Does thinking scientifically lead to moral behaviour?

The memories of scandals such as Climategate* are still fresh and could lead the general public to question the morals of scientists. However, there is now evidence suggesting that even thinking about science can lead to moral behaviour. A paper published in the journal PLoS one demonstrates possible links between exposure to science and moral or pro-social behaviours 1.

It was discovered that thinking about science increased adherence to moral norms, planned altruistic behaviour for the following month and actual altruistic behaviour towards others (this last part was measured using a “dictator test”, in which the participant is given $5 and is told they may split it however they wish between themselves and an unseen stranger).

This may not be as good as it sounds, though. Perhaps adherence to “moral norms” is problematic if a scientist’s results challenge such norms. Could this result in scientists double-checking results which don’t suit their moral ideals, but not checking those which do? Hopefully studies like this can help assist researchers in taking care to avoid such biases. In the meantime, we can all feel very smug about being “good” people.

*In which climate scientists’ emails were hacked and misinterpreted, leading to questions being raised on the validity of climate science in general 2.



  1. Paper here. 
  2.  Scientific American article.

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