Back to Prindle Institute

Do the Economic Benefits of Fracking Outweigh the Risk of Pollution and Depletion of Natural Resources?

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as “fracking,” is a method of extracting natural gas by drilling wells and then shooting liquids at high pressures down the well in order to fracture the shale surrounding natural gas reservoirs. It is currently one of the cheapest and most lucrative methods of extraction, and is sustainable in the sense that one drilling hole can be used to make multiple wells in a single location.

The United States has benefitted greatly from the use of hydraulic fracturing. Economically, fracking is much cheaper than other methods of extraction, and our ability to extract within our own country reduces our dependence on other nations. The lower price of extraction and the United States’ ability to market our goods has promoted the United States to one of the leading producers of natural gas in the world, churning out about 300,000 barrels of natural gas daily. Certain methods have also made this process more sustainable; the addition of certain chemicals to the fracking fluid reduce the friction created from high pressure, requiring less energy to break the shale and thereby reducing carbon emissions into the environment. Concerns of contamination are also assuaged because there are methods (albeit extensive and costly) to clean the groundwater surrounding the drilling site.

Despite the economic gains that result from fracking, there is much controversy surrounding the methods used and the deleterious effects on the environment. Although many fracking companies advertise the process as safe, there are significant risks to the ecology surrounding drilling sites. The fracking fluid that is injected into the well contains about 40,000 gallons of 600 different types of chemicals, including methane and other carcinogens that have already proven to have a significant impact on peoples’ health. There are several accounts of people becoming ill from ingesting water that has been contaminated. For this reason alone, the country of France has banned the method of fracking out of fear of permanent water contamination. Additionally, only 30-50% of the fracking fluid injected into the well is recovered, leaving a majority of the chemicals in the ground. This mixture is not biodegradable.

Coupled with the risk of pollution is the fear that fracking is draining our natural resources. About 400 trucks containing 1-8 millions gallons of water are required for each well. With approximately 500,000 currently active wells in the United States, about 72 trillion gallons of water are needed to sustain this practice.

The ethical issue here is one of priority and responsibility. The first question to ask is whether the upper-hand the United States has gained by fracking is worth the risk that the method poses to the health of the ecology surrounding drilling sites. The economic benefit is great – by being a contender in the global market we are open to trade, promoting all types of economic growth. The second question to ask is whether the companies extracting the natural gas have a responsibility to the citizens to reduce the amount of harmful additives in the fracking fluid, should they continue the process. Lastly, is it ethically responsible to tap into natural gas reservoirs and then leave chemicals that are not biodegradable in their place, disturbing the surrounding ecology and possibly decreasing the sustainability of the process? Let us know what you think in the comments below!

What Millennials Consume on Facebook

This post by Dr. Jeff McCall was originally published in The Indy Star on April 3, 2015.

The good news is that nearly 90 percent of recently surveyed millennials say they get news off Facebook. The bad news is that most of those social media users stumble into the “news” only when they go to the site for other purposes. Worse yet, what these millennials are getting as news from social media sites wouldn’t constitute news in the traditional sense.

A new report by the Media Insight Project indicates that while less than half of millennials go to social media specifically to find news, most say they do absorb a bit of news along the way while browsing party photos. Facebook is the primary site for such accidental news absorption, with Instagram, Twitter and YouTube also figuring in. The most likely “news” topics these people find on social media are pop culture, music/movies, social issues, fashion and sports. Only 40 percent of millennials report paying for any news site or app, but most are happy to pay for access to movies, video games and music.

News is not a commodity worth paying for. As one young survey respondent said, “I really wouldn’t pay for any type of news because as a citizen it’s my right to know the news.”

It’s a disturbing and ongoing trend that young adults aren’t interested in real news and don’t engage it. Millennials perform poorly on surveys of current events and public affairs. With little insight and awareness of important events, these young people are bystanders as the public policies that will affect their lives for decades get made. In the 1970s, half of college-age people read a daily newspaper. Now it is less than one in five, online or otherwise.

It figures then that voter turnout among young people is consistently lower than for other age groups. Young voter turnout has declined steadily during the last half century, except for slight upticks in 1992 to elect Bill Clinton and 2008 to elect Barack Obama. President Obama recently mentioned the prospect of mandatory voting. More voter participation is generally a good thing, but too many young voters would only be prepared to vote on their favorite new movie or what to put on the pizza.

Finding causes for the massive millennial news tune-out is a complex task. The news industry itself, particularly television, must shoulder some blame. Broadcast news agendas have softened over the years, with weather, pop news and cute animals in every newscast. No wonder millennials look for this sort of “news” online and identify it as such.

Media literacy education is deficient at all levels of the education system, leaving young people with little insight about how to stay informed and why. A national survey by the First Amendment Center shows that only 14 percent of Americans can name freedom of the press as a freedom articulated in the First Amendment.

Then there is the near fixation of young adults on their digital devices. Instagram photos of pets, tweets about the lunch menu and posts about tonight’s bash just have to be shared. Lives are not so much lived as they are recorded and processed through the digital universe. Such digital compulsion leaves too little time or brain space to become civically aware.

More evidence of the younger generation’s lack of interest in news can be found in enrollments at college journalism programs. Studies show journalism enrollments are on the decline. Of those students who are registered in journalism programs, 70 percent are studying public relations or advertising, not traditional journalism. It’s hard to blame these young people for studying public relations. They will earn 50 percent more than their counterparts who prepare for careers in journalism. Such is the state of the news industry, both economically and in terms of prestige.

None of this discussion is to suggest that all millennials are as uninformed as the people interviewed during Fox News’ “Watters’ World” segment. Of course, certain young adults take seriously their duty to be informed and civically engaged. The question is whether their numbers are sufficient to someday lead a democracy on the important issues of the day. The answer is less likely as long as millennials think “news” is best found while stumbling through social media sites.

Ethics of Student Choice – DePauw’s “New” Meal Plan

Taking into account recent emails and updates from DePauw Administration in regards to the student meal plan, students have begun to voice concerns not only about the meal plan changes, but also about the fact that the student body was not consulted about these changes that affect them so directly.  Their concerns highlight not only a need for rethinking proposed changes to the meal plan, but also the requirement for consulting with students before mandating a change to the ways they eat on campus.

Continue reading “Ethics of Student Choice – DePauw’s “New” Meal Plan”

Ethics of the Iranian Nuclear Deal

Recently, the P5+1 powers (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States, plus Germany) have taken interest in reducing the amount of nuclear weaponry in Iran. In light of historically strained relations with post-revoluntionary Iran, the major world powers have reason to be feel threatened by the prospect of a nuclear program in the country. Suspicions were confirmed as a presence of a nuclear plan in Iran became public in 2002. As a result, the United Nations, the United States and the European Union imposed heavy economic sanctions on Iran in hopes of retarding their nuclear progress.

After 12 years of imposing economic sanctions on the Iran and making little progress, the P5+1 powers have decided to initiate a deal. The preliminary Iran Nuclear Deal seeks to reduce the production of nuclear weaponry in Iran by mandating regular inspections, and limiting the amount of installed centrifuges and the stockpile of uranium, among other things. Although initially skeptical of the plan, Iranians found reason to celebrate as it became increasingly likely that their economic sanctions would be reduced in the event of their cooperation.

The proposed Iran Nuclear Deal has hit a road block this past week as President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has refused to sign the latest draft of the agreement. Rouhani states that he will only sign the agreement if all for the sanctions are lifted on the day of the signing. Meanwhile, the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has stayed relatively quiet on the issue but is doubtful that the negotiations will be finalized anytime soon. Unfortunately, the P5+1 powers have a June 30 deadline to finalize the deal so decisions need to be made quickly. President Barack Obama is determined to solidify the deal and will threaten to instead increase the sanctions on Iran if the country does not cooperate with the proceedings.

Although the ideal plan to reduce nuclear weaponry in Iran in exchange for loosening economic sanctions on the country may sound like a fair trade off,  some outside of the negations do not agree. Some Iranians have been pointing out that plenty of other countries have nuclear programs as well and have not faced the same repercussions. However, Iran had tried for many years to hide their program which may be why they are now facing such strict consequences. Is Iran a special case or should all countries with nuclear weapons programs be treated equally?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been one of the most vocal opposers of the Iran Nuclear Deal, as he does not believe the plan is restrictive enough. Netanyahu thinks that the Iranian nuclear program is potentially threatening to the greater world community and has states that “Israel will not accept an agreement which allows a country that vows to annihilate us to develop nuclear weapons.” Should the United States place more value on the fears of one of our strongest allies? Is it ethical to restrict nuclear programs to only allies?

Sweet Tea Ethics at Prindle This Sunday

Ed Garnes ’99 will be returning to DePauw this Sunday as part of the Sweet Tea Ethics College and Community Tour. He will be presenting out here at the Prindle Institute for Ethics 10 a.m. as part of the DePauw’s Philanthrophy and Excellence Weekend for Multicultural alumni. Below are some details about Sweet Tea Ethics and Ed Garnes.

About Sweet Tea Ethics
Fueled by an uncanny mix of observational humor and candid social commentary, Sweet Tea Ethics transforms grandma’s folk tales, personal college experiences, and sobering life lessons into practical strategies for personal development and real world application. Mixing the reasoning sessions of the local barbershop and fervor of street corner theologians, the inter-generational dialogue covers a wide range of topics including manhood, black love, bridging generation gaps, and the cross cultural appeal of hip hop. Operating as a southern fired forum far beyond canned speeches or lectures, award winning writer, counselor, educator, and activist Edward M. Garnes, Jr. , founder of From Afros To Shelltoes, shoots straight in his most personal speaking tour of all time. Sweet Tea Ethics has featured a wide array of visionaries including brothers Clifton West & Dr. Cornel West, visual art superstar Fahamu Pecou, hip hop artist Killer Mike, CNN financial analyst Clyde Anderson, and celebrity stylist Spry Lee Scott.

Here is the significance of my dear brother Ed Garnes, Jr. and From Afros To Shelltoes’ Sweet Tea Ethics. There is no other group in Atlanta that can bring together such engaged, high quality, and substantial dialogue about the crucial issues facing not just the black community, but also American society. He writes well, works hard and revels in the life of the mind. Thank God for brother Ed Garnes, Jr.–Dr. Cornel West
About Ed Garnes
Award-winning writer, activist, counselor, and coach, Atlanta native Edward M. Garnes, Jr. is the founder of From Afros To Shelltoes (, a community-based organization uniquely focused on cultural productions that bridge generation gaps between youth, elders, and the hip-hop community. Garnes has received The Atlanta Tribune Man of Distinction Award and holds a B.A. in English Writing from DePauwUniversity and an M.A. in Counseling from Michigan State University where he studied as a Competitive Fellow in Counseling. His seminal essay “Black Boy Blues Suite: A Love Poem To My Father In E -Flat” appears in the anthology Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African American Community edited by Gil Robertson.  As a highly sought after commentator on hip hop, black identity, manhood, and popular culture, Garneshas appeared on CNN’s Headline News, Fox’s MY TV Network, Sirius Radio, CBS Radio, and Garnes currently serves as an Adjunct Professor in Public Speaking atSpelman College and co stars in the internationally acclaimed documentary film Elementary Genocide: From Primary to Penitentiary directed by Rahiem Shabazz. His national manhood tour Sweet Tea Ethics has featured famed brothers Dr. Cornel West & Clifton West.


Banning Beef in India

In the most recent election in India, the Hindu Nationalist Party (BJP) won. In the state of Maharashtra, the new government has banned the possession and sale of beef. Since it is against their religion to consume beef, the government has now forced religious dietary restrictions onto followers of Hinduism and non-Hindus. Violators of the new law can face up to five years in prison; a steep price to pay for a product that was recently legal. While buffalo meat is still available, producers are currently on strike to protest the legislation.

The law does not bode well for minorities, who have had a source of food taken away in addition to the effect the law with have on mostly Muslim meat sellers and cattle traders. To some, it appears to be a direct attack on the livelihood and rights of a minority religious group and others not ascribed to Hinduism. Additionally, animals at zoos who used to be fed beef are now being fed with chicken; some are concerned this will result in a decline in animal health. It seems extreme to impose religious dietary restrictions on animals, as well as invasive to restrict the diets of others based on a majority religion.

Should governments be allowed to pass religious-based legislation that restricts diets? Is it ethical to include animals in those restrictions? Can a source of livelihood for a religious minority be taken away by a majority government?

Ethics in 5: Printerns on Social Networking Ethics

Every week, the Prindle Intern team weighs in on an ethical issue together. Each intern is challenged to keep their response to five sentences – Ethics in 5. Click on an intern’s name to check out their previous posts on The Prindle Post!

This week’s question: Social Networking Ethics

Comments regarding employers or coworkers posted on social networking websites are costing employees jobs across the country. The ethical and legal challenges surrounding the use of social media and its consequences in the workplace affects the business industry as a whole because employers across the nation are setting policies regarding employee use of these websites while working and even what these workers can say when off the clock. According to the Business Ethics website, as of 2010 software developer Cisco Systems Inc. even has a program, Cisco SocialMiner, designed to help employers monitor their employees’ social network site status updates, forum posts and blog posts in real time. The line between an employer’s right to monitor employees and an employee’s right to privacy can easily blur in this climate.

Corby Burger: Taking on the role of an employee brings with it more than just a paycheck, but grants a certain supplemental professional identity; and the candidness brought on by social media is making the line between one’s personal and professional life vanishingly thin. As we become desensitized to living our lives in the virtual world, we fail to realize that each tweet, insta, or status update is exposed to an unfathomably large audience, and this can have major repercussions when individuals are representing more than just themselves. Although some may claim this is an infringement of personal freedom, employers should maintain the ability to set cohesive employee codes of conduct that extend to the cyber realm, as they have a vested interest in cultivating a holistic company policy that recognizes an employee’s public association with their place of employment. Social media sites are fundamentally public, and to argue that these employers are infringing on the rights of their employees is to ignore the very nature of social media itself. What is important to me in this debate is the level of awareness and notification that employees have in relation to a company’s social media policy, setting clear standards the firm demands.

Natalie Weilandt: Allowing employers to actively monitor their employees’ social media outlets is a slippery slope that we need to be firm in resisting, especially as members of a technological society with increasingly hazy definitions of personal privacy and autonomy. If it becomes permissible for companies to control what we say on social media, what other types of (potentially even unforeseeable) elements of our self-expression will they be allowed to control in the future? Limiting the expression of opinions or personal statements as they relate to life outside the workplace is a limitation of our most basic freedoms, and a dangerous blurring of the lines between personal choice and the choices of those who are, in many ways, more powerful. It’s dangerous because it would aim for companies to be allowed to eliminate potentially progressive dissent (and as we’ve learned throughout history…where there’s dissent, there’s sometimes a much bigger problem). At the very least, this is unrealistic to employ on a practical level simply because there’s an inescapable susceptibility to corruption– who defines what’s “inappropriate”?

Noelle Witwer: The idea of the company that you work for monitoring your social media usage is an uncomfortable and distasteful thought for many people. I think that this initial reaction of discomfort that we may experience is due, in part, to the fact that we prefer to believe the things that we post on social media will be limited to the audience for whom we intend them– our friends and family. We also may argue that work and personal life should be separate entities–before the internet, your company couldn’t monitor your life outside work, so why should they be able to do it now? However, these beliefs may be naive: the fact is that currently, when you choose to put something on the internet, you are essentially putting that information in the public domain. Since the general public can access this information about you with relative ease, it makes sense that employers want to be aware of what their affiliates are posting online–the real ethical issue arises when the employer is making the decision about what online content posted by an employee they consider to be “acceptable” or “unacceptable”.

Vanessa FreijeWhat employees choose to do off the clock is their own business. However, what they choose to post on social media and on the internet is a reflection of the image they are choosing to promote. Personally, I believe that as a responsible adult you should be cognizant of what you’re posting and understand the consequences. If you’re posting things that would promote a negative image, then, as an employer, I would be worried about how that could hinder the company’s reputation. I don’t think that employers should have full monitoring access to employees’ social media, but I do think that to a degree the company has the right to ask employees to keep it appropriate on social media.

Amy Brown: In most cases, I find that employers should not be following up on their employee’s social media pages. Work and social lives tend to be two different areas, and as long as an employee is not posting things that reflect badly on the company image, it seems unethical to routinely check their social media. That said, if employees’ social media posts are causing problems for the company’s image, bashing fellow employees through updates, or going against company policies – such as not posting about certain jobs or projects of the company – then the company has a right to intervene and let the employee know that that behavior is unacceptable. In general, a company should not be monitoring an employee’s social media on a regular basis if there is no reason for suspicion.

Eleanor Price: Employers shouldn’t investigate employees’ social media, especially if the employees have no reference to where they work — in this way it is totally clear that they do not represent the company. I believe that it is acceptable that an employee have a life outside of his/her job, one that the employer has no place in, and therefore should not investigate.

Cheney Hagerup: I believe that freedom of speech should be granted to employees on all forums, in any medium. If an employee chooses to speak negatively of their organization, and an employer happens to come across the commentary, I can imagine that social repercussions may be in store for the employee. However, I do not see it as ethical for the employer to actively monitor the employee’s activity on social media, nor should formal punishment be enacted on the employee. There is a fine line between work life and personal life, but that line exists for a reason, as all actions an employee takes in their personal life should not come to represent their employer as a whole – that would offer the employer the liberty to criticize all actions and personal views of the employee. Furthermore, freedom of speech on social media sites may encourage more equality and fair treatment in the workplace.

Caroline Zadina: From my point of view, when you accept a position at a company, your name now represents their brand, therefore, your actions reflect not only on yourself, but the company as well. If an employee chooses to speak negatively about about an employer or their organization, I think repercussions should be expected. Even in cases where an employee uses offensive language not directed at the company, if it reflects a poor image on an organization’s choice of personnel, I believe the company may be justified in taking action. If it is a right, I am not quite sure of; however, I do believe that every choice you make in life affects others so one must act accordingly. For example, when I played soccer at a D1 institution, all of my media platforms were heavily regulated by the athletic department and coaches. If I posted something that they disliked, I was asked to remove it because I was a member of the team and therefore my actions reflected back onto my teammates. In cases when you want to keep your private life private, I would suggest not posting on social media.

Rachel Hanebutt: Employers seem to be treating social media as an extension of an individual’s job reputation. In a sense, it is just that, however, even an employee with the “cleanest” social media presence is subjected to off the clock monitoring.  Employers do not have the jurisdiction to control the social events their employees attend, or the types of socializing their employees participate in.  Why should they be able to control what they post, comment, or allow to be presented on their social media site?  Vetting employees’ social media sites prior to employment is one thing; playing “Big Brother” to current employees’ online social presence is another.

How do you feel about this week’s question? Have something you want to share with an intern or a question about their stance? Leave a comment below on what you think of social networking ethics!

Prindle Intern Spotlight: Cheney Hagerup

Cheney is a senior intern from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. She studies English Literature and Spanish at DePauw.

Tell us about an ethics/social justice issue that is particularly important to you.

Traveling throughout Mexico, Nicaragua and Costa Rica has really sparked my interest in working to better understand global inequalities and, more specifically, immigration reform. Studying abroad with the Mexico Solidarity Network pushed me to constantly evaluate and re-evaluate my role as a US citizen and to stand in solidarity with those fighting systems of oppression all over the globe.

What upcoming Prindle event are you most excited about?

The Prindle Institute’s annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium lends the opportunity to meet and converse with college students from all over the country who are also passionate about ethics and social justice. For this reason, I look forward to this event every year and thoroughly enjoy discussing pressing issues with passionate people.

Which class(es) at DePauw have most challenged and expanded your worldview?

The Environmental Crisis/Apocalyptic Lit. course I took last fall with Professors Harry Brown and Jeane Pope forced me to confront global realities of environmental destruction within my English Lit. major. I think that the fact that the course was interdisciplinary allowed me to see the ways in which a passion for social and environmental justice can be incorporated into just about any field of study. The course was discussion based, and these discussions never ceased to captivate me.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve heard about in the past week? This could be something you read, listened to, watched, talked about, etc.

The coolest thing I’ve heard about this week was being offered an AmeriCorps position with City Year Chicago for next year. I accepted!

Tell us about one of your hobbies, interests, or passions.

Aside from saving up, traveling, and then saving up again, my favorite hobby is probably photography. I think that photography can create narratives that simply cannot be portrayed to the same extent with words. For that reason, I see photography as a tool for discovering, awareness raising and challenging various perceptions of the world around us. I love photographing people most, and constantly find myself questioning the ethics behind the photographs I take, no matter what the setting.

For more about Cheney, check out her intern bio here.

Should police wear body cameras?

The recent shooting death of Walter Scott in South Carolina is rekindling a national debate about police and body cameras.  It was caught on video, and many surmise that this would have easily been covered up had the video not been taken by a brave bystander.
Paul Butler, a Georgetown Law Professor says,

“In the African-American community, we’ve known of episodes like this for decades, but until there’s graphic video like this, our stories have not been believed,” Butler said. “Now people are seeing what we’re talking about … how police literally treat black people like non-human animals.”

Executive official across the nation are now, again, calling for all police to wear body cameras.
But in the wake of several police shootings (caught on video), some are concerned that police body cameras won’t do much good. In July, when Eric Garner was killed people were demoralized.  His death was caught on camera, and people thought, “If we can’t even get a police officer to stand trial on the basis of this, what is the use of body cameras?”
There are two potential replies to this. First, there is evidence that police wearing body cameras drastically improves relations between police and civilian populations.  Second, people argued if Eric Garner’s case didn’t lead to a murder charge what hope do we have of any video footage leading to a murder charge? Walter Scott’s case gives us hope that video footage sometimes can lead to a murder charge for police brutality.
However,  there are still worries that remain about cameras and some worry that things will be drastically different when police are in control of the cameras. Matt Stroud notes some potential problems with police cameras. And one of his primary concerns is that we don’t have any clear idea what to do if police don’t turn the camera on. The police that want to kill someone unjustly are the one’s most likely to ensure that either the video doesn’t get recorded or is destroyed after the fact. So, when the video evidence is most likely needed is when it will most likely be unavailable.
This is precisely what happened when Antonio Martin was shot and killed in Missouri by a police officer in December. The officer didn’t have his body camera activated.
Privacy advocates also argue that the existence of cameras could be used to further the police surveillance state, and that the existence of cameras may just trade one kind of government injustice for another kind of injustice.
So on the one hand, police cameras seem like they have the potential to reduce police brutality by keeping police offers in check on a day-to-day basis. The hope is that this would reduce the instances of unjust police brutality. But there are concerns about what the long term effects of body cameras on other citizen rights. What we need to do is determine what is most important. Do the potential benefits of police body cameras seem likely enough that they outweigh the potential privacy concerns of citizens?

Gender and the Draft

At the age of 18, all male citizens of the United States are legally required to register for the Selective Service, so that they may be called to serve in the military in the event of a draft. Although there has not been a draft since the Vietnam War, selective service registration resumed in 1980 and still continues. In the past several years, numerous changes to the makeup of the military have occurred. The repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011 allowed gay women and men to serve openly in the military, and women were finally allowed to serve in combat roles in 2013. However, women are still not required to register for the Selective Service.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the exclusion of women from the draft is not gender-based discrimination. However, that decision was largely based on the fact that women were not allowed to serve in combat; now that that has changed, does the decision of the Supreme Court still remain valid? The role of women in the military has changed significantly since 1981 when the decision was passed, so the decision seems out of date and grounded in a now-defunct policy. The main arguments against women being in combat, and being drafted, have been proven false. No studies find them emotionally weaker than men or more subject to combat stress. A 1992 study shows that they can perform just as well as men with equal training, and sometimes even outperform men. Women have equal leadership abilities. In theory, with the same training and if they pass the same tests, there is no clear reason that isn’t grounded in sexism or traditional gender roles that proves women should be excluded from the draft.

As a woman, I am honestly relieved that I don’t have to worry about ever being drafted, were a draft ever to be instated again. However, I don’t find it fair that my male friends have to sign up while I do not, even though in theory I would be just as capable as many of them. If we want an equal society, we should be treated equally in all aspects, including the draft.

Moral Concerns About Breast Cancer Treatment

As cancer becomes increasingly prevalent in our society, cancer screening and treatment have developed into some of the most expensive and important facets of the medical world.  More and more women are faced with unfavorable results from routine mammograms.  Or so they are told.

In his article on breast cancer overtreatment, Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar discusses the potential risks of false-positive mammogram results and how they might be addressed.  With over 4 billion dollars being spent on false-positive test results and overdiagnosis, this is an issue that has many economists wondering if the amount of money being spent is justifiable based on the amount of error produced by mammograms.  Others argue that these preventative tests are essential in combatting breast cancer by allowing women to be diagnosed as early as possible in order to increase their risk for remission and survival.

One argument is that women are being tested too early.  Women ages 40-59 are encouraged to receive routine mammograms because of the increased risk associated with this age bracket, but with many false-positive test results occurring within women ages 40-49, the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force is arguing that women should begin testing at the age of 50.  Insurance companies are faced with increased amounts of coverage needed for false-positive and overdiagnosed breast cancer patients, and as a result other Americans are also receiving increased rates based on the stress of these insurance companies.  Pushing the recommended age back ten years would arguably reduce the amount of money spent on results from faulty mammograms machines.

Many medical professionals believe that early mammograms are preferable because the earlier a woman can begin testing, the more likely a diagnosis will be made.  By pushing the recommended age back to 50, women will potentially go undiagnosed for up to ten years before seeking treatment options.  There are also vast amounts of correctly diagnosed patients that are able to begin therapies and pursue remission based on results from these same “faulty” mammogram machines.  Although false-positive test results are troubling, health professionals argue that the benefits of the machines out way the costs.

An argument from both sides of this debate is that more efficient and accurate mammogram machines need to be developed in order to eliminate the false-positive results and harmful effects of unnecessary treatment in falsely diagnosed patients.

Should the recommended age for routine mammogram testing be pushed back to 50 instead of 40?  Do the outcomes of correctly diagnosed patients out way the harmful effects of treatment for patients that receive false-positive results?  What are some possible solutions to this problem?

The Importance of Walking Away

By nature, the increase of online news reporting and journalism pressures journalists to get the story fast and as accurate as possible. In the recent case of “A Rape on Campus,” Rolling Stones writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely made the mistake of going after a story, even when not all of the accurate pieces of the story were obtained or obtainable. Her mistake has been highlighted in numerous accounts, including a report by Columbia Journalism School and has become the newest textbook example of why standards of reporting are so important.  While this discussion will not focus on the ethics of Erdely’s actions and reporting, I aim to pose the question, sparked by a recent NYTimes Op-Ed:  When if, at all, do reporters have a moral obligation to “walk away” from a story, rather than report it? 

Continue reading “The Importance of Walking Away”

Asking About Criminal History on Job Applications

Virginia just became the newest state to “ban the box“. State employers can no longer ask about a job applicant’s criminal record during the application process. Once they have determined that an applicant is qualified for the job, they are still permitted to do a criminal background check.

The rationale is that it gives people with criminal records a chance to re-enter the workforce, by giving them a chance to prove that they are the right person for the job prior to their criminal record leaving a negative impression on the hiring agent.

Private employers are not required to ignore criminal history in the application process, but the bill does encourage them to do so.

There is a very interesting moral issue here. Should private employers be barred from considering criminal history in the application process?

Lack of employment is the largest predictor of re-offending and going back to prison. If society is structured so that prisoners can’t even get job interviews (because of the question), then we are dooming many ex-offenders to a life of prison.

On the other hand, private employers have a right to consider track record in hiring across a variety of areas. One might think they are entitled to know if a potential employee has a criminal record.

What do you think? Should more states adopt measures like Virginia for the the government jobs the state supports? Should we extend some minimal regulations to private employers too?

Don’t use ad blocking software for the greater good

Nothing in life is free.

It’s an old, possibly overused adage, but one that rings ever more true on the Internet.

We expect free access to everything on the Internet. Our music on Spotify is free, Facebook, Twitter and all the social media accounts we use to distract us from the drudge of life are free. Google Drive offers near-unlimited space for storage in the cloud and I know I won’t shell out a single cent for a mobile game.

As we all know, none of those things we enjoy on a daily basis are actually free. We pay in our time spent and attention given to advertising.

Yes, Facebook, Google and Twitter probably know far too much about us and they are sharing it to advertisers, but it’s a necessary evil. The effect is easy to see. Open a new tab, go to, search for a new pair of shoes and watch the advertisements come pouring in from Google ads present on just about every website.

That includes It’s one of several ad revenue sources we try to utilize but, without giving away numbers, it’s not enough on its own. But, some of you may not have seen these ads because you’re using Ad Blocking software installed on your computer or browser.

If you are one of those people, please stop being selfish. You’re ruining the Internet.

That might be a bit blunt, but it’s the nicest way I can put it. This isn’t some campaign to raise money for The Post. I’m a senior and I’m leaving here real soon so that’s no longer my worry.

My concern is for my friends who are creative people looking to take their art to the Internet and actually make a living off it. My concern is for musicians who are finding that advertising on streaming sites isn’t enough to pay off the cost of recording an album, not to mention the rent. My concern is for the future of online media, which is seeing massive innovation but only so long as journalists can make a living.

Every time your Ad Blocker skips over a YouTube ad, shields you from a targeted Facebook ad or prevents an obnoxious pop-up ad, you’re killing a little bit of someone’s livelihood.

It’s selfish to keep using the software because you’re saying you don’t think taking 15 seconds out of your day is worth the payout it provides the content creator. I don’t even believe these ads work all that well unless I’m already planning on buying the product per our Amazon example.

Corporations can sink all sorts of money they want into placing a small square on the side of my Facebook feed or to push a trending topic to the top of the list. I doubt it’ll work much on me, but that money will allow someone to pay their bills and pursue their creative field so go right ahead.

This software is ruining the Internet because nothing is free. The Internet can only remain the bastion of innovation and creativity it is today if it’s made worth someone’s time to create. That incentive isn’t always money but often times it is and if you want to keep your perception of free access going, you’ll have to give up something.

On Tuesday, The Post is launching a new revenue service called Google Consumer Surveys on its website, which will prompt you to answer a couple of survey questions before you can read our content. I hope ad-blocking software won’t prevent you from seeing it. It’s an exciting new revenue stream for us that allows a very minimal paywall, which users can choose to bypass or take five seconds out of their day to answer. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for your daily digest of Athens news.

I honestly hope you feel some sense of remorse for using Ad Blocker if you are in fact one of those people. I too was a user until someone guilted me into uninstalling it. I don’t miss it, I don’t notice a huge difference and I promise you won’t either.

This article originally appeared in The Post, Ohio University’s student-run newspaper.

Should CEOs End Salary Negotiation?

New Reddit CEO, Ellen Pao, is making waves across the tech and finance industry with her recent decision to end salary negotiations for new hires.

This new policy was unveiled in her interview with The Wall Street Journal yesterday as she talked about a wide range of issues related to gender in the tech industry. Pao said,

Men negotiate harder than women do and sometimes women get penalized when they do negotiate. So as part of our recruiting process we don’t negotiate with candidates. We come up with an offer that we think is fair. If you want more equity, we’ll let you swap a little bit of your cash salary for equity, but we aren’t going to reward people who are better negotiators with more compensation.

It isn’t just a fairness issue related to differences in persistence. There is evidence that women are harmed by the culture of negotiations. Researchers at Harvard and Carnegie Mellon conducted four separate studies to study the differences in the ways that the practice of negotiations effect people based on their gender. The results suggested that sometimes it hurts (for women) to ask for more money.

In the first two experiments “participants evaluated written accounts of candidates who did or did not initiate negotiations for higher compensation. Evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations.”

In the third experiment, “participants evaluated videotapes of candidates who accepted compensation or initiated negotiations. Male evaluators penalized female candidates more than male candidates for initiating negotiations; female evaluators penalized all candidates for initiating negotiations.”

This may explain why women tend to be much more uncomfortable with negotiations than men. If they are viewed more negatively for attempting to negotiate, they could be getting signals and social pressures in the process that discourage it. If men, don’t experience negativity for negotiation, then we have a systemic issue that leads to a wage gap between men and women.

Pao isn’t the first executive to end salary negotiations. In 2006, a dean of a Midwest business college penned an anonymous piece articulating why “he” doesn’t permit salary negotiations. The reasons are not specifically targeted to gender equality, but fairness considerations are (at least) part of the motive.

One might worry, however, that a practice of banning negotiations might harm workers in the long run. Proponents of banning negotations claim they determine a fair price by looking at the numbers in the industry. However, the current averages are influenced by people who have negotiated for higher wages. The act of negotiating drives up industry averages. If we did away with the culture of negotiation, average price would be dictated over time by the hiring companies. Employees would be deprived of the one thing they could do (short of walking away from an offer) to get the numbers up – asking that wages be higher.

So, should CEOs ban negotiations, like Pao did? There are potential benefits in the short term for female hires at Reddit. But a nationwide culture that shunned negotiations might be harmful in the long run. Negotiations keep average wages higher in a given industry, and workers on average might be better off in an economy that didn’t shun negotiation.

2015 Undergraduate Ethics Symposium: Value & Virtual Spaces

Beginning on Thursday, April 9th, The Prindle Institute will host the eighth annual Undergraduate Ethics Symposium, “Value and Virtual Spaces,” which will encompass ethical concerns brought to the forefront by our increasingly technological modern society. From social media and video games, to online currency and net neutrality, there is an abundance of moral questions raised by the virtual world.

If you’re not hooked yet, ponder this…

Television and Internet use are probably the biggest time blocks of our daily lives as reported by the 2014 Internet Trends Report. In the United States, people spend an average of seven hours looking at screens daily. More specifically, that breaks down into a hundred and forty-seven minutes captivated by television, one hundred and three minutes glued to the computer, a hundred and fifty-one minutes attached to a smartphone, and forty-three minutes spent tablet in hand! In other words, almost half our waking hours are connected to screen use, and these hours continue to rise as technological advances fascinate society.

Although these technological advances come with many positives such as fast access to worldwide connections and information, the invasive power of technology may also have detrimental side effects to our society. From April 9th to the 11th, Value and Virtual Spaces honors symposium will host students from universities across the country where they will have the opportunity to present their best analytical/creative work on the theme of the Symposium or other areas of related ethical concern.

The Symposium will include the presentations below, open to all DePauw students and faculty.

“Ethics, Entrepreneurship and Disruption”
Patrick Bryne, Founder and CEO of
(April 9th 7:30pm)

“Navigating the Gendered Minefield of Online Harassment”
Anita Sarkeesian, Author of Video Blog Feminist Frequency
(April 10th 4:15pm)

“Oil, War, and Houses: The Ethics of Aesthetics of Accumulation and Waste”
Matt Kenyon, Professor at Stamps School of Art & Design at University of Michigan
(April 10th 7:00pm)

“Leaps and Bounds: Toward a Normative Theory of Inferential Privacy”
Solon Barocas, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Princeton University
(April 11th 10am)

Please visit for more information. We look forward to seeing you there!

Ethics in 5: Printerns on Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Every week, the Prindle Intern team weighs in on an ethical issue together. Each intern is challenged to keep their response to five sentences – Ethics in 5. Click on an intern’s name to check out their previous posts on The Prindle Post!

Issue: Religious Freedom Restoration Act

The RFRA has stirred up nationwide controversy. Many say that the law gives a license to discriminate, specifically against members of the LGBTQ community. Supporters of the bill state that it is similar to laws that allow Muslim prisoners to keep their beards, and would prevent situations such as Catholic nurses being legally required to assist with abortions. Do you find the bill morally acceptable? Should religious freedoms ever give a license to deny services/discriminate against certain groups? Should religious beliefs impact the lives of others? What do you make of the controversy as a whole?

Corby BurgerAnalyzing RFRA requires looking at the two factors that make this bill unique as compared to other legislation of this nature. First, it allows for private entities to take legal action against other individuals when they feel that their religious freedom has been infringed upon, where previously this legal maneuver was only available to individuals whose religious rights were being infringed upon by the government. Secondly, and what could open to door to discrimination against the LGBTQ community, the state of Indiana is without legislation that protects individuals against discrimination based upon their sexual orientation. This legislative coupling is what makes this bill unjust in its current form because it creates a loophole for discrimination based on sexual orientation. Religious people do have an inherent right to practice their beliefs freely, but this should not manifest itself in ways that create inequalities in the marketplace based on sexual orientation.

Rachel HanebuttBuilding on Corby’s analysis, I think it is important to understand that the passing of federal legislation in 1993 does not necessarily validate passage of the same exact legislation on the state level in 2015. Regardless, as the world changes and society’s interpretation of the world changes, legislation (and the minds of legislators) must remain cognizant of the ways in which 2015 is much different than the past. For this reason, I personally believe that Indiana’s legislature must rectify the existing gaps in anti-discrimination laws that have been highlighted by the passing of RFRA. Additionally, I think it is important that Hoosiers seriously reflect on the ways in which this bill will affect the future of not only state and local business, but national and international business as well. Laws which allow for blatant or even subtle forms of discrimination will not and can not be tolerated.

Amy BrownWhile I’m glad that the law’s language has been amended to include that it cannot be used to defend discrimination against people due to their gender identity or sexual orientation, I still find the bill concerning. I feel that there is a large grey area because now individuals can sue each other over what they consider religious discrimination, instead of just being able to take action when the government is infringing upon their rights. This means that the courts will be deciding between two different deeply held moral convictions instead of the law; I don’t think that should be the court’s job. Additionally, businesses are lumped in as persons/individuals, and I do not believe that the rights of businesses and the rights of a person should be the same. I believe that everyone should have the right to practice their religion freely, but it should never infringe upon the lives/rights of others or significantly impact others’ lives in a negative manner.

Cheney HagerupAny sort of discrimination is unacceptable in this day and age in my eyes. I believe that people should be treated as human, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.. Whether individuals disclose their sexual orientation or not, there is never justification for making assumptions about people and then acting on those assumptions in such a hurtful way.

Eleanor PriceIn short, no, religious beliefs should not give anyone lawful reason to discriminate against people, especially in a commercial setting. The law is also concerning in its definition of personhood, as it includes businesses as people.

How do you feel about this week’s question? Have something you want to share with an intern or a question about their stance? Leave a comment below on what you think of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act!

Education and a Free Society: A Libertarian Perspective (Part One)

If liberty is so fundamentally important to libertarians, then they should readily support means of achieving and maintaining it. Taking it as a given that libertarians care about liberty as a primary sociopolitical value and aren’t going to change their minds about that, should they include public education amongst these means?

Dr. Cullison has argued that (1) an educated populace constitutes a public good of the kind libertarians already think governments may permissibly encourage through taxation and spending; and (2) that an educated populace actually would (or could, given the right education) defend liberty in the way that libertarians would like. The first claim is an appeal to logical consistency, and the second is an empirical claim.

To the first point: just because a libertarian (or a “minarchist” – supporter of the small state) acknowledges the collective action problems involved in providing public goods doesn’t mean that every potential public good then ought to be provided by the government. There are always complicated tradeoffs involved with policy decisions. Perhaps when we look at public education, we find that a large majority of the benefits (broadly construed) accrue to individuals, with positive spillover effects socially (in terms of GDP or something). There would then be no inconsistency problem to decide that treating education as a public good didn’t make sense, all things considered.

But, more importantly, it’s unclear that increasing amounts of education would serve the libertarian goal, as a matter of fact. The types of courses that would instill a respect for freedom in students – history, economics, political science – are conspicuously absent from most curricula, even at the college level, and taught superficially to poorly when offered. The political-bureaucratic apparatus around middle and high school education ensures that this mediocre status quo remains enshrined in perpetuity.

And funding higher education is relevantly different than funding basic K-12 education, as a public goods matter. Many of the most educated people in this country argue for free college for all, and undoubtedly dealing with one’s student loans can be incredibly stressful. But the returns of a college degree reliably exceed its costs, and they are paid out to the degree-holder in terms of increased wages. A large part of why college is so expensive is because campus life has been getting nicer, and people take plenty of fluffy but fun electives, so college is also a consumption good for its consumer (the student).

Why should taxpayers fund a long and only semi-educational vacation for students who will themselves reap most (if not all) of the financial gains later? With this hefty carrot already inherently on the table, society is unlikely to systemically under-invest in college in a way that would justify wide-scale government intervention (which can itself readily lead to over- or at least mal-investment).

Public goods considerations are supposed to keep us from overshooting on paring down the state so far that we risk lapsing back into dysfunctional society of another kind. But it’s not clear that capping public spending on education (or redistributing it more equitably, such as from rich school districts to poor) approaches that line.

As a moderate libertarian, I do find the more compelling argument for public education is indeed the individualist one. People ought not to be educated at public expense for the reason that they can (hopefully) become little cogs in the liberty-supporting political machine. On the contrary, education with a political purpose in mind can go so far as turning into manufactured consent – a state producing the consent it needs for legitimacy by its own processes (like public education).The observations that political stances are largely heritable and that voters are irrational cast further doubt on any plans to promote liberty through the education and subsequent political participation of individuals.

It might just be the other way around: broad liberties are themselves a foundational public good that generate surplus social value, more so than education per se, and should be protected by constitution and judiciary whenever possible. Widely-available education is a complicated investment, consumption, and signaling activity, and it’s the output of a free society even more than an input to it. In the next post, I will develop this argument in more detail.

Indiana Controversies Continue: New Developments in the Abortion Debate

As if the Religious Freedom Restoration Act wasn’t controversial enough, Indiana is the setting for another story that hits right at the heart of social policy debates that have come to grip American politics. Purvi Patel,  from Mishawaka, IN, has just been charged with feticide and neglect of a dependent. She is the first person to be convicted and sentenced for feticide.

Her conviction could have a major role in shaping the future of abortion policy in the state of Indiana. Patel used abortion drugs she purchased online to terminate her pregnancy it its 24th week. She claims that soon after she delivered a stillborn fetus at home, and after which she sought treatment at a hospital for loss of blood. Questioned and detained at the hospital, prosecutors were ruthless in setting an example of Patel, asking for a 40-year sentence of which Patel would ultimately get 20.

This case presents a number of ethical questions that we must confront, and represents a new direction in the abortion debate. As pointed out in an article by Jessica Glenza at The Guardian, this is an entirely novel application of the feticide laws than were originally intended for the prosecution of a third party in harming an unborn child. As stated by attorney Katherine Jack, “If it’s appealed and upheld, [the conviction] basically sets a precedent that anything a pregnant woman does that could be interpreted as an attempt to terminate her pregnancy could result in criminal liability.” Also, medical experts warn that prosecuting mothers that seek medical care after these sorts of incidents could scare away others that need help because they may be afraid they will also be prosecuted.

On the other hand, Indiana prosecutors argue that Patel was guilty of murder, as a medical examiner testified that the infant was alive at the time of birth, in direct contention with a medical witness from the defense. You can read the full summary of the case from the investigating detective here.

When looking at this case we must ask ourselves, was justice served? How should these sorts of desperation abortions be handled? Should this case be viewed as murder, or woman’s choice?

Prindle to Host Discussion on Religious Freedom Bill

The Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act has put Indiana in the national spotlight. People on both sides feel that there has been an affront to deeply held personal convictions. Some believe that the legislation provides a “license to discriminate,” especially against members of the LGBTQ community, while supporters argue that the legislation protects everyone’s religious freedoms equally. This is something that merits serious conversation, and the Prindle Institute will be hosting a lunch and discussion in the UB Ballroom this Friday, April 3 at 11:30 am. For more information on the controversy surrounding the bill, see our post here. 

Andy Cullison, Director of the Prindle Institute, will deliver a very brief presentation of the issues surrounding the recent passage of the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Groups will have an opportunity to discuss the issues raised at their tables. There will also be some time to come together for a brief Q&A and a sharing of thoughts that came out of the group discussions.

Box lunches from Bon Appetit will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis.

Progress, paradox, and the food justice movement

This post draws on my experience from co-leading the Prindle Institute’s Alternative Spring Break trip to Nashville, TN focused on food ethics and justice on March 22-28, 2015.

Food justice is an issue that many of us are indirectly exposed to at an early age. We’re taught, often through religious education but also in other ways, that many people in the world are hungry and we, as more privileged global citizens, have a responsibility to help alleviate their suffering. In my experience growing up in the Catholic school system in Columbus, Ohio, canned food drives were routine, field trips to food banks were not uncommon, and students memorized “feed the hungry” as part of the Corporal Works of Mercy. We lugged paper bags filled with Campbell’s soup, Ramen noodles, or whatever else our parents wanted to discard from our pantries to Homeroom to earn a “dress down day.”

Continue reading “Progress, paradox, and the food justice movement”