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Does Scientific Literacy Make People More Ethical? 315

Posted by Soulskill
from the engaged-with-reality dept.
New submitter alysion writes "Per research published in the online journal PLOS One, psychologists Christine Ma-Kellams of Harvard University and Jim Blascovich of the University of California, Santa Barbara report, 'Thinking about science leads individuals to endorse more stringent moral norms.' In one of the four supporting experiments, undergraduates considered an account of a date rape and were asked to judge behavior on a scale of 1 to 100. Science types, perhaps not surprisingly, proved to have a better grasp of reality, including the moral kind."
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Does Scientific Literacy Make People More Ethical?

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  • Rape (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:17PM (#43319989)

    Was the PyCon case where a poor woman was raped when two guys made a dirt joke near her?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:20PM (#43320013)

    The article's title raises the issue of ethics, but the summary talks about moral norms, these are not the same thing. Ethics and morals, while somewhat related, deal with different view points as they relate to behaviour. If we're going to be scientific about judging someone's actions we first have to make sure everyone agrees on the definitions of ethical and moral, something society in general has trouble doing.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      ...something society in general has trouble doing.

      Really? Well I don't believe so, it just seems that a lot of people have found that it's easier to toss morals and ethics out the window when it suits their agenda. It's easy to go from "well I shouldn't, because it's wrong" to "I'm going to because I know I'm right away..." We see it with academics all the time, we see it in politics, and we see it in society in general. And people do it because it's, expedient, low risk, and no one is really going to call them out on it.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Ethics and morals, while somewhat related, deal with different view points as they relate to behaviour. If we're going to be scientific about judging someone's actions we first have to make sure everyone agrees on the definitions of ethical and moral, something society in general has trouble doing.

      Hmmm.... I seem to feel an element that's beyond the requirement of an accepted and strict formal-logic definition; and it's also a bit beyond the line of the explanation in TFA:

      “We contend there is a lay image or notion of ‘science’ that is associated with concepts of rationality, impartiality, fairness, technological progress,” they write. “The notion of science contains in it the broader moral vision of a society in which rationality is used for the mutual benefit of all.”

      Science is a lot about cause-effect rationing and generalization. Even without ethical/moral judgement involved (or strict definition of terms), such a type of thinking have higher chances to increase the sense of responsibility for one's action; even if only by "How do you like the effects of this action?" (cause-effect) and "What

  • It may have been better to say something like: "those who choose science as a field of study also endorse more stringent moral norms."

    It's not like an idiot about to rape somebody will change his mind after thinking of science...

    • by j-beda (85386)

      I think the correlation/causation problem is valid, however the article did mention some other studies, one of which seemed to indicate that the mere exposure to science terms just before taking the survey caused people to view the date-rape in a more negative manner. This would seem to be pretty strong evidence for a causal connection.

  • I would say that an ability to think about and analyze something goes along with one's strength in scientific disciplines, but the self-control required to act on what we know is right? That's a different story. How many people cheat on their partners? (Too many.) How many of them could give a good analysis and explanation of why that's wrong? (Uh, probably 100%.)
  • by canadiannomad (1745008) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:39PM (#43320135) Homepage

    A recent scientific study just came out saying that scientists are better endowed and make better lovers then non-scientists.

    There, that should put things in our favor when we go out to the nightclubs.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      A recent scientific study just came out saying that scientists are better endowed and make better lovers then non-scientists.

      There, that should put things in our favor when we go out to the nightclubs.

      Of course, we all know, for the human male there is only so much they can be endowed with. You have to choose which head gets endowed, so to speak. It is by far the rarest of exception to be endowed both in reasoning ability and sexual prowness. And, any males that disagree are just showing they weren't as endowed in reasoning ability as they thought.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:41PM (#43320153) Journal
    It is very much possible the more ethical types gravitate towards science rather than scientific literacy made them more ethical. Most likely a whole combination of behaviors and attitudes occur together, being ethical, liking science, etc are all possibly triggered by a deeper primary cause. All these attitudes could be just the external symptoms.
    • by phantomfive (622387) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:10PM (#43320399) Journal
      There is a lot wrong with the study. To determine scientific attitudes, they asked, “How much do you believe in science?' on a one-to-seven scale." If someone asked me how much I 'believe' in science, my responses would range from glaring at them to outright verbal hostility. I don't 'believe' in science, I examine the evidence. I trust scientists in some things. I don't trust the scientists who did this study.

      Looking at this paper [plosone.org], it's not clear that they got their statistics right. They used a point-biserial correlation. What is the point of asking people to rate their belief on a scale of 1-7 if you're just going to coerce it into a binary value? The paper would have been MUCH better if they'd made a graph of their data points, as it is now, there is serious doubt that their data shows what they think it did.

      A possible red flag: they didn't find any correlation at all between gender and approval of date rape. Do women really approve of date rape at the same level as men? I don't know, but it seems strange to me.

      Date rape is such a charged topic, why did they choose that at all?
  • they would've refused to give their answers using an undefined unit of measurement.

  • Big Surprise! (Score:2, Interesting)

    Critical thinking carries over to ethics. Who would have guessed?

    (I have to agree with some others here though that "more stringent" ethics are in the eye of the beholder. At least the study shows that some people are thinking about it, rather than getting all their ethics once a week from some guy who dresses funny.)
    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      Critical thinking carries over to ethics. Who would have guessed?

      (I have to agree with some others here though that "more stringent" ethics are in the eye of the beholder. At least the study shows that some people are thinking about it, rather than getting all their ethics once a week from some guy who dresses funny.)

      Critical thinking has nothing to do with ethics. Ethics deals with how well one follows a moral code. There are ethical critical thinkers and unethical critical thinkers. There are ethical simpletons and unethical simpletons. It has no bearing on ones intelligence, just one's morals and a willingness to follow them.

    • by drnb (2434720) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:30PM (#43320513)

      Critical thinking carries over to ethics. Who would have guessed?

      Scientific literacy is not equivalent to critical thinking. The Nazi's were highly scientific and cutting edge in their technology.

      • by femtobyte (710429)

        The Nazis had plenty of good German engineers, but their overall culture wasn't "highly scientific and cutting edge." Analyzing, for example, Nazi attempts at building an atomic bomb, one finds that they had severe impediments due to a culture that elevated respect for authority above scientific inquiry. If the scientists at the top of the organization chart in an area of study were incompetent, no one would dare challenge them or independently work on more fruitful avenues. Political/ideological infighting

  • by 3vi1 (544505) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:50PM (#43320223) Homepage Journal

    If scientific literacy made people more ethical, us mad scientists would be regarded as weirdos. So, thank Cthulu that's not the case.

  • Are more ethical people more interested in science?

  • Well, the new Pope, Francis is a chemist. Maybe so, let's see.
  • by poity (465672) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:02PM (#43320319)

    It seems like we can only conclude that scientific literacy helps one to more consistently categorize ethical/unethical behavior. Whether actions follow, especially in times of desperation where ethics are most needed and least cared for, is an entirely different matter altogether. Knowing right is not the same as doing right.

  • Maybe those scientifically literate folks should take a philosophy course or two. In doing so, they might find that morality deals with things like right and wrong and ethics with how well you follow a moral code.

    A moral person has some sort of code to help them do the right thing. An ethical person follows their moral code. Now we may argue over the merits of their moral code, but that does not change whether or not they are ethical. Likewise, we cannot argue over how ethical somebody's actions are withou

    • How is anything you just wrote relevant to the study presented (bunk as it may be)?

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        How is anything you just wrote relevant to the study presented (bunk as it may be)?

        The study said that scientific literacy makes one more ethical. That would mean more likely to follow their moral code. And then they give examples about being able to point out that date rape is wrong. However, recognizing something is a violation of a moral code and not actually violating the moral code are two separate things. Ironically, if one did not know that date rape is wrong, then committing it would not be unethical.

        I guess the point I was making is that for people of such high academic standards

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)

      "Historically, for better or worse, religion defined morals in western society."

      This is a popular assertion, but I don't believe it. Religion has generally changed to echo what the people of an era considered to be moral, including today. As far as western morality is concerned, the commandments and leviticus are all based on older laws. Even then, things like the adultery commandment are interpreted very differently now than they were in the past.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        "Historically, for better or worse, religion defined morals in western society."

        This is a popular assertion, but I don't believe it. Religion has generally changed to echo what the people of an era considered to be moral, including today. As far as western morality is concerned, the commandments and leviticus are all based on older laws. Even then, things like the adultery commandment are interpreted very differently now than they were in the past.

        You are free to believe what you want, but that doesn't make it correct. We could put your hypothesis to a test, though and wait and see if the various world religions change to mimic western morality. So far it doesn't appear to be happening.

        With regards to the commandments and leviticus and the rest. Well, once the Holy Roman Empire ruled Europe, it is pretty hard to say it was it was wrong to kill because some ancient code said it was instead of the Empire saying that God said it was. From that point, in

  • Sounds like it might be more accurate to say that science makes people more judgemental and close-minded. "more likely to condemn"

    I do not know why and how anyone would spin this as "more ethical" or a good thing, but is is pretty obvious that this shows that science in this instance has blinded these people to the ambiguity and greyness of the real world and morality.

  • ...it makes you better able to make reality-informed decisions based on whatever ethical norms you subscribe to: science is descriptive, ethics are prescriptive. If you're a completely amoral sociopath bent on making people miserable, scientific literacy will enable you to achieve those ends. If you're a consummate altruist and want to improve the lives of those around you, scientific literacy will also enable you to achieve those ends.
  • Scientific minded people are accustomed to working with clear rules, and declaring that "2+2=5" is WRONG. Artsy types, in contrast, say "personally I prefer not to use orange with blue, but of course it's all a matter of opinion."

    In science, the laws of physics are inviolate. Try to break them, you are WRONG, and that's not an opinion. Morality is the same. At work, I regularly encounter non-science types who can't understand that the laws of computer science can't be changed based on their preference
  • Yes.

    On the other hand there's Betteridge's law of headlines, so... Yes.

  • The Nazi doctors and missile engineers were nothing if not ethical

  • This test shows that a "preconditioning" of science terms in jury trials could lead to harsher sentences (or even a greater likelihood of guilty verdicts, in cases with hung juries).

  • by s.petry (762400) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @08:26PM (#43321433)

    Not that long ago, we used a the classical education system. This was based on the Trivium (Rhetoric, Basic Math, Language) followed later by the Quadrivium which was Philosophy, Astrology (Later Science replaced this), Art, and Music. The advanced education (Quadrivium) still included the Trivium with more advanced subjects. When we educated this way we not only learned science and math, but people learned ethics, morals, and more importantly how to think. The classical education system was disbanded back in the 1930/40s, when we moved to the Marxist industrial education system. This system is designed to train people to perform jobs, and not to think.

    Ethics and looking out for the greater good of society is something requires reinforcement and training, just like mathematics. Problems and Solutions are not made by people that never consider the full implications of their actions. I have long been an advocate of disbanding the Marxist education system that has taken hold in the US and other parts of Europe. Germany adopted our education system in the 1970s, and it's had a horrible effect.

    Unfortunately, a large percentage of the population is not aware of how bad our education system is. They believe it's normal not to memorize times tables, and not understand the math concept of multiplication. Many teachers don't want to teach what the Government forces them to teach. They realize it does not teach kids to think but to perform robotic tasks. Their hands are tied by the Government mandated system.

    It was because of how poor our education system is, that my kid went to private school.

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