Tag: professional ethics

Ignoble Lies? The Problem of Prosocial Lying in the Economics Profession

Photo credit: pixy.org under Creative Commons license.

This is a guest post by George DeMartino, professor of international economics at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. This post is the first in an occasional series discussing the ethical dilemmas engendered when academics engage with policymakers and the broader public. This series is part of the Rigor, Relevance, and Responsibility project of the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security & Diplomacy, which seeks to make ethical considerations an integral part of policy-relevant research and engagement. The program develops knowledge around, and informs the practice of, responsible engagement so that future generations of academics can engage in the policy world with confidence and clarity. This program is supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Imagine it’s time for your yearly checkup at the family doctor. Sitting on the paper covered medical bench in a fluorescent room, you submit to the full array of tests. You say “ah,” you squint at letters from across the room, you feel the cold stethoscope against your back, maybe you even get some blood drawn. After answering all of your doctor’s questions, they look you in the eye, smile, and send you on your way with a clean bill of health! Feeling great, you go about your day. Perhaps you even take the stairs instead of the elevator because you’re feeling invigorated and full of life. There is an implicit trust between doctor and patient, so why should you feel otherwise? 

Let’s say however, that your doctor actually lied to you – everything is not okay. Perhaps they lied for your own good; because they don’t know what will happen to you or what to do about it; or perhaps they lied for monetary gain. But does the reason really matter? The inherent doctor-patient trust has been broken and we fervently and unequivocally condemn deceit of any kind in the medical field.

Why then, are we so cavalier about untruthfulness in economics? 

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You Make My Work (Im)Possible: Reflections on Professional Conduct in the Discipline of International Relations

This is a guest post by Professor Cynthia Weber, Department of International Relations at the University of Sussex

Five months ago, ‘Michaela’ posted this query on the website Political Science Rumors in a thread called ‘a good place to study queer IR?’

  • am currently a MA student looking to move into a PhD program in the next 2 years. I am interested in studying queer IR and was wondering if you can recommend some good programs. I’m more interested in systemic theorizing than individual level (1st image) type of stuff. Thanks.

A Google search for Political Science Rumors describes the site as ‘The forum for Political Scientists to discuss Political Science and rumors in the profession’.  Others describe it more harshly: ‘Caffeinated’  describes it as ‘that nest of vipers’ that should not be listened to by anyone ‘unless you are a therapist and then please do!’.  The site seems to be directed at ABDs, recent PhDs, and others just starting out in the field who are looking for information about educational programs, conferencing, publishing, and landing a job.  But, as Caffeinated points out, it can have a nasty edge to it, which is something an MA student like Michaela would not necessarily know.

Michaela’s post generated four types of responses.  One was to query what Queer IR is.  A second was to answer her question with concrete suggests for where to study.  A third was to warn her that studying Queer IR would never get her a job.  A fourth was to be gleefully homophobic in ridiculing queers, Queer IR and specific pieces of Queer IR scholarship as well as OPs (Oppressed Peoples) and ‘our current crop of gender/ethnic/sexual “studies” departments’ that OPs apparently work in and support.  A large number of posts – which I will not repeat here – were in this fourth category of responses. The website – which posts comments anonymously and refers to posters through randomly-generated pseudonyms – allows readers to vote ‘Yea’ in favor of posted comments or ‘Nay’ against posted comments.  Leaving out comments that were ambiguous, this is how the votes tallied as of April 5, 2014:

  • Openly Hostile and/or Overtly Homophobic posts: Yea – 210       Ney – 18
  • Supportive/Constructive posts that answered Michaela’s question: Yea – 41         Ney – 3
  • Fight-back posts against the Hostility and/or Homophobia: Yea – 9           Ney – 16
  • Michaela’s original post asking where to study Queer IR was also voted on:  Yea – 4; Ney – 8.

A colleague brought this feed to my attention because the Queer IR scholarship attacked in the feed was authored by me.  After nearly three decades of doing poststructuralist, feminist and queer scholarship, such attacks are old news.   What is deeply troubling to me about this feed is not what these attacks mean for me personally or for my scholarship but what the gleefully hostile and/or homophobic posts and their endorsements by the site’s community of readers do in and to (those in) the discipline of IR.  Among the things they do are: Continue reading


Should We Keep Hidden the Way People Behave When their Actions are Hidden?

In his most recent post, PTJ argues that “things like Freakonomics are basically corrosive and should be opposed whenever practicable”.  While he repeats in that post (and the comments section) a number of dubious claims about what sorts of behavior are possible within a decision-theoretic framework, I think we’re past the point in the conversation where it is useful to argue about the possibility of writing down a decision-theoretic model whose actors are capable of moral behavior and belonging to communities.1 In this post, I’d like to discuss the moral argument PTJ makes against decision-theoretic work.

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A teachable moment: “provoked by rebels”

In my seminar at Amherst College today, my students discussed the status of their final research papers, their research designs, and the use of sources. One student asked what were the rules for using quotes or pulling block text from other sources.

Since so many folks seem to be reading Alan Kuperman’s stuff these days, I showed my students the Kuperman article that Patrick linked yesterday in which Kuperman argues the case of moral hazard in Libya. I asked them to pay close attention to the use of the quote from the New York Times:

By helping rebels, we thus increase the risk of retaliatory massacres or even genocide. Indeed, The New York Times reported that violence threatening Libya’s civilians was “provoked by rebels.” Aiding the Libyan rebels also encourages copycat uprisings in other countries, proliferating the risk of atrocities.

The piece later adds:

Indeed, Libya’s rebels started the war knowing that they could not win on their own, and that their attacks would provoke harm against civilians, aiming to draw in outside support — and it worked….

I then asked my students to discuss how they interpreted the article and what they saw as the purpose of the NYTimes quote to the overall point. They concluded that since rebel provocation was so important to the argument, its inclusion added significant credibility and strength to Kuperman’s thesis.

Note to readers before proceeding below — spoiler alert….

After the discussion I had the students read the original New York Times article and spot the quote and the meaning of it in the story:

About 30 miles outside the capital, the elite Khamis Brigade, a militia named for the Qaddafi son who commands it, surrounded the rebel-controlled town of Zawiyah and opened fire with mortars, machine guns and other heavy weapons, witnesses said, in two separate skirmishes.

The first was arguably provoked by rebels who tried to attack the better-equipped militia because it was blocking rebel supporters from entering the town, the witnesses said. But the second, described as a “massacre” by rebel witnesses, took aim at a group of unarmed protesters who attempted to march through the militia lines toward the capital.

My students read this and jaws dropped. They noted that the quote in the original article speaks to a specific skirmish, not general violence throughout Libya as implied in Kuperman’s piece, and the idea that the broader violence was provoked by rebels is directly contradicted both by the title of the NYTimes piece (Qaddafi Brutalized Foes, Armed or Defenseless) and by the very next sentence following the quote. They also pointed out that the quote itself was immediately preceded by “arguably” and was referenced to unnamed “witnesses said.” Their conclusion was that the piece was dishonest, unethical, and deceitful, among others.

I’ll let you all judge the integrity issues here. I’ll just note that my students now have a better understanding of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate when looking for evidence to support their arguments in their final research papers. They also agreed that it is important to retain a critical eye when reading news and commentary — not everything is as it appears.

FYI, Kellie Strom has a further dissection of Kuperman’s USA Today Article and his more recent Boston Globe op-ed and this isn’t the only problem he finds.


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