The moral obligation to drink coffee?

I have to confess that I sometimes read HuffPo, but just for the articles—not the pictures! Seriously, folks, I do peruse two sections, “Food” (a perennial topic of interest to me) and “Travel” (ditto). And in the food section I found this weird headline and the article below it: 

Screen shot 2014-05-03 at 7.56.08 AM

What? Science tells us we have a moral obligation to drink coffee? Even Mormons? What’s that about? Well, of course, science doesn’t give us any moral obligations, but merely tells us the consequences of our actions. The judgement call on what to do then must come from somewhere else.  And here are the “immoral” consequences of not drinking coffee:

While the health benefits of caffeine are under constant debate and scrutiny, professors at the University of Washington, the University of Arizona and the University of North Carolina have found a new argument in favor of consuming more of the stimulant. According to their research, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, caffeine can help employees resist pressure from higher-ups do unethical things at work.

Unfortunately for most of us, sleep deprivation is becoming more and more common as workers work more and more hours, the professors acknowledged. And according to earlier research, sleep deprivation increases unethical behavior.

“When you’re sleep deprived at work, it’s much easier to simply go along with unethical suggestions from your boss because resistance takes effort and you’re already worn down,” David Welsh, an organizational behavior professor at the University of Washington, explained in a release. “However, we found that caffeine can give sleep-deprived individuals the extra energy needed to resist unethical behavior.”

In a world where unethical behavior could mean a $6 billion trading loss or even jail time, ensuring ethical behavior should be a priority for workers and employers alike.

Fine.  People who aren’t awake are susceptible to making bad judgements and can more readily be persuaded to do unethical stuff. (Of course, this all comes from a psychology experiment I haven’t read, probably based on undergraduates.) Regardless of what the original research says, though, the “moral obligation” stuff is crap. What about the moral obligation to get enough sleep so you don’t need that coffee? What about the moral obligation to avoid filling your body with too much caffeine that could hurt you? Those are alternative strategies.

But while PuffHo is pondering moral obligations, how about the moral obligation to pay your writers? As we know, PuffHo uses a slave-labor type of contributor, one who is willing to write for free to get whatever exposure PuffHo provides, while Ariana Huffington and her minions reap the profits (AOL owns the site, and Ariana is Editor-in-Chief). I know because they asked me to write for them, and when I found the stipend was $0 I told them to stuff it.

Coopting writers in this way is unethical behavior. AOL, Huffington, and the few wage earners of PuffHo profit from writers who desperately want attention and are willing to take nothing for it. What that does is drive down the stipends for other writers who depend on their skills to make a living.  If Slate and Salon can pay (and they don’t pay much), so can PuffHo; and writers should simply say “bucks or nothing.” In fact, I’d go so far as to say that anyone who writes for PuffHo for free is being taken advantage of (that’s polite verbiage for “a sap.”)

And I suppose I’m unethical to read the site, too, which gives the place traffic that line the pockets of the owners.



  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:30 am | Permalink

    Who do these people work for that ethically questionable things are suggested by bosses, Gargamel?

  2. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    What about the moral obligation to get enough sleep

    We’ve covered that time and again in Britain. 290-odd dead on the Herald of Free Enterprise because the seaman assigned to close and seal the bow doors fell asleep ; 14 dead on a train in Yorkshire a couple of years ago because a driver fell asleep while driving on the orad above, went off the road and fetched up across the railway line. Where the train hit him, killing 14 passengers. He’s doing about 5 or 8 years for causing death by dangerous driving.
    They’re just the cases that come to mind and which are settled. What was going on on that Korean ferry smells pretty suspicious (lunch time conversation with the wife, boiling down to “you follow me and ignore what the crew say”). And it’s going to be a rare day when there isn’t a single death due to people running heavy machinery (including cars) when excessively fatigued.

  3. Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Fantasimo! Very well said.

  4. uglicoyote
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Road.

  5. Hempenstein
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    …sleep deprivation is becoming more and more common as workers work more and more hours,

    A thin premise, I think, but if you accept that, then there’s a moral obligation to drink less coffee so you can’t work so long, so more of the unemployed can work the workspace you’re no longer occupying.

    There, run rings around PuffHo logically.

  6. mikespeir
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    What they really mean to say is that we all have a moral obligation to drink Diet Coke. That makes more sense.

    • Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:34 am | Permalink

      We have a moral obligation to snort cocaine!

      • Diane G.
        Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:05 pm | Permalink


  7. Brygida Berse
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Well, they aren’t called PuffHo for nothing.

  8. Mark R.
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    Last month I was diagnosed with a-fib, so no more coffee for me. I feel so immoral.

    • Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      I am there as well, with a couple very inconvenient episodes. In my case, coffee does not seem to be a trigger (but alcohol might be 😦 ). This from a web site regarding caffeine and a-fib:

      “The idea of caffeine as a trigger for atrial fibrillation is surrounded by controversy in the medical world. Caffeine is a known stimulant that can invigorate your central nervous system and raise your heart rate. For some people, this can generate an atrial fibrillation event. Recent studies published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggest that caffeine may not be the definitive trigger as previously believed. Female coffee drinkers in the study did not experience an increase in AFib episodes. Each person, however, is different. If you feel that caffeine makes your arrhythmias worse, steer clear of coffee, tea, and caffeinated sodas.”

  9. Joe L
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    “…probably based on undergraduates.”

    No, most definitely MBA’s, who have such horrendous student loans to pay off they would sell their mothers (in the USA, anyway). Undergrads are still so idealistic we believe anything HuffPost writers and our profs tell us. Of course, I admit bias, since I am still getting my bachelor’s (it’s only taken me 40 years).

    Waiting for the day when they allow intra-venous caffeine….

  10. Richard Bond
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    The American obsession with hours at work rather than output is immoral. Although from the UK, I have worked for enough USA-based firms to have seen countless examples of the padding that people incorporate into their “working” day in order to cope with the requisite 10-12 hours attendance needed to avoid compromising their careers. A few days ago, Ben Goren suggested that about six hours of proper work is the most that normal people can manage without loss of efficiency, and I think that he is right.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      I once had a boss who thought that people who stayed late and came in early we great workers. In other words, slow, inefficient working was rewarded.

      • Richard Bond
        Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        Exactly. Well put!

    • Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      I agree, and what’s more, regular breaks need to be figured into those productive hours.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 4, 2014 at 3:51 am | Permalink

      90% of modern office work is pointless computerised data-shuffling designed to keep accountants and IT serfs employed.

      This says it quite well:
      (Written by a sociologist from London School of Economics – which shows that not everything that comes out of LSE is politically correct BS. It was first published in a magazine called Strike!, but I’ve given the link to the Sydney Morning Herald’s reprint so y’all can safely click on it without being trawled by the NSA and end up being waterboarded in G***t**mo, aren’t I considerate?)

      • Posted May 4, 2014 at 7:28 am | Permalink

        That essay does express it perfectly. Especially including the social stigma and resentment of those who do manage to live comfortably with bullshit jobs that’re less than 50 hours / week.

        Employers don’t care about how much you accomplish nearly so much as they care about how much of your life they devote to their whims. And, as Diana observed: those who put in long hours aren’t seen as inefficient; they’re seen as dedicated.

        …but there’s also a flip side to it. If somebody is willing to pay you to spew bullshit, why shouldn’t you? It beats cleaning toilets, and it really beats food stamps.

        I don’t know how we worked ourselves into this mess or how we might work ourselves out of it. I suspect it’s fueled in no small part by the giant bubble of cheap fossil fuels we’ve been riding on for the past century, and that it’ll go away whether we like it or not as soon as that bubble seriously starts to deflate. But, when that happens, the futility of bullshit jobs will be the least of our worries….


      • merilee
        Posted May 4, 2014 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

        12 or 15 years ago our failed-junior-high-school-teacher-Premier of Ontario, Mike Harris ( a Tory, of course), decided that high school teachers were not working enough hours. (he had added up only actual teaching hours, and not the many many hours of prep, marking, and meeting with students…) So he decided that we all had to teach half of another course each semester: i.e. team teach with someone else. We also had to do x # of hours extra each week meeting with students, but they couldn’t be our own students, because that was taken for granted. The whole thing was a complete schlemozzle and, fortunately, only lasted for a year or two. Some member of the public comes up with the statement “teachers get the summer off” and then there is a feeding frenzy about what lazy louts we all are. As much as I loved teaching, and most of the kids, I would love to see many members of the public come in and try to teach and run a class for even half an hour…

  11. Bob Carlson
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    What? Science tells us we have a moral obligation to drink coffee? Even Mormons?

    In 1962 I had a summer job with the Forest Service and was based in Ogden, Utah. Having forgotten the particulars of a joke my boss had told me about Jack Mormons and coffee drinking, I did a Web search but did not find it. What I did find is that there is a Jack Mormon Coffee Co. in Salt Lake with the advertising motto: “Jack Mormon Coffee: Coffee worth roasting for.”

    • Diane G.
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:07 pm | Permalink


  12. Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    “…too much caffeine…”

    Does not compute.

    (Seriously, though, AIUI, caffeine is pretty darn easy to metabolize and excrete. You’d have to down an AWFUL LOT for it to harm you.)

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:44 am | Permalink

      Depends on what you mean by “harm”. Too much caffeine makes me jittery, clumsy, and irritable. Not fatal, but not fun either.

      • Posted May 3, 2014 at 10:53 am | Permalink

        I would pay to have that kind of sensitivity. I must have the highest tolerance of anyone I know. I can down three 20oz light roasts and still want to take a nap.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

          OMG I once had two large coffees in one day & during a meeting my heart started racing & everything started getting dark. I kept trying not to show that anything was off so as not to freak out the person I was meeting with as I knew it would pass quickly.

      • merilee
        Posted May 4, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

        One cup does that to me, so I avoid it.

        • Posted May 5, 2014 at 8:05 am | Permalink

          Not all coffee has the same caffeine content — and I’m not referring to decaffeinated versions, either. I think it has a great deal to do with the roasting process, though I suppose it could be the bean selection as well — I’m sure there’re those here who know and could explain it.

          But I’ve had some coffees that have only a very mild stimulating effect, and others such that even half a cup makes me unpleasantly wired.

          And it’s not (just) the brewing process; this is with beans I’ve bought whole and ground and brewed, myself.


    • bric
      Posted May 4, 2014 at 3:27 am | Permalink

      5 grams of caffeine (around 33 standard espressos) over a 4 hour period is reckoned to be a fatal dose. Balzac is often said to have drunk 50 cups a day, but there is no evidence of that. He did like the stuff though –

  13. Posted May 3, 2014 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I really like coffee as a beverage, but I really don’t care all that much for how caffeine makes me feel.

    So, every couple months or so I’ll have a cup with breakfast, and really enjoy it…and that’ll be plenty.

    Road trips, I’m much more likely to drink coffee, at least partly because I’m much more likely to eat out…but I have to budget it. Only before (or during) the really long stretches of driving, or maybe if there’s going to be a lot of physical activity during the day. If I overdo it, after enough consecutive days the coffee doesn’t do anything to keep me alert any more.


  14. Posted May 3, 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    The Huffpo headline writer was being cheeky.

    The article says the study authors recommend, in addition to coffee and caffeinated beverages:

    “Give workers breaks
    Crack down on overtime
    Let workers take naps!”

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      Crack down on overtime is funny. I think some places do that where they pay overtime….paid overtime? What a concept? But then again, my work and personal life blend somewhat so I’m okay.

  15. rose
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Since i am a big coffee drinker i will agree with the health benefits.I will see someone drinking coffee on tv or just mention the word,and i want some.Coffee addict here and i know it.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

      Did you have coffee after writing the word “coffee”?

      Also, coffee.


    • bric
      Posted May 4, 2014 at 3:17 am | Permalink

      As Dr Novella never tires of pointing out, the stimulatory effect of coffee wears off after about three weeks of usage; after that you are just fighting withdrawal symptoms.
      Have a nice cup of tea.

  16. merilee
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    How much unethical stuff can you accomplish when you’re asleep, for ceiling cat’s sake??

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      This is why I wondered if these people worked for Gargamel.

  17. Diane G.
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Last fall the NYT published a relevant op-ed, “Slaves of the Internet, Unite!”

    I will freely admit that writing beats baling hay or going door-to-door for a living, but it’s still shockingly unenjoyable work. I spent 20 years and wrote thousands of pages learning the trivial craft of putting sentences together. My parents blew tens of thousands of 1980s dollars on tuition at a prestigious institution to train me for this job. They also put my sister the pulmonologist through medical school, and as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.

  18. Mormon Atheist
    Posted May 3, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    Caffeine is actually the thing that we have a moral obligation to have and therefore we can fulfill with numerous other caffeine containing things.

    • merilee
      Posted May 3, 2014 at 8:58 pm | Permalink


  19. bric
    Posted May 4, 2014 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    Tips on writing for HuffPo from Doonsbury in today’s (May 4th)strip

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 5, 2014 at 2:12 am | Permalink

      Now to be found at

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 5, 2014 at 2:13 am | Permalink

        …with a http in front of it of course. Why didn’t WP put a http in front of it? It always does when you don’t want it to. 😦

  20. Dominic
    Posted May 6, 2014 at 2:05 am | Permalink

    The environmental costs of coffee would suggest otherwise…
    For example –

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