Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future of The Moral Communities Project

Stand outThe Moral Communities Project was born out of necessity back in Summer 2012. I needed participants to complete surveys that measured their political attitudes and perceptions of other groups for my dissertation. I also wanted these participants to be politically diverse (i.e., I wanted to include responses from conservatives), which would not be possible using the undergraduate pool at the University of California, Santa Cruz. So, I created The Moral Communities Project as a “brand” to distinguish my research from my institution, which was once named “The Worst School in America,”  on the websites and social media outlets I was going to use to attract respondents.

Political events shaped the subsequent development of The Moral Communities Project. In May 2012, the attempts by Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and others to prohibit the National Science Foundation from funding political science research started to scare me. As someone who is trained as a social psychologist and identifies as a political psychologist—a discipline with roots in political science—I knew that should these efforts succeed, my research and that of my colleagues would undoubtedly be the next target. One way to combat this assault on social science research, I believed at the time, was to show its value in helping people understand the world around them.

To pursue this goal, I brought aboard four undergraduates—Aaron Calloway, Kerianne Doi, Chase Ochrach, and Erica West—who joined The Moral Communities Project as “research assistants” in January 2014. Unlike most other students working in research labs, they did not help me conduct experiments, enter data, or transcribe interviews. Rather, their job was to write a weekly blog in which they used what they learned in their psychology classes to analyze a social or political issue of interest to them. Once this inaugural group graduated, other equally excellent students replaced them and helped The Moral Communities Project maintain a constant stream of high quality, original content.

MCP Lab Meeting

I eventually finished my doctoral work at the University of California, Santa Cruz. With my dissertation completed and my research interests shifting, I no longer required a separate brand to help me collect survey data. I could also no longer draw upon the talent pool of UCSC undergraduates to provide content for the blog. As a result, The Moral Communities Project reached a crossroads by the summer of 2015 and I started to questioned whether it was worthwhile to keep the website as well as the Facebook and Twitter accounts active.

Objectively, there is no reason why I should keep The Moral Communities Project going. It won’t help me get an academic job and the time I devote to it would probably be better spent working on manuscripts. Contrary to concerns from a few respondents who accused me of being a shill for either the Democratic or Republican Party (or the Illuminati), I don’t earn any money from it, either.

Despite these reasons, I have decided to keep The Moral Communities Project alive because I still believe in its mission of trying to make social science research more accessible to the public.

This mission means that The Moral Communities Project will continue to spread awareness of the latest findings by social scientists, as well as illustrate how they apply to people’s everyday lives. The Moral Communities Project will continue to share links to interesting research articles on our Twitter account and I will write summaries of my published work on the website. The Moral Communities Project will also be launching a new blog series entitled “The Moral Psychology of Everyday Life,” which will examine topics like moral character, values, and moral judgment.

This mission also means that The Moral Communities Project will continue to advocate for Open Access, primarily because the public helps pay for research with their tax dollars and, therefore, should have a right to access it. Finally, this mission means The Moral Communities Project will support the efforts of the Reproducibility Project to ensure the continued integrity and validity of social science research.

The Moral Communities Project will also add a second, distinct mission going forward: supporting the well-being of young scholars, especially doctoral students, as much as possible. As a recent graduate of a doctoral program, I know the mental and emotional toll that graduate school can wreak on a person. It is tough, few people outside of it know what it is like, and showing weakness, unfortunately, can only make matters worse. To help in the small way that it can, The Moral Communities Project will become a resource for young scholars who may want to know more about topics like overcoming writer’s block, managing your time, dealing with departmental politics, and other issues that graduate students typically confront. We will also tweet links to useful resources using the #PhDforum and #PhDchat hashtags.

The Moral Communities Project is going through a transition period and some things may change (for example, the name). I am excited about its future and hope that it continues to grow. If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to leave them below or email me at apilecki1984@gmail.com.

About

Founder and administrator of the Moral Communities Project. Currently a post-doctoral researcher at IDC Herzliya.

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