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Bizarro World

Bizarro World


Editor in Chief

Walking down the block to the shopping center I have my 10 cents weekly allowance in my pocket, and I know what I’m going to buy with it: the latest issue of the Superman comic book. (Comic books, for those who have never heard of Marvel Comics, were the graphic novels of the day when I was growing up.)

I don’t remember whether Superman got me interested in science fiction or the reverse but, in any event, the highlight of my day was when each new issue came out. I knew from experience when it was likely to appear at Woolworth’s, so I was rarely disappointed unless there was some rare shipping snafu. One of the most interesting recurring story lines related to Superman’s travails with Bizarro World and Bizarro Superman.

Bizarro World was in fact a bizarre, and thus pretty interesting, place to a 10-year-old, though perhaps not to the 10-year-old in everyone. Everything in it was the opposite of the regular world. Where Superman lived was a world much like 1950’s America. In Bizarro World, telling someone they were the most stupid, incompetent person around was the highest of compliments. And Bizarro Superman did his best (ie, worst) to do bad things, though since it was Bizarro World he was generally incompetent. Being kind, thoughtful, honest, reflective, ethical, and altruistic were the worst personal characteristics possible. Calling someone a mean, selfish, unethical liar was the kind of highly valued accolade to which anyone in Bizarro World would aspire.

Before you get that self-satisfied knowing look on your face, I’ll bet you think all this description is a not too veiled reference to certain aspects of public life in America over the last year. But you’re wrong; well sort of. . .

I’ll admit that it’s sorely tempting to think our current political world is a kind of Bizarro World, and I confess to thinking that way a time or two. But this column is about something different.

You may be familiar with the Sunday New York Times Magazine’s column, The Ethicist. Each week it features a letter or two asking whether a particular behavior is ethical, and the columnist—a philosophy professor at NYU, and sometimes guest commentators—responds. The letters all seem to be about real, albeit at times farfetched, situations. Clearly, though, and for obvious reasons, they are selected to grab and hold the readers’ attention.

Imagine my surprise, therefore, to see the headline in the February 26th issue, “Can Therapists Fake Their Own Online Reviews?

I knew what the reference was without having to read the letter. We all know about this phenomenon of the Internet, purportedly in the interest of consumer protection, in which people log in to a website and rate various aspects of the experience they had with a clinician. The one referred to in the New York Times piece apparently charges a not insignificant amount of money to be listed on the site, just like Trip Advisor charges hotels for the best type of listing. Of course, the physician ratings are anonymous, though there is likely some modest amount of identifying data supplied to the website by the rater, as you’ll see if you keep reading.


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