Why we have a moral obligation to improve science.

Thus far in the series, we have discussed: why we need to change, what is the real problem we face, what types of changes are likely to work well, what a system based on these principles might look like, and how we can use technological advances to improve peer review.

Ignoring the fact that this sort of system will make our lives easier, and more fun, if we know of a way that will work to make the system better for all, it is our individual responsibility to work toward that goal. Our actions serve as an exemplar to others (Phillips, 1974) and by not actively pursuing change for the better, we signal to others that nothing needs to be done and we become bad bystanders (Darley, & Latane, 1968).

This realization multiplies the consequences of our actions across the lives of those we may be (un)intentionally influencing  (especially professors, who have people looking up to them). We must be the change we wish to see in the world (e.g., Ghandi, Mandela, MLK).

This system also has the potential to eliminate the large amounts of resources wasted in repeated research and discussions of the same papers. This is time and energy that the society at large ultimately pays for (through taxes and grants), and to allow that much time, energy and money to be wasted constitutes a moral hazard in my opinion. Each lab meeting could go much farther if when we decide to read a paper, we also read some of the top comments along with it. Also, replications and follow up studies can be linked in the comment section.

Perhaps most importantly, intentionally designing a well-functioning system for ourselves would go a long way toward showing the public what the use of intentional choice design for good looks like (Thaler, & Sunstein, 2008; Skinner, 1972).

Though many fear governmental behavioral engineering (Huxley, 1935; Orwell, 1949; Rand, 1937) these arguments are necessarily brushed aside by reminding ourselves that advertisers have been ‘engineering’ us for their own profit at least since Skinner originally outlined these methods in 1972.

The rules that decide our lives are being designed by those who only have their own interests in mind (e.g., marketers, bankers). It is time to stop letting the perfect be the enemy of the good and start using this powerful technology for good. 


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