A Follow-Up, An Apology, And A “Bite Me, Daily Wire!”

Charliebrown-1-

The previous post was one of the relatively few in which Ethics Alarms was suckered by bad information. As always when this happens, I am awash with regret and shame. Here is how it now begins, in bold:

“This is the revised part. The retraction is that despite the headline and what I wrote below, Twitter didn’t suspend New York Times columnist Bret Stephens account for violating Twitter’s rules with his recent op-ed calling anti-white measures showing up in the Biden Administration and elsewhere what they are: racism. The Daily Wire, a conservative website that was founded by right wing gadfly Ben Shapiro, wrote the post based on “a Twitter user” as its source,” and I foolishly assumed that the site would have checked out the claim before posting on it. It turns out the Stephens’ account says it’s “suspended” because he suspended it himself, in 2019.

Thus I am made an accomplice to this confirmation bias chain reaction, and I resent it. This is the kind of crap I experienced more than once from Breitbart and The Gateway Pundit, both of which are no longer cited as sources on Ethics Alarms, and whose stories I will not believe unless I find a credible source that independently confirms it. Now I’m adding the Daily Wire to that blacklist. There are plenty of left-leaning sites on that list as well, but since it is virtually impossible to ensure that a story that reflects poorly on the allies of progressive propaganda hasn’t been obscured or deliberately distorted by the mainstream media, conservative media has to be trustworthy and professional, and far too often, it just isn’t. Situations like this make it easier for the mainstream media to call every report they wish would disappear “conservative disinformation.”

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White Supremacy Confirmation Bias: How Do You Argue With Someone Who Reasons Like This?

confirmation_bias

A blog that has been out there much longer than mine (and which conveniently leaves the blogger’s identity mysterious) argues that “implementing vaccine passports would be a white supremacist measure.” The Biden administration is encouraging such documentation, and the ultra-woke state of Oregon has announced that these will be required for its citizens to go unmasked in any indoor, public-access gathering. I am not concerned here with the wisdom of the policy. I want to know how anyone can have a rational conversation with someone who is convinced such a measure is evidence of “white supremacy.”

Whoeverthehellheorsheis writes,

“[P]oor people are much less likely to be vaccinated than higher-income persons…According to the long-set standards of Black Lives Matter and other critical-theory advocates, whether racial disparities like this are intended or not is irrelevant. These disparities are the results of racial discrimination and white privilege baked into the social-legal-medical networks for centuries. Therefore, it does not matter that this gap in immunization is not intended. It does not matter that the men and women managing the vaccine program and distribution, or administering it to the public, do not discriminate at the vaccine sites by the race of persons who come for the shots. Lack of deliberate intent does not excuse systemic racism. The fact that matters is this: “Black and Latino people are far more likely to live in poverty than white people, and despite having died at higher rates throughout the pandemic, they are receiving fewer vaccines than white people.” 

The argument is instructive, which is why I am bothering to publish it. If any disparity exists in any area where blacks and other non-white groups have statistically less positive outcomes than whites, it is per se proof of “white supremacy.” The fact of statistical variation is the proof, and reasons don’t matter. This is an especially useful example, because there is no reason at all for poor people or minorities not to be vaccinated. The vaccinations are free and ubiquitous. The greatest cost imaginable would be a cab ride. One doesn’t need online access to get one.

Minorities and poorer populations—they are not the same thing—are lagging behind in getting the shots, and by choice. Now, in the case of African Americans, an argument could be made that systemic flaws in the school system, or systemically rooted inadequacies in nutrition leading to cognitive damage, or pockets of African American culture crippled by paranoia and superstition as an outgrowth of centuries of abuse from slavery, are examples of harm from past white supremacy. However, a policy that only confers a disadvantage on a group because that group chooses to be disadvantaged cannot be condemned as an expression of hostility toward that group, or as a means of keeping that group disadvantaged.

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From The “Bias Makes You Stupid”—But Funny!— Files, The Unethical Tweet Of The Week: Daily Beast Editor Justin Baragona

googly eyes

No, actually it appears that this editor of a progressive website is so steeped in confirmation bias that he made thatabsurd accusation without checking because Carlton is an eeeeevil conservative, and there is nothing he won’t stoop to in order to make the Right’s foes look bad. Literally.

You see, that’s Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s real face. Her eyes bug out all the time; it was one of the first things I noticed about her. Imagine, an editor in the journalism profession tweets out a completely false assertion without doing the minimal amount of verification, which would have been watching the woman in any interview, or perusing the photos on Google. If Baragona had the requisite amount of shame, fairness and decency, he would apologize to Tucker, apologize to AOC for saying she has googly eyes (she does, but it’s not polite to say so), and take a leave of absence without pay for making the Daily Beast look like the hack cyber-rag it is.

Nah, he couldn’t even manage the apology part. He pulled the tweet, and wrote,

lame retraction

And this, gentle reader, is how a website joins Breitbart, The Gateway Pundit, The Smoking Gun, and a couple of others on the Ethics Alarms Untrustworthy Sources List.

At least the Daily Beast gave me a good and hardy laugh on the way to oblivion.

Now the evil Toon played by Christopher Lloyd in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit/” REALLY had googly eyes.

Googly eyes

_____________________

Pointer: Twitchy

Waning Thursday Ethics Wrap-up, 12/17/2020: Baseball, Football, And The Ripper

Traffic has been sluggish this week. I wonder if the blog is depressing people….I know it’s been depressing me.

1. A confirmation bias classic. I decided to watch the new Netflix documentary about the hunt for “the Yorkshire Ripper,” Peter Sutcliffe, only because Grace and I had been on a Jack the Ripper binge of late, including the well-done (but completely fictional) Johnny Depp film, “From Hell.” I did not expect “The Ripper” to tell one of most instructive tales of how bias makes you stupid as well illustrating as the perils of confirmation bias, but that’s what it does.

Sutcliffe, a Yorkshire truck driver, murdered 13 women and attacked nine others, but police missed him for five years because they convinced themselves that he only killed prostitutes. This, in turn, led the newspapers to name him after Jack the Ripper, the mysterious serial killer in Victorian London who killed and mutilated five prostitutes in 1888. The name, in turn, reinforced the bias that a Jack copycat was whom they were seeking. As a result, women who were not prostitutes and had been attacked by Sutcliffe were ignored when they went to the police.

With their investigation foundering, police officials decided that letters from someone claiming to be the Ripper were genuine—Jack the Ripper also wrote letters to the police, you see—and a tape recording referring to the letters must have had the real killer’s voice on it. So they had a speech expert identify the accent of the speaker, which placed him in a very small area in Yorkshire. Any suspect who didn’t have that accent was eliminated….including Sutcliffe, who was interviewed nine times. By the end of his rampage, Sutcliffe wasn’t killing prostitutes any more.

Sutcliffe was eventually captured by accident. Says one of those interviewed for the project: “No wonder the police couldn’t catch him. They were chasing a mythic Victorian maniac instead of a real man.”

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Notice Of Retraction: No, Nora O’Donnell Did NOT Use A Photo of A Trump Rally To Falsely Show Enthusiastic Hispanic Biden Supporters [UPDATED]

Item #2 in today’s warm-up was wrong, false, and based on bad information that was, I believe, deliberately posted by others on the web to deceive. As you can see by viewing the entire context of the report, O’Donnell and CBS did nothing unethical or misleading.  This screenshot

..shows a chyron that had been up  through several video clips, and at the second the screen above appeared, the voiceover referenced Trump’s Hispanic support.

There is no way anyone who had watched the segment could have concluded that the shot was intended to fool viewers into thinking those were Biden supporters.  The claims to the contrary were deliberate disinformation, and they hooked me, in part because of confirmation bias, as I believe the news media is capable of even the most dastardly lies in their campaign to mislead the public, and in part because I didn’t think anyone would claim something this easily checked  if it wasn’t true.

Well, @AZ GOP LD 25, a ” Trump Victory Field Organizer Realtor/Owner of Tracy DuCharme Group” did: she’s a liar. Then The Last Refuge, a right wing website did, and its false story was picked up by The Citizens Free Press, the news aggregator.

Then I spread the lie further.

Careless, and stupid. Continue reading

Stop Making Me Defend Joe Biden! The Plagiarism Charge…

One of these things is not like the others…

I would say Joe Biden will never live down his 1987 disgrace, when he withdrew from the Democratic Party’s presidential race after it was revealed that he plagiarized a speech—indeed, a life account—from UK Labor Party Leader Neil Kinnock. I would say that, except there is so much Biden should never be able to live down that doesn’t matter now that he is running against Donald Trump, not the least of which is that he is placing the nation and the integrity of the Presidency at risk by continuing his candidacy despite evidence of serious cognitive decline that he must be aware of.

During the  2016 campaign, I frequently mentioned my  “Lawn Chair Test,” which is whether I would vote for a lawn chair rather than a particular candidate. Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton all flunked the Lawn Chair Test, and apparently the Trump Deranged are taking it literally, as it appears that in November they will be voting for the nearest thing to an actual lawn chair that has ever been on a Presidential ballot.

Nonetheless, the alleged plagiarism claims that have been trumpeted by some conservative news sources regarding Biden’s nomination acceptance speech are as unfair as they are silly.

Biden wrapped his  speech in rousing fashion—well, it would have been rousing  if Joe showed any energy at all—by saying: “For love is more powerful than hate. Hope is more powerful than fear. Light is more powerful than dark.”

The Canadians “pounced,”  claiming that Joe’s words were unethically similar to those from a speech byJack Layton, the leader of Canada’s left-wing New Democratic Party,  in an  open farewell letter to his fellow citizens prior to his death in 2011. Layton wrote, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.”

“A number of Canadians are struck by the similar parting words of Biden’s speech to the final words of Jack Layton’s farewell letter before his death,” CBC’s Washington correspondent Alexander Panetta tweeted.

Layton’s message, meanwhile, had itself employed somewhat similar language to that once used by former Canadian Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier,  who had said in 1916, “Let me tell you that for the solution of these problems you have a safe guide, an unfailing light if you remember that faith is better than doubt and love is better than hate.”

Knowing that Republicans and others would be searching for “gotcha!” examples of plagiarism by Biden given the Kinnock scandal, his campaign invested in a $4,200 anti-plagiarism software program last year. It didn’t pick up on the similarities between Layton’s language and Biden’s (assuming he was the author of his speech, which he almost certainly was not), because there was no plagiarism. First, it was a single sentence, and hardly a remarkable one in either instance. I’d be shocked if similar sentences haven’t turned up in many political speeches throughout history. Second, they just aren’t that much alike, though Layton’s was better. Anger isn’t the same as hate. “Light is more powerful than dark,” isn’t the equivalent of “Optimism is better than despair.” Sure, the construction is the same, but that is a standard rhetorical device: three parallel statements,  linked by cadence.

Oratory is a genre, and, like music, it is customary and traditional to borrow and alter phrases and sequences from the works of others, which in most cases weren’t completely original themselves. If Joe hadn’t already had a well-earned reputation as a plagiarist—as a law school student in 1965, Biden failed a class for citing published works without attribution—no one would have criticized him for this trivial sort-of match. The fact is that Joe Biden isn’t that bright and isn’t that articulate. He’s  been a plodding, over-achiever his whole life. He needs to borrow from those more clever and gifted than he, and most speakers consider that kind of borrowing a compliment.

Here’s how it works: certain apt and memorable lines evolve and get perfected through the ages, until finally someone nails it. Then that one is theirs, and nobody can imitate it again without everyone noticing. A prime example is President John F. Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” There are many recorded—and probably unrecorded— speeches that contain similar sentiments. Ted Sorensen, who wrote the speech with Kennedy, nailed it, perhaps aided by Jack, who had a headmaster who was fond of quoting an old Harvard dean who told graduating classes, “As has often been said, the youth who loves his Alma Mater will always ask, not “What can she do for me?” but “What can I do for her?”

Were Kennedy and his speechwriter plagiarizing? No.

Then there is Winston Churchill, who in 1940 famously told Parliament:

“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills…We shall never surrender, and even if,which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of itwere subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

In a similarly desperate situation  during the German offensive in the spring of 1918, French premier Georges Clemenceau rallied his people by saying,

“I shall fight before Paris, I shall fight behind Paris. The Germans may
take Paris but that will not stop me from carrying on the war. We shall
fight on the Loire, we shall fight on the Garonne, we shall fight even
in the Pyrenees. And should we be driven off the Pyrenees, we shall
continue the war from the sea. But as for asking for peace, never!”

Plagiarism? It’s a lot closer to plagiarism than Joe’s speech, but so what? Churchill wasn’t speaking for a grade, or for publication. Political oratory has a purpose, and accomplishing that purpose is paramount. He may have been inspired by Clemenceau, but Clemenceau might have taken his inspiration from Caesar, or Homer…it doesn’t matter. What mattered was inspiring a nation, not achieving 100% originality.

As for Joe’s little speech, it wasn’t within furlongs of Kennedy’s or Churchill’s, but accusing him of plagiarism this time is petty and unfair.

Confirmation Bias And A Societal “Big Lie,” Brought To You By Harvard And The New Yorker

She looks so smart and sure of herself! Surely we can trust what SHE writes…

The anti-police propaganda spreading the lie that most police are racist and brutal and therefore a greater threat to society than a benefit has become like the nine-headed Hydra of Greek mythology: nearly impossible to kill. Prime among the villains in this development are the news media, which has enthusiastically spread misinformation while refusing to do its job of clarifying facts rather than distorting them, and researchers and academics, who have become so cowed by the abusive hyper-ideological environment in which they work that they won’t even stand behind their own studies. As discussed here, after a peer-reviewed study showing  that the race of the officer or the civilian could not predict  fatal police shootings was used by defenders of police and critics of Black Lives Matte, the researchers were pressured into retracting their paper because it was being, they said, misused.

I know I’m sounding uncharacteristically frustrated this weekend, but I really don’t know how society fights deliberate disinformation in support of a destructive narrative when both the journalism sector and the academic establishment are in on the fix.

Here is a representative example from The New Yorker. The current edition includes a 5,000 word essay by Jill Lepore, who should be trustworthy: she is  a professor of American history at Harvard as well as frequent writer at The New Yorker and for other presumably legitimate publications.  Her topic is the history of policing in the United States, linking the early role of police in suppressing slave rebellions to police killings of blacks today. At one point she writes,

One study suggests that two-thirds of Americans between the ages of fifteen and thirty-four who were treated in emergency rooms suffered from injuries inflicted by police and security guards, about as many people as the number of pedestrians injured by motor vehicles.

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Researchers Claim That Supporting Free Speech Is A Marker Of Intelligence. Whatever That Means.

I bet a really smart person wrote this. Maybe Chris Cuomo!

A group of studies reported today supposedly demonstrate that  support free speech is strongly  correlated with intelligence and “cognitive ability.”

Observations:

  • If true, there sure are a lot of unintelligent people taking control of society and the culture right now.
  • The study’s definition of intelligence is based on IQ scores, which are blunt measures of intelligence at best. Since it is well-known that the inventor of IQ scores violently objected to the  test being used to measure above average intelligence when the device was designed to measure sub-normal cognitive ability, the fair definition of what the IQ test measures is that it measures what the IQ  test measures. I spend much of every day reading allegedly brilliant people’s astounding opinions and  analysis on every topic imaginable.  They may have high IQ’s, but their reasoning is derailed by ideology, ego, bias and rationalizations. One of the many revelations I have come to accept over the years is that intelligence is an unfathomably complex concept, and I understand it less today than I thought I did  when I was 18.
  • Worse than the dubious non-definition of “cognitive ability” is the vagueness of “free speech.” Is someone  supportive of “free speech” when they support the  punishment for someone daring to utter an opinion that doesn’t conform to mob cant as shunning, firing, and perpetual hostility? What about those cognitively gifted individuals who have decided that “hate speech,” as they define it, of course, isn’t covered by the freedom of speech? The smart people who run the Washington Post decided to doxx a woman who wore a politically incorrect Halloween costume at a private party two years ago . They claim that  “democracy dies in darkness,” which is lip service to free speech. Do we judge them on their stated beliefs , or their actions? How does the study  categorize those intelligent people who want to make it as difficult as possible for those they disagree with to have their opinions read and heard, by persuading social media to ban or block them, for example? How many people, because they are so darn smart, use lawyerly distinctions to justify non-government censorship as not offensive to “free speech” as defined in the Constitution?
  • At least the researchers have the integrity to state their bias up front: “We expected that people with higher cognitive abilities would be more inclined to embrace the open exchange of ideas, wherein viewpoints can be scrutinized and challenged in order to foster informed decision making and knowledge.” This is confirmation bias, and the foe of any reliable research. What a surprise: they expected their research to find that intelligence correlated with belief in “free speech,” and it did! Continue reading

No A Study Did Not Prove That Trump’s “Touted” Drug Didn’t Work. Not Exactly Fake News, But Close Enough.

Salon: Trump-touted hydroxychloroquine may increase risk of death from COVID-19; “largest study yet finds no benefits but higher deaths,”

CNN: Study finds no benefit, higher death rate in patients taking hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19.

Fox News: COVID-19 treatment hydroxychloroquine showed no benefit, more deaths in VA virus study

The Washington Post wrote, “On Tuesday, a new government study was published suggesting the drug didn’t offer any benefit in fighting covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, and worse, that its use was correlated with more deaths.”

To be fair to the Post, at least it said that the study should be be viewed “with caution,” and provided a link to the study, not that most of its readers would actually read it. If they had, they would have realized that the study was wildly over-hyped in the media, and didn’t really “suggest” anything of the sort. Once again, this was another example of the news media playing to the confirmation bias of those who want to see the President be wrong. Are they cheering for the pandemic to do as much damage as possible? I refuse to believe that, but some of them sure manage to sound like they do.

I wasn’t going to discuss this tonight, but a smart, usually fair Facebook friend wrote a false description of the study calculated to appeal to the Trump Deranged. I don’t think he would have done that if he had read it, but he hates Trump too, and he doesn’t think the news media is biased—they agree with him, after all, so they must be fair– so he’ll trust the headlines, or the spin, every time. Continue reading

Ethics Train Wreck Analysis: The Richard Jewell Case

“Richard Jewell,” Clint Eastwood’s excellent but much maligned film about a historical episode with many ethics twists and turns, is extremely accurate and fair in all respects, except for the glaring exception of the screenwriter  Billy Ray’s representation that reporter Kathy Scruggs obtained the information that Jewell was under suspicion by the FBI in exchange for one night stand with the agency’s lead investigator. This was the point where the Richard Jewell Ethics Train Wreck of 1996 acquired a car containing the 2019 movie “Richard Jewell.”

Let’s look at those other cars.

I. Jewell

Jewell was a socially awkward, lonely, obese man who lived with his mother. He was in many ways a stereotypical misfit with low  self-esteem, who developed ambitions about becoming a law enforcement officer, a job that would would provide him with the respect and power that he lacked and wanted. The film begins with Jewell’s stint as an office supply clerk in a small public law firm, where he becomes friends with attorney Watson Bryant. Jewell quits to pursue his dream of becoming a law enforcement officer, and Bryant, in saying good-bye, asks his friend to promise that if he ever acquires the authority he seeks, he won’t become a jerk, and abuse it.

This was a real life conversation. Bryant recognized that Jewell was a border-line Asperger’s sufferer, whether or not he knew the name or the clinical condition, and exactly the kind of personality who should never be given a shield and a gun.

Jewell took a job as a campus security officer at Piedmont College, and rapidly realized Watson Bryant’s worst fears by reacting to his authority by abusing it, being over-zealous and generating an unusual number of complaints from students. Jewell was fired, but the need for security personnel at the upcoming Atlanta Olympics gave Jewell another chance at some authority at least. He probably shouldn’t have had such a chance. Jewell was not a man who should have been in the security field or the law enforcement field; his judgment was poor, and his emotional problems made him a bad risk.

Thus the conditions for the ethics train wreck were put in place. It was up to moral luck whether hiring Richard Jewell would turn out to be a disaster, or a  fortunate near miss. Instead, it turned out to be something else entirely, a classic example of a bad decision having a good result—at least for a while.

2. The Bomb

In the early morning of July 27, 1996, Jewell, now working in Atlanta’s Centennial Park as part of the Summer Olympics security force, noticed an abandoned backpack by a bench. Over-zealous, officious and a fanatic about following procedure, Jewell insisted on reporting the pack as a “suspicious package,” despite the chiding of his colleagues, who wanted to take it to Lost and Found. If, as was overwhelmingly likely, the backpack had been just a backpack, Jewell probably would have been mocked. But again moral luck took a hand. He was right. It was a bomb. Jewell and other officers began clearing the area, and the bomb went off, killing one victim, Alice Hawthorne, and wounding many, still  far less serious damage than what might have occurred had Jewell not been so scrupulous in his discharge of his duties.

3. The Hero, the Scapegoats, and the Tip
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