Category Archives: Research and Scholarship

WHAT?? Dr. Oz Is A Quack? I’m Shocked!

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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 Then, in November, a study he promoted as proving the efficacy of coffee bean weight-loss pills was retracted as junk science.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

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Health and Medicine, Marketing and Advertising, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

New Link: Behavioral Legal Ethics Blog

One of these days I’m going to highlight some of the excellent websites and blogs among the Ethics Alarms links (to your left!), but for the moment I’m directing your attention to a new one: the Behavioral Legal Ethics Blog. The three professors who contribute to the blog describe it, accurately, like this:

“Behavioral Legal Ethics is a place for a wide-ranging discussion about the intersection between behavioral science, law and ethics.  The conversations will appeal to anyone interested in the ways in which empirical psychological research can inform questions about how legal institutions and practices encourage ethical behaviors in legal and non-legal actors.”

I had intended to add this superb blog to my links for some time. I confess that the fact that the current post quotes me did prompt me to finally act.

_________________

Pointer: Legal Ethics Forum

 

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Filed under Law & Law Enforcement, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, The Internet

How Media And Academic Bias Make Us Stupid: The “Personal Freedom Study”

freedom

“STUDY: American personal freedom now ranks below 20 other nations…” reads a link in this morning’s Drudge Report.

That is NOT what the study shows….not even close.

The link goes to an Examiner story headlined “Under Obama, U.S. personal freedom ranking slips below France.” That’s a little better, but it’s also misleading. Both headlines are attempts to spin a study that tells nobody anything about how much freedom there is in the U.S., under President Obama or otherwise. The study, meanwhile, is easily spun because it was badly conceived, is itself of dubious value, and was also probably the result of a researchers grinding their own axes.

It is early, and I am pretty sure that the cable news sharks and the internet pundits will be latching on to this garbage study in droves, with the result being mass confusion in the public. That’s right: the world of scholarship and research, and the world of journalism, will conspire to make the public less informed than it already is, setting it up for the handiwork of future Jonathan Grubers and the parties that employ them.

You see, the study doesn’t even purport to measure “freedom” in any objective way across different nations. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Citizenship, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Rights, U.S. Society

Comment of the Day: “Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or ‘The Rapist’s Defense'”

Magician, hoax-exposer, historian, truth-seeker James Randi

Magician, hoax-exposer, historian, truth-seeker James Randi

Alexander Cheezem weighed in with a wonderful expansion on The Gruber Variation (and its parent, Rationalization #29,  The Altruistic Switcheroo). It speaks for itself: the gist involves the situations when deception really does have  beneficial results for the deceived,  intended by the deceiver—in which case, the claim that an otherwise unethical act was “for his own good” mean that the act not have been unethical, and thus the claim is not rationalization, but truth.

One immediate result of Alexander’s comment is that I’m editing the text in #29. I wrote:

It is true that misfortune carries many life lessons, that what doesn’t kill us often makes us stronger, and that what hurts today may be the source of valuable wisdom and perspective later, but it really takes a lot of gall to cheat, lie to, steal from or otherwise harm someone and claim it will be a good thing in the long term. Yet an amazingly large number of people possess this much gall, because the Altruistic Switcheroo is very common, especially among parents who want to convince themselves that bad parenting is really the opposite. A marker for this rationalization is the statement, “You’ll thank me some day”—the specious theory of the sadistic parent who named his son “Sue” in the famous Shel Silverstein song made famous by Johnny Cash. No, he won’t.

“A Boy Named Sue” is a lousy example. It is true that the singer ends the song by saying he isn’t thankful, and I don’t blame him, but the father’s theory was borne out: the name did make his son tougher. There’s nothing in the lyrics to suggest that he name choice was sadistic, and if the only rationale for the song was what the father claimed it was, it’s no rationalization. Oh, it was cruel, irresponsible and unfair—and stupid— but the father did name the boy “Sue” for his own good. (The fact that his cruel tactic worked still doesn’t make it right: that would be 3. Consequentialism, or  “It Worked Out for the Best.”

I’ll end the passage before the dash.

Here is Alexander’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Rationalization List Update: 29 (a). The Gruber Variation and 47. Contrived Consent, or ‘The Rapist’s Defense'”:

Interesting additions, but I think that the Gruber Variation needs a bit of a caveat in nuance regarding its description: it needs to be distinguished from both legitimate teaching techniques which involve parallels and certain grey areas.

To handle the last first, I’ll just give a few examples, starting with Project Alpha ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Alpha ) and the Sokal Hoax (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sokal_affair ). Both involved presenting people who were supposed to safeguard against deception with a hoax in order to expose the holes in said safeguards. Both involved rationales which closely paralleled the Gruber Variation in several respects, and were criticized for actually following that sort of logic (I disagree, although I do think that both were ethically “grey”). Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Research and Scholarship

“Drunk Girl In Public”: This Trend Will Ruin Trust, Spontenaity, Kindness and Fun, and There Is Absolutely Nothing We Can About It Except Complain

I guess it all began with Allen Funt.

If Allen knew what he would be starting, he would have opened a deli.

If Allen knew what he would be starting, he would have opened a deli.

Back in the Fifties, he came up with the idea of using a hidden camera to record the reactions of innocent bystanders “in the act of being themselves.” He staged situations, sometimes Twilight Zones set-ups like a door that opened for everyone but the target, and filmed the results, first for a guest segment on TV talk shows and finally on his own, long running hit, “Candid Camera.” Funt would never have dreamed of using actors and faking the reactions, because first, he didn’t need to; second, if he was caught, it would ruin him; and third, he was an honest professional. The idea, however, has thoroughly metastasized in all directions, to “practical joke shows,” reality shows, and such monstrosities as ABC’s “What Would You Do?” and James O’Keefe. Perversions were limited as long as the shows were restricted to television, but now YouTube makes everyone a potential producer, and among the thousands trying to create a viral video, there are many, perhaps most,  who are not decent, ethical professionals like Allen Funt, but just greedy jerks who will gladly cheat, lie to and humiliate others to gain fame and fortune. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Popular Culture, Research and Scholarship, The Internet, U.S. Society

How Statistics Abuse Make Us Lazy, Biased, Misinformed and Stupid: The Slate Dog Chart

Dog-Breeds-MAIN

A pet peeve (HAR!!!): computer geeks and statistics experts reducing complex issue into “simple” charts and graphs that have apparent credibility because of their form rather than their substance. I encounter this seductive form of fake erudition—“You can’t argue with statistics!”—in every field I explore: baseball, politics (Sorry, Nate Silver), social science, science (climate change models are a spectacular example), education. “Simple, straightforward” arrays of statistics that hide biases, dubious assumptions, projections, value judgments, undisclosed definitions, and who knows what else are presented to persuade on the false representation that they are “hard” representations of fact.  Very frequently, they are not, and when they are not, they incompetent, irresponsible and dishonest. Also arrogant to the core.

You could find no better example of this than this dog chart, by David McCandless, which purports to summarize “big data”—read: “data that can be manipulated to show whatever you want it to show” indicating which dog breeds are “over-rated,” as well as how they score on a “costs and benefits” scale. The fact that anyone could take such a garbage graphic seriously is unsettling, but of course, it will only impress people who know absolutely nothing about dogs and dog breeds. That’s what all such arrays of statistics are for: to convince and mislead those who are too lazy or uninformed to really understand the topic at hand and its complexities, but who want to lay claim to an “informed opinion.”

Just look at this monstrosity (you can read it better here): Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Research and Scholarship

Stop Labeling The Sixth Circuit’s Approval Of Gay Marriage Bans As “Right Wing”

prop-8People who don’t (or can’t) read court decisions—and in this very large group I include most pundits and journalists—are prone to dismiss careful thought out and reasoned judicial arguments that took careful research and consideration as the product of political bias rather than what they (usually) are: sincere, honest, intelligent dissections of issues that are far more complex than advocates for opposing sides care to admit.

The Sixth Circuit just triggered an almost certain U.S. Supreme Court review of state same-sex marriage bans by upholding such bans in several states. Immediately, pro-gay marriage advocates and pundits attacked the decision as “right wing,” as if the court reached the decision from a starting point hostile to gays and homosexuality generally. The implication of this interpretation is that judges do not follow the law, legal principles and standards of jurisprudence and construction, but merely decide what result they wish to reach based on ideological and partisan biases, and then write essays of advocacy disguised as objective analysis.

The presumption is both ignorant, unfair, and convenient. It is ignorant because it assumes that the judicial profession and those in that profession ignore the primary ethical requirements of being a judge, standards that have stood unchanged and unchallenged for centuries and that every jurist swears to uphold. The first two Canons of the ABA Model Judicial Code state those standards clearly: Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society