The ethics of management science

MSc in Management Science

Management science (MS) usually comes with accurate calculation and proof but not ethics. Traditionally, MS is ethically neutral: the advice that management scientists give to the clients should be impartial and ethics should not come across with priority. However, this view is increasingly challenged these days. Science and technology are interactional. MS is a tool, using models, to help individuals to make decisions. Although the models themselves have no ethical standard, the purposes of the model do. It is inevasible to consider ethics when analysing. In addition, stronger impact on human society by technology in recent age leads to a growing awareness that science cannot be respected above or beyond people value judgments and ethics (Gallo, 2004). Therefore, management scientists are ethically responsible to the decisions their work bring out and should exercise the responsibility efficiently. Normally, ethics is known as a set of rules. Many organisations or groups have established ethical codes, such as IEEE (2006), or question models, like Blanchard and Peale (1988), to identify what is right and ethical.

Management science "uses a panoply of analytical methods to better understand those decisions or situations in order to help those decision-makers" (Williams, 2008). Impartial advice is helpful in analysing the situation more simply and leads to less misunderstand because of the subjective desire. The idea of the value neutrality of science is based on two assumptions: methodological and ontological. That means "scientist must be objective, neutral observers of the subject" and "no value or purpose can be attached to" the object of scientific analysis (Gallo, 2004). Yet, management itself has no "right" or "wrong". Whether the practice and result are good depends on how people think. Organisers make decision always with some purpose, so entirely objective analysis without incorporating client's value is meaningless. As Mason (1994) said, there are at least 3 three things that a model builder is obliged to do. Firstly, reality should be represented to clients adequately. Secondly, clients' values should be effectively understood and incorporated into the model. Thirdly, actions the clients takes should be ensured to be based on the model have the desired effect. Therefore, advice should be objective but cannot always be perfectly "neutral", and even in some special cases an MS analyst can take on an advocacy role.

Moreover, since MS has moved more into problems with complexity of human-oriented dimension, ethical issues become emerged. Hardly any area in MS can be considered far enough from the realm to escape from ethical considerations (Gallo, 2004). In real practice, it is rarely in an idealized situation. A model cannot entirely a "hard" physical system but it involves "soft" factors that humans are involved (Williams, 2008). As a result, ethics is not only a guideline but also an important part in MS.

Management scientists have ethical responsibilities not just to clients and the profession, but also to the decisions their work forms. An MS analyst that generally uses models to solve problems should take consideration of the public interest when selecting models. MS has a greater effect on human society than other sciences. Once an MS theory has been applied, it will affect lots aspects, such as company staff, products, consumers and investigators. Therefore, each problem need to be seen "as a citizen involved in a social context and then as specialist who will insist on addressing the problem and its context together" (Koch, 2000). That is, MS analysts need to consider the social dimension influence of the decisions based on their suggestions. According to Brans and Gallo (2004), "management landscape includes the past, the present, the short and long term future" and alleged responsibility is the recognition of the relationship between MS and human society.

Since MS practitioners are responsible toward the society at large, how to act ethically is essential to take this responsibility. Before answer it another fundamental question need to be considered that what it means of ethics. Ethics, or ethical responsibility, always goes with liberty. There is usually a choice, with no freedom, between them, but the choice is often not an easy one. One of the typical means of ethics is a set of behavioural rules, or an adoption of ethical codes. Such rules may be well defined or rather generic sometimes. For instance, there are ten main points of the ethics code of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). Some points are very precise, like the 4th one: "to reject bribery in all its forms", while others are more general, like the 10th one: "to assist colleagues and co-workers in their professional development and to support them in following this code of ethics" (, 2006).

Besides, a further step to understand ethics is known as the level of principles or values, which "give sense to our life" and "collocate us in the realm of liberty" (Gallo, 2004). Many models have been set up to resolve ethical dilemmas and value conflicts. One of the simple but efficient models in management field is a series questions raised by Blanchard and Peale (1988). It consists of three "ethics checks" to help to decide what is right. First, is it legal? Second, is it balanced? Last, how will it make me fell about myself?

In conclusion, management science is a tool to make decision. Since purpose of decision is people-oriented as well as technology and science increasingly impact human society, MS cannot be entirely ethically neutral. Ethics plays an important role in this profession. MS analysts should take the responsibility to the ethical dimensions of the decisions informed by their work. They need to always consider the effects of one's decision on others and the value of those who might be affected by this decision. To recognise whether a piece of work is ethical, a code of ethics, like that in IEEE, and a question model, like that used by Blanchard and Peale are helpful. It seems to be clear that in the future ethics will be an increasingly important issue in MS, and further actions should be set up to optimize the solution of ethical dilemmas.


  • Blanchard, K., and Peale, N. V., 1988. The Power of Ethical Management. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.
  • Brans, J. P., and Gallo, G., 2004. Ethics in OR/Ms: Past, Present and Future. 4OR, 2(2), pp.95-110.
  • Gallo, G., 2004. Operations Research and Ethics: Responsibility, Sharing and Cooperation, European Journal of Operational Research, 153(2), pp.468-476.
  • IEEE Board of Directors. 2006. IEEE Code of Ethics. [Online]
  • Available at: [Accessed Oct 2009]
  • Koch, T., 2000. We Live in a City, Not in a Study. OR/MS Today, 27, pp. 16-17.
  • Mason, R., 1994. Morality and Models. In Wallace, W., ed. Ethics in Modelling. Oxford: Elsevier Science Ltd. pp. 183-194.
  • Williams, T., 2008. Management Science in Practice. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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