Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » May 2005 » Peggy Phillip sees some good news, for a change....

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05/05/2005: Peggy Phillip sees some good news, for a change....

The Memphis News Diva is happy that Journalists seem to be "significantly more ethical than the average adult".

Lee Wilkins remembers well the reaction she'd often get when identifying herself as a reporter.

"I had a standard line," said Wilkins, now a journalism professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. "I would always say back, 'I won't accuse you of all the ills of your profession if you won't accuse me of all the ills of mine.'"

Recent research by Wilkins and Renita Coleman of Louisiana State University may provide some vindication for members of a profession that's taken a beating in recent years with high-profile blunders.

Wilkins and Coleman surveyed journalists for the first time using a decades-old model for assessing one's morals, a test given to more than 30,000 people representing numerous professions.

According to the researchers, journalists are significantly more ethical than the average adult -- eclipsed only by seminarians, doctors and medical students.
Note to Professor Steve "I hate doctors" Lubet of Northwestern University Law School: there's mention of doctors there, but no lawyers. Draw your own conclusion.
Journalists had an average score of 48.7 on a 100-point scale, meaning just about half the time, members of the profession make decisions based on the best quality ethical reasoning. That rate was exceeded only by seminarians/philosophers at 65.1, medical students at 50.2 and practicing physicians at 49.2.

Nurses, orthopedic surgeons and members of the Navy are among the groups that trailed journalists. Junior high school students scored lowest, with 20.0, just below prison inmates, with 23.7.
Um.... the implication here is that orthopedic surgeons aren't practicing physicians. (I'm assuming that most people would lump "physicians" and "surgeons" together under the broader category, "doctors". I wonder what the deal is that orthopedic surgeons get their own category. Or is there something so wicked, depraved, and perverse about orthopedic surgeons that their brother medical men don't want anything to do with them?)

I also wonder where lawyers scored (I suspect right above prison inmates).... I'm not at all suprised at the high score of philosophers/seminarians, though I suspect that has something to do with "knowing the correct answers". :-) Interesting that it's seminarians that are listed; the implication is that once they get into the ministry they get significantly less ethical.

I totally believe what they say about junior high students, though; I remember my daughter when she was that age.....*shudder*

Of course, the reason there is that that those are the years between the time the aliens abduct our children and leave ravening, amoral monsters in their place, and the time that the aliens bring our children back. So maybe we should leave them out of the equation there.

UPDATE: In the comments Mike Hollihan makes a couple of points:
They still don't rate too highly at only 48% "ethical" or "...decisions based on the best quality ethical reasoning." Whatever that means.... Notice that the author doesn't mention what the "average adult" rates, either.
Because it's easier, I'll take your second point first. The paper in question is, as it turns out, available online (.pdf format; Adobe Reader or other .pdf reader required), so feel free to give it a read and pick apart the methodology if you want. As to the score of adults in general, I'll do you one better; rather than tell you where the average adult rated I'll reprint the actual table:

Mean P Scores of Various Professions

Seminarians/Philosophers 65.10
Medical Students 50.20
Practicing Physicians 49.20
Journalists 48.68
Dental Students 47.60
Nurses 46.30
Graduate Students 44.90
Undergraduate Students 43.20
Accounting Students 42.80
Veterinary Students 42.20
Navy Enlisted Men 41.60
Orthopedic Surgeons 41.00
Adults in General 40.00
Business Professionals 38.13
Business Students 37.40
High School Students 31.00
Prison Inmates 23.70
Junior High Students 20.00

You started off with: They still don't rate too highly at only 48% "ethical" or "...decisions based on the best quality ethical reasoning." Whatever that means..... "Whatever that means" is basically Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development; the Defining Issues Test (you may be able to take an online version) is based on Kohlberg's theory and your perception of its validity may depend on your acceptance or not of Kohlberg's theory. Given that definition, though, the "P score" is defined (if I'm reading the Coleman and Wilkins article correctly) as the percentage of the time that a respondent makes his/her moral decisions from Kohlberg's "higher" levels of moral development vice from Kohlberg's lower levels.

Kohlberg's "higher" levels of moral development entailed the subject's ability to move beyond mere obedience to authority or reliance on social convention and evidence the subject's ability to make decisions based on understanding of social mutuality, sincere interest in the welfare of others, and respect for universal moral principles and the demands of individual conscience. Further, Kohlberg himself believed that very few individuals made moral decisions from those higher levels; IIRC he never did decide if he'd name anyone who consistently acted from the highest levels of his moral development scale, although he did have a few nominees for that elevated plateau.

So, while 48% (really rounded up to 49%) of action from a higher level of moral development may not look that impressive to you, you may be viewing the scale from a formal schooling biased view of percentage scales, where less than 65-60% is failing. Note that in that perspective, the scores of seminarians (who you'd think as a class would be operating from a "higher level of moral development") is pretty damn poor (barely passing with a D at 65%).

Len on 05.05.05 @ 02:01 PM CST

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