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Radiolab goes Bad

Notice: These ramblings assume you’ve listened to the show. They won’t make sense otherwise. If you want to be in the know go HERE.

So I’m gonna have to take issue with Jad and Bobby K on two of their conclusions from this show.

Problem #1 The Milgram experiment and “Science”. They have a guest who critiques the classic interpretation of the experiment by pointing out results of variant experiments and the post-experiment interviews. While The classic interpretation that people are willing to take orders for evil may not be correct I don’t think the people are willing to sacrifice for science is accurate either. I take issue with this for several reasons. First one defense provided was that these people were committed to helping advance scientific knowledge. Commitment to  a cause that is NOT science is generally rejected as a defense for evil. I bet lots of NAZIs were simply committed to the glory of Germany, Religious fanatics may sincerely be committed to the Glory of their god, and as a society we tend to frown on this behavior. Science like any cause can be easily exploited so in that sense it should deserve no special protections.

To me the most interesting part of the experiment is the rate at which people refused to continue when “Ordered” to continue. I know I hate being told what to do. I wonder if at that point the natural inclination of many is to resist and critical thinking kicks in and we then realize what’s going on and begin to appraise why we should or shouldn’t continue?

I noticed when I sold tickets for the AAA baseball franchise in SLC in college that a majority of the population seems content to herd. There would be 4 ticket windows open, but often a big line would form at two windows and then people would just stand in line and not examine the other two windows. There were countless nights I would call out and say “hey if you don’t want to wait there are two more of us who are ready and happy to help” and then all of a sudden I’d have a line. Maybe a segment of the population will just go along until something kicks them into thinking. That’s what i learned from the Milgram experiment.

Problem #2 Fritz Haber - This is shorter and simpler I promise. So Jad and Bobby K decide he could have never foreseen the atrocious use of Zyklon gas in NAZI gas chambers. What evidence do they have to support this? This guy had the thought; hey I can take this poisonous [chlorine] gas and use it to kill lots of people, and then he actually did it at Ypres. That’s exactly the same thought behind concentration camp gas chambers; Let’s use this poisonous [Zyklon] gas to kill lots of people. For all I know it’s where they got the idea. Perhaps he didn’t foresee the targeted use on civilians, and that’s what they mean. But his action of releasing gas into the wind show a pretty cavalier attitude to collateral damage and potential civilian casualties doesn’t it?

Anyway, I may disagree with conclusions, but the data are interesting and I still love the show. I just so violently disagreed with these conclusions that I couldn’t keep it to myself.

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