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Are journalists an example for bloggers?

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein claimed that some bloggers, unlike local journalists, do not adhere to the rules and ethics of journalism in their bid to garner popularity.

Local journalists adhered to ethics but these bloggers did not, and this was what differentiated the journalists from these bloggers (The StarOnline, 15/12/2009)

I wonder what he would have to say about the two articles in The Star Online that I blogged about last week? "Women with bigger breasts found to be smarter" and "Boob-staring good for men" - both of which, through a simple Google search, can be proved to be fictional tabloid 'news' of the poorest quality.

Actually I had only noticed the latter article when I first blogged about it, but then another blogger (Chang Yang - My Little Moments) commented that he had seen a very similar one - and written to the Editor about it. Which reminded me that that was the responsible thing to do - maybe there's a rogue journalist, an inexperienced intern, or someone like that, who made an honest mistake. So I wrote to the Editor too.

Chang Yang sent an email on, or before, the 15 November; and I sent one on the 7 December. Well, frankly, I'm gobsmacked that the articles are **still** online! :-O :-O :-O

I can't believe that there isn't someone in The Star who has the responsibility for reading 'Letters to the Editor', and who wouldn't do a simple double check of the articles! A serious newspaper's credibility, and revenue, depends on the accuracy of their reporting.

But then, given the hostility that the mainstream media often shows towards bloggers, I wondered whether it might have been because I mentioned blogging about it in my letter (though Chang Yang didn't)...

So, I thought I'd give it another try - here is the email i sent today, to

Dear Editor,

Two pieces carried by your online edition over the last two months are factually incorrect, and reflect the poorest journalistic standards. The articles are:

1. "Women with bigger breasts found to be smarter" (Compiled by WINNIE YEOH, NURBAITI HAMDAN AND A.RAMAN, 12/11/2009) -
This is an invention that was originally reported in the "World Weekly News" in 2003. A simple Google search will confirm this.

2. "Boob-staring good for men" (Compiled by WINNIE YEOH, A. RAMAN and TEH ENG HOCK), 5/12/2009) -
This fictional 'research' has been circulating since 1997. See this link for more information:

These articles have now been referenced by other newspapers and wire services, with The Star being quoted as the source. I think that you should investigate them and rectify the situation, in order to make sure that The Star's reputation does not suffer.

Yours sincerely,

Julian Hopkins

Kelana Jaya
Petaling Jaya
47301 Selangor


Anyway, this will be the last I post on the sorry affair (noting, en passant, that The Sun's circulation has now surpassed that of The Star).

The virtue of practice

In Moral Philosophy there are four main strands:

• Utilitarianism: i.e. 'the greatest good for the greatest number'
• Egoism: i.e. 'I know what's best for me, and that's all that matters'
• Kantianism: i.e. 'there are certain things that are right, and that's that'
• Virtue ethics: i.e. 'learn to live the right life, and you will be good'

From what I have learnt of ethics, I find virtue ethics to be the most satisfying. It is inclusive, allowing one to pick and choose from the other three methods of determining morality, and it is practical - emphasising the difficulty of living morally, the ability to improve oneself and to learn from mistakes.

In the 'Western' tradition, Aristotle (a great man in most ways, though unfortunately also the root of much of EuroChristian sexist dogma) introduced this ethical method via his famous 'Golden Mean' (see e.g. MacKinnon 90). For example, you are walking down the street and you see a starving beggar: you would be miserly ('illiberal') not to spare a bit of the excess money you have, but stupid ('prodigal') to immediately sign over your bank account and house to him. What would be the virtuous thing to do would be to give him what you can spare.

In other words, adopt the 'Middle Path': which brings us to Buddhism and Confucianism. These religions/philosophies emphasise the ability of the individual to choose to act morally, and the need to learn to do so through actions.

From what I understand of Buddhism, it basically advises people to understand that suffering (a consequence of immoral action one might say) comes from desire, and one can avoid this by learning to reject the impulses that come from desire. This can be done through a slow process of meditation and practice (e.g. physically getting rid of all possessions to avoid getting attached to them).

Confucianism focuses less on the individual I would say, but again there is a strong emphasis on practice: with a famous passage stating (basically) that in order for a ruler to enable a virtuous kingdom, he (for women weren't involved here either...) has to start by practicing virtue himself (“The Great Learning” qtd. in Velasquez 161).

And a note on gender: Gilligan's famous approach argued that women tend to have a different way of making moral judgements. Key words are 'concrete', 'relational': i.e. placing moral dilemmas in their practical environment and judging from there (Rachels 163-4). Which, perhaps incidentally, ties in with the feminist insight of making the personal political.

In anthropology the importance of understanding human behaviour as 'practice', promoted by Bourdieu and others has come to dominate; and the fundamental method of anthropology - participant observation - seems to be gaining converts in all kinds of disciplines and areas (cultural studies, market research, ...). As a method, it promotes understanding through living - i.e. practice. A parallel necessary understanding is that researchers need to understand how they too affect the ongoing practices of what they are seeking to understand: known as being 'reflexive'.

So, to conclude this somewhat rambling post: morality is developed through practice, and honest reflection upon one's own position. Practice, as a method and as a theoretical standpoint, is emerging as a paradigm in many disciplines. Reflexivity is also central to ethnographic practice.

Therefore, I suppose, one can argue that social science methodologies have mostly shed the idealistic modern/scientific notion that neutrality and objectivity are attainable, and instead moving to an ethical stance that has its roots in virtue ethics.


Bourdieu, Pierre. The Field of Cultural Production. Essays on Art and Literature. Ed. Randal Johnson. UK: Polity Press, 1993.
MacKinnon, Barbara. Ethics. Theory and Contemporary Issues. 3rd ed. Belmont: Wadsworth, 2001.
Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy. 4th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy. A Text with Readings. 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth 2005.

Ethical dilemma - when would you kill someone?

Here's a moral dilemma that I heard some philosopher tell [* Edit 03/03/09: I heard it on one of the 'Philosophy Bites' podcasts], it addresses a dilemma of consequentialism - i.e. judging acts by their consequences.

First scenario
Imagine you are are told that if you kill one healthy person, his organs will be used to save the life of five others. It is guaranteed that those five will be saved if you kill him, and otherwise they will definitely die.

What do you do?

Second scenario
You have been taken hostage by a terrorist. He gives you a gun (but you don't have the option to shoot him, OK?) and tells you that if you shoot one person, he will let another five go free. If you don't shoot the person, he will kill the other five. If you shoot yourself, he will kill all of them.

What do you do?

Third scenario
You're in charge of a rail track system on which there is a runaway train that you cannot stop. Coming up in front of the train the track splits into two, and you have to decide to send the train left or right. However, on the left track there is one person tied to the tracks and on the other, there are five people. Sending the train down either track will kill the person or persons tied to the track.

What do you do?

If you're like most people, for the last scenario you would have immediately chosen the track with one person; for the first you will likely have decided that it's not OK to kill a healthy person to use his organs to save five others. And, for the second scenario, you may have hesitated between one or the other.

The question is: what is the moral difference between the first and the third scenario? The consequence is the same. In each, you are killing one person to save five others. But what seems obvious in the third, is not obvious in the first.

Hehe :-) bit of a mind-fcuk eh? :-O

My guess is that the first scenario is a lot more likely to happen, and therefore we recoil at the idea; it also would have consequences in terms of establishing a precedence and - ultimately, someone one day could decide to harvest our own organs.

In the third one, there is only a split second to make a decision and therefore it is easier to make.

Also, in the first one, the healthy person is a completely free agent - i.e. not captured, or otherwise in any danger, and you have to kill him in cold blood; whereas in the other two scenarios someone else has put him in that situation, and therefore you are absolved of some responsibility.

What do you think?

PS: For those who like philosophy, here's a new blog I came across with Philosophy Cartoons.

Anthroblogology - Monetisation in the Malaysian Blogosphere

Sticky post. Scroll down for the most recent post :-)
Hi and thanks for dropping by - this sticky post is to explain (a bit) the anthropological research I'm doing on Malaysian blogs and bloggers for a PhD in Social Anthropology at Monash University.

If you're a Malaysian blogger, or a blogger living in Malaysia, my research is about YOU!

Please read on if you would like to learn more about my research, give some feedback or even participate in the research. Otherwise, just skip to the post below.
Continue reading "Anthroblogology - Monetisation in the Malaysian Blogosphere"

Faking it?

--This is an old post that didn't travel over into this blog: originally posted 1 Dec. 2006--
--And then I couldn't post it here due to another problem to do with a 'mod_security' module on the Apache sever (apparently, I don't understand what it was) - I will blog about that in the Geekzone at some point--

I have had a blog under a pseudonym for a few years, but now I am starting this one. Why? Because I want to use this as a basis for the research I’m doing into blogs and the internet in general, and I am worried that the previous blog may have some opinions that may not be appreciated by some…

I have been faced few interesting dilemmas because of this:
• I feel a sense of loss, I like my old nick and it’s been my online identity for a long time. This relates to the sense of identity, how I have invested something of ‘myself’ into my blog (e.g. Reed “My Blog is Me”)
• There’s an ethical dilemma: am I being duplicitous? I may engage in research (e.g. interviews) with bloggers who have interacted with my other identity.
• Another ethical issue: should I keep my other one going at the same time that I keep this one going? A related question, that is an important one, is what moral standards am I to keep to? ‘Online’ or ‘offline’ ones? Or is there a difference?
• I could also just delete a whole bunch of posts from the other one, and then ‘come out’ on that one – but is that also going against some moral code of some kind?
• I am engaging in self-censorship by taking this course of action. What moral duties do I have to avoid that?

In essence, the issues seem to go to the core of the discussion around online identities, and the meaning of blogs to bloggers. In the offline world we do not usually have the option to pretend to be other people, though some do – e.g. cross-dressers: and even then they usually claim to be doing so in order to be able to physically represent their ‘true self’ (see Butler for discussions of this). Online we can, and many people do: purely by the need to take a nick, and the impossibility of taking the same one as someone else (due to database reasons), the internet initiate is given a chance to recreate themselves. Offline, we may have the same name as someone else – but our bodies provide the guarantee of our uniqueness.

OK that’s it for today – I can feel many more thoughts. But I’m not to use this as an excuse to procrastinate either.

By the way: many interesting articles on blogs in this issue of Reconstruction.


Works mentioned:
Butler, Judith. Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge, 1999.
Reed, Adam. “‘My Blog Is Me’: Texts and Persons in UK Online Journal Culture (and Anthropology)”. Ethnos. 70.2 (June 2005): 220-242.