Nature publishes instructions on how to make a Frankenstein monster

My doctoral dissertation addressed what I called the “Frankenstein Complex.” So guess why this story bothers me.

Today, a scientific journal published a study that some people thought might never be made public at all.

The paper describes experiments that suggest just a few genetic changes could potentially make a bird flu virus capable of becoming contagious in humans, and causing a dangerous pandemic. Continue reading “Nature publishes instructions on how to make a Frankenstein monster”

When doctors follow the rules, are they violating the Hippocratic Oath?

– I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm to anyone.

I went to my doctor a few weeks ago for the first time in months. During the course of conversation about my health and how I was doing, etc., we stumbled onto the question of why I hadn’t been in for a visit in so long. I told him that in the wake of my separation from my wife I had lost my insurance coverage (I was on her work plan) and had been unable to get insurance as a result of my pre-existing condition.  Continue reading “When doctors follow the rules, are they violating the Hippocratic Oath?”

Hey PR professionals – thinking of representing a distressed brand? Six important things to consider before signing that retainer

Part two of two…

On Tuesday, I offered some thoughts on the sociopathic nature of some public relations agencies. Once we learn that American firms are lipsticking brutal despots and states that support terrorism it’s legitimate to wonder if there is anyone on Earth that they wouldn’t represent. I just heard a story this morning about a flak who went so far as to take on the remnants of the Khmer Rouge. So if Syria, Libya, Bahrain and the most notorious purveyors of genocide since World War 2 aren’t out of bounds, you have to figure somebody in the industry would gladly sign up Kim Jong-Il, Hitler, Stalin and the Khan boys (Genghis and Agha) for the right amount of money. Continue reading “Hey PR professionals – thinking of representing a distressed brand? Six important things to consider before signing that retainer”

Sociopathic PR Firms and the Clients They Serve

Part one of two…

I work in the world of marketing and corporate communications, and my track record of business-related posts (here and at my biz site, Black Dog Strategic) probably demonstrates how seriously I take ethical concerns. For instance, not long ago I made clear that I think understanding the truth of a bad news story aimed at a client comes before worrying about how to respond. Back in November, I took a hard look at the eroding credibility of public relations as a profession and suggested that maybe the behavior of PR practitioners had a lot to do with our slide into lawyer, hooker and used car salesman territory. At various points along the way I’ve ventured opinions on everything and everybody from Toyota to Tiger Woods (to Augusta National), BP to LBJ, Target to Dillard’s, and Rupert Murdoch to the Denver Post, which used to be a newspaper.

Sometimes I comment on what strike me as merely bad strategies. Continue reading “Sociopathic PR Firms and the Clients They Serve”

Heard the latest PR joke? (The single most important thing to consider when TV news wants to skewer your client.)

Yesterday Ragan’s PR Daily, an excellent resource for professional communicators of all stripes, offered up a feature entitled “8 things to consider when TV news wants to skewer your client.” As is the usually the case with Ragan’s stuff, Gil Rudawsky’s article provided some useful on-point advice for the media relations practitioner, and the comment thread finds other experienced folks jumping into the discussion in helpful ways.

But – you knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you? – I can’t help quibbling a little. Let’s begin with Rudawsky’s eight points: Continue reading “Heard the latest PR joke? (The single most important thing to consider when TV news wants to skewer your client.)”

Are liberals smarter than conservatives? Our nitwit media strike again…

CNN reported last week on a new study showing that liberalism, atheism and sexual exclusivity in males are linked to higher IQ scores. The findings are intriguing, for all the obvious reasons.

Evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa at the the London School of Economics and Political Science correlated data on these behaviors with IQ from a large national U.S. sample and found that, on average, people who identified as liberal and atheist had higher IQs. This applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women. The findings will be published in the March 2010 issue of Social Psychology Quarterly.

Reactions have been all over the place, but there’s been strong suspicion of the findings from both “liberal” and “conservative” corners (especially conservative, as you’d expect). Which is good. Continue reading “Are liberals smarter than conservatives? Our nitwit media strike again…”

Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy’s ten-year review

Ten years ago, at the turn of the millennium, Nostraslammy took a stab at predicting the 21st Century, with a promise to check back every ten years to see how the prognostications were turning out. Odds are good I won’t be able to do a review every ten years until 2100, but I figure I’m probably good through 2030, at least, barring some unforeseen calamity. And if you’re Nostraslammy, what’s this “unforeseen” thing, anyway?

Let’s see how our 22 articles of foresight are holding up, one at a time.

1: Researchers will develop either a vaccine or a cure for AIDS by 2020. However, it will be expensive enough that the disease will plague the poor long after it has become a non-issue for the rich and middle classes (although this is one case where political leaders might fund free treatment programs). The end of AIDS will trigger a sexual revolution that will compare to or exceed that of the 1960s and 1970s (unless another deadly sexually-transmitted disease evolves, which is certainly a possibility). Continue reading “Predicting the 21st Century: Nostraslammy’s ten-year review”

Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1

Part one of a two-part series.

From Cronkite to Couric: the Kingdom of Signal is swallowed by the Empire of Noise

The recent death of Walter Cronkite spurred the predictable outpouring of tributes, each reverencing in its own way a man who was the face and voice of journalism in America for a generation or more. The irony of all these accolades is that we live in an age where “broadcast journalist” is such a cruel oxymoron, and we seem to speeding headlong into an era where the word “journalist” itself threatens to become a freestanding joke. Why, against this backdrop, would so many people who are so involved in the daily repudiation of everything that Cronkite stood for make such a show memorializing the standard by which they so abjectly fail?

As I read what people had to say about Cronkite, I realized that something I studied and wrote about over a decade ago helps explain why our contemporary media has gone so deeply, tragically wrong. Continue reading “Why American media has such a signal-to-noise problem, part 1”

Hey Walgreens, stop killing your customers

If you’re a doctor, it might be a bit unseemly to run a funeral home next door. If you’re a teacher, there might be some ethical concerns with peddling crack to your kids during recess.

And if you’re a pharmacy…

Once they were drug stores. Then they became pharmacies. And now? These days they’re in the business of business. The welfare of their customers? Fuck off, socialist.

I stopped into a Walgreens to pick up some batteries. If you’ve been in a modern drug store you know that they have the pharmacy in the back along with all the over-the-counter medications and up front they have all the stuff that – and let’s be honest here – helps fortify the market for prescription and OTC meds. I could go on here about the foodstuffs, for instance, about the many nefarious, even Dante-esque levels of corn syrup, preservative and transfat Hell, but I won’t. Instead I’ll just show you a picture I took while waiting in line. Continue reading “Hey Walgreens, stop killing your customers”

Business: when goals attack!

We can probably agree that it’s good to have goals. In business, especially, it’s good to know where you’re going and to have some mechanisms that help you chart and evaluate your progress.

Increasingly, though, we’re presented with more and more evidence suggesting that our goal-setting can easily go awry, and with dramatically counter-productive results. If you’ve read Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s outstanding Freakonomics you probably recall their investigation of teacher-fueled cheating on standardized tests, for instance. While most of would agree in principle that our educational system should adhere to the highest standards possible, it’s clear that something went badly wrong in that system. If you know any teachers, you may also have heard (in tones ranging from quiet exasperation to unbridled rage) how goal-setting is failing in other places, as well, and for many of the same reasons. Continue reading “Business: when goals attack!”

The ethics of cloning a caveman

Errrmmm, we can do that?

The full genome of the Neanderthal, an ancient human species probably driven to extinction by the first modern humans that entered Europe some 45,000 years ago, is expected to be recovered shortly. If the mammoth can be resurrected, the same would be technically possible for Neanderthals.

In fact, Wade points out, there are good reasons to re-create a Neanderthal: “No one knows if Neanderthals could speak. A living one would answer that question and many others.”

Whoa there, says Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops: Continue reading “The ethics of cloning a caveman”

Stop lying to the public: some notes on the faux-ethics of the press

CountyFair had an important and much-needed lesson in journalistic ethics for us this morning. The key points:

First: it should never, ever be considered acceptable to quote a candidate or official making a false claim without noting its falsity. Reporters do this all the time, justifying it by saying they’re just presenting both sides, or that they aren’t making the false claim, they’re just reporting it, or saying they corrected three other false claims in the article. That is not sufficient: if a journalist includes a false or misleading claim in their news report — in any form — without indicating that is false, they are actively helping to spread misinformation.

Second: the way in which news reports debunk misinformation matters a great deal. Continue reading “Stop lying to the public: some notes on the faux-ethics of the press”

My god – it’s full of stars: 2001, Frankenstein and autonomous technology

I used to work with a HAL 9000. Back when I was at US West in the late ’90s we had a voice system into which we would record the day’s company news so that employees without Internet access could dial in and keep up with the latest events. As with any such system there was a dial-in sequence, buttons that had to be pressed in a certain order, etc.

One day, as I was working through the first stage of the sequence, our phone system apparently achieved sentience. For reasons that I still can’t explain, a decade later, and that nobody at the time had any clue about, the machine sort of … intuited what I was about to do. It performed an action or two that, put simply, it could not do. Continue reading “My god – it’s full of stars: 2001, Frankenstein and autonomous technology”

Chaos, Complexity, Kant and Mill

One of the great debates in the field of ethics centers around the thinking of Emmanuel Kant vs. the Utilitarians – most notably John Stuart Mill. To simplify, Kant’s philosophy suggests that the means justify the ends: we should always do the right thing and trust the results to work out for themselves. Mill, on the other hand, argued that we should do what produced the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, and that the ends justified the means.

I’ve always tried to do the right and moral thing, of course, but when push comes to shove I’ve been an unapologetic utilitarian. I might, in my brasher moments, have put it this way: what matters is the outcome, the result, and doing the noble thing when it leads to a tragic result isn’t ethical, it’s both immoral and stupid. Continue reading “Chaos, Complexity, Kant and Mill”

Super Bowl provides us with an important teachable moment

I really have mixed feelings about the outcome of yesterday’s Super Bowl. It was a fantastic game, no matter who you were rooting for, and that’s always nice. Historically a lot of Super Bowls have been yawners.

I wasn’t really pulling for the Giants so much as I was against the Patriots, and that was tough for me, too. See, when you look at how New England does things, they really get a lot right. No prima donnas. We, not me. Brains and teamwork trump individual athleticism. Etc. In essence, they have won by repudiating everything that’s wrong about sports in this day and age. They’re the San Antonio Spurs of the NFL.

As an old-school guy who was raised by an even older-school grandfather, this matters to me. Continue reading “Super Bowl provides us with an important teachable moment”