Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Impenetrable Program Transforming How Courts Treat DNA

Jessica Pishko
Originally posted November 29, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

But now legal experts, along with Johnson’s advocates, are joining forces to argue to a California court that TrueAllele—the seemingly magic software that helped law enforcement analyze the evidence that tied Johnson to the crimes—should be forced to reveal the code that sent Johnson to prison. This code, they say, is necessary in order to properly evaluate the technology. In fact, they say, justice from an unknown algorithm is no justice at all.

As technology progresses forward, the law lags behind. As John Oliver commented last month, law enforcement and lawyers rarely understand the science behind detective work. Over the years, various types of “junk science” have been discredited. Arson burn patterns, bite marks, hair analysis, and even fingerprints have all been found to be more inaccurate than previously thought. A September 2016 report by President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found that many of the common techniques law enforcement historically rely on lack common standards.

In this climate, DNA evidence has been a modern miracle. DNA remains the gold standard for solving crimes, bolstered by academics, verified scientific studies, and experts around the world. Since the advent of DNA testing, nearly 200 people have been exonerated using newly tested evidence; in some places, courts will only consider exonerations with DNA evidence. Juries, too, have become more trusting of DNA, a response known popularly as the “CSI Effect.” A number of studies suggest that the presence of DNA evidence increases the likelihood of conviction or a plea agreement.

The article is here.

Punish the Perpetrator or Compensate the Victim?

Yingjie Liu, Lin Li, Li Zheng, and Xiuyan Guo
Front. Psychol., 28 November 2017


Third-party punishment and third-party compensation are primary responses to observed norms violations. Previous studies mostly investigated these behaviors in gain rather than loss context, and few study made direct comparison between these two behaviors. We conducted three experiments to investigate third-party punishment and third-party compensation in the gain and loss context. Participants observed two persons playing Dictator Game to share an amount of gain or loss, and the proposer would propose unfair distribution sometimes. In Study 1A, participants should decide whether they wanted to punish proposer. In Study 1B, participants decided to compensate the recipient or to do nothing. This two experiments explored how gain and loss contexts might affect the willingness to altruistically punish a perpetrator, or to compensate a victim of unfairness. Results suggested that both third-party punishment and compensation were stronger in the loss context. Study 2 directly compare third-party punishment and third-party compensation in the both contexts, by allowing participants choosing between punishment, compensation and keeping. Participants chose compensation more often than punishment in the loss context, and chose more punishments in the gain context. Empathic concern partly explained between-context differences of altruistic compensation and punishment. Our findings provide insights on modulating effect of context on third-party altruistic decisions.

The research is here.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Does Religion Make People Moral?

Mustafa Akyol
The New York Times
Originally published November 28, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Does religion really make people more moral human beings? Or does the gap between morality and the moralists — a gap evident in Turkey today and in many other societies around the world — reveal an ugly hypocrisy behind all religion?

My humble answer is: It depends. Religion can work in two fundamentally different ways: It can be a source of self-education, or it can be a source of self-glorification. Self-education can make people more moral, while self-glorification can make them considerably less moral.

Religion can be a source of self-education, because religious texts often have moral teachings with which people can question and instruct themselves. The Quran, just like the Bible, has such pearls of wisdom. It tells believers to “uphold justice” “even against yourselves or your parents and relatives.” It praises “those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind.” It counsels: “Repel evil with what is better so your enemy will become a bosom friend.” A person who follows such virtuous teachings will likely develop a moral character, just as a person who follows similar teachings in the Bible will.

The article is here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Vortex

Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian
Originally posted November 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

I realise you don’t need me to tell you that something has gone badly wrong with how we discuss controversial topics online. Fake news is rampant; facts don’t seem to change the minds of those in thrall to falsehood; confirmation bias drives people to seek out only the information that bolsters their views, while dismissing whatever challenges them. (In the final three months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, according to one analysis by Buzzfeed, the top 20 fake stories were shared more online than the top 20 real ones: to a terrifying extent, news is now more fake than not.) Yet, to be honest, I’d always assumed that the problem rested solely on the shoulders of other, stupider, nastier people. If you’re not the kind of person who makes death threats, or uses misogynistic slurs, or thinks Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager ran a child sex ring from a Washington pizzeria – if you’re a basically decent and undeluded sort, in other words – it’s easy to assume you’re doing nothing wrong.

But this, I am reluctantly beginning to understand, is self-flattery. One important feature of being trapped in the Vortex, it turns out, is the way it looks like everyone else is trapped in the Vortex, enslaved by their anger and delusions, obsessed with point-scoring and insult-hurling instead of with establishing the facts – whereas you’re just speaking truth to power. Yet in reality, when it comes to the divisive, depressing, energy-sapping nightmare that is modern online political debate, it’s like the old line about road congestion: you’re not “stuck in traffic”. You are the traffic.

The article is here.

Loneliness Might Be a Killer, but What’s the Best Way to Protect Against It?

Rita Rubin
JAMA. 2017;318(19):1853-1855.

Here is an excerpt:

“I think that it’s clearly a [health] risk factor,” first author Nancy Donovan, MD, said of loneliness. “Various types of psychosocial stress appear to be bad for the human body and brain and are clearly associated with lots of adverse health consequences.”

Though the findings overall are mixed, the best current evidence suggests that loneliness may cause adverse health effects by promoting inflammation, said Donovan, a geriatric psychiatrist at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Loneliness might also be an early, relatively easy-to-detect marker for preclinical Alzheimer disease, suggests an article Donovan coauthored. She and her collaborators recently reported in JAMA Psychiatry that loneliness was associated with a higher cortical amyloid burden in 79 cognitively normal elderly adults. Cortical amyloid burden is being investigated as a potential biomarker for identifying asymptomatic adults with the greatest risk of Alzheimer disease. However, large-scale population screening for amyloid burden is unlikely to be practical.

Regardless of whether loneliness turns out to be a marker for preclinical Alzheimer disease, enough is known about its health effects that physicians need to be able to recognize it, Holt-Lunstad says.

“The cumulative evidence points to the benefit of including social factors in medical training and continuing education for health care professionals,” she and Brigham Young colleague Timothy Smith, PhD, wrote in an editorial.

The article is here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Freezing Eggs and Creating Patients: Moral Risks of Commercialized Fertility

Elizabeth Reis and Samuel Reis-Dennis
The Hastings Center Report
First published: 24 November 2017


There's no doubt that reproductive technologies can transform lives for the better. Infertile couples and single, lesbian, gay, intersex, and transgender people have the potential to form families in ways that would have been inconceivable years ago. Yet we are concerned about the widespread commercialization of certain egg-freezing programs, the messages they propagate about motherhood, the way they blur the line between care and experimentation, and the manipulative and exaggerated marketing that stretches the truth and inspires false hope in women of various ages. We argue that although reproductive technology, and egg freezing in particular, promise to improve women's care by offering more choices to achieve pregnancy and childbearing, they actually have the potential to be disempowering. First, commercial motives in the fertility industry distort women's medical deliberations, thereby restricting their autonomy; second, having the option to freeze their eggs can change the meaning of women's reproductive choices in a way that is limiting rather than liberating.

The information is here.

Baltimore Cops Studying Plato and James Baldwin

David Dagan
The Atlantic
Originally posted November 25, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Gillespie is trained to teach nuts-and-bolts courses on terrorism response, extremism, and gangs. But since the unrest of 2015, humanities have occupied the bulk of his time. The strategy is unusual in police training. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never heard of an instructor using this type of approach,” said William Terrill, a criminal-justice professor at Arizona State University who studies police culture.

But he nevertheless understands the general theory behind it. He’s authored studies showing that officers with higher education are less likely to use force than colleagues who have not been to college. The reasons why are unclear, Terrill said, but it’s possible that exposure to unfamiliar ideas and diverse people have an effect on officer behavior. Gillespie’s classes seem to offer a complement to the typical instruction. Most of it “is mechanical in nature,” Terrill said. “It’s kind of this step-by-step, instructional booklet.”

Officers learn how to properly approach a car, say, but they are rarely given tools to imagine the circumstances of the person in the driver’s seat.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Moralized Rationality: Relying on Logic and Evidence in the Formation and Evaluation of Belief Can Be Seen as a Moral Issue

Tomas Ståhl, Maarten P. Zaal, and Linda J. Skitka
Published November 16, 2017


In the present article we demonstrate stable individual differences in the extent to which a reliance on logic and evidence in the formation and evaluation of beliefs is perceived as a moral virtue, and a reliance on less rational processes is perceived as a vice. We refer to this individual difference variable as moralized rationality. Eight studies are reported in which an instrument to measure individual differences in moralized rationality is validated. Results show that the Moralized Rationality Scale (MRS) is internally consistent, and captures something distinct from the personal importance people attach to being rational (Studies 1–3). Furthermore, the MRS has high test-retest reliability (Study 4), is conceptually distinct from frequently used measures of individual differences in moral values, and it is negatively related to common beliefs that are not supported by scientific evidence (Study 5). We further demonstrate that the MRS predicts morally laden reactions, such as a desire for punishment, of people who rely on irrational (vs. rational) ways of forming and evaluating beliefs (Studies 6 and 7). Finally, we show that the MRS uniquely predicts motivation to contribute to a charity that works to prevent the spread of irrational beliefs (Study 8). We conclude that (1) there are stable individual differences in the extent to which people moralize a reliance on rationality in the formation and evaluation of beliefs, (2) that these individual differences do not reduce to the personal importance attached to rationality, and (3) that individual differences in moralized rationality have important motivational and interpersonal consequences.

The research is here.

Authenticity and Modernity

Andrew Bowie
Originally published November 6, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

As soon as there is a division in the self, of the kind generated by seeking self-knowledge, attributes like authenticity become a problem. The idea of anyone claiming ‘I am an authentic person’ involves a kind of self-observation that destroys what it seeks to affirm. This situation poses important questions about knowledge. If authenticity is destroyed by the subject thinking it knows that it is authentic, there seem to be ways of being which may be valuable because they transcend our ability to know them. As we shall see in a moment, this idea may help explain why art takes on new significance in modernity.

Despite these difficulties, the notion of authenticity has not disappeared from social discourse, which suggests it answers to a need to articulate something, even as that articulation seems to negate it. The problem with the notion as applied to individuals lies, then, in modern conflicts about the nature of the subject, where Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and many others, put in question, in the manner already suggested by Schelling, the extent to which people can be transparent to themselves. Is what I am doing a true expression of myself, or is it the result of social conditioning, self-deception, the unconscious?


The early uses of ‘sincere’ and ‘authentic’ had applied both to objects and people, but the moralising of the terms in the wake of the new senses of the self/subject that emerge in the modern era meant the terms came to apply predominantly to assessments of people. The more recent application of ‘authentic’ to watches, iPhones, trainers, etc., thus to objects which rely not least on their status as ‘brands’, can therefore be read as part of what Georg Lukács termed ‘reification’. Relations to objects can start to distort relations between people, giving the value of the ‘brand’ object primacy over that of other subjects. The figures here may be open to question, but the phenomenon seems to be real. The point is that this particular kind of violent theft is linked to the way objects are promoted as ‘authentic’ in the market, rather than just to either their monetary- or use-value.

The article is here.