Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Dilemmas of Integrity

Consider the following scenarios:

1) You're a scientist renowned for your research based on an elegant theory that has been named for you. Your research has attracted steady grant funding and a host of prestigious publications. Suddenly the results from your most recent experiments disconfirm your theory and suggest that a rival theory--one advanced by a competing researcher--accounts for the data much better. What do you do?

2) You're a squadron leader in the field and, under the pressure of battle, two of your men fire on civilians and kill them. If reported, this will likely destroy their career and yours. It would also greatly set back relationships with the host government. One soldier suggests planting weapons on the dead civilians to make the squad's actions look like self defense. The others quickly agree. What do you do?

3) You're a trader who has been cultivating skills at reading and trading short-term market patterns. You love trading and envision making your living from it. Suddenly your research uncovers a much larger edge to a set of market patterns that set up over months or even years. The returns are much better than for short-term trading--and they are achieved with far less risk, making only a couple of decisions per year. You only have enough capital to allocate to one set of strategies, and the correlation of returns between the two approaches make it unlikely you'd benefit from pursuing both anyway. What do you do?

It's not always easy to "do the right thing". We live, Ayn Rand, by the evidence of our senses, but sometimes that evidence leads to an unpleasant verdict.

Still, I suspect there's a special place in Valhalla for those who shut the door on one set of dreams to open the door to many others.