School of Physics, Astronomy, and Computational Sciences
George Mason University -- College of Science

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CDS 151 Course Syllabus
Data Ethics in an Information Society
Fall Semester 2014
Online (Distance Ed) Course
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  • Course Syllabus Website:   http://kirkborne.net/cds151fall2014/
  • *****IMPORTANT NOTE:   Last Day to Add Classes = September 2, 2014.
  • Course Description (from GMU Catalog):
    • Examination of ethical issues related to access and use of information and data in the Internet age, for the general student, with special emphasis on ethical issues that apply to the proper use and interpretation of scientific and technical information. (1 credit)
  • Course Overview:
    • This course is designed to present and to engage students in activities and discussion related to the serious ethical issues arising from the widespread distribution of data and information in the Internet age. Students will gain a deeper understanding of ethics as it applies to the use and interpretation of data in the sciences. In addition to statistical and scientific case studies, students will be presented with practical ethical challenges that they may face in their future corporate, government, or academic employment. As an added benefit, students will acquire RCR (Responsible Conduct in Research) Certification or else HSR (Human Subjects in Research) Certification, available through completion of the free on-line GMU training courses.
  • Course Objectives and Learning Outcomes:
    • to develop an understanding of the following: access and use of private versus public data sources; data ownership and proprietary rights; differences between secure, private, confidential, and open data; proper use versus the abuse and misuse of statistics, maps, and graphs; fallacious reasoning; deduction versus inference from data; bias versus objectivity in the interpretation of data; data falsification and cases of scientific fraud; the proper referencing of sources versus plagiarism; the ethical (and legal) handling and use of human subjects research data.
  • Supplemental Syllabus Information:
  • Honor Code:  
    • Instructors may submit Exam Papers, Homework solutions, or any other student assignment to either the TurnItIn.com or the SafeAssign plagiarism-detection services, in compliance with all of the following: GMU policy, Provost approval, and the GMU Honor Code.
    • Plagiarism will not be tolerated.


  • Online Course Material:   This course is taught entirely online. There will be assignments, activities, and discussion topics each week! Please log into http://mymason.gmu.edu/ at least two times each week to participate in the required weekly activities, to get announcements, to read weekly lecture slides, to view any videos from the instructor, and to complete your online assignments. The class week will begin on Wednesday mornings, and will conclude on Tuesday evenings. Assignments for a given week must be submitted within that week's time window, unless prior arrangements have been made with the instructor.
  • General Education:
    • This class satisfies the Mason Core IT Ethics requirement: http://provost.gmu.edu/gened/general-education-requirements/.
    • Such courses are governed by the University General Education program: http://provost.gmu.edu/gened/.
    • Courses designed to meet the IT Ethics Gen Ed requirement must address both of these 2 outcomes:
      1. Students will understand many of the key ethical, legal and social issues related to information technology and how to interpret and comply with ethical principles, laws, regulations, and institutional policies.
      2. Students will understand the essential issues related to information security, how to take precautions and use techniques and tools to defend against computer crimes.


  • Lecture Day/Time:   NO SPECIFIC TIME -- This is an asynchronous distance education course, taught entirely online. *Asynchronous* means that you may complete your weekly activities at any time that you choose during that week.   (see https://patriotweb.gmu.edu/)
  • Lecture Place:   This course is taught entirely online via MyMason.gmu.edu.
  • Exams: only one exam -- Final Exam:   instructions will be announced.
  • Grading:  
  • Course Instructor: Dr. Kirk Borne, Professor of Astrophysics and Computational Science
  • Prerequisites:
    • (none)
  • Reading Assignments (Updated 24 August 2014):   CDS 151 Reading Assignments
  • Required Reading:  
    1. D. Huff, How to Lie with Statistics. W. W. Norton, 1993. ISBN: 9780393310726.
    2. E. R. Tufte, Visual & Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making. Graphics Press, 1997. ISBN: 9780961392130.
    3. National Academy of Sciences, On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research. National Academy Press, 1995.
      (This book is available *free* online: CLICK HERE.)
  • Technology Requirements:  
  • Weekly Schedule: (subject to change)
    • Week 1: Introductions and Gaining Familiarity with Blackboard Course
    • Week 2: Course Overview, General Education Program, and Data Privacy Day
    • Week 3: Introduction to Data, Data Ethics, and Statistics
    • Week 4: Statistics: Mean, Medians, and Modes -- Telling Lies with Statistics
    • Week 5: Statistical Concepts -- Ethical Concerns
    • Week 6: Drawing Conclusions -- Inference and Deduction -- Relationship to IT Ethics
    • Week 7: The Rules of IT Ethics
    • Week 8: Whose Information is it anyway? -- Part 1: Proliferation of On-line Information
    • Week 9: Whose Information is it anyway? -- Part 2: Data Privacy and Privacy Laws
    • Week 10: IT Ethics in Practice, and The Dark Side of Binary
    • Week 11: Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR)
    • Week 12: Human Subjects in Research (HSR): Principles and Applications
    • Week 13: InfoGraphics -- Visual Displays for Reasoning
    • Week 14: Visual and Statistical Thinking: Displays of Evidence for Decision Making
    • *FINAL EXAM*

Author:   Kirk D. Borne
Last Update:   24 August 2014