The ethics of exploitation

A cartoon in the current issue of the NZ Listener magazine says it all. It portrays New Zealand politicians lining up to pass through the cordon around the earthquake damaged city of Christchurch. The policeman on duty is saying “No politics past this point.”

New Zealanders don’t think well of people who seek to exploit a tragedy for their own political, ideological or monetary purposes.

The web site that attempted to explain the earthquake as divine punishment for homosexuals and prostitutes in Christchurch offended us. (Whether genuine or a very bad joke that site seems to have now been taken down).

Respectful and secular

New Zealand TV coverage of the quake has generally been respectful. It has been inclusive and secular – giving no overt support to any particular politics or belief. Welcoming, and grateful to, everyone who helped. Mourning all the deaths. And empathising with all those who lost loved one or otherwise suffered.

I saw one example of an interviewee (I think an Exclusive Brethren) attempting to give his message that the earthquake was his god’s punishment for our sinful ways. However, the interviewer refused to buy into his argument, ignored his message and got on with her substantive questions.

Much of the early TV coverage was free of advertising. A matter of respect.

The Campbell live interview with Ken Ring, who runs a business predicting weather, earthquakes and “debunking” climate change science, was offensive. Yes – because of Campbell’s anger. But also because such “prediction” businesses are exploitative and offensive at these times.

“Moonman’s” take on ethics

Ring has responded to criticism of his ethics by attempting to show himself as no different from scientists and everyday consultants. This from his The ethics of warning. (Or Ethics of warning – he does tend to change his links):

“Should people in the sciences warn if they see cyclones coming? How about earthquakes? What should the geosciences do if they see on their earthquake sensors that one area is starting to become more active? If they remain silent, why have that technology in the first place? How about others who also think, from alternative viewpoints, that an earthquake is on the cards? If consultants are to remain silent then gone would they all be from our society, accounatnts, economists, and all doctors.”

But Ring’s business is not in the same class as “the sciences” or consultants like “accountants, economists, and all doctors.” He uses “science” in the same way as a peddler of a cosmetic or snake oil – or as a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.

Consider his appeal: “How about others who also think, from alternative viewpoints, that an earthquake is on the cards?” This would justify TVNZ running programmes at this time to peddlers of all sorts of woo. So alongside Ken ring’s prediction business we should also see other astrologers, religious claimants ranting against homosexuals and sin, the doomsayers who predict the end of the world (surely there is a group targeting March 20th – there is for May 21 – see How do we know when the world will end?). Just use you imaginations. They all have their loyal followers, as does Ken Ring.There are plenty of groups and individuals out there who could similarly exploit the Christchurch earthquake tragedy. For monetary, political or ideological reasons.

But this would be disrespectful to all those who have died, to their loved ones, to those continuing to suffer and to those who empathise with victims of the tragedy.

It would not be ethical.

As for Ring’s “scientific” claims – Joanne Black, also in the current issue of the NZ Listener,  summed it up in her article Don’t Ring Us. . .“:

“Of course, in these terribly economically straightened times we could close down the geology departments of our universities and instead buy a special edition of Ring’s almanac, putting he money we save towards evacuating people whenever he says there is going to be an earthquake. My prediction is that it would not be worth it.”

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One response to “The ethics of exploitation

  1. He uses “science” in the same way as a peddler of a cosmetic or snake oil – or as a drunk uses a lamppost – for support rather than illumination.

    No, he uses science like a drunk uses a lamppost, to pee on.


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