As the cliché goes, people don’t always practice what they preach—particularly in some professions. Take the police: when Florida’s Sun Sentinel examined the records of 3,915 officers who had traveled on toll roads in 2011, the paper found that nearly 800 of them had driven at speeds of 90 to 130 miles an hour, many either while off duty or in violation of department rules that barred excessive speeding even in emergencies. Or consider physicians: one study of 500 doctors found 38 percent of them to be overweight, versus 33 percent of American adults (to be fair, the doctors’ rate of obesity was lower) . Or those in retail: according to the security company Checkpoint Systems, the people who steal most from North American stores aren’t shoppers, but employees.
Recently, some philosophers have started spotting ironies in their colleagues’ behavior. Their findings suggest that those who ponder big questions for a living don’t necessarily behave better, or think more clearly, than regular people do. In one study, 573 professors—about a third of them ethicists—were asked about their personal behavior and beliefs. Sixty percent of the ethicists rated eating red meat as “morally bad,” but only 27 percent said they didn’t regularly eat it. Ethicists and political philosophers were no more likely to vote than other kinds of professors, nor were ethicists more likely to donate blood or register as organ donors. “On no issue did ethicists show unequivocally better behavior than the two comparison groups,” the researchers reported .