The 69th Rationalization: The Patsy’s Rebuke, or “It’s Not My Fault That You’re Stupid!”

Ethics Alarms Rationalization 36 B, The Patsy’s Rebuke, or “It’s not my fault that you’re stupid!”closes a yawning loophole in the Victim Blindness rationalization set on the Ethics Alarms list.

Rationalization #36, Victim Blindness,  holds that a purveyor of unethical conduct should be exonerated if his victim “asked for” mistreatment or should have taken affirmative steps to avoid it, and #36 A, The Extortionist’s Absolution, holds that when there were sufficient warnings that a victim was at risk, that victim can’t complain about results he could have and should have avoided.  The newly minted rationalization, the 69th  on the list overall,  covers the related but distinct situation where deception, fraud or misrepresentation would be “obvious” to a perceptive, intelligent, educated individual, so nobody but the victim of that deception is blameworthy.

This was brought to my attention by a reader who raised the situation where statistics that may be technically accurate are used by activists to confuse, deceive, or mislead people who are either not sufficiently well-trained in math and statistics, or not adept at critical thinking. In this, The Patsy’s Rebuke has a kinship with #29 (a), The Gruber Variation, or “They are too stupid to know what’s good for them.’

Politicians, policy advocates, scientists, academics, lawyers and doctors, among others, all are prone to using 36 B to justify their adoption of deceit and obfuscation to accomplish their ends. Lawyers use jargon to sound authoritative and obscure meaning from laymen. Policy advocates quote statistics to “prove” what the numbers really don’t prove, counting on the inability of the trusting, inattentive, ignorant and gullible to see the flaws as insulation against rebuttal. By the lights of  The Patsy’s Rebuke, for example, making the false assertion that Hillary Clinton is the most experienced Presidential candidate ever can be rationalized by arguing, “Hey, that’s my opinion. I personally think being First Lady counts more than any other experience, and was counting it double. It’s not my fault that you are ignorant of Presidential history and too dumb to know how to google the experience of other candidates. I’m not trying to deceive anyone; I assume my readers are educated and informed.”

That’s a lie, of course. Advocates use statistics, falsity, jargon and ambiguity with the assumption, sadly justified, that most listeners and readers are both overly trusting and lacking in the training and acumen to know when they are being manipulated. If anyone is misled—and the intent is to mislead them— it’s their own fault for being stupid, lazy and ignorant.

It is not, however. Politicians, policy advocates, scientists, academics, lawyers and the rest have an ethical obligation to recognize the abilities of their likely audience (including those who will relay or interpret it, like the news media), and make their meaning as clear, direct and unambiguous as possible.

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Pointer: Zoltar Speaks!

Update: Unethical Research, Unethical Headline, Unethical Media Report: “Many Parents Will Say Kids Made Them Happier. They’re Probably Lying”

Yij = β0j + β1jX1ij + β2j Zij + Eij

Yij = β0j + β1jX1ij + β2j Zij + Eij

Reader and commenter Alexander Cheezem issued an energetic objection to my post about another happiness study, which you can read, along with my rebuttal, in the comment threads to the post, here. His main two complaints were that I didn’t read the study itself, and that I unfairly called it  policy advocacy disguised as objective social science research.

I didn’t read the study itself because the only link the Post provided was not accessible without joining a service I didn’t care to join, or take the time trying. Alexander kept referring to a “direct link,” an unfortunate and misleading description of a link that goes to a page with a link to the study that doesn’t respond when you click on it, and are directed to “register.” [ CORRECTION: This is what I thought at the time. It has been pointed out to me that the first time the reporter linked to “research,” it wasn’t the study she was writing about, but another, behind a paywall. The second link on “research” did go to a live link to the actual study. Having been frustrated once, I assumed that the second link would also be to the same  inaccessible link. My error—though I’m furious at the Posts’s incompetence—and I apologize to Alexander.]

Other Bill, who flagged the Washington Post headline and story initially, has provided a free and direct link It is here.

I am relieved to find that reading the entire study revealed nothing that I didn’t discern from what the Post reporter wrote, and checking the accessible links she provided. (Obviously, it would have been preferable to read the whole study initially, and I would have, if a functioning link was provided, as it should have been.). Let me take that back a bit: the study itself was worse than I thought.

Here’s why: Continue reading

Unethical Research, Unethical Headline, Unethical Media Report: “Many Parents Will Say Kids Made Them Happier. They’re Probably Lying”

I think this made me 12% less happy than when I passed the bar exam...

I think this made me 12% less happy than when I passed the bar exam…

[An UPDATE is HERE]

On the Washington Post’s Wonkblog, Ana Swenson breathlessly writes “that research suggests …[p]eople who have kids in the United States and in many countries around the world report being less happy than people who don’t have kids.”

Ah-HA! This must be why DirecTV is certain that promoting a device that it facetiously suggests would make your kid disappear will appeal to its customers!

Except that Swenson’s headline is click-bait, her article is irresponsible and incompetent, and the study is politically motivated junk, as such things usually are.

“Research” doesn’t suggest this politically manufactured finding.  A single dubious study may suggest it to those who already are inclined to be dubious about parenthood, and who could also be persuaded to buy valuable swampland property in Florida. If you aren’t smart enough to bale on both the “study” and Swenson after this statement central to the issue, I have little hope for you:

“On average, an American parent reports being 12 percent unhappier than a non-parent in America – the biggest gap in the 22 countries the researchers looked at, followed distantly by Ireland.”  

What (the hell) does it mean to be “12 per cent unhappier,” or “12 per cent happier”? Happiness is not quantifiable like that, nor can it be measured with that kind of precision, or any kind of precision. Gee, what is the margin of error in that 12 %? Is it 12%, +/- 3%? I’m trying to think of two states of happiness I have experienced in which I could say with any certainty that I was 12% happier/ 47% happier or 71% happier  in one more than the other, and if I can’t determine that, how are a bunch or researches going to do it?

Let’s see—did discovering I had to undergo a circumcision at the age of 30 make me 12% more unhappy than I was when the Red Sox lost Game 6 of the 1986 World Series? Did watching the T-Rex beat the Indominus Rex in the dino-showdown in “Jurassic World” make me 12% happier than when bought our home for a bargain, or 12% less? You know, I really can’t answer that. Both made me happy in different ways. Did my happiness that my dad died the way he wanted, with dignity and in his sleep just short of his 90th birthday, exceed by 12% the happiness I felt when my final performance at my theater company got a deserved standing ovation, though I was also saddened that my dad wasn’t there to see it?

Please, O Wise and Researchers, enlighten me! They can’t. Of course they can’t. Nor can they tell me how to quantify the happiness my son has given his mother and me, even though he has driven and almost certainly will continue to drive us out of our minds with worry and worse on a regular basis, and has cost us a lot of money we will surely miss when we are dreaming about finally seeing Paris. Am I 12 % less happy than I would have been with a son more like I was, a non-rebellious, conventionally obedient, healthy and lucky kid who sailed through school and never got in any serious trouble? No, because then my son wouldn’t be the unique, amazing, gutsy and original individual he is.

Swenson’s report is filled with statements that make it clear that this is politically motivated  entitlement and anti-child propaganda (and thus pro-abortion propaganda). The smoking gun comes early: Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Campus Protest Ethics Yin, Yang and Yecchh: Unethical Website Of The Month ‘The Demands,’Ethics Hero Dr. Everett Piper, And Ethics Dunces, The Occidental Faculty”

I’m running out to see “Spotlight,” so I will avoid my usual rambling introduction to this Comment of the Day, authored with skill and humor by reader Chase Davidson. A “Blazing Saddles” term I have used recently to describe the ideological jargon and convoluted double-talk we have been hearing of late from progressive protesters, ideologically committed bloggers and Presidential candidates, “authentic frontier gibberish,” seems to have taken root, and Chase has done a magnificent job translating large, stinky chunks of it revealed in my post today about the various college student demands.

"Rarit!!"

“Rarit!!”

Here is Chase Davidson’s Comment of the Day on the post Campus Protest Ethics Yin, Yang and Yecchh: Unethical Website Of The Month “The Demands,”Ethics Hero Dr. Everett Piper, And Ethics Dunces, The Occidental Faculty:

“incorporate into each department at least one queer studies class.”

What? That doesn’t even make sense, and I say this as a bisexual Hispanic man (and a bastard at that, so they can’t tell me to “check my privilege”). What does ‘queer studies’, a very specialized offshoot of sociology, have to do with any departments other than Sociology and the Humanities? Calculus don’t give two figs what your gender identity or sexual orientation is. Java and FORTRAN don’t change because you kissed a girl and you liked it. What does ‘queer studies’ have to offer Architectural Engineering except snickering at how phallic many buildings are?

“[Every Dartmouth student] must be taught and made aware that the land they reside on is Abenaki homeland” Continue reading