Department of Computational and Data Sciences
George Mason University -- College of Science

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CDS 151
Data Ethics in an Information Society
Spring Semester 2011
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  • Course Flyer:
  • Course Syllabus Website:
  • Reading Assignments (*UPDATED April 3, 2011*):
  • Online Course Material:   Please log into each week to get announcements, weekly lecture slides, and assignments.
  • Supplemental Files and Related Documents:
  • Honor Code:  
    • All class activities (including online activities) must be in compliance with the GMU Honor Code.
  • Disability Services:  
    • Students with disabilities and in need of accommodations must register with the Mason Office of Disability Services (ODS). You will receive a "Faculty Contact Sheet" letter documenting your need. Students are responsible for providing this letter to the faculty member in the course.
    • Accommodations can only be provided to students who register with the ODS.
  • Course Assessment:
    • This class satisfies Mason's required IT Ethics General Education requirement:
    • Such courses are governed by the University General Education program:
    • All IT Ethics and IT Gen Ed courses are being evaluated and assessed this semester (SPRING 2011), for the University SACS Accreditation (SACS = Southern Association of Colleges and Schools).
    • Most of the burden of work for this assessment is on the instructor.
    • However, some of you will receive an email from the University Office of Institutional Assessment (OIA) ...
    • You will be asked to complete a very simple survey:
      • Did this course meet the minimum requirements for an IT Ethics Gen Ed course? In other words ......
      • 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:   Wednesdays 12:00-1:00 PM   (January 26 May 4, 2011)   (see
  • Lecture Place:   Room 301, Research Building I (RB1)
  • Final Exam:   Wednesday, May 11, 2011 -- 10:30am-1:15pm
  • Course Instructor: Dr. Kirk Borne, Associate Professor of Astrophysics and Computational Science
  • 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:   Access to Internet. Active user account on
  • 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.
  • Prerequisites:
    1. English 101 (Composition).
  • 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 HSR Board Certification through completion of the free on-line GMU Human Subjects Research (HSR) training course.
  • Grading:  
  • Course Objectives:
    • to develop an understanding of the following: open data policies; access and use of private versus public data sources; data ownership and proprietary rights; proper use versus misuse and abuse of statistics; deduction, induction, and inference from scientific data; objectivity versus bias in the interpretation of scientific data; data falsification and cases of scientific fraud; the proper referencing of sources versus plagiarism; and the ethical (and legal) handling and use of human subjects research data.
  • Weekly Schedule:
    • Week 1: Summary of Course, Introduction to Data Ethics
    • Week 2: Statistics: Use, Abuse, and Misuse
    • Week 3: Statistics: Mean, Medians, and Modes -- Telling Lies with Statistics
    • Week 4: Statistical Concepts -- Ethical Concerns
    • Week 5: Drawing Conclusions -- Inference and Deduction -- Relationship to IT Ethics
    • Week 6: The Rules of IT Ethics
    • Week 7: IT Ethics in Practice -- What we should do vs. What the hackers do
    • 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: Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR): Scientific Ethics and Integrity in Research
    • Week 11: Human Subjects Research (HSR): Principles and Applications
    • Week 12: InfoGraphics -- Visual Displays for Reasoning
    • Week 13: Visual and Statistical Thinking
    • Week 14: FINAL EXAM

Author:   Kirk D. Borne
Last Update:   3 May 2011