Why people turn evil, from Stanford to Abu Ghraib.

This is one of the most difficult stories I’ve edited in a long time: How Good People Turn Evil, From Stanford to Abu Ghraib.

Kim Zetter did the interview with Philip Zimbardo, a psychologist who is famous/notorious for his 1971 “Stanford prison experiment,” a psychology study in which some students were assigned to play “prison guards” and others “prisoners.” The experiment quickly spiraled out of control, with the prison guards — and Zimbardo himself — becoming increasingly detached from any moral compass, forcing the prisoners to strip, perform humiliating sexual acts, and the like.

Thirty years later, a similar dynamic — with much more horrifying effects — was happening at Abu Ghraib.

Zimbardo thinks that almost anyone can succumb to these kind of “evil” actions, given the right circumstances and social pressure. Evil is his word, and perhaps its too loaded with religious connotations — but regardless of your point of view, such behavior is certainly horrifying. Zimbardo tries to explain why it happens without excusing people from moral responsibility for it. On the other hand, he also testified for the defense of one of the Abu Ghraib prison guards, and it’s in that capacity that he got copies of many photos from the prison.

Zimbardo plans to show these images as part of his presentation at the 2008 TED conference in Monterey. Although many photos from Abu Ghraib have already been published, some of the images Zimbardo is showing appear to be previously unpublished, which is why we made the decision to publish them alonside his interview.

The photos (and the video slideshow Zimbardo made of them) are very disturbing, and I don’t recommend looking at them. But I do recommend reading the accompanying interview, for its insight into just how badly people can behave — and what it takes to make a stand against evil.

Why people turn evil, from Stanford to Abu Ghraib.

Book Review: What Would MacGyver Do?

Brendan Vaughan’s collection of real-life tales of ingenuity, What Would MacGyver Do?, recently republished by Penguin, has a great premise: It’s a collection of true stories featuring the kind of situational hacking (bombs defused with paperclips, sheds converted into aircraft) that the TV show MacGyver made famous in the 1980s. The resulting book does make for some fun reading, if only to guffaw at the haplessness of people locking themselves out of their cars, forgetting to set the parking brakes, ripping their underwear in the heat of passion, or planning parties but forgetting to get the food. Sadly, most of the "MacGyverisms" are little more than standard-fare workarounds to ordinary situations. The young lady with the ripped bikini? She saves her day by tying the ripped ends together. The man whose muffler was dragging along the Henry Hudson Parkway stands around dithering until some guys come along with an acetylene torch. They’re well-told stories, but the level of ingenuity falls far short of that displayed in a typical issue of Make magazine, or for that matter any issue of Martha Stewart Living. In the end, the cleverest hack of all is the author’s: He got a bunch of people to submit these stories to his web site, compiled the results, and published a book — all with minimal effort on his part. Now that’s a MacGyverism!

WIRED Fun, readable stories. Homemade air conditioner project is clever, and has enough detail you could actually build one of your own. Has "MacGyver" in the title.

TIRED Not that much ingenuity displayed in all but a few of the stories — Angus MacGyver would be embarrassed to have his name attached to a story about a new father calming down his baby by dressing in drag.

$11, whatwouldmacgyverdo.com

rating: 5 out of 10

Link: Book Review: What Would MacGyver Do?

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Book Review: What Would MacGyver Do?

Where I’ve been (on the radio and TV).

Thanks to the hard-working PR team at Wired, I’ve been in the media several times in the past few days:

Business News Network – a short video segment Friday about the Microsoft bid for Yahoo (video is near the bottom of that page, requires a Windows machine, and will only be available for a week)
NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday – a few minutes explaining where all the missing iPhones have gone (to China, probably)
KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny – an hourlong call-in radio show about the Microsoft-Yahoo bid, with Business Week’s Sarah Lacy and Cnet’s Michael Kanellos
WBUR’s On Point – another hourlong talk show, which I was on for about 10 minutes, together with Kevin Delaney of the WSJ and Nicholas Carr of the Harvard Business Review. Delaney has been doing outstanding news coverage of tech business stories, including the Microsoft-Yahoo deal, and Nicholas Carr is just incredibly smart about technology, so I was honored to be on the air with those two.

Where I’ve been (on the radio and TV).