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

Monday, June 30, 2014

Unethical for the Sake of the Group

Risk of social exclusion and pro-group unethical behavior

By S. Thau, R. Defler-Rozin, M. Marko and others
Journal of Applied Psychology, Apr 28 , 2014, No Pagination Specified. doi: 10.1037/a0036708


This research tested the idea that the risk of exclusion from one’s group motivates group members to engage in unethical behaviors that secure better outcomes for the group (pro-group unethical behaviors). We theorized that this effect occurs because those at risk of exclusion seek to improve their inclusionary status by engaging in unethical behaviors that benefit the group; we tested this assumption by examining how the effect of exclusion risk on pro-group unethical behavior varies as a function of group members’ need for inclusion. A 2-wave field study conducted among a diverse sample of employees working in groups (Study 1) and a constructive replication using a laboratory experiment (Study 2) provided converging evidence for the theory. Study 1 found that perceived risk of exclusion from one’s workgroup predicted employees’ engagement in pro-group unethical behaviors, but only when employees have a high (not low) need for inclusion. In Study 2, compared to low risk of exclusion from a group, high risk of exclusion led to more pro-group (but not pro-self) unethical behaviors, but only for participants with a high (not low) need for inclusion. We discuss implications for theory and the management of unethical behaviors in organizations.


Rising reports of corporate scandals and incidents of employees engaging in behaviors that are considered "illegal or morally unacceptable to the larger community" (Jones, 1991, p. 367) have increased scholarly attention to the nature and causes of unethical behavior in organizations.

Examples of unethical behaviors include stealing from one's employer, deceiving customers, and misrepresenting performance (Trevino, den Nieuwenboer, & Kish- Gephart, 2014).

The costs associated with just one type of these behaviors--employee theft--are estimated at as much as $40 billion yearly (U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 2013), which is nearly ten times the cost of all street crime combined, including burglaries and robberies (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2011).

A large body of research has identified characteristics of individuals, moral issues, and organizational contexts as antecedents of unethical behavior (Kish-Gephart, Harrison, & Trevin~o, 2010; Trevino, 1986; Trevino et al., 2014; Trevino, Weaver, & Reynolds, 2006).

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Reprints for the article can be emailed to this author.

Book Critique of "The Quest for a Moral Compass"

By John Gray
The New Statesman
Originally published June 12, 2014

Book: The Quests for a Moral Compass: A Global History of Ethics
By Kenan Malik

Here is an excerpt:

The Quest for a Moral Compass is a rationalist history of ethics in which all of the repugnant and troubling elements of rationalism have been airbrushed, Soviet-style, from the record. To be sure, the absence from the book of the sleazy side of rationalism may come in part from mere ignorance. In any event, it’s clear that Malik prefers not to know. From one angle this may be the normal dishonesty of an evangelising ideologue: Malik has a world-view to promote, and he’s not going to let awkward facts get in his way. From another perspective, The Quest for a Moral Compass is a testament to the perplexities of secular faith. Like Lecky, Malik writes in order to prop up a belief in moral progress. The difference is that while the Victorian sage appears to have had few doubts regarding the creed he was promoting, Malik often seems as anxious to persuade himself as to persuade his readers.

The rest of the critique is here.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Brain Imaging Research Shows How Unconscious Processing Improves Decision-Making

Carnegie Mellon
Press Release
Originally released on February 13, 2013

When faced with a difficult decision, it is often suggested to "sleep on it" or take a break from thinking about the decision in order to gain clarity.

But new brain imaging research from Carnegie Mellon University, published in the journal "Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience," finds that the brain regions responsible for making decisions continue to be active even when the conscious brain is distracted with a different task. The research provides some of the first evidence showing how the brain unconsciously processes decision information in ways that lead to improved decision-making.

"This research begins to chip away at the mystery of our unconscious brains and decision-making," said J. David Creswell, assistant professor of psychology in CMU's Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and director of the Health and Human Performance Laboratory. "It shows that brain regions important for decision-making remain active even while our brains may be simultaneously engaged in unrelated tasks, such as thinking about a math problem. What’s most intriguing about this finding is that participants did not have any awareness that their brains were still working on the decision problem while they were engaged in an unrelated task."

The entire press release is here.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Seattle doctor is suspended for sexting during surgery

By Lindsey Bever
The Washington Post
Originally published June 10, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Medical authorities have suspended the license of a Seattle anesthesiologist for allegedly sending explicit “selfies” and exchanging sexy text messages during surgeries.

The findings against 47-year-old Arthur K. Zilberstein, released Monday by the Washington state Department of Health, detail nearly 250 text messages with sexual innuendo he exchanged during procedures — all kinds of procedures, including Cesarean deliveries, pediatric appendectomies, epidurals, tubal ligations, cardiac-probe insertions.

The entire article is here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Psychology Can Make the Country Healthier

Insights can improve public health campaigns — and keep them from backfiring

By Crystal Hoyt and Jeni Burnette
Scientific American
Originally published June 10, 2014

Public health communications are designed to tackle significant medical issues such as obesity, AIDS, and cancer. For example, what message can best combat the growing obesity epidemic? Are educational messages effective at increasing condom use? Should cancer prevention messages stress the health risks of too much sun exposure? These are not just medical problems. These are fundamentally questions about perception, beliefs, and behavior. Psychologists bring a unique expertise to these questions and are finding consequential, and often non-intuitive, answers.

The entire article is here.

Does 'free will' stem from brain noise?

Press Release
University of California-Davis
Originally published June 9, 2014

Our ability to make choices — and sometimes mistakes — might arise from random fluctuations in the brain's background electrical noise, according to a recent study from the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis.

"How do we behave independently of cause and effect?" said Jesse Bengson, a postdoctoral researcher at the center and first author on the paper. "This shows how arbitrary states in the brain can influence apparently voluntary decisions."

The brain has a normal level of "background noise," Bengson said, as electrical activity patterns fluctuate across the brain. In the new study, decisions could be predicted based on the pattern of brain activity immediately before a decision was made.

The entire press release is here.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The rape of men: the darkest secret of war

By Will Storr
The Guardian
Originally published July 16, 2011

Here is an excerpt:

It's not just in East Africa that these stories remain unheard. One of the few academics to have looked into the issue in any detail is Lara Stemple, of the University of California's Health and Human Rights Law Project. Her study Male Rape and Human Rights notes incidents of male sexual violence as a weapon of wartime or political aggression in countries such as Chile, Greece, Croatia, Iran, Kuwait, the former Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Twenty-one per cent of Sri Lankan males who were seen at a London torture treatment centre reported sexual abuse while in detention. In El Salvador, 76% of male political prisoners surveyed in the 1980s described at least one incidence of sexual torture. A study of 6,000 concentration-camp inmates in Sarajevo found that 80% of men reported having been raped.

The entire article is here.

A theory of jerks

By Eric Schwitzgebel
Aeon Magazine
Originally published June 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Why, you might be wondering, should a philosopher make it his business to analyse colloquial terms of abuse? Doesn’t Urban Dictionary cover that kind of thing quite adequately? Shouldn’t I confine myself to truth, or beauty, or knowledge, or why there is something rather than nothing (to which the Columbia philosopher Sidney Morgenbesser answered: ‘If there was nothing you’d still be complaining’)? I am, in fact, interested in all those topics. And yet I suspect there’s a folk wisdom in the term ‘jerk’ that points toward something morally important. I want to extract that morally important thing, to isolate the core phenomenon towards which I think the word is groping. Precedents for this type of work include the Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt’s essay ‘On Bullshit’ (2005) and, closer to my target, the Irvine philosopher Aaron James’s book Assholes (2012). Our taste in vulgarity reveals our values.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Cambodian Activist’s Fall Exposes Broad Deception

By Thomas Fuller
The New York Times
Originally published June 14, 2014

The fall from grace of one of Cambodia’s most prominent social activists and the unraveling of her sad tale of being an orphan sold into sex slavery has highlighted what aid workers here say is widespread embellishment and in some cases outright deception in fund-raising, especially among the country’s orphanages.

Somaly Mam, who rose from rural poverty in Cambodia to become a jet-setting and glamorous symbol of the fight against the exploitation of women and children, stepped down last month from the United States-based charitable organization that carries her name after details of her widely publicized story were thrown into question.

The entire article is here.

Harvard report shines light on ex-researcher’s misconduct

By Carolyn Y. Johson
The Boston Globe
Originally published May 30, 2014

When former Harvard psychology professor Marc Hauser was found solely responsible in a series of six scientific misconduct cases in 2012, he distanced himself from the problems, portraying them as an unfortunate consequence of his heavy workload. He said he took responsibility, “whether or not I was directly involved.”


The 85-page report details instances in which Hauser changed data so that it would show a desired effect. It shows that he more than once rebuffed or downplayed questions and concerns from people in his laboratory about how a result was obtained. The report also describes “a disturbing pattern of misrepresentation of results and shading of truth” and a “reckless disregard for basic scientific standards.”

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Can Classic Moral Stories Promote Honesty in Children?

By Kang Lee, Victoria Talwar, Anjanie McCarthy, Ilana Ross, Angela Evans & Cindy Arruda
Published online before print June 13, 2014, doi: 10.1177/0956797614536401
Psychological Science June 13, 2014


The classic moral stories have been used extensively to teach children about the consequences of lying and the virtue of honesty. Despite their widespread use, there is no evidence whether these stories actually promote honesty in children. This study compared the effectiveness of four classic moral stories in promoting honesty in 3- to 7-year-olds. Surprisingly, the stories of “Pinocchio” and “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” failed to reduce lying in children. In contrast, the apocryphal story of “George Washington and the Cherry Tree” significantly increased truth telling. Further results suggest that the reason for the difference in honesty-promoting effectiveness between the “George Washington” story and the other stories was that the former emphasizes the positive consequences of honesty, whereas the latter focus on the negative consequences of dishonesty. When the “George Washington” story was altered to focus on the negative consequences of dishonesty, it too failed to promote honesty in children.

The entire article is here.

Email the author for a copy here.

Scale of medical decisions shifts to offer varied balances of power

By Karen Ravn
The Los Angeles Times
Originally published June 6, 2014

Patients never used to worry about making healthcare decisions. They didn't have to. Their doctors made just about all of their decisions for them. Everyone simply assumed that doctors knew what was best.

But that paternalistic view of doctors as know-it-alls has gone by the board, says Dr. Clarence Braddock, vice dean for education at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Now doctors are seen as the experts on medical information and choices," he explains, "but patients are seen as the experts on what those choices mean in their own lives."

The upshot? Doctors still make decisions sometimes, but sometimes patients make them, and sometimes doctors and patients make them together.

The entire article is here.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Updated Definition of Paternalism

By Gerald Dworkin
Stanford Encyclopedia
Updated June 4, 2014

Here are two excerpts:

Paternalism is the interference of a state or an individual with another person, against their will, and defended or motivated by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm. The issue of paternalism arises with respect to restrictions by the law such as anti-drug legislation, the compulsory wearing of seatbelts, and in medical contexts by the withholding of relevant information concerning a patient's condition by physicians. At the theoretical level it raises questions of how persons should be treated when they are less than fully rational.


Weak vs. strong paternalism

A weak paternalist believes that it is legitimate to interfere with the means that agents choose to achieve their ends, if those means are likely to defeat those ends. So if a person really prefers safety to convenience then it is legitimate to force them to wear seatbelts. A strong paternalist believes that people may have mistaken, confused or irrational ends and it is legitimate to interfere to prevent them from achieving those ends. If a person really prefers the wind rustling through their hair to increased safety it is legitimate to make them wear helmets while motorcycling because their ends are irrational or mistaken. Another way of putting this: we may interfere with mistakes about the facts but not mistakes about values. So if a person tries to jump out of a window believing he will float gently to the ground we may restrain him. If he jumps because he believes that it is important to be spontaneous we may not.

The entire definition is here.

Editor's note: Psychologists need to contemplate paternalism in many facets of care.  Not just with the example of suicide, there are host of other ways psychologist's may act paternalistically.  Think informed consent, goals in treatment, intrusive advocacy, respect for patient autonomy, and the collaborative nature of the therapeutic relationship, to name a few.

Quebec passes landmark end-of-life-care bill

Act respecting end-of-life care, Bill 52, allows terminally ill patients to choose death

By CBC News
Originally posted June 5, 2014

Terminally ill patients in Quebec now have the right to choose to die.

The non-partisan Bill 52, also known as an act respecting end-of-life care, passed Thursday afternoon in a free vote at the National Assembly in Quebec City.

The entire story is here.

Bill 52 is here.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mental Suffering and the DSM-5

By Stijn Vanheule
Originally published June 3, 2014

In his writings on the topic of diagnosis, the French philosopher and physician Georges Canguilhem makes a crucial distinction between pathology and abnormality, thus paving the way for the studies of his student Michel Foucault on the topics of psychiatric power and biopolitics. In Canguilhem’s view, decision making about normality and abnormality is generally based on two factors. One starts from the observation that there is variability in the ways human beings function: individuals present with a variety of behaviours just as their mental life is characterized by a variety of beliefs and experiences, of which some are more prevalent than others. Then, a judgment is made about (ab-)normality; this tends to be based on a norm or standard against which all behaviours are evaluated and considered as deviant or not.

At this level, two possibilities open: a judgement is made based on either psychosocial criteria or statistical norms.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Morality pills: reality or science fiction?

The complexities of ethics and the brain make it difficult for scientists to develop a pill to enhance human morals

By Molly Crockett
The Guardian
Originally published June 3, 2014

Could we create a "morality pill"? Once the stuff of science fiction, recent studies in neuroscience have shown that brain chemicals can subtly influence some aspects of moral judgments and decisions. However, science is very far from creating pills that can turn sinners into saints, as I have argued many times before. So imagine my surprise when I came across the headline, “‘Morality Pills’ Close to Reality, Claims Scientist”– referring to a lecture I gave recently in London. (I asked the newspaper where the reporter got his misinformation, but received no response to my query.)

The entire story is here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Want to Change Academic Publishing? Just Say No

By Hugh Gusterson
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Originally published September 23, 2012

Here is an excerpt:

When I look at the work I do as an academic social scientist and the remuneration I receive, I see a pattern that makes little sense. This is especially the case with regard to publishing. If I review a book for a newspaper or evaluate a book for a university press, I get paid, but if I referee an article for a journal, I do not. If I publish a book, I get royalties. If I publish an opinion piece in the newspaper, I get a couple of hundred dollars. Once a magazine paid me $5,000 for an article.

But I get paid nothing directly for the most difficult, time-consuming writing I do: peer-reviewed academic articles. In fact a journal that owned the copyright to one of my articles made me pay $400 for permission to reprint my own writing in a book of my essays.

The entire article is here.

Senators Scold Mehmet Oz For Diet Scams

By Maggie Fox
NBC News
Originally posted June 18, 2014

Dr. Mehmet Oz, a celebrity doctor who frequently extols weight-loss products on his syndicated television show, got a harsh scolding from several senators on Tuesday at a hearing about bogus diet product ads.

Oz was held up as the power driving many of the fraudulent ads, even as he argued he was himself the victim of the scammers. The hearing is a follow-up to the Federal Trade Commission’s crackdown last January against fake diet products.

“I don’t get why you need to say this stuff because you know it’s not true,” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who chairs a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection, said at the hearing. “So why, when you have this amazing megaphone…why would you cheapen your show by saying things like that?”

The entire article is here.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Messy Morals

By Anthony Painter
The RSA Blog
Originally posted on May 29, 2014

David Marquand wants a new public philosophy. This philosophy will be based on ethics – a morality of social justice beyond the market. He sees that we are in a ‘moral crisis’. Markets, individualism and greed have taken over. The public good has been in retreat since Margaret Thatcher came to power.

He has found unlikely allies this week. Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, and a group of capitalists gathering under an ‘inclusive capitalism’ banner have also suggested a different moral economy – though they would not necessarily express it that way. Smart business people and financiers see that the legitimacy of their activities relies on a different alignment between ethics and business. It is more about self-interest than morality. Nonetheless, the crossovers with David Marquand are intriguing.

The entire article is here.

IQ Cutoff for Death Penalty Struck Down by Supreme Court

By Sara Reardon and Nature News Blog
Scientific American
Originally posted on May 28, 2014

When deciding whether a defendant is too intellectually disabled to receive the death penalty, courts must take into account inherent variability in IQ scores, the US Supreme Court ruled today.

In its 5-4 decision, the court said that it is unconstitutional for states like Florida to use an IQ score of 70 as a cutoff above which a defendant is considered to be intelligent enough to understand the consequences of his or her actions.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What Are the Implications of the Free Will Debate for Individuals and Society?

By Alfred Mele
Big Questions Online
Originally posted May 6, 2014

Does free will exist? Current interest in that question is fueled by news reports suggesting that neuroscientists have proved it doesn’t. In the last few years, I’ve been on a mission to explain why scientific discoveries haven’t closed the door on free will. To readers interested in a rigorous explanation, I recommend my 2009 book, Effective Intentions. For a quicker read, you might wait for my Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, to be published this fall.

One major plank in a well-known neuroscientific argument for the nonexistence of free will is the claim that participants in various experiments make their decisions unconsciously. In some studies, this claim is based partly on EEG readings (electrical readings taken from the scalp). In others, fMRI data (about changes in blood oxygen levels in the brain) are used instead. In yet others, with people whose skulls are open for medical purposes, readings are taken directly from the brain. The other part of the evidence comes from participants’ reports on when they first became aware of their decisions. If the reports are accurate (which is disputed), the typical sequence of events is as follows: first, there is the brain activity the scientists focus on, then the participants become aware of decisions (or intentions or urges) to act, and then they act, flexing a wrist or pushing a button, for example.

The entire article is here.

Free will seems a matter of mind, not soul

Press Release
Brown University
Originally released May 27, 2014

Across the board, even if they believed in the concept of a soul, people in a new study ascribed free will based on down-to-Earth criteria: Did the actor in question have the capacity to make an intentional and independent choice? The study suggests that while grand metaphysical views of the universe remain common, they have little to do with how people assess each other’s behavior.

“I find it relieving to know that whether you believe in a soul or not, or have a religion or not, or an assumption about how the universe works, that has very little bearing on how you act as a member of the social community,” said Bertram Malle, professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown University and senior author of the new study. “In a sense, what unites us across all these assumptions is we see others as intentional beings who can make choices, and we blame them on the basis of that.”

The entire press release is here.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Diversity Is Useless Without Inclusivity

By Christine Riordan
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted June 5, 2014

Over the past decade, organizations have worked hard to create diversity within their workforce. Diversity can bring many organizational benefits, including greater customer satisfaction, better market position, successful decision-making, an enhanced ability to reach strategic goals, improved organizational outcomes, and a stronger bottom line.

However, while many organizations are better about creating diversity, many have not yet figured out how to make the environment inclusive—that is, create an atmosphere in which all people feel valued and respected and have access to the same opportunities.

That’s a problem.

The entire article is here.

Trial of alleged Fort Hood shooter renews call for restraint

By Art Caplan
Clinical Psychiatry News
Originally posted August 2, 2013

One year ago this month, after the theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., I wrote a column for this newspaper headlined, “The Aurora Shootings: Why the Mental Health Community Must Show Restraint.” In this column, I talked about the risks inherent in offering public comments about a defendant’s mental state and about Section 7.3 of the American Psychiatric Association’s Principles of Medical Ethics, which state:
On occasion psychiatrists are asked for an opinion about an individual who is in the light of public attention or who has disclosed information about himself or herself through public media. In such circumstances, a psychiatrist may share with the public his or her expertise about psychiatric issues in general.
However, it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.”

The entire article is here.

Why It’s Imperative to Teach Empathy to Boys

By Gayle Allen and Deborah Farmer Kris
Mind/Shift Blog
Originally posted June 25, 2014

When searching for toys for their kids at chain toy stores, parents typically encounter the following scenario: toy aisles are color-coded pink and blue. They shouldn’t bother looking for LEGOS, blocks, and trucks in the pink aisle, and they certainly won’t find baby dolls in the blue aisle.

While parents, researchers, and educators decry the lack of STEM toys for girls — and rightly so — what often goes unnoticed is that assigning genders to toys harms boys, as well. Too often children’s playrooms reinforce gender stereotypes that put boys at risk of failing to gain skills critical for success in life and work. The most important of these? Empathy.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A test that fails

By Casey Miller & Keivan Stassun
Nature 303-304(2014) doi:10.1038/nj7504-303a
Published online 11 June 2014

Universities in the United States rely too heavily on the graduate record examinations (GRE) — a standardized test introduced in 1949 that is an admissions requirement for most US graduate schools. This practice is poor at selecting the most capable students and severely restricts the flow of women and minorities into the sciences.


So what should universities do? Instead of filtering by GRE scores, graduate programmes can select applicants on the basis of skills and character attributes that are more predictive of doing well in scientific research and of ultimate employability in the STEM workforce. Appraisers should look not only at indicators of previous achievements, but also at evidence of ability to overcome the tribulations of becoming a PhD-level scientist.

Good for god? Religious motivation reduces perceived responsibility for and morality of good deeds

By Will M. Gervais
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Apr 28 , 2014
doi: 10.1037/a0036678


Many people view religion as a crucial source of morality. However, 6 experiments (total N = 1,078) revealed that good deeds are perceived as less moral if they are performed for religious reasons. Religiously motivated acts were seen as less moral than the exact same acts performed for other reasons (Experiments 1–2 and 6). Religious motivations also reduced attributions of intention and responsibility (Experiments 3–6), an effect that fully mediated the effect of religious motivations on perceived morality (Experiment 6). The effects were not explained by different perceptions of motivation orientation (i.e., intrinsic vs. extrinsic) across conditions (Experiment 4) and also were evident when religious upbringing led to an intuitive moral response (Experiment 5). Effects generalized across religious and nonreligious participants. When viewing a religiously motivated good deed, people infer that actually helping others is, in part, a side effect of other motivations rather than an end in itself. Thus, religiously motivated actors are seen as less responsible than secular actors for their good deeds, and their helping behavior is viewed as less moral than identical good deeds performed for either unclear or secular motivations.

The research article is here, behind a paywall.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Beware toxic fatalism, in its atheist and theist forms

By Jules
Philosophy for Life Blog
Originally published November 15, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Nonetheless, his story does illustrate the power of culture – by which I mean the amniotic fluid of ideas that we find ourselves absorbing and feeding off. We may have some choice what we believe, but our range of choice is limited by the ideas we find in our culture at any one moment. And that is what worries me about the popularity of hardcore materialism in our culture – I think the theory that we have no free will is a toxic idea, which has serious real world implications for those unfortunate enough to swallow it, because it attacks and dissolves their sense of meaning, purpose and autonomy.

I don’t think the main battle line in our culture is between theists and atheists. The main dividing line, for me, is between those who believe in free will, and those who don’t. It’s between those who think we can use our conscious reason – however weak it is – to choose new beliefs and new directions in our life; and those who think we are entirely automatic machines, without the capacity to choose.

The entire blog post is here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Psychological Science's Replicability Crisis and What It Means for Science in the Courtroom

By Jason Michael Chin
Journal of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law (Forthcoming)

In response to what has been termed the “replicability crisis,” great changes are currently under way in how science is conducted and disseminated. Indeed, major journals are changing the way in which they evaluate science. Therefore, a question arises over how such change impacts law’s treatment of scientific evidence. The present standard for the admissibility of scientific evidence in federal courts asks judges to play the role of gatekeeper, determining if the proffered evidence conforms with several indicia of scientific validity. The alternative legal framework, and one still used by several state courts, requires judges to simply evaluate whether a scientific finding or practice is generally accepted within science.

This Essay suggests that as much as the replicability crisis has highlighted serious issues in the scientific process, it has should have similar implications and actionable consequences for legal practitioners and academics. In particular, generally accepted scientific practices have frequently lagged behind prescriptions for best practices, which in turn affected the way science has been reported and performed. The consequence of this phenomenon is that judicial analysis of scientific evidence will still be impacted by deficient generally accepted practices. The Essay ends with some suggestions to help ensure that legal decisions are influenced by science’s best practices.

Download the essay here.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Teaching doctors when to stop treatment

By Diane E. Meier
The Washington Post
Originally published May 19, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

For years I had tried to understand why so many of my colleagues persisted in ordering tests, procedures and treatments that seemed to provide no benefit to patients and even risked harming them. I didn’t buy the popular and cynical explanation: Physicians do this for the money. It fails to acknowledge the care and commitment that these same physicians demonstrate toward their patients. Besides, my patient’s oncologist would make no money from the neurosurgery required for the intrathecal chemotherapy procedure.

It seemed that giving more treatment was the only way the oncologist knew to express his care and commitment. To him, stopping treatment was akin to abandoning his patient. And yet the only sense in which she felt abandoned was in her oncologist’s unwillingness to talk with her about what would happen when treatment stopped working.

The entire story is here.

Doctors Are Talking: EHRs Destroy the Patient Encounter

By Neil Chesanow
Originally published May 22, 2014

There's no doubt that electronic health records (EHRs) spark strong emotions in doctors -- and many of those emotions are negative.

The gripes cover three main areas: One, EHRs have made the patient encounter far more annoying and complex than it ever was before.

Two, many physicians feel that EHRs take doctors who were trained to be independent thinkers and constrain their ability to make independent decisions, causing them to feel like data entry clerks, with a computer telling them how to practice medicine.

Last but not least, a large number of physicians feel that EHRs erode the doctor-patient relationship by creating a barrier between the two.

This article, and several others, about EHRS are here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Self-Help Industry Helps Itself to Billions of Dollars

By Lindsay Myers
Brain Blogger
Originally published May 23, 2014

Self-improvement represents a $10 billion per year industry in the U.S. alone. In addition to high revenues, self-help also has a high recidivism rate, with the most likely purchaser of a self-help book being the same person who purchased one already in the last 18 months. This begs the question of how much good these self-help books and seminars are doing for consumers. If they are so effective at solving our problems, why do they usually result in a continuing stream of self-help purchases?

The entire story is here.

Does Morality Matter in Managing Businesses?

By Victor Want
Originally published October 23, 2013

Here are two excerpts:

There is another way of looking at morality.  Instead of thinking of companies as entities, which is what the questions above do, let’s think of companies as collections of individuals.  When we do that, we see morality in a different way: because individuals are motivated by moral purpose.


His central idea is that the primary responsibility of any executive is to define the organization’s purpose and instill loyalty, so that managers work for the organization’s good rather than for their own advancement. You can only achieve this kind of loyalty if you keep your employees satisfied, rather than viewing them simply as economic production inputs. In Barnard’s own words, “The morality that underlies enduring cooperation is multidimensional.”  He discusses how satisfying multiple moral codes, like responsibilities to customers and shareholders, is the key for employees to gain more senior roles. This often means reconciling competing obligations.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Moral enhancement, freedom, and what we (should) value in moral behaviour

By David DeGrazia
J Med Ethics 2014;40:361-368 doi:10.1136/medethics-2012-101157


The enhancement of human traits has received academic attention for decades, but only recently has moral enhancement using biomedical means – moral bioenhancement (MB) – entered the discussion. After explaining why we ought to take the possibility of MB seriously, the paper considers the shape and content of moral improvement, addressing at some length a challenge presented by reasonable moral pluralism. The discussion then proceeds to this question: Assuming MB were safe, effective, and universally available, would it be morally desirable? In particular, would it pose an unacceptable threat to human freedom? After defending a negative answer to the latter question – which requires an investigation into the nature and value of human freedom – and arguing that there is nothing inherently wrong with MB, the paper closes with reflections on what we should value in moral behaviour.

The entire article is here.

Are Liars Ethical?

By Emma Levine
Originally posted May 1, 2014

We tend to think of lying as a vice and honesty as a virtue. For hundreds of years, theologians and philosophers have suggested that lying is wrong. For example, almost six hundred years ago, St. Augustine stated, “To me…it seems certain that every lie is a sin.” The prohibition of lying is deeply ingrained in most major religions and the presumption that lying is wrong leads scholars, parents, and leaders to broadly condemn lying.

Despite the characterization of lying as unethical, most people don’t completely avoid lying. Sometimes we lie for selfish reasons, but quite often, we lie to help and protect others. We tell prosocial lies.

The entire article is here.

Here is a link to the article: Is it Ever Ethical to Lie to a Patient?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

When Doctors Treat Patients Like Themselves

By Abigail Zuger
The New York Times
Originally posted May 19, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Professional training may not remove the interpersonal chemistry that binds us to some and estranges us from others, but it can neutralize these forces somewhat, enough to enable civilized and productive dialogue among all comers. Yet until the day when we deal only in cells, organs and genes and not their human containers, we will, for better or worse, always see ourselves in some patients, our friends and relatives in others, and our patients will likewise instinctively experience doctor as mother or father, buddy or virtual stranger.

Are the ties that bind us for better, medically, or are they for worse? Is health care more effective when patient and doctor are the same — the same sex, class, race, tax bracket, sore feet and cholesterol level? Or does essential objectivity require some differences? When your doctor looks at you and sees a mirrored reflection, is that good for you, or bad?

The entire article is here.

I Don't Want to Be Right

By Maria Konnikova
The New Yorker
Originally published May 19, 2013

Last month, Brendan Nyhan, a professor of political science at Dartmouth, published the results of a study that he and a team of pediatricians and political scientists had been working on for three years. They had followed a group of almost two thousand parents, all of whom had at least one child under the age of seventeen, to test a simple relationship: Could various pro-vaccination campaigns change parental attitudes toward vaccines? Each household received one of four messages: a leaflet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stating that there had been no evidence linking the measles, mumps, and rubella (M.M.R.) vaccine and autism; a leaflet from the Vaccine Information Statement on the dangers of the diseases that the M.M.R. vaccine prevents; photographs of children who had suffered from the diseases; and a dramatic story from a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about an infant who almost died of measles. A control group did not receive any information at all. The goal was to test whether facts, science, emotions, or stories could make people change their minds.

The result was dramatic: a whole lot of nothing. None of the interventions worked.

The entire article is here.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Episode 10: Social Media for Psychologists

In this episode, John talks with Dr. David Palmiter about the basics of social media.  They discuss why it is important for psychologists to understand social media as their patients are likely using various forms of social media.  Psychologists also need to know what social media is before they participate. They discuss their use of social media as part of professional development.  Psychologists need to know at least the basics about social media to practice psychotherapy effectively.

At the end of this podcast, the listener will be able to:

1. Explain the concept of social media.
2. List two reasons every psychologist should be on Twitter.
3. Define the concept of branding.

Please read David Palmiter's article: To Tweet or Not to Tweet for an understanding of Twitter.

Find this podcast on iTunes

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Listen directly here.

David Palmiter, PhD sites and contact information

Helping Parents.net

Hectic Parents Blog

Follow Dave on Twitter @HelpingParents


Palmiter, David. (2012). Positive Ethics Applied to Public Education Through Traditional Media and the Internet. In the APA Handbook of Ethics in Psychology, Volume 2: Practice, Teaching and Research.  Edited by Knapp, Gottlieb, Handelsman, and VandeCreek. Washington DC: The American Psychological Association.

10 Ways That Blogging Transformed My Private Practice
Julie Hanks

1 in 4 Americans now consults Google before booking an appointment with a doctor
Mark Sullivan

Social media: how does it really affect our mental health and well-being?
Medical News Today

Robi Ludwig: Fox News ‘homosexual impulses’ guest: My words were ‘twisted’

Sunday, June 8, 2014

On Privilege and Luck, or Why Success Breeds Success

By Ed Yong
The National Geographic
Originally published May 28, 2014

Ask successful people about the secrets of their success, and you’ll probably answers like passion, hard work, skill, focus, and having great ideas. Very few people, if any, would reply with “privilege and luck”. We’re often blind to these factors and they make for less inspiring stories. But time and again, we see that the advantages that give us a head-start and the accidents that ease our path can make or break a career.

In 1968, sociologist Robert Merton noted that in several areas of science, advantage accumulates. Well-known scientists, for example, are more likely to get further recognition than equally productive peers of lesser renown. Merton called this the Matthew effect after a biblical verse that says “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

The entire story is here.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The ethics of personal enhancement, from beta blockers to ADHD drugs

By Joe Gelonesi
The Philosopher's Zone
Originally posted May 16, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

It’s a question for the times, as the cognitive enhancement revolution rolls on. The use of substances to help with performance—from sitting exams to playing recitals—has well and truly gone beyond novelty status.

Drugs previously reserved for ADHD are now being imbibed by students to sharpen performance. There is no shortage of first-person testimony mixed with consumer advice on YouTube. Vincent cites studies in Australia which suggest that our appetite for such drugs is greater than in the USA. She also uses the example of Simon Tedeschi, who in January published an article about his extensive use of beta blockers to subdue stage fright. Tedeschi, an esteemed local musician, has no qualms about coming out over his use of what is primarily intended as blood pressure medication. He’s not alone in the performing arts community.

The entire story is here.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Leigh Turner Addresses University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Published on May 17, 2014

In a public meeting, Professor Leigh Turner of the University of Minnesota Center for Bioethics blasts the Board of Regents for defending psychiatric research abuse.

Gained in translation

When moral dilemmas are posed in a foreign language, people become more coolly utilitarian

The Economist
Originally posted May 17, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Morally speaking, this is a troubling result. The language in which a dilemma is posed should make no difference to how it is answered. Linguists have wondered whether different languages encode different assumptions about morality, which might explain the result. But the effect existed for every combination of languages that the researchers looked at, so culture does not seem to explain things. Other studies in “trolleyology” have found that East Asians are less likely to make the coldly utilitarian calculation, and indeed none of the Korean subjects said they would push the fat man when asked in Korean. But 7.5% were prepared to when asked in English.

The explanation seems to lie in the difference between being merely competent in a foreign language and being fluent. The subjects in the experiment were not native bilinguals, but had, on average, begun the study of their foreign language at age 14. (The average participant was 21.) The participants typically rated their ability with their acquired tongue at around 3.0 on a five-point scale. Their language skills were, in other words, pretty good—but not great.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Creating a 'morality pill' more a question of ethics than science

By Katie Collins
Originally posted May 16, 2014

Is there any way that we could create a drug that would make us moral? This is the question Molly Crockett, neuroscientist at Oxford University, posed to the crowd at a Brain Boosters event organised as part of the NERRI Project in London this week.

Crockett was tackling the subject of neuro-enhancement -- the idea that we could potentially use science to make our brains in some way better. Much of the discussion at the event revolved around intelligence, but Crockett instead chose to tackle the subject of personality -- and more specifically, morality.

The entire article is here.

Drone Ethics is Easy

By Mike LaBossiere
Talking Philosophy
Originally published on May 16, 2014

When a new technology emerges it is not uncommon for people to claim that the technology is outpacing ethics and law. Because of the nature of law (at least in countries like the United States) it is very easy for technology to outpace the law. However, it is rather difficult for technology to truly outpace ethics.


It is, however, worth considering the possibility that a new technology could “break” an ethical theory by being such that the theory could not expand to cover the technology. However, this would show that the theory was inadequate rather than showing that the technology outpaced ethics.

Another reason that technology would have a hard time outpacing ethics is that an ethical argument by analogy can be applied to a new technology. That is, if the technology is like something that already exists and has been discussed in the context of ethics, the ethical discussion of the pre-existing thing can be applied to the new technology. This is, obviously enough, analogous to using ethical analogies to apply ethics to different specific situations (such as a specific act of cheating in a relationship).

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Healthy behavior matters. So are we responsible if we get sick?

By Bill Gardner
The Incidental Economist
Originally published May 30, 2014

I have been warned my whole life that I shouldn’t smoke. The evidence that smoking affects health is overwhelming. Suppose I understand all this, but I smoke anyway. And then I get lung cancer. Am I responsible for what happened to me, given that I was aware of the consequences yet behaved recklessly anyway?

Whether we are responsible for our health affects how we think about health policy. The ACA subsidizes insurance, and thus the cost of health care, for millions of Americans. Many people feel that it is right to care for those who are ill through no fault of own, but they do not understand why they should be responsible when someone becomes sick through reckless behaviour or self-indulgence. Our intuition is that such people are (to some degree) morally responsible for their fate.

The entire article is here.

The Ethics of Erasing Bad Memories

By​ Cody C. Delistraty
The Atlantic
Originally published May 15, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

“I think we can change some memories without changing fundamentally who we are or how we behave,” said Caplan, who is also the editor of Contemporary Debates in Bioethics. “And even if it does change a little bit of our personal identity, it makes us able to function. We have to understand the plight of those who are prisoners to bad memories, to awful memories, to horrible memories.”

Although, as Caplan said, tragic memories can potentially make us prisoners to ourselves, it is worthwhile to note that our personalities are made up of a delicate interplay of memories. Many experts believe that to disrupt one memory runs the risk of disrupting everything.

“Our memories and our experiences are fundamental to our personhood, to our lives, to everything that makes us who we are,” said Dr. Judy Illes, professor of neurology and Canada research chair in neuoroethics at the University of British Columbia. “When you pull one brick out of the wall of memories, many other memories go with it. Memories are incredibly interlocked with one another.”

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Are Psychologists Violating their Ethics Code by Conducting Death Penalty Evaluations for Defendants with Mental Disabilities?

By Celia Fisher
The Center for Ethics Education
Originally posted on May 17, 2014

Imagine you are a forensic psychologist asked during the sentencing phase of a capital punishment case to assess the mental status of a homeless, African American defendant convicted of murder.  Your evaluation report states that the defendant has an IQ and adaptive living score bordering on a diagnosis of intellectual disability, but the absence of educational and health records from childhood prevents you from definitively stating he fits the Supreme Court’s definition of “mental retardation” which would preclude the jury from recommending the death penalty.  Subsequently the defendant is sentenced for execution.

The entire article is here.

Does Belief in Free Will Make Us Better People?

By Jonathan Schooler
Big Questions Online
Originally published August 12, 2013

Resolving what to think about free will is itself a choice. Like many other important decisions, there may be alternatives that are better or worse for each of us, but no single conclusion is necessarily appropriate for everyone.

Too often scholars treat the topic of free will as if there currently exists a single indisputably “correct” perspective. However, the sheer variety of accounts of whether and how our choices control our actions demonstrates that this issue is far from resolved.

Given this lack of consensus, each one of us is faced with deciding for ourselves where we stand on an issue that may have important consequences for how we lead our lives. Increasing evidence suggests that people’s views about free will bear on their pro-social behaviors, sense of personal control, and general well being.

The entire story is here.

Editor's note: Psychologists often provide feedback to their patients about responsibility, choice, options, and autonomy.  In essence, psychologists have, if nothing else, a folk view of free will and it becomes part of the therapeutic relationship.  The articles on free will are meant to provoke self-reflection on our views of free will and how these are expressed in psychotherapy.  This topic may become a future podcast.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Eight Things Every White Person Should Know About White Privilege

By Sally Kohn
The Daily Beast
Originally published May 7, 2014

White folks went to great lengths in the last weeks to denounce the overt racism of figures like Cliven Bundy and Donald Sterling. At the same time, a lot of white folks—especially conservatives—continue to deny there is implicit or structural racial bias in America. One example surfaced just days later on Time magazine’s website, an essay by a young white male college student who not only denies racial bias, and thus white privilege in America, but also basically accuses those pointing out such bias of being racist.

The entire article is here.

When is diminishment a form of enhancement? Another twist to the “enhancement” debate in biomedical ethics

By Brian Earp
Psychiatric Ethics.com
Originally posted May 13, 2014

There is a big debate going on about “enhancement.” For many years now, people have realized that new technologies, along with discoveries in neuroscience and pharmacology, could be used in ways that seem to go beyond mere “medicine” – the treating of deformity or disease. Instead, to use a phrase popularized by Carl Elliot, they could make us “better than well.” Faster, stronger, smarter, happier. Quicker to learn, slower to forget. It has even been suggested that we could use these new technologies to “enhance” our love and relationships, or make ourselves more moral.

These kinds of prospects are exciting to some. To others, they are frightening, or at least a cause for concern. As a result, there has been a stream of academic papers—alongside more popular discussions—trying to get a handle on some of the ethics. Is it permissible to take “medicine” even if we aren’t “sick”? Should we be worried about “Playing God”? Do some people have an obligation to enhance themselves? And so on.

The entire blog post is here.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Ethics of Automated Cars

By Patrick Lin
Wired Magazine
Originally published May 6, 2014

Here is an except:

Programming a car to collide with any particular kind of object over another seems an awful lot like a targeting algorithm, similar to those for military weapons systems. And this takes the robot-car industry down legally and morally dangerous paths.

Even if the harm is unintended, some crash-optimization algorithms for robot cars would seem to require the deliberate and systematic discrimination of, say, large vehicles to collide into. The owners or operators of these targeted vehicles would bear this burden through no fault of their own, other than that they care about safety or need an SUV to transport a large family. Does that sound fair?

What seemed to be a sensible programming design, then, runs into ethical challenges. Volvo and other SUV owners may have a legitimate grievance against the manufacturer of robot cars that favor crashing into them over smaller cars, even if physics tells us this is for the best.

The entire story is here.

1 in 4 Americans now consults Google before booking an appointment with a doctor

By Mark Sullivan
Originally posted May 21, 2014

Doctors have always had a love/hate relationship with the Internet, and some bristle at the fact that many patients now shop for caregivers in the same way they shop for restaurants and plumbers: using online review sites.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan says 25 percent of Americans now look online for doctor reviews before making an appointment.

The entire article is here.

A future Ethics and Psychology podcast will the practice of psychology and social media.