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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

How do you teach a machine to be moral?

By Francesca Rossi
The Washington Post
Originally published November 5, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

For this cooperation to work safely and beneficially for both humans and machines, artificial agents should follow moral values and ethical principles (appropriate to where they will act), as well as safety constraints. When directed to achieve a set of goals, agents should ensure that their actions do not violate these principles and values overtly, or through negligence by performing risky actions.

It would be easier for humans to accept and trust machines who behave as ethically as we do, and these principles would make it easier for artificial agents to determine their actions and explain their behavior in terms understandable by humans. Moreover, if machines and humans needed to make decisions together, shared moral values and ethical principles would facilitate consensus and compromise. Imagine a room full of physicians trying to decide on the best treatment for a patient with a difficult case. Now add an artificial agent that has read everything that has been written about the patient’s disease and similar cases, and thus can help the physicians compare the options and make a much more informed choice. To be trustworthy, the agent should care about the same values as the physicians: curing the disease should not at detriment of the patient’s well-being.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why natural science needs phenomenological philosophy

Steven M. Rosen
Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2015 Jul 2. pii: S0079-6107(15)00083-8.


Through an exploration of theoretical physics, this paper suggests the need for regrounding natural science in phenomenological philosophy. To begin, the philosophical roots of the prevailing scientific paradigm are traced to the thinking of Plato, Descartes, and Newton. The crisis in modern science is then investigated, tracking developments in physics, science's premier discipline. Einsteinian special relativity is interpreted as a response to the threat of discontinuity implied by the Michelson-Morley experiment, a challenge to classical objectivism that Einstein sought to counteract. We see that Einstein's efforts to banish discontinuity ultimately fall into the "black hole" predicted in his general theory of relativity. The unavoidable discontinuity that haunts Einstein's theory is also central to quantum mechanics. Here too the attempt has been made to manage discontinuity, only to have this strategy thwarted in the end by the intractable problem of quantum gravity. The irrepressible discontinuity manifested in the phenomena of modern physics proves to be linked to a merging of subject and object that flies in the face of Cartesian philosophy. To accommodate these radically non-classical phenomena, a new philosophical foundation is called for: phenomenology. Phenomenological philosophy is elaborated through Merleau-Ponty's concept of depth and is then brought into focus for use in theoretical physics via qualitative work with topology and hypercomplex numbers. In the final part of this paper, a detailed summary is offered of the specific application of topological phenomenology to quantum gravity that was systematically articulated in The Self-Evolving Cosmos (Rosen, 2008a).

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

AI is different because it lets machines weld the emotional with the physical

By Peter McOwen
The Conversation
Originally published December 10, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Creative intelligence

However, many are sensitive to the idea of artificial intelligence being artistic – entering the sphere of human intelligence and creativity. AI can learn to mimic the artistic process of painting, literature, poetry and music, but it does so by learning the rules, often from access to large datasets of existing work from which it extracts patterns and applies them. Robots may be able to paint – applying a brush to canvas, deciding on shapes and colours – but based on processing the example of human experts. Is this creating, or copying? (The same question has been asked of humans too.)

The entire article is here.

Is Anyone Competent to Regulate Artificial Intelligence?

By John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Posted November 21, 2015

Artificial intelligence is a classic risk/reward technology. If developed safely and properly, it could be a great boon. If developed recklessly and improperly, it could pose a significant risk. Typically, we try to manage this risk/reward ratio through various regulatory mechanisms. But AI poses significant regulatory challenges. In a previous post, I outlined eight of these challenges. They were arranged into three main groups. The first consisted of definitional problems: what is AI anyway? The second consisted of ex ante problems: how could you safely guide the development of AI technology? And the third consisted of ex post problems: what happens once the technology is unleashed into the world? They are depicted in the diagram above.

The entire blog post is here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The role of emotion in ethics and bioethics: dealing with repugnance and disgust

Mark Sheehan
J Med Ethics 2016;42:1-2

Here is an excerpt:

But what generally are we to say about the role of emotions in ethics and in ethical judgement? We tend to sharply distinguish ‘mere’ emotions or emotional responses from reasoned or rational argument. Clearly, it would seem, if we are to make claims about rightness or wrongness they should be on the basis of reasons and rational argument. Emotions look to be outside of this paradigm concerned as they are with our responses to the world rather than the world itself and the clear articulation of inferential relationships within it. Most importantly emotions are felt subjectively and so cannot lay any generalised claim on others (particularly others who do not feel as the arguer does). The subjectivity of emotions means that they cannot function in arguments because, unless they are universal, they cannot form the basis of a claim on another person. The reason they cannot form this basis is because that other person may not have that emotion: relying on it means the argument can only apply to those who do. An argument that relies on feeling particular emotions, particularly emotions that we don't all feel in the same way, is weak to that extent and certainly weaker than one that does not.

In the case at hand, repugnance or disgust only have persuasive power to those who feel these emotions in response to human reproductive cloning. If all people felt one or the other, then claims based on an appeal to repugnance or disgust would have persuasive power over all of us. But even if these were generally or commonly felt emotions here, such persuasive power would be distinct from an argument's having persuasive power over us because of the reasons it provides for us independently of contingently felt emotions. An argument then that is based on an appeal to emotion apparently as Kass' and Kekes' apparently are, can, at best, be only as strong as the generalisability of the empirical claim about the relevant emotion.

The article is here.

Computer-based personality judgments are more accurate than those made by humans

By Wu Youyou, Michal Kosinski, and David Stillwell
PNAS January 27, 2015 vol. 112 no. 4 1036-1040


Judging others’ personalities is an essential skill in successful social living, as personality is a key driver behind people’s interactions, behaviors, and emotions. Although accurate personality judgments stem from social-cognitive skills, developments in machine learning show that computer models can also make valid judgments. This study compares the accuracy of human and computer-based personality judgments, using a sample of 86,220 volunteers who completed a 100-item personality questionnaire. We show that (i) computer predictions based on a generic digital footprint (Facebook Likes) are more accurate (r = 0.56) than those made by the participants’ Facebook friends using a personality questionnaire (r = 0.49); (ii) computer models show higher interjudge agreement; and (iii) computer personality judgments have higher external validity when predicting life outcomes such as substance use, political attitudes, and physical health; for some outcomes, they even outperform the self-rated personality scores. Computers outpacing humans in personality judgment presents significant opportunities and challenges in the areas of psychological assessment, marketing, and privacy.

The article is here.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Survey: 8 in 10 US doctors feel unprepared to treat mentally ill

By Sarah Ferris
The Hill
Originally published December 7, 2015

More than eight in 10 family doctors in the U.S. say they are not adequately prepared to care for severely mentally ill patients, according to a survey released Monday by the Commonwealth Fund.

Just 16 percent of U.S. doctors said their offices had the capacity to care for those with serious mental illnesses, the lowest of any other developed country besides Sweden, according to the annual international study.

Diagnosing and treating mental illnesses has come increasingly into focus this year as the number of mass shootings committed by mentally unstable individuals continues to rise. GOP leaders in Congress have repeatedly pointed to mental health reform as their best response to the nation's epidemic of shootings.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

'Highly ethical' business students don't like Wall Street

CNN Money
Originally published November 18, 2015

Students at business schools who think of themselves as "highly ethical" aren't interested in a career on Wall Street. They don't see the big banks as moral enough for their standards.

That's according to William Dudley, the president of the New York Federal Reserve. Dudley knows a thing or two about ethics at big banks. He used to work at Goldman Sachs and now Dudley leads one of the watchdogs in charge of overseeing Wall Street's activities.

Dudley was bothered by a recent conversation with business school deans. They told him that business school students who consider themselves "highly ethical" are choosing not to work in financial services.

"As long as we have that self selection out of the financial industry by people who view themselves as highly ethical...that tells you we have a problem," Dudley said at the Economic Club of New York Thursday.

The entire article is here.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Scientific Faith Is Different From Religious Faith

By Paul Bloom
The Atlantic
Originally published November 24, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

It’s better to get a cancer diagnosis from a radiologist than from a Ouija Board. It’s better to learn about the age of the universe from an astrophysicist than from a Rabbi. The New England Journal of Medicine is a more reliable source about vaccines than the actress Jenny McCarthy. These preferences are not ideological. We’re not talking about Fox News versus The Nation. They are rational, because the methods of science are demonstrably superior at getting at truths about the natural world.

I don’t want to fetishize science. Sociologists and philosophers deserve a lot of credit in reminding us that scientific practice is permeated by groupthink, bias, and financial, political, and personal motivations. The physicist Richard Feynman once wrote that the essence of science was “bending over backwards to prove ourselves wrong.” But he was talking about the collective cultural activity of science, not scientists as individuals, most of whom prefer to be proven right, and who are highly biased to see the evidence in whatever light most favors their preferred theory.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Mental health courts significantly reduce repeat offenses, jail time

Medical News Today
Originally published December 4, 2015

New research from North Carolina State University finds that mental health courts are effective at reducing repeat offending, and limiting related jail time, for people with mental health problems - especially those who also have substance use problems.

"Previous research has provided mixed data on how effective mental health courts are at reducing recidivism, or repeat offending, for people with mental health problems," says Sarah Desmarais, an associate professor of psychology at NC State and senior author of a paper on the research. "We wanted to evaluate why or how mental health courts may be effective, and whether there are specific characteristics that tell us which people are most likely to benefit from those courts. The goal here is to find ways to help people and drive down costs for state and local governments without impinging on public safety."

The entire article is here.

How a Prominent Legal Group Could Change the Way Colleges Handle Rape

By Sarah Brown
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Originally published December 4, 2015

The American Law Institute, a scholarly group influential in legal circles, is beginning to craft guidelines on campus sexual assault that will seek to outline best practices and bring some clarity to the tangles of compliance with federal law.

The institute is perhaps best known for its Model Penal Code, which is the bedrock of many states' criminal statutes, including sexual-assault laws. A team at the institute is now revising the sexual-violence provisions of the penal code.

The campus-rape project, on the other hand, will involve developing "guiding principles" for college officials, courts, and legislatures to use as a resource, said Suzanne B. Goldberg, a clinical professor of law and executive vice president for university life at Columbia University.

She and Vicki C. Jackson, a law professor at Harvard University, are the two primary authors of a framework that has just begun to take shape. Several principles that are part of a preliminary draft were discussed last month at the project's first official meeting.

'The attention to this issue in the last several years has put a spotlight on the need for processes that respond fairly and effectively to the complaints that come in.' The principles will cover reporting, interim measures designed to help alleged victims, relations between campus and law-enforcement officials, and the adjudication of cases. "The attention to this issue in the last several years has put a spotlight on the need for processes that respond fairly and effectively to the complaints that come in," Ms. Goldberg said.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Is It Safe For Medical Residents To Work 30-Hour Shifts?

By Rob Stein
Originally published December 7, 2015

Since 2003, strict rules have limited how long medical residents can work without a break. The rules are supposed to minimize the risk that these doctors-in-training will make mistakes that threaten patients' safety because of fatigue.

But are these rules really the best for new doctors and their patients? There's been intense debate over that and some say little data to resolve the question.

So a group of researchers decided to follow thousands of medical residents at dozens of hospitals around the country.

The study compares the current rules, which limit first-year residents to working no more than 16 hours without a break, with a more flexible schedule that could allow the young doctors to work up to 30 hours.

Researchers will examine whether more mistakes happen on one schedule or the other and whether the residents learn more one way or the other. The year-long study started in July.

The entire article is here.

Men at Work

By Allison J. Pugh
Originally posted December 4, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

One option is to get angry. When I interviewed laid-off men for my recent book on job insecurity, their anger, or more often a wry bitterness, was impossible to forget. By and large, like Gary the laid-off tradesman, they were not angry at their employers. At home, however, they sounded a different note. ‘I have a very set opinion of relationships and how females handle them,’ Gary told me, rather flatly. ‘It’s what I’ve seen consistently throughout my life.’ On his third serious relationship, Gary talked about the ‘hurt that’s been caused to me by a lack of commitment on the part of other people’, and he complained that ‘marriage can be tossed out like a Pepsi can’. In the winds of uncertainty, Gary’s anger at women keeps him grounded.


Nonetheless, most working‑class men such as Gary are trapped by a changing economy and an intransigent masculinity. Faced with changes that reduce the options for less-educated men, they have essentially three choices, none of them very likely. They can pursue more education than their family background or their school success has prepared them for. They can find a low-wage job in a high-growth sector, positions that are often considered women’s work, such as a certified nurse practitioner or retail cashier. Or they can take on more of the domestic labour at home, enabling their partners to take on more work to provide for the household. These are ‘choices’ that either force them to be class pioneers or gender insurgents in their quest for a sustainable heroism; while both are laudable, we can hardly expect them of most men, and yet this is precisely the dilemma that faces men today.

The article is here.

Note from me: This article not about the standard issues in ethics. However, it does bring up the issue of competence. Do we, as psychologists, understand the culture of males in a changing economic system? And, is the changing economic picture a factor in the increase in white, male suicides?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Is Gun Violence a Public Health Crisis?

Science Friday Podcast
Ira Flatow is the Host and Executive Producer

On Wednesday, a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California left 14 people dead, making it one of the deadliest in modern American history. In fact, there have been more mass shootings than there have been days in 2015 so far. Of course, gun violence in the United States isn’t restricted to mass shootings—firearm homicides and suicides far outpace the number of mass-shooting fatalities. Taken together, an estimated 32,000 people die as a result of gun violence in the United States annually, and an additional 180,000 to 190,000 people are injured, says Sandro Galea. He’s the dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health and one of a number of researchers calling for firearm deaths to be treated as a public health issue. Another is Garen Wintemute, of the UC Davis School of Medicine, who has done extensive research on the effects of access to guns. Wintemute and Galea join Ira to discuss why they see gun violence as a public health issue and what research must be done and steps taken to address the problem.

The podcast is here.

Common Violations

Parity Track
A website dedicated to inform about mental health parity.

Here are some of the most common ways your parity rights could be violated. Please keep in mind that not every possible parity violation is on this page.

1. I have a separate deductible for behavioral health services that is not part of my overall deductible.

2. My co-pay for behavioral health services is higher than it is for other health services.

3. I have limits on how many time I can see a behavioral health provider.

The website is here.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Summit fails to ban genetic engineering of human embryos

By Michael Cook
Originally published December 5, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The most controversial item on the agenda was genetic editing of human embryos and germ cells. Chinese scientists have already done this with surplus IVF embryos, although all of them died. Unsurprisingly, the International Summit on Human Gene-Editing declared that it would be “irresponsible to proceed with any clinical use of germline editing” until the risks were better understood. But it failed to endorse even a moratorium on human germline gene-editing, let alone a blanket ban.

Gene-editing has far-reaching uses in basic and pre-clinical research and modification of somatic cells. If embryos or germ cells are edited, it might be possible to avoid severe inherited diseases or to enhance human capabilities.

The entire article is here.

Debate begins over ethics of genetic editing

By Michael Cook
Originally posted December 5, 2015

At the heart of the debate over the use of CRISPR technology for gene-editing is the human embryo. While manipulation of the genomes of plants and animals also raises profound ethical issues, it is the possibility of altering the human genome which generates summits and white papers.

So this week, there was a flurry of activity about the ethics of human genetic engineering.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What happens when our computers get smarter than we are?

By Nick Bostrom
Ted Talk
Originally published March 2015.

Artificial intelligence is getting smarter by leaps and bounds — within this century, research suggests, a computer AI could be as "smart" as a human being. And then, says Nick Bostrom, it will overtake us: "Machine intelligence is the last invention that humanity will ever need to make." A philosopher and technologist, Bostrom asks us to think hard about the world we're building right now, driven by thinking machines. Will our smart machines help to preserve humanity and our values — or will they have values of their own?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Three Types of Moral Supervenience

By John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published November 7, 2014

Here are two excerpts:

As you know, metaethics is about the ontology and epistemology of morality. Take a moral claim like “torturing innocent children for fun is wrong”. A metaethicist wants to know what, if anything, entitles us to make such a claim. On the ontological side, they want to know what is it that makes the torturing of innocent children wrong (what grounds or explains the ascription of that moral property to that event?). On the epistemological side, they wonder how it is that we come to know that the torturing of innocent children is wrong (how to we acquire moral knowledge?). Both questions are interesting — and vital to ask if you wish to develop a sensible worldview — but in discussing moral supervenience we are focused primarily on the ontological one.


The supervenience of the moral on the non-moral is generally thought to give rise to a philosophical puzzle. JL Mackie famously argued that the if the moral truly did supervene on the non-moral, then this was metaphysically “queer”. We were owed some plausible account of why this happens. He didn’t think we had such an account, which is one reason why he was an moral error theorist. Others are less pessimistic. They think there are ways in which to account for moral supervenience.

The blog post is here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Physician Burnout Climbs 10% in 3 Years, Hits 55%

By Diana Swift
Originally posted December 1, 2015

Professional burnout among US physicians has reached a dangerous level, with more than half of physicians affected, according to the results of a 2014 national survey across various medical specialties and practice settings. Compared with responses from a similar survey in 2011, burnout and satisfaction with work–life balance have worsened dramatically, even though work hours have not increased overall.

"American medicine is at a tipping point," lead author Tait D. Shanafelt, MD, from the Mayo Clinic's Department of Internal Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota, told Medscape Medical News. "If a research study identified a system-based problem that potentially decreased patient safety for 50% of medical encounters, we would swiftly move to address the problem. That is precisely the circumstance we are in, and we need an appropriate system level response."

The Centrality of Belief and Reflection in Knobe Effect Cases: A Unified Account of the Data

By Mark Alfano, James R. Beebe, and Brian Robinson
The Monist
April 2012


Recent work in experimental philosophy has shown that people are more likely to attribute intentionality, knowledge, and other psychological properties to someone who causes a bad side-effect than to someone who causes a good one. We argue that all of these asymmetries can be explained in terms of a single underlying asymmetry involving belief attribution because the  belief that one’s action would result in a certain side-effect is a necessary component of each of the psychological attitudes in question. We argue further that this belief-attribution asymmetry is rational because it mirrors a belief-formation asymmetry and that the belief-formation asymmetry is also rational because it is more useful to form some beliefs than others.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Artificial Intelligence Ethics a New Focus at Cambridge University

By Amir Mizroch
Wall Street Journal blog
Originally posted December 3, 2015

A new center to study the implications of artificial intelligence and try to influence its ethical development has been established at the U.K.’s Cambridge University, the latest sign that concerns are rising about AI’s impact on everything from loss of jobs to humanity’s very existence.

The Leverhulme Trust, a non-profit foundation that awards grants for academic research in the U.K., on Thursday announced a grant of £10 million ($15 million) over ten years to the university to establish the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence.

The entire blog post is here.

Harvard Medical School Eases on Contentious Ethics Rule

By Melissa Bailey
Stat News
Originally published on November 30, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

“Nobody wants conflict-of-interest rules to stop basic research if the conflict can be managed,” he said.

The school also lifted the $30,000 cap for publicly traded companies, saying instead that faculty who accept sponsored research from a company cannot own equity amounting to over 1 percent of that company’s value.

Dr. Donald Ingber, who directs Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, called the changes “subtle” but “a move in the right direction.”

“Whenever there’s greater flexibility, it increases the likelihood of greater translation” of discoveries into clinical applications, he said, which is the goal of the Wyss.

“The higher the wall, the more difficult it is to jump over that wall,” he said. “This’ll make it a little bit easier to collaborate.”

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Arizona again tries to illegally import execution drug

By Michael Kiefer
The Arizona Republic
Originally published October 23, 2015

The Arizona Department of Corrections paid nearly $27,000 to import from overseas an illegal drug for executions by lethal injection, but federal officials stopped the shipment at the airport.

According to heavily redacted documents obtained by The Arizona Republic, the Corrections Department contracted to purchase 1,000 vials of the anesthetic sodium thiopental. And although the seller's name and information are blacked out on the documents, an offer to sell the drug to Arizona is virtually identical to an unredacted offer sent to corrections officials in Nebraska from a pharmaceutical supplier in India.

The article is here.

Where to Draw the Line on Gene-Editing Technology

New techniques that could make germline genetic engineering unprecedentedly easy are forcing policymakers to confront the ethical implications of moving forward

By Jonathan D. Moreno
Scientific American
November 30, 2015

The biologists have done it again. Not so long ago it was cloning and embryonic stem cells that challenged moral imagination. These days all eyes are on a powerful new technique for engineering or “editing” DNA. Relatively easy to learn and to use, CRISPR has forced scientists, ethicists and policymakers to reconsider one of the few seeming red lines in experimental biology: the difference between genetically modifying an individual’s somatic cells and engineering the germline that will be transmitted to future generations. Instead of genetic engineering for one person why not eliminate that disease trait from all of her or his descendants?

This week, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the U.K. Royal Society are trying to find ways to redraw that red line. And redraw it in a way that allows the technology to help and not to hurt humanity. Perhaps the hardest but most critical part of the ethical challenge: doing that in a way that doesn’t go down a dark path of “improvements” to the human race.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Is Human Morality a Product of Evolution?

By Emily Esfahani Smith
The Atlantic
Originally posted on December 2, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

There are many theories for why humans became ultra-social. Tomasello subscribes to the idea that it’s at least partly a consequence of the way early humans fed themselves. After humans and chimpanzees diverged from their common ancestor around 6 million years ago, the two species adopted very different strategies for obtaining food: Chimpanzees, who eat mostly fruit, gather and eat the majority of their food alone; humans, by contrast, became collaborative foragers. The fossil record shows that as early as 400,000 years ago, they were working together to hunt large game, a practice that some researchers believe may have arisen out of necessity—when fruits and vegetables were scarce, early humans could continue the difficult work of foraging and hunting small game on their own, or they could band together to take home the higher reward of an animal with more meat.

Chimps show no signs of this ability. “It is inconceivable,” Tomasello has said, “that you would ever see two chimpanzees carrying a log together.” In one of the earliest studies of chimpanzee cooperation, published in 1937, chimpanzees only worked together to pull in a board with food on it after they’d been extensively trained by an experimenter—they showed no natural ability to do it on their own. (Even when chimpanzees do collaborate, there’s been no evidence to date that they have the ability to adopt complementary roles in group efforts or establish a complex division of labor.)

The entire article is here.

On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit

Gordon Pennycook, Allan Cheyne, Nathaniel Barr, Derek J. Koehler, & Jonathan A. Fugelsang
Judgment and Decision Making, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2015, pp. 549–563


Although bullshit is common in everyday life and has attracted attention from philosophers, its reception (critical or ingenuous) has not, to our knowledge, been subject to empirical investigation. Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”). Across multiple studies, the propensity to judge bullshit statements as profound was associated with a variety of conceptually relevant variables (e.g., intuitive cognitive style, supernatural belief). Parallel associations were less evident among profundity judgments for more conventionally profound (e.g., “A wet person does not fear the rain”) or mundane (e.g., “Newborn babies require constant attention”) statements. These results support the idea that some people are more receptive to this type of bullshit and that detecting it is not merely a matter of indiscriminate skepticism but rather a discernment of deceptive vagueness in otherwise impressive sounding claims. Our results also suggest that a bias toward accepting statements as true may be an important component of pseudo-profound bullshit receptivity.

The entire paper is here.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Most (and Least) Empathetic Companies

By Belinda Parmar
Harvard Business Review
November 27, 2015

There is a direct link between empathy and commercial success. Businesses are more profitable and productive when they act ethically, treat their staff well, and communicate better with their customers, according to the latest Lady Geek Global Empathy Index. The top 10 companies in the Global Empathy Index 2015 increased in value more than twice as much as the bottom 10 and generated 50% more earnings. Average earnings among the top 10 were up 6% this year, while the average earnings of the bottom 10 dropped 9%. (Last year’s empathy index can be found here.)

At Lady Geek, a consultancy based in London, we define empathy as a cognitive and emotional understanding of others’ experiences. These qualities are increasingly important as social media feeds popular demand for transparency and authentic interaction.

The entire article is here.

Professional Intuition Is Under Assault, Wachter Says

By Marcia Frellick
Originally published November 24, 2015

Profession intuition — the gut feeling doctors get with experience and instinct that something just isn't right — is under assault, Robert Wachter, MD, professor of clinical medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the audience at TEDMED 2015.

"It's suspicious, it's soft, it's squishy," said Dr Wachter, the physician who, along with Lee Goldman, MD, coined the word "hospitalist" in 1996 (N Engl J Med. 1996;335:514-517).

"There's not an algorithm for it, it's not evidence-based," he explained. And "it's antidemocratic, it's paternalistic."

The entire article is here.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Get ready for hybrid thinking

By Ray Kurzweil
Ted Talk
Originally presented in March 2014

Two hundred million years ago, our mammal ancestors developed a new brain feature: the neocortex. This stamp-sized piece of tissue (wrapped around a brain the size of a walnut) is the key to what humanity has become. Now, futurist Ray Kurzweil suggests, we should get ready for the next big leap in brain power, as we tap into the computing power in the cloud.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Whitewashing Effect: Using Racial Contact to Signal Trustworthiness and Competence

Stephen T. La Macchia, Winnifred R. Louis, Matthew J. Hornsey, M. Thai, & F. K. Barlow
Pers Soc Psychol Bull January 2016 42: 118-129


The present research examines whether people use racial contact to signal positive and negative social attributes. In two experiments, participants were instructed to fake good (trustworthy/competent) or fake bad (untrustworthy/incompetent) when reporting their amount of contact with a range of different racial groups. In Experiment 1 (N = 364), participants faking good reported significantly more contact with White Americans than with non-White Americans, whereas participants faking bad did not. In Experiment 2 (N = 1,056), this pattern was replicated and was found to be particularly pronounced among those with stronger pro-White bias. These findings suggest that individuals may use racial contact as a social signal, effectively “whitewashing” their apparent contact and friendships when trying to present positively.

The entire article is here.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Why do we intuitively believe we have free will?

By Tom Stafford
Originally published 7 August 2015

It is perhaps the most famous experiment in neuroscience. In 1983, Benjamin Libet sparked controversy with his demonstration that our sense of free will may be an illusion, a controversy that has only increased ever since.

Libet’s experiment has three vital components: a choice, a measure of brain activity and a clock.
The choice is to move either your left or right arm. In the original version of the experiment this is by flicking your wrist; in some versions of the experiment it is to raise your left or right finger. Libet’s participants were instructed to “let the urge [to move] appear on its own at any time without any pre-planning or concentration on when to act”. The precise time at which you move is recorded from the muscles of your arm.

The article is here.

A Controversial Rewrite For Rules To Protect Humans In Experiments

By Rob Stein
NPR Morning Edition
Originally posted November 25, 2015

Throughout history, atrocities have been committed in the name of medical research.

Nazi doctors experimented on concentration camp prisoners. American doctors let poor black men with syphilis go untreated in the Tuskegee study. The list goes on.

To protect people participating in medical research, the federal government decades ago put in place strict rules on the conduct of human experiments.

Now the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing a major revision of these regulations, known collectively as the Common Rule. It's the first change proposed in nearly a quarter-century.

"We're in a very, very different world than when these regulations were first written," says Dr. Jerry Menikoff, who heads the HHS Office of Human Research Protections. "The goal is to modernize the rules to make sure terrible things don't happen."

The article and audio file are here.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Decreasing mental health services increases mental health emergencies

Science Daily
Originally published November 20, 2015

Countywide reductions in psychiatric services -- both inpatient and outpatient -- led to more than triple the number of emergency psychiatric consults and 55 percent increases in lengths of stay for psychiatric patients in the emergency department. The before and after study of the impact of decreasing county mental health services was published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine ('Impact of Decreasing County Mental Health Services on the Emergency Medicine').

"As is often the case, the emergency department catches everyone who falls through the cracks in the health care system," said lead study author Arica Nesper, MD, MAS of the University of California Davis School of Medicine in Sacramento. "People with mental illness did not stop needing care simply because the resources dried up. Potentially serious complaints increased after reductions in mental health services, likely representing not only worse care of patients' psychiatric issues but also the medical issues of patients with psychiatric problems."

The entire article is here.

Who Should Have The Right To Die?

By Nerdwriter
Originally posted October 28, 2015

Doctor-assisted suicide continues to be hotly debated in the United States, but the ideas – and specifically the words – used to support it have evolved in fascinating ways. Over nearly a century, there has been a shift away from terms related to death towards a focus on autonomy and dignity, drawing in no small part on the ideas of the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Arithmetic of Compassion

By Scott Slovic and Paul Slovic
The New York Times
Originally published December 4, 2015

WE all can relate to the saying “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” Our sympathy for suffering and loss declines precipitously when we are presented with increasing numbers of victims. In the 1950s, the psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton studied survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and discovered that a condition he labeled “psychic numbing” enabled them to withstand the psychological trauma of this experience.

Psychologists have since extended Dr. Lifton’s work to show how the concept of psychic numbing has implications in many other situations, such as our response to information about refugee crises, mass extinctions and climate change. This information can be deadening in its abstractness. We struggle to care when the numbers get big. The poet Zbigniew Herbert called this “the arithmetic of compassion.”

How big do the numbers have to be for insensitivity to begin? Not very, it turns out.

The entire article is here.

Three Principles to REVISE People's Unethical Behavior

Ayal, S., F. Gino, R. Barkan, and D. Ariely.
Perspectives on Psychological Science
November 2015 vol. 10 no. 6 738-741


Dishonesty and unethical behavior are widespread in the public and private sectors and cause immense annual losses. For instance, estimates of U.S. annual losses indicate $1 trillion paid in bribes, $270 billion lost due to unreported income, and $42 billion lost in retail due to shoplifting and employee theft. In this article, we draw on insights from the growing fields of moral psychology and behavioral ethics to present a three-principle framework we call REVISE. This framework classifies forces that affect dishonesty into three main categories and then redirects those forces to encourage moral behavior. The first principle, reminding, emphasizes the effectiveness of subtle cues that increase the salience of morality and decrease people’s ability to justify dishonesty. The second principle, visibility, aims to restrict anonymity, prompt peer monitoring, and elicit responsible norms. The third principle, self-engagement, increases people’s motivation to maintain a positive self-perception as a moral person and helps bridge the gap between moral values and actual behavior. The REVISE framework can guide the design of policy interventions to defeat dishonesty.

The article is here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Social trust is one of the most important measures that most people have never heard of

David Halpern
Behavioral Insights Team
November 12, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Levels of social trust, averaged across a country, predict national economic growth as powerfully as financial and physical capital, and more powerfully than skill levels – over which every government in the world worries about incessantly. It is also associated with many other non-economic outcomes, such as life satisfaction (positively) and suicide (negatively). In short, it’s not much fun living in a place where you don’t think most other people can be trusted. Low trust implies a society where you have to keep an eye over your shoulder; where deals need lawyers instead of hand-shakes; where you don’t see the point of paying your tax or recycling your rubbish (since you doubt your neighbour will do so); and where you employ your cousin or your brother-in-law to work for you rather than a stranger who would probably be much better at the job.

The entire article is here.

'Fallout 4' tackles morality in an interesting way

By Antonio Villa-Boas
Business Insider
Originally published November 19, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But the companions that accompany you throughout the game have unique perks that give you useful advantages in certain situations. The thing is, you need to gain their respect with specific behaviours and actions if you want access to those perks.

You can check which behaviours each companion prefers, but overall, they prefer that you are not a “bad” person.

Don’t murder innocent people, don’t use drugs, don’t pick locks to places or things that don’t belong to you, don’t pickpocket, and don’t steal. While you can do all those things in the game, you won’t win over most of your companions and you’ll make it harder to access their perks.

The companions turn out to be “Fallout 4’s” moral arbiters!

The entire article is here.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Everyone Else Could Be a Mindless Zombie

By Kurt Gray
Time Magazine
Originally posted November 17, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Our research reveals that whether something can think or feel is mostly a matter of perception, which can lead to bizarre reversals. Objectively speaking, humans are smarter than cats, and yet people treat their pets like people and the homeless like objects. Objectively speaking, pigs are smarter than baby seals, but people will scream about seal clubbing while eating a BLT.

That minds are perceived spells trouble for political harmony. When people see minds differently in chickens, fetuses, and enemy combatants, it leads to conflicts about vegetarianism, abortion, and torture. Despite facilitating these debates, mind perception can make our moral opponents seem more humans and less monstrous. With abortion, both liberals and conservatives agree that killing babies is immoral, and disagree only about whether a fetus is a baby or a mass of mindless cells.

The entire article is here.

Poker-faced morality: Concealing emotions leads to utilitarian decision making

Jooa Julia Lee, Francesca Gino
Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes Volume 126, 
January 2015, Pages 49–64


This paper examines how making deliberate efforts to regulate aversive affective responses influences people’s decisions in moral dilemmas. We hypothesize that emotion regulation—mainly suppression and reappraisal—will encourage utilitarian choices in emotionally charged contexts and that this effect will be mediated by the decision maker’s decreased deontological inclinations. In Study 1, we find that individuals who endorsed the utilitarian option (vs. the deontological option) were more likely to suppress their emotional expressions. In Studies 2a, 2b, and 3, we instruct participants to either regulate their emotions, using one of two different strategies (reappraisal vs. suppression), or not to regulate, and we collect data through the concurrent monitoring of psycho-physiological measures. We find that participants are more likely to make utilitarian decisions when asked to suppress their emotions rather than when they do not regulate their affect. In Study 4, we show that one’s reduced deontological inclinations mediate the relationship between emotion regulation and utilitarian decision making.

The article is here.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Effects of Social Context and Acute Stress on Decision Making Under Uncertainty

Oriel FeldmanHall, Candace M. Raio, J. T. Kubota, M. G. Seiler,  & E. A. Phelps
Psychological Science, November 5, 2015
doi: 10.1177/0956797615605807


Uncertainty preferences are typically studied in neutral, nonsocial contexts. This approach, however, fails to capture the dynamic factors that influence choices under uncertainty in the real world. Our goal was twofold: to test whether uncertainty valuation is similar across social and nonsocial contexts, and to investigate the effects of acute stress on uncertainty preferences. Subjects completed matched gambling and trust games following either a control or a stress manipulation. Those who were not under stress exhibited no differences between the amount of money gambled and the amount of money entrusted to partners. In comparison, stressed subjects gambled more money but entrusted less money to partners. We further found that irrespective of stress, subjects were highly attuned to irrelevant feedback in the nonsocial, gambling context, believing that every loss led to a greater chance of winning (the gamblers’ fallacy). However, when deciding to trust a stranger, control subjects behaved rationally, treating each new interaction as independent. Stress compromised this adaptive behavior, increasing sensitivity to irrelevant social feedback.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Implanting and Erasing Memories: Life-Changing, or Taking Science Too Far?

By Jordan Gaines Lewis
Gaines, on the Brain
Originally published November 9, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But what if doctors and researchers could attack PTSD at the source: actually implanting or erasing specific memories in a person's brain?

It may sound like science fiction — not unlike Lord Voldemort luring Harry Potter to the Ministry of Magic by creating false images in Harry's mind, or the entire premise of the movie Inception — but science is actually getting close. In mice, neuroscientists have found ways to not only identify the location of certain memories, but to actually manipulate those memories.

But can we do this in humans — in patients with PTSD? And perhaps the bigger question: should we?

The entire blog post is here.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Researchers uncover patterns in how scientists lie about their data

Science Simplified
Originally posted November 16, 2015

Even the best poker players have "tells" that give away when they're bluffing with a weak hand. Scientists who commit fraud have similar, but even more subtle, tells, and a pair of Stanford researchers have cracked the writing patterns of scientists who attempt to pass along falsified data.

The work, published in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology, could eventually help scientists identify falsified research before it is published.

There is a fair amount of research dedicated to understanding the ways liars lie. Studies have shown that liars generally tend to express more negative emotion terms and use fewer first-person pronouns. Fraudulent financial reports typically display higher levels of linguistic obfuscation – phrasing that is meant to distract from or conceal the fake data – than accurate reports.

The entire research review is here.


Hagop Sarkissian, John Park, David Tien, Jennifer Wright & Joshua Knobe
Mind and Language 26 (4):482-505 (2011)


It has often been suggested that people's ordinary understanding of morality involves a belief in objective moral truths and a rejection of moral relativism. The results of six studies call this claim into question. Participants did offer apparently objectivist moral intuitions when considering individuals from their own culture, but they offered increasingly relativist intuitions considering individuals from increasingly different cultures or ways of life. The authors hypothesize that people do not have a fixed commitment to moral objectivism but instead tend to adopt different views depending on the degree to which they consider radically different perspectives on moral questions.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Empathic Robots Built to Detect Human Emotions?

Science Simplified
Originally released

Here is an excerpt:

Zara determines users’ gender and ethnicity by their appearances before choosing the right medium of communications.  As an early version of what intends to be a truly empathetic robot, Zara could already grasp a person’s character by asking questions about their childhood, or experiences with their bosses.  Zara could also make comments in response to what the person has said, taking into account his tones and facial expressions.  The robot has received positive feedback while on display at the World Economic Forum in September 2015.

The entire article is here.

We have greater moral obligations to robots than to humans

By Eric Schwitzgebel
Aeon - Opinion
Originally posted November 12, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

I think that, if we someday create robots with human-like cognitive and emotional capacities, we owe them more moral consideration than we would normally owe to otherwise similar human beings.

Here’s why: we will have been their creators and designers. We are thus directly responsible both for their existence and for their happy or unhappy state. If a robot needlessly suffers or fails to reach its developmental potential, it will be in substantial part because of our failure – a failure in our creation, design or nurturance of it. Our moral relation to robots will more closely resemble the relation that parents have to their children, or that gods have to the beings they create, than the relationship between human strangers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Volkswagen and the Future of Honesty

By Peter Singer
Project Syndicate
Originally posted October 7, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Then came the revelations that Volkswagen installed software on 11 million diesel cars that reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides only when the cars were undergoing emissions tests, enabling them to pass, even though in normal use their emissions levels greatly exceeded permitted levels. In the wake of the ensuing scandal, the New York Times invited experts to comment on whether “the pervasiveness of cheating” has made moral behavior passé. The newspaper published their responses under the heading: “Is Honesty for Suckers?”

Cynics would say that nothing has changed in the last 40 years, and nothing will change, because in business, all talk of ethics is intended only to camouflage the ultimate aim: profit maximization. Yet Volkswagen’s cheating is odd, because, even – or especially – by the standard of profit maximization, it was an extraordinarily reckless gamble. Anyone at Volkswagen who knew what the software was doing should have been able to predict the company was likely to lose.

The entire article is here.

Losing Informed Consent

By Paul Burcher
Bioethics Blog
Originally posted November 11, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

This case exemplifies the ambiguity around “informed consent.”  The nurse was referring to a document, a signed piece of paper; I was referencing a conversation, a process involving sharing information and answering questions. From a legal perspective, informed consent would seem to represent the document, whereas from an ethical perspective it is the process, not the paper that embodies informed consent.  Of course, ultimately, both have a role to play, and in the case of a significant procedure it is best to have both sides of this informed consent coin documented.  But what I would like to suggest is that the signed document represents an artifact—a physical symbol that two parties agree that the real nature of informed consent has been fulfilled.  The piece of paper is derivative, and a signed document that lacks the ethical underpinning of a complete and valid consent discussion is meaningless. A lawyer would probably give a slightly different answer, but this is an ethics blog, not a discussion of medical malpractice.

So if the signed document is not an essential aspect of informed consent, but rather evidence of the process that has supposed to have had occurred, what then represents the essential elements of informed consent? The standard answer is really not bad:  all relevant information regarding the procedure, its risks, and alternatives have been discussed, and the patient’s questions have been answered.  But the devil is always in the details, and in this case the detail of importance is how we define relevant.

The entire blog post is here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

How Corrupt Is Your State?

by AJ Vicens
Moyers and Company
Originally posted November 10, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

That’s according to the State Integrity Investigation, a sweeping project released today by the nonprofit investigative reporting group the Center for Public Integrity. The Washington, DC-based Center worked with experienced journalists in every state (but not the District of Columbia) to assess state government rules and systems that were in place between January 2013 and March 2015. The journalists combed through records and laws, using 245 specific “indicators” that measured transparency and accountability, for example public access to information or state lobbying disclosure laws. Good government experts in each state, and later editors at Global Integrity, a government watchdog that tracks governmental accountability around the world, then reviewed the assessments for consistency and accuracy. Each state was assigned an overall letter grade, but also scores on 13 subcategories that include political finance, election oversight, lobbying, and ethics, among others.

The entire article is here.

I can't get over the first time a patient killed herself

The Guardian
Originally posted November 12, 2015

It wasn’t an if, but a when. I knew it would happen eventually. I knew it would suck. Finding out a patient has killed themselves definitely does. And it should. The first time something like this happens and it stops sucking, I will immediately hand in my notice and do something else.

I found out one lunchtime. My colleague, Matt, and I were talking about responsibility and moaning about how, as therapists, we can be expected to be “on call” 24/7, soothing the distress of those we work with, far beyond the limits of the therapeutic hour we spend with patients. We had received a message from our patient Jenny’s friend asking if we could ring her back. In the kitchen, while I was eating risotto we decided between the two of us who should chase it up. Matt went to call her and returned a few minutes later looking grim. He asked if he could speak to me privately. I sensed something was seriously wrong. I said, “It’s not great, is it?”. He just said, “No”.

The entire article is here.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Lessons in End-of-Life Care From the V.A.

By David Casarett
The New York Times
November 11, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Sheila had just received a “patient experience” survey that asked for her opinions about her recent stay in one of our hospitals. He read off some of the questions, in a voice that was tinged with a mix of anger and amusement. Those questions were about the quality of the food (“unimpressive”), the availability of parking (“O.K.”), and the cleanliness of the rooms (“perfect”).

But, he said, “You didn’t ask us about what really matters.”

What he meant, he explained, was that these questions didn’t reflect what was important to a 73-year-old woman with incurable breast cancer who knows she’s going to die in the next six months. And they didn’t assess how well we were supporting her husband, who was overwhelmed with being a caregiver and advocate, a father and grandfather. We asked for their opinions, but we didn’t ask the right questions.


We need to be asking these questions. National surveys could easily be modified to include questions that are important to patients like Sheila. We could include questions about emotional and spiritual support, control over decisions, adequacy of information and respect for dignity. Those sorts of questions are arguably important for all of us, but they’re particularly relevant to those who are facing advanced, incurable illnesses.

The entire article is here.

Moral cleansing and moral licenses: experimental evidence

Pablo Brañas-Garzaa, Marisa Buchelia, María Paz Espinosa and Teresa García-Muñoz
Economics and Philosophy / Volume 29 / Special Issue 02 / July 2013, pp 199-212


Research on moral cleansing and moral self-licensing has introduced dynamic considerations in the theory of moral behavior. Past bad actions trigger negative feelings that make people more likely to engage in future moral behavior to offset them. Symmetrically, past good deeds favor a positive self-perception that creates licensing effects, leading people to engage in behavior that is less likely to be moral. In short, a deviation from a “normal state of being” is balanced with a subsequent action that compensates the prior behavior. We model the decision of an individual trying to reach the optimal level of moral self-worth over time and show that under certain conditions the optimal sequence of actions follows a regular pattern which combines good and bad actions. We conduct an economic experiment where subjects play a sequence of giving decisions (dictator games) to explore this phenomenon. We find that donation in the previous period affects present decisions and the sign is negative: participants’ behavior in every round is negatively correlated to what they did in the past. Hence donations over time seem to be the result of a regular pattern of self-regulation: moral licensing (being selfish after altruist) and cleansing (altruistic after selfish).

The entire article is here.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

You’re not as virtuous as you think

By Nitin Nohria
The Washington Post
Originally published October 15, 2015

Moral overconfidence is on display in politics, in business, in sports — really, in all aspects of life. There are political candidates who say they won’t use attack ads until, late in the race, they’re behind in the polls and under pressure from donors and advisers, their ads become increasingly negative. There are chief executives who come in promising to build a business for the long-term but then condone questionable accounting gimmickry to satisfy short-term market demands. There are baseball players who shun the use of steroids until they age past their peak performance and start to look for something to slow the decline. These people may be condemned as hypocrites. But they aren’t necessarily bad actors. Often, they’ve overestimated their inherent morality and underestimated the influence of situational factors.

Moral overconfidence is in line with what studies find to be our generally inflated view of ourselves. We rate ourselves as above-average drivers, investors and employees, even though math dictates that can’t be true for all of us. We also tend to believe we are less likely than the typical person to exhibit negative qualities and to experience negative life events: to get divorced, become depressed or have a heart attack.

The entire article is here.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Penn study: Pay patients to take their pills

By Tom Avril
Originally posted November 8, 2015

Here are two excerpt:

While the field of medicine has moved increasingly toward paying doctors for performance, there has been little controlled research on whether it works. Studies of patients, meanwhile, have found that incentives can encourage healthy behaviors such as giving up cigarettes.

But in a study of 1,503 patients announced Sunday, the Penn team reported that the most effective approach, at least where statins are concerned, may be to reward both patient and physician.

"In some respects, it takes two to tango," said lead author David A. Asch, a professor at Penn's Perelman School of Medicine.


Even if money helps, the notion of paying people to do the right thing may rub some the wrong way.

"We shouldn't have to," said Bobbi Cecco, president of the Hackensack, N.J., chapter of the Mended Hearts patient support group. "But if that's what it comes down to . . ."

Wei, the Michigan physician, said she already is motivated to help her patients stick with their medicine.

"Financial incentives wouldn't change my values or patient care," she said. "I am also an idealist."

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Neuroscience: Tortured reasoning

Lasana T. Harris
Nature 527, 35–36 (05 November 2015) doi:10.1038/527035a
Published online 04 November 2015

In 2009, following the abuse of prisoners at its Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the US government made a significant decision. It moved the responsibility for 'enhanced interrogation techniques' from the CIA to a new government organization: the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). The move upset many CIA insiders; torture had been in their toolkit since the early days of the cold war. The remarks of one official at a HIG-organized conference on torture in Washington DC can be summed up as: how could a new agency, created to both conduct and study torture, replace the decades of practice and perfection attained by the CIA? By adding a scientific component, responded the newly appointed head of the HIG.

This exchange highlights the theme of neuroscientist Shane O'Mara's Why Torture Doesn't Work. Rightly, O'Mara takes a moral stand against torture (forced retrieval of information from the memories of the unwilling). However, instead of simply providing utilitarian arguments, he argues that there is no evidence from psychology or neuroscience for many of the specious justifications of torture as an information-gathering tool. Providing an abundance of gruesome detail, O'Mara marshals vast, useful information about the effects of such practices on the brain and the body.

(Underline provided by me.)

The entire book review is here.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Inability and Obligation in Moral Judgment

Wesley Buckwalter and John Turri
Published: August 21, 2015
DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0136589


Morality is central to human social life [1–3]. Fulfilling moral obligations often requires us to put other people’s interests before our own. Sometimes this is easy, but other times it is hard. For example, it is plausible we are obligated to alleviate terrible suffering if we can do so at very little cost to ourselves, as happens when we donate money to famine relief or vaccination programs. But how far does this obligation extend? Some argue that it extends to the point where we would be making ourselves worse off than the people receiving charitable aid [4]. Many have found this suggestion implausible, sometimes on the grounds that the requirements for morality are limited by our psychology [5–7]. Given the way we are constituted, perhaps we are simply incapable of donating that much. This raises an important question: how demanding is morality and what are the limits of moral requirements?

According to a longstanding principle of moral philosophy, moral requirements are limited by ability. This is often glossed by the slogan that “ought implies can” (hereafter “OIC” for short). The principle says that one is obliged to perform an action only if one can perform the action. Support for OIC can be traced back to at least Cicero [8]. A more explicit articulation comes from Immanuel Kant, who writes, “Duty commands nothing but what we can do,” and that, “If the moral law commands that we ought to be better human beings now, it inescapably follows that we must be capable of being better human beings”.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The ‘blame and shame society’

Jean Knox
Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Volume 28, Issue 3, 2014


In this opinion piece, I explore some of the social and cultural factors that contribute to the creation of feelings of shame in those members of society who are vulnerable or disadvantaged in various ways. I suggest that a ‘blame and shame’ attitude has become pervasive in today's political culture, reassuring the comfortable and privileged that they deserve their own success and allowing them to blame the disadvantaged for their own misfortune. Those who feel that they must become invulnerable in order to succeed therefore project their own vulnerable child onto the vulnerable in our society and attack and condemn in others what they most fear in themselves.


One of the most intractable problems all therapists encounter is shame – the persistent negative sense of self that is evident when patients persist in describing themselves as disgusting, bad, dirty and all the other words of self-loathing which reflect a deeply painful self-hatred that the person clings to in spite of all attempts to shift it. These feelings are often accompanied by self-harm of various kinds – repeated cutting or overdosing, alcohol or drug abuse, eating disorders and by difficulty in affect regulation, mentalisation, attachment and sexuality.

An understanding of the unique personal relationships that have contributed to this kind of self-disgust and shame is vital if psychotherapists are to help their patients as effectively as possible. Herman (1992) first identified this as one key part of complex PTSD, suggesting that it arises from chronic developmental trauma.

The entire article is here.

Americans With Government Health Plans Most Satisfied

by Rebecca Riffkin
Originally published November 6, 2015

Americans' satisfaction with the way the healthcare system works for them varies by the type of insurance they have. Satisfaction is highest among those with veterans or military health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid, and is lower among those with employer-paid and self-paid insurance. Americans with no health insurance are least satisfied of all.


  • Uninsured Americans least satisfied with health system
  • Those with veterans or military insurance most satisfied
  • Self-insured less satisfied than others who have insurance

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Genetically enhance humanity or face extinction - PART 2

Julian Savulescu presents at Sydney's Festival of Dangerous Ideas

In his talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (Sydney Opera House), philosopher and bioethicist Julian Savulescu examines the nature of human beings as products of evolution, in particular their limited altruism, limited cooperative instincts and limited ability to take account of the future consequences of actions. He argues that humans' biology and psychology are unfit for the kind of society we live in and we must either alter our political institutions, severely restrain our technology or change our nature. Or face annihilation by our own design.

Genetically enhance humanity or face extinction - PART 1

Julian Savulescu presents at Sydney's Festival of Dangerous Ideas

In his talk at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas (Sydney Opera House), philosopher and bioethicist Julian Savulescu examines the nature of human beings as products of evolution, in particular their limited altruism, limited cooperative instincts and limited ability to take account of the future consequences of actions. He argues that humans' biology and psychology are unfit for the kind of society we live in and we must either alter our political institutions, severely restrain our technology or change our nature. Or face annihilation by our own design.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Moral Cleansing

Colin West and Chen-Bo Zhong
Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 3 November 2015

Moral cleansing describes behaviors aimed at restoring moral self-worth in response to past transgressions. People are motivated to maintain a moral self-image and to eliminate apparent gaps between their perceived self-image and their desired moral self. Moral cleansing behaviors fall into three over-arching categories. Restitution cleansing behaviors directly resolve past misdeeds. Behavioral cleansing involves counter-balancing across multiple dimensions of the moral self whereby threats in one sub-domain are alleviated by bolstering a separate sub-domain. Symbolic cleansing includes restitution behaviors that are only symbolically connected to the provoking moral threat, such as physical or ritual cleansing. The moral cleansing literature seeks to understand these seemingly erratic sequences of compensatory behaviors.

“Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” -Oscar Wilde

• We review the literature on the psychology of moral cleansing.
• There are three categories: restitution, behavioral, and symbolic cleansing.
• The psychological mechanism is based on a malleable moral self-image.
• Moral cleansing examines the implications of sequential ethical decision-making.

The entire article is here.

Treatment-resistant depression and physician-assisted death

By Franklin G Miller
J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2015-103060


In a recent article, Udo Schuklenk and Suzanne van de Vathorst argued in favour of a legal option of physician-assisted death for patients with ‘treatment-resistant’ depression. In this commentary, I contend that their argument neglects the important consideration of the professional integrity of physicians. In light of this consideration, coupled with uncertainty about whether additional interventions with the patient can improve quality of life and restore the will to live, it is not appropriate to include patients with ‘treatment-resistant’ depression within a legal option of physician-assisted death.

The entire article is here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Driverless Car Dystopia? Technology and the Lives We Want to Live

By Anthony Painter
Originally published November 6, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

There needs to be a bigger public debate about the type of society we want, how technology can help us, and what institutions we need to help us all interface with the changes we are likely to see. Could block-chain, bitcoin and digital currencies help us spread new forms of collective ownership and give us more power over the public services we use? How do we find a sweet-spot where consumers and workers – and we are both - share equally in the benefits of the ‘sharing economy’? Is a universal Basic Income a necessary foundation for a world of varying frequency and diverse work arrangements and obligations to others such as elderly relatives and our kids? What do we want to be private and what are we happy to share with companies or the state? Should this be a security conversation or bigger question of ethics? How should we plan transport, housing, work and services around our needs and the types of lives we want to live in communities that have human worth?

The entire article is here.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

How to Live a Lie

By William Irwin
The New York Times
Originally published November 2, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

The philosopher Michael Ruse has argued that “morality is a collective illusion foisted upon us by our genes.” If that’s true, why have our genes played such a trick on us? One possible answer can be found in the work of another philosopher Richard Joyce, who has argued that this “illusion” — the belief in objective morality — evolved to provide a bulwark against weakness of the human will. So a claim like “stealing is morally wrong” is not true, because such beliefs have an evolutionary basis but no metaphysical basis. But let’s assume we want to avoid the consequences of weakness of will that would cause us to act imprudently. In that case, Joyce makes an ingenious proposal: moral fictionalism.

Following a fictionalist account of morality, would mean that we would accept moral statements like “stealing is wrong” while not believing they are true. As a result, we would act as if it were true that “stealing is wrong,” but when pushed to give our answer to the theoretical, philosophical question of whether “stealing is wrong,” we would say no. The appeal of moral fictionalism is clear. It is supposed to help us overcome weakness of will and even take away the anxiety of choice, making decisions easier.

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Exemptions for child abuse reporting weighed

Jessica Masulli Reyes
The (Wilmington, Del.) New Journal
Originally published November 9, 2015

A Delaware judge is considering the constitutionality of a state law that exempts priests from being required to report suspected child abuse disclosed during confessions — and, if the law is constitutional, whether it should protect elders in a Jehovah's Witnesses congregation.

The Attorney General's Office filed a lawsuit against the Laurel Delaware Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses last year alleging two elders failed to report to state authorities a sexual relationship between a woman and a 14-year-old boy, both of whom were members of the congregation.

State law says individuals and organizations must report suspected child abuse and neglect immediately via a 24-hour state hotline, unless they learn of the abuse in an attorney-client setting or "that between priest and penitent in a sacramental confession."

The entire article is here.

Should Doctors Be Tested for Competence at Age 65?

By Leigh Page
Originally published October 28, 2015

Should older physicians be forced to stop practicing once they begin to slow down? Some experts in competency testing are calling for doctors to be evaluated as early as age 65, arguing that that's when physical and mental disabilities start to become apparent.

A few hospitals have already started evaluating physicians in their 70s for competency. When results show significant impairment, these physicians are required to get remediation, submit to limitations of their privileges, or retire completely, depending on the severity of the impairment.

Some experts argue that the cutoff age for these exams should be 65 years, which would have a huge impact on America's doctors. Owing to the baby boom, 240,000 doctors are now in that age group—a fourfold increase since 1975, according to the American Medical Association (AMA).

In June 2015, delegates to the AMA decided to bring together stakeholders to create guidelines for such testing. But other physician groups are still on the fence, and the issue divides the medical community.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Is moral bioenhancement dangerous?

Nicholas Drake
J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2015-102944


In a recent response to Persson and Savulescu's Unfit for the Future, Nicholas Agar argues that moral bioenhancement is dangerous. His grounds for this are that normal moral judgement should be privileged because it involves a balance of moral subcapacities; moral bioenhancement, Agar argues, involves the enhancement of only particular moral subcapacities, and thus upsets the balance inherent in normal moral judgement. Mistaken moral judgements, he says, are likely to result. I argue that Agar's argument fails for two reasons. First, having strength in a particular moral subcapacity does not necessarily entail a worsening of moral judgement; it can involve strength in a particular aspect of morality. Second, normal moral judgement is not sufficiently likely to be correct to be the standard by which moral judgements are measured.

The entire article is here.

With Sobering Science, Doctor Debunks 12-Step Recovery

Interview with Lance Dodes
Originally posted March 23, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

There is a large body of evidence now looking at AA success rate, and the success rate of AA is between 5 and 10 percent. Most people don't seem to know that because it's not widely publicized. ... There are some studies that have claimed to show scientifically that AA is useful. These studies are riddled with scientific errors and they say no more than what we knew to begin with, which is that AA has probably the worst success rate in all of medicine.

It's not only that AA has a 5 to 10 percent success rate; if it was successful and was neutral the rest of the time, we'd say OK. But it's harmful to the 90 percent who don't do well. And it's harmful for several important reasons. One of them is that everyone believes that AA is the right treatment. AA is never wrong, according to AA. If you fail in AA, it's you that's failed.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Religious upbringing associated with less altruism, study finds

By Susie Allen
University of Chicago News
Originally released November 5, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

Consistent with previous studies, in general the children were more likely to share as they got older. But children from households identifying as Christian and Muslim were significantly less likely than children from non-religious households to share their stickers. The negative relation between religiosity and altruism grew stronger with age; children with a longer experience of religion in the household were the least likely to share.

Children from religious households favored stronger punishments for anti-social behavior and judged such behavior more harshly than non-religious children. These results support previous studies of adults, which have found religiousness is linked with punitive attitudes toward interpersonal offenses.

The entire article is here. 

The Power of Nudges, for Good and Bad

By Richard Thaler
The New York Times - The Upshot
Originally published October 31, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Whenever I’m asked to autograph a copy of “Nudge,” the book I wrote with Cass Sunstein, the Harvard law professor, I sign it, “Nudge for good.” Unfortunately, that is meant as a plea, not an expectation.

Three principles should guide the use of nudges:

■ All nudging should be transparent and never misleading.

■ It should be as easy as possible to opt out of the nudge, preferably with as little as one mouse click.

■ There should be good reason to believe that the behavior being encouraged will improve the welfare of those being nudged.


Some argue that phishing — or evil nudging — is more dangerous in government than in the private sector. The argument is that government is a monopoly with coercive power, while we have more choice in the private sector over which newspapers we read and which airlines we fly.

I think this distinction is overstated. In a democracy, if a government creates bad policies, it can be voted out of office. Competition in the private sector, however, can easily work to encourage phishing rather than stifle it.

One example is the mortgage industry in the early 2000s. Borrowers were encouraged to take out loans that they could not repay when real estate prices fell. Competition did not eliminate this practice, because it was hard for anyone to make money selling the advice “Don’t take that loan.”

The entire article is here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Doctors, Patients, and Nudging in the Clinical Context-Four Views on Nudging and Informed Consent

Ploug T and Holm S
Am J Bioeth. 2015 Oct;15(10):28-38.


In an analysis of recent work on nudging we distinguish three positions on the relationship between nudging founded in libertarian paternalism and the protection of personal autonomy through informed consent. We argue that all three positions fail to provide adequate protection of personal autonomy in the clinical context. Acknowledging that nudging may be beneficial, we suggest a fourth position according to which nudging and informed consent are valuable in different domains of interaction.

The entire article is here.

Two Psychologists Charged in $25.2 Million Fraud Scheme Involving Psychological Testing in Gulf Coast States

FBI Press Release
Originally released October 22, 2015

Two clinical psychologists were charged today with participating in a $25 million Medicare fraud scheme involving psychological testing in nursing homes in Gulf Coast states.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Kenneth A. Polite of the Eastern District of Louisiana, Special Agent in Charge Michael J. Anderson of the FBI’s New Orleans Field Office and Special Agent in Charge C.J. Porter of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Dallas Regional Office made the announcement.

Beverly Stubblefield, Ph.D., 62, of Slidell, Louisiana, and John Teal, Ph.D., 46, of Jackson, Mississippi, were charged by a superseding indictment with conspiracy to commit health care fraud and conspiracy to make false statements related to health care matters. Two other defendants, Rodney Hesson, Psy.D., 46, and Gertrude Parker, 62, both of Slidell, were charged in the initial indictment returned in June 2015 in connection with a large-scale Medicare Fraud takedown, and were also charged in today’s superseding indictment.

According to the superseding indictment, Hesson and Parker owned and controlled Nursing Home Psychological Service (NHPS) and Psychological Care Services (PCS), each of which operated in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama. The superseding indictment alleges that NHPS and PCS contracted with nursing homes in these states to allow NHPS and PCS clinical psychologists, including Stubblefield, Teal and Hesson, to administer to nursing home residents psychological tests and related services that were not necessary and, in some instances, never provided.

According to the superseding indictment, between 2009 and 2015, NHPS and PCS submitted more than $25.2 million in claims to Medicare. Medicare paid approximately $17 million on those claims.

The entire pressor is here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Believing What You Don’t Believe

By Jane L. Risen and David Nussbaum
The New York Times - Gray Matter
Originally published October 30, 2015

Here is an excerpt:

But as one of us, Professor Risen, discusses in a paper just published in Psychological Review, many instances of superstition and magical thinking indicate that the slow system doesn’t always behave this way. When people pause to reflect on the fact that their superstitious intuitions are irrational, the slow system, which is supposed to fix things, very often doesn’t do so. People can simultaneously recognize that, rationally, their superstitious belief is impossible, but persist in their belief, and their behavior, regardless. Detecting an error does not necessarily lead people to correct it.

This cognitive quirk is particularly easy to identify in the context of superstition, but it isn’t restricted to it. If, for example, the manager of a baseball team calls for an ill-advised sacrifice bunt, it is easy to assume that he doesn’t know that the odds indicate his strategy is likely to cost his team runs. But the manager may have all the right information; he may just choose not to use it, based on his intuition in that specific situation.

The entire article is here.

Believing What We Do Not Believe: Acquiescence to Superstitious Beliefs and Other Powerful Intuitions

By Risen, Jane L.
Psychological Review, Oct 19 , 2015


Traditionally, research on superstition and magical thinking has focused on people’s cognitive shortcomings, but superstitions are not limited to individuals with mental deficits. Even smart, educated, emotionally stable adults have superstitions that are not rational. Dual process models—such as the corrective model advocated by Kahneman and Frederick (2002, 2005), which suggests that System 1 generates intuitive answers that may or may not be corrected by System 2—are useful for illustrating why superstitious thinking is widespread, why particular beliefs arise, and why they are maintained even though they are not true. However, to understand why superstitious beliefs are maintained even when people know they are not true requires that the model be refined. It must allow for the possibility that people can recognize—in the moment—that their belief does not make sense, but act on it nevertheless. People can detect an error, but choose not to correct it, a process I refer to as acquiescence. The first part of the article will use a dual process model to understand the psychology underlying magical thinking, highlighting features of System 1 that generate magical intuitions and features of the person or situation that prompt System 2 to correct them. The second part of the article will suggest that we can improve the model by decoupling the detection of errors from their correction and recognizing acquiescence as a possible System 2 response. I suggest that refining the theory will prove useful for understanding phenomena outside of the context of magical thinking.

The article is here.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Morality takes two: Dyadic morality and mind perception.

Gray, Kurt; Wegner, Daniel M.
Mikulincer, Mario (Ed); Shaver, Phillip R. (Ed), (2012). The social psychology of morality: Exploring the causes of good and evil. Herzliya series on personality and social psychology., (pp. 109-127). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association


We propose that all moral acts are (at least implicitly) dyadic, involving two different people, one as a moral agent and one as a moral patient. The idea that people cleave the moral world into agents and patients is as old as Aristotle (Freeland, 1985), but out of this simple claim—that morality takes two—grows a theory of morality with a host of implications for psychology and the real world. Dyadic morality can help explain, for instance, why victims escape blame, why people believe in God, why people harm saints, why some advocate torture, and why those who do good become more physically powerful. In this chapter, we explore the idea of dyadic morality, its extensions and implications. In particular, we examine the following four tenets of dyadic morality: 1. Morality involves a moral agent helping or harming a moral patient. 2. Morality and mind perception are linked: Agency is tied to moral agents; experience is tied to moral patients. 3. Morality requires a complete dyad: An isolated moral agent creates a moral patient; an isolated moral patient creates a moral agent. 4. Morality requires two different people as agent and patient, which means that people are perceived as either agents or patients, both in moral acts and more generally, a phenomenon called moral typecasting. We first explore the link between mind and morality, then examine dyadic help and harm, then explain how moral dyads complete themselves, and finally consider moral typecasting. Why start first with mind perception? Perceptions of mind are tightly bound to moral judgments, and as we show, the structure of mind perception is split into two complementary parts that correspond to the two parts of morality. Perceptions of mind underlie the most fundamental of moral decisions: who deserves moral rights and who deserves moral responsibility.

A copy of the chapter is here.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Strange Case of Anna Stubblefield

By Daniel Engber
The New York Times Magazine
Originally published October 20, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Then there was a lull in the conversation after Wesley came back in, and Anna took hold of D.J.’s hand. ‘‘We have something to tell you,’’ they announced at last. ‘‘We’re in love.’’

‘‘What do you mean, in love?’’ P. asked, the color draining from her face.

To Wesley, she looked pale and weak, like ‘‘Caesar when he found out that Brutus betrayed him.’’ He felt sick to his stomach. What made them so uncomfortable was not that Anna was 41 and D.J. was 30, or that Anna is white and D.J. is black, or even that Anna was married with two children while D.J. had never dated anyone. What made them so upset — what led to all the arguing that followed, and the criminal trial and million-­dollar civil suit — was the fact that Anna can speak and D.J. can’t; that she was a tenured professor of ethics at Rutgers University in Newark and D.J. has been declared by the state to have the mental capacity of a toddler.


Sitting at the keyboard, D.J. also seemed to have a lot to say. His messages were simple and misspelled at first, but his skill and fluency improved. Eventually he could hit a letter every second, and if Anna guessed the word before he finished typing, he would hit the ‘‘Y’’ key to confirm. Anna brought books for him to read, Maya Angelou and others, and discovered that he read like a savant — 10 pages every minute. (She turned the pages for him.) They discussed the possibility of his enrolling in a G.E.D. program.

As D.J. came into his own, Anna kept her mother posted on his progress. In the spring of 2010, Sandra asked if D.J. might like to give a paper for a panel she was organizing at a conference of the Society for Disability Studies in Philadelphia. The panel was on Article 21 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which lays out the right to freedom of expression and opinion. D.J. wasn’t sure he could do it, Anna said, but she convinced him he should try.

The entire article is here.

Note to readers: The article is long, detailed and (from my perspective) creepy. This case appears to demonstrate where compassion and personal values override good judgment, research, and professional responsibilities.