Fox Nation: Fair, Balanced, Biased, and Incredibly Gullible

If you read a story like this, what would you think?

“Famed global warming activist James Schneider and a journalist friend were both found frozen to death on Saturday, about 90 miles from South Pole Station, by the pilot of a ski plane practicing emergency evacuation procedures.

One friend of Prof. Schneider told ecoEnquirer that he had been planning a trip to an ice sheet to film the devastation brought on by global warming. His wife, Linda, said that she had heard him discussing the trip with his environmental activist friends, but she assumed that he was talking about the Greenland ice sheet, a much smaller ice sheet than Antarctica.

“He kept talking about when they ‘get down to chili’, and I thought they were talking about the order in which they would consume their food supplies”, Mrs. Schneider recounted. “I had no idea they were talking about Chile, the country from which you usually fly or sail in order to reach Antarctica.”

I would think, “This has got to be a gag.” Wouldn’t you? Continue reading

Art Ethics: We Are Not Bowls of Fruit

During his legendary questioning by Clarence Darrow in the Scopes trial, Williams Jennings Bryan famously answered one of Darrow’s queries by saying, “I don’t think about things I don’t think about.” (Darrow’s rejoinder: “Do you think about the things you do think about?”)  One of the ethical issues I hadn’t thought about was whether an artist drawing a subject in public without his or her consent is being unethical. Thanks to a post by an inquiring artist on an art blog who heard the faint ringing of an ethics alarm in his head, I’m thinking about it now, and it is trickier than you might think.

Once the artist starts rolling, he has a lot of ethics questions: Continue reading

Ethics Test for Republicans and Conservatives

President Obama’s unexpected announcement that he will reverse the long-time ban on off-shore drilling for oil and natural gas resources should help us answer an important question: Has the GOP’s intractable opposition to President Obama’s policies been based on principle, or the purely political motive of obstructing his presidency in order to win votes and power from a disillusioned and impatient electorate? Obama’s conservative critics on talk radio will be presented with the same test. Rush Limbaugh famously said that he wants Obama to fail: will that extend to a new Obama policy that Limbaugh has advocated in the recent  past?

Opening up off-shore drilling to exploit unused U.S. energy resources was a key plank in Republican John McCain’s campaign when he opposed Mr. Obama, and is anathema to many Obama supporters. If the Republican Party and its conservative media allies have a requisite amount of fairness and integrity, they will both praise the President and support him.

We shall see.

Mad Scientist Ethics

It is comforting to know that all mad scientists aren’t hell-bent on world domination. Apparently some Japanese mad scientists are dedicated instead to world vaccination, because, as reported in the April issue of “Insect Molecular Biology”, they have figured out how to make mosquitoes into itty-bitty flying syringes full of vaccine. Continue reading

Climate Science Ethics: The Lovelock Interview

James Lovelock, 90, is a legendary scientist, environmentalist and futurist. He has just given a lengthy interview in which he opines about the recent scandals in climate science, the value of skeptics, the limitations of political solutions to big problems, and the inherent uncertainty of science. The interview is remarkable for what it reveals about this independent scientist’s honesty, integrity, respect for adverse opinions and understanding of human nature. It is also that true rarity, an assessment of climate change that is measured, reasonable,  persuasive, and logical.

You can read the whole interview here, and the key statements  here.

Unethical Website of the Month: Bloomberg News

Seldom does any news media organization make its absence of fairness and objectivity on a topic so obvious that there isn’t some room for argument, but Bloomberg managed to scale the heights with its headline to a story by reporter Heidi Przybyla. Her report covered the results of a Bloomberg poll designed to create a profile of the members of the Tea Party movement, which has been holding multiple demonstrations across the country to protest passage of President Obama’s health care reform bill.

The poll results themselves were unremarkable, given what we already have learned about the Tea Partiers’ objectives and objections. Over 90% of those polled by Bloomberg said that they feared that the nation was turning to socialism, with the federal government trying to control too many aspects of  Americans’ lives. In answer to another question,  70% felt that Obama’s Administration needed to put more resources into job creation. So Przybyla, her editors and Bloomberg’s management chose to headline the report with this:

“Tea Party Advocates Who Scorn Socialism Want a Government Job” Continue reading

Dubious Ethics Studies, Part II

There are good reasons to be skeptical of all studies purporting to analyze what people think according to how they fit into common ideological categories. In 2003, a study purported to portray conservatism as a kind of mental disorder. In 2008, another series of studies was packaged to make the case that liberals were compassionate in words only, that when it came to putting one’s money where one’s conscience was, it was those mean old conservatives who opened their wallets. Now comes a study called “Do Green Products Make Us Better People?”published in the latest edition of the “Journal of Psychological Science.” Its authors, Canadian psychologists Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong, did a series of experiments comparing the behavior of patrons of “green” products and the conduct of the less environmentally correct. Continue reading

Death Video Ethics

As with the video of the fatal luge run at the Olympics, as with 9-11 videos of the Twin Towers crashing down, pundits, lawyers and family members of a victim are arguing in courts of law and public opinion that the visual record of their loved one’s death should be off-limits for public. The family of Dawn Brancheau, the SeaWorld trainer who was drowned last month by a six-ton Killer Whale that held her underwater by her ponytail,  has announced that they will seek an injunction to stop the release of the death videos, captured by SeaWorld’s surveillance cameras on Feb. 24. Once the official investigation is complete, the video could be made widely available on YouTube and elsewhere. The family understandably does not want their daughter’s last moments to become a source of web entertainment. Continue reading

Charles Leerhsen’s Unethical Pit Bull Vendetta Continues

You have to hand it to Charles Leerhsen. He is determined to get revenge for the mauling of his beloved Wheaten Terrier, Frankie, if he has to wipe out an entire dog breed and thousands of other people’s beloved pets to do it. To this end, the Daily Beast has, for some reason, decided to give him a second column to make the illogical, historically flawed, intellectually bigoted argument that pit bulls should be wiped off the face of the earth.

This time, he has abandoned any pretense of fair argument, and simply ridicules and insults his critics. Using the logic of his articles, this would be sufficient evidence to argue for sending writers to extinction. Astoundingly, he accuses critics of relying on “anecdotal evidence,” when his entire crusade was inspired by a single incident. His rebuttal of non-anecdotal evidence, such as studies showing that the supposed excessive viciousness of pit bulls over all other breeds is a myth? “Fabricated by pit bull lobbying groups, according to at least one commenter.” Well, I guess that settles it then! Continue reading

Dubious Ethics Studies, Part I.

Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell (Blink) and the one-word titled books he has inspired, we are being exposed to more social science research than ever before, much of it with relevance to ethics. I’ll admit to using some of these when they support my point of view, and that is the problem: what such studies supposedly signify often tell us more about the biases of the analysts than the behavior of the subjects. Two recent studies illustrate the point. Continue reading