An unlikely research team produces remarkable results!
As anyone who reads Ethics Alarms with any regularity knows, I detest hoaxes large and small, from the Piltdown man to the Hitler diaries to the offal thrown into the information stream by websites like The News Nerd.(Let’s see: what “satirical, humorous, obviously fake” story does the site that calls itself “America’s premium news site” offer as fact today? This: “As Deflategate looms over the heads of the New England Patriots, a source with the NFL has revealed that the league is considering permanently barring Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick from ever working in the National Football League in any capacity. That drastic action would only be taken if it is discovered that Belichick was directly responsible for the deflated footballs…” I guess that’s obviously satire because the NFL would never have the integrity to take such action, right? The story isn’t there to fool gullible blogs and sportswriters working on a deadline into republishing it…) Hoaxes are lies intended to deceive in order to humiliate whoever believes them, and often to enrich the hoaxer.
Occasionally, however, a hoax becomes an ethically justifiable tool. Such is the case with the bogus scholarly medical research article created by Dr. Mark Shrime titled “Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs?”
Shrime was disturbed at the number of apparently legitimate medical journals with impressive names like the International Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology that offer to publish papers for a $500 fee. Shrime calls them predatory journals, in part because they prey on trusting third world researchers and scientists for who $500 is a fortune. The other reason they are predatory is that they exploit the confusing—to laymen, which is to say, journalists– welter of legitimate scholarly journals in order to dangle intriguing junk science in front of the eyes of reporters who barely comprehend what they are reading. As Elizabeth Segren writes at Fast Company: Continue reading
I just don’t see how or why insisting on using objective and verifiable facts in policy-making and public discourse became “conservative bias.” I don’t recall the media’s interest in correcting fake combat statistics during the Vietnam war being regarded as “liberal bias.” I can’t bring myself to believe that only moderates and conservatives care about making sure that the public isn’t deceived into believing things that aren’t true.
But why does this stuff keep happening, and particularly, why does it keep happening under the supervision of Democrats and their supporters during the Obama years? I know I’ve been harping on “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!” and the deification of Mike Brown as contrary to all evidence, common sense, fairness and rationality, but such cultural embrace of lies is objectively outrageous and dangerous. I also resent being called a “teabagger,” a racist, or a right-wing nut for pointing this out.
One reason resent it, perhaps the main one, is that I’m a lifetime iconoclast, curmudgeon and contrarian (just like Dad!) and while I know that having people, even friends, angry at me never changed my opinions, words or behavior very much, most people are not like me. Most people, when they are called racists on Facebook or bombarded with dishonest Daily Kos internet memes or realize that their friends aren’t inviting them out for beer because they will object to the conventional liberal wisdom of the nonce, decide its more important to get along than to fight the good fight, so they just adopt the prevalent opinion of their “crowd.” Usually, personal growth and education on the issue stops about then: if you listen hard, you will hear the sound of a slamming door. Soon they’ll be calling others racists on Facebook.
The fake campus sexual assault issue is another area where this phenomenon is occurring. CBS’s Sunday Morning gave one of its gauzy features about it yesterday, beginning with the assumption that for some reason (the reason was already pre-programmed and injected directly into the Democratic Party’s second most reliable “base” group, young single women bloodstream, with its “war on women” convention theme in 2012) campus sexual assault is epidemic. On the show’s website, proving that this was propaganda rather than journalism, was this sentence: “According to the U.S. Justice Department, one in five college women will experience some kind of sexual assault while in school.” (It had been removed by this morning.) Continue reading
I missed learning about the death of Irena Sendler (Irena Sendlerowa) in 2008, and this occurred because the mass news media barely took note of it. Lots of celebrities died that year whose passing prompted extended mourning in the press and examinations of their legacies: Paul Newman, Heath Ledger, Sir Edmund Hillary (a member of the Ethics Alarms Heroes Hall of Honor), Charlton Heston, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and many others. There was no room for a final appreciation of the life of Irena Sendler, apparently. Today, the website Bio.com doesn’t list her among the notable deaths of that year, though it finds room for Fifties stunt singer Yma Sumac—remember her? She had a four octave range! And Arthur Showcross: he murdered 11 women from 1988 to 1990 in upstate New York, earning the nickname “The Genessee River Killer.”
All Irena Sendler did was save 2500 children from the Treblinka death camp. Continue reading
Sad but true; the NSF spent a million dollars of a project named after a Stephen Colbert gag. But that’s not the worst part…
It certainly seems that most of the ringing over Truthy, the disturbing University of Indiana internet speech monitoring project funded by the National Science Foundation, is occurring in the brains of conservatives. Does that mean that one is a biased right-winger to think that the government has no business deciding what is “misuse” or “abuse” of social media—social media meaning “the communication of opinions, statements and ideas over the web”?
I don’t think so. I think it means that a troubling number of progressives, including a large constituency in the Obama administration, are convinced that the only way for their ideology to prevail is to marginalize opinions they don’t like as “hate speech,” restrict the First Amendment by demonizing opponents, and engaging in de facto censorship though harassment. Being opposed to that doesn’t make anyone right wing. It means that they reject the unethical theory that the ends justify the means, which at this point in our history seems to be flourishing primarily on the Left.
Did you miss the news about Truthy when it first provoked a flurry of news reports last fall, almost exclusively from conservative media? That’s because the mainstream media—surprise!—saw nothing at all alarming or even newsworthy about a government-funded project to “study how memes spread on social media,” to identify what it considers “false and misleading ideas,” with a major focus on political activity online, to “detect political smears, astroturfing, misinformation, and other social pollution” —in other words—mine—-to track down opinions and assertions on the internet that argue against Obama administration policies, progressive movements and the agendas of liberal-biased researchers.
When the conservative news service Washington Free Beacon blew the whistle on this under the radar and misbegotten project—a project that could only scratch the surface of being ethical if it was absolutely non-partisan and neutral in all respects, which in 21st century U.S. academia is impossible—the reaction at the University tells us everything we need to know. Continue reading
The integrity vacuum of some corporations defies the imagination. At least my imagination: this story triggered my first cranial explosion of 2015. ( For an explanation of the KABOOM! category, go here.)
US-based HarperCollins Publishers is is a subsidiary of News Corp, whose executive chairman, media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, is a vocal supporter of Israel. But its British subsidiary, Collins Bartholomew, omitted Israel from the “Collins Primary Geography Atlas For The Middle East,” citing “local preferences.”
Local preferences! Continue reading
“Frankly, it is irritating that anybody would be distracted by which statistics are accurate.”
—Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo), in response to Justice Department statistics that show that the “1 in 5 women will be raped on campus” statistics cited by her and other elected officials and women’s rights advocates were not just inflated, but ridiculously so.
“1 in 5! That’s an outrage..what? It’s NOT 1 in 5? It’s more like…1 in 200? OK, now let’s not get hung up on statistics…”
Yes, Senator, isn’t it irritating when stubborn facts interfere with ideological narratives?
Yet it is not half as irritating as knowing that we have so many elected leaders who think like McCaskill. That 20% statistic has been used by the Obama Administration to bully colleges into removing due process and fairness from campus sexual assault allegations, and to push the false impression on the public that there is a rape epidemic, when in fact the incidence of rape, on campus and elsewhere, has fallen precipitously.
In September, when President Obama announced his “It’s On Us” initiative to address college sexual assault, he said that “an estimated 1 in 5 women has been sexually assaulted in her college years—one in 5.” Like the infamous “women make only 77% of what men are paid for the same job” fake statistic that Democrats and women’s rights advocates still repeat despite definitive debunking, it is a number designed to fool the gullible and satisfy those infected by confirmation bias, but it is much, much worse. The recently Justice Department statistics on rape and sexual assault on college age females showed that the chances of a women being raped on campus was 6.1 per thousand, juuust a bit less, at .61 %, than the 20% figure touted by Obama and McCaskill. Continue reading
I regard Oprah Winfrey’s conduct in the 2006 James Frey scandal signature significance regarding her priorities and character. When it was revealed that Frey’s “memoir,” “A Million Little Pieces,” which Oprah had promoted in her show’s book club, was a near-total fabrication, her immediate response consisted of, in essence, “Who cares, if people like it?” Then, when the public response to her response was overwhelmingly negative, Oprah turned on a dime and ambushed Frey on the air, condemning him as an unscrupulous fraud. That’s our Oprah.
Oprah has profited by promoting several fakes, frauds and dubious authorities, such as the syndicated Oprah spin-off “Dr. Phil,” featuring a non-doctor who masquerades as a psychologist despite losing his license to practice decades ago. The most successful of all Oprah’s protegés is “Dr. Oz,” or “America’s Doctor” Mehmet Oz, now a popular syndicated talk-show host who dispenses medical advice with the aura of a real degree and a convincing air of authority. When I say popular, I mean it. “The Dr. Oz Show” attracts 2.9 million viewers per day, and ranks in the top five talk shows in the U.S. “I haven’t seen a doctor in eight years,” the New Yorker quoted one fan telling Dr. Oz. “I’m scared. You’re the only one I trust.”
For some reason medical experts have waited over a decade to actually check out the snake oil Dr. Oz has been selling to credulous viewers softened up by Oprah’s House of Truthiness. They were finally roused from their torpor in recent months, after Dr. Oz appeared before Congress in June and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) knocked him around the chamber, saying that he gave people false hope and that his segments were a “recipe for disaster.” Then, in November, a study he promoted as proving the efficacy of coffee bean weight-loss pills was retracted as junk science.
The British Medical Journal this week published a study analyzing the recommendations handed out on “Dr. Oz” as well as on another popular daytime medical show, “The Doctors.” The study selected forty “Dr. Oz” episodes from last year, and examined 479 separate medical recommendations, comparing them to available medical research. The study found that just 46 % of his recommendations were validated by data, while research contradicted 15%. For 39% of Oz’s advice, there was insufficient research and data to substantiate or debunk his claims. (“The Doctors” fared a little better, but not much.) Continue reading