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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Medicare considers funding end-of-life talks

By Pam Belluck
The New York Times
Originally published August 31, 2014

Five years after it exploded into a political conflagration over “death panels,” the issue of paying doctors to talk to patients about end-of-life care is making a comeback, and such sessions may be covered for the 50 million Americans on Medicare as early as next year.

Bypassing the political process, private insurers have begun reimbursing doctors for these “advance care planning” conversations as interest in them rises along with the number of aging Americans.

The entire article is here.

Editorial note: Politics will continue to affect health care delivery in the United States.  It is critical that healthcare providers cite foundational ethical principles when advocating for changes in our healthcare system, and not become immersed in sloganeering or bumper sticker politics to support one political party or the other.  High quality health care and informed patient choice are paramount.

Fast, Frugal, and (Sometimes) Wrong

Cass R. Sunstein
University of Chicago Law School and Department of Political Science
Originally published in 2005


Do moral heuristics operate in the moral domain? If so, do they lead to moral errors? This brief essay offers an affirmative answer to both questions. In so doing, it responds to an essay by Gerd Gigerenzer on the nature of heuristics, moral and otherwise. While focused on morality, the discussion bears on the general debate between those who emphasize cognitive errors, sometimes produced by heuristics, and those who emphasize the frequent success of heuristics in producing sensible judgments in the real world. General claims are that it is contentious to see moral problems as ones of arithmetic, and that arguments about moral heuristics will often do well to steer clear of contentious arguments about what morality requires.


But no one should deny that in many contexts, moral and other heuristics, in the form of simple rules of thumb, lead to moral error on any plausible view of morality. Consider, for example, the idea, emphasized by Gigerenzer, that one ought to do as the majority does, a source of massive moral blunders (see Sunstein, 2003). Or consider the fast and frugal idea that one ought not to distort the truth—a heuristic that generally works well, but that also leads (in my view) to moral error when, for example, the distortion is necessary to avoid significant numbers of deaths. Or consider the act- omission distinction, which makes moral sense in many domains, but which can lead to unsupportable moral judgments as well (Baron, 2004).

The entire article is here.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

The New Scientism

We can value scientific inquiry without viewing the natural sciences as free of politics.

By Kamil Ahsan
Jacobin Magazine
Originally published August 5, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Ever since its coining by conservatives, “scientism” has been used pejoratively, most commonly by the same people who deny evolution and climate change. Consequently, leftists have historically renounced the word, signaling that that they fall on the side of scientific truth and not religion or spirituality.

This is a false dichotomy. One can value scientific inquiry without viewing the natural sciences as unimpeachable truth. And one can assail purported scientific progress without assailing science itself.

But try telling that to Michael Shermer, who, writing in Scientific American, sees in every critique of corporate behavior an anti-science temper tantrum: “Try having a conversation with a liberal progressive about GMOs…in which the words “Monsanto’ and ‘profit’ are not dropped like syllogistic bombs… The fact is that we’ve been genetically modifying organisms for 10,000 years through breeding and selection.”

The tunnel vision brought on by scientism resolves itself in a kind of social apathy, a dismissiveness of “real” problems, for which scientific data is the only antidote. This “just the facts, ma’am” approach excises ethics from the discussion and frames science as an appropriately depoliticized sphere. And in the process, it completely disregards what the humanities or the social sciences are able to tell us.

The entire article is here.

Free Will & Moral Responsibility in a Secular Society

By Michael Shermer
TAM 2014
Originally posted August 10, 2014

Michael Shermer, PhD presents theory and research on understanding the concepts of free will, moral responsibility and agency in current American society.  He draws from neuroscience, social psychology, and comparative psychology to develop ideas about how moral emotions play a part in understanding moral responsibility and culpability.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Artificial Wombs Are Coming, but the Controversy Is Already Here

By Zoltan Istvan
Originally posted August 4, 2014

Of all the transhumanist technologies coming in the near future, one stands out that both fascinates and perplexes people. It's called ectogenesis: raising a fetus outside the human body in an artificial womb.

It has the possibility to change one of the most fundamental acts that most humans experience: the way people go about having children. It also has the possibility to change the way we view the female body and the field of reproductive rights.

Naturally, it's a social and political minefield.

The entire article is here.

Ethical Dilemmas of Confidentiality with Adolescent Clients: Case Studies from Psychologists

Rony E. Duncan, Annette C. Hall, Ann Knowles
Ethics & Behavior 


Navigating limits to confidentiality with adolescent clients can be ethically and professionally challenging. This study follows on from a previous quantitative survey of psychologists about confidentiality dilemmas with adolescents. The current study used qualitative methods to explore such dilemmas in greater depth. Twenty Australian psychologists were interviewed and asked to describe an ethically challenging past case. Cases were then used to facilitate discussion about the decision-making process and outcomes. Interviews were transcribed and analysed using interpretive content and thematic analysis. Three key findings are discussed. First, it is of little use to perceive confidentiality dilemmas as binary choices (breach/don’t breach) because psychologists described five distinct options. These can be conceptualised on a spectrum of varying degrees of client autonomy, ranging from ‘no disclosure’ (highest client autonomy) to ‘disclosure without the client’s knowledge or consent’ (lowest client autonomy). Second, confidentiality dilemmas often involve balancing multiple and conflicting risks regarding both immediate and future harm. Third, a range of strategies are employed by psychologists to minimise potential harms when disclosing information. These are primarily aimed at maintaining the therapeutic relationship and empowering clients. These findings and the case studies described provide a valuable resource for teaching and professional development.


1. It is of little use to conceptualise confidentiality as a binary choice.

2. Reaching a final decision about confidentiality dilemmas often entails balancing multiple and conflicting risks.

3. Participants demonstrated significant practice wisdom about how to negotiate confidentiality with adolescents in a manner that minimises harm.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Punishment or therapy? The ethics of sexual offending treatment

Tony Ward
Journal of Sexual Aggression 
Vol. 16, Iss. 3, 2010


The claim that sex offender treatment is a form of punishment and as such cannot be covered by traditional ethical codes is a controversial one. It challenges the ethical basis of current practice and compels clinicians to rethink the work they do with sex offenders. In this paper I comment on Bill Glaser's defence of that idea in a challenging and timely paper and David Prescott and Jill Leveson's rejection of his claims. First, I consider briefly the nature of both punishment and treatment and outline Glaser's argument and Prescott and Levenson's rejoinder. I then investigate what a comprehensive argument for either position should look like and finish with a few comments on each paper.


The Core Argument

The ethical problem concerning treatment and punishment is straightforward and can be outlined in terms of two broad possibilities, with some suboptions. First, do actions associated with punishment and treatment coexist within a sex offender treatment programme? And should they? Secondly, if not, is this because (a) they are functionally separate with punishment occurring outside the therapeutic orbit or (b) because only (or primarily) punishment is actually apparent within the therapy context? Prescott and Levenson argue for (a) and Glaser opts for (b). My own preference is for the rather messier option of coexistence, namely the first possibility.

The entire article is here.

What We Need to Learn From the Ebola Epidemic

By Robert Klitzman
The Huffington Post
Originally posted August 9, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Still, even if the medication works and is provided abroad, obstacles will remain to educate patients adequately about it and obtain appropriate informed consent. The fact that the drug is experimental and may still fail or make patients sicker -- even if it seems to offer benefit to a few patients -- needs to be explained in a way that patients in Africa, many of whom have little education, can understand. Barriers exist in part for cultural and linguistic reasons. In some African languages, for instance, there is no word for "placebo" or "experimental treatment," only for "cure. Questions remain regarding whether the drug should first be tested against a placebo or simply given to everyone. Use of a placebo will help scientists understand the drug's effectiveness. But if the medication turns out to work, patients who were randomized not to receive it will have lost out. These quandaries are complex, and WHO needs to explore and address them very carefully.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Practicing School Psychology While Impaired: Ethical, Professional, and Legal Issues

Emery B. Mahoney, Richard J. Morris
Journal of Applied School Psychology 
Vol. 28, Iss. 4, 2012


Studies on impairment in psychologists and other mental health practitioners began appearing in the literature 30–35 years ago. Since then, research and related scholarly writings have continued to be published to more fully understand this concept and its components. In school psychology, however, little has been written regarding school psychologists’ delivery of psychological services while they are impaired. This is true even though the provision of such services violates numerous ethical principles and standards of professional conduct in the ethics code of the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Psychological Association. In this article, the authors review the prevalence and incidence data regarding impairment, as well as definitional issues regarding what constitutes impairment. Ethical and legal issues associated with practicing while impaired are also discussed, followed by a discussion of assessing risk for impairment in school psychologists and the presentation of a self-administered risk assessment scale on the basis of empirical and other literature in the area of ethics and professional standards in the practice of psychology. Future directions for developing an agreed-upon definition of impairment within the field of school psychology and future directions for research on assessing and predicting impairment in school psychologists are discussed.


It is unfortunate that there is a paucity of research investigating impairment issues as applied specifically to school psychologists. As a result, on the basis of empirical research and risk assessment models developed with psychologists practicing in mental health clinics, private practice, and hospital settings, we have presented in Figure 1 the Instrument for Monitoring Psychologists’ Awareness of Impaired Responding (IMPAIR).

The entire article is here.

Process Debunking and Ethics

By Shaun Nichols
Ethics, Vol. 124, No. 4 (July 2014), pp. 727-749
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Article DOI: 10.1086/675877

The rise of empirical moral psychology has been accompanied by the return of debunking arguments in ethics. This is no surprise since debunking arguments often depend on empirical premises about the beliefs under consideration. As we learn more about our moral psychology, we put ourselves in a position to develop more empirically informed debunking arguments.

In this essay, I will start by distinguishing different forms of debunking arguments, and I will adopt a particular, psychologically oriented, approach to debunking. On the type of debunking argument that I will promote, one attempts to undercut the justificatory status of a person’s belief by showing that the belief was formed by an epistemically defective psychological process. There are natural ways to develop such debunking arguments in metaethics, I’ll contend; but in normative ethics, debunking arguments face greater obstacles.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.  Hopefully, your university library can get this for you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Minneapolis VA studies invisible scars from combat

By Jeremy Olson
The Star Tribune
Updated August 11, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

A study of survey results for 814 Minnesota National Guard members who served in Iraq over the past decade showed that those who experienced moral injury had higher levels of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Moral injury generally refers to any type of guilt, shame, or depression that arises from actions that may have violated deeply held beliefs. But for this study, which was presented at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center last month, soldiers met the criteria if they killed in combat, felt their actions were unforgivable, and believed that God had abandoned them.

The lack of resiliency among soldiers who met this definition was alarming, said Dr. Irene Harris, the VA psychologist leading the research. “Basically, [they feel] at my spiritual functioning level, I don’t think I belong here in the world. I’m not worth it. I have a sense that I should not be here.’’

The entire article is here.

Podcast Episode 7: The Moral Self, Moral Injury, and Moral Emotions addresses the moral self and moral injury related to PTSD.

Ethics and the Brains of Psychopaths

The Significance of Psychopaths for Ethical and Legal Reasoning

William Hirstein and Katrina Sifferd
Elmhurst College


The emerging neuroscience of psychopathy will have several important implications for our attempts to construct an ethical society. In this article we begin by describing the list of criteria by which psychopaths are diagnosed. We then review four competing neuropsychological theories of psychopathic cognition.  The first of these models, Newman‘s attentional model, locates the problem in a special type of attentional narrowing that psychopaths have shown in experiments. The second and third, Blair‘s amygdala model and Kiehl‘s paralimbic model represent the psychopath‘s problem as primarily emotional , including reduced tendency to experience fear in normally fearful situations, and a failure to attach the proper significance to the emotions of others. The fourth model locates the problem at a higher level: a failure of  psychopaths to notice and correct for their attentional or emotional problems using ―executive processes.  In normal humans, decisions are accomplished via these executive processes, which are responsible for planning actions, or inhibiting unwise actions, as well as allowing emotions to influence cognition in the proper way. We review the current state of knowledge of the executive capacities of psychopaths. We then evaluate psychopaths in light of the three major  philosophical theories of ethics, utilitarianism, deontological theory, and virtue ethics. Finally,we turn to the difficulty psychopath offenders pose to criminal law, because of the way psychopathy interacts with the various justifications and functions of punishment. We concludewith a brief consideration of the effects of psychopaths on contemporary social structures.

The entire article is here.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Moral Leadership Builds Employees, Company Culture And Bottom Line Results

By Micah Solomon
Originally posted August 4, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Moral leadership of employees involves, at a minimum:

• Involving them in the design of the work that will affect them
• Enhancing their pride in their work
• Enhancing their purpose, rather than using them only for their function
• Supporting their community and family involvement (however they define ‘‘family’’),
   in good times and bad
• Supporting their involvement in areas of the company outside of their strict area of assignment

The article is here.

The Rationality and Morality of Telling Stories in Bioethics

By Barry Hoffmaster
Hastings Center Report
Volume 44, Issue 3, pages 4–6, May-June 2014

The recent special report Narrative Ethics: The Role of Stories in Bioethics shows how narrative ethics can enlarge and enrich bioethics. Christine Mitchell, author of one of the essays in the collection, rightly attributes the popularity of narrative ethics to “the aridness of philosophical ethical theory.” Telling stories liberates morality from the constricted, philosophically grounded applied ethics that has dominated bioethics. Ethical theory is abstruse and indeterminate, and neither quality is tolerable when the people are real, the moral stakes are high, and the decision cannot be deferred. As with any emancipation, enthusiasm for narrative ethics abounds, but for its promise to be realized, the moral workings of stories need to be understood.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Beyond Good And Evil: New Science Casts Light On Morality In The Brain

By Carey Goldberg
Common Health
Originally posted August 7, 2014

For two decades, researchers have scanned and analyzed the brains of psychopaths and murderers, but they haven’t pinpointed any single source of evil in the brain. What they’ve found instead, as Buckholtz puts it, “is that our folk concepts of good and evil are much more complicated, and multi-faceted, and riven with uncertainty than we ever thought possible before.”

In other words, so much for the old idea that we have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, and that morality is simply a battle between the two. Using new technology, brain researchers are beginning to tease apart the biology that underlies our decisions to behave badly or do good deeds. They’re even experimenting with ways to alter our judgments of what is right and wrong, and our deep gut feelings of moral conviction.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Tipping the scales: Conciliatory behavior and the morality of self-forgiveness

By Thomas Carpenter, Robert Carlisle, and Jo-Ann Tsang
The Journal of Positive Psychology
Volume 9, Issue 5, 2014


Two studies examined whether conciliatory behavior aids self-forgiveness and whether it does so in part by making it seem more morally appropriate. Participants in Study 1 (n = 269) completed an offense-recall procedure; participants in Study 2 (n = 208) imagined a social transgression under conciliatory behavior (yes, no) and receipt of forgiveness (no, ambiguous, yes) conditions. Conciliatory behavior predicted (Study 1) and caused (Study 2) elevated self-forgiveness and increased perceptions of the moral appropriateness of self-forgiveness. Perceived morality consistently mediated the effect of conciliatory behavior on self-forgiveness. Received forgiveness and guilt were considered as additional mechanisms, but received mixed support. Results suggest that conciliatory behavior may influence self-forgiveness in part by satisfying moral prerequisites for self-forgiveness.

The article is here, behind a paywall.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Narrative Ethics

By James Phelan
the living handbook of narratology
Most recent revision on January 26, 2014


Narrative ethics explores the intersections between the domain of stories and storytelling and that of moral values. Narrative ethics regards moral values as an integral part of stories and storytelling because narratives themselves implicitly or explicitly ask the question, “How should one think, judge, and act—as author, narrator, character, or audience—for the greater good?”

Characteristic Questions and Positions

Investigations into narrative ethics have been diverse and wide-ranging, but they can be usefully understood as focused on one or more of four issues: (1) the ethics of the told; (2) the ethics of the telling; (3) the ethics of writing/producing; and (4) the ethics of reading/reception.

Questions about the ethics of the told focus on characters and events. Sample questions: What are the ethical dimensions of characters’ actions, especially the conflicts they face and the choices they make about those conflicts? What are the ethical dimensions of any one character’s interactions with other characters? How does a narrative’s plot signal its stance on the ethical issues faced by its characters?

Retractions in the scientific literature: is the incidence of research fraud increasing?

By R. Grant Steen
J Med Ethics 2011; 37:249-253 doi:10.1136/jme.2010.040923


Scientific papers are retracted for many reasons including fraud (data fabrication or falsification) or error (plagiarism, scientific mistake, ethical problems). Growing attention to fraud in the lay press suggests that the incidence of fraud is increasing.


Accusations that research is tainted by bias have become commonplace in the news media. The ClimateGate scandal arose when climate change critics hacked into a research database at the University of East Anglia, evaluated the data without authorisation and went public with accusations that data had been selectively published and perhaps even falsified.1 More recently, a scientist at Harvard has been accused of biasing or falsifying data that show tamarin monkeys can learn algebraic rules.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Scandal claims Japanese scientist's life

Coauthor of retracted stem cell research papers commits suicide, despite being cleared of research misconduct.

Aljazeera News
Originally posted August 5, 2014

A senior Japanese scientist embroiled in a stem-cell research scandal has apparently committed suicide, according to police.

Yoshiki Sasai had supervised and coauthored stem cell research papers that had to be retracted due to falsified contents.

The entire article is here.

Thousands of Inmates in Illinois sign up for Obamacare for MH Treatment

By Rick Pearson
The Chicago Tribune
Originally posted August 4, 2014

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, attempting to cope with what he says is a growing mental health crisis among inmates at the county jail, said up to 9,000 people who have been incarcerated have signed up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act in an attempt to get the care they need.

“Systemically, over the course of decades, we’ve sort of carved back all the mental health services to the point where there is this question, we’ve carved it back to next to nothing,” Dart said on “The Sunday Spin” on WGN AM-720.

The entire story is here.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Morality of Larks and Owls: Unethical Behavior Depends on Chronotype

Brian Gunia, Christopher Barnes, and Sunita Sah
The Morality of Larks and Owls: Unethical Behavior Depends on Chronotype as Well as Time-of-Day Psychological Science, Forthcoming
Georgetown McDonough School of Business Research Paper.


The recently-documented “morning morality effect” indicates that people act most ethically in the morning because their energy wanes with the day. An estimated 40% of the population, however, experience increased energy levels later in the day. These “evening people,” we propose, should not show the morning morality effect. Instead, they should show the same or an increasing propensity toward ethicality in the evening. Two experiments supported this hypothesis, showing that people with a morning chronotype tend to behave more ethically in the morning than the evening, while people with an evening chronotype tend to behave more ethically in the evening than the morning. Thus, understanding when people will behave unethically may require an appreciation of both the person (chronotype) and the situation (time-of-day): a chronotype morality effect.

The entire article is here.

Are we journalists first?

The longstanding debate about whether and when a reporter can intervene in a story is rekindled in the age of inequality

By Alexis Fitts and Nicola Pring
Columbia Journal Review
Originally published July 1, l2014

Here are a few excerpts:

She watched children beg their way into play dates for the promise of a meal. She watched a teacher handing out apples be thronged by more hungry students than he could feed.

She never offered help. When a photographer she was working with gave a bag of groceries to one family, Nazario felt he had crossed an ethical line. “I think what was beaten into me early as a reporter was you don’t intervene or change a story that you’re writing about,” says Nazario. As she would patiently explain to each subject at the beginning of her reporting, she was there to observe, to tell a story that alerts the public to problems and hopefully motivates others to address those problems. It is a traditional notion of objectivity that has been American journalism’s defining ideal for more than a century.


The irony is that Nazario’s story had real impact: Within 24 hours of its publication, child-abuse reports in Los Angeles County increased by 20 percent, and eventually rose 45 percent. The county ordered an audit of the Child Welfare Agency and reorganized its reporting hotlines. More federal and state funds were allocated to programs for addicted mothers. The story also improved the lives of the families she’d profiled: The county placed Tamika Triggs in a foster home; her mother was admitted to a choice rehabilitation program.

The entire story is here.

Thanks to Dr. Deborah Derrickson Kossmann for this story.

Editor's note: Clearly, psychologists face issues related to poverty, inequality, and emotional suffering. An ethical dilemma may emerge when a psychologist struggles with boundary issues while in their professional role.  These issues typically involve compassion overriding professional judgment and role.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ancient Ethical Theory

By Richard Parry
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Substantial Revision August 13, 2014

While moral theory does not invent morality, or even reflection on it, it does try to bring systematic thinking to bear on the phenomenon. Ancient moral theory, however, does not attempt to be a comprehensive account of all the phenomena that fall under the heading of morality. Rather, assuming piecemeal opinions and practices, it tries to capture its underlying essence. It is the nature of such an enterprise to evaluate and criticize some of these opinions and practices but that is not its primary goal. Ancient moral theory tries to provide a reflective account of an essential human activity so one can grasp what is of fundamental importance in pursuing it. In historical order, the theories to be considered in this article are those of Socrates as presented in certain dialogues of Plato; Plato in the Republic; Aristotle; the Cynics; Cyrenaic hedonism; Epicurus; the Stoics; and Pyrrhonian skepticism.

The entire post is here.

California Revises Policy on Mentally Ill Inmates

By Erica Goode
The New York Times
August 2, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

The increasing number of mentally ill prisoners in prisons and jails across the country — in 2013, mentally ill prisoners made up just over 28 percent of California’s prison population — has raised questions about their treatment in corrections systems poorly equipped to deal with psychiatric symptoms. Mentally ill inmates, whose challenging behavior often leads to their placement in solitary confinement, are frequent targets for a cell extraction — the forcible removal of an inmate from a cell by a tactical team equipped with Tasers, pepper spray or other less-lethal weapons — or for other uses of force by guards.

Judge Karlton, in his April order, ruled that the use of force and lengthy solitary confinement of seriously mentally ill inmates was unconstitutional and ordered the department to revise its policies.

The entire article is here.

Monday, August 18, 2014

5 Reasons Ethical Culture Doesn’t Just Happen

By Linda Fisher Thornton
Leading in Context
Originally posted August 6, 2014

Don’t assume that an ethical culture will just happen in your workplace. Even if you are a good leader, ethical culture is a delicate thing, requiring intentional positive leadership and daily tending. It requires more than good leadership, more than trust building, and more than good hiring.

Why does building an ethical culture require so much more than good leadership? Ethical culture is a system of systems, and just putting in good leadership, trust-building and good hiring doesn’t make it healthy.

The entire blog post is here.

When Cupid fires arrows double-blind: implicit informed agreement for online research?

By Anders Sandberg
Practical Ethics
Originally posted on Jul 31, 2014

A while ago Facebook got into the news for experimenting on its subscribers, leading to a fair bit of grumbling. Now the dating site OKCupid has proudly outed itself: We Experiment On Human Beings! Unethical or not?


The harm angle is more interesting. While Facebook affected the emotions slightly on people who might not have expected emotional manipulation, OKCupid is all about emotions and emotion-laden social interaction. People date because of the site. People have sex because of the site. People marry because of the site. Potentially manipulations could have far more far reaching consequences on OKCupid than on Facebook.

The entire blog post is here.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tainted Altruism

When Doing Some Good Is Evaluated as Worse Than Doing No Good at All

George E. Newman and Daylian M. Cain
Published online before print January 8, 2014
doi: 10.1177/0956797613504785
Psychological Science March 2014 vol. 25 no. 3 648-655


In four experiments, we found that the presence of self-interest in the charitable domain was seen as tainting: People evaluated efforts that realized both charitable and personal benefits as worse than analogous behaviors that produced no charitable benefit. This tainted-altruism effect was observed in a variety of contexts and extended to both moral evaluations of other agents and participants’ own behavioral intentions (e.g., reported willingness to hire someone or purchase a company’s products). This effect did not seem to be driven by expectations that profits would be realized at the direct cost of charitable benefits, or the explicit use of charity as a means to an end. Rather, we found that it was related to the accessibility of different counterfactuals: When someone was charitable for self-interested reasons, people considered his or her behavior in the absence of self-interest, ultimately concluding that the person did not behave as altruistically as he or she could have. However, when someone was only selfish, people did not spontaneously consider whether the person could have been more altruistic.

The article is here.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Are Human Rights Redundant in the Ethical Codes of Psychologists?

Alfred Allan
Ethics & Behavior
Volume 23, Issue 4, 2013

The codes of ethics and conduct of a number of psychology bodies explicitly refer to human rights, and the American Psychological Association recently expanded the use of the construct when it amended standard 1.02 of the Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. What is unclear is how these references to human rights should be interpreted. In this article I examine the historical development of human rights and associated constructs and the contemporary meaning of human rights. As human rights are generally associated with law, morality, or religion, I consider to which of forms of these references most likely refer. I conclude that these references in ethical codes are redundant and that it would be preferable not to refer to human rights in codes. Instead, the profession should acknowledge human rights as a separate and complimentary norm system that governs the behavior of psychologists and should ensure that they have adequate knowledge of human rights and encourage them to promote human rights.

The entire article is here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Our brains judge a face's trustworthiness, even when we can’t see it

Science Daily
Originally posted August 5, 2014

Our brains are able to judge the trustworthiness of a face even when we cannot consciously see it, a team of scientists has found. Their findings, which appear in the Journal of Neuroscience, shed new light on how we form snap judgments of others.

"Our findings suggest that the brain automatically responds to a face's trustworthiness before it is even consciously perceived," explains Jonathan Freeman, an assistant professor in New York University's Department of Psychology and the study's senior author.

The entire article is here.

Moral judgement in adolescents: Age differences in applying and justifying three principles of harm

Paul C. Stey, Daniel Lapsley & Mary O. McKeever
European Journal of Developmental Psychology
Volume 10, Issue 2, 2013


This study investigated the application and justification of three principles of harm in a cross-sectional sample of adolescents in order to test recent theories concerning the source of intuitive moral judgements. Participants were 46 early (M age = 14.8 years) and 40 late adolescents (M age = 17.8 years). Participants rated the permissibility of various ethical dilemmas, and provided justifications for their judgements. Results indicated participants aligned their judgements with the three principles of harm, but had difficulty explaining their reasoning. Furthermore, although age groups were consistent in the application of the principles of harm, age differences emerged in their justifications. These differences were partly explained by differences in language ability. Additionally, participants who used emotional language in their justifications demonstrated a characteristically deontological pattern of moral judgement on certain dilemmas. We conclude adolescents in this age range apply the principles of harm but that the ability to explain their judgements is still developing.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Bostrom on Superintelligence

By John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published July 27, 2014

Nick Bostrom’s magnum opus on the topic of AI risk — Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers and Strategies — was recently published by Oxford University Press. The book is a comprehensive overview and analysis of the risks arising from an intelligence explosion. As you may know, some people are concerned that the creation of superintelligent machines will precipitate an existential catastrophe for the human race. For better or worse, the debate about this issue has largely taken place online, via various internet fora. Now, while I’m certainly not one to disparage such fora — this blog, after all, would count as one — I have to admit that Bostrom’s book is something of a relief. At last, we have a detailed, reasonably sober, academic analysis of the issue, one that is clearly the product of many years of research, reflection and discussion.

The rest of the review and content analysis is here.

Why Can’t the Banking Industry Solve Its Ethics Problems?

By Neil Irwin
The New York Times
Originally published July 29, 2014

The financial crisis that nearly brought down the global economy was triggered in no small part by the aggressive culture and spotty ethics within the world’s biggest banks. But after six years and countless efforts to reform finance, the banking scandals never seem to end.

The important question that doesn’t yet have a satisfying answer is why.

Why are the ethical breaches at megabanks so routine that it is hard to keep them straight? Why do banks seem to have so many scandals — and ensuing multimillion dollar legal settlements — compared with other large companies like retailers, airlines or manufacturers?

The entire story is here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Doing their duty: An empirical analysis of the unintended effect of Tarasoff

By Griffin Sims Edwards
Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 57, 2014
Emory Law and Economics Research Paper No. 10-61


The seminal ruling of Tarasoff v. Regents enacted a duty that required mental health providers to warn potential victims of any real threat to life made by a patient. Many have theorized that this required breach of confidentiality may have adverse effects on effective psychological treatment - but the question remains unanswered empirically. Due to the presence of duty to warn laws, patients might forego mental health treatment that leads them to violence. Using a fixed effects model and exploiting the variation in the timing and style of duty to warn laws across states, I find that mandatory duty to warn laws cause an increase in homicides of 5%. These results are robust to model specifications, falsification tests, and help to clarify the true effect of state duty to warn laws.

The entire article is here.

The Role of and Challenges for Psychologists in Physician Assisted Suicide

Shara M. Johnson, Robert J. Cramer, Mary Alice Conroy, and Brett O. Gardner
Death Studies, 38: 582–588, 2014
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 0748-1187 print/1091-7683 online
DOI: 10.1080/07481187.2013.820228


Physician assisted suicide (PAS) poses complex legal and ethical dilemmas for practicing psychologists. Since the passage of the Oregon Death with Dignity Act in 1997, Montana and Washington have passed similar legislation. Despite the law requiring competence evaluations by medical and psychological professionals, existing psycholegal literature inadequately addresses the role of psychologists in the PAS process. This article reviews legal statutes and analyzes ethical dilemmas psychologists may face if involved. We consider competence both generally and in the context of PAS. Suggestions are made for psychologists completing competence assessments and future directions to improve competence assessments for PAS are provided.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

In The NFL, Domestic Violence is ⅛ As Bad As Smoking Pot

By Ashley Yang
USC Annenberg News
Originally posted July 25, 2014

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was charged with aggravated assault after he was caught on camera punching his then-fiance (now wife) unconscious and dragging her body out of an elevator earlier this year (via The Daily Beast).

He was punished by the NFL with a two-game suspension, in addition to a $58,000 fine and a prorated salary loss. The League handed down a 16-game suspension to a player who tested positive for marijuana during the off-season.

The entire post is here.

Revisiting External Validity: Concerns about Trolley Problems and Other Sacrificial Dilemmas in Moral Psychology

By C. W. Bauman, A. P. McGraw, D. M. Bartels, and C. Warren


Sacrificial dilemmas, especially trolley problems, have rapidly become the most recognizable scientific exemplars of moral situations; they are now a familiar part of the psychological literature and are featured prominently in textbooks and the popular press. We are concerned that studies of sacrificial dilemmas may lack experimental, mundane, and psychological realism and therefore suffer from low external validity. Our apprehensions stem from three observations about trolley problems and other similar sacrificial dilemmas: (i) they are amusing rather than sobering, (ii) they are unrealistic and unrepresentative of the moral situations people encounter in the real world, and (iii) they do not elicit the same psychological processes as other moral situations. We believe it would be prudent to use more externally valid stimuli when testing descriptive theories that aim to provide comprehensive accounts of moral judgment and behavior.

The entire paper is here.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Episode 13: Ethics Education and Vignette Analysis (Number 2)

Lucky Episode 13 mirrors Episode 6 in that the content is similar.  In the first half of the program, John speaks with Dr. Donald McAleer, psychologist and ethics educator, and his pre-doctoral intern Reneh Karamians about ethics education in graduate programs and at internship sites.  We sprinkle in personal experience and the Acculturation Model focusing on how students and early career psychologists may think about ethical decision-making.  In the second half, the participants discuss Vignette #5, A Tricky Situation from the "Vignette Warehouse" at the Ethics and Psychology site.  Dr. McAleer and Intern Reneh arrive at different conclusions as to how to handle the vignette, which nicely models that there can be more than one right answer when dealing with ethical dilemmas.

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

1. Outline two important components in ethics education,
2. Identify the competing ethical principles in the vignette, and,
3. Practice integrating personal values with professional ethics.

Click here to earn one APA-approved CE credit

Sunday, August 10, 2014

How to Be Good

An Oxford philosopher thinks he can distill all morality into a formula. Is he right?

By Larissa MacFarqhar
The New Yorker
Originally published September 5, 2011

Here are two excerpts:

Parfit is thought by many to be the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world. He has written two books, both of which have been called the most important works to be written in the field in more than a century—since 1874, when Henry Sidgwick’s “The Method of Ethics,” the apogee of classical utilitarianism, was published. Parfit’s first book, “Reasons and Persons,” was published in 1984, when he was forty-one, and caused a sensation. The book was dense with science-fictional thought experiments, all urging a shift toward a more impersonal, non-physical, and selfless view of human life.


Parfit believes that there are true answers to moral questions, just as there are to mathematical ones. Humans can perceive these truths, through a combination of intuition and critical reasoning, but they remain true whether humans perceive them or not. He believes that there is nothing more urgent for him to do in his brief time on earth than discover what these truths are and persuade others of their reality. He believes that without moral truth the world would be a bleak place in which nothing mattered. This thought horrifies him.

The entire article is here.

A worm in the heart

A whistleblower’s account of a small town municipality riddled with corruption

By Niki Moore
The Daily Maverick
Originally posted July 25, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

“Everyone in this municipality, everyone, is corrupt,” he said, in an extremely emotional telephone interview. “The word has spread through the town, and if you want services cheaply, or you want to have your debt scrubbed, you go and speak to someone in the council. Make a small payment, and you will get whatever you want.”

Council employees, says Mervyn, have become expert at diverting fees that should be paid to council, into their own pockets.

The entire story is here.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The New Normal: How the definition of disease impacts enhancement

By Ray Purcell
The Neuroethics Blog
Originally posted July 24, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Why does the definition of disease matter? Enhancement is typically defined relative to normal abilities. Anjan Chatterjee of the University of Pennsylvania suggested that “Therapy is treating disease, whereas enhancement is improving “normal” abilities. Most people would probably agree that therapy is desirable. By contrast, enhancing normal abilities gives pause to many.” However, many neuroethicists have wrestled with clearly defining enhancement. The director of Emory’s Center for Ethics, Paul Root Wolpe argued (2002) that the enhancement debate centers on the ability of substances or therapeutics to directly affect the brain in ways that are not necessary to restore health and, certainly, to date the cognitive enhancement debate has focused primarily on pharmaceuticals, many of which are approved to treat disorders but can have effects on healthy individuals as well. Perhaps the best examples of this are methylphenidate (Ritalin) and modafinil (Provigil) which are prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy respectively, but are increasingly being used by students and professionals to boost cognitive performance at school and in the workplace. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five Key Ethical Issues

By Cynthia Schoeman
The Ethics Monitor
Published in HR Future

Here is an excerpt:

4. The new ROI: return on integrity

Embarking on a path of building an ethical culture is likely to give rise to some challenging questions, such as, ‘Does ethics matter?’ and, ‘Does ethics make good business sense?’. Leaders need to understand and champion the benefits of an ethical culture to ensure that its value is widely recognised.
The benefits include attracting and retaining top employees and board members; greater levels of trust amongst internal and external stakeholders; increased employee engagement and commitment; enhanced loyalty and support from customers and other stakeholders; improved investor and market confidence; and enhanced corporate reputation and brand equity. A strong ethical culture is also a sound defense against misconduct, which serves to reduce the risk of ethical failures and the associated costs and negative consequences.

The entire blog post is here.

If Trauma Victims Forget, What Is Lost to Society?

A pill to dampen memories stirs hope and worry.

By Emily Anthes
Originally posted July 17, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

However, promising studies have also stirred controversy, with some bioethicists warning that memory-dulling drugs could have profound, unintended consequences for our psyches and our society. The debate is raising tricky questions about what—and who—memory is for. The European Union’s highest court recently ruled that, at least when it comes to the Internet, we all have the “right to be forgotten” for things no longer relevant. Do we also have the right to forget?

The entire article is here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Social media, big data and the next generation of e-health interventions

By Professor Helen Christensen
MAPS, Executive Director
Black Dog Institute and Professor of Mental Health, University of New South Wales

The Internet is a place where we, as psychologists, can quickly learn about new developments in our area, source research papers, publish research, connect with our colleagues and clients, undertake online training, manage accounts, and keep records. For those who use our services, we can also learn about useful apps or websites that offer online assessments, psychoeducation, self-help and supplementary therapies. However, as ordinary people in everyday life, we use the Internet far more frequently. We make social connections, keep in touch with our families, pay bills, upload our exercise data from our Jawbones and Fitbits, send out invitations, make appointments, read the news, text our family members, look at television programs we missed over the past week and even check the rain radar before we walk to work. Internet enabled activities are ubiquitous in Australia, as they are in almost all countries, and we can’t get enough of them.

The entire article is here.

Turning To Ethics When Trust In Business Is At An All-Time Low

By Dina Medland
Originally posted July 24, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

The latest report from the UK’s  Institute of Business Ethics  (IBE) sets out why company directors need to be actively involved in setting and maintaining a company’s ethical values. One of the lessons of the 2008 banking crisis has been that ethics matters to business, both in terms of its reputation and its sustainability, writes Peter Montagnon, Associate Director  in Ethics, Risk & Governance: a board briefing paper. The challenge for business is how to develop and embed real values in order to regain public trust, needed if they are to secure their franchise for the long term.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Ethicists Resign to protest CIHR stance

By Tim Loughead
Canadian Medical Association Journal
Originally published July 16, 2014

Two medical ethicists have resigned from their advisory positions with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), marking the latest development in a long simmering dispute over the institute's lack of leadership with ethics expertise. Fran├žoise Baylis, who holds the Canada Research Chair in Bioethics and Philosophy at Dalhousie University, Halifax, and Chris Kaposy, a professor of health care ethics at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN), St. John's, both issued strongly worded letters accompanying their respective departures on June 16th and 24th.

The entire article is here.

What a Plagiarizing 12-Year-Old Has in Common With a U.S. Senator

Parents beware: Children who don't take ownership for their mistakes may grow up to be adults who create public scandals.

By Jessica Lahey
The Atlantic
Originally posted July 24, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

When Lauren told NPR that she was the first to suggest that scientists look in rivers for evidence of lionfish, she was not being honest. Worst-case scenario, she knowingly told a lie, but even if she simply misspoke, she made a mistake. That’s what children do, and when they do, the adults in their lives are tasked with turning those mistakes into learning experiences. One can only hope that in a private conversation after that NPR interview, Lauren’s father had pointed out that, actually, the original idea for her “finding” had come from another scientist, one he’d known professionally, and that maybe they should mention Jud’s work in her next interview. However, as Lauren went on to perpetuate falsehoods in subsequent interviews, the adults in Lauren’s life seem to have fallen down on their job as teachers and role models.

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Foreclosures Drive up Suicide Rate

Press Release
Originally released May 18, 2014

The recent U.S. foreclosure crisis contributed significantly to the nation’s jump in suicides, independent of other economic factors associated with the Great Recession, according to a new study by Dartmouth and Purdue University professors.


“It seems that foreclosures affect suicide rates in two ways,” says co-author Jason Houle, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth. “The loss of a home clearly impacts individuals and families, and can arouse feelings of loss, shame or regret. At the same time, rising foreclosure rates affect entire communities because they’re associated with a number of community-level resources and stresses, including an increase in crime, abandoned homes, and a sense of insecurity.”

The entire press release is here.

Jason N. Houle and Michael T. Light.  The Home Foreclosure Crisis and Rising Suicide Rates, 2005 to 2010. American Journal of Public Health: June 2014, Vol. 104, No. 6, pp. 1073-1079.
doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2013.301774

When Hearing Voices Is a Good Thing

A new study suggests that schizophrenic people in more collectivist societies sometimes think their auditory hallucinations are helpful.

By Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
Originally posted July 23, 2014

Here are two excerpts:

But a new study suggests that the way schizophrenia sufferers experience those voices depends on their cultural context. Surprisingly, schizophrenic people from certain other countries don't hear the same vicious, dark voices that Holt and other Americans do. Some of them, in fact, think their hallucinations are good—and sometimes even magical.


The Americans tended to described their voices as violent—"like torturing people, to take their eye out with a fork, or cut someone's head and drink their blood, really nasty stuff," according to the study.

The entire article is here.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Bottlenecks in Training Doctors

By The Editorial Board
The New York Times
Originally published July 19, 2014

The new head of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sloan Gibson, told a Senate committee last week that he needed $17.6 billion over the next three years to hire some 1,500 doctors, 8,500 nurses and other clinicians to reduce the unconscionably long waiting times that many veterans now endure before they are able to see a doctor.

That news was bad enough, but the department’s problems are emblematic of an even deeper problem: a nationwide shortage of doctors, especially primary care doctors, and other health care professionals, that will only get worse in coming years. No less alarming, the current medical education system is ill-equipped to train the number of professionals needed.

Experts disagree over how bad the current shortages are. But virtually all agree that the problem is acute in rural areas and in poor urban neighborhoods. As of June 19, according to one estimate cited by analysts in the Department of Health and Human Services, there was a shortage of 16,000 primary care physicians in such underserved areas.

The entire story is here.

Ethics & Free Will

by Mike LaBossiere
Talking Philosophy Blog
Originally published on July 18, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

One impact is that when people have doubts about free will they tend to have less support for retributive punishment. Retributive punishment, as the name indicates, is punishment aimed at making a person suffer for her misdeeds. Doubt in free will did not negatively impact a person’s support for punishment aimed at deterrence or rehabilitation.

While the authors do consider one reason for this, namely that those who doubt free will would regard wrongdoers as analogous to harmful natural phenomenon that need to dealt with rather than subject to vengeance, this view also matches a common view about moral accountability. To be specific, moral (and legal) accountability is generally proportional to the control a person has over events. To use a concrete example, consider the difference between these two cases. In the first case, Sally is driving well above the speed limit and is busy texting and sipping her latte. She doesn’t see the crossing guard frantically waving his sign and runs over the children in the cross walk. In case two, Jane is driving the speed limit and children suddenly run directly in front of her car. She brakes and swerves immediately, but she hits the children. Intuitively, Sally has acted in a way that was morally wrong—she should have been going the speed limit and she should have been paying attention. Jane, though she hit the children, did not act wrongly—she could not have avoided the children and hence is not morally responsible.

The entire blog post is here.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Do Smoking Policy Interventions Affect Suicide Risk?

By Richard A. Grucza, Andrew D. Plunk and others
Nicotine Tob Res (2014)
doi: 10.1093/ntr/ntu106
First published online: July 16, 2014


Smokers exhibit elevated risk for suicide, but it is unknown whether smoking interventions reduce suicide risk. We examined whether state-level policy interventions—increases in cigarette excise taxes and strengthening of smoke-free air laws—corresponded to reduction in suicide risk during the 1990s and early 2000s. We also examined whether the magnitude of such reductions correlated with individuals’ predicted probability of smoking, as would be expected if the associations stemmed from changes in smoking behavior.



Cigarette excise taxes, smoke-free air policies, and an index combining the two policies all exhibited protective associations with suicide. The associations were strongest in segments of the population where predicted smoking prevalence was the highest and weaker in segments of the population where predicted smoking prevalence was the lowest, suggesting that the protective associations were related to changes in smoking behavior.

The entire article is here, behind a paywall.

Editor's note: While it is unclear if smoking itself leads to suicidal behavior (doubtful) or makes existing mental impairments worse (either through sustained use or trying to quit), clinicians need to know that this could be an important part of evaluating suicide potential.

Here is an article of nicotine and mental illness.

Prisons are Unable to Afford New Effective Hep C Medication

Prisoners Unlikely to Benefit from New, Highly Effective Hepatitis C Treatment
Prison Legal News
Originally posted July 9, 2014

by Greg Dober

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a blood-borne virus that is typically spread through intravenous drug use (i.e., sharing needles), tattooing with non-sterile needles, and sharing razors, toothbrushes, nail clippers or other hygiene items that may be exposed to blood. It is often a chronic disease and, if left untreated, can lead to severe liver damage.

Recent good news in the battle against HCV, in the form of two new drugs that are highly effective in eliminating the virus, is tempered by the fact that the companies that produce the drugs have priced them at $60,000 to $80,000 per 12-week course of treatment. This high cost prices the medications beyond the reach of most prison and jail systems – which is especially troubling considering that a substantial number of prisoners are infected with HCV.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Parole board psychologist admits he made up story

Frank Colistro had told KOIN 6 News he was shot during two different hostage negotiation operations

By Dan Tilkin
Published: July 14, 2014

Frank Colistro, an influential Portland psychologist, told KOIN 6 News he was shot twice in the line of duty.

He now admits that was a lie.

Colistro is one of only five psychologists the Oregon Parole Board uses to evaluate inmates to help determine if they’re ready to be released from prison. He’s weighed in on countless cases, including very high-profile murders and rapes.

The entire story is here.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Is Neurolaw Conceptually Confused?

By Neil Levy
J Ethics. 2014 Jun 1;18(2):171-185.


In Minds, Brains, and Law, Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson argue that current attempts to use neuroscience to inform the theory and practice of law founder because they are built on confused conceptual foundations. Proponents of neurolaw attribute to the brain or to its parts psychological properties that belong only to people; this mistake vitiates many of the claims they make. Once neurolaw is placed on a sounder conceptual footing, Pardo and Patterson claim, we will see that its more dramatic claims are false or meaningless, though it might be able to provide inductive evidence for particular less dramatic claims (that a defendant may be lying, or lacks control over their behavior, for instance). In response, I argue that the central conceptual confusions identified by Pardo and Patterson are not confusions at all. Though some of the claims made by its proponents are hasty and sometimes they are confused, there are no conceptual barriers to attributing psychological properties to brain states. Neuroscience can play a role in producing evidence that is more reliable than subjective report or behavior; it therefore holds out the possibility of dramatically altering our self-conception as agents and thereby the law.

The entire article is here.

Moral Hazards & Legal Conundrums of Our Robot-Filled Future

By Greg Miller
Originally posted July 17, 2014

The robots are coming, and they’re getting smarter. They’re evolving from single-task devices like Roomba and its floor-mopping, pool-cleaning cousins into machines that can make their own decisions and autonomously navigate public spaces. Thanks to artificial intelligence, machines are getting better at understanding our speech and detecting and reflecting our emotions. In many ways, they’re becoming more like us.

Whether you find it exhilarating or terrifying (or both), progress in robotics and related fields like AI is raising new ethical quandaries and challenging legal codes that were created for a world in which a sharp line separates man from machine.

The entire article is here.