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

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

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Why doctors are leery about seeking mental health care for themselves

By Nathaniel P. Morris
The Washington Post
Originally published January 7, 2016

A survey of 2,000 U.S. physicians released in September found that roughly half believed they had met criteria for a mental health disorder in the past but had not sought treatment. The doctors listed a number of reasons they had shunned care, including worries that they’d be stigmatized and an inability to find the time.

But they also voiced a troubling reason for avoiding treatment: medical licensing applications.

After graduating from medical school, doctors must complete residency training and apply for state medical licenses to practice medicine. According to a study that appeared in 2008, about 90 percent of state medical boards have licensing forms that include questions about an applicant’s mental health.

Such questions are intended to protect the public, based on the idea that impaired or distressed physicians could endanger patients. A physician having hallucinations, for example, might not be able to focus or practice safely.

The article is here.

Cognitive science suggests Trump makes us more accepting of the morally outrageous

Joshua Knobe
Updated January 10, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

At the core of this research is a very simple idea: When people are reasoning, they tend to think only about a relatively narrow range of possibilities. You are sitting there in a restaurant, trying to decide what to order. Almost immediately, you determine that you are going to get either the chocolate cake or the cheese plate. You then start to consider the merits and drawbacks of each option. "Should I get the chocolate cake? Nah, too many carbs. Better get the cheese plate." One important question about human cognition is how people end up choosing one option over the other in a case like this.

But there is another question here that is even more fundamental — so fundamental that it’s easy to overlook. How did you pick out those two options in the first place? After all, there’s an enormous range of other options that would, at least in principle, have been possible. You could have stormed into the kitchen and started eating directly out of the chef's saucepan. You could have reached under the table and started trying to eat your own shoe. Yet somehow you manage to reject all of these possibilities before the reasoning process even begins. It’s not as though you think, "Should I try to eat my shoe? No, it’s not very tasty, or even edible." Rather, possibilities like this one never even enter your reasoning at all.

This is where the notion of normality plays its most essential role. Of all the zillions of things that might be possible in principle, your mind is able to zero in on just a few specific possibilities, completely ignoring all the others. One aim of recent research has been to figure out how people do this. Though the research itself has been quite complex, the key conclusion is surprisingly straightforward: People show an impressive systematic tendency to completely ignore the possibilities they see as abnormal.

The article is here.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Finding trust and understanding in autonomous technologies

David Danks
The Conversation
Originally published December 30, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Autonomous technologies are rapidly spreading beyond the transportation sector, into health care, advanced cyberdefense and even autonomous weapons. In 2017, we’ll have to decide whether we can trust these technologies. That’s going to be much harder than we might expect.

Trust is complex and varied, but also a key part of our lives. We often trust technology based on predictability: I trust something if I know what it will do in a particular situation, even if I don’t know why. For example, I trust my computer because I know how it will function, including when it will break down. I stop trusting if it starts to behave differently or surprisingly.

In contrast, my trust in my wife is based on understanding her beliefs, values and personality. More generally, interpersonal trust does not involve knowing exactly what the other person will do – my wife certainly surprises me sometimes! – but rather why they act as they do. And of course, we can trust someone (or something) in both ways, if we know both what they will do and why.

I have been exploring possible bases for our trust in self-driving cars and other autonomous technology from both ethical and psychological perspectives. These are devices, so predictability might seem like the key. Because of their autonomy, however, we need to consider the importance and value – and the challenge – of learning to trust them in the way we trust other human beings.

The article is here.

Nudges in a Post-Truth World

Neil Levy


Nudges – policy proposals informed by work in behavioural economics and psychology that are designed to lead to better decision-making or better behaviour – are controversial. Critics allege that they bypass our deliberative capacities, thereby undermining autonomy and responsible agency. In this paper, I identify a kind of nudge I call a nudge to reason, which make us more responsive to genuine evidence. I argue that at least some nudges to reason do not bypass our deliberative capacities. Instead, use of these nudges should be seen as appeals to mechanisms partially constitutive of these capacities, and therefore as benign (so far as autonomy and responsible agency are concerned. I sketch some concrete proposals for nudges to reason which are especially important given the apparent widespread resistance to evidence seen in recent political events.

The article is here.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Neuroexistentialism: Third-Wave Existentialism

Owen Flanagan and Gregg D. Caruso
In Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, Morals, and Purpose in the Age of Neuroscience edited by Flanagan and Caruso

Here is an excerpt:

      The scientific image is also disturbing for other reasons. It maintains, for example, that
the mind is the brain (see fn.4), that humans are animals, that how things seem is not how they
are, that introspection is a poor instrument for revealing how the mind works, that there is no
ghost in the machine, no Cartesian theatre where consciousness comes together, that our sense of
self may in part be an illusion, and that the physical universe is the only universe that there is and
it is causally closed. Many fear that if this is true, then it is the end of the world as we know it, or
knew it under the humanistic regime or image. Neuroexistentialism is one way of expressing
whatever anxiety comes from accepting the picture of myself as an animal (the Darwin part) and
that my mind is my brain, my mental states are brain states (the neuro- part). Taken together the
message is that humans are 100% animal. One might think that that message was already
available in Darwin. What does neuroscience add? It adds evidence, we might say, that Darwin’s
idea is true, and that it is, as Daniel Dennett says “a dangerous idea” (1995). Most people in the
West still hold on to the idea that they have a non-physical soul or mind. But as neuroscience
advances it becomes increasing clear that there is no place in the brain for res cogitans to be nor
any work for it to do. The universe is causally closed and the mind is the brain.

The book chapter is here.

Note to readers: This book chapter, while an introduction to the entire volume, is excellent scholarship.  There are a number of chapters that will likely appeal to clinical psychologists.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Judgments of Moral Responsibility and Wrongness for Intentional and Accidental Harm and Purity Violations

Mary Parkinson and Ruth M.J. Byrne
The Quarterly Journal Of Experimental Psychology 


Two experiments examine whether people reason differently about intentional and accidental violations in the moral domains of harm and purity, by examining moral responsibility and wrongness judgments for violations that affect others or the self. The first experiment shows that intentional violations are judged to be worse than accidental ones, regardless of whether they are harm or purity violations, e.g., Sam poisons his colleague versus Sam eats his dog, when participants judge how morally responsible was Sam for what he did, or how morally wrong was what Sam did. The second experiment shows that violations of others are judged to be worse than violations of the self, regardless of whether they are harm or purity violations, when their content and context is matched, e.g., on a tropical holiday Sam orders poisonous starfruit for dinner for his friend, or for himself, versus on a tropical holiday Sam orders dog meat for dinner for his friend, or for himself. Moral reasoning is influenced by whether the violation was intentional or accidental, and whether its target was the self or another person, rather than by the moral domain, such as harm or purity.

The article is here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Moral Grandstanding

Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke
Philosophy and Public Affairs
First published June 2016

Kurt Baier wrote that “moral talk is often rather repugnant. Leveling moral accusations, expressing moral indignation, passing moral judgment, allotting the blame, administering moral reproof, justifying oneself, and, above all, moralizing—who can enjoy such talk?” (1965: 3). When public moral discourse is at its best, we think that these features (if they are present at all) are unobjectionable. But we also think that, to some degree, Baier is right: public moral discourse—that is, talk intended to bring some matter of moral significance to the public consciousness—sometimes fails to live up to its ideal. Public moral discourse can go wrong in many ways. One such way is a phenomenon we believe to be pervasive: moral grandstanding (hereafter: “grandstanding”). We begin by developing an account of grandstanding. We then show that our account, with support from some standard theses of social psychology, explains the characteristic ways that grandstanding is manifested in public moral discourse. We conclude by arguing that there are good reasons to think that moral grandstanding is typically morally bad and should be avoided.

The article is here.

The Quiet Poison In American Politics

Zach Carter and Jason Linkins
The Huffington Post
Originally posted December 30, 2016

The 2016 elections gave thoughtful Americans plenty of reasons to despair about the state of our democracy. The looming Donald Trump presidency has forced us to confront ugly truths about racism, misogyny and economic inequality. But according to a new paper published in the prestigious academic journal “Philosophy & Public Affairs,” there is at least one more heretofore undetected poison floating in the cocktail that is our politics. If the philosophers behind the paper are right, this problem is amplifying every other malady afflicting American culture.

They call it “moral grandstanding.”

“Moral grandstanding is the use of moral talk for self-promotion,” says Justin Tosi, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Michigan’s philosophy department. “It’s people using moral conversation, making moral claims, to present an impressive image of themselves to others.”

The article is here.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

South Dakota Republicans are about to get rid of the state’s first independent ethics commission

By Amber Phillips
The Washington Post
Originally posted January 24, 2017

South Dakota Republicans are on the verge of doing something that backfired spectacularly for congressional Republicans earlier this year: Getting rid of an independent ethics commission.

What is a politically tricky endeavor for any lawmaking body could be even more precarious for the state's lawmakers, given that the commission they want to cut was approved by 51 percent of voters in a ballot initiative this November. The independent commission was part of a larger voter-approved ethics reform package that put limits on campaign finance and lobbying access.

State lawmakers met Monday to debate repeal of the entire law, and Republican leaders say the bill could be on the governor's desk by the end of the week. Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) has indicated he would sign a repeal. In his December budget address, he lambasted the ethics package, declaring that voters were “hoodwinked by scam artists who grossly misrepresented these proposed measures.”

The article is here.

A View from the Edge — Creating a Culture of Caring

Rana L.A. Awdish
N Engl J Med 2017; 376:7-9
Originally published January 5, 2017

Here are two excerpts:

How do you build and maintain a culture of shared purpose in the infinitely complex arena of health care? How do you ensure that you engender in employees a dedication and commitment to doing what’s right? Identifying the gaps between the stated mission and values of an institution and its actual delivery of care is critical. As systems, we have to recognize and acknowledge our mistakes, our shortcomings, just as individual physicians do. We need to reflect on times when our care has deviated from what we intended — when we haven’t been who we hoped to be. We have to be transparent and allow the failure to reshape us, to help us reset our intention and mold our future selves.


In addition, new employees are taught to recognize different forms of suffering: avoidable and unavoidable. Our goal is to find ways to mitigate suffering by responding to the unavoidable kind with empathy and by improving our processes and procedures to avoid inflicting the avoidable kind whenever possible.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The candy diet

Seth Godin
Seth's Blog
Originally posted January 4, 2017

The bestselling novel of 1961 was Allen Drury's Advise and Consent. Millions of people read this 690-page political novel. In 2016, the big sellers were coloring books.

Fifteen years ago, cable channels like TLC (the "L" stood for Learning), Bravo and the History Channel (the "History" stood for History) promised to add texture and information to the blighted TV landscape. Now these networks run shows about marrying people based on how well they kiss.

And of course, newspapers won Pulitzer prizes for telling us things we didn't want to hear. We've responded by not buying newspapers any more.

The decline of thoughtful media has been discussed for a century. This is not new. What is new: A fundamental shift not just in the profit-seeking gatekeepers, but in the culture as a whole.

"Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler."*

[*Ironically, this isn't what Einstein actually said. It was this, "It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience." Alas, I've been seduced into believing that the shorter one now works better.]

Is it possible we've made things simpler than they ought to be, and established non-curiosity as the new standard?

The blog post is here.

Forgiveness can improve mental and physical health

By Kirsten Weir
The Monitor on Psychology
January 2017, Vol 48, No. 1
Print version: page 30

Here is an excerpt:

One common but mistaken belief is that forgiveness means letting the person who hurt you off the hook. Yet forgiveness is not the same as justice, nor does it require reconciliation, Worthington explains. A former victim of abuse shouldn't reconcile with an abuser who remains potentially dangerous, for example. But the victim can still come to a place of empathy and understanding. "Whether I forgive or don't forgive isn't going to affect whether justice is done," Worthington says. "Forgiveness happens inside my skin."

Another misconception is that forgiving someone is a sign of weakness. "To that I say, well, the person must not have tried it," says Worthington.

And there may be very good reasons to make the effort. Research has shown that forgiveness is linked to mental health outcomes such as reduced anxiety, depression and major psychiatric disorders, as well as with fewer physical health symptoms and lower mortality rates. In fact, researchers have amassed enough evidence of the benefits of forgiveness to fill a book; Toussaint, Worthington and David R. Williams, PhD, edited a 2015 book, "Forgiveness and Health," that detailed the physical and psychological benefits.

Toussaint and Worthington suggest that stress relief is probably the chief factor connecting forgiveness and well-being. "We know chronic stress is bad for our health," Toussaint says. "Forgiveness allows you to let go of the chronic interpersonal stressors that cause us undue burden."

While stress relief is important, Enright believes there are other important mechanisms by which forgiveness works its magic. One of those, he suggests, is "toxic" anger. "There's nothing wrong with healthy anger, but when anger is very deep and long lasting, it can do a number on us systemically," he says. "When you get rid of anger, your muscles relax, you're less anxious, you have more energy, your immune system can strengthen."

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Explanatory Judgment, Moral Offense and Value-Free Science

Matteo Colombo
Imperfect Cognitions
Originally posted September 27, 2016

Here is the conclusion:

Our findings indicate that people’s judgements about scientific results are often imbued with moral value. While this conclusion suggests that, as a matter of psychological fact, the ideal of a value-free science may not be achievable, it raises important questions about the attainment of scientific knowledge in democratic societies. How can scientific evidence be more effectively conveyed to the public? What is it that drives public controversy over such issues as climate change, vaccinations and genetically modified organisms? Does the prevalent political and moral homogeneity in many present-day scientific communities hinder or systematically bias their pursuit of knowledge?

The blog post is here.

Editor's Note: Value-free or objective psychotherapy is a myth. We always brings our morals and values into the psychotherapy relationship.

Dissed by Unhappy Patients? Here's What to Do

by Roger Sergel
Senior Executive Editor
MedPage Today Video
Originally posted January 04, 2017

Monday, January 23, 2017

Harvard psychologist says people judge you based on 2 criteria when they first meet you

Jenna Goudreau
Business Insider
Originally published January 16, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence, respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both.

Interestingly, Cuddy says that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that competence is the more important factor. After all, they want to prove that they are smart and talented enough to handle your business.

But in fact, warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how people evaluate you.

"From an evolutionary perspective," Cuddy says, "it is more crucial to our survival to know whether a person deserves our trust."

It makes sense when you consider that in cavemen days it was more important to figure out if your fellow man was going to kill you and steal all your possessions than if he was competent enough to build a good fire.

But while competence is highly valued, Cuddy says that it is evaluated only after trust is established. And focusing too much on displaying your strength can backfire.

The article is here.

Selling conscience short: a response to Schuklenk and Smalling on conscientious objections by medical professionals

Jocelyn Maclure & Isabelle Dumont
J Med Ethics doi:10.1136/medethics-2016-103903


In a thought-provoking paper, Schuklenk and Smalling argue that no right to conscientious objection should be granted to medical professionals. First, they hold that it is impossible to assess either the truth of conscience-based claims or the sincerity of the objectors. Second, even a fettered right to conscientious refusal inevitably has adverse effects on the rights of patients. We argue that the main problem with their position is that it is not derived from a broader reflection on the meaning and implications of freedom of conscience and reasonable accommodation. We point out that they collapse two related but distinct questions, that is, the subjective conception of freedom of conscience and the sincerity test. We note that they do not successfully show that the standard norm according to which exemption claims should not impose undue hardship on others is unworkable. We suggest that the main reason why arguments such as no one is forced to be a medical professional are flawed is that public norms should not constrain citizens to choose between two of their basic rights unless it is necessary. In fine, Schuklenk and Smalling, who see conscience claims as arbitrary dislikes, sell freedom of conscience short and forego any attempts at balancing the competing rights involved. We maintain the authors neglect that most of legal reasoning is contextual and that the blanket restriction of healthcare professionals' freedom of conscience is disproportionate.

The article is here.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

State Supreme Court Ruling Expands 'Tarasoff' Duty for Washington State Clinicians

Psychiatric News Alert
Originally released January 3, 2017

A Washington state Supreme Court decision appears to significantly broaden the duty that psychiatrists and other mental health professionals in that state have to protect and warn potential victims of violence by a patient under their care.

In Volk v. De Meerleer, the Washington state Supreme Court expanded the so-called Tarasoff standard regarding a mental health professional's duty to protect and warn a third party of possible violence, asserting that the duty extends to any possible victim--even one that has not been specifically identified by the patient.

The ruling applies only to clinicians in Washington state. Although other states could conceivably adopt a similar standard, the ruling does not establish a legal precedent outside of Washington. (It was a 1976 case, Tarasoff v. Regents of the University of California, that established the principle that a mental health professional has the duty to protect a third party, specifically identified by a patient, that he or she may be potential victim of violence.)

Tarasoff has typically been interpreted to mean that the mental health provider owes a duty to the intended victim if the victim is identified or reasonably identifiable. But the new decision by the Washington state Supreme Court suggests that the duty is more expansive and that the provider may have an obligation to probe statements about violence to determine whether there is an intended victim and/or to infer intended victims from past sessions.

The decision creates a new category of "medical negligence," rendering clinicians in Washington state potentially legally liable if it is determined that they should have known someone would be a victim of violence. APA signed on to an amicus brief with the Washington State Medical Society and six other groups saying that a lower court's finding that mental health professionals owe a duty of care to the general public, not just to reasonably identifiable third parties, places an unfair burden on clinicians.

APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A., said the ruling is a troubling one. "The court's ruling in Volk v. De Meerleer places clinicians in Washington state in a difficult position and could have detrimental effects on the patient-psychiatrist relationship," he said. "To the extent that a similar standard of liability could be adopted in other states, it should be of concern to psychiatrists and mental health professionals everywhere. APA will continue to follow developments in Washington state and continue to advocate for a fair and rational approach to Tarasoff duties."

APA President Maria A. Oquendo, M.D., Ph.D., echoed those remarks. "Holding mental health professionals liable to third-party victims who were not  identifiable as targets of actual threats places an unreasonable burden on mental health professionals," she said. "This decision marks a significant departure from previous case law concerning Tarasoff duties. Leaving it to a jury to determine whether a mental health provider 'should have known' that a patient would be dangerous has a real potential to interfere with treatment of mental health patients."

Marvin Swartz, M.D., chair of the APA Committee on Judicial Action, told Psychiatric News that the decision potentially undermines the traditional understanding of physician liability. "Expanding physician liability to a new doctrine of 'medical negligence' suggests that courts and juries might begin to adopt a liability standard akin to strict product liability rather than the established standards of medical malpractice," he said. "The likely result would be a serious undermining of the physician/patient relationship."

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Elevation: A review of scholarship on a moral and other-praising emotion

Andrew L. Thomson and Jason T. Siegel
The Journal Of Positive Psychology 


The term elevation (also referred to as moral elevation), described by Thomas Jefferson and later coined by Jonathan Haidt, refers to the suite of feelings people may experience when witnessing an instance of moral beauty. The construct of elevation signifies the emotion felt when a person is a witness to, but not a recipient of, the moral behavior of others. Scholarship examining elevation has burgeoned since Haidt first introduced the construct. Researchers have explored the antecedents of, and outcomes associated with, witnessing instances of moral beauty. The current review will outline the existing scholarship on elevation, highlight conflicting findings, point out critical gaps in the current state of elevation research, and delineate fertile future directions for basic and applied research. Continued investigation of the affective, motivational, and behavioral responses associated with witnessing virtuous actions of others is warranted.

The research is here.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Why is everyone talking about algorithms?

Discover Society
Originally published January 3, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

The notion of the algorithm though, is also becoming really quite powerful in its own right. The very notion of the algorithm has taken on a life of its own, especially in the popular media. Algorithms are becoming the shadowy figures that in some way embody our wider fears and concerns. The visions we have of algorithms chime with broader feelings of a loss of control, of accelerated lives that are speeding away from us, of our inability to cope with the unmanageable information that we are exposed to, or the feeling that our lives are governed for us and that we have less discretion, autonomy or voice.

The talk about algorithms is a product of the powerful role of algorithms in our lives, but the talk around algorithms also seems to tap into broader concerns about powerlessness and the limitations placed on our discretion and choice. The algorithm is coming to embody the sense of life as out of our control. Algorithms are evoked to speak to these fears and concerns. This is not to say that they don’t have material influences on our lives, they clearly have powerful consequences. But the idea of the algorithm is also now a powerful presence, jumping out suddenly from the mass of code within which everyday life is lived to give us the occasional fright or to remind us of our sense of limited autonomy.

The article is here.

Five Myths About the Role of Culture in Psychological Research

Qi Wang
Association of Psychological Science
Originally posted December 20, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Twenty years of cultural research that my colleagues and I have done on the development of social cognition, including autobiographical memory, future thinking, the self, and emotion knowledge, illustrate how cultural psychological science can provide unique insights into psychological processes and further equip researchers with additional tools to understand human behavior.

There are five assumptions that often distract or discourage researchers from integrating cultural factors into their work, and I aim here to deconstruct them.

Assumption 1. Cultural Psychological Science Focuses Only on Finding Group Differences

This understanding of what cultural psychological science can do is far from being complete. In our research, my colleagues and I have learned how culturally prioritized self-goals guide autobiographical memory. Autonomous self-goals, prioritized in Western, particularly European American, cultures, motivate individuals to focus on and remember idiosyncratic details and subjective experiences that accentuate the individual. In contrast, relational self-goals like those prioritized in East Asian cultures motivate individuals to attend to and remember information about collective activities and significant others.

By experimentally manipulating self-goals of autonomy and relatedness, we are able to make European Americans recall socially oriented memories as East Asians usually do, and make East Asians recall self-focused memories as European Americans usually do. In a study I conducted with APS Fellow Michael A. Ross, University of Waterloo, Canada, we asked European American and Asian college students to describe themselves as either unique individuals (i.e., autonomous-self prime) or as members of social groups (i.e., relational-self prime). We then asked them to recall their earliest childhood memories. In both cultural groups, those whose autonomous self-goals were activated prior to the recall reported more self-focused memories, whereas those whose relational self-goals were made salient recalled more socially oriented memories.

The article is here.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Culture: The Grand Web of Meaning

Chao, Melody Manchi and Kesebir, Pelin,
Found in The Experience of Meaning in Life: Perspective from the Psychological Sciences
(September 16, 2011).  J. Hicks, C. Routledge, eds., Springer Press, 2011.


Meaning and culture mutually constitute each other. Culture rests on meaning, whereas meaning exists and is propagated in culture. The uniquely human quest for meaning transpires against the background of culture and is simultaneously recreating culture. The current chapter aims to explore different aspects of this dynamic relationship between meaning and culture. We begin by defining meaning and culture, and elaborating the nature of their intricate relationship. Then, we analyze the universal and relative aspects of meaning systems across cultures. Finally, we examine meaning in the backdrop of multiculturalism to illuminate how individuals navigate through different cultural webs of meaning and its implications to cultural competence.

The book chapter is here.

Consider ethics when designing new technologies

by Gillian Christie and Derek Yach
Tech Crunch
Originally posted December 31, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

A Fourth Industrial Revolution is arising that will pose tough ethical questions with few simple, black-and-white answers. Smaller, more powerful and cheaper sensors; cognitive computing advancements in artificial intelligence, robotics, predictive analytics and machine learning; nano, neuro and biotechnology; the Internet of Things; 3D printing; and much more, are already demanding real answers really fast. And this will only get harder and more complex when we embed these new technologies into our bodies and brains to enhance our physical and cognitive functioning.

Take the choice society will soon have to make about autonomous cars as an example. If a crash cannot be avoided, should a car be programmed to minimize bystander casualties even if it harms the car’s occupants, or should the car protect its occupants under any circumstances?

Research demonstrates the public is conflicted. Consumers would prefer to minimize the number of overall casualties in a car accident, yet are unwilling to purchase a self-driving car if it is not self-protective. Of course, the ideal option is for companies to develop algorithms that bypass this possibility entirely, but this may not always be an option. What is clear, however, is that such ethical quandaries must be reconciled before any consumer hands over their keys to dark-holed algorithms.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Teaching Ethics In The Trump Era

Kelly Richmond Pope
Forbes Magazine
Originally posted January 15, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

Ethical leadership should be a nonpartisan value that we all share. Ethics is under attack and I am no longer sure how we defend it. In class, we often have discussions about conflicts of interests and the dangers conflicts of interest have on the auditor-client relationship. According to the AICPA website. ‘accountants in public practice should be independent in fact and appearance when providing auditing and other attestation services’. When my students see New York Times headlines like ‘Scott Pruitt, Trump’s EPA Pick Backed Industry Donors Over Regulators’, what should they think? Do ethics rules apply to everyone or only a few?

I spend my time teaching future CPAs that we must continue to adhere to a strict code of ethical conduct but I fear they are growing weary of this message. The headlines that my students are now seeing is very confusing and really causes them to question the role of ethical leadership. If we operate under the mantra of ‘do what I say and not what I do’ I fear that will be revisiting the 2008 financial crisis in the very near future.

The article is here.

Rational judges, not extraneous factors in decisions

Tom Stafford
Mind Hacks
Originally published December 8, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The main analysis works like this: we know that favourable rulings take longer than unfavourable ones (~7 mins vs ~5 mins), and we assume that judges are able to guess how long a case will take to rule on before they begin it (from clues like the thickness of the file, the types of request made, the representation the prisoner has and so on). Finally, we assume judges have a time limit in mind for each of the three sessions of the day, and will avoid starting cases which they estimate will overrun the time limit for the current session.

It turns out that this kind of rational time-management is sufficient to  generate the drops in favourable outcomes. How this occurs isn’t straightforward and interacts with a quirk of original author’s data presentation (specifically their graph shows the order number of cases when the number of cases in each session varied day to day – so, for example, it shows that the 12th case after a break is least likely to be judged favourably, but there wasn’t always a 12 case in each session. So sessions in which there were more unfavourable cases were more likely to contribute to this data point).

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fake news invades science and science journalism as well as politics

By Ivan Oransky and Adam Marcus
Originally published December 30, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Science itself never falls victim to this sort of distortion though, does it? We wish that was so. Take, for example, a conspiracy theory about cloud trails from jet planes that was published in a peer-reviewed journal. How about a study linking vaccines to autism long after such a connection had been thoroughly debunked? That one was published in a public health journal. Or this fake news whopper: HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. A peer-reviewed paper made that claim until it was retracted.

We could go on. But as you’ve gathered by now, science in its current state isn’t exactly keeping us safe from bogus research. Predatory publishers continue to churn out papers for a price, with minimal peer review — or very often no peer review — to vet the results. Unscrupulous researchers use those and other soft spots in the scientific publishing system to get away with presenting wild theories or cooking their data.

Journalists who don’t fact-check deserve criticism, whether the topic is politics, entertainment, or science. But the real trouble with fake news is when there’s a kernel of truth in the pile of garbage. That’s especially problematic in science: scientists continue to dress up weak findings in flashy clothes, all the better to publish with. Then their universities often bolster this flimsy work with frothy press releases that journalists fall for.

The article is here.

When telling the truth is actually dishonest

By Jena McGregor
The Washington Post
Originally published December 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The type of lie known as a lie of omission might be thought of as being similar to paltering. In both cases, the deceiver isn't telling the whole truth. But they're different, says Rogers: One is the passive failure to disclose something a negotiation counterpart doesn't know, while paltering is the active use of truthful statements to mislead.

Say you're negotiating with a buyer over a used car you're trying to sell. If the buyer says "I presume the car is in excellent shape and the engine runs well," simply failing to correct him if the engine has had problems is a lie of omission, Rogers says. But if you say "I drove it yesterday in 10-below temperatures and it drove well," even if you know it's been to the shop twice in the past month, that's paltering. Opportunities to lie by omission, Rogers says, actually "don't arise all that often."

Of course, classifying whether voters or negotiation counterparts will see "paltering" as ethical is vastly complicated by an election in which the usual standards for truth and political rhetoric seemed to be ignored. Seventy percent of the statements by President-elect Donald Trump examined by the nonpartisan fact-checking outlet Politifact have been rated mostly false, false or "pants on fire."

The article is here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The phenomenon of “unethical amnesia”

Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki
Originally published December 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In fact, psychological research on morality shows that we hold an overly optimistic view of our capacity to adhere to ethical standards. We believe that we are intrinsically more moral than others, that we will behave more ethically than others in the future, and that transgressions committed by others are morally worse than our own.

So, how do these beliefs of our moral selves play out in our day-to-day actions? As researchers who frequently study how people who care about morality often behave dishonestly, we decided to find out.

Unethical amnesia

One key result of our research is that people engage in unethical behavior repeatedly over time because their memory of their dishonest actions gets obfuscated over time. In fact, our research shows that people are more likely to forget the details of their own unethical acts compared with other incidents, including neutral, negative, or positive events, as well as the unethical actions of others.

The article is here.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Americans Rate Healthcare Providers High on Honesty, Ethics

Jim Normal
Originally posted December 2016

Most Americans trust their healthcare providers to be honest and ethical, but few other professions fare so well in Gallup's annual look at honesty and ethical standards among various fields. Nurses top the list with 84% of the public rating their standards as "high" or "very high," while members of Congress fall to the bottom -- the only profession for which a majority of Americans (59%) rate honesty and ethical standards as "low" or "very low."


Further, for the fourth year in a row -- in a nation where religion is an important part of life for three-fourths of the population -- less than half of Americans think religious leaders have high ethical standards. Meanwhile, two groups of professionals linked to the bitter political battles of 2016 -- college teachers and journalists -- are at or near their all-time lows, with views split along partisan lines.

The article is here.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

In Praise of Ignorance

Simon Cullen
Originally published December 25, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

The world is such a big and messy place, all anyone can do is focus on understanding a tiny slice of it. So most of us can be forgiven our ignorance about empirical questions as complex as the causes of racial disparities in the criminal justice system, the likely effects of a particular international trade deal, the costs and benefits of raising the federal minimum wage to $15, and so forth. These questions are so enormously complex, thoughtful people who devote their lives to investigating them do not always reach consensus. But what cannot be forgiven is holding passionate opinions on issues of immense practical significance when we are almost completely ignorant of the facts. It does not matter how strongly we may believe we are factually correct or that we are fighting the darkest forces of evil, when we choose to address a topic that may seriously affect the lives of other people, we incur a correspondingly serious obligation to discharge onerous epistemic duties.

If we do not bother to acquaint ourselves with the most basic facts, to expose ourselves openly to people with whom we are inclined to disagree, and especially to those who have thought the longest and hardest about these topics, then we are not entitled to any opinion. As J.S. Mill wrote in On Liberty, “He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” For most of us, the only defensible attitude on most issues is perfect agnosticism.

The problem is, we have little tolerance for agnosticism. A politician who admitted that she held no opinion on the TPP might expect mockery, even though it is as unreasonable to expect the average politician to know about the difficult empirical questions raised by such agreements as it is to expect the average doctor or nurse. And we should all be alive to the possibility that most politicians would not do much better than the rest of us if they had to pass Econ 101 tomorrow. It is even worse that we ordinary people suffer disapprobation when we express agnosticism towards issues about which we know nothing. This intolerance of ignorance threatens to sever both policy makers and ordinary people from reality, harming our best chance at improving our world — scientific knowledge combined with careful, open-minded moral thinking.

The article is here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Disgust as embodied loss aversion

Simone Schnall
European Review Of Social Psychology Vol. 28 , Iss. 1, 2017


A quickly expanding literature has examined the link between physical disgust and morality. This article critically integrates the existing evidence and draws the following conclusions: First, there is considerable evidence that experimentally induced disgust and cleanliness influence moral judgment, but moderating variables and attributional processes need to be considered. Second, moral considerations have substantial effects on behavioural concomitants of disgust, such as facial expressions, economic games and food consumption. Third, while disgust involves a conservation concern, it can manifest itself in both liberal and conservative political attitudes. Overall, disgust can be considered to form part of a behavioural loss aversion system aimed at protecting valuable resources, including the integrity of one’s body. Recommendations are offered to investigate the role of disgust more rigorously in order to fully capture its role in moral life.

Gifts and influence: Conflict of interest policies and prescribing of psychotropic medications in the United States

Marissa King and Peter S. Bearman
Social Science & Medicine
Volume 172, January 2017, Pages 153–162


The pharmaceutical industry spends roughly 15 billion dollars annually on detailing – providing gifts, information, samples, trips, honoraria and other inducements – to physicians in order to encourage them to prescribe their drugs. In response, several states in the United States adopted policies that restrict detailing. Some states banned gifts from pharmaceutical companies to doctors, other states simply required physicians to disclose the gifts they receive, while most states allowed unrestricted detailing. We exploit this geographic variation to examine the relationship between gift regulation and the diffusion of four newly marketed medications. Using a dataset that captures 189 million psychotropic prescriptions written between 2005 and 2009, we find that uptake of new costly medications was significantly lower in states with marketing regulation than in areas that allowed unrestricted pharmaceutical marketing. In states with gift bans, we observed reductions in market shares ranging from 39% to 83%. Policies banning or restricting gifts were associated with the largest reductions in uptake. Disclosure policies were associated with a significantly smaller reduction in prescribing than gift bans and gift restrictions. In states that ban gift-giving, peer influence substituted for pharmaceutical detailing when a relatively beneficial drug came to market and provided a less biased channel for physicians to learn about new medications. Our work suggests that policies banning or limiting gifts from pharmaceutical representatives to doctors are likely to be more effective than disclosure policies alone.

The article is here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Great A.I. Awakening

Gideon Lewis-Kraus
The New York Times
Originally published December 14, 2106

Here are two excerpts:

Google’s decision to reorganize itself around A.I. was the first major manifestation of what has become an industry wide machine-learning delirium. Over the past four years, six companies in particular — Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and the Chinese firm Baidu — have touched off an arms race for A.I. talent, particularly within universities. Corporate promises of resources and freedom have thinned out top academic departments. It has become widely known in Silicon Valley that Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive of Facebook, personally oversees, with phone calls and video-chat blandishments, his company’s overtures to the most desirable graduate students. Starting salaries of seven figures are not unheard-of. Attendance at the field’s most important academic conference has nearly quadrupled. What is at stake is not just one more piecemeal innovation but control over what very well could represent an entirely new computational platform: pervasive, ambient artificial intelligence.


The new wave of A.I.-enhanced assistants — Apple’s Siri, Facebook’s M, Amazon’s Echo — are all creatures of machine learning, built with similar intentions. The corporate dreams for machine learning, however, aren’t exhausted by the goal of consumer clairvoyance. A medical-imaging subsidiary of Samsung announced this year that its new ultrasound devices could detect breast cancer. Management consultants are falling all over themselves to prep executives for the widening industrial applications of computers that program themselves. DeepMind, a 2014 Google acquisition, defeated the reigning human grandmaster of the ancient board game Go, despite predictions that such an achievement would take another 10 years.

The article is here.

The Psychology of White-Collar Criminals

Eugene Soltes
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 14, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Usually, a gut feeling that something will be harmful is enough of a deterrence. But when the harm is distant or abstract, this internal alarm doesn’t always go off. This absence of intuition about the harm creates a particular challenge for executives. Today, managerial decisions impact ever-greater numbers of people and the distance between executives and the people their decisions affect continues to grow. In fact, many of the people most harmed or helped by executives’ decisions are those they will never identify or meet. In this less intimate world, age-old intuitions are not always well suited to sense the kinds of potential harms that people can cause in the business world.

Reflecting on these limits to human intuition, I came to a conclusion that I found humbling. Most people like to think that they have the right values to make it through difficult times without falling prey to the same failures as the convicted executives I got to know. But those who believe they would face the same situations with their current values and viewpoints tend to underestimate the influence of the pressures, cultures, and norms that surround executive decision making. Perhaps a little humility is in order, given that people seem to have some difficulty predicting how they’d act in that environment. “What we all think is, ‘When the big moral challenge comes, I will rise to the occasion,’ [but] there’s not actually that many of us that will actually rise to the occasion,” as one former CFO put it. “I didn’t realize I would be a felon.”

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Empathy Trap

By Peter Singer
The Project Syndicate
Originally published December 12, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

“One death is tragedy; a million is a statistic.” If empathy makes us too favorable to individuals, large numbers numb the feelings we ought to have. The Oregon-based nonprofit Decision Research has recently established a website, ArithmeticofCompassion.org, aimed at enhancing our ability to communicate information about large-scale problems without giving rise to “numerical numbness.” In an age in which vivid personal stories go viral and influence public policy, it’s hard to think of anything more important than helping everyone to see the larger picture.

To be against empathy is not to be against compassion. In one of the most interesting sections of Against Empathy, Bloom describes how he learned about differences between empathy and compassion from Matthieu Ricard, the Buddhist monk sometimes described as “the happiest man on earth.” When the neuroscientist Tania Singer (no relation to me) asked Ricard to engage in “compassion meditation” while his brain was being scanned, she was surprised to see no activity in the areas of his brain normally active when people empathize with the pain of others. Ricard could, on request, empathize with others’ pain, but he found it unpleasant and draining; by contrast, he described compassion meditation as “a warm positive state associated with a strong pro-social motivation.”

The article is here.

People Don’t Consider Lying by Omission to Be Any More Honest Than Plain Old Lying

By Cari Romm
New York Magazine: The Science of Us
Originally published December 15, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Past research has shown that people are more willing to lie by omission than they are to tell an outright falsehood, and over a series of six experiments, the researchers found that paltering is no different — to the teller, it feels more ethical, like something between the truth and a total lie. (They also found that it’s incredibly common: In one survey administered to Harvard business students, roughly half admitted that they had previously used paltering as a negotiation strategy.)

The problem is, those on the receiving end don’t feel the same way: Across the various experiments, people who learned that their conversation partner had paltered to them said they considered the move to be just as ethically rotten as telling a bald-faced lie.

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Why are doctors burned out? Our health care system is a complicated mess

By Steven Adelman and Harris A. Berman
Originally posted December 15, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Burnout and dissatisfaction with work-life balance are particularly acute for adult primary care physicians — the central figures in our unsystematic health care “system.” A system that was already teetering in 2011 has been stressed by the addition of 20 million covered lives by the Affordable Care Act. It’s little wonder that in Massachusetts, where near-universal coverage has filled up the offices of primary care physicians, malpractice claims against them are rising. Patients and physicians alike complain about the unsatisfying brevity of office visits, and many harbor intense feelings of antipathy towards cumbersome electronic health records and growing administrative burdens.

We believe that to alleviate the stress and burnout in the medical professions, we must pay attention to system factors that lead to what we call the “occupational health crisis in medicine.” We recently surveyed 425 practicing physicians and health care leaders and executives, seeking their opinions on the importance of eight approaches to transforming health care. We presented the results this fall at the International Conference on Physician Health.

The article is here.

What is Artificial Intelligence Anyway?

Benedict Dellot
Originally published December 15, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Machine learning is the main reason for the renewed interest in artificial intelligence, but deep learning is where the most exciting innovations are happening today. Considered by some to be a subfield of machine learning, this new approach to AI is informed by neurological insights about how the human brain functions and the way that neurons connect with one another.

Deep learning systems are formed of artificial neural networks that exist on multiple layers (hence the word ‘deep’), with each layer given the task of making sense of a different pattern in images, sounds or texts. The first layer may detect rudimentary patterns, for example the outline of an object, whereas the next layer may identify a band of colours. And the process is repeated across all the layers and across all the data until the system can cluster the various patterns to create distinct categories of, say, objects or words.

Deep learning is particularly impressive because, unlike the conventional machine learning approach, it can often proceed without humans ever having defined the categories in advance, whether they be objects, sounds or phrases. The distinction here is between supervised and unsupervised learning, and the latter is showing evermore impressive results. According to a King’s College London study, deep learning techniques more than doubled the accuracy of brain age assessments when using raw data from MRI scans.

The blog post is here.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Medical students need to learn the potent medicine of empathy

By Wolfgang Gilliar
Originally published September 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

How does empathy do this? A patient who feels emotionally connected to his or her doctor is more likely to disclose important medical information and to follow the doctor’s advice. That connection can serve as the basis for true teamwork, with the patient working proactively with the medical team to improve health. Simply put, patients who feel cared about feel better and do better.

There’s also great promise in osteopathic medicine, which couples traditional medical interventions with skilled, specialized, hands-on treatments for the body’s complex system of nerves, muscles, and bones. “Healing touch” isn’t just a metaphor. This simple physical action evokes trust in patients.

Without empathy, doctors run the risk of alienating their patients. The relationship can become one-sided, with the physician simply dictating treatments and the patient following orders. Core emotional needs can be ignored, leading patients to feel lonely and downtrodden. And that deterioration of mood can make it less likely that they will experience positive outcomes from treatment.

The article is here.

Empathy is an overrated skill when dispensing medical care

Karin Jongsma
Aeon Magazine
Originally published December 15, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In fact, this final requirement is most closely related not to empathy but to compassion – defined among emotion researchers as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering, including the desire to help. This non-empathetic compassion – a more distanced love and kindness and concern for others – might act as a bridge between recognising the other’s feelings and providing care without the detriments of empathy. Since compassion does not require identification with the patient, it can help in performing good care as a professional duty, building trust, and treating someone according to his or her needs, while avoiding cognitive biases and empathetic distress.

Empathy still matters in healthcare settings that don’t require action: self-help forums and family-support coordinators can be guided by empathy. And precisely because empathy is biased, physicians should be trained to critically reflect upon their empathy gaps rather than be told to fake it.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Education or Indoctrination? The Accuracy of Introductory Psychology Textbooks in Covering Controversial Topics and Urban Legends About Psychology

Ferguson, C.J., Brown, J.M. & Torres, A.V.
Current Psychology (2016).


The introductory psychology class represents the first opportunity for the field to present new students with a comprehensive overview of psychological research. Writing introductory psychology textbooks is challenging given that authors need to cover many areas they themselves may not be intimately familiar with. This challenge is compounded by problems within the scholarly community in which controversial topics may be communicated in ideological terms within scholarly discourse. Psychological science has historically seen concerns raised about the mismatch between claims and data made about certain fields of knowledge, apprehensions that continue in the present “replication crisis.” The concern is that, although acting in good faith, introductory psychology textbook authors may unwittingly communicate information to readers that is factually untrue. Twenty-four leading introductory psychology textbooks were surveyed for their coverage of a number of controversial topics (e.g., media violence, narcissism epidemic, multiple intelligences) and scientific urban legends (e.g., Kitty Genovese, Mozart Effect) for their factual accuracy. Results indicated numerous errors of factual reporting across textbooks, particularly related to failing to inform students of the controversial nature of some research fields and repeating some scientific urban legends as if true. Recommendations are made for improving the accuracy of introductory textbooks.

The article is here.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Irrationality Within Us

By Elly Vintiadis
Scientific American blog
Originally published on December 12, 2016

We like to think of ourselves as special because we can reason and we like to think that this ability expresses the essence of what it is to be human. In many ways this belief has formed our civilization; throughout history, we have used supposed differences in rationality to justify moral and political distinctions between different races, genders, and species, as well as between “healthy” and “diseased” individuals. Even to this day, people often associate mental disorder with irrationality and this has very real effects on people living with mental disorders.

But are we really that rational? And is rationality really what distinguishes people who live with mental illness from those who do not? It seems not. After decades of research, there is compelling evidence that we are not as rational as we think we are and that, rather than irrationality being the exception, it is part of who we normally are.

So what does it mean to be rational? We usually distinguish between two kinds of rationality.  Epistemic rationality, which is involved in acquiring true beliefs about the world and which sets the standard for what we ought to believe, and instrumental rationality which is involved in decision-making and behavior and is the standard for how we ought to act.

The article is here.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Why Ethical People Make Unethical Choices

By Ron Carucci
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted December 16, 2016

Most companies have ethics and compliance policies that get reviewed and signed annually by all employees. “Employees are charged with conducting their business affairs in accordance with the highest ethical standards,” reads one such example. “Moral as well as legal obligations will be fulfilled in a manner which will reflect pride on the Company’s name.” Of course, that policy comes directly from Enron.  Clearly it takes more than a compliance policy or Values Statement to sustain a truly ethical workplace.

Corporate ethical failures have become painfully common, and they aren’t cheap.  In the last decade, billions of dollars have been paid in fines by companies charged with ethical breaches. The most recent National Business Ethics Survey indicates progress as leaders make concerted efforts to pay holistic attention to their organization’s systems. But despite progress, 41% of workers reported seeing ethical misconduct in the previous 12 months, and 10% felt organizational pressure to compromise ethical standards. Wells Fargo’s recent debacle cost them $185 million in fines because 5300 employees opened up more than a million fraudulent accounts.  When all is said and done, we’ll likely learn that the choices of those employees resulted from deeply systemic issues.

The article is here.

‘Dear plagiarist’: A scientist calls out his double-crosser

By Adam Marcus and Ivan Oransky
Originally published December 12, 2016

It’s a researcher’s worst nightmare: Pour five years, and at least 4,000 hours, of sweat and tears into a study, only to have the work stolen from you — by someone who was entrusted to confidentially review the manuscript.

But unlike many sordid tales of academia, this one is being made public. Dr. Michael Dansinger, of Tufts Medical Center, has taken to print to excoriate a group of researchers in Italy who stole his data and published it as their own.

Writing in the prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine — which unwittingly facilitated the episode by farming the paper out for review and then rejecting it — Dansinger calls out the scientists who published their nearly identical version in the somewhat less prestigious EXCLI Journal.

The article is here.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Understanding America’s Moral Divides

Julie Beck
The Atlantic
Originally published December 14, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Part of why it’s easy for anyone to see themselves, or the groups they belong to, as super moral is because morality itself is a vague concept. “You can have one person, for instance, who cares very deeply for their friends and family and would go to the ends of the earth for these people,” Tappin says. “And yet they don’t, say, give a dime to foreign charity. And then you’ve got another person who spends their entire life donating money overseas, yet in their interpersonal life, perhaps they don’t treat their family members very well. In those cases, how do you compare who’s more moral? It seems quite impossible to judge and it’s just at the mercy of people’s preferences.”

Haidt’s work identifies six different moral metrics—liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, care, and purity. Different groups and cultures prefer to emphasize these domains to different degrees. For example, people in Eastern countries tend to emphasize purity and loyalty more than people in Western countries. People who live in countries where there has historically been higher prevalence of disease also place a higher value on purity, as well as loyalty and authority. In the United States, liberals tend to focus mostly on care, fairness, and liberty, while conservatives generally emphasize all six domains. Other research shows that people rate the moral values a group holds as the most important characteristic affecting whether they’re proud to be a member of the group, or more likely to distance themselves from it.

The article is here.

To Make a Team More Effective, Find Their Commonalities

David DeSteno
Harvard Business Review
December 12, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

When it comes to empathy and compassion, the most powerful tool is a sense of similarity – a belief that people’s interests are joined and, thus, that they’re all on the same team and will benefit from supporting each other. Consider an example from the first World War. British and German troops were fighting a long, bloody battle in the trenches outside of Ypres, Belgium. But on Christmas Eve, the British began to see their foes light candles and sing familiar carols. Soon, these men, who had previously been trying to kill each other, came out to greet one another, share stories and celebrate the holiday together. For a brief period, they re-categorized themselves as members of the same group, in this case defined by religion, and felt a new camaraderie.

You can achieve a similar effect by emphasizing or introducing even less significant similarities. For example, Claremont McKenna’s Piercarlo Valdesolo and I conducted an experiment in which we had participants tap their hands in synch — or not in synch — with another person, who was later unfairly stuck with an onerous assignment. Half of the people who had tapped in unison with their partners offered to help with the task, compared with only 18% of those who were out of synch. The in-synch tappers reported not only feeling more similar to the strangers with whom they’d been paired, but also more compassion for them, and those two measures increased in tandem.

The article is here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Beware Bogus Theories of Sexual Orientation

By Michael Shermer
Scientific American Magazine
Originally published on December 1, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

Shouldn't such principles apply to everyone regardless of whether or not their sexual orientation is biologically determined? Of course, and in most Western countries today they do. But in Judeo-Christian America, the argument goes like this: The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin (Leviticus 20:13). If sexual orientation has a strong biological component, then gays and lesbians can hardly be held morally culpable for their sinful ways. But if it's a choice, then they can be rehabilitated (through “conversion therapy”) and forgiven (“love the sinner, hate the sin” goes the popular trope). Evangelist Jimmy Swaggart articulated the logic this way: “While it is true that the seed of original sin carries with it every type of deviation, aberration, perversion, and wrongdoing, the homosexual cannot claim to have been born that way any more than the drunkard, gambler, killer, etc.”

While the authors of the New Atlantis article are not this crude and overtly bigoted in their conclusions, according to geneticist Dean Hamer, emeritus at the National Institutes of Health, “it is a selective and outdated collection of references and arguments aimed at confusing rather than clarifying our understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The article is here.

Actuaries are bringing Netflix-like predictive modeling to health care

By Gary Gau
Originally published on December 13, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In today’s ever-changing landscape, the health actuary is part clinician, epidemiologist, health economist, and statistician. He or she combines financial, operational, and clinical data, such as information from electronic medical records, pharmacy use, and lab results, to provide insights on both individual patients and overall population health.

I see a future where predictive modeling helps health care companies not only suggest healthy behaviors but also convince patients and consumers to adopt them. Predictive modeling techniques can be applied to information that can influence an individual’s decision to use preventive care, accurately take prescribed medication, book a doctor appointment, lose weight, or become more physically active.

The trick will be identifying the trigger that gets him or her to act.

Insurers must understand their patient populations, including the barriers they face to achieving better health. To create solutions, insurers must first understand the psychology of motivation and what leads individuals to change their behavior. That’s where the precision approach comes into play.

The article is here.

Four Reasons Why Assisted Dying Should Not Be Offered for Depression

Blikshavn T, Husum TL, Magelssen M
Journal of Bioethical Inquiry. 2016 Dec 8. p 1-7.
doi: 10.1007/s11673-016-9759-4


Recently, several authors have argued that assisted dying may be ethically appropriate when requested by a person who suffers from serious depression unresponsive to treatment. We here present four arguments to the contrary. First, the arguments made by proponents of assisted dying rely on notions of "treatment-resistant depression" that are problematic. Second, an individual patient suffering from depression may not be justified in believing that chances of recovery are minimal. Third, the therapeutic significance of hope must be acknowledged; when mental healthcare opens up the door to admitting hopelessness, there is a danger of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Finally, proponents of assisted dying in mental healthcare overlook the dangers posed to mental-health services by the institutionalization of assisted dying.

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Should the 14-day limit on embryo research be extended?

by Philip Ball
Prospect Magazine
Originally published December 12, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

That limit has remained in place ever since. But now some scientists believe it should be extended to 28 days. These proposals were discussed on 7th December at a meeting in London organised by charity the Progress Educational Trust. It marked the beginning of what seems likely to be a broad and extended discussion among scientists, bioethicists, fertility specialists, religious leaders and others who have a stake in the moral, legal and scientific status of the human embryo.


So the 14-day embryo has begun the process that leads to the laying down of the human body plan—but only just. A key stage, called gastrulation, begins around day 16: this is when the embryo acquires a three-layered structure, the precursor to the appearance of different body-tissue types. So the time between day 14 and day 28 sees the embryo progress through some crucial stages of development, and understanding the details of what goes on, such as the genetic changes involved, should provide a wealth of information that might offer insights into human health, disease and malformation. Much of what we know about these stages at present comes from studies of mice—but as several of the speakers acknowledged, there are some important differences between mice and men.

This is why it looks so enticing for cell biologists and geneticists to investigate the post-14-day embryo. But should that be allowed by a change in the law?

The article is here.

Traces of Times Lost

Erika Hayasaki
The Atlantic
Originally posted November 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

According to a 2010 study in Developmental Psychology, 20 percent of children interviewed under age 10 remembered events that occurred (and were verified by parents) before they even turned a year old—in some cases even as early as one month old. These are provocative findings. Yet Katherine Nelson, a developmental psychologist at City University of New York who studied child memory for decades, tells me: “It is still an open question as to whether and when very young children have true episodic memories.” Even if they appear to, she explains, these memories are fragile and susceptible to suggestion.


Last year, researchers from Yale University and the University of Arizona published a study in Psychological Science proclaiming that morality is more central to identity than memory. The authors studied patients with frontotemporal dementia (in which damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex can lead to dishonesty and socially unacceptable behavior), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which affects muscle control), and Alzheimer’s disease (which robs a person of memory). The research found that as long as moral capacity is not impaired, the self persists, even when memory is compromised. “These results speak to significant and longstanding questions about the nature of identity, questions that have occupied social scientists, neurologists, philosophers, and novelists alike,” the authors write.

The article is here.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Senator Johnson wants to re-think Tennessee's counselor ethics

by Emily West
Nolensville Home Page
Originally posted December 6, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

“I don’t think it’s appropriate that we delegate that responsibility to a special interest group from Washington,” Johnson said. “There are other organizations that represent them. I think it’s worth having our own conversation … Tennesseans are best suited to determine what our state licensure requirements for our professional counselors should be rather than subrogating that right to a private organization.

“I believe our State Board of Professional Counselors is capable of this responsibility and that all Tennesseans seeking counseling will benefit as a result.”

Having the conversation could come come at a price, at least from the American Counseling Association’s perspective.

Right now, the ACA sees the potential for this type of legislation to become dangerous.

“I think what you do is run the risk of a couple of things,” ACA’s‎ Director of Government Affairs Art Terrazas said. “The insurance companies – who underwrite the liability – are going to take a second look if they want to insure the counselor outside of the code of ethics. There could be an impact if they stay or remained employed in the state of Tennessee.

“If they are meeting the industry standard, they may not want to practice there. Those who need to seek mental health clinicians could find there will be less of them. We are talking about folks suffering from depression, to those under 18, military families and also our veterans.”

The article is here.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Zero Suicide in Health Care

Published on Dec 15, 2014

If you ask people what you should do to help a person who may be suicidal, most—if not all—would say that person should be referred to a health care professional or organization. So it may come as a shock to learn that many health care professionals and organizations do not know what to do…or even consider it their responsibility to do anything. In this provocative talk, Dr. Michael Hogan describes how the Zero Suicide approach aims to improve care and outcomes for individuals at risk of suicide in health care systems.

Michael Hogan, PhD, is an independent advisor and consultant with Hogan Health Solutions. He serves on the Executive Committee of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, a public-private partnership advancing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention (2012). Dr. Hogan was the Public Sector Co-Lead of the Clinical Care and Intervention Task Force that developed the idea of Zero Suicide; he now co-leads the Zero Suicide Advisory Group which strives to promote suicide prevention as a core component of health care services.