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.


  1. #1 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.

  2. #2 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.

  3. #3 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?

  4. #4 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…

  5. #5 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!!!

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