How the Government and Media Deceive Us With Statistics: The TSA Patdown Controversy

The misleading use of statistics to deceive, mislead, and confuse the public is epidemic in both the public and the media, with too many examples to cite. Sometimes the statistics are wrong, but just assumed to be correct, like the persistent myth that 50% of all American marriages end in divorce. Sometimes the individual who uses the statistic uses them sincerely but incorrectly to support an argument that the numbers don’t really  support, such as columnist Richard Cohen’s recent use of international longevity statistics to “prove” America has an inferior health care system. (Message to Cohen: Freedom includes freedom to take risks, and America has always had a risk-taking culture, which is something to be proud of. Health care is just part of the longevity equation; life-style is a large component, and perhaps the largest. Caged animals live longer than those in the wild, but their quality of life is much worse. The relative merits of the U.S. health care system is subject to debate, but longevity statistics do not settle the issue.)

And sometimes the statistics are just pure, blatant deceit, designed to mislead by the government and relayed uncritically by a news media that is either too eager to support the Obama Administration and too lazy to apply critical reasoning.

Today’s example: as the furor grows over virtual sexual molestation and mistreatment of innocent air passengers under the Transportation Security Administration’s new procedures at airports (such as here, here, and here), the TSA is rushing to defend itself, and has come up with this argument: the complainers are a small minority, and the vast majority of the country—80%, in fact— approves of the new procedures. This morning, the Sunday talk shows cited this statistic over and over again as if it settled the issue.

The statistic is completely misleading. Continue reading

Oscar, Jean Luc-Godard, and the Ethics of Honoring Talented Creeps

The Academy of Motion Picture Sciences will be giving an honorary Oscar to French director Jean-Luc Godard, and nobody who knows anything about film can object to the award on the basis of merit. Godard is one of the most influential film makers who ever yelled “Cut!;”  there are dozens of film classes about his work in schools all over the country. He makes great movies, and has for decades. He deserves the honor.

Or does he? Mr. Godard, it seems, has also been resolutely anti-Jewish, at least in his sentiments, for almost as long as he has been making classic films. Some in the industry and without are questioning whether Hollywood should be honoring a likely Anti-Semite.

Excuse me…did I miss something? When did the rest of the Oscars get junked, leaving only the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award? Continue reading

Ethics Train Wreck Update: “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” Claims Its Inevitable Victim

When the self-righteous cartoonists of the U.S.A. decided that gratuitously insulting the entire Nation of Islam, moderates and radicals alike, through a pointless April 20 “protest” that required posting thousands of drawings of the Prophet online, I pointed out, to no avail, that this was an irresponsible act with no accountability, and thus cowardly. The Islamic extremists that started this train wreck by threatening the lives of the “South Park”  creators over an episode that pretended to have an image of Muhammad couldn’t attack everyone, so it was completely predictable that they would focus their fury on Molly Norris, the Seattle cartoonist whose satirical drawing coined the phrase “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.”  And they did. A fatwah has been issued against her, essentially placing her on a death list, and Norris is now in hiding, at the urging of the F.B.I. She has to create a new identity, and may live in fear for the rest of her life.

This is the only tangible result of “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day”—the devastation of the life of the young woman who drew a clever cartoon, and then urged everyone not to make her satiric invention a reality.  Oh, it probably lost America some support among more rational Muslims too, much as the threatened Gainesville Koran-burning would have. I suppose it demonstrated widespread support for columnist Richard Cohen’s fatuous “Americans have a duty to follow through on any offensive use of the First amendment if anyone objects to it, no matter how unnecessary, destructive or thoughtless it may be” argument. I submit to you that neither of these excuse what “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” did to Molly Norris, and those who organized and participated in the April 20 protest share responsibility for her current plight, and, if she is assassinated, her death.

The current ethics verdict on other key train wreck participants: Continue reading

Ethics Alarms Presents “The Mosquies”…the Best and Worst of the “Ground Zero Mosque” Ethics Train Wreck

As I previously noted, the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy is an epic “ethics train wreck” that has spread its destruction far and wide, across regional, ideological and national borders, leaving confusion, misunderstanding and bad feelings in its wake. Now is as good a time as any to take stock of the situation, and to recognize those who have distinguished themselves during the carnage, for good or ill. To this end, Ethics Alarms presents its first annual  (and hopefully last ever) awards for outstanding ethical and unethical conduct during the whole mess, “The Mosquies.”

The envelope, please… Continue reading