Friday, June 22, 2007

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My moral midgetry

Following a link at Fairer Globalization, I came across this Moral Sense test at Harvard.

It's an eight question test in which an action is described and then you are asked to award damages.

In the scenarios I was given, I awarded an average of $129 in fines. The average response of all test takers was approximately $72,000.

So, clearly, I'm a heartless bastard. [And you also like to make fun of short people!!--ed.] Or, I'm more willing to blame fortuna than people when bad but (largely) accidental things happen.

Take the test and let me know how moral you are.

UPDATE: Well, after reading the commentary, I do feel better about my moral standing. Well, except for Mike Munger's reaction, which just makes me want to grab a baseball bat, apply it to Munger, and then see whether the tort system really works.

posted by Dan on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM


My average was $19. I only awarded money for the case where the woman put her feet up on the seat, since that's clearly against the rules. When you break the rules and someone gets hurt as a result, you ought to pay. But all the other times, people were just following rules and doing what they thought was best. In a situations of, say, a dangerous workplaces I thought it might be appropriate for the employer to pay a fine, but not for the person who incidentally caused harm.

posted by: Alex F on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I got similar results to the above poster.

This test is examining an individuals sense of collective versus individual responsibility. I would expect nothing less than a low average fine from an avowed libertarian. (The dentist did seem to be at fault, and it is unclear whether the rolling barrel was in a zone demarcated by "do not enter" signs.)

It frightens me that the average fine awarded is $72,000. It is disappointing that people don't value individual responsibility and instead favor some crude form of forced equality. Professor Mankiw's paper on the optimal taxation of height seems to have relevance here.

I wonder what the sample bias for the test is. You indicate that you got linked from "Fairer Globalization." Would it be illogical to assume a heavily left bias?


posted by: Jacob on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I hardly saw any of the situations as requiring fines.

I assumed that the fines were in addition to any civil damages for negligence paid directly to the 'victims' of the actions; it's debatable whether the fines should be interpreted as in addition to or in lieu of civil damages. Possibly many of the other people taking the test assumed (in spite of the instructions) that they were awarding civil damages?

posted by: Will on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I gave zero. The behavior in some of these situations was careless, but that's life. Or, as we used to say back home, "tough shit".

posted by: Tony on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I gave zero. The behavior in some of these situations was careless, but that's life. Or, as we used to say back home, "tough shit".

posted by: Tony on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I gave zero. The behavior in some of these situations was careless, but that's life. Or, as we used to say back home, "tough shit".

posted by: Tony on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Did anyone get the dentist question? I put 5000 for that, what idiot drills a tooth without local anesthesia? The rest were 0 for an average of 625.

posted by: Eric M on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

One more thing. Was the $72,000 average a mean or a median? Because I could very easily imagine that this test would have very, very right-skewed responses: 90% of people offering under $10,000, most of the rest offering millions. For a $72,000 average, all it takes is for one person (perhaps after misreading the test as "how much compensation do the victims deserve") to put down $10,000,000 while 138 others say that no fines should be levied at all.

Of course, this was a *Harvard* test, and I'd assume any statistics offered by them wouldn't be so misleading. Besides, a test with such skewed responses wouldn't give very meaningful data.

posted by: Alex F on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I have a somewhat different take than the above commenters. I came out nowhere near $72000 on average, but I found that some of these people were really thoughtless of the impact of their actions on others. The workman had no business assuming that the passer-by would stay out of danger; the guy in the garage should have made certain his brother was out of harm's way [I've worked on such worksites, and watching out for others is supposed to be standard practice--because of workmen's comp rules, if nothing else]. On the other hand, I found it hard to fault the woman in the office for not realizing that flipping the light switch would cause a shock, or the peanut-eating woman for not realizing that her eating peanuts would cause that reaction. I'm struck that one of the commenters thinks that fining these people indicates a prevailing "lack of individual responsibility." Huh? Is it "responsible" to behave as if you're the only person around and to proceed in reckless disregard of your surroundings? I can understand if the cause/effect relationship is invisible to the subject, but in several of these cases the subjects were guilty of assuming that they could engage in risky behavior without consequence.

posted by: David on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I gave 0 in each case for an average of 0. That might have been skewed by legal training-- far as I could tell there was no negligence in any case and none fell into a strict liability exception-- but I think the legal intuitions correspond with the moral ones.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

What Jacob Levy said - 0 in each case, for a 0 average.

I was confused, as Will was, about whether the test maker intended this to be a separate issue from a negligence payment. It explicitly stated that the money was a fine going to the government, rather than compensation going to the injured party, but I didn't know whether the test maker was just confused or whether that was deliberate.

posted by: David Nieporent on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Agreed with Will, Jacob, and David. The test is colossally stupid, in that its results are driven by people's ignorance about civil law and criminal negligence. The only reasonable answer to each question is zero, and it has nothing to do with "moral reasoning."

Dan Drezner, you failed the test.

posted by: no one on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

My average was $125. The only two scenarios where I thought fines were in order were the "punching the target/breaking nose" and "sloppy dentist/hits a nerve" scenarios. In both cases the offenders, either through common sense or professional know-how, should have known better. In the other cases, the misfortunes all seemed to be the results of unfortunate accidents involving well-meaning people and/or stupid behavior on the part of the victim (pay attention to where people are rolling drums, dummy!). My fines were pretty small because I don't earn much money, and my idea of "painful fines" may be different from others.

posted by: Dave B. on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I fined both the dentist and the construction worker. Both of them work in inherently dangerous fields. It's their job to monitor safety conditions. The dentist is fairly obvious and the construction worker needs to very actively monitor any area that isn't fenced off to passersby.

As for the legal thing, the question wasn't how much the person should pay based if you were a juror assigning it a fine. It was how much they should pay under whatever system the survey-taker devises. If you think current negligence laws are the best answer and they'd give zero, that's fine. But ignorance of the law is neither here nor there.

That said, I do suspect that a lot of people missed that the fines don't include compensation for to the victim.

posted by: Greg Sanders on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I only paid money on the one where the person put her legs up on the seat across from her. I agree that the test was stupid. I believe that in many of the situations compensation (medical bills, lost wages) may need to be paid to the injured party, but the government shouldn't receive money for its general fund because of an accident.

posted by: Fel on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Why shouldn't non-libertarian liberal hearts bleed for the liberty and finances of those who intend no harm? But also hold to account, in a mild way, those who have a responsibility to foresee the possible adverse consequences of their actions?

I hope the 72,000 is a mean and not a media, and that the sample overrepresents officiousness.

posted by: Lib on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Another relevant factor: how much harm done? (E.g., only bruises.) Should "could have been worse" count in favor of a higher fine? Presumptively not: the best evidence as to what was risked is what actually occurred.

posted by: Lib on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

$125 average from me. The only person I found culpable was the construcion worker rolling barrels. He was the only one that I thought had a duty to protect people down the ramp. I don't think that any of the other scenarios rose to the level of negligence.

Hasn't anyone here ever had a tooth drilled without anesthesia? I know the shot will hurt and if the dentist says that he thinks it is unnecessary I won't take the anesthesia.

posted by: BlueOX on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

There were a couple which were significant, where the harm really was malpractice (the tooth, the barrel).

Rolling down barrels and the tooth were arguably "should have known" liability for professionals.

And the harm DONE for the barrel case is huge. Its not just a "trip & fall": a broken leg is a $50k injury.

posted by: Nicholas Weaver on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

BlueOX: I actually sometimes do mine without anesthesia. Sometimes the pain of the injection and inconvenience of the lasting effects outweigh the pain of the procedure.

I figure it varies from person to person and from procedure to procedure. So maybe there's a 5% chance that doing it without anesthesia will cause excruciating pain (the term used in the setup). In those sorts of cases, the dentist I go to set up some procedure beforehand to "say uncle" if it was too bad. That didn't seem to be the case here. I take the term "excruciating" to mean "more than the patient can tolerate."

posted by: Greg Sanders on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I agree with some posters upthread that this test hasn't much value as far as moral sense is concerned. Fines would be paid into government funds if laws were broken, and with a couple of exceptions, like the careless construction worker, that isn't established as a possibility in these scenarios.

Compensation to the victim, arrived at through arbitration or civil legal action, is another matter. The dentist would be at serious risk, as would (probably) both the construction worker and his employer. The woman with the peanuts certainly could be if it could be established that she had specific warning of the consequences her actions were likely to produce; the woman in the train station, if she put her feet up in a station that (like most) has signs posted asking people not to put their feet on the furniture, might as well. There again, though, these facts aren't established in the scenarios.

Familiarity with the American legal system would incline Americans taking this test to assume that compensation for wrongs done is due to victims; only penalties for laws broken are due the government. The same system suggests at least to this respondant that assignment of liability for unfortunate events requires much more specificity than these scenarios provide as to whether the party setting them in motion had good reason to know beforehand that his actions would result in harm.

posted by: Zathras on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I'm with Eric M--exact same answers.

I wonder who actually wrote these questions, which have some odd language:

Question 1: "... Amy does not think that you is going to run past her..."

Question 3: "... Steve this that you are out of the way of the door..."

posted by: John on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]


I think the scenario was a "penalty" scenario to avoid the secondary issue of whether the victim "deserved" the money. I took the test assuming that the only question was whether a penalty was deserved based on either the conduct that caused the injury or a public policy consideration.

My background is in environmental issues, so civil penalties for non-negligent behavior behavior doesn't shock me. The dentist scenario was analagous in my book. I thought it was an accident, but society might desire fewer accidents by use of modest penalties to discourage risk-taking and encourage improvements in skills, technology, etc.

posted by: PD Shaw on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Agree with above that there were some mispelled words and poor grammar.

My results? 0 fines for anyone as I did not see any reason to fine them. The scenarios all show people doing things that were not very bright, but none of the actions were intentional and malicious. Accidents to happen.
Also, there is some responsibility on the part of the injured as well. Case in point...drop a piece of metal you are holding that some idiot decides he is going to weld, don't walk in front of a ramp that you see someone rolling barrels down. Simple common sense was lacking in both the injured and person causing injury in almost every scenario.

posted by: paul on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I wonder how the results vary across the political spectrum. I consider myself a moderate-liberal, but I also awarded 0.

posted by: Anon on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I took the test and awarded $0. People really need to stop blaming others for accidents and begging for monetary awards.

posted by: PoliticalCritic on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I assigned 0 fines as well though I probably was influenced by what I read here before taking the test.

What I find disconcerting, though, is the name of the test: "Moral Sense." I tend to think of morality as being more about what I do than about my ability to judge others, in this case to fine them. I found it difficult to understand why negligence-rudeness-lack of consideration, which is what most of these were about, is considered a moral failing as opposed to a legal civil one.

posted by: Gene on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

As a proud liberal and long-time Democrat, I fined the construction worker, the girl who put her feet up, and the guy with the punch target, for demonstrating such lack of interest in their surroundings as to be dangers to society. Average award, $31.

posted by: Imaginary on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

IIRC, the only 2 professionals involved were the dentist and the construction worker. The dentist's error was minor and had no long-lasting effects. The construction worker's error violates standards of safe-operation established decades ago and the law as well. Everyone involved in such work has received safety training and understands not to roll massive barrels down to public areas unless there are attendants and other safeguards in place to prevent injury to bystanders. Thus, IMO, it does not matter what the worker thought would happen in this instance - the law and the training dictate what should have been done. Sounds like criminal negligence to me, so I was quite surprised to see Jacob Levy's response.

posted by: RW Rogers on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Re the construction worker - note carefully in the test that it asks how much you want HIM to be fined, rather than the company for which he works - I assume that any lawsuit would not be directly addressed at him personally but rather his employees, so I think the right answer in this case is 0.

For the same reason I only awarded a fine to the dentist, since presumably he is his own employer.

posted by: Dr. Green on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Zero, nilch, nada, not a penny.

posted by: John Venlet on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I guess I agree with most of the above comments in that I only gave out fines for the dentist and the construction worker, but my average is way, way higher.

I gave out $50k for the construction accident, because (a) a broken leg is far more severe than any of the other injuries, and (b) this was the only scenario that was outright negligent. I fined the dentist $200; there's no permanent damage, but 'not drilling into major nerves' does seem like it's in his job description.

I thought the carnival question was a bit odd; I don't think the guy punching the target should be fined, but the carnival operator definitely should have been.

Did anybody else notice that in the demographic survey, just about all of the employment options were for public-sector jobs?

posted by: Independent George on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]


For the woman in the train station, and also the man rolling the barrel, because it was unclear whether the construction worker was in a position of authority, I applied a fine equivalent to an insurance deductible.

posted by: Stacy on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

9:07 wrote (three times): I gave zero. The behavior in some of these situations was careless, but that's life. Or, as we used to say back home, "tough shit".

I suggest that 9:07 take a basic class in torts before writing such nonsense. Carelessness (i.e., negligence) is perfectly actionable if someone gets hurt, as it should be.

posted by: temoc94 on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

It's easy to see what these researchers are trying to do. I suspect the average fine is entirely unimportant to their results (assuming they know what they're doing).

There is the

1) Professional (dentist / construction workder) vs. layperson

2) Reasonable to expect someone to know better vs. not (garage door vs. peanuts)

3) Someone else gets hurt vs. I get hurt (this was an interesting move as we got to the last couple of scenarios)

And so on... I'd like to think that differences in those who would give out large fines vs. small ones might not be particularly relevant when evaluating how people react to these dynamics (although maybe I give too much credit to these folks from The 'Vard)

posted by: Howard on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

It is difficult for anyone who has gone to law school to view this as a "moral" test, rather than one of assessing where negligence, in the legal sense of the term, is present. With that in mind, I think only the dentist and the construction worker were negligent. (The peanut-eater in the allergist office is a closer question, but I'm not convinced that public awareness of peanut allergy is sufficiently widespread to call this negligence.)

Another point: the damages in these scenarios all went to the government, not to the victim. To the extent that we believe damages should make the victim whole again, awarding them to the government probably reduces the amount of damages awarded. To the extent that we believe in "punitive damages," awarding them to the government probably increases the amount of damages.

posted by: temoc94 on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

An average of $18, but I wasn't at all committed to my single award of "damages". I just felt I had to do something about all these relatively minor inconveniences.

posted by: John on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I averaged about $80. Mostly my assesments were based on whether the individual in question behaved responsibly, and whether the ignorance of consequences was reasonable. I let the peanut eater, the office worker, and the carnival puncher off.

Weld a piece of metal someone else is holding? Roll a heavy barrel down a ramp?

How about a warning at least? It ought to occur to you that there is a potential for damage.

A dentist (the clearest case IMO) doesn't know he might inflict pain with the drill, and has no responsibility for the patient's wellbeing? The woman can't tell that the passenger might run past her? The car repair guy can't be bothered to check where his brother's legs are before closing the door?

In none of these cases does it require any more than very simple caution to avoid harming someone. In all of them there is every reason to be aware of the possibility. I agree with Jacob Levy that legal training influenced his thinking. I disagree that the legal intuitions correspond to the moral ones.

posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I had a dentist drill without anesthesia. She carelfully explained to me the reason (safer, small cavity) and I agreed.

It was very painful (8 out of 10) and I complained to her. I don't think she deserved any sort of fine but I did switch to a new dentist.

posted by: Tim D. on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I had a dentist drill without anesthesia. She carefully explained why (small cavity and safer). She said it would be faster and over-all less pain; I agreed.

It was very painful (8 out of 10) and took longer than she'd palnned. I complained to her but she should not have been fined. However, I never saw her again and went to a new dentist.

posted by: Tim D. on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Like nearly everyone else, I saw no reason to award damages in any case except the person who stretched his or her legs across across the aisle where people were walking. You really shouldn't do that. Nor should you prop your feet on another seat. Doing so breaches the posted rules of most train and bus stations, and, in any case, it's not good manners or wise practice. It caused some injury, so I made a small award ($100-200), since stoning to death seems excessive.
Charles L.

posted by: Charles L. on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

$88. I awarded $500 for the train station and $200 for the sculpture welding mishap. Yes, it said clearly the money goes to the government but my reasoning still went to the cost of the x-ray, doctor et al. for the ankle all due to careless disregard by the foot rester.

I figure the exam for the burnt hand and bandaging dressing etc. will be more like $400, but both parties were equally stupid so should share the cost.

posted by: Mark H. on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

RE: Train station - Wondering if those who assessed a fine for that because it is "against the rules" gave any thought to the fact that running in a train station is undoubtedly "against the rules" as well.

posted by: RW Rogers on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Good question RW Rogers. I didn't cite the "rules" thing, but for me, if they hadn't included the caveat that "leg on seat" person saw the person running toward him/her but still put up the legs, I'd not have awarded anything. Which would bring me down to $25 from $88.

I must say though, the whole thing sounded like an 8th grade exercise, not really at a "Harvard" level. I guess we're in even more trouble than I already thought we were.

posted by: Mark H. on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I thought the construction worker should get fined. He could have communicated with whoever was there. Secondly the Dentist, and lastly for the Brother just beacause of stupidity.

posted by: Joe Schreuder on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

"I must say though, the whole thing sounded like an 8th grade exercise, not really at a "Harvard" level. I guess we're in even more trouble than I already thought we were."

Assuming the "experiment" involves deception, you should not be so sure about the quality of the questions. It would be interesting to figure out what they were really up to... discussing the fines is more fun, though.

Awarded 0 $.

The dentist took me a while, but I do not think there should be punishments i.e. governmental regulation - involved. There isn't even a real damage and he (as a professional) did what he thought was best. I probably just would not go there anymore.

I am wondering whether Americans in average award more than others, due to being used to excessive compensations in the legal system...

posted by: Roland on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

No, the people who gave $70,000 in fines are the heartless bastards. I think mine was about $20.

But the test wasn't very good. In the case of the man getting his legs broken by the barrels, the employer should pay the fine for have the barrels go rolling past a sidewalk. Unless the guy was walking through a clearly marked construction site, in which case it *should* be his fault (though with our current legal system, he'd probably still win a lawsuit).

The same goes with the guy who got his nose broken at the carnival. Was the area behind the stalls clearly marked/closed off to the public? If not, it's the carnival organizer's fault. If so, it *should* be the guy's own fault.

But where the hell did $70,000 come from? I hope that's just a lot of people fooling around. Or maybe this test was hit by a swarm of trial lawyers who dream up these ridiculous figures.

posted by: Dan on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Well, for anyone reading this far, the test is pretty spoiled by now, so I'm curious to know if people saw different variations of the questions and/or award summary.

There are a lot of tests in psych research where what they're really interested in measuring is not what it appears they're looking at on the first glance. For example, I could easily see a scenario where they don't care so much about the absolute money values people give to the various questions (which, as various posters have noted, may vary based on all kinds of extraneous factors like knowledge of torts, compensatory vs. punitive damages, etc.) but about the *differences* in the average values given based on controlled variables.

Now, those differences may be question-to-question differences, as each of us saw in the test. But they may also be quiz-to-quiz differences, in subtle things like the characters mentioned in each question. (Where is "you" in each scenario, if anywhere? are other characters male or female? and other such subtle changes you can toggle in a person-at-a time computer-delivered quiz.) Those are variables whose nature is clearly understood and easy to control.

Less easy to control, though potentially also of interest, are the average values mentioned at the end of the test. Why would they bother to tell you this figure at the end (without you asking) instead of waiting until the trials had completed and they wrote the paper? Are they looking to see how the figure and information propagates online? (And is the figure changing, or staying constant?) IIRC, the testers asked subjects at the start not to disclose information about the content and results of the test to others who hadn't taken it, which is potentially the opportunity for another sort of "moral sense" test.

Maybe the test is in fact straightforwardly meant. Maybe it isn't. I wonder which...

posted by: John Mark Ockerbloom on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I fined only the construction worker -- judging him to be responsible for making sure nobody could be struck by a dangerous rolling barrel. For two broken legs, the award should be substantial (depending on complications, time off work, etc).

The dentist was the only other one I even considered--but assuming he offered anesthetic which the patient declined, then nothing there either (but, at most, it would be a small award -- I've experienced that pain. It's nasty, but over fast).

posted by: Slocum on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

"there was no negligence in any case"

If a guy is rolling heavy barrels down an incline, is he not negligent to give no warning to those near the path of the barrel?

There's the interference by a roller of heavy barrels--his breaking of legs of a guy who's just not taking as much care as he might where he walks. There's the interference of fining the roller when he doesn't take care to see nobody's going to get hit and somebody gets their legs broken. Is there less freedom, more net interference, in the latter world than the former? Why shouldn't a libertarian hold barrel rollers responsible for the consequences of their actions? All the state does here is set up a venue where one individual--the dreamy walker with broken legs--can hold accountable another--the one who could have looked before he rolled.

posted by: Lib on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

Most of the situations were people being stupid, but in benign ways. If a fine is appropriate, I thought that a parking ticket-traffic ticket range of $10-$100 was an appropriate place to start.

Rolling barrels without watching for people, and eating peanuts at your allergists, are cases of such gross negligence that I thought deterrence/punishment appropriate.

posted by: arthur on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I agree with the majority of posters that the instrument was alienating. The very first scenario left me thinking "I wouldn't fine the STUDENT anything, but what about the teacher? Who the hell sets up a classroom situation that will lead to one student burning another?!" Being forced to give a simple (simplistic, really) answer to a complex situation irritated me right off, and that with the punctuation error in the sentence about the money going to a government fund started me off on the wrong foot.

posted by: dpc on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I awarded $5, to the welder's partner, because the welder should have known that would cause injury, and $5 for the sort of minor burn that would inflict seems plausible.

(Realistically, of course, transaction costs would make even that ridiculous.)

On the other hand, if could have fined the construction company in example 1 for "have someone roll barrels down a ramp where people will be walking", for reckless negligence, I would.

Remember, the description for that case didn't say he "didn't look", but that the man who gets hit was standing still and showed no inclination to move (and is evidently deaf, if he didn't hear a barrel rolling down a ramp...).

posted by: Sigivald on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

This true-blue liberal assessed a total of $140 in fines. Four at $10 each for excessive stupidity and one for $100 for the construction worker. I know it's not a crime to be stupid, but ...

posted by: Martha on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

One big flaw in the test is the different ways, evident in the comments, that people view the fines. Are they a government imposed fine, a penalty for negligence, an effort to measure damage?

I took the view that what I was being asked was to compare degrees of culpability, using the relative dollar amounts as the measure. So I thought the dentist was most culpable, not because of the amount of harm, but because the combination of his professional expertise and his direct obligation to care for his patient made him the most careless of the lot.

Obviously, others worked from different ideas.

posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I awarded $0 is all situations. Mostly because it was described as a tax going to a general government fund. This neither states or implies that the victim in any of the situations would receive any benefit from the award, only a third party would benefit. How is that moral, unless it is supposed to be some sort of penitence?

posted by: patrick on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I'm with Alex F, at #1. I gave the woman a $100 fine. We can take it that there's a rule against putting your feet on the seats, and a fine is appropriate. All the other cases are either bad luck, civil wrongs or someone else's fault.

As regards the construction worker, for example, it says right at the start that his job is to roll barrels down the ramp. It's the employer's obligation to make sure that the site is safe, and a criminal charge would probably be appropriate.

posted by: John Quiggin on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I fined the barrel-roller and the girl who put up her feet in the *crowded* train station. Both of those accidents could have and should have been reasonably anticipated and prevented, so there should be some culpability, even if there was no malice. (The barrel guy could have yelled something about being about ready to roll a barrel; there should have been something blocking access to where the barrels fell, etc. The girl, in addition to not anticipating causing an accident by blocking the path -- who could have seen *that* coming? -- was pure-D rude to block an empty seat with her feet when there were probably others who wanted to sit there.)

Everything else was just bad luck, although if the dentist had a habit of drilling without anesthesia and causing pain, then I wouldn't be so understanding.

posted by: class-factotum on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I fined the construction worker $500, everyone else 0. In most cases an apology would be in order; the sculpture burn person should offer to defray medical expenses. The dentist clearly messed up, but there was no lasting damage, so I see no need for a fine.

I bet that the results are influence by a few trolls. Someone clearly took the test and said "I'm going to fine everyone 20 bazillion dollars" and that skewed the results. I suspect the collected demographic data includes a high number of 100 year old women from Uzbekistan with graduate degrees serving in the military, as well.

posted by: T on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

This test is a little to pat to take seriously as a survey of people's "moral sense" since there are no moral questions asked. Rather I think it is something else, perhaps a survey of religious affiliation or an attempt to see how people will react to the rather dumb scenarios presented.

In fact, this may be an unethical on line survey that has nothing to do with Harvard or morality. The questions are too sophmoric and, as pointed out above, ignore civil law and tort law to be an academic product, especially from an elite school. The "$72K" number is presented before any statistics couod have been gathered since the survey is still in place. This is totally bogus.

Caveat Emptor if you ask me.

posted by: mikeyes on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

I, too, gave $0 in every single situation. Many -- perhaps most -- of the scenarious could realistically have justified a compensatory payment to the victim. But I saw no reason for a penalty to be paid to the government. I was pretty shocked by the $72k average.

posted by: DC User on 06.22.07 at 06:28 PM [permalink]

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