Friday, March 16, 2012

Ethicists No More Likely Than Non-Ethicists to Pay Their Registration Fees at APA Meetings

As some of you will know, I have an abiding interest in the moral behavior of ethics professors. I've collected a variety of evidence suggesting that ethics professors behave on average no morally better than do professors not specializing in ethics (e.g., here, here, here, here, and here). Here's another study.

Until recently, the American Philosophical Association had more or less an honor system for paying meeting registration fees. There was no serious enforcement mechanism for ensuring that people who attended the meeting -- even people appearing on the program as chairs, speakers, or commentators -- actually paid their registration fees. (Now, however, you can't get the full program with meeting room locations without having paid the fees.)

Registration fees are not exorbitant: Since at least the mid-2000s, pre-registration for APA members been $50-$60. (Fees are somewhat higher for non-members and for on-site registration. For students, pre-registration is $10 and on-site registration is $15.) According to the APA, these fees don't fully cover the costs of hosting the meetings, with the difference subsidized from other sources of revenue. Barring exceptional circumstances, people attending the meeting plausibly have an obligation to pay their registration fees. This might be especially true for speakers and commentators, since the APA has given them a podium to promulgate their ideas.

From personal experience, I believe that almost everyone appearing on the APA program attends the meeting (maybe 95%). What I've done, then, is this: I have compared published lists of Pacific APA program participants from 2006-2008 with lists of people who paid their registration fees at those meetings -- data kindly provided by the APA with the permission of the Pacific Division. (The Pacific Division meeting is the best choice for several reasons, and both of the recent Secretary-Treasurers, Anita Silvers and Dom Lopes have been generous in supporting my research.)

Let me emphasize one point before continuing: The data were provided to me with all names encrypted so that I could not determine the registration status of any particular individual. This was a condition of the Pacific Division's cooperation and of UC Riverside's review board approval. It is also very much my own preference. I am interested only in group trends.

To keep this post to manageable size, I've put further details about coding here.

Here, then, are my preliminary findings:

Overall, 76% of program participants paid their registration fees: 75% in 2006, 76% in 2007, and 77% in 2008. (The increasing trend is not statistically significant.)

74% of participants presenting ethics-related material (henceforth "ethicists": see the coding details) paid their registration fees, compared to 76% of non-ethicists, not a statistically significant difference (556/750 vs. 671/885, z = -0.8, p = .43, 95% CI for diff -6% to +3%).

Other predictors:

* People on the main program were more likely to have paid their fees than were people whose only participation was on the group program: 77% vs. 65% (p < .001).

* Gender did not appear to make a difference: 75% of men vs. 76% of women paid (p = .60).

* People whose primary participation was in a (generally submitted and blind refereed) colloquium session were more likely to have paid than people whose primary participation was in a (generally invited) non-colloquium session on the main program: 81% vs. 74% (p = .004).

* There was a trend, perhaps not statistically significant, for faculty at Leiter-ranked PhD-granting institutions to have been less likely to have paid registration fees than students at those same institutions: Leiter-ranked faculty 73% vs. people not at Leiter-ranked institutions (presumably mostly faculty) 75% vs. students at Leiter-ranked institutions 81% (chi-square p = .11; Leiter-ranked faculty vs. students, p = .03).

* There was a marginally significant trend for speakers and commentators to have been more likely to have paid their fees than people whose only role was chairing: 76% vs. 71% (p = .097).

Ethicists differed from non-ethicists in several dimensions.

* 33% of ethicists were women vs. 18% of non-ethicists (p < .001).

* 63% of participants whose only appearance was on the group program were ethicists vs. 42% of participants who appeared on the main program (p < .001).

* Looking only at the main program, 35% of participants whose highest level of participation was in a colloquium session were ethicists vs. 49% whose highest level of participation was in a non-colloquium session (p < .001). (I considered speaking as a higher level of participation than commenting and commenting as a higher level of participation than chairing.)

* Among faculty in Leiter-ranked departments, a smaller percentage were ethicists (38%) than among participants who were not Leiter-ranked faculty (49%, p < .001). (I've found similar results in another study too.)

I addressed these potential confounds in two ways.

First, I ran split analyses. For example, I looked only at main program participants to see if ethicists were more likely to have registered than were non-ethicists (they weren't: 77% vs. 77%, p = .90), and I did the same for participants who were only in group sessions (also no difference: 65% vs. 64%, p = .95). No split analysis revealed a significant difference between ethicists and non-ethicists.

Second, I ran logistic regressions, using the following dummy variables as predictors: ethicist, group program participant, colloquium participant, student at Leiter-ranked institution, chair. In one regression, those were the only predictors. In a second regression, each variable was crossed as an "interaction variable" with ethicist. No interaction variable was significant. In the non-interaction regression, colloquium role and main program participation were both positively predictive of having registered (p < .01) and participation only as chair was negatively predictive (p < .01). Being a student at a Leiter-ranked institution was not predictive (p = .18) and -- most importantly for my analysis -- being an ethicist was also not predictive (logistic beta = .04, p = .72), confirming the main result of the non-regression analysis.

[Thanks to the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association for providing access to their data, anonymously encoded, on my request. However, this research was neither solicited by nor conducted on behalf of the APA or the Pacific Division.]

Update March 17, for those concerned about privacy: See the comments section for a bit more detail on the methods used to ensure that no one outside the APA was able to determine any individual's registration status.


Adam Hogan said...

You're missing a key factors here: 1.) percentage who left the line frustrated because it was too long.
2.) percentage who stayed in line, but became frustrated because of issues at registration.
3.) percentage who have experienced factors 1 & 2 in the past and now avoid paying all together.

Adam Hogan said...

Insert 'some' for 'a'.

move alpha said...

Eric - Is there any reason to be surprised by this? Just thinking about this from the armchair, I can't see why ethicists should be expected to behave any better than the rest of us. It's not even clear to me why they should be expected to make better first-order moral judgments; but even if they did, that wouldn't have any direct implications for their behavior. What am I missing here?

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Adam: One advantage to pre-registering! Also, you could always come back and register later. I think evenings after the first day tend to be pretty clear. In 2006-2008, room information was published in the Proceedings, so there would be no need to pay immediately upon arrival if you were willing to go without the name badge for a bit. Further thought: Unless such excuses apply disproportionately to ethicists and non-ethicists, the overall conclusion should still hold.

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Move Alpha: Convincing people that they *should* be surprised if ethicists behave no differently than non-ethicists seems to be a major task. A full-length paper on this will be coming in due course. In the meantime, you might reflect on the four models of the relationship between moral reflection and moral behavior that are outlined in Josh Rust's and my paper "The Self-Reported Moral Behavior of Ethicists" (available on my homepage).

But: Even if the results surprise absolutely no one, it's still good science to have confirmatory data rather than just relaxing comfortably in armchair plausibility!

Anonymous said...

Quick question about confidentiality. It seems you were able to determine whether the presenter of any given talk paid his/her registration fees. And you were also able to see the titles of all of the talks, which allowed you to determine if the speakers were "ethicists" or "non-ethicists."

So what was to stop you from Googling those talk titles to find out who the speakers were, and then finding out if they paid their registration fees? Were there any measures in place to prevent this?

(I'm sure you didn't do this, but considering how easy it would have been I'm surprised that the Pacific Division and UC Riverside signed off on this methodology.)

Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Anon Mar 16 9:28: There was no way for me to do that. You're right that the Division and UCR would not have signed off were that possible.

Here's what we did in a bit more detail. An RA and I coded talks from publicly available programs. We listed name, gender, ethics/non (based on title but our coding sheet did not *include* the title, crucially for your concern), colloquium, group/main, speaker/commenter/chair, Leiter-ranked institution or not, and whether faculty if Leiter-ranked. No participant received more than one coding line (with procedures for collapsing to one line for participants with multiple roles on the program). Then another RA produced a formula that converted the names to encrypted code and randomized the order of everything.

Then the APA sent a third party organization (the UCR Statistical Consulting Collaboratory) the list of people who had paid their fees. However the SCC *didn't* know the significance of the list or the nature of the research. My encryption RA sent the SCC his encryption formula and the SCC used it to convert those registration lists into encrypted code.

The RA and the SCC sent me their encrypted files separately, and I looked for matches between the encrypted codes from the registration list (now no longer containing names or other identifying information) and encrypted codes from the APA program participation list (also not including any identifying information). I never saw the names of registrants and I never learned the encryption formula. I then instructed the SCC to delete the documents they had received from the APA.

I have mailed my data document back to the APA main office and the Pacific Division so that they can confirm that the data are properly encrypted and secure enough for their standards, and there are further measures I can take to increase data security if they deem it desirable, by reducing data columns and/or adding a further layer of encryption.

That's just some of the detail. It's very important to me that I create both the perception and the reality of my not knowing about any individual member's behavior!