Society for Business Ethics 2007: Day 2 (morning)

(I’m blogging from the Society for Business Ethics conference.)

I started my morning listening to Richard DeGeorge (University of Kansas) talking about “Privacy in Public Space and Non-Governmental Surveillance.” DeGeorge outlined the various kinds of corporate surveillance (general v. individual, security v. marketing), and suggested that strongest arguments against non-governmental surveillance are going to be rooted in arguments about the harms that result from such surveillance than in arguments about privacy.

Next, Ian Maitland (University of Minnesota ) gave a talk called “Virtue or Control in the Governance of the Firm?” — essentially, it was a talk about what the evidence from experimental psychology says about the balance between virtue (character) and control (tight rules) that will work best in corporate governance.
In the next session, I heard Exequiel Hernandez (University of Minnesota) give a talk called “Stakeholder Theory and Corporate Morality: Is a Shareholder Focus Associated With Corporate Unethical Actions?” Hernandez argued that firms that are shareholder-focused may tend inadvertently to foster cultures that make corporate fraud more likely (and, as Robert Kolb pointed out during Q&A) more likely to end up harming shareholders.

Next, Daryl Koehn presented a paper (co-authored with Joe Ueng) called “Back-dated Stock Options and Restatements of Suspect Earnings:  Is There a Correlation?” She presented data showing interesting correlations between various kinds of financial deceit at corporations.

Next I saw Denis Arnold (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) present on “The Ethics of Direct to Consumer Pharmaceutical Advertising.” (Great topic, btw: see this blog entry.) Denis did a careful examination of the pharma industry’s claim that direct to consumer (DTC) advertising is intended to “educate” consumers, and argued that the communication techniques typically used make DTC more like manipulation than education. He also usefully proposed that any new regulation ought to differentiate between “reminder ads” and “product claim ads,” on one hand, and “help-seeking” ads (the kind that say “Have these symptoms? See your doctor”) on the other.
The final session of the morning was a panel on “Social Science Approaches to Business Ethics Research.”

Kirsten Martin (Catholic U. of America) gave a presentation called “Business Ethics and a Rich Research Agenda,” which focused on the uses of qualitative research in Business Ethics. She gave a nice explanation of the differences and complementarity between qualitative & quantitative research.

Second, Jared Harris presented “Endogeneity in Business Ethics Research: a Rely to James.” The problem of endogeneity is essentially a problem of how to make sure, in cases where you observe an correlation between A and B (e.g., between shoddy bookkeeping and poor performance), that there isn’t some 3rd factor “C” involved in either mediating A and B or in causing both A and B. Harris suggested a number of statistical & methodological ways of controlling for endogeneity. (Best — most fun — answer during Q&A: “I’m not sure there’s an answer to your question that I can give in plain English, but there is an answer.”)

Next, Daylian Cain (Harvard), gave a presentation on experimental economics called “What Good Can Come Out of the Lab?” Daylian gave some very nice evidence from experimental econ that our brains — our powers of reasoning — don’t actually work the way we experience them working. And this applies to moral reasoning too: there’s good reason to think that the moral reasons we believe motivate us in particular cases are not actually what motivates us. (In other words, in at least some cases you are mistaken about what ethical reasons are making you do the things you do.)

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