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

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

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Why the Free Will Debate Never Ends

By Julian Baggini
The Philosophers Magazine
Originally published October 13, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Smilansky is speculating about optimism and pessimism. But one study has come up with some empirical evidence that extraversion and introversion are correlated with beliefs about free will, concluding that “extraversion predicts, to a significant extent, those who have compatibilist versus incompatibilist intuitions.”

Many are appalled by this idea as it goes against the whole notion that philosophy is about arguments, not arguers. But you only need to read the biographies and autobiographies of great philosophers to see that their personalities are intimately tied up with their ideas. W V O Quine, for instance, recalled how as a toddler he sought the unfamiliar way home, which he interpreted as reflecting “the thrill of discovery in theoretical science: the reduction of the unfamiliar to the familiar.” Later, he was obsessed with crossing state lines and national borders, ticking each off on a list as he did so. Paul Feyerabend recalled how, not yet ten, he was enchanted by magic and mystery and wasn’t affected by “the many strange events that seemed to make up our world.” Only a philosopher with delusions of her subject's objectivity would be surprised to find out that Quine and Feyerabend went on to write very different kinds of philosophy: Quine’s in a formal, logical, systematising tradition (though typically on the limits of such formalisations); Feyerabend’s anti-reductive and anti-systematising. It would take a great deal of faith in the objectivity of philosophy and philosophers to think that Feyerabend and Quine arrived at their respective philosophical positions simply by following the arguments where they led, when their inclinations so obviously seem to be in tune with their settled conclusions.

The entire article is here.

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Short History of Empathy

By Susan Lanzoni
The Atlantic
Originally published October 15, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

In the past few decades, interest in empathy has spread beyond psychology to primatology and neuroscience. In the 1990s, neuroscientists studying monkeys discovered mirror neurons, cells in the animals’ brains that fired not only when a monkey moved, but also when the monkey saw another one make the same movement. The discovery of mirror neurons spurred a wave of research into empathy and brain activity that quickly extended to humans as well. Other recent studies have further widened empathy’s reach into fields like economics and literature, finding that wealth disparities weaken empathic response and that reading fiction can improve it.

But as Kristof and Bloom illustrate, there is still some cultural debate about what empathy means today. And in the psychology community, the answers are no more clear-cut. Critics of the mirror-neuron theory, for example, question not only the location of these neurons in the human brain, but whether simulation of another’s gestures is a good description of empathy in the first place. The social psychologist C. Daniel Batson, who has researched empathy for decades, argues that the term can now refer to eight different concepts: knowing another’s thoughts and feelings; imagining another’s thoughts and feelings; adopting the posture of another; actually feeling as another does; imagining how one would feel or think in another’s place; feeling distress at another’s suffering; feeling for another’s suffering, sometimes called pity or compassion; and projecting oneself into another’s situation.

The entire article is here.

Microaggression, macro harm

By Regina Rini
The Los Angeles Times
Originally published on October 15, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

There is a serious problem with Campbell and Manning's moral history, and exposing it helps us see that the culture of victimhood label is misleading. Their history is a history of the dominant moral culture: It describes the mores of those social groups with the greatest access to power. Think about the culture of honor and notice how limited it must have been. If you were a woman in medieval Europe, you were not expected or permitted to respond to insults with aggression. Even if you were a lower-class man, you certainly would not have drawn your sword in response to an insult from a superior.

Now think about the culture of dignity, which Campbell and Manning claim “existed perhaps in its purest form among respectable people in the homogenous towns of mid-20th century America.” Another thing that existed among the “respectable people” in those towns was approval of racial segregation; “homogenous towns” did not arise by accident.

People of color, women, gay people, immigrants: none could rely on the authorities to respond fairly to reports of mistreatment.

The cultures of honor and dignity left many types of people with no recognized way of responding to moral mistreatment.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Choosing Empathy

A Conversation with Jamil Zaki
The Edge
Originally published October 19, 2015

Here are some excerpts:

The first narrative is that empathy is automatic. This goes all the way back to Adam Smith, who, to me, generated the first modern account of empathy in his beautiful book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith described what he called the "fellow-feeling," through which people take on each other's states—very similar to what I would call experience sharing.              

(cut)

That's one narrative, that empathy is automatic, and again, it’s compelling—backed by lots of evidence. But if you believe that empathy always occurs automatically, you run into a freight train of evidence to the contrary. As many of us know, there are lots of instances in which people could feel empathy, but don't. The prototype case here is intergroup settings. People who are divided by a war, or a political issue, or even a sports rivalry, often experience a collapse of their empathy. In many cases, these folks feel apathy for others on the other side of a group boundary. They fail to share, or think about, or feel concern for those other people's emotions.              

In other cases, it gets even worse: people feel overt antipathy towards others, for instance, taking pleasure when some misfortune befalls someone on the other side of a group boundary. What's interesting to me is that this occurs not only for group boundaries that are meaningful, like ethnicity or religion, but totally arbitrary groups. If I were to divide us into a red and blue team, without that taking on any more significance, you would be more likely to experience empathy for fellow red team members than for me (apparently I'm on team blue today).  

The entire post and video is here.

CIA torture survivors sue psychologists who designed infamous program

By Spencer Ackerman
The Guardian
Originally published October 13, 2015

Survivors of CIA torture have sued the contractor psychologists who designed one of the most infamous programs of the post-9/11 era.

In an extraordinary step, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen now face a federal lawsuit for their role in convincing the CIA to subject terror suspects to mock drowning, painful bodily contortions, sleep and dietary deprivation and other methods long rejected by much of the world as torture.

In practice, CIA torture meant disappearances, mock executions, anal penetration performed under cover of “rehydration” and at least one man who froze to death, according to a landmark Senate report last year. Versions of the techniques migrated from the CIA’s undocumented prisons, known as black sites, to US military usage at Guant├ínamo Bay, Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The predictive brain and the “free will” illusion

Dirk De Ridder, Jan Verplaetse and Sven Vanneste
Front. Psychol., 30 April 2013
http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2013.00131

Here is an excerpt:

From an evolutionary point of our experience of “free will” can best be approached by the development of flexible behavioral decision making (Brembs, 2011). Predators can very easily take advantage of deterministic flight reflexes by predicting future prey behavior (Catania, 2009). The opposite, i.e., random behavior is unpredictable but highly inefficient. Thus learning mechanisms evolved to permit flexible behavior as a modification of reflexive behavioral strategies (Brembs, 2011). In order to do so, not one, but multiple representations and action patterns should be generated by the brain, as has already been proposed by von Helmholtz. He found the eye to be optically too poor for vision to be possible, and suggested vision ultimately depended on computational inference, i.e., predictions, based on assumptions and conclusions from incomplete data, relying on previous experiences. The fact that multiple predictions are generated could for example explain the Rubin vase illusion, the Necker cube and the many other stimuli studied in perceptual rivalry, even in monocular rivalry. Which percept or action plan is selected is determined by which prediction is best adapted to the environment that is actively explored (Figure 1A). In this sense, predictive selection of the fittest action plan is analogous to the concept of Darwinian selection of the fittest in natural and sexual selection in evolutionary biology, as well as to the Mendelian selection of the fittest allele in genetics and analogous the selection of the fittest quantum state in physics (Zurek, 2009). Bayesian statistics can be used to select the model with the highest updated likelihood based on environmental new information (Campbell, 2011). What all these models have in common is the fact that they describe adaptive mechanisms to an ever changing environment (Campbell, 2011).

The entire article is here.

Exploring Accountability of Clinical Ethics Consultants: Practice and Training Implications

Kathryn L. Weise & Barbara J. Daly
The American Journal of Bioethics
Volume 14, Issue 6, 2014

Abstract

Clinical ethics consultants represent a multidisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners with varied training backgrounds, who are integrated into a medical environment to assist in the provision of ethically supportable care. Little has been written about the degree to which such consultants are accountable for the patient care outcome of the advice given. We propose a model for examining degrees of internally motivated accountability that range from restricted to unbounded accountability, and support balanced accountability as a goal for practice. Finally, we explore implications of this model for training of clinical ethics consultants from diverse academic backgrounds, including those disciplines that do not have a formal code of ethics relating to clinical practice.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cruel and Unuseful Punishment

Book review by Richard J. McNally
Why Torture Doesn't Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation
Shane O'Mara Harvard University Press, 2015.
Science 16 October 2015:
Vol. 350 no. 6258 p. 284
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2340

Here is an excerpt:

While denying that these practices qualified as torture, the Administration and its allies also invoked the "ticking time bomb" defense to justify their efforts. In this thought experiment, law enforcement officers have seized a suspected terrorist who harbors information about an imminent attack on American soil. Should interrogators torture the detainee, forcing him to disclose details of the attack? Or should their moral aversion to inflicting temporary pain cost the lives of countless innocent civilians? Advocates of enhanced interrogation argue that, although torture is abhorrent, we must do whatever we can to prevent acts of terrorism.

Legal scholars have published persuasive moral rebuttals to the ticking time bomb defense for torture (1). Yet does torture actually work? To be sure, it can compel people to confess to crimes and to repudiate their religious and political beliefs. But there is a world of difference between compelling someone to speak and compelling them to tell the truth. As Khalid Sheikh Mohammed said, "During the harshest period of my interrogation I gave a lot of false information in order to satisfy what I believed the interrogators wished to hear in order to make the ill-treatment stop." Yet the assumption underlying the ticking time bomb defense is that abusive questioning reliably causes people to reveal truthful information that they would otherwise refuse to disclose. Few scholars have scrutinized this assumption--and none with the rigor, depth, and clarity of Shane O'Mara in his excellent book, Why Torture Doesn't Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation.

The entire book review is here.

Intuitive and Counterintuitive Morality

Guy Kahane
Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical  Essays on the Science of Ethics, Oxford University Press

Abstract

 Recent work in the cognitive science of morality has been taken to show that moral judgment is largely based on immediate intuitions and emotions. However, according to Greene's influential dual process model, deliberative processing not only plays a significant role in moral judgment, but also favours a distinctive type of content broadly utilitarian approach to ethics. In this chapter, I argue that this proposed tie between process and content is based on conceptual errors, and on a misinterpretation of the empirical evidence. Drawing on some of our own empirical research, I will argue so-called "utilitarian" judgments in response to trolley cases often have little to do with concern for the greater good, and may actually express antisocial tendencies. A more general lesson of my argument is that much of current empirical research in moral psychology is based on a far too narrow understanding of intuition and deliberation.

The entire book chapter is here.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Would You Pull the Trolley Switch? Does it Matter?

By Lauren Cassani Davis
The Atlantic
Originally published October 9, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The trolley dilemmas vividly distilled the distinction between two different concepts of morality: that we should choose the action with the best overall consequences (in philosophy-speak, utilitarianism is the most well-known example of this), like only one person dying instead of five, and the idea that we should always adhere to strict duties, like “never kill a human being.” The subtle differences between the scenarios provided helped to articulate influential concepts, like the distinction between actively killing someone versus passively letting them die, that continue to inform contemporary debates in law and public policy. The trolley problem has also been, and continues to be, a compelling teaching tool within philosophy.

By the late ‘90s, trolley problems had fallen out of fashion. Many philosophers questioned the value of the conclusions reached by analyzing a situation so bizarre and specific.

The entire article is here.

Researchers can change the outcome of studies just by being white

By Nikhil Sonnad
Quartz
Originally posted October 5, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The implication is that every aspect of a study matters. Decision research has been criticized for attempting to explain all of human behavior based mainly on studies of undergraduates in rich democracies. That has led to repeating such research in other parts of the world, as the chart above shows. But that might not be enough.

“Behavioral studies that offer ‘cultural’ or other contextual explanations for variation in generosity should be taken with a grain of salt, unless we are confident that such differences aren’t driven by simpler explanations such as who was in the room at the time,” said Bilal Murtaza Siddiqi, an economist at the World Bank and one of the paper’s co-authors.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Doctors' use of smartphones 'could threaten patient confidentiality'

By Denis Campbell
The Guardian
Originally published October 7, 2015

Details of patients’ illnesses and treatment could be leaked because so many doctors use smartphones to send details of their cases to each other, including x-ray results and photographs of wounds, warns research.

Patients are at risk of having their confidentiality breached because up to two-thirds of doctors are using SMS texts and picture messages to share information, including photographs of wounds, in the search for a second opinion.

The findings prompted concern that sensitive details of patients’ conditions could become public if doctors’ phones were lost or stolen or they inadvertently sent a message to a wrong number.

Research among 287 doctors and 564 nurses working at the five hospitals in the Imperial College healthcare NHS trust in London found that 65% of the doctors had used SMS messages to communicate with colleagues about a patient.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Would you have sex with a Robot?

HuffPost Live



Will humans soon enjoy the option of having sex with robots? We discuss the technology behind this progressive idea, along with legal, moral and ethical implications. How will this human like sexbot alter reality? Will relationships suffer as a result?

Originally aired on October 5, 2015

Friday, October 23, 2015

Reforming the minimum wage: Toward a psychological perspective

Laura Smith
American Psychologist, Vol 70(6), Sep 2015, 557-565.

Abstract

The field of psychology has periodically used its professional and scholarly platform to encourage national policy reform that promotes the public interest. In this article, the movement to raise the federal minimum wage is presented as an issue meriting attention from the psychological profession. Psychological support for minimum wage reform derives from health disparities research that supports the causal linkages between poverty and diminished physical and emotional well-being. Furthermore, psychological scholarship relevant to the social exclusion of low-income people not only suggests additional benefits of financially inclusive policymaking, it also indicates some of the attitudinal barriers that could potentially hinder it. Although the national living wage debate obviously extends beyond psychological parameters, psychologists are well-positioned to evaluate and contribute to it.

The entire article is here.

God and the Source of Morality — Part I

By Massimo Pigliucci
The Philosophers' Magazine online
Originally published October 5, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Why, exactly, is this a problem for those, like Euthyphro, who think gods are the ultimate source of morality? Because if one takes the first horn — what Levin calls the “pure will” theory — then one essentially admits that morality is a matter of might makes right. If God decides that genocide and rape are permissible, then they are permissible, period. (This, as is well known, does in fact happens in several places in the Old Testament, but that’s another story.)

Recoiling from so uncomfortable an admission, Euthyphro tries the second horn, what Levin calls the “guided will” theory. But here the problem is that this route implicitly admits that there are moral standards that are external to God himself, so that morality does not, then, originate from him. (And a corollary of this conclusion is that we mortals may not need the “middle God,” so to speak, to figure out what is and isn’t moral, we can arrive at it via other sources, for instance by philosophical inquiry.)

The entire article is here.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Nudging and Informed Consent

Shlomo Cohen
The American Journal of Bioethics
Volume 13, Issue 6, 2013

Abstract

Libertarian paternalism's notion of “nudging” refers to steering individual decision making so as to make choosers better off without breaching their free choice. If successful, this may offer an ideal synthesis between the duty to respect patient autonomy and that of beneficence, which at times favors paternalistic influence. A growing body of literature attempts to assess the merits of nudging in health care. However, this literature deals almost exclusively with health policy, while the question of the potential benefit of nudging for the practice of informed consent has escaped systematic analysis. This article focuses on this question. While it concedes that nudging could amount to improper exploitation of cognitive weaknesses, it defends the practice of nudging in a wide range of other conditions. The conclusion is that, when ethically legitimate, nudging offers an important new paradigm for informed consent, with a special potential to overcome the classical dilemma between paternalistic beneficence and respect for autonomy.

The entire article is here.

Humility facilitates higher self-control

Eddie M.W. Tong, Kenny W.T. Tan, Agapera A.B. Chor, E. P.S. Koh, J. S.Y. Lee, R. W.Y. Tan
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 62, January 2016, Pages 30–39

Abstract

Prior evidence and existing theories imply that humility engenders intra- and inter-personal attributes that facilitate self-regulatory abilities. Four experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that humility predicts enhanced self-control. Participants who recalled humility experiences were found to be better able at sustaining their physical stamina in a handgrip task (Studies 1 and 4), resisting indulgence in chocolates (Study 2), and persevering in a frustrating tracing task (Study 3) than those who recalled neutral experiences. Studies 3 and 4 demonstrated that the effect of humility was distinct from that of self-esteem, which did not affect self-control. Study 2 ruled out two alternative hypotheses concerning achievement and compliance motives. We discuss how the findings might relate to outcomes associated with humility as evidenced in past studies.

The study can be found here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Informed Consent and Standard of Care: What Must Be Disclosed

Ruth Macklin & Lois Shepherd
The American Journal of Bioethics
Volume 13, Issue 12, 2013

Abstract

The Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) was correct in determining that the consent forms for the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored SUPPORT study were seriously flawed. Several articles defended the consent forms and criticized the OHRP's actions. Disagreement focuses on three central issues: (1) how risks and benefits should be described in informed consent documents; (2) the meaning and application of the concept of “standard of care” in the context of research; and (3) the proper role of OHRP. Examination of the consent forms reveals that they failed to disclose the reasonably foreseeable risks of the experimental interventions in the study, as well as the potential for differences in the degree of risk between these interventions. Although the concept of “standard of care” may be helpful in determining the ethical acceptability of other aspects of research, such as clinical equipoise, it is not helpful in discussing consent requirements.

The entire article is here.

Are Immoral Behaviors Especially Harmful, or Especially Uncivilized?

Emma E. Buchtel, Yanjun Guan, Qin Peng, Yanjie Su,  Biao Sang, Sylvia Xiaohua Chen, and Michael Harris Bond
Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2015 Oct; 41(10):1382-94.
doi: 10.1177/0146167215595606

Abstract

What makes some acts immoral? Although Western theories of morality often define harmful behaviors as centrally immoral, whether this is applicable to other cultures is still under debate. In particular, Confucianism emphasizes civility as fundamental to moral excellence. We describe three studies examining how the word immoral is used by Chinese and Westerners. Layperson-generated examples were used to examine cultural differences in which behaviors are called "immoral" (Study 1, n = 609; Study 2, n = 480), and whether "immoral" behaviors were best characterized as particularly harmful versus uncivilized (Study 3, N = 443). Results suggest that Chinese were more likely to use the word immoral for behaviors that were uncivilized, rather than exceptionally harmful, whereas Westerners were more likely to link immorality tightly to harm. More research into lay concepts of morality is needed to inform theories of moral cognition and improve understanding of human conceptualizations of social norms.

Download the paper here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lawsuit: Your Candy Bar Was Made By Child Slaves

By Abby Haglage
The Daily Beast
Originally published September 30, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

In the 15 years since the documentary sparked outrage, there are more child laborers in the cocoa industry than ever before. The companies have not only failed to stop the “worst forms of child labor”; they’ve seemingly made it worse. A report released on July 30, 2015, from the Payson Center for International Development of Tulane University and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor found a 51 percent increase in the number of children working in the cocoa industry in 2013-14, compared to the last report in 2008-09. The number, they found, now totals 1.4 million. Those living in slave-like conditions increased 10 percent from the 2008-09 results, now totaling 1.1 million. The study concludes that while “some progress has been made,” the goal of reducing the number of children in the industry had “not come within reach.”

The California plaintiffs’ false-advertising claims against Nestle, Hershey, and Mars are the latest effort to pressure the chocolate industry to fix a problem it has known about for more than a decade. “Children that are sometimes not even 10 years old carry huge sacks that are so big that they cause them serious physical harm,” the complaint alleges.

The entire article is here.

The importance of human innovation in A.I. ethics

By John C. Havens
Mashable
Originally posted October 3, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

While welcoming the feedback that sensors, data and Artificial Intelligence provide, we’re at a critical inflection point. Demarcating the parameters between assistance and automation has never been more central to human well-being. But today, beauty is in the AI of the beholder. Desensitized to the value of personal data, we hemorrhage precious insights regarding our identity that define the moral nuances necessary to navigate algorithmic modernity.

If no values-based standards exist for Artificial Intelligence, then the biases of its manufacturers will define our universal code of human ethics. But this should not be their cross to bear alone. It’s time to stop vilifying the AI community and start defining in concert with their creations what the good life means surrounding our consciousness and code.

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Call for ethical debate on sex robots

Patricia Karvelas
RN Drive
Originally published September 30, 2015

At least two companies are developing robots that can have intimate sexual relations. One is expected to release its first robot on to the market this year.

Now, a British academic believes that we need to have a conversation about the impact that human-robot sexual relations will have on wider society.

Kathleen Richardson is an anthropologist and Senior Research Fellow in the Ethics of Robotics at De Montfort University in the UK, and she has a written a paper debating the ethics of sex robots.

The 7 minute podcast is here.

Who's Sweating the Sexbots?

By Julie Beck
The Atlantic
Originally published September 30, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Katherine Koster, the communications director of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, says that the comparison shows a misunderstanding of the sex trade. “That power relationship that they're assuming exists within the sex trade may or may not exist,” she says. “Sex workers are repeatedly saying that's not always what it looks like.”

Levy writes that the rise of sexbots will mean the decline of the sex industry, but Richardson is less convinced. She believes the introduction of sex robots will somehow further the exploitation of sex workers.

“It became more and more apparent that women in prostitution were already dehumanized, and this was the same model that they then wanted to put into these machines they’re developing,” Richardson says. “When we encourage a kind of scenario in the real world that encourages that mode of operation,we’re basically saying it’s okay for humans to not recognize other people as human subjects.” She says she plans to reach out to sex-work abolition groups around the world as part of the Campaign Against Sex Robots.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Haunts or Helps from the Past: Understanding the Effect of Recall on Current Self-Control

Hristina Nikolova, Cait Lamberton, and Kelly L. Haws
Journal of Consumer Psychology
Available online 30 June 2015

Scientific Abstract

Conventional wisdom suggests that remembering our past, and particularly, the mistakes we have made, will help us make better decisions in the present. But how successful is this practice in the domain of self-control? Our work examines how the content of consumers' recollections (past self-control successes versus failures) and the subjective difficulty with which this content comes to mind (easily or with difficulty) jointly shape consumers' self-control decisions. When successes are easy to recall, we find that people display more self-control than when they have difficulty recalling successes.  However, recalling failures prompts indulgence regardless of its difficulty. We suggest that these differences in behavior may exist because recalling failures has substantially different affective and cognitive consequences than does recalling successes. Consistent with this theory, we demonstrate that self-certainty moderates the effects of recall on self-control. Taken together, this work enhances our understanding of self-control, self-perceptions, and metacognition.

Layperson interpretation can be found here.

Professional article can be found here.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium game theory predictions

Christopher Flynn Martin, Rahul Bhui, Peter Bossaerts, Tetsuro Matsuzawa & Colin Camerer
Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 5182 (2014)
doi:10.1038/srep05182

Abstract

The capacity for strategic thinking about the payoff-relevant actions of conspecifics is not well understood across species. We use game theory to make predictions about choices and temporal dynamics in three abstract competitive situations with chimpanzee participants. Frequencies of chimpanzee choices are extremely close to equilibrium (accurate-guessing) predictions, and shift as payoffs change, just as equilibrium theory predicts. The chimpanzee choices are also closer to the equilibrium prediction, and more responsive to past history and payoff changes, than two samples of human choices from experiments in which humans were also initially uninformed about opponent payoffs and could not communicate verbally. The results are consistent with a tentative interpretation of game theory as explaining evolved behavior, with the additional hypothesis that chimpanzees may retain or practice a specialized capacity to adjust strategy choice during competition to perform at least as well as, or better than, humans have.

Friday, October 16, 2015

UK end-of-life care 'best in world'

By Nick Triggle
BBC News
Originally posted October 6, 2015

End-of-life care in the UK has been ranked as the best in the world with a study praising the quality and availability of services.

The study of 80 countries said thanks to the NHS and hospice movement the care provided was "second to none".

Rich nations tended to perform the best - with Australia and New Zealand ranked second and third respectively.

But the report by the Economist Intelligence Unit praised progress made in some of the poorest countries.

The article and the rankings are here.

The Dark Side of Empathy

By Paul Bloom
The Atlantic
Originally published on September 25, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Our reaction to these atrocities can cloud our judgment, biasing us in favor of war. The benefits of war—including avenging those who have suffered—are made vivid, but the costs of war remain abstract and statistical. We see this same bias reflected in our criminal-justice system. The outrage that comes from empathy drives some of our most powerful punitive desires. It’s not an accident that so many statutes are named for dead girls—as in Megan’s Law, Jessica’s Law, and Caylee’s Law—and no surprise that there is now enthusiasm for “Kate’s Law.” The high incarceration rate in the United States, and our continued enthusiasm for the death penalty, is in part the product of fear and anger, but is also driven by the consumption of detailed stories of victims’ suffering.

Then there are victim-impact statements, where detailed descriptions of how victims are affected by a crime are used to help determine the sentence imposed on a criminal. There are arguments in favor of these statements, but given all the evidence that we are more prone to empathize with some individuals over others—with factors like race, sex, and physical attractiveness playing a powerful role—it’s hard to think of a more biased and unfair way to determine punishment.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

How stress influences our morality

By Lucius Caviola & Nadira S. Faber
The Inquisitive Mind
Issues 23, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Moral judgments seem to be affected by stress only when the situation elicits an emotional reaction strong enough to be impacted by the stress reactions such as trolley-like personal moral dilemmas. For example, Starcke, Polzer, Wolf, and Brand (2011) used everyday moral dilemmas that were less extreme compared to the trolley dilemma, for example, asking participants whether they would leave a message to the owner of a car that they had accidentally scratched. They did observe an association between people’s cortisol levels and egoistic judgments in those dilemmas considered to be most emotional. However, the researchers failed to find a significant difference in judgments between stressed and non-stressed participants, presumably because the moral vignettes used in this study did not elicit emotions that were strong enough to cause a difference compared to trolley-like personal moral dilemmas.

Nonetheless, many of us are confronted with highly emotional moral situations in real life in which our judgments could be influenced by stress. For example, people might be more prone to help a child beggar on the street if they feel stressed after an uncomfortable meeting at work. Even more worryingly, doctors who face life-and-death decisions might be influenced by the daily stress they experience.

The entire article is here.

More Doubts Over The Oxytocin And Trust Theory

By Neuroskeptic
Originally published on September 16, 2015

The claim that the hormone oxytocin promotes trust in humans has drawn a lot of attention. But today, a group of researchers reported that they’ve been unable to reproduce their own findings concerning that effect.

The new paper, in PLoS ONE, is by Anthony Lane and colleagues from Louvain in Belgium. The same team have previously published evidence supporting the link between oxytocin and trust.

Back in 2010 they reported that “oxytocin increases trust when confidential information is in the balance”. An intranasal spray of oxytocin made volunteers more likely to leave a sensitive personal document lying around in an open envelope, rather than sealing it up, suggesting that they trusted people not to peek at it.

However, the authors now say that they failed to replicate the 2010 ‘envelope task’ result in two subsequent studies.

The entire blog post is here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

An Important Step in Artificial Intelligence

By Sonia Fernandez
UC Santa Barbara Press Release
Monday, May 11, 2015

In what marks a significant step forward for artificial intelligence, researchers at UC Santa Barbara have demonstrated the functionality of a simple artificial neural circuit. For the first time, a circuit of about 100 artificial synapses was proved to perform a simple version of a typical human task: image classification.

“It’s a small, but important step,” said Dmitri Strukov, a professor of electrical and computer engineering. With time and further progress, the circuitry may eventually be expanded and scaled to approach something like the human brain’s, which has 1015 (one quadrillion) synaptic connections.

For all its errors and potential for faultiness, the human brain remains a model of computational power and efficiency for engineers like Strukov and his colleagues, Mirko Prezioso, Farnood Merrikh-Bayat, Brian Hoskins and Gina Adam. That’s because the brain can accomplish certain functions in a fraction of a second what computers would require far more time and energy to perform.

The entire pressor is here.

Generation XXX

The Economist
Originally published September 26, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Whenever pornography becomes more available, it sparks a moral panic. After the advent of girlie magazines in the 1950s, and X-rated rental films in the 1980s, campaigners claimed that porn would dent women’s status, stoke sexual violence and lead men to abandon the search for a mate in favour of private pleasures. Disquiet about the effects of online pornography is once more rising (see article). Most of it is now free. As commercial producers fight over scarce revenue, their wares are becoming more extreme. Because of smartphones, tablets and laptops, hardcore material can be accessed privately by anyone. The result is that many teenagers today have seen a greater number and variety of sex acts than the most debauched Mughal emperor managed in a lifetime.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Cultural evolution: integrating psychology, evolution and culture

Alex Mesoudi
Current Opinion in Psychology 2016, 7:17–22

Abstract

Cultural evolution represents a body of theory and findings premised on the notions that, (i), human cultural change constitutes a Darwinian evolutionary process that shares key characteristics with (but is not identical in details to) genetic evolution; (ii), this second evolutionary process has been instrumental in our species’ dramatic ecological success by allowing the rapid, open-ended generation and accumulation of technology, social institutions, knowledge systems and behavioural practices far beyond the complexity of other species’ socially learned behaviour; and (iii), our psychology permits, and has been shaped by, this cultural evolutionary process, for example, through socio-cognitive mechanisms such as imitation, teaching and intentionality that support high-fidelity social learning, and biases governing from whom and what we learn.

Highlights

  • Humans have colonised and transformed every terrestrial environment on the planet.
  • This ecological success can be attributed to our capacity for cultural evolution.
  • High fidelity social learning allows the preservation/accumulation of cultural traits.
  • Learning biases govern who people learn from and what they learn.
  • These biases scale up to explain larger patterns of cultural diversity and stability.

The way to fix outrageous drug pricing in the US is simply to do what all other rich countries do

Written by Annalisa Merelli
The Quartz
Originally published September 25, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The US is an outlier among industrialized nation: it’s the only rich country that does not offer a publicly funded health system, relying instead largely on private insurance. This affects the pricing of drugs in several ways that are independent from the actual regulations imposed on pharmaceutical companies.

First, and perhaps most importantly, the power in setting the price for drugs is skewed toward drug manufacturers. Unlike countries where universal health coverage is in place, the negotiating is left to individual care providers rather than being in the hand of a large, publicly funded buyer that’s able to negotiate since it purchases most (if not all) of the drugs.
For those with health insurance, high drug prices result in higher premiums, but it’s hard to notice the price increases directly. This means consumers lack awareness of the actual medication prices, and consequently, any pressure to keep them under control.

Plus, the costs of bringing a drug into the US market are higher, partially because of marketing expenses. The US is one of only two countries (the other being New Zealand) that allows direct-to-consumer advertisement of prescription drugs, while elsewhere promotion is limited to medical professionals. This raises the already steep marketing bill of drugs manufacturers. As Robert Yates, former World Health Organization senior health economist told Quartz, “the amount [pharmaceutical companies] spend on marketing is massively more than they do on research and development.”

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Would I Accept My Patient’s Gift?

By Judith Warren
The New York Times - Opinionator
Originally published September 29, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Delighting in the sweets, I thought of Tim’s gift as revealing both a yearning for connection and an ability to create and give something of himself. He was turning his trauma into a kind of art. I also realized that my eating his candy was an act of faith that Tim did not want to destroy our work together, even though we had struggled with many hard moments in which it seemed as if he did.

I’m embarrassed to say that I ate half the box and then fell peacefully asleep.

At his next session, I told Tim how much I enjoyed his candy. He smiled broadly, looked squarely in my eyes, and said, “So, you believed me.”

Eating Tim’s candy did not magically cure his distrust of me. But he remained in treatment for a long time. We later talked about the various meanings of this gift.

The entire article is here.

The Ethics of Suicide Digital Archive

The Ethics of Suicide Digital Archive is a partnership between the University of Utah J. Willard Marriott Library and Oxford University Press. We encourage you to participate by adding your comments in the spaces provided below each reading. You will need to create a reader account before commenting. The Digital Archive adheres to the Privacy Policy of the J. Willard Marriott Library.

Because of the serious and often delicate nature of the topic, all comments will be moderated before appearing on the website. We will not approve any comments that we find to be cruel, inconsiderate, disrespectful, or otherwise generally ill-advised, but we will welcome corrections, challenges, differences in interpretation, serious reflection, and in general comments consistent with academic freedom and the University of Utah’s Speech Policy.

The entire archive is here.

Note: This site serves as an excellent resource for those contemplating the ethics of suicide.  The archive has brief entries.  The entries are categorized by author as well as by geographical region, era, and intellectual/religious/cultural traditions.  Finally, there are categories of sin versus martyrdom.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Blocking the means of suicide can buy time and lives

By Karolina Krysinska and Jane Pirkis
The Conversation
Originally published September 23, 2015

Installing barriers and safety nets at public sites with a high incidence of suicide can reduce the number of deaths at these sites by more than 90%, according to new research we published today in The Lancet Psychiatry.

More than 2,500 Australians died by suicide in 2013 and more than 20,000 are admitted to hospital every year as a result of self-harming behaviours. Suicide also affects those who are left behind – the bereaved, who often struggle with guilt, social stigma, and the question of why.

Our study investigated interventions to prevent suicide at public sites that gain a reputation as places where people have taken their own lives. These are usually easily accessible sites, such as bridges, tall buildings, cliffs, or isolated areas, such as woods.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Problem with Drug Monopolies: Ethics and Money

How the Government Could Punish That Hedge Fund Bro Who Wanted to Raise a Drug’s Price 5,000 Percent

By Jordan Weissmann
Slate.com
Originally published September 22, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Assuming his conscience doesn't send Daraprim's price all the way back to $13.50 a tablet, Shkreli will be able to get away with his price gouging for a simple reason: Even though the drug's patents are long-expired, nobody else makes it. Thus, he has an effective monopoly over a life-saving treatment that lacks an alternative. One could argue that this speaks to the fundamental flaws of American oversight of the pharmaceutical industry. While the rest of the developed world uses price controls to keep medication affordable, the U.S. allows drug companies to charge whatever they please, with the hope that once their patents expire, competition from generics will drive down costs. To some slight extent, that's worked—about 8 out of every 10 prescriptions filled in this country are for generic drugs. But as production has become concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer manufacturers, the prices of some generics have rapidly risen in recent years. And the costs of some specialty medications, like Daraprim, have skyrocketed.

Friday, October 9, 2015

There Is No Excuse for How Universities Treat Adjuncts

By Caroline Fredrickson
The Atlantic
Originally published September 15, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

To say that these are low-wage jobs is an understatement. Based on data from the American Community Survey, 31 percent of part-time faculty are living near or below the federal poverty line. And, according to the UC Berkeley Labor Center, one in four families of part-time faculty are enrolled in at least one public assistance program like food stamps and Medicaid or qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. Known as the “Homeless Prof,” Mary-Faith Cerasoli teaches romance languages and prepares her courses in friends’ apartments when she can crash on a couch, or in her car when the friends can’t take her in. When a student asked to meet with her during office hours, she responded, “Sure, it’s the Pontiac Vibe parked on Stewart Avenue.”

Naomi Winterfalcon, who teaches at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont, is happy that she was able to get another job this year and stay off food stamps for the summer. A recent study shows that a large portion of universities and colleges limit their adjuncts’ teaching hours to avoid having to provide the health insurance now required for full-timers under the Affordable Care Act.

The entire article is here.

'Disruptive' doctors rattle nurses, increase safety risks

Jayne O'Donnell and Laura Ungar
USAToday
Originally published September 20, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Disruptive behavior leads to increased medication errors, more infections and other bad patient outcomes — partly because staff members are often afraid to speak up in the face of bullying by a physician, Wyatt says. That "hidden code of silence" keeps many incidents from being reported or adequately addressed, says physician Alan Rosenstein, an expert in disruptive behavior.

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Most experts estimate that up to 5% of physicians exhibit disruptive behavior, although fear of retaliation and other factors make it difficult to determine the extent of the problem. A 2008 survey of nurses and doctors at more than 100 hospitals showed that 77% of respondents said they witnessed physicians engaging in disruptive behavior, which often meant the verbal abuse of another staff member. Sixty-five percent said they saw nurses exhibit such behavior.

Most said such actions raise the risk of errors and deaths.

About two-thirds of the most serious medical incidents — those involving death or serious physical or psychological injury — can be traced back to communication errors, according to a health care accrediting organization called the Joint Commission. Getting nurses and other medical assistants rattled during surgery can be a big safety risk, Bartholomew says.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Self-injury Is the Eighth Leading Cause of Death in the United States

By Ian R. H. Rockett and Eric D. Caine
JAMA Psychiatry. Published online September 16, 2015.

This Viewpoint discusses the false dichotomy of separating suicides from fatal self-injurious acts that are labeled “accidents” or “unintentional” deaths.

Establishing a person’s intention to die has been a central element separating suicides from fatal self-injurious acts that are labeled “accidents” or “unintentional” deaths. We argue that this is a false dichotomy—certainly at the level of populations—that masks the overall magnitude of fatalities arising from deliberate, self-destructive behaviors. In so doing, it mutes the urgency for demanding effective preventive interventions and is particularly problematic as the nation experiences a persisting and growing epidemic of opioid and other drug-poisoning deaths. Firearm trauma and hanging/asphyxiation, the leading methods of suicide, typically generate ample forensic evidence for assuring accurate determinations by medical examiners and coroners. However, corroborative evidence is less available for poisoning, the third leading method of suicide overall, and first among women. Parenthetically, we acknowledge that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use “unintentional injury" in lieu of the term accident for surveillance and prevention purposes. However, medical examiners and coroners remain bound by statutes in using “accident” as 1 of 6 manner-of-death entries (homicide, suicide, accident, undetermined, natural causes, and unknown) that alternatively appear on death certificates.

The entire article is here.

Is mental health 'parity' law fulfilling its promise?

By Jenny Gold
Kaiser Health News/CNN
Originally posted on September 20, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The so-called parity law, which was intended to equalize coverage of mental and other medical conditions, has gone a long way toward eliminating obvious discrepancies in insurance coverage. Research shows, for instance, that most insurers have dropped annual limits on the therapy visits that they will cover. Higher copayments and separate mental health deductibles have become less of a problem.

But many insurers have continued to limit treatment through other strategies that are harder to track, according to researchers, attorneys and other critics. Among the more murky areas is "medical necessity" review -- in which insurers decide whether a patient requires a certain treatment and at what frequency.

Kamins is among a small group of people around the country to file lawsuits alleging federal or state parity laws were violated when patients with mental illness were held to a stricter "medical necessity" standard than those with other medical conditions.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

What the FDA’s approval of “pink Viagra” tells us about the problems with drug regulation

by Julia Belluz
The Vox
Originally published on September 18, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The episode raised hard questions about the changes wrought by the patient movement and other reforms that have followed. There were excellent reasons for the FDA to bring HIV-positive patients into its deliberations in the 1980s — they provided a crucial perspective that the agency's in-house scientists and officials lacked. But these days, some critics argue that those listening sessions have been hijacked by drug companies. As I found in my reporting, the patients who had lobbied the FDA to approve pink Viagra were often sponsored by the drug's manufacturer.

"The role of pharma in patient groups in the contemporary era is entirely fraught," says Yale Law School's Gregg Gonsalves, who was once one of those HIV activists in the 1980s. "[Drug companies] learned from the early days of the AIDS epidemic that the patient community could be useful allies, and they've poured money into patient groups here in the US and around the world."

So is the FDA approving drugs too easily? Has the push for speed and efficiency now undermined the agency's ability to protect public health? To find out, I took a closer look at the approval of "pink Viagra," which offers a vivid illustration of just how much the FDA has transformed over time — and why those changes worry many experts.

The entire article is here.

Reducing Bounded Ethicality: How to Help Individuals Notice and Avoid Unethical Behavior

By T. Zhang, P. O. Fletcher, F. Gino , and Max Bazerman

Executive Summary

Research on ethics has focused on the factors that help individuals act ethically when they are
tempted to cheat. However, we know little about how best to help individuals notice unethical
behaviors in others and in themselves. This paper identifies a solution: instilling a mindset of
vigilance. In an experiment, individuals playing the role of financial advisers recommended one
of four possible investments to their clients. Unbeknown to these advisers, one of the funds
under consideration was actually a fraudulent feeder fund of Madoff Investment Securities.
Results from this empirical study demonstrate that instilling vigilance by asking individuals to
indicate their suspicions prior to making a decision was critical to helping them notice fraudulent
behavior and act on that information. In contrast, committing to a decision prior to contemplating
suspicions precluded individuals from subsequently integrating critical information about the
fund’s fraudulent activity. We extend these findings to other interventions aimed to help
managers notice unethical behavior.

The entire paper is here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

State board proposes discipline for University of Oregon psychologist over record release in rape case

The Associated Press
Originally published September 25, 2015

A state licensing board is proposing a $5,000 fine, a reprimand and ethics training for the head of the University of Oregon’s counseling office.

The proposed discipline, announced Friday, stems from allegations that Shelly Kerr released a student’s counseling records to the UO’s lawyers without the student’s permission. The student sought counseling after she said she was raped by three basketball players.

The rest of the article is here.

Dignity is a useless concept

It means no more than respect for persons or their autonomy

By Ruth Macklin
BMJ. 2003 Dec 20; 327(7429): 1419–1420.
doi:  10.1136/bmj.327.7429.1419

Appeals to human dignity populate the landscape of medical ethics. Claims that some feature of medical research or practice violates or threatens human dignity abound, often in connection with developments in genetics or reproductive technology. But are such charges coherent? Is dignity a useful concept for an ethical analysis of medical activities? A close inspection of leading examples shows that appeals to dignity are either vague restatements of other, more precise, notions or mere slogans that add nothing to an understanding of the topic.

Possibly the most prominent references to dignity appear in the many international human rights instruments, such as the United Nations' universal declaration of human rights. With few exceptions, these conventions do not address medical treatment or research.

The entire article is here.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Who has your DNA—or wants it

By Jocelyn Kaiser
Science 25 September 2015: 
Vol. 349 no. 6255 p. 1475
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6255.1475

As DNA sequencing gets cheaper, more and more organizations, companies, and countries are amassing computer server–busting amounts of human DNA data, typically for studies of the links between genes, lifestyle factors and disease risk. Science's informal survey found at least 17 biobanks that hold—or plan to hold—genomic data on 75,000 or more people who have volunteered to share their health information for research. The data range from scans of common mutations known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to the protein-coding portions (exomes) to whole genome sequences. Here we have highlighted many of these efforts taking shape across the globe.

The entire article is here.

The Efficacy of Empathy Training: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials

By Emily van Berkhout and John M. Malouff
Journal of Counseling Psychology, Jul 20 , 2015

Abstract

High levels of empathy are associated with healthy relationships and prosocial behavior; in health professionals, high levels of empathy are associated with better therapeutic outcomes. To determine whether empathy can be taught, researchers have evaluated empathy training programs. After excluding 1 outlier study that showed a very large effect with few participants, the meta-analysis included 18 randomized controlled trials of empathy training with a total of 1,018 participants. The findings suggest that empathy training programs are effective overall, with a medium effect (g = 0.63), adjusted to 0.51 after trim-and-fill evaluation for estimated publication bias. Moderator analyses indicated that 4 factors were statistically significantly associated with higher effect sizes: (a) training health professionals and university students rather than other types of individuals, (b) compensating trainees for their participation, (c) using empathy measures that focus exclusively on assessing understanding the emotions of others, feeling those emotions, or commenting accurately on the emotions, and (d) using objective measures rather than self-report measures. Number of hours of training and time between preintervention assessment and postintervention assessment were not statistically significantly associated with effect size, with 6 months the longest time period for assessment. The findings indicate that (a) empathy training tends to be effective and (b) experimental research is warranted on the impact of different types of trainees, training conditions, and types of assessment.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Merge Away!!!

By Art Caplan
The Health Care Blog
Originally posted September 14, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The Times and every other commentator who has weighed in including the AMA has warned that diminished competition is not good for taxpayers or consumers. They want the Justice Department to take a long hard look at these latest mergers to insure that consumers are not stuck with higher premium costs as many parts of the country turn into markets with only one insurance provider.

The critics are wrong. Blocking these deals is a terrible idea. The mergers should be allowed to continue. In fact they should proceed until there is only one private insurer left. Only, at that point should the government step in, declare the last company standing to be required to merge with Medicare thereby letting the free market produce what many reformers have only been able to dream of—a single payer system.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Neural Foundation of Morality

Roland Zahn, Ricardo de Oliveira-Souza, & Jorge Moll
International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (Second Edition)
2015, Pages 606–618

Moral behavior is one of the most sophisticated human abilities. Many social species behave altruistically toward their kin, but humans are unique in their ability to serve complex and changing societal needs. Cognitive neuroscience has started to elucidate specific brain mechanisms underpinning moral behavior, emotion, and motivation, emphasizing that these ingredients are also germane to human biology, rather than pure societal artifacts. The brain is where psychosocial learning and biology meet to produce the rich individual variability in moral behavior. This article discusses how cognitive neuroscience improves the understanding of this variability and associated suffering in neuropsychiatric conditions.

The entire article is here.

Friday, October 2, 2015

What Is Quantum Cognition, and How Is It Applied to Psychology?

By Jerome Busemeyer and Zheng Wang
Current Directions in Psychological Science 
June 2015 vol. 24 no. 3 163-169

Abstract

Quantum cognition is a new research program that uses mathematical principles from quantum theory as a framework to explain human cognition, including judgment and decision making, concepts, reasoning, memory, and perception. This research is not concerned with whether the brain is a quantum computer. Instead, it uses quantum theory as a fresh conceptual framework and a coherent set of formal tools for explaining puzzling empirical findings in psychology. In this introduction, we focus on two quantum principles as examples to show why quantum cognition is an appealing new theoretical direction for psychology: complementarity, which suggests that some psychological measures have to be made sequentially and that the context generated by the first measure can influence responses to the next one, producing measurement order effects, and superposition, which suggests that some psychological states cannot be defined with respect to definite values but, instead, that all possible values within the superposition have some potential for being expressed. We present evidence showing how these two principles work together to provide a coherent explanation for many divergent and puzzling phenomena in psychology.

The entire article is here.

You're not irrational, you're just quantum probabilistic

Science Daily
Originally posted September 15, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Their work suggests that thinking in a quantum-like way¬--essentially not following a conventional approach based on classical probability theory--enables humans to make important decisions in the face of uncertainty, and lets us confront complex questions despite our limited mental resources.

When researchers try to study human behavior using only classical mathematical models of rationality, some aspects of human behavior do not compute. From the classical point of view, those behaviors seem irrational, Wang explained.

For instance, scientists have long known that the order in which questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond--an effect previously thought to be due to vaguely labeled effects, such as "carry-over effects" and "anchoring and adjustment," or noise in the data. Survey organizations normally change the order of questions between respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. But in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year, Wang and collaborators demonstrated that the effect can be precisely predicted and explained by a quantum-like aspect of people's behavior.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Peer review: a flawed process at the heart of science and journals

By Richard Smith
J R Soc Med. 2006 Apr; 99(4): 178–182.
doi:  10.1258/jrsm.99.4.178

Peer review is at the heart of the processes of not just medical journals but of all of science. It is the method by which grants are allocated, papers published, academics promoted, and Nobel prizes won. Yet it is hard to define. It has until recently been unstudied. And its defects are easier to identify than its attributes. Yet it shows no sign of going away. Famously, it is compared with democracy: a system full of problems but the least worst we have.

When something is peer reviewed it is in some sense blessed. Even journalists recognize this. When the BMJ published a highly controversial paper that argued that a new `disease', female sexual dysfunction, was in some ways being created by pharmaceutical companies, a friend who is a journalist was very excited—not least because reporting it gave him a chance to get sex onto the front page of a highly respectable but somewhat priggish newspaper (the Financial Times). `But,' the news editor wanted to know, `was this paper peer reviewed?'. The implication was that if it had been it was good enough for the front page and if it had not been it was not. Well, had it been? I had read it much more carefully than I read many papers and had asked the author, who happened to be a journalist, to revise the paper and produce more evidence. But this was not peer review, even though I was a peer of the author and had reviewed the paper. Or was it? (I told my friend that it had not been peer reviewed, but it was too late to pull the story from the front page.)

The entire article is here.

Ethics Won't Be A Big Problem For Driverless Cars

By Adam Ozimek
Forbes Magazine
Originally posted September 13, 2015

Skeptics of driverless cars have a variety of criticisms, from technical to demand based, but perhaps the most curious is the supposed ethical trolley problem it creates. While the question of how driverless cars will behave in ethical situations is interesting and will ultimately have to be answered by programmers, critics greatly exaggerate its importance. In addition, they assume that driverless cars have to be perfect rather than just better.

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Patrick Lin asks “Is it better to save an adult or child? What about saving two (or three or ten) adults versus one child?” But seriously, how often do drivers actually make this decision? Accidents that provide this choice seem pretty rare. And if I am wrong and we’re actually living in a world rife with trolley problems for drivers, it seems likely that bad human driving and foresight probably creates many of them. Having driverless cars that don’t get distracted, don’t speed dangerously, and can see 360 degrees will make it less likely that split second life and death choices need to be made.

The entire article is here.