PSY 371Q Ethics in Behavioral Data Science

Department of Psychology
The University of Texas at Austin

Fall 2024


Desmond Ong, Assistant Professor
  Contact: desmond (dot) ong (at)
  (Please include “[PSY 371Q: Ethics]” in your email title)

Class Details

  Class Times: TBD
  Location: TBD


This is a reading-, writing-, and discussion-based course, and is a upper-division elective (targeted at juniors and seniors). Although it is a course offered in the Psychology department, we welcome students from other disciplines like Computer Science, Communications, Pre-Med students, etc. We also welcome Masters/Ph.D. students (please email the instructor).

Course Description

Data is everywhere around us, and drives important decisions that impact all aspects of our lives. Companies are using big data to predict—and influence—many aspects of everyday behavior, from shopping to voting, hiring, and more. How can we ensure that our use of data is "right"? How do we make "fair" model-based decisions, and in a way that people feel comfortable with? We will examine and discuss important ethical issues in the context of behavioral data science, such as: benefit vs. harm; scientific validity; fairness, bias and discrimination; privacy and consent; transparency and accountability. We will contextualize these discussions in real-world case-studies, such as emotion recognition, surveillance, targeted marketing, and much more. Developing a deep understanding of these issues is an asset that will prepare you for a wide range of careers from technology to policy, as well as to be a well-informed citizen of our new data-obsessed society. This course fulfills both the Ethics and Writing flags.

Flag Courses (UTexas Undergraduate Requirements)

This course carries the Ethics flag. Ethics courses are designed to equip you with skills that are necessary for making ethical decisions in your adult and professional life. You should therefore expect a substantial portion of your grade to come from assignments involving ethical issues and the process of applying ethical reasoning to real-life situations.

This course also carries the Writing Flag. Writing Flag courses are designed to give students experience with writing in an academic discipline. In this class, you can expect to write regularly during the semester, complete substantial writing projects, and receive feedback from your instructor to help you improve your writing. You will also have the opportunity to revise one or more assignments, and you may be asked to read and discuss your peers’ work. You should therefore expect a substantial portion of your grade to come from your written work. Writing Flag classes meet the Core Communications objectives of Critical Thinking, Communication, Teamwork, and Personal Responsibility, established by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Learning Objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Identify common and important ethical issues around applications of data science.
  • Recognize when a data-driven decision has significant ethical implications, and
  • Analyze these implications in writing and in verbal argument.


We welcome feedback on the course at any point. Feel free to email the instructor directly, or leave anonymous feedback by using the anonymous Google form (URL given in class).

Other Information

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