Category Archives: Research and Scholarship

Ethics Dunce: Radio Talk Show Host Bryan Fischer

To be fair, I guess it's possible that Fischer captured a leprechaun who granted him three wishes, in which case his prescription for ending AIDS isn't crazy after all. So I may owe him an apology...

To be fair, I guess it’s possible that Fischer captured a Leprechaun who granted him three wishes, in which case his prescription for ending AIDS isn’t crazy after all. So I may owe him an apology…

When ideology, including religion, requires one to abandon all connection to reality, unethical positions are sure to follow.  Christian conservative talk show host Bryan Fisher launched an angry rant over what he called President Obama’s promotion of sexual deviancy in his remarks following the downing of MH17 over the Ukraine. Here are the relevant remarks by the President:

“Let me close by making one additional comment. On board Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17 there were apparently near 100 researchers and advocates traveling to an international conference in Australia dedicated to combating AIDS/HIV. These were men and women who had dedicated their own lives to saving the lives of others, and they were taken from us in a senseless act of violence.

In this world today we shouldn’t forget that in the midst of conflict and killing, there are people like these, people who are focused on what can be built rather than what can be destroyed, people who are focused on how they can help people that they’ve never met, people that define themselves not by what makes them different from other people but by the humanity that we hold in common. It’s important for us to lift them up and to affirm their lives. And it’s time for us to heed their example.

The United States of America is going to continue to stand for the basic principle that people have the right to live as they choose, that nations have the right to determine their own destiny, and that when terrible events like this occur, the international community stands on the side of justice and on the side of truth.”

Now here is Fischer’s reaction: Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Ethics Dunces, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Religion and Philosophy, Research and Scholarship, Rights

Ethics Tools: “A Theory of Jerks”

Actually, no. The OTHER kind...

Actually, no. The OTHER kind…

In Aeon Magazine last month, philosophy professor Eric Schwitzgebel provided a serious essay on the nature of “jerkitude.” It is also an excellent essay, and useful. “Jerk” is a designation that I have occasion to use frequently on Ethics Alarms, and for the most part, Schwitzgebel convinced me that I have been using it properly. Some excerpts… Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Religion and Philosophy, Research and Scholarship

Ethics Strike Three And Four Against Facebook In Its Creepy Mood Manipulation Study

Facebook is so out.

"Meh. Look at this neat picture of my dog!"

“Meh. Look at this neat picture of my dog!”

Ethics Strike One was the research itself, using its own, trusting users as guinea pigs in a mad scientist experiment to determine whether their moods could be manipulated by secretly managing the kind of posts they read from Facebook friends.

Ethics Strike Two was the lack of its subjects informed consent for the study, violating the basic standards of human subject research. A boilerplate user agreement that makes a vague reference to using data for “research” in no way meets the requirements of informed consent for this kind of study.

This brings us to Ethics Strike Three.  In justifying the legality and ethics of the research, Facebook’s researchers explained that leave to perform such experiments was consistent with the user agreement (See Strike Two):  “[the experiment] was consistent with Facebook’s Data Use Policy, to which all users agree prior to creating an account on Facebook, constituting informed consent for this research.” As I pointed out above and in my previous post on this topic, this isn’t informed consent as the research field and various ethics codes define it. But even if it was, this statement is a lie. Continue reading

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

Independence Day Ethics: Historian Hype, Liberal Bias, And The Great Punctuation Mystery

founding-fathers-declaration-of-independence

First, a little background…

I have often found it depressing that historians so often lack the ethical integrity necessary to do their jobs. If there was any profession in which avoiding bias would seem to be paramount, historical research and analysis would seem to be it, but that just isn’t the case. Because historians are academics and scholars, and because academia has become almost exclusively a hot-house of left-ward ideology for more than half a century, too many historians view their duty as using the past to manipulate the present and future.

My introduction to this came early, when I was a fifth grader suddenly fascinated with the U.S. Presidency as the first national election that I could follow approached. I read various assessments of who the greatest of our past POTUSes were, and there was near consensus, it seemed. Washington and Lincoln, naturally, were “the berries,” and they were joined as “greats” by Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson, FDR, and Truman, Democrats all. Teddy Roosevelt was “near great”; Eisenhower was a dud. What a great party this Democratic Party must be! Of course, Jefferson’s racial hypocrisy, Jackson’s lawlessness and persecution of Native Americans, Wilson’s racism and bungling of the peace after World War I and FDR’s complicity in locking loyal Japanese-Americans in prison camps was never mentioned. Over time, I learned that even the most respected American historians were likely to be pursuing partisan agendas. The classic example, of course, was Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who carefully and unforgivably culled the facts he deemed worthy of revelation in order to add John Fitzgerald Kennedy to that list of brilliant Democratic Presidents. Was I surprised when a large number of prominent American historians signed a petition opposing the impeachment of President Clinton, a Democrat, thus asserting that a degree of dishonesty and lack of trustworthiness that was sufficient in every state in the union to mark a lawyer as unfit to practice was nonetheless not sufficient cause to remove a President from office?

I was not.

This brings us to the Case of the Missing Comma, brought to us by Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., aided and abetted by her left-leaning allies. Allen (who by the purest coincidence has a book out!) claims a major discovery. The iconic sentence in the Declaration of Independence“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–”—was not intended to end in a period, as all current quotations and reproductions show, and the official transcript produced by the National Archives and Records Administration indicates.  Allen claims that her extensive research indicates that the period at the end of that phrase almost certainly did not appear on the original parchment version of the Declaration, and was mistakenly included in later versions. Just in time for July 4th (when Allen’s publicist calculated that her “Eureka!” would get maximum exposure) Allen explained to the New York Times that the extra period contributes to a “routine but serious misunderstanding” of the famous document signed by the Second Continental Congress in 1776. Continue reading

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Filed under History, Marketing and Advertising, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Rights, U.S. Society

“Print The Legend” Ethics Again: The Cuban Missile Crisis “Blink”

blink map

It is certainly in part a case of tweeking a rival, but the Washington Post and its “Factchecker,” Glenn Kessler, properly exposed a New York Times columnists’ perpetuation of a popular historical misconception, and worse, that paper’s adamant refusal to correct it.

The columnist was Thomas Friedman, one of the Times’ stable of liberal pundits, and the quote was this, in the opening sentence of of one of the many Obama foreign policy reclamation columns that have appeared lately from the President’s journalistic Maginot Line:

“There was a moment at the height of the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962 when Soviet ships approached to within just a few miles of a U.S. naval blockade and then, at the last minute, turned back — prompting then-Secretary of State Dean Rusk to utter one of the most famous lines from the Cold War: ‘We’re eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.’”

Kessler gives Friedman a full “four Pinocchios,” for the simple reason that this is untrue, a myth, a proven historical inaccuracy that has been enshrined in film, print, and Kennedy hagiography. He writes… Continue reading

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Filed under History, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship

Obnoxious, Offensive, And Unethical: Facebook “Research” Turning Users Into Guinea Pigs

guinea-pig

Facebook apparently has been manipulating the feeds that some users get to see in order to measure how it the content affects the tone of their own posts.

You can read about the research here; I’m not publicizing it, because the Facebook’s research is an abuse of users and their trust. I don’t mind them reading my posts, for they own the service, and the service is in their name. I assume they will use my data and content to make money, but I didn’t agree to allow them to manipulate me, or what I write, feel, or think. I’m also not especially optimistic about the uses the results of such research might be applied to.

The researchers claim that the research is ethical because a computer program scanned for words that were considered either “positive” or “negative,” but the Facebook content wasn’t actually read. Facebook  terms of service state that user data may be used “for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Since Facebook users agree to the terms of service, the researchers argue that this constitutes “informed consent” for their experiment.

Wrong.

Also ridiculous.

Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Professions, Research and Scholarship, The Internet, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote Of The Month: Constitutional Scholar Floyd Abrams

This is a long quote, and deserves to be.

You can read it in its entirety here.

Wacky!

Wacky!

The whole quote is the testimony of Floyd Abrams, the renowned Constitutional lawyer who argued Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, before the U.S. Supreme Court, regarding a cynical Constitutional Amendment, S.J.19, ostensibly proposed to change the First Amendment so Citizens United can be overturned, but really as a campaign issue, since the chances of amending the Constitution are nil, and they know it. This proposed amendment is the Left’s equivalent of the despicable flag-burning amendment pushed by Republicans in the late Eighties, just as disingenuous, just as offensive to free speech, equally constricted to appeal to voters who don’t understand what free speech is.

The Citizens United opinion has been blatantly misrepresented by everyone from Occupy Wall Street to the President, and continues to be a source of political deceit by Democrats and their allies in the media, often out of ignorance. If you have friends who are prone to say silly things about “corporations being people” and “billionaires buying elections,” you should tell them to read Abrams’ testimony, and learn some things they should have learned in high school.

Some highlights (there are many more): Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Marketing and Advertising, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

Ethics Quote of the Week: Prof. Robert Kolter

"Miss me? I'm baaaack!!!"

“Miss me? I’m baaaack!!!”

“The scientists doing this work are so immersed in their own self-aggrandizement, they have become completely blind to the irresponsibility of their acts.”

-Robert Kolter, professor of microbiology at Harvard Medical School, condemning the work of Professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his research team, which managed to recreate the Spanish Flu virus that killed an estimated 50 million people in 1918.

The reincarnated 1918 virus was recreated from eight genes found in avian flu viruses isolated from populations of wild ducks. Using a technique known as “reverse genetics,” Kawaoka’s team rebuilt the entire virus so that it was 97 % identical to the 1918 strain, identified from viruses recovered from frozen 1918 corpses.  Said Kawaoka: “The point of the study was to assess the risk of avian viruses currently circulating in nature. We found genes in avian influenza viruses quite closely related to the 1918 virus and, to evaluate the pandemic potential should such a 1918-like virus emerge, identified changes that enabled it to transmit in ferrets.”

And, in order to assess that risk, the research created a completely unnecessary one that if mankind proves fallible again, could, as various Stephen King and Michael Crichton novels and movies have shown, kill us all.

Eventually, one of these hubris-warped and ethics-free fools might just eradicate humanity…all in the interest of scientific inquiry, of course.

 

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Filed under Character, Environment, History, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

An Untrustworthy Study About Perceptions Of Untrustworthiness That Shows Something Else Entirely

Research is frequently polluted by confirmation bias; personally, I believe this is the case more often than not. A particularly vivid example is the work on “vocal fry,” described as “slowly fluttering the vocal cords, resulting in a popping or creaking sound at the bottom of the vocal register.” Supposedly a 2011 study determined that two-thirds of college women were doing it, and now a paper by Rindy C. Anderson, Casey A. Klofstad , William J. Mayew, and Mohan Venkatachalam announces the results of further research showing how harmful it is. I admit: I’ve now read a lot of stuff about vocal fry, which I had never heard of until recently, and I’m still unclear on exactly what the hell it is, other than “talking in an annoying fashion.” The Atlantic tells us that this is vocal fry, which means it consists of talking like Zooey Deschanel does here:

Got it? OK, now you can explain it to me.

Anyway, what the exact phenomenon is doesn’t matter to the ethics issue; all you have to know is that a respected, serious, scholarly study has spawned lots of media attention by claiming that its data shows that women and men who exhibit vocal fry in their speech patterns will tend to be hired less often than job interviewees who don’t, because employers view them as untrustworthy, among other things. (The study’s catchy title is “Vocal Fry May Undermine the Success of Young Women in the Labor Market,” because, as we know, women are all that matter these days, having had war declared on them and all.) Continue reading

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Filed under Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Popular Culture, Research and Scholarship, Workplace

Hurricane Ethics: Bias, Bias, Who’s Got the Bias?

"So 'Hurrucane Snoopy' it is, right?"

“So ‘Hurrucane Snoopy’ it is, right?”

Here we have a bias study that appears to have been infected with bias, designed to show bias, with no useful use for the data—even if it is valid, which is dubious—except to encourage bias!

Researchers  at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning 1950 and 2012. Of the 47 most deadly hurricanes, the female-named  produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities. They felt this was indicative of the fact that masculine-named storms were scarier to those in its path, so the female storms caused more death and destruction due to the trusting, sexist fools who didn’t take them seriously.

The problems with this study are legion, beginning with the fact that older hurricanes caused more damage than those of recent vintage (Katrina was left out of the study because it was deemed an outlier. It also would have blown up the data so completely that the study’s pre-cooked conclusions would be even less credible than they are.) when male names were used for the first time.  Do you think advances in medicine, storm warnings and other factors contributed to the reduction in death totals since male-named storms were introduces? Naaaah! Continue reading

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Filed under Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Research and Scholarship