Pharyngula

Mysterious case of ethical myopia in Canada

A pathologist in Ontario made some dreadful, stupid, sloppy mistakes, the kinds of errors that can destroy people’s lives.

The mistakes Smith made in conducting autopsies or giving second opinions on autopsies prompted the province to call the inquiry. His work contributed to some parents or caregivers coming under suspicion or being convicted for the deaths of their children.

It took years and many cases for this guy’s incompetence to be caught out. How could that be?

Ontario’s deputy chief coroner admits he failed to recognize warning signs about a controversial pathologist because he was blinded by his own high regard for the doctor, whom he considered to be a trustworthy, religious man.

“I’m quite disappointed that I missed (out on) the signs that were there because I put him on too high a pedestal,” Dr. Jim Cairns yesterday told the Public Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario.

He was commenting on Dr. Charles Smith who was found by a panel of five internationally respected experts to have made “significant flaws” in 20 child-death investigations.

“He came across as a very sincere religious individual and perhaps. … I put too much emphasis on his religious aspect. … I felt that his religious aspect made it unlikely that he wasn’t telling the truth,” Cairns explained. Smith worships with the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a Baptist-like group.

Huh. I just can’t figure out what made people accept this quack so uncritically. Somebody help me out here.

Comments

  1. I think they were probably gay lovers.

  2. #2 Michael
    November 28, 2007

    Damn it PZ! I almost escaped the evil clutches of this place, and then you had to go and post more. Honestly, I don’t know how you stay on top of things here. People need to stop placing their judgments of people on religion. Guess what — there are bad and often incompetent people who practice religion. As surprising as this may sound – there are good and intelligent people who don’t. I know – it’s very shocking. Don’t get me wrong, not everyone practicing religion is a bad or inept individual, but it certainly doesn’t exclude them from being so.
    -Michael

  3. #3 greg laden
    November 28, 2007

    Wow. This guy is a veritable poster child for everything that annoys me about religious people.

    Let’s make a poster.

  4. #4 greg laden
    November 28, 2007

    Michael: My experience has been that extreme religiosity is a warning sign of several negative things, such as a tendency towards situational ethics, dishonesty, and so on.

  5. #5 zer0
    November 28, 2007

    I don’t understand this phenomenon either. I hate hearing “but they went to church, I can’t believe they would do something like this…” So friggin what. Going to Church doesn’t automatically make you competent in your work, or moral, or not-insane. Some people are bad at their job, no matter how much they pray. Some people are immoral, regardless of how much they pray. Yes, some people are insane. (The majority of which are either fundamentalist or extremists) Going to church ain’t gonna change all that. So why do so many people seem to even take it as a sign of good character?

  6. #6 Martin
    November 28, 2007

    Just a note of interest: the Christian and Missionary Alliance is the same evangelical outfit that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper bends knees with.

  7. #7 Coturnix
    November 28, 2007

    Janet explains. Or tries to, at least….

  8. #8 Randy
    November 28, 2007

    Yes, this man has caused absolutely unnecessary pain and sufferring to families that had already sufferred tragedy. Some of the legal battles for parents to get child custody back are still going on and the problems stemmed solely from this hack’s testimony. I know that after leaving Ontario he took a position in Saskatoon, where he was summarily sacked only a few months later. There’s an entry in Wikipedia listing his screw-ups. I’m embarrassed to know that we graduated from the same university. My question is how much did his religious background have in his incompetent conclusions? How does he look at himself in the mirror in the morning?

  9. #9 Brian
    November 28, 2007

    What pisses me off the most about people judging others works/actions based on things like, he goes to church a lot, seems sincerely religous, and so on is…if you were a diabolical patholigical liar who wanted to destroy other people’s lives though your lies the first thing you’d do is…anyone anyone? Bueler? Bueler?

  10. #10 CJO
    November 28, 2007

    “[Mohammed Atta] came across as a very sincere religious individual and perhaps. … I put too much emphasis on his religious aspect. … I felt that his religious aspect made it unlikely that he wasn’t telling the truth.”

    What’s wrong with this picture?

  11. #11 Monado
    November 28, 2007

    It’s beyond me. Besides losing custody, some people, including parents, have spent years in prison because of this man. He basically assumed that all children’s deaths were because of abuse. Some of them have since turned out to be accidents, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or dog bites. (As in, “grandma’s dogs bit the kid a zillion times!” No, you stabbed him with scissors!”)

  12. #12 Dennis Hamon
    November 28, 2007

    There could be a tribal aspect here as well.
    1. I’m religious
    2. This guy’s religious

    -> same tribe -> unmerrited credibility + guard dropped.

    Religious memes have evolved well for hijacking thought processes.

  13. #13 SEF
    November 28, 2007

    So why do so many people seem to even take it as a sign of good character?

    They need to because they’re (generally) religious themselves and lacking in personal merit themselves. They have learned to cling to the religion as being the thing which gives them (and others) merit – and thus they then feel obliged to defend that (rabidly, insanely and even violently) despite all the evidence against it.

    They do this instead of being personally meritworthy people who can then bestow that merit on any organisation to which they belong, merely by being part of it. Exactly the same thing applies to other institutions (eg most notably the BBC) and even countries (eg the excesses of nationalism).

    You can see this defective attitude underlying much of what those sorts of humans say and do. It’s what turns institutions rotten to the core (along with that “power corrupts” aspect of it of course).

  14. #14 SEF
    November 28, 2007

    Oops – forgot the revealing (well partway there anyway) quote:

    “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

    Plus I note that, while typing, some other people have picked up on some of the same theme (eg tribalism).

  15. #15 Samphire
    November 28, 2007

    Could it be that some religious folks are just not, yu’know, good at analytical stuff – an’ ‘at etc. That’s why they are religious.

  16. #16 Janine
    November 28, 2007

    Perhaps I am too quick to generalize with too few facts but I see Dr. Jim Cairns’ looking away from Dr. Charles Smith’s flaws for religious reason as being similar to the creationist attacking evolution. There is the willingness to over look facts and evidence in order to not challenge some religious bias.

  17. #17 Ken Shabby
    November 28, 2007

    Susan Smith and Andrea Yates were religious people. And they murdered all their children. Was this despite being religious or because of being religious?

    I like to think of 9/11 as a faith-based initiative.

    Anybody who thinks religiousness is a good attribute should not be in a position to make any decisions. They should be in the long-sleeved canvas jacket in the bouncy-room.

    George Carlin called religion mental illness, and I’m with him.

  18. #18 kc
    November 28, 2007

    #12

    There could be a tribal aspect here as well.
    1. I’m religious
    2. This guy’s religious

    Seen from the local (Ontario) perspective, there may be just as much an aspect of:
    1. I’m a doctor
    2. This guy’s a doctor

    in the after-the-fact backfilling (though it’s less likely to be expressed, since less “acceptable”).

  19. #19 Ichthyic
    November 28, 2007

    Seen from the local (Ontario) perspective, there may be just as much an aspect of:
    1. I’m a doctor
    2. This guy’s a doctor

    suggest you re-read the bolded sections of the original PZ contribution.

    if what you suggest had merit, why would the chief coroner not once, but THREE times suggest the religious component of the man was what made him think he must be honest and competent?

    why even mention it at all, eh?

    nope, I find your argument to have little merit based on what the man actually said.

  20. #20 Arnosium Upinarum
    November 28, 2007

    1st, slightly off topic: this from an AP report:

    “Richard Roberts told students at Oral Roberts University Wednesday that he did not want to resign as president of the scandal-plagued evangelical school, but he did so because God insisted.”

    NO. That asshole resigned because he was forced to by ordinary mortals who could tell the difference between a “man of god” and an asshole.

    2nd: Once again, for the nth time – it MUST at SOME point PENETRATE the SKULLS of PEOPLE: RELIGION = CULTURE of SUPERSTITION = INABILITY TO THINK CLEARLY (= STUPIDLY).

    PERIOD.

    Despite the fact that it’s as obvious as the noses on their faces, they WILL NOT listen to any objections OR evidence from the natural world available to everyone..

    These “brothers and sisters” are so overcome with what their imaginations require of “God” that they have no more room in their heads for a concept of a reality that may apply to everyone or any culture. To them, their IDEA of “god” means everything, and

    that is precisely why they are so dangerous. They do not have anything other than the idea, yet they insist that it is infallible just because the subject of their idea must be. It must be emphasized, repeatedly, that religion invites people to behave as if they ARE God.

    This is definte lunacy.

  21. #21 BruceJ
    November 28, 2007

    Yeah, a nice religious man like Robert Courtney, the Kansas City pharmacist who admitted diluting cancer drugs given to patients over a period of years, in part to fulfill a million dollar pledge he made to his church.

    But I have no moral compass, because I’m an atheist.

  22. #22 kc
    November 28, 2007

    #19

    I read what he said (which, to be honest, was not a quote that I caught in my following of the news reports here). If that’s Cairns’ sole justification, it stands in all its glory. Nevertheless, I have also heard reference in the local news reports to Smith’s position as Ontario’s “premiere pediatric pathologist” (from those in the Coroner’s office who should know the truth of that characterization).

    I’m more concerned with one mention of doctors taking their colleague’s expertise on “faith” (professional courtesy?) than any number of offhand justifications of personal “religious” worth.

  23. #23 octopussy
    November 28, 2007

    You can’t have it both ways, PZ.

    This story is irrelevant and you should know better.

    The patholgist was not questioned on his findings for many professional, medical reporting reasons, but PZ wishes to emphasize he wasn’t questioned because he was devoutly religious.

    It says nothing of any conclusion to state that a physician, claimed to be incompetent, was further allowed to practice autopsies and cause more harm to society because he was considered a religious, trustworthy man & not to be questioned.

    This situation says nothing about religion itself.

    All that it claims is people mistakenly trusted the expert because he was a religious man.

    The professional peer system surrounding this man are MOST at fault for trusting a person’s character and not their abilities and not having counter-reviews, etc. What, no cross checking Canada???

    PZ, can you say propaganda or agenda? I can.

    Assume PZ was the physician performing the autopsies that came into question; also assume that one holds no bias against atheists, in fact they have a positive social persona, similar to that of a typical ‘good religious person’.

    What if I were to say, “PZ came across as a very sincere atheist individual and perhaps. … I put too much emphasis on his atheist aspect. … I felt that his atheist aspect made it unlikely that he wasn’t telling the truth”

    Its wrong to judge people by their ideals, period.

    Yawn. I’m getting tired of PZ cherry picking morally ‘bad’ religious people.

    Funny he never reports on the nice acts that they do.

    There are lots and lots of bad acts, millions, every day, in the news that PZ just doesn’t pay any attention to – unless it was done by a religious person, then he’s all over it. I’m quite sure a few of them are atheists along with the religious that PZ loves so much to hate – where’s PZ then to report the bad atheists?

    If you can prove that the ‘bad’ religious people do these acts soley and entirely because of religion, then you may have a point; until then you’re just limping tired, empty arguments along.

  24. #24 Marcus Ranum
    November 28, 2007

    meh stupid. him stupid too. we r stupid together. so i trust him stupid – make me feel smrt.

  25. #25 SEF
    November 28, 2007

    I’m more concerned with one mention of doctors taking their colleague’s expertise on “faith” (professional courtesy?) than any number of offhand justifications of personal “religious” worth.

    I remember a Quincy episode once pointing out the importance of never trusting an “expert” just because they were deemed to be an expert (and one of the boys) but that the expert should instead expect to be repeatedly demonstrating the evidence of their expertise (with every single case, in that Quincy pathologist / coroner context).

  26. #26 Marcus
    November 28, 2007

    I worked at a start-up back in 1995. The CEO was a deeply religious Korean woo-tard of some christian stripe or other. He wound up hiring executives from his church – not because they knew what they were doing, but because they were really sound on the bible. Finally he hired a guy who had claimed to be a missionary in africa, a preacher, and (!) a kung fu instructor. Amazingly, that guy turned out to be lying about the whole thing, including the kung fu. What’s funny is that we glommed onto him because of the kung fu first (he couldn’t resist bragging about being able to stop people’s hearts with a punch and I offered myself as a test subject) – one of my co-workers had a private investigator dig up the dude’s background and it turned out he was fleeing a bunch of felony raps for real estate fraud. So we told the CEO and the CEO’s response?…

    They went into his office and came out with their arms around eachother and smiling. They had prayed together and God, the CEO, and everyone else was expected to forgive him.

    Religion does not cause stupidity; it’s a symptom of existing stupidity, gullibility, and desire to submit to authority. If you’re a con-person, a flock of religiotards are pre-selected food, just stacked up and waiting.

  27. #27 Ichthyic
    November 28, 2007

    This situation says nothing about religion itself.

    I rather think you missed the point.

    Indeed, it says far less about religion… than it does about the religious as relates to credulity. It’s a dig at those who base their trust in others based on their professed religious faith.

    It’s also a poke at those here in the states that vote based on a candidate’s stated religious preference for example, than it is a poke at the religious preference itself.

    the specific silliness contained within any given religion is covered in many other posts.

  28. #28 soteos
    November 28, 2007

    “This situation says nothing about religion itself.

    All that it claims is people mistakenly trusted the expert because he was a religious man.”

    Logic: you’re doing it wrong.

  29. #29 CJO
    November 28, 2007

    All that it claims is people mistakenly trusted the expert because he was a religious man.
    Um, yeah. Where did PZ say anything different?
    Religion consists of, and leads to, irrational beliefs. One of those is that religious affiliations can tell you anything about an individual’s character, and it was clearly active here, by this Dr. Cairns’s own admission. Sheesh.

  30. #30 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 28, 2007

    Greg Laden:

    Michael: My experience has been that extreme religiosity is a warning sign of several negative things, such as a tendency towards situational ethics, dishonesty, and so on.

    Perhaps surprisingly, I agree whole-heartedly. The ones who wear their allegiances on their sleeve, who publicly berate us for our lack of commitment to God/country/family etc. do tend to dishonesty and hypocrisy—precisely because they don’t feel obligated to treat those who don’t share their beliefs the same as those who do.

    At the risk of playing another game of ‘No True Scotsman’, however, I would like to say that publicly grandstanding and demonstrating your religiosity is unlikely to proceed from what you claim to believe. It’s best understood as a behavior, one drawn from venal self-interest, that seeks to exploit the status and authority associated with religion. The crime of religion is that it provides a framework that tends to crush dissent and honest doubt, and thus lends itself to exploitation.

  31. #31 Stevie_C
    November 28, 2007

    But they’re god fearing men…

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071128/ap_on_re_us/papa_pilgrim;_ylt=A0WTUdJ7CU1HfPkA5ACs0NUE

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska – A man who called himself “Papa Pilgrim” and took his family far from civilization to raise them according to his interpretation of the Bible was sentenced to 14 years in prison for sexually assaulting a daughter.

    ADVERTISEMENT

    A judge imposed the sentence Tuesday after Robert Hale’s wife and many of their 15 children delivered statements that included intense stories of physical and mental abuse. Judge Donald Hopwood called it “one of the worst cases of domestic violence I’ve seen.”

    Hale and his family came to prominence during a feud with the National Park Service after family members used a bulldozer without permission to clear a road in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

    Land rights advocates rallied to their cause, and stories featured their plight as a case of big government versus simple folks loving music, fearing God and living off the land.

  32. #32 Ichthyic
    November 28, 2007

    …living off the land…

    …with a bulldozer.

    hey, if I dig a strip mine in the middle of a National Park, I’m just living off the land like Gawd intended, right?

  33. #33 BlazingDragon
    November 28, 2007

    I’d have to say it’s both a “white wall of silence” type of thing and a religious thing. Each of these alone are enough to stop (supposedly) rational people from thinking clearly and justifying the “small” mistakes of one of their own… both together = huge pile of stupid.

    Doctors are looked up to as a group (they went through all those years of school, they can’t possibly be stupid). Sadly, doctors are not particularly good (with exceptions, of course) at logic and an even-handed assessment of the facts. They memorize and regurgitate blindly. If someone they “respect” (often a company rep) tells them something, they believe it, and if someone (or a patient) tells them something that goes against their bias, they usually disbelieve it on principle.

    It may surprise a lot of people to learn doctors are actually pretty “tribal” as a group, regardless of their individual religious leanings.

    From what I’ve seen and experienced, the incident in the article doesn’t surprise me in the least. It just saddens me.

  34. #34 mothra
    November 28, 2007

    The Dr. Smith story was featured on the CBC radio show ‘As It Happens’ more than 10 days ago, making this post old but tragic news.

    On the dishonesty & religion front and somewhat off topic: At the Science & Religion Seminar series at NDSU (PZ has spoken to our group) I was discussing NOVA’s Judgment Day with a local minister and objecting to the bald-faced dishonesty displayed by the DI people as well as the Dover School board’s zealots. He dismissed the argument with the statement that everyone is dishonest at times. He was concerned that the entitlement clause would preclude ID teaching. Never mind the harm done, the divisiveness, the monetary cost, the death threats, only the idea mattered. It is to be hoped that both Smith and Carns will do some prison time. The South Korean who faked stem cell research some 18 months ago is in the slammer- his dishonesty, while despicable and deplorable, in no way caused the direct harm to others that either of these other cases have.

  35. #35 kc
    November 28, 2007

    …from the National Post

    Some of the international experts involved in the review will testify next week. Later this month, the inquiry will hear from Dr. James Young, the chief coroner in Ontario when Dr. Smith was the leading pediatric forensic pathologist in the province.

    Police and Crown attorneys routinely relied on the findings of Smith and many defence lawyers have previously questioned the relationship between investigators, prosecutors and the Coroner’s office.

    “It was like a culture of belief,” instead of one based on the evidence when a child died, suggested Toronto lawyer Michael Lomer.

    It’s a very sad situation for those affected (take the National Post – a right-wing rag – with a grain of salt) but the “culture of belief” they’re referring to is not likely religious belief, but rather failure to question an “expert” witness (and one in a position of authority – albeit in this case “scientific” rather than “religious”).

  36. #36 The Flying Trilobite, fcd
    November 28, 2007

    What’s amazing to me is how this Cairns is out loud, using reverse discrimination. Here in Ontario, it is intensely drilled into people in management type positions (I’m in one) that you may not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, age, etc.

    I’m not only worried about what has happened in the past, but how is he making judgements about other colleagues and people he works with?

    No evidence saying he is discriminating that way, but why is it acceptable to say this?

    He’d be drummed out if he said “I always knew there were problems, due to his lousy religious beliefs, which are whacko compared to mine”.

  37. #37 Master Mahan
    November 28, 2007

    “Sure, I had my doubts about the bloodletting, especially after the eighth death in a row, but he came across as a very sincere religious individual.”

  38. #38 raindogzilla
    November 28, 2007

    There’s disturbing- this whole shooting match. And then there’s Clarence Thomas disturbing:

    “Cairns said he started to look at Smith differently in early 2002 during a meeting in which they discussed the death of 21-month-old girl, known only as Jenna. A pubic hair had been found in her vaginal area.

    Smith had done the autopsy on Jenna and Cairns asked what happened to the hair.

    Cairns said Smith told him he kept the hair and that he even had it in his jacket pocket during the preliminary hearing on the charge of murder against the girl’s mother.

    That’s when Cairns said he knew Smith’s career was in trouble.”

    So, when they start acting like serious perverts, it’s time to distance yourself!

  39. #39 SEF
    November 28, 2007

    Sadly, doctors are not particularly good (with exceptions, of course) at logic and an even-handed assessment of the facts. They memorize and regurgitate blindly. If someone they “respect” (often a company rep) tells them something, they believe it, and if someone (or a patient) tells them something that goes against their bias, they usually disbelieve it on principle.

    It may surprise a lot of people to learn doctors are actually pretty “tribal” as a group, regardless of their individual religious leanings.

    Not surprising or news to me. I figured that out at a very young age. It took Feynman somewhat longer, by his own account. Some other people may never catch on though.

  40. #40 Azkyroth
    November 28, 2007

    If you can prove that the ‘bad’ religious people do these acts soley and entirely because of religion, then you may have a point; until then you’re just limping tired, empty arguments along.

    I’m sorry; mind explaining how a direct quote from this guy’s superior to the effect that said superior was negligent in overseeing and reviewing this doctor’s practice because of said superior’s religious prejudices does not qualify?

  41. #41 Antonio
    November 28, 2007

    Is it just me, or does the article seem truncated? The last paragraph reads like a cliff-hanger:

    “That’s when Cairns said he knew Smith’s career was in trouble.”

    AND THEN??

  42. #42 386sx, OM
    November 28, 2007

    Scott Hatfield, OM wrote: At the risk of playing another game of ‘No True Scotsman’, however, I would like to say that publicly grandstanding and demonstrating your religiosity is unlikely to proceed from what you claim to believe. It’s best understood as a behavior, one drawn from venal self-interest, that seeks to exploit the status and authority associated with religion.

    Yeah I hear ya man. What about having religiosity but not demonstrating your religiosity? What would you call that, talking to invisible voices or something?

  43. #43 386sx
    November 28, 2007

    Perhaps surprisingly, I agree whole-heartedly. The ones who wear their allegiances on their sleeve, who publicly berate us for our lack of commitment to God/country/family etc. do tend to dishonesty and hypocrisy—precisely because they don’t feel obligated to treat those who don’t share their beliefs the same as those who do.

    Thanks. How come you aren’t tyring harder to keep people out of hell if it’s such a horrible place? People are going to hell and you stand by and watch it happen. What would you call that?

    What about putting people in hell. Would you call that treating those who don’t share Jesus birdie’s beliefs the same as those who do?

  44. #44 kagehi
    November 28, 2007

    Actually, I would be ***far more*** entertained by octopussy proving his assertion that the numerous crimes he mentions that PZ doesn’t talk about where not either committed by someone who was religious, and thus not thinking properly to start with, or with religious motivations. The basic rules for people who are not total nuts is:

    1. They don’t realize how their religion drives them to make stupid mistakes.
    2. They deny that its had a significant impact on their actions (even as they then spend five minutes proving otherwise in the process of “explaining” their real motivations).
    3. If they happen to be complete nuts, they will boldly declare that their actions are 100% driven by their religion, but that either a) we can’t comprehend why what they did was therefor right in the grand plan/scheme, or b) **we** are the delusional ones for not believing them anyway, despite all evidence that suggests they are totally batshit insane.

    Point being, you can’t be religious and not be driven by that belief system, either to denial that you did anything, so you don’t have to admit to God you did it, denial that you have to pay for it, since you confessed, denial that it was wrong at all, etc. To someone that is religious (at least in any religion that tries to force rules on the world that don’t exist in nature or in the human mind), you must lie to yourself, lie to others, distort your own memory of events, or make up situational justifications for why, in this specific case, the rules you are supposed to follow don’t apply for some reason.

    And because of this, all we have is the statistical fact that 95%, or some such number, of the people in jail are Christians and/or some other similar religion, while non-believers, which Octodummy wants us to believe make up the majority of non-religion driven/excused/distorted crimes, are under represented. Which, in this case, as people have mentioned in the past, would mean that if 1% of the population was non-believers, only 0.1% are criminals, as compared to 90% Christian, and but 95% of the criminals Christian.

    This is precisely the sort of BS we hear all the time from the right. “Most people that do X are Y. We don’t have numbers to give you, proof that we are right, etc. Just trust us. It doesn’t matter if its **impossible** for even 50% of the people in jail to be non-believers, its just *obvious* that only non-believers can be the ones committing crimes and going to jail!” In this case its, “No crimes, except for the tiny few we can **prove** where committed by people whose actions where linked to religion could **possibly** be caused by religion, never mind the fact that nearly everyone committing crimes are religious, and almost no one without religion ever commits such crimes. Numbers and facts are irrelevant. You should just take my assertion as is, without checking it, and believe me when I say that the 95% of the criminals in jail can’t **possibly** have gotten there, in some fashion, as a direct or indirect result of the ****one**** thing every single one of them share.”

    Mind you, our assertion about the other side of things doesn’t hold up without evidence either, but ***we*** can point to endless examples of people making stupid choices, thinking badly, failing to understand things, and intentionally using religion to justify all of it, while the people claiming we are wrong have… ‘Well, since you can’t *prove* religion was involved in every case, it might not have been religion!'”. Its the same fracking argument we get for ID, “Since you can’t *prove* that every possible case we can imagine is caused by natural selection, maybe something else was responsible!” It doesn’t fly with that, and it doesn’t fly when some fool starts babbling about how the cases PZ talks about can’t be possibly be in any way related to religion. All evidence suggests that, even if religion itself is sometimes a symptom of ignorance, not the cause 100% of the time, it **contributes** to the inability of people to make sane and rational choices, since going to church, instead of a library, doesn’t improve, and can worsen, already defective, delusional, ignorant and/or illogical thinking. Its like handing someone too dumb to realize what fuel oil and fertilizer does when mixed together a lit match, so they can see what they are doing better. It doesn’t have to *cause* the original problem to contribute to, and amplify, the consequences.

  45. #45 Wicked Lad
    November 28, 2007

    Antonio (#46) wrote:

    Is it just me, or does the article seem truncated? The last paragraph reads like a cliff-hanger:

    “That’s when Cairns said he knew Smith’s career was in trouble.”

    AND THEN??

    Yes. What he said.

  46. #46 Monsignor Henry Clay
    November 28, 2007

    Just wanted to relate a story from my hometown. Even better, down the road from my folks’ house. Neighbor dispute. Argue in middle of property. Guy goes in house. Guy comes out of house. Guy shoots other guy in the nuts, then shoots him in the head. Defense? “He’s a good christian man.” Wow…just, wow.

  47. #47 Ichthyic
    November 28, 2007

    If they happen to be complete nuts, they will boldly declare that their actions are 100% driven by their religion, but that either a) we can’t comprehend why what they did was therefor right in the grand plan/scheme, or b) **we** are the delusional ones for not believing them anyway, despite all evidence that suggests they are totally batshit insane.

    that describes someone with extreme schizophrenia quite accurately.

    try to tell them that the bugs crawling up their arms aren’t real, and they’ll most certainly be convinced that YOU are the delusional one.

    if they find another schizophrenic with similar delusions, that just reinforces the “reality”, and further convinces them that the rest of the world must simply be wrong about there not really being bugs crawling in and out of their skin.

    so many parallels…

  48. #48 Bartlett
    November 28, 2007

    Ah, a good concise post Clay. Not naming any names but some of these read like PhD thesis’.

  49. #49 Molly, NYC
    November 29, 2007

    Somebody help me out here.
    I don’t get the whole thing, but I do get that religious people assume that their co-religionists share a particular world view, including a implied obligation to act ethically according to the religion’s proclaimed standards. That’s why they have all those “Christian” business directories–the implication is that these people won’t screw you.

    . . . which is why, should your heart’s desire ever be to quit all this college professorin’ stuff and go on the grift, your very first move would be to get saved and accept Jesus in the most public way possible, and thereafter to make a fulsome to-do about how BFF you are with the Lord on any and all occasions. (Tears over your past sins as an atheist would be a nice touch. Use real handkerchiefs.) You would thereby inherit the trust of pious, as described above.

    And after you made your pile, the Republicans will come around and ask you to run for something.

  50. #50 Caveat
    November 29, 2007

    “What about having religiosity but not demonstrating your religiosity? What would you call that”

    Perfect?

  51. #51 Stanton
    November 29, 2007

    “And after you made your pile, the Republicans will come around and ask you to run for something.”

    Perhaps “Emperor”?

  52. #52 Aaron
    November 29, 2007

    Hmmm. Vile behavior not suspected due to religious affiliation – that must be a theme today. http://www.columbian.com/news/APStories/AP11282007news239211.cfm

  53. #53 Scott Hatfield, OM
    November 29, 2007

    386sx:

    Thanks. How come you aren’t tyring harder to keep people out of hell if it’s such a horrible place? People are going to hell and you stand by and watch it happen. What would you call that?

    What about putting people in hell. Would you call that treating those who don’t share Jesus birdie’s beliefs the same as those who do?

    Thanks for giving me hell. In fact three hells. Well, what the hell, what can I say, I’m just not in the hell business. If your point is that if someone sincerely believes another’s salvation depends upon my or some other believer’s beating them up for their lack of belief, and that this is one man’s ‘religiosity’, point taken, but that’s just not me.

  54. #54 JohnnieCanuck, FCD
    November 29, 2007

    This story has been developing for years now, as can be seen at the wiki page for ‘Charles Randal Smith’.

    I don’t know, but I doubt that Cairns was deputy chief coroner for the whole time that Smith was messing up, or that that position was the sole check in the system for Smith’s errors. Others failed, as well. Perhaps even prosecutors and others in the justice system had unvoiced suspicions.

    As reported in the Canadian media, the errors are beyond incompetence. It’s as if he were deliberately destroying strangers’ lives, for the thrill of it. My only explanation is that he has a personality disorder / mental illness, a sociopathic pathologist as it were.

    Doctors typically do not like to testify against other doctors, especially when it is just assumed to be a mistake that anyone might make, like they themselves the next time.

    They are thus likely to let incompetence slip by, until multiple incidences have occurred. They probably wouldn’t have the capacity to imagine anyone deliberately making false diagnoses, not at first. Who would?

    That’s where Cairns assigns some of his credulity to Smith’s religious posturing. I would be willing to assert that this is an easier out for Cairns than admitting that it happened in part because doctors avoid criticising each other.

    Affinity fraud is becoming known as a highly successful con these days, primarily against the religious. I venture that it used to happen just as often in the past, but that almost everyone was ashamed to admit being victimised.

  55. #55 Paul Crowley
    November 29, 2007

    #30 – in the words of the late, great William S Burroughs

    If you are doing business with a religious son-of-a-bitch, GET IT IN WRITING. His word isn’t worth shit – not with the good Lord telling him how to fuck you on the deal.

  56. #56 Inquisitive Raven
    November 29, 2007

    I’m a member of a support group for the survivors of narcissists. One common thread in many of these cases is that narcissists, who are more interested in appearances than substance, will often make an effort to get themselves seen as good solidly religious people. Usually this is in context of a church, but my particular bete noir does the same thing in the context of Paganism, so it’s not strictly a Christian thing. I’m wondering how long it will take the coven to catch on.

    RE: 95% of people in prison are Christian or members of some similar religion. Are they? Or do large numbers of them profess to being religious in order to get in good with the parole board? Similar to the narcissist, it’s about image, not reality.

  57. #57 Tim
    November 29, 2007

    I’ve just finished listening to an old book called “Titan” as a book on tape, and one of its observations applies here, I think. “Titan” is the biography of David Rockefeller, the original robber baron and one-time richest man in the world. He was apparently also an exceedingly religious man. According to the book, he had high ideals despite the fact that his business dealings were secretive, completely ruthless, and devastating to both the public and his competitors. When the government formulated the Sherman Antitrust Act, they simply listed all the things Standard Oil of Ohio did and then wrote a law saying “Don’t do these things”. The interesting part is that Rockefeller seems to have truly believed that his unprincipled business practices were justifiable religiously. He was, in short, doing God’s work by creating an oil monopoly that would smooth out pricing fluctuations. In his mind, this rationalization was the philosophical apologia for single-handedly destroying competitive capitalism for oil.

    This reinforces my own skepticism about people who are blatantly “religious”. I’ve seen them subconsciously link their own dark psychological needs to “God’s will”, which all too often snaps the chain binding that need and allows it to spring free to do untold damage. If I had been asked to evaluate the pathologist and I had known of his exceedingly religious posture, I would have looked even more closely at his work, fearing that he had cut corners in the pursuit of a “higher justice” or some such. Religiosity too often permits the believer to detach from ethics and pursue goals that are strictly between him and God, which is a recipe for disaster. I fear Huckabee for the same reason, and the rest of the Republican field in gradations from there. Bush has shown us what someone who feels accountable only to himself and God can do to a supposedly stable and free country.

  58. #58 Samantha Vimes
    November 29, 2007

    It seems to me possible that religion was an influence on the errors.

    If one believes in a deity that intervenes, the deaths of children is problematic. Was the child evil or destined to be so? If not– were they killed to punish the PARENT? or did the parents kill the child, and God simply didn’t prevent them because of free will?
    If one does not believe in an interventionist deity, then children die sometimes because the world is a potentially dangerous place, and sometimes dogs attack, or a playful child dances too near the top of a flight of stairs and falls, or a very small baby just forgets to take another breath. It’s a world of many little tragedies that serve no higher purpose.

    Now, which belief system enables a coroner to say, “This was an accidental death” and which one causes discomfort with the evidence causing him to eventually distort the facts?

  59. #59 Jason Failes
    November 29, 2007

    Assuming you are already perfectly moral provides no motivation for improving your morality,
    just as assuming you know everything provides no motivation to learn anything new.

    The scandals (and low test scores) of the highly religious should not surprise us.

  60. #60 RamblinDude
    November 29, 2007

    Assuming piousness is an effective manipulation in just about any area. Pick your category.

    Joe Newman, a supposed inventor, has been promising a “free energy” machine for a long time now. He cannot, of course, deliver such a machine and never has. He is a crackpot, and either has psycho problems or he is an outright fraud, but it is interesting to watch him play the game.

    He comes across as this determined, steely eyed (you know the type, a bit like Billy Graham) underdog with a magnificent secret. He only wants to help the world and is being kept from doing so by “The Man”. And then when he as your attention, he plays his ace card, “I know GOD is on my side,” or “GOD wants me to bring free energy to the world,” or some such crap.

    He’s been practicing this shtick for thirty years now and he’s very good at it. A LOT of people believe him. How can they not when he looks so damn righteous and sincere and GOD is on his side?

    I even saw a half hour uncritical documentary that was basically an “infomercial” on the guy on the science channel! The damn SCIENCE CHANNEL!

    “Praise God!” is as effective as a hypnotist’s finger snap. Uhhh….what were we talking about?

  61. #61 Greg B
    November 29, 2007

    I hate hearing “but they went to church, I can’t believe they would do something like this…” So friggin what. Going to Church doesn’t automatically make you competent in your work, or moral, or not-insane.

    It’s because religious people can’t conceive of the possibility of someone being moral without religion. In fact, the idea that atheist cannot be moral people is the 2nd most common misconception about atheist.

    The first most common misconception is that we’re wrong.

  62. #62 Sastra, OM
    November 29, 2007

    Nobody has yet mentioned what is likely to have been an additional factor in this case: the popular hysteria surrounding child abuse, and an almost cult-like insistence in some quarters that it’s happening behind virtually every door. Skeptics have long been examining exaggerated claims for Recovered Memories and Satanic Abuse, accusations often encouraged by pesudoscientific books like The Courage to Heal and conspiracy-type thinking.

    Yes, child abuse is real, and horrible. But the existence of a very real problem has sometimes triggered irrational overreactions and evaluations, with people throwing around statistics like 98% of all women were sexually abused as children, etc. Like most conspiracies, it has apparently formed a sort of sub-culture that feeds itself — in this case one composed of concerned parents, the hyper-religious, uber-feminists, and those with a savior-complex. “Believe your gut reactions and trust what your heart tells you: that’s the most reliable road to what’s true and real.” A dangerous and self-affirming spiritual basis to work from — especially if you’re working with dead children.

    In addition to being devout (and probably sincerely so), I suspect Smith may have also bought into the religious fervor of the Child Abuse Witchhunts. It’s hard enough for people to question someone who’s pious: it’s even harder for them to question someone who is just trying to protect the children!!!

  63. #63 Mooser
    November 29, 2007

    As for me, I’m still stuck at “they really don’t believe anything”, well, except their own freedom from responsibility or ethics, but that’s common enough, and I’d hate to blame God for it.

  64. #64 Justin Moretti
    November 29, 2007

    A similar (though in other ways different) problem occurred with Sir Bernard Spilsbury, the great English pathologist – having made his reputation with a series of brilliant successes, he acquired an aura of godlike omnipotence, but this was professional admiration and not because “he was a godly man”. Unfortunately his reputation stayed with him when his powers began to wane, and it was very difficult to criticise him for his mistakes. It can be argued that he sent more than one person unnecessarily to the gallows. Spilsbury ultimately attained insight into his increasing fallibility , and it led him to take his own life.

    A more “similar” problem occurred at Alder Hey Hospital, which led to the whole retained organs kerfuffle, but what changed my outlook on Alder Hey (and what should have ensured that the public response was more measured) was recognizing the context in which the organs had been kept – not one of honest (though perhaps rather insensitive) scientific inquiry, but one in which entire reports were simply falsified and the intact organs obsessively and inappropriately hoarded. And an entire profession became tarnished by the unrepresentative acts of an unrepresentative madman.

    Cairns’s reaction may be discordant with Smith’s disease. He may be defending it in the name of Godliness, but maybe what he was really trying to do is avoid the cognitive dissonance, the catastrophe – and in fact possibly the ego-destruction – that would have occurred if he’d allowed himself to acknowledge that his top paedi forensics expert was a raving nutter. He couldn’t face the possibility and his mind switched off, and now when he is faced with it, his coping mechanism finds dissonant reasons to have trusted a madman. Perhaps.

    It is possible to trust a true expert so much that you become blind to their errors, and it is possible to trust a con or certain types of madman because they are smooth with their words and maintain their outer facade. What happens when one turns into the other is, I suspect, what you have here.

    (PS How do you do the quote thing with the left-hand paragraph bar?)

  65. #65 SEF
    November 30, 2007

    How do you do the quote thing with the left-hand paragraph bar?

    The HTML tag for that is blockquote. You need an opening one and a closing one, ie /blockquote, surrounding the copied text. NB an HTML tag goes inside < and > characters.

  66. #66 SEF
    November 30, 2007

    Ah, this implementation is suppressing even spaced out versions of the characters. They are the angle brackets otherwise known as less-than and greater-than characters. They go before and after the tag name respectively – to signal to the software that it is a tag.

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