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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

How is your ethics, if you know, or know of a person who has the cure to autism but will not release it unless paid big, would you release it had you the opportunity?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26821points) October 19th, 2015

Say a person you know, a friend, loose acquaintance, etc. says he/she has the cure to autism, shows you the data they have on a thumb drive, but say they are going to leak they have it but will not let anyone have it save the highest bidder. If said person upon departing you forgot the thumb drive, and it was an unencrypted drive so you could access it, would you copy the data and release it before returning the drive, give it back without looking at it, anonymously mail it to some researchers of autism never letting the person who lost it know what happened to it?

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41 Answers

jerv's avatar

I don’t want to be cured :p

If you had asked the question almost any other way, then I would be inclined to get the cure out there. This though? While not as bad as “curing” excess melanin or epicanthic folds, still makes me bristle.

msh's avatar

Tricky situation. I owe them no allegiance. They are not a close person in my life. Yet, they have done a great deal of work and study. I cannot blame them for wishing to profit from this groundbreaking change for the world. It is a terrible condition. Yet, it is not an illness that has immediate dire outcomes. Extremely needed and positive, yet what right does anyone have to steal? And it is stealing.
Robin Hood was a thief, regardless of what he did with the boon. Or that he looked good as Errol Flynn did in the movie.
However, I would return the thumb drive untouched. Immediately. I would offer to help with garnering the best offer or finding someone to help this person get the information out there asap.
What if you copied it, and there were sections of misinterpretation or false positives? YOU could hurt more than help humankind.
It’s not yours to give. No.

jerv's avatar

After a few minutes reshaping this question in my head to refer to something that actually is undeniably bad that makes all of it’s victims suffer and all those afflicted with it want a cure (cancer, HIV.. something in that league), then there would be no doubt as to the answer.

I believe in things like “greater good”, karma, cost/benefit analysis and Wheaton’s Law. If I didn’t send that data off, then fewer people would be cured, it would cost them more and all that suffering would be so that one person could be a dick. However, sending it would cure more people cheaper and hoist a dick by his own petard.

That data would be out of here as fast as my 30Mbps fiber line can send it.

cazzie's avatar

If it isn’t a peer reviewed study that has been duplicated I would absolutely copy the data and have it checked because it is worthless without the two thing above as well and double blind clinical trials.

elbanditoroso's avatar

It’s not your property or your discovery. If you do anything but give the thumb drive straight back to its owner, then it is theft. Pure and simple. And you are the thief.

It makes no difference whether the contents of the thumb drive are a cure for autism or a recipe for cookies. It isn’t yours to do anything with.

Even if it’s something that will benefit mankind, it’s not your right to make it public. It is the thumb drive owner’s right to decide how and when he makes it public, if ever. Otherwise society is forcing him to do something he may not wish to do. Which, if you remember Atlas Shrugged, is what got society into so much trouble.

Bottom line: give he thumb drive back and shut up. Anything else is unethical.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

I’m copying the data for sure. What I do with it depends on how the situation unfolds and the nature of the cure.

LostInParadise's avatar

If the person with the cure invested a great deal of money in developing it then they have the right to recoup their expenses. For example, if the cure was in pill form there are patent laws providing protection. I could see an alternative by which the government forces the knowledge to be made public and provides compensation to those who discovered it. I don’t know if that has ever been done, but that seems like an ethical alternative.

ragingloli's avatar

As Mr Spock always said: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

_Seek_'s avatar

Like @jerv, I’m going to mentally replace “autism” with some other illness, and play along with the premise (as odd as it is)

I would, likely, copy the thumb drive, and then begin a quest to help my friend find the best option for distribution. My copy of the thumb drive would go in a safe-deposit box.

Assuming this person is my actual friend, that is. I would not and couldn’t be friends with someone who would cheerfully see people die rather than give up this secret, so I’m playing with the presumption that my friend is looking for fair compensation that will make his or her family comfortable, and not the GDP of an Eastern European nation. I would not begrudge the discoverer of such a boon to mankind that comfort.

ragingloli's avatar

Where do you draw the line between the “right to make money” and extortion/blackmail?

_Seek_'s avatar

Well, in 2014, Pfizer spent 8.4 billion dollars on research and development.

So, if my friend wanted, say, USD 250–500 million for just handing over the patent, I’d call that a reasonable.

elbanditoroso's avatar

@Seek – supposing he doesn’t want to sell or distribute except on his own terms?

Does the government have the right to force him to sell? Do you have that right? The answer is NO. If he doesn’t do it willingly, he is being forced (coerced) – he is being robbed by the state.

All the folderol about “he wouldn’t be my friend” is bullshit. That’s fine and dandy on a personal level, but it’s not relevant to the authority of the government to make him sell something he doesn’t want to sell. It would be highly unethical of you to force him to do something he doesn’t want to do.

_Seek_'s avatar

When did the state enter this hypothetical?

_Seek_'s avatar

And I’m more than happy to coerce someone to not be an asshole.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Seek, that’s really, really scary. You get to define who is an asshole, and then can take steps to coerce him/her?

Who appointed you god? What gives you the authority to hold that sort of power over another person?

_Seek_'s avatar

I did. Duh. Power isn’t given, it’s taken.

Pandora's avatar

I wouldn’t release it because some big time billionaire would pay the price for it and then sell it on the market to make money. I would keep a copy in case the billionaire wanted to charge such a high price that it isn’t feasible for anyone to actually pay for it, or the billionaire that bought it runs and owns some centers for autism and doesn’t plan to sell it because he makes way more money by running those centers.
Now if it was an illness like Alzheimer where time matters for them, then I would release the information if my friend doesn’t take the first big offer he gets and wants something like a trillion dollars.

Inara27's avatar

Eminent domain can also be used here. If it was determined to be in the public’s best interest, the information could be taken for “fair market” compensation. If they want a big payout, then they should sell soon, before eminant domain, or before someone else figures out the cure on their own. If they want to prevent some big corporation from making a big profit, put it in the public domain, like Dr. Salk and the polio vaccine.

josie's avatar

That would be stealing.

Anyway, how much energy, time and money did they spend to get the data? Are you talking about leaving them with nothing at all? Talk about ethics.

If there was a debate about their selfish interests vs. the common interest, I would engage in it with them.

JLeslie's avatar

Did the friend in question develop the cure? Or, he just happened upon it (stole) it himself? If someone showed me it in confidence I would keep it confidential for at least some time. It would depend on the circumstance. Possibly, I would take a copy of the info. Not for personal profit, but for the greater good if he never did anything with it. As much as I would love for the pharmaceutical industry to be more altruistic, I also respect a person’s right to earn money for their discoveries, and to keep something confidential when told to me. However, I do have some desire to help the greater good, and am quite disgusted by profits of billions of dollars while people can barely afford their healthcare bills.

I once happened to be privy to a conversation at Glaxo regarding a new drug. The guys discussing it glanced over at me and said, “you can’t discuss this with anyone.” I never did, but that’s different though. They of course know all the procedures to bring drugs to market, so I didn’t feel anyone would be deprived if I said nothing.

Rarebear's avatar

I’d tell them they’re full of shit. That’s not how science works.

Cupcake's avatar

Agree with @Rarebear. And, even if the science worked, that’s certainly not how clinical trials nor the FDA work.

What do you think you’re going to do with unencrypted patient data? Who are you sending it to? Who will verify/authenticate it?

I can’t buy into the premise of your overly simplistic question. Greater good, yes. But stolen patient/clinical trial data? WTF will that get you?

_Seek_'s avatar

Thus the caveat: ” play along with the premise (as odd as it is)”

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@msh Yet, it is not an illness that has immediate dire outcomes. Extremely needed and positive, yet what right does anyone have to steal?
What if it was for something more life threatening, would that make more of a case to justify stealing the work?

@jerv If I didn’t send that data off, then fewer people would be cured, it would cost them more and all that suffering would be so that one person could be a dick. However, sending it would cure more people cheaper and hoist a dick by his own petard.
Where does one draw the line in this ”greater good”? If someone allows their nephew to live with them but he is a notorious gangbanger and drug dealer and allowing him in the neighborhood would bring dangerous people there, maybe even spawning some drive byes, would the greater good preclude doing something to run him from the neighborhood, or burning his aunt out of her home so she will have to move taking her nephew with here?

@JLeslie Did the friend in question develop the cure? Or, he just happened upon it (stole) it himself? If someone showed me it in confidence I would keep it confidential for at least some time. It would depend on the circumstance. Possibly, I would take a copy of the info. Not for personal profit, but for the greater good if he never did anything with it.
What does that mean exactly, you won’t purloin his/her work if they were going to do something with it more for the common good than their pocket, or you would take custody of a copy you were not authorized to have and leak, trade or sell it if you determine they wanted what you believed was too much for it or they themselves stole it and did not develop it through hard work and sweat?

@Cupcake Agree with @Rarebear. And, even if the science worked, that’s certainly not how clinical trials nor the FDA work.
To get to the human trial stage it has to get passed the manufacturing stage. Who will take on that expense unless the data suggest it will work or is highly probable? If the person had highly probable data to the point someone in Big Pharm could see investing into it, but this person knowing this, was not going to let Big Pharm see it and no one else less it slips into the hand of Big Pharm so they want to be paid big time ahead of the game in case somehow they get hoodwinked.

cazzie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I think the person keeping this information to themselves is the criminal. They are essentially holding the potential welfare of millions hostage. They are the ones being unethical. There are ways for them to be compensated, but holding this information back IS unethical.

msh's avatar

Nope.
Still Stealing.
Follows what I said before- facilitate expedience-by all means. Push hard to make connections to those who could make it real. Turn some thumbscrews to make this closer to sharing it all-
By all means.
With bells on.
But out and out stealing- and again, there still might be hiccups and knots…
I, personally, would not do so.
Push? You betcha.

cazzie's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central Who will take on that expense unless the data suggest it will work or is highly probable? This sort of stuff happens all the time. It is why there are research grants, but private and from the Government. There are established pathways to the validation or debunking of the data and holding to for ransom is NOT one of them.

I know that the guy who came up with the delivery system for the nicotine patch never made a dime, but he didn’t keep the information secret for payment and now that system is used for the delivery of many different types of drugs. There are ways of patenting things so that they don’t need to be held for ransom. To me, his tactics stink of a scam because if he really believed he had the cure or something that could improve the lives of millions of people, he wouldn’t go about it this way. He’d have something to patent and then he would publish what there was to publish and get his research peer reviewed, duplicated and set into human trials.

That is why I would have no trouble taking a copy of his data because I’d be almost 100% sure it would be a bogus claim.

msh's avatar

I think you asked a great question. Nice job.
It’s hard to imagine people’s greed. Or good, I guess…

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@cazzie I think the person keeping this information to themselves is the criminal. They are essentially holding the potential welfare of millions hostage. They are the ones being unethical.
Being unethical and being criminal are two different things, no matter how one wants to put them on the same slice of bread. A person can do things that are unethical and still be above the bar set by civil or criminal law. If that be the case, how and when does group desire, or individual desire trump law as to who is criminal? Would that not go back to ”two wrongs doesn’t make a right?” When does this apply? If he was a land owner who had a piece of property that the whole community enjoyed but then decided to develop it into some strip mall that would have negative consequences on the neighborhood, if 27 out of 35 people in the neighborhood thought it was criminal of him to selfishly disrupt their lives and property value do they have the right to prevent him, even though he is doing everything according to law?

_This sort of stuff happens all the time. It is why there are research grants, but private and from the Government. There are established pathways to the validation or debunking of the data and holding to for ransom is NOT one of them. _
In essence isn’t a grant more akin to a crapshoot or investment in a discovery? If someone says they want to cure Parkinson’s and someone believes they can, they give the money. If someone thinks a cure for that can be found but no one yet has an inkling of how to do it, they give the money so someone can hunt for it. If a person by what lab test they have done has something they highly believe would be effective to treat humans because it worked on what animals or computer models they utilized, they already have something. For it to be held up to the flame, it has to be revealed to those who have better resources to fully vet it out to see if it holds water. If a person who legally owns the data says I am not allowing anyone to catch a whiff of this until X amount of dead Presidents materialize in my bank account, it maybe unethical, but it is still his/her property legally to dispose of, use, or trade as they see fit. It would be no different than any other physical invention. People have them, they don’t patent them if they do not have the money to fully divelope them because once they do, some big manufacture can change it enough to legally be called a different widget when it is really off the back of someone else. If a person believes that it getting out before they are compensated whatever they believe they are worth or should get, would have Big Pharm or someone else tweak it just enough to make it legally appear different but it his/her process, product, etc. they (Big Pharm) just ripped off.

That is why I would have no trouble taking a copy of his data because I’d be almost 100% sure it would be a bogus claim.
What if you were wrong, can you compensate for picking the guy/gal’s pocket? In reverse what if you had invented something by your test seemed to work, say an additive that increased gas mileage 38%, you do not have the money or facility to fully vet it out, so you figure you will sit on it unless you get an offer you believe your product/process is worth. What if someone got wind of it, even if you knew them well, and they leaked it out there because they thought the greater good for society and the world trumps your desire to be compensated for your sweat And effort, would you be cool with them taking your discovery against yo0ur will and just giving it away because they felt it should go that way?

ragingloli's avatar

If there was an asteroid approaching Earth, with a 100% impact probability, and you were in exclusive possession of both the theoretical knowledge and the blueprints for an anti asteroid beam weapon, but you were unwilling to release it unless paid a trillion dollars, would it really be “unethical” for the world to punch you in the face and just take it?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ To add unethical behavior on top of unethical behavior doesn’t make it ethical behavior, I guess it does in your book, but where does the bar stop? someone else’s asteroid might be trivial to you, but heck, they can do it if they feel it is unethical.

_Seek_'s avatar

Um, in world-going-to-be-byebye mode, yeah, yeah it does.

elbanditoroso's avatar

I think that @cazzie is way off when she calls the person ‘criminal’. What crime was committed?

cazzie's avatar

@elbanditoroso I’d say fraud. It is false pretense.

ragingloli's avatar

Extortion and blackmail.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

^ Who is being extorted, a mega rich person with an autistic child, if no one knows of its existence and they do not own or possess it that they can be pressured out of it, where or who is being extorted or blackmailed?

elbanditoroso's avatar

@cazzie – where’s the fraud? If the guy refuses to give up his secret, how is that fraud?

cazzie's avatar

He wants millions for what is nothing but a bunch of worthless numbers. If it was worth something he’d have it patented and go through the proper channels like the rest of the researchers do.

elbanditoroso's avatar

Whoa! That’s a fascinating leap, @cazzie , and rather significant smackdown of capitalism and free markets.

He’s the seller in the market. Someone else is the buyer. A contract is made for payment at the market cost of the item, and the market cost is determined through negotiation between the two of them based on perceived value. If the buyer in this case thinks that the ‘worthless numbers’ are valuable to him, than the price will be higher.

The only time there is fraud is if the seller has misrepresented the contents of the documents. And that happens after the sale, if at all.

There’s no crime here, no fraud, until (and unless) this theoretical information is provably false.

cazzie's avatar

And my point is if it had value he wouldn’t be trying to sell his stuff like this.

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