Category Archives: Research and Scholarship

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/23/17

1. When I am forced to be away from Ethics Alarms for a long time, as was the case yesterday, it often renews my musings about whether I respond too much to reader comments. Everyone generally does just fine when I’m silent, and sometimes I find that fascinating and unexpected new topics have not only sprung from whatever ethics fertilizer I left behind,  but have grown and flourished like bamboo.

Unfortunately, I have also noticed that there have been a lot ( as in “too many”) of extended arguments between commenters that not only extend beyond reasonable limits, but also explode into personal attacks. I admit that Ethics Alarms is, for a moderated blog, unusually tolerant of this phenomenon. One reason for that is that sometimes such epic confrontations are both entertaining and enlightening, as when liberal commenter and Ethics Alarms immortal tgt and uber-conservative commenter Steven J. Pilling engaged in the Ethics Alarms equivalent of the Lincoln Douglas debates, only occasionally snapping and calling each other names.

However, while the occasional emotional outbursts are excusable, they should be rare. Reprimanding a commenter for  commenting style and habits is certainly fair, but doing it repeatedly is boring; and I want to remind everyone that while it is often frustrating, allowing someone to have the last word is not capitulation, especially when that last word is not particularly persuasive.

We also owe ourselves and everyone else self-awareness. When a commenter finds himself or herself repeatedly embroiled in long, heated exchanges, that commenter should consider the possibility that he or she is the problem.

The general principle is that we should strive to have all comments contain substance that advances the discussion. “You’re an asshole” is occasionally justified (when a comment has objectively revealed a commenter to be an asshole, and even then is not mandatory), but rarely.

2. When President Trump issued his trolling tweet about James Comey and the possibility that there were “tapes” of their conversations, I wrote that it was the President’s dumbest tweet to date. (I think he has made worse ones since, but at this point any tweet by the President is evidence of crippling stubbornness, impulsiveness and bad judgment). I did not think that what was obviously a bluff without substance would still be considered a headline-worthy issue many weeks later. Continue reading

25 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Research and Scholarship

Incompetent Polling + Confirmation Bias + Lazy Analysis= Fake News

Seven percent of all American adults believe that chocolate milk comes from brown cows, according to a nationally representative online survey commissioned by the Innovation Center of U.S. Dairy, reports the Washington Post. The writer then goes on to explain why this “surprising result” occurred. The main thesis: Americans are now so far removed from farm and food production that ignorance is epidemic.

I have no doubt that too many kids aren’t properly informed by the adults in their lives about basic facts of food and agriculture., just as I know that the average American has trouble placing the Civil War and World War I on a timeline, can’t name more than ten Presidents, and thinks JFK was “great.” I also have no doubt that 7% of the American public is dumber than a box of whoopie cushions.  Taking a poll result like this one at face values, however, shows why the news media was so sure Hillary Clinton would win.

Ann Althouse nailed it in a brief post she calls : “There’s nothing dumber than forgetting that other people might have a sense of humor and are screwing with you.”:

“When you’re studying something among people you look upon as commoners, you’d better stop and wonder: Am I the Margaret Mead?”

(If you are unfamiliar with the Mead reference, this will help.) Continue reading

52 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Animals, Education, Ethics Dunces, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship

Comment Of The Day: “Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are”

The post on Facebook hysteria over the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the largely symbolic Paris climate change accords has drawn perplexing commentary. The post did not assert a position on climate change, nor did it defend the reasons given for the withdrawal.  The post simply stated that it was irresponsible and dishonest to claim dire consequences of the decision when the accord itself is almost entirely symbolic, requires nothing, in the sense that there are no enforcement mechanisms, and can’t possibly carry the existential weight that social media, politicians, pundits and activists are claiming. It is all appeal to emotion and ignorance.

And it is. Especially since most of the social media hysterics haven’t read the accord and are illiterate regarding climate science.

And they are.

I guess I knew that both climate change flacks and those suspicious of them would shift gears into the messy issue itself and its controversial research and models. The dreaded (and misleading) “97% of all scientists” stat even made its appearance, although, again, it was irrelevant to the post.

Finally, Zoltar Speaks!, Popeye-like, declared that “I ain’t gonna take it, ’cause I can’t take no more!” after a side debate over whether the infamous hacked e-mails among climate-change researchers “proved” that there was a conspiracy to distort the science on climate change (no,  they prove that the scholarly research community members are not as objective and independent as they are professionally obligated to be, and that this makes their conclusions inherently untrustworthy). He produced an epic essay in response, so long and detailed that he posted it on a satellite blog. With his permission, I am posting it in it’s entirety here.

Here is the Zoltar Speaks! Comment of the Day on the post, “Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are” … Continue reading

74 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Comment of the Day, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, History, Journalism & Media, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

The Ethics Of Responding To Inconvenient Truths: Colleges Aren’t Working…Now What?

From the Wall Street Journal:

Freshmen and seniors at about 200 colleges across the U.S. take a little-known test every year to measure how much better they get at learning to think. The results are discouraging.

At more than half of schools, at least a third of seniors were unable to make a cohesive argument, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table, The Wall Street Journal found after reviewing the latest results from dozens of public colleges and universities that gave the exam between 2013 and 2016. …At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years. . . .

Some academic experts, education researchers and employers say the Journal’s findings are a sign of the failure of America’s higher-education system to arm graduates with analytical reasoning and problem-solving skills needed to thrive in a fast-changing, increasingly global job market. In addition, rising tuition, student debt and loan defaults are putting colleges and universities under pressure to prove their value.

Some?

What’s the other side saying, that the results are cooked? That critical thinking is over-rated or a sexist, racist, xenophobic construct? How can any objective individual who has followed the news, listened to activists babble incoherently on  campuses like Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, University of Missouri and hundreds of others, been aware of higher ed apocalypse stories like this one , or notice that the overwhelming majority of college students enthusiastically supported the fact-, math-, economics-, foreign policy-, history-and Constitution- challenged candidacy of Bernie Sanders  be surprised at these findings? They aren’t even new.

The scam that is U.S. higher education poisons the American dream in too many ways to count.  50% of employers say that college graduates they hire aren’t ready for the workplace because of inadequate critical-reasoning skills.  Yet virtually every institution cites this as the prime benefit of paying it a king’s ransom for four years, with brochure proclamations like…

“The university seeks to foster in all its students lifelong habits of careful observation, critical thinking, creativity, moral reflection and articulate expression.”

and

“… University fosters intellectual inquiry and critical thinking, preparing graduates who will serve as effective, ethical leaders and engaged citizens.”

and

“The college provides students with the knowledge, critical-thinking skills and creative experience they need to navigate in a complex global environment.”

“At most schools in this country, students basically spend four years in college, and they don’t necessarily become better thinkers and problem solvers,” said Josipa Roksa, a University of Virginia sociology professor who co-wrote a book in 2011 about the CLA+ test, that littel-known test the Wall street Journal referred to. . “Employers are going to hire the best they can get, and if we don’t have that, then what is at stake in the long run is our ability to compete.”

Even the arguments used to defend college lack evidence of critical thinking. Today’s New York Times special Higher Ed section highlights this quote: Continue reading

18 Comments

Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Education, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, U.S. Society

Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are

The eruptions of frantic doomsaying and apocalyptic fantasies on Facebook following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would no longer consider itself a party to the Paris accord on climate change. Seldom have I been more tempted to write, “Have you taken leave of your senses?” on so many of my friends’ walls. The statements are hyperbolic in the extreme. “I am glad that I won’t be alive, but fear for my children and grandchildren, when the effects of this catastrophic decision arrive!” wrote one hysteric. “What can we do to save the earth?” wrote another, in all caps. Naturally there were links to similarly over-heated blog posts and op-eds, and the routine amount of Trump vilification and hate. “Is he trying to destroy us all?” wrote one usually rational acquaintance who appears to be headed for a padded room and a guardian ad litem. 

These people are all circulating among similarly oriented citizens increasingly emotional outcries unhinged to facts or reality, and making each other stressed, anxious and miserable. This is the cyber-equivalent of running around in a crowd screaming that something horrible is about to happen. What happens when you do that? Reason vanishes, fight or flight instincts take over, and people get hurt. These Facebook posts, and similar messages on other social media platforms, are at best shameless virtue-signalling–-I care about the environment! I’m a believer in everything I’m told that scientists are saying even though I really don’t understand anything about it! I hate Donald Trump like every other decent human being! Love me!-–and at worst, they are societal napalm.

Both President Obama’s 2016 signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change and President Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement had minimal policy impact, if any.  The  advocates are arguing about symbolism as if it were substance.  Is it possible that the people writing that Trump has destroyed the future while cackling maniacally in his White House lair know how non-substantive, unspecific, self-defining, voluntary and unenforceable the thing is?  I have to assume they have not, in which case  everyone is reading climate change doomsday predictions from friends who they trust and assume they know what they are talking about, when, in fact, they don’t. Continue reading

91 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Around the World, Environment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Facebook, Government & Politics, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology, Social Media, U.S. Society

Anti-Trump Brain Virus Case Study: The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin

Not all of the unrestrained anti-Trump zealots are progressives and Democrats. There are a lot of conservatives who detest him sufficiently to surrender their integrity, fairness and common sense as well. The Federalist’s Sean Davis has chronicled a revealing example: Washington Post pundit Jennifer Rubin.

Blogger Rubin is one of the rare in-House Post conservatives. Her 2016 columns regarding Trump were only slightly less vehement than mine, and once he was elected, she threw restraint to the wind. Before that, however, Rubin was one of the few reliably critical voices regarding President Obama and his feckless and bumbling Presidency.

One of the more frequent targets of her acid pen was the Paris climate deal. In a column mocking Obama’s “phony accomplishments,” Rubin wrote  that a Supreme Court decision on environmental regulations proved “how ephemeral Obama’s Paris climate change deal is.” Before that, Rubin  suggested  the accord was a cynical and transparent effort to take attention away Obama’s failure to deal effectively with radical Islamist terrorism, writing, “The president has no answer, so he goes to Paris to talk about climate change.”  Then she cited  the climate change pact as evidence that Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry lived in a “fantasy world” where “a piece of paper”was a signature accomplishment “even if it achieves nothing.” Rubin accused them of selling the progressive base a “bill of goods” on the Paris deal, while Rubin called it “footprints in the sand.” Still later, Rubin cited approvingly Oklahoma’s Senator Jim Inhofe , the most infamous climate change skeptic in the the U.S. Senate, when he said that the Paris climate change deal was “devoid of substance.”

But Rubin really detests President Trump. For a man she hates to embrace her opinion is so unbearable that her only way out is to reverse the opinion. Before Trump announced that he was quitting the 2015 deal but had hinted that he would, Rubin transformed into a Paris accord booster, and declared that such a move would be a disaster. She wrote:

No, Trump’s pullout from the international accord would be a political act — one that signals solidarity with his climate-change denial, right-wing base that revels in scientific illiteracy. Being a climate-change denier — which entails dogmatic opposition to the Paris agreement — is a dog whistle to the far right, a snub to “elites,” who in this case include academics, government and private scientists, technology chief executives and others whose livelihood depends on accurate data. (Between “2013 and 2014, only 4 of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles on global warming, 0.0058% or 1 in 17,352, rejected AGW [anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming]. Thus, the consensus on AGW among publishing scientists is above 99.99%, verging on unanimity.”)

This would also be an international dog whistle, reflective of Trump’s rejection of the Atlantic Alliance and the bonds of cooperation that tie Western democracies together. R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is quoted as saying, “From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake — an abdication of American leadership. The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this.”

How could President Obama be so wrong to sign what Rubin termed a phony pact, yet President Trump such a villain and a fool to repudiate it?

Simple: if Donald Trump does it or says it, it’s horrible by definition, and previous conclusions and analysis is inoperable.

Writes Davis,

What changed that could possibly explain Rubin’s complete reversal on the necessity of a deal she once said was “ephemeral,” “phony,” “fantasy,” and “devoid of substance?” Nothing. It’s the same deal today as it was when it was agreed to in 2015. The only difference between then and now is that Trump eventually endorsed Rubin’s take in its entirety. And because Rubin now calibrates her political compass to the opposite of whatever Trump is doing, she feels compelled to vociferously support a vapid agreement she at one time opposed on the merits.

Bias makes you stupid. It also makes pundits untrustworthy, and it’s stunning that neither Rubin nor her editors noticed her sudden reversal sufficiently to recognize that some explanation was mandatory. Maybe they think “Trump” is explanation enough.

They probably do.

25 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Around the World, Environment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Ethics Verdict: Hillary Clinton Is The Worst Loser In US Presidential History (PART I)

Yes, having to write this post makes me feel like Michael Corleone in “Godfather III.”

I considered giving Hillary her well-earned Worst Presidential Election Loser award after her embarrassing Commencement speech at Wellesley, but the wag who wrote “Why did Hillary dress up like Monica Lewinsky at Wellesley? to accompany this photo…

…made me laugh, and in my lightened state decided, “Nah! Why bother? Leave the poor woman alone.”

For I do feel sorry for Hillary Clinton. I feel sorry for anyone who loses the Presidency despite winning the popular vote. I would think it could drive someone crazy. In the play “Inherit the Wind,” there is a scene in which the wife of Matthew Harrison Brady (a thinly-disguised fictional avatar for three time Presidential loser William Jennings Bryan) begs for sympathy for her blow-hard husband, asking a critic to imagine what it must be like to have a Presidential election victory speech written and in his pocket three separate times and to never get to deliver it. Well, knowing you received the most votes and still can’t give the speech has to be much, much worse.

Then came yesterday’s orgy of excuses and recriminations as Clinton, looking and sounding angry and bitter, was interviewed at a tech conference hosted by Recode’s Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg. And she puuuulled me back!

So now I have to review Hillary’s revolting and self-indicting Blame Everyone tour. Let’s begin by stating that no defeated Presidential candidate has ever done anything like this before, not even Richard Nixon. Nixon’s poor loser meltdown was after he lost the California Governor’s race in 1962. When he lost to Kennedy in 1960, his conduct was exemplary, refusing to demand a recount even when there was evidence, as there frequently was with the Kennedys, of shady operations. For a loser to engage in repeated recriminations and bitter pronouncements less than a year after losing is unprecedented. It is also —and forgive me for repeating myself from prior posts–disgusting, despicable and shameful for a defeated candidate to join a “resistance” against the lawfully elected winner. This is especially true in Clinton’s case, when she furiously condemned candidate Trump for suggesting that he might not accept his defeat. Continue reading

23 Comments

Filed under Character, Citizenship, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Leadership, Research and Scholarship, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President