The Trolley Problem

In 1987, a frustrated graduate student, Michael F. Patton, Jr., with the help of several of his fellow graduate students, wrote a satire of the Philippa Foot's infamous trolley problem. The article entitled "Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things" was published in Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association.

Eight years later, in May 1996, it was republished (with some revisions) in Harper's Magazine. Harper's Magazine listed the source as bOING bOING Magazinewhich credited an anonymous source on the web.


Patton, Michael F. Jr. "Tissues in the Profession: Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?", Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, 61-3, January 1988.

Brain in a Vat, bOING bOING, Number 13, page 15. This is the original bOING bOING article. bOING bOING was actually quite gracious when they found out that I was the original author and even forwarded the check that Harper's had sent them for the article ($50!!!!) Needless to say, I was very impressed with their professionalism and sense of humor.

Brain Teaser, Harper's Magazine, Volume 292, No. 1752, May 1996, pp. 26-30 . This the Harper's article. That they stole. From another magazine. Talk about sniffing out a story--"Gee boss, guess what I just read! It'll look great on the cover of next month's issue!" As of this date, I have yet to hear from Harper's about the article's misattribution, despite a flood of letters (two, actually, including one I didn't write) decrying their appropriation. To be fair, however, their editorial policy states "The Readings in Harper's Magazine every month consist of texts and documents found in the public domain, most of abridged for reasons of space and not all of them reprinted with permission." I suppose they think this absolves them for their blatant theft, so I guess they feel that they have covered themselves. Note to all authors I have ripped off creating this page--I have the same policy as Harper's. So there.

Finally, this is the strange and sordid history of the article "Can Bad Men Make Good Brains Do Bad Things?" It was submitted toHarper's as a letter to the editor, but never appeared. Reading it will demonstrate how well Michael can hide his bitter feelings and pretend to think the whole thing is quite amusing.


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