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Editorial

An Erratum to this article was published on 28 October 2014

Ethics is a source of reflection on “right” or “wrong” behavior. The first four of five articles in this special issue on “Ethics in Academia and Management” deal with misbehavior and the motives that might underlie it––especially publication-related misbehavior and greed. The fifth article can be understood as an examination of the role economic models and model users (i.e., scholars, policy makers, business people, etc.) play and the positive or negative consequences for society that can arise as a result. The author’s demand for critical reflection on the models, including their quality and their usage, links this article to ethics. While ethics is about reflection and the bases of reflection, morals are concerned with what individuals actually believe is right or wrong and thus guides their practices. Thus, ethics is a reflection theory about the morals of individuals, groups, and societies. In the case of scientific communities, morals influence how scholars organize, understand, and practice their “business”, which consists of the production of knowledge, the accomplishment of academic education, and the advancement of scientific offspring. It is not only having functioning institutions, capable scholars, and talented offspring that affects the achievement of scientific aims; it is also a scientific community’s ability and will to reflect on the values, rules, or standards that are embodied in their practices and to act appropriately. This is in harmony with Cipolletta and Gius’ (2012, p. 10) call for “ethics in action”; that is, “ethics as knowledge that guides action”. This includes “to pay serious attention to the simultaneous convergence of two increasingly appreciated values; it is the necessity to improve the rational use of scientific research to favour action and the consideration of the human being as a cognizing being” (ibid. p. 8).

Scholars have faced changes in the way they are expected to do business in the last one or two decades. The monetary “incentivization” of scholars’ work, the pressures of “publish or perish”, and reputation-building that is based mainly on the number of articles published in highly ranked journals all indicate a change of the “rules of the game”. As Storbacka (2014, p. 293) noted, “many developments in our surrounding reality indicate that the traditional university system is close to being disrupted”. Among these developments, as Storbacka surmised, is the unity of research and teaching at universities. The ranking of institutions of higher education has furthered the establishment of new structures, but doubts have been raised regarding the desirability of these structures (see Woodhouse 2009; Hazelkorn 2011). Scholars have argued that rankings of both journal articles and scholars have helped to establish structures that do not further the ends they are assumed to further, that is, for example, to single out the “best” journals (Kieser 2012; Osterloh and Frey 2013). If one uses the metaphor of a game for the description and analysis of the activities of scientific communities, then the “rules of the game” are at stake. Furthermore, the answer to the question of whether the way scientific communities organize and rule the “game” are compatible with the scientific ends scientific communities are striving toward by “playing the game”. This is the point where the sociology of science, the philosophy of science, and ethics intersect.

Two Wissenschaftliche Kommissionen (sections) in the German Association for Academic Business Research (VHB)––the Wissenschaftliche Kommission Wissenschaftstheorie und Ethik in der Wirtschaftswissenschaft (Philosophy of Science and Ethics in Economics, WK WEW) and the Wissenschaftliche Kommission Hochschulmanagement (Academic Management, WK HSM)––conducted a common workshop on the topic “ethics and management in academia” in 2012. This was followed by the Journal of Business Economics’ call for papers. The call for papers included the following questions: Is there a responsibility of scientific communities for their theories or research? Is there an ethics of publication? Can the quality of research of individuals or organizations be assessed on the basis of the ranking of journals, individuals, or organizations? Is there an ethics of management of institutions for higher education?

This volume includes five papers that address the following diverse but related topics: the analysis and prevention of scientific misconduct with a focus on publishing behavior (Sönke Albers, Hansrudi Lenz); the role of greed in the behavior of actors in business and academia (Gebhard Kirchgässner); the external effects of greedy and exploitative behavior in the context of global competition (Albrecht Söllner); and, against the backdrop of the discussion about the role played by economic models in the causation of the recent financial and economic crises, the making and usage of economic models (Steffen Groß).

Does scientific misconduct take place on a regular basis (1)? And does it, for whatever reason, occur more often today than in the past (2)? Although it is difficult to determine the exact numbers, there have been estimations (in percentages) of upper and lower bounds (for references, see Hansrudi Lenz’s article in this volume). Publication misbehavior was perhaps among the most visible ethics offenses in scientific communities in the last decade (Joy and McMunigal 2011; Storbeck 2011). Sönke Albers and Hansrudi Lenz discuss evidence in favor of (1) and discuss reasons for (2) as well as measures that could prevent unethical publishing conduct. Both Albers and Lenz focus on publishing conduct in their papers. The results for (2) are as follows: although competition was always present, a change occurred in the incentive structure in academia or, to refer again to the game-theoretic metaphor, in the rules of the game. Although scholars have always competed for reputation, the competition to publish today is not the same as the competition for reputation, say, at the time of the sociologist Robert K. Merton (see Merton 1942/1973).

Sönke Albers’s article “Preventing Unethical Publication Behavior of Quantitative Empirical Research by Changing Editorial Policies” states that “becoming a co-author is dangerous”. Albers discusses publishing misconduct in detail, such as authorship, plagiarism, publication slicing, manipulation of data, and inappropriate reporting of research. He then proposes and discusses the following measures editors can adopt to prevent unethical behavior: replications; retraction lists; plagiarism checks; replications; the archiving of data, statements, and documentations that demand authors provide careful documentation of their data (analysis); and information about the originality of their research. Albers concludes that the first step for preventing misbehavior is identifying it. A change in editorial policies, and the trustful signaling of such changes, will help ensure that authors reflect on their contribution with respect to ethical issues at stake, and this might be especially helpful for preventing forms of misbehavior belonging to the ethically murky “gray zones”. On the other hand, adopting such measures may reduce the expected success of publishing misconduct and might thus also prevent intentional misconduct. Albers’s proposals imply that authors, editors, and reviewers will be tasked with more work for each submission. For example, every author has to prepare statements and documentations; the reviewers will have to review more material and do so more carefully than before; and the editors are the “hubs” in which all information concentrates and decisions are made. These measures can be useful to reduce misbehavior because they ensure that all parties involved in the publication process are aware of what is expected of them and that their contribution will be monitored accordingly. At the end of his article, Albers proposes that the editors accept more replication studies. It is not the single novel but non-replicable result that adds to knowledge. Given the cognitive aim of truth in science, as Albers remarks, “it is more important to publish results that are true and survive replications”. Editors, so to speak, are the treasurers for the cognitive aims of science and have to coordinate these aims with the motives of researchers.

Hansrudi Lenz’s article “Scientific Ethics and Publishing Conduct” begins with observations that report scientific misconduct in general. At the beginning, Lenz discusses if self-plagiarism and redundant publications are a form of publishing misbehavior. After that, Lenz examines several codes of conduct from the US and Europe. He refers to the distinction between grave misconduct that can even be unlawful or justiciable in some countries (cardinal sins and the infringement of category I norms, such as the “manipulation of the research process or changing or omitting data”) and other forms of misconduct that violate “only” ethical codes of conduct (infringement of category II norms, such as publication slicing or self-plagiarism). For the rest of the article, Lenz focuses on the forms of publishing misconduct that violate Category II norms. Lenz argues that even if not punished by law, scientific misconduct can interfere with the aims of science; therefore, he sees “a need for clarification from a science-related ethical point of view”. Lenz then applies two approaches to the analysis of publishing misconduct: a philosophy-of-science-based statement of principles of science (Schurz 2011) and Merton’s (1942/1973) statement of the normative ideal image of scientific conduct. As Lenz notes, Merton was of the opinion that fraud in science is a rare phenomenon, not least because of the strict control by the scientific community and the personal accountability of scholars to the community. In the following section, Lenz addresses the interaction of the incentive structure and scholars’ actual conduct. Lenz states that the epistemologically central claims to truth are not impaired by some forms of unethical publishing behavior, such as wrong claims to authorship, plagiarism, and self-plagiarism. However, if a non-negligible amount of such misbehavior can be found, then the ethical norms have proven to be ineffective. This can then result in raising doubts about the integrity of the results presented in publications and lead to questions about the motivations of scholars within the “science game”. According to Merton’s analysis, there is a currency that––beyond their interest in the cognitive (or other) aims of science––motivates scholars to participate in the game: recognition and reputation based on one’s scholarly contributions. From the perspective of today, it seems that this measure has been substituted by the number of journal articles published by a scholar. However, Lenz includes the following observation of Merton’s from 1953: “getting things into print becomes a symbolic equivalent to making a significant discovery”. Thus, the relevance of publication has not changed in approximately the last 60 years––although it is not quite clear what Merton meant by “getting things into print”. What might have changed, however, are the motives of scholars. In some cases, profane motives could have replaced honorary scientific ones; monetary rewards play a part as well. There might be a specific scientific incentive mechanism that can lead to unwished-for “outcomes”. Lenz wonders why there is no systematic and formal system that proves the accountability of scholars or their work with respect to data, methods, and work flow. Lenz also shows that such a requirement would be in harmony with Merton’s ethical norms of scientific conduct. At the end of the article, Lenz advocates the view that while codes of conduct are indicative of a crisis, they are not capable of resolving this crisis in and of themselves. In harmony with Albers’ conclusions, Lenz argues that it is the publishers, editors, and reviewers who are responsible for taking measures to prevent unethical publishing behavior.

Lenz’s distinction between misconduct that is detrimental to scientific progress and the cognitive aims of science and misconduct that calls into question the way scientific communities distribute recognition and reputation provides a bridge to Gebhard Kirchgässner’s article “On Self-Interest and Greed”. If motives play a part in understanding the behavior of individuals within academia, then the homo economicus is around the corner. As Kirchgässner points out, a homo economicus model consisting of methodological individualism and the weak rationality principle does not imply any concrete motive; it simply means that the actors believe in acting in a way that fits their goals. In the introduction to his article, Kirchgässner discusses self-interest and other motivations within economics and beyond. Against the backdrop of the recent financial and economic crisis, Kirchgässner asks the following question: “How far does the assumption of self-interest lead us when analyzing individual behavior and when do we have to deviate from it, in a positive or ‘negative’ direction?” Altruism is an example of a “positive deviation”, while greed is an example of a “negative deviation”. Kirchgässner proceeds with a discussion of self-interest that ends with the statement that self-interest is morally neutral. As the assumption of self-interest (or models including it) is generally not applicable, the deviations––especially the negative deviation of greedy behavior––attract particular attention. In economics, the fact that greed has been assumed to be a cause for the recent financial and economic crisis notwithstanding, there is no theory of greed. The first step in Kirchgässner’s analysis ends with the view that greedy people have a special relationship to money: a greedy person seeks money for his or her own sake, that is, not for consumption or future consumption. The second step consists of a literature review undertaken to find reasons for this deviation from economic theory. For Kirchgässner, the most convincing answer is the view that money is a positional good that can increase the recipient’s social status. After his discussion of greedy behavior in economics and beyond, Kirchgässner addresses greedy behavior in academia. In accordance with the observations in the two preceding articles, Kirchgässner argues that reputation and money matter in academia. In order to increase their reputation, authors have manipulated data or plagiarized; and, for monetary reasons, scholars have sold their labor to, for example, the cigarette industry. Kirchgässner concludes that economists should spend more effort on the analysis of negative deviations from the assumption of self-interest. As Kirchgässner remarks, it was not the positive deviation from self-interest, the assumption of altruism, or other-regarding preferences that caused the recent financial and economic crisis. Or, as Gabor Steingart put it when referring to the gray capital market in his Handelsblatt Morning Briefing (received on 1/31/2014), “The grey capital market is a place where greed meets greed”.

The fourth paper in this volume, Albrecht Söllner’s “Globalization, Greed, and Exploitation. How to Break the Baleful Path?”, addresses the “dark side to globalization––negative external effects, the exploitation and destruction of natural resources”. This article begins with a presentation of examples of negative external effects. Söllner’s analysis continues with the assumption that the observed empirical patterns result from a particular type of “individual (and also shared) mental model” based on greed and the competitive pressure unfolded by the globalized economy. The unethical and unsustainable negative external effects are symptoms of the presence of a “path of ‘greed and exploitation’”. Söllner draws on path dependency theory to sketch a mechanism in which greed plays a pivotal role and which could bring about negative external effects. On the basis of a model that has been successfully applied in various empirical studies (Sydow et al. 2009), Söllner describes the following three stages of path formation: (1) the observation of a rigidity; (2) a triggering event that indicates the start of the path-building process; and (3) the unfolding of a self-enforcing mechanism. If the path described in Söllner’s analysis exists in the real world, mankind is facing a serious problem beyond the problems created by the external effects described at the beginning of the article. In other words, path dependency means that there is a self-reinforcing mechanism at work that limits the freedom of action and affects even those actors whose mental models are not characterized by greed. Finally, assuming that there is such a path, Söllner asks how it could be broken. He discusses the following three suggestions in this regard: the UN Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME); Gabor Steingart’s proposal to turn back the wheel of globalization; and economic ethicist Karl Homann’s proposal for the establishment of a world-wide governance system. Söllner discusses if and how the three approaches could cope with the negative external effects. He concludes that while none of the approaches will achieve much on their own, the “sequencing and pacing of the three approaches could lead to some results”, a point which he elaborates toward the end of his article.

Kirchgässner’s and Söllner’s articles can both be read as invitations to start or continue research on problems in their field they believe to be serious. As Cipolletta and Gius (2012, p. 8) remarked,

(t)he present common need to reflect on the empirical questions posed by economic globalization, new technologies (…), the nomadism of populations, the development of the Third World, the governability of the world, the creation of universal rules of cohabitation, and of the development of a ‘new human order’ has no record in the history of humanity.

Söllner sketches a research program for the study of the mechanisms that have created or nurtured the “dark side of globalization”. He thinks that there might be a pattern of greed and exploitation. If this were true, then this pattern would be an obstacle for global competition to fully unfold its positive welfare effects. This is an economic reason for the study of globalization and for the identification of potential path dependencies. Kirchgässner sketches a framework for the study of greed and outlines perspectives and options for further research. He disputes the explanatory power of behavioral economics for the financial crises. For him, the following two options are at stake for the understanding or explanation of the financial crises: first, the assumption that money is a positional good; and second, the view that a caste of managers has arisen that exploits both consumers and shareholders.

The conclusions from the two papers on publishing misconduct are manifold. For example, academia could try to break (or weaken) the linkage between the publication of journal articles and reputation, and thus reduce the number of papers in the hope that “(w)ith less quantity, we will see more quality” (Storbacka 2014, p. 293). Both Albers and Lenz have made proposals that would increase the measures of control in place to prevent publishing misconduct, and these require additional resources. Neither Albers nor Lenz have argued against competition among researchers; rather, they have demanded fair competition. Fair competition should align the individual motives and the common good in academia. In the current system, a researcher’s reputation grows with publications. Publications, however, are not related to the cognitive aim of science per se. If the observations and analyses of the authors in this volume and the references they quote are right, then this system could even be detrimental to truth and knowledge.

The last paper in the volume, Steffen Groß’s “The Power of ‘Mapping the Territory:’ Why Economists Should Become More Aware of the Performativity of Their Models” deals with the following issues: the making and usage of models; the authority that models can gain within and beyond scientific communities; and the sometimes negative societal consequences accruing from such authority. Groß’s article has to be seen in the light of the recent financial and economic crisis and the still vivid discussion among (some groupsFootnote 1 of) economists about (a) the failure of economic models regarding the prognosis and prevention of crises and (b) the failure of (some) economists to take into account the mistakes of model users. In the introduction the author addresses the ongoing debate on economics as a social physics and advocates a view that situates economics in the field of humanities and art rather than the natural sciences. Groß argues that social realities can be influenced by models or theories but not by natural realities. “Performativity of models” can be understood against the backdrop of (scholarly and non-scholarly) expectations of the role of models in the following areas: the process of knowledge creation; with respect to the norms, conventions, and routines that influence their usage (in scientific communities and beyond); in the context of impartment to students and academic offspring; and the guidance and advice they provide to public policy makers and other practitioners. For this reason, there is something in such models that is beyond the direct control of the individual scholar. Does this mean that the individual scholar is exempt from personal responsibility for his or her models and their usage? The author makes the claim “that the responsibilities the economist has to shoulder are considerably heavier than those of the physicist” (p. 3). In the next section, Groß addresses the theory–practice nexus in more detail. According to him, economists cannot cleave to the view that they are doing “pure theory”; he even doubts that there is such a thing as “pure theory”. He then addresses the making of models and their use and application. As the author argues, there is no simple guideline for the avoidance of model failure and insufficient reflection on the potentialities and limits of models by the model users. If model usage plays such a big role for the performativity of models, then a value such as parsimony cannot be assessed without taking into account the users and their usage of models. So what makes a “good model” in economics? The author discusses the following aspects: striving for problem solutions; l’art pour l’art (art for the arts sake); critical revision of modes of abstraction; avoidance of intentionally wrong assumptions or highlighting the use of such assumptions; being aware of the distinction between model worlds and the real world; pluralism and competition among models; and modesty and avoidance of what Hayek has called the “pretense of knowledge”. The paper ends with Groß drawing consequences for the education of economists in academia.

Notes

  1. See the recent Nobel Laureate Meetings in Lindau, Bodensee. http://www.lindau-nobel.org/ (accessed 26 August 2014). Edmund Phelps, a Nobel Laureate in 2006, has bemoaned the “failure of our beloved economics” that has not gotten to the bottom of the origin of the crisis yet (Bauchmüller 2014).

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Haase, M., Fandel, G. Editorial. J Bus Econ 84, 1143–1150 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11573-014-0747-z

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