The Pulitzer’s Deliberate Ethics Blindness [Corrected]

It was incredible: the only qualified candidate for the Pulitzer Prize just happened to be the spouse of a Pulitzer board member! What are the odds?

[Note: an incompletely edited and proofed version of this post was mistakenly published. I apologize. Thanks to Tim LeVier for flagging the problem.]

All awards and prize organizations are subject to fair suspicion about their integrity, and collectively, they undermine each other. The Academy Awards get criticized by prominent blacks, and suddenly the number of black nominees explodes. The Nobel Prize committee, once the epitome of a well-respected and trusted awards program, exposes its political bias by giving a Peace Prize to Barack Obama for no good reason whatsoever.

Then, beginning in late 2017, in an expose published late last year by a Swedish newspaper, the Swedish institution was rocked by accusations  from18 women who said they were sexually harassed or assaulted by French arts promoter  Jean-Claude Arnault, who is married to poet Katarina Frostenson and is friends with Horace Engdahl, both  members of the  Academy that awards the Nobel Prize in literature.  Arnault was sentenced to two years in prison after being found guilty of raping a woman in 2011. This ugly publicity cast unwelcome light on more unethical conduct: a club called Forum that Arnault and Frostenson owned received a subsidy from the Academy. Yes, the members were voting finnacial benefits to themselves.  There were also credible reports of Frostenson giving names of winners to Arnault before they were announced,, allowing him place wagers and win money with insider information. As the scandal expanded, Frostenson and Engdahl refused to resign. Three other members of the Academy left in protest.

Nice. The Committee decided not to award a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2018.

I’m surprised they didn’t just give it to Barack Obama.

This brings us to the Pulitzers, which have always been suspect. Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Bob Dylan

As everyone knows by now, the Nobel folks awarded iconic folk/rock troubadour Bob Dylan its prize for literature, setting off an international debate and also cementing Dylan’s status as a cultural giant, whatever you decide to call him.

Dylan, however, has not deigned to respond to the committee, or to acknowledge the honor in any way other than a brief reference on his website (“Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature”) that he  removed once it was noted in news reports.

What a jerk.

Dylan fans are making excuses for him—he’s shy, he’s always been strange, he doesn’t like honors, it’s a mark of integrity, and so on—-but there is no excuse for such rude and gratuitously arrogant behavior. All they really want to  do, Bob, is be friends with you.

You could say “thank you.”

Ethics Quiz: The Nazi Scientist

Scientist, genius, Nobel Prize winner, Nazi. Now what?

Scientist, genius, Nobel Prize winner, Nazi. Now what?

Konrad Lorenz, 1903-1989 ,  was an acclaimed Austrian zoologist regarded as the founder of modern ethology, which is the study of animal behavior. His research  explained how behavioral patterns may be traced to through evolution,  and he made major contributions to the study of aggression and its roots. Lorenz shared a Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1973 with the animal behaviorists Karl von Frisch and Nikolaas Tinbergen.

It seems that documentation surfaced proving that Lorenz joined the Nazi Party in 1938, however, and for that, Austria’s Salzburg University last week posthumously stripped him of his honorary doctorate.

Your Day Before The Night Before Christmas Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is…

Is this the right thing to do?

Continue reading

Culture, Truthteller Ethics, And Richard Dawkins’ Tweet

What can a leading intellectual say of value in 140 characters?

What can a leading intellectual say of value in 140 characters?

Philosopher/biologist Richard Dawkins, best known as the world’s most formidable atheist, does not shy away from rustling the feathers of some pretty fierce birds. Recently he even infuriated many of his admirers by tweeting, “All the world’s Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” He was immediately called an anti-Muslim bigot by some, while others chose to challenge his assertion with false analogies. Making a strong statement worthy of a treatise in 140 characters is a tricky enterprise, and perhaps an unwise one, but the politically incorrect observation he was making was not about the Nobel Prize’s perfection as a measure of accomplishment, but rather about how the Muslim culture has strangled human progress, creativity and advancement for centuries. In this he is correct. Continue reading

Dr. James Watson: There, But For Red Tape, Goes Dr. Mengele

Dr. James D. Watson, Nobel Prize winner, will always have a place among the highest echelons of scientific achievement, no matter what thoughtless and dangerous things he says. Still, the co-discoverer of the double helix is slowly tarnishing his reputation by a series of gaffes. A few years ago, he opined that there was no way to avoid the conclusion that African-Americans just weren’t as intelligent, on average, as whites: the predictable uproar sent him into retirement. Now, as Watson reaps the well-deserved bounty of career honors in his eighties, he is endorsing the retreat from the standards of medical research ethics originally inspired by the diabolical human experimentation performed on helpless adults and children by nightmarish Nazi researcher, Dr. Josef  Mengele. Mengele believed that human beings could be reasonably sacrificed if the benefits to society and humanity generally were great enough, in his estimation, of course. Apparently, so does Watson. Continue reading

President Obama and the Peace Prize

There are several ethical issues raised by the stunning announcement that President Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize. More, perhaps, were raised by the reactions to it.

Imagine, if you will, that you are a cast member in a Hollywood movie of dubious quality. Personally, you think the director is in over his head and that the movie is an empty, pompous failure. To your amazement, however, critics like the film. It is a surprise winner at an international film festival, and the director wins the “Master Film-maker” prize. Are you outraged, or pleasantly surprised? Do you congratulate the director for the honor, or do you tell him he is an undeserving fraud? Do you feel pride for your own connection to the award—you were in the cast, after all—or do you feel resentment? I would think the answers to all these questions are obvious. The civil, fair, respectful and kind response, the Golden Rule response, is to feel pride because your leader and colleague has been recognized for an enterprise in which you played a role. You should offer congratulations, and mean it. Whatever doubts you may harbor about the judgment of the award-giving panel should remain unexplored and unexpressed until another day.

This is exactly the situation that Americans faced with Obama’s honor. He’s our president and leader, and the award honors us by honoring him. Regardless of our current feelings about his health care reform plans, war policies or choice of family dog, there is no reason not to applaud and feel good about his good fortune. Adversaries like GOP Chairman Michael Steele, who used the award to ridicule the gap between Obama’s aspirations and his accomplishments, show that they do not comprehend, or possess, the ethical values of civility, courtesy, decency, self-restraint, prudence, graciousness, empathy, and, yes, citizenship. We should be glad for anyone’s good fortune, even a stranger. This man is the elected leader of our nation, and to treat him worse than a stranger is indefensible.

Steele and the others who immediately protested Obama’s honor are little better than Kanye West, leaping on stage uninvited to scream to the audience that Taylor Swift, supposedly a professional colleague, didn’t deserve her MTV VMI award, as poor Swift stood ready to make her acceptance speech. West’s disgraceful conduct wouldn’t have been any more palatable or ethical if he were clearly correct. It was a miserable, unfair and disrespectful act toward a singer who had nothing to do with determining her honor, deserved or not.

All right: what about the Nobel committee? It may well have been wrong, as in mistaken. I do not believe its action was wrongful. Peggy Noonan, Reagan’s favorite speech-writer-turned columnist, called their honor “ a wicked award,” designed to manipulate U.S. foreign policy. I don’t think it is correct to call a sincere attempt to influence a nation’s foreign policy toward what a group believes will advance world peace “wicked.” Naïve, perhaps; misguided, maybe foolish. Even bizarre: why is Obama’s call for nuclear disarmament more praiseworthy than the similar calls by so many U.S. Presidents before him? Arguably, his is the least realistic and justified, for we are entering a time when rogue states and terrorist groups will have access to nuclear arms, hardly the wisest or safest time for us to give up our own.

As for the committee’s justification that President Obama has given the world hope for peace, this demonstrates a stubborn refusal by the Norwegians to learn from the past. President Woodrow Wilson was given a Nobel Peace Prize too, for the hope he created with his aspirations for a World War I peace treaty, and his bungled idealism greased the world’s slide into World War II. Faith healers create hope; con men create hope; liars and fools can create hope. Hope can blind people to reality, or lead them to dangerous complacency. I think the Nobel committee places far too much value on hope.

The real ethical dilemma posed by the award faces President Obama, if he is even slightly tempted to let the ideological message of the award interfere with his independent judgment as he makes decisions that must be in the best interests of the United States of America. The award is irrelevant, or should be, like every award. It is, like every award, arbitrary, biased, simplistic, and nice to have on one’s resume. Obama has nothing to “live up to” or justify; he doesn’t report to Norwegians. It should not make him feel inadequate or undeserving, nor should it make him feel anointed or validated. He ought to accept the prize, say thank-you, and forget it, just as all Americans should say, “Congratulations!” and leave it at that.

Then, with the encouragement, trust and respect of the American public, President Obama should do his job, the best he can, for as long as he is the president.