Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ethics. Show all posts

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Jeffrey Epstein and Scientists


I saw an article in The Nation Magazine by Katha Pollitt titled Jeffrey Epstein’s Science of Sleaze where she is shocked that scientists like Stephen Hawking, Oliver Sacks, and Lawrence Krauss would associate themselves with such a creep.  For me the answer is simple, with the shrinking funds for scientific research, scientists almost have to throw themselves at rich people like Epstein for research funds.  



Epstein used the scientists much like he used those girls.  The girls satisfied his sexual fantasies while the scientists gave him a veneer of respectability to distract from his crimes.  He lured the girls with promises of fame while he lured the scientists with promises of money and fame.  He put them together in his eugenic fantasies that he would save the human race.

Epstein never had a college degree but was able to schmooze his way to a teaching position at the prestigious Dalton Academy in New York in mathematics.  He later schmoozed his way to work on Wall Street and became a wealthy financier.  His 'friends' also included Bill Clinton and Donald Trump.

Stephen Hawking and Oliver Sacks are in my online poll for the greatest nonfiction book of all time.  While I am disappointed in them for associating themselves with him I will not take them off the list.  I'm sure you can find things unsavory about other authors on the list but it is important to separate the men and women from their works.

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Tuesday, August 18, 2015

An Essay on Human Rights



 This is an essay I wrote for admission to a Masonic lodge.
               Opinions differ about what human rights are.  The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was championed by Eleanor Roosevelt, has 30 articles.  The Declaration of Independence famous statement that “all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” has been the sacred statement of human rights for Americans since 1776.  The rallying cry of the French Revolution was “Liberte`, Egalite`, Fraternite`” or “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood.”  Exactly what Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness or Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood mean has been the subject of debate ever since 1776.  Do rights mean that one’s life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should eclipse other’s pursuits?  What is exactly the amount of life, liberty, happiness and equality that is sufficient for humanity?  This debate is an important one to have and is one that could never be fully resolved as new situations arise and as knowledge of the human condition improves.
                Definitions of what human are can be boiled down to basic principles just as Jesus states that all the laws of Moses can be boiled down to two phrases: “Love God with your whole heart, whole mind and whole soul and love your neighbor as yourself.”  For me the question of human rights boils down to a question of justice.  Like human rights, definitions of justice vary from topic to topic.  An early definition of justice is attributed to the ancient Greek philosopher Plato in The Republic which was his vision of the ideal state.  He stated that justice is the harmony between the needs and abilities of individuals and the needs of the state.
                We are all created equal but we are not all created alike.  There are basic human rights that everyone needs such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression, access to health care, education, and information with which to make informed decisions about how to fulfill one’s own rights and the rights of others. 
      There also things that certain individuals need to correct for past injustices such as those which were done deliberately to other individuals such as through racism, sexism or almost any other -ism or those that occur through a mishap of nature such as a natural disaster or through a genetically inherited disease or those that occur through some combination of nature and deliberate actions by other humans.  Correcting these injustices is difficult as people may disagree on what the appropriate corrective measures are.  The debate about appropriate corrective measures should continue as no one individual has access to all of the necessary information that is needed to provide these measures.  This debate should proceed with respect to others with the goal of finding the truth that allows for the appropriate corrective actions to take place.

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Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Ethics of Social Media Manipulation

 
The PBS program Religion and Ethics Newsweekly had a discussion of the ethics of social media sites like Facebook and OK Cupid to elicit a specific reaction from their users. I have written before about how sites like these manipulate news feeds either to tell you what they think you want to hear or to bring about a desired response (see related posts below).  The clip discusses how Facebook uses in it's disclaimer how the data from the site will be used for research purposes in a long document with just two words.   To protect them from lawsuits, Facebook used an institutional review board but sometimes unethical studies slip through.  

The founder of OK Cupid defends their actions saying that all media outlets manipulate content to get a certain reaction from their users.  Facebook admits to manipulating news feeds to affect turnout in the 2012 election which seems to have had an effect.  Of course everyone from the girl scouts to ISIS manipulates the content of their words and actions to achieve a desired effect but when individuals' newsfeeds are manipulated (or in the case of OK Cupid who their matches for dates are) they are influencing their content.  

We like to believe that the sports teams we like, favorite singers, or favorite social media sites are dependable and part of who we are.  When some one participates willingly in a research study a true informed consent is given so that the participant has a reasonable understanding of what is going to happen.  What these sites did was to mislead participants who believed that they were just communicating with their friends.  There is always the chance of unintended consequences of exposing someone to something they did not want to see or in denying someone the chance to see something that they did want to see.
 
The Infant from the Little Albert Experiment

The famous behaviorist, BF Skinner wrote a novel called Walden II where he described a utopian state where people's actions were shaped by behaviorist principles.  The principles are based on the stimulus-reward-response pattern found in Pavlov's dogs and replicated by John Watson in his little Albert experiment from the 1920's where an infant was trained to be afraid of a rabbitt (It would be totally unethical to do today).  Skinner's vision was roundly criticized as a totalitarian state.  While there is some support for a stimulus-response pattern influencing behavior there is also evidence that people can think independently in some circumstances which led to the cognitive revolution in psychology.



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