Waning Day Ethics, 9/17/2020: An Unscientific Endorsement, A Frivolous Lawsuit, And Misunderstood Bomb-Throwers

1. Scientific American embarrasses itself. …like so, so many others. “Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly,” intone the magazine’s editors. Wrong. They are doing it to grandstand, and you can’t be more unserious than that. There is a reason SA hasn’t done this in 175 years—it’s a dumb thing to do. They don’t have any special expertise or perspective regarding national leadership, and scientific acumen is not a qualification for office. The alleged reason for the magazine’s endorsement of Joe Biden is its claim that the pandemic’s casualties would have been less had the President said and done things differently. This is total supposition, of course. “He was warned many times in January and February about the onrushing disease,” SA says, quoting juvenile anti-Trump source Axios. That’s odd, since those crack scientists in the CDC are on record as downplaying the seriousness of the virus, and even minimizing the need for masks.  More: “These lapses accelerated the spread of disease through the country—particularly in highly vulnerable communities that include people of color, where deaths climbed disproportionately to those in the rest of the population.” These people are scientists? The reasons for higher rates of infection among the poor and minority populations are many, and the interaction among them still undetermined. Lower levels of general health,  increased rates of illnesses like diabetes and conditions like obesity, more  crowded housing, a lack of the ability to stay at home—even a persistent rumor that blacks were immune have played a part, and nobody knows what measured would have changed anything.

“If almost everyone in the U.S. wore masks in public, it could save about 66,000 lives by the beginning of December, according to projections from the University of Washington School of Medicine.” Yeah, scientists have been doing really well with their projections in the pandemic, like the projections that 5% of the population would be infected. Since the research and pronouncements of scientists have been a) inconsistent and b) politicized from the start, it is disgraceful for Scientific American to pretend that any clear signals were being sent, or that there is any reason to believe another “projection, ” except as a useful way to attack the President. There is still  a strong argument that rejecting the scientists in favor of following the advice of economists would have placed the nation in a better situation.

The Scientific American endorsement is an example of the politicization of science, and explains why  scientists cannot be trusted. Continue reading

Pssst! Climate Change Activists? This Is Why Nobody Trusts You…

Here is Houdini showing the Scientific American panel how spiritualists and mediums made bells ring. See his foot?

I once subscribed to Scientific American. We had to read it in high school, and I often used articles from the magazine in research projects. I also was a fan of its history, which intersected with my long-time love of magic and magic history. It was Scientific American, back in the 1920s, that created the special cash prize for anyone who could prove they had supernatural powers, or that paranormal phenomena was real. After a while psychics and other miracle workers stopped applying for the prize, because SA’s panel of experts always exposed them as frauds. The star member of that panel was Harry Houdini, in his post-performing second career as the enemy of charlatans and frauds

Thus it pains me to see the once great, dumbed-down vestige of Scientific American publish an article with this unforgivable headline, in front of content that is little better:

Climate Change May Have Helped Spark Iran’s Protests

And space aliens may have built the pyramids.

Actually, the article still has educational value, though no teacher is likely to use it properly. It is a wonderful example of poor critical thinking, bad science, the result of mixing science with politics, and how bias makes you stupid.  The author, Scott Waldman, doesn’t even try to hide the article’s weak logic and lame premise, beginning it with this:

The impacts of climate change are among the environmental challenges facing Iran that helped spark protests in dozens of cities across the Islamic republic.At least 20 people have died in the uprising, driven by the sudden collapse of financial institutions, low wages and mistrust of national leaders. Rising temperatures are seen by some experts as an underlying condition for the economic hardships that led to the unrest. A severe drought, mismanaged water resources and dust storms diminished Iran’s economy in recent years, according to experts who study the region. While the protests are largely driven by resistance to the country’s hardline conservative government, such environmental factors might have contributed to the largest protests inside Iran in years.

That tells any objective reader all he needs to know: junk ahead.  The old “some experts” ploy, eh? You can find “some experts” who will say anything, especially on TV. We just went through weeks of unethical speculation on whether the President was suffering from dementia based on “some expert,” a Yale professor of psychiatry who breached the American Psychiatric Association (APA) ethics protocols and was revealed as not to be licensed to practice anymore.You know. An expert.

Waldman himself isn’t an expert on climatology or even science: he’s a reporter, and his degree was in journalism. Funny, I’m so old, I remember when the articles in Scientific American were written by scientists. How quaint. Continue reading

The Irresponsible Dr. Oz, Softening The Public Up for Charlatans

Don't be skeptical! Dr. Oz says it's real.

When Summerlin Hospital had to step in to prevent first-time parents from endangering their infant by using “natural medicine” to treat their sick newborn, it may have been fighting the influence of Dr. Mehmet Oz, Oprah Winfrey’s health-care guru.

The popular “Dr. Oz” is a walking TV and book franchise, a Harvard-educated cardiovascular surgeon who has emerged as the nation’s most persuasive and trusted advocate for unconventional health care, or as Dr. Wallace Sampson, former chairman of the National Council Against Health Fraud, calls it,”faith healing for the masses.” He has testified before a Senate panel to condemn the mainstream medical profession’s failure to embrace “the natural healing power of our bodies,” and its hostility to “hypnotherapists, massage therapists, spiritual healers.” Dr. Oz has, shall we say, an open mind.

In his expose of the popular health talk show host, “Shamblog” writer Steve Salermo wrote in the New York Daily News, Continue reading

Provocative Ethics Reading for a Sunday

If your endangered Sunday newspaper is as shrunken from cost-cutting as mine, you may need some extra reading material as you wait breathless for the results of the House vote on health care reform. Here are some provocative ethics pieces from around the web: