I Trusted The Science, And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt!

Idiot T-Shirt

For more than a decade, I told incoming members of the D.C. Bar as part of their mandatory ethics training that such sessions as mine were essential to making their ethics alarms ring. To support that thesis, I related the finding of research performed by behavioral economist Dan Ariely when he was at M.I.T. Ariely created an experiment that was the most publicized part of his best-selling book “Predictably Irrational,” giving Harvard Business School students a test that had an obvious way to cheat built into it and offering a cash reward for the students who got the highest scores. He tracked how many students, with that incentive to be unethical, cheated. He also varied the experiment by asking some students to do simple tasks before they took the test: name five baseball teams, or state capitals, or U.S. Presidents.

None of these pre-test questions had any effect on the students’ likelihood of cheating, except for one question, which had a dramatic effect.  He discovered that students who were asked to recite a few of the Ten Commandments, unlike any of the other groups, never cheated at all. Never. None of them. Ariely told an NPR interviewer that he had periodically repeated the experiment elsewhere, with the same results. No individual who was asked to search his memory for a few of the Ten Commandments has ever cheated on Ariely’s test, though the percentage of cheaters among the rest of the testees is consistently in double figures. This result has held true, he said, regardless of the individual’s faith, ethnic background, or even whether they could name one Commandment correctly.

The classic moral rules, he concluded, reminded the students to consider right and wrong. It wasn’t the content of the Commandments that affected them, but what they represent: being good, or one culture’s formula for doing good. The phenomenon is called priming, and Ariely’s research eventually made me decide to start “The Ethics Scoreboard” and later this ethics blog.

Priming is a superb way to make sure your ethics alarms are turned on and in working order. All of us go through life focused on what ethicist call “non-ethical considerations,” the human motivations, emotions, needs and desires that drive us in everything they do—love, lust, greed, ambition, fear, ego, anger, passion…wanting that promotion, the new car, the compliment, fame, power. Good people do bad things because at the moment they are unethical, they aren’t thinking about ethics. If they were, they wouldn’t engage in the misconduct, because they would be “primed” and their ethics alarms would sound in time to stop them.

I still believe that the priming theory is sound, but it looks like Ariely’s alleged proof of the phenomenon can’t be trusted, because he can’t be trusted. Last week, an in-depth statistical analysis showed that a data set from one of the professor’s 2012 papers was fraudulent. That study had apparently demonstrated that people were more honest about how much mileage on their car if they had to sign a statement pledging that the number was accurate before they reported the mileage, rather than signing at the bottom of the page. Oops! No such study had ever been done,, and the “data” was produced using a random number generator.

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Now Featured In The Left’s Attack On Freedom Of Speech: Doctors Censoring Doctors

Gee, why would officious authoritarian egomaniacs who think they are God try to do something like that?

The New York Times reports that medical groups are agitating for state boards to discipline physicians spreading “misinformation.” The Federation of State Medical Boards, which represents the groups that license and discipline doctors, recommended last month that states consider suspending or revoking medical licenses of doctors who share false medical claims.

The American Medical Association says spreading misinformation violates the code of ethics that licensed doctors agree to follow. “”Misinformation” is defined by Ethics Alarms as opinions that do not comport with the majority opinion in the profession, with the added qualification that such non-conforming opinions are considered especially worthy of censorship if they offend the political Left, which is where the AMA hangs its metaphorical hat.

The medical association, like its allies, are increasingly unashamed aspiring totalitarians. In this post from April, I wrote about how the AMA issued a statement that it was “deeply disturbed” and “angered” by a recent Journal of the American Medical Association podcast that “questioned the existence of structural racism.” Though JAMA supposedly has editorial independence from the AMA, the association forced JAMA Editor-in-Chief Howard Bauchner to ask for the resignation of podcast host and deputy editor Dr. Edward Livingston because his statements and tweets were “inconsistent with the policies and views of AMA” and “structural racism in health care and our society exists and it is incumbent on all of us to fix it.”

“Structural racism in health care and our society exists and it is incumbent on all of us to fix it” is what the medical profession now calls a “fact.” What the medical profession’s censors are really after is lockstep ideological conformity, using the power to take away the means of contrarians to earn a living as a bludgeon. The Times article would be amusing it it wasn’t so ominous. How can a doctor or a journalist call anything said about the Wuhan virus and its friends “mis-” or “dis-” information, when so many “facts” have been promoted to the public by health experts and then been retracted, reversed, qualified or otherwise contradicted? Dr. Fauci admitted that he deliberately lied to the public about whether masks protected the public from infection. Do you think any state broad will try to take his license away? No, because he’s one of the good doctors, and his misinformation is a means to a just end.

I am pretty certain that any effort to silence medical professionals who espouse controversial opinions will be struck down even by liberal judges, and that the medical groups advocating censorship know it. What they are really trying to accomplish is prior restraint, intimidating non-conforming doctors into keeping quiet by raising the specter of discipline. It’s the ethical equivalent of extortion.

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Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘….Suicide Ethics’”

Head in the oven

Let’s get away from metaphorical national suicide for the nonce and back to more pleasant topics, like actual suicide. Rich in CT posted an excellent comment last week in the discussion, sometimes heated, of the appropriate societal attitude toward suicide and those who indulge in it.

I ended up banning a particularly obnoxious new commenter in the threads on this topic, and this is as good a place as any to point out some things. First, as is almost always the case, I should have seen what kind of participant I was letting into the fray when I let his first comment out of moderation. This is the kind of mistake you make when you are obsessing over getting more diverse commenters, and it was all my fault. Second, it was clear from the beginning that the commenter never bothered to read the comment guidelines. That’s a bad sign. Third, like so many who are moved to comment on a single issue, never to be heard from again, this commenter was ignorant of basic ethical principles and analysis, and, as with the comment guidelines, didn’t feel it necessary to educate himself on the topic of the blog before issuing his opinion in emphatic terms. Finally, his string of comments were all about how the feelings of suicidal people justified their destructive actions. That statement is signature significance for an ethics dolt. Feelings are based on emotions, and emotions don’t factor in to ethical decision-making. In Reciprocity analysis, the feelings of others may need to be considered, but the process of being ethical requires rational and objective reasoning, and this requires recognizes feelings as impediments to the process. Maybe I haven’t been sufficiently clear on this: one of the mains reasons public discourse on so many topics spins away from ethics is that ascendant view that feelings justify conduct.

But I digress! Here is Rich in CT’s Comment of the Day on David C’s Comment of the Day on the post, Sunday Ethics Picnic, 8/15/2021: Afghanistan Accountability And Suicide.

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“And yes, as far as I know there is research that suggests that if people are fixated for whatever reason on a certain means of suicide, they will not turn to another method if access to that method is removed.”

It took me a few days to get around to addressing this point for the original post. I’ll include the comment here instead.

“Or is the goal to just make sure they give up and go home to swallow sleeping pills?”

Studies have shown this is not the case. Rather, suicide is an impulsive choice at the intersection of desperation and a particular opportunity. The ideation is often linked to a particular method (jump off bridge, pills, etc). Suicidal individuals don’t systematically engage in various methods until they are successful; rather they fixate, as David C says, on a particular method as the solution; they are at most danger when they are at a low point and their preferred method is readily available.

A famous example occurred in England, the trope of sticking one’s head into the oven to suffocate. Prior to the 1970’s, the island used primarily “town gas” for ovens (as opposed to natural gas or propane). Town gas was extracted from coal in a gasworks plant at the edge of town (hence town gas), and piped to each house. As a byproduct of the extraction process, carbon monoxide was produced, and piped directly to each home along with the hydrocarbons.

Carbon monoxide produces a painless death; one loses conscious quickly prior to suffocation. Carbon monoxide is also nearly 100% effective at causing death. Plugging up the vents in the kitchen, blowing out the pilot light, and turning up the gas became an extremely popular method of suicide between the 1800’s and 1970’s, accounting for about half of all successful suicide deaths in England (I believe these statistics hold up elsewhere, too).

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Facts Don’t Matter: Charles Blow Says Vaccination Resistance Is Donald Trump’s Fault

Chart vaccine

The New York Times has a lot of Trump Deranged op-ed writers, a lot of jackasses, and quite a few race-baiters in the mix as well. None scores as high in all three categories as the arrogant Charles M. Blow. His continued presence on the Times opinion pages is a continuing insult to black pundits everywhere. Blow obviously only has his job because he is black, and if this is the best the most prestigious paper in the country could do in seeking “diversity,” “The Bell Curve” was more accurate than we thought. But Blow isn’t the best, or even one of the best, black pundits the Times could employ, and he’s unbearably pompous to boot.

Yesterday Blow’s column was titled “Anti-Vax Insanity.” I have not read a Blow column for more than a year, but this made me think, “Gee, a column from Blow that doesn’t involve foaming at the mouth over Donald Trump!” Silly me. Here is how it starts:

“Nothing better exemplifies the gaping political divide in this country than our embarrassing and asinine vaccine response. Donald Trump’s scorched earth political strategy has fooled millions of Americans into flirting with death. And now thousands are once again dying for it.”

Later he writes,

Why were Americans turning away a vaccine that many people in other parts of the world were literally dying for? Many did so because of their fidelity to the lie and their fidelity to the liar. They did it because they were — and still are — slavishly devoted to Trump, and because many politicians and conservative commentators helped Trump propagate his lies.”

Blow managed to find one poll —you know, polls—that kind of backed his thesis if you squint hard and aren’t thinking clearly, except that it doesn’t mention Donald Trump at all. That’s a pretty big “except.” What the poll shows is that more Republicans than Democrats distrust the vaccine and object to the government telling them they have to take the shots. Well, that would have been the result if Donald Trump had never been born, and whether the vaccine was deadly or conveyed immortality.

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Observations On The “567 True-False Question Multiphasic Personality Inventory”

Scoring test

The first observation is that I am amazed that I never heard of this thing before very recently. I am pretty certain that I never encountered it in my psychology course in college, nor in my criminal law courses in law school, nor in the ridiculous number of movies and TV shows I have watched that would seem to be natural places for the test to be referenced. The large and seemingly random holes in our knowledge of the world makes each or us less competent to deal with life, and ethics, to a great extent, is a matter of life competence. I should have learned about this a long time ago, and I don’t know why I didn’t.

The 567 True-False Question Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), for those of you who don’t know already, is apparently the most widely used and researched clinical assessment tool used by mental health professionals to help diagnose mental health disorders (above is an excerpt from list of problems it is designed to flag and the number of questions that allegedly identify them). It has been used since the late 1930s, and has been revised and updated several times to improve its validity.

As you review its details here, you will immediately see the relevance to ethics. There are many scales used to evaluate the responses to the test, which takes 30-50 minutes to complete and involves the subject answering “true” or “false” to each of 567 questions. The survey may be used to assess hypochondria, psychosis, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, hysteria, sexual identities, paranoia, schizophrenia, introversion, and to identify psychopaths. There are also sub-scales that measure “the test taker’s belief in human goodness, serenity, contentment with life, patience/denial of irritability, and denial of moral flaws.”

I don’t have a lot to say about the test, which more or less speaks for itself. It reminds me of several things, like those trick questions they used to ask you when you checked your luggage at airports before 9/11: “Did anyone pack your suitcase for you? Did you accept anything from a stranger before you came here? Are you carrying any explosives or weapons?” How inept a hijacker did someone have to be to answer “Yes! I mean no! Damn, you caught me!” to that last one? A lot of the questions are like that. They are a bit cleverer, in that the whole reason there are so many questions is that the incriminating ones are randomly hidden among benign and distracting True-False assertions like ” I think I would enjoy the work of a librarian” and “I like poetry.” You’re rolling along for half the test and getting bored and suddenly you get hit with “It does not bother me particularly to see animals suffer.” Dingdingdingdingding!

The MMPI also reminded me of a bad Elvis Presley movie called “Follow the Dream” that has its climax in a courtroom where Elvis and his con artist father are fighting to keep custody of two twin boys the family adopted. In court, a suspicious psychiatrist gives Elvis’s father a “word association test” to prove whether he would be a fit parent, and the doctor interprets everything he says in the worst context imaginable.

And the test reminds me of what failures the fields of psychiatry and psychology have been since Sigmund Freud was going to save the world a century ago with his new science. If this list is a “primary tool” for metal health professionals, then I have a better understanding of how a Yale psychiatrist could go on MSNBC and insist that Donald Trump should be removed from office based on her assessment of his statements. It also explains how Woody Allen could spend decades in analysis and still be, you know, like Woody Allen.

One final observation, before I leave the rest to you, is that the list suggests that the current “antiracism”/Critical Race Theory/ Black Lives Matters assault on U.S. society and culture may be making African-Americans mentally ill. For example,#71 states, “These days I find it hard not to give up hope of amounting to something.” Being angry is also obviously a marker in the test.

At least now you’ll know about the 567 questions. Here they are:

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Gallup’s Institutional Trust Poll

who-can-you-trust

Gallup has another of its yearly trust polls out, this one covering institutions. It should surprise no one that virtually every institution covered showed a decline in public trust. This is a long-term trend, and for a democracy, an existential threat that our leaders in all of those institutions have not been taking sufficiently seriously. The one surprise in the survey is that the only institution that showed a rise in public trust since last year: the police!

Here is the list:

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Baseball Says It Wants More American Blacks In The Game, But Chooses To Ignore A Likely Reason Why There Are Not

The 2021 All-Star Game was played in Denver last night because Major league Baseball allowed race-huckster Stacy Abrams to bluff the sport into punishing Atlanta and Georgia for passing a completely reasonable law shoring up the integrity of elections—a matter MLB has exactly no business involving itself in whatsoever. The day before, MLB announced that it was committing up to $150 million to the Players Alliance, a nonprofit organization formed last year and composed of active and former major league players “aiming to build more equitable systems in baseball and increase Black representation throughout the sport.”

This is more flashy virtue-signalling with a dubious nexus to the issue at hand. The money will go toward various programs, including those to support baseball in public and city schools as well as educational grants, scholarships and additional services to the Black community. Other programs will be aimed at increasing black youth participation in baseball as well as funding leagues, equipment, tournaments, clinics and other playground activities, and that’s all, as they say, well and good.

But the precipitous decline in African American participation in the National Pastime, as first discussed here in this post on the same day as MLB’s announcement, like a lot of alleged “inequities,” may have its roots in the culture of black America rather than any “systemic” biases. To quote myself: “[B]aseball is the most diverse of the professional sports, but the number of black players has declined significantly. African American participation in the majors peaked at 19% in 1986, but on opening day 2021 the figure was just 7.6%.” I foolishly passed along the conventional (or official) wisdom about why this might be so: baseball is more expensive than the other major sports to start playing because of the equipment, and colleges hand out far more scholarship money for football and basketball.

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Why Is Banning The Teaching Of Critical Race Theory In Schools Ethically Justifiable When Banning The Teaching Of Evolution Is Not?

Critical Race ban

On this, the 96th anniversary of the beginning of the Scopes Trial in 1925, let’s consider attorney Clarence Darrow’s opening statement. Here is the crux of it:

“…Along comes somebody who says ‘we have got to believe it as I believe it. It is a crime to know more than I know.’ And they publish a law to inhibit learning. This law says that it shall be a criminal offense to teach in the public schools any account of the origin of man that is in conflict with the divine account in the Bible. It makes the Bible the yardstick to measure every man’s intellect, to measure every man’s intelligence and to measure every man’s learning. Are your mathematics good? Turn to Elijah 1:2. Is your philosophy good? See II Samuel 3. Is your astronomy good? See Genesis 2:7. Is your chemistry good? See – well, chemistry, see Deuteronomy 3:6, or anything that tells about brimstone. Every bit of knowledge that the mind has must be submitted to a religious test. It is a travesty upon language, it is a travesty upon justice, it is a travesty upon the constitution to say that any citizen of Tennessee can be deprived of his rights by a legislative body in the face of the constitution.

Of course, I used to hear when I was a boy you could lead a horse to water, but you could not make him drink water. I could lead a man to water, but I could not make him drink, either. And you can close your eyes and you won’t see, cannot see, refuse to open your eyes – stick your fingers in your ears and you cannot hear – if you want to. But your life and my life and the life of every American citizen depends after all upon the tolerance and forbearance of his fellow man. If men are not tolerant, if men cannot respect each other’s opinions, if men cannot live and let live, then no man’s life is safe, no man’s life is safe.

Here is a country made up of Englishmen, Irishmen, Scotch, German, Europeans, Asiatics, Africans, men of every sort and men of every creed and men of every scientific belief. Who is going to begin this sorting out and say, “I shall measure you; I know you are a fool, or worse; I know and I have read a creed telling what I know and I will make people go to Heaven even if they don’t want to go with me. I will make them do it.” Where is the man that is wise enough to do this?

If today you can take a thing like evolution and make it a crime to teach it in the public school, tomorrow you can make it a crime to teach it in the private school, and the next year you can make it a crime to teach it from the hustings or in the church. At the next session you may ban books and the newspapers. Soon you may set Catholic against Protestant and Protestant against Protestant, and try to foist your own religion upon the minds of men. If you can do one you can do the other. Ignorance and fanaticism are ever busy and need feeding. Always they are feeding and gloating for more. Today it is the public school teachers, tomorrow the private. The next day the preachers and the lecturers, the magazines, the books, the newspapers. After a while, Your Honor, it is the setting of man against man and creed against creed until, with flying banners and beating drums, we are marching backward to the glorious ages of the sixteenth century when bigots lighted torches to burn the men who dared to bring any intelligence and enlightenment and culture to the human mind.

As mentioned in the post earlier today, the issue of whether a state could ban the teaching of evolution was never settled in Scopes, but many years later in the Supreme Court case of Epperson v. Arkansas (1968), which struck down a state law that criminalized the teaching of evolution in public schools. Epperson, however, was narrowly decided on the basis that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits a state from requiring, in the words of the majority opinion, “that teaching and learning must be tailored to the principles or prohibitions of any religious sect or dogma.” It was not based on freedom of speech, or as Darrow termed it, “freedom of thought.” The Theory of Evolution and “Critical Race Theory” are both theories, though one is based in scientific research and the other is a product of scholarly analysis. Though the latter seems to carry the heft of religious faith in some quarters, freedom of religion is not the issue where banning critical race theory is involved. Nor, realistically speaking, is freedom of speech as Darrow describes it.

School districts, which are agents of the government, have a recognized right to oversee the content of what is taught in the public schools, within reason, and when the purpose is defensible. Teachers are not free to teach whatever they choose, though their controversial choices cannot be made criminal, just grounds for dismissal. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals made this clear in Evans-Marshall v. Bd of Ed of Tipp City Exempted Village Sch Dist. (6th Cir. 2010), a case involving a high school English teacher who was fired for using classroom assignments and materials without following the appropriate steps for approval. The court stated, “Even to the extent academic freedom, as a constitutional rule, could somehow apply to primary and secondary schools, that does not insulate a teacher’s curricular and pedagogical choices from the school board’s oversight.”

School districts still can’t define a curriculum so narrowly that it violates students’ constitutional rights. In Board of Island Trees v. Pico (U.S. 1982), the U.S. Supreme Court held that the school district could not remove books from the school library without a legitimate pedagogical reason, because doing so violated students’ free speech rights of access to information.  Districts and schools are also limited to what they can require children to study, though most cases in this realm again involve religion. However, once school districts and schools have defined a legally permissible curriculum, courts will give them broad discretion to implement it even over community and parental objections. For example:

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A “Bias Makes Professionals Stupid And Unprofessional” Update

Trump photo defaced

Perhaps the saddest aspect of the 2016 Post Election Ethics Train Wreck and the resulting mass effort to bring down Donald Trump was the corruption of virtually all of our society’s professions, and the vast majority of their members. Educators, psychiatrists, teachers, judges— journalists, of course, though they were already pretty far gone; broadcasters, of course. Entertainment professionals and performers, heaven knows (That’s the Dixie Chicks and their clever and subtle political commentary above.) In addition to theater professionals, two more of my professions have disgraced themselves: lawyers and ethicists. The listserv of a legal ethics organization I belong to was virtually cackling with joy over Rudy Giuliani’s partisan and dangerous interim suspension in New York, while the same group has been notably unenthusiastic about criticizing out-of court hyperbole by anti-Trump lawyers like the recently sentenced Michael Avenatti. (I may have missed some more balanced attention because I dropped out of the group for about 18 months in disgust over its bias.) Here is a tweet by a conservative attorney that was just offered to the group for comment on whether it raised issues of professional misconduct:

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How Stupid Can The Great Stupid Get? Now Responsible And Humane Pet Ownership Is”Racist”

SPUDS16

This, when you think about it, is consistent with the developing logic of the “antiracism” scam and The Great Stupid. The legal theory that the impact of a reasonable policy could be deemed racist if it had “disparate impact” on a minority group gradually metastasized into the Bizarro World belief that black community cultural pathologies had to be granted immunity from negative consequences in the interests of fairness. This, in turn, encourages cultural pathologies, which further disadvantage the black community and undermine societal values generally.

It is one of the intrinsically terrible ideas that once would have gained no traction with those possessing any critical thinking skills whatsoever, but after sufficient indoctrination and propaganda, almost any idea can begin to seem reasonable. But does it go this far?

Researchers with the University of Denver’s Institute for Human-Animal Connection argue that animal control policies and pet adoption requirements perpetuate racial inequities. Their “Punishment to Support: The Need to Align Animal Control Enforcement with the Human Social Justice Movement” argues that animal control enforcement and punishment disproportionately hurt people of color and low-income communities, and thus constitute “systemic racism.”

The authors, led by Kevin Nolan Morris, who holds an endowed chair, point to racial biases in requirements of “responsible pet ownership,” you know, little matters like leash laws, rabies vaccination requirements, anti-tethering laws, responsible handling of “at-risk” animals, providing shelter, behavioral training or veterinary care, and investigations of cruelty, abuse and neglect. This is all discriminatory, because African-American lifestyles, attitudes and culture often don’t mesh with such habits. Thus “racism, classism, and the White dominant culture” mandates animal treatment standards that are “largely unobtainable for anyone in the U.S. other than white, middle, and upper-class individuals,” the paper argues.

That’s right: a large number of blacks can’t or won’t treat animals with kindness and due care, so requiring such conduct of those who choose to own animals is racist.

Stupid enough for you?

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