James Otteson’s Actual Ethics
An unintentional survey of the ethics of gays in the military in the WSJ

Ethics in science

A number of economists insist that ethics has no role in economics, at least not in positive economics.  Periodically, we have to keep relearning that internal ethics are the foundation on which trust in science is built.

Knowing this, it was still a shock to read this in the Aug 28th Economist Magazine:

Marc Hauser, a professor of psychology at Harvard who made his name probing the evolutionary origins of morality, is suspected of having committed the closest thing academia has to a deadly sin: cheating.

The article is unclear about what Hauser is accused of, but falsifying data is one likely charge. 

There aren’t enough journal referees out there with the time to monitor every would-be academic cheater.  And on a benefit-cost basis the risk of cheating may look quite good for someone trying to get tenure—a lifetime sinecure! 

That is why having a non-consequentialist ethical framework at work in science is so critically important.  We are better served by researchers who ascribe to a higher duty to the profession and truth-telling than to their own career outcomes. 

Even so, when was the last time any graduate school professor lectured to his or her students on professional ethics? 

Of course, internal restraints are not enough; we also need better external accountability to beef up the costs and probability of getting caught for cheating.  Ethical pluralism suggests we need a mix of ethical approaches to keep science progressing. 


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"We are better served by researchers who ascribe to a higher duty to the profession and truth-telling than to their own career outcomes." I couldn't agree more - but I would call it having an "ethical code".
My simplistic view:
My values lead to my behaviour.
Laws tell me what I ought not to do.
Ethics tell me what I ought to do.
Many corporations, universities,and enterprises take the easy way out and adopt so-called ethical codes which are merely sets of rules or codes of law. But this is merely relying on what not to do and is an abdication of the responsibility to come to a view on what is the right and proper thing to do.
It is the having of an ethical code that matters.

Thanks for the comment! I can see where your point is coming from, namely, that laws are meant to protect justice in its negative sense (laws prohibit others from harming me but don't require them to help me). Ethics, you say, deals with benevolence or positive justice.

But ethics, to my mind, encompasses both what I ought to do as well as what I ought to refrain from doing.

I think we agree on the essential points and apologize for the minor semantic difference.

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