A Discussion of Wrongdoing and Punishment

August 20, 2010

I overheard an interesting conversation recently between Associate Professor Tobias Keith and longstanding Academy member, Eunice E Schnizzlezwick Chair and University System Professor William Nelson. It went something like this…

Associate Professor Keith:

Well a man come on the 6 o’clock news
Said somebody’s been shot, somebody’s been abused
Somebody blew up a building
Somebody stole a car
Somebody got away
Somebody didn’t get too far yeah
They didn’t get too far

Phew. A whole lot of scientific badness out there. What shall we do folks?

University System Professor Nelson:

Grandpappy told my pappy, back in my day, son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he done
Take all the rope in Texas
Find a tall oak tree, round up all of them bad boys
Hang them high in the street for all the people to see that

Um, kinda severe eh? Well, there are definitely bad consequences of academic fraud and scientific misconduct. After all….

Professors Nelson and Keith:

Justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys
You got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
We’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against evil forces
Singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

If we are going to take Janet’s Tribe of Science formulation seriously, perhaps we do need to saddle up our boys and girls.

No Responses Yet to “A Discussion of Wrongdoing and Punishment”

  1. I really dislike this “tribe” of science formulation, as I think it fails to capture the most salient aspects of human behavior in the context of the complex, wide-ranging, and reward-laden scientific enterprise as it is actually constituted. Calling science a “tribe” makes it sound like if only the “members of the tribe” really wanted to, they could “banish” bad actors and bad actions. The corollary to this–which leads to all sorts of foolish ideas for improving scientist behavior–is that bad scientists behavior is mostly a function of ignorance or misunderstanding of scientific norms, rather than predictable outcomes of powerful incentive structures.

    As actually constituted, science doesn’t function along the lines of a “tribe”, but rather along the lines of a profession, just like any other. The correct conceptual framework for analyzing the actual behavior of scientists is as members of a profession, not as members of a tribe. And improving scientist behavior has little to do with “educating” them about norms or using “tribal” social pressure to enforce norms, and rather is almost wholly about pushing systemic incentive structures in the direction of suporting–rather than undermining–those norms.


  2. GMP Says:

    🙂 Love the post!


  3. Matthew Says:

    I understand what you’re saying, but I can’t help but cringe at lynching metaphors.

    That sounds great. What does that mean in practical terms?


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