Category Archives: 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

66 Comments

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

how-lead-gets-injpg-1e9d798a1edee129

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

23 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Character, Education, Environment, Ethics Dunces, Etiquette and manners, Facebook, Government & Politics, Health and Medicine, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Marketing and Advertising, Popular Culture, Professions, Race, Science & Technology, Social Media, The Internet, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society, Unethical App, Unethical Tweet, Unethical Websites, Workplace

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

av-choice

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

25 Comments

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

8 Comments

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

9 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Comment of the Day, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Science & Technology

The Russian Cyber-Attack Report: Observations And Questions

The first page of the Joint Analysis Report narrative by the Department of Homeland Security and federal Bureau of Investigation and released on Dec. 29, 2016, is photographed in Washington, Jan. 6, 2017. Computer security specialists say the technical details in the narrative that the U.S. said would show whether computers had been infiltrated by Russian intelligence services were poorly done and potentially dangerous. Cybersecurity firms ended up counseling their customers to proceed with extreme caution after a slew of false positives led back to sites such as Amazon and Yahoo Inc. Companies and organizations were following the government’s advice Dec. 29 and comparing digital logs recording incoming network traffic to their computers and finding matches to a list of hundreds of internet addresses the Homeland Security Department had identified as indicators of malicious Russian intelligence services cyber activity. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick)

From The New York Times today:

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia directed a vast cyberattack aimed at denying Hillary Clinton the presidency and installing Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, the nation’s top intelligence agencies said in an extraordinary report they delivered on Friday to Mr. Trump.

The officials presented their unanimous conclusions to Mr. Trump in a two-hour briefing at Trump Tower in New York that brought the leaders of America’s intelligence agencies face to face with their most vocal skeptic, the president-elect, who has repeatedly cast doubt on Russia’s role. The meeting came just two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration and was underway even as the electoral votes from his victory were being formally counted in a joint session of Congress.

Soon after leaving the meeting, intelligence officials released the declassified, damning report that described the sophisticated cybercampaign as part of a continuing Russian effort to weaken the United States government and its democratic institutions. The report — a virtually unheard-of, real-time revelation by the American intelligence agencies that undermined the legitimacy of the president who is about to direct them — made the case that Mr. Trump was the favored candidate of Mr. Putin.

The Times story is a mostly fair, if incomplete, description of the report itself, which is a provocative, disturbing and infuriating document. Damning? I don’t know about that. Anyone can damn something, but to be sure the damning is just requires evidence.

Observations and Questions:

1. The report isn’t evidence of anything. It just isn’t, and anyone or any source that states otherwise is misleading us. It would not be admissible as evidence if Russia or Putin were on trial in the U.S. for trying to influence the 2016 election. The document is a statement of opinions after analysis of material and sources we are not allowed to see. At the beginning, the report goes to great lengths to explain why this is, and the explanation is sound. Unless, however, the position we are supposed to take is that the intelligence community is to be assumed to be 100% correct, uninfluenced by bias, and  ought to be believed without reservations despite the presence of hard evidence, the declassified report is a statement by experts of an analysis based on experience and study, of exactly what, we don’t know.

2.Regarding the Times story: the intention of the news media to undermine the Trump Presidency and bolster Democrats who want to blame their candidate’s defeat on anything but her own weaknesses and conduct  appears to be on display in the Times story. For example, we have this statement:

“The Russian leader, the report said, sought to denigrate Mrs. Clinton, and the report detailed what the officials had revealed to President Obama a day earlier: Mr. Trump’s victory followed a complicated, multipart cyberinformation attack whose goal had evolved to help the Republican win.”

The leaping to the logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefor because of it”) is both a human tendency to be avoided and well-known. This statement appeals to it, intentionally, or incompetently. The fact that Trump’s shocking victory came after the cyber-attacks does not mean or even suggest that the attacks were responsible for that result. The Times immediately, in the next sentence, even states that “The 25-page report did not conclude that Russian involvement tipped the election to Mr. Trump.” Well, those are mixed messages. Do I, based on the uninterrupted anti-Trump attitude of the Times in its headlines, placement of stories, tone and pitch of news reports, op-eds and editorials, conclude that the mixed message is intentional or sparked by negligence seeded by bias?

I do.

3.  Much further down in its story, the Times admits, Continue reading

21 Comments

Filed under Around the World, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Incompetent Elected Officials, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership, Science & Technology

UPDATE: Cyber-Zombie Peter Cushing And The Prospect Of Cyber-Zombie Carrie Fisher Remind Actors To Fight For Control Of Their Post-Mortem Acting Career

cgi

It looks like I wasn’t the only one who felt that Peter Cushing was being abused by finding himself in “Rogue One” without his prior consent. Of the late actor being digitally inserted into a role he never agreed to play and deliver lines he never contracted to deliver, I wrote…

The emerging technology raises many ethical issues that didn’t have to be considered before, but when it comes to using a dead actor in a new role, the ethics verdict should be easy. It’s unethical, unless a performer  gives informed consent for his image to be used post mortem in this fashion. Presumably, the consent or the lack of it will be part of future negotiations and standard contracts. Actors who agree to have their images used as cyberslaves will also probably want to limit the uses of their names and images.

Cushing’s exploitation and the subsequent death of Carrie Fisher with widespread speculation that she would soon be added to the “Star Wars” franchise’s army of CGI clones have now sounded the alarm loudly. But apparently many actors were already aware of the threat, and taking affirmative action to control their destinies. Continue reading

11 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Business & Commercial, Popular Culture, Professions, Rights, Science & Technology