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

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

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Massive genetic study shows how humans are evolving

Bruno Martin
Originally published 06 September 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Why these late-acting mutations might lower a person’s genetic fitness — their ability to reproduce and spread their genes — remains an open question.

The authors suggest that for men, it could be that those who live longer can have more children, but this is unlikely to be the whole story. So scientists are considering two other explanations for why longevity is important. First, parents surviving into old age in good health can care for their children and grandchildren, increasing the later generations’ chances of surviving and reproducing. This is sometimes known as the ‘grandmother hypothesis’, and may explain why humans tend to live long after menopause.

Second, it’s possible that genetic variants that are explicitly bad in old age are also harmful — but more subtly — earlier in life. “You would need extremely large samples to see these small effects,” says Iain Mathieson, a population geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, so that’s why it’s not yet possible to tell whether this is the case.

The researchers also found that certain groups of genetic mutations, which individually would not have a measurable effect but together accounted for health threats, appeared less often in people who were expected to have long lifespans than in those who weren't. These included predispositions to asthma, high body mass index and high cholesterol. Most surprising, however, was the finding that sets of mutations that delay puberty and childbearing are more prevalent in long-lived people.

The article is here.

Note: This article is posted, in part, because evolution is not emphasized in the field of psychology. There are psychologists who believe that humans did not evolve in the way other plants and animals evolved.  I have argued in lectures and workshops that we humans are not in our final form.

The strategic moral self: Self-presentation shapes moral dilemma judgments

Sarah C. Roma and Paul Conway
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 74, January 2018, Pages 24–37


Research has focused on the cognitive and affective processes underpinning dilemma judgments where causing harm maximizes outcomes. Yet, recent work indicates that lay perceivers infer the processes behind others' judgments, raising two new questions: whether decision-makers accurately anticipate the inferences perceivers draw from their judgments (i.e., meta-insight), and, whether decision-makers strategically modify judgments to present themselves favorably. Across seven studies, a) people correctly anticipated how their dilemma judgments would influence perceivers' ratings of their warmth and competence, though self-ratings differed (Studies 1–3), b) people strategically shifted public (but not private) dilemma judgments to present themselves as warm or competent depending on which traits the situation favored (Studies 4–6), and, c) self-presentation strategies augmented perceptions of the weaker trait implied by their judgment (Study 7). These results suggest that moral dilemma judgments arise out of more than just basic cognitive and affective processes; complex social considerations causally contribute to dilemma decision-making.

The article is here.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Hindsight Bias in Depression

Julia GroƟ, Hartmut Blank, Ute J. Bayen
Clinical Psychological Science 
First published date: August-07-2017


People tend to be biased by outcome knowledge when looking back on events. This phenomenon is known as hindsight bias. Clinical intuition and theoretical accounts of affect-regulatory functions of hindsight bias suggest a link between hindsight bias and depression, but empirical evidence is scarce. In two experiments, participants with varying levels of depressive symptoms imagined themselves in everyday scenarios that ended positively or negatively and completed hindsight and affect measures. Participants with higher levels of depression judged negative outcomes, but not positive outcomes, as more foreseeable and more inevitable in hindsight. For negative outcomes, they also misremembered prior expectations as more negative than they initially were. This memory hindsight bias was accompanied by disappointment, suggesting a relation to affect-regulatory malfunction. We propose that “depressive hindsight bias” indicates a negative schema of the past and that it sustains negative biases in depression.

The research is here.

Artificial wombs could soon be a reality. What will this mean for women?

Helen Sedgwick
The Guardian
Originally posted Monday 4 September 2017

Here is an excerpt:

There is a danger that whoever pays for the technology behind ectogenesis would have the power to decide how, when and for whose benefit it is used. It could be the state or private insurance companies trying to avoid the unpredictable costs of traditional childbirth. Or, it could become yet another advantage available only to the privileged, with traditional pregnancies becoming associated with poverty, or with a particular class or race. Would babies gestated externally have advantages over those born via the human body? Or, if artificial gestation turns out to be cheaper than ordinary pregnancy, could it become an economic necessity forced on some?

But an external womb could also lead to a new equality in parenthood and consequently change the structure of our working and private lives. Given time, it could dismantle the gender hierarchies within our society. Given more time, it could eliminate the differences between the sexes in our biology. Once parental roles are equal, there will be no excuse for male-dominated boardrooms or political parties, or much of the other blatant inequality we see today.

Women’s rights are never more emotive than when it comes to a woman’s right to choose. While pregnancy occurs inside a woman’s body, women have some control over it, at least. But what happens when a foetus can survive entirely outside the body? How will our legislation stand up when viability begins at conception? There are fundamental questions about what rights we give to embryos outside the body (think of the potential for harvesting “spare parts” from unwanted foetuses). There is also the possibility of pro-life activists welcoming this process as an alternative to abortion – with, in the worst case, women being forced to have their foetuses extracted and gestated outside their bodies.

The article is here.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Genitals photographed, shared by UPMC hospital employees: a common violation in health care industry

David Wenner
The Patriot News/PennLive.com
Updated September 16, 2017

You might assume anyone in healthcare would know better. Smart phones aren't new. Health care providers have long wrestled with the patient privacy- and medical ethics-related ramifications. Yet once again, smart phones have contributed to a very public black eye for a health care provider.

UPMC Bedford in Everett, Pa. has been cited by the Pennsylvania Department of Health after employees snapped and shared photos and video of an unconscious patient who needed surgery to remove an object from a genital. Numerous employees, including two doctors, were disciplined for being present.

It's not the first time unauthorized photos were taken of a hospital patient and shared or posted on social media.

  • Last year, a nurse in New York lost her license after taking a smart phone photo of an unconscious patient's penis and sending it to some of her co-workers. She also pleaded guilty to misdemeanor criminal charges.
  • The Los Angeles Times in 2013 wrote about an anesthesiologist in California who put a sticker of a mustache on the face of an unconscious female patient, with a nurse's aid then taking a picture. That article also reported allegations of a medical device salesman taking photos of a naked woman without her knowledge.
  • In 2010, employees at a hospital in Florida were disciplined after taking and posting online photos of a shark attack victim who didn't survive. No one was fired, with the hospital concluding the incident was the "result of poor judgement rather than malicious intent," according to an article in Radiology Today. 
  • Many such incidents have involved nursing homes. An article published by the American Association of Nurse Assessment Coordination in 2016 stated, "In the shadow of the social media revolution, a disturbing trend has begun to emerge of [nursing home] employees posting and sharing degrading images of their residents on social media." An investigation published by ProPublica in 2015 detailed 47 cases since 2012 of workers at nursing homes and assisted living facilities sharing photos or videos of residents on Facebook. 

The behavioural ecology of irrational behaviours

Philippe Huneman Johannes Martens
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
September 2017, 39:23


Natural selection is often envisaged as the ultimate cause of the apparent rationality exhibited by organisms in their specific habitat. Given the equivalence between selection and rationality as maximizing processes, one would indeed expect organisms to implement rational decision-makers. Yet, many violations of the clauses of rationality have been witnessed in various species such as starlings, hummingbirds, amoebas and honeybees. This paper attempts to interpret such discrepancies between economic rationality (defined by the main axioms of rational choice theory) and biological rationality (defined by natural selection). After having distinguished two kinds of rationality we introduce irrationality as a negation of economic rationality by biologically rational decision-makers. Focusing mainly on those instances of irrationalities that can be understood as exhibiting inconsistency in making choices, i.e. as non-conformity of a given behaviour to axioms such as transitivity or independence of irrelevant alternatives, we propose two possible families of Darwinian explanations that may account for these apparent irrationalities. First, we consider cases where natural selection may have been an indirect cause of irrationality. Second, we consider putative cases where violations of rationality axioms may have been directly favored by natural selection. Though the latter cases (prima facie) seem to clearly contradict our intuitive representation of natural selection as a process that maximizes fitness, we argue that they are actually unproblematic; for often, they can be redescribed as cases where no rationality axiom is violated, or as situations where no adaptive solution exists in the first place.

The article is here.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

How to Distinguish Between Antifa, White Supremacists, and Black Lives Matter

Conor Friedersdorf
The Atlantic
Originally published August 31, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

One can condemn the means of extralegal violence, and observe that the alt-right, Antifa, and the far-left have all engaged in it on different occasions, without asserting that all extralegal violence is equivalent––murdering someone with a car or shooting a representative is more objectionable than punching with the intent to mildly injure. What’s more, different groups can choose equally objectionable means without becoming equivalent, because assessing any group requires analyzing their ends, not just their means.

For neo-Nazis and Klansmen in Charlottesville, one means, a torch-lit parade meant to intimidate by evoking bygone days of racial terrorism, was deeply objectionable; more importantly, their end, spreading white-supremacist ideology in service of a future where racists can lord power over Jews and people of color, is abhorrent.

Antifa is more complicated.

Some of its members employ the objectionable means of initiating extralegal street violence; but its stated end of resisting fascism is laudable, while its actual end is contested. Is it really just about resisting fascists or does it have a greater, less defensible agenda? Many debates about Antifa that play out on social media would prove less divisive if the parties understood themselves to be agreeing that opposing fascism is laudable while disagreeing about Antifa’s means, or whether its end is really that limited.


A dearth of distinctions has a lot of complicated consequences, but in aggregate, it helps to empower the worst elements in a society, because those elements are unable to attract broad support except by muddying distinctions between themselves and others whose means or ends are defensible to a broader swath of the public. So come to whatever conclusions accord with your reason and conscience. But when expressing them, consider drawing as many distinctions as possible.

The article is here.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Robots and morality

The Big Read (which is actually in podcast form)
The Financial Times
Originally posted August 2017

Now our mechanical creations can act independently, what happens when AI goes wrong? Where does moral, ethical and legal responsibility for robots lie — with the manufacturers, the programmers, the users or the robots themselves, asks John Thornhill. And who owns their rights?

Click on the link below to access the 13 minutes podcast.

Podcast is here.

Trump ethics watchdog moves to allow anonymous gifts to legal defense funds

Darren Samuelsohn
Originally published September 13, 2017

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics has quietly reversed its own internal policy prohibiting anonymous donations from lobbyists to White House staffers who have legal defense funds.

The little-noticed change could help President Donald Trump’s aides raise the money they need to pay attorneys as the Russia probe expands — but raises the potential for hidden conflicts of interest or other ethics trouble.

“You can picture a whole army of people with business before the government willing to step in here and make [the debt] go away,” said Marilyn Glynn, a former George W. Bush-era acting OGE director who worked in the office for 17 years.

Lawyer fees have long been the source of controversy for presidents under fire. Richard Nixon’s White House took covert steps to pay the Watergate burglars, and a trust set up during Bill Clinton’s first term to deal with Whitewater and other controversies had to return hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from a controversial Arkansas friend who was later indicted for campaign finance abuses.

At issue for the Trump staffers is a 1993 OGE guidance document that gave a green light to organizers of legal defense funds for government employees to solicit anonymous donations from otherwise prohibited sources — like lobbyists or others with business before the government. That Clinton-era opinion reasoned that if such donors were anonymous, such donations could be legal because the employee “does not know who the paymasters are.”

The article is here.