineering of the future, this volume covers the most important historical cases of chemistry. It draws lesson from major disasters of the past, such as in Bhopal and Love Canal, or from thalidomide, Agent Orange, and DDT. It further introduces to ethical arguments pro and con by discussing issues about bisphenol-A, polyvinyl chloride, and rare earth elements; as well as of contested chemical projects such as human enhancement, the creation of artificial life, and patents on human DNA. Moreover, it illustrates chemical engagements in preventing hazards, from the prediction of ozone depletion, to Green Chemistry, and research in recycling, industrial substance substitution, and clean-up. Students also learn about codes of conduct and chemical regulations.

An international team of experts narrate the historical cases and analyse their ethical dimensions. All cases are suitable for undergraduate teaching, either in classes of ethics, history of chemistry, or in chemistry classes proper.


Book Reviews

"This book is the one chemistry has been waiting for -- a readable and instructive guide to thinking through the ethical consequences of chemical action. What bothers thinking and feeling people about chemistry is mostly unforeseen and unintended; evil perpetrators are for the cartoons. The sin is not to think through, as best as one can, the ethical consequences of doing good chemistry. This book helps -- –through absolutely fascinating case studies ranging from napalm to rare earth extraction, from patenting DNA to reporting experimental data -- our sense for analyzing that unforeseen consequence is formed and honed. A readable and useful book!"

Roald Hoffmann
1981 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry


"Ethics of Chemistry sets new standards for discussing ethical questions in relation to all aspects of chemistry and will be essential for teaching ethics to chemistry students."

Knud Jørgen Jensen
Professor and Head of Section for Chemical Biology
Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen

“The book provides, in a very well prepared manner, many historical and recent cases that splendidly serve in undergraduate teaching, in classes of either ethics, history of chemistry, or chemistry proper. (...) it is unconditionally recommended for both teaching and the profession.”
("Das vorliegende Buch liefert sehr gut aufbereitet viele historische und aktuelle Beispiele, die sich hervorragend für den Unterricht im Grundstudium, entweder im Ethikunterricht, in der Geschichte der Chemie oder im Chemieunterricht selbst eignen [...] uneingeschränkt für Lehre und Beruf zu empfehlen." )

Dieter Wöhrle
Professor of Chemistry, University of Bremen
Chemie in unserer Zeit, 55 (3), p. 211

Schummer and Børsen’s 'Ethics of Chemistry', grounded as it is in a rich collection of case studies, will be useful reading for anyone who wants to learn, teach, practice or study chemistry.

Bernadette Bensaude-Vincent
Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Paris 1,
Metascience, 2 September 2021


... creating a useful collection of case studies and essays for the classroom, the volume is absolutely and straightforwardly successful. The introduction offers all the basic knowledge that would be necessary to a student for an early engagement with the subject of ethics: basic philosophical terms are clarified, applied ethics is introduced, and the material of the book is logically and usefully organized. While the chapters form units, they can be read fully independently from one another – a characteristic that would make this volume extremely useful to every teacher. (...) I know that I’ll be using this Ethics of Chemistry in my courses.”

Apostolos K. Gerontas
Coburg University of Applied Sciences
Substantia 5(2): 165-167


Overall, this collection of case studies provides an outstanding starting point for understanding the ethics of chemistry. It is an extremely important contribution to the study of chemical ethics [...] Ethics of Chemistry is a key resource for educators interested in integrating ethics instruction into their chemistry curricula [...] an important foundation for equipping students with the moral judgement and analytical skills necessary to contend with the ethical issues they are likely to face in their professional lives.

Kabrena E. Rodda
Nature Chemistry  

With their volume 'Ethics of Chemistry', editors Schummer and Børsen have succeeded in bridging this gap where other books have failed. Their winning recipe is to build everything on real-world case studies.[...] With its solid footing in practical examples, this book offers a good guide to the quandaries of the ethics of chemistry.

Michael Gross
Chemistry & Industry (UK), 85(12): 39

The editors (...) present compelling reasons why college chemistry majors should be required to take an ethics or moral philosophy course. (...) Schummer and Børsen have done a commendable job of combining elements of ethics and chemistry to produce an ideal text of assigned readings for chemistry majors.

Howard G. Barth
Isis, 113(1): 207-208


The book ‘Ethics of Chemistry’, edited by Schummer and Børsen, makes an important contribution to the formation of chemistry teachers at high school and university levels, as well as of chemistry professionals. (...) The variety and relevance of the themes, as well as the depth with which they are addressed are strengths of the book. (...) Reading ‘Ethics of Chemistry’ is of benefit to all interested in making chemistry teaching more critical and reflective.
("O livro Ethics of Chemistry, organizado por Schummer e Børsen, oferece uma importante contribuição para a formação de professores de química dos níveis médio e superior, e também de profissionais da química. [...] A variedade e a pertinência dos temas, bem como a profundidade com que são abordados, são pontos fortes do livro. [...] A leitura de Ethics of Chemistry é de proveito para todos os interessados em tornar o ensino de química mais crítico e reflexivo.")

Paulo Alves Porto
Química Nova na Escola, Feb. 2022



Researchers from industry and academia, as well as heads of chemical companies, can benefit from it. Students are recommended the reading in order to develop from the beginning of their study an understanding of the role of ethics in chemistry. [...] With its case-based account the book provides outstanding motivation for education and complements the meager teaching material on ethical issues of chemistry.
("Davon profitieren Forschende in Industrie und Hochschulen genauso wie Firmenlenker:innen. Studierenden sei die Lektüre darüber hinaus empfohlen, um von Beginn an ein Bewusstsein für die Bedeutung einer Ethik in Chemie zu entwickeln. [...] Das Buch bietet mit seinem fallbasierten Ansatz ausgezeichnete Anregungen für den Unterricht und ergänzt das zu ethischen Fragen der Chemie schmale Angebot an Lehrmaterial.")

Hans-Georg Weinig
Nachrichten aus der Chemie, 70(5): 92

Last update: 03.05.2022