Biases Against Scientists: Intuitive Morality Judgements and Moral Stereotypes of Scientists


Hi everyone. So I hope you aren’t that tired
of chickens by now. I’m afraid I have to continue with these types of unsavory scenarios
for a little bit in my talk, in which I will focus a little bit on biases against scientists,
more specifically on moral biases against scientists. We’ll look at intuitive morality
judgments, really similar to what Will had just been talking about, in relation to atheists.
And also looking more explicitly at moral stereotypes of scientists. So I’ve been
conducting this work together with Steve Heine, who’s at the University of British Columbia
in Canada. The studies I present today are really part of a larger ongoing project which
is very much a work in progress still, so I really look forward to hearing your thoughts
about it. So
the question that we try to answer, or at least provide an initial answer to in this
line of work, is do people perceive scientists as bad people? We try to get to an initial
answer to this question by looking at intuitive morality judgments, as well as more explicit
moral stereotypes that people might have about scientists. If we look at what’s already
out there in terms of what the general public thinks about us, about scientists, it’s
actually a pretty positive picture. As you can see up here, I took some screen shots
from recent surveys, Gallup Poll for example. What you can see in the UK, US, and Canada,
is that scientists are actually pretty high up in terms of prestigious occupations. Actually
people quite respect scientists in Canada, along the lines of nurses, doctors, farmers,
veterinarians, and dentists. People really like their kids to become scientists when
they grow up. This is a good, sort of positive picture about scientists. On the other hand,
we also know obviously that science can garner a certain amount of distrust if certain scientific
findings go against people’s cherished, moral attitudes. I think, for example, topics
such as climate change, nanotechnology, or GMOs. Obviously you can see there’s also
a sort of growing distrust against science that has been emerging in the last years in
public debates. But there hasn’t been that much work on perceptions of scientists themselves
as representatives of science. So what I did was I took a very scientific approach to this
question by using the Google autocomplete function. So what I simply did was type in
“scientists are”, and these are the results. The results don’t look as good as the previous
results I showed up here. So scientists are not only perceived as stupid, wrong, and idiotic,
they are also perceived in some extent in less moral terms. So scientists are perceived
as arrogant and, even more shockingly, they’re evil and very likely going to hell. That’s
not really the best picture that is painted about scientists. This is an interesting conflicting
observation that you get if you look at the way the general public perceives scientists.
In the current research, what we try to do is address this attitudinal ambivalence that
people have about scientists and come up with a few possible reasons for why people would
associate scientists with things like arrogance and immorality. There are a couple of reasons
you can think of for why scientists would by associated with lacking morality. First
of all, scientists are obviously associated with progress—technological advances—and
signs of progress can be scary. If you think about things like atomic energy, the atom
bomb, nanotechnology, and GMOs, progress can be a little scary and go against people’s
moral attitudes. The rest have indeed been some work, we did a little bit of work in
that as well, showing that it’s actually a negative relation between endorsing technological
advance and believing in moral progress. So people tend to negatively equate moral decline
with more technological advance. People become more pessimistic about the future of society
and about morality. That’s one reason. Another reason, obviously, is we’re all familiar
with archetypes in literature and film such as Dr. Strangelove or Faust or what have you.
There’s this sort of cultural archetype of the evil and mad scientist that might have
been further cemented by real-life cases of the science category. Think, for example,
Joseph Mengele or the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski. And finally, as Will already extensively talked
about, and Azim as well, there is this sort of pervasive morality link that exists in
people’s minds. So, many people perceive religion to be some sort of a prerequisite
for moral living. Simultaneously, science and religion sometimes come up with competing
explanations for the big questions in life. Sometimes, science comes up with explanations
that are at odds with people’s religious faith. So it’s not hard to see how science
and morality might sometimes not sit too well together. As Will just now showed you, there’s
quite a lot of work now on perceptions of atheists. Atheists are not only distrusted
and disliked, as Will just showed, they’re also associated with various acts of immorality,
ranging from necrobestiality, which is just a fancy term for having sex with a dead animal,
as well as cannibalism, serial murder, etc. etc. What we tried to do in this project was
see how this might actually hold for scientists. Let’s compare atheists and scientists on
the Google test. As you can see, there are quite a lot of similarities. They’re both
wrong and stupid. Idiots. But it seems to be the case even that scientists are worse
off. They’re going to hell, they’re evil, you know? Atheists at least are awesome, but
it might also be some sort of nice alliteration that might cause this. In the current talk,
I’m not actually going to present several studies; that’s going to take far too much
time. I’m going to just present you with a few examples of studies that we did where
we used the exact same method as Will used, using disconjunction fantasies that have been
put forward by Tversky and Kahneman in the 80s. And then, if I have some time left, I
will also talk about a study looking at more explicit evaluations of the extent to which
people think that scientists endorse certain moral foundations, moral intuitions. So I
can skip this one. Thanks Will. This is basically the outline of the studies we ran. These 7
studies. We have all these different descriptions of quite disturbing immoral behavior—serial
murder, incest, necrobestiality, cannibalism, and also cheating and abuse. Participants
were given the question, which option is more probable? The protagonist in the story—could
be Jack, could be John—is either a sports fan, or he’s a sports fan and a [blank].
Between subjects, we manipulated the target category that we presented to participants.
It could be a scientist. We toyed around with different descriptions of scientists as well,
but they all sort of gone with similar results, so I’m just going to present to you with
the pooled results for the 3 categories here. Then we had an atheist target category and
a whole bunch of controlled targets very similar to what Will just presented to you. Will had
mostly graphic descriptions of the studies, so I’ll just show the actual scenarios.
Here above, you can see the necrobestiality scenario. This is what participants read,
and after this, they simply answered the question below. In green, you see the serial murder
scenario. This is one example of the results we got when we presented participants with
the serial killer scenario. We asked participants to indicate if they thought the protagonist
was either a sports fan or a sports fan and a scientist. And you can see that the scientist
and the atheist categories really provoked the conjunction fallacy in a similar way and
more so than one of many control targets. Scientists seem to be right up there with
atheists. Another example where we used necrobestiality, and look at that, scientists even outnumbered
the atheists here. You can see that a little over 60% of people committed the conjunction
fallacy here when you read the scenario of the guy having sex with a dead chicken. More
so than the atheist category even, but also the difference between atheist and control
was significant, which nicely replicates Will’s results from necrobestiality. We also found
the same results from the consensual incest scenario, as well as the cannibalism scenario.
So what about cheating and abuse? I think especially cheating might be an interesting
scenario in terms of, you know, when you think about recent fraud cases in science and also
general distrust people might have towards science as an institution based on if you
think about things like climate change, for example. So it will be interesting to see
if people also intuitively associate scientists with distrust and cheating. We had a scenario
like the one Will just told you about, about this guy who cheats at a poker game. We know
that atheists provoke the fallacy here to the same extent as for the more disturbing
violations. What about scientists? Scientists don’t. So here we can clearly see the atheist
target provokes the conjunction fallacy to higher extent than both the scientist target,
as well as the control target. I think that’s good new for scientists. Abuse. We had an
abuse scenario about this guy getting on a bus, ridiculing this obese woman, and afterwards
is kicking puppy. Again, not associated with the scientist target, only with the atheist
target. If you look at these results, what you can see here is if you compare the scientist
target with the atheist target, you can see that the results actually quite nicely map
onto moral foundations theory. So Azim already introduced you to moral foundations theory.
The most important thing, I guess, to know about the theory for now is that Jon Haidt
posed the theory. It basically distinguishes between 2 types of moral intuitions. One is
what he calls the individualizing moral intuitions, related to fairness and care concerns. In
red, you see the 3 what he calls binding moral foundations, which are more sort of related
to the welfare of the group, rather than the welfare of the individual. What we can see
based on the conjunction fallacy studies is that people seem to associate, particularly
violations of purity and, to a less extent, violations of authority, with scientists.
But they do not associate fairness and care with scientists. So what about more explicit
moral stereotypes? I’ll really quickly go through it. So what we expected based on the
conjunction fallacy results is that we would find effects on authority and purity mainly.
People would think that scientists endorse moral foundations related to authority and
purity to a lesser extent than a control target. In this study, we used the moral stereotypes
method, which has been used previously by Jesse Graham. What we do here is we ask participants
to simply fill out the moral foundations questionnaire. I’ll give you some examples in a minute,
but I have to do this in the 3rd person. So to fill out this questionnaire, either ask
John who is a scientist, or ask John who is, in this case, a sports fan, which was the
control condition. To give you a few examples, here are the instructions. Participants read
about, okay, the following questions are about John. John is a scientist or a sports fan.
What we’d like you to do is respond to the items below like you believe John would respond.
So we had 15 items, 3 items per moral foundation. Here are a few example items per foundation,
which would be quite familiar to you by now. This is what we found. If you look at the
care and fairness foundations, we didn’t find any differences between the scientist
target and the control target. So people think that scientists endorse the moral intuitions
related to fairness and care to a similar extent, or the same extent, as the control
target. We did find differences for the 3 binding moral foundations though. So participants
felt that scientists are less likely to endorse the moral foundations related to loyalty,
authority, and purity. To briefly sum up the studies that I just presented, in part 1 we
found that scientists are associated with disturbing morality violations related to
purity and authority, but they are not associated with violations of fairness and care. The
moral stereotypes studies nicely maps onto this finding by showing that scientists are
not perceived as violating the individualizing moral foundations, but they are perceived
as being less endorsing of the binging moral foundations, of purity, loyalty, and authority.
So if we come back to the question I posed at the beginning of the talk—do people perceive
scientists as bad people—there’s obviously not an equivocal answer to this question,
but what we can at least say based on these studies is that it really depends on the moral
domain. What we have is really a mixture of positive and negative associations. People
perceive scientists as playing fair and as caring about concerns related to care. But
they are perceived as not so caring about foundations related to authority, loyalty,
and purity. I just would like to thank my co-author on this work, Steve Heine, as well
as the AXA Research Fund for funding my research, and thank you very much for your attention.

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