Ethical skepticism is a form of meta-ethical philosophy which serves specific benevolent/knowledge goals. The ethics of science (a fortiori of skepticism as well) relate therefore primarily to the study of meta-ethics – and have little to do with morality or virtue. They focus on specific standards of praxis within the scientific community at large.
There exist three domain-forms of ethics. The definitions below are taken and framed inside a relational integrity, as derived from The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, New World Encyclopedia, and Wikipedia.1 2 3 The first is normative ethics, the domain of appearances and correctness from a social perspective.
Normative (Virtue) Ethics – objective practices of morality, right and wrong, and social codes of conduct (virtue, religious, moral, identity, personal conduct, etc.)
However, since one of the entire purposes of this blog is to decry pretense, false virtue, concealed religion and identity warfare (the abuse of ethics), we choose to focus instead on more professionally applicable contexts of ethics. More specifically, those of meta-ethics and praxis of science and skepticism:
Meta-Ethics – an inquiry into the nature of ethics. The study of the disciplines and philosophical bases behind professional standards of practice (skepticism, objectivity, consequentialism, deontology)
Applied Ethics (Praxis) – the decision theory behind professional standards of practice or social codes of conduct within a professional, disciplinary, or practical field (law, procedure, standard codes, standards of practice)
While I am an upstanding and conscientious person in my private and professional life, one should not infer from the term ‘ethical skepticism’ a personal boast of morality (normative ethics), as those who are ignorant of graduate level philosophy are prone to accuse. Rather one should comprehend ethical skepticism as an intellectual and practical allegiance to an actual long held standard of science. After all, this is what ‘ethics’ means, the decision theory behind adherence to standing professional standards of practice (meta and applied ethics or praxis ethics). Ethical skepticism therefore, is a meta-ethical philosophy which serves specific benevolent/knowledge goals and results in specific modifications to some of our applied ethics (pseudo-skepticism, institutional propaganda and cultivated ignorance). Especially applied ethics which have been in error.
The context of the moniker I use, ‘The Ethical Skeptic’ or the general practitioner descriptive in the form ‘ethical skeptic’, are set in the impersonal; as in the case of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for instance. The context of ethics employed in this blog is deontological in as far as the adherence to standards of protocol, such as the real and complete scientific method, are regarded as both sufficient and necessary to direct our knowledge development actions. An idempotent neutral practice, characterized by an aversion to tampering with observations and data in favor of one’s ontology. Yet, still consequentialist from the perspective that the outcomes of value and clarity manifest as the signature handiwork of those who practice such ethics. In my profession and research skepticism is the substrate of science, and I feel it is abused when applied in lieu of science by agenda-schooled journalists, stage magicians, propaganda bloggers, psychologists and party/social activists.
One can make the serious contention that skepticism is itself, the philosophical deliberation of the meta-ethics of science. However, skepticism must be watched and held accountable too if it errs in consequentialist outcome, attempts to manipulate the outcomes of science itself, embargoes disliked topics or begins to step in and act in lieu of science. Hence the need for ethical skepticism – to watch the watchers.
There exists a contrast of relative movement between where the skeptic movement was 40 years ago, and where it resides now – versus the relative change in practice inside of the so-called pseudosciences during that same timeframe. It is skepticism which has had to be taught how to behave over the last 40 years, and not the pseudosciences. More people believe in a litany of pseudoscience than ever have before. I believe this be be precisely because of the mistaught version of skepticism which was hatched in the 60’s and 70’s.
Skeptics have had to be taught how to behave over the last 20 years in particular.
As a result of their malpractices so-called fringe ideas, both valid and invalid, have grown dramatically in subscribership.
If such such a fringe subject bears validity, then of course its cynics were always in error.
If the fringe subject is invalid, its ensuing popularity too is the fault of the pseudo skeptic – and for the same reasons.
Fake moon landing and flat earth proponents have learned to employ the very same methods which
have been taught by fake skepticism in the targeting of disliked ideas over the last 60 years.
The chickens of failed philosophy have come home to roost.
And the blame for this resides squarely with our floundering skeptics.
These practices are not simply unethical because of the negative consequentialist outcomes in terms of subscribership to fringe topics like fake moon landing and flat Earth theories, but as well – from the history that it has indeed been skeptics who have proved to require the most re-education in this process of deliberation, and ironically not the ‘credulous’. Finally, the specific practices which have resulted in this are detailed and cataloged by The Ethical Skeptic. Skeptics have failed us both from ontological and consequentialist perspectives. What follows is the reason for all this. Fake virtue does not work. Club quality does not work. Normative ethics can serve to provide a clever disguise for agency of malice and oppression.
Exploitation of Ethics Reveals the Necessity of Meta-Ethics
This principle of a policing club such as social skepticism introduces several problems identified by ethical skepticism regarding prima facia virtue and normative ethics:
/philosophy : pseudoscience : normative ethics/ : the ironic principle entailed in the social observation that, prima facia ethics or normative ethics, virtue, religious precepts, morality, victimhood, identity warfare, personal conduct codes, etc. can, and often do serve as a cover for unethical agency masquerading under such pretenses. An action performed in accordance with socially correct pressure, or inside a visible boundary of political correctness, which is performed by a person wishing to show that they are on the good side in a political argument. Symbolic virtuous acts or positions adopted solely to build political power or exempt one from being accused of racism, bigotry, misogyny, greed or any of the canned talking attack points currently being fad utilized by the political left.
Exoentropy of Normatives
/philosophy : ethics : meta-ethics/ : The effort to enforce order inside a controlled subsystem, inevitably and ironically serves to increase the level of disorder or entropy surrounding it. Moreover, systemic dynamics can serve to impart unethical consequentialist outcomes which arrive as a result solely and wholly from individual efforts to maintain normatives of propriety or the appearance of such propriety; especially when coupled with the gaming and exploitation potential therein. This is also known as exoentropy, wherein a decrease in entropy of a subsystem leads further to an even greater entropic contribution to its surroundings or surrounding systems – resulting in an overall entropy or loss to the whole. An example of this can be found in the observation known as Goodhart’s Law and Goodhart’s Law of Skepticism.
Goodhart’s Law – when a specific measure becomes the sole or primary target, it ceases to be a good measure.
Goodhart’s Law of Skepticism – when skepticism itself becomes the goal, it ceases to be skepticism.
Qualitas Clava Error
/philosophy : fallacy : demarcation of skepticism and pseudo-skepticism/ : club quality error. The presumption on the part of role-playing or celebrity-power-seeking social skeptics that their club or its power, is important in ensuring the quality of science and scientific understanding on the part of the broader population. The presumption that external club popularity and authority, lock step club allegiance and presumptive stacks of probable knowledge will serve to produce valid or quality outcomes inside scientific, rational or critical thought processes. The pretense of encouraging skepticism, while at the same time promoting conclusions. Such thought fails in light of time proven quality improvement practices.
This problem of a single standard of skepticism (Science Based Medicine, The Skeptic’s Dictionary, CSICOP, Skeptical Inquirer, etc.), becoming in itself the goal – or in a single measure (p-value) acting now in lieu of science elicits the central issue with regard to scientific ethics today. And in my estimation therefore, the central issue regarding skepticism as well. They have simply replaced the old-boys’ networks with a new club – however a club which is much more prone to witch hunting. One example of such single measure chicanery is outlined inside a very popular Aeon Essay on Science from 2016, by Siddhartha and Edwards.
Since the Second World War, scientific output as measured by cited work has doubled every nine years. How much of the growth in this knowledge industry is, in essence, illusory and a natural consequence of Goodhart’s law? It is a real question.
The increased reliance on quantitative metrics might create inequities and outcomes worse than the systems they replaced. Specifically, if rewards are disproportionally given to individuals manipulating the metrics, well-known problems of the old subjective paradigms (eg, old-boys’ networks) appear simple and solvable. Most scientists think that the damage owing to metrics is already apparent. In fact, 71 per cent of researchers believe that it is possible to ‘game’ or ‘cheat’ their way into better evaluations at their institutions.
~ Science is Broken, Siddhartha Roy, environmental engineer and PhD candidate at Virginia Tech and Marc A Edwards, Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech. 4
The ethics of science (a fortiori of skepticism as well) relate therefore primarily to the study of meta-ethics – and have little to do with single indicator morality or virtue. Surface measures can be gamed by forces pretending to be or manipulate science. ‘Doubt’, ‘critical thinking’, ‘focus on the data’ – can all serve as virtue costumes which agency adorns to play the role. Moreover, even truly moral and virtuous players can indeed serve to produce highly unethical outcomes, so prima facia virtue is unreliable as a predictor for ethical outcome. 5 Meta-ethics relates to the study of decision theory and how it impacts the overall quality of science inside a hyper-growth institutionalized vertical. Accordingly, the ethics of science are defined by premier ethics philosophers, biochemist Adil Shamoo, PhD and bioethicist David Resnik, PhD as such: 6
a. Disciplined standards of conduct
b. Discipline of study of standards of conduct
c. Decision science incorporating standards of conduct
d. Resulting state of character which undertakes such disciplined decisions.
Below are several standards of scientific ethics, developed in part from leading discipline materials on the ethics of science, with my own experience inside the subject incorporated therein. These ethical norms of science are re-developed from the following resources: 7 8
Paul Humphreys, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science; Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2016; pp. 255-9
Resnik, David B., The Ethics of Science: An Introduction (Philosophical Issues in Science), New York: Routledge, 1998
It is the purpose of the PhD program, and the examination by review board, dissertation committee and advisor, to ensure that the PhD candidate grasps and has developed the skill in applying the following principles TO SELF FIRST and not others, before they are allowed to adorn the moniker of scientist. Skepticism has mistakenly taught the less mature among us, to only examine others under cherry picked versions of these principles.
The Meta-Ethical Praxis of Science (and Skepticism)
Integrity – responsibility with regard to both the soundness and the critical implications of one’s scientific research. Understand what constitutes data versus information versus intelligence and its probative potential versus its eventual reliability (not simply current). Understand the differing implications of various types of inference and what to do with an outcome which may not be well accepted by the community at large.
Openness – transparency of process undertaken, sources employed, assumptions made and models utilized, along with the sharing of data, results, methods and materials with other researchers – and yes, even laymen and curious stakeholders.
Diligence – maintaining good records of data, experimental protocols, and other research documentation. Take appropriate steps to recognize and mitigate potential bias and error. Subject your own work to critical scrutiny and do not overstate the significance of your results. Disclose information sufficient to allow the critical review of your work.
Freedom – support freedom of inquiry in the laboratory, research environment and in the field. Do not obfuscate scientific arguments or data, nor prohibit scientific or layman researchers from engaging in investigation and debate.
Due Credit – identify and allocate credit for prior art, investigative and analytical work, where such credit is due.
Respect for Intellectual Property and Prior Art – do not plagiarize nor steal intellectual property. Respect data sources, copyrights and patents.
Discretion – maintain the confidentiality of materials and data sources which are entrusted under such constraints or in any case where doubt exists as to such necessity. Maintain anonymity (such as in peer review, personal data or subject identity) unless identity is specifically warranted (publication) or requested.
Stewardship – take care with data, resources, test subjects, results, databases, samples, equipment, supplies, and physical research or anthropological/paleontological sites.
Development and Competence – maintain and enhance your competence inside your discipline of study. Increase awareness of the research field and impacted stakeholders. Take appropriate steps to deal with incompetence, or premature conclusiveness inside your discipline of study. Take appropriate steps to identify and hold accountable, those who fail in their burdens of service inside the public trust.
Serves Inside the Public Trust – it is necessary that science not be viewed as an activity in lieu of governance or any form of governance proxy, and must exclusively exercise its work inside the public trust.
Respect for Stakeholders – treat collaborators, data collection specialists, student and interns, and other peer and colleagues with respect. Treat impacted stakeholders with tolerance and the respect due those who will bear the burden of your outcomes. Do not discriminate against colleagues nor exploit them or their work efforts.
Respect for Humanity/Suffering – respect the rights, welfare and dignity of human or animal impacted stakeholders, research subjects, and protect them from harm or exploitation (except where exclusively proven to be unavoidable). Communicate risk in advance, in a clear and objective fashion – allowing human stakeholders to opt out, unless final proof (not simply consensus) is determined as to their necessity to comply.
Social Responsibility – prioritize research which is likely to benefit society or reduce suffering. Avoid causing harm to animals, the economy, a nation, humans or the environment. Science and scientists should never engage in activity to bypass/usurp the governance of a nation in a desire for application of their goals. Engage in extracurricular activities which serve to benefit society.
The Human Right to Know – humans bear the right to knowledge about their origins or concerning any threat to their safety, well being or livelihood. Public access to study artifacts serving to illuminate mankind’s social, morphological and genetic history should not be denied based upon property conventions of any haplogroup, culture, owner, propriety, government, nation, intelligence group or institution. Knowledge is a basic human right; and in particular, it is a basic human right to access freely the knowledge of where mankind came from and the pathway which brought us here as a species.
Legality – comply with international, national and local laws. Comply with regulations and institutional policies – unless they compel you to violate the above ethics.
These are the standards by which an ethical skeptic regards their science. Praxis, not virtue.
The Ethical Skeptic, “Meta-Ethical Praxis of Science” The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 25 Oct 2018; Web, https://wp.me/p17q0e-8rl
- Hursthouse, Rosalind and Glen Pettigrove, “Virtue Ethics”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2018/entries/ethics-virtue/>.
- New World Encylopedia; https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Normative_ethics
- Wikipedia: Ethics; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics
- Siddhartha, R., Edwards, M.; Aeon Essays: Science is Broken; 2016; https://aeon.co/essays/science-is-a-public-good-in-peril-heres-how-to-fix-it
- Siddhartha, R., Edwards, M.; Aeon Essays: Science is Broken; 2016; https://aeon.co/essays/science-is-a-public-good-in-peril-heres-how-to-fix-it
- Shamoo, Adil. E. and Resnik, David B.; Responsible Conduct of Research: 2. Ethical Decision Making, New York: Oxford University Press, 2009
- Paul Humphreys, The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Science; Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 2016; pp. 255-9
- Resnik, David B., The Ethics of Science: An Introduction (Philosophical Issues in Science), New York: Routledge, 1998