Sunday, November 10, 2013

Power Profiling: Trusting People Who Wear the Right Clothes, Have The Right Titles, Sound Certain

We hear a lot about racial profiling, where innocent people are harassed because they "look" like they are trouble.

Perhaps an even bigger problem is what I would call POWER PROFILING where we trust people who dress right,  have positions of authority, and act like people in power.  Some of these people use their facade of respectability to hide their misuse of power and outright crimes.  Most people tend to trust them because they have the aura of respectability.

An important avenue of study would cover:

  1. Distinguishing between those who legitimately use their authority from those who abuse it.
  2. Learning what's special about the people (politicians, activists, victims, journalists) who are able and willing to see through the facade and challenge the abusers and how to distinguish them from people who falsely challenge those in power
  3. Learning more about those who refuse to accept the truth and/or even cover it up - those in power above the corrupt ones and those who watch from the side.  

Here are some examples of people in power who successfully hid their wrong doings because people didn't challenge them or didn't believe the challengers.  These have been sitting in a draft post for a while and are from 2010, but new ones pop up every day.

Belgian  Bishop Abused own nephew.
Behind an aggressive investigation of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Belgium that drew condemnation from the pope himself lies a stark family tragedy: the molestation, for years, of a youth by his uncle, the bishop of Bruges; the prelate’s abrupt resignation when a friend of the nephew finally threatened to make the abuse public; and now the grass-roots fury of almost 500 people complaining of abuse by priests. 
Diabetes drug maker hid evidence that their profitable drug was dangerous:
"In the fall of 1999, the drug giant SmithKline Beecham secretly began a study to find out if its diabetes medicine, Avandia, was safer for the heart than a competing pill, Actos, made by Takeda.
Avandia’s success was crucial to SmithKline, whose labs were otherwise all but barren of new products. But the study’s results, completed that same year, were disastrous. Not only was Avandia no better than Actos, but the study also provided clear signs that it was riskier to the heart.
But instead of publishing the results, the company spent the next 11 years trying to cover them up, according to documents recently obtained by The New York Times. The company did not post the results on its Web site or submit them to federal drug regulators, as is required in most cases by law.
“This was done for the U.S. business, way under the radar,” Dr. Martin I. Freed, a SmithKline executive, wrote in an e-mail message dated March 29, 2001, about the study results that was obtained by The Times. “Per Sr. Mgmt request, these data should not see the light of day to anyone outside of GSK,” the corporate successor to SmithKline."

In BP’s Record, a History of Boldness and Costly Blunders

Time and again, BP has insisted that it has learned how to balance risk and safety, efficiency and profit. Yet the evidence suggests that fundamental change has been elusive.
Revisiting Texas City in 2009, inspectors from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found more than 700 safety violations and proposed a record fine of $87.4 million — topping the earlier record set by BP in the 2005 accident. Most of the penalties, the agency said, were because BP had failed to live up to the previous settlement fully.
In March of this year, OSHA found 62 violations at BP’s Ohio refinery, proposing $3 million more in penalties.
“Senior management told us they are very serious about safety, but we observed that they haven’t translated their words into safe working procedures and practices, and they have difficulty applying the lessons learned from refinery to refinery or even from within refineries,” said Mr. Michaels, the OSHA administrator.
BP is contesting OSHA’s allegations, saying it has made substantial improvements at both facilities.
Accidents have also continued to plague BP’s pipelines in Alaska. Most recently, on May 25, a power failure led to a leak that overwhelmed a storage tank and spilled about 200,000 gallons of oil — the third-largest spill on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

Philosophers call the study of how we determine the truth epistemology and the questions I raise fall in that category.  But there's no need to wait for people in power to do this study.  You can look around you.

  • What stories have you not believed that turned out to be true?  
  • Or believed and turned out to be false?   
  • To what extent, in hind sight, did you believe or doubt because of how it aligned with what you wanted to believe or doubt?
  • Who are the people around you who question those in authority?  
  • Do they tend to be right or wrong in the long run?  
  • What distinguishes those who are generally right from those who are generally wrong?
  • Do the ones who have been generally wrong know they were wrong?  
  • Were there signs in people who have betrayed your trust that will tip you off sooner in the future?



1 comment:

  1. Excellent points, excellent post. Especially the questions at the end. Wish you could persuade some HS or college teachers to incorporate this into a curriculum.


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