Category Archives: Ethics

Science and Unwishful Thinking

A startling investigation into how a cheap, well-known drug became a political football in the midst of a pandemic

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, a survey of the world’s frontline physicians showed hydroxychloroquine to be the drug they considered the most effective at treating COVID-19 patients. That was in early April, shortly after a French study showed it was safe and effective in lowering the virus count, at times in combination with azithromycin. Next we were told hydroxychloroquine was likely ineffective, and also dangerous, and that that French study was flawed and the scientist behind it worthy of mockery. More studies followed, with contradictory results, and then out came what was hailed by some as a definitive study of 96,000 patients showing the drug was most certainly dangerous and ineffective, and indeed that it killed 30% more people than those who didn’t take it. Within days, that study was retracted, with the editor of one of the two most respected medical journals in the Western world conceding it was “a monumental fraud.” And on it went.

Not only are lay people confused; professionals are. All that seems certain is that there is something disturbing going on in our science, and that if and when the “perfect study” were to ever come along, many won’t know what to believe.

We live in a culture that has uncritically accepted that every domain of life is political, and that even things we think are not political are so, that all human enterprises are merely power struggles, that even the idea of “truth” is a fantasy, and really a matter of imposing one’s view on others. For a while, some held out hope that science remained an exception to this. That scientists would not bring their personal political biases into their science, and they would not be mobbed if what they said was unwelcome to one faction or another. But the sordid 2020 drama of hydroxychloroquine—which saw scientists routinely attacked for critically evaluating evidence and coming to politically inconvenient conclusions—has, for many, killed those hopes.

…..What is unique about the hydroxychloroquine discussion is that it is a story of “unwishful thinking”—to coin a term for the perverse hope that some good outcome that most sane people would earnestly desire, will never come to pass. It’s about how, in the midst of a pandemic, thousands started earnestly hoping—before the science was really in—that a drug, one that might save lives at a comparatively low cost, would not (emphasis mine) actually do so. Reasonably good studies were depicted as sloppy work, fatally flawed. Many have excelled in making counterfeit bills that look real, but few have excelled at making real bills look counterfeit.

Read it.

Hydroxychloroquine: A Morality Tale

Espionage and Ethics

David R. Shedd, the recently retired acting director of the U.S. Defense Department Intelligence Agency, has written a review of the book, Just War and the Ethics of Espionage.

Shedd:

As the title of Darrell Cole’s book suggests, boundaries on what constitutes acceptable and non-acceptable behavior in the use of espionage techniques is something that merits the kind of in-depth, serious, and Christian analysis that Mr. Cole provides. In his exceptionally well-written and argued case, the author links a nation’s proper use of espionage as state craft to the long established just war theory framework which traces its origins back to St. Augustine (354-430 AD).

In essence, just war theory recognizes and makes the case on moral grounds that peace, order, and justice will at times only be preserved by engaging in armed conflict. Mr. Cole makes a strong and convincing case that espionage is a justified practice by a nation using the same just war theory applicable to the use of a country’s military….
He not only makes a strong justification for spying as a contributor to maintaining justice and peace but also warns that in the absence of checks and balances in a free society, espionage leads to abuses. His book is replete with historical examples of espionage ranging from the intricate, brave, and honorable work done by American intelligence professionals in the lead up to and the conduct of the operation against Osama bin Laden to the application of covert action recorded throughout annals of U.S. history. But this is no hagiography…
And this:
By definition, the very characteristics that make for a successful career in espionage seem to run counter to Biblical moral principles. How does one justify lying and deception when as a Christian one is taught that such actions are sin? Is torture ever justifiable? Should assassination be condoned as statecraft? What comes alive in Mr. Cole’s 155 pages is not only a wrestling match in one’s mind over extraordinarily difficult questions, but his profound insights in how to reconcile the moral dilemmas without gleefully dismissing the moral quandaries. If not every- thing is neatly resolved by the end of the book, the reader is given much to think about in attempting to  find a way to make it across what might have seemed a profound and unbridgeable moral chasm.
Read the rest here.

Why Not To Vote the Lesser of Two Evils

 

 

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It is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.

Conservative Matthew Franck is not voting for either presidential candidate in 2016 and he explains why he does not feel the need to “vote as if the weight of the world were on my shoulders alone.” That idea “is really an invitation to a kind of consequentialism in the ethics of voting,” he says. He goes on to explain why he thinks “it is wrong to think of a vote not cast for Leading Contender A as a de facto vote cast for Leading Contender B.”

Two of Franck’s friends share the convictions of many of mine, choosing to vote for a candidate who they do not like at all.  One is voting for Clinton, “preferring an enemy he can imagine fighting and partly constraining…to a ‘leader’ who may grievously wound the party, the conservative cause, and the country itself.” The other “is inclined to hold his nose and vote for Trump, believing that abstention or a ‘thrown away’ vote on a third alternative with no chance to win would be morally indistinguishable from a vote for Clinton.”

From Franke’s essay:

My fond regard for these two good and thoughtful friends, lifelong conservatives both, is not diminished by our disagreements. And I do disagree with both of them. For my part, my conscience is more important to me than the outcome of this presidential election. I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Trump. What matters for me is that I cannot bring myself to intend, to will the victory of either of these ludicrously unacceptable presidential candidates. And that is what a vote for one of them would be—an act of willing that Clinton or Trump be president, carry out her or his stated policy aims, and bring his or her fundamentally bad character to the highest office in the land.

We conservatives are not in an ordinary political situation. In past elections, some of us might not have had our first or even our second choice among Republican candidates on the November ballot for president.

This time is different (emphasis added). “Not making the perfect the enemy of the good” is not the right adage for calculating what to do in our present predicament. Nor is “choose the lesser of two evils” the right way to think. That way of thinking really only works when at least one of the choices is in fact not really evil.
..Now, however, we really do have two evils to choose between—or to decline choosing. Neither Trump nor Clinton has a single redeeming characteristic that recommends him or her to the presidency of the United States—at least none that is not decisively outweighed by some other damning characteristic.
Clinton’s much vaunted “experience” is a career record of ghastly misjudgments in foreign policy, paired with a consistently authoritarian and illiberal “progressivism” in domestic policy, seemingly intent on unraveling the social fabric that makes a decent society. And there is no need to rehearse her and her husband’s history of dishonesty, corruption, and irresponsibility, capped most recently by her obvious breach of the statutes protecting national security secrets.
As for Trump, was there ever a candidate more obviously unqualified for high public office, as measured by his dearth of relevant knowledge and experience, his willfulness and self-absorption, his compulsive lying and inconsistency, his manipulative using of other people, his smash-mouth rhetoric and low character? For anyone professing conservative principles, the first problem with Trump is that he is not one of us, has never been one of us, shows no sign or capacity of becoming one of us, and hardly cares to pretend to be one of us. Even “what about the Supreme Court?” has no grip on my conscience when I try to imagine Donald Trump in the Oval Office. I cannot trust him to choose judicial nominees wisely, and there are other things whose cumulative weight is greater even than this variable.
We haven’t even the consolation of thinking of Trump as a certain kind of Republican who is not actually conservative but who at least recognizes our vocabulary when he hears it. No, Trump would not know a conservative principle if it kicked him in the shins. This is a nominee who, in my estimation, cannot earn my vote even as a “lesser evil” or an “at least he’s not Hillary” candidate. I waver between believing that his defeat would be the worst thing to happen to our country and believing that his victory would be.
He concludes:
After a lifetime of studying politics, I have finally, thanks to the electoral annus horribilis of 2016, arrived at an ethic of voting that I can defend against all rival ethics. It is simply this: Vote as if your ballot determines nothing whatsoever—except the shape of your own character. Vote as if the public consequences of your action weigh nothing next to the private consequences. The country will go whither it will go, when all the votes are counted. What should matter the most to you is whither you will go, on and after this November’s election day.