Category Archives: Science & Technology

KABOOM! A Head-Explodingly Unethical Lawyer!

I have never heard of a lawyer behaving this unethically in such a reckless and transparent manner. I have never heard of anything close to this.

Michael Potere, 32, a recently fired former associate at the large law firm Dentons was arrested last week on charges of trying to extort $210,000 and a valuable artwork from the firm, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

According to his profile on LinkedIn, Potere had a Fulbright Scholarship,  a master’s degree in public policy and administration from the London School of Economics., and had been an associate at renowned law firm Kirkland & Ellis. Something was amiss, however, as Dentons let him go on June 1. Potere did not take this blow well. He reacted by telling partners that he had taken potentially  embarrassing sensitive information from the firm and would leak it all to the legal gossip site “Above the Law” unless he was paid $210,000 and given  a valuable  piece of artwork owned by the firm.

Potere was able to steal the confidential information because a partner gave him  access to his email login information while they were working on a case in 2015, so the associate could access documents related to discovery requests in the case. After he learned that he was being fired, Potere used that login to search through the partner’s emails and download the sensitive documents, including emails between partners, quarterly financial reports, client lists, confidential reviews of associate attorneys, lists of equity partner candidates, documents describing billing rates, details of recruitment efforts, and memos describing how partners should approach clients with outstanding balances” according to the FBI. Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up: 6/21/17

1. No, there is nothing “ironic” about Rep. Steve Scalise being shot. I finally lost my restraint and pointed out to a gaggle of left-wing Facebook friends that their writing that Scalise’s shooting was “ironic” because he opposes gun control, or because one of his rescuers was gay (because he opposes gay marriage) was as much a of a hateful comment as saying that it was “karma” (another popular sentiment from progressive friends) or that he “reaped what he sowed” (yet another). They protested loudly and angrily that this was an unfair rebuke on my part, that they were not cheering the crime, just observing that the shooting was “ironic” which, they insisted, it was.

Disingenuous and evasive.

The seriousness,  criminal, hateful and absolutely inexcusable nature of Scalise’s shooting had absolutely nothing to do with his political beliefs unless you agree with the shooter, who used those beliefs as his motive. Karma, “reaped what he sowed” and irony (which implies an amusing or humorous nature) all signal and are intended to signal the same sentiment in the Facebook echo chamber—“It’s a shame that he got shot, but in a way he asked for it.” Oh, how those who sought to signal their virtue and their dislike of Scalise just hated to be called on the ugly impulses behind their words, and how they wriggled and spun to deny it.

What made the shooting ironic? Why, Scalise opposes gay marriage, I was informed. That’s neither a logical nor a justified answer. Although gays find it satisfying and expedient to automatically attach the label of  homophobia to those who haven’t yet adapted to one of the fastest cultural paradigm shifts in U.S. history, there is no evidence that Rep. Scalise believes that LGBT individuals cannot or should not be medical or law enforcement professionals. Scalise’s position on gay marriage is irrelevant to his shooting, unless that position—the same position Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton held for a very long time—makes you think his shooting and the subsequent assistance of gay citizens is somehow deserved and funny. Similarly, the fact that Scalise was shot does not undermine the justification for his support of the Second Amendment, except in the closed minds of Second Amendment opponents. Nor does that make his shooting “ironic,” except to those whose gut reaction was “He was shot? Serves him right. Let’s see how he likes it.”

So many progressives have become so instinctively hateful and bitterly partisan that they are incapable of realizing it.

2. Are there any ethics takeaways from last night’s Republican victory in Georgia’s 6th District? Pundit Charles Glasser wrote that “Ossoff raised $23.6 million to make a symbolic run against President Trump, most of it from Marin County, California and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Running the numbers, Democrats might have been better off considering that same amount would have bought 855,072 school lunches (at $2.76 each); 236,000 elementary school textbooks (at $100 each) or even 956 Priuses (at $24,685 each). Max Weber said that the purpose of a bureaucracy is to maintain or expand its own power. Who cares about children, education or the environment when there’s power to be grabbed?”

As a rule I object to the “spending money on A is unethical because you could have spent it on B” line of reasoning, since it can be applied to almost any purchase. Nonetheless, that’s a lot of money to be used by outsiders to influence a local election, particularly when the donors also decry the effect of money in politics. And as with Hillary Clinton’s defeat, this result suggest that money isn’t nearly as decisive as those who want to constrain political speech think it is. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are”

The post on Facebook hysteria over the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the largely symbolic Paris climate change accords has drawn perplexing commentary. The post did not assert a position on climate change, nor did it defend the reasons given for the withdrawal.  The post simply stated that it was irresponsible and dishonest to claim dire consequences of the decision when the accord itself is almost entirely symbolic, requires nothing, in the sense that there are no enforcement mechanisms, and can’t possibly carry the existential weight that social media, politicians, pundits and activists are claiming. It is all appeal to emotion and ignorance.

And it is. Especially since most of the social media hysterics haven’t read the accord and are illiterate regarding climate science.

And they are.

I guess I knew that both climate change flacks and those suspicious of them would shift gears into the messy issue itself and its controversial research and models. The dreaded (and misleading) “97% of all scientists” stat even made its appearance, although, again, it was irrelevant to the post.

Finally, Zoltar Speaks!, Popeye-like, declared that “I ain’t gonna take it, ’cause I can’t take no more!” after a side debate over whether the infamous hacked e-mails among climate-change researchers “proved” that there was a conspiracy to distort the science on climate change (no,  they prove that the scholarly research community members are not as objective and independent as they are professionally obligated to be, and that this makes their conclusions inherently untrustworthy). He produced an epic essay in response, so long and detailed that he posted it on a satellite blog. With his permission, I am posting it in it’s entirety here.

Here is the Zoltar Speaks! Comment of the Day on the post, “Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are” … Continue reading

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Facebook User Ethics : Don’t Spread Panic, And Don’t Make Your Friends As Ignorant As You Are

The eruptions of frantic doomsaying and apocalyptic fantasies on Facebook following President Trump’s announcement that the U.S. would no longer consider itself a party to the Paris accord on climate change. Seldom have I been more tempted to write, “Have you taken leave of your senses?” on so many of my friends’ walls. The statements are hyperbolic in the extreme. “I am glad that I won’t be alive, but fear for my children and grandchildren, when the effects of this catastrophic decision arrive!” wrote one hysteric. “What can we do to save the earth?” wrote another, in all caps. Naturally there were links to similarly over-heated blog posts and op-eds, and the routine amount of Trump vilification and hate. “Is he trying to destroy us all?” wrote one usually rational acquaintance who appears to be headed for a padded room and a guardian ad litem. 

These people are all circulating among similarly oriented citizens increasingly emotional outcries unhinged to facts or reality, and making each other stressed, anxious and miserable. This is the cyber-equivalent of running around in a crowd screaming that something horrible is about to happen. What happens when you do that? Reason vanishes, fight or flight instincts take over, and people get hurt. These Facebook posts, and similar messages on other social media platforms, are at best shameless virtue-signalling–-I care about the environment! I’m a believer in everything I’m told that scientists are saying even though I really don’t understand anything about it! I hate Donald Trump like every other decent human being! Love me!-–and at worst, they are societal napalm.

Both President Obama’s 2016 signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change and President Trump’s withdrawal from that agreement had minimal policy impact, if any.  The  advocates are arguing about symbolism as if it were substance.  Is it possible that the people writing that Trump has destroyed the future while cackling maniacally in his White House lair know how non-substantive, unspecific, self-defining, voluntary and unenforceable the thing is?  I have to assume they have not, in which case  everyone is reading climate change doomsday predictions from friends who they trust and assume they know what they are talking about, when, in fact, they don’t. Continue reading

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Anti-Trump Brain Virus Case Study: The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin

Not all of the unrestrained anti-Trump zealots are progressives and Democrats. There are a lot of conservatives who detest him sufficiently to surrender their integrity, fairness and common sense as well. The Federalist’s Sean Davis has chronicled a revealing example: Washington Post pundit Jennifer Rubin.

Blogger Rubin is one of the rare in-House Post conservatives. Her 2016 columns regarding Trump were only slightly less vehement than mine, and once he was elected, she threw restraint to the wind. Before that, however, Rubin was one of the few reliably critical voices regarding President Obama and his feckless and bumbling Presidency.

One of the more frequent targets of her acid pen was the Paris climate deal. In a column mocking Obama’s “phony accomplishments,” Rubin wrote  that a Supreme Court decision on environmental regulations proved “how ephemeral Obama’s Paris climate change deal is.” Before that, Rubin  suggested  the accord was a cynical and transparent effort to take attention away Obama’s failure to deal effectively with radical Islamist terrorism, writing, “The president has no answer, so he goes to Paris to talk about climate change.”  Then she cited  the climate change pact as evidence that Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry lived in a “fantasy world” where “a piece of paper”was a signature accomplishment “even if it achieves nothing.” Rubin accused them of selling the progressive base a “bill of goods” on the Paris deal, while Rubin called it “footprints in the sand.” Still later, Rubin cited approvingly Oklahoma’s Senator Jim Inhofe , the most infamous climate change skeptic in the the U.S. Senate, when he said that the Paris climate change deal was “devoid of substance.”

But Rubin really detests President Trump. For a man she hates to embrace her opinion is so unbearable that her only way out is to reverse the opinion. Before Trump announced that he was quitting the 2015 deal but had hinted that he would, Rubin transformed into a Paris accord booster, and declared that such a move would be a disaster. She wrote:

No, Trump’s pullout from the international accord would be a political act — one that signals solidarity with his climate-change denial, right-wing base that revels in scientific illiteracy. Being a climate-change denier — which entails dogmatic opposition to the Paris agreement — is a dog whistle to the far right, a snub to “elites,” who in this case include academics, government and private scientists, technology chief executives and others whose livelihood depends on accurate data. (Between “2013 and 2014, only 4 of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles on global warming, 0.0058% or 1 in 17,352, rejected AGW [anthropogenic, or man-made, global warming]. Thus, the consensus on AGW among publishing scientists is above 99.99%, verging on unanimity.”)

This would also be an international dog whistle, reflective of Trump’s rejection of the Atlantic Alliance and the bonds of cooperation that tie Western democracies together. R. Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, is quoted as saying, “From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake — an abdication of American leadership. The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this.”

How could President Obama be so wrong to sign what Rubin termed a phony pact, yet President Trump such a villain and a fool to repudiate it?

Simple: if Donald Trump does it or says it, it’s horrible by definition, and previous conclusions and analysis is inoperable.

Writes Davis,

What changed that could possibly explain Rubin’s complete reversal on the necessity of a deal she once said was “ephemeral,” “phony,” “fantasy,” and “devoid of substance?” Nothing. It’s the same deal today as it was when it was agreed to in 2015. The only difference between then and now is that Trump eventually endorsed Rubin’s take in its entirety. And because Rubin now calibrates her political compass to the opposite of whatever Trump is doing, she feels compelled to vociferously support a vapid agreement she at one time opposed on the merits.

Bias makes you stupid. It also makes pundits untrustworthy, and it’s stunning that neither Rubin nor her editors noticed her sudden reversal sufficiently to recognize that some explanation was mandatory. Maybe they think “Trump” is explanation enough.

They probably do.

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Comment Of The Day: “The Good Hoax”

Becoming the first Ethics Alarms comment to achieve a Comment Of The Day on consecutive days is Ryan Harkins. Ethics Alarms has a fair number of lawyers contributing regularly, as well as teachers, doctors, a theologian, business owners, managers, ex-military, scholars, and other professionals, plus practitioners of various trades and the arts. I have been hoping for more engineers to join the discussion, and Ryan brings that perspective along with his communications skills.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post, The Good Hoax:

While I was a graduate student at the University of Wyoming, one of my office mates was approached by a group who offered, for a couple of thousand dollars, to do all the research for his Master’s Degree and write up the results in a guaranteed-to-pass thesis. Supposedly my office mate tracked down some of the reviews of this group and found that some had indeed managed to attain a Master’s using services like this. As a disclaimer, I didn’t personally follow up on it, or investigate to see if people were later identified for their fraudulent activity.

A year or two later, my advisor was showing me a website that generated very scientific-sounding, but utterly meaningless journals, complete with references. The abstracts this random generator produced weren’t too far off from some of the jargon-laden examples quoted above. One of the claims to fame of this website was that it had actually managed to get a couple of these randomly-generated papers approved at conferences. I think this link to SciGen will take you to the site my advisor found.

My time in academia impressed on me that journal papers are far from the infallible entity we would like them to be. There were people in my field (theoretical computer science) that had a reputation of getting three papers out of each finding they’d made: the initial paper, the correction of the initial paper, and the correction of the correction. I was always worried that, if I ever actually made any findings worth publication, I would have missed some error in my logic that would render my results invalid, and yet people for decades hence would utilize my results in their research, leading to error cascading down for generations. Continue reading

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The Good Hoax

Frequent readers here know how much I detest hoaxes, even ones just designed to be funny. News hoaxes are especially vile, as they are often designed to fool people and news outlets. These cause false rumors to spread, and send disinformation through the web and into brains, especially mushy brains. Hoaxes that consist of sufficiently ridiculous components that anyone should know they are not to be believed aren’t really hoaxes at all; they are more akin to satire. They are benign and often illuminating.

What does one make of a hoax that is simultaneously ridiculous and designed to fool people who need to be fooled in the public’s interest? I regard that as an ethical hoax. NYU physicist Alan Sokal designed and pulled off  just such two decades ago, as he described here:

For some years I’ve been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities. But I’m a mere physicist: if I find myself unable to make head or tail of jouissance and différance, perhaps that just reflects my own inadequacy.

So, to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies… publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions?

The answer, sadly, was yes. Despite being salted with copious Authentic Frontier Gibberish like “catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis,”  his article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was peer reviewed and published in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text.

Later, Sokal explained his motives:

“While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance….In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths — the utter absurdity of it all being concealed through obscure and pretentious language.”

Sokal’s exposé of the sloppiness and lack of rigor in scholarship has spawned followers, as well it should. Using academic studies and papers is the ultimate appeal to authority in social and scientific policy disputes. If the journals that publish them are lazy and biased gate-keepers, they are untrustworthy authorities, which means that they aren’t authorities at all. That makes a Sokal-style hoax, properly and fairly executed, that rarity of rarities, The Good Hoax.

As they explained in the magazine Skeptic, Dr. Peter Bogghosian, a full time faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University,  and James Lindsay,  a Phd in mathematics and the author of four books, wrote and submitted the most ridiculous paper they could think of. The title: “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” Here’s the abstract:

You read that right: the paper argues that penises affect climate change. Behold: Continue reading

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