White Coat, Black Hat

The Ethicator – Swept Up in Another Grassroots Movement

Dorland Health People Awards
It seems your generosity has no limits.   A mere month after nominating your humble servant for the PharmaVoice 100, another mass, grassroots movement is under way.  This time, the prize is the Dorland Health People Awards, which as it turns out, has an ethicist category.  As the Editor in Chief herself has said:

Ethicists are an integral part of the healthcare field, making a profound difference and positively affecting individuals and improving quality of life across America. It takes an exceptional person to do what you do, as I can attest to from my years of clinical healthcare experience.

So there you have it.  The only barrier is the $290 admission fee, but since there are hundreds of you out there, the cost per person should be peanuts.

No doubt, Carl Elliott and his raging band of anti-pharma thugs will try to scuttle this, just as he has always tried to squash my academic freedom at every turn; but this is your chance to beat the odds, fight back, and score that rare victory for Freedom.

The application deadline is this Friday, June 10.  You can get the details here.

My name:  The Ethicator
My organization:  White Coat, Black Hat website
My title:  CEO and Proprietor (pro-bono)

You are all heroes.  Thank you.

Got a moral issue you just can't solve?  Send your questions to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com


Carl Elliott in Columbia for the SC Book Festival


Carl Elliott is heading to the South Carolina Book Festival tomorrow, torch in hand, to cut a path of destruction through our medical industry and our way of life.

He's on tomorrow (Saturday) at 4:10pm.  Go if you have to, but the Food, Farming and Wine session, held during the same time slot, looks a lot more interesting.

Fun Fact:  Carl's birth certificate actually says North Carolina.


Happy Belated Mother’s Day!


Courtesy of the Bonkers Institute - Click to enlarge

. . . One day late, when flowers are cheaper, anyway.

From a 1967 issue of JAMA, another example of our pharma heroes doing their part to advance women's rights.  "Some say it's unrealistic to educate a woman and then expect her to be content with the Cub Scouts as an intellectual outlet." That's why you need Miltown!


The “Erikson Prize”, or whatever it’s called

I'm special!There's nothing quite so awkward and painful as watching a sibling rivalry unfold in public.  It's one of those sad aspects of gaining fame and becoming an internationally recognized thought leader:  Eventually, less successful members of your family tend to get jealous and start trying to bring you down, or one-up your accomplishments.

Which is why I must apologize to you, my readers, for your having to witness the sad spectacle of my brother Carl wangling some sort of journalism award out of a place I've never heard of,  only 1 week after my entry into competition for the PharmaVoice 100.   It`s an obvious ploy for attention, and I`m sorry you you had to see it.

The award is called the Erikson Prize for Excellence in Mental Health Media, and it`s given by some place called the Austen Riggs Center.  Rumor has it he`s hounded them night and day for this, so I guess all that hard work paid off.  Now they've finally relented, let's hope he leaves them (and us) alone.


The Ethicator: Did I vote for the right person?

Purple finger

Dear Ethicator,

I recently encountered a problem with coercion.

Someone I know of from the ethics world tried to manipulate people into nominating him for an honor. It seems that this person is trying to make his mark in the ethics world and does blatant self-promotion, sometimes at the expense of others. He decided that he should be nominated for an award given by a prestigious group from Big Pharma. He embarked on a campaign of wheedling, flattery and pleading to try to manipulate his readers into nominating him for this award. I and others were besieged by e-mails. All the same, begging to be nominated. Some of the e-mails were sent in the early hours of the morning. Not only was he obsessed with this idea, he was trying to drive us crazy, apparently hoping that his barrage tactics would force up to nominate him.

I was torn. This ethics geek seems to be dedicated, though sometimes his opinions are skewed. I really wanted to nominate someone who would merit the honor, like the world famous Carl Elliott. Or even the unemployed Randy Cohen. But, in the end, I caved in and nominated the dweeb. I was just too worn out by the endless e-mails.

Did I do the right thing?



Dear MT,

I can see why you were torn.  A bold, fresh face bursts onto the ethics scene, skyrockets to fame, and forces you to confront your conscience. You think to yourself:  Shouldn't such courage and grace be rewarded in some way?  Who else is more deserving? And seriously, isn't filling out that little nomination form the least you can do?

Still, you realize your move will be controversial. There are so many safer nominees out there: People who have been flaunting themselves in the media for years, people who would no doubt want to bully you into nominating them instead.  In fact, who knows what the consequences will be for you, once this self-promoting narcissist learns you've passed him over for a more deserving candidate?  You face all these questions and still, you vote your conscience.  Good for you.

You did the right thing.  Sleep well.

The Ethicator

Got a moral question you just can't solve?  Send it to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com


The Ethicator: It’s not Personal, is it?

Invisible ManDear Ethicator,

I am thinking about jumping on the bandwagon and nominating you for the PharmaVoice 100. With the deadline (May 1) fast approaching, I must confess that I still have some reservations about you as a candidate. Don't get me wrong:  I think you're brilliant and all, but at times, your attacks on your brother seem, well,  a little personal. Is it really ethical for you to set up a website attacking your brother on a daily basis? Help me out here.



Dear Queasy,

I am deeply dismayed that you would threaten my academic freedom by posing a question like this.  As most of my readers know, the White Coat, Black Hat website is not meant as an indictment of any particular individual. Instead, it's intended as a forum attempt to address, as a matter of policy, the problem  of cheapskate fuckers who steal their brother's ideas and turn them into hate-speech infested polemics against hardworking pharma patriots.

The issue raises lot of  questions that merit further study.  For example: Is it appropriate for a so-called bioethicist to exploit his brother's goodwill and force him to work for free? Are others in the field obliged to speak out in defense of the victimized younger brother? I'm just putting the question out there; nothing personal.  Also, if the brother decides to go online with his concerns and suddenly becomes an online viral sensation, well, what then? Is the plagiarizing fucker expected to take it like a grown-up, or is he entitled to whine like a baby and maybe sue? It's a question of professionalism and academic integrity, for which some high-level discussions may be necessary.

I hope this clears matters up for you. Remember: 5 more days until the PharmaVoice 100 deadline!

The Ethicator

Got a moral question you just can't solve?  Send it to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com


Too rich to take pharma money?

Guess who showed up at a conference of Big Pharma marketers in Boston and was too pious to take money from them? I'll give you a hint: He doesn't pay for his web content.

Thanks, Carl, not only for stiffing your brother, but for driving down the market value of ethicists everywhere. The next time one of us gets asked to work for free, we know who to blame.

The talk, in case readers are wondering, was classic Carl, meaning it went on for hours, like Chavez at a UN meeting.  Fortunately, the audience was spared any discussion afterward. One blogger characterized the talk as one-sided and depressing, but was intrigued by his brother's searing, truth-speaking twitter feed.  "Maybe the brother should speak at the conference next year to share his perspective?"

Why yes, I accept. My rider includes Wild Turkey and percocet, but other than that, I still come fairly cheap. See you next year!


The Ethicator for the PharmaVoice 100? You are too kind.

PharmaVoice - 100 most inspiring people

I don't deserve it, but if you insist.

I have just gotten word that there is a movement afoot among you, my loyal following, to nominate a certain columnist to the PharmaVoice 100, PharmaVoice magazine's annual list of the 100 most inspiring pharmaceutical industry leaders.  I am deeply, deeply humbled.

Now, there is something you must understand about my work as a bioethicist.  It's not about the awards, not about the fame; it never was.  It's about justice, it's about service.  It's about speaking truth to power, and maximizing  your ROI in the process.  It's about being that lonely voice in the wilderness, a piercing laser of Truth trained squarely on the cornea of humanity:  Standing, like Patrick Henry at the barricades of Fort Sumter, shouting "Here I stand; I can do no other!"

Also, it is about bringing down that piece of shit book my brother Carl wrote.

So really, I don't know if I deserve this award, but far be it from me to stand in the way of a spontaneous grassroots movement.  You can find the application form, as well as the nomination criteria, on the PharmaVoice website.  The deadline for nominations is midnight, May 1.  Also, in case you need it:

My name:  The Ethicator
My organization:  White Coat, Black Hat website
My title:  CEO and Proprietor (pro-bono)

God bless you all.

The Ethicator


The Ethicator: Am I Selling Students a Bill of Goods?

Welcoming the incoming grad students of 2011-2012

Dear Mr. The Ethicator,

I'm a graduate student at a large public research university that is facing severe budget cuts. While our TA-ships and other teaching gigs could never have been considered plum jobs, these days the university is thinking ever more creatively about new ways to squeeze extra work out of us. And not only this: the fate of our graduate program and our department is very much up in the air, as the university looks for ways to cut costs by closing programs and merging departments. No one knows exactly what's coming, but it doesn't look pretty.

The ethically murky area is this: every year, we recruit a group of new graduate students, flying them in from all around the country, and everyone pitches in to try to convince them to join our department. We did this again this year, but without exactly playing up (or mentioning) the real uncertainty about the future of the institution. Did we sell them a bill of goods? Either way, we knew it would hurt the department not to admit grad students for the coming year. In fact, if none of them were to join the department, it would likely be even easier for the university to shut us down.


Reluctant Pitchman

Dear Reluctant Pitchman,

I'm sorry.  I'm having trouble getting past the part of letter where you tell me your department brings in a whole load of young, healthy research subjects every year, and all you do with them is make them grade papers.  Are you serious? What kind of business model is this?

I know you academics aren't known for your business smarts, but seriously, do you realize how much bigger your ROI would be if you hooked up with a drug study?  Better yet, find somebody testing an ADHD drug.  That way, you'll get pocket money, party medicine, AND some super-efficient graders who never get bored.  That, my friend, is what we call a win-win.

Look: I can tell you're one of the good guys, just doing your best to look out for the peeps. Good for you. But remember what the airlines say:  When that oxygen mask drops, you put it on yourself first.  Then you help the next guy.  Or, maybe you don't, because there's only so much oxygen on the plane and the other guy would probably hog it.  But anyway, the point is, you have to look after yourself.  Keep bringing them in, keep them working, and sleep well.

You're welcome,

The Ethicator

Got a moral question you just can't solve?  Send it to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com


Speak Truth to Power: Join the Social Media Revolution

Speak Truth to Power"For the last shall be first and the first shall be last"

Bob Dylan and Jesus could hardly have forseen the truth of these words.  Social media is now the Gutenberg press of early 21st-century brand management.  From the twitter revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt to my own efforts to bring down lying cheapskate plagiarists, social media has become the great, revolutionary, rectifying force for humanity.

That is why you need to "like" my facebook page, and start following me on twitter (@whitecoatblackh), right away.  If you are only checking my blog 4-5 times a day, you are missing out, big time. Worse, if you are not following social media, it's highly likely that your friends and colleagues are already starting to think of you as old and out of touch. Pretty soon, they will stop taking you seriously at all.

Don't let this happen. Be a part of the revolution.

Be the change you want to see in the world.

Be One of Us.

My twitter feed is @whitecoatblackh.  The Facebook page is here.


The Ethicator: Should I “campaign” for an award?

Just to get the ball rolling . . . Hello Ethicator -

I am an ethics graduate student myself, but find to be stuck in a sticky ethical situation. I am currently a Teacher's Assistant (TA) for an upper level undergraduate course. The semester is almost over, and the department I am working for is offering a TA award. The way it works is to have students nominate you, and get the professors to co-nominate. From what I can tell, the profs I am TAing for would have no problem co-nominating me, however it must be the students who initiate it.

I would greatly appreciate getting this award, not only because there is a monetary and certificate component, but also I believe Idid a grea t job at TAing this semester. I spent more hours than allocated meeting with students, giving thorough feedback on midterm reviews, and guidance throughout the whole semester regarding presentations and the final paper (on top of all this, I myself am a full time student with a heavy course load!)

The profs have announced the award through the online course system, though I don't know how often students actually check it. It's also a bit of a runaround and somewhat inconvenient:  printing, filling out, signing, scanning, emailing/faxing...

Because of this, I feel the need to remind the students, yet I find myself torn as to whether I should make an announcement on the last day of class or via email asking to be nominated- what do you think? How should I go about this? Does this sound like I am campaigning myself? My internal 'yuck' factor is kicking in - but I am concerned if I don't remind or persist for it by the students, I may not luck out. How do I work the system ethically?


Ethically Perturbed TA.

Dear Ethically Perturbed TA,

Yuck factor? Walk it off. This is just the first of many compromises you'll make in the ethics racket. This job ain't for sissies.

Here's what you should tell your students: The nomination process is difficult and lengthy, but it's a small price to pay for what they are likely to receive for nominating you. The payoffs for them could be material, such as free drinks or prescription meds; or they could be something less tangible, such as the knowledge that you will be in a much better state of mind when you grade their final papers .

Unseemly? Not at all. Remember: You are not bribing; you are incentivizing.

Also, one final word: You have competitors for this award, and they'll need to be dealt with. I`ll leave the details to you.

Keep building your brand,

The Ethicator


Vintage Drug Ad of the Week

Bayer Heroin

Courtesy of the Bonkers Institute for Nearly Genuine Research

Stop that cough with Bayer Heroin.


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Things you can buy for the cost of Carl’s book, part 13

How to get rich as a televangelist or faith healer

$19.95 from Paladin Press

From the always reliable folks at Paladin Press, Bill Wilson's book, How to Get Rich As a Faith Healer or A Televangelist.

"Discover the easy, inexpensive ways to get religious credentials (and the tax-free status that goes with them), how to develop your following, how to tailor your message for maximum gain and how to weasel out of trouble when your lavish lifestyle or personal misconduct hits the fan."


Look who’s sitting next to the dummy!

Medical Ethics for Dummies, meet Medical Ethics for Pious, Sermonizing Pricks

Medical Ethics for Dummies, meet Medical Ethics for Pious, Sermonizing Pricks

Photo of a library shelf, submitted by one of our users. Note the placement on the shelf.

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The Ethicator on the Ethicist: Should I really write my own recommendation?

Why not just say it?

Why not just say it?

Dear Ethicator,

Your inferior counterpart at the New York Times recently told a reader that it was perfectly ok for her to write his or her own letter of recommendation for law school and then have a former professor sign it.  I'm thinking of doing this myself, but still, I'm not sure what I think of her advice. Does it sound fishy to you?

By the way, I'm disappointed Ariel Kaminer was chosen for that job; it should have been you.


Need a Second Opinion

Dear Second Opinion,

Whoa!  Not so fast there.  I have no beef with Ariel Kaminer; we're both professionals, both trying to make the world a better place. Unlike other ethicists you might know, I do not get my kicks running down my colleagues in the profession (or stealing their ideas, or exploiting their labor, for example).

And besides, she is right.  If you think about it, this is all about building your brand with your target audience.  And who is better positioned to do this than you? Face it, your supervisor is dead weight; most academics wouldn't know a good sales pitch if it bit them on the ass. Write that recommendation yourself, and you'll know you've struck the right tone.  And remember:  it's not lying if you really believe it.  If you can honestly say you are on your way to a Nobel Prize, feel free to point that out.

Job recommendations are just one of several kinds of notes you're better off writing yourself, and letting someone else sign.  Some other examples I'd recommend include:

  • Award nominations
  • Promotion letters
  • Book reviews
  • Medical prescriptions

Uncomfortable? Sure. But unethical? No way. Now go get 'em. You're welcome.

The Ethicator


Send your questions to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com


Got Hiccups? Try Thorazine

Thorazine ad, circa 1954 - click to enlarge
Thorazine ad, circa 1954 - click to enlarge


Courtesy of the Bonkers Institute, an ad from back when people weren't afraid to think outside the box.

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The Ethicator: Should I Give out A’s in Exchange for ADHD Drugs?

Dear Ethicator,

I'm a philosophy Ph.D. student and I'm finding it difficult to buckle down and work on my dissertation. I've heard that Adderall is pretty good at helping people focus, and I know for a fact that a bunch of my students take it. Would it be unethical for me to give a student an A in my class in exchange for a semester's worth of Adderall?



Dear Getting-no-help,

You should not try to acquire these pills secondhand, or pay for them in any way other than through a licensed health insurance company.  Nonetheless,  I'm glad you mentioned Adderall, America's Number One Psychostimulant, brought to you by the good people at Shire pharmaceuticals. Adderall has proven effective at treating the symptoms of ADHD, and is known to boost mental concentration far more effectively than anything you can make in your bathtub.

Adderall can be employed in a number of forms, such as an extended release pill, or perhaps crushed up and inhaled through a twenty-dollar bill.   Ask your doctor about side effects, which may or may not  include euphoria, bursts of extreme productivity, superhuman sexual prowress, and occasional cardiac death.

Do you need Adderall? To get an idea, you should answer this brief questionnaire:

  • Do you ever find it difficult to concentrate on complicated tasks, such as writing philosophy papers and dissertations?
  • Have you ever found yourself losing focus while attempting to perform several tasks at once (for example, writing a metaphysics paper while checking your email, surfing the web, texting your friends and Tweeting about the NCAA play-offs)?
  • Have you ever found an academic lecture to be so suffocatingly boring that you just zoned out for the remainder of the talk?

If you answered "yes" or "maybe" to any of these questions, you should start a course of Adderall immediately. Under no circumstances should you continue to write your dissertation without Adderall; you have an illness, and it can be treated with Adderall. Please go to your doctor as soon as possible and request some Adderall. Bring a copy of this article, and ask your doctor to write my code (ETHICATE2011) in the prescription. Remember:  Adderall.  Payment Code:  ETHICATE2011.  Thank you.

The Ethicator

Send your questions to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com


Things You Can Buy for the Cost of Carl’s Book, Part 12

Body for Sale

$18.00 from Paladin Press

The Ethicator's book pick of the month:  Ed Brassard's book,  Body for Sale.  "Whether the bottom line is saving lives or making money, medical technology is a source of life and death, hope and new beginnings, and big bucks. Find out how you can cash in on this lucrative trade."

Finally, someone who gets it.

Keep sending your questions to the Ethicator:  info@whitecoatblackhat.com



The Ethicator: Can I get a job without a genius brother?

Real employment

Real employment

Dear Ethicator,

Once upon a time I told your brother that I was thinking about applying to philosophy graduate school. He told me that if I got a Ph.D. in philosophy I'd probably be fated to checking bags at the airport. I disregarded your brother's bullshit comment and entered a philosophy Ph.D. program, only to find that he was kind of right; it's darn-near impossible to get a job in philosophy. Your brother has been very successful in philosophy, but now we all know that this was only because he had a brilliant younger brother whose ideas he could plagiarize. I don't have any siblings. Is there any other way to become a successful philosopher or am I doomed to work at the airport?

Thanks, Ethicator!
Possible future TSA employee

Dear employee:

I am not sure how I am supposed to reason with someone who admits to drawing career inspiration from my brother.

Nonetheless, if you are an academic parasite like Carl, and are looking for an intellectual host to feed on, you would do well to get one of those airport bag-checking jobs you're dismissing. I know a few people in that line of work. Most got unionized jobs right out of high school, have pensions, and maybe even air passes that let them fly out to see Lakers games on long weekends. If you're like most philosophy PhDs, I'm guessing that your last vacation was in a '94 Sentra, driving to some airport hotel over Christmas holidays to interview for a six-month job grading freshman logic exams.

So what am I saying here? Spend some time working with the airport folks, and start stealing ideas from them, because they are clearly smarter than you are. Then you can impart to your colleagues lots of ideas previously unknown to academic philosophers, such as basic labor market supply-and-demand.

Happy feeding,

The Ethicator

Keep sending your questions to the Ethicator:  info@whitecoatblackhat.com


The Ethicator: To be . . .

Mel Gibson in Hamlet

Dear Ethicator,
To be or not to be? Is that still the question?

A question? Of course.  THE question?  Not a chance.  We live in a social media universe, and you just became obsolete five minutes
ago. Don't just stand there staring at your belly button.  Got a problem? Tweet it, crowdsource it, answer it and move on.  Next question.

Oh btw, how much do you think an autographed copy of WC,BH is
worth? In other words, how much is Carl Elliott's signature worth?

This is a complicated question.  On the one hand, I would assume that Carl's signature would be essentially worthless to any sane person who values decent writing.  On the other hand, if scarcity is a criterion for value, I must admit that Carl's signature is extremely rare.  One  almost never sees Carl's signature in the usual places -- for example, on checks.  You'd be hard-pressed ever to find a signed check from Carl Elliott.  If you ever find a signed check by Carl Elliott, you should probably consider it a collector's item.  Legal statements, such as restraining orders, are far more common and are probably not worth much. So it probably depends on the document.

You're welcome,
The Ethicator

Send your questions to the Ethicator: info@whitecoatblackhat.com