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

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

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why Are Americans Scared to Talk About Dying?

The number of people with legal documents detailing how they want to die remains low, suggesting talk of death is still largely taboo.

By Marina Koren
The National Journal
Originally posted December 10, 2013

Imagine you're brain-dead. There was an accident, and your loved ones have gathered at your hospital bed to hear the doctors say there's not much else they can do. What would you want to happen?

It's a scenario that's as terrifying as it is unpredictable. The thought of it pushes some people to iron out end-of-life decisions long before it's too late, some when they're still healthy. They sign advance directives, legal documents, which include living wills and do-not-resuscitate orders, that outline what families and doctors can and can't do when people become patients.

In the United States, dying inside a hospital rather than at home may be more realistic than we'd care to admit. Still, many Americans tend to avoid talking about their own end-of-life wishes, according to new research published Tuesday in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Of 7,946 people polled in a national health survey, just 26 percent had completed an advance directive.

The entire article is here.

The Meaning of Disgust: A Refutation

Strohminger, N. (in press). The Meaning of Disgust: A Refutation. Emotion Review


Recently, McGinn (2011) has proposed a new theory of disgust.  This theory makes empirical claims as to the history and function of disgust, yet does not take into account contemporary scientific research on the subject.  This essay evaluates his theory for its merits as an account of disgust, and as a piece of scholarship more generally, and finds it lacking.


In disgust research, there is shit, and then there is bullshit.  McGinn's (2011) theory belongs to the latter category.

The entire article is here.  And yes, there is some humor here.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Scientists, Practitioners Don't See Eye to Eye On Repressed Memory

Science Daily
Originally published December 13, 2013

Skepticism about repressed traumatic memories has increased over time, but new research shows that psychology researchers and practitioners still tend to hold different beliefs about whether such memories occur and whether they can be accurately retrieved.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"Whether repressed memories are accurate or not, and whether they should be pursued by therapists, or not, is probably the single most practically important topic in clinical psychology since the days of Freud and the hypnotists who came before him," says researcher Lawrence Patihis of the University of California, Irvine.

According to Patihis, the new findings suggest that there remains a "serious split in the field of psychology in beliefs about how memory works."

The entire article is here.

The Selling of ADHD

By Alan Schwarz
The New York Times
Originally posted December 14, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

The rise of A.D.H.D. diagnoses and prescriptions for stimulants over the years coincided with a remarkably successful two-decade campaign by pharmaceutical companies to publicize the syndrome and promote the pills to doctors, educators and parents. With the children’s market booming, the industry is now employing similar marketing techniques as it focuses on adult A.D.H.D., which could become even more profitable.

Few dispute that classic A.D.H.D., historically estimated to affect 5 percent of children, is a legitimate disability that impedes success at school, work and personal life. Medication often assuages the severe impulsiveness and inability to concentrate, allowing a person’s underlying drive and intelligence to emerge.

The entire story is here.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Economics should incorporate ethical considerations

By Sean Sinclair
The Lancet, Volume 382, Issue 9909, Pages 1978 - 1979, 14 December 2013

In support of Richard Horton's idea that “economists have stripped morality from economics”, I identify two issues with health economics: first, the conservatism of positive economics (the descriptive branch), and second, the way values are illicitly transported from positive economics to normative economics (the prescriptive branch).

Positive economics takes some basic assumptions for granted, a priori. Most obviously, mainstream neoclassical economics starts with a default model of the citizen as Homo Economicus, an entirely self-interested being. When this model does not predict observed events, it is adjusted with additional assumptions, but not replaced entirely. Against this, David Parkin and colleagues (Oct 12) state that nowadays, empirical analysis dominates economics. However, recent introductory textbooks on health economics still propound a model of markets based on the concept of the utility-maximising individual. Therefore, theory change in economics does not come in the form of scientific revolutions on the scale we find in physics or chemistry, for which current mainstream theories would be barely recognisable to theoreticians of 150 or 200 years ago.

The entire article is here.

Causes, Laws, and Free Will: Why Determinism Doesn't Matter

Book Review by Christopher Evan Franklin
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Book: Causes, Laws, and Free Will: Why Determinism Doesn't Matter
Oxford University Press, 2013, 284pp., $65.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199795185.

Kadri Vihvelin offers a detailed and rigorous inquiry into the classic free will debate, defending four main theses: (1) that free will is possible, (2) that Frankfurt-style cases (FSCs) fail to undermine the traditional debate about the compatibility of free will and determinism, (3) that there are no good arguments for incompatibilism, and (4) that we possess free will in virtue of both possessing a bundle of dispositions and being situated in environments in which there are no obstacles to the manifestation of these dispositions. She dubs the position that emerges from her discussion "commonsense metaphysical compatibilism" (32). Her position on free will is 'commonsense' because it agrees with commonsense that we have free will and are morally responsible (32-3). Her position is 'metaphysical compatibilism' because it contends that free will and moral responsibility are compatible with determinism because the ability to do otherwise is compatible with determinism (18). Her metaphysical compatibilism is to be contrasted with "moral compatibilism", which defends the compatibility of moral responsibility and determinism by denying that the ability to do otherwise is necessary for moral responsibility.

The entire book review is here.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Before The Prescription, Ask About Your Doctor's Finances

By Leana Wen
News from NPR
Originally posted December 14, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Unfortunately, doctors have biases, too. A 2007 study in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the vast majority of doctors have some kind of relationship with with a pharmaceutical or medical-device company. Most of the time, the ties involved free food or drug samples. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that even innocuous-seeming inducements like these can influence doctors' prescription practices.

While doctors are required to disclose potential financial conflicts to each other at scientific conferences, they don't have to disclose them to their patients.

As a result, 4 in 5 patients say they are unaware of their doctors' financial incentives. Those who do know often find out inadvertently.

The entire story is here.

Why Do Some Falsely Claim to Be Victims?

By Benjamin Radford
Discovery News
Originally published December 5, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

There are several factors that help hoaxers get away with their false reports. One of them is that victims are given special status based on the simple — and usually true — assumption that they actually have been victimized. Most people who report insults and crimes against them are telling the truth. The vast majority of physical and sexual assaults, property crimes, auto thefts and so on are real and legitimate. Hoaxers exploit this fact by hiding their faked reports in a sea of genuine ones.

Until the public and police become suspicious, hoaxers are given the benefit of the doubt, attention and assistance and treated with sympathy.

Hoaxers also often gain credibility through real or claimed membership in an oppressed or respected group. Our culture bestows respect and credibility on certain groups, such as mothers, members of the military, professionals, some minorities including the gay community, the elderly, clergy and others.

In many cases the claims themselves are often lacking significant details. They are plausible enough to be taken seriously by supporters and the public, but when police and experienced investigators examine their story, parts don’t add up.

The entire story is here.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Jennifer Saul on Implicit Bias

Originally published December 7, 2013

Are we more biased than we imagine? In this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast Jennifer Saul investigates a range of ways in which we are prone to implicit bias and the philosophical implications of these biases.

The podcast is here.

Authors call for 'digital bill of rights'

BBC News
Originally published December 10, 2013

Hundreds of authors from around the world have written to the United Nations urging it to create an international bill of digital rights.

More than 500 writers signed the open letter condemning the scale of state surveillance following recent leaks about UK and US Government activities.

Ian McEwan, Tom Stoppard and Will Self are among the British signatories.

"To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space," the letter says.

The entire story is here.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Debating DSM-5: diagnosis and the sociology of critique

By Martyn Pickersgill
Journal of Medical Ethics
J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2013-101762


The development of the fifth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the DSM-5—has reenergised and driven further forward critical discourse about the place and role of diagnosis in mental health. The DSM-5 has attracted considerable criticism, not least about its role in processes of medicalisation. This paper suggests the need for a sociology of psychiatric critique. Sociological analysis can help map fields of contention, and cast fresh light on the assumptions and nuances of debate around the DSM-5; it underscores the importance of diagnosis to the governance of social and clinical life, as well as the wider discourses critical commentaries connect with and are activated by. More normatively, a sociology of critique can indicate which interests and values are structuring the dialogues being articulated, and just how diverse clinical opinion regarding the DSM can actually be. This has implications for the considerations of health services and policy decision-makers who might look to such debates for guidance.

The entire article is here.

Online Social Networking and Addiction—A Review of the Psychological Literature

By Daria Kuss and Mark Griffiths
Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2011 September; 8(9): 3528–3552.
Published online 2011 August 29. doi:  10.3390/ijerph8093528


Social Networking Sites (SNSs) are virtual communities where users can create individual public profiles, interact with real-life friends, and meet other people based on shared interests. They are seen as a ‘global consumer phenomenon’ with an exponential rise in usage within the last few years. Anecdotal case study evidence suggests that ‘addiction’ to social networks on the Internet may be a potential mental health problem for some users. However, the contemporary scientific literature addressing the addictive qualities of social networks on the Internet is scarce. Therefore, this literature review is intended to provide empirical and conceptual insight into the emerging phenomenon of addiction to SNSs by: (1) outlining SNS usage patterns, (2) examining motivations for SNS usage, (3) examining personalities of SNS users, (4) examining negative consequences of SNS usage, (5) exploring potential SNS addiction, and (6) exploring SNS addiction specificity and comorbidity. The findings indicate that SNSs are predominantly used for social purposes, mostly related to the maintenance of established offline networks. Moreover, extraverts appear to use social networking sites for social enhancement, whereas introverts use it for social compensation, each of which appears to be related to greater usage, as does low conscientiousness and high narcissism. Negative correlates of SNS usage include the decrease in real life social community participation and academic achievement, as well as relationship problems, each of which may be indicative of potential addiction.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Judge gives probation to teen who killed four in DWI crash citing 'affluenza'

By Jim Douglas
KHOU - Houston Texas
Originally posted December 10, 2013

Here is two excerpts:

Prior to sentencing, a psychologist called by the defense, Dr. G. Dick Miller,  testified that Couch's life could be salvaged with one to two years' treatment and no contact with his parents.


Miller said Couch's parents gave him "freedoms no young person should have." He called Couch a product of "affluenza," where his family felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences.

He said Couch got whatever he wanted. As an example,  Miller said Couch's parents gave no punishment after police ticketed the then-15-year-old when he was found in a parked pickup with a passed out, undressed 14-year-old girl.

The entire story is here.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

How journals like Nature, Cell and Science are damaging science

The incentives offered by top journals distort science, just as big bonuses distort banking

By Randy Schekman
The Guardian
Originally posted on December 9, 2013

I am a scientist. Mine is a professional world that achieves great things for humanity. But it is disfigured by inappropriate incentives. The prevailing structures of personal reputation and career advancement mean the biggest rewards often follow the flashiest work, not the best. Those of us who follow these incentives are being entirely rational – I have followed them myself – but we do not always best serve our profession's interests, let alone those of humanity and society.

We all know what distorting incentives have done to finance and banking. The incentives my colleagues face are not huge bonuses, but the professional rewards that accompany publication in prestigious journals – chiefly Nature, Cell and Science.

The entire story is here.

Dan Ariely on 23andMe and the Burden of Knowledge

By Scott Berinato
Harvard Business Review Blog
Originally published December 9, 2013

News broke Friday that 23andMe, the provider of genetic testing services built around a $99 kit you can use at home, would cease providing health information to consumers while the product underwent a Food and Drug Administration approval process, because the FDA considers the test a medical device that requires regulatory review. While the FDA reviews the product, 23andMe will continue to provide customers ancestry data and raw data.

Coincidentally, right when the news was posted, I was speaking with celebrated behavioral economist Dan Ariely about 23andMe. Ariely saw an ad for the kit and his curiosity prompted him to take the test. When he got the results, he knew he wanted to direct a researcher’s lens on it, because “this was standard, classic, even an exaggerated case of information overload. I wanted to analyze it from the point of view of what we can do with this information, and what should we do. I also had the thought, maybe we could use it for our research on decision making.” So Ariely got kits for all of the researchers on his staff. He spoke to me about the results of that experiment, and how he hopes products like 23andMe could improve based on behavioral science.

The entire blog post is here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Forgiveness: How does it work?

By Justin Caouette
A Philosopher's Take
Originally published June 12, 2013

Here are some excerpts:

My current philosophical interests are centered around the metaphysics of moral responsibility. This forces me to deal with the assumed underlying epistemic and control conditions. It also forces me to consider blame; when one is worthy of it (blameworthiness), how we normally ascribe it (active blame), and how we move from blame and holding one accountable to forgiveness. The focus of this post will be on forgiveness and some questions that arise when thinking about it.


Emotional forgiveness seems to be a more difficult form of forgiveness that is much less attainable. Let’s take the same case into consideration. Following the punch in the face you get angry. Even after you’ve come to a rational understanding of why he did it you may still carry the anger or disappointment in his inability to see the difference between you and the thief. This may permanently harm your relationship to him, and, if it does it can be said that you have not emotionally forgave him.

The entire blog post is here.

Should Studying Philosophy Change Us?

By Benjamin Barer
Huffington Post Blog
Originally posted on December 9, 2013

The years I spent studying academic (Western) philosophy during my undergraduate education were quite transformative. I was presented, and equipped, with a vocabulary to use in talking about the most difficult and timeless of issues, connecting myself to a strong tradition of other minds who devoted their lives to doing the same. Because of how meaningful I found the study of philosophy, it has remained puzzling to me that, almost without exception, no one else who I have encountered who studied philosophy took away from it what I did.

The entire post is here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Neuroscience and Free Will: New study debunks Libet’s interpretation

By Justin Caouette
A Philosopher's Take
Originally published August 10, 2012

The interconnection of neuroscience and free will has many researchers trying to make bold claims about their findings. In my last post I called Sam Harris’ conclusion that “free will is an illusion” into question. Specifically, I suggested that there were competing interpretations that could be made from the data that neuroscientist Benjamin Libet was using to debunk free will (I mentioned Al Mele’s interpretation as a counterexample to Libet’s). Finally, some neuroscientists seem to have considered Mele’s suggestion (though interestingly I read no reference to Mele) and did some science to test his alternative interpretation. It turns out that Mele was right,and in turn, that Libet was a bit hasty with his conclusion, as was Sam Harris. Click here for the New Scientist article detailing the study. So it seems that the criticisms I levied against Harris might have more sticking power as a result. Seems that Libet has been debunked and not free will. Below you’ll find some central points directly taken from the New Scientist article.

The entire article is here.

Incompatibilism and “Bypassed” Agency

By Gunnar Bjornsson


Both compatibilist and incompatibilist theories of moral responsibility are largely supported with reference to intuitions about cases. However, such intuitions vary among philosophers and laymen alike, and even people theoretically committed to compatibilism or incompatibilism can often feel the pull of intuitions in line with the opposite view. While our understanding of various arguments and of practices of holding responsible has made tremendous progress over the last few decades, it is fair to say that the basic disagreements over incompatibilism have remained.

One way to try to break this stalemate is to look not at the direct arguments for or against incompatibilism, but at the intuitions that seem to drive the debate. For example, if it could be shown, empirically, that pre-theoretical incompatibilist commitments are typically based on some clearly identifiable mistake, this might give us reason to doubt intuitions that flow from such commitments. (Similarly, of course, for compatibilist commitments.)

In earlier work, Karl Persson and I have argued that a certain independently supported general account of responsibility judgments gives us reason to disregard the basic intuitions grounding incompatibilist or skeptical convictions (Björnsson 2011, Björnsson and Persson 2009, 2012, 2013). According to this account, the Explanation Hypothesis, attributions of responsibility are implicit explanatory judgments, understanding the object of responsibility as straightforwardly explained by the agent’s motivational structures. Incompatibilist intuitions arise from shifts in salient explanatory models, shifts that, we argue, are predictable but epistemically weightless side effects of mechanisms the function of which is to keep track of mundane relations between agents and outcomes.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Ethical Considerations in the Development and Application of Mental and Behavioral Nosologies: Lessons from DSM-5

By Robert M. Gordon and Lisa Cosgrove
Psychological Injury and Law
December 13, 2013


We are not likely to find a diagnostic system as “unethical,” per se, but rather find that it creates ethical concerns in its formulation and application. There is an increased risk of misuse and misunderstanding of the DSM-5 particularly when applied to forensic assessment because of documented problems with reliability and validity. For example, when field tested, the American Psychiatric Association reported diagnostic category kappa levels as acceptable that were far below the standard level of acceptability. The DSM-5 does not offer sensitivity and specificity levels and thus psychologists must keep this in mind when using or teaching this manual. Also, especially in light of concerns about diagnostic inflation, we recommend that psychologists exercise caution when using the DSM-5 in forensic assessments, including civil and criminal cases. Alternatives to the DSM-5, such as the International Classification of Diseases and the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual are reviewed.

Here is an excerpt:

It should be emphasized that ethical concerns about DSM-5 panel members having commercial ties is not meant in any way to imply that any task force or work group member intentionally made pro- industry decisions. Decades of research have demonstrated that cognitive biases are commonplace and very difficult to eradicate, and more recent studies suggest that disclosure of financial conflicts of interest may actually worsen bias (Dana & Lowenstein, 2003). This is because bias is most often manifested in subtle ways unbeknownst to the researcher or clinician, and thus is usually implicit and unintentional. Physicians—like everyone else—have ethical blind spots. Social scientists have documented the fact that physicians often fail to recognize their vulnerability to commercial interests because they mistakenly believe that they are immune to marketing and industry influence (Sah & Faugh-Burman, 2013).

The entire article is here.

What to Consider Before Undergoing a DNA Test

By Anne Tergesen
The Wall Street Journal
Originally published December 8, 2013

As the price of sequencing a person's entire DNA has tumbled from $1 billion a decade ago to a few thousand dollars today, many adults—and their physicians—are turning to genetic tests to better understand and manage their health.

The process, though, can be problematic. Some people who test, like the actress Angelina Jolie, learn information that can have dramatic consequences for their health and insurability—and that of their relatives.

And the testing business itself is still young and experiencing growing pains. Last month the Food and Drug Administration ordered genetic-testing firm 23andMe Inc. to stop marketing its $99 mail-order kit. The agency warned that false results could prompt consumers to undergo unnecessary health procedures. The company halted all ads for the kit and said it would work with regulators to address their concerns.

The entire article is here.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Interactive Effect of Anger and Disgust on Moral Outrage and Judgments

By Jessica M. Salerno and Liana C. Peter-Hagene
Psychological Science, October 2013; vol. 24, 10: pp. 2069-2078.
first published on August 22, 2013


The two studies reported here demonstrated that a combination of anger and disgust predicts moral outrage. In Study 1, anger toward moral transgressions (sexual assault, funeral picketing) predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least moderate disgust, and disgust predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least moderate anger. In Study 2, a mock-jury paradigm that included emotionally disturbing photographs of a murder victim revealed that, compared to anger, disgust was a more consistent predictor of moral outrage (i.e., it predicted moral outrage at all levels of anger). Furthermore, moral outrage mediated the effect of participants’ anger on their confidence in a guilty verdict—but only when anger co-occurred with at least a moderate level of disgust—whereas moral outrage mediated the effect of participants’ disgust on their verdict confidence at all levels of anger. The interactive effect of anger and disgust has important implications for theoretical explanations of moral outrage, moral judgments in general, and legal decision making.


General Discussion

Two studies confirmed that moral outrage is distinguishable from pure anger by demonstrating that moral outrage results from a combination of anger and disgust—even when the transgression did not include a body-disgust violation (funeral picketing). Despite often being characterized as the central emotional component of moral outrage, anger predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least a moderate level of disgust, and disgust predicted moral outrage only when it co-occurred with at least a moderate level of anger. In fact, disgust was a more consistent predictor of moral outrage in Study 2—it significantly predicted moral outrage at all levels of anger (and even in the absence of anger). This may be the case because disgust (vs. anger) is more resistant to mitigating evidence (Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011), which was presented in Study 2 (i.e., the defense’s case) but not in Study 1.

Furthermore, moral outrage mediated the effect of both disgust and anger on judgments with serious real-life consequences: murder verdicts. Anger increased moral outrage, which in turn increased participants’ confidence in a guilty verdict—but only when it co-occurred with at least moderate levels of disgust. Disgust predicted confidence in a guilty verdict through moral outrage, however, at all levels of anger. Because both anger and disgust are associated with certainty appraisals that decrease cognitive processing, each emotion might encourage greater reliance on the other when making judgments.

The entire article is here.

Inappropriateness of Medication Prescriptions to Elderly Patients in the Primary Care Setting

Dedan Opondo, Saied Eslami, Stefan Visscher, Sophia E. de Rooij, Robert Verheij, Joke C. Korevaar, Ameen Abu-Hanna
Published: August 22, 2012DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043617



Inappropriate medication prescription is a common cause of preventable adverse drug events among elderly persons in the primary care setting.


The aim of this systematic review is to quantify the extent of inappropriate prescription to elderly persons in the primary care setting.


We systematically searched Ovid-Medline and Ovid-EMBASE from 1950 and 1980 respectively to March 2012. Two independent reviewers screened and selected primary studies published in English that measured (in)appropriate medication prescription among elderly persons (>65 years) in the primary care setting. We extracted data sources, instruments for assessing medication prescription appropriateness, and the rate of inappropriate medication prescriptions. We grouped the reported individual medications according to the Anatomical Therapeutic and Chemical (ATC) classification and compared the median rate of inappropriate medication prescription and its range within each therapeutic class.


We included 19 studies, 14 of which used the Beers criteria as the instrument for assessing appropriateness of prescriptions. The median rate of inappropriate medication prescriptions (IMP) was 20.5% [IQR 18.1 to 25.6%.]. Medications with largest median rate of inappropriate medication prescriptions were propoxyphene 4.52(0.10–23.30)%, doxazosin 3.96 (0.32 15.70)%, diphenhydramine 3.30(0.02–4.40)% and amitriptiline 3.20 (0.05–20.5)% in a decreasing order of IMP rate. Available studies described unequal sets of medications and different measurement tools to estimate the overall prevalence of inappropriate prescription.


Approximately one in five prescriptions to elderly persons in primary care is inappropropriate despite the attention that has been directed to quality of prescription. Diphenhydramine and amitriptiline are the most common inappropriately prescribed medications with high risk adverse events while propoxyphene and doxazoxin are the most commonly prescribed medications with low risk adverse events. These medications are good candidates for being targeted for improvement e.g. by computerized clinical decision support.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

VA Is Broken: Death, Medical Mistreatment, Claims Backlogs And Neglect

By Jamie Reno
International Business Times
Originally posted on November 27, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

One presidential administration after another has vowed to fix the embattled VA, which employs more than 300,000 men and women and is the second largest department in the federal government after the Pentagon. President Obama has even increased VA's annual budget to an all-time high of $150 billion. But VA’s health care system continues to worsen in more and more dangerous ways, severely underserving the nearly 7 million veterans who rely on the network for care annually.

In just the past year, we've learned about at least 21 preventable deaths of military veterans at VA facilities across the nation as well as the spread of infectious diseases at these hospitals and clinics. In addition, there is evidence of bonuses awarded to executives at troubled VA hospitals and a lengthy ongoing disability claims backlog. Meanwhile, frustrated lawmakers hold hearings on VA shortcomings, adopt new rules in hopes of turning the VA around, and even create websites highlighting VA's many problems -- to no avail.

“It’s become apparent to me and many others that there is a culture of complacency among the agency’s middle management,” Rep. Jeffrey Miller (R-Fla.), chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), told International Business Times.

The entire story is here.

Argosy University Denver fined $3.3 million for deceptive practices

By Anthony Cotton
The Denver Post
Originally posted December 5, 2013

Argosy University Denver, a for-profit school, will pay $3.3 million in restitution and fines for engaging in deceptive marketing practices, the Colorado attorney general's office said Thursday.

"Our investigation revealed a pattern of Argosy recklessly launching doctoral degree programs without substantiating or supporting that they led to the advertised outcomes," Deputy Attorney General Jan Zavislan said in a statement. "That is illegal under Colorado law and why we are holding Argosy accountable."

The entire story is here.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Is Neuroscience the Death of Free Will?

By Eddie Nahmias
The New York Times
Originally published November 13, 2011 and still relevant today

Is free will an illusion?  Some leading scientists think so.  For instance, in 2002 the psychologist Daniel Wegner wrote, “It seems we are agents. It seems we cause what we do… It is sobering and ultimately accurate to call all this an illusion.” More recently, the neuroscientist Patrick Haggard declared, “We certainly don’t have free will.  Not in the sense we think.”  And in June, the neuroscientist Sam Harris claimed, “You seem to be an agent acting of your own free will. The problem, however, is that this point of view cannot be reconciled with what we know about the human brain.”

Here, I’ll explain why neuroscience is not the death of free will and does not “wreak havoc on our sense of moral and legal responsibility,” extending a discussion begun in Gary Gutting’s recent Stone column.  I’ll argue that the neuroscientific evidence does not undermine free will.  But first, I’ll explain the central problem: these scientists are employing a flawed notion of free will.  Once a better notion of free will is in place, the argument can be turned on its head.  Instead of showing that free will is an illusion, neuroscience and psychology can actually help us understand how it works.

The entire story is here.

Texas pair released after serving 21 years for 'satanic abuse'

Dan and Fran Keller, sentenced in 1991 for child sexual assault during US 'Satanic panic' era, released after district attorney conceded trial jury was probably swayed by faulty testimony

By Tom Dart
The Guardian
Originally posted December 5, 2013

Here are two excerpts:

The only physical evidence against the Kellers was the testimony of Dr. Michael Mouw, who examined the girl in the emergency room of a local hospital after the therapy session and said he found tears in her hymen that potentially indicated that she was molested.

Mouw signed an affidavit last January in which he affirms that he now realises his inexperience led him to a conclusion that "is not scientifically or medically valid, and that I was mistaken."

In an appeal filed on behalf of Fran Keller earlier this year, her lawyer, Keith Hampton, also argued that the state presented misleading evidence about the cemetery, relied on a false witness confession and the testimony of a "quack" satanic abuse "expert", and that suggestive interview techniques had encouraged the children to make "fantastical false statements".


DeYoung said that suggestive and insistent interviewing strategies prompted children to make up stories and start to believe what they were telling the adults, and that the received wisdom was that children would not lie about such serious crimes. Media and parental pressure obliged the police to give credence even to risible allegations.

The entire story is here.

There is an interesting Geraldo Rivera special television episode, Exposing Satan's Underground from 1988, associated with this story found here on YouTube.  The entire episode is worth watching, if you are interested in the hysteria and panic of that time.  At the 1 hour and 15 minute mark, psychologists and psychiatrists report threats to their lives when treating survivors of ritualistic abuse.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Deep roots of Our Political Divide

This Is Interesting Podcast
Originally aired December 4, 2013

Matt Miller interviews Jonathan Haidt on politics, perspective, morality, and justice.

The entire podcast is here.

Why you don't really have free will

By Jerry Coyne
USA Today
Originally published in January 2012, but still relevant today.

Here are two excerpts:

The debate about free will, long the purview of philosophers alone, has been given new life by scientists, especially neuroscientists studying how the brain works. And what they're finding supports the idea that free will is a complete illusion.

The issue of whether we have of free will is not an arcane academic debate about philosophy, but a critical question whose answer affects us in many ways: how we assign moral responsibility, how we punish criminals, how we feel about our religion, and, most important, how we see ourselves — as autonomous or automatons.


But two lines of evidence suggest that such free will is an illusion.

The first is simple: we are biological creatures, collections of molecules that must obey the laws of physics. All the success of science rests on the regularity of those laws, which determine the behavior of every molecule in the universe. Those molecules, of course, also make up your brain — the organ that does the "choosing." And the neurons and molecules in your brain are the product of both your genes and your environment, an environment including the other people we deal with. Memories, for example, are nothing more than structural and chemical changes in your brain cells. Everything that you think, say, or do, must come down to molecules and physics.

True "free will," then, would require us to somehow step outside of our brain's structure and modify how it works. Science hasn't shown any way we can do this because "we" are simply constructs of our brain. We can't impose a nebulous "will" on the inputs to our brain that can affect its output of decisions and actions, any more than a programmed computer can somehow reach inside itself and change its program.

The entire, interesting article is here.  Feel free to read it or not, but I know some of you have no choice but to read it, while others not.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Psychologists strike a blow for reproducibility

By Ed Yong
Originally published November 26, 2013

A large international group set up to test the reliability of psychology experiments has successfully reproduced the results of 10 out of 13 past experiments. The consortium also found that two effects could not be reproduced.

Psychology has been buffeted in recent years by mounting concern over the reliability of its results, after repeated failures to replicate classic studies. A failure to replicate could mean that the original study was flawed, the new experiment was poorly done or the effect under scrutiny varies between settings or groups of people.

The entire story is here.

It's time for psychologists to put their house in order

By Keith Laws
The Guardian
Originally published February 27, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Psychologists find significant statistical support for their hypotheses more frequently than any other science, and this is not a new phenomenon. More than 30 years ago, it was reported that psychology researchers are eight times as likely to submit manuscripts for publication when the results are positive rather than negative.

Unpublished, "failed" replications and negative findings stay in the file-drawer and therefore remain unknown to future investigators, who may independently replicate the null-finding (each also unpublished) - until by chance, a spuriously significant effect turns up.

It is this study that is published. Such findings typically emerge with large effect sizes (usually being tested with small samples), and then shrivel as time passes and replications fail to document the purported phenomenon. If the unreliability of the effect is eventually recognised, it occurs with little fanfare.

The entire story is here.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Whose Character?

Why Character Education is Inherently Flawed

Lelac Almagor
Boston Review
November 26, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

In pursuit of character education, our schools have convened research groups to identify the most important character strengths, taught special courses on character alongside electives such as music and art, and assembled “character report cards” with separate ratings from each teacher for each trait. The favored buzzwords are “dual-purpose instruction,” infusing ordinary lessons about fractions or paying attention with the language of character. “Make it the air we breathe,” one administrator told us. “Put it into everything.” When kids misbehave, we urge them to show more character; students who do well win character awards at special assemblies; we start giving points for integrity, and then integrity starts to mean following directions, and then we start taking integrity points away. Instead of teaching these strong and simple values, we muddy and diminish them until they are just another set of arbitrary rules, or new names for the same old rules we’ve always had. Character starts to look a little more like compliance. The lapse in integrity is our own.

For my part, I’ve given up on character education as such, on pre-planned lessons pushing abstract nouns. I won’t set out to repair some deficit in my kids that can be blamed for the trouble they encounter. Nor do I favor reframing our everyday conversations to match the jargon of the day.

The entire article is here.

Interview with Paul Russell on Free Will and Responsibility

Many philosophical theories try to evade the uncomfortable truth that luck and fate play a role in the conduct of our moral lives, argues the philosopher. He chooses the best books on free will and responsibility.

By Nigel Warburton @philosophybites
Five Books
Originally published December 2, 2013

What is free will?

Our interest in free will starts from our self-image. We are conscious of being agents in the world, capable of doing things and being active. We believe that we can intervene and order our own fate. We’re in control of the trajectory of our own life. That self-image immediately tracks something that is deeply important to us, which is our sense that we are also moral agents. We are accountable to one another for the quality of our actions and what flows from them.

So the problem of free will starts off at a very general level with the question ‘Are we really in control?’ In particular, is our view of ourselves as accountable, moral, ethical agents — which is intimately connected with that self-image — really accurate?

Most people feel, to some degree, in control of how they behave. There may be moments when they become irrational and other forces take over,  or where outside people force them to do things, but if I want to raise my hand or say “Stop!” those things seem to be easily within my conscious control. We also feel very strongly that people, including ourselves, merit praise and blame for the actions they perform because it’s us that’s performing them. It’s not someone else doing those things. And if we do something wrong, knowingly, it’s right to blame us for that.

That’s right. The common sense view — although we may articulate it in different ways in different cultures — is that there is some relevant sense in which we are in control and we are morally accountable. What makes philosophy interesting is that sceptical arguments can be put forward that appear to undermine or discredit our confidence in this common sense position. One famous version of this difficulty has theological roots. If, as everyone once assumed, there is a God, who creates the world and has the power to decide all that happens in it, then our common sense view of ourselves as free agents seems to be threatened, since God controls and guides everything that happens – including all our actions. Similar or related problems seem to arise with modern science.

The scientific challenge is that for everything that we do, we can explain it causally. There’s some prior cause that made us do that — you can go back to childhood, to genetics, early conditioning, environmental factors. When you give the full picture, it seems there is no room for freedom.

Exactly. As in a lot of other familiar philosophical problems, critical reflection and self-consciousness about our commitments erodes our natural easy confidence, or, if you want, our complacency.

The entire interview is here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

People with mental health problems still waiting over a year for talking treatments, UK

Medical News Today
Originally published November 28, 2013

More than one in ten (12%) people with mental health problems are stuck on waiting lists for over a year before receiving talking treatments and over half (54%) wait over three months, reveals a new report launched by the We Need to Talk coalition of which the mental health charity Mind is part of (1).

The survey (2) of over 1,600 people who have tried to access talking therapies such as counselling and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy on the NHS in England over the last two years also shows how some people are paying for private therapy to get the help they desperately need. One in ten (11%) said that they had faced costs for private treatment because the therapy they needed was not available on the NHS.

The choice of treatment on offer was also found to be limited even though CBT, the most commonly prescribed talking treatment, doesn't work for everyone. The coalition found that three in five people (58%) weren't offered a choice in the type of therapy they received.

Since 2007, the Government's increased investment in the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has helped millions of people to access psychological therapies on the NHS who otherwise wouldn't have had this support. However, delays in accessing support and a lack of choice is having a devastating effect on people's lives and recovery.

The entire article is here.

What can History do for Bioethics?

Bioethics ISSN 0269-9702 (print); 1467-8519 (online)
Volume 27 Number 4 2013 pp 215–223


This article details the relationship between history and bioethics. I argue that historians’ reluctance to engage with bioethics rests on a misreading of the field as solely reducible to applied ethics, and overlooks previous enthusiasm for historical perspectives. I claim that seeing bioethics as its practitioners see it – as an interdisciplinary meeting ground – should encourage historians to collaborate in greater numbers. I conclude by outlining how bioethics might benefit from new histories of the field, and how historians can lend a fresh perspective to bioethical debates.

The entire article is here.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Concept of Evil

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
First published Tue Nov 26, 2013

During the past thirty years, moral, political, and legal philosophers have become increasingly interested in the concept of evil. This interest has been partly motivated by ascriptions of ‘evil’ by laymen, social scientists, journalists, and politicians as they try to understand and respond to various atrocities and horrors of the past eighty years, e.g., the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and killing sprees by serial killers such as Jeffery Dahmer. It seems that we cannot capture the moral significance of these actions and their perpetrators by calling them ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ or even ‘very very wrong’ or ‘very very bad.’ We need the concept of evil.

To avoid confusion, it is important to note that there are at least two concepts of evil: a broad concept and a narrow concept. The broad concept picks out any bad state of affairs, wrongful action, or character flaw. The suffering of a toothache is evil in the broad sense as is a white lie. Evil in the broad sense has been divided into two categories: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evils are bad states of affairs which do not result from the intentions or negligence of moral agents. Hurricanes and toothaches are examples of natural evils. By contrast, moral evils do result from the intentions or negligence of moral agents. Murder and lying are examples of moral evils.

Evil in the broad sense, which includes all natural and moral evils, tends to be the sort of evil referenced in theological contexts, such as in discussions of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is the problem of accounting for evil in a world created by an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. It seems that if the creator has these attributes, there would be no evil in the world. But there is evil in the world. Thus, there is reason to believe that an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good creator does not exist.

The entire page is here.

The Critical Role of School Climate in Effective Bullying Prevention

By Cixin Wanga, Brandi Berryb & Susan M. Swearerc
Theory Into Practice
Volume 52, Issue 4, 2013


Research has shown a negative association between positive school climate and bullying behavior. This article reviews research on school climate and bullying behavior and proposes that an unhealthy and unsupportive school climate (e.g., negative relationship between teachers and students, positive attitudes towards bullying) provides a social context that allows bullying behavior to occur. We provide information on how to evaluate the school climate and intervene to promote a more positive school climate and to reduce bullying behavior. Although there has been an increased interest among school personnel, parents, and students to reduce bullying behavior, the issue of how to assess the myriad of factors that may cause and maintain bullying behaviors, and to select evidence-based prevention and intervention programs, remains a challenge for many educators. This article seeks to address these two issues by highlighting the importance of school climate in bullying prevention and reviewing some school climate evaluations and intervention programs.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Evidence-Based Medicine and the Practicing Clinician

Finlay A. McAlister, Ian Graham, Gerald W. Karr, Andreas Laupacis
Journal of General Internal Medicine
Volume 14, Issue 4, pages 236–242, April 1999 (and still relevant today)


OBJECTIVE: To assess the attitudes of practicing general internists toward evidence-based medicine (EBM—defined as the process of systematically finding, appraising, and using contemporaneous research findings as the basis for clinical decisions) and their perceived barriers to its use.

DESIGN: Cross-sectional, self-administered mail questionnaire conducted between June and October 1997.

PARTICIPANTS: Questionnaires were sent to all 521 physician members of the Canadian Society of Internal Medicine with Canadian mailing addresses; 296 (60%) of 495 eligible physicians responded. Exclusion of two incomplete surveys resulted in a final sample size of 294.

MAIN RESULTS: Mean age of respondents was 46 years, 80% were male, and 52% worked in large urban medical centers. Participants reported using EBM in their clinical practice always (33, 11%), often (173, 59%), sometimes (80, 27%), or rarely/never (8, 3%). There were no significant differences in demographics, training, or practice types or locales on univariate or multivariate analyses between those who reported using EBM often or always and those who did not. Both groups reported high usage of traditional (non-EBM) information sources: clinical experience (93%), review articles (73%), the opinion of colleagues (61%), and textbooks (45%). Only a minority used EBM-related information sources such as primary research studies (45%), clinical practice guidelines (27%), or Cochrane Collaboration Reviews (5%) on a regular basis. Barriers to the use of EBM cited by respondents included lack of relevant evidence (26%), newness of the concept (25%), impracticality for use in day-to-day practice (14%), and negative impact on traditional medical skills and “the art of medicine” (11%). Less than half of respondents were confident in basic skills of EBM such as conducting a literature search (46%) or evaluating the methodology of published studies (34%). However, respondents demonstrated a high level of interest in further education about these tasks.

CONCLUSIONS: The likelihood that physicians will incorporate EBM into their practice cannot be predicted by any demographic or practice-related factors. Even those physicians who are most enthusiastic about EBM rely more on traditional information sources than EBM-related sources. The most important barriers to increased use of EBM by practicing clinicians appear to be lack of knowledge and familiarity with the basic skills, rather than skepticism about the concept.

The entire study is here.

Thanks to Ed Zuckerman for this research article.

Doctors who call patients hypochondriacs are committing malpractice

By Zackary Berger
Originally posted on November 25, 2013

There’s one question I get asked a lot: “I research my health problems on the Internet. Am I a hypochondriac?”

First, we should ban that word when talking about ourselves. No one wants to be called that, and doctors who use that word are committing malpractice. Everyone has some range of complaints and worries in life, often physical and mental together, and this is our job as doctors: to hear them out. I firmly believe that no complaint is illegitimate.

The entire blog post is here.

Thanks to Ed Zuckerman for this information.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence

Dunning, D., Johnson, K., Ehrlinger, J., and Kruger, J. (2003). Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence. Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Jun., 2003), pp. 83-87


Successful negotiation of everyday life would seem to require people to possess insight about deficiencies in their intellectual and social skills. However, people tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence. This lack of awareness arises because poor performers are doubly cursed: Their lack of skill deprives them not only of the ability to produce correct responses, but also of the expertise necessary to surmise that they are not producing them. People base their perceptions of performance, in part, on their preconceived notions about their skills. Because these notions often do not correlate with objective performance, they can lead people to make judgments about their performance that have little to do with actual accomplishment.

The entire article is here.

Research on religion/spirituality and forgiveness: A meta-analytic review.

By Don Davis and others
Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Vol 5(4), Nov 2013, 233-241.
doi: 10.1037/a0033637


In the present article, we review the literature on religion/spirituality (R/S) and forgiveness using meta-analysis. R/S was positively related to trait forgivingness (i.e., across relationships and situations; r = .29), state forgiveness (i.e., of a specific offense; r = .15), and self-forgiveness (r = .12). Contextual measures of R/S more proximal to the forgiveness process were more strongly related to state forgiveness than were dispositional measures of R/S. Measures of one’s relationship with the sacred were more strongly related to self-forgiveness than were dispositional R/S measures. We discuss implications for next steps in the study of R/S and forgiveness.


Until the early 1990s, forgiveness had been studied primarily by philosophers and theologians, and thus forgiveness was primarily conceptualized as a philosophical or religious construct. Since that time, however, the psychological study of forgiveness has expanded rapidly (for a recent review, see Fehr, Gelfand, & Nag, 2010).

Forgiveness has been associated with a variety of benefits for physical health, mental health, and relationships (McCullough, Root, Tabak, & Witvliet, 2009), primarily through the reduction of stress (Worthington & Scherer, 2004).

Given the numerous personal and social benefits of forgiveness, psychologists have sought to understand factors that might promote or hinder forgiveness.

One factor that has received considerable attention in the psychological literature on forgiveness is religion/spirituality (R/S).

In the present article, we provide an overview of trends in research on R/S and forgiveness.

Recently, research has shifted toward more fluid and contextual accounts of how R/S influences forgiveness.

We conducted a meta-analytic review to explore the relationship between R/S and forgiveness, and we examined R/S measurement moderators based on these theoretical shifts in the field.

The entire article is here.

Thanks to Ken Pope for this article.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Could a brain scan diagnose you as a psychopath?

A US neuroscientist claims he has found evidence of psychopathy in his own brain activity

By Chris Chamber
The Guardian
Originally published November 25, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard from Fallon. In addition to the fact that his claims haven't been published in peer-reviewed journals, here are three reasons why we should take what he says with a handful of salt.

One of the most obvious mistakes in Fallon’s reasoning is called the fallacy of reverse inference. His argument goes like this: areas of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and orbitofrontal cortex are important for empathy and moral reasoning. At the same time, empathy and moral reasoning are lost or impaired in many psychopaths. So, people who show reduced activity in these regions must be psychopaths.

The flaw with this argument – as Fallon himself must know – is that there is no one-to-one mapping between activity in a given brain region and complex abilities such as empathy. There is no empathy region and there is no psychopath switch. If you think of the brain as a toolkit, these parts of the brain aren’t like hammers or screwdrivers that perform only one task. They’re more like Swiss army knives that have evolved to support a range of different abilities. And just as a Swiss army knife isn’t only a bottle opener, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex isn’t only associated with empathy and moral judgements. It is also involved in decision-making, sensitivity to reward, memory, and predicting the future.

The entire article is here.

Conspiracy theories: Why we believe the unbelievable

By Michael Shermer
The Los Angeles Times
Originally posted on November 26, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Why do so many people refuse to accept this simple and obvious conclusion? The answer: psychology.

There are three psychological effects at work here, starting with "cognitive dissonance," or the discomfort felt when holding two ideas that are not in harmony. We attempt to reduce the dissonance by altering one of the ideas to be in accord with the other. In this case, the two discordant ideas are 1) JFK as one of the most powerful people on Earth who was 2) killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone loser, a nobody. Camelot brought down by a curmudgeon.

That doesn't feel right. To balance the scale, conspiracy elements are stacked onto the Oswald side: the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson and, in Oliver Stone's telling in his film "JFK," the military-industrial complex.

Cognitive dissonance was at work shortly after Princess Diana's death, which was the result of drunk driving, speeding and no seat belt. But princesses are not supposed to die the way thousands of regular people die each year, so the British royal family, the British intelligence services and others had to be fingered as co-conspirators.

The entire story is here.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Prolonging Life: Legal, Ethical, and Social Dilemmas

The Nour Foundation
Exploring Meaning and Commonality in Human Experience

An absolutely fascinating discussion on end of life issues.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Clang Went the Trolley

‘Would You Kill the Fat Man?’ and ‘The Trolley Problem’

By Sarah Bakewell
The New York Times
Originally published November 22, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Nothing intrigues philosophers more than a phenomenon that seems simultaneously self-evident and inexplicable. Thus, ever since the moral philosopher Philippa Foot set out Spur as a thought experiment in 1967, a whole enterprise of “trolley­ology” has unfolded, with trolleyologists generating ever more fiendish variants. (Fat Man was developed by the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson, in 1985.)

Some find it frivolous: One philosopher is quoted as snapping, “I just don’t do trolleys.” But it really matters what we do in such situations, sometimes on a vast scale. In 1944, new German V-1 rockets started pounding the southern suburbs of London, though they were clearly aimed at more central areas. The British not only let the Germans think the rockets were on target, but used double agents to feed them information suggesting they should adjust their aim even farther south. The government deliberately placed southern suburbanites in danger, but one scientific adviser, whose own family lived in South London, estimated that some 10,000 lives were saved as a result. A still more momentous decision occurred the following year when America dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on the argument that a quick end to the war would save lives — and by macabre coincidence, the Nagasaki bomb was nicknamed Fat Man.

The entire story is here.

Modern slavery all around us, home secretary says

Slavery in the UK is widespread but new laws will help to eradicate it, the home secretary has said.

BBC News
Originally published November 24, 2013

Following claims that three women were held for 30 years, Theresa May said figures show the numbers of victims in the UK was up by 25% in the past year.

She told the Sunday Telegraph she had made tackling "this abhorrent crime" a "personal priority".

She outlined plans to strengthen anti-slavery laws and appoint a commissioner to hold relevant agencies to account.

Her comments come after three women were rescued last month from a house in south London having allegedly been held as slaves for at least 30 years.

One of the women, a 30-year-old, is thought to have never lived independently.

The entire story is here.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

License to Ill: The Effects of Corporate Social Responsibility and CEO Moral Identity on Corporate Social Irresponsibility

By Margaret E. Ormiston and Elaine M. Wong
Personnel Psychology
Volume 66, Issue 4, pages 861–893, Winter 2013


Although managers and researchers have invested considerable effort into understanding corporate social responsibility (CSR), less is known about corporate social irresponsibility (CSiR). Drawing on strategic leadership and moral licensing research, we address this gap by considering the relationship between CSR and CSiR. We predict that prior CSR is positively associated with subsequent CSiR because the moral credits achieved through CSR enable leaders to engage in less ethical stakeholder treatment. Further, we hypothesize that leaders’ moral identity symbolization, or the degree to which being moral is expressed outwardly to the public through actions and behavior, will moderate the CSR–CSiR relationship, such that the relationship will be stronger when CEOs are high on moral identity symbolization rather than low on moral identity symbolization. Through an archival study of 49 Fortune 500 firms, we find support for our hypotheses.


Although moral licensing research has found that individuals are generally inclined to engage in morally questionable behavior after having engaged in socially desirable behavior, this process runs counter to the fundamental psychological finding that people desire consistency in their beliefs and behaviors (Audia, Locke, & Smith, 2000; Bem, 1972; Festinger, 1957). Thus, recent calls to examine when licensing occurs and whether some people remain consistent in their moral behavior across time have been issued (Merritt, Effron, & Monin, 2010). In other words, it is important to understand when inconsistency trumps people's basic desire for consistency. Some boundary conditions to moral licensing have been suggested, with Mulder and Aquino (in press), for instance, proposing that an individual difference, moral identity, influences the consistency of moral behavior across time.

The entire article is here.

Executive whistle blowing: what to do when no one listens

By Andrea Bonime-Blanc on Nov 5, 2013
The Ethical Corporation

I recently heard a keynote address by the former chief executive of Olympus, Michael Woodford. Woodford was the Olympus boss who within months of his appointment blew the whistle on the company’s multi-year $1bn-plus financial fraud. After exposing the company’s fraud, Woodford wrote about it in the book Exposure, soon to become a movie.

This example underscores the difficulty that all whistleblowers (or people who dare to speak up) experience within their organisations. Speaking up about perceived or actual wrongdoing can be one of the most difficult and vexing ethical, moral, legal and personal dilemmas anyone can face in their lifetime. The stories of those who have blown the whistle only to be ostracised, demoted or terminated are the stuff of the bestseller lists and box office blockbusters.

The entire article is here.

Friday, December 6, 2013

What don't students understand about morality?

By David Morrow
The Philosopher's Cocoon
Originally published November 19, 2013

Here is an excerpt:

Here are a few more false beliefs that I suspect many students bring to our intro courses:
  1. "Morality is just a matter of opinion," which they take to mean that moral claims are neither true or false. 
  2. Morality, like law, must be positivistic—that is, something can be right or wrong only if someone or something says that it's right or wrong. (Thus, "Who's to say what's right or wrong?") 
  3. "Morality is just your personal feelings." This is a wishy-washy mix of emotivism and subjectivism. It entails that you're always right about moral claims that apply to yourself, and so obviously conflicts both with (1) and with cultural relativism. 
  4. Saying that x is wrong is equivalent to saying that anyone who does x should be punished. (Now, Mill says something like this, but allows that the punishment could be left to one's own conscience. Many students seem to think that "society," in some form or another, should punish the person.)

Pushing the Intuitions behind Moral Internalism

Derek Leben and Kristine Wilckens


Moral Internalism claims that there is a necessary connection between judging that some action is morally right/wrong and being motivated to perform/avoid that action. For instance, if I sincerely believe that it is morally wrong to eat animals, then I would be automatically motivated not to eat animals. If I sincerely believe that it is morally required for me to take care of my children, then I would be automatically motivated to take care of my children. This claim is called ‘Internalism’ (or more technically, ‘Motivational Judgment Internalism’) because in such cases, the motivation is internal to the evaluative judgment. There are different types of Moral Internalism, but we will here be concerned with the conceptual variety advocated by Hare (1952), which claims that the link between moral judgments and motivation is an a priori conceptual truth.

The fact that Internalism appears intuitively to be true specifically for moral judgments has been extremely important to moral philosophers. In response to the skeptical question: “Why should I care about right and wrong?” some ethicists have argued that the question is nonsensical, since by making judgments about right and wrong, one is automatically motivated to care about these judgments. In response to the question: “What kind of judgments are moral judgments?” philosophers going back to Hume have argued that beliefs like ‘my car is black’ or ‘today is Tuesday’ can never in themselves motivate or direct anyone to perform some action, but only in conjunction with an emotion. If one adopts this Humean Theory of Motivation along with Moral Internalism, then, as Hume states, “it is impossible that the distinction betwixt moral good and evil can be made by reason; since that distinction has an influence on our actions, of which reason alone is incapable” (Hume, 1739). In other words, since beliefs are never inherently motivating, moral judgments cannot be normal beliefs about the world. This conclusion is known as (psychological) non-cognitivism, and has obvious consequences for how we engage in moral debate and consideration. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Consequences of the Hindsight Bias in Medical Decision Making

By Hal Arkes
doi: 10.1177/0963721413489988
Current Directions in Psychological Science October 2013 vol. 22 no. 5 356-360


The hindsight bias manifests in the tendency to exaggerate the extent to which a past event could have been predicted beforehand. This bias has particularly detrimental effects in the domain of medical decision making. I present a demonstration of the bias, its contribution to overconfidence, and its involvement in judgments of medical malpractice. Finally, I point out that physicians and psychologists can collaborate to the mutual benefit of both professions.

The hindsight bias manifests in the tendency to exaggerate the extent to which a past event could have been predicted beforehand. First systematically investigated by Fischhoff (1975), the bias is sometimes called “Monday morning quarterbacking” or the “I knew-it-all-along effect” (Wood, 1978). The hindsight bias has particularly detrimental effects in the domain of medical decision making. I begin with the classic study demonstrating how the bias diminishes the salutary impact of a medical education exercise.

The Hindsight Bias as an Impediment to Learning

A clinicopathologic conference (CPC) is a dramatic event at a hospital. A young physician, such as a resident, is given all of the documentation except the autopsy report that pertains to a deceased patient. After studying the material for a week or so, the physician presents the case to the assembled medical staff, going over the case and listing the differential diagnosis, which consists of the several possible diagnoses for this patient. Finally, the presenting physician announces the diagnosis that he or she thinks is the correct one. The presenter then sits down, sweating profusely, as the pathologist who did the autopsy takes the podium and announces the correct diagnosis. The cases are chosen because they are difficult, so the presenting physician’s hypothesis often is incorrect.

The entire article is here, behind a pay wall.  Hopefully you can obtain it through your university library.

Watchful Eye in Nursing Homes

By Jan Hoffman
The New York Times
Originally published November 18, 2013

Here are some excerpts:

In June, Mike DeWine, the Ohio state attorney general, announced that his office, with permission from families, had placed cameras in residents’ rooms in an unspecified number of state facilities. Mr. DeWine has moved to shut down at least one facility, in Zanesville, where, he said, cameras caught actions like an aide’s repeatedly leaving a stroke patient’s food by his incapacitated side.

The recordings can have an impact. Based on Ms. Racher’s videos, one aide pleaded guilty to abuse and neglect. The other appears to have fled the country. Similar scenes of abuse have been captured in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and other states by relatives who placed cameras in potted plants and radios, webcams and iPhones.


But the secret monitoring of a resident raises ethical and legal questions. Families must balance fears for their relative’s safety against an undignified invasion of their privacy. They must also consider the privacy rights of others who pass through the room, including roommates and visitors.

Proponents of hidden cameras argue that expectations of privacy have fallen throughout society: nanny cams, webcams and security cameras are ubiquitous.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Moral Behavior of Ethicists and the Power of Reason

By Joshua Rust and Eric Schwitzgebel

Professional ethicists behave no morally better, on average, than do other professors.  At least that’s what we have found in a series of empirical studies that we will summarize below.  Our results create a prima facie challenge for a certain picture of the relationship between intellectual reasoning and moral behavior – a picture on which explicit, intellectual cognition has substantial power to change the moral opinions of the reasoner and thereby to change the reasoner’s moral behavior.  Call this picture the Power of Reason view.  One alternative view has been prominently defended by Jonathan Haidt.  We might call it the Weakness of Reason view, or more colorfully the Rational Tail view, after the headline metaphor of Haidt’s seminal 2001 article, “The emotional dog and its rational tail” (in Haidt’s later 2012 book, the emotional dog becomes an “intuitive dog”).  According to the Rational Tail view (which comes in different degrees of strength), emotion or intuition drives moral opinion and moral behavior, and explicit forms of intellectual cognition function mainly post-hoc, to justify and socially communicate conclusions that flow from emotion or intuition.  Haidt argues that our empirical results favor his view (2012, p. 89).  After all, if intellectual styles of moral reasoning don’t detectably improve the behavior even of professional ethicists who build their careers on expertise in such reasoning, how much hope could there be for the rest of us to improve by such means?  While we agree with Haidt that our results support the Rational Tail view over some rationalistic rivals, we believe that other models of moral psychology are also consistent with our findings, and some of these models reserve an important role for reasoning in shaping the reasoner’s behavior and attitudes.  Part One summarizes our empirical findings.  Part Two explores five different theoretical models, including the Rational Tail, more or less consistent with those findings.

The entire article is here.

Higher emotional intelligence leads to better decision-making

Press Release
University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Toronto – The anxiety people feel making investment decisions may have more to do with the traffic they dealt with earlier than the potential consequences they face with the investment, but not if the decision-maker has high emotional intelligence a recent study published in Psychological Science suggests.

The study shows that understanding the source and relevance of emotions influences how much sway they have over individuals' decision-making and can affect the willingness to take risks.

"People often make decisions that are influenced by emotions that have nothing to do with the decisions they are making," says Stéphane Côté, a professor at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, who co-wrote the study with lead researcher Jeremy Yip of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. "Research has found that we fall prey to this all the time.

"People are driving and it's frustrating," says Prof. Côté. "They get to work and the emotions they felt in their car influences what they do in their offices. Or they invest money based on emotions that stem from things unrelated to their investments. But our investigation reveals that if they have emotional intelligence, they are protected from these biases."

The study's first experiment showed that participants with lower levels of emotional understanding allowed anxiety unrelated to decisions they were making concerning risk influence these decisions. Those with higher emotional intelligence did not.

The entire press release is here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Vignette: 29: A Blog Attack

Psychologist Dr. Shermer learns from a colleague that she has been described in very unfavorable terms in a blog posted by an individual who publicly identifies herself as a patient of Dr. Shermer.

Dr. Shermer reviews the blog information.  The author is likely not a current patient.

The blogger insults Dr. Shermer’s appearance, her style of dress, and her office.  In essence, the blogger combines factual and inaccurate information into a well-formed, yet highly erroneous, description about Dr. Shermer’s role in the community and in the legal system.

There are many descriptions of Dr. Shermer that are blatantly false or misleading. Some of the falsehoods on the blog would be serious violations of the Ethics Code.

Upon reviewing the charts of several possible candidates as the offensive blogger, Dr. Shermer believes the blogger to be someone she evaluated in the past for a national security position.  The likely blogger can be emotionally labile and frequently feels a victim of “the system.” Dr. Shermer indicated a number of pathological characteristics in the report.  Dr. Shermer does not make the determination for the security clearance, but serves as a consultant for the government agency.

Dr. Shermer has a presence on social media and fears how her online reputation may be adversely affected by these ongoing blog posts.  She also fears that if she draws too much attention to the blog, then the blogger will gain greater traction.

Dr. Shermer fears the risk that the information could go to a licensing board and result in an investigation.  Although completely unwarranted, an investigation would add unnecessary stress in her life.  There is also a risk that her reputation could be ruined if the former client’s blog posts gain a larger following.

The psychologist wonders how she can take proactive action.

Dr. Shermer considers hiring an attorney.

Dr. Shermer also considers hiring an online reputation management company.

Dr. Shermer calls you for a consultation.  What are some recommendations that you would make to Dr. Shermer?

How would you feel if you were Dr. Shermer?

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Pervasive Problem With Placebos in Psychology

By Walter R. Boot, Daniel J. Simons, Cary Stothart, and Cassie Stutts
doi: 10.1177/1745691613491271
Perspectives on Psychological Science July 2013 vol. 8 no. 4 445-454


To draw causal conclusions about the efficacy of a psychological intervention, researchers must compare the treatment condition with a control group that accounts for improvements caused by factors other than the treatment. Using an active control helps to control for the possibility that improvement by the experimental group resulted from a placebo effect. Although active control groups are superior to “no-contact” controls, only when the active control group has the same expectation of improvement as the experimental group can we attribute differential improvements to the potency of the treatment. Despite the need to match expectations between treatment and control groups, almost no psychological interventions do so. This failure to control for expectations is not a minor omission—it is a fundamental design flaw that potentially undermines any causal inference. We illustrate these principles with a detailed example from the video-game-training literature showing how the use of an active control group does not eliminate expectation differences. The problem permeates other interventions as well, including those targeting mental health, cognition, and educational achievement. Fortunately, measuring expectations and adopting alternative experimental designs makes it possible to control for placebo effects, thereby increasing confidence in the causal efficacy of psychological interventions.

The entire article is here.

Don’t Mess With My ‘Sacred Values’

The New York Times
Published: November 16, 2013

Here are two excerpts:

Faced with mundane choices, people will readily alter their behavior in response to money. You can pay someone to clean your house or defend you in a murder trial. But with issues like gun control or abortion, a fundamentally different calculus seems to be at work. Economic trade-offs — like lifting an embargo in exchange for concessions — suddenly become unacceptable. As Professor Tetlock (now also at the University of Pennsylvania) has observed, even to suggest such a trade-off is to invite moral outrage, along with feelings of contamination and a need for moral cleansing.


Not every issue can be so easily finessed — but whatever the circumstance, money seems a subject best avoided. When Scott Atran of the French National Center for Scientific Research and Jeremy Ginges of the New School for Social Research asked people in the Middle East about potential solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they found that the mention of money frequently incited moral outrage. Among Palestinian refugees, those who were open to compromise responded favorably to the idea of giving up their right of return to Israel in exchange for financial support for the new state of Palestine. But when moral absolutists among the refugees were offered this solution, they greeted it with anger, disgust and increased support for violence. Symbolic gestures — like Israel’s giving up of its claim on the West Bank — had the opposite effect. The same pattern held with Jewish settlers in the West Bank.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Morality, Disgust, and Countertransference in Psychotherapy

John D. Gavazzi, Psy.D., ABPP
Samuel Knapp, Ed.D., ABPP
At the most basic level, successful outcomes in psychotherapy require a strong therapeutic alliance between psychologist and patient. A strong therapeutic bond can be cultivated in many different ways including, but not limited to, similarities between psychologist and patient (such as age, socioeconomic status, gender, etc.), psychologist empathy and acceptance, and patient confidence in the psychologist’s skills. A similarity in moral beliefs likely enhances the working relationship and correlates with positive outcomes in psychotherapy.

Just as shared values and moral similarities can strengthen the therapeutic relationship, negative moral judgments about a patient’s behaviors and beliefs (both past and current) can erode or rupture the helping relationship. In clinical terms, moral judgments can lead to negative countertransference. When a psychologist experiences a negative, morally-driven emotion related to the patient, this dynamic may adversely affect the quality of the therapeutic relationship. Within the therapeutic discourse, there are many topics related to the patient’s values, personal responsibility, and moral behaviors. Moral judgments and beliefs, like countertransference, are complex, intuitive, automatic, and emotional. In this article, we will focus on one theory of moral origins to understand how these complicated, instinctive, and gut-level reactions may promote negative countertransference.

The Crisis in Social Psychology: Paul Bloom on Bloggingheads.tv

Paul Bloom interviews Joseph Simmons about the crisis in social psychology.  They discuss the experimental method, the ability to replicate studies, false positives, and studies with "sexy findings".

The entire web site is here.