Category Archives: Science & Technology

Incompetence in Portland: Bureaucrats Show Those Who Are Paying Attention Exactly What They Need To Know

urinating_outdoor_garden_water_fountain

Honestly, I first though it was a joke. The more I think about this story now, the less funny it gets, and the more tragic and frightening.

A security camera captured the image of a 19-year-old jerk urinating into Portland, Oregon’s Mt. Tabor Reservoir system, so “to be safe,” the city is dumping all 38 million gallons of drinking water. From Ars Technica:

“David Shaff, Portland’s water bureau administrator, reserves a special disgust specifically for human urine. In 2011, when Shaff drained the reservoir following a urination, he reasoned to the Portland Mercury, ‘Do you want to be drinking someone’s pee?… There’s probably no regulation that says I have to be doing it but, again, who wants to be drinking pee?’ This time around, Shaff wrote in a statement, ‘Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated.’”

That’s right: this is the second time Portland has done this. Slate does the “Wow, what an idiot!” math:

“…a typical urination of about 1/8 gallon in a reservoir of 38 million gallons amounts to a concentration of 3 parts per billion. That’s billion with a b. For comparison, the Environmental Protection Agency’s limit for arsenic in drinking water—arsenic!—is 10 ppb. The EPA doesn’t appear to have a limit for urine in drinking water, but it does limit nitrates in drinking water to 10,000 ppb, and urine does contain a lot of nitrogen, so let’s use that as a proxy. How many times would that teenager have to pee in a Portland reservoir to produce a urine concentration approaching the EPA’s limit for nitrates in drinking water? About 3,333 times.”

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Filed under Character, Government & Politics, Science & Technology

The Ethics Alarms List of Debate Cheats and Fallacies

fallacy

I realized it was time to post the definitive Ethics Alarms List of Debate Cheats and Fallacies after once again having to point out to an indignant commenter that calling  him a jerk based on a jerkish comment was not an ad hominem attack, and that saying idiotic things on-line carry that risk. Here, at last, is the current list, adapted from multiple sources. As with the Rationalizations List, with which this occasionally overlaps, I invite additions. Participants here should feel free to refer to the various fallacious arguments by number, and to apply critically them to my posts as well as the comments of others. Am I immune from occasionally falling into one or more of these bad debate techniques and rhetorical habits? No. The other reason I wanted to get the list up was to reinforce my own efforts to be persuasive without being manipulative.

 

1. Ad Hominem Attack

An ad hominem attack means that one is substituting the character or quality of an adversary’s thought for the argument the adversary is presenting. This is unfair, as well as misleading. “Your argument is invalid because you are a crook, a fool, an idiot” is an ad hominem attack. It is not an ad hominem attack to prove an argument idiotic, and conclude, on the basis of signature significance, (which requires that an  argument be so idiotic that no non-idiot would conceive such a thing and dare express it),that the one making the argument is an idiot, since only an idiot would make such an argument. Confusing the true ad hominem attack with the latter is a useful deflection by poor advocates of the fair consequence of their advocacy. Idiots can still hold valid positions, and disproving the position has nothing to do with proving they are idiots.

1 a. The Toxic Introduction.

A more subtle application of the ad hominem attack is The Toxic Introduction, where the argument of another is introduced by noting a negative quality about the individual. The effect is to undermine the argument before it has even been heard, by its association with a less than impressive advocate.

2. Butch’s Stratagem (The Straw Man)

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Filed under Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Let’s Adopt Adam Weinstein’s Values And Arrest Adam Weinstein

For the dangerous crime of not agreeing with Adam Weinstein...

For the dangerous crime of not agreeing with Adam Weinstein…

In a jaw-dropping post on Gawker-–I would suspect link bait if this wasn’t a disturbing trend-– a supposedly (formerly?) reputable journalist argues that anyone who challenges global warming orthodoxy should be prosecuted as a criminal. Here is Adam Weinstein making a fool out of himself (actually, only a fool could write such crap), and doing it by quoting as an authority the absurd Prof Lawrence Torcello, whose earlier advocacy of punishing global warming skeptics I wrote about in this post. Weinstein:

Those denialists should face jail. They should face fines. They should face lawsuits from the classes of people whose lives and livelihoods are most threatened by denialist tactics. Let’s make a clear distinction here: I’m not talking about the man on the street who thinks Rush Limbaugh is right, and climate change is a socialist United Nations conspiracy foisted by a Muslim U.S. president on an unwitting public to erode its civil liberties. You all know that man. That man is an idiot. He is too stupid to do anything other than choke the earth’s atmosphere a little more with his Mr. Pibb burps and his F-150′s gassy exhaust. Few of us believers in climate change can do much more—or less—than he can.

Nor am I talking about simple skeptics, particularly the scientists who must constantly hypo-test our existing assumptions about the world in order to check their accuracy. That is part and parcel of the important public policy discussion about what we do next. But there is scientific skepticism… and there is a malicious, profiteering quietist agenda posturing as skepticism. There is uncertainty about whether man-made climate change can be stopped or reversed… and there is the body of purulent pundits, paid sponsors, and corporate grifters who exploit the smallest uncertainty at the edges of a settled science.

I’m talking about Rush and his multi-million-dollar ilk in the disinformation business. I’m talking about Americans for Prosperity and the businesses and billionaires who back its obfuscatory propaganda. I’m talking about public persons and organizations and corporations for whom denying a fundamental scientific fact is profitable, who encourage the acceleration of an anti-environment course of unregulated consumption and production that, frankly, will screw my son and your children and whatever progeny they manage to have.

Those malcontents must be punished and stopped.

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Filed under Around the World, Citizenship, Environment, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Why Are American Liberals Espousing Censorship And Mind-Control?

zipper on mouth

I say “suddenly” because I always thought of censorship and mind-control as Big Brother, “1984″ stuff, the tools of fascism and totalitarian dictators. Yet for several years, the primary calls for impeding open debate and limiting the tools that facilitate it have been coming from the left. No labels. No “eliminationist rhetoric.” Ban “retarded.” Ban “nigger.” Now a best-selling feminist, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, has launched a fatuous campaign to ban the word “bossy,’ on the theory that it is wielded against incipient female leaders and crushes their spirits and aspirations. (I would counter that any girl who can’t stand up to a word isn’t a very promising leader to begin with.) Unable to mold human nature to its liking with reason, facts and persuasion, the increasingly popular tactic seems to be removing the ability to engage in the kinds of thinking and conduct that liberals, with varying justification, find repugnant. Linguists have shown that ideas that can’t be expressed are difficult to form, much less argue for. Eliminate bigotry, bias, inequality, and social injustice by making them impossible to articulate, and then even conceive! Brilliant!

Now Lawrence Torcello, an American philosophy professor with a Ph.D. from the University at Buffalo, has published  an essay in the academic website The Conversation arguing that dissent about climate change and the human role in it is so sinister that it “ought to be considered criminally negligent.” Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Education, Government & Politics, Jumbo, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Ethics Heroes: The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet...

Michael Robertson: pervert, creep, outrageous abuser of women who deserves to be shunned, despised and condemned by all decent people. But a criminal? Not yet…

The degree to which our media pundits fail to grasp the essential nature of the rule of law remains confounding, and this is another in a long line of examples. Worse, the lower court in this weird case failed to grasp it as well.

You see, there is conduct that is obviously wrong, which we call unethical. Some of that conduct is so wrong, so harmful, and so difficult to discourage with social opprobrium and informal enforcement alone that we pass laws against it, both to signal strong disapproval but also to add serious negative reinforcement, in the form of tangible punishment, to the mix. Then the wrongful conduct becomes both unethical and illegal. If we skip the essential intermediate step of writing and duly passing the law that designate the conduct as illegal, however, we have established a dangerous, indeed frightening precedent. Then we have created a society where one can be imprisoned or fined for conduct that is regarded as unethical without a law in place that empowers the state to take such actions against citizens who engage in it. Ethics, unlike law, especially on the margins, is never etched in stone. Once society starts imprisoning individuals based on ethics alone, none of us are safe.

Yet this morning I was subjected to the protests of one TV commentator after another who derided the absolutely correct decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court to uphold this principle by throwing out the conviction of Michael Robertson, a sick sleaze-ball who was arrested in August 2010 by Boston transit police who had set up a sting after getting reports that he was using his cellphone to take photos and video up female riders’ skirts and dresses: Continue reading

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Filed under Ethics Heroes, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Science & Technology

Ethics Blindness: The Pro-Abortion Ethical Disconnect

To anyone who is capable of compassion and objectivity, the abortion controversy represents a classic ethics conflict: two ethically defensible positions based upon undeniable ethical principles that are in opposition. Both factions have their absolutist wings which would deny the other side’s interests, holding that either the life of the unborn ( abortion opponents) or a woman’s autonomy (abortion advocates)  is such a societal priority  that nothing should be permitted to compromise its primacy in any way. Yet the best solution to most ethics conflicts, if possible, is balancing, resulting in acceptance of a  reasonable middle position that acknowledges the validity of both interests.

Recent comments from prominent pro-abortion advocates are ethically troubling, because they suggest a complete denial that any valid interests on the other side exist at all. This signals a retreat from reason and fairness into zealotry and fanaticism, and it makes balancing not merely more difficult, but unimaginable.
In an interview on the cable station Fusion, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards had this revealing exchange (video above): Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Character, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Religion and Philosophy, Science & Technology

KABOOM! “Discrimination In Portugal,” The Sequel

exploding_head

First I checked, double-checked and triple-checked to see if this was a hoax. Then, once I was confident that it was true, I allowed my head to explode.

The headline to today’s head-blasting post requires a bit of explanation.

As a senior at Arlington High School (Massachusetts), I was editorial editor of the school newspaper, The Arlington High Chronicle. I had to choose, edit and publish the best of the submissions from the staff, and usually wrote the lead editorial myself. Well, one week I was up against a deadline and had nothing to fill an empty space on the page except a dog’s breakfast of miserably written options. Desperate, I decided to turn the crisis into an opportunity. I took the worst of the articles, cut out each line, mixed them up in a bowl and picked them out at random. Then I retyped the incomprehensible result, adding capitals and punctuation, and headlined it “Discrimination in Portugal.” That was how it was published. I always suspected that nobody read the editorials; this was my chance to find out if my suspicions were correct.

Nobody said a word. The paper got one letter from a student saying that he disagreed with the piece, but other than that, there was no evidence that anyone noticed that one of the editorials was complete gibberish.

Now this, from Nature:

“The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered that the works were computer-generated nonsense.

“Over the past two years, computer scientist Cyril Labbé of Joseph Fourier University in Grenoble, France, has catalogued computer-generated papers that made it into more than 30 published conference proceedings between 2008 and 2013. Sixteen appeared in publications by Springer, which is headquartered in Heidelberg, Germany, and more than 100 were published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), based in New York. Both publishers, which were privately informed by Labbé, say that they are now removing the papers.” Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Kaboom!, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Ethics Quote Of The Week: Charles Krauthammer

“I repeat: I’m not a global warming believer. I’m not a global warming denier. I’ve long believed that it cannot be good for humanity to be spewing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I also believe that those scientists who pretend to know exactly what this will cause in 20, 30 or 50 years are white-coated propagandists. “The debate is settled,” asserted propagandist in chief Barack Obama in his latest State of the Union address. “Climate change is a fact.” Really? There is nothing more anti-scientific than the very idea that science is settled, static, impervious to challenge.”

—Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, in a column titled “The myth of ‘settled science’”

"90% of the 95% majority of climate scientists think it's pretty likely that their models will prove to be sort of correct. See? Certainty!"

“90% of the 95% majority of climate scientists think it’s pretty likely that their models will prove to be sort of correct. See? Certainty!”

With one unfortunate exception, Charles Krauthammer’s recent op-ed about the absurd and discrediting certainty about future global warming and its cause is so logical, fair and reasonable that one has to wonder why no non-conservative has had the integrity to write a similar piece. He was moved, I assume, by the recent flurry of obnoxious assertions from the Obama administration and its allies in the media, most notably Secretary of State John Kerry, who said,

“We should not allow a tiny minority of shoddy scientists and science and extreme ideologues to compete with scientific facts. Nor should we allow any room for those who think that the costs associated with doing the right thing outweigh the benefits. The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe it are simply burying their heads in the sand. We don’t have time for a meeting anywhere of the Flat Earth Society.”

John Kerry’s powers of critical analysis have been demonstrably weak in his supposed areas of expertise, such as foreign relations (See: Syria), and I will accept bets as to whether he could make any sense out of a climate change projection model graph, or even be sure whether he was holding it upside down or not. John Kerry doesn’t understand climate change science, and hasn’t a clue whether it is “unequivocal,” proven by the fact that he would say such a nonsensical thing. The same can be said about President Obama. Krauthammer again:

“Obama ostentatiously visited drought-stricken California last Friday. Surprise! He blamed climate change. Here even the New York Times gagged, pointing out that far from being supported by the evidence, ‘the most recent computer projections suggest that as the world warms, California should get wetter, not drier, in the winter.”

But this is the pattern: science ignoramuses accuse anyone who doesn’t agree with their politically motivated “scientific” opinions of being a science ignoramus. Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Environment, Ethics Quotes, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Science & Technology

Comment of the Day: “More Interview Ethics: Janet Mock Ambushes Piers Morgan”

XY

Ethics Alarms encourages long form comments, especially when they are as carefully reasoned, authoritative and well-written as the one presented here, by zoebrain, the Ethics Alarms expert on all things trans, gendered, re-gendered and more.

The new, complex and divisive ethical issues arising from gender matters have appeared here with increasing frequency, most recently in the post that inspired this comment—actually two comments—that attempts to enlighten the cyssies among us. I think it is required reading for anyone who wants to understand this complex subject, which is certain to generate more ethics dilemmas and controversies. I am grateful for all comments, but I want to send special thanks to the author, who obviously spent a lot of time and thought on what follows.

Here is zoebrain’s Comment of the Day on the post, “More Interview Ethics: Janet Mock Ambushes Piers Morgan”...

First, I better say why this is important, why the distinction between “used to be a boy” and “used to look like a boy” isn’t just some sterile, trivial and pedantic squabble. Continue reading

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Filed under Gender and Sex, Health and Medicine, Research and Scholarship, Romance and Relationships, Science & Technology

The Science Guy, Debating Faith, and the Ethical Duty Not To Engage

creationism

Thanks for nothing, Science Guy.

You know, back when I was in college (stop me if I’ve told this story here before), a call-in show on one of the local TV talk shows (called “Cracker Barrel”)  staged a debate on the existence of God. On the “God exists” side was a religious fanatic named Mrs. Warren who had achieved Boston notoriety by picketing local banks for some reason; my father, in fact, had a confrontation with her in his capacity as a savings bank executive. On the atheist side was none other than Madeline Murray O’Hair, she of the Supreme Court case knocking down school prayer.

The “debate” was idiotic, unfair from the start since Mrs. Warren was a prattling dolt who also spoke in what sounded like a fake Italian accent, like Chico Marx, making it even harder to take her seriously. Mostly it was idiotic, though, because such debates can’t be anything but idiotic—the adversaries are not using the same assumptions, definitions, or modes of analysis. O’Hair would mention a scientific study, and Mrs. Warren would quote the Bible, which had to be true because God dictated it. As will always happen when one is debating a fool, O’Hair was dragged into the depths of stupid argument—and whatever she was, she was not stupid—by recounting that she realized that there was no God when her son was lost on a jungle expedition, and though she prayed for his return, he never came back. After being barely restrained by my roommates from calling into the show and shouting “MOM! I’m back! It’s a miracle!” (for some reason they thought it would be in bad taste), I got a toilet paper roll, put it up to the receiver and called into the show’s call-screener as “Jehovah,”from “Beyond.”

To my amazement, they put me through, and I heard the host cheerily utter the words, “Our next caller is Jehovah. Welcome to Cracker Barrel, Jehovah!” Echoing into my cardboard megaphone in my best Burning Bush voice, I told Madeline that I was the Lord God, and that I appreciated her testing the faith of the righteous with her blasphemy, and that despite the consensus among my archangel advisors in Heaven, I would not turn her into a pillar of salt.” Then the host said, “Thank you for your call, God!” and I was done. O’Hare was laughing.

The much-hyped debate over evolution between Bill Nye, a kids show performer with a legitimate science background, and Ken Ham, an extreme creationist whose views are ridiculous even by creationist standards, was just as foolish as the Cracker Barrel fiasco but far more harmful. Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Education, Religion and Philosophy, Science & Technology, U.S. Society