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Archive for February, 2013

jonah lehrer apology.jpbYou’ve probably heard the story of Jonah and the Whale from the Bible. This, however, is a “big fish story” of a completely different kind and features an entirely different Jonah: Jonah Lehrer. If you have not followed Jonah Lehrer’s fall from grace here’s a brief description of what happened from Ethics Alarms:

“When we last looked in on writer Jonah Lehrer last summer, he had detonated his career and credibility with a series of incidents of serious professional misconduct that led to his ignominious firing from The New Yorker, where he once was regarded as a rising star. First he was caught plagiarizing himself, recycling a previously published work as an original  essay for the magazine. That led to an investigation showing that this was not the first time he had taken such an unethical short-cut. Finally, it was discovered that he had fabricated Bob Dylan quotes in his best-selling book about, ironically enough, creativity. When confronted about this, Lehrer lied. Soon he was out of a job and condemned to the limbo reserved for writers who deceive their readers: Jason Blair, Stephen Glass, James Frey, Janet Cooke, and others. It is not a pleasant or profitable place to be.”

From the beginning, Jonah Lehrer said he would apologize. But it never came. He was asked multiple times to apologize and he said, in effect, he was “working on it” while intimating he would write about why he had lied. Because of his history of saying “he would get to it”, many wondered why he had agreed to speak on his misdeeds recently. Why, indeed after stalling on previous requests? The tipping point for Mr. Lehrer appears to be exactly $20,000. In an ironic twist, the Knight Foundation, long known for quality journalism, offered Mr. Lehrer $20,000 to discuss his plagiarism and deception. (The Knight Foundation has since apologized for paying him and says they regret rewarding someone who violated the basic tenets of journalism.)

While Jonah spoke, a giant Twitter screen beside him filled with tweets castigating him, making fun of him, describing his apology as manipulative and self-serving, and ultimately, serving as a final humiliation. Here’s a screenshot of what it looked like on the Knight Foundation stage. Many writers stepped quickly forward to complain about Lehrer’s apology–pointing out it’s arrogant, conniving and misleading nature, how lucrative his apology was, how he should be apologizing not for intellectual dishonesty but for intellectual laziness, how his apology only fueled the anger toward him, how his apology and explanation was really a non-apology and a non-explanation, and accusing him of cashing in on his notoriety.

Ethics Alarm was perhaps the only website to say that Lehrer’s apology was a terrific one. But they were not rating him on sincerity nor credibility. The Ethics Alarms site has an Apology Scale  that rates the ethical levels of various apologies. They say Lehrer’s apology is a Level One Apology–the highest level of ethical apology possible. Yet, alas for Lehrer, they wouldn’t hire him. Because no matter the artfully crafted language–no matter that his apology contained remorse, regret, and contrition–they just don’t trust him.

This is the fate of liars, once they are exposed—they never can completely regain their previous level of trust, except with the unusually kind, forgiving, and gullible. Yes, it is a magnificent apology, but if I had to choose, I would gravitate to distrust. I wish I didn’t feel that way. That does not diminish my admiration of Lehrer’s apology, however. I hope it is read, studied and recited in school. It is truly the ethical way to say, “I’m sorry.”

And often, saying “I’m sorry” even if artfully crafted–is simply not enough. Especially if you’re in the business of reporting the truth. It’s a good lesson for all of us as we issue apologies. Whether we are liars or not. Because ultimately, we are all responsible for reporting the truth.



wide faced man 2Model Cameron Russell has been making the rounds of various talk shows saying she is a successful underwear model not because she is particularly gifted or talented, but because she won a “genetic lottery”. Well, we bet wide-faced men are wishing they had won a genetic lottery because things are just not looking good for them. Last time we visited the topic of the wide-faced man it was to look at research telling us that, in comparison to skinny-headed men, the wide-faced man was judged by observers as being more likely to “lie and cheat”.

New research tells us the wide-faced man is more likely to explicitly endorse racially prejudiced beliefs. And not only are they more likely to do this, we anticipate they will be racist just by looking at them. That is, we are inclined to presume that wide-faced men are racist. Because they have wide-faces. And according to this research, it’s true.

These researchers believe the wide-faced man has a higher level of testosterone and is therefore more likely to be dominant, likely to be less inhibited when it comes to expressing prejudice, and more likely to be seen by others as being more prejudiced than less wide-faced men. They completed three separate studies to investigate these questions and all of these hypotheses were supported in their research. An additional and intriguing finding was that minority participants were “more motivated to accurately assess targets’ prejudice than were majority-group members”. They were also more accurate in estimating the prejudice of the particular wide-faced man. The researchers opine that this finding (wide-faced men are more prejudiced and more likely to overtly express their attitudes) adds to the body of research on how biology determines personality characteristics.

One of the problems we often encounter with research reports is the mighty leap that is taken between a finding (“wide-faced men harbor racial prejudice, just as people expect”, and causation (“wide-faced men have more testosterone which causes them to be domineering and uninhibited.”). Really? Is that a fact? Like the actual observed finding? No, it isn’t. It’s a theory. It may be based on some correlational data, but it could be as much due to other ‘causes’, or even coincidence. Beware of sensationalist research. And especially beware of glib causation assertions that goes so far beyond the data.

Given the findings in this research, we encourage you to read our original post on strategies to de-accentuate the impact of your own wide-face or your client’s wide face. In addition to simply buttressing the initial study’s results, this one also tells us that minority individuals are going to be especially attuned to bias and prejudice in wide-faced men. It becomes especially important, if you have minority members on your jury, that you are sure to inoculate jurors against their own biases and assumptions by educating them on the stereotypes against the wide-faced man.

Hehman E, Leitner JB, Deegan MP, & Gaertner SL (2013). Facial Structure Is Indicative of Explicit Support for Prejudicial Beliefs. Psychological Science. PMID: 23389425




Please feel free to join us in disbelief at this post title. How can this be? New research just released says, according to Pacific-Standard, Wal-Mart could expect more business from conservatives than from liberals. And why? Because conservatives prefer brand name products. Apparently, it isn’t about whether you prefer the clientele at one store or the other. Nor whether you think one of the stores is cleaner than the other. No. Just whether you are liberal or conservative. Hmmm.

Somehow this sort of statement seems like the old (and wrong) ideas that women jurors are always good for plaintiffs or Lutherans are prone to convict. So we had to take a closer look. For a start, we go to the actual research article rather than the main stream media publication where we found this headline about Wal-Mart and Trader Joe’s.

The researchers gathered data from a “comprehensive scanner database that tracks weekly store sales of thousands of products”. Data were “obtained from 1,860 stores belonging to 135 supermarket chains and spanned a period of 6 years (2001-2006)”. Based on traditional dictionary definitions of conservatives as preferring the status quo and resisting change, the researchers expected conservatives to prefer name brand and existing products to either generic or newly released products. They used county-level Republican voting patterns and county-level data on religiosity (e.g., either being a member of a congregation or a non-member who attends services regularly) to identify conservatism in the various geographic areas data had been collected. The researchers indicate that the “correlations suggest that both Republican voting and religiosity capture aspects of conservative values, independently of each other”.

And what they found is indeed odd. In counties that were higher in conservatism (based on proportion of Republican voting patterns and religious attendance/adherence), more name brands and existing brands were purchased.

“Our empirical results, based on extensive field data, provide strong evidence that more conservative ideology is associated with higher reliance on established national brands (as opposed to generics) and a slower uptake of new products. These tendencies are consistent with traits typically associated with conservatism, such as aversion to risk, skepticism about new experiences, and a general preference for tradition, convention, and the status quo.”

There is, however, nothing in the article itself comparing Wal-Mart to Trader Joe’s and store preferences of liberal versus conservative shoppers. This is why it’s important to go to the actual article rather than accepting the popular media headline. It’s also why we only write about articles we actually see ourselves rather than giving you information about them based on second-hand sources. You just never know when what you are seeing in the popular media is accurate and when it is not. Consider the now infamous example of Jonah Lehrer.

In terms of litigation advocacy, we will say a few things. This study does not say that a good voir dire question for identifying conservatism would be “Do you prefer Wal-Mart or Trader Joe’s?”. However, knowing how religiously observant a potential juror is or whether they vote Republican could well be good screeners of conservatism, which may or may not be relevant to your case. Both of these are much less flashy than the Wal-Mart vs Trader Joe question. But they are likely much more substantive when it comes to actual results.

Khan R, Misra K, & Singh V (2013). Ideology and Brand Consumption. Psychological Science PMID: 23381562



Negotiating Salary 101 for Women Only

Monday, February 18, 2013
posted by Douglas Keene

pay gap genderWe’ve written before about salary negotiations and the discrepancy in pay for men and women. One of the issues consistently identified in the research is that men ask for more money and women often don’t. So researchers wondered (they are always so very curious) if women could begin to narrow the gender gap in salary by simply asking for more money. Pretty straightforward, right?

As it happens, women can increase their salaries by asking but they have to be much more careful than men about just how they go about asking for more money. So consider this post to be a CLE on salary negotiation when you are female.

Here’s the short version of the prior research:

Men can ask for more money directly. No one sees this as worthy of punishment or “social backlash” as the researchers call it. But when women ask directly for a higher salary they are seen as “less nice and more demanding” than women who did not negotiate, and the interviewer was “disinclined” to work with those women asking for higher salaries. Women are sensitive to this consequence for negotiating and so are less likely than men to negotiate for a higher salary.

Quite a ‘Catch-22’. The current researchers wanted to see if there were ways for women to request a higher salary that did not result in a “social backlash”. They were able to find a strategy but it requires you to negotiate very differently than you would if you were a man. While more effective, it would reasonably feel annoying to women to have to tip-toe through the process while men can breeze through the negotiations with far less concern. Regardless, it is a strategy that works. Here’s what they found:

Men are able to negotiate directly because it is expected they will negotiate directly. They are not penalized for doing what we expect them to do in an interview setting. Women, however, have to pay attention to the social outcomes (“I care about my relationships with others in this organization”) and the negotiation outcomes (“I would like more money”). If a woman just attends to the “social outcomes”, she doesn’t ruffle feathers, but the price of being “nicer” is that she gets a lower salary. If a woman just attends to the “negotiation outcomes”, she is viewed negatively and she faces an uphill battle to be liked, and is at risk of being ostracized to some degree.

So, the researchers recommend a strategy for women that includes both social and negotiation outcomes. In their study, the employee (represented on the video as either a male or a female) had been promoted to a higher level managerial position and was negotiating a higher salary. The research subjects saw the male and female interviewees use one of three scripts. Subjects (224 college educated Americans with work experience, ages 21 years to 75 years with a median age of 38, 91 women and 86 men) viewed the videos and then reacted to the interviewee’s requests and filled out questionnaires as to their sense of the individual interviewee.

Simple negotiation script: “I do have some questions with regard to the salary and benefits package. It wasn’t clear to me whether this salary offer represents the top of the pay range. I understand that there’s a range in terms of how much managers are paid in their first placement. I think I should be paid at the top of that range. And I would also like to be eligible for an end-of-year bonus. [This is the version akin to what most men use to negotiate a higher salary.]

Supervisor excuse script: “My team leader during the training program told me that I should talk with you about my compensation. It was not clear to us whether this salary offer represents the top of the pay range. My team leader told me there is a range in terms of how much managers are paid in their first placement. He thought I should ask to be paid at the top of that range and to explain that I would also like to be eligible for an end-of-year bonus.” [This is basically explained by the researchers as a “blame the male supervisor, don’t blame me” script.]

Skills-contribution script: ‘I don’t know how typical it is for people at my level to negotiate, but I’m hopeful you’ll see my skill at negotiating as something important that I bring to the job.’’ [This is explained by the researchers as a “see me as a positive contributor, not a selfish demander’’ script.]

When women used either the supervisor excuse script or the skills-contribution script, they improved both the social outcomes (i.e., willingness of the interviewer to work with the woman) and negotiation outcomes (i.e., giving her a higher salary). You might have already intuited–men using the supervisor excuse or skills-contribution scripts were not penalized for using the scripts but their outcomes were no better than if they simply asked for the money directly (using the simple negotiation script). No gain, but no penalty regardless of which one they chose.

Women’s requests for salary treatment are viewed through a very different lens than that applied to men. The researchers believe that these scripts improved women’s outcomes since they made them seem more relational (which we expect from women) and the requests for a higher salary were seen as more legitimate (thus they were granted). In short, you legitimize your request for higher salary while reassuring the interviewer that you are concerned for organizational relationships.

This study is well written (the researchers are very articulate and write in plain English). Here is part of their conclusion:

“We do not see our research as providing specific scripts that women should use but rather the outlines of one possible strategy. We recognize that some people will bristle at the practical implications of this research. For some women, the idea of crafting a relational account may feel inauthentic or even offensive: why should they conform to an unjust standard? Others may perceive relational accounts as a reinforcement of gender stereotypes… We share these concerns. If we could choose the results of our experiments, we would prefer to uncover a more liberated context for gender in negotiation.

…The motivation for this research was to offer strategies that women could use to change their personal circumstances and to send the message that, while gender constraints are real, they are not inescapable. Moreover, when women rectify gender inequalities, they do so not for themselves alone.

…Research suggests that when women break glass ceilings, they do so for others as well as for themselves. For instance, when more women gain high-status managerial positions, the gender pay gap reduces for lower level workers (Cohen & Huffman, 2007). We hope that some women will put the insights from our research into practice because every woman who reduces the gender gap in pay and authority reforms the social structures that keep women in their place.”

In essence, no, it isn’t fair. But it is a way to get a higher salary more comparable to men in similar positions. And if women do this one by one by one–it adds up to more gender equity. These researchers say the ends justify the means. We tend to agree with them.

Bowles, H., & Babcock, L. (2012). How Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma? Relational Accounts Are One Answer Psychology of Women Quarterly DOI: 10.1177/0361684312455524



catfishA few weeks ago, I was eating a late lunch and turned on the TV and watched the Katie Couric talk show for the first time. She was talking to two 20-something guests about the perils of online dating. They talked about ways to protect yourself from deceptive “catfishing” by using Google image search or examining social network profiles for inconsistencies and at one point Katie said “My gosh, you have to be like Columbo these days!”. Both of her young guests smiled politely but their blank faces made it clear they had no idea who Columbo was.

One of the guests was Nev Schulman from the movie Catfish. If you don’t know this story, Nev met a woman named Megan online who was gorgeous and a dancer and a singer and he fell in love. When he showed up on her doorstep to meet her in person, Megan turned out to be a 40-something housewife named Angela who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and caring for two disabled stepsons. Part of the reason Nev was on the Katie show was to advertise his new TV show (Catfish the TV show). In this show, Nev travels the country visiting people who are involved in online relationships with people who always seem to turn out to be imposters hiding behind fake profiles. He teaches them how to investigate their online loves and dispenses a blend of empathy and sincerity that is very likable while their fantasies crumble about their feet.

Shortly after I watched this show, I saw a story at Courthouse News about a woman suing for $10M because someone she met on their website “hid in her garage, stabbed her 10 times and kicked her in the head until she ‘stopped making the gurgling noise’”. She says didn’t warn her about the possibility of meeting “an individual whose intention was not to find a mate, but to find victims to kill or rape”. She did not sue her attacker. She couldn’t. He died in prison while “serving 28 to 70 years for killing an ex-girlfriend”. begs to differ:

“What happened to Mary Kay Beckman is horrible, but this lawsuit is absurd,” said. “The many millions of people who have found love on and other online dating sites know how fulfilling it is. And while that doesn’t make what happened in this case any less awful, this is about a sick, twisted individual with no prior criminal record, not an entire community of men and women looking to meet each other.”

It isn’t as though these are isolated cases or very, very fringe behavior. These are sad, sad stories involving a pretty universal desire to be loved and cherished. It’s been hard to miss the publicity surrounding Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o and his own catfishing experience with a very unlucky (and then dead and then alive again) girlfriend. The “girlfriend” turned out to be a disturbed young man who once auditioned for the television show The Voice.

It’s a difficult issue. We’ve worked a couple of cases where people were assaulted by others they had met online. One case involved a minor girl and the other involved a grown woman. In both cases, the assailant lied about who they were, how old they were, and what their intentions were, while all the while enticing the victim to meet them. Both stories were horribly sad and life-changing for the victim. Yet, in both situations, our mock jurors said the fault lay with the victim for “lying to her mother and meeting this guy” or “telling him where she lived”. Jurors thought these women had learned a very hard and cruel lesson but they should not be compensated by the online service for using bad judgment.

There are discussions occurring as to how to respond from a legal standpoint to the perpetrators of these hoaxes. In our experience, jurors think these are examples of poor personal responsibility by the victim of the hoax. The online service was scrutinized, but overall the mock jurors felt that users of these services know that there is no vetting of community members, and anyone who assumes authenticity in online disclosures is, at best, naïve. This is an area we will keep up with as new definitions and practices emerge to keep up with our changing definitions of what constitutes a “relationship” in a social media world.