"Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can." - Peter Singer
"Common sense is not so common." - Voltaire
“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn't true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” ― Søren Kierkegaard

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Moral Enhancement Using Non-invasive Brain Stimulation

R. Ryan Darby and Alvaro Pascual-Leone
Front. Hum. Neurosci., 22 February 2017

Biomedical enhancement refers to the use of biomedical interventions to improve capacities beyond normal, rather than to treat deficiencies due to diseases. Enhancement can target physical or cognitive capacities, but also complex human behaviors such as morality. However, the complexity of normal moral behavior makes it unlikely that morality is a single capacity that can be deficient or enhanced. Instead, our central hypothesis will be that moral behavior results from multiple, interacting cognitive-affective networks in the brain. First, we will test this hypothesis by reviewing evidence for modulation of moral behavior using non-invasive brain stimulation. Next, we will discuss how this evidence affects ethical issues related to the use of moral enhancement. We end with the conclusion that while brain stimulation has the potential to alter moral behavior, such alteration is unlikely to improve moral behavior in all situations, and may even lead to less morally desirable behavior in some instances.

The article is here.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

White House Ethics Loophole for Ivanka 'Doesn't Work,' Say Watchdogs

Nika Knight
Common Dreams
Originally posted on March 24, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

The ethics advocates express "deep concern about the highly unusual and inappropriate arrangement that is being proposed for Ivanka Trump, the President's daughter, to play a formalized role in the White House without being required to comply with the ethics and disclosure requirements that apply to White House employees," arguing that the "arrangement appears designed to allow Ms. Trump to avoid the ethics, conflict-of-interest, and other rules that apply to White House employees."


"The basic problem in the proposed relationship is that it appears to be trying to create a middle space that does not exist," the letter explains. "On the one hand Ms. Trump's position will provide her with the privileges and opportunities for public service that attach to being a White House employee. On the other hand, she remains the owner of a private business who is free from the ethics and conflicts rules that apply to White House employees."

The article is here.

Will Democracy Survive Big Data and Artificial Intelligence?

Dirk Helbing, Bruno S. Frey, Gerd Gigerenzer,  and others
Scientific American
Originally posted February 25, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

One thing is clear: the way in which we organize the economy and society will change fundamentally. We are experiencing the largest transformation since the end of the Second World War; after the automation of production and the creation of self-driving cars the automation of society is next. With this, society is at a crossroads, which promises great opportunities, but also considerable risks. If we take the wrong decisions it could threaten our greatest historical achievements.


These technologies are also becoming increasingly popular in the world of politics. Under the label of “nudging,” and on massive scale, governments are trying to steer citizens towards healthier or more environmentally friendly behaviour by means of a "nudge"—a modern form of paternalism. The new, caring government is not only interested in what we do, but also wants to make sure that we do the things that it considers to be right. The magic phrase is "big nudging", which is the combination of big data with nudging. To many, this appears to be a sort of digital scepter that allows one to govern the masses efficiently, without having to involve citizens in democratic processes. Could this overcome vested interests and optimize the course of the world? If so, then citizens could be governed by a data-empowered “wise king”, who would be able to produce desired economic and social outcomes almost as if with a digital magic wand.

The article is here.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A cleansing fire: Moral outrage alleviates guilt and buffers threats to one’s moral identity

Rothschild, Z.K. & Keefer, L.A.
Motiv Emot (2017). doi:10.1007/s11031-017-9601-2


Why do people express moral outrage? While this sentiment often stems from a perceived violation of some moral principle, we test the counter-intuitive possibility that moral outrage at third-party transgressions is sometimes a means of reducing guilt over one’s own moral failings and restoring a moral identity. We tested this guilt-driven account of outrage in five studies examining outrage at corporate labor exploitation and environmental destruction. Study 1 showed that personal guilt uniquely predicted moral outrage at corporate harm-doing and support for retributive punishment. Ingroup (vs. outgroup) wrongdoing elicited outrage at corporations through increased guilt, while the opportunity to express outrage reduced guilt (Study 2) and restored perceived personal morality (Study 3). Study 4 tested whether effects were due merely to downward social comparison and Study 5 showed that guilt-driven outrage was attenuated by an affirmation of moral identity in an unrelated context.

The article is here.

The Privacy Delusions Of Genetic Testing

Peter Pitts
Originally posted February 15, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The problem starts with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), a 1996 federal law that allows medical companies to share and sell patient data if it has been "anonymized," or scrubbed of any obvious identifying characteristics.

The Portability Act was passed when genetic testing was just a distant dream on the horizon of personalized medicine. But today, that loophole has proven to be a cash cow. For instance, 23andMe has sold access to its database to at least 13 outside pharmaceutical firms. One buyer, Genentech, ponied up a cool $10 million for the genetic profiles of people suffering from Parkinson's. AncestryDNA, another popular personal genetics company, recently announced a lucrative data-sharing partnership with the biotech company Calico.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ousted national security adviser didn't sign ethics pledge

By Julie Bykowicz
Associate Press
Originally posted March 22, 2017

President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn did not sign a mandatory ethics pledge ahead of his forced resignation in February, raising questions about the White House's commitment to the lobbying and ethics rules it imposed as part of the president's promise to "drain the swamp."

Flynn "didn't have the opportunity to sign it," said Price Floyd, a spokesman for the retired Army general. "But he is going to abide by the pledge" and has not engaged in any lobbying work since leaving the White House that would have violated the pledge, Floyd said.

Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 28 prohibiting political appointees from lobbying the government in any way for five years after serving in his administration. That same order instituted a lifetime ban on outgoing officials representing foreign governments.

The article is here.

Why we must teach morality to robots: Podcast

Daniel Glaser
The Guardian
Originally published February 27, 2017

Every week comes a new warning that robots are taking over our jobs. People have become troubled by the question of how robots will learn ethics, if they do take over our work and our planet.

As early on as the 1960s Isaac Asimov came up with the ‘Three Laws of Robotics’ outlining moral rules they should abide by. More recently there has been official guidance from the British Standards Institute advising designers how to create ethical robots, which is meant to avoid them taking over the world.

From a neuroscientist’s perspective, they should learn more from human development. We teach children morality before algebra. When they’re able to behave well in a social situation, we teach them language skills and more complex reasoning. It needs to happen this way round. Even the most sophisticated bomb-sniffing dog is taught to sit first.

If we’re interested in really making robots think more like we do, we can’t retrofit morality and ethics. We need to focus on that first, build it into their core, and then teach them to drive.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Case of Dr. Oz: Ethics, Evidence, and Does Professional Self-Regulation Work?

Jon C. Tilburt, Megan Allyse, and Frederic W. Hafferty
AMA Journal of Ethics. February 2017, Volume 19, Number 2: 199-206.


Dr. Mehmet Oz is widely known not just as a successful media personality donning the title “America’s Doctor®,” but, we suggest, also as a physician visibly out of step with his profession. A recent, unsuccessful attempt to censure Dr. Oz raises the issue of whether the medical profession can effectively self-regulate at all. It also raises concern that the medical profession’s self-regulation might be selectively activated, perhaps only when the subject of professional censure has achieved a level of public visibility. We argue here that the medical profession must look at itself with a healthy dose of self-doubt about whether it has sufficient knowledge of or handle on the less visible Dr. “Ozes” quietly operating under the profession’s presumptive endorsement.

The article is here.

Act versus Impact: Conservatives and Liberals Exhibit Different Structural Emphases in Moral Judgment

Ivar R. Hannikainen, Ryan M. Miller, & Fiery A. Cushman
Ratio: Special Issue on ‘Experimental Philosophy as Applied Philosophy’

Conservatives and liberals disagree sharply on matters of morality and public policy. We propose a
novel account of the psychological basis of these differences. Specifically, we find that conservatives
tend to emphasize the intrinsic value of actions during moral judgment, in part by mentally simulating themselves performing those actions, while liberals instead emphasize the value of the expected outcomes of the action. We then demonstrate that a structural emphasis on actions is linked to the condemnation of victimless crimes, a distinctive feature of conservative morality. Next, we find that the conservative and liberal structural approaches to moral judgment are associated with their corresponding patterns of reliance on distinct moral foundations. In addition, the structural approach uniquely predicts that conservatives will be more opposed to harm in circumstances like the wellknown trolley problem, a result which we replicate. Finally, we show that the structural approaches of conservatives and liberals are partly linked to underlying cognitive styles (intuitive versus deliberative).  Collectively, these findings forge a link between two important yet previously independent lines of research in political psychology: cognitive style and moral foundations theory.

The article is here.