William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Ask A Scientific Ethicist: Estranged Mother, Thieving Boss, & More

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

The Scientific Ethicist, PhD

Estranged Mother

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

My wife has been estranged from her mother for over a decade. The split was caused when her mother disagreed with her choice of husband. Namely, me. Harsh words were spoken on both sides and neither is willing to budge, even after all this time.

The reason I’m writing is I’ve heard my mother-in-law is seriously ill and I think my wife ought to know. What can I do to bring these two back together?

Dan, Lexington, KY

Dear Dan,

This isn’t an usual question. Recent discoveries in the ratios of atomic weights of noble gases can guide us here. The contrasting ratios between Xenon and Argon, 3.286358, and between Krypton and Argon, 2.097622, should tell you pretty much all you need to know. Noble gases have, as we all know, almost no chemical reactivity.

Science is amazing in this way!

The Scientific Ethicist

Thieving Boss

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I’ve seen my boss steal funds from the petty cash several times over the past three months. It isn’t much, just $20 to $30 a time. But it’s still stealing, isn’t it?

My question is whether I should report him. I worry that I’d get in trouble because he seems real friendly with his own boss.

[Name withheld], Seattle, WA

Dear [Name withheld],

A meta-analysis of scientifically conducted experiments giving this dilemma to select college students shows that 34.385% of people would turn their bosses in. Therefore it is 34.385% ethical to do so and 65.615% non-ethical.

These kinds of hard results, as you will agree, demonstrate the real power of science!

The Scientific Ethicist

Smoking Dilemma

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

I was walking downtown and having a cigarette when a homeless woman asked me if she could have one. I gave her what was left of the pack. Should I have?

Keesha, Atlanta, GA

Dear Keesha,

Science has shown some smokers will develop cancer, and in others cause or exacerbate other diseases. Science has also shown that smoking is more-or-less harmless for some people. Science—always, Science!—has proved beyond any doubt that some people enjoy smoking and that others don’t. One last scientific fact: homeless people have been scientifically demonstrated to have less money than employed people, such as yourself.

Therefore the answer is so obvious—and scientific!

The Scientific Ethicist

Pay Raise

Dear Scientific Ethicist,

One of my top employees came to me the other day and said he had been offered a job at another company. He said the other firm was going to pay him about 30% more, plus give him some interesting perquisites. I can just manage to make up the differences, but only if I don’t give everybody else their usual annual salary increases.

I also can’t shake the feeling that I’m being blackmailed. He knows the financial situation of our company just as well as I do. If he wants to go, then why doesn’t he just go?

What should I do?

Brad, Secaucus, NJ

Dear Brad,

The scientific theory of evolution has conclusively proved that acquisitiveness, the desire to have more, to storehouse food for bad times, is built into our genes. This is why people ask for raises and why others don’t want to give them. Both sides want to keep what they have, and gain more—unless those people are related, and then the mathematics of reciprocal altruism become important.

In that case, we’d have to know how many genes you and your employee share in common, then we could scientifically calculate your increased fitness by offering or declining the raise. But since you don’t indicate that you’re related to your employee, these considerations don’t matter.

That is the awe-inspiring power of Science, though. Just imagining the kinds of quantifications we could make sends minute but coordinated electrochemical impulses along my central nervous system pathways!

The Scientific Ethicist

It’s your turn. Click here and use the form to email your questions to the Scientific Ethicist today!

9 Comments

  1. Wow! It’s all so simple this way! I should have stuck with chemistry and stayed out of philosophy. So much shorter answers! :)

  2. I won’t trust a scientific ethicist that doesn’t demonstrate the appropriate p-values. Some like to re-interpret the original scrip.. journal papers as saying that p-values of 0.05 are acceptable. Clearly this is not the original intent, and I will only trust when 0.025 is used.

  3. Were any of those answers peer reviewed in the appropriate scientific journals? I cannot take them seriously unless there’s consensus born from science’s foolproof self-governance process – the peer review.

  4. Dear Scientific Ethicist,

    In your answer to Brad, you talk about people wanting to keep what they have and gather more with this exception: “—unless those people are related”

    I would like point out that my recent research has shown that this exception does not apply in 97.32% of cases during and after the reading of a will. My paper has been published here: http://tinyurl.com/oaqqtb4

  5. On a more serious note, please forgive me because I am liberal. However, I am much like a libertarian and people to the far left of me scare the bejesus out of me.

    What I do note, is that myself and more common (i.e. center-left) liberals and conservatives and libertarians, etc. have a much better sense of humor than the far left. Their sense of humor tends to be more mean spirited.

    Do you know what I mean?

  6. mpcraig,

    “I am much like a libertarian and people to the far left of me scare the bejesus out of me.”

    There is hope for you yet.

    “Their sense of humor tends to be more mean spirited.”

    In my experience, it tends to be non-existent.

  7. mpcraig,

    P.S.

    Don’t expect anyone with a working brain to click on a tiny URL.

    I work in IT, and in my experience, the number one use of such services is to camouflage links to malicious content.

  8. Brandon Gates

    7 May 2014 at 10:00 pm

    I used to think far-left liberals had a great sense of humor. Then I began to notice the mean-spiritedness. Then it began to not be very funny. It made me quite angry, in fact. Now when I look, or poke, in that direction some are either quite hostile or simply miss a very funny joke. Thing is, “they” haven’t really changed, only I have.

  9. Very good! Bravo!

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