"Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can. - Peter Singer
"Common sense is not so common." - Voltaire

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mental health coverage unequal in many Obamacare plans

By Laura Ungar and Jayne O'Donnell
USA Today
Originally posted March 9, 2015

Insurance coverage for mental and physical illness remains unequal despite promises that Obamacare would help level the playing field, mental health advocates and researchers say.

A new study by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that consumer information on a quarter of the Obamacare plans that researchers examined appeared to go against a federal "parity" law designed to stop discrimination in coverage for people with mental health or addiction problems.

This makes it nearly impossible for consumers to find the best plan to cover their mental health needs, the research suggests.

The entire article is here.

Immune from Cyber-fire? The Psychological and Physiological Effects of Cyberwar

By Michael L. Gross, Dapna Canetti, & Israel Waismel-Manor
In: Binary Bullets: The Ethics of Cyberwarfare.
Edited by Fritz Allhoff, Adam Henschke, and Bradley Jay Strawser.
Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming

Here is an excerpt:

Following an overview that describes the challenge that cyber-operations pose for the principle of noncombatant immunity, the following sections map out and analyze the harms of cyberwarfare. Consider, first, physiological harm.  Although no person has lost his life or suffered any kind of physical injury from a cyber-attack to date, the literature is replete with scenarios of death and devastation.  These come in the course of cyber-attacks on vital infrastructures that disrupt air and
rail transportation or poison water supplies. In many ways, these are similar to the consequences of conventional war. For the most part, however, modern cyberwarfare causes no physical injury. As a result, one may reasonably ask whether noncombatants enjoy protection from cyber-attacks that disrupt telecommunications, disable social media, or destroy, disclose or steal financial data and personal information. The answer hinges upon the psychological harm that victims suffer, particularly if belligerents target civilians and civilian infrastructures directly.  Extrapolating from studies of cyber-bullying, identity theft and ordinary burglary, and building upon the effects of simulated cyber-terrorism in the laboratory, we explore the psychological harms of cyberwarfare. Cyberwarfare is not benign but causes stress, anxiety and fear. Such mental suffering threatens to disrupt routine life, impair educational and workplace performance, impact significantly on the poor
and elderly, and increase public pressure on the government to act. Although most forms of psychological suffering are not as intense, prolonged or irreversible as bodily injury or loss of life, our analysis suggests that the psychological harm of cyberwar can affect well-being nonetheless.

The entire article is here.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ethics and Psychology App will no longer function after April 1, 2015.

Due to cost factors, the Ethics and Psychology Android app will be discontinued.

Unfortunately, there has not been much interest.

The Growing Risk of Suicide in Rural America

Young people in the countryside have more guns, fewer doctors, and are more isolated than their urban counterparts—and a new study says they're killing themselves in greater numbers.

By Julie Beck
The Atlantic
Originally published March 10, 2015

In rural America, where there are more guns, fewer people, and fewer doctors than in the urban U.S., young people are at particular risk of suicide.

A study published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics analyzed suicides among people aged 10 to 24 between 1996 and 2010, and found that rates were nearly doubled in rural areas, compared to urban areas. While this gap existed in 1996 at the beginning of the data set, it widened over the course of this time period, according to Cynthia Fontanella, the lead author on the study, and a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

The entire article is here.

The Kids Are All Right

Have we made our children into moral monsters?

By Daniel Engber
Originally published March 16, 2015

We’re in the middle of a moral panic—a panic over morals. An op-ed posted Monday in the New York Times warns that our children don’t believe in moral facts. They don’t get that things are right or wrong; they don’t accept the inner truth of values. Should a person lie or cheat or kill to get ahead? Kids today, these kids today, they couldn’t say for sure. I mean, aren’t ethics just, like, a matter of opinion? Everyone totally gets to have their own opinions, amirite?

This Village of the Damned scenario, laid out by Fort Lewis College philosopher Justin McBrayer, has clearly struck a chord. As of Thursday, it sat among the Times’ five most emailed, viewed, and shared articles of the week, and has inspired more than 1,800 comments. McBrayer’s most alarming claim—the one that pushed his essay into Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines—tells us how the nation’s youth came to be so dissolute. If millennials haven’t learned respect for ethics, it’s because we grown-ups let them down.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

What is Free Will?

Closer to Truth
Interview with John Searle
PBS Series

What is Free Will? Our host Robert Lawrence Kuhn poses the question to John Searle, in an interview from our series "Closer To Truth," currently airing on PBS stations nationwide. Check your local listings for times.

Closer to the Truth web site.

Ethics, self-disclosure and our everyday multiple identities

APA’s Ethics Code speaks to our psychologies — and our clients’ psychologies — on many levels.

By Stephen Behnke, JD, PhD, MDiv
March 2015, Vol 46, No. 3
Print version: page 70

Here is an excerpt:

Here our profession's rather rigid history with multiple relationships may get in the way of good ethical thinking. The belief that all multiple relationships are unethical may lead a student to conclude that a rigid demarcation among identities is preferable or necessary. Of course, such demarcations are not possible and attempting to behave as though they are is futile, counterproductive and painfully distracting. Although a psychologist who is a parent is not parenting during psychotherapy, such a psychologist nonetheless remains a parent during the session. Standard 3.05 offers a way to think about this intra-psychic conundrum.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Concept of a Feminist Bioethics

By Mary C. Rawlinson
Journal of Medicine and Philosophy
(2001), Vol. 26, No. 4, pp 405-416.


Feminist bioethics poses a challenge to bioethics by exposing the masculine marking of its
supposedly generic human subject, as well as the fact that the tradition does not view women's
rights as human rights. This essay traces the way in which this invisible gendering of the
universal renders the other gender invisible and silent. It shows how this attenuation of the
human in `man' is a source of sickness, both cultural and individual. Finally, it suggests several
ways in which images drawn from women's experience and women's bodies might contribute
to a constructive rethinking of basic ethical concepts.

The entire paper is here.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The brain in your pocket: Evidence that Smartphones are used to supplant thinking

By Nathaniel Barr, Gordon Pennycook, Jennifer Stolz, & Jonathan Fugelsang
Computers in Human Behavior
Volume 48, July 2015, Pages 473–480


With the advent of Smartphone technology, access to the internet and its associated knowledge base is at one’s fingertips. What consequences does this have for human cognition? We frame Smartphone use as an instantiation of the extended mind—the notion that our cognition goes beyond our brains—and in so doing, characterize a modern form of cognitive miserliness. Specifically, that people typically forego effortful analytic thinking in lieu of fast and easy intuition suggests that individuals may allow their Smartphones to do their thinking for them. Our account predicts that individuals who are relatively less willing and/or able to engage effortful reasoning processes may compensate by relying on the internet through their Smartphones. Across three studies, we find that those who think more intuitively and less analytically when given reasoning problems were more likely to rely on their Smartphones (i.e., extended mind) for information in their everyday lives. There was no such association with the amount of time using the Smartphone for social media and entertainment purposes, nor did boredom proneness qualify any of our results. These findings demonstrate that people may offload thinking to technology, which in turn demands that psychological science understand the meshing of mind and media to adequately characterize human experience and cognition in the modern era.

The research article is here.

How Should We Make the Most Important Decisions of Our Lives?

By L.A. Paul and Paul Bloom
Originally posted on March 5, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Of course, introspection might be a terrible guide to what we really want from our lives. I suspect that it is. But while rejecting introspection might be rational, we rarely want to abandon it completely when making important personal choices about how to live our lives. Instead, we tend to mix it with evidence in rather unstable ways. We’re often surprised at our own experiences and rueful about what we now see as our earlier, deluded predictions of how things would go. But at the same time, we’re confident about our current views.

So when I consider the major, irreversible, long-term and life-changing decision to have a baby, of course I should weigh what other people tell me about it, and I should also attend to what the best science says. But I also want to consider what I think it will be like for me. After all, I’m the one who will be spending the next 18 years raising my child. I want to base my decision, at least partly, on what I think it will be like to be a parent, and I want my thoughts and feelings about it to play a central role in what I decide to do. If becoming a parent is transformative, I can’t rationally do that.

The entire interview is here.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Forced chemotherapy in a teen: Exploring the ethics

By Ruth Macklin
Dr. Kevin MD blog
Originally posted January 16, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Exploring the ethics

The legal barrier to respecting Cassandra’s autonomy remains, but the ethics of the case are murky. If this were a one-shot treatment — perhaps painful or uncomfortable, but over quickly — it would be easy to conclude that forced medical treatment would do more good than harm. But that is not clearly the case when the patient has to endure for as long as six months the discomforts of chemotherapy.

In December Cassandra first underwent surgery to install in her chest a port through which the drugs would be administered. State officials took custody of Cassandra and confined her in the hospital, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, where she has received the forced treatments. Her cell phone was taken away (for a teen, this may be worse than the nausea and vomiting), and the phone in her hospital room was also removed. Her mother has been allowed to visit her in her hospital room, but only with a child welfare worker present. Mother and daughter are not allowed to have contact by phone.

The entire article is here.

Should ethics be taught in schools?

By William Isdale
Practical Ethics
Originally published March 4, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Can we teach ethics?

One problem with teaching ethics in schools is that there are many competing theories about what is right and wrong. For instance, one might think that our intentions matter morally (Kantianism), or that only consequences do (consequentialism). Some regard inequality as intrinsically problematic, whilst others do not. Unlike other subjects taught in schools, ethics seems to be one in which people can’t agree on even seemingly foundational issues.

In his book Essays on Religion and Education, the Oxford philosopher R.M. Hare argued that ethics can be taught in schools, because it involves learning a language with a determinate method, “such that, if you understand what a moral question is, you must know which arguments are legitimate, in the same way in which, in mathematics, if you know what mathematics is, you know that certain arguments in that field are legitimate and certain arguments not.”

The entire blog post is here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Once and Future Sins

By Stefan Klein and Stephen Cave
Aeon Magazine
Originally published March 24, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But before we start basking in the glow of spreading goodness, we must realise that these changing values have a price. For many of us, such changes would mean sharing or giving up privileges that we have long enjoyed, or admitting that our comfortable lifestyles are based on industries of exploitation, or otherwise recognising that we have in a hundred ways been wrong. This is not a message we rush to hear: there is a reason why prophets of new moralities – think of Socrates or Jesus – often end up dead at the hands of their own people.

We hope that debating the question of what we might be condemned for in 100 years is a way of easing that transition. To help get this debate going, below are four suggestions as to what we think we might be castigated for by our great-grandchildren. They are, we believe, natural extensions of the progress we have witnessed so far. Just as the suffragettes 100 years ago were campaigning for the revolution in women’s rights that we now enjoy, so there are people who are already pushing for these moral revolutions today (which is not to say that we two authors are already living up to them).

The entire article is here.

Sacrifice One For the Good of Many? People Apply Different Moral Norms to Human and Robot Agents

By B.F. Malle, M. Scheutz, T. Arnold, J. Voiklis, and C. Cusimano
HRI '15, March 02 - 05 2015


Moral norms play an essential role in regulating human interaction. With the growing sophistication and proliferation of robots, it is important to understand how ordinary people apply moral norms to robot agents and make moral judgments about their behavior. We report the first comparison of people’s moral judgments (of permissibility, wrongness, and blame) about human and robot agents. Two online experiments (total N = 316) found that robots, compared with human agents, were more strongly expected to take an action that sacrifices one person for the good of many (a “utilitarian” choice), and they were blamed more than their human counterparts when they did not make that choice.  Though the utilitarian sacrifice was generally seen as permissible for human agents, they were blamed more for choosing this option than for doing nothing. These results provide a first step toward a new field of Moral HRI, which is well placed to help guide the design of social robots.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How stress influences our morality

By Lucius Caviola and Nadira Faulmüller


Several studies show that stress can influence moral judgment and behavior. In personal moral dilemmas—scenarios where someone has to be harmed by physical contact in order to save several others—participants under stress tend to make more deontological judgments than non-stressed participants, i.e. they agree less with harming someone for the greater good. Other studies demonstrate that stress can increase pro-social behavior for in-group members but decrease it for out-group members. The dual-process theory of moral judgment in combination with an evolutionary perspective on emotional reactions seems to explain these results: stress might inhibit controlled reasoning and trigger people’s automatic emotional intuitions. In other words, when it comes to morality, stress seems to make us prone to follow our gut reactions instead of our elaborate reasoning.

UMN research review finds inadequate protections

By Josh Verges
Originally posted February 27m 2015

A decade after a psychiatric patient's suicide, the University of Minnesota still fails on several fronts to protect vulnerable human research subjects.

That's the finding of an external review ordered by President Eric Kaler last year and made public Friday. It raises serious questions about the authorization of and oversight for U research, especially in the Department of Psychiatry.

Questions about recruitment, consent and treatment have persisted since a 2008 Pioneer Press series concerning the 2004 death of Dan Markingson, an antipsychotic drug research subject.

The entire article is here.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

By Justin P. McBrayer
The New York Times - Opinionator
Originally posted March 2, 2105

Here is an excerpt:

In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths. 

The inconsistency in this curriculum is obvious. For example, at the outset of the school year, my son brought home a list of student rights and responsibilities. Had he already read the lesson on fact vs. opinion, he might have noted that the supposed rights of other students were based on no more than opinions. According to the school’s curriculum, it certainly wasn’t true that his classmates deserved to be treated a particular way — that would make it a fact. Similarly, it wasn’t really true that he had any responsibilities — that would be to make a value claim a truth. It should not be a surprise that there is rampant cheating on college campuses: If we’ve taught our students for 12 years that there is no fact of the matter as to whether cheating is wrong, we can’t very well blame them for doing so later on. 

The entire article is here.

The Best-Selling, Billion-Dollar Pills Tested on Homeless People

How the destitute and the mentally ill are being used as human lab rats

by Carl Elliott
Originally posted on July 27, 2014

Here are two excerpts:

If you’re looking for poor people who have been paid to test experimental drugs, Philadelphia is a good place to start. The city is home to five medical schools, and pharmaceutical and drug-testing companies line a corridor that stretches northeast into New Jersey. It also has one of the most visible homeless populations in the country. In Philly, homeless people seem to be everywhere: sleeping in Love Park, slumped on benches in Suburban Station, or gathered along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, waiting for the free meals that a local church gives out on Saturdays.


Not long ago, such offers would have been considered unethical. Paying any volunteer was seen as problematic, even more so if the subjects were poor, uninsured, and compromised by illness. Payment, it was argued, might tempt vulnerable subjects to risk their health. As trials have moved into the private sector, this ethical calculus has changed. First came a hike in the sums that volunteers could be paid: Many clinical trial sites now offer over $6,000 for an inpatient drug study. Eligibility requirements have changed, too. For years, trial sites paid only healthy volunteers, mainly to test new drugs for safety. These days people with asthma, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, and other conditions can be paid take part in trials.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Proposed symbol for hidden disabilities taps into debate over disclosure

By Staff
Torstar News Service
Originally published March 1, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Last week, a Torstar News Service story about Toronto mother Farida Peters, who carries a sign alerting strangers that her 5-year-old son has autism, generated discussion about the issue of disclosing invisible disabilities and public reaction.

Despite mixed feelings about labelling her son, Peters found the sign has made their daily commute on the TTC easier. Instead of the annoyance and tart comments she used to encounter, passengers have reacted with support and encouragement. If he becomes disruptive or upset on a crowded subway car, they are more understanding.

Brydges says while people can be intolerant when faced with behaviour they don’t understand, providing an explanation like Peters’ sign can shift the dynamic. That’s where her symbol comes in.
“Ultimately, I developed this for people who need help when they are least able to ask for it,” she says.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

How foreign language shapes moral judgment

By J. Geipel, C. Hadjichristidis, and L. Surian
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 59, July 2015, Pages 8–17


We investigated whether and how processing information in a foreign language as opposed to the native language affects moral judgments. Participants judged the moral wrongness of several private actions, such as consensual incest, that were depicted as harmless and presented in either the native or a foreign language. The use of a foreign language promoted less severe moral judgments and less confidence in them. Harmful and harmless social norm violations, such as saying a white lie to get a reduced fare, were also judged more leniently. The results do not support explanations based on facilitated deliberation, misunderstanding, or the adoption of a universalistic stance. We propose that the influence of foreign language is best explained by a reduced activation of social and moral norms when making moral judgments.


  • We investigated whether and how foreign language influences moral judgment.
  • Foreign language prompted more lenient judgments for moral transgressions.
  • Foreign language reduced confidence in people's moral evaluations.
  • Violations of everyday norms were judged less harshly in a foreign language.
  • Foreign language might act through a reduced activation of social and moral norms.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Can violence be moral?

Intuitively, we might think that any sort of violent act is immoral.

By David Nussbaum and Séamus A Power
The Guardian
Originally posted February 28, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Generally speaking, we think of most interpersonal violence, not just terrorist attacks, as immoral. It’s very rare that you’ll see anybody claim that hurting someone else is an inherently moral thing to do. When people are violent, explanations for their behavior tend to invoke some sort of breakdown: a lack of self-control, the dehumanization of an “outgroup,” or perhaps sadistic psychological tendencies.

This is a comforting notion – one that draws a clear boundary between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. But according to the authors of a new book, it simply isn’t an accurate reflection of how people actually behave: morality, as understood and practiced by real-world human beings, doesn’t always prohibit violence. In fact they make the case that most violence is motivated by morality.

The entire article is here.

Are We Becoming Morally Smarter?

By Michael Shermer
Originally posted in March 2015 issue

Here is an excerpt:

Since the Enlightenment, humans have demonstrated dramatic moral progress. Almost everyone in the Western world today enjoys rights to life, liberty, property, marriage, reproduction, voting, speech, worship, assembly, protest, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberal democracies are now the dominant form of governance, systematically replacing the autocracies and theocracies of centuries past. Slavery and torture are outlawed everywhere in the world (even if occasionally still practiced). The death penalty is on death row and will likely go extinct sometime in the 2020s. Violence and crime are at historic lows, and we have expanded the moral sphere to include more people as members of the human community deserving of rights and respect. Even some animals are now being considered as sentient beings worthy of moral consideration.

Abstract reasoning and scientific thinking are the crucial cognitive skills at the foundation of all morality. Consider the mental rotation required to implement the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The article is here.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On holding ethicists to higher moral standards and the value of moral inconsistency

By Carissa Véliz
Practical Ethics
Originally posted February 27, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Should ethicists be held to higher moral standards? If they commit a wrong about which they know more than others, then it is seems plausible that they do have more responsibility and should be held to higher moral standards. In many cases, however, moral philosophers appear to be on a par with non-ethicists when it comes to ethical knowledge. Most people who cheat on their spouses, for example, have roughly the same knowledge of the wrong they are committing; this includes moral philosophers, since the ethics of faithfulness is not frequently discussed in academic settings; nor is it something most moral philosophers read or write about.

The entire article is here.

A similar paper, The Self-Reported Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors, by Eric Schwitzgebel and Joshua Rust can be found here.

Enduring and Emerging Challenges of Informed Consent

Christine Grady, Ph.D.
N Engl J Med 2015; 372:855-862
February 26, 2015
DOI: 10.1056/NEJMra1411250

Here is an excerpt:

A substantial body of literature corroborates a considerable gap between the practice of informed consent and its theoretical construct or intended goals and indicates many unresolved conceptual and practical questions.  Empirical evidence shows variation in the type and level of detail of information disclosed, in patient or research-participant understanding of the information, and in how their decisions are influenced.  Physicians receive little training regarding the practice of informed consent, are pressed for time and by competing demands, and often misinterpret the requirements and legal standards. Patients often have meager comprehension of the risks and alternatives of offered surgical or medical treatments, and their decisions are driven more by trust in their doctor or by deference to authority than by the information provided. Informed consent for research is more tightly regulated and detailed, yet research consent forms continue to increase in length, complexity, and incorporation of legal language, making them less likely to be read or understood. Studies also show that research participants have deficits in their understanding of study information, particularly of research methods such as randomization.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Does religion deserve a place in secular medicine?

By Brian D. Earp
BMJ Blogs
Originally posted February 26, 2015

The latest issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics is out, and in it, Professor Nigel Biggar—an Oxford theologian—argues that “religion” should have a place in secular medicine.

Some people will feel a shiver go down their spines—and not only the non-religious. After all, different religions require different things, and sometimes they come to opposite conclusions. So whose religion, exactly, does Professor Biggar have in mind, and what kind of “place” is he trying to make a case for?

The entire article is here.

Validating vignette and conjoint survey experiments against real-world behavior

Jens Hainmueller, Dominik Hangartner, and Teppei Yamamoto
Validating vignette and conjoint survey experiments against real-world behavior
PNAS 2015 112 (8) 2395-2400; doi:10.1073/pnas.1416587112


Survey experiments, like vignette and conjoint analyses, are widely used in the social sciences to elicit stated preferences and study how humans make multidimensional choices. However, there is a paucity of research on the external validity of these methods that examines whether the determinants that explain hypothetical choices made by survey respondents match the determinants that explain what subjects actually do when making similar choices in real-world situations. This study compares results from conjoint and vignette analyses on which immigrant attributes generate support for naturalization with closely corresponding behavioral data from a natural experiment in Switzerland, where some municipalities used referendums to decide on the citizenship applications of foreign residents. Using a representative sample from the same population and the official descriptions of applicant characteristics that voters received before each referendum as a behavioral benchmark, we find that the effects of the applicant attributes estimated from the survey experiments perform remarkably well in recovering the effects of the same attributes in the behavioral benchmark. We also find important differences in the relative performances of the different designs. Overall, the paired conjoint design, where respondents evaluate two immigrants side by side, comes closest to the behavioral benchmark; on average, its estimates are within 2% percentage points of the effects in the behavioral benchmark.


Little evidence exists on whether preferences about hypothetical choices measured in a survey experiment are driven by the same structural determinants of the actual choices made in the real world. This study answers this question using a natural experiment as a behavioral benchmark. Comparing the results from conjoint and vignette experiments on which attributes of hypothetical immigrants generate support for naturalization with the outcomes of closely corresponding referendums in Switzerland, we find that the effects estimated from the surveys match the effects of the same attributes in the behavioral benchmark remarkably well. We also find that seemingly subtle differences in survey designs can produce significant differences in performance. Overall, the paired conjoint design performs the best.

The entire article is here.

Editor's note: This research is significant when ethics educators use vignettes to help psychologists learn about their ethical decision-making process and moral beliefs.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Straight Talk for White Men

By Nicholas Kristof
The New York Times
Originally published on February 21, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The study found that a résumé with a name like Emily or Greg received 50 percent more callbacks than the same résumé with a name like Lakisha or Jamal. Having a white-sounding name was as beneficial as eight years’ work experience.

Then there was the study in which researchers asked professors to evaluate the summary of a supposed applicant for a post as laboratory manager, but, in some cases, the applicant was named John and in others Jennifer. Everything else was the same.

“John” was rated an average of 4.0 on a 7-point scale for competence, “Jennifer” a 3.3. When asked to propose an annual starting salary for the applicant, the professors suggested on average a salary for “John” almost $4,000 higher than for “Jennifer.”

It’s not that we white men are intentionally doing anything wrong, but we do have a penchant for obliviousness about the way we are beneficiaries of systematic unfairness. Maybe that’s because in a race, it’s easy not to notice a tailwind, and white men often go through life with a tailwind, while women and people of color must push against a headwind.

The entire article is here.

Artificial intelligence could kill us because we're stupid, not because it's evil

By Andrew Griffin
The Independent
Originally published February 24, 2015

Artificial intelligence will be a threat because we are stupid, not because it is clever and evil, according to experts.

We could put ourselves in danger by creating artificial intelligence that looks too much like ourselves, a leading theorist has warned. “If we look for A.I. in the wrong ways, it may emerge in forms that are needlessly difficult to recognize, amplifying its risks and retarding its benefits,” writes theorist Benjamin H Bratton in the New York Times.

The entire article is here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Measles, Vaccination, and the Tragedy of the Commons

By Katharine Brown
Bioethics Forum
Originally published on February 25, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

To understand why, think of vaccination and the quest for herd immunity as a collective action problem. Garrett Hardin’s “tragedy of the commons” illustrates the basic logic of collective action problems. Imagine that 50 farmers share common land (“the commons”) upon which they graze their sheep. The commons are lush, and so each farmer can easily allow four sheep to graze at a given time without depleting the resource. But imagine that each farmer seeks to maximize his own good (what economic theory refers to as “rational” behavior) and it is better for him to graze more sheep than fewer. The farmers will, in effect, be “free-riding” – in this case, taking more than their fair share of the common resource while benefitting from the restraint of others. The trouble is that, while adding one more sheep to the commons does not deplete the resource, adding 50 does. The combined actions of each farmer, acting rationally, leads to an outcome that is worse for all.

The tragedy of the commons reveals that what is good for the individual is at odds with what is good for all. This is the basic logic of collective action problems. We see a similar logic in the case of vaccines. If most get vaccinated, then everyone will be better off. But it would be best for any particular individual if all others got vaccinated and he or she did not.

The entire article is here.

Climate skeptic’s fossil fuel funding puts spotlight on journal conflict policies

By David Malakoff
Science Magazine
Originally published February 22, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

“We’re concerned about the lack of transparency in science… and a possible ethical breach in not disclosing potential conflicts of interest in an area with important public policy implications,” says Kert Davies, Executive Director of the CIC in Alexandria, Virginia. (Soon’s work, he notes, is routinely cited by politicians opposed to government action on climate, and widely disputed by mainstream climate researchers.)

Davies, a former Greenpeace staffer, helped spur the effort to use the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain the documents that detail Soon’s funding sources. The law applies to the Smithsonian because it is a quasi-government entity (it operates the CfA in cooperation with the Harvard College Observatory). Greenpeace has been using such FOIA requests to document Soon’s sources of funding for years. Last week, Davies began providing recently-obtained documents to media outlets, including ScienceInsider,  leading to stories in the New York Times, Nature, The Guardian, the Boston Globe, and Inside Climate News.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Game Theory Analysis Shows How Evolution Favors Cooperation’s Collapse

By Katherine Unger Baillie
University of Pennsylvania
Press Release
Originally released on November 24, 2014

Last year, University of Pennsylvania researchers Alexander J. Stewart and Joshua B. Plotkin published a mathematical explanation for why cooperation and generosity have evolved in nature. Using the classical game theory match-up known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma, they found that generous strategies were the only ones that could persist and succeed in a multi-player, iterated version of the game over the long term.

But now they’ve come out with a somewhat less rosy view of evolution. With a new analysis of the Prisoner’s Dilemma played in a large, evolving population, they found that adding more flexibility to the game can allow selfish strategies to be more successful. The work paints a dimmer but likely more realistic view of how cooperation and selfishness balance one another in nature.

“It’s a somewhat depressing evolutionary outcome, but it makes intuitive sense,” said Plotkin, a professor in Penn’s Department of Biology in the School of Arts & Sciences, who coauthored the study with Stewart, a postdoctoral researcher in his lab. “We had a nice picture of how evolution can promote cooperation even amongst self-interested agents and indeed it sometimes can, but, when we allow mutations that change the nature of the game, there is a runaway evolutionary process, and suddenly defection becomes the more robust outcome.”

The entire press release is here.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What pushes scientists to lie? The disturbing but familiar story of Haruko Obokata

By John Rasko and Carl Power
The Guardian
Originally posted February 18, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Two obvious reasons spring to mind. First, unbelievable carelessness. Obokata drew suspicion upon her Nature papers by the inept way she manipulated images and plagiarised text. It is often easy to spot such transgressions, and the top science journals are supposed to check for them; but it is also easy enough to hide them. Nature’s editors are scratching their heads wondering how they let themselves be fooled by Obokata’s clumsy tricks. However, we are more surprised that she didn’t try harder to cover her tracks, especially since her whole career was at stake.

Second, hubris. If Obokata hadn’t tried to be a world-beater, chances are her sleights of hand would have gone unnoticed and she would still be looking forward to a long and happy career in science. Experiments usually escape the test of reproducibility unless they prove something particularly important, controversial or commercialisable. Stap cells tick all three of these boxes. Because Obokata claimed such a revolutionary discovery, everyone wanted to know exactly how she had done it and how they could do it themselves. By stepping into the limelight, she exposed her work to greater scrutiny than it could bear.

The entire article is here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Bias, Black Lives, and Academic Medicine

By David A. Ansell and Edwin K. McDonald
The New England Journal of Medicine
Originally published February 18, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

First, there is evidence that doctors hold stereotypes based on patients' race that can influence their clinical decisions.  Implicit bias refers to unconscious racial stereotypes that grow from our personal and cultural experiences. These implicit beliefs may also stem from a lack of day-to-day interracial and intercultural interactions. Although explicit race bias is rare among physicians, an unconscious preference for whites as compared with blacks is commonly revealed on tests of implicit bias.

Second, despite physicians' and medical centers' best intentions of being equitable, black–white disparities persist in patient outcomes, medical education, and faculty recruitment.

The entire article is here.

#BlackLivesMatter — A Challenge to the Medical and Public Health Communities

By Mary T. Bassett
The New England Journal of Medicine
Originally posted February 18, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

As New York City's health commissioner, I feel a strong moral and professional obligation to encourage critical dialogue and action on issues of racism and health. Ongoing exclusion of and discrimination against people of African descent throughout their life course, along with the legacy of bad past policies, continue to shape patterns of disease distribution and mortality. There is great injustice in the daily violence experienced by young black men. But the tragedy of lives cut short is not accounted for entirely, or even mostly, by violence. In New York City, the rate of premature death is 50% higher among black men than among white men, according to my department's vital statistics data, and this gap reflects dramatic disparities in many health outcomes, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV. These common medical conditions take lives slowly and quietly — but just as unfairly. True, the black–white gap in life expectancy has been decreasing, and the gap is smaller among women than among men. But black women in New York City are still more than 10 times as likely as white women to die in childbirth, according to our 2012 data.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Why We Ignore the Obvious: The Psychology of Willful Blindness

By Maria Popova

Here is an excerpt:

The concept of “willful blindness,” Heffernan explains, comes from the law and originates from legislature passed in the 19th century — it’s the somewhat counterintuitive idea that you’re responsible “if you could have known, and should have known, something that instead you strove not to see.” What’s most uneasy-making about the concept is the implication that it doesn’t matter whether the avoidance of truth is conscious. This basic mechanism of keeping ourselves in the dark, Heffernan argues, plays out in just about every aspect of life, but there are things we can do — as individuals, organizations, and nations — to lift our blinders before we walk into perilous situations that later produce the inevitable exclamation: How could I have been so blind?

The entire blog post is here.

Cognitive biases can affect moral intuitions about cognitive enhancement

By Caviola Lucius, Mannino Adriano, Savulescu Julian, Faulmüller Nadira
Front. Syst. Neurosci., 15 October 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00195

Research into cognitive biases that impair human judgment has mostly been applied to the area of economic decision-making. Ethical decision-making has been comparatively neglected. Since ethical decisions often involve very high individual as well as collective stakes, analyzing how cognitive biases affect them can be expected to yield important results. In this theoretical article, we consider the ethical debate about cognitive enhancement (CE) and suggest a number of cognitive biases that are likely to affect moral intuitions and judgments about CE: status quo bias, loss aversion, risk aversion, omission bias, scope insensitivity, nature bias, and optimistic bias. We find that there are more well-documented biases that are likely to cause irrational aversion to CE than biases in the opposite direction. This suggests that common attitudes about CE are predominantly negatively biased. Within this new perspective, we hope that subsequent research will be able to elaborate this hypothesis and develop effective de-biasing techniques that can help increase the rationality of the public CE debate and thus improve our ethical decision-making.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The twisted morality of climate denial: How religion and American exceptionalism are undermining our future

Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, Americans remain split on climate change. Here's why

By Edward L. Rubin
Originally posted March 8, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Ever since the Western world became Christian, people in our society have regarded nature as God’s exclusive handiwork; and ever since St. Francis, they have regarded it as evidence of His benevolence. Climate change indicates that the entire natural order is turning against us, and that it is doing so because of our actions. God seems absent from this process, either as a controlling force or as a protecting presence. We find ourselves in an empty, fragile environment that we alone must manage. Sen. Inhofe is probably speaking for a significant number of Americans when he declares himself unwilling to accept this: “God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”

The entire article is here.

Impact of Burnout: Clinicians Speak Out

Deborah Brauser
Originally posted February 10, 2015

Professional burnout has serious negative consequences not only for affected clinicians but potentially for patient care and outcomes as well, new research suggests.


In addition, those who reported higher levels of depersonalization were significantly more likely to report that burnout affected their interaction with patients.

Interestingly, emotionally exhausted clinicians were significantly less likely to report an impact on patient outcomes.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Identifying mentally ill 'frequent fliers' first step to reducing police contact

Press Release
Oregon State University
Originally published February 11, 2015

Identifying the population of people with mental illness who have frequent contact with police could help law enforcement officials and community agencies allocate limited resources to those with the highest needs, new research from Oregon State University indicates.

These individuals, often referred to as “frequent fliers” because of their repeated interaction with law enforcement, can consume a large amount of police time and resources, according to researchers in the School of Public Policy in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

Identifying and understanding the population can aid policymakers as they work to reduce the frequent and time-consuming interactions, sociologists Scott Akins and Brett Burkhardt said.

“This contact is rarely criminal in nature at the outset,” said Burkhardt, an assistant professor of sociology. “It’s usually a peace officer custody arrest, which is a type of arrest that occurs because a person is believed to be a danger to themselves or others due to a suspected mental illness. But there’s a limited amount of resources, so if we identify people with the highest needs, we can focus resources on those folks.”

Once a local region has identified its population of frequent fliers, community agencies and policy-makers can use the information to change or implement policies to assist those with the highest needs, the researchers said.

“It’s a strategic way to create a more cost-effective and humane way to assist the mentally ill,” said Akins, an associate professor of sociology.

The entire press release is here.

Could intranasal oxytocin be used to enhance relationships? Research imperatives, clinical policy, and ethical considerations

Olga A. Wudarczyk, Brian D. Earp, Adam Guastell, and Julian Savulescu
Current Opinion in Psychiatry (2013), Vol 26 No 5, 474-484


Purpose of review

Well-functioning romantic relationships are important for long-term health and well-being, but they are often difficult to sustain. This difficulty arises (in part) because of an underlying tension between our psychobiological natures, culture/environment, and modern love and relationship goals. One possible solution to this predicament is to intervene at the level of psychobiology, enhancing partners’ interpersonal connection through neurochemical modulation. This article focuses on a single, promising biobehavioral sub-system for such intervention: the attachment system, based largely upon the expression of the neuropeptide oxytocin. Could the exogenous administration of oxytocin—under the right conditions—be used to facilitate relational or marital well-being?

Recent findings

If so, it would require considerable forethought. Recent research complicates the popular image of oxytocin as a universal social enhancer or ‘love hormone’ and shows that it may exert a variety of different effects, at different dosages, on different people, under different circumstances. Accordingly, we discuss what is known about oxytocin, including its “good” and “bad” effects on human behavior and on higher-order functional processes.


Building upon animal-model, human preclinical, and clinical findings, we outline a proposal for the use of oxytocin in the therapeutic neuroenhancement of contemporary romantic relationships. Highlighting key targets for future research along the way, we then conclude by discussing some of the clinical and ethical considerations that would pertain to the implementation of this knowledge in applied settings.

The article can be found here.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Modelling suicide and unemployment: a longitudinal analysis

Modelling suicide and unemployment: a longitudinal analysis covering 63 countries, 2000–11
Nordt, Carlos et al.
The Lancet Psychiatry
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2215-0366(14)00118-7



As with previous economic downturns, there has been debate about an association between the 2008 economic crisis, rising unemployment, and suicide. Unemployment directly affects individuals' health and, unsurprisingly, studies have proposed an association between unemployment and suicide. However, a statistical model examining the relationship between unemployment and suicide by considering specific time trends among age-sex-country subgroups over wider world regions is still lacking. We aimed to enhance knowledge of the specific effect of unemployment on suicide by analysing global public data classified according to world regions.


We retrospectively analysed public data for suicide, population, and economy from the WHO mortality database and the International Monetary Fund's world economic outlook database from 2000 to 2011. We selected 63 countries based on sample size and completeness of the respective data and extracted the information about four age groups and sex. To check stability of findings, we conducted an overall random coefficient model including all study countries and four additional models, each covering a different world region.


Despite differences in the four world regions, the overall model, adjusted for the unemployment rate, showed that the annual relative risk of suicide decreased by 1·1% (95% CI 0·8–1·4) per year between 2000 and 2011. The best and most stable final model indicated that a higher suicide rate preceded a rise in unemployment (lagged by 6 months) and that the effect was non-linear with higher effects for lower baseline unemployment rates. In all world regions, the relative risk of suicide associated with unemployment was elevated by about 20–30% during the study period. Overall, 41 148 (95% CI 39 552–42 744) suicides were associated with unemployment in 2007 and 46 131 (44 292–47 970) in 2009, indicating 4983 excess suicides since the economic crisis in 2008.


Suicides associated with unemployment totalled a nine-fold higher number of deaths than excess suicides attributed to the most recent economic crisis. Prevention strategies focused on the unemployed and on employment and its conditions are necessary not only in difficult times but also in times of stable economy.

Debate heats up over safety of electronic health records

Jayne O'Donnell and Laura Ungar
Originally posted February 3, 2015

Department of Health and Human Services officials said Tuesday that the safety benefits of electronic health records far outweigh any potential problems, but critics say regulators are pushing health care providers to use them while downplaying the risks to patients.

"This transition to electronic health records has led to far better safety than (it has) created new problems," said Andy Gettinger, an physician who heads health information technology (HIT) safety at HHS, at a government-sponsored conference here.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Which Doctors Should ‘Own’ End-of-Life Planning?

By Randi Belisomo
February 12, 2015

The duty to guide patients through the end-of-life decision-making process rests squarely on primary care providers, writes one internist in The New England Journal of Medicine in a February 11 online article, maintaining that her colleagues should better support seriously ill patients earlier and throughout the course of disease.

Susan Tolle, director of the Center for Ethics in Health Care at the Oregon Health and Science University, is one of three physicians responding to the NEJM's most recent "Clinical Decisions" case feature, detailing a woman undergoing treatment for metastatic breast cancer. However, her advance directive has not been reviewed in close to a decade.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Traditional and Experimental Approaches to Free Will and Moral Responsibility

By Gunnar Björnsson and Derk Pereboom
Forthc., Justin Sytsma & Wesley Buckwalter (eds.)
Companion to Experimental Philosophy, Blackwell

1. Introduction

From the early days of experimental philosophy, attention has been focused on the problem of free will and moral responsibility. This is a natural topic for this methodology, given its  proximity to the universal concerns of human life, together with the intensity with which the issues are disputed. We’ll begin by introducing the problem and the standard terminology used to frame it in the philosophical context. We’ll then turn to the contributions of experimental philosophy, and the prospects for the use of this methodology in the area.

The problem of free will and moral responsibility arises from a conflict between two  powerful considerations. On the one hand, we human beings typically believe that we are in control of our actions in a particularly weighty sense. We express this sense of difference when we attribute moral responsibility to human beings but not, for example, to machines like thermostats and computers. Traditionally, it’s supposed that moral responsibility requires us to have some type of free will in producing our actions, and hence we assume that humans,  by contrast with such machines, have this sort of free will. At the same time, there are reasons for regarding human beings as relevantly more like mechanical devices than we ordinarily imagine. These reasons stem from various sources: most prominently, from scientific views that consider human beings to be components of nature and therefore governed by natural laws, and from theological concerns that require everything that occurs to be causally determined by God.

One threat to our having the sort of free will required for moral responsibility results from the view that the natural laws are deterministic, which motivates the position that all of our actions are causally determined by factors beyond our control. An action will be causally determined in this way if a process governed by the laws of nature and beginning with causally relevant factors prior to the agent’s coming to be ensures the occurrence of the action. An action will also be causally determined by factors beyond the agent’s control if its occurrence is ensured by a causal process that originates in God’s will and ends with the action. For many contemporary philosophers, the first, naturalistic version of causal determinism about action is a serious possibility, and thus the threat that it poses to our conception of ourselves as morally responsible for our actions is serious and prevalent.

The entire chapter is here.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Medicaid, Morality and Mormonism

By Guest Blogger
The Cultural Hall Podcast
Originally posted February 26, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Frequently I hear conservative Mormons counter these sorts of scriptures with an assertion that for us to be blessed for our charity, it has to be voluntary, not government mandated. In my opinion this line of thinking is not only flawed, but carries an inherent selfishness which is contrary to the spirit of charity. It clearly states that charity is about getting blessings for doing it, not about truly caring for those who need it, which I submit is a far greater betrayal of Christ-like concepts of charity than government compulsion is. Second, so many of the same people loudly using that argument are just as loudly asserting their right to legislatively mandate their concept of morality. It makes no sense that we are morally justified in imposing our morals when it comes to who can get married but not on using taxes dollars to care for the needy. I can’t speak for anybody else, but my marriage is infinitely more personal and sacred to me than my taxes are.

Even those who are stuck on LDS concepts of “self-sufficience” have nothing to complain about here. Healthy Utah is structured to include a work requirement (the most popular reason to prefer it to traditional Medicaid in the Dan Jones poll which shows Utahns overwhelmingly support the Governor’s proposal). This is not at all unlike LDS welfare programs which encourage doing our part to care for own needs (but also encourage helping those who need it).

The entire blog post is here.

The Evolution of Altruism

By Oren Harman
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Originally published February 9, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But if Wilson pulls back from entering the mind, focusing instead on evolutionary dynamics, a cottage industry has grown in recent years around theories purporting to explain how our brains produce empathy, morality, and good will. One recent example comes from Donald W. Pfaff, a professor of neurobiology at Rockefeller University. Stepping, as he says, out of his "comfort zone" studying steroid hormones’ effects on nerve cells in mice, Pfaff argues that recognizing our inborn goodness can add to our capacity for benevolence. "If a person simply realizes that he is wired for good, altruistic behavior and behaves accordingly," he promises, "and if the person toward whom he is about to behave does the same thing, then everything is likely to come out OK." Happily, "science now knows that we are wired to empathize." Really, it isn’t all that complicated.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Belief in a Just World and Attitudes Toward Affirmative Action

By Vicky M. Wilkins and Jeffrey B. Wenger
Policy Studies Journal
Volume 42, Issue 3, pages 325–343, August 2014

The effect of identity, as socially constructed by race and gender, on social policies has been widely examined in policy analysis. Policy analysis would be improved by a wider discussion that includes the influence of social-psychological constructs on social provision. We fill this gap by drawing on the theory of the “belief in a just world” and link this theory to attitudes toward the support of controversial government programs. We argue that this theory is a critical antecedent to the previous research on social construction. We hypothesize that citizens who perceive that the world is just and that opportunities are equal between groups are much less likely to favor government interventions altering market outcomes. We find that after controlling for race, sex, and political ideology, respondents who believe that luck is the primary determinant of success (low belief in a just world) are more supportive of preferential hiring programs for African Americans and women.

The article is here.

The Monstrous Cruelty of a Just World

It’s easy to want to believe that everything happens for a reason, but how does that affect the way we treat the people the universe has punished?

By Nicholas Hune-Brown
Hazlitt Blog
Originally published January 22, 2015

In the 1960s, a social psychologist named Melvin Lerner noticed something troubling about his colleagues. The therapists at his hospital—generally such nice, sympathetic people—seemed to be acting heartlessly towards some of their mentally ill patients, pushing and prodding them during sessions, describing the vulnerable and disturbed as shiftless manipulators. Why were these professionals, generally so kind and compassionate, treating patients as if they somehow deserved their illness?

The entire blog post is here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Ethics of Enhanced Interrogations and Torture: A Reappraisal of the Argument

William O'Donohuea, Cassandra Snipesa, Georgia Daltoa, Cyndy Sotoa, Alexandros Maragakisa & Sungjin Im
Ethics & Behavior
Volume 24, Issue 2, 2014


This article critically reviews what is known about the ethical status of psychologists’ putative involvement with enhanced interrogations and torture (EITs). We examine three major normative ethical accounts (utilitarian, deontic, and virtue ethics) of EITs and conclude, contra the American Psychological Association, that reasonable arguments can be made that in certain cases the use of EITs is ethical and even, in certain circumstances, morally obligatory. We suggest that this moral question is complex as it has competing moral values involved, that is, the humane treatment of detainee competes with the ethical value/duty/virtue of protecting innocent third parties. We also suggest that there is an ethical duty to minimize harm by making only judicious and morally responsible allegations against the psychologists alleged to be involved in EITs. Finally, we make recommendations regarding completing the historical record, improvements in the professional ethics code, and the moral treatment of individuals accused in this controversy.

The entire article is here.

‘Utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial moral dilemmas do not reflect impartial concern for the greater good

By Guy Kahane, Jim A.C. Everett, Brian Earp, Miguel Farias, and Julian Savulescu
Volume 134, January 2015, Pages 193–209


A growing body of research has focused on so-called ‘utilitarian’ judgments in moral dilemmas in which participants have to choose whether to sacrifice one person in order to save the lives of a greater number. However, the relation between such ‘utilitarian’ judgments and genuine utilitarian impartial concern for the greater good remains unclear. Across four studies, we investigated the relationship between ‘utilitarian’ judgment in such sacrificial dilemmas and a range of traits, attitudes, judgments and behaviors that either reflect or reject an impartial concern for the greater good of all. In Study 1, we found that rates of ‘utilitarian’ judgment were associated with a broadly immoral outlook concerning clear ethical transgressions in a business context, as well as with sub-clinical psychopathy. In Study 2, we found that ‘utilitarian’ judgment was associated with greater endorsement of rational egoism, less donation of money to a charity, and less identification with the whole of humanity, a core feature of classical utilitarianism. In Studies 3 and 4, we found no association between ‘utilitarian’ judgments in sacrificial dilemmas and characteristic utilitarian judgments relating to assistance to distant people in need, self-sacrifice and impartiality, even when the utilitarian justification for these judgments was made explicit and unequivocal. This lack of association remained even when we controlled for the antisocial element in ‘utilitarian’ judgment. Taken together, these results suggest that there is very little relation between sacrificial judgments in the hypothetical dilemmas that dominate current research, and a genuine utilitarian approach to ethics.


• Utilitarian’ judgments in moral dilemmas were associated with egocentric attitudes and less identification with humanity.
• They were also associated with lenient views about clear moral transgressions.
• ‘Utilitarian’ judgments were not associated with views expressing impartial altruist concern for others.
• This lack of association remained even when antisocial tendencies were controlled for.
• So-called ‘utilitarian’ judgments do not express impartial concern for the greater good.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beyond Point-and-Shoot Morality: Why Cognitive (Neuro)Science Matters for Ethics*

By Joshua Greene
Forthcoming in Ethics


In this article I explain why cognitive science (including some neuroscience)
matters for normative ethics. First, I describe the dual-process theory of moral judgment
and briefly summarize the evidence supporting it. Next I describe related experimental
research examining influences on intuitive moral judgment. I then describe two ways in
which research along these lines can have implications for ethics. I argue that a deeper
understanding of moral psychology favors certain forms of consequentialism over other
classes of normative moral theory. I close with some brief remarks concerning the bright
future of ethics as an interdisciplinary enterprise.

Here is an excerpt:

Likewise, it would be a cognitive miracle if we had reliably good moral instincts about
unfamiliar* moral problems. This suggests the following more general principle:
The No Cognitive Miracles Principle: When we are dealing with unfamiliar*
moral problems, we ought to rely less on automatic settings (automatic
emotional responses) and more on manual mode (conscious, controlled
reasoning), lest we bank on cognitive miracles.
This principle is powerful because it, when combined with empirical knowledge of
moral psychology, offers moral guidance while presupposing nothing about what is
morally good or bad. A corollary of the NCMP is that we should expect certain
pathological individuals—VMPFC patients? Psychopaths? Alexithymics? —to make 32
better decisions than healthy people in some cases. (This is why such individuals are no
embarrassment to the view I will defend in the next section.)

The author's copy is here.

Mental Illness, Mass Shootings, and the Politics of American Firearms

By Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, PhD, and Kenneth T. MacLeish, PhD
American Journal of Public Health: February 2015, Vol. 105, No. 2, pp. 240-249.
doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302242


Four assumptions frequently arise in the aftermath of mass shootings in the United States: (1) that mental illness causes gun violence, (2) that psychiatric diagnosis can predict gun crime, (3) that shootings represent the deranged acts of mentally ill loners, and (4) that gun control “won’t prevent” another Newtown (Connecticut school mass shooting). Each of these statements is certainly true in particular instances. Yet, as we show, notions of mental illness that emerge in relation to mass shootings frequently reflect larger cultural stereotypes and anxieties about matters such as race/ethnicity, social class, and politics. These issues become obscured when mass shootings come to stand in for all gun crime, and when “mentally ill” ceases to be a medical designation and becomes a sign of violent threat.

The entire article is here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Moral Realism

Sayre-McCord, Geoff, "Moral Realism"
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Here is an excerpt:

Nonetheless, realists and anti-realists alike are usually inclined to hold that Moore’s Open Question Argument is getting at something important—some feature of moral claims that makes them not well captured by nonmoral claims.

According to some, that ‘something important’ is that moral claims are essentially bound up with motivation in a way that nonmoral claims are not (Ayer 1936, Stevenson 1937, Gibbard 1990, Blackburn 1993). Exactly what the connection to motivation is supposed to be is itself controversial, but one common proposal (motivation internalism) is that a person counts as sincerely making a moral claim only if she is motivated appropriately. To think of something that it is good, for instance, goes with being, other things equal, in favor of it in ways that would provide some motivation (not necessarily decisive) to promote, produce, preserve or in other ways support it. If someone utterly lacks such motivations and yet claims nonetheless that she thinks the thing in question is good, there is reason, people note, to suspect either that she is being disingenuous or that she does not understand what she is saying. This marks a real contrast with nonmoral claims since the fact that a person makes some such claim sincerely seems never to entail anything in particular about her motivations. Whether she is attracted by, repelled by, or simply indifferent to some color is irrelevant to whether her claim that things have that color are sincere and well understood by her.

The entire entry is here.

Editor's Note: This article is for those psychologists more inclined to read philosophy.

Physician guidelines for Googling patients need revision

By Jennifer Abbasi
Penn State News
Originally posted February 2, 2015

With the Internet and social media becoming woven into the modern medical practice, Penn State College of Medicine researchers contend that professional medical societies must update or amend their Internet guidelines to address when it is ethical to "Google" a patient.

"As time goes on, Googling patients is going to become more and more common, especially with doctors who grew up with the Internet," says Maria J. Baker, associate professor of medicine.

Baker has dealt with the question first hand in her role as a genetic counselor and medical geneticist. In a case that inspired her recent paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, a patient consulted her regarding prophylactic mastectomies. The patient's family history of cancer could not be verified and then a pathology report revealed that a melanoma the patient listed had actually been a non-cancerous, shape-changing mole.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Montco woman, Temple professor not a licensed psychologist

By Jo Ciavaglia
Bucks County Courier Times
Originally posted February 4, 2015

Susan Schecter-Cornbluth swore under oath that she was a practicing clinical psychologist in Pennsylvania, as well as licensed to practice family and marriage therapy in New Jersey.

But Solebury police say that the 41-year-old Montgomery County woman, who also teaches psychology at Temple University, lied.

They said Schecter-Cornbluth, of Ambler, committed perjury in December 2013 when she testified as an “expert witness” in a Bucks County family court hearing that she was a “licensed clinical psychologist” in New Jersey.

The entire article is here.

Online processing of moral transgressions: ERP evidence for spontaneous evaluation

Hartmut Leuthold, Angelika Kunkel, Ian G. Mackenzie and Ruth Filik
Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci (2015)
doi: 10.1093/scan/nsu151


Experimental studies using fictional moral dilemmas indicate that both automatic emotional processes and controlled cognitive processes contribute to moral judgments. However, not much is known about how people process socio-normative violations that are more common to their everyday life nor the time-course of these processes. Thus, we recorded participants’ electrical brain activity while they were reading vignettes that either contained morally acceptable vs unacceptable information or text materials that contained information which was either consistent or inconsistent with their general world knowledge. A first event-related brain potential (ERP) positivity peaking at ∼200 ms after critical word onset (P200) was larger when this word involved a socio-normative or knowledge-based violation. Subsequently, knowledge-inconsistent words triggered a larger centroparietal ERP negativity at ∼320 ms (N400), indicating an influence on meaning construction. In contrast, a larger ERP positivity (larger late positivity), which also started at ∼320 ms after critical word onset, was elicited by morally unacceptable compared with acceptable words. We take this ERP positivity to reflect an implicit evaluative (good–bad) categorization process that is engaged during the online processing of moral transgressions.

The article is here.