White Coat, Black Hat Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine

9Apr/111

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

Posted by B Elliott

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.

Yours,

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

8Apr/110

Speak Truth to Power: Join the Social Media Revolution

Posted by B Elliott

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.

5Apr/110

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

Posted by B Elliott

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?

Thoughts?

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

23Mar/1111

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

Posted by B Elliott

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.

Sincerely,

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

14Mar/110

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

Posted by B Elliott

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?

Thanks,

Getting-no-help-from-my-dissertation-advisor-so-I'm-considering-taking-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

12Mar/110

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

Posted by B Elliott

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

 

10Mar/110

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

Posted by B Elliott

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

5Mar/111

The Ethicator: To be . . .

Posted by B Elliott

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

 

3Mar/112

The Ethicator: Can I pay someone to write my dissertation?

Posted by B Elliott

Dear Ethicator,

I am a current PhD student but am worried that I am not making timely progress toward completing my dissertation. I'm contemplating purchasing a dissertation from a ghost writing organization so I can just be done already, and the website I'm considering guarantees that it is 100% plagiarism free so I don't have to worry about that! My adviser is too busy writing articles for the New Yorker and checking the sales of his own book to help me along. Can the Ethicator advise me on whether it's ethically acceptable to pay someone to write my dissertation? I mean, I'd totally read over it once before I turned it in...

Thanks Ethicator!
A concerned graduate student

Dear Concerned:

I am somewhat conflicted. As you know, I have very strong feelings about plagiarism. On the other hand, though, I see that you are paying for the work (unlike, well, you know . . .). So you're happy, the writer's happy. What's the harm? After all, If you really like something enough, isn't that kind of like writing it yourself? And if you are a serious bioethicist like I am, your time is precious. There's only so much time to waste on writing when you are busy building and managing your brand, tweeting and talking to cable news. So I understand.

What I don't understand, though, is why you assume that the financial burden should fall on you, rather than your professor. After all, he's the one slacking off, raking in the bucks, writing for the fancypants magazines and clicking Amazon every 5 minutes to see if his book's broken into the top 50,000. I say, order the paper and send him the bill.

You're welcome,

The Ethicator

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

3Mar/110

The Ethicator: Should I Indulge My Former Prof?

Posted by B Elliott

Professor Blowhard

Dear Ethicator:

Big fan here; longtime reader, first time writer. I have a question about my obligations to my former PhD advisor. Now that it's been a couple of years and the ink on my diploma has dried, do I still have to keep buying and pretending to read my advisor's books?  Should I be honest and tell him that I think his work is boring?

Looking forward to your answer,

A former student of Professor Dickhead

Dear Former Student:

Your situation is truly heart-rending. You have spent countless, soul-crushing years laboring under a sadistic petty tyrant – one whose sole compensation for his own mediocrity is his power to ruin the lives of people under his supervision.   Now, years later, with all of that horror behind you, he still insists that you remain a sycophant, incessantly praising his worthless, mind-numbing academic papers at every turn – even though your own ideas are constantly showing up in his research, with no attribution.  I feel for you.

It would be unethical for you to continue indulging him – in fact, I think you are ethically obliged to destroy his career – but you should first consider getting some compensation for your suffering.  Write a letter of complaint to the university administration, preferably with some photographs included (Photoshop is very user-friendly these days, remember).  Before you send it,  show him everything and then give him the opportunity to offer compensation.

This may seem improper, but keep an eye on the big picture: You are the injured party.

Go get 'em,

The Ethicator

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

2Mar/113

The Ethicator – Our First Question

Posted by B Elliott

Chuck E Cheese

Our reader asks:

Dear Ethicator,

My drug studies are getting really expensive, mainly because I have to pay the volunteers so much. It would be a lot cheaper to test the drugs on kids. I'm pretty sure I could get them to sign up for studies in exchange for an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese and a bag of Halloween candy. What do you think? (Also, do do you know if they have portable defibrillators at Chuck E Cheese?)

Just trying to do the right thing,

Jerry M.

The Ethicator replies:

Question: Is this for an erectile dysfunction drug? If so, I think it may be out of line to test it on kids. Otherwise, what's the harm?

Bring a defibrillator just in case. There is such a thing as being too thrifty.

1Mar/112

The Ethicator

Posted by B Elliott

Sunshine bursting through black clouds

Glorious sunshine bursts through black clouds

All my fans seem to be asking me the same question:  Now that you've exposed and destroyed your brother Carl's book, when will start publishing some ideas of your own?  At what point will we get a glimpse into the mind of the angry gadfly whose ideas were stolen and distorted into White Coat Black Hat?

I thought you'd never ask. For years, I've been cultivating an expertise in bioethics, primarily through various continuing education courses and extensive emailing with famous philosophers.  Throughout my scholarly work, though, I've been frustrated by  the stale, inflexibility of it all. Seriously, I love Aristotle, but let's face it: The Nicomachean Ethics is pre-Internet thinking.

Enter the Ethicator, an advice column with a new, ground-breaking approach to bioethical questions. The title comes from my term "to ethicate", a method of moral deliberation that balances traditional moral concerns against new realities, such as the needs of a globalizing market economy and the demands of a cable news and social media-fueled 24 hour news cycle.

Please submit your questions to the Ethicator:  info@whitecoatblackhat.com.  I look forward to them.