Category Archives: Science & Technology

Finally! A Complete List Of Argument Fallacies…

Finally!

Finally!

Logical fallacies are as pernicious as rationalizations, and also as popular. Ethics Alarms been searching for a comprehensive list of the former that is as complete as this site’s constantly growing list of the latter-–I can’t compile both, and EUREKA! I found one, the excellent work of scientist and prolific blogger Don Lindsay. He goes far beyond the most commonly referenced fallacies, such as “No True Scotsman” and  “The Texas Sharpshooter,” “Equivocation,” “Straw Man Arguments, “Appeal to Authority,” and the one so many people get wrong, “Ad Hominem.”  Don has identified, complied and described 93 of them, each an obstacle to productive discourse and honest inquiries into ethics and other topics.

Wonderful.

They are… Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

putin

Ethics Alarms is grateful to reader Greg, the author of this first Comment of the Day of the New Year, for supplementing the recent post here, and providing a critical and more detailed assessment of the intelligence community’s much ballyhooed report on its conclusions regarding Russian cyber-attacks during the 2016 election, with the alleged purpose of defeating Hillary Clinton.

I am particularly relieved that he shares my own reaction to the report, which simply did not deliver on what was promised by James Clapper in the hearings earlier in the week. Oddly, the news media and almost everyone I know miraculously seem to think it did.  The two key issues I, and I assume everyone, wants clarified is 1) whether Russia was indeed trying to elect Donald Trump, as opposed to generally gumming up the works, embarrassing the likely President (Clinton, of course), undermining public faith in the democratic system, and basically making everyone involved look like fools, knaves, and boobs (Note that Trump appeared to be handling his side of that task all by himself) , and 2) did their efforts in fact have any effect on the results? Answering the first clearly and decisively is essential to understanding the second: to most people, if Russia’s actions were designed to make Trump President, and in fact Trump did shock the world by becoming President, this creates a rebuttable presumption that in fact the Russian Government, and Vladimir Putin in particular, did affect the results of the election. That millions of people regard the matter in this way is certain, because we know that millions of people are desperately searching for some conspiracy or sinister outside agency to explain an event that shattered their expectations and world view.

We also know that the false belief that the sequence Conduct  A is intended to cause Result B, A occurs,  B occurs after A, ergo A caused B, is widely accepted, because public school  teachers are too busy teaching that the United States oppresses minorities  to get around to logic.  Now, that sequence is utter crap, validating, among other things, superstitions and rain dances, but never mind most people think that way.

Yet the report provides no evidence to support the intelligence community’s conclusions in either matter. I find that incomprehensible, and also irresponsible. What the report does  say, in essence, is, “Trust us, we’re experts,”  and leaves the rest to confirmation bias. Could the authors not have provided some evidence to support these conclusions? If not, why not?

Here is Greg’s Comment of the Day on the post, The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions:

This so-called “25-page report” is almost entirely padding and filler. I read it and I don’t see anything in it that adds to what we knew before the report was issued. Continue reading

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The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

The first page of the Joint Analysis Report narrative by the Department of Homeland Security and federal Bureau of Investigation and released on Dec. 29, 2016, is photographed in Washington, Jan. 6, 2017. Computer security specialists say the technical details in the narrative that the U.S. said would show whether computers had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence services were poorly done and potentially dangerous. Cybersecurity firms ended up counseling their customers to proceed with extreme caution after a slew of false positives led back to sites such as Amazon and Yahoo Inc. Companies and organizations were following the government’s advice Dec. 29 and comparing digital logs recording incoming network traffic to their computers and finding matches to a list of hundreds of internet addresses the Homeland Security Department had identified as indicators of malicious Russian intelligence services cyber activity. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

From The New York Times today:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.

The officials presented their unanimous conclusions to Mr. Trump in a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America’s intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal skeptic, the president-elect, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia’s role. The meeting came just two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration and was underway even as the electoral votes from his victory were being formally counted in a joint session of Congress.

Soon after leaving the meeting, intelligence officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cybercampaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions. The report — a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them — made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.

The Times story is a mostly fair, if incomplete, description of the report itself, which is a provocative, disturbing and infuriating document. Damning? I don’t know about that. Anyone can damn something, but to be sure the damning is just requires evidence.

Observations and Questions:

1. The report isn’t evidence of anything. It just isn’t, and anyone or any source that states otherwise is misleading us. It would not be admissible as evidence if Russia or Putin were on trial in the U.S. for trying to influence the 2016 election. The document is a statement of opinions after analysis of material and sources we are not allowed to see. At the beginning, the report goes to great lengths to explain why this is, and the explanation is sound. Unless, however, the position we are supposed to take is that the intelligence community is to be assumed to be 100% correct, uninfluenced by bias, and  ought to be believed without reservations despite the presence of hard evidence, the declassified report is a statement by experts of an analysis based on experience and study, of exactly what, we don’t know.

2.Regarding the Times story: the intention of the news media to undermine the Trump Presidency and bolster Democrats who want to blame their candidate’s defeat on anything but her own weaknesses and conduct  appears to be on display in the Times story. For example, we have this statement:

“The Russian leader, the report said, sought to denigrate Mrs. Clinton, and the report detailed what the officials had revealed to President Obama a day earlier: Mr. Trump’s victory followed a complicated, multipart cyberinformation attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.”

The leaping to the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefor because of it”) is both a human tendency to be avoided and well-known. This statement appeals to it, intentionally, or incompetently. The fact that Trump’s shocking victory came after the cyber-attacks does not mean or even suggest that the attacks were responsible for that result. The Times immediately, in the next sentence, even states that “The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump.” Well, those are mixed messages. Do I, based on the uninterrupted anti-Trump attitude of the Times in its headlines, placement of stories, tone and pitch of news reports, op-eds and editorials, conclude that the mixed message is intentional or sparked by negligence seeded by bias?

I do.

3.  Much further down in its story, the Times admits, Continue reading

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UPDATE: Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing And The Prospect Of Cyber-Zombie Carrie Fisher Remind Actors To Fight For Control Of Their Post-Mortem Acting Career

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It looks like I wasn’t the only one who felt that Peter Cushing was being abused by finding himself in “Rogue One” without his prior consent. Of the late actor being digitally inserted into a role he never agreed to play and deliver lines he never contracted to deliver, I wrote…

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images.

Cushing’s exploitation and the subsequent death of Carrie Fisher with widespread speculation that she would soon be added to the “Star Wars” franchise’s army of CGI clones have now sounded the alarm loudly. But apparently many actors were already aware of the threat, and taking affirmative action to control their destinies. Continue reading

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Unethical Website Of The Month: AWD News

My best guess: "AWD" stands for "Assholes Wanting Destruction."

My best guess: “AWD” stands for “Assholes Wanting Destruction.”

You might think that AWD News gets this coveted Ethics Alarms Honor by having one of its hoax news stories prompted a threat of nuclear retaliation against Israel by Pakistan’s Defense Minister.

You would be wrong. That embarrassing response from a Pakistan official with a penchant for saber rattling is just moral luck. The story that “The former Israeli Defence Minister has threatened to “destroy” Pakistan-after Pakistan said on Thursday it will send Sunni fighters to Syria” was a hoax, and since no other news source was reporting it, the fact that Pakistan’s defense minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, allowed his confirmation bias to take over his brain, and leaped to the assumption that it was accurate just shows that Pakistan has an irresponsible fool in a key government position.

Imagine that. Continue reading

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“Rogue One” Ethics: Peter Cushing Returns From The Grave

He's baaaaack!

He’s baaaaack!

Hammer Films horror icon and Christopher Lee foil Peter Cushing died in 1994 from prostate cancer. That couldn’t stop the makers of the latest “Star Wars” movie from bringing his image back from the grave.  The gaunt-faced British actor—an early “Doctor Who”!—played Grand Moff Tarkin in the original “Star Wars,” a bad guy, Cushing’s specialty. Since “Rogue One,” the current addition to the series, is a prequel, Tarkin is alive again (he went down with the Death Star in Episode IV). Instead of recasting the part, the producers decided to recreate Tarkin/Cushing using CGI technology. Lucasfilm-owned digital effects house Industrial Light & Magic reanimated Cushing’s likeness so that a recognizable Tarkin could make a convincing  appearance in “Rogue One.” The results are not perfect, but it is still one step closer to allowing future movies to cast avatars of long dead stars to interact seamlessly with live performers.

We have recently seen actors like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jeff Bridges and Anthony Hopkins digitally youthened, but forcing a dead actor’s image to perform is a different matter entirely. The use of computer animated images of dead performers to do the bidding of their director masters evokes memories of “Looker,” a science fiction film directed and written by the late Michael Crichton of “Jurassic Park” and “Westworld” fame. In that 1981 movie, a corporation transferred the images of living models to a computer program that could use the new cyber-models to do and say anything more effectively and attractively than the models themselves in television ads. Then the company had the models killed—less residuals that way.

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images. No porn films, for example. No uses of an actor in a role he would have never agreed to playing while alive. Don’t make John Wayne shoot someone in the back. Don’t show Fred Astaire as clumsy on his feet; don’t make Jimmy Cagney a weenie.

Allowing another actor to use a dead one’s face and body, like Andy Serkis wore his cyber King King suit, is a closer call. If it is clear that the dead actor isn’t the one doing the acting, and that digital technology is being used as the equivalent of make-up, maybe that practice is just icky rather than unethical, provided the credits are clear.To make Cushing’s Tarkin live again on screen, “Rogue One’s “film-makers hired Guy Henry, a 56-year-old British actor who resembles Cushing. Henry played the part of Tarkin on the set, then the tech wizards transformed him into a Cushing clone. Continue reading

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“If That Was Transparency, Then I’m A Kumquat” And Other Reactions To Josh Earnest’s Multiple Unethical Christmas Quotes

This morning, Obama Administration paid liar Josh Earnest spoiled my Christmas mellow by telling CNN’s alleged news media ethics watchdog Brian Stelter that there’s really “no constituency in American politics for transparency in government beyond journalists,” as he deflected Stelter’s accounts of journalists complaining about administration foot-dragging on Freedom of Information Act requests. Then he really curdled the ethicist’s eggnog by saying,

“If this constituency of journalists are gonna be effective advocates for the issue that they care about, they need to remember that they have a responsibility not just to criticize those who are not living up to their expectations. Any activist will tell you that the way that you get people to support you and to support your cause is to give them credit when the credit is due, to applaud them when they do the thing that you want them to be doing.”

Finally, Earnest molded my mistletoe by claiming,  “President Obama has been the most transparent president in American history.”

Stelter, of course, being an incompetent, biased and unethical news media ethics watchdog, did not interjection with the mandatory, “WHAT??? You’ve got to be kidding! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA ACK! ACK! ARRRGH! and drop dead in shock.

That statement is fake news if anything is, rivaling the news media lie that that the Obama years were devoid of major scandals. Before we begin shooting fish in a barrel and deal with that brazen-beyond-belief spin, let’s pause to consider the other stunner in Earnest’s Christmas morning performance:

1. What does Earnest mean that journalists are the only constituency for transparency? Does the Obama administration, and by extension Democrats, really believe that the public doesn’t mind being lied to? If so, that explains a lot, including the nomination of Hillary Clinton.

2. Journalists are not supposed to advocates and activists at all. They are supposed to be devoted to communicating facts and the truth.

3. Is Earnest saying that when a President generally defies a pledge of ethical conduct, he should nonetheless be praised when he doesn’t defy that pledge, and that journalists should highlight the Administration’s rare examples of  transparency while ignoring the overwhelmingly more copious breaches? It sure sounded like it.

That brings us back to the mind-melting quote that this has been a transparent administration by any definition of the word other than “not transparent at all.”

This episode from 2011 nicely encapsulates the issue:

“President Obama was scheduled to receive an award from the organizers of the Freedom of Information Day Conference, to be presented at the White House by “five transparency advocates.” The White House postponed that meeting because of events in Libya and Japan, and it was rescheduled…That meeting did take place – behind closed doors. The press was not invited to the private transparency meeting, and no photos from or transcript of the meeting have been made available. The event was not listed on the president’s calendar…Nor is the award mentioned anywhere on the White House website, including on the page devoted to transparency and good government. Were it not for the testimony of the transparency advocates who met secretly with the president, there wouldn’t seem to be any evidence that the meeting actually took place.”

That’s right: Obama wasn’t transparent about a transparency meeting. That same day, Obama went on TV  and tried to explain why he hadn’t been transparent to the U.S. Congress about his military plans in Libya.  Shortly after that, news leaked that the Fed had secretly sent billions in loans to foreign banks during the financial crisis.

Ah, memories! On his second day on the job, January 21, 2009, that…President Obama famously pledged, in one of his first memos to federal agencies

“We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”

He may be right about that last part, or maybe he discovered that it was naive and impractical dream. Under no circumstances, however, can it be said that Obama’s administration was transparent. An exhaustive list is impossibly, long, but here is an incomplete  sample just from the posts in Ethics Alarms: Continue reading

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