Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Project

About CUEiMP

‘No-one else was doing this, so we did.’

Our motivations for looking at Ethics in Mathematics

That the practice of mathematics can invoke ethical issues is probably obvious to everyone – but not to most mathematicians. It is also obvious that high-powered and sophisticated mathematics is ubiquitous in modern technology, finance, the nation’s infrastructure and defence, and social media. And pretty much anywhere else in the 21st century. Much of mathematics can be used for good – but simply put: it can also be a tool for harm. We think it is clear that mathematical research and practice may take its practitioners to deep and professionally specific ethical issues.

So far as we know, there is no university in the world that currently offers a wide-ranging specifically mathematical ethical training for mathematicians. For lawyers, medics, biologists, computer scientists, physicist, and others, the question of subject specific ethics is not news – it is part of their training, part of their professional practice and regulation, and part of their understanding of their work as professionals. It is striking that this is not the case for mathematicians.

Nobody can do this from outside the profession. Only mathematicians can talk to mathematicians about ethics: the discourse of philosophers (which is infinitely more sophisticated than anything we can hope to achieve) will go over the heads of most mathematicians, and simply will not address the specifically mathematical, technical ethics we face. The ethical questions of computer scientists or economists, physicists or geneticists, are pressing and important – but they are not those of the professional mathematician and they are not going to teach her how to deal with the issues that she may face in the working environment of mathematicians. So only mathematicians can do this, and we need to begin the process of forming a community: supporting each other, sharing knowledge, experiences, best practice, and a vision of what we can teach our students.

Objectives of the project

This is a project to develop teaching resources and materials for the teaching of ethics to mathematicians, as well as original research on where and how ethical issues can and do arise for mathematicians. It has received funding from the Cambridge University Teaching and Learning Innovation Fund.

Eventually, this website will contain:

We have deliberately refrained from designing a “one size fits all” teaching manual, as we feel that different instituions in different parts of the world will need to focus on different aspects of the ethical issues that mathematicians may face in their work.

Ours is not a political project; we are interested in demonstrating that there are ethical issues that mathematicians alone may face in the course of their work, both in academia and in industry, but not in prescribing how they should respond to these issues. In other words, we don’t teach ethics, we teach ethical awareness.

A book on Ethics in Mathematics

We are currently writing a book on Ethics in Mathematics. It will be aimed at a general mathematical audience, with the intention of informing and convincing them of the importance of considering ethical issues when doing mathematical work. Ethics in Mathematics is not a well-documented or widely-studied field, and raising awareness of this within the mathematical community (students, academics, and those in industry) is an incredibly important first step.

Discussion Papers

The EiM discussion papers present work done by members of the Cambridge University EiM Project and Society, as well as related work by external researchers. All discussion papers are subject to internal peer review. Publication in the EiM discussion paper series does not restrict further use and allows authors to sumbit later versions of their articles to other peer refereed journals.

For more information on the EiM discussion papers see here.

Project Members

Please get in touch if you have any questions or wish to contribute to the project. You can contact us as follows:

Dr Maurice Chiodo (Founding member and project leader)

Toby Clifton

Dennis Müller

Project address:
Centre for Mathematical Sciences
Wilberforce Rd

Former Members

Dr Piers Bursill-Hall (Founding member)

This page last generated Sun May 10 00:34:04 BST 2020.

All material on this page Copyright © 2020 Maurice Chiodo – Cambridge University Ethics in Mathematics Project.