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

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Epistemic rationality: Skepticism toward unfounded beliefs requires sufficient cognitive ability and motivation to be rational

TomasStåhl and Jan-Willem van Prooijen
Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 122, 1 February 2018, Pages 155-163


Why does belief in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and various other phenomena that are not backed up by evidence remain widespread in modern society? In the present research we adopt an individual difference approach, as we seek to identify psychological precursors of skepticism toward unfounded beliefs. We propose that part of the reason why unfounded beliefs are so widespread is because skepticism requires both sufficient analytic skills, and the motivation to form beliefs on rational grounds. In Study 1 we show that analytic thinking is associated with a lower inclination to believe various conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but only among individuals who strongly value epistemic rationality. We replicate this effect on paranormal belief, but not conspiracy beliefs, in Study 2. We also provide evidence suggesting that general cognitive ability, rather than analytic cognitive style, is the underlying facet of analytic thinking that is responsible for these effects.

The article is here.

To think critically, you have to be both analytical and motivated

John Timmer
ARS Techica
Originally published November 15, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

One of the proposed solutions to this issue is to incorporate more critical thinking into our education system. But critical thinking is more than just a skill set; you have to recognize when to apply it, do so effectively, and then know how to respond to the results. Understanding what makes a person effective at analyzing fake news and conspiracy theories has to take all of this into account. A small step toward that understanding comes from a recently released paper, which looks at how analytical thinking and motivated skepticism interact to make someone an effective critical thinker.

Valuing rationality

The work comes courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Tomas Ståhl and Jan-Willem van Prooijen at VU Amsterdam. This isn't the first time we've heard from Ståhl; last year, he published a paper on what he termed "moralizing epistemic rationality." In it, he looked at people's thoughts on the place critical thinking should occupy in their lives. The research identified two classes of individuals: those who valued their own engagement with critical thinking, and those who viewed it as a moral imperative that everyone engage in this sort of analysis.

The information is here.

The target article is here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Vanishing "Values Voter"

McKay Coppins
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 7, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

For decades, the belief that private morality was essential to assessing the worthiness of politicians and public figures was an animating ideal at the core of the Christian right’s credo. As with most ideals, the movement did not always live up to its own standards. So-called “values voters” pursued a polarizing, multi-faceted agenda that was often tangled up in prejudice and partisanship. They fiercely defended Clarence Thomas when he was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, for example, and then excoriated Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

But even when they were failing to hold their own side accountable, they still clung to the idea that “character counts.” As recently as 2011, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by the time Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent. White evangelicals are now more tolerant of immoral behavior by elected officials than the average American. “This is really a sea change in evangelical ethics,” Robert P. Jones, the head of the institute and the author of The End of White Christian America, recently told me.


“The way evangelicals see the world, the culture is not only slipping away—it’s slipping away in all caps, with four exclamation points after that. It’s going to you-know-what in a handbasket,” Brody told me. “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”

The article is here.

These are the Therapist Behaviors that are Helpful or Harmful

Christian Jarrett
Research Digest
Originally published November 23, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The most helpful therapy moments involved specific treatment techniques, such as times the therapist gave the client a concrete strategy they could use in everyday life; instances when the therapist made connections for the client (such as identifying events that affected their depression symptoms); or helped them process their emotions. Other helpful moments involved fundamental therapist skills, such as listening and expressing empathy, offering support or praise, or when the therapist discussed the process of therapy, including what the client wants from it.

The clients said they found these moments helpful because they learned a new skill, felt heard or understood, gained insight and/or were better able to process their emotions.

In terms of hindering therapist behaviours, these often seemed the same, superficially at least, as the helpful behaviours, including instances when the therapist listened, attempted to express empathy, or attempted to structure the session. The difference seemed to be in the execution or timing of these behaviours. The clients said they found these moments unhelpful when they were off-topic (for instance, their therapist listened to them “rambling” on about irrelevant details without intervening); when they felt like they were being judged; or they felt it was too soon for them to confront a particular issue.

The article is here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Root of All Cruelty

Paul Bloom
The New Yorker
Originally published November 20, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Early psychological research on dehumanization looked at what made the Nazis different from the rest of us. But psychologists now talk about the ubiquity of dehumanization. Nick Haslam, at the University of Melbourne, and Steve Loughnan, at the University of Edinburgh, provide a list of examples, including some painfully mundane ones: “Outraged members of the public call sex offenders animals. Psychopaths treat victims merely as means to their vicious ends. The poor are mocked as libidinous dolts. Passersby look through homeless people as if they were transparent obstacles. Dementia sufferers are represented in the media as shuffling zombies.”

The thesis that viewing others as objects or animals enables our very worst conduct would seem to explain a great deal. Yet there’s reason to think that it’s almost the opposite of the truth.


But “Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships” (Cambridge), by the anthropologist Alan Fiske and the psychologist Tage Rai, argues that these standard accounts often have it backward. In many instances, violence is neither a cold-blooded solution to a problem nor a failure of inhibition; most of all, it doesn’t entail a blindness to moral considerations. On the contrary, morality is often a motivating force: “People are impelled to violence when they feel that to regulate certain social relationships, imposing suffering or death is necessary, natural, legitimate, desirable, condoned, admired, and ethically gratifying.” Obvious examples include suicide bombings, honor killings, and the torture of prisoners during war, but Fiske and Rai extend the list to gang fights and violence toward intimate partners. For Fiske and Rai, actions like these often reflect the desire to do the right thing, to exact just vengeance, or to teach someone a lesson. There’s a profound continuity between such acts and the punishments that—in the name of requital, deterrence, or discipline—the criminal-justice system lawfully imposes. Moral violence, whether reflected in legal sanctions, the killing of enemy soldiers in war, or punishing someone for an ethical transgression, is motivated by the recognition that its victim is a moral agent, someone fully human.

The article is here.

Evidence-Based Policy Mistakes

Kausik Basu
Project Syndicate
Originally published November 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Likewise, US President Donald Trump cites simplistic trade-deficit figures to justify protectionist policies that win him support among a certain segment of the US population. In reality, the evidence suggests that such policies will hurt the very people Trump claims to be protecting.

Now, the chair of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, is attempting to defend Congressional Republicans’ effort to slash corporate taxes by claiming that, when developed countries have done so in the past, workers gained “well north of” $4,000 per year. Yet there is ample evidence that the benefits of such tax cuts accrue disproportionately to the rich, largely via companies buying back stock and shareholders earning higher dividends.

It is not clear whence Hassett is getting his data. But chances are that, at the very least, he is misinterpreting it. And he is far from alone in failing to reach accurate conclusions when assessing a given set of data.

Consider the oft-repeated refrain that, because there is evidence that virtually all jobs over the last decade were created by the private sector, the private sector must be the most effective job creator. At first glance, the logic might seem sound. But, on closer examination, the statement begs the question. Imagine a Soviet economist claiming that, because the government created virtually all jobs in the Soviet Union, the government must be the most effective job creator. To find the truth, one would need, at a minimum, data on who else tried to create jobs, and how.

The article is here.

Friday, December 8, 2017

University could lose millions from “unethical” research backed by Peter Thiel

Beth Mole
ARS Technica
Originally published November 14, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

According to HHS records, SIU (Southern Illinois University) had committed to following all HHS regulations—including safety requirements and having IRB approval and oversight—for all clinical trials, regardless of who funded the trials. If SIU fails to do so, it could jeopardize the $15 million in federal grant money the university receives for its other research.

Earlier, an SIU spokesperson had claimed that SIU didn’t need to follow HHS regulations in this case because Halford was acting as an independent researcher with Rational Vaccines. Thus, SIU had no legal responsibility to ensure proper safety protocols and wasn’t risking its federal funding.

In her e-mail, Buchanan asked for the “results of SIU’s evaluation of its jurisdiction over this research.”

In his response, Kruse noted that SIU was not aware of the St. Kitts trial until October 2016, two months after the trial was completed. But, he wrote, the university had opened an investigation into Halford’s work following his death in June of this year. The decision to investigate was also based on disclosures from American filmmaker Agustín Fernández III, who co-founded Rational Vaccines with Halford, Kruse noted.

The article is here.

Autonomous future could question legal ethics

Becky Raspe
Cleveland Jewish News
Originally published November 21, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Northman said he finds the ethical implications of an autonomous future interesting, but completely contradictory to what he learned in law school in the 1990s.

“People were expected to be responsible for their activities,” he said. “And as long as it was within their means to stop something or more tellingly anticipate a problem before it occurs, they have an obligation to do so. When you blend software over the top of that this level of autonomy, we are left with some difficult boundaries to try and assess where a driver’s responsibility starts or the software programmers continues on.”

When considering the ethics surrounding autonomous living, Paris referenced the “trolley problem.” The trolley problem goes as this: there is an automated vehicle operating on an open road, and ahead there are five people in the road and one person off to the side. The question here, Paris said, is should the vehicle consider traveling on and hitting the five people or will it swerve and hit just the one?

“When humans are driving vehicles, they are the moral decision makers that make those choices behind the wheel,” she said. “Can engineers program automated vehicles to replace that moral thought with an algorithm? Will they prioritize the five lives or that one person? There are a lot of questions and not too many solutions at this point. With these ethical dilemmas, you have to be careful about what is being implemented.”

The article is here.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Social media threat: People learned to survive disease, we can handle Twitter

Glenn Harlan Reynolds
USA Today
Originally posted November 20, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Hunters and gatherers were at far less risk for infectious disease because they didn’t encounter very many new people very often. Their exposure was low, and contact among such bands was sporadic enough that diseases couldn’t spread very fast.

It wasn’t until you crowded thousands, or tens of thousands of them, along with their animals, into small dense areas with poor sanitation that disease outbreaks took off.  Instead of meeting dozens of new people per year, an urban dweller probably encountered hundreds per day. Diseases that would have affected only a few people at a time as they spread slowly across a continent (or just burned out for lack of new carriers) would now leap from person to person in a flash.

Likewise, in recent years we’ve gone from an era when ideas spread comparatively slowly, to one in which social media in particular allow them to spread like wildfire. Sometimes that’s good, when they’re good ideas. But most ideas are probably bad; certainly 90% of ideas aren’t in the top 10%. Maybe we don’t know the mental disease vectors that we’re inadvertently unleashing.

It took three things to help control the spread of disease in cities: sanitation, acclimation and better nutrition. In early cities, after all, people had no idea how diseases spread, something we didn’t fully understand until the late 19th century. But rule-of-thumb sanitation made things a lot better over time. Also, populations eventually adapted:  Diseases became endemic, not epidemic, and usually less severe as people developed immunity. And finally, as Scott notes, surviving disease was always a function of nutrition, with better-nourished populations doing much better than malnourished ones.

The article is here.