Cheating, Gaming and Rule Fixing: Challenges for Ethics across the Adversarial Professions (2018-2019)


Distinct approaches to ethics scholarship, ethics education and the regulation of ethics have evolved independently in a number of institutions designed to harness competition for social benefits, such as in markets, law, democratic politics, sports and scientific research. They all identify a range of overlapping ethical problems that inevitably arise in competitive domains (such as cheating or gaming the rules), but they do it in different ways, with different concepts and principles, and they use different models for promoting compliance with rules and norms of fair play, including different approaches to professional ethics education.

Project Description

There is almost no scholarship that compares and contrasts these models across the adversarial professions; hence there is little cross-pollination of conceptual innovations and best practices. This Bass Connections project’s aim is to tunnel between these professional silos and start to identify the most promising ways they might learn from one another.

The project team will improve understanding of the upsides and downsides of the ways in which our society builds competition into the core of some vital systems and institutions. The team will determine how institutional designs and professionals within these institutions try to enhance the upsides and limit the downsides, and will identify useful innovations, best practices and pedagogical methods found in any one of these adversarial domains that might be promising for other domains.

Sub-teams will initially focus on one adversarial domain, such as law, NCAA athletics or business, and compile a basic understanding of three different dimensions of its approach to ethics:

  • How the domain’s scholars of professional ethics justify the role of competition in that domain, to characterize the normative problems generated by competition and justify norms and principles for taming competitive excesses
  • How universities and professional schools (including athletic departments) try to educate current and future practitioners and professionals to behave more ethically or better manage the ethics within their organizations
  • How government regulators, professional associations and other sources of nongovernmental regulation set standards and codes of ethics to ensure and enforce compliance.

These teams will continually report back to each other so that together team members can identify opportunities for cross-pollination of innovative approaches across the hitherto isolated professional silos.

Anticipated Outcomes

Scholarly article for a major journal that makes the largely empirical case for the “silo hypothesis” in the literature; other scholarly articles that make the case within one professional ethics silo that they could adapt an innovative approach to a similar problem in another silo; website that displays the fruits of the team’s research; syllabus and course plan for a future multidisciplinary undergraduate course at Duke


Summer 2018 – Spring 2019  

  • Summer 2018: One or two graduate students and one undergraduate lay groundwork by scouting research on scholarly, pedagogical and regulatory approaches to ethics in each adversarial profession; prepare a guidebook or manual that sub-teams will use throughout the data collection and analysis phase involving the different professional ethics silos
  • Fall 2018: Readings in ethics, law and psychology; share elements in each team’s “deep dive” (such as curricula of ethics courses, or debates dominating specialty scholarly journals)
  • Spring 2019: Work collaboratively to analyze and present in various formats the main comparative findings

Team Outcomes 

Tesla’s Elon Musk: A Tweet to Burn the Shorts? Part A (case study by Tanya Smith)

This Team in the News

A Tweet to Burn the Shorts? 

Support for this project was provided by the Silver Family Kenan Institute for Ethics Fund in Support of Bass Connections.


Team Leaders

  • Doriane Coleman, Duke Law
  • Wayne Norman, Arts & Sciences-Philosophy

/graduate Team Members

  • Towqir Aziz, Bioethics and Sci Policy - AM
  • Ewan Kingston, Philosophy-PHD
  • Anyi Ma, Business Administration-PHD
  • Tanya Smith, Juris Doctor
  • Valerie-Jean Soon, Philosophy-PHD

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Jason Kwak, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Mikayla Lerman
  • Neelesh Pandey
  • Emile Therrien, Biology (BS)
  • Yiran Wang