Ethics Quote Of The Month: Actor Peter Fonda (1940-2019)

“I believe that one is only truly free when learning, and one can only learn when one is free.”

—-Actor Peter Fonda, Henry’s son, Jane’s brother, and Bridget’s father, who died yesterday.

Memorable ethics quotes come from unexpected places sometimes, and this is a striking example. It’s also important, wise and true. I have never heard or read of anyone putting that thought quite that way.

Fonda’s observation focuses nicely on the roots of today’s existential cultural peril. A vast segment of the population has grown to adulthood with insufficient or defective knowledge, making them easy prey for power-seekers, demagogues and charlatans peddling theories and nostrums that a basic comprehension of history would instantly undermine. Instead of being imbued by their teachers and parents with intellectual curiosity, a healthy and intrinsically American suspicion of authority, and a reluctance to follow mobs of any kind, they lack the intellectual defenses to fend off ideological cant, the most dangerous of which holds that society will only be made virtuous by the unthinking acceptance of approved doctrine. That requires locking in dogma early, and creating a public that is inoculated against learning by being cut off from non-conforming information. Continue reading

Comment of the Day: “Nomination For Enshrinement in the Hall Of Bad Ethics Ideas: A Hippocratic Oath For Scientists”

Zoebrain, the Aussie researcher who has enlightened many Ethics Alarms debates, provides delicious perspective to the post regarding scientific ethics, specifically regarding the question of whether scientists can or should pledge, like doctors, to “do no harm.”

Here is her Comment of the Day to Nomination For Enshrinement in the Hall Of Bad Ethics Ideas: A Hippocratic Oath For Scientists:

“Tell the truth, the whole truth – but possibly not nothing but the truth, as long as any opinion is unmistakably marked as such. Correct your past mistakes as you find them. Also be prepared to accept responsibility for the moral consequences of the power you provide to others being misused. Unless you feel it right to give them the power, you must accept personal responsibility and so withhold it. That’s not a Scientific sin, it’s a personal one.

“Providing the sharpest possible scalpel to a surgeon is one thing. Providing it to a vivisectionist of “untermenschen” another. Providing it as a toy for a 6-month-old baby yet another.

“The only scientific sins are knowing falsification of results, and omitting contradictory evidence. But scientists have responsibilities as humans too.

“Please have a listen to this song [ by musical satirist/scholar Tom Lehrer’s “Werner Von Braun,” about the amoral Nazi-turned-U.S. rocket-scientist.]:

Continue reading

Nomination For Enshrinement in the Hall Of Bad Ethics Ideas: A Hippocratic Oath For Scientists

Nope. No sewing machine. It will cause too much “harm.”

A blogger for the Lindau Nobel community asks, as a follow-up to a discussion raised in one of the august group’s recent meetings, whether scientists should have to take an oath similar to that traditionally (but not universally, by the way) taken by physicians, a pledge to “do no harm.”

No. Next question!

This is not merely a bad idea, but an arrogant and ignorant one. The medical profession is dedicated to healing, without regard to who is being healed. “First, do no harm” is a rational and excellent absolute principle, one that relieves the profession of the burden of many (but not all) complex utilitarian dilemmas that doctors and other health professionals may not be equipped to solve. Medicine is much narrower than science, and its limitations more clear. Most people would agree with doctors on what constitutes “harm” in 99% of the situations where the issue would be raised. Not so science, where one man’s monstrosity is another’s giant step for mankind. Continue reading

What America Has Learned From Sarah Palin

Thanks for the enlightenment, Sarah!

When Ethics Alarms last left Sarah Palin, she had delivered a description of Paul Revere’s famous ride on the evening of the 18th of April in 1775 that would have earned her an F in speech class and, at best, an Incomplete in American History.  Incredibly, however, Palin and her indomitable supporters have tried to turn the tables on her critics, aided by several history pedants, by claiming that her collage of words and thoughts was really a sophisticated account of Paul’s evening that her historically ignorant critics failed to appreciate.

Uh huh. Let’s revisit her statement, shall we? She said:

“[Revere] warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms, by ringing those bells and making sure as he was riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”

This was, by any standard, an eccentric representation of Paul Revere’s ride, and a spectacularly inarticulate one. In assessing whether Palin’s statement can, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to indicate that she either said what she meant to say or has the vaguest idea of what Revere’s ride was all about, we answer these questions: Continue reading

False Leaders, GOP Division, Part I : Sarah Palin on Paul Revere’s Ride

"What the HELL did she just say about me?"

“He who warned, uh, the … the British that they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms, uh, by ringin’ those bells and, um, by makin’ sure that as he’s ridin’ his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells that, uh, we were gonna be secure and we were gonna be free … and we were gonna be armed.”

—-Sarah Palin, recounting the famous ride of Paul Revere during her bus tour.

I can’t criticize Herman Cain for mixing up the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, as well as score Michele Bachman for putting the “Shot Heard Round the World” in New Hampshire, and neglect to express my disgust at Sarah Palin’s inability to tell a story that every grade schooler should be able to recite by heart. Yes, I admit to being something of a Paul Revere fan, but I also am not touring the country on the pretense that I am reminding Americans of their legacy and values.

This is classic Palin, repeating her slovenly modus operandi on display from the moment she was thrust into the national spotlight. She fakes almost everything she does. She is glib and charismatic, and no dummy (though she does some stunningly dumb things). She has many of the most important traits of successful leadership, except indispensable basics like diligence, integrity, and respect for her constituents’ intelligence. Being a leader also takes dedication, hard work and attention to details: you can’t fake and jive your way through on charm and passion alone. Continue reading

Joe Miller’s Fallacy

When Alaska Senate candidate Joe Miller finally came clean about his unethical, and probably illegal, misuse of a government computer when he was working as a part-time lawyer, he shrugged it off by pointing out that his flaws were actually a qualification for office: it proved that he was just like the people electing him. Continue reading

When Not Voting Is The Right Thing To Do

I just listened to a CNN host chastise Americans for their relatively low voting percentage (less than 50%), and then urge “everybody” to vote–“Men and women have died for your right to vote!” he said. “Democrat, Republican, Independent or undecided–go to the polls and vote!”

Inspiring. And wrong. Continue reading