28 May 2005 | Draft
Honour-related Challenges of the Disciplines
an unexplored aspect of methodology and integrity
- / -
Essential nature of honour
Varieties of Honour and Dishonour: distinguishing intrinsic honour from honourable externalities [Annex 1]
Two forms of "honour": Beyond honouring power and tolerating difference
Honour-related challenges of the disciplines [Annex 2]
Honour: "Finite games" vs "Infinite games"
Honourable "Nomenklatura" vs Unhonoured "Nameless"
Integrative function of honour in interdisciplinarity and interfaith understanding
The question raised by the above review is whether a value as fundamental and intangible as honour has any role to play in disciplinary practice. In particular, how might honour be fundamental to significant, effective interdisciplinarity? Typically of course disciplines offer no cognitive space for values -- other than those relating to truth and falsehood. Even ethical questions of social responsibility are considered incidental, if not irrelevant, to the practice of most disciplines. The issue is whether honour underlies the capacity of a discipline to deploy its methods -- whether a discipline can operate in the absence of assumptions relating to honourability. The interdisciplinary implications are discussed in the main paper at Integrative function of honour in interdisciplinarity and interfaith understanding.
Whilst the replicability of experiments is the essential determinant of the advance of knowledge, honour clearly comes into play in the assessment of the report of any experiment. It does so through the significance of "reputable" and of "academic integrity". If work is reported from a reputable source its results are taken on faith as being true. The work does not need to be repeated, especially if confirmed by other reputable sources. If reputable sources were not assumed to be honourable in their reporting, then every reported result would have to be repeated making the use of referenced works virtually impracticable.
This suggests that honour in some way underlies the operation of any discipline in practice. This is not widely recognized and does not feature in descriptions of the methodology of a discipline. It does of course figure very obviously in the assessment of the probable quality of research. Those of repute, being more honourable, are readily recognized as being more likely to produce quality results. Others are readily assumed to have been likely to have undertaken "shoddy" work, possibly disguised by disreputable "fudging" of results. Any such behaviour, within any research context, would be deemed to have brought dishonour upon the institution and the discipline. Those responsible might be disciplined but in all probability would be permanently dishonoured.
Such concerns are most explictly recognized with respect to "academic integrity", without which loss of reputation is highly probable. According to the Center for Academic Integrity (Fundamental Principles of Academic Integrity):
The role of honour in disciplinary practice can be illustrated by the examples of the following disciplines and their associated professions. It is clear that practitioners are vulnerable to a variety of pressures to engage in dishonourable practices, or practices that others deem to be dishonourable -- whether or not the practitioner deems it to be so. In the practice of their discipline, practitioners may also engage in inherently dishonourable practices of "backstabbing", possibly to ensure personal advancement and preferential honour for themselves, or to prevent honour being accorded to others.
In relation to wider society, efforts may be made to formulate "codes of ethics", possibly reflecting a sense of "social responsibility" that may well however be considered beyond the practice of the discipline itself. The purpose in what follows is to demonstrate the extent to which honour is even more intimately bound up with the actual practice of a discipline.
Fundamental research disciplines
With respect to honourable patronage, the case of mathematician G.H. Hardy
in relation to Sreenivas
Aiyengar Ramanujan can be contrasted with the case of astrophysicist Sir
Arthur Eddington in relation to Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (Arthur I Miller.
of the Stars: Friendship, Obsession and Betrayal in the Quest for Black Holes,
2005). The honourable response to an unknown and uneducated Ramanujan is in
striking contrast to the dishonourable response to the insights of Chandrasekhar.
The first was central to rapid advances in number theory, whereas the second
significantly retarded recognition of work on black holes.
Other dramatic cases in which researchers were dishonoured by their profession
include that of homeopathy, properties of water. It might be argued that the
attitude that resulted in the original condemnation of Galileo by a religious
hierarchy has effectively been integrated into the scientific method.
Medical research of course bears many similarities to research in general.
Particular cases illustrative of questionable honourability are those involving
experiments with human subjects. Well documented examples include those relating
to use of radioactivity and biochemical agents on unsuspecting subjects who
it has subsequently been recognized were dishonourably treated. The case of
Nazi medical research in concentration camps is also well documented, as with
the subsequent use of that research by medical researchers. The extraordinary
case of the complicity of the UK medical profession in the 150-250 murders by
Harold Shipman, a medical doctor, has been marked by a concern to avoid any
"witch-hunt" investigation in order to protect the honour of the profession
and the confidence of the population in it. Concerns have also been raised about
the nature of the case made for "cancer research", where the apparent
honourability of the claims may have been used to disguise the real need and
the actual use of the funds. A clerar case is offered by the century of delays
within the profession impeding recognition of helicobacter (Barry Marshall (Ed).
Helicobacter Pioneers: Firsthand
accounts from the scientists who discovered helicobacters, 1892-1982)
A high proportion of research funds is allocated through military budgets, notably to researchers in disciplines deemed most honourable in the "pecking order" of sciences -- mathematics being at the peak. Such disciplines are naturally complicit in the design of weaponry, and notably weapons of indiscriminate mass destruction (such as thermobaric devices) -- which many would deem to be inherently dishonourable. Members of such disciplines are complicit in the deception of framing their activities as honourably focused on "defence" when the track record is of their extensive and unprovoked use against innocents -- deceptively reframed as "collateral damage". It might be simply asked how much threat, or what level of attack, justifies use of such weaponry in disproportionate (overwhelming) response -- and how researchers frame their contribution to such slaughter to be honourable.
A significant proportion of social science research funds is allocated under
"defence" and "national security" budgets. This research
has notably been used to seek ways to destabilize regimes -- whether democratically
elected or not -- without use of military force. The most obvious examples are
those of Latin America and especially Chile (cf Project
Camelot). It was such destabilization that subsequently resulted in many
thousands of "disappearances", associated with systematic torture.
What is interesting is that the social scientists involved were able to to frame
their involvement as an honourable contribution to the defence of their country
-- and were appropriately rewarded for it.
The military has traditionally attached the highest value to honour and is the most explicit in that regard. At the lowest level there is concern that any action should bring dishonour on the individual military unit, on those of which it is directly or indirectly a part in the military hierarchy, and on the military as a whole. The military might be said to exist to defend the honour of the country that it serves. Much is made is made of honouring the national flag (or "showing the colours") in ceremonies and parades by the military as symbolizing that attitude. Flag burning may be cri,inalized.
The military in all countries is much challenged in its training facilities
by the dishonourable way it which soldiers are treated through bullying and
hazing -- to the point of provoking suicides. Despite an "honour code",
military academies are acknowledged to face a significant problem of cheating.
The products of the most reputable academies have been officially involved in
... [cf Oliver North, Westpoint, General Dwyer, My Lai, etc] Comparisons between
My Lai and Abu Ghraib have been made to demonstrate an unchanging mindset [more].
Challenges to understandings of honour have become evident in recognition of the level of sexual and racial discrimination in the military [more]. The nature of honour in a military context has been further reframed by exposure in 2005 of the level of religious discrimination and harassment amongst officer cadets in military academies. In the case of the U.S. Air Force Academy, complaints included allegations that Jewish students were harassed or insulted, that those of other faiths were not given the same latitude in exercising their religion and that some chaplains urged cadets to tell those not "born again" that they faced "the fires of hell." [more] Academy teachers also were said to have promoted their faith in class [more]. One issue is whether religious proselytizing on a campus funded by the US government is a violation of the separation of church and state. [more]
The more critical question that has been raised is that if a sizeable proportion of those acquring a milmitary discipline are prepared to treat their own female colleagues brutally, and treat any cadet who is not an evangelical Christian with derision, and this sort of behaviour receives tacit approval of their commanders, what are their attitudes likely to be toward the populations -- men, women and children -- of countries like Iraq, targeted for US military assault? Even more crucially, is the Chrsitian faith being used -- possibly condoned by military chaplains -- to legitimize abuses, including humiliation and torture, by the military against those which oppose the USA? Given the command structure, can the USA now prove otherwise with any credibility?
Politics and diplomacy
In principle political parties lay explicit claim to serve the best interests
of a country and are most attentive to the honour to be accorded to elected
representatives in doing so. Curiously, however, whilst opponents may be referred
to by honorifics ("the honourable member", "my honourable colleague"),
much effort is made to dishonour them, whether in parliamentary debate or by
other means. This notably extends to "negative campaigning". Extreme
examples include politically-motivated charges, whether fabricated or not, as
in the case of Anwar Ibrahim (former Prime Minister of Malaysia).
Economics, finance and accounting
The generation and control of money is a discipline fundamental to the operation
and survival of individuals, groups and nations. The key to its success lies
in the collective confidence in the capacity of a central agency to back any
monetary token and to honour any promise made in relation to it.
The challenge for statisticians has long been made through the phrase: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics" [more]. Statisicians are highly vulnerable to pressures from those that employ them (or bribe them), whether businesses or politicians, to selectively massage figures in order to make whatever case is presented. The challenge is most evident in the fraud scandal associated with the European Commission's Eurostat agency in 2003 [more].
The legal system, and specifically the courts, provide a rare and striking
instance of the manner in which the intangible notion of honour is given formal
recognition. Not only is there the courtesy of rising in honour of the judge,
as representative of the system of law, but there is the specific process of
oath taking by any witness taking the stand. Oath taking is a commitment on
one's honour to tell the truth and only the truth.
Many religions have specific spiritual disciplines associated with them whose practice is designed to ensure an appropriate, if not a progressively closer, relation to divinity. Those who practice such disciplines may themselves be honoured for doing so. However, those who are considered to practice them most successfully, may be honoured for their holiness and for any capacity to communicate and transmit the relation to divinity. Priests in particular may be understood to fulfil this mediating capacity with divinity for the followers of a religion -- and may be honoured above others in their community for doing so, and for the holiness that they in some measure represent.
Abuses by priesthoods, dishonouring the beliefs they claim to represent, have over the centuries resulted in schisms within religions and the formation of new religions deemed to reflect spiritual insights more truly and more honourably. Recent scandals of sexual abuse by priests, or in religious institutions, have notably brought great dishonour to the Catholic Church.
All the sporting disciplines place much emphasis on the honour that is brought
to the individual, whether as winner or participant, to their team and to their
country. That honour is, for example, celebrated in flag raising ceremonies
at the Olympic Games -- as well as in any presentation of medals.
This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Licence.