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

Friday, July 31, 2015

Mind Perception Is the Essence of Morality

Kurt Gray , Liane Young , Adam Waytz
Psychological Inquiry 
Vol. 23, Iss. 2, 2012

Abstract

Mind perception entails ascribing mental capacities to other entities, whereas moral judgment entails labeling entities as good or bad or actions as right or wrong. We suggest that mind perception is the essence of moral judgment. In particular, we suggest that moral judgment is rooted in a cognitive template of two perceived minds—a moral dyad of an intentional agent and a suffering moral patient. Diverse lines of research support dyadic morality. First, perceptions of mind are linked to moral judgments: dimensions of mind perception (agency and experience) map onto moral types (agents and patients), and deficits of mind perception correspond to difficulties with moral judgment. Second, not only are moral judgments sensitive to perceived agency and experience, but all moral transgressions are fundamentally understood as agency plus experienced suffering—that is, interpersonal harm—even ostensibly harmless acts such as purity violations. Third, dyadic morality uniquely accounts for the phenomena of dyadic completion (seeing agents in response to patients, and vice versa), and moral typecasting (characterizing others as either moral agents or moral patients). Discussion also explores how mind perception can unify morality across explanatory levels, how a dyadic template of morality may be developmentally acquired, and future directions.

The entire article is here.

Can Moral Disputes Be Resolved?

By Alex Rosenberg
The New York Times - Opinion
Originally published July 13, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The notion that moral judgments are not just true or false claims about human conduct helps explain the failure of ethical theories as far back as Aristotle’s. These theories started out on the wrong foot, by treating morality and immorality as intrinsic to the actions themselves, instead of our responses to them.

Factoring human emotions into moral judgment explains much about them. Why they are held so strongly, why different cultures that shape human emotional responses have such different moral norms, even why people treat abstract ethical disagreement by others as a moral flaw. And most of all, this meta-ethical theory helps us understand why such disputes are sometimes intractable.

Meta-ethics has begun to make use of findings in cognitive social psychology, and in neuroscience, to help understand the nature of ethical claims.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Banality of Ethics in the Anthropocene, Pt 1

By Clive Hamilton
The Conversation
Originally posted July 12, 2015

Among the great crimes of the 20th century the most enduring will surely prove to be human disruption of the Earth’s climate. The effects of human-induced climate change are apparent now and will become severe this century, but the warming is expected to last thousands of years. That is so because extra carbon dioxide persists in the atmosphere for a very long time, but also because changes in the climate are triggering changes in the Earth System as a whole, changes that cannot be undone.

If it is a crime to transform the Earth into a hot and less habitable place what are the offences committed by those responsible? A panel of eminent jurists this year published some principles to guide us. The Oslo Principles note that “all States and enterprises have an immediate moral and legal duty to prevent the deleterious effects of climate change”.

Corporations causing harm to people through their emission of greenhouse gases may be subject to tort law and may be sued for damages. The Principles observe that States are obliged to protect human life and the integrity of the biosphere through an existing network of national and international obligations.

The entire article is here.

If obesity is a moral failing, then our morals have failed.

By Anke Snoek
Aeon Magazine - Ideas
Originally published July 6, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But there’s another reason to be cautious about calling obesity a moral failing. The lay vision is that obese people act on their desires rather than on their better judgment, but recent research of Nora Volkow shows some striking parallels between addiction and obesity. Evolutionarily, we are wired to find certain foods and activities – the ones that contribute more to our survival – more attractive than others. That’s why when we engage in positive social relationships, sex, or eat food with high fat, sugar or salt content, dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine is often associated with pleasure. We get a pleasurable feeling when we eat good food, but dopamine also contributes to conditioned learning and so-called incentive sensitization. That is, we become sensitive to cues linked to rewarding behaviour or food which was important but scarce in the distant past.  In prehistoric times we learned which cues predict, for instance, where the best fruit trees grow.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Machine ethics: The robot’s dilemma

Working out how to build ethical robots is one of the thorniest challenges in artificial intelligence.

By Boer Deng
Nature
01 July 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Advocates argue that the rule-based approach has one major virtue: it is always clear why the machine makes the choice that it does, because its designers set the rules. That is a crucial concern for the US military, for which autonomous systems are a key strategic goal. Whether machines assist soldiers or carry out potentially lethal missions, “the last thing you want is to send an autonomous robot on a military mission and have it work out what ethical rules it should follow in the middle of things”, says Ronald Arkin, who works on robot ethics software at Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. If a robot had the choice of saving a soldier or going after an enemy combatant, it would be important to know in advance what it would do.

With support from the US defence department, Arkin is designing a program to ensure that a military robot would operate according to international laws of engagement. A set of algorithms called an ethical governor computes whether an action such as shooting a missile is permissible, and allows it to proceed only if the answer is 'yes'.

In a virtual test of the ethical governor, a simulation of an unmanned autonomous vehicle was given a mission to strike enemy targets — but was not allowed to do so if there were buildings with civilians nearby. Given scenarios that varied the location of the vehicle relative to an attack zone and civilian complexes such as hospitals and residential buildings, the algorithms decided when it would be permissible for the autonomous vehicle to accomplish its mission.

The entire article is here.

The Logic of Effective Altruism

By Peter Singer
Boston Review
Originally posted July 6, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most good we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those of us who have the good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families and still have money or time to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living a fully ethical life involves doing the most good we can.

Most effective altruists are millennials—members of the first generation to have come of age in the new millennium. They are pragmatic realists, not saints, so very few claim to live a fully ethical life. Most of them are somewhere on the continuum between a minimally acceptable ethical life and a fully ethical life. That doesn’t mean they go about feeling guilty because they are not morally perfect. Effective altruists don’t see a lot of point in feeling guilty. They prefer to focus on the good they are doing. Some of them are content to know they are doing something significant to make the world a better place. Many of them like to challenge themselves to do a little better this year than last year.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Parkinson’s and depression drugs can alter moral judgment

By Hannah Devlin
The Guardian
Originally posted July 2, 2015

Common drugs for depression and Parkinson’s can sway people’s moral judgments about harming others, according to research that raises ethical questions about the use of the drugs.

The study found that when healthy people were given a one-off dose of a serotonin-boosting drug widely used to treat depression they became more protective of others, paying almost twice as much to prevent them receiving an electric shock in a laboratory experiment. They also became more reluctant to expose themselves to pain.

The scientists also found that the dopamine-enhancing Parkinson’s drug, levodopa, made healthy people more selfish, wiping out the normal tendency to prefer to receive an electric shock themselves, while sparing those around them.

The entire article is here.

Dopamine Modulates Egalitarian Behavior in Humans

Ignacio Sáez, Lusha Zhu, Eric Set, Andrew Kayser, Ming Hsu
Current Biology (2015) March, Volume 25, Issue 7, p. 912–919

Summary

Egalitarian motives form a powerful force in promoting prosocial behavior and enabling large-scale cooperation in the human species. At the neural level, there is substantial, albeit correlational, evidence suggesting a link between dopamine and such behavior. However, important questions remain about the specific role of dopamine in setting or modulating behavioral sensitivity to prosocial concerns. Here, using a combination of pharmacological tools and economic games, we provide critical evidence for a causal involvement of dopamine in human egalitarian tendencies. Specifically, using the brain penetrant catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) inhibitor tolcapone, we investigated the causal relationship between dopaminergic mechanisms and two prosocial concerns at the core of a number of widely used economic games: (1) the extent to which individuals directly value the material payoffs of others, i.e., generosity, and (2) the extent to which they are averse to differences between their own payoffs and those of others, i.e., inequity. We found that dopaminergic augmentation via COMT inhibition increased egalitarian tendencies in participants who played an extended version of the dictator game. Strikingly, computational modeling of choice behavior revealed that tolcapone exerted selective effects on inequity aversion, and not on other computational components such as the extent to which individuals directly value the material payoffs of others. Together, these data shed light on the causal relationship between neurochemical systems and human prosocial behavior and have potential implications for our understanding of the complex array of social impairments accompanying neuropsychiatric disorders involving dopaminergic dysregulation.

The entire article is here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Episode 23: Ethics and Skills for Psychologist as Supervisor-Post-Doctoral Supervision - Part 3

Podcasts 21, 22, and 23 will provide supervisors and supervisees with an understanding of the skills and ethical issues surrounding supervision, including the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology’s Regulations dealing with postdoctoral supervision. The workshop will review the basic requirements for ethical supervision, common pitfalls, and give supervisors an understanding of the requirements that must be met for obtaining post-doctoral supervision.

In this episode, John's guest is Don McAleer, Psy.D., ABPP, a psychologist and post-doctoral supervisor, and Samuel J. Knapp, Ed.D., ABPP, psychologist and Professional Affairs Officer at the Pennsylvania Psychological Association.

At the end of the podcast series the participants will be able to:

1.  Describe essential factors involved in ethically sound and effective supervision;
2.  List or identify the State Board of Psychology requirements for post-doctoral supervision.
3.  Explain ways to improve supervisee's level of competence, self-reflection, and professionalism; &
4.  Identify strategies to comply with the Pennsylvania State Board of Psychology regulations on supervision of post-doctoral trainees.




The associated SlideShare presentation can be found here.






Sunday, July 26, 2015

Empathy, Is It All It's Cracked Up to Be?

The Aspen Institute
Speakers: Paul Bloom and Richard J. Davidson
Published July 3, 2015

Empathy is typically seen as wonderful, central to cooperation, caring, and morality. We want to have empathic parents, children, spouses and friends; we want to train those in the helping professions to expand their empathy, and we certainly want to elect empathic politicians and policy makers. But empathy has certain troubling features, and questions have begun to arise about just how useful empathy really is and how it might be different from related capacities such as compassion.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Economic Games and Social Neuroscience Methods Can Help Elucidate The Psychology of Parochial Altruism

Everett Jim A.C., Faber Nadira S., Crockett Molly J, De Dreu Carsten K W
Opinion Article
Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00861

The success of Homo sapiens can in large part be attributed to their highly social nature, and particularly their ability to live and work together in extended social groups. Throughout history, humans have undergone sacrifices to both advance and defend the interests of fellow group members against non-group members. Intrigued by this, researchers from multiple disciplines have attempted to explain the psychological origins and processes of parochial altruism: the well-documented tendency for increased cooperation and prosocial behavior within the boundaries of a group (akin to ingroup love, and ingroup favoritism), and second, the propensity to reject, derogate, and even harm outgroup members (akin to ‘outgroup hate’, e.g. Brewer, 1999; Choi & Bowles, 2007; De Dreu, Balliet, & Halevy, 2014, Hewstone, Rubin, & Willis, 2002; Rusch, 2014; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Befitting its centrality to a wide range of human social endeavors, parochial altruism is manifested in a large variety of contexts that may differ psychologically. Sometimes, group members help others to achieve a positive outcome (e.g. gain money); and sometimes group members help others avoid a negative outcome (e.g. avoid being robbed). Sometimes, group members conflict over a new resource (e.g. status; money; land) that is currently ‘unclaimed’; and sometimes they conflict over a resource that is already held by one group.

The entire article is here.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The ethics of multiple relationships: a clinical perspective

By Stephen Behnke
The Monitor on Psychology
July/August 2015, Vol 46, No. 7
Print version: page 84

APA members contact the Ethics Office on a daily basis to discuss the ethical aspects of their work. Receiving these calls is both interesting and gratifying, and educates the office about how psychologists across the country frame the ethical questions they encounter. One of the most frequent topics is multiple relationships. During the Ethics Code revision process that ended in 2002, the Ethics Code revision task force made clear that not all multiple relationships are unethical. The task force wrote a test for determining when a psychologist should refrain from entering a multiple relationship:

A psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist's objectivity, competence or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists.

The language of ethical standard 3.05 requires the psychologist to determine when a particular relationship would impair the psychologist's objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in doing the work of a psychologist, or would otherwise risk exploitation or harm. The standard thus illustrates clinically driven ethics.

The entire article is here.

Use of force: the American public and the ethics of war

By Scott D. Sagan and Benjamin A. Valentino
Opendemocracy.net
Originally published July 2, 2015

The philosophical and legal doctrine known collectively as “just war theory” has been the prime focus of scholarly debate about the ethics of war in the West for hundreds of years. It also provides the basis for most extant international humanitarian law governing the conduct of war and has directly influenced the US military’s official targeting doctrine.

But to what extent are the American public’s views on the use of force consistent with just war doctrine’s ethical principles? Understanding the extent to which the public has internalized these principles provides insights into how warfare is likely to be practiced in the real world because, at least in democratic states, the public exerts an important influence over government policies.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Healing a Wounded Sense of Morality

Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.

By Maggie Puniewska
The Atlantic
Originally published July 3, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Identifying moral injury can be tricky for two reasons: First, it’s easily mistaken for PTSD, which shares many of the same symptoms. And second, because veterans may feel too ashamed to talk about their moral infractions, therapists might not even know to look for the signs of moral injury at all, says Joseph Currier, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of South Alabama. To help therapists better understand how to diagnose the condition, he and several colleagues have developed a 20-item questionnaire that screens patients for moral injury, asking patients to rate their agreement with statements like “I did things in war that betrayed my personal values” and “I made mistakes in the war zone that led to injury and death.”

(cut)

But healing isn’t just confined to the individual. Emotions that guide morality, Currier explains, are rooted in social relationships:  “The function of guilt is to reconcile a potentially damaged social bond, whereas with shame, the reaction is to withdraw so the social group can preserve its identity,” he says.   For many veterans, therefore, recovery from moral injury depends in part on the civilian communities to which they return. “A part of feeling betrayed or distrusted or guilty by the practices of war is feeling alienated. It’s feeling like you can’t share your experiences because people will judge you or won’t understand,” Sherman says.

The entire article is here.

Common medications sway moral judgment

By Kelly Servick
Science Magazine
Originally published July 2, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The researchers could then calculate the “exchange rate between money and pain”—how much extra cash a person must be paid to accept one additional shock. In previous research, Crockett’s team learned that the exchange rate varies depending on who gets hurt. On average, people are more reluctant to profit from someone else’s pain than their own—a phenomenon the researchers call “hyperaltruism.”

In the new study, the scientists tested whether drugs can shift that pain-to-money exchange rate. A few hours before the test, they gave the subjects either a placebo pill or one of two drugs: the serotonin-enhancing antidepressant drug citalopram or the Parkinson’s treatment levodopa, which increases dopamine levels.

On average, people receiving the placebo were willing to forfeit about 55 cents per shock to avoid harming themselves, and 69 cents to avoid harming others. Those amounts nearly doubled in people who took citalopram: They were generally more averse to causing harm, but still preferred profiting from their own pain over another’s, Crockett’s team reports online today in Current Biology. Levodopa had a different effect: It seemed to make people just as willing to shock others as themselves for profit.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bias Blind Spot: Structure, Measurement, and Consequences

Irene Scopelliti, Carey K. Morewedge, Erin McCormick, H. Lauren Min, Sophie Lebrecht, Karim S. Kassam (2015)
Bias Blind Spot: Structure, Measurement, and Consequences. Management Science
Published online in Articles in Advance 24 Apr 2015
http://dx.doi.org/10.1287/mnsc.2014.2096

Abstract

People exhibit a bias blind spot: they are less likely to detect bias in themselves than in others. We report the development and validation of an instrument to measure individual differences in the propensity to exhibit the bias blind spot that is unidimensional, internally consistent, has high test-retest reliability, and is discriminated from measures of intelligence, decision-making ability, and personality traits related to self-esteem, self-enhancement, and self-presentation. The scale is predictive of the extent to which people judge their abilities to be better than average for easy tasks and worse than average for difficult tasks, ignore the advice of others, and are responsive to an intervention designed to mitigate a different judgmental bias. These results suggest that the bias blind spot is a distinct metabias resulting from naïve realism rather than other forms of egocentric
cognition, and has unique effects on judgment and behavior.

The entire article is here.

Researchers Find Everyone Has a Bias Blindspot

By Shilo Rea
Carnegie Mellon University
Originally published June 8, 2015

Here are two excerpt:

The most telling finding was that everyone is affected by blind spot bias — only one adult out of 661 said that he/she is more biased than the average person. However, they did find that the participants varied in the degree in which they thought they were less biased than others. This was true irrespective of whether they were actually unbiased or biased in their decision-making.

(cut)

“People seem to have no idea how biased they are. Whether a good decision-maker or a bad one, everyone thinks that they are less biased than their peers,” said Carey Morewedge, associate professor of marketing at Boston University. “This susceptibility to the bias blind spot appears to be pervasive, and is unrelated to people’s intelligence, self-esteem, and actual ability to make unbiased judgments and decisions.”

They also found that people with a high bias blind spot are those most likely to ignore the advice of peers or experts, and are least likely to learn from de-biasing training that could improve the quality of their decisions.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Euthanasia cases more than double in northern Belgium

By Raf Casert
Associated Press
Originally published March 17, 2015

Almost one in 20 people in northern Belgium died using euthanasia in 2013, more than doubling the numbers in six years, a study released Tuesday showed.

The universities of Ghent and Brussels found that since euthanasia was legalized in 2002, the acceptance of ending a life at the patient’s request has greatly increased. While a 2007 survey showed only 1.9 percent of deaths from euthanasia in the region, the figure was 4.6 percent in 2013.

The entire article is here.

The ethics of self-driving car collisions

By Sarah Barth
Road.cc
Originally published June 28, 2015

In an unavoidable collision involving a robotic driverless car, who should die? That’s the ethical question being pondered by automobile companies as they develop the new generation of cars.

Stanford University researchers are helping the industry to devise a new ethical code for life-and-death scenarios.

According to Autonews, Dieter Zetsche, the CEO of Daimler AG, asked at a conference: “if an accident is really unavoidable, when the only choice is a collision with a small car or a large truck, driving into a ditch or into a wall, or to risk sideswiping the mother with a stroller or the 80-year-old grandparent. These open questions are industry issues, and we have to solve them in a joint effort.”

The entire article is here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Aging doctors prompt call for competency tests at AMA meeting

By Chicago Tribune Writers
Originally published June 8, 2015

Should old doctors be forced to retire?

That question is the focus of a new report by an American Medical Association council that says doctors themselves should help decide when one of their own needs to stop working.

Unlike U.S. pilots, military personnel and a few other professions where mistakes can be deadly, doctors have no mandatory retirement age. All doctors must meet state licensing requirements, and some hospitals require age-based screening. But there are no national mandates or guidelines on how to make sure older physicians can still do their jobs safely.

It's time to change that, the report suggests, noting that the number of U.S. physicians aged 65 and older has quadrupled since 1975 and now numbers 240,000 — one-fourth of all U.S. doctors — although not all still see patients.

The entire article is here.

Can you teach people to have empathy?

By Roman Krznaric
BBC News
Originally posted June 30, 2015

Empathy is a quality that is integral to most people's lives - and yet the modern world makes it easy to lose sight of the feelings of others. But almost everyone can learn to develop this crucial personality trait, says Roman Krznaric.

Open Harper Lee's classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird and one line will jump out at you: "You never really understand another person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

Human beings are naturally primed to embrace this message. According to the latest neuroscience research, 98% of people (the exceptions include those with psychopathic tendencies) have the ability to empathise wired into their brains - an in-built capacity for stepping into the shoes of others and understanding their feelings and perspectives.

The problem is that most don't tap into their full empathic potential in everyday life.

The entire article is here.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Healing Moral Wounds of War

Religion and Ethics News Weekly
PBS
Originally posted June 26, 2015

In her book Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers, Georgetown University philosophy professor Nancy Sherman argues that many of the 2.6 million U.S. service members returning from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from complex moral injuries that are more than post-traumatic stress and that have to do with feelings of guilt, anger, and “the shame of falling short of your lofty military ideals.” Citizens have “a sacred obligation,” says Sherman, to morally engage with those who have fought in our name and who feel moral responsibility for traumatic incidents they experienced. Managing editor Kim Lawton interviews Sherman about the moral aftermath of war and visits a former Marine and his wife to talk about the healing that comes through listening, trust, hope, and moral understanding.


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Are You Morally Modified?: The Moral Effects of Widely Used Pharmaceuticals.

Levy N, Douglas T, Kahane G, Terbeck S, Cowen PJ, Hewstone M, Savulescu J.
Philos Psychiatr Psychol. 2014 Jun 1;21(2):111-125.

Abstract

A number of concerns have been raised about the possible future use of pharmaceuticals designed to enhance cognitive, affective, and motivational processes, particularly where the aim is to produce morally better decisions or behavior. In this article, we draw attention to what is arguably a more worrying possibility: that pharmaceuticals currently in widespread therapeutic use are already having unintended effects on these processes, and thus on moral decision making and morally significant behavior. We review current evidence on the moral effects of three widely used drugs or drug types: (i) propranolol, (ii) selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, and (iii) drugs that effect oxytocin physiology. This evidence suggests that the alterations to moral decision making and behavior caused by these agents may have important and difficult-to-evaluate consequences, at least at the population level. We argue that the moral effects of these and other widely used pharmaceuticals warrant further empirical research and ethical analysis.

The entire article is here.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Smithsonian to improve ethics policies

By Brett Zongker
Associated Press
Originally pressed June 26, 2015

After revelations that a scientist failed to disclose his funding sources for climate change research, the Smithsonian Institution said Friday it is improving its ethics and disclosure policies to avoid conflicts of interest.

The museum and research complex said it is prepared to take immediate action after a review of its policies by Rita Colwell, the former director of the National Science Foundation. Smithsonian officials initiated the external review after recent allegations that scientist Wei-Hock Soon did not disclose conflicts of interest in his research funding. A Smithsonian team also conducted an internal review.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Can a Longtime Fraud Help Fix Science?

Diederik Stapel faked more than 50 studies in social psychology. What can we learn from his misdeeds?

By Tom Bartlett
The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 22, 2015

Diederik Stapel was once known as a clever, prolific social psychologist. The Dutch researcher’s studies on subjects like unconscious stereotyping and the effect of environment on emotion aimed to explain the strangeness of human behavior. Why do we do what we do? How can a deeper understanding of our motivations lead to a better, more humane world?

Now Stapel is known for perpetrating one of science’s most audacious frauds. Since 2011, when his fakery was first exposed, more than 50 of Stapel’s papers have been retracted. He made up data for dozens of studies he never conducted. The extent of his deceit is jaw-dropping, and his downfall felt like an indictment of the field.

I thought of Stapel recently when news broke about a heralded young political-science researcher named Michael LaCour, who had apparently faked data for a high-profile study of gay marriage. Like Stapel, he was able to fool colleagues for years. Like Stapel, his lies cast doubt on the safeguards in science.

The entire story is here.

It Pays to Be Nice

By Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
Originally published June 23, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The conclusions of Rand’s studies support corporate do-gooders. Judging by his research, you should be nice even if you don’t trust the other person. In fact, you should keep on being nice even if the other person screws you over.

In one experiment, he found that people playing an unpredictable prisoner’s-dilemma type game benefitted from being lenient—forgiving their partner for acting against them. The same holds true in the business environment, which can be similarly “noisy,” as economists say. Sometimes, when someone is trying to undermine you, they’re actually trying to undermine you. But other times, it’s just an accident. If someone doesn’t credit you for a big idea in a meeting, you can’t know if he or she just forgot, or if it was an intentional slight. According to Rand’s research, you shouldn’t, say, turn around and tattle to the boss about that person’s chronic tardiness—at least not until he or she sabotages you at least a couple more times.

“If someone did something that hurt me, and I get pissed, and I screw them over, that destroys that relationship over a mistake,” Rand said. And losing allies, especially in a cooperative environment, can be costly. In his studies, “the strategy that earns the most money is giving someone a pass and letting the person take advantage of you two or three times.”

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Approach and avoidance in moral psychology: Evidence for three distinct motivational levels

James F.M. Cornwell and E. Tory Higgins
Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 86, November 2015, Pages 139–149

Abstract

During the past two decades, the science of motivation has made major advances by going beyond just the traditional division of motivation into approaching pleasure and avoiding pain. Recently, motivation has been applied to the study of human morality, distinguishing between prescriptive (approach) morality on the one hand, and proscriptive (avoidance) morality on the other, representing a significant advance in the field. There has been some tendency, however, to subsume all moral motives under those corresponding to approach and avoidance within morality, as if one could proceed with a “one size fits all” perspective. In this paper, we argue for the unique importance of each of three different moral motive distinctions, and provide empirical evidence to support their distinctiveness. The usefulness of making these distinctions for the case of moral and ethical motivation is discussed.

Highlights

• We investigate the relations among three motivational constructs.
• We find that the three constructs are statistically independent.
• We find independent relations between the constructs and moral emotions.
• We find independent relations between the constructs and personal values.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Consciousness has less control than believed

San Francisco State University
Press Release
Originally released June 23, 2015

Consciousness -- the internal dialogue that seems to govern one's thoughts and actions -- is far less powerful than people believe, serving as a passive conduit rather than an active force that exerts control, according to a new theory proposed by an SF State researcher.

Associate Professor of Psychology Ezequiel Morsella's "Passive Frame Theory" suggests that the conscious mind is like an interpreter helping speakers of different languages communicate.

"The interpreter presents the information but is not the one making any arguments or acting upon the knowledge that is shared," Morsella said. "Similarly, the information we perceive in our consciousness is not created by conscious processes, nor is it reacted to by conscious processes. Consciousness is the middle-man, and it doesn't do as much work as you think."

Morsella and his coauthors' groundbreaking theory, published online on June 22 by the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences, contradicts intuitive beliefs about human consciousness and the notion of self.

The entire pressor is here.

‘Ethical responsibility’ or ‘a whole can of worms’

Differences in opinion on incidental finding review and disclosure in neuroimaging research from focus group discussions with participants, parents, IRB members, investigators, physicians and community members

Caitlin Cole, Linda E Petree, John P Phillips, Jody M Shoemaker, Mark Holdsworth, Deborah L Helitzer
J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2014-102552

Abstract
Purpose 
To identify the specific needs, preferences and expectations of the stakeholders impacted by returning neuroimaging incidental findings to research participants.

Methods
Six key stakeholder groups were identified to participate in focus group discussions at our active neuroimaging research facility: Participants, Parents of child participants, Investigators, Institutional Review Board (IRB) Members, Physicians and Community Members. A total of 151 subjects attended these discussions. Transcripts were analysed using principles of Grounded Theory and group consensus coding.

Results 
A series of similar and divergent themes were identified across our subject groups. Similarities included beliefs that it is ethical for researchers to disclose incidental findings as it grants certain health and emotional benefits to participants. All stakeholders also recognised the potential psychological and financial risks to disclosure. Divergent perspectives elucidated consistent differences between our ‘Participant’ subjects (Participants, Parents, Community Members) and our ‘Professional’ subjects (IRB Members, Investigators and Physicians). Key differences included (1) what results should be reported, (2) participants’ autonomous right to research information and (3) the perception of the risk–benefit ratio in managing results.

Conclusions 
Understanding the perceived impact on all stakeholders involved in the process of disclosing incidental findings is necessary to determine appropriate research management policy. Our data further demonstrate the challenge of this task as different stakeholders evaluate the balance between risk and benefit related to their unique positions in this process. These findings offer some of the first qualitative insight into the expectations of the diverse stakeholders affected by incidental finding disclosure.

The entire article is here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Chimpanzees can tell right from wrong

By Richard Gray
Daily Mail Online
Originally published June 26, 2015

They are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, capable of using tools and solving problems much like their human cousins, but it appears chimpanzees also share our sense of morality too.
A new study of the apes reacting to an infant chimp being killed by another group has shown the animals have a strong sense of right and wrong.

The researchers found chimpanzees reacted to videos showing the violent scenes in a similar way to humans.

The entire article is here.

How national security gave birth to bioethics

By Jonathan D. Moreno
The Conversation
Originally posted June 8, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Ironically, while the experiments in Guatemala were going on in the late 1940s, three American judges were hearing the arguments in a war crimes trial in Germany. Twenty-three Nazi doctors and bureaucrats were accused of horrific experiments on people in concentration camps.

The judges decided they needed to make the rules around human experiments clear, so as part of their decision they wrote what has come to be known as the Nuremberg Code. The code states that “the voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.”

The Guatemala experiments clearly violated that code. President Obama’s commission found that the US public health officials knew what they were doing was unethical, so they kept it quiet. Years later, one of those doctors had a key role in the infamous syphilis experiments in Tuskegee, Alabama that studied the progression of untreated syphilis. None of the 600 men enrolled in the experiments was told if he had syphilis or not. No one with the disease was offered penicillin, the treatment of choice for syphilis. The 40-year experiment finally ended in 1972.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Please, Corporations, Experiment on Us

By Michelle N. Meyer and Christopher Chabris
The New York Times - Sunday Review
Originally posted June 19, 2015

Can it ever be ethical for companies or governments to experiment on their employees, customers or citizens without their consent?

The conventional answer — of course not! — animated public outrage last year after Facebook published a study in which it manipulated how much emotional content more than half a million of its users saw. Similar indignation followed the revelation by the dating site OkCupid that, as an experiment, it briefly told some pairs of users that they were good matches when its algorithm had predicted otherwise.

But this outrage is misguided. Indeed, we believe that it is based on a kind of moral illusion.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Report to the Special Committee of the Board of Directors of the American Psychlogical Association

David H. Hoffman, Esq.
Danielle J. Carter, Esq.
Cara R. Viglucci Lopez, Esq.
Heather L. Benzmiller, Esq.
Ava X. Guo, Esq.
S. Yasir Latifi, Esq.
Daniel C. Craig, Esq.
SIDLEY AUSTIN LLP

July 2, 2015

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

I. INTRODUCTION

In November 2014, the Board of Directors of the American Psychological Association engaged our Firm to conduct an independent review of allegations that had been made regarding APA’s issuance of ethical guidelines in 2002 and 2005, and related actions. These ethical guidelines determined whether and under what circumstances psychologists who were APA members could ethically participate in national security interrogations.

The gist of the allegations was that APA made these ethics policy decisions as a substantial result of influence from and close relationships with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other government entities, which purportedly wanted permissive ethical guidelines so that their psychologists could continue to participate in harsh and abusive interrogation techniques being used by these agencies after the September 11 attacks on the United States. Critics pointed to alleged procedural irregularities and suspicious outcomes regarding APA’s ethics policy decisions and said they resulted from this improper coordination, collaboration, or collusion. Some said APA’s decisions were intentionally made to assist the government in engaging in these “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Some said they were intentionally made to help the government commit torture.

The entire report is here.

Does Brain Difference Affect Legal and Moral Responsibility?

HMS Center for Bioethics
Published on May 12, 2015

Brains create behavior. Yet we hold people, not brains, morally and legally responsible for their actions. Under what conditions could -- or should -- brain disorder affect the ways in which we assign moral and legal responsibility to a person?

In this conversation among a neuroscientist who studies moral judgement, a forensic psychiatrist, and a law professor, we explore three cases that highlight the relationship between brain disorder, law-breaking, and norms relating to responsibility.

Each case raises challenging questions: Can we establish whether the brain disorder caused the law-breaking behavior? Even if we can, is the presence of brain disorder morally or legally excusing? All behavior is caused: Why should some causes be excusing, but not others? If brain disorder can cause unlawful behavior, can we infer the reverse -- that people who behave unlawfully have disordered brains? Check out this provocative discussion on the state of the art at the intersection of neuroethics, brain science, philosophy, and the law.

 

Panel:

Dr. Fiery Cushman, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University. From 2011-2014 he served as a post-doctoral fellow in moral psychology, funded by the Mind, Brain and Behavior Initiative at Harvard University.

Dr. Judith Edersheim, MD, JD, is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Center for Law, Brain and Behavior, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and an attending Psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Amanda Pustilnik, JD, is the Senior Fellow in Law & Applied Neuroscience at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, a faculty member of the Center for Law, Brain, and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an assistant professor of law at the University of Maryland School of Law.

Friday, July 10, 2015

White Coat

By Nancy Etcoff
Harvard Design Magazine
No. 40

Here is an excerpt:

Others wonder if the white coat is out of step in a culture of informality, and should be abandoned like the wigs of court dress in the United Kingdom—a topic of ongoing contention. Symbols of power and authority make people nervous, causing their blood pressure to rise (“white coat syndrome”) and their thoughts to shut down. Doctors seek compliance and trust. Today, they are taught to read emotional signals and are given empathy training. They no longer want to be intimidating authorities issuing orders, but providers offering services to clients. Fittingly, some are now wearing business attire.

But if some doctors are shedding the white coat, people in other professions are eager to put them on. They are showing up on different sorts of body experts, those found at cosmetic counters, spas, and salons, who are eager to align themselves with symbols of power and authority, and with the aura of objectivity, truth, and service.

The entire article is here.

Against a singular understanding of legal capacity: Criminal responsibility and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

By Jullian Craigie
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry
Volume 40, May–June 2015, Pages 6–14

Abstract

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) is being used to argue for wider recognition of the legal capacity of people with mental disabilities. This raises a question about the implications of the Convention for attributions of criminal responsibility. The present paper works towards an answer by analysing the relationship between legal capacity in relation to personal decisions and criminal acts. Its central argument is that because moral and political considerations play an essential role in setting the relevant standards, legal capacity in the context of personal decisions and criminal acts should not be thought of as two sides of the same coin. The implications of particular moral or political norms are likely to be different in these two legal contexts, and this may justify asymmetries in the relevant standards for legal capacity. However, the analysis highlights a fundamental question about how much weight moral or political considerations should be given in setting these standards, and this is used to frame a challenge to those calling for significantly wider recognition of the legal capacity of people with mental disabilities on the basis of the Convention.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Making Sex Offenders Pay — and Pay and Pay and Pay:

By Stephen J. Dubner
Freakonomics Podcast
Originally published June 10, 2015

The gist of this episode: Sure, sex crimes are horrific, and the perpetrators deserve to be punished harshly. But society keeps exacting costs — out-of-pocket and otherwise — long after the prison sentence has been served.




The podcast page is here.

“Soft” vs. “Hard” Psychological Science in the Courtroom

By Geoffrey D. Munro and Cynthia A. Munro
The Jury Expert
Originally published May 31, 2015

Background

The terms "soft science" and "hard science"are commonly applied to different scientific disciplines, and scientists have investigated and theorized about features that apply when placing scientific disciplines on a soft-hard continuum (e.g., Simonton, 2004, 2006, 2009). In the minds of laypeople, however, the difference may lie in the more simple perceptions of different scientific disciplines. The very words themselves, “soft” and “hard”, may hint at different reputations. Soft sciences are fuzzy and less rigid, suggesting lower reliability, validity, and rigor than hard sciences possess.

Psychological science includes research that is usually considered to be on the softer side of the continuum (e.g., behavioral science) as well as research that is usually considered to be on the harder side (e.g., neuroscience). However, the name “psychology” appears to elicit less respect from the general public than many other sciences. Survey data show that psychology was judged to be less important than disciplines like biology, chemistry, economics, medicine, and physics by both a random sample of adults as well as by full-time university faculty (Janda, England, Lovejoy, & Drury, 1998).

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How could they?

By Tage Rai
Aeon Magazine
Originally published June 18, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

It would be easier to live in a world where perpetrators believe that violence is wrong and engage in it anyway. That is not the world we live in. While our refusal to acknowledge this basic fact may have helped to orient our own moral compass, it has also stood in the way of interventions that might actually reduce harm. Let’s put aside the philosophical questions that arise once we accept that there is moral disagreement about violence. How does the message that violence is morally motivated aid our efforts to reduce it?

For years, we have been trying to reduce crime by enacting mass incarceration, by placing restrictions on the mentally ill, and by teaching potential perpetrators how to exercise more self-control. On the face of it, these all sound like plausible strategies. But all of them miss their target.

One of the most robust findings in criminology is that increasing the severity of punishment has little deterrent effect. People simply aren’t as sensitive to the potential costs of crime as the rational-choice model predicts they should be, and so efforts to reduce it by cracking down have failed to justify the immense fiscal and social costs of mass incarceration. Meanwhile, because most violent crimes are committed by psychologically healthy individuals, legislation that focuses on the mentally ill – for example, by stopping them from buying guns – would lead to only a small reduction.

The entire article is here.

Prostitution, Harm, and Disability: Should Only People with Disabilities be Allowed to Pay for Sex?

By Brian D. Earp
BMJ Blogs
Originally posted June 17, 2015

Introduction

Is prostitution harmful? And if it is harmful, should it be illegal to buy (or sell) sexual services? And if so, should there ever be any exceptions? What about for people with certain disabilities—say—who might find it difficult or even impossible to find a sexual partner if they weren’t allowed to exchange money for sex? Do people have a “right” to sexual fulfillment?

In a recent issue of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Frej Klem Thomsen[1] explores these and other controversial questions. His focus is on the issue of exceptions—specifically for those with certain disabilities. According to Thomsen, a person is “relevantly disabled” (for the sake of this discussion) if and only if:

(1) she has sexual needs, and desires to exercise her sexuality, and

(2) she has an anomalous physical or mental condition that, given her social circumstances, sufficiently limits her possibilities of exercising her sexuality, including fulfilling her sexual needs. (p. 455)

There is a lot to say here.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Guns, suicide prevention, and backwoods lifestyles

By Massad Ayoob
Backwoods Home Magazine
Originally published June 2015

Things to look for

Don't expect the warning signal to be as obvious as "Hey, I need a gun ... and one cartridge." When someone known to you as a non-gun owner asks to borrow a gun, quiz them as to why. Don't make it an accusing "Whaddaya want a deadly weapon for?" Instead, say something like, "Well, guns are tools. If you asked to borrow one of my tools, I'd ask you if you're going to cut boards or pound nails, because that would help me to decide whether to lend you a saw or a hammer. Different guns are for shooting different things. What do you need to shoot?" And take it from there.

An answer like, "I just need a gun!" is a red flag. More questioning — and analysis of answers — is indicated. In the NHFSC program, gun dealers are taught to ask, "Do you have a cleaning kit?" A "yes" answer is fairly copacetic. The cryptic "I won't be needing that" may be another red flag.

If a neighbor asked to borrow a chainsaw or your backhoe or something in between, one of your first questions would be, "How experienced are you with that equipment?" If the answer was anything from "It doesn't matter" to "None of your business," I doubt you'd be lending them that gear. The same must be true with a firearm! If the person requesting is someone you know or suspect has little or no knowledge of firearms operation and safety, invite them to a firearms safety session. If the answer is anything like "I don't need it" or "I don't have time for that," another red warning flag is flying.

You, the friend/relative/neighbor, have an advantage the person behind the gun shop counter does not: You know this person. Apply that knowledge to their request for a gun.

Have they been depressed lately? Gravely ill? Suffered the loss of a loved one, or a crushing economic reverse? Have they been recently dumped by a lover or spouse? I put the latter in italics for two reasons: It seems to be a particular trigger for the departure-from-life impulse, and it's associated with not just intent to commit suicide, but sometimes, intent to commit murder as well. All of these can be red flags.

When someone you know asks to borrow a lethal weapon, and it seems out of character for them to do so, be particularly alert for signs of "departure ritual." The person who has committed herself to leaving life behind will often put her affairs in order. The person who has been chronically tardy in paying bills suddenly brings all accounts up to date, for example. Conversely, in one case I worked, the individual burned all his bills in a ritual bonfire the night before he committed "suicide by cop," attacking police with a weapon and forcing a sergeant to shoot him to death.

The entire blog post is here.

Massad participated in an Ethics and Psychology podcast that can be found here.

Free Will Skepticism and Its Implications: An Argument for Optimism

By Gregg Caruso
For Free Will Skepticism in Law and Society, ed. Elizabeth Shaw & Derk Pereboom

Here is an excerpt:

     What, then, would be the consequence of accepting free will skepticism? What if we came to disbelieve in free will and moral responsibility? What would this mean for our interpersonal relationships, society, morality, meaning, and the law? What would it do to our standing as human beings? Would it cause nihilism and despair as some maintain? Or perhaps increase anti-social behavior as some recent studies have suggested (Vohs and Schooler 2008; Baumeister, Masicampo, and DeWall 2009)? Or would it rather have a humanizing effect on our  practices and policies, freeing us from the negative effects of free will belief? These questions are of profound pragmatic importance and should be of interest independent of the metaphysical debate over free will. As public proclamations of skepticism continue to rise, and as the mass media continues to run headlines announcing "Free will is an illusion" and "Scientists say free will probably doesn't exist,"we need to ask what effects this will have on the general public and what the responsibility is of professionals.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Brain implant trials raise ethical concerns

By Emily Underwood
Science Magazine
Originally published June 11, 2015

In recent decades, investigators have developed therapies for depression, Parkinson's disease, deafness, and other conditions that rely on electrodes sending signals into the brain. But moving from laboratory experiments to the clinic has been difficult. Last week, in a workshop at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, researchers focused on ways to remove some of the obstacles to developing new therapies using invasive neuromodulating devices, as well as the ethical and practical issues such devices raise. Two new rounds of grants from President Barack Obama's Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative this summer aim to bridge the gap between promising preclinical studies with invasive brain devices and large human trials.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Welcoming the Concept of Alief to Medical Ethics

By J.S. Blumenthal-Barby
bioethics.net
Originally published June 15, 2015

Philosopher Tamar Gendler has introduced (circa 2008) a new concept in the philosophical literature that could be of interest to medical ethicists. The concept is that of ‘alief’ and it is meant to contrast with the concept of ‘belief.’ An example Gendler discusses to tease out the difference between the two concepts is the example of a woman who believes African American and Caucasian people to be of equal intelligence, yet in her behavioral responses it seems as if she believes differently (e.g., she is more surprised when an African American student of hers makes an intelligent comment than she is when a Caucasian student does, she more quickly associates intelligence with her Caucasian students, when grading exams she might grade the same quality exam differently if written by an African American student than a Caucasian student, etc.). In other words, if you ask her explicitly, she says she believes P (in this case, P is “all races are of equal intelligence”), and she says it sincerely. But, you might think from the outside that she believes ~P (in this case, “all races are not of equal intelligence”). You might be tempted to say that she does not really believe P. What Gendler wants to say is that this woman does believe P, but that she has an ‘alief’ that is in tension with her belief of P (she has a “belief discordant alief”). The content of this alief is a set of associations that get activated (usually from habit) and show themselves in behavioral responses. Another example Gendler discusses is a glass walkway over the Grand Canyon. When walking across, a person may believe that the walkway is completely safe, but alieve something very different. The content of the alief is: ““Really high up, long long way down. Not a safe place to be! Get off!!”” While beliefs change in response to evidence, aliefs might not (they change in response to habits or affective associations).

The entire blog post is here.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Death Treatment

When should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die?

By Rachel Aviv
The New Yorker
Originally published June 22, 2015

Belgium was the second country in the world, after the Netherlands, to decriminalize euthanasia; it was followed by Luxembourg, in 2009, and, this year, by Canada and Colombia. Switzerland has allowed assisted suicide since 1942. The United States Supreme Court has recognized that citizens have legitimate concerns about prolonged deaths in institutional settings, but in 1997 it ruled that death is not a constitutionally protected right, leaving questions about assisted suicide to be resolved by each state. Within months of the ruling, Oregon passed a law that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs for patients who have less than six months to live. In 2008, Washington adopted a similar law; Montana decriminalized assisted suicide the year after; and Vermont legalized it in 2013.

The right-to-die movement has gained momentum at a time of anxiety about the graying of the population; people who are older than sixty-five represent the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, Canada, and much of Europe. But the laws seem to be motivated less by the desires of the elderly than by the concerns of a younger generation, whose members derive comfort from the knowledge that they can control the end of their lives.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

What happened when Portugal decriminalised drugs

The Economist
Originally published June 11, 2015

Economist Films: For 20 years The Economist has led calls for a rethink on drug prohibition. This film looks at new approaches to drugs policy, from Portugal to Colorado. “Drugs: War or Store?” kicks off our new “Global Compass” series, examining novel approaches to policy problems.

Economist Films is a new venture that expresses The Economist’s globally curious outlook in the form of short, mind-stretching documentaries.


Friday, July 3, 2015

AMA is finally taking a stand on quacks like Dr. Oz

By Julia Belluz
Vox.com
Originally posted June 13, 2015

Medical students and residents frustrated with bogus advice from doctors on TV have, for more than a year, been asking the American Medical Association to clamp down and "defend the integrity of the profession."

Now the AMA is finally taking a stand on quack MDs who spread pseudoscience in the media.

"This is a turning point where the AMA is willing to go out in public and actively defend the profession," Benjamin Mazer, a medical student at the University of Rochester who was involved in crafting the resolution, said. "This is one of the most proactive steps that the AMA has taken [on mass media issues]."

The entire story is here.

The rise of cognitive enhancers is a mass social experiment

By Emma A. Jane and Nicole A. Vincent
The Conversation
Originally posted June 15, 2015

Want to sign up for a massive human experiment? Too late. You’re already a lab rat. There was no ethics approval or informed consent. You weren’t asked, you never signed up, and now there’s no easy way to opt out.

We don’t want to be alarmist. We’re not suggesting you’re about to sprout wings, grow coarse hairs in surprising places and become a gruesome half-insect like the Brundlefly (the side effects of real life scientific experiments rarely impress like the special effects in David Cronenberg’s film The Fly).

But we do know not everyone wants to be a human lab rat. And yet we are all currently enrolled in a massive experiment involving cognitive enhancers.

(cut)

But what drugs, what devices? Well, take this guy, for instance, pumping electricity through his brain with a homegrown transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) device that emits a current so small it can run off a nine-volt battery. Or Elizabeth, the 20-something founder of a start-up who takes Adderall – a medication prescribed to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – except she doesn’t have ADHD.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

CIA torture appears to have broken spy agency rule on human experimentation

By Spencer Ackerman
The Guardian
Originally posted June 15, 2015

The Central Intelligence Agency had explicit guidelines for “human experimentation” – before, during and after its post-9/11 torture of terrorism detainees – that raise new questions about the limits on the agency’s in-house and contracted medical research.

Sections of a previously classified CIA document, made public by the Guardian on Monday, empower the agency’s director to “approve, modify, or disapprove all proposals pertaining to human subject research”. The leeway provides the director, who has never in the agency’s history been a medical doctor, with significant influence over limitations the US government sets to preserve safe, humane and ethical procedures on people.

CIA director George Tenet approved abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, designed by CIA contractor psychologists. He further instructed the agency’s health personnel to oversee the brutal interrogations – the beginning of years of controversy, still ongoing, about US torture as a violation of medical ethics.

The entire article is here.

Flawed Humans, Flawed Justice

By Adam Benforado
The New York Times
Originally posted June 13, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Our justice system must be reconstructed upon scientific fact. We can start by acknowledging what the data says about the fundamental flaws in our current legal processes and structures.

Consider the evidence that we treat as nearly unassailable proof of guilt at trial — an unwavering eyewitness, a suspect’s signed confession or a forensic match to the crime scene.

While we charge tens of thousands of people with crimes each year after they are identified in police lineups, research shows that eyewitnesses chose an innocent person roughly one-third of the time. Our memories can fail us because we’re frightened. They can be altered by the word choice of a detective. They can be corrupted by previously seeing someone’s image on a social media site.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Schools told to end religious instruction and teach morality instead

By Richard Garner
The Independent
Originally published June 15, 2015

Religious instruction should be banned from schools and be the preserve of Sunday schools, madrassas or the home, according to proposals by the former Education Secretary Charles Clarke for a radical overhaul of religious education and the way faith schools operate.

Legislation compelling schools to hold a daily act of “predominantly Christian” worship in assemblies should also be scrapped, the Labour former frontbencher argues in a report jointly compiled with the religious education expert Professor Linda Woodhead, from Lancaster University.

In recommendations that will be studied keenly by faith and schooling experts, they argue that the emphasis should shift away from merely religious education, with pupils being taught religious and moral education instead.

The entire article is here.

The new neuroscience of genocide and mass murder

By Paul Rosenberg
Salon.org
Originally posted June 13, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

“Almost 20 years later I’m revisiting this issue in Paris,” Fried told Salon, saying several things motivated him, beginning with advances in neuroscience. “In neuroscience we’re moving more and more towards affective and social neuroscience; we are trying to address more complex social and psychological situations,” Fried said. “There has been some accumulation of knowledge in areas such as dehumanized perception, areas like theories of mind, the ability of other human beings to have a theory of mind of what is in another person’s mind—obviously this is completely obliterated in a situation of Syndrome E—and our understanding of neural mechanisms of empathy, a development which occurred over the last 10 years.” He added, “I think people are looking more at neuroscience correlations of interactions between people, so for instance the mirror neurons, the whole idea of mirror neurons, and what happens when you look at somebody else, what happens to your own brain.” He cited institutional developments as well—new organizations and journals supporting social cognitive research—all of which helped make the time ripe for a new look at Syndrome E.

But Fried also pointed to the ability to engage more robustly with criticisms across disciplinary fields. “I saw a renewed interest and ability to raise this question, because after I raised it initially there was really, some people were offended that I was giving a biological explanation to something that for them was just a bunch of scum shooting at innocent people, which it is, to some extent,” he admitted. Now, however, Fried sees a greater willingness to argue things through. “People are more attuned to the question of what is the relationship of neuroscience to the legal system, to the issue of responsibility—what is the definition of the responsible self—our sense of identity, our sense of responsibility. There are a lot of these types of questions which are raised with the development of neuroscience.”

The entire article is here.