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

Book Cover     
CDS 151 Course Syllabus
Data Ethics in an Information Society
Spring Semester 2012
     Book Cover
  • *****IMPORTANT NOTE:   Last Day to Add Classes = January 31, 2012.
  • Course Flyer:
  • Course Syllabus Website:
  • Supplemental Syllabus Information:
  • Online Course Material:   Please log into each week to get announcements, weekly lecture slides, and assignments.
  • Reading Assignments (*UPDATED April 9, 2012*):   CDS 151 Reading Assignments
  • Supplemental Files and Related Documents:
  • Honor Code:  
    • Instructors may submit Exam Papers, Homework solutions, or any other student assignment to either the 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.
  • General Education:
    • This class satisfies Mason's required IT Ethics General Education requirement:
    • Such courses are governed by the University General Education program:
    • 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 25 May 2, 2012)   (see
  • Lecture Place:   Room A-101, Robinson Hall
  • Final Exam:   (UPDATED!) Wednesday May 9, 2012 at 10:30am 1:15pm (in our classroom) (UPDATED!)
  • Course Instructor: Dr. Kirk Borne, 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
    • Laptop (or equivalent portable device), to use during class exercises.
  • 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 RCR (Responsible Conduct in Research) Certification or else HSR Board Certification through completion of the free on-line GMU Human Subjects Research (HSR) training course.
  • Grading:  
    • 25% = Homework (**see NOTE below)
    • 25% = Class Participation (in-class exercises) (**see NOTE below)
    • 25% = Final Exam
    • **NOTE: Homework may be submitted late for reduced credit, but only with prior approval of the course instructor.
    • **NOTE: The 2 lowest Homework and Class Participation scores will be dropped in the computation of the final course grade.
  • Course Objectives:
    • 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.
  • Weekly Schedule: (subject to change)
    • Week 1: Summary of Course, General Education Program, and Data Privacy Day
    • Week 2: Introduction to Data, Data Ethics, and Statistics
    • 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: Whose Information is it anyway? -- Part 1: Proliferation of On-line Information
    • Week 8: IT Ethics in Practice, and The Dark Side of Binary
    • Week 9: Whose Information is it anyway? -- Part 2: Data Privacy and Privacy Laws
    • Week 10: Responsible Conduct in Research (RCR) -- and CLASS QUIZ
    • Week 11: Human Subjects Research (HSR): Principles and Applications
    • Week 12: InfoGraphics -- Visual Displays for Reasoning
    • Week 13: Visual and Statistical Thinking
    • Week 14: Special Topic, and Final Exam Review
    • *FINAL EXAM*

Author:   Kirk D. Borne
Last Update:   9 April 2012