The study of morality in everyday life

An interesting paper came out in Science this week. The authors have examined several aspects of being the subject or the object of moral or immoral acts in everyday life. What distinguished the study from previous research on morality, was that the study was based on reports of subjects outside of the laboratory. A couple of interesting observations were as follows:

1. Liberals and conservatives have somewhat different dimensions on which they perceive morality of an act. Among others conservatives emphasize loyalty, while liberals emphasize fairness.

2. Religious and non-religious people do not significantly differ in their propensity to commit moral or immoral acts, but they experience them differently.

3. Both moral self-licensing and moral contagion are experienced in real life.

4. Experiencing moral acts increases hapiness, and performing them increases the sense of purpose.

A really interesting study overall. Highly recommended.

What’s the cost of research misconduct? Not very high, it appears.

There’s a recent paper in eLife on how much retracted papers cost the funding agencies and, by extension, us – the taxpayers. The focus is on the NIH, but I would not be surprised if it applied equally well to other agencies. The authors estimate that data falsification is likely not a huge problem and no more than about 1-2% of total NIH funds (and probably less) is funneled towards efforts that later result in data falsification and, in rarer cases, in paper retractions. Their estimates, however, are based on self-reported rates of data falsification from surveys, which are probably heavily biased.

The authors also acknowledge a bigger problem – the costs of data falsification are not limited to the laboratory where the bogus paper was written. There are many labs that waste tons of resources on trying to reproduce the falsified findings. I, for one, have on more than one occasion unsuccessfully tried to follow up on a paper published in a very respectable journal. On other occasions I have found such glaring flaws in the paper that it made me wonder how the paper ever got through peer review. Needless to say, I have not seen those papers retracted.

The short lifespan of research data

The whole point of doing science is to make a lasting contribution that the next generations can use and build upon. That lofty goal is, however, severely hampered when the data, which often took years and innumerable thousands of dollars to collect, is lost. According to a recent paper published in Current Biology that is way too often the case. Continue reading

Cognitive dysfunction and stress

A recent paper in Cell discusses the role of a specific type of receptor in the brain in stress-induced decline in cognitive function. They mention specifically PTSD as the relevant human problem, but I cannot help but wonder how normal individuals’ cognition is affected by everyday psychological stress. Scientists, not unlike entrepreneurs, go through a constant cycle of  failures and successes. With the added pressure of an economic downturn and a difficult job market many of us live under tremendous strain. Does that affect how our brain functions in later years – could it potentially hurt our creativity? Or is it perhaps actually beneficial, sort of like the trial of fire that I just mentioned in my previous post? And finally, can we overcome any potential negative effects with a drug, like they did in the Cell paper?