Ethics Musings While Trying Keep My Mind Off The Red Sox-Yankee Game

Normally I’d be spending this time knocking out a post, but the Boston Red Sox are playing the Yankees, and they really, really need to win.  Typing while watching is hard because a) my netbook is literally falling apart b) Rugby, my ever-young Jack Russell Terrier, is on my lap, and c) as you might have noticed, I can’t type. So this is the equivalent of an ADS post. (I may have a bit of that problem, too.

  • The good news is that there is a school that cares this much about how its debate team does. The bad news is that everyone appears to have lost their mindseveryone appears to have lost their minds as well as their ethics alarms. A coach blames a 14-year-old for a debate loss because he’s friends with an opposing team member whose team used some of the same arguments the losing team used in practice. The 14-year-old  is then harassed  by some students, his mother freaks out, and now the former star debater is leaving the school and the school is being sued. Here’s what I don’t get: wouldn’t the opposing team using the same arguments the kid’s team used in practice be an advantage for the team that prepared for them? Anyway, who throws a debate?

Other than Marco Rubio, I mean… Continue reading

Documentary Ethics: Is Pulling An Anti-Vaxx Documentary A Freedom of Expression Breach Or Simply Responsible?

tribeca_film_festival_ny

Until yesterday, “Vaxxed: From Cover-Up to Catastrophe” was an entry in the 2016  Tribeca Film Festival. It was directed and co-written by Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced doctor and researcher whose study purporting to show a link between vaccinations and autism was published in the British medical journal “The Lancet” in 2010 and then retracted. Wakefield subsequently lost his medical license because of undisclosed conflicts of interest and misrepresentations in his paper, and has been wandering the earth wearing the metaphorical sackcloth robe of the outcast ever since.

The decision by the festival and its founder Robert De Niro to screen the film was the focus of a furious controversy. Many consider Wakefield a murderer because his work has convinced parents to eschew vaccinations out of irrational fear sown by his false research conclusions. De Niro insisted that the film deserved a screening to provoke dialogue, but has had a change of heart, mind, or self-preservation instinct. He pulled the film yesterday, writing,

“My intent in screening this film was to provide an opportunity for conversation around an issue that is deeply personal to me and my family. But after reviewing it over the past few days with the Tribeca Film Festival team and others from the scientific community, we do not believe it contributes to or furthers the discussion I had hoped for.”

Translation: “When it comes to standing up for free expression, Andrew Wakefield and the anti-vaxxer delusion is not a hill worth dying for.” Continue reading

Ethics Observations On The Republican Presidential Candidates Debates

GOP debate

[I have another three hour legal ethics seminar (fifth seminar in six days, in four cities) to handle this morning, then I drive to Boston and fly to D.C. Getting up all the posts on the runway will be a challenge: wish me luck. I began the day at Ethics Alarms getting this nice message from a new commenter, a Mr. S M Tenneshaw, who wrote, “You’re not a joke, you’re a worthless piece of shit” in response to this controversial post from 2013. Ah, how exhilarating for that sentiment to be the day’s first contact with human life!]

Here are my comments on the marathon debate last night:

  • Jake Tapper did an extraordinary job at  being a fair, organized, efficient and firm moderator. I was in awe. I was less impressed with his  late innings resort to questions reminiscent of Barbara Walters’ infamous question to Katherine Hepburn, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?’ [ NOTE: In the original post,, I incorrectly attributed this to Barbara’s Jimmy Carter interview, which was also cloying. Always got those two mixed up…] Later, after the debate, Tapper complained that there were some important questions he didn’t get to ask. If that’s true, Jake, why ask such silly ones as “What woman would you place on the ten dollar bill?,” and “What would your code name be as POTUS?” Some of the answers were inexplicable  (I had to have someone explain to me why Carly Fiorina said “Secretariat” as her code name. She was referencing her humble beginnings, not the Triple Crown winner…), some were alarming (Chris Christie wants to put the ADDAMS FAMILY on a bill? Oh, right, Abigail. ONE ‘D’. Good answer.) and some were pathetic pandering (Dr. Carson: “One Nation”? As the code name for the President? Uh, Ben, what are you doing?)

“Do we want someone with that kind of character, that kind of careless language to be negotiating with Putin? Do we want someone like that to be negotiating with Iran? I think really there is a sophomoric quality that is entertaining about Mr. Trump, but I am worried. I’m very concerned about having him in charge of the nuclear weapons because I think his response, his real response to attack people on their appearance, short, tall, fat, ugly. My goodness, that happened in junior high. Are we not way above that? Would we not all be worried to have someone like that in charge of the nuclear arsenal?”

Obviously nobody with any historical knowledge, theatrical sense and rhetorical skill coached Paul, who is apparently too arrogant to watch YouTube. First, a Welch retort has to be delivered with withering contempt, not snotty combativeness. Second, the deliverer has to talk directly to the target; this is key. Not “he,” Senator. “YOU.” Third, whether or not the question was about the temperament of the man with his finger on the button, the danger of having a leader who behaves like Trump goes far beyond that.

  • Still, Welch’s tactic worked a bit. Trump’s rejoinder, essentially “You’re ugly, too!” got what sounded like awkward laughter, and Donald Trump, who is an entertainer, and who, like most experienced performers, can sense what an audience is feeling, was very subdued the rest of the debate.

Continue reading

Q: Why Is CNBC Posting Anti-Vaccination Propaganda?

A: Because its staff is lazy, inattentive and irresponsible.

Weston Price (1870-1948), Quack. His work goes on...

Weston Price (1870-1948), Quack. His work goes on…

The cable business news network posted this press release from the natural foods and nutrition huckster group, The Weston A. Price Foundation.

It isn’t news. It is poison.  The press release makes the false claim that vaccinations spread measles, as well as other diseases. This is standard anti-vaxx hysteria, and it gets children killed.  It is false. “Measles live vaccine doesn’t transmit easily at all,” said Dr. Jane Seward of the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases told NBC, which apparently doesn’t communicate with its subsidiaries. “I don’t think there has ever been a secondary transmission,” she added. “There is no evidence of any transmission of measles virus from a child to household contacts.” As for the Foundation itself:

“The Weston A. Price Foundation is a nonprofit, tax-exempt charity founded in 1999 to disseminate the research of nutrition pioneer Dr. Weston Price, whose studies of isolated nonindustrialized peoples established the parameters of human health and determined the optimum characteristics of human diets. Dr. Price’s research demonstrated that humans achieve perfect physical form and perfect health generation after generation only when they consume nutrient-dense whole foods and the vital fat-soluble activators found exclusively in animal fats….

Yes, it is strange, like Dr. Price’s theories, and not in a benign way. Among the foundation’s other objectives is to show that vaccinations are unnecessary if you eat right, or something: when a  home page prominently displays a link that reads, COD LIVER OIL: Our Most Important Superfood, my eyes tend to gloss over, I file the group under “Nut Balls” and move on.

CNBC posted this promotional piece uncritically and without context, leaving the impression that it was actual news, thus allowing fake news to go to the top of Google searches for gullible readers.  At the bottom of the screen it says “More from CNBC” and not “More from health food hyping anti-science fanatics.Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Daily Beast Editor Justin Miller

“Fuck you…”

—-Daily Beast editor Justin Miller, in a tweet to U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky) Miller was irate that Paul blamed media bias on the uproar over his irresponsible and foolish comments regarding mandatory vaccination. The tweet continued: “Today I am getting my booster vaccine. Wonder how the liberal media will misreport this.”

After Paul’s office pronounced the tweet “unacceptable,” Miller deleted the tweet, and apologized, telling Politico, “I replied from my personal account to what I felt was spin after Senator Paul said factually incorrect things about vaccines. It would’ve been better to respond with facts than an obscenity, and I deleted the tweet so it wouldn’t reflect on the Beast. I’m sorry for the insult.”

Observations:

1. Did Miller personally apologize to Paul? There is no indication that he did. This, therefore, is not an apology to the person directly aggrieved. We are seeing more and more of this: “I am sorry, Politico, that I behaved wrongly toward X.” That’s lazy, deceptive and cowardly.

2. A respectable, professional news organization would fire Miller, apology or not. In fact, any organization would fire a high placed executive who delivered a public “fuck you” to an elected official, and should. It is outrageously unprofessional conduct. It reflects badly on the organization. It shows miserable judgment, and makes trust all but impossible. I cannot think of a single job I ever held, in academia, in associations or in the non-profit sector where a tweet like that to a member, donor or customer, never mind a member of Congress (or, heaven forbid, a judge), wouldn’t have gotten me fired so fast the words “I’m sorry” would have been completed after I was locked out of the building, and rightly so. Continue reading

Rand Paul, Anti-Vaxxing and Signature Significance

"Got it, Senator. NEXT!!!"

“Got it, Senator. NEXT!!!”

It would be nice if a genuine, rational libertarian candidate could be part of the national political debate. The problem is that there are no genuine, rational libertarians. To be genuine, a libertarian has to decide on his or her policy positions based on the dictates of the ideology, which is backwards: as a leader, rather than a professor or theorist, one must figure out what is going to work, and what you wish would work or what a pre-determined formula says should work are not germane to the issue. For proof of the flaw in the latter approach, all we have to do is consider the past seven years.

Thus libertarians are prone to saying things like, “The United States should never have entered World War II.” This has been a staple of Rand Paul’s deluded father, Ron Paul, and properly places pure libertarianism with pacifism, also known as Cloud Cuckoo Land. The Berrigans used to say the same thing, you know. I believe it was Philip who said that nobody tried passive resistance to defeat Hitler, so we’ll never know if it would have worked. When you say things like this for public consumption, you forfeit the privilege of being taken seriously. It is signature significance: your judgment can’t be trusted.

For me, Rand Paul’s libertarian moment of signature significance was when he questioned the need for the 1964 Civil Rights Act, essentially saying that the nation would have been just fine allowing people like Lester Maddox to chase African-Americans out of his restaurant with an axe handle, or bus drivers to force Rosa Parks to sit in the back of the bus until change occurred naturally, you know, like after the race war. Such statements are not isolated instances of momentary madness; they are markers of serious ethical and cognitive problems, and it was inevitable that the source of that opinion would have more of the same, and perhaps worse. Continue reading

STUPIDITY SATURDAY Continues: Anti-Vaxxers Resurrect Measles With An Assist From California

jenny_mccarthy

The anti-vaccination crowd, let by such worthies as professional bimbo Jenny McCarthy (above), endangers the public health and undermines child safety by relying on various conspiracy theories and quacks to avoid a proven program of eradicating infectious diseases. Now measles, once considered extinct, has returned with a vengeance, with more reported cases in 2014 than any time since 2000.The reason is that not enough children are being vaccinated against it. Jenny and her pals are why.

Before measles vaccines became routine in 1963, between three and four million Americans a year got the disease, with 400 to 500 dying from it annually. So this isn’t a matter of kids getting the sniffles. Continue reading