Permissibility of Dishonesty and the Difference Between Misinformation and Saying Nothing
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Posted 6/15/14 , edited 6/15/14
I stumbled upon an interesting subject during dinner last night with two old friends.

Topic: Wine tasting.

My friends said that it would be okay to test an unsuspecting wine connoisseur's tastes by being dishonest about the origin of the wine. Let's say the wine is a Californian type aged in young oak barrels, a three year vintage that was $10 a bottle, but you inform the person that it is a five year vintage from France aged in old oak barrels, purchased for $30. If the taster does not realize that he is being lied to, he should not be considered an 'expert' in his field.

I disagreed. I believe this would be both immoral and an inaccurate test due to the lack of attention paid to the subtleties of the wine-drinking experience. Because the taster is not informed that he is being tested, he should not be expected to be on-spot and perfectly 'on guard' so to speak. Also, the differences between certain wines are extremely subtle, especially if production methods and grape varieties are the same. The major differences here are merely regional, as the price of the wine does not necessarily indicate how good it tastes. Because the connoisseur has never had the new wine you are giving him, he has no way of telling that he is being lied to. It's impossible to tell where a wine is from or what the price tag looks like simply by tasting it (there is the obvious problem of transporting Californian grapes to France just to make the wine in France to allow it to be labeled as a French wine). I also mentioned that taste is one of the weakest of human senses. Smell and vision are much more powerful so a taste test should not be so demanding.

My friends, on the other hand, thought I was too focused on 'unnecessary details' that would not ultimately affect the validity of the test in a significant way. They also believe that morality has nothing to do with the test and that the taster should either be able to tell or unable to tell. They likened the test to those double-blind tests conducted by clinics when testing new medicines (and their placebos). This seemed very black-and-white to them. A no-frills test by no-nonsense testers.

A heated debate ensued and both of my friends stood their ground in the debate. I defended my views from both of them.

We eventually did agree on a few things, though:

1. The taster should be able to tell if the difference between the two wines is big. IE. A white wine dyed red vs a vintage red wine.

2. The taster should be able to tell if the wine is good wine or bad wine. Old vines in an ideal region vs young vines in an amateur's backyard.

3. Not telling him what he is drinking before he has tried it is okay. My friends think this is the same as lying about the wine but I disagree with that part.

4. If he is an experienced drinker of both wines that you are mentioning, he should be able to tell.

5. His professional reputation should not stand merely on a single surprise taste test.


So, what do you guys think? Would you agree with my friends or would you agree with me? Perhaps you have an opinion of your own. Discuss.


Very broad overview:
1. My stance - Tons of details. Several factors must be considered before deciding how to test a person. Afterward, the validity of the methods must still be considered. The more is at stake, the more forethought and planning should be involved. There is a lot of fine print and subtle differences are able to combine to have an effect on the end result. A calculated approach is slower but better.

2. Friend's stance - It is what it is. Face value is good enough. As long as the major factors are accounted for and considered, the rest does not matter enough to make a difference. The ends justify the means. Broad categorization is more important than the minute details. The difference made by small details is negligible. A linear approach is the most efficient.
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Posted 6/15/14
"Disinformation is required for allies and enemies alike."-Jet Black (Believe that was the quote).
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Posted 6/15/14
Assuming the social setting and conditions for such an experiment are appropriate, and assuming the experiment is conducted both safely and politely, I personally see no ethical dilemma. However, not telling the subject they're going to be participating in such a wine tasting experiment is risky considering discovery of the facts later on could be taken as reflective of a lack of trust in the subject. If you're conducting this experiment on your friends, and most especially if they're sensitive about the subject of wine, you could end up hurting your friend's feelings a great deal by seeming as though you doubt their abilities and/or honesty. In the worst case they could take you as having malicious intentions. They could worry that you were trying to set them up to fail in order to make them look foolish or dishonest. If you did this somewhere where their mistakes could be seen by others you could stand to lose a friend entirely.

If you're interested, I'll also share a few rudimentary notes I've made about the experiment itself:

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Posted 6/16/14
Thanks for contributing. Something just felt off when the topic first came up and I wish I was able to articulate my thoughts more thoroughly. It seems you've grasped what I've been trying to say in my roundabout way, haha.

And, yes, you're right about the single-blind experiment. My friend compared this to a double-blind although I do believe it is a single-blind and that a double-blind could be a slightly better way to test. It eliminates the whole issue of malicious intent.
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Posted 6/20/14

Morbidhanson wrote:

Thanks for contributing. Something just felt off when the topic first came up and I wish I was able to articulate my thoughts more thoroughly. It seems you've grasped what I've been trying to say in my roundabout way, haha.

And, yes, you're right about the single-blind experiment. My friend compared this to a double-blind although I do believe it is a single-blind and that a double-blind could be a slightly better way to test. It eliminates the whole issue of malicious intent.


I'm glad to see that I've properly taken your meaning, and also that we're in agreement on the matter.

Ideally you'd conduct a triple-blind experiment to remove as much potential for biases as is reasonably possible. In addition to providing more accurate results that protects you, the record keeper, from being accused of misrepresenting the subject's responses due to some personal bias of your own. Remember, it doesn't have to be true that you're biased or malicious. It need only appear to be so to the subject, and that's what you should work to eliminate here. The benefit to the accuracy of your testing is just a bonus since the purpose is more social than scientific.
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It doesn't matter.
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Posted 6/22/14
a better test would be two of the same and asking for the difference.
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