0010 - Hard to Joke About Ethics

Sqeaky and Mako try real hard to say something funny (and fail?) during serious discussion of ethics. They get schooled on academic ethics by a grad student on how the ethics of studies work forcing a retraction on some of Sqeaky's comments from a previous episode. Then they discuss algorithm radicalization and how to discuss things with people suffering from dysevidentia. See the show notes at https://dysevidentia.transistor.fm/episodes/hard-to-joke-about-ethics or watch on youtube: https://youtu.be/POZUlOoPRGE Small business of the show Innuendo Studio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xGawJIseNY&list=PLJA_jUddXvY7v0VkYRbANnTnzkA_HMFtQ Sponsored Links - Some books on ethics Sqeaky is reading: The Open Society and It’s enemies - Karl Popper - https://amzn.to/35twNpj American Prison: A Reporter's Undercover Journey into the Business of Punishment - Shane Bauer - https://amzn.to/3vwvUXL
The Full Rant Text [1:36] -
I argue a lot of politics online. Sometimes that leads to interesting interactions, but not this week. Representative Kevin McCarthy posted some non-sense and I called him a traitor and said he wasn’t a good source because he was a liar. Of course his supporters leapt to his defense. The arguments rapidly got mired in name calling and every republican fear being projected onto me.

Let me slow down for a moment and pick just one. 

The United States can accurately be described as a Democratic Republic Magistocracy with Kleptocratic and Pornocratic tendencies all while supporting a robust Capitalistic Oligarchy and a Militaristic Hegemony.

That sounds really negative and there is a lot to unpack there. I view it as a list of things to improve not a shit list and I won’t unpack it, but I will share some simplified definitions:

Democracy - a government where people vote on stuff.

Republic - a government where people choose leaders who do the day to day governing.

Magistocracy - Leadership by magistrates, judges.

Kleptocracy - Leadership by thieves.

Pornocracy - a government so corrupt and willing to embrace drama that it reminds one of the porn industry. In front of and behind the camera.

Capitalistic - A culture that elevates money.

Militiaristic - A culture relating strongly to warfare.

Hegemony - A group of countries all taking leadership from one.

So, knowing all these about the United States you can imagine my frustration when people say stuff like: wE aRe DeMoCraCy NoT a rEpUblic. And how that is compounded when intelligent people like Legal Eagle repeat that phrase not realizing it is a thought terminating cliche used as part of shitty political debate.

With all of that complex categorical nuance it can be hard to discuss ethics in our leadership.

People argue that the constitution allowed for McCarthy to try to vote away our election results, and it does. It allows for that so congress isn’t forced to accept fraudulent results from the states and we had no evidence of fraud. So maybe we shouldn’t be taking our ethical ques from government and laws which I already described as a Kleptocracy and Pornocracy.

So where should we get ethics?

Some reach to the bible and try to determine what jesus would do. I think that horseshit because there isn’t much evidence to support religion, but that doesn’t really matter because the bible doesn’t really have much to say about modern problems. The bible doesn’t say a lot about zoning or pollution. Even places where religious books appear to have some say like, abortion, taxation, or usury, it still takes human judgment to interpret that. Notice how the pious can’t agree on these topics?

Between the lack of being real and general lack of agreement religion is a not a good source of ethics.

Some people might reflexively reach for science. But it doesn't matter how much you learn about the facts and reality of what is. It doesn’t matter how much you study evolution, for example, because that can’t tell you if genetically engineered corn is ethical. That study can tell you if the engineered genes can leak out into the ecosystem or not or if those genes will hurt people eating them. You can’t infer a value judgement from the raw data alone, you need to use human judgement at some point.

Put another way, science can’t tell us what we want to do, but once we decide what we want to do we can decide how best to approach our goals using science. It is up to us whether we do that ethically or optimize for something else.

I am going to pick on one extremely contentious but stale topic for a deeper example.

In April 2011, one soldier now named Chelsea Manning, but at the time Bradley Manning, leaked a video of an attack helicopter killing some journalists. I think we can all agree killing people and journalists unprovoked is bad, and if you can’t then fuck off.

But they were in a war zone and reviewing the full 38 minute video makes it look like the pilots mistook bulky cameras for weapons. They asked for permission to shoot, they took some precautions, clearly not enough but more than one might expect for a warzone.

Look at the full length video in the show notes. The full video is not clear, and these kinds of mistakes happen in earnest in war, communication is hard even on the best days. People seriously discussed punishing or firing the pilots and their commanders. The ethics around this is way less clear than it could be. How do we consider accidents or people who might be using accidents to cover up mistakes when thinking about ethics? 

Then the leaker, Chelsea, who claimed to just want to expose corruption also released three quarters of a million other files. She was tried and held with less than the entirety of due process. She was a soldier and subject to the UCMJ, a sort of military only law, in addition to normal law. And leaking such vast amounts put her in a special category, but also the relative ease she did it made leniency seem plausible. To leak this much when the laws were written would have taken semi trailers full of stuff. Should punishment be harsh or lenient. The press coverage at the time made her holding conditions seem like borderline torture. There were accusations that this treatment was in part because she was trans. Then her sentence was commuted 7 years from what might have been lifelong incarceration.

There were so many mitigating factors. Chelsea tried to go through appropriate channels and it seemed that to everyone involved that Chelsea thought she was doing the right thing even though all of her superiors in the government disagreed that it was actually the right thing. How much should intention and goals factor in?

Is any of that right or wrong?

This topic is clearly too much for me to cover in a rant, but this scenario has enough moving parts to be used in thought experiments.

Think bigotry against trans people is good? If Chelsea had access to cheaper counseling and not the hypermasculine environment that is the US Military she might not have wanted to leak these documents. That is pretty damningly anti-bigotry and seems on firm footing with the evidence.

Should we have not gone to war in the first place? Most listening now probably think it was a bad idea, but when we started the war was overwhelmingly popular. We had evidence from previous wars and perhaps we could have known better

Should leakers be punished more or could leaks possibly be prevented by increasing the amount of material that leaves through the official channels? The evidence seems to show that beyond a certain point punishment is not an effective deterrent and at some point national security is important and needs to be protected so we can’t just release everything. So maybe we should encourage a strictly volunteer military instead of coercing membership by paying for college with the GI Bill. If college were federally paid for then Chelsea Manning may never have entered what was obviously a difficult situation.

I can’t do this topic justice, I want to revisit it more in a future episode perhaps as a central topic. But we can keep asking hypotheticals about this situation because it is so public and has so much visible nuance.

There are a lot of questions here and on ethics in general. I cannot provide good answers. I can say how I approach ethics. Here is how much I take for granted. I have no evidence that this is right beyond my own intuition, but I do believe this needs to be the foundation for human ethics. Just four words “we should minimize suffering”.

That short sentence does a lot of heavy lifting. It implies that we know how. With enough science and data we can know how. You won’t find that sentiment in most holy books so that is an uphill battle. There are sects of religion based on flagellation or horrible people like Saint Teresa who encouraged and elevated, don’t believe me, check the show notes at dysevidentia.com and look at episode ten.

Those four words also have a complex relationship with the law. Sometimes we must make laws that trade a major form of suffering for many for a small amount of suffering for others. Some of these trades are easy like banning murder helps reduce murder victims but infringes on the murderers self entitlement to kill. Other times it is less superficially clear until we have had to gather data, like how public education paid by taxes infringes on the wealth of us all a little, but opens up so much opportunity, reduces so much crime, and otherwise improves life to such an extreme degree it is obviously good from the perspective of minimizing suffering.

I wish I could talk to each person who tries to shut down an argument about politics with witless quips about the country being a republic and actually discuss ethics. I want to believe that most don’t actually think that quip is the end of the discussion. But then I remember that 15% of the country is so bad at processing evidence they think Q is real and that more than 70 million people chose to vote for trump when the alternative wasn’t a racist kleptocrat.

Whatever we do with ethics and laws, if we want to minimize suffering we need to keep in mind that some double digit percentage of our population is entirely incapable of processing evidence and we have to make a system they can operate in and won’t want to destroy.

  • The helicopter attack
    •  Leaked in April 2011, Chelsea then Bradley manning to be tried just after - https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/30/bradley-manning-wikileaks-revelations 
    • Short Shooting Video, commonly shown on TV makes it look worse for the pilots - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eLocrnmVy0 
    • Full Length Shooting Video, hard to watch, children die, the Pilots seem more understandable - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYTxuW2vmzk 
    • Daily mail Reaction was typical- https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1263822/WikiLeaks-video-Reuters-journalists-civilians-gunned-US-pilots.html
    • Guardian reaction was also typical - https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/30/bradley-manning-wikileaks-revelations
  • Mother teresa was fucking horible person 
    • Quotes glorifying suffering - http://affinitymagazine.us/2017/01/08/why-we-need-to-stop-praising-mother-teresa/ 
    • Read the whole link - https://www.vice.com/en/article/gvzebx/mother-teresa-was-kind-of-a-heartless-bitch 
    • Mother teresa embezzled money - https://knowledgenuts.com/mother-teresa-was-a-crook-and-a-fraud/
  • Legal Eagle - https://www.youtube.com/c/LegalEagle/videos
  • Alt-Right Playbook - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yts2F44RqFw&list=PLJA_jUddXvY7v0VkYRbANnTnzkA_HMFtQ
  • Definitions:
    • Pornocracy - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pornocracy
    • Kleptocracy - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kleptocracy
  • HeadLines and Sources
Ethics In Studies [9:49]
  • Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral Study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371–378. http://library.nhsggc.org.uk/mediaAssets/Mental%20Health%20Partnership/Peper%202%2027th%20Nov%20Milgram_Study%20KT.pdf 
  • Lord, C. G. & Taylor, C. A. (2009) Biased assimilation: Effects of assumptions andexpectations on the interpretation of new evidence. Social and Personality Psychology Compass 3:827–41. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9004.2009.00203.x. http://fbaum.unc.edu/teaching/articles/jpsp-1979-Lord-Ross-Lepper.pdf
  • Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of auto-mobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal behavior, 13, 585-589. http://resource.download.wjec.co.uk.s3.amazonaws.com/vtc/2015-16/Psychology/Loftus%20%26%20Palmer%20%281974%29%20RECONSTRUCTION%20OF%20AUTOMOBILE%20DESTRUCTION.pdf
  •  Roediger, H. L., & McDermott, K. B. (1995). Creating false memories: Remembering words not presented in lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 21(4), 803–814. https://doi.org/10.1037/0278-7393.21.4.803
  • https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/psych/people/fsch/fsch/studentresources/3rdyearprojects/projects/falseinhibit1.pdf Schock, J., Cortese, M. J., Khanna, M. M., & Toppi, S. (2012b). Age ofacquisition estimates for 3,000 disyllabic words.Behavior ResearchMethods, 44(4), 971-977. doi: https://doi.org/10.3758/s13428-012-0209-x
  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/224950737_Age_of_acquisition_estimates_for_3000_disyllabic_words Cortese, M. J., Toppi, S., Khanna, M. M., & Santo, J. B. (2020). AoA effects in reading aloud and lexical decision: Locating the (semantic) locus in terms of the number of backward semantic associations. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 174702182094030. https://doi.org/10.1177/1747021820940302
  • https://www.researchgate.net/publication/342360706_cortese_et_al_bNoA_qjep_2020
  • Tuskegee Syphilis Study - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_Syphilis_Study
  • Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places (1970 book by Laud Humphreys) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tearoom_TradeIRB
  • The Belmont Report https://www.hhs.gov/ohrp/regulations-and-policy/belmont-report/index.html
  • APA Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct  (See section 8.07 for guidelines on deception in research) https://www.apa.org/ethics/code
  • Drug Industry Human Testing Masks Death, Injury, Compliant FDA - Bloomberg News, November 2, 2005 (This is a non-academic article outlining some of the issues related to IRBs in pharmaceutical research. I believe I incorrectly referred to this as the ‘Forbes’ article in our conversation) https://www.ablechild.org/2005/11/02/drug-industry-human-testing-masks-death-injury-compliant-fda/
Social Media “Algorithms” [45:53]
  • Who's watching Big Tech? The dangers of using algorithms to fight extremism. https://thehill.com/opinion/national-security/544411-whos-watching-big-tech-the-dangers-of-using-algorithms-to-fight
  • Netflix Prize - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netflix_Prize
    • As a narrative - https://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/nation/the-netflix-prize 
  • Radical ideas spread through social media. Are the algorithms to blame? https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/radical-ideas-social-media-algorithms/
  • Study of YouTube comments finds evidence of radicalization effect. https://techcrunch.com/2020/01/28/study-of-youtube-comments-finds-evidence-of-radicalization-effect/
  • Researchers from Switzerland’s Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and Federal University of Minas Gerais claim that Youtube is a radicalization engine.
  • Direct link to study: https://dl.acm.org/doi/abs/10.1145/3351095.3372879
  • Christchurch Mass Shooting Report. https://christchurchattack.royalcommission.nz/the-report/
  • CGP Grey How Machines Learn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R9OHn5ZF4Uo
  • How to radicalize a normie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P55t6eryY3g
  • The Best Flat earth documentary Sqeaky has ever seen, and is seques seamlessly into Q just as the conspiracy community did https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JTfhYyTuT44 
  • Randall Monroe - https://xkcd.com/1357/
  • Wax Philosophical on discussion of discussion [1:05:59]
  • The Scathing Atheists on Stitcher - https://www.stitcher.com/show/the-scathing-atheist
  • Cognitive Dissonance Podcast - https://dissonancepod.com/
  • Innuendo Studio and their Alt-Right Playbook https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4xGawJIseNY&list=PLJA_jUddXvY7v0VkYRbANnTnzkA_HMFtQ
  • One of many holy statue miracles powered by bad plumbing https://slate.com/technology/2012/07/a-statue-of-jesus-oozing-holy-water-an-indian-skeptic-debunks-miracle.html
  • Neil deGrasse Tyson on the God of Gaps https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HooeZrC76s0
  • Always a bigger fish https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agzNANfNlTs
  • List of Black Billionaire’s https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_billionaires
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