For Your Labor Day Ethics Edification: “The Science of Persuasion”


Making better decisions is essential to making ethical decisions, and a lot of what we discuss here relates to overcoming impediments to unethical thinking and decision-making. This 2012 video is germane to Ethics Alarms; it also includes some of the ideas in Dr. Z’s Rules, which I presented here.

This animated video describes Dr. Robert Cialdini ‘s “six universal principles of persuasion” that people and organizations tend to use to influence the thinking, values and opinions of those of us who are not willing or able to reason in an orderly and unbiased fashion. (Dr. Zimbardo las a somewhat different six). It reflects the research in Dr. Cialdini’s book, “Influence” The Science of Persuasion.”

As those who come here often know, I like to use a variety of approaches and tools. Cialdini’s framework is just one of them, but one worth understanding.

The video is a bit over 11 minutes.


The Authority Trap: Elizabeth O’Bagey’s Three Ethics Strikes


It is not, you see, enough to have a good idea, an original argument, or a brilliant solution.There must be reason for important people, people who make decisions that affect lives, to pay any more attention to you than they do anyone else who claims to have such things, because its is often difficult for even intelligent and experienced individuals to distinguish genius from well-expressed garbage. There must be something that elevates that unique and valuable perspective you bring to a problem above the swirling mess and noise generated by the blabbering and shouting competition, and the thing is, if you really have a valuable perspective to contribute, you owe it to not just yourself, but to your country, even humanity.

There is one asset, if you are otherwise unknown, that will provide that elevation besides the inherent virtues of your brilliant idea, and that is authority...a book, a connection everybody knows and respects, or, perhaps most of all, academic credentials. And there are two things that will make it impossible to raise your special contribution above the throng, and they are a conflict of interest, and a reputation for hiding the truth. These are the murderers of trust.

This brings us to the strange case of Elizabeth O’Bagy, a senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, who managed to get the Wall Street Journal to publish her analysis of the civil war in Syria, and her conclusions, based, we were to assume, on her study, analysis and time in the country, regarding the benefits of U.S. employment of military force in the region. Continue reading


I cringed when Larry King, jacketless, as always, despite being a guest in the White House, ended an interview with President Clinton and Vice President Gore in 1993 with “Thanks, guys!” So I choked when Jon Stewart called the President of the United States “dude” in his appearance on “The Daily Show.”

I blame KIng for blatant disrespect to the office of the President. (I would like to think that Clinton privately told King that the next time, if there was one, it would be “Mr. President,” thanks.) I blame Stewart, too; I think it was a gaffe, and I think he should have apologized. Mostly, however, I blame Barack Obama. Continue reading

When An Ethical Parent Must Veto a Child’s Dream

It looked grim for a while yesterday, when the media was reporting that the sailboat carryingAbby Sunderland, the 16-year old seeking to become the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe solo by sea, had been lost. Now it looks like she may be safe after all, as a rescue of her crippled craft is underway in the Indian Ocean.  That a tragedy may have been averted, however, doesn’t mitigate that unethical abdication of responsible parenting and trust by Abby’s parents that set the stage for a calamity.

Had the ill-conceived adventure ended fatally, it is certain that we would have heard her heart-broken parents eulogize their daughter as intrepid,  courageous and mature beyond her appearance, who lived a full life in her sixteen years, and perished “living her dream.”  All true, but those aren’t the facts that matter.  What matters is that she is a dependent, trusting, sixteen-year old child who desperately needed her older and supposedly wiser parents to say “No. Being the youngest woman to sail around the world is good, living long enough to go to college, have a family, have a career and experience the joys of life over many decades is better. Sorry. It’s too dangerous. When you understand a little bit more about life, you may be capable of deciding when to risk it.”

They failed her, and the fact that she isn’t dead as a result is only luck. Continue reading

The Fan, the Taser, and Respect for the Law

A teenaged fan ran out on the field in the middle of a Philadelphia Phillies game a couple of days ago. This happens many times, too many times, during the baseball season, and it is always followed by a merry chase, sometimes with fans laughing or cheering, featuring over-weight security staff or police trying to capture the fool, and occasionally a featuring a  surprise, like a player intervening and decking the guy. There was a surprise this time, all right: when the fan wouldn’t stop after the pursuing officer told him to, he was shot with a taser. And some fans cheered at that, too.

A tsunami of criticism is now crashing over the security officer, condemning the tasering of 17-year-old Steve Consalvi, sometimes in terms more appropriate to discussing Abu Ghraib. If I were Consalvi’s father, I would counsel him to immediately issue a statement taking full responsibility for the incident and absolving the officer. The teen’s conduct was irresponsible and illegal, and for it to result in any adverse employment action against the security officer who tasered him would only compound the offense. This is especially true because the critics of the officer are dead wrong. They are in the grip of a dangerous, illogical but increasingly popular idea in our culture that submitting to  legitimate police authority is one of those things that we can do or not do without consequences or stigma. The fan on the field is one of the mildest examples of disrespect for the law, but it is a perfectly good place to start getting our ethics unmuddled. Continue reading

Al Gore’s Unethical New York Times Op-ed

I swear, this post has nothing to do with whether climate change is soon going to have the East Coast under water and the polar bears playing beach volleyball or not. The ethical  issues raised by Al Gore’s last volley in the global warming wars are journalistic integrity, public honesty, and respect for the intelligence of the American public. Continue reading