Category Archives: Science & Technology

When “Ick!” Strikes Out Ethics: The Intensifying Robo-Umpire Controversy

[I see that I last wrote about this issue in April, and before that, in June of 2016, and in 2012 before that.Well, it’s worth writing about again, and again, until ethics and common sense prevails.]

This weekend Major League Umpires held a silent protest, wearing armbands in support of colleague Angel Hernandez, whose competence was publicly questioned by Detroit Tiger player Ian Kinsler. In fact, Angel Hernandez is a terrible umpire, and terrible, indeed, even mildly fallible umpires have a problem now that they never had to worry about in the good old days: their mistakes are obvious and recorded for all to see.

Yesterday Red Sox color man and former player Jerry Remy was reminiscing during the Red Sox -Yankee game broadcast about one of his few home runs. He said he had struck out, missing with his third swing by almost a foot, and was walking back to the dugout when the umpire called him back, saying he had foul-tipped the ball. “I know that was wrong, but I’m not going to argue I’m out when the ump says I’m not.” Remy said. He went back to the plate, and on the next pitch hit a home run. “Of course, they didn’t have replay them,” Jerry added.

Before every game was televised and before technology could show wear each pitch crossed the plate, balls and strikes were called definitively by umpires, many of whom proudly had their own strike zones. “As long as they are consistent with it ” was the rationalization you heard from players and managers. It was, however, a travesty. The strike zone isn’t a judgment call; it is defined, very specifically, in the rules. A pitch is either within the legal zone or it is not. A strike that is called a ball when it is not, or vice-versa, is simply a wrong call, and any time it happens can affect the outcome of the at-bat and the game. If you watch a lot of baseball, you know that we are not just talking about strikeouts and walks.  The on-base average when a batter is facing a 2 balls, one strike count as opposed to a 1-2 count is significantly higher. The wrongly called third pitch can change the result of the at bat dramatically.

Since the technology is available to call strikes correctly 100% of the time, why isn’t the technology being used? Actually it is being used, in TV broadcasts. The fan can see exactly when the umpire misses a call, and the broadcasters talk about it all the time. “Where was that?” “That was a gift!”  “Wow, the pitcher was squeezed on that one.” Once, a missed call in a game was virtually undetectable, because one could assume that the umpire had a better and closer view than any fan or broadcaster could have. Now, there is no doubt.

Yet the players, sportswriters and broadcasters still overwhelmingly argue against the use of computer technology to call balls and strikes. It’s amazing. They know, and admit, that  mistaken  ball and strike calls warp game results; they complain about it when it happens, point it out, run the graphics repeatedly to show how badly a crucial call was botched, and yet argue that a completely fixable problem with massive implications to the players, the games and the seasons, should be allowed to persist.

These are the rationalizations and desperate  arguments they advance: Continue reading

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Filed under Science & Technology, Sports

An Ethics Hypothetical: If “The Nation” Is Right About The DNC Hacks, How Should Democrats And The Mainstream Media React?

And how will they react?

Yesterday, The Nation, the most Left of the Left’s major national publications, reported this:

  • There was no hack of the Democratic National Committee’s system on July 5 last year—not by the Russians, not by anyone else. Hard science now demonstrates it was a leak—a download executed locally with a memory key or a similarly portable data-storage device. In short, it was an inside job by someone with access to the DNC’s system. This casts serious doubt on the initial “hack,” as alleged, that led to the very consequential publication of a large store of documents on WikiLeaks last summer.
  • Forensic investigations of documents made public two weeks prior to the July 5 leak by the person or entity known as Guccifer 2.0 show that they were fraudulent: Before Guccifer posted them they were adulterated by cutting and pasting them into a blank template that had Russian as its default language. Guccifer took responsibility on June 15 for an intrusion the DNC reported on June 14 and professed to be a WikiLeaks source—claims essential to the official narrative implicating Russia in what was soon cast as an extensive hacking operation. To put the point simply, forensic science now devastates this narrative.

“This narrative” has been a cornerstone of the effort, undemocratic and indefensible, to undermine the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s Presidency from the beginning. It was launched as a primary rationalization for Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss, James Comey and a sexist, racist, stupid electorate being the others. As the Nation writes,

“The evolution of public discourse in the year since is worthy of scholarly study: Possibilities became allegations, and these became probabilities. Then the probabilities turned into certainties, and these evolved into what are now taken to be established truths. By my reckoning, it required a few days to a few weeks to advance from each of these stages to the next. This was accomplished via the indefensibly corrupt manipulations of language repeated incessantly in our leading media.”

The Nation’s report, essentially declaring that a major element in the “Russiagate” narrative, the DNC hacks, is fiction, that the intelligence agencies that declared it otherwise are wrong, and that Wikileaks, Russia, Putin and Donald Trump have been correct all along is noteworthy because the publication is no ally of the Republicans or Trump, but their declared intractable foes. This is an ideological publication, squarely in Bernie Sanders’ camp because it is run by Socialists like Bernie. But bias doesn’t necessarily make you stupid. The Nation has been around for a long time because while its analysis is colored by it view of humanity and the world, it has largely avoided the kind of dishonesty and distortion that are slowly destroying the credibility of CNN, Rolling Stone, the New York Times and others. The Nation has strived to maintain its integrity, not always succeeding, but obviously trying. Its staff believes that the truth supports its dedication to socialism, so it does not usually try to hide the truth—unlike the mainstream media reporters, for example, who apparently tried hard to make the troubling episode of Bill Clinton’s meeting with Loretta Lynch go away. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Heroes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Science & Technology, Workplace

Comment Of The Day: “The Viral Google Diversity Memo”

The perspective Ethics Alarms readers often add to topics based on their personal experiences is a often great enhancement to the discussions here. This Comment of the Day by Alex is a perfect example, as he clarifies the context of the Google diversity memo through his own observations as an employee of another large tech company.

Here is his Comment of the Day on the post, “The Viral Google Diversity Memo”:

Rather than rehash the memo or analyze it or say what is right or wrong with its reasoning, I’ll instead add my experience dealing with internal policies and “requests for comment” at a large tech (software) company – this is a direct competitor of Google, based in the Pacific NW and employing ~100,000 people (you can figure out who they are with that). My background is in Electrical Engineering with a strong focus on Computer Science, and I was hired by my previous employer just out of college after spending a summer internship with them. I worked there for 12 years, until the summer of 2016 (actually today is my one year anniversary at my new job). In my time there I can only describe diversity and HR policies around race and gender are schizophrenic, even if well-intentioned. These are my stories [insert Law and Order opening notes].

The official harassment/discrimination policy as stated in the employee handbook (which was updated every year) is incredibly vague, and this is intentional (although no one will come out and accept it publicly). We are in an at-will state, so you can be easily dismissed based on that one vague rule; and it has been used as a negotiation tactic on borderline performance dismissals to settle for a lower severance package. (“Do you really want us to state that you’re leaving for violations of the harassment policy? No? Ok, how about you settle for 2 weeks instead of 4?”) But I also have to state that the cases where I saw this section being arguably misused can be counted with the fingers of one hand. Also, I am certain that there are good intentions behind this policy, but as is the case with many well-intentioned rules, it is when the rubber meets the road that things get messy.

Every year we had to take Standards of Conduct training. Every year we had a new edition, and every year there was at least one case study dealing with gender or racial discrimination. Some years were better than others, but in general the training was terrible. If you had the cognitive abilities of a 7-year-old you could figure out what were the right responses without watching the videos or reading the policies. (The Saturday morning cartoons I watched in the 80s – G.I. Joe, He-Man, Transformers – had more complex moral dilemmas). I remember one year around the middle of my tenure when the videos and cases were actually interesting and engaging. A case that I still remember from that time is about an ambiguous situation between a male manager and a female engineer not in the same chain of command. There was a big internal debate about that one, and the next year we had the blandest possible training to avoid controversies.

The above two points are to set the stage: corporate policies are clear, you should toe the line, do not do anything that might be misconstrued, you can be dismissed for very small transgressions.

And then… well… tech companies are rebels, they thrive in chaos, and you’re expected to rock the boat. In many (may be even all) groups you can only grow so much by being a technical expert, you are expected to influence larger and larger teams as you get promoted to keep getting good performance reviews. You can be the only expert on a certain software component, but unless other people know about you and have been “influenced” by you, you are not considered good enough. This has the effect of incentivizing “visibility”. Other people and other teams should know you exist and be willing to state that you’ve had a positive impact for the company. Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Character, Comment of the Day, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Leadership, Science & Technology, Workplace

That Viral Google Diversity Memo

I’m going to vary a bit from typical Ethics Alarms practice, and ask for comments on the long, viral, controversial memo by a Google  software engineer named James Demore regarding the company’s diversity initiatives before I do a thorough analysis of it.  The author has been fired, of course. He had to know he would be.

The essay covers a lot more than diversity—gender stereotypes, the radioactive question on innate differences between men and women, ideology over reality, fairness, oppressive cultures, and much more. It is courageous; it’s also unethical. Ambushing an employer like this—it is fair to say that the essay has caused a PR crisis for Google—is never fair. He would argue, I suspect, that this was a form of whistleblowing, as well as taking a stand for other employees who feel as he does but who fear making their opinions known.

I have taught diversity seminars, often in conjunction with sexual harassment and bias training. The area is inherently dishonest. Of course all races, genders and creeds, ages and types should be welcome in a work environment. The claim that diversity is inherently valuable for its own sake, however, is nonsense, a phony “fact” declared to bootstrap other initiatives, such as affirmative action. The alleged innate value of diversity is cited to justify the and out-balance the inherent disadvantages and injustice of not hiring the best applicants for a job or position based on their demonstrated abilities and experience. This is a myth, and pretty obviously so. Diversity is not a virtue when it leads to incompetence, bias, resentment, and staffing that is less talented and effective than it might be. Diversity should never take priority over getting a job done as well as possible.

The bias in the news media’s coverage of the memo has been palpable, and would be very revealing regarding how ideological bias warps coverage, if so much evidence didn’t already exist. This particular biased reporting is likely to mislead more than it should, because the memo is long, and most readers will accept on faith (why? WHY???) the false characterizations of it. It is not a “screed” (The Atlantic), a “tirade” (TIME), or “sexist.” (Recode). The memo does not say that women are inferior,  or “genetically unsuited” for tech jobs. (Washington Post). Nor does he write that women are “biologically unfit” for tech jobs. (CNN). The memo isn’t even “anti-diversity” (Vanity Fair, Forbes). This is how ideological propaganda works: slap labels on inconvenient arguments that will pre-bias an objective or open-minded readers.

You should read the whole thing, which is below. As you read it, think about the fact that Google has stated that the content of the memo violated aspects of Google’s Code of Conduct. I find that incredible, and a greater indictment of Google than the memo itself.

The highlights in blue are mine, and reserved for what I regard as ethically significant sections. Continue reading

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Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Business & Commercial, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Journalism & Media, Science & Technology, U.S. Society, Workplace

The Unibomber Had A Point. [UPDATED]

FX has a new limited series about the hunt for the Unabomber, Theodore John Kaczynski. I didn’t pay much attention to the story when it was going on; I just thought it was one more Harvard-grad-turns-serial-killer episode, and that was that. I certainly didn’t pay attention to his “manifesto.” The series, however, enlightened me.  As I understand it, Ted believed that technology was destroying society, making us all slaves to it, and taking the joy out of life. I have yet to see how blowing people up addressed this problem, but then he shouldn’t have to be right about everything. The evidence has been mounting since 1995, when he killed his final victim,that  the Unabomber  wasn’t quite as crazy as we thought.

I could bury you in links, but will not.  We are slaves, for example, to passwords. I teach lawyers that their devices containing client confidences should, to be properly protective of them under ethics standards, have passwords of at least 18 random letters, characters and numbers, with the password for every such device being different, and all of them changed every month. Or you can go the John Podesta route, use “password.” and get hacked, and eventually disciplined by your bar association, once they decide to get serious.

[CORRECTION: In the original post, I relayed a link to a site where you can check your password to see if it’s been compromised. I had been forwarded the link by another tech-interested lawyer. But as I was just alerted by a commenter (Than you, Brian!) It’s apotential trap and an unethical site, making you reveal your password to check it. I apologize for posting it. See how dangerous and tricky this stuff is? See? SEE?.I fell for the trap of depending on technology to protect us from technology! Ted warned us about that, too.]

Then there is this feature in The Atlantic. An excerpt: Continue reading

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Filed under Business & Commercial, Childhood and children, Daily Life, Finance, Science & Technology, The Internet, U.S. Society

Lying To Us To Make Us Feel Better: Those Fake Crosswalk Buttons

In the classic science fiction story “The Marching Morons”  by American writer Cyril M. Kornbluth,  the world hundreds of years in the future is a reverse-eugenics nightmare. Between centuries of intelligent people not having children (perhaps to address climate change?) and excessive breeding by fools and dolts, the typical member of the public has an IQ of around 45, while an elite few who have IQs of 100 or more work around the clock to save the world, and the morons, from chaos. One of their tricks is to manufacture cars that make lots of noise and create the illusion of high speeds to fool the morons, who are (as we all know) wretched drivers. In truth, the cars crawl along more slowly than tricycles.

I thought of this when reader and frequent commentator here Charles Green noted in his excellent newsletter that those buttons at pedestrian crosswalks in major cities are an intentional fraud on the public, a placebo to keep us calm and feeling in control when we are not. Charles link was to my old hometown paper, the Boston Globe, but it’s behind a paywall. Never mind, though: newspapers have periodically been noting this phenomenon for years. They apparently think it is amusing. It isn’t.

The New York Times reported in 2004 that the city deactivated most of the pedestrian buttons long ago with the advent of computer-controlled traffic signals.  Today there are 120 working signals; about 500 were removed during major construction projects. But it was estimated that it would cost $1 million to dismantle the rest of non-functioning mechanisms, over a thousand of them, so city officials decided to keep them in place. And people keep pushing them. After all, sometimes, by sheer luck, the light changes soon after the button has been pushed. It works!

Tribal rains dances “work” the same way.

ABC News reported in 2010 that it found only one functioning crosswalk button in a survey of signals in Austin, Texas.; Gainesville, Florida, and Syracuse, New York. Other studies have turned up similar results in dozens of other cities. To be clear, presenting a button to pedestrians that is represented as a legitimate tool to cross the street when in fact it does nothing is a lie. It is an intentional falsehood, designed to deceive. Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Government & Politics, Literature, Science & Technology, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 7/31/17

Good Morning!

1. If you want an instant reading on someone’s ethics alarms, or a quick diagnosis of whether he or she is a jerk, ask their opinion on yesterday’s episode in which New Jersey Governor Chris Christie got in the face of a Cubs fan who was harassing him during the Brewers-Cubs game. Instead of ignoring the fan, who was shouting insults at him, Christie walked over to him and said, among other things, “You’re a big shot!”

“Appreciate that,” the fan gulped.

It’s rude, uncivil and cowardly to shout insults at anyone who just happens to be attending an event as a private citizen. It doesn’t matter who the target is. The fan, Brad Joseph, assumed that he was insulated  by the crowd and the setting from any consequences of being a jackass by setting out to make Christie’s visit to the ball park unpleasant. Bravo to Christie for behaving exactly as any other non-weenie would when subjected to such abuse. Brad was adopting the same false  entitlement the “Hamilton” cast assumed when it harassed Mike Pence, though in lower case. Elected officials have an obligation to listen to the public’s complaints and positions. They do not have an obligation to accept outright abuse, and shouldn’t.

Joseph, heretofore to be referred to as “The Jerk,” or TJ, told a radio station, “I called him a hypocrite because I thought it needed to be said.” Then walk up to the Governor like a man, look him in the eyes, and say it, you chicken. Shouting from a crowd is a hit-and-run tactic, and you know it. You depended on it.

 

“This is America and I think we have the right to say what you believe as long as it’s not crude or profane,” Joseph then said. Wrong, Hot Dog Breath. You do have a right to be crude and profane, but as with those abuses of free speech, harassing someone, anyone, at a ball game is still unfair and unethical.

2. Then there were the ad hominem attacks on the Governor in the comments to the story. Did you know Christie was fat? Did you know that being fat proves his unfitness for public service or removes his human right to be treated decently when he goes to a ball game? These were the conclusions of easily 75% of all commenters, proving informally that 75% of internet commenters have the ethical instincts of 10-year-olds.

The news media was hardly better: check which sources make a big deal about the fact that Christie was holding a plate of nachos when he stared down TJ. This non-essential detail was even in some headlines. Newsweek, which is really just a left-wing supermarket tabloid now, actually headlined the story “Chris Christie confronts fan who wouldn’t let him eat nachos in peace.”

That’s not just fat-shaming, that’s an endorsement of fat-shaming. The problem with Chris Christie isn’t that he’s fat; the problem with him is that he is corrupt and sold out his principles and his country to help make Donald Trump President, none of which justifies abusing him when he’s at a baseball game.

Or watching “Hamilton. Continue reading

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