I won’t comment but … ;)

Never say Never, this is soooo classic… I put often myself in trouble when I am saying that. haha!  I sent an email to you guys last week mentioning that I would not comment on the seminar/debate that I went too (The Lorne Trottier Public Science Symposium Series-Origin of Ethics given last Thursday, November 6th 2008).  I know… It will not count as an essay or comment for 650 because I was alone of our class. Anyway, this is not where I want to go.

This morning, I had suddenly inspiration and thought that it would be relatively important to share the stuff that I had in mind with you!  The inspiration came from the Today (Saturday November 8th 2008) Montreal Gazette’s front page where you can read an article on the ECO-SYSTEM ECOLOGY + ECONOMY.  Our professor at McGill, Dr. Peter G. Brown, is cited in many places in this article and he suggested that we should take advantage of the current financial crisis to change our current economic system to a more efficient one, the “environmental economics”.  Simply because our planet is finite and not infinite as most economists think.

The link that I would like to make here with the debate (Origin of Ethic) is the fact that one debater proposed a solution about a problem raised by Peter Brown in the Montreal Gazette’s article.  Dr. Brown explained that the failure of Dion’s Green Shift has been caused by the Free Rider problem “where people don’t want to pay for something that benefits everybody.   

The solution proposed by the debater was simple.  Professor Mafred Milinski (Executive Director, Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Plön, Germany) observed a similar phenomenon (Free Rider).  He suggested that this behaviour partially explained the Tragedy of the Common phenomenon (Hardin 1968) where free access to a public resource leads to overexploitation and therefore collapses.  Dr. Milinski’ words were “Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all”.  The solution came from one of his experiments (Milinski et al. 2006).  Dr. Milinski did an experiment about preserving the global climate as a public good.  His “game” was to compare who would cooperate and who will not (saving the public good).  He found that humans are prepared to give (e.g. money) to people as long as they have positive reputations of helping.  This is similar to the indirect reciprocity phenomenon which state that “Give and you shall receive” (Nowak and Sigmund 2005).  He also observed that people who gave money were people who were well informed in climate research.  He also mentioned that reliable expert information has an effect too.  This effect is even more important when the information is public (recognisable by everyone).  Investments or donations on the climate change problem can increase when people can see them, can recognise them.  Do not be an anonym person when you make donations!  Finally, he concluded by mentioning this: 

“Humans are prepared to behave altruistically when they know that it can be recognized and when they gained in other situation by this value that they can transfer from one situation to the next which is reputation.  As soon as the reputation comes in, in a moment, people switch from selfish behaviour to altruistic behaviour. ”

Interesting, don’t you think?



If you want to read the Montreal Gazette’s article (free = you need VPN connection), go… McGill Website/ clic Library and Collection tab/ clic Newspapers/ clic Pressdisplay/ Select Montreal Gazette and go to the article by knowing that it is published Saturday Nov 8th 2008.


Literature Cited


Hardin, G. 1968. Tragedy of Commons. Science 162:1243-&.

Milinski, M., D. Semmann, H. J. Krambeck, and J. Marotzke. 2006. Stabilizing the Earth’s climate is not a losing game: Supporting evidence from public goods experiments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 103:3994-3998.

Nowak, M. A. and K. Sigmund. 2005. Evolution of indirect reciprocity. Nature 437:1291-1298.

4 Responses to “I won’t comment but … ;)”

  1. patagonia says:

    Really interesting; I especially enjoy the last comments about humans acting alturistically only when it is recognized. I think we have all seen people act in this way at some point in our lives. However, sometimes this may not be such a bad thing. It is rooted in a matter of ethics. If environmental activism is only motivated out of being recognized, but still brings about positive change, is it positive or negative? I would like to bring up both sides of the argument through one well known example: human expereiments in Nazi concentration camps. The bulk of what humans understand about the human body and hypothermia was discovered in German concentration camps, where doctors experimented with freezing water tanks and Jewish people. The information about hypothermia is valuable for humans today; we use it in first aid courses and medical schools. However, the way the information was achieved is clearly, unescuable unethical. So should the information be used? Is it less valuable because it was achieved unethically? Similarily, in the seminar a group of us attending about peace for environmental conservation in the Middle East, an ethical debate arose. The Arava Institute does work to promote peace and environmental preservation for Israel, Palestine and Jordan, but accepts funding from the Jewish Natioanl Fund, which has a racist history against Palestinians. Is it alright to accept this funding? Is it ethical? Is the end achievement so valuable that it validates the means? In the case of Nazi experiments and the Arava Institue (not to draw to many similarities there) the information and funding have been accepted, if not morally, then functionally (but is there really a difference?). To bring the original point back; is it alright, is it ethical, to be an environmental activist who brings positive change for the environment, if the motivation and/or means are selfish?

  2. Even if you have positive results, you have to prove that your sampling technique has to be ethically acceptable. Why? Well, let go back to your human experiment in Nazi concentration camp. Obviously, ethic comes in because if you accept those research kinds, it pushes up the scientific technique normality (it raises the bar of normality). In other words, if we accept those results even if the technique used is not ethically acceptable, then others scientist may use similar or even worsen techniques. Therefore, more conflicts appear from such bad practices. More unethical researches, more conflicts… This is a clear vicious circle. Ethic is then crucial!
    About the racist Jewish National Fund’s donation to the Arava Institute, ethic lost its power when money came in (money talks). I think the Arava Institute did a real mistake by accepting the money from this racist group. Whatever the origin of the money is from, you (the receiver) always have duties towards donators (any types of donators). Your obligations increase as the amount of the donation increases. Everything has to be “in balance”. Rabi Michael Cohen from the Arava institute did not mention the importance of the contribution but if the amount is significant, therefore, the institution will have a lot of “pay back” to do towards the donator. If it is racist organization, it is not good news!
    Rabi Michael Cohen (from Arava Institution) defended this donation by mentioning that you do not always work with people that you agree with. You have to work with people that you do not share the same opinion… Of course, I know that BUT what was his point in this comment? This is the “most useless” reason that I never heard. When you have duties towards you donators, it REDUCES the power of making real change. Big is the duty, small is your power of negotiation. And so, how could you really change things with people that you do not agree with when your power is reduced?
    In conclusion, I think (it is easy to say and difficult to do) all institutions and organisations should accept many but small donations. The origin of the money must be assessed and therefore ethically acceptable.

  3. supernova says:

    I would like to come back to those ethic question with an exemple in medecine which is well known. The case of small pox is an excellent exemple of a completly unethical procedure for research. Animal are human to it. The North american indegenous people were decimated by that virus. It was asked by Wang Dan, a chinese prime minister. The vaccin was discovered by concentrating the fluids of the blisters in a shot and injecting it back into the child that was sick. Children were chosen because they though that they would have more chance to survive. Luckly enough for him, the treatment worked. He went on with his experiment, injecting a lesser version of small pox in an attempt to build up an immunity against the sickness and then exposed the injected subject with the virus. Never did they knew of the consequences.
    Today, this virus only can by found in scientific reserves. The last case was signaled in 1977 in Somalia and has been eradicated 1980.

    Knowing that, my question is the following : If the money receive by the institute is in fact an unethic way of researching, does that makes the research unethic as well? Can we use the result or impliment policies proposed by that institute or would that by supporting something that in not ethical? During tha nazi’s uprising, many important discoveries were made, especialy in medecine. Were we allowed to use this knowledge? I think we should consider their effort in medigating this racist group policies before making any harsh judgement.

  4. I do not agree with you supernova… As I already mentioned… accepting discoveries from unethical researches rise the bar of normality… If it these methods/results are accepted, then others researchers will then to do the same things or even worse… Is it what we want??? Clearly not! In the case of the racist group… it will be then very important to understand what are their needs when the fund organization… What they want from the research institution… Please… do not say that donators spend money randomly just because they want… They always want a certain pay back that could be direct or indirect… Everything must be in balance… This is fundamental of human being. I was in my CC-Bio project workshop in the past few days and the donators of the project demonstrated what are their expectations from the project and therefore, the students… They paid us (certain amount), and in some ways, we have duties towards them… Not 100% but still, we have to do something for them and of course, if they are in this project, it is mainly because they are interested!
    I continue to believe that Arava Institution did a real mistake and we should be “aware” of what they are researching. Again, I don’t know what is the contribution of the Racist group but for me… I do not work with racist or any EXTREMIST group. It’s not ethically acceptable!