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Detached Regret

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I propose a new rule. A person caught in a misdeed should get zero or negative credit for an expression of remorse that only expresses regret for the event and not the person's role in causing it.

Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. has acute pain from its former chief of acute pain, Scott S. Reuben. Keith Winstein and David Armstrong report in the WSJ that the "prominent Massachusetts anesthesiologist allegedly fabricated 21 medical studies that claimed to show benefits from painkillers like Vioxx and Celebrex...." Faking data is the cardinal sin of science.

"Dr. Reuben deeply regrets that this happened," said the doctor's attorney, Ingrid Martin.

Excuse me, Dr. Reuben and Ms.Martin, but how did "this" just "happen"? Did fabricated data grow spontaneously on your flash drive? How many times have we heard the politician version, "mistakes were made"?

I don't know if this is a crime. It should be. The point, though, is that we see this in criminal cases as well. People try to get less condemnation, if not actual sympathy, for acts that deserve condemnation by saying how sorry they are. If such expressions are to be considered at all (and there is a good argument they should not), at the very least the defendant must say "I'm sorry I did it," not "I'm sorry it happened." Everybody is sorry it happened, but the rest of us didn't do it.

Update:  The post has been corrected to remove an incorrect usage of a technical grammatical term.

3 Comments

And it's a short jump from the passive voice to self-exoneration, remember Theodore Dalrymple's example of a criminal who stabbed a victim talking in terms of the knife just went into her?

Sometimes the most heinous of murderers, i.e., condemned inmates, have the moral courage to forthrightly admit wrongdoing. It's a shame when a murderer has to show a doctor the right way to do things.

FWIW, the sentence "Dr. Reuben deeply regrets that this happened," is not actually in the passive voice and thus would not trigger your proposed rule. "Regret" is an active verb.

I expect that a more technically correct way of saying this, and some chastisement for the way I said it, will be forthcoming at the Language Log.

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