Search Mailing List Archives

Limit search to: Subject & Body Subject Author
Sort by: Reverse Sort
Limit to: All This Week Last Week This Month Last Month
Select Date Range     through    

[liberationtech] [cpsr-activists] CPSR Curriculum?

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Sun Feb 3 07:05:52 PST 2019

Thank you, Charles. This is a great post.

Charles, your post reminded me of the fascinating research of Stanford's
Dale Miller who has shown that students, on average, become LESS ethical
after taking an economics course.

I believe Miller was also the one who conducted studies that showed that
when people were asked why they had donated money to a cause they would
privately say altruism yet publicly say "to get a tax break," suggesting
that the assumptions of economics have become a social norm that governs
the American psyche.

A great paper on the subject can be found here

We also know from U.S. researchers of communities who have been running a
continuous yearly national community survey since the 1940s that trust
among Americans has been eroding since at least that time.

And then there are cross-cultural studies such as those that study the
societal reactions to suicides and mass shootings: In collectivistic
societies like China, the reaction is that the community somehow must've
failed the individual. In individualistic societies like the U.S., the
reaction is that the individual is deranged and a lone wolf.

On Sun, Feb 3, 2019 at 3:03 AM Charles M. Ess <c.m.ess at> wrote:

> Paul's comments are spot on: thanks for raising a central and critical
> issue.
> It would be great to have the sort of empirical evidence suggested - and
> below I will allude to some anecdotal evidence.
> But part of the response is, it's complicated, beginning with attempting
> to devise a study that could isolate the impacts of such a course
> vis-a-vis specific ethical choices and actions.  As with, say, studies
> that attempt to dis/prove causal connections between say, internet porn
> and violent content on behavior, it is monstrously difficult to prove
> with much certainty either one or the other.
> But underneath this is an assumption or two that should also be
> interrogated.  One assumption - especially prominent in the US context,
> as shaped by specific Christian assumptions about human nature - is that
> people are inclined towards selfishness and are thereby less "naturally"
> social, cooperative, etc; rather, they can only be coerced into doing so
> by some form of force - whether open and brutal (Thomas Hobbes'
> Leviathan, a Christian theocracy, threats of eternal damnation in
> hellfire, the total surveillance state or corporation, etc.) or more
> subtle: Santa Claus / B.F. Skinner systems of rewards for desired
> behaviors, etc.
> In these contexts, my experience has been that the (second and
> consequent) default assumption - including in professional communities
> such as police and first responders, lawyers, as well as engineers of
> various expertise - is that "ethics" means a rulebook to impose order /
> desired behavior on a target audience otherwise inclined to be less than
> "ethical." (And, unfortunately, I have to admit that ethics is taught
> this way in all too many instances.)
> There may be some good ways to try to teach ethics under these
> assumptions - but again, attempting to provide solid evidence that
> people behave better afterwards will be difficult indeed.
> As an alternative: the assumption many of us make - starting from
> Aristotle forward - is that people are already reasonably well
> enculturated and experienced with "ethics" - meaning more broadly, a
> capacity to recognize the primary dimensions of a difficult ethical
> choice and to discern / judge the preferable way(s) forward.
> (And in a Scandinavian context, the assumption is that human beings are
> primarily / "naturally" good - including other-regarding and so on.
> There are a range of historical and cultural factors that support these
> views - and they are manifest in such measured matters as the highest
> trust levels in the world, vanishingly small crime rates, community
> policing without weapons, etc., etc.)
> In any event, for those of us who have been privileged to teach ethics
> in both academic and professional settings, this approach begins with
> the emphasis that ethics is not primarily about imposing some sort of a
> rulebook (utilitarian, deontological, etc.) upon those who would
> otherwise be clueless.  It is rather about first interrogating the
> ethical sensibilities and experiences of our interlocutors - most
> especially among professionals who often have many decades of experience
> to draw on.
> Involving ethics in these domains - e.g., research ethics in the social
> sciences, ethics for design in ICT, and/or the ethical dimensions of
> specific "Big Data" projects involving computer scientists and
> engineers, police and first responders, national emergency authorities,
> etc. - is then a much different matter from attempting to impose a rule
> book.  It is often characterized in terms of "process" or dialogical
> ethics - oriented more towards using philosophical and applied ethics to
> provide concepts and frameworks that help practitioners more fully
> articulate and critically assess their extant ethical sensibilities and
> approaches.
> I can tell you that in the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR),
> after the first decade or so of approaching internet research ethics in
> these ways (i.e., starting in 2000) - the broad experience and consensus
> is that incorporating ethics in these ways not only helps with analyzing
> and resolving often complex and novel ethical challenges: it also leads
> to substantively better research in good old fashioned social science
> terms.  This is part of the reason why the association supports the
> on-going development of ethical guidelines - FWIW, our 3rd iteration
> will be delivered this October at the AoIR annual meeting in Brisbane.
> I can also tell you that our collective experience in teaching ethics in
> these ways consistently receives strongly positive evaluations in the
> workshops - whether with academics and/or professional communities - we
> have offered since 2002 or so.
> That's not evidence that people will behave any better as a result.  But
> it is evidence that people feel greater confidence by way of having more
> conceptual tools to draw on when confronting ethical challenges - an
> impression I also strongly hold from teaching undergraduates, FWIW.
> I also have at least anecdotal evidence from the colleagues involved
> with the IEEE initiative that this initiative is built in part on an
> emerging awareness among their professional communities that ethics,
> especially as approached in these more dialogical and process-oriented
> ways, is not just important for utilitarian cost-benefit approaches
> (minimally, don't break the law; don't design things that will get my
> company sued, etc.) - but likewise for the sake of better design per se.
> In short: my now lengthy experience is that exposure to and discussion
> of ethics is appreciated as it provides people with conceptual tools and
> examples that are helpful for their more effectively recognizing and
> analyzing the ethical choices confronting them, and, on a good day, for
> more effectively resolving often difficult ethical dilemmas.
> This strikes me as intrinsically worthwhile, especially if we regard one
> another as human beings who are ethical beings per se, no matter what
> their choice of study or profession may be.
> I hope this makes some sort of sense. Thanks for reading - critical
> comments and suggestions welcome.
> - charles ess
> On 03/02/2019 07:40, Yosem Companys wrote:
> > Good point. It'd be great if someone had the answer to that question.
> >
> > The only study vaguely related that I can remember is that psychology
> > experiment where priests who were going to give a sermon were less
> > likely to be good samaritans with a confederate in need when they were
> > told they were late to give their sermon than when they were told they
> > were early.
> >
> > So situational influences matter. It's not just about teaching personal
> > ethics. It's about teaching how to behave in ethical ways when
> > confronted by certain situations and learning the situations when you
> > might act unethically so if you're ever in that situation you might
> > remember and choose to act ethically instead.
> >
> > On Sat, Feb 2, 2019 at 10:26 PM Paul <tallpaul at
> > <mailto:tallpaul at>> wrote:
> >
> >     Is there any evidence, or even anecdotes, suggesting that ethics
> >     courses (in any form) work to make people act more ethically?
> >           I can see that someone who was already ethical might find
> >     something they had missed, but it's hard for me (admittedly a
> >     cynical person) to imagine that an ethics course can make someone
> >     ethical, any more than one could expect an "empathy" course to make
> >     people empathetic.
> >        Paul
> >
> >
> --
> Professor in Media Studies
> Department of Media and Communication
> University of Oslo
> <>
> Postboks 1093
> Blindern 0317
> Oslo, Norway
> c.m.ess at
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <>

More information about the liberationtech mailing list