a blog about philosophy in public affairs

Author: Polaris Koi

I am a Senior Researcher in ethics in the Nudging for Climate research consortium, at the University of Turku, Finland. My chief philosophical interests are agency and self-control, psychiatry, neuroethics, and behavioural policy.

Student use of ChatGPT in higher education: focus on fairness

From the long-form essay to concise term definitions, ChatGPT can be an apt tool for students in completing various assignments. Yet many educators balk at its use: they emphasize that ChatGPT makes errors, claim that its use is cheating, and that students using it learn nothing.

What sorts of policies should educators adopt? Our options fall into three main categories:
1) Explicitly forbid the use of ChatGPT.

2) Have no explicit policy: ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’.

3) Explicitly allow the use of ChatGPT.

In this post, I look at these three options from the perspective of fairness. Since fairness thrives on transparency, 3) seems to me the fairest of them all.

Listening to executive dysfunction

Chatting with an UK psychologist over a pint, I asked if the UK, like my native Finland, currently struggles to accommodate the large number of women coming to the clinic with ADHD symptoms. He confirmed it did, and so does The Guardian, headlining “ADHD services ‘swamped’, say experts as more UK women seek diagnosis”. Likewise, the New York Post declaims how women “are diagnosing themselves with neurodivergent conditions such as ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) after watching trending TikTok videos”.

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disability characterized by differences in sustained attention, impulse control, and motor activity. Not all symptoms need to be present for all patients: symptom presentation can differ among people with ADHD. In the 1980s and 1990s, responses to this heterogeneity have included the advent of concepts such as ADD (attention deficit disorder without hyperactivity) and ADHD ‘subtypes’. However, neither subtypes nor a differential ADD diagnosis are any longer recognized, and it is instead accepted that ADHD presents in many different ways.

Source: social media meme

In the 1980s, ADHD was conceived of mainly as a disorder of motor hyperactivity, as a disorder that only affects children, and that mainly affects boys. However, we now know that for some people with ADHD, their symptoms persist to adulthood, although the symptom presentation may change. We also now understand that ADHD has long been underdiagnosed in girls and women.

Self-control and socio-economic disadvantage: trickier than it seems

In social psychology, there is a small industry for articles reporting positive correlations between measures of self-control and various measures of socio-economic status and achievement. For example, Tangney, Baumeister and Boone (2008) found that self-control, measured on a self-report scale they devised, is correlated with better grades, somatic and mental health, and stable social relationships such as marriage. Moffitt et al. (2011) conducted a longitudinal study that followed children who had participated in the Mischel “marshmallow tests” to the age of 32 years old, and found childhood performance in that delayed gratification assignment to be correlated with measures of health and economic success, interpersonal adjustment, and  with criminal justice outcomes, even after controlling for childhood socio-economic factors.

Studies like these have been widely publicised, and the message in popular science media often leads with the idea that self-control is a stable trait that some have, some don’t. The ones who were dealt a losing hand in self-control got a losing hand overall, ending up with poor health, poverty, unstable relationships, and crime not out of ill will, but because they simply can’t hold it together. In short, the causal arrow goes from poor self-control to socioeconomic disadvantage.

This line of thinking has received plenty of criticism. Some have pointed out that the studies have been designed from a perspective assuming a middle-class lifestyle, and that self-control may not be as adaptive for people from all backgrounds.

Accounting for global and local justice in behavioural climate policy

Anthropogenic climate change is a global concern. However, that climate change concerns all of us does not mean that it would concern all of us equally. Income is the primary correlate of carbon footprint whether analysed on a national or individual level. The richest half of the world’s countries (in GDP) emit 86% of global CO2 emissions. The difference is even starker when analysed on an individual level: income level is also the strongest correlate with citizen CO2 footprint (2016 data from the Global Carbon Project). The effect of attempts to decrease carbon footprint in wealthy countries by producing climate-friendly consumer goods, energy, and transport options have had limited effect – in part because these only transform a small part of citizens’ total consumption behaviour, and in part because reductions are needed, primarily, in the amount of consumption by high-income citizens rather than in the specific goods being consumed.

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