Apologies And Other Fallout From The Baseball Cheating Scandal (Updated, And Updated Again)

Ex-Astros manager Hinch and “dead man walking” Alex Cora, the cheating mastermind.

Since I posted the initial commentary on Major League Baseball’s tough punishment of the Houston Astros for their illegal sign-stealing (there are legal ways to steal signs too), there have been some interesting developments with ethical implications.

The full MLB report  can be read or downloaded here.

  • One promising development is the widespread discussions of organizational culture that have been taking place in the media. When Astros owner Jim Crane announced that he was firing GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, both suspended for a year by the Commissioner of Baseball, he made it clear that the team needed to reform its culture, which had metastasized from  “play to win”  into a “win by any means necessary.”  There were signs of this in Houston long before the sign-stealing was known, when in 2018 the team traded for relief pitcher Robero Osuna while he was suspended for domestic abuse and facing trial—even though the Astros had previously announced a “no-tolerance” policy regarding players and domestic abuse. The team really needed a closer, you see.

The Astros culture, we now can see, was thoroughly compromised by ethics rot, and eliminating one or two managers won’t fix the problem immediately.

  • A prime enabler of that rot was Jeff Luhnow, who traded for Osuna. After he was fired yesterday, he issued this apology:

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Why Almost Nobody Is Interested In Ethics…

Kudos to Ann Althouse for finding this monstrosity: “3D Printing and the Murky Ethics of Replicating Bones.” Ann quips, “The murkiness in getting to the point of what’s murky in the ethics is evidence of what a sensitive problem it is.”

The forum, ironically enough, is RealClear Science, and the author is Sarah Wild, a South African science journalist and author. It may help to know that she hails from Undark, an e-mag that purports to to “explore science in both light and shadow, and to bring that exploration to a broad, international audience.” Should I be suspicious of the magazine because Charles M. Blow is on its board? No…but I am.

The article is incompetent structurally because it doesn’t begin to explain exactly what the “murky ethics issues” are until about  half way through a very long article, and it’s hard to read when one is asleep. Even after the issues are drip-drip-dripped out, it is never made clear by the author what established ethical principles are involved. The ethics issue of scientists taking bones of unidentified people from burial sites in other nations has always been, for me, an ick vs. ethics controversy. The original owners of the bones are not harmed in any way, and if those individuals’ families aren’t aware of the whereabouts of the remains and have taken no steps to assert control over them, they are not harmed either. Continue reading

In The Dead Of Winter, Welcome Baseball Ethics News

The Athletic’s Jayson Stark reports  that automated ball and strike calling is now inevitable, and we may see it as early as 2022. He writes, “The mental games used to inch the strike zone this way or that has long been a tool of the game’s best – from the hitters whose impeccable eye define it, to the pitchers’ whose pinpoint control push to expand it – but an automated zone will all but abolish the in-game politicking of the strike zone, giving hitters a new advantage they have long been without: certainty. Robot umpires will define the strike zone with better precision than their carbon-based forerunners – but first the humans must decide what they want that strike zone to be. For those particularly fond of strike zone drama, appreciate it now, because deciding on the parameters of the automated zone might be one of the last great strike zone debates before the robots take over.”

Good.

Once computer graphics allowed TV viewers to see blatantly botched ball and strike counts in real time, this development became a serious matter of trust and integrity. The baseball Luddites who continue to argue that missed ball and strike calls are part of baseball’s charm and should be retained  as “the human factor” have sounded progressively more desperate and ridiculous as the seasons pass.

Statistical analysis has shown decisively how much a bad ball or strike call even early in the count can change the outcome of an at bat and a game. Look at this chart:

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Ethics Hero: Frances Arnold

I’m sure there are a lot of people doing ethical things and not  trying to deliberately make me embarrassed to be a member of the human race—just not on social media, and not in the news. And there is Frances Arnold.

She is an American chemical engineer and the Linus Pauling Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering and Biochemistry at  Caltech. Professor Arnold was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2018 for pioneering the use of directed evolution to engineer enzymes. “Directed evolution” is a method used in protein engineering that mimics the process of natural selection to steer proteins or nucleic acids toward a user-defined goal. You know..this:

She had published a  paper on enzymatic synthesis of beta-lactams in May 2019 in the Science journal. When she discovered recently that her research could not be replicated, however, Arnold repudiated her own paper, and pronounced it the product of shoddy research.

“For my first work-related tweet of 2020, I am totally bummed to announce that we have retracted last year’s paper on enzymatic synthesis of beta-lactams. The work has not been reproducible,” she posted on Twitter. “It is painful to admit, but important to do so. I apologize to all. I was a bit busy when this was submitted, and did not do my job well.”

A short, clear, Level I apology, and it is refreshing to know that there are scientific geniuses who use the word “bummed,” and who do not write like Timnit Gebru.

On one hand, I wonder if it is easier for a Nobel winner to admit something like this. On the other, I am certain that the more eminent a scientist is, the harder it is to reveal a serious error. No matter how one looks at it, Professor Arnold exhibited integrity, honesty, humility and courage, may have done as much for science by showing how an ethical scientist handles an error as she did with her work on directed evolution.

I would be more certain about that if I understood what the hell directed evolution was.

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“Authentic Frontier Gibberish” Ethics

On Ethics Alarms, the term “Authentic Frontier Gibberish” is used to describe “intentionally (or sometimes just incompetently) incoherent double-talk used by politicians, advocates, lawyers, doctors, celebrities, scientists, academics ,con artists and wrong-doers to deceive, obfuscate, confuse, bore, or otherwise avoid transparency, admitting fault, accepting accountability or admitting uncomfortable truths. The term comes from “Blazing Saddles,” in this memorable scene.

It sometimes arises from incompetent communication skills, which are unethical for anyone in the public eye to employ. Sometimes it is more sinister than that, and occurs when someone chooses to create a vague word cloud that obscures the speaker’s or writer’s real purpose…and sometimes the fact that they are frauds. Sometimes AFG is designed to convey a feeling while avoiding sufficient substance to really explain what he or she means.

Sometimes, it feels like gaslighting.

A New York Times article was ostensibly about “Dealing with Bias in Artificial Intelligence.” This was, obviously, click-bait for me, as the topic is a developing field of ethics. The introduction stated in part, “[S]ocial bias can be reflected and amplified by artificial intelligence in dangerous ways, whether it be in deciding who gets a bank loan or who gets surveilled. The New York Times spoke with three prominent women in A.I. to hear how they approach bias in this powerful technology.” The statements of the first two women—I see no reason why only female experts on the topic were deemed qualified to comment—were useful and provocative.

Last, however, was Timnit Gebru “a research scientist at Google on the ethical A.I. team and a co-founder of Black in AI, which promotes people of color in the field, [who] talked about the foundational origins of bias and the larger challenge of changing the scientific culture.”

Here’s what she said (Imagine, the Times said this was “edited and condensed”! ). The bolding is mine.. Continue reading

Merry Christmas Ethics Present, 12/25/2019: On Critics, Climate Change, And…

MERRY CHRISTMAS

EVERYONE!

1. Critic Ethics. A new book about iconic “New Yorker” film critic Pauline Kael reinforces the question that kept coming to mind when she was savaging movies monthly: why would anyone care what she thought about anything? The woman hated “The Sound of Music.” She panned every John Wayne movie because his personal political views were too conservative for her. If someone’s tastes and values are that different from yours, her judgment about just about anything doesn’t provide guidance or perspective.  Pauline Kael thought that the Charles Grodin-Jessica Lange version of “King Kong”—you know, the one where Kong was played by a man in a gorilla suit?—was better than the original.  What good was she? Why would anyone want to read a book about her? Why would anyone write one?  In fact, why am I even wasting a section of a “warm-up” on her?

2. Follow-up on the Democratic debate climate change segment. What is now obvious is that none of the candidates plan on ever telling voters specific facts indicating why they should want to gut the economy and surrender personal freedoms to government mandates. That climate change is a certainty is “settled science,” it’s an “existential crisis,” and anyone who questions the accuracy of apocalyptic models and projections is a science denier. Events like the California wildfires are irrefutable proof that all the projections are correct.  Of course, few of the climate change hysterics could read and translate a climate model, or understand the science involved sufficiently to either critique it or agree with it. (But I agree that it would be lots of fun to hear Joe Biden try.) Meanwhile, they are all telling the public that fossile fuels need to be banned, and with them the industries and jobs they support. All of this depends on the public being ignorant, gullible, and so stupid that they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the house without a chaperone.  For example, is the public aware of this—is the news media reporting it, and are any of the candidates capable of it should be ignored in favor of crushing the economy for speculative benefits? From Axios: Continue reading

In Sports, Discretion Is The Enemy Of Integrity

The Denver Bronchos last second win over the San Diego Chargers last weekend was one more game decided by a controversial pass interference call. That rule, with which the NFL has been tinkering and which is now complicated by a video review system, is becoming increasingly controversial this season. Wrote Times football columnist Ben Shpiegel,

[E]very week across the N.F.L.’s vast empire one player interferes with another before a pass arrives — and goes unpunished for it. In these moments, when yellow penalty flags remain lodged in officials’ pockets, aggrieved coaches weigh emotion against reason: Do they challenge the non-call, hoping that by sheer luck it will be overruled by the new video review mechanism? Or do they stew on the sideline, red flag pocketed, and resign themselves to the unlikelihood of a reversal?…After 12 weeks of wasted challenges and lost timeouts, of inconsistency and obfuscation, the league’s erratic application of the defined standard for overturning an on-field decision — “clear and obvious visual evidence” — has made the football masses yearn for simpler times, such as when no one knew what constituted a catch. Over all, through Week 12, 15 of 77 reviews of pass interference were overturned, though nearly half of those reversals — seven of 15 — were initiated by the officials in the replay booth, who are responsible for challenges in the last two minutes of the half… The questionable calls have dented confidence in a mechanism ostensibly intended to restore it after a mess of an N.F.C. championship game, in which Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman, without consequence, walloped Saints receiver Tommylee Lewis before the ball arrived.

The dilemma isn’t restricted to football. In any sport where an official’s judgment plays a big role in game results, the interjection of technology and the universal broadcast of games has created an integrity crisis. Before multiple camera angles and the  possibility of replays, umpires and referees could blow a crucial call and nobody would be the wiser, or at least would be able to prove that the game was decided by a non-player’s botch. Now, bad calls are there, on a big screen, then the internet, for all to see over and over. The Luddite argument that missed calls are the “human element” and “part of the game” made sense when there was nothing to be done about it. It is ridiculous now. Continue reading