I took last week off from blogging the ethicist because he wasn't all that interesting [read: I didn't have any particular bones to pick with him]. This week isn't looking much better for me. His attempt to address campaign finance rules is sort of odd, but I think that's all right for an advice column as opposed to someone whose job it is to develop policy. This point isn't original to me, but I think it's extremely clear that a lot of the derision Randy Cohen gets would go away if the name of his column changed to Ask Randy. He could make the same claims, true or false, and people would care much less just because he isn't calling himself The Ethicist. I don't have any issues with Cohen's first response, but I do have some believability worries with the first writer's story:
I teach sociology at a college-prep academy. Each year I do meditation with one of my classes. One student does not meditate but acts as timekeeper. At the end of the session, I admit I only wanted to see what a class would do with their teacher's eyes shut. The timekeeper reveals she was a spy and reports how many were looking out the window, etc. I then ask my students if this experiment is ethical. Most say yes. What is your view? Joseph A. Gironda, Bayonne, N.J.
My problem is that I can't believe this experiment can be successfully conducted in consecutive years. My experience is with a public high school rather than a college-prep academy, but it seems likely that inter-grade communication is extensive enough that at least one person in Mr. Gironda's class for a given year would inform at least one member of next year's class about this experiment, that person would inform others, and they probably wouldn't forget. I could be wrong about this of course, but the version of events it supposes just seems really unlikely to me. I'll try to address the second letter later.