SEHS/TOK ideas: Can we ever justify using knowledge that we know has been created through questionable means?

When starting a new blog and trying to both set a standard and make a positive first impression it is always good to start with something nice and simple; IB Theory of Knowledge (TOK)!  However, I think it is fair to say that teaching SEHS, or any advanced Sports Studies courses offers educators many opportunities to address a range of ethical and moral questions as part of their course, whether it is directly on the syllabus on not.  While the more obvious examples, such as the use of performance enhancing drugs are well documented, there are many other interesting discussions and debates that emerge from our courses.

Within the IB Diploma programme, the increasing requirement to work with TOK questions as part of regular teaching affords many opportunities to discuss knowledge claims and knowledge questions as a SEHS teacher.  With some insightful planning and by using focused resources, not only can I start to address some quite complex questions about both morals and ethics, but also the nature of the knowledge itself.   Granted, I will be the first to admit its been a while since my own studies of epistemology, so while I am a little rusty I would like to highlight three great resources that could be used to address the TOK style question:

 ‘Can we ever justify using knowledge that we know has been created through questionable means?’

Now, I understand some of the language in the question is a little ambiguous and could be seen as not concrete enough (after all, what is questionable?)  However, the aim is to start to take a position, a general knowledge question that is not subject specific, and address it.  In article 1 and 2, while the question is not directly related to sport itself, the article offers teachers a great way of breaking up the more complex ‘hard science’ of Unit 1 and Unit 2, covering the basic anatomy and physiology.  Article two, looks at issues associated with the optional unit on the psychology of sport, considering how strategies used by the military are being adopted by sports scientists working with athletes.  While I am sure that there may be other articles that can serve a similar purpose, I think both of these offer a very accessible starting point for students of all abilities to engage with the question.

article-2225141-15C1DE00000005DC-813_634x662Article 1: Body snatching as a basis for anatomical knowledge (Source: Daily Mail 2012 – Read Article Here).  In this article, the question of whether we can justify using knowledge that we know has been created through questionable, and in this case illegal means is addressed by looking at the case of body snatching or grave robbing.  The article, while not particularly academic is very accessible, giving an overview of what body snatching was and in particular focusing on how it was vital for medical students over a period of 200 years.  Referring specifically about a book published by Cambridge academics, the words of Dr Piers Mitchell, from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, are a powerful statement to explore in more detail.  He claims that ‘thanks to the discoveries of the early anatomists, we have come to move towards our modern knowledge of how organs work and what normal anatomy is all about’.  The article, if discussed at a convenient time while learning some of the more complex elements of the physiology units can raise interesting questions about how the knowledge base used by physiologists has been developed by these questionable means.

seawaterexpArticle 2: The Ethics of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments (Source: The Jewish Virtual Library ND – Read Article Here).  If the case of the body snatchers seems a little distant historically and you have some understanding of World War 2, you could follow up with a consideration that is a little more chilling; namely using physiological data that has been based on Nazi experiments in concentration camps.  While you probably want to get into the darker parts of this webpage, Article 2, contains two really interesting and shorter sections that directly deal with the issue of contemporary researchers dealing with the question of should Nazi data be used, even if it may save lives.  Relating to human thermodynamics, the author considers the dilemma faced by both Dr. Robert Pozos and Professor John Heywood and looks at the way the debate around the use of such data was received.  Again, this is a great starting point for an in class discussion.  (Please be aware, the website contains some very graphic images and accounts).

_85888091_top_body_2Article 3: Using mental rehearsal strategies developed for snipers to improve sports performance (Source: BBC News 2015 – Read Article Here).  Another interesting way of tackling the same knowledge question from a very sporting perspective is to consider whether mental rehearsal strategies, developed specifically for snipers and military marksmen should be used by athletes.  In this excellent article by Alec Fenn, a range of different situations where specific strategies developed for use in a military context have been used to train sportsmen and women and teams.  Perhaps the most chilling example that can be used are the methods developed for use by snipers just before they take a shot to facilitate a sudden drop in heart rate to reduce nerves and stress.  A wide range of situations are introduced and again offer many different routes that could be taken in a class discussion.

(c) Ian Gavin 2016. 

Disclaimer: Links in this post are the intellectual property of the respective authors and publishers.  Images taken from the articles used for illustrative purposes.

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