Ryan Braun, Steroids and Fairness

If Ryan Braun is innocent, this man, who never met him. tried to ruin his career. It can happen…you know, like Mark Furman tried to frame O.J.

The strange case of Ryan Braun, the 2011  National League Most Valuable Player who tested positive for steroids during the post-season play-offs, once again raises the perplexing ethical issue of fairness when formal procedures concerning alleged wrongdoing are involved.

Braun’s positive test sent a shudder throughout baseball. He was supposed to  be one of the game’s rising young “post-steroid era” stars. For Braun to be caught cheating was a discouraging reminder that the game had not left its disastrous days of pumped-up stars and dubious records behind: now the legitimacy of an MVP season was being called into question. Braun vehemently denied the charges (as every positive-testing player has) and appealed them, a move that had been futile in every previous case. To literally everyone’s surprise, however, the three member arbitration panel ruled 2-1 in Braun’s favor. Although the report of the independent arbitrator who cast the deciding vote has yet to be released, the reason Braun prevailed appears to be that the Major League Baseball contractor who had  responsibility for sending Braun’s urine samples to the testing facilities had to store them at his house for the weekend because FedEx had closed before he could mail them to the lab. This created a sufficient break in the chain of custody, it seems, to make the results invalid. Continue reading

Art Jones: Future Incompetent Elected Official of the Month?

Let’s hope not.

Art Jones, running in the Republican primary to challenge Democrat Dan Lipinski in Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District, is a former member of the American Nazi Party, who, true to his breed, denies that the Holocaust occurred. Jones explains,

“As far as I’m concerned, the Holocaust is nothing more than an international extortion racket by the Jews. It’s the blackest lie in history. Millions of dollars are being made by Jews telling this tale of woe and misfortune in books, movies, plays and TV. The more survivors, the more lies that are told.”

The sunny side of this human cloud is that in America, even vile, hateful and ignorant citizens like Jones can express their views and run for office.

The scary side is that some of them get elected.

Ethics Hero: Journalist Harris Meyer

Harris Meyer is an Ethics Hero because he won’t let a bad lesson go unchallenged.

Meyer is an award-winning  freelance journalist and a former editor at the Yakima (Wash.) Herald Republic. That was the paper that first broke the story of Gaby Rodriguez last year, which I wrote about here. With the encouragement of her high school principal, Rodriguez, a senior, embarked on some amateur social science research that involved deceiving everyone in her life except her mother, one (of seven) siblings, her boyfriend, and the principal. She pretended that she was pregnant, suing padding. She faked the pregnancy for months, finally announcing the sham in a student assembly. This extended hoax was supposedly designed to expose how pregnant teenagers are treated by their peers and others. It was, by any rational standard, a despicable thing to do—a betrayal and exploitation of her friends,  her boyfriend’s family, her siblings and teachers. Deception on such a scale must be justified, if at all, by both need and necessity. Were there other, less destructive ways to investigate the treatment of pregnant teens? Sure there were; interviews come to mind. Collecting published journals and other accounts. But Gaby’s unethical stunt was in spiritual synchronicity with a reality show-obsessed culture, where fake is entertaining and collateral damage is of no concern.  I wrote: Continue reading

Ethics Quiz: How Unethical Is This Lawyer?

"Dr." Susan Friery with "Bowser", who for the last ten years has claimed to be a poodle.

Newburyport (Mass.) lawyer Susan Friery, a partner at the New York-based law firm Kreindler & Kreindler, has been suspended from being able to practice law in Massachusetts until February 2014.

Why? Two years..that seems pretty stiff. Well, it seems that from the time she joined the firm as a part-time paralegal and medical consultant in 1986 to her resignation, she represented her self to the firm and its clients as an MD.  Friery joined the law firm in August 1986 . In truth, she had only completed taken four semesters of medical courses at SUNY Buffalo School of Medicine, and never got a degree. But she got her entre into the  firm by falsely claiming that she had graduated from another school, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in New York. In 1989, the firm paid most of her tuition to law school,and by 1993, Friery became an associate, specializing in medical malpractice cases and personal injury law suits with medical injuries. Her name appeared with the title MD or Dr. on the firm’s letterhead, business cards, legal correspondence and other documents filed in numerous courts.

Court documents also show that Friery presented herself as a doctor at seminars and meetings. By 1998, the law firm had included Friery’s alleged medical credentials in its web-based advertising.

Your Ethics Quiz for today, therefore, is this…TWO YEARS??? I’m sorry, let me calm down. <big breath> Ok, here’s the question:

Do you think a suspension of two years for 25 years of falsely holding oneself out to the public as well as colleagues as a medical doctor is sufficient punishment? Continue reading

Social Science, Group Research and Bigotry: The Most Slippery Slope


Decades ago, Arthur Jensen became a target of critics and a pariah in his field by publishing a controversial study that indicated that differences in racial performance on intelligence tests probably had a genetic component. He was, and is, called a racist, though Jensen has continued to produce respected research. Since the publication of the 1969 Harvard Educational Review article that made him infamous, Jensen has won the prestigious Kistler Prize in 2003 for original contributions to the understanding of the connection between the human genome and human society.

The problem with Jensen’s research results, whatever the legitimacy of the data and his methods, was this: What do you do with it? Like other studies that show women, as a group, with less aptitude for the sciences, or those that show superior traits in other races and ethnic groups, this information just serves as a catalyst for bigotry. Whatever the trends within a large group may be, they tells us nothing about any individual in that group. Yet the existence of a study creates a natural tendency to apply the claimed group characteristics to every group member. Most people think like that, always have and always will. This is similar to the problem with stereotypes. Many, perhaps most, stereotypes have some truth in them. I was raised in a Greek family, and Greeks are reputed to be clannish, cheap, bigoted, and gifted in the kitchen. Well, that would describe a large proportion of my relatives, too, but not all of them. My Aunt Bea is fanatically liberal. My Mom couldn’t cook a lick.  All right, they all were cheap, but the point is that it would be foolish and unfair to assume what any of them would be like without knowing them.

Knowledge is an absolute good, but perversely, some knowledge also guarantees abuse, and thus results in more bad than good. Jensen’s study, as far as I can see, has no good use in a democracy where every individual has the right to be assessed according to his or her conduct and character. Nor do any studies that “prove” character or ability differences in broadly defined groups.

This is all a prelude to my conclusion that the now widely publicized National Academy of Science study that has this conclusion-“Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior”—is just throwing gasoline on a fire, and has no useful or benign purpose at all. Continue reading

The Gas Price Blame Game: Can “Tit for Tat” Ever End?

There’s an amusing page up at Buzz Feed that has an audio of Senator Barack Obama raking the Bush Administration (in 2006) for the $3.40 gas. Also on the page : a video of Nancy Pelosi, while Speaker of the House, attacking the Bush White House for the same problem. Applying the well-worn unethical practice of “Tit for Tat”, also known as “You Did It To Us, So We Can Do It To You and Nobody Can Blame Us,” the Republican presidential hopefuls (Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo) are making similar accusations against President Obama, since that $3.40 cents gas looks like the Good Ol’ Days now.

Is the Republican criticism of Obama for this round of high gasoline prices any less unfair, dishonest and irresponsible than the Democratic version six years ago, because Obama was part of it? No, it’s exactly as unfair, dishonest and irresponsible. Continue reading

Academy Awards Curtain Call Ethics: The Unkindest Snub of All

Every year the Academy Awards manages to neglect a distinguished actor or actress who has died since the previous Oscars ceremony, and usually it is inexplicable. Two years ago, it was Farrah Fawcett who was snubbed. This year  Oscar was more callous and negligent than ever before, robbing at least eight deserving performers of their final curtain calls, and there is  just no excuse for it. As usual, Oscar flacks will claim that time was limited, but that won’t fly: why was there time to include, for example, Whitney Houston, who not only had minimal film credentials but who also  had an entire awards show dedicated to her just a week ago? Whitney hardly rated a gratuitous nod from Oscar, especially while it was snubbing so many real actors.

I will be generous and apply Hanlon’s Razor, but with reluctance: it seems to me that there were too many blatant omissions and too many obscure insiders included for it all to be accidental. Did the behind-the-scenes members of the Academy stage a coup, and demand that their fallen colleagues get their names displayed this year to millions of Americans who almost certainly never heard of them? If so, that still couldn’t justify the Academy of Motion Picture Sciences showing such apathy and disrespect for deceased actors that audiences do remember, or if not, should be reminded of one last time.

Here are the actors who Oscar neglected to help us remember, appreciate, and thank: Continue reading

Weekend Ethics Catch-Up

If you took an ethics break this last weekend of February, here’s your Ethics Alarms make-up assignment:


“No Tolerance,” Expulsion, and Poisoned Coffee

A post this weekend discussed the case of an elementary student who was expelled for showing a pocket knife to friends on school grounds. Dig around in the Ethics Alarms archives, and you’ll find many other “no tolerance” stories in which schools levied harsh punishment for perceived student infractions such as describing murderous fantasies about teachers on Facebook; a pizza bitten into the shape of a gun; taking possession of a knife from another student in order to turn it over to school authorities, and even more outrageous examples. In several of these incidents, the police were called in. You may recall the case from last year in which a Spotsylvania (Va.) high school student was expelled and charged with criminal assault for the equivilent of blowing spit-balls at a student in class.  Now we have a shining example of why this decade-long trend is not only devoid of justice and common sense, but also counter-productive. It undermines the school’s ability to send a coherent message to the students who need it—the truly dangerous. Continue reading

Robot Ethics: Let’s Not Get Silly About It

Today seems to be “Ethics Questions That We Shouldn’t Have To Ask Day,” and Andrew Sullivan, over at the Daily Beast, phrases his entry this way:

“Is Sex With A Robot Adultery?”

Sherry Jackson as a robot on the original "Star Trek." Lovely, convincing, but still basically a toaster.

Gee, I don’t know, Andrew: is sex with a toaster adultery? What has Sullivan asking such nonsense is a new book called Robot Ethics, which has some legitimate issues to explore, and then some other phony controversies included to get publicity and interviews. The field of robot ethics still includes little that hasn’t been thoroughly explored by Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and on “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but as a few of these dilemmas are likely to enter reality from science fiction in the foreseeable future, it is reasonable to dust off the issues again as long as we don’t get silly about it. Getting overly excited for the Boston Globe, however, Josh Rothman writes: Continue reading