Friday Ethics Potpourri, 9/24/2021: On PBS, Boeing, A Political Hack Law Dean, And Caring

Lawn sign

Many thanks to reader and commenter Jeff for bringing that lawn sign to my attention. It’s available here. I wish I had thought of it; one of these days I’ll get around to making a “Bias Makes You Stupid” T-shirt as an Ethics Alarms accessory. I would never post such a sign on my lawn for the same reason I object to the virtue-signaling signs in my neighborhood: I didn’t ask to my neighbors’ political views thrust in my face, and I don’t inflict mine of them. However, if a someone living in a house on my cul-de-sac inflicted a “No human being is illegal” missive on their lawn where I had to look at it every day, the sign above would be going up as a response faster than you can say “Jack Robinson,” though I don’t know why anyone would say “Jack Robinson.”

1. Roger Angell on caring…It’s September, and the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees start a three game series tonight with nine games left to the season. It could well determined which of the two teams will go on to the post-season, with a shot at the World Series. The encounter brings back a flood of memories, wonderful and horrible, about previous Sox-Yankee battles of note, including one from 1949, before I was born. I worked with a veteran lawyer at a D.C. association who was perpetually bitter about all things, and all because the Red Sox blew a pennant to New York that year by choking away the final two games of the season. For me, moments like this are reassuring and keep me feeling forever young: as I watch such games, I realize that I am doing and and feeling exactly what I was doing and feeling from the age of 12 on. Nothing has changed. Roger Angell, one of my favorite writers, eloquently described why this is important in his essay “Agincourt and After,” from his collection,”Five Seasons”:

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitive as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look — I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring — caring deeply and passionately, really caring — which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naivete — the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball — seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

A small price indeed.

2. PBS may be a progressive propaganda organ, but the facts will out. A streaming service offers the channel’s documentaries for a pittance, and they are a reliable source of perspective and enlightenment. One that my wife and I watched this past week was about the development of the FDA and other federal agencies that protected the public and workers. When workers at manufacturing plants making leaded gasoline started dying of lead poisoning, the government scientists’ solution was to just ban the product. General Motors and Standard Oil fought back and overturned the ban, assuring Congress that they could make leaded gas safe to produce, and they did. This was a classic example of why we must not let scientists dictate public policy: leaded gasoline transformed transportation and benefited the public. The scientists’ approach was just to eliminate risk; they didn’t care about progress, the economy, jobs or anything else. Science needs to be one of many considerations, and when scientists have been co-opted by partisan bias, as they are now, this is more true than ever.

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Now THIS Is Hubris…Also Arrogance, Incompetence, Abuse Of Position, And Propaganda

In ancient Greek mythology and drama, the state of hubris inevitably led to disaster, usually at the hands of an annoyed god. If only we had appropriately annoyed gods on a mountain somewhere who would tale aim at Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, Samantha Bee, Jimmy Kimmel and Trevor Noah. All are alleged comedians who have been gifted with long-running platforms on television, supposedly to make Americans laugh. All have also, with the exception of Corden, spent the past five years or more using their platforms to mount a one-way attack on approximately half the nation and its values, as well as, of course, the previous President. In doing so, these six (again, Corden really has tried to be apolitical) have spread misinformation and hate, exacerbated national division, and deliberately made topical comedy unbearable for millions of people who desperately needed a laugh.

To put it in technical terms, they suck. I wouldn’t cross my yard to meet any of them, and the sooner every one vanishes from the American scene, I don’t care how, the healthier the country will be. Their primary error is confusing being smart with being smart alecks. It’s an easy mistake to make…if you aren’t very smart.

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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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Ethics Quiz: Apple Thinks Of The Children

Apple privacy

Last week, Apple announced a plan to introduce new technology that will allow it to scan iPhones for images related to the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. These tools, however, which are scheduled to become operational soon, can be used for less admirable objectives, like so many technologies.

Apple’s innovation will allow parents have their children’s iMessage accounts scanned by Apple for sexual images sent or received. The Parents would be notified if this material turns up on the phones of children under 13. All children will be warned if they seek to view or share a sexually explicit image. The company will also scan the photos adults store on their iPhones and check them against records corresponding with known child sexual abuse material provided by organizations like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Cool, right? After all, “Think of the children!!” (Rationalization #58) But while Apple has promises to use this technology only to search only for child sexual abuse material, the same technology can be used being used for other purposes and without the phone owner’s consent. The government could work with Apple to use the same technology to acquire other kinds of images or documents stored on computers or phones. The technology could be used to monitor political views or “hate speech.

Computer scientist Matthew Green, writing with security analysist Alex Stamos, warns,

“The computer science and policymaking communities have spent years considering the kinds of problems raised by this sort of technology, trying to find a proper balance between public safety and individual privacy. The Apple plan upends all of that deliberation. Apple has more than one billion devices in the world, so its decisions affect the security plans of every government and every other technology company. Apple has now sent a clear message that it is safe to build and use systems that directly scan people’s personal phones for prohibited content.”

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day:

Does the single beneficial use of the Apple technology make it ethical to place individual privacy at risk?

 

Comment Of The Day: “Comment Of The Day: ‘Theater Ethics Meets Pandemic Ethics…’”

It has been a hugely informative and entertaining knockdown, drag-out comment battle over vaccine hesitancy the last few days on not just one but two posts on the topic. It’s time to add another. One irony of long comment threads, which make me happy as a blog proprietor, is that many readers don’t have the patience to pick through them. I’m sometimes guilty of that myself.

This Comment of the Day by Ryan Harkins on Humble Talent’s own provocative (to understate it) Comment Of The Day on my post, “Theater Ethics Meets Pandemic Ethics: If I Were Still Running My Theater Company And We Had A Large Cast Show In Production…” deserves to be highlighted. Here it is (and I forgive Ryan for not calling the virus by it’s rightful, earned non-partisan name.)

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First, I want to take exception to conflating hesitancy to take the COVID-19 vaccines and anti-vaxxers. There’s a huge difference between being skeptical about one particular vaccine and being skeptical about all vaccines. And conflating the two blurs the issues and dismisses out of hand legitimate arguments and concerns.

I stand in an odd position, because I oppose getting any of the COVID-19 vaccines, and I have been vaccinated. I took the double doses of the Moderna vaccine when it became available at my workplace. Was it to protect my family (my wife is pregnant with our fourth)? Not at all. We’re all healthy, and the odds of the coronavirus having any effect other than a harsh cold for my household is surprisingly small. Was it because my workplace pressured me into it? No, though I will cite that the 14 days paid sick time goes away if I snag a sufficiently large batch of SARS-CoV-2 and I’m not vaccinated.

So why did I get the vaccine? At the time, I believed it the right thing to do to help the efforts of reaching herd immunity. So what has changed since then? Let’s consider my thinking, meandering as it is.

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Comment Of The Day: “Not Cakes, But Advocacy: The Tenth Circuit Rules That Compelled Expression Is Constitutional”

Web Design Content Creative Website Responsive Concept

I often feel like issues and discussions fly by too quickly on Ethics Alarms, as trivial matters like an old Star Wars fanatic’s vulgar window sign and the desperate efforts to frame a celebrity gymnast’s ill-timed choke blot out the ethical controversies that are most important to ponder and understand. Fortunately the commenters here often take steps to ameliorate that flaw, as veteran reader Dwayne N. Zechman does here. His Comment of the Day amplifies a post from a week ago that came in the middle of the earth-shattering question of Simone Biles’ “twisties” and only inspired 22 comments other than mine (my replies to comments don’t count). This, despite the fact that, to evoke Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) at the end of “All the President’s Men,” nothing’s riding on what a Federal Appeals Court ruled in the case at issue “except the First amendment to the Constitution…and maybe the future of the country.”

Here is Dwayne’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Not Cakes, But Advocacy: The Tenth Circuit Rules That Compelled Expression Is Constitutional.”

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So . . . true story:

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Ethics Hero: Steven Koonin, Former Obama US Department of Energy Undersecretary for Science

believe-it-or-not

Believe it or not, a former Obama official has authored a book, “Unsettled,” that raises many of the weaknesses, fudges and media-silenced discrepancies in the official climate change narrative. His name is Steven Koonin, and of course he is being savaged by reviewers and scientist alike. You won’t see him interviewed on CNN or on any climate change panels on the major networks. Fox News might put him on, but that will just prove that he’s one of the bad guys. That’s how it works.

Yet Koonin’s book appears to be more than reasonable.

The book is an expansion of a controversial opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal he wrote a few years ago headlined “Climate science is not settled”. I missed it, and of course the mainstream media didn’t want to talk about it. Despite what progressives, Democratic policy-makers and your Facebook friends will tell you (and what most of the public believes thanks to careful disinformation or reporting by journalists who got Cs in high school Science class, climate science is not settled. Koonin is bothered by the same feature that Ethics Alarms has commented on many times: scientists can’t accurately predict what the future climate shifts will be.

The book’s argument is in three parts:

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Presenting The Complete Fake Voice Ethics Verdicts

Voiceprint

In Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, filmaker Morgan Neville,examines the life and death of the famous TV chef Bourdain. In the process of doing so, he introduced a new documentary device: using Artificial Intelligence to simulate Bourdain’s voice.

In a recent interview with the New Yorker, Neville explained that he used AI to synthetically create a voiceover reading of a Bourdain email that sounded like Bourdain was the reader. He engaged a software company and provided about a dozen hours of recordings, allowing them to create a convincing electronic version model of Bourdain’s voice. That voice reads three lines in the film, including an email sent to a friend by Bourdain: “My life is sort of shit now. You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?” But Bourdain, of course, never read that or any of the other three lines, to which Neville’s message to viewers is “Nyah, nyah, nyah!” “If you watch the film … you probably don’t know what the other lines are that were spoken by the AI, and you’re not going to know,” he said.

Well, critics, including Ottavia Bourdain, the chef’s former wife, objected to the ethics of an unannounced use of a “deepfake” voice to say sentences that Bourdain never spoke.

I was going to make this an Ethics Quiz, and then after thinking about for a few seconds, decided that the issue doesn’t rate a quiz, because I’m not in nay doubt over the answer. Is what Neville did unethical?

Yes, of course it is. It is unethical because it deliberately deceives listeners into believing that they are hearing the man talking when he never said the words they are hearing. It doesn’t mitigate the deception, as Neville and his defenders seem to think, that Fake Bourdain is reading the actual unspoken words in an email. It’s still deception. Is the creation and use of a zombie voice for this purpose also unethical, like the creation of CGO versions of famous actors to manipulate in movies they never made, discussed (and condemned) here?

That’s a tougher call, but I come down on the side of the dead celebrity who is being made into an unwilling ventriloquist’s dummy by emerging technology.

This would be a propitious time to point out what is ethical and what isn’t when it comes to using a dead celebrity’s voice, real or fake, in various forms of communications and education:

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More Terrifying Tales Of The Great Stupid, Academic Division

The predictable appeal of racist “antiracism” cant to the world of scholarship and academia in the wake of the fraudulent George Floyd Freakout is producing amusing or frightening results, depending on one’s regard for higher education and resistance to despair.

Today’s sample of Authentic Frontier Gibberish, for example, comes from “Confronting “White Feminism” in the Victorian Literature Classroom,” recently published in the scholarly journal, “Nineteenth Century Gender Studies.” The author is University of California Professor Lana Dalley, who complains that Victorian feminists are “problematic” [There’s that word again!] because they promote “white feminism.” In other words, social commentators and writers of over a hundred years ago don’t seem to reflect the current approved woke perspective of 2021. This is, apparently, a surprise. Here’s her first paragraph, an AFG classic:

The transition to virtual learning in Spring and Fall 2020 intersected with international protests for racial justice and, more locally, Ronjaunee Chatterjee, Alicia Mireles Christoff, and Amy R. Wong’s call to “undiscipline Victorian Studies” by “interrogat[ing] and challeng[ing] our field’s marked resistance to centering racial logic” (370).(1) More specifically, they call for “illuminat[ing] how race and racial difference subtend our [Victorianists’] most cherished objects of study, our most familiar historical and theoretical frameworks, our most engrained scholarly protocols, and the very demographics of our field” (370). Since then, numerous virtual roundtables and panels have convened to discuss critical approaches to race within Victorian studies and to ponder the relevance of contemporary social justice movements to a field whose borders are historically drawn. This essay emerged from one such panel and offers practical suggestions for reframing pedagogical approaches to Victorian feminist discourses in order to “center[] racial logic” and “illuminate how race and racial difference subtend” those discourses.(2) Its suggestions are certainly not meant to be exhaustive, but simply to offer one set of practices for making the Victorian literature classroom more responsive to contemporary conversations about race and gender.”

Now who can argue with that?

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