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

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

Sunday, December 31, 2017

VA knowingly hires doctors with past malpractice claims, discipline for poor care

Donovan Slack
USA Today
Originally published December 3, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

A VA hospital in Oklahoma knowingly hired a psychiatrist previously sanctioned for sexual misconduct who went on to sleep with a VA patient, according to internal documents. A Louisiana VA clinic hired a psychologist with felony convictions. The VA ended up firing him after they determined he was a “direct threat to others” and the VA’s mission.

As a result of USA TODAY’s investigation of Schneider, VA officials determined his hiring — and potentially that of an unknown number of other doctors — was illegal.

Federal law bars the agency from hiring physicians whose license has been revoked by a state board, even if they still hold an active license in another state. Schneider still has a license in Montana, even though his Wyoming license was revoked.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour said agency officials provided hospital officials in Iowa City with “incorrect guidance” green-lighting Schneider’s hire. The VA moved to fire Schneider last Wednesday. He resigned instead.

The article is here.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Are There Non-human Persons? Are There Non-person Humans?

Glenn Cohen | TEDxCambridge
Published October 24, 2017



If we want to live a moral life, how should we treat animals or complex artificial intelligence? What kinds of rights should non-humans have? Harvard Law Professor and world-renowned bioethics expert Glenn Cohen shares how our current moral vocabulary may be leading us into fundamental errors and how to face the complex moral world around us. Glenn Cohen is one of the world’s leading experts on the intersection of bioethics and the law, as well as health law. He is an award-winning speaker and writer having authored more than 98 articles and chapters appearing in countless journals and gaining coverage on ABC, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, the New York Times and more. He recently finished his role as one of the project leads on the multi-million dollar Football Players Health Study at Harvard aimed at improving NFL player health.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Freud in the scanner

M. M. Owen
aeon.co
Originally published December 7, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

This is why Freud is less important to the field than what Freud represents. Researching this piece, I kept wondering: why hang on to Freud? He is an intensely polarising figure, so polarising that through the 1980s and ’90s there raged the so-called Freud Wars, fighting on one side of which were a whole team of authors driven (as the historian of science John Forrester put it in 1997) by the ‘heartfelt wish that Freud might never have been born or, failing to achieve that end, that all his works and influence be made as nothing’. Indeed, a basic inability to track down anyone with a dispassionate take on psychoanalysis was a frustration of researching this essay. The certitude that whatever I write here will enrage some readers hovers at the back of my mind as I think ahead to skimming the comments section. Preserve subjectivity, I thought, fine, I’m onboard. But why not eschew the heavily contested Freudianism for the psychotherapy of Irvin D Yalom, which takes an existentialist view of the basic challenges of life? Why not embrace Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, which prioritises our fundamental desire to give life meaning, or the philosophical tradition of phenomenology, whose first principle is that subjectivity precedes all else?

Within neuropsychoanalysis, though, Freud symbolises the fact that, to quote the neuroscientist Ramachandran’s Phantoms in the Brain (1998), you can ‘look for laws of mental life in much the same way that a cardiologist might study the heart or an astronomer study planetary motion’. And on the clinical side, it is simply a fact that before Freud there was really no such thing as therapy, as we understand that word today. In Yalom’s novel When Nietzsche Wept (1992), Josef Breuer, Freud’s mentor, is at a loss for how to counsel the titular German philosopher out of his despair: ‘There is no medicine for despair, no doctor for the soul,’ he says. All Breuer can recommend are therapeutic spas, ‘or perhaps a talk with a priest’.

The article is here.

Leadership and Counseling Psychology: Dilemmas, Ambiguities, and Possibilities

Sandra Shullman
The Counseling Psychologist
First published November 28, 2017

Abstract

In this article, I introduce the scientist–practitioner–advocate–leader model as a strategy for addressing the rapidly changing context for psychologists and psychology. The concept of counseling psychologists as learning leaders is derived from the foundations and values of the profession. Incorporating leadership as a core identity for counseling psychologists may create new directions for science and practice as we increasingly integrate multicultural identities, training, and diverse personal backgrounds into social justice initiatives. The article presents six dilemmas faced by counseling psychologists in assuming leadership as part of professional identity, as well as eight learning leader behaviors that counseling psychologists could integrate in their management of ambiguity and uncertainty across various levels of human organization. The article concludes with a discussion of future possibilities that may arise by adopting leadership as part of the role and core identity of counseling psychology.

The article is here.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

‘Politicians want us to be fearful. They’re manipulating us for their own interest'

Decca Aitkenhead
The Guardian
Originally published December 8, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

“Yes, I hate to say it, but yes. Democracy is an advance past the tribal nature of our being, the tribal nature of society, which was there for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. It’s very easy for us to fall back into our tribal, evolutionary nature – tribe against tribe, us against them. It’s a very powerful motivator.” Because it speaks to our most primitive self? “Yes, and we don’t realise how powerful it is.” Until we have understood its power, Bargh argues, we have no hope of overcoming it. “So that’s what we have to do.” As he writes: “Refusing to believe the evidence, just to maintain one’s belief in free will, actually reduces the amount of free will that person has.”

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Participants were asked to fill out an anonymous questionnaire devised to reveal their willingness to use power over a woman to extract sexual favours if guaranteed to get away with it. Some were asked to rate a female participant’s attractiveness. Others were first primed by a word-association technique, using words such as “boss”, “authority”, “status” and “power”, and then asked to rate her. Bargh found the power-priming made no difference whatsoever to men who had scored low on sexual harassment and aggression tendencies. Among men who had scored highly, however, it was a very different case. Without the notion of power being activated in their brains, they found her unattractive. She only became attractive to them once the idea of power was active in their minds.

This, Bargh suggests, might explain how sexual harassers can genuinely tell themselves: “‘I’m behaving like anybody does when they’re attracted to somebody else. I’m flirting. I’m asking her out. I want to date her. I’m doing everything that you do if you’re attracted to somebody.’ What they don’t realise is the reason they’re attracted to her is because of their power over her. That’s what they don’t get.”

The article is here.

Why are America's farmers killing themselves in record numbers?

Debbie Weingarten
The Guardian
Originally published December 6, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

“Farming has always been a stressful occupation because many of the factors that affect agricultural production are largely beyond the control of the producers,” wrote Rosmann in the journal Behavioral Healthcare. “The emotional wellbeing of family farmers and ranchers is intimately intertwined with these changes.”

Last year, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The data suggested that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

After the study was released, Newsweek reported that the suicide death rate for farmers was more than double that of military veterans. This, however, could be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. Rosmann and other experts add that the farmer suicide rate might be higher, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents.

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Phenomenon of ‘Bud Sex’ Between Straight Rural Men

Jesse Singal
thecut.com
Originally posted December 18, 2016

A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities. Sociologists are quite interested in this phenomenon because it can tell us a lot about how humans interpret thorny questions of identity and sexual desire and cultural expectations.

(cut)

Specifically, Silva was trying to understand better the interplay between “normative rural masculinity” — the set of mores and norms that defines what it means to be a rural man — and these men’s sexual encounters. In doing so, he introduces a really interesting and catchy concept, “bud-sex”...

The article is here.

The Desirability of Storytellers

Ed Young
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 5, 2017

Here are several excerpts:

Storytelling is a universal human trait. It emerges spontaneously in childhood, and exists in all cultures thus far studied. It’s also ancient: Some specific stories have roots that stretch back for around 6,000 years. As I’ve written before, these tales aren’t quite as old as time, but perhaps as old as wheels and writing. Because of its antiquity and ubiquity, some scholars have portrayed storytelling as an important human adaptation—and that’s certainly how Migliano sees it. Among the Agta, her team found evidence that stories—and the very act of storytelling—arose partly as a way of cementing social bonds, and instilling an ethic of cooperation.

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In fact, the Agta seemed to value storytelling above all else. Good storytellers were twice as likely to be named as ideal living companions as more pedestrian tale spinners, and storytelling acumen mattered far more all the other skills. “It was highly valued, twice as much as being a good hunter,” says Migliano. “We were puzzled.”

(cut)

Skilled Agta storytellers are more likely to receive gifts, and they’re not only more desirable as living companions—but also as mates. On average, they have 0.5 more children than their peers. That’s a crucial result. Stories might help to knit communities together, but evolution doesn’t operate for the good of the group. If storytelling is truly an adaptation, as Migliano suggests, it has to benefit individuals who are good at it—and it clearly does.

“It’s often said that telling stories, and other cultural practices such as singing and dancing, help group cooperation, but real-world tests of this idea are not common,” says Michael Chwe, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who studies human cooperation. “The team’s attempt to do this is admirable.”

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

When Morals Ain’t Enough: Robots, Ethics, and the Rules of the Law

Pagallo, U.
Minds & Machines (2017) 27: 625.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-017-9418-5

Abstract

No single moral theory can instruct us as to whether and to what extent we are confronted with legal loopholes, e.g. whether or not new legal rules should be added to the system in the criminal law field. This question on the primary rules of the law appears crucial for today’s debate on roboethics and still, goes beyond the expertise of robo-ethicists. On the other hand, attention should be drawn to the secondary rules of the law: The unpredictability of robotic behaviour and the lack of data on the probability of events, their consequences and costs, make hard to determine the levels of risk and hence, the amount of insurance premiums and other mechanisms on which new forms of accountability for the behaviour of robots may hinge. By following Japanese thinking, the aim is to show why legally de-regulated, or special, zones for robotics, i.e. the secondary rules of the system, pave the way to understand what kind of primary rules we may want for our robots.

The article is here.

Should Robots Have Rights? Four Perspectives

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published October 31. 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The Four Positions on Robot Rights

Before I get into the four perspectives that Gunkel reviews, I’m going to start by asking a question that he does not raise (in this paper), namely: what would it mean to say that a robot has a ‘right’ to something? This is an inquiry into the nature of rights in the first place. I think it is important to start with this question because it is worth having some sense of the practical meaning of robot rights before we consider their entitlement to them.

I’m not going to say anything particularly ground-breaking. I’m going to follow the standard Hohfeldian account of rights — one that has been used for over 100 years. According to this account, rights claims — e.g. the claim that you have a right to privacy — can be broken down into a set of four possible ‘incidents’: (i) a privilege; (ii) a claim; (iii) a power; and (iv) an immunity. So, in the case of a right to privacy, you could be claiming one or more of the following four things:
  • Privilege: That you have a liberty or privilege to do as you please within a certain zone of privacy.

  • Claim: That others have a duty not to encroach upon you in that zone of privacy.

  • Power: That you have the power to waive your claim-right not to be interfered with in that zone of privacy.

  • Immunity: That you are legally protected against others trying to waive your claim-right on your behalf
As you can see, these four incidents are logically related to one another. Saying that you have a privilege to do X typically entails that you have a claim-right against others to stop them from interfering with that privilege. That said, you don’t need all four incidents in every case.

The blog post is here.

Monday, December 25, 2017

First Baby Born To U.S. Uterus Transplant Patient Raises Ethics Questions

Greta Jochem
NPR.org
Originally published December 5, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

We mention that not everyone is celebrating this. It raises some ethical questions. Is it possible with a procedure that is so experimental, so risky, to get informed consent from women who desperately want to have a baby?

Dr. Testa: I doubt it is possible for lay people to have informed consent about anything we do in medicine, if you ask me. This is even more complicated because we are going into uncharted waters. ... I think that we go through years of studying to understand what we do, and to achieve mastering the things we do. And then we pretend that in ten minutes we can explain something to anybody. ... I don't think it's really possible.

... We try to use the simplest terms we can think about and then we leave it to the autonomy of the patients, in this case not even patients, these women, to make the decisions. I think we really refrain, and it was really important for us, from any pressure of any kind from our side but then of course, the inner pressure of this woman to have a child I think drove the entire process and their decision at the end.

The article is here.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Moral Choices for Today’s Physician

Donald M. Berwick
JAMA. 2017;318(21):2081-2082.

Here is an excerpt:

Hospitals today play the games afforded by an opaque and fragmented payment system and by the concentration of market share to near-monopoly levels that allow them to elevate costs and prices nearly at will, confiscating resources from other badly needed enterprises, both inside health (like prevention) and outside (like schools, housing, and jobs).

And this unfairness—this self-interest—this defense of local stakes at the expense of fragile communities and disadvantaged populations goes far, far beyond health care itself. So does the physician’s ethical duty. Two examples help make the point.

In my view, the biggest travesty in current US social policy is not the failure to fund health care properly or the pricing games of health care companies. It is the nation’s criminal justice system, incarcerating and then stealing the spirit and hope of by far a larger proportion of our population than in any other developed nation on earth.  If taking the life-years and self-respect of millions of youth (with black individuals being imprisoned at more than five times the rate of whites), leaving them without choice, freedom, or the hope of growth is not a health problem, then what is?

The article is here.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

What Makes Moral Disgust Special? An Integrative Functional Review

Giner-Sorolla, Roger and Kupfer, Tom R. and Sabo, John S. (2018)
Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 57

The role of disgust in moral psychology has been a matter of much controversy and experimentation over the past 20 or so years. We present here an integrative look at the literature, organized according to the four functions of emotion proposed by integrative functional theory: appraisal, associative, self-regulation, and communicative. Regarding appraisals, we review experimental, personality, and neuroscientific work that has shown differences between elicitors of disgust and anger in moral contexts, with disgust responding more to bodily moral violations such as incest, and anger responding more to sociomoral violations such as theft. We also present new evidence for interpreting the phenomenon of sociomoral disgust as an appraisal of bad character in a person. The associative nature of disgust is shown by evidence for “unreasoning disgust,” in which associations to bodily moral violations are not accompanied by elaborated reasons, and not modified by appraisals such as harm or intent. We also critically examine the literature about the ability of incidental disgust to intensify moral judgments associatively. For disgust's self-regulation function, we consider the possibility that disgust serves as an existential defense, regulating avoidance of thoughts that might threaten our basic self-image as living humans. Finally, we discuss new evidence from our lab that moral disgust serves a communicative function, implying that expressions of disgust serve to signal one's own moral intentions even when a different emotion is felt internally on the basis of appraisal. Within the scope of the literature, there is evidence that all four functions of Giner-Sorolla’s (2012) integrative functional theory of emotion may be operating, and that their variety can help explain some of the paradoxes of disgust.

The information is here.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Is Technology Value-Neutral? New Technologies and Collective Action Problems

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published December 3, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Value-neutrality is a seductive position. For most of human history, technology has been the product of human agency. In order for a technology to come into existence, and have any effect on the world, it must have been conceived, created and utilised by a human being. There has been a necessary dyadic relationship between humans and technology. This has meant that whenever it comes time to evaluate the impacts of a particular technology on the world, there is always some human to share in the praise or blame. And since we are so comfortable with praising and blaming our fellow human beings, it’s very easy to suppose that they share all the praise and blame.

Note how I said that this has been true for ‘most of human history’. There is one obvious way in which technology could cease to be value-neutral: if technology itself has agency. In other words, if technology develops its own preferences and values, and acts to pursue them in the world. The great promise (and fear) about artificial intelligence is that it will result in forms of technology that do exactly that (and that can create other forms of technology that do exactly that). Once we have full-blown artificial agents, the value-neutrality thesis may no longer be so seductive.

We are almost there, but not quite. For the time being, it is still possible to view all technologies in terms of the dyadic relationship that makes value-neutrality more plausible.

The article is here.

Professional Self-Care to Prevent Ethics Violations

Claire Zilber
The Ethical Professor
Originally published December 4, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Although there are many variables that lead a professional to violate an ethics rule, one frequent contributing factor is impairment from stress caused by a family member's illness (sick child, dying parent, spouse's chronic health condition, etc.). Some health care providers who have been punished by their licensing board, hospital board or practice group for an ethics violation tell similar stories of being under unusual levels of stress because of a family member who was ill. In that context, they deviated from their usual behavior.

For example, a surgeon whose son was mentally ill prescribed psychotropic medications to him because he refused to go to a psychiatrist. This surgeon was entering into a dual relationship with her child and prescribing outside of her area of competence, but felt desperate to help her son. Another physician, deeply unsettled by his wife’s diagnosis with and treatment for breast cancer, had an extramarital affair with a nurse who was also his employee. This physician sought comfort without thinking about the boundaries he was violating at work, the risk he was creating for his practice, or the harm he was causing to his marriage.

Physicians cannot avoid stressful events at work and in their personal lives, but they can exert some control over how they adapt to or manage that stress. Physician self-care begins with self-awareness, which can be supported by such practices as mindfulness meditation, reflective writing, supervision, or psychotherapy. Self-awareness increases compassion for the self and for others, and reduces burnout.

The article is here.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

An AI That Can Build AI

Dom Galeon and Kristin Houser
Futurism.com
Originally published on December 1, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Thankfully, world leaders are working fast to ensure such systems don’t lead to any sort of dystopian future.

Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and several others are all members of the Partnership on AI to Benefit People and Society, an organization focused on the responsible development of AI. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEE) has proposed ethical standards for AI, and DeepMind, a research company owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet, recently announced the creation of group focused on the moral and ethical implications of AI.

Various governments are also working on regulations to prevent the use of AI for dangerous purposes, such as autonomous weapons, and so long as humans maintain control of the overall direction of AI development, the benefits of having an AI that can build AI should far outweigh any potential pitfalls.

The information is here.

The Sex Robots Are Coming – an intriguing report into the mind-boggling world of adult dolls

Jasper Rees
The Telegraph
Originally posted November 30, 2017

Sex robots: where do you start? In a Californian laboratory, obviously, where a hot next generation of Frankenstein’s monster is being conjured into existence. The latest prototype is a buxom object called Harmony who talks dirty in (for some reason) a Scottish accent. We made her acquaintance in The Sex Robots Are Coming (Channel 4) which, for reasons one needn’t explain, was not necessarily an accurate title.

Sexbots are the next big thing in Artificial Intelligence. We met James, a gentle lantern-jawed man from Atlanta whose current harem of life-size dolls uncomplainingly submit to a regime of two to four couplings a week in a host of positions. The only drawback, it seemed, was they couldn’t tell him they love him like a sexbot would.

These things were being fixed in the lab, which looked like a charnel house of serried butts and decapitated manikins. The task of chief engineer Matt was to turn all this plasticated form into a set of mechanised emotions. He was developing a range of personalities, he said, though the array of demeaning stereotypes didn’t seem to include the harridan or the hysteric.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Americans have always been divided over morality, politics and religion

Andrew Fiala
The Fresno Bee
Originally published December 1, 2017

Our country seems more divided than ever. Recent polls from the Pew Center and the Washington Post make this clear. The Post concludes that seven in 10 Americans say we have “reached a dangerous low point” of divisiveness. A significant majority of Americans think our divisions are as bad as they were during the Vietnam War.

But let’s be honest, we have always been divided. Free people always disagree about morality, politics and religion. We disagree about abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, drug legalization, pornography, the death penalty and a host of other issues. We also disagree about taxation, inequality, government regulation, race, poverty, immigration, national security, environmental protection, gun control and so on.

Beneath our moral and political disagreements are deep religious differences. Atheists want religious superstitions to die out. Theists think we need God’s guidance. And religious people disagree among themselves about God, morality and politics.

The post is here.

Can psychopathic offenders discern moral wrongs? A new look at the moral/conventional distinction.

Aharoni, E., Sinnott-Armstrong, W., & Kiehl, K. A.
Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(2), 484-497. (2012)

Abstract

A prominent view of psychopathic moral reasoning suggests that psychopathic individuals cannot properly distinguish between moral wrongs and other types of wrongs. The present study evaluated this view by examining the extent to which 109 incarcerated offenders with varying degrees of psychopathy could distinguish between moral and conventional transgressions relative to each other and to nonincarcerated healthy controls. Using a modified version of the classic Moral/Conventional Transgressions task that uses a forced-choice format to minimize strategic responding, the present study found that total psychopathy score did not predict performance on the task. Task performance was explained by some individual subfacets of psychopathy and by other variables unrelated to psychopathy, such as IQ. The authors conclude that, contrary to earlier claims, insufficient data exist to infer that psychopathic individuals cannot know what is morally wrong.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Beyond Blaming the Victim: Toward a More Progressive Understanding of Workplace Mistreatment

Lilia M. Cortina, Verónica Caridad Rabelo, & Kathryn J. Holland
Industrial and Organizational Psychology
Published online: 21 November 2017

Theories of human aggression can inform research, policy, and practice in organizations. One such theory, victim precipitation, originated in the field of criminology. According to this perspective, some victims invite abuse through their personalities, styles of speech or dress, actions, and even their inactions. That is, they are partly at fault for the wrongdoing of others. This notion is gaining purchase in industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology as an explanation for workplace mistreatment. The first half of our article provides an overview and critique of the victim precipitation hypothesis. After tracing its history, we review the flaws of victim precipitation as catalogued by scientists and practitioners over several decades. We also consider real-world implications of victim precipitation thinking, such as the exoneration of violent criminals. Confident that I-O can do better, the second half of this article highlights alternative frameworks for researching and redressing hostile work behavior. In addition, we discuss a broad analytic paradigm—perpetrator predation—as a way to understand workplace abuse without blaming the abused. We take the position that these alternative perspectives offer stronger, more practical, and more progressive explanations for workplace mistreatment. Victim precipitation, we conclude, is an archaic ideology. Criminologists have long since abandoned it, and so should we.

The article is here.

Health Insurers Are Still Skimping On Mental Health Coverage

Jenny Gold
Kaiser Health News/NPR
Originally published November 30, 2017

It has been nearly a decade since Congress passed the Mental Health Parity And Addiction Equity Act, with its promise to make mental health and substance abuse treatment just as easy to get as care for any other condition. Yet today, amid an opioid epidemic and a spike in the suicide rate, patients are still struggling to get access to treatment.

That is the conclusion of a national study published Thursday by Milliman, a risk management and health care consulting company. The report was released by a coalition of mental health and addiction advocacy organizations.

Among the findings:
  • In 2015, behavioral care was four to six times more likely to be provided out-of-network than medical or surgical care.

  • Insurers paid primary care providers 20 percent more for the same types of care than they paid addiction and mental health care specialists, including psychiatrists.

  • State statistics vary widely. In New Jersey, 45 percent of office visits for behavioral health care were out-of-network. In Washington, D.C., it was 63 percent.
The researchers at Milliman examined two large national databases containing medical claim records from major insurers for PPOs — preferred provider organizations — covering nearly 42 million Americans in all 50 states and D.C. from 2013 to 2015.

The article is here.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Unconscious Patient With 'Do Not Resuscitate' Tattoo Causes Ethical Conundrum at Hospital

George Dvorsky
Gizmodo
Originally published November 30, 2017

When an unresponsive patient arrived at a Florida hospital ER, the medical staff was taken aback upon discovering the words “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattooed onto the man’s chest—with the word “NOT” underlined and with his signature beneath it. Confused and alarmed, the medical staff chose to ignore the apparent DNR request—but not without alerting the hospital’s ethics team, who had a different take on the matter.

But with the “DO NOT RESUSCITATE” tattoo glaring back at them, the ICU team was suddenly confronted with a serious dilemma. The patient arrived at the hospital without ID, the medical staff was unable to contact next of kin, and efforts to revive or communicate with the patient were futile. The medical staff had no way of knowing if the tattoo was representative of the man’s true end-of-life wishes, so they decided to play it safe and ignore it.

The article is here.

Is Pulling the Lever Sexy? Deontology as a Downstream Cue to Long-Term Mate Quality

Mitch Brown and Donald Sacco
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships
November 2017

Abstract

Deontological and utilitarian moral decisions have unique communicative functions within the context of group living. Deontology more strongly communicates prosocial intentions, fostering greater perceptions of trust and desirability in general affiliative contexts. This general trustworthiness may extend to perceptions of fidelity in romantic relationships, leading to perceptions of deontological persons as better long-term mates, relative to utilitarians. In two studies, participants indicated desirability of both deontologists and utilitarians in long- and short-term mating contexts. In Study 1 (n = 102), women perceived a deontological man as more interested in long-term bonds, more desirable for long-term mating, and less prone to infidelity, relative to a utilitarian man. However, utilitarian men were undesirable as short-term mates. Study 2 (n = 112) had both men and women rate opposite sex targets’ desirability after learning of their moral decisions in a trolley problem. We replicated women’s preference for deontological men as long-term mates. Interestingly, both men and women reporting personal deontological motives were particularly sensitive to deontology communicating long-term desirability and fidelity, which could be a product of the general affiliative signal from deontology. Thus, one’s moral basis for decision-making, particularly deontologically-motivated moral decisions, may communicate traits valuable in long-term mating contexts.

The research is here.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Impenetrable Program Transforming How Courts Treat DNA

Jessica Pishko
wired.com
Originally posted November 29, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

But now legal experts, along with Johnson’s advocates, are joining forces to argue to a California court that TrueAllele—the seemingly magic software that helped law enforcement analyze the evidence that tied Johnson to the crimes—should be forced to reveal the code that sent Johnson to prison. This code, they say, is necessary in order to properly evaluate the technology. In fact, they say, justice from an unknown algorithm is no justice at all.

As technology progresses forward, the law lags behind. As John Oliver commented last month, law enforcement and lawyers rarely understand the science behind detective work. Over the years, various types of “junk science” have been discredited. Arson burn patterns, bite marks, hair analysis, and even fingerprints have all been found to be more inaccurate than previously thought. A September 2016 report by President Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology found that many of the common techniques law enforcement historically rely on lack common standards.

In this climate, DNA evidence has been a modern miracle. DNA remains the gold standard for solving crimes, bolstered by academics, verified scientific studies, and experts around the world. Since the advent of DNA testing, nearly 200 people have been exonerated using newly tested evidence; in some places, courts will only consider exonerations with DNA evidence. Juries, too, have become more trusting of DNA, a response known popularly as the “CSI Effect.” A number of studies suggest that the presence of DNA evidence increases the likelihood of conviction or a plea agreement.

The article is here.

Punish the Perpetrator or Compensate the Victim?

Yingjie Liu, Lin Li, Li Zheng, and Xiuyan Guo
Front. Psychol., 28 November 2017

Abstract

Third-party punishment and third-party compensation are primary responses to observed norms violations. Previous studies mostly investigated these behaviors in gain rather than loss context, and few study made direct comparison between these two behaviors. We conducted three experiments to investigate third-party punishment and third-party compensation in the gain and loss context. Participants observed two persons playing Dictator Game to share an amount of gain or loss, and the proposer would propose unfair distribution sometimes. In Study 1A, participants should decide whether they wanted to punish proposer. In Study 1B, participants decided to compensate the recipient or to do nothing. This two experiments explored how gain and loss contexts might affect the willingness to altruistically punish a perpetrator, or to compensate a victim of unfairness. Results suggested that both third-party punishment and compensation were stronger in the loss context. Study 2 directly compare third-party punishment and third-party compensation in the both contexts, by allowing participants choosing between punishment, compensation and keeping. Participants chose compensation more often than punishment in the loss context, and chose more punishments in the gain context. Empathic concern partly explained between-context differences of altruistic compensation and punishment. Our findings provide insights on modulating effect of context on third-party altruistic decisions.

The research is here.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Does Religion Make People Moral?

Mustafa Akyol
The New York Times
Originally published November 28, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Does religion really make people more moral human beings? Or does the gap between morality and the moralists — a gap evident in Turkey today and in many other societies around the world — reveal an ugly hypocrisy behind all religion?

My humble answer is: It depends. Religion can work in two fundamentally different ways: It can be a source of self-education, or it can be a source of self-glorification. Self-education can make people more moral, while self-glorification can make them considerably less moral.

Religion can be a source of self-education, because religious texts often have moral teachings with which people can question and instruct themselves. The Quran, just like the Bible, has such pearls of wisdom. It tells believers to “uphold justice” “even against yourselves or your parents and relatives.” It praises “those who control their wrath and are forgiving toward mankind.” It counsels: “Repel evil with what is better so your enemy will become a bosom friend.” A person who follows such virtuous teachings will likely develop a moral character, just as a person who follows similar teachings in the Bible will.

The article is here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Vortex

Oliver Burkeman
The Guardian
Originally posted November 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

I realise you don’t need me to tell you that something has gone badly wrong with how we discuss controversial topics online. Fake news is rampant; facts don’t seem to change the minds of those in thrall to falsehood; confirmation bias drives people to seek out only the information that bolsters their views, while dismissing whatever challenges them. (In the final three months of the 2016 presidential election campaign, according to one analysis by Buzzfeed, the top 20 fake stories were shared more online than the top 20 real ones: to a terrifying extent, news is now more fake than not.) Yet, to be honest, I’d always assumed that the problem rested solely on the shoulders of other, stupider, nastier people. If you’re not the kind of person who makes death threats, or uses misogynistic slurs, or thinks Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager ran a child sex ring from a Washington pizzeria – if you’re a basically decent and undeluded sort, in other words – it’s easy to assume you’re doing nothing wrong.

But this, I am reluctantly beginning to understand, is self-flattery. One important feature of being trapped in the Vortex, it turns out, is the way it looks like everyone else is trapped in the Vortex, enslaved by their anger and delusions, obsessed with point-scoring and insult-hurling instead of with establishing the facts – whereas you’re just speaking truth to power. Yet in reality, when it comes to the divisive, depressing, energy-sapping nightmare that is modern online political debate, it’s like the old line about road congestion: you’re not “stuck in traffic”. You are the traffic.

The article is here.

Loneliness Might Be a Killer, but What’s the Best Way to Protect Against It?

Rita Rubin
JAMA. 2017;318(19):1853-1855.

Here is an excerpt:

“I think that it’s clearly a [health] risk factor,” first author Nancy Donovan, MD, said of loneliness. “Various types of psychosocial stress appear to be bad for the human body and brain and are clearly associated with lots of adverse health consequences.”

Though the findings overall are mixed, the best current evidence suggests that loneliness may cause adverse health effects by promoting inflammation, said Donovan, a geriatric psychiatrist at the Center for Alzheimer Research and Treatment at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Loneliness might also be an early, relatively easy-to-detect marker for preclinical Alzheimer disease, suggests an article Donovan coauthored. She and her collaborators recently reported in JAMA Psychiatry that loneliness was associated with a higher cortical amyloid burden in 79 cognitively normal elderly adults. Cortical amyloid burden is being investigated as a potential biomarker for identifying asymptomatic adults with the greatest risk of Alzheimer disease. However, large-scale population screening for amyloid burden is unlikely to be practical.

Regardless of whether loneliness turns out to be a marker for preclinical Alzheimer disease, enough is known about its health effects that physicians need to be able to recognize it, Holt-Lunstad says.

“The cumulative evidence points to the benefit of including social factors in medical training and continuing education for health care professionals,” she and Brigham Young colleague Timothy Smith, PhD, wrote in an editorial.

The article is here.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Freezing Eggs and Creating Patients: Moral Risks of Commercialized Fertility

Elizabeth Reis and Samuel Reis-Dennis
The Hastings Center Report
First published: 24 November 2017

Abstract

There's no doubt that reproductive technologies can transform lives for the better. Infertile couples and single, lesbian, gay, intersex, and transgender people have the potential to form families in ways that would have been inconceivable years ago. Yet we are concerned about the widespread commercialization of certain egg-freezing programs, the messages they propagate about motherhood, the way they blur the line between care and experimentation, and the manipulative and exaggerated marketing that stretches the truth and inspires false hope in women of various ages. We argue that although reproductive technology, and egg freezing in particular, promise to improve women's care by offering more choices to achieve pregnancy and childbearing, they actually have the potential to be disempowering. First, commercial motives in the fertility industry distort women's medical deliberations, thereby restricting their autonomy; second, having the option to freeze their eggs can change the meaning of women's reproductive choices in a way that is limiting rather than liberating.

The information is here.

Baltimore Cops Studying Plato and James Baldwin

David Dagan
The Atlantic
Originally posted November 25, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Gillespie is trained to teach nuts-and-bolts courses on terrorism response, extremism, and gangs. But since the unrest of 2015, humanities have occupied the bulk of his time. The strategy is unusual in police training. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve never heard of an instructor using this type of approach,” said William Terrill, a criminal-justice professor at Arizona State University who studies police culture.

But he nevertheless understands the general theory behind it. He’s authored studies showing that officers with higher education are less likely to use force than colleagues who have not been to college. The reasons why are unclear, Terrill said, but it’s possible that exposure to unfamiliar ideas and diverse people have an effect on officer behavior. Gillespie’s classes seem to offer a complement to the typical instruction. Most of it “is mechanical in nature,” Terrill said. “It’s kind of this step-by-step, instructional booklet.”

Officers learn how to properly approach a car, say, but they are rarely given tools to imagine the circumstances of the person in the driver’s seat.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Moralized Rationality: Relying on Logic and Evidence in the Formation and Evaluation of Belief Can Be Seen as a Moral Issue

Tomas Ståhl, Maarten P. Zaal, and Linda J. Skitka
PLOS One
Published November 16, 2017

Abstract

In the present article we demonstrate stable individual differences in the extent to which a reliance on logic and evidence in the formation and evaluation of beliefs is perceived as a moral virtue, and a reliance on less rational processes is perceived as a vice. We refer to this individual difference variable as moralized rationality. Eight studies are reported in which an instrument to measure individual differences in moralized rationality is validated. Results show that the Moralized Rationality Scale (MRS) is internally consistent, and captures something distinct from the personal importance people attach to being rational (Studies 1–3). Furthermore, the MRS has high test-retest reliability (Study 4), is conceptually distinct from frequently used measures of individual differences in moral values, and it is negatively related to common beliefs that are not supported by scientific evidence (Study 5). We further demonstrate that the MRS predicts morally laden reactions, such as a desire for punishment, of people who rely on irrational (vs. rational) ways of forming and evaluating beliefs (Studies 6 and 7). Finally, we show that the MRS uniquely predicts motivation to contribute to a charity that works to prevent the spread of irrational beliefs (Study 8). We conclude that (1) there are stable individual differences in the extent to which people moralize a reliance on rationality in the formation and evaluation of beliefs, (2) that these individual differences do not reduce to the personal importance attached to rationality, and (3) that individual differences in moralized rationality have important motivational and interpersonal consequences.

The research is here.

Authenticity and Modernity

Andrew Bowie
iainews.iai.tv
Originally published November 6, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

As soon as there is a division in the self, of the kind generated by seeking self-knowledge, attributes like authenticity become a problem. The idea of anyone claiming ‘I am an authentic person’ involves a kind of self-observation that destroys what it seeks to affirm. This situation poses important questions about knowledge. If authenticity is destroyed by the subject thinking it knows that it is authentic, there seem to be ways of being which may be valuable because they transcend our ability to know them. As we shall see in a moment, this idea may help explain why art takes on new significance in modernity.

Despite these difficulties, the notion of authenticity has not disappeared from social discourse, which suggests it answers to a need to articulate something, even as that articulation seems to negate it. The problem with the notion as applied to individuals lies, then, in modern conflicts about the nature of the subject, where Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and many others, put in question, in the manner already suggested by Schelling, the extent to which people can be transparent to themselves. Is what I am doing a true expression of myself, or is it the result of social conditioning, self-deception, the unconscious?

(cut)

The early uses of ‘sincere’ and ‘authentic’ had applied both to objects and people, but the moralising of the terms in the wake of the new senses of the self/subject that emerge in the modern era meant the terms came to apply predominantly to assessments of people. The more recent application of ‘authentic’ to watches, iPhones, trainers, etc., thus to objects which rely not least on their status as ‘brands’, can therefore be read as part of what Georg Lukács termed ‘reification’. Relations to objects can start to distort relations between people, giving the value of the ‘brand’ object primacy over that of other subjects. The figures here may be open to question, but the phenomenon seems to be real. The point is that this particular kind of violent theft is linked to the way objects are promoted as ‘authentic’ in the market, rather than just to either their monetary- or use-value.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Regulation of AI: Not If But When and How

Ben Loewenstein
RSA.org
Originally published November 21, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Firstly, AI is already embedded in today’s world, albeit in infant form. Fully autonomous vehicles are not for sale yet but self-parking cars have been in the market for years. We already rely on biometric technology like facial recognition to grant us entry into a country and robots are giving us banking advice.

Secondly, there is broad consensus that controls are needed. For example, a report issued last December by the office of former US President Barack Obama concluded that “aggressive policy action” would be required in the event of large job losses due to automation to ensure it delivers prosperity. If the American Government is no longer a credible source of accurate information for you, take the word of heavyweights like Bill Gates and Elon Musk, both of whom have called for AI to be regulated.

Finally, the building blocks of AI regulation are already looming in the form of rules like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which will take effect next year. The UK government’s independent review’s recommendations are also likely to become government policy. This means that we could see a regime established where firms within the same sector share data with each other under prescribed governance structures in an effort to curb the monopolies big tech companies currently enjoy on consumer information.

The latter characterises the threat facing the AI industry: the prospect of lawmakers making bold decisions that alter the trajectory of innovation. This is not an exaggeration.

The article is here.

Can AI Be Taught to Explain Itself?

Cliff Kuang
The New York Times Magazine
Originally published November 21, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

In 2018, the European Union will begin enforcing a law requiring that any decision made by a machine be readily explainable, on penalty of fines that could cost companies like Google and Facebook billions of dollars. The law was written to be powerful and broad and fails to define what constitutes a satisfying explanation or how exactly those explanations are to be reached. It represents a rare case in which a law has managed to leap into a future that academics and tech companies are just beginning to devote concentrated effort to understanding. As researchers at Oxford dryly noted, the law “could require a complete overhaul of standard and widely used algorithmic techniques” — techniques already permeating our everyday lives.

(cut)

“Artificial intelligence” is a misnomer, an airy and evocative term that can be shaded with whatever notions we might have about what “intelligence” is in the first place. Researchers today prefer the term “machine learning,” which better describes what makes such algorithms powerful. Let’s say that a computer program is deciding whether to give you a loan. It might start by comparing the loan amount with your income; then it might look at your credit history, marital status or age; then it might consider any number of other data points. After exhausting this “decision tree” of possible variables, the computer will spit out a decision. If the program were built with only a few examples to reason from, it probably wouldn’t be very accurate. But given millions of cases to consider, along with their various outcomes, a machine-learning algorithm could tweak itself — figuring out when to, say, give more weight to age and less to income — until it is able to handle a range of novel situations and reliably predict how likely each loan is to default.

The article is here.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Epistemic rationality: Skepticism toward unfounded beliefs requires sufficient cognitive ability and motivation to be rational

TomasStåhl and Jan-Willem van Prooijen
Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 122, 1 February 2018, Pages 155-163

Abstract

Why does belief in the paranormal, conspiracy theories, and various other phenomena that are not backed up by evidence remain widespread in modern society? In the present research we adopt an individual difference approach, as we seek to identify psychological precursors of skepticism toward unfounded beliefs. We propose that part of the reason why unfounded beliefs are so widespread is because skepticism requires both sufficient analytic skills, and the motivation to form beliefs on rational grounds. In Study 1 we show that analytic thinking is associated with a lower inclination to believe various conspiracy theories, and paranormal phenomena, but only among individuals who strongly value epistemic rationality. We replicate this effect on paranormal belief, but not conspiracy beliefs, in Study 2. We also provide evidence suggesting that general cognitive ability, rather than analytic cognitive style, is the underlying facet of analytic thinking that is responsible for these effects.

The article is here.

To think critically, you have to be both analytical and motivated

John Timmer
ARS Techica
Originally published November 15, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

One of the proposed solutions to this issue is to incorporate more critical thinking into our education system. But critical thinking is more than just a skill set; you have to recognize when to apply it, do so effectively, and then know how to respond to the results. Understanding what makes a person effective at analyzing fake news and conspiracy theories has to take all of this into account. A small step toward that understanding comes from a recently released paper, which looks at how analytical thinking and motivated skepticism interact to make someone an effective critical thinker.

Valuing rationality

The work comes courtesy of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Tomas Ståhl and Jan-Willem van Prooijen at VU Amsterdam. This isn't the first time we've heard from Ståhl; last year, he published a paper on what he termed "moralizing epistemic rationality." In it, he looked at people's thoughts on the place critical thinking should occupy in their lives. The research identified two classes of individuals: those who valued their own engagement with critical thinking, and those who viewed it as a moral imperative that everyone engage in this sort of analysis.

The information is here.

The target article is here.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Vanishing "Values Voter"

McKay Coppins
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 7, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

For decades, the belief that private morality was essential to assessing the worthiness of politicians and public figures was an animating ideal at the core of the Christian right’s credo. As with most ideals, the movement did not always live up to its own standards. So-called “values voters” pursued a polarizing, multi-faceted agenda that was often tangled up in prejudice and partisanship. They fiercely defended Clarence Thomas when he was accused of sexually harassing Anita Hill, for example, and then excoriated Bill Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

But even when they were failing to hold their own side accountable, they still clung to the idea that “character counts.” As recently as 2011, a poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” But by the time Donald Trump was running for president in 2016, that number had risen sharply to 72 percent. White evangelicals are now more tolerant of immoral behavior by elected officials than the average American. “This is really a sea change in evangelical ethics,” Robert P. Jones, the head of the institute and the author of The End of White Christian America, recently told me.

(cut)

“The way evangelicals see the world, the culture is not only slipping away—it’s slipping away in all caps, with four exclamation points after that. It’s going to you-know-what in a handbasket,” Brody told me. “Where does that leave evangelicals? It leaves them with a choice. Do they sacrifice a little bit of that ethical guideline they’ve used in the past in exchange for what they believe is saving the culture?”

The article is here.

These are the Therapist Behaviors that are Helpful or Harmful

Christian Jarrett
Research Digest
Originally published November 23, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The most helpful therapy moments involved specific treatment techniques, such as times the therapist gave the client a concrete strategy they could use in everyday life; instances when the therapist made connections for the client (such as identifying events that affected their depression symptoms); or helped them process their emotions. Other helpful moments involved fundamental therapist skills, such as listening and expressing empathy, offering support or praise, or when the therapist discussed the process of therapy, including what the client wants from it.

The clients said they found these moments helpful because they learned a new skill, felt heard or understood, gained insight and/or were better able to process their emotions.

In terms of hindering therapist behaviours, these often seemed the same, superficially at least, as the helpful behaviours, including instances when the therapist listened, attempted to express empathy, or attempted to structure the session. The difference seemed to be in the execution or timing of these behaviours. The clients said they found these moments unhelpful when they were off-topic (for instance, their therapist listened to them “rambling” on about irrelevant details without intervening); when they felt like they were being judged; or they felt it was too soon for them to confront a particular issue.

The article is here.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Root of All Cruelty

Paul Bloom
The New Yorker
Originally published November 20, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

Early psychological research on dehumanization looked at what made the Nazis different from the rest of us. But psychologists now talk about the ubiquity of dehumanization. Nick Haslam, at the University of Melbourne, and Steve Loughnan, at the University of Edinburgh, provide a list of examples, including some painfully mundane ones: “Outraged members of the public call sex offenders animals. Psychopaths treat victims merely as means to their vicious ends. The poor are mocked as libidinous dolts. Passersby look through homeless people as if they were transparent obstacles. Dementia sufferers are represented in the media as shuffling zombies.”

The thesis that viewing others as objects or animals enables our very worst conduct would seem to explain a great deal. Yet there’s reason to think that it’s almost the opposite of the truth.

(cut)

But “Virtuous Violence: Hurting and Killing to Create, Sustain, End, and Honor Social Relationships” (Cambridge), by the anthropologist Alan Fiske and the psychologist Tage Rai, argues that these standard accounts often have it backward. In many instances, violence is neither a cold-blooded solution to a problem nor a failure of inhibition; most of all, it doesn’t entail a blindness to moral considerations. On the contrary, morality is often a motivating force: “People are impelled to violence when they feel that to regulate certain social relationships, imposing suffering or death is necessary, natural, legitimate, desirable, condoned, admired, and ethically gratifying.” Obvious examples include suicide bombings, honor killings, and the torture of prisoners during war, but Fiske and Rai extend the list to gang fights and violence toward intimate partners. For Fiske and Rai, actions like these often reflect the desire to do the right thing, to exact just vengeance, or to teach someone a lesson. There’s a profound continuity between such acts and the punishments that—in the name of requital, deterrence, or discipline—the criminal-justice system lawfully imposes. Moral violence, whether reflected in legal sanctions, the killing of enemy soldiers in war, or punishing someone for an ethical transgression, is motivated by the recognition that its victim is a moral agent, someone fully human.

The article is here.

Evidence-Based Policy Mistakes

Kausik Basu
Project Syndicate
Originally published November 30, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Likewise, US President Donald Trump cites simplistic trade-deficit figures to justify protectionist policies that win him support among a certain segment of the US population. In reality, the evidence suggests that such policies will hurt the very people Trump claims to be protecting.

Now, the chair of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, Kevin Hassett, is attempting to defend Congressional Republicans’ effort to slash corporate taxes by claiming that, when developed countries have done so in the past, workers gained “well north of” $4,000 per year. Yet there is ample evidence that the benefits of such tax cuts accrue disproportionately to the rich, largely via companies buying back stock and shareholders earning higher dividends.

It is not clear whence Hassett is getting his data. But chances are that, at the very least, he is misinterpreting it. And he is far from alone in failing to reach accurate conclusions when assessing a given set of data.

Consider the oft-repeated refrain that, because there is evidence that virtually all jobs over the last decade were created by the private sector, the private sector must be the most effective job creator. At first glance, the logic might seem sound. But, on closer examination, the statement begs the question. Imagine a Soviet economist claiming that, because the government created virtually all jobs in the Soviet Union, the government must be the most effective job creator. To find the truth, one would need, at a minimum, data on who else tried to create jobs, and how.

The article is here.

Friday, December 8, 2017

University could lose millions from “unethical” research backed by Peter Thiel

Beth Mole
ARS Technica
Originally published November 14, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

According to HHS records, SIU (Southern Illinois University) had committed to following all HHS regulations—including safety requirements and having IRB approval and oversight—for all clinical trials, regardless of who funded the trials. If SIU fails to do so, it could jeopardize the $15 million in federal grant money the university receives for its other research.

Earlier, an SIU spokesperson had claimed that SIU didn’t need to follow HHS regulations in this case because Halford was acting as an independent researcher with Rational Vaccines. Thus, SIU had no legal responsibility to ensure proper safety protocols and wasn’t risking its federal funding.

In her e-mail, Buchanan asked for the “results of SIU’s evaluation of its jurisdiction over this research.”

In his response, Kruse noted that SIU was not aware of the St. Kitts trial until October 2016, two months after the trial was completed. But, he wrote, the university had opened an investigation into Halford’s work following his death in June of this year. The decision to investigate was also based on disclosures from American filmmaker Agustín Fernández III, who co-founded Rational Vaccines with Halford, Kruse noted.

The article is here.

Autonomous future could question legal ethics

Becky Raspe
Cleveland Jewish News
Originally published November 21, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Northman said he finds the ethical implications of an autonomous future interesting, but completely contradictory to what he learned in law school in the 1990s.

“People were expected to be responsible for their activities,” he said. “And as long as it was within their means to stop something or more tellingly anticipate a problem before it occurs, they have an obligation to do so. When you blend software over the top of that this level of autonomy, we are left with some difficult boundaries to try and assess where a driver’s responsibility starts or the software programmers continues on.”

When considering the ethics surrounding autonomous living, Paris referenced the “trolley problem.” The trolley problem goes as this: there is an automated vehicle operating on an open road, and ahead there are five people in the road and one person off to the side. The question here, Paris said, is should the vehicle consider traveling on and hitting the five people or will it swerve and hit just the one?

“When humans are driving vehicles, they are the moral decision makers that make those choices behind the wheel,” she said. “Can engineers program automated vehicles to replace that moral thought with an algorithm? Will they prioritize the five lives or that one person? There are a lot of questions and not too many solutions at this point. With these ethical dilemmas, you have to be careful about what is being implemented.”

The article is here.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Social media threat: People learned to survive disease, we can handle Twitter

Glenn Harlan Reynolds
USA Today
Originally posted November 20, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Hunters and gatherers were at far less risk for infectious disease because they didn’t encounter very many new people very often. Their exposure was low, and contact among such bands was sporadic enough that diseases couldn’t spread very fast.

It wasn’t until you crowded thousands, or tens of thousands of them, along with their animals, into small dense areas with poor sanitation that disease outbreaks took off.  Instead of meeting dozens of new people per year, an urban dweller probably encountered hundreds per day. Diseases that would have affected only a few people at a time as they spread slowly across a continent (or just burned out for lack of new carriers) would now leap from person to person in a flash.

Likewise, in recent years we’ve gone from an era when ideas spread comparatively slowly, to one in which social media in particular allow them to spread like wildfire. Sometimes that’s good, when they’re good ideas. But most ideas are probably bad; certainly 90% of ideas aren’t in the top 10%. Maybe we don’t know the mental disease vectors that we’re inadvertently unleashing.

It took three things to help control the spread of disease in cities: sanitation, acclimation and better nutrition. In early cities, after all, people had no idea how diseases spread, something we didn’t fully understand until the late 19th century. But rule-of-thumb sanitation made things a lot better over time. Also, populations eventually adapted:  Diseases became endemic, not epidemic, and usually less severe as people developed immunity. And finally, as Scott notes, surviving disease was always a function of nutrition, with better-nourished populations doing much better than malnourished ones.

The article is here.

Attica: It’s Worse Than We Thought

Heather Ann Thompson
The New York Times
Originally posted November 19, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

As the fine print of that 1972 article read: “We are indebted to the inmates of the Attica Correctional Facility who participated in this study and to the warden and his administration for their help and cooperation.” This esteemed physician, a man working for two of New York’s most respected hospitals and receiving generous research funding from the N.I.H., was indeed conducting leprosy experiments at Attica.

But which of Attica’s nearly 2,400 prisoners, I wondered, was the subject of experiments relating to this crippling disease, without, as Dr. Brandriss admitted, adequate consent? Might it have been the 19-year-old who was at Attica because he had sliced the top of a neighbor’s convertible? Or a man imprisoned there for more serious offenses? Either way, no jury had sentenced them to being a guinea pig in any experiment relating to a disease as painful and disfiguring as leprosy.

And what about the hundreds of corrections officers and civilian employees working at Attica? Even if no one in this extremely crowded facility was actually exposed to this dreaded disease, one in which “prolonged close contact” with an infected patient is a most serious risk factor, were these state employees at all informed that medical experiments being conducted on the men in their charge?

This is not the first time prisons have allowed secret medical experiments on those locked inside. A 1998 book on Holmesburg Prison in Pennsylvania revealed that a doctor there, Albert Kligman, had been experimenting on prisoners for years. After the book appeared, nearly 300 former prisoners sued him, the University of Pennsylvania and the manufacturers of the substances to which they had been exposed, but none of the defendants was held accountable.

The article is here.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

What the heck is machine learning, and why is it everywhere these days?

Luke Dormehl
Digital Trends
Originally published November 18, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Which programming languages to machine learners use?

Like the question above, there’s no one answer to this. Machine learning is a big field and, with so much ground to cover, there’s no one language that does absolutely everything.

Due to its simplicity, and the availability of deep learning libraries such as TensorFlow and PyTorch, Python is currently the number one language. If you’re thinking about delving into machine learning for the first time, it’s also one of the most accessible languages — and there are loads of online resources available.

Java is a good option, too, and comes with a great community of its own, while C++ and R are also worth checking out.

Is machine learning the perfect solution to all our AI problems?

You can probably guess where we’re going with this. No, machine learning isn’t infallible. Algorithms can still be subject to human biases, and the rule of “garbage in, garbage out” holds as true here as it does to any other data-driven field.

There are also questions about transparency, particularly when you’re dealing with the kind of “black boxes” that are an essential part of neural networks.

But as a tool that’s helping to revolutionize technology as we know it, and making AI available to the masses? You bet that it’s a great tool!

The article is here.

Disturbing allegations against psychologist at VT treatment center

Jennifer Costa
WCAX.com
Originally published November 17, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Simonds is accused making comments about female patients, calling them "whores" or saying they look "sexy" and asking inappropriate details about their sex lives. Staff members allege he showed young women favoritism, made promises about drug treatment and bypassed waiting lists to get them help ahead of others.

He's accused of yelling and physically intimidating patients. Some refused to file complaints fearing he would pull their treatment opportunities.

Staffers go on to paint a nasty picture of their work environment, telling the state Simonds routinely threatened, cursed and yelled at them, calling them derogatory names like "retarded," "monkeys," "fat and lazy," and threatening to fire them at will while sexually harassing female subordinates.

Co-workers claim Simonds banned them from referring residential patients to facilities closer to their homes, instructed them to alter referrals to keep them in the Maple Leaf system and fired a clinician who refused to follow these orders. He is also accused of telling staff members to lie to the state about staffing to maintain funding and of directing clinicians to keep patients longer than necessary to drum up revenue.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Turning Conservatives Into Liberals: Safety First

John Bargh
The Washington Post
Originally published November 22, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

But if they had instead just imagined being completely physically safe, the Republicans became significantly more liberal — their positions on social attitudes were much more like the Democratic respondents. And on the issue of social change in general, the Republicans’ attitudes were now indistinguishable from the Democrats. Imagining being completely safe from physical harm had done what no experiment had done before — it had turned conservatives into liberals.

In both instances, we had manipulated a deeper underlying reason for political attitudes, the strength of the basic motivation of safety and survival. The boiling water of our social and political attitudes, it seems, can be turned up or down by changing how physically safe we feel.

This is why it makes sense that liberal politicians intuitively portray danger as manageable — recall FDR’s famous Great Depression era reassurance of “nothing to fear but fear itself,” echoed decades later in Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address — and why President Trump and other Republican politicians are instead likely to emphasize the dangers of terrorism and immigration, relying on fear as a motivator to gain votes.

In fact, anti-immigration attitudes are also linked directly to the underlying basic drive for physical safety. For centuries, arch-conservative leaders have often referred to scapegoated minority groups as “germs” or “bacteria” that seek to invade and destroy their country from within. President Trump is an acknowledged germaphobe, and he has a penchant for describing people — not only immigrants but political opponents and former Miss Universe contestants — as “disgusting.”

The article is here.

Liberals and conservatives are similarly motivated to avoid exposure to one another's opinions

Jeremy A. Frimer, Linda J. Skitka, Matt Motyl
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 72, September 2017, Pages 1-12

Abstract

Ideologically committed people are similarly motivated to avoid ideologically crosscutting information. Although some previous research has found that political conservatives may be more prone to selective exposure than liberals are, we find similar selective exposure motives on the political left and right across a variety of issues. The majority of people on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate willingly gave up a chance to win money to avoid hearing from the other side (Study 1). When thinking back to the 2012 U.S. Presidential election (Study 2), ahead to upcoming elections in the U.S. and Canada (Study 3), and about a range of other Culture War issues (Study 4), liberals and conservatives reported similar aversion toward learning about the views of their ideological opponents. Their lack of interest was not due to already being informed about the other side or attributable election fatigue. Rather, people on both sides indicated that they anticipated that hearing from the other side would induce cognitive dissonance (e.g., require effort, cause frustration) and undermine a sense of shared reality with the person expressing disparate views (e.g., damage the relationship; Study 5). A high-powered meta-analysis of our data sets (N = 2417) did not detect a difference in the intensity of liberals' (d = 0.63) and conservatives' (d = 0.58) desires to remain in their respective ideological bubbles.

The research is here.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ray Kurzweil on Turing Tests, Brain Extenders, and AI Ethics

Nancy Kaszerman
Wired.com
Originally posted November 13, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

There has been a lot of focus on AI ethics, how to keep the technology safe, and it's kind of a polarized discussion like a lot of discussions nowadays. I've actually talked about both promise and peril for quite a long time. Technology is always going to be a double-edged sword. Fire kept us warm, cooked our food, and burned down our houses. These technologies are much more powerful. It's also a long discussion, but I think we should go through three phases, at least I did, in contemplating this. First is delight at the opportunity to overcome age-old afflictions: poverty, disease, and so on. Then alarm that these technologies can be destructive and cause even existential risks. And finally I think where we need to come out is an appreciation that we have a moral imperative to continue progress in these technologies because, despite the progress we've made—and that's a-whole-nother issue, people think things are getting worse but they're actually getting better—there's still a lot of human suffering to be overcome. It's only continued progress particularly in AI that's going to enable us to continue overcoming poverty and disease and environmental degradation while we attend to the peril.

And there's a good framework for doing that. Forty years ago, there were visionaries who saw both the promise and the peril of biotechnology, basically reprogramming biology away from disease and aging. So they held a conference called the Asilomar Conference at the conference center in Asilomar, and came up with ethical guidelines and strategies—how to keep these technologies safe. Now it's 40 years later. We are getting clinical impact of biotechnology. It's a trickle today, it'll be a flood over the next decade. The number of people who have been harmed either accidentally or intentionally by abuse of biotechnology so far has been zero. It's a good model for how to proceed.

The article is here.

Psychologist felt 'honest, sincere' before $800K healthcare fraud exposed

John Agar
MLive.com
Originally posted November 21, 2017

A psychologist who defrauded insurance companies of $800,000 spent half of the money on vacations, concert tickets and a mobile-recording business, the government said.

George E. Compton Jr., 63, of Sturgis, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Gordon Quist to 28 months in prison.

Compton, who pleaded guilty to healthcare fraud, said he was "ashamed" of his actions.

"Until this investigation, I did not hesitate to describe myself as an honest, sincere man," he wrote in a letter to the judge. "Seeing myself from a different perspective has been trying to say the least. ... The worst punishment for my admitted crimes will be the exclusion from the very work I love."

The government said he billed insurance companies for counseling sessions he did not provide, from Jan. 1, 2013, until June 30, 2016.

The article is here.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Lack of Intellectual Humility Plagues Our Times, Say Researchers

Paul Ratner
BigThink.com
Originally posted November 12, 2017

Researchers from Duke University say that intellectual humility is an important personality trait that has become in short supply in our country.

Intellectual humility is like open-mindedness. It is basically an awareness that your beliefs may be wrong, influencing a person’s ability to make decisions in politics, health and other areas of life. An intellectually humble person can have strong opinions, say the authors, but will still recognize they are not perfect and are willing to be proven wrong.

This trait is not linked to a specific partisan view, with researchers finding no difference in levels of the characteristic between conservatives, liberals, religious or non-religious people. In fact, the scientists possibly managed to put to rest an age-old stereotype, explained the study’s lead author Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke.

The article is here.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Japanese doctor who exposed a drug too good to be true calls for morality and reforms

Tomoko Otake
Japan Times
Originally posted November 15, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Kuwajima says the Diovan case is a sobering reminder that large-scale clinical trials published in top medical journals should not be blindly trusted, as they can be exploited by drugmakers rushing to sell their products before their patents run out.

“I worked at a research hospital and had opportunities to try new or premarket drugs on patients, so I knew from early on that Diovan and the same class of drugs called ARB wouldn’t work, especially for elderly patients,” Kuwajima recalled in a recent interview at Tokyo Metropolitan Geriatric Hospital, where he has retired from full-time practice but still sees patients two days a week. “I had a strong sense of crisis that hordes of elderly people — whose ranks were growing as the population grayed — would be prescribed a drug that didn’t work.”

Kuwajima said he immediately found the Diovan research suspicious because the results were just too good to be true. This was before Novartis admitted that it had paid five professors conducting studies at their universities a total of ¥1.1 billion in “research grants,” and even had Shirahashi, a Novartis employee purporting to be a university lecturer, help with statistical analyses for the papers.

The article is here.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Essence of the Individual: The Pervasive Belief in the True Self Is an Instance of Psychological Essentialism

Andrew G. Christy, Rebecca J. Schlegel, and Andrei Cimpian
Preprint

Abstract

Eight studies (N = 2,974) were conducted to test the hypothesis that the widespread folk belief in the true self is an instance of psychological essentialism. Results supported this hypothesis. Specifically, participants’ reasoning about the true self displayed the telltale features of essentialist reasoning (immutability, discreteness, consistency, informativeness, inherence, and biological basis; Studies 1–4); participants’ endorsement of true-self beliefs correlated with individual differences in other essentialist beliefs (Study 5); and experimental manipulations of essentialist thought in domains other than the self were found to “spill over” and affect the extent to which participants endorsed true-self beliefs (Studies 6–8). These findings advance theory on the origins and functions of true-self beliefs, revealing these beliefs to be a specific instance of a broader tendency to explain phenomena in the world in terms of underlying essences.

The preprint is here.

Selling Bad Therapy to Trauma Victims

Jonathan Shedler
Psychology Today
Originally published November 19, 2017

Here is the conclusion:

First, do no harm

Many health insurance companies discriminate against psychotherapy. Congress has passed laws mandating mental health “parity” (equal coverage for medical and mental health conditions) but health insurers circumvent them. This has led to class action lawsuits against health insurance companies, but discrimination continues.

One way that health insurers circumvent parity laws is by shunting patients to the briefest and cheapest therapies — just the kind of therapies recommended by the APA’s treatment guidelines. Another way is by making therapy so impersonal and dehumanizing that patients drop out. Health insurers do not publicly say the treatment decisions are driven by economic self-interest. They say the treatments are scientifically proven — and point to treatment guidelines like those just issued by the APA.

It’s bad enough that most Americans don’t have adequate mental health coverage, without also being gaslighted and told that inadequate therapy is the best therapy.

The APA’s ethics code begins, “Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm.” APA has an honorable history of fighting for patients’ access to good care and against health insurance company abuses.

Blinded by RCT ideology, APA inadvertently handed a trump card to the worst apples in the health insurance industry.

The article is here.