is it ethical to quote statistics routinely?
The question of ethics would definitely come into play if:
- Ethical principles exist for intentionally misleading people, aka.
- The statistics cited were either a) out of context (didn't apply)
or b) appeared fabricated.
Lies are a violation of most ethical systems. Usually statistics in books and the media are rarely fabricated (b), but very frequently they are out of context (a). This becomes very deadly when used as a premise to justify conclusions which would be an egregious premeditated lie with a false justification.
Many authors and media commentators state a ton of facts to build a case and then jump to a conclusion without making any necessary links between the truck load of raw data that is taken out of context and the idea they are trying to promote.
Plato talks about the Noble Lie. In essence his contention is that during a debate or similar circumstance you could perform a calculated lie in which your opponent in trying to dispute it would unravel the false basis of their position. I personally believe this was along the lines of agreeing with an opposing irrational view, and encourage taking the idea to the extreme.
The second ethical violation could be to purposely mislead people via Moving the Conversation to a red herring (reference). While not a direct lie, it can be seen as unethical to redirect the conversation purposely off track to avoid admission of the truth. Politicians frequently do this in debates, and a simple example could be as simple as citing a number of outlier events consuming the majority of the talk time, and claiming victory when not all of them are rebutted. This falls primary into the realm of intellectual dishonesty although many ethical systems may see this as unethical.
An example of a Noble Lie could be(1):
- Person A. The rich have all the money, lets raise taxes from 50% to
- Person B. Yea, I agree we should do something, lets tax them 100% of everything they have.
- Person A. Ok?!? Person B. in fact lets tax everyone 100% of what they make!
- Person A. but, I would rather move than someone taking everything I have.
- Person B. Right. So do you see my point?
(1) First thing I could think of just to point out the structure and I am not making the case.
What are some common positions as to whether it is (un)ethical to
quote positive generalizations (if in line with statistics) routinely,
and exercise judgement when quoting negative and sensitive statistics
about a race (even if in line with statistics)?
Lastly as you may be inferring, "Is it wrong to state something knowing it will hurt someones feelings?" Well for this I would say yes and no. When done in spite with intention to cause a harm without being sensitive to others, you can argue yes that is being a jerk. I would find it difficult to pin down a moral ought though, and it is not an effective way to get your point across. It can be useful to shock your audience into recognizing if there is a obvious pattern of lies you are trying to overcome.
Stefan Molyneux, a modern philosopher, will occasionally take this position to get a point across about untrue things he believes is being frequently said by people even though he normally speaks with more empathy to strangers then people talk to their own children. Under that circumstance, I would consider that acceptable as opposed to strictly antagonizing people for the hell of it to bait them into committing violence which would be unethical.