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In Virtue/Vice, Dr. Christine B. Whelan blogs about news, books, scientific and psychological research and her general musings about virtue and vice in our everyday lives.


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August 3rd, 2010

Does Morality Interfere With Research?


morality-research-flashShould economists be concerned with morals?

In a post recently on the Freakonomics blog, Stephen J. Dubner writes

economists – academic economists in particular – are generally free from the political and moral boundaries that restrict most people, and are therefore able to offer analysis or recommendations that politicians, e.g., wouldn’t go near with a ten-foot pole.

I’m all for rigorous academic research and presentations of findings, even if we disagree with them. I find the research on the rise in premarital sex that Dubner highlights fascinating. And I’m a huge fan of the whole Freakanomics approach generally. But I’m stuck on the implication in this post that to be a good academic means to have no morals.

There are Institutional Review Boards at every major research University in the country that would disagree with this, I’d imagine.

My hope is that what Dubner meant to say was that economists work with the data and numbers and report what they find, regardless of whether it goes against conventional wisdom or tells us something negative about our culture. But taken at face value, the post does raise some interesting questions:

Do we need to be freed from morality to do good research? Or must we be guided by morals to search out true answers?

The Author : Christine B. Whelan
Dr. Christine B. Whelan is an author, professor and speaker. She and her husband, Peter, and their dictator cats, Chairman Meow and Evita Purron, live in Pittsburgh. Her book "Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women" is available in stores or at the Halo Store.
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