Category Archives: Science & Technology

Q: Why Is CNBC Posting Anti-Vaccination Propaganda?

A: Because its staff is lazy, inattentive and irresponsible.

Weston Price (1870-1948), Quack. His work goes on...

Weston Price (1870-1948), Quack. His work goes on…

The cable business news network posted this press release from the natural foods and nutrition huckster group, The Weston A. Price Foundation.

It isn’t news. It is poison.  The press release makes the false claim that vaccinations spread measles, as well as other diseases. This is standard anti-vaxx hysteria, and it gets children killed.  It is false. “Measles live vaccine doesn’t transmit easily at all,” said Dr. Jane Seward of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases told NBC, which apparently doesn’t communicate with its subsidiaries. “I don’t think there has ever been a secondary transmission,” she added. “There is no evidence of any transmission of measles virus from a child to household contacts.” As for the Foundation itself:

“The Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated nonindustrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price’s research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats….

Yes, it is strange, like Dr. Price’s theories, and not in a benign way. Among the foundation’s other objectives is to show that vaccinations are unnecessary if you eat right, or something: when a  home page prominently displays a link that reads, COD LIVER OIL: Our Most Important Superfood, my eyes tend to gloss over, I file the group under “Nut Balls” and move on.

CNBC posted this promotional piece uncritically and without context, leaving the impression that it was actual news, thus allowing fake news to go to the top of Google searches for gullible readers.  At the bottom of the screen it says “More from CNBC” and not “More from health food hyping anti-science fanatics.Continue reading

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Filed under Bioethics, Business & Commercial, Character, Childhood and children, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Health and Medicine, Humor and Satire, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Science & Technology

Ick, Not Ethics: The Incredible Head Transplant

OK, this looks unethical...

OK, this looks unethical…

I adore stories that clarify ethical distinctions, and this is the third one we’ve had recently. First we had the classic “Awww! Factor” case of the Down Syndrome cheerleader. Then, close on its heels, we got “Downton Abbey’s” finale, which illustrated the ethics fallacy of Consequentialism as deftly as any textbook.

Now we have the startling report of impending head transplants:

The world’s first attempt to transplant a human head will be launched this year at a surgical conference in the US. The move is a call to arms to get interested parties together to work towards the surgery.

The idea was first proposed in 2013 by Sergio Canavero of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group in Italy. He wants to use the surgery to extend the lives of people whose muscles and nerves have degenerated or whose organs are riddled with cancer. Now he claims the major hurdles, such as fusing the spinal cord and preventing the body’s immune system from rejecting the head, are surmountable, and the surgery could be ready as early as 2017.

Canavero plans to announce the project at the annual conference of the American Academy of Neurological and Orthopaedic Surgeons (AANOS) in Annapolis, Maryland, in June.

Predictably, this news prompted a wave of “Futurama” jokes and bad puns. It also prompted dozens of hysterical stories online and in print pronouncing the yet-to-be performed operation as “a terrible idea” and obviously unethical. A Daily Beast “expert” with the trust-inspiring name “Docbastard” condemned the practice with this wisdom:

That’s the funny thing about ethics—it may be impossible to say why something is wrong, but can be easy to see that it isn’t.

Yeah, that is funny. It is also false, and incredibly stupid. If one cannot say “why” something is wrong–you know, things like interracial marriage, interracial adoption, homosexuality, gay marriage, plastic surgery, income tax, integration, eating meat on a Friday…gee, let’s see how far back into cultural history we need to go to get the list up to a thousand! My guess: no further than 1900, if that far—there’s an excellent chance that it only seems wrong because 1) nobody’s bothered to analyze it thoroughly and objectively, and 2) the Ick Factor, which is when we mistake strangeness, shock and surprise, all visceral, emotional reactions, for ethics.

Let’s actually think about the “Doc’s” provocative questions about the theoretical procedure that he seems to think clinch the argument that head transplants are “easy” to identify as unethical. He writes, Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Bioethics, Ethics Dunces, Health and Medicine, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Ethics Dunces: The Republican “Base”

National religion

Public Polling Policy surveyed 316 Republican primary voters—the hard core— from February 20th to 22nd to measure their attitudes and policy views, as well as their current preferences for President. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 5.5%. The results are here.

The headlines will be about the candidate rankings, which are meaningless at this point. The valuable revelation, especially for Democrats who want to mercilessly mock their Republican friends, if they have any, and Republicans who want to drown themselves out of hopelessness and shame are…

A. The graphic above, showing that 57% of the Republicans polled want to establish a national religion, Christianity, and

B. The fact that only 37% believe in evolution. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Religion and Philosophy, Rights, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Now THIS Is An Ad Hominem Attack! or “Boy, Is Howard Dean An Ass, or What?”

 

"True, Harry didn't go to college, but he's a Democrat."

“True, Harry didn’t go to college, but he’s a Democrat.”

People commenting on Ethics Alarms constantly accuse me of making ad hominem attacks, when what they mean to say is “You’re name-calling.” I’ll cop to name-calling. It’s can be a bad habit, but it has its uses, best illustrated when President Ronald Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire.” The description was true, and it immediately focused values-based criticism on a government and culture that needed it and deserved it.

Ad hominem, in contrast, is a logical fallacy in which one attempts to counter a substantive argument by attacking the character or other aspects of the advocate that can’t possibly have any bearing on the argument’s validity. For example, “you’re uglier than a pug” does nothing to disprove the substance of your adversary’s position, even if he is. Similarly, Bill Cosby has argued, even before 34 women accused him of raping them, that his advocacy of black community responsibility should not be undermined because of questions about his own rectitude.

There is nothing inherently fallacious, however, about diagnosing the conduct or statements of someone as proof that he or she is a fool, or a liar, or a jerk. It may not be civil, and it may be unfair, but it is not an ad hominem attack. As I have  explained it before, if I say you are an idiot because I think your comments are idiotic, that is a legitimate, if rebuttable assumption. (I may also be using “you are an idiot” as shorthand for “you are talking/sounding/acting like an idiot, and should avoid that.”) If I say you are an idiot, and therefor everything you say must be dismissed and ignored as the rantings of an idiot, that’s an unethical debating technique, ducking the argument by impugning the advocate.

Distinguishing between these very different but similar-appearing phenomenon can be a problem when trying to be fair to someone whose prior statements and conduct have already generated a negative diagnosis, and thus a bias. I have concluded, for example, that Joe Biden is a dolt, that Michele Bachmann is not playing with a full deck; that Sarah Palin is intellectually lazy and irresponsible, that Newt Gingrich is manipulative and untrustworthy, that Bill Maher is a pompous, none-too-bright blowhard and that Howard Dean is a vicious and unscrupulous ideologue. Nonetheless, I have to fight to assess what they say on the basis of merit, not my well-considered assumptions. It’s hard. When an idiot asserts something, is it unreasonable to be more skeptical of the statement than one would if, say, a brilliant, credentialed, unbiased observer said the same thing? (Wow—I can’t think of a single one!) No. And this is why ad hominem attacks, especially coy, subtle, clever ad hominem attacks, work so well in politics.

This brings us to that vicious and unscrupulous ideologue, Howard Dean. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Rand Paul, Anti-Vaxxing and Signature Significance

"Got it, Senator. NEXT!!!"

“Got it, Senator. NEXT!!!”

It would be nice if a genuine, rational libertarian candidate could be part of the national political debate. The problem is that there are no genuine, rational libertarians. To be genuine, a libertarian has to decide on his or her policy positions based on the dictates of the ideology, which is backwards: as a leader, rather than a professor or theorist, one must figure out what is going to work, and what you wish would work or what a pre-determined formula says should work are not germane to the issue. For proof of the flaw in the latter approach, all we have to do is consider the past seven years.

Thus libertarians are prone to saying things like, “The United States should never have entered World War II.” This has been a staple of Rand Paul’s deluded father, Ron Paul, and properly places pure libertarianism with pacifism, also known as Cloud Cuckoo Land. The Berrigans used to say the same thing, you know. I believe it was Philip who said that nobody tried passive resistance to defeat Hitler, so we’ll never know if it would have worked. When you say things like this for public consumption, you forfeit the privilege of being taken seriously. It is signature significance: your judgment can’t be trusted.

For me, Rand Paul’s libertarian moment of signature significance was when he questioned the need for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, essentially saying that the nation would have been just fine allowing people like Lester Maddox to chase African-Americans out of his restaurant with an axe handle, or bus drivers to force Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus until change occurred naturally, you know, like after the race war. Such statements are not isolated instances of momentary madness; they are markers of serious ethical and cognitive problems, and it was inevitable that the source of that opinion would have more of the same, and perhaps worse. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Childhood and children, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

The Murderer and The Unethical Powerpoint

Powerpoint slide

Why didn’t I see this coming? The Washington Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Odies Walker for murder and other crimes in the slaying and robbery of an armored car guard because the  prosecutor’s PowerPoint presentation during his  closing argument constituted “flagrant, pervasive, and prejudicial”  prosecutoral misconduct. While lawyers “may use multimedia resources in closing arguments to summarize and highlight relevant evidence,” the court ruled, “advocacy has its limits.”

The  prosecutor presented a whopping 250 PowerPoint slides to the jury during the summation, including 100 with the caption “defendant Walker guilty of premeditated murder.” The slide above with the caption, “Money is more important than human life,” was typical of the problem assailed by the justices: it was never alleged that Walker said this, or even thought it. Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Science & Technology

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

quack-doctor-788714

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