Friday, April 29, 2011

Big Bag of Ethics: Blogging, Testing, and Eating Animals

Marginal Revolution has been thinking ethically lately. On the ethics of reporting and using science:
This is from a child and adolescent mental health group at University College London, but it could and should also count as “Ethos of the Blogger”:
•All research is provisional
•All research raises as many questions as it answers
•All research is difficult to interpret and to draw clear conclusions from
•Qualitative research may be vital to elaborate experience, suggest narratives for understanding phenomena and generate hypotheses but it can’t be taken to prove anything
•Quantitative research may be able to show hard findings but can rarely (never?) give clear answers to complex questions

And yet, despite all the challenges, it is still worth attempting to encourage an evidence-based approach, since the alternative is to continue to develop practice based only on assumption and belief.
Duckworth et al show that people try harder and do better on intelligence tests when there’s money on the line, particularly in the bottom half. So would it be ethical for, let’s say, a school teacher to reward students monetarily for doing well on a standardized test? Get the underperformers’ scores up, makes you look like a better teacher, get paid more… What would the impact be on students’ willingness and interest in real learning in such an environment?

A new book is out on the ethics and “Economics of Animal Welfare” by Norwood and Lusk. Some thoughts from it (HT:MR)
1. From survey evidence, “Food prices” get an “importance score” of 5.06, while “Well-being of farm animals” gets an importance score of 4.15 (p.192).  That’s almost on a par.
2. Fifty-five percent of Americans believe that housing chickens in cages is not humane (p.344).
3. The market share of cage-free eggs has never exceeded two percent (p.261).

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