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I am not a psychologist. But I studied studies about psychology. The ones I read have in common that their results are never contradicting legislation. If a scientist realized that some criminal activity contributed significantly to the well-being of those executing those actions and was able to combat long-lasting trauma of the ones executing, would he be able to publish his findings? Would he refrain from publishing them due to the results being unpopular and therefore risking his reputation?

The study could simply be conducted by interviewing criminals in jail.

The reason for this question is to enable me to understand better whether studies are biased and the results do not show the real picture but a distorted, watered down view to please legislation and to preserve reputation instead of finding and describing truth.

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    Your question is vague. Are you trying to ask about marijuana? – Azor Ahai Nov 20 '19 at 18:33
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    In your question you forget that crimes often have victims (not always, but often). Drug dealers, thieves and murderers might sometimes feel better (at least wealthier) as a consequence of their actions, but their well-being is not compatible with the common good. – Erwan Nov 20 '19 at 18:52
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    @Alex I don't see any part in your question where you exclude crimes with victims. Apparently your question focuses on the well-being of the person committing a crime, as if what is a crime or not was arbitrary. – Erwan Nov 20 '19 at 19:14
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    What do you mean by scientific studies contradicting legislation? Science describes facts, legislation prescribes norms. – henning -- reinstate Monica Nov 20 '19 at 19:32
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    @Alex If that's the case, can you provide an example of a crime you're considering? – Azor Ahai Nov 20 '19 at 20:03
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Let me distinguish between a scientist and a "scientist". The former is honest and follows truth. The latter is a propagandist, usually in service to some cause other than truth. For example, the tobacco companies and the petroleum companies employ a lot of "scientists", though they may also employ scientists. But they have an obvious agenda, and it has little to do with truth. So, in such cases, the work of the "scientists" is promoted and that of the scientists is suppressed (non disclosure agreements, and such).

But in general, in most places, science isn't under control of political or economic powers with a non-truth agenda. So yes, contrary studies will get published, provided that they can be conducted.

But a complicating factor is that governments and economic powers do control a lot of the funding around research and some of the rules that govern it. This can be a problem. It means that a lot of science just won't get done in the first place.

For example, in the US, the NRA and others have made it impossible for the government to fund most studies on gun related violence. They also, for many years, made it impossible for law enforcement agencies to treat domestic terrorism in the same way it treats other forms. The first case is about funding. The second about regulations.

Therefore, a lot of research just doesn't happen. People decided, generally, to give up research on gun violence since funding was unavailable and there seemed to be little future in building a career on that topic.

However, if the research does get done, somehow, I have no doubt that it can be published. Most places, anyway.

A different situation would occur in countries with authoritarian governments. In such places, certain research can be dangerous. People have died mysteriously.


But if you need to decide whether something is valid or not, you can, in addition to making your own judgements, look at the source of the information. If the person has a "post truth" agenda you would be well advised to be cautious.

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    You got a little off track here... – Alex Nov 20 '19 at 18:23
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    Then, perhaps you should clarify the question. – Buffy Nov 20 '19 at 18:28
  • There is quite a lot of research showing that tax cuts do not actually lead to more tax revenues in the long run, as well as that tax cuts generally benefit the rich more than the poor. – Wolfgang Bangerth Nov 21 '19 at 14:13
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    @WolfgangBangerth, I think that is the unanimous consensus among reputable researchers. It is ignored, of course, by those who benefit. But, the research is published, at least. – Buffy Nov 21 '19 at 14:16
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    @buffy I guess I did not end my thought. The point of the example was that these findings contradict public policy in many countries. – Wolfgang Bangerth Nov 21 '19 at 19:25
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It is important to identify what you call a crime. To avoid arguing about relativity of crimes with respect to the law (valid laws can be unethical and immoral according to ethics and intuitive morals; but even the latter can change quite quickly and abruptly), I will limit myself to distinguish victimless crimes and crimes harming 3rd parties.

There are victimless crimes, in which case, probably the fallout, if the study is solid and scientifically well-founded, is limited and containable in modern western societies.

However, if you talk about crimes harming third parties, you can be behind creating a situation where people will use the "Alex" paper in Nature/Science as defense for the crimes against third parties that they are perpetrating. You may then be removing a taboo from crimes which otherwise would be strongly societally sanctioned. This can have unforeseen and uncontainable consequences.

Related examples (not in the context of crime) is the emergence of "flat-earth" "research" (harmless) or the now debunked "vaccination causes autism" work which might have been a contributing factor to the current "vaccination scepticism" and may actually thus have quite number of lives on its conscience.

In the latter case, however, if the study had been correct, it would have at least contributed to perhaps abandoning a harmful practice.

In your case, even assuming that your study would be scientifically sound, you would (under the victimful crime assumption) contribute to remove a taboo that hitherto protected potential victims. You would therefore be trading off the well-being of the perpetrators against that of the victims. This is not your decision to make. There is a good reason that such power is only given to legislation. The very least you should do in this case is to have an in-depth discussion with the ethical board at your institution.

One interesting variation can be found in the hacking community: there, there is a view that forcing bug fixes through "responsible disclosure" (i.e. offering a reasonable time window of secrecy during which they are fixed) is acceptable. There are different opinions on that, as that community basically has decided on its own that it becomes the arbiter of how/when pressure is applied to achieve the goal of more safety. At least, on the whole, the intention is ultimately constructive, even if individual would-be-victims may not have the resources to actually solve the problem - or the would-be-victim is not even the one whose actions had created the problem in the first place or can do much about it. Here, we are clearly moving in a grey area.

Since we do not know what crimes you have in mind, I can not come up with more a specific response.

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