Tuesday 4 May 2021

The cobbler's children

My current fave philosopher is Julia Galef. Here she is posing a poser: why aren't ethicists ethical? It's only 5 minutes long; and that's about the median time I will devote to randutainment from youtube. Galef's answer is to do with the telescope effect: moral philosophers get overwhelmed by the scope of their field [How to be Good is bigger than not beating your children] they they are unable to tune their moral compass effectively. Me, I'm meh - ethicists are jest folks, no better no worse than the rest of us.

But it may be that professional ethicists were top of the class at college in the Arts Block; and they had for sure been top of the class in high-school. They have accordingly been groomed and coddled by parents teachers and peers as being a cut above the rest of us . . . so the rules don't apply to them. That argument probably held true for doctors who continued to smoke for decades after the data came in that smoking upped the odds for cancer, COPD, emphysema, coronaries. And it wasn't just numbers in the BMJ: those same GPs were referring their coughing patients up the medical food chain for drugs, surgery, chemo and an early death.

My lifetime experience of working in science is that it is for sure not the selfless pursuit of objective truth. It is to be expected that successful scientists /anyones are ambitious, hard-working and competitive. What's a bit more disturbing is how invested they are in their own theories / research agendas. We should be resolutely testing our hypotheses; rather than consciously or unc. looking for evidence that will bolster our pre-conceptions. The pressure on researchers to deliver, and deliver on a [funding] timescale, has led too many to finagle their results to get a paper out. PIs, who are ultimately responsible for what the lab turns out, too often get caught in the cycle of enthusiasm for the 'right' result. You may bet your sweet bippy that more fibs work their way into the literature than are caught by RetractionWatch.

If you missed the shoe-making connexion implied by the title, the full proverb is "the cobbler's children have no shoes" . . . because daddy works all day to put food on the table and is too tired when he comes home to count toes under the table. Every person, very organization has to do some self-care or there won't be nothing to give.

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