Category Archives: Science & Technology

Ethics Quote Of The Day: Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

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“The state has a reason? Yeah, it does. Does it limit free speech? Dramatically. Are there other, less restrictive ways of doing it? We’re not sure, but we think probably. . . . Okay. End of case, right?”

—-Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, during oral argument in the case Packingham v. North Carolina, describing how state laws are traditionally seen by the Court as infringing on freedom of speech.

Lester Packingham was registered as a sex offender in 2002 after pleading guilty to statutory rape with a 13-year-old girl (he was 21). He served his time and probation, and then, in  2010, Packingham posted on Facebook to thank the Lord for a recently dismissed parking ticket, writing, “Man God is Good! How about I got so much favor they dismissed the ticket before court even started? . . . Praise be to GOD, WOW! Thanks JESUS!”

Jesus, however, did not stop him from being prosecuted for that message under a 2008 North Carolina law that prohibits registered sex offenders from accessing social media, on the theory that it gives them access to minors.

Packingham appealed the resulting conviction, arguing that the law violated his First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court accepted the case, which could  determine whether access to social media sites like Facebook, Youtube, and others are a fundamental right.

In oral argument this week, observers got the distinct impression that this is where the Court is headed. At least five justices, a majority of the temporarily reduced court, suggested during argument that they would rule against North Carolina and for Packingham , whose lawyer says that more than 1,000 people have been prosecuted under the law.

Reading various reports of what was said, I am stunned by how out of touch everyone involved sounds. The Washington Post story describes Justice Kagan like she’s a web-head because she’s “only” 59.  “So whether it’s political community, whether it’s religious community, I mean, these sites have become embedded in our culture as ways to communicate and ways to exercise our constitutional rights, haven’t they?” Kagan asked North Carolina Deputy Attorney General Robert C. Montgomery, who was defending the law.

Do we really have to ask that question today? The law was passed in 2008, which in technology and social media terms makes it archaic. Legislators can be forgiven for not understanding the central role of social media in American life nine years ago, but in 2017, when we have a President tweeting his every lucid thought (and many not so lucid), how can anyone defend the argument that blocking a citizen from social media isn’t an extreme government restriction on free speech? Laws related to technology should all have sunset provisions of a couple years (a couple months?) to ensure that they haven’t been rendered obsolete by the evolving societal use of and dependency on  the web, the internet, and new devices. Continue reading

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Filed under Childhood and children, Facebook, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Law & Law Enforcement, Science & Technology, Social Media, The Internet, U.S. Society

Fast Food Ethics: Subway’s Chicken TASTES Like Chicken—Isn’t That Enough?

OK, what's in this Teriyaki Sweet Onion Chicken sandwich? (Hint: It's a trick question...)

OK, what’s in this  Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki sandwich? (Hint: It’s a trick question…)

DNA researcher Matt Harnden at Trent University’s Wildlife Forensic DNA Laboratory, working out of  Peterborough, Ontario, analyzed six popular chicken sandwiches served at various fast food chains. Unadulterated chicken should have 100% chicken DNA, or close to it. Seasoning, marinating or processing meat  bring that number down some , so fast food  wouldn’t be expected to have a perfect score.

The chicken in the following sandwiches were tested: McDonald’s Country Chicken – Grilled,Wendy’s Grilled Chicken Sandwich, A&W Chicken Grill Deluxe,Tim Hortons Chipotle Chicken Grilled Wrap, Subway Oven Roasted Chicken Sandwich, and Subway Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki, which is made with chicken strips.

The lab tested two samples of five of the chicken meat fillings, and one sample of the Subway strips. From each of those samples, the researchers isolated three smaller samples and tested each of those. The scores were then averaged for each sandwich. The results? Continue reading

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Filed under Animals, Around the World, Business & Commercial, Government & Politics, Marketing and Advertising, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Vintage Fake News: The Ridiculous Doomsday Clock

Doomsday clock showing 3 minutes to midnight

I’m sure you have noticed that the scary Doomsday Clock, which tells us how long we have until “midnight,” aka. nuclear Armageddon, has been on the move again.

NBC News recently announced that the dreaded Clock was ticking like the soundtrack of “24 Hours, proclaiming: “Thirty seconds closer to global annihilation!”   The New York Times, which now averages at least eight “President Trump is a menace to civilization!!! ARGGH!!!” columns, editorials or news stories every…single…day, duly announced, “Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight.” Across the pond, the UK’s Independent stated as fact, “We’re closer to doom than any time since the Cold War!”

Why? Because the Doomsday Clock says so!

Can we officially make that “The Ridiculous Doomsday Clock?” This has to be the most useless and malfunctioning timepiece in recorded history.  Even a stopped clock is right twice a day: this damn thing is never right.

The Bulletin of The Atomic Scientists dreamed the gimmick up back in 1947 , and its initial setting was “seven minutes to midnight” as in…

What sense did it make to have a clock already set at seven minutes to 12? Why wasn’t it at least a seven-minute stopwatch? What was its setting during the Black Plague? Did the dinosaurs have a Doomsday Clock? Did a wise Diplodocus and a precocious Stegasaurus see a meteor coursing through the Jurassic skies and conclude, “Oh oh. Eventually one of those is going to land here, and we’re all toast. Move the Doomsday Clock to 80 million years before midnight, let’s settle our affairs, and tell the rest of the gang that the mammals are coming…”?

The group of egg-heads devising the clock explained that it symbolized ” the urgency of the nuclear dangers that the magazine’s founders—and the broader scientific community—are trying to convey to the public and political leaders around the world.” OK, I can see that as a minor, fear-mongering news item in 1947—kind of like the climate change hysteria is now—but I would also say that when a group describes a peril as urgent and it hasn’t urged in 70 years, that isn’t just old news, it isn’t newsworthy at all. Continue reading

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Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

The 8th Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2016: The Last Of The Worst

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Ethics Alarms wraps up the Worst in 2016 Ethics with the usual education and journalism breaches, Ethics Dunce of the Year, and more delights for the sadistic…

Unethical Government Fiasco Of The Year

The Flint, Michigan water crisisA failure of competence, diligence, responsibility and honesty, compounded by bureaucrats, elected officials, the city of Detroit, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and the EPA made people sick and cost billions.

Good job, everybody!

Scam of the Year

Sen.Ted Cruz’s fake “official” mailer before the Iowa Caucus. Cruz’s campaign  sent out mailers labeled in all capital letters, “ELECTION ALERT,” “VOTER VIOLATION,” “PUBLIC RECORD,” and “FURTHER ACTION NEEDED.” On the other side, the mailer said, in red letters at the top, “VOTING VIOLATION.” The text read:

You are receiving this election notice because of low expected voter turnout in your area. Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.

This is why Trump’s nickname for Cruz, “Lyin’ Ted,” was crude but accurate.

Ethics Dunces Of The Year

All the social media users and others who ended Facebook friendships, genuine friendships and relationship over the 2016 election. Haven’t they ever seen “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Morons. Shame on all of them.

Weenies of the Year

The college students who demanded that exams be cancelled, therapists be available, safe spaces be found, puppies be summoned and cry-ins be organized because the awful candidate they supported in the Presidential election lost, as candidates often do.

How embarrassing.

Unethical University Of The Year 

Liberty University.  This is the most competitive of categories, with all the schools that railroaded male students based on questionable sexual assault claims while quailing in fear of the Dept. of Education’s “Dear Colleague Letter,” and all the schools that signaled that the results of a simple election justified PTSD treatment for their shattered charges, as well as making it clear to any students who dared to tilt Republican that they were persona non grata. Nonetheless, Liberty University takes the prize with its unique combination of greed, hypocrisy, and warped values. From the Ethics Alarms post:

Last week, with great fanfare, Liberty hired Ian McCaw as its new athletic director. “My vision for Liberty is to position it as a pre-eminent Christian athletic program in America,” McCaw said during a news conference.

This is his first paying assignment since May, when he left his job as the athletic director at Baylor, also a Christian university. His departure was made essential after a thorough investigation that found that those overseeing Baylor’s  football team as well as the management of  the athletic department—that is, McCaw— had been informed of multiple gang rapes and sexual assault by team members and had ignored it, as any good football-loving Christian would….especially when a star was involved.

Continue reading

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Self-Driving Car Ethics: Who Do They Decide To Kill? You?

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CBS’s “Bull,” a drama about a jury consultant (played by “NCIS” alum Michael Weatherly) is an ethics mess…but then, so is the former jury consultant Weatherly’s  character is loosely  based on: “Dr.” Phil McGraw. The show does find some interesting ethics issues, however. A couple of weeks ago the story involved the programming in an experimental self-driving car. The issue: is it ethical for such a car to be programmed to kill its passenger if it has to make a life or death choice?

The ethical conflict involved is the so-called “trolley problem,” which is, as the name suggests, over a hundred years old. British philosopher Philippa Foot developed it into series of hypotheticals in 1967. In 1985, American philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson scrutinized and expanded on Foot’s ideas in The Yale Law Journal. Here is one of Thompson’s scenarios:

“Suppose you are the driver of a trolley. The trolley rounds a bend, and there come into view ahead five track workmen, who have been repairing the track. The track goes through a bit of a valley at that point, and the sides are steep, so you must stop the trolley if you are to avoid running the five men down. You step on the brakes, but alas they don’t work. Now you suddenly see a spur of track leading off to the right. You can turn the trolley onto it, and thus save the five men on the straight track ahead. Unfortunately,…there is one track workman on that spur of track. He can no more get off the track in time than the five can, so you will kill him if you turn the trolley onto him.”

The problem: Now what, and why?

A. Throw the switch in order to maximize well-being (five people surviving is greater than one).
B. Throw the switch because you are a virtuous person, and saving five lives is the type of charitable and compassionate act a virtuous person performs.
C. Do not throw the switch because that would be a form of killing, and killing is inherently wrong.
D. Do not throw the switch because you are a Christian, and the Ten Commandments teach that killing is against the will of God.
E. Do not throw the switch because you feel aiding in a person’s death would be culturally inappropriate and illegal. Continue reading

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Filed under Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Law & Law Enforcement, Rights, 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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Filed under Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

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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