Even though the post by Chris on Emotion, Reason, and Moral Judgment over at Mixing Memory violates some of the golden rules of blog writing (tip: small bites are easier to chew), I highly recommend you take a look at it. It is the best precis I have read of the recent scientific paper about moral judgements made by damaged brains.
What is so good about it?
- It assumes no previous knowledge of brain science. This means philosophers without a background in neuroscience can get on board. Quickly.
- It avoids science jargon, the hallmark of unreadable scientific papers.
- The pretty picture of the brain is useful to the reader, because Chris explains in one glorious paragraph why researchers think proximity matters.
- He cleanly maps the experimental method with good examples, and ties it to the results.
- Alternative interpretations of the results are presented!
- The post ends with a discussion of what we should take from this research.
All of this means the post is easier to digest than the paper, and more on-point than the mainstream press coverage.
Where could it improve? Shorter paragraphs would be a start. That penultimate paragraph is a killer, though it’s clear this is where Chris is warming to the topic.
(It would be nice if blogging text-editors gave warnings when paragraph and post lengths exceeded 5 lines and 3 screens, respectively.)
As for content, only three things are missing:
- Connectivity in the conclusion. Quickly relating his interpretation of the research to other commentary would be valuable to readers of all sorts.
- An up-front hint what “the reward system” means. While this gets explained a few sentences later, providing meaning when it is first mentioned would make for cleaner reading. To keep focus on the main point, any definition should remain short and tangential. Off-site links or footnotes are good second options.
- A quick copy edit: “and brain’s the reward system” shouldn’t make it to press.
None of that should deter readers from popping over to read the post. It’s enlightening reading, and a good mix of well-presented fact and educated opinion. Science writers take heed.
Here is the paper which stirred this up:
Koenigs, M., Young, L., Adolphs, R., Tranel, D., Cushman, F., Hauser, M., & Damasion, A. (2007). Damage to the prefrontal cortex increases utilitarian moral judgements. Nature.