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

Sunday, January 31, 2016

U.K. researcher details proposal for CRISPR editing of human embryos

By Erik Stokstad
Science
Originally published January 13, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In a statement about the application, Hugh Whittall, director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics in London noted: “The changes to DNA made for the purposes of this research could not themselves be used as part of a treatment procedure. There are, however, possible future scenarios in which a modification made in a research context—for example to correct a disease-causing genetic mutation—could, if this were to become permissible, be used in a treatment that would result in the birth of a child.  Such research, which could also be licensed under current legislation, would raise a number of significant questions that should be addressed before any such work is undertaken, including about whether, and under what circumstances, a move into treatment (which would require new legislation to be permissible in the U.K.) could be desirable.”

The article is here.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Epigenetics in the neoliberal 'regime of truth'

by Charles Dupras and Vardit Ravitsky
Hastings Center Report - 2015

Here is an excerpt:

In this paper, we argue that the impetus to create new biomedical interventions to manipulate and reverse epigenetic variants is likely to garner more attention than effective social and public health interventions and therefore also to garner a greater share of limited public resources. This is likely to happen, we argue, because of the current biopolitical context in  which scientific findings are translated. This contemporary neoliberal “regime of truth,” to use a term from the historian and philosopher Michel Foucault, greatly influences the ways in which knowledge is being interpreted and implemented. Building on sociologist Thomas Lemke’s Foucauldian “analytics of biopolitics” and on literature from the field of science and technology studies,  we present two sociological trends that may impede the policy transla-tion of epigenetics: molecularization and biomedicalization. These trends,  we argue, are likely to favor the clini-cal translation of epigenetics—in other words, the development of new clinical tools fostering what has been called “personalized” or “precision” medicine.

In addition, we argue that an over-emphasized clinical translation of epigenetics may further reinforce this biopolitical landscape through four processes that are closely related to neoliberal pathways of thinking: the internalization and isolation (liberal individualism) of socioenvironmental determinants of health and increased opportunities for commodification and technologicalization  (economic liberalism) of health care interventions. Hence, epigenetics may end up promoting further the mobilization of resources toward technological innovation at the expense of public health and social strategies. Our analysis therefore first presents how the current biopolitical landscape may bias scientific knowledge translation and then circles around to explain how, in return, the outcome of a biased translation of epigenetics may strengthen our contemporary neoliberal “regime of truth.”

The paper is here.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Reputation, a universal currency for human social interactions

Manfred Milinski
Philosophical Transactions B
Published 4 January 2016.
DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0100

Abstract

Decision rules of reciprocity include ‘I help those who helped me’ (direct reciprocity) and ‘I help those who have helped others’ (indirect reciprocity), i.e. I help those who have a reputation to care for others. A person's reputation is a score that members of a social group update whenever they see the person interacting or hear at best multiple gossip about the person's social interactions. Reputation is the current standing the person has gained from previous investments or refusal of investments in helping others. Is he a good guy, can I trust him or should I better avoid him as a social partner? A good reputation pays off by attracting help from others, even from strangers or members from another group, if the recipient's reputation is known. Any costly investment in others, i.e. direct help, donations to charity, investment in averting climate change, etc. increases a person's reputation. I shall argue and illustrate with examples that a person's known reputation functions like money that can be used whenever the person needs help. Whenever possible I will present tests of predictions of evolutionary theory, i.e. fitness maximizing strategies, mostly by economic experiments with humans.

The article is here.

Research suggests morality can survive without religion

By Brooks Hays
UPI
Originally posted January 13, 2016

Results from a longitudinal survey suggest morality hasn't declined with the decline of organized religion. The findings were published in the journal Politics and Religion.

"Religion has been in sharp decline in many European countries," study author Ingrid Storm, a researcher at Manchester University, said in a press release. "Each new generation is less religious than the one before, so I was interested to find out if there is any reason to expect moral decline."

Between 1981 to 2008, respondents from 48 European nations shared their attitudes toward a variety of moral and cultural transgressions.

In analyzing the responses, Storm differentiated between two types of moral offenses. The first category encompasses behavior that offends tradition or cultural norms, such as abortion or homosexuality. The second category includes crimes against the state and those harmful to others -- lying, cheating, stealing.

The article is here.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Binocularity in bioethics—and beyond

Earp, B. D., & Hauskeller, M. (in press). Binocularity in bioethics—and
beyond. American Journal of Bioethics, in press.

Abstract

Parens (2015) defends a habit of thinking he calls “binocularity,” which involves switching between analytical lenses (much as one must switch between seeing the duck vs. the rabbit in Wittgenstein’s famous example). Applying this habit of thought to a range of debates in contemporary bioethics, Parens urges us to acknowledge the ways in which our personal intuitions and biases shape our thinking about contentious moral issues. In this review of Parens’s latest book, we reflect on our own position as participants in the so-called “enhancement” debates, where a binocular approach could be especially useful. In particular, we consider the case of “love drugs,” a subject on which we have sometimes reached very different conclusions. We finish with an analogy to William James’s (1907) distinction between “tenderminded” rationalists and “tough-minded” empiricists, and draw some general lessons for improving academic discourse.

The paper is here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A cultural look at moral purity: wiping the face clean

Lee SWS, Tang H, Wan J, Mai X and Liu C
Front. Psychol. (2015) 6:577.
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00577

Abstract

Morality is associated with bodily purity in the custom of many societies. Does that imply moral purity is a universal psychological phenomenon? Empirically, it has never been examined, as all prior experimental data came from Western samples. Theoretically, we suggest the answer is not so straightforward—it depends on the kind of universality under consideration. Combining perspectives from cultural psychology and embodiment, we predict a culture-specific form of moral purification. Specifically, given East Asians' emphasis on the face as a representation of public self-image, we hypothesize that facial purification should have particularly potent moral effects in a face culture. Data show that face-cleaning (but not hands-cleaning) reduces guilt and regret most effectively against a salient East Asian cultural background. It frees East Asians from guilt-driven prosocial behavior. In the wake of their immorality, they find a face-cleaning product especially appealing and spontaneously choose to wipe their face clean. These patterns highlight both culturally variable and universal aspects of moral purification. They further suggest an organizing principle that informs the vigorous debate between embodied and amodal perspectives.

The article is here.

The History of the Euthanasia Movement

BY Anna Hiatt
JSTOR
Originally published January 6, 2016

The idea that death should be merciful is not new. When a person is gravely wounded or terminally ill, when death is inevitable, and the suffering is so great that living no longer brings any joy to the person, it is understandable that he or she may wish to die. In “Two Pioneers of Euthanasia Around 1800,” Michael Stolberg cites accounts of people pulling on the legs of those who had been hanged, but had not yet died, to hasten their deaths. He mentions also Apologie, the autobiography of a French surgeon named Ambroise Paré who happened upon three gravely wounded soldiers. An uninjured soldier asked the surgeon if they would live, to which he responded they would not. The uninjured soldier proceeded to slit their throats.

The invention and widespread use of morphine in the 19th century to treat, and then to kill, pain led to the belief that a less painful dying process was possible, Giza Lopes writes in her book Dying With Dignity: A Legal Approach to Assisted Death.

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Therapist’s Fib

By Jonathan Schiff
The New York Times
Originally published January

An old New Yorker cartoon features a man suspended upside down from the ceiling, like a stalactite. A psychiatrist explains to the wife that the first objective is to convince the man that he is a stalagmite.

Funny — but it invites a serious question: Is it ever justified for a clinician to help a client to believe in a fiction?

The brief article is here.

Note: Is it ever ethical to lie to a patient?

Will America Pass the Test of Morality in 2016?

By Marian Wright Edelman
The Milwaukee Courier
Originally posted January 9, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

We are better than this. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great German Protestant theologian who died opposing Hitler’s holocaust, believed the test of the morality of society is how it treats its children. We flunk Bonhoeffer’s test every hour and every day in America, as we let the violence of guns and the violence of poverty relentlessly sap countless child lives. A child or teenager is killed by a gun every three and a half hours, nearly 7 a day, 48 a week.

More than 15.5 million children are poor and children are the poorest age group in America – the world’s largest economy, and the younger the children are, the poorer they are. Children of color, already the majority of our youngest children, will be the majority of our children in 2020.

The article is here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Professionalism and Conflicting Interests: The American Psychological Association’s Involvement in Torture

By Nikhil A. Patel and G. David Elkin
AMA Journal of Ethics
October 2015, Volume 17, Number 10: 924-930.
doi: 10.1001/journalofethics.2015.17.10.nlit1-1510.

Here is an excerpt:

A violation of medical ethics. “Primum non nocere” (first, do no harm) is a central ethical tenet that applies to all health care professionals, including psychologists. Society trusts us to provide high-quality, ethical care to those who seek our help. While we may not be able to heal all of our patients, this principle of nonmaleficence is a pillar of bioethics that must be considered in deciding whether we are doing “right” by those under our care. As the United Nations (UN) declares: “It is a contravention of medical ethics for health personnel, particularly physicians, to be involved in any professional relationship with prisoners or detainees the purpose of which is not solely to evaluate, protect or improve their physical and mental health”. The fact that the ethics leadership at the APA ensured that the ethical guidelines would be written with the operational interests of the DoD in mind is an affront to the independence and integrity of the profession of psychology.

The guidance that psychologists should defer to legal authority in conflict with professional norms has an alarming similarity to the “Nuremberg defense,” in which doctors on trial after the horrors of the Holocaust argued that they were simply following the orders of their commanding officers and that their actions were legal at the time. An action’s being legal for citizens in general or military officers does not make it ethically acceptable for members of a healing profession.

The article is here.

Texas allows guns into state mental health hospitals

By Rick Jervis
USA TODAY
Originally published January 8, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Visitors to one of Texas' 10 state mental health hospitals will be allowed to openly carry weapons into the facilities, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Employees and patients will still be barred from bringing in weapons. The hospitals this week pulled down signs banning guns at its facilities and posted new ones asking people to leave their firearms in their cars or conceal them from patients, said Carrie Williams, a state health department spokeswoman.

“While licensed visitors are legally permitted to carry on our hospital campuses, our patients are being actively treated for psychiatric conditions and generally it’s best not to expose them to weapons of any kind.,” Williams said in statement.

The article is here.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Opponents fail to derail the state's right-to-die measure, but they may yet try again in court

By The Times Editorial Board
The Los Angeles Times
Originally posted January 7, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The group behind the referendum attempt, known as Seniors Against Suicide, says it is now contemplating a lawsuit to stop the law's implementation. The law is set to go into effect 90 days after the state Legislature concludes the still-open special session on healthcare.

We respect the law's opponents, including the Roman Catholic Church and some disability-rights advocates; they waged a passionate battle — both moral and practical — against it. But we don't share their fears. There is no evidence that a law this narrow would lead uncaring health insurers or family members to coerce sick patients to kill themselves in order to save on medical costs.

To the contrary, two decades of experience with Oregon's landmark Death with Dignity Act suggests that it will be used sparingly. In the first 17 years, just 1,327 people in Oregon requested a life-ending prescription from a doctor. More than a third of them then chose not to use the prescription.

The article is here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

That Time The United States Sterilized 60,000 Of Its Citizens

By Alexandra Minna Stern
The Huffington Post
Originally published January 7, 2016

Not too long ago, more than 60,000 people were sterilized in the United States based on eugenic laws. Most of these operations were performed before the 1960s in institutions for the so-called “mentally ill” or “mentally deficient.” In the early 20th century across the country, medical superintendents, legislators, and social reformers affiliated with an emerging eugenics movement joined forces to put sterilization laws on the books. Such legislation was motivated by crude theories of human heredity that posited the wholesale inheritance of traits associated with a panoply of feared conditions such as criminality, feeblemindedness, and sexual deviance. Many sterilization advocates viewed reproductive surgery as a necessary public health intervention that would protect society from deleterious genes and the social and economic costs of managing “degenerate stock.” From today’s vantage point, compulsory sterilization looks patently like reproductive coercion and unethical medical practice.

At the time, however, sterilization both was countenanced by the U.S. Supreme Court (in the 1927 Buck v. Bell case) and supported by many scientists, reformers, and lawmakers as one prong of a larger strategy to improve society by encouraging the reproduction of the “fit” and restricting the procreation of the “unfit.” In total, 32 U.S. states passed sterilization laws between 1907 and 1937, and surgeries reached their highest numbers in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Beginning in the 1970s, state legislatures began to repeal these laws, finding them antiquated and discriminatory, particularly towards people with disabilities.

The article is here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

'We Didn't Lie,' Volkswagen CEO Says Of Emissions Scandal

Sonari Glinton
NPR.org
Published January 11, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

NPR: You said this was a technical problem, but the American people feel this is not a technical problem, this is an ethical problem that's deep inside the company. How do you change that perception in the U.S.?

Matthias Mueller: Frankly spoken, it was a technical problem. We made a default, we had a ... not the right interpretation of the American law. And we had some targets for our technical engineers, and they solved this problem and reached targets with some software solutions which haven't been compatible to the American law. That is the thing. And the other question you mentioned — it was an ethical problem? I cannot understand why you say that.

NPR: Because Volkswagen, in the U.S., intentionally lied to EPA regulators when they asked them about the problem before it came to light.

Mueller: We didn't lie. We didn't understand the question first. And then we worked since 2014 to solve the problem. And we did it together and it was a default of VW that it needed such a long time.

The entire interview is here.

Advancing Medical Professionalism in US Military Detainee Treatment

Leonard S. Rubenstein, Scott A. Allen, Phyllis A. Guze
PLOS One
Published: January 5, 2016
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001930

Summary Points
  • The United States Department of Defense and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) promulgated policies and requirements that required health professionals to participate in the mistreatment of counter-terrorism detainees through participation in such practices as abusive interrogation and force-feeding of detainees, in violation of ethical standards established by associations representing the health professions.
  • A report of the Defense Health Board to the Secretary of Defense on military medical ethics released in 2015 found that the Department of Defense “does not have an enterprise-wide, formal, integrated infrastructure to systematically build, support, sustain, and promote an evolving ethical culture within the military health care environment.”
  • The Board also found that ethical codes promulgated by the health professions, including the duty to avoid harm, provide a sound basis for military medical practice, even taking into account the unique challenges often faced by military health professionals in reconciling the military mission with patient needs.
  • The health professional community should urge the Secretary of Defense to adopt and implement the recommendations of the Defense Health Board, rescind directives authorizing participation of health professionals in interrogation and force-feeding because they are inconsistent with professional ethics, and provide ongoing advice and support for the reform process.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Intuition, deliberation, and the evolution of cooperation

Adam Bear and David G. Rand
PNAS 2016 : 1517780113v1-201517780.

Abstract

Humans often cooperate with strangers, despite the costs involved. A long tradition of theoretical modeling has sought ultimate evolutionary explanations for this seemingly altruistic behavior. More recently, an entirely separate body of experimental work has begun to investigate cooperation’s proximate cognitive underpinnings using a dual-process framework: Is deliberative self-control necessary to reign in selfish impulses, or does self-interested deliberation restrain an intuitive desire to cooperate? Integrating these ultimate and proximate approaches, we introduce dual-process cognition into a formal game-theoretic model of the evolution of cooperation. Agents play prisoner’s dilemma games, some of which are one-shot and others of which involve reciprocity. They can either respond by using a generalized intuition, which is not sensitive to whether the game is one-shot or reciprocal, or pay a (stochastically varying) cost to deliberate and tailor their strategy to the type of game they are facing. We find that, depending on the level of reciprocity and assortment, selection favors one of two strategies: intuitive defectors who never deliberate, or dual-process agents who intuitively cooperate but sometimes use deliberation to defect in one-shot games. Critically, selection never favors agents who use deliberation to override selfish impulses: Deliberation only serves to undermine cooperation with strangers. Thus, by introducing a formal theoretical framework for exploring cooperation through a dual-process lens, we provide a clear answer regarding the role of deliberation in cooperation based on evolutionary modeling, help to organize a growing body of sometimes-conflicting empirical results, and shed light on the nature of human cognition and social decision making.

The article is here.

The Role of Compassion in Altruistic Helping and Punishment Behavior

Helen Y. Weng, Andrew S. Fox, Heather C. Hessenthaler, Diane E. Stodola, Richard J. Davidson
PLOS One
Published: December 10, 2015
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0143794

Abstract

Compassion, the emotional response of caring for another who is suffering and that results in motivation to relieve suffering, is thought to be an emotional antecedent to altruistic behavior. However, it remains unclear whether compassion enhances altruistic behavior in a uniform way or is specific to sub-types of behavior such as altruistic helping of a victim or altruistic punishment of a transgressor. We investigated the relationship between compassion and subtypes of altruistic behavior using third-party paradigms where participants 1) witnessed an unfair economic exchange between a transgressor and a victim, and 2) had the opportunity to either spend personal funds to either economically a) help the victim or b) punish the transgressor. In Study 1, we examined whether individual differences in self-reported empathic concern (the emotional component of compassion) was associated with greater altruistic helping or punishment behavior in two independent samples. For participants who witnessed an unfair transaction, trait empathic concern was associated with greater helping of a victim and had no relationship to punishment. However, in those who decided to punish the transgressor, participants who reported greater empathic concern decided to punish less. In Study 2, we directly enhanced compassion using short-term online compassion meditation training to examine whether altruistic helping and punishment were increased after two weeks of training. Compared to an active reappraisal training control group, the compassion training group gave more to help the victim and did not differ in punishment of the transgressor. Together, these two studies suggest that compassion is related to greater altruistic helping of victims and is not associated with or may mitigate altruistic punishment of transgressors.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Using Internet and Social Media Data as Collateral Sources of Information in Forensic Evaluations

By Pirelli, G., Otto, R.K., and  Estoup, A.
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Jan 11 , 2016

Abstract

Increasing use of Internet search engines (e.g., Google), social networking sites (e.g., Facebook), and commentary vehicles (e.g., Twitter) has prompted discussion regarding users’ privacy. Whereas there is a growing professional literature pertaining to the use of data drawn from social media sources in employment, university admissions, and health-care settings, few publications address the use of Internet data in forensic mental health assessment contexts. In this paper, we consider the appropriateness of professionals seeking and incorporating Internet and social media data when conducting forensic psychological evaluations, and we set forth a call for research and additional commentary.

The article is here.

Toward a general theory of motivation: Problems, challenges, opportunities, and the big picture

Roy F. Baumeister
Motivation and Emotion
pp 1-10

Abstract

Motivation theories have tended to focus on specific motivations, leaving open the intellectually and scientifically challenging problem of how to construct a general theory of motivation. The requirements for such a theory are presented here. The primacy of motivation emphasizes that cognition, emotion, agency, and other psychological processes exist to serve motivation. Both state (impulses) and trait (basic drives) forms of motivation must be explained, and their relationship must be illuminated. Not all motivations are the same, and indeed it is necessary to explain how motivation evolved from the simple desires of simple animals into the complex, multifaceted forms of human motivation. Motivation responds to the local environment but may also adapt to it, such as when desires increase after satiation or diminish when satisfaction is chronically unavailable. Addiction may be a special case of motivation—but perhaps it is much less special or different than prevailing cultural stereotypes suggest. The relationship between liking and wanting, and the self-regulatory management of motivational conflict, also require explanation by an integrative theory.

The paper is here. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

How Our Self-Control Affects the Way We See Risk

Research shows that people with low self-control tend to underplay the negative consequences of their decisions.

by Kerry A. Dolan
Stanford Business
November 25, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Academic research has long shown that people with low self-control engage in riskier behaviors than do those with higher self-control. But what is the connection between self-control and risk? Are people with low self-control simply unable to stop themselves from risky behavior?

Not exactly. In a new study, researchers from Stanford and the University of Hong Kong found that people with low self-control look at consequences differently than those with higher self-control.

The article is here.

Researcher allegiance in psychotherapy outcome research: an overview of reviews

Munder T, Brütsch O, Leonhart R, Gerger H, Barth J.
Clinical Psychology Review
Volume 33, Issue 4, June 2013, Pages 501–511

Abstract

Researcher allegiance (RA) is widely discussed as a risk of bias in psychotherapy outcome research. The relevance attached to RA bias is related to meta-analyses demonstrating an association of RA with treatment effects. However, recent meta-analyses have yielded mixed results. To provide more clarity on the magnitude and robustness of the RA-outcome association this article reports on a meta-meta-analysis summarizing all available meta-analytic estimates of the RA-outcome association. Random-effects methods were used. Primary study overlap was controlled. Thirty meta-analyses were included. The mean RA-outcome association was r = .262 (p = .002, I2 = 28.98%), corresponding to a moderate effect size. The RA-outcome association was robust across several moderating variables including characteristics of treatment, population, and the type of RA assessment. Allegiance towards the RA bias hypothesis moderated the RA-outcome association. The findings of this meta-meta-analysis suggest that the RA-outcome association is substantial and robust. Implications for psychotherapy outcome research are discussed.

The entire article is here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Man Who Studies the Spread of Ignorance

By Georgina Kenyon
BBC.com
6 January 2016

Here is an excerpt:

“We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,” says Proctor. Even though knowledge is ‘accessible’, it does not mean it is accessed, he warns.

“Although for most things this is trivial – like, for example, the boiling point of mercury – but for bigger questions of political and philosophical import, the knowledge people have often comes from faith or tradition, or propaganda, more than anywhere else.”

Proctor found that ignorance spreads when firstly, many people do not understand a concept or fact and secondly, when special interest groups – like a commercial firm or a political group – then work hard to create confusion about an issue. In the case of ignorance about tobacco and climate change, a scientifically illiterate society will probably be more susceptible to the tactics used by those wishing to confuse and cloud the truth.

Consider climate change as an example. “The fight is not just over the existence of climate change, it’s over whether God has created the Earth for us to exploit, whether government has the right to regulate industry, whether environmentalists should be empowered, and so on. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about what is imagined to flow from and into such facts,” says Proctor.

The article is here.

Under Gun Rules, FBI Will Receive Health Data

By Robert Pear
The New York Times
Originally posted January 6, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Virtually every push for new gun sale restrictions in recent years has been greeted by opponents countering with proposals to address mental health as a factor in gun violence.

“For those in Congress who so often rush to blame mental illness for mass shootings as a way of avoiding action on guns, here’s your chance to support these efforts,” Mr. Obama said at the White House on Tuesday.

But that challenge moved the administration into a thicket of difficult health questions. Under a rule published Wednesday in the Federal Register, the background check system run by the Federal Bureau of Investigation will receive the names of people who are forbidden to buy or own firearms because they have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or found to pose a danger to themselves or others.

The article is here.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Should we Prohibit Breast Implants?

Collective Moral Obligations in the Context of Harmful and Discriminatory Social Norms

By Jessica Laimann
Journal of Practical Ethics
Volume 3 Issue 2. December 2015

ABSTRACT

In liberal moral theory, interfering with someone’s deliberate engagement in a self-harming practice in order to promote their own good is often considered wrongfully paternalistic. But what if self-harming decisions are the product of an oppressive social context that imposes harmful norms on certain individuals, such as, arguably, in the case of cosmetic breast surgery? Clare Chambers suggests that such scenarios can mandate state interference in the form of prohibition. I argue that, unlike conventional measures, Chambers’ proposal recognises that harmful, discriminatory norms entail a twofold collective moral obligation: to eliminate the harmful norm in the long run, but also to address unjust harm that is inflicted in the meantime. I show that these two obligations tend to pull in opposite directions, thus generating a serious tension in Chambers’ proposal which eventually leads to an undue compromising of the second obligation in favour of the first. Based on this discussion, I develop an alternative proposal which, instead of prohibiting breast implant surgery, offers compensation for the disadvantages suffered by individuals who decide not to have surgery.

The paper is here.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Way more Americans are drinking themselves to death. Here's why.

By German Lopez
The Vox
Originally published on December 28, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

For one, Americans are drinking more. According to the latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the number of Americans who reportedly drank in the previous month slightly increased as alcohol-induced deaths did: from 51 percent of all persons 12 and older in 2006, when deaths began to climb, to 52.7 percent in 2014.

(cut)

So for the US, boosting alcohol prices 10 percent could save as many as 6,000 lives each year. To put that in context, paying about 50 cents more for a six-pack of Bud Light could save thousands of lives. And this is a conservative estimate, since it only counts alcohol-related liver cirrhosis deaths — the number of lives saved would be higher if it accounted for deaths due to alcohol-related violence and car crashes.

Aside from raising taxes, a 2014 report from the RAND Drug Policy Research Center suggested state-run shops kept prices higher, reduced access to youth, and reduced overall levels of use. And a 2013 study from RAND of South Dakota's 24/7 Sobriety Program, which briefly jails people whose drinking has repeatedly gotten them in trouble with the law (like a DUI) if they fail a twice-a-day alcohol blood test, attributed a 12 percent reduction in repeat DUI arrests and a 9 percent reduction in domestic violence arrests at the county level to the program.

The article is here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Outsourcing the Mentally Ill to Police

By Rich Lowry
The National Review
Originally posted January 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In its analysis of 2015 police shootings, the Post found dozens of cases in which the police were called as a means of getting treatment. Shirley Marshall Harrison called the Dallas police when her schizophrenic, bipolar son was out of control. He was shot down while allegedly charging police with a screwdriver. “I didn’t call for them to take him to the morgue,” she said of the cops. “I called for medical help.”

It’s a poignant lament, but why do the families of the severely mentally ill need to rely on the police for medical assistance? When someone has a heart attack or gets cancer, we don’t call the police.

The opinion piece is here.

Hive consciousness

By Peter Watts
Aeon
Originally published May 27, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

What are the implications of a technology that seems to be converging on the sharing of consciousness?

It would be a lot easier to answer that question if anyone knew what consciousness is. There’s no shortage of theories. The neuroscientist Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison claims that consciousness reflects the integration of distributed brain functions. A model developed by Ezequiel Morsella, of San Francisco State University, describes it as a mediator between conflicting motor commands. The panpsychics regard it as a basic property of matter – like charge, or mass – and believe that our brains don’t generate the stuff so much as filter it from the ether like some kind of organic spirit-catchers. Neuroscience superstar V S Ramachandran (University of California in San Diego) blames everything on mirror neurons; Princeton’s Michael Graziano – right here in Aeon – describes it as an experiential map.

I think they’re all running a game on us. Their models – right or wrong – describe computation, not awareness. There’s no great mystery to intelligence; it’s easy to see how natural selection would promote flexible problem-solving, the triage of sensory input, the high-grading of relevant data (aka attention).

But why would any of that be self-aware?

If physics is right – if everything ultimately comes down to matter, energy and numbers – then any sufficiently accurate copy of a thing will manifest the characteristics of that thing. Sapience should therefore emerge from any physical structure that replicates the relevant properties of the brain.

The article is here.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Blue Cross expands benefits for end-of-life care

By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey
The Boston Globe
First posted on December 28, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

And while the primary goal is not cost control, the effort also has the potential to lower health care spending by giving patients more options to replace hospital care with less expensive — and often preferable — alternatives, such as hospice and home care. Medical care at the end of life can be expensive; a 2010 study found that 25 percent of all Medicare payments go toward the 5 percent of people in the last year of their lives.

“The industry is now starting to take this seriously,” said Dr. Lachlan Forrow, director of the ethics and palliative care programs at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “The industry now not only understands the issues [around death and dying], but understands there are concrete things they can and need to do, and Blue Cross is showing us how to get started.”

The article is here.

Unleash the badness! Why the art world needs more sleaze and less morality

By Jonathan Jones
The Guardian
Originally published December 29, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Art is always at its most dangerous and liberating when it frees us from conventional morality and piety. That is why bohemian manners and the avant garde go together. It was not just artistic licence that upset people when Manet painted Olympia. It was not mere artistic fashion that drew Picasso to the garrets and brothels of Paris. Modern art was a rebellion against bourgeois normality. All the great artists who created modernism took huge risks in the way they lived. Their art is an incitement to do the same.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Your health records are supposed to be private. They aren’t.

By Charles Ornstein
The Washington Post
December 30, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

In each story, a common theme emerged: HIPAA wasn’t working the way we expect. And the agency charged with enforcing it, the HHS office for civil rights, wasn’t taking aggressive action against those who violated the law.

We all know HIPAA, whether we recognize the acronym or not. It’s what requires us to stand behind a line, away from other customers, at the pharmacy counter or when checking in at the doctor’s office. It is the reason we get privacy declaration forms to sign whenever we visit a new medical provider. It is used to scare health-care workers, telling them that if they improperly disclose others’ information, they could pay a steep fine or even go to jail.

But in reality, it is a toothless tiger. Unless you’re famous, most hospitals and clinics don’t keep tabs on who looks at your records if you don’t complain. And even though the civil rights office can impose large fines, it rarely does: It received nearly 18,000 complaints in 2014 but took only six formal actions that year. A recent report from the HHS inspector general said the office wasn’t keeping track of repeat offenders, much less doing anything about them.

The story is here.

The A.I Anxiety

by Joel Achenbach
The Washington Post
Originally published December 27, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But the discussion reflects a broader truth: We live in an age in which machine intelligence has become a part of daily life. Computers fly planes and soon will drive cars. Computer algorithms anticipate our needs and decide which advertisements to show us. Machines create news stories without human intervention. Machines can recognize your face in a crowd.

New technologies — including genetic engineering and nanotechnology — are cascading upon one another and converging. We don’t know how this will play out. But some of the most serious thinkers on Earth worry about potential hazards — and wonder whether we remain fully in control of our inventions.

The article is here.

Editor's Note: What if a form of consciousness emerges from AI? There are many reasons, except for anthropomorphic bias, to expect a form of consciousness to surface from highly complex, synthetic, artificial intelligence.  What then?  This concern is not addressed in the article.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Your Cells. Their Research. Your Permission?

By Rebecca Skloot
The New York Times
Originally posted December 30, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

What’s riding on this? Maybe the future of human health. We’re in the era of precision medicine, which relies on genetic and other personal information to develop individualized treatments. Those advances depend on scientists working with vast amounts of human tissue and DNA. Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, believes involving donors in this process gives scientists more useful information, and can be life-changing for donors. In announcing plans for the $215 million Precision Medicine Initiative, which he sees as a model for other future research, Dr. Collins said, “Participants will be partners in research, not subjects.” But people can be partners only if they know they’re participating.

(cut)

People have told me by the thousands, and numerous public opinion studies find the same: They want to know if their biospecimens are used in research, and they want to be asked first. Most will probably say yes, because they understand it’s important. They just don’t want to find out later. That damages their trust in science and doctors. It makes them wonder, what else are you hiding from me?

People tell me this because I wrote a book about Henrietta Lacks, a black tobacco farmer whose cancer cells, taken without her knowledge in 1951, are still alive in laboratories worldwide. Those cells, code-named HeLa, were the first such cells grown and one of the most important advances in medicine. But they came with troubling consequences: Her children were later used in research, their medical information was published, and the HeLa genome — including personal information about Mrs. Lacks and potentially her descendants — was sequenced and posted online. All without the family’s knowledge.

The article is here.

The science myths that will not die

False beliefs and wishful thinking about the human experience are common. They are hurting people — and holding back science.

Megan Scudellari
Nature
Originally published 16 December 2015

Here is an excerpt:

This blind faith in cancer screening is an example of how ideas about human biology and behaviour can persist among people — including scientists — even though the scientific evidence shows the concepts to be false. “Scientists think they're too objective to believe in something as folklore-ish as a myth,” says Nicholas Spitzer, director of the Kavli Institute for Brain and Mind at the University of California, San Diego. Yet they do.

These myths often blossom from a seed of a fact — early detection does save lives for some cancers — and thrive on human desires or anxieties, such as a fear of death. But they can do harm by, for instance, driving people to pursue unnecessary treatment or spend money on unproven products. They can also derail or forestall promising research by distracting scientists or monopolizing funding. And dispelling them is tricky.

Scientists should work to discredit myths, but they also have a responsibility to try to prevent new ones from arising, says Paul Howard-Jones, who studies neuroscience and education at the University of Bristol, UK. “We need to look deeper to understand how they come about in the first place and why they're so prevalent and persistent.”

The entire article is here.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cyber security: Attack of the health hackers

Kara Scannell and Gina Chon
FT.com
Originally published December 21, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Hackers accessed over 100m health records — 100 times more than ever before — last year. Eight of the 10 largest hacks into any type of healthcare provider happened this year, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.

Insurers scrambled to hire cyber security companies to scrub their systems. Premera Blue Cross, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, and Excellus Health Plan announced breaches affecting at least 22m individuals in total since March, including hacks that stretched back more than a year. Investigators told the FT that they believe some of the hacks are related and trace back to China.

The insurers face multiple investigations from state insurance regulators and attorneys-general and some could face fines for failing to comply with state data privacy laws, while federal law enforcement agencies are investigating who is behind the hacks.

The article is here.

A Fight for the Soul of Science

By Natalie Wolchover
Quanta Magazine
Originally published December 16, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Critics accuse string theory and the multiverse hypothesis, as well as cosmic inflation — the leading theory of how the universe began — of falling on the wrong side of Popper’s line of demarcation. To borrow the title of the Columbia University physicist Peter Woit’s 2006 book on string theory, these ideas are “not even wrong,” say critics. In their editorial, Ellis and Silk invoked the spirit of Popper: “A theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.”

(cut)

Nowadays, as several philosophers at the workshop said, Popperian falsificationism has been supplanted by Bayesian confirmation theory, or Bayesianism, a modern framework based on the 18th-century probability theory of the English statistician and minister Thomas Bayes. Bayesianism allows for the fact that modern scientific theories typically make claims far beyond what can be directly observed — no one has ever seen an atom — and so today’s theories often resist a falsified-unfalsified dichotomy. Instead, trust in a theory often falls somewhere along a continuum, sliding up or down between 0 and 100 percent as new information becomes available. “The Bayesian framework is much more flexible” than Popper’s theory, said Stephan Hartmann, a Bayesian philosopher at LMU. “It also connects nicely to the psychology of reasoning.”

The entire article is here.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Gender Equality in Science Will Require a Culture Shift

By Claire Pomeroy
Scientific American
Published on January 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Unconscious bias also appears in the form of “microassaults” that women scientists are forced to endure daily. This is the endless barrage of purportedly insignificant sexist jokes, insults and put-downs that accumulate over the years and undermine confidence and ambition. Each time it is assumed that the only woman in the lab group will play the role of recording secretary, each time a research plan becomes finalized in the men's lavatory between conference sessions, each time a woman is not invited to go out for a beer after the plenary lecture to talk shop, the damage is reinforced.

When I speak to groups of women scientists, I often ask them if they have ever been in a meeting where they made a recommendation, had it ignored, and then heard a man receive praise and support for making the same point a few minutes later. Each time the majority of women in the audience raise their hands. Microassaults are especially damaging when they come from a high school science teacher, college mentor, university dean or a member of the scientific elite who has been awarded a prestigious prize—the very people who should be inspiring and supporting the next generation of scientists.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Moral judgment as information processing: an integrative review

Steve Guglielmo
Front Psychol. 2015; 6: 1637.
Published online 2015 Oct 30. doi:  10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01637

Abstract

How do humans make moral judgments about others’ behavior? This article reviews dominant models of moral judgment, organizing them within an overarching framework of information processing. This framework poses two distinct questions: (1) What input information guides moral judgments? and (2) What psychological processes generate these judgments? Information Models address the first question, identifying critical information elements (including causality, intentionality, and mental states) that shape moral judgments. A subclass of Biased Information Models holds that perceptions of these information elements are themselves driven by prior moral judgments. Processing Models address the second question, and existing models have focused on the relative contribution of intuitive versus deliberative processes. This review organizes existing moral judgment models within this framework and critically evaluates them on empirical and theoretical grounds; it then outlines a general integrative model grounded in information processing, and concludes with conceptual and methodological suggestions for future research. The information-processing framework provides a useful theoretical lens through which to organize extant and future work in the rapidly growing field of moral judgment.

The entire article is here.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Less Blame, Less Crime? The Practical Implications of Moral Responsibility Skepticism

By Neil Levy
Journal of Practical Ethics
Volume 3 Issue 2. December 2015

Abstract

Most philosophers believe that wrongdoers sometimes deserve to be punished by long prison sentences. They also believe that such punishments are justified by their consequences: they deter crime and incapacitate potential offenders. In this article, I argue that both these claims are false. No one deserves to be punished, I argue, because our actions are shot through with direct or indirect luck. I also argue that there are good reasons to think that punishing fewer people and much less harshly will have better social consequences, at a reduced overall cost, then the long prison sentences that are usually seen as required for social protection.

The article is here.

Moral Reasoning and Personal Behavior: A Meta-Analytical Review

By Villegas de Posada, Cristina; Vargas-Trujillo, Elvia
Review of General Psychology, Vol 19(4), Dec 2015, 408-424.

Abstract

The meta-analysis examined the effect of moral development on 4 domains of action (real life, honesty, altruism, and resistance to conformity), and on action in general. The database, comprised by 151 studies across 71 years, stemmed from a previous narrative synthesis conducted by Blasi (1980), updated with studies published up to 2013. Results showed that (a) moral development was significantly related to action in general and to each domain, (b) the effect sizes were similar for altruism, real life, and resistance to conformity, with coefficients higher than r = .20, (c) the effect size for honesty was lower than for the other 3 types of behaviors, and (d) demographic or methodological variables did not affect the association between moral development and action. Discussion centers on similarities among domains of action, perfect and imperfect duties, and the need for other constructs to account for moral action.

Here is an excerpt:

Morality is essential to social life, and moral decisions and actions are the expression of this morality. They are linked to our rational ability to judge and make decisions. Although this link may seem obvious to many psychologists, it has been denied by influential scholars in psychology and philosophy, who come from different streams of a noncognitive tradition. Moral reasoning has a consistent effect on action, across domains, age, sex, and methodological approaches, an effect that cannot be minimized. This effect, on the range of medium rather than low, indicates that the strategy of promoting moral reasoning to enhance morality is a sound strategy and a way to overcome immorality and moral indifference.

The article is here.

Peer-Review Fraud — Hacking the Scientific Publication Process

Charlotte J. Haug
N Engl J Med 373;25 nejm.org december 17, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

How is it possible to fake peer review? Moon, who studies medicinal plants, had set up a simple
procedure. He gave journals recommendations for peer reviewers for his manuscripts, providing
them with names and email addresses.  But these addresses were ones he created, so the requests
to review went directly to him or his colleagues. Not surprisingly, the editor would be sent favorable
reviews — sometimes within hours after the reviewing requests had been sent out. The fallout from Moon’s confession: 28 articles in various journals published by Informa were retracted, and one editor resigned.

Peter Chen, who was an engineer at Taiwan’s National Pingtung University of Education at the time, developed a more sophisticated scheme: he constructed a “peer review and citation ring” in which he used 130 bogus e-mail addresses and fabricated identities to generate fake reviews. An editor at one of the journals published by Sage Publications became suspicious, sparking a lengthy and comprehensive investigation, which resulted in the retraction of 60 articles in July 2014.

The article is here. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Seeking better health care outcomes: the ethics of using the "nudge".

Blumenthal-Barby JS, Burroughs H.
Am J Bioeth. 2012;12(2):1-10.
doi: 10.1080/15265161.2011.634481.

Abstract

Policymakers, employers, insurance companies, researchers, and health care providers have developed an increasing interest in using principles from behavioral economics and psychology to persuade people to change their health-related behaviors, lifestyles, and habits. In this article, we examine how principles from behavioral economics and psychology are being used to nudge people (the public, patients, or health care providers) toward particular decisions or behaviors related to health or health care, and we identify the ethically relevant dimensions that should be considered for the utilization of each principle.

The article is here.

Is the sale of body parts wrong?

Julian Savulescu
J Med Ethics 2003;29:138-139
doi:10.1136/jme.29.3.138

Discussion of the sale of organs is overshadowed by cases of exploitation, murder, and corruption. But there is also a serious ethical issue about whether people should be allowed to sell parts of the body. It applies not only to organs, such as the kidney or parts of the liver, but also to tissues, such as bone marrow, gametes (eggs and sperm) and even genetic material. The usual argument in favour of allowing the sale of organs is that we need to increase supply. In the US, as few as 15% of people who need kidney transplants ever get a kidney. Cadaveric organs will never satisfy the growing demand for organs. Worldwide, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, die while waiting for a transplant.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Jersey Psychology Practice Revealed Patients’ Mental Disorders in Debt Lawsuits

By Charles Ornstein
ProPublica, Dec. 23, 2015

When a New Jersey lawyer named Philip received legal papers last year informing him that his former psychologist’s practice was suing him over an unpaid bill, he was initially upset they could not work out a payment arrangement outside of court.

It was only later, Philip said in an interview, that he scanned the papers again and realized something else: The psychology group to which he’d confided his innermost feelings had included his mental health diagnosis and treatments he received in publicly filed court documents.

The greatest fear of many patients receiving therapy services is that somehow the details of their private struggles will be revealed publicly. Philip, who requested his last name not be used to protect his privacy, said he felt “betrayed” by his psychologist. He worried that his legal adversaries would find the information and try to use it against him in court.

“It turned my life upside down,” he said.

The article is here.

Mental Health Reform Will Not Reduce US Gun Violence, Experts Say

Rita Rubin
JAMA.
Published online December 16, 2015. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.16421

Here is an excerpt:

But while few people would disagree with the need for mental health reform, scientists who study gun violence say it won’t make much of a dent in the number of homicides and attempted homicides committed with firearms. That’s because although mass shooters are likely to be mentally ill (but not necessarily diagnosed), high-profile mass shootings represent only a small fraction of US gun violence, the vast majority of which is committed by people who are not mentally ill. In addition, most people with mental illness are not violent; they are far more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of shootings.

People should realize that “even though it feels that mass shootings happen all the time, they’re still extremely rare,” said Jeffrey Swanson, PhD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University.

Through early December 2015, about 450 individuals died in mass shootings in the United States last year, according to Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that defines a mass shooting as one in which at least 4 people have been shot but not necessarily killed (http://bit.ly/1MuHpVL). Compare that with 11 208, the number of people killed in homicides committed with firearms in 2013, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has US data (http://1.usa.gov/1GEJ0TN).

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Neuroethics

Richard Marshall interviews Kathinka Evers
3:AM Magazine
Originally published December 20, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

So far, researchers in neuroethics have focused mainly on the ethics of neuroscience, or applied neuroethics, such as ethical issues involved in neuroimaging techniques, cognitive enhancement, or neuropharmacology. Another important, though as yet less prevalent, scientific approach that I refer to as fundamental neuroethics questions how knowledge of the brain’s functional architecture and its evolution can deepen our understanding of personal identity, consciousness and intentionality, including the development of moral thought and judgment. Fundamental neuroethics should provide adequate theoretical foundations required in order properly to address problems of applications.

The initial question for fundamental neuroethics to answer is: how can natural science deepen our understanding of moral thought? Indeed, is the former at all relevant for the latter? One can see this as a sub-question of the question whether human consciousness can be understood in biological terms, moral thought being a subset of thought in general. That is certainly not a new query, but a version of the classical mind-body problem that has been discussed for millennia and in quite modern terms from the French Enlightenment and onwards. What is comparatively new is the realisation of the extent to which ancient philosophical problems emerge in the rapidly advancing neurosciences, such as whether or not the human species as such possesses a free will, what it means to have personal responsibility, to be a self, the relations between emotions and cognition, or between emotions and memory.

The interview is here.

Therapist drift redux: Why well-meaning clinicians fail to deliver evidence-based therapy, and how to get back on track

Glenn Waller and Hannah Turner
Behaviour Research and Therapy
Available online 15 December 2015

Abstract

Therapist drift occurs when clinicians fail to deliver the optimum evidence-based treatment despite having the necessary tools, and is an important factor in why those therapies are commonly less effective than they should be in routine clinical practice. The research into this phenomenon has increased substantially over the past five years. This review considers the growing evidence of therapist drift. The reasons that we fail to implement evidence-based psychotherapies are considered, including our personalities, knowledge, emotions, beliefs, behaviors and social milieus. Finally, ideas are offered regarding how therapist drift might be halted, including a cognitive-behavioral approach for therapists that addresses the cognitions, emotions and behaviors that drive and maintain our avoidance of evidence-based treatments.

The research is here.

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Psychological Approach To Understanding Ethics And Martin Shkreli

Tori Utley
Forbes
Originally published December 22, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Business ethics are more than the class you take in college – they are the underlying values that must be strongly upheld in business dealings to maintain the values of our society. When morally ambiguous situations arise within our own lives or the lives of others, we must ask: How can I learn from this?

Opportunities for deception and dishonesty surround us every day. As professionals, there are choices to make about how we should conduct ourselves in every interaction and every situation we face in the workplace. By allowing ourselves to bend the rules, larger acts of rule-breaking simply become easier.

Truthfully, this article is not about Martin Shkreli or other business moguls who have hit the headlines for fraud allegations. This article is about us.

The entire article is here.

Why are we humans so prone to believing spooky nonsense?

Stephen Law
Aeon - Opinions
Originally published December 15, 2015

Scientists working in the cognitive science of religion have offered other explanations, including the hyperactive agency-detecting device (HADD). This tendency explains why a rustle in the bushes in the dark prompts the instinctive thought: ‘There’s someone there!’ We seem to have evolved to be extremely quick to ascribe agency – the capacity for intention and action – even to inanimate objects. In our ancestral environment, this tendency is not particularly costly in terms of survival and reproduction, but a failure to detect agents that are there can be very costly. Fail to detect a sabre-toothed cat, and it’ll likely take you out of the gene pool. The evolution of a HADD can account for the human tendency to believe in the presence of agents even when none can actually be observed. Hence the human belief in invisible person-like beings, such as spirits or gods. There are also forms of supernatural belief that don’t fit the ‘invisible person-like being’ mould, but merely posit occult forces – eg, feng shui, supernaturally understood – but the HADD doesn’t account for such beliefs.

The article is here.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Is It Immoral for Me to Dictate an Accelerated Death for My Future Demented Self?

By Norman L. Cantor
Harvard Law Blog
Originally posted December 2, 2015

I am obsessed with avoiding severe dementia. As a person who has always valued intellectual function, the prospect of lingering in a dysfunctional cognitive state is distasteful — an intolerable indignity. For me, such mental debilitation soils the remembrances to be left with my survivors and undermines the life narrative as a vibrant, thinking, and articulate figure that I assiduously cultivated. (Burdening others is also a distasteful prospect, but it is the vision of intolerable indignity that drives my planning of how to respond to a diagnosis of progressive dementia such as Alzheimers).

(cut)

I suggest that while a demented persona no longer recalls the values underlying the AD and cannot now be offended by breaches of value-based instructions, those considered instructions are still worthy of respect. As noted, the well established mechanism — an AD – is intended to enable a person to govern the medical handling of their future demented self. And the values and principles underlying advance instructions can certainly include factors beyond the patient’s contemporaneous well being.

The entire blog post is here.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

CIA Torture is Unfinished Business

By Human Rights Watch
Posted December 1, 2015

Obama administration claims that legal obstacles prevent criminal investigations into torture by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are unpersuasive, and risk leaving a legacy of torture as a policy option, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Sufficient evidence exists for the attorney general to order criminal investigations of senior United States officials and others involved in the post-September 11 CIA program for torture, conspiracy to torture, and other crimes under US law.

The 153-page report, “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” sets out evidence to support the main criminal charges that can be brought against those responsible for state-sanctioned torture, and challenges claims that prosecutions are not legally possible. The report also outlines US legal obligations to provide redress to victims of torture, and steps the US should take to do so. It also details actions that other countries should take to pursue criminal investigations into CIA torture.

The post is here.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Why we forgive what can’t be controlled

Martin, J.W. & Cushman, F.A.
Cognition, 147, 133-143

Abstract

Volitional control matters greatly for moral judgment: Coerced agents receive less condemnation for outcomes they cause. Less well understood is the psychological basis of this effect. Control may influence perceptions of intent for the outcome that occurs or perceptions of causal role in that outcome. Here, we show that an agent who chooses to do the right thing but accidentally causes a bad outcome receives relatively more punishment than an agent who is forced to do the ‘‘right” thing but causes a bad outcome.  Thus, having good intentions ironically leads to greater condemnation. This surprising effect does not depend upon perceptions of increased intent for harm to occur, but rather upon perceptions of causal role in the obtained outcome. Further, this effect is specific to punishment: An agent who chooses to do the right thing is rated as having better moral character than a forced agent, even though they cause the same bad outcome. These results clarify how, when and why control influences moral judgment.

The article is here.