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Does Scientific Literacy Make People More Ethical? 315

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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  • Re:Of course (Score:3, Insightful)

    by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:35PM (#43320097)

    As opposed to the uneducated people who were clearly up in arms over the whole thing...

  • Re:Ask Mengele! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by etash ( 1907284 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:42PM (#43320159)
    "The most unethical people through history has been highly educated."

    cherry picking aka anecdotal evidence aka "any number of examples" do not prove any theory. On the other hand 1 example is enough to disprove such ridiculous claims:


    p.s. i can point an equally number of unethical people with really low education: Attila the hun anyone ? timur lang ?
  • by sideslash ( 1865434 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @04:43PM (#43320173)
    A refutation of your post seems unnecessary since you appear to be hard at work refuting yourself. On one hand you sweepingly dismissed as not truly moral those who do what is right out of fear of the sorts of spiritual repercussions that you don't believe in. And then on the other hand you said that there isn't any objective standard for morality or ethics, implying that your first point is wrong, since their idea of morality is just as good as yours. Lol!
  • by Razgorov Prikazka ( 1699498 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:06PM (#43320351)
    >> And I'm still trying to figure out how the fuck magnets work!
    > Where did you get your fuck magnets from? I had no idea it was so high-tech!

    It is a sort of babe magnet, dont you see?

    On a more serious note... Ethics and science have little to do with one and other.
    Einstein left was a terrible husband, left his first child (who some claim was mentally ill) and her mother to themselves. In his consecutive marriages he cheated as if the nuclear holocaust was due next day.
    Plenty of physicians conducted horrendous medical experiments on inmates in the name of science during the WW2 both on Japanese as on German side. Some of these experiments were controversial or unscientific at that moment, but the WERE university educated physicians nevertheless.
    The Tuskegee syphilis experiment and Syphilis experiments in Guatemala were also conducted by doctors.
    In Sweden (until the 70's) there was a government program to exterminate the 'socially weak' by rendering the women infertile without consent or even informing them.
    Most corrupt politicians went, just like non-corrupt politicians, to university (Angela Merkel is a quantum physicist if I remember correctly, go to Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal or Cyprus to ask what people think of her moral codes).

    In short, scientific literacy doesn't necessarily mean one will become more ethical inclined.

    Troll's: Don't even think of starting a chemtrail/illuminati/cold fusion/other pseudo-science thread. We are talking real ethics here...
  • by jamstar7 ( 694492 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:07PM (#43320359)

    And I'm still trying to figure out how the fuck magnets work!

    Where did you get your fuck magnets from? I had no idea it was so high-tech!

    Wrong question. "Where can I get fuck magnets???" is the correct one. I'm assuming you wanna get laid like the rest of us?

  • 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 [], 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?
  • by a whoabot ( 706122 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:23PM (#43320469)

    Kant showed why such things are objectively wrong almost 200 years ago. It's just that very few people have the patience to read the first and second critiques, the Groundwork and the Metaphysics of Morals, so most people are ignorant of this advancement in ethics.

    In particular look at the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative in the Groundwork. A morally-correct maxim necessarily assumes a respect for other people's autonomy. Torturing someone for fun completely undermines any such respect.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:33PM (#43320531)

    And yet this science article says that it does. So are you saying that're not real scientists, or not talking about real ethics, or what? When the hypothesis is "being A is highly correlated with being B", simply stating "Ah, but here's an A that's not B, therefore WRONG" is not a valid argument. The entirety of your post is basically one large logical fallacy wrapped up in horrific acts to distract from the lack of substance, with a little bit of ad hominem on Angela Merkel to add topicality. What people think of her "moral codes" is completely irrelevant to both the issue at hand, and her actual ethical behavior. The fact that it's +4 Insightful is completely baffling.

  • Re:Of course (Score:3, Insightful)

    by only_human ( 761334 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @05:43PM (#43320593)

    To Godwin or not to Godwin?

    It would be nice to have slashdot automatically mark all these intellectually lazy Godwin comments -1.

    All of these comments are relevant and none of them fall under Godwin's Law:'s_law []

    The law and its corollaries would not apply to discussions covering known mainstays of Nazi Germany such as genocide, eugenics or racial superiority, nor, more debatably, to a discussion of other totalitarian regimes or ideologies, if that was the explicit topic of conversation, since a Nazi comparison in those circumstances may be appropriate, [...]

  • by ceoyoyo ( 59147 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @06:18PM (#43320757)

    One of the popular mistakes people make when quoting philosophy is to forget that any logical argument necessarily begins with assumptions. Kant showed why some things are universally wrong, given his assumptions. If you don't accept his assumptions, stated or otherwise, his argument is meaningless. The value of respect for autonomy, for example, is not some kind of physical law. It is itself a potentially relative moral value, one that may be considerably weaker in other cultures.

    There ARE excellent arguments for why things like murder and torture are morally wrong, if you assume that survival is beneficial. Murder is something that most species have evolved to control, and it can be particularly damaging in species that depend on cooperation.

  • by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @06:57PM (#43320995)

    In addition to the valid points of the other respondents noting that a few exceptions to the average do not disprove the average, do any of your examples actually show scientists being less ethically minded than their less-scientific colleagues? The truth is a *lot* of people are/were terrible husbands, racist fucks, and hypocritical greedy bastards. Proving that lots of scientists are/were terrible husbands, racist fucks, and hypocritical greedy bastards doesn't mean they don't measure up well compared to the extremely low moral standard set by the broader non-scientific population.

  • by femtobyte ( 710429 ) on Saturday March 30, 2013 @08:50PM (#43321553)

    I think you're only disproving a straw-man version of the "theory" that does not follow (in any sense that a scientifically minded person would interpret) from the statement "scientific literacy makes people more ethical." Your "disproved" version of the statement appears to be "scientifically literate people are more ethical than non-scientifically literate people," which is not the same. A still "overly strong" interpretation of the statement is that scientific literacy would make any one person more ethical than if they weren't scientifically literate (but they might still be less ethical than someone else who started at a higher level). This interpretation of the statement requires different examples to disprove: you need to find a person with a measured level of "ethicality" before and after becoming scientifically literate, then show they were worse after. Of course, the "obvious" meaning implied by the statement is in some average sense, since only a dysfunctionally pedantic person would fail to supply that expected context.

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!