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

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

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Israel Approves Compassionate Use of MDMA to Treat PTSD

Ido Efrati
www.haaretz.com
Originally posted February 10, 2019

MDMA, popularly known as ecstasy, is a drug more commonly associated with raves and nightclubs than a therapist’s office.

Emerging research has shown promising results in using this “party drug” to treat patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and Israel’s Health Ministry has just approved the use of MDMA to treat dozens of patients.

MDMA is classified in Israel as a “dangerous drug”, recreational use is illegal, and therapeutic use of MDMA has yet to be formally approved and is still in clinical trials.

However, this treatment is deemed as “compassionate use,” which allows drugs that are still in development to be made available to patients outside of a clinical trial due to the lack of effective alternatives.

The info is here.

Should This Exist? The Ethics Of New Technology

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
www.NPR.org
Originally posted March 3, 2019

Not every new technology product hits the shelves.

Tech companies kill products and ideas all the time — sometimes it's because they don't work, sometimes there's no market.

Or maybe, it might be too dangerous.

Recently, the research firm OpenAI announced that it would not be releasing a version of a text generator they developed, because of fears that it could be misused to create fake news. The text generator was designed to improve dialogue and speech recognition in artificial intelligence technologies.

The organization's GPT-2 text generator can generate paragraphs of coherent, continuing text based off of a prompt from a human. For example, when inputted with the claim, "John F. Kennedy was just elected President of the United States after rising from the grave decades after his assassination," the generator spit out the transcript of "his acceptance speech" that read in part:
It is time once again. I believe this nation can do great things if the people make their voices heard. The men and women of America must once more summon our best elements, all our ingenuity, and find a way to turn such overwhelming tragedy into the opportunity for a greater good and the fulfillment of all our dreams.
Considering the serious issues around fake news and online propaganda that came to light during the 2016 elections, it's easy to see how this tool could be used for harm.

The info is here.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's Hollywood ties spark ethics questions in China trade talks

Emma Newburger
CNBC.com
Originally posted March 15, 2019

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, one of President Donald Trump's key negotiators in the U.S.-China trade talks, has pushed Beijing to grant the American film industry greater access to its markets.

But now, Mnuchin’s ties to Hollywood are raising ethical questions about his role in those negotiations. Mnuchin had been a producer in a raft of successful films prior to joining the Trump administration.

In 2017, he divested his stake in a film production company after joining the White House. But he sold that position to his wife, filmmaker and actress Louise Linton, for between $1 million and $2 million, The New York Times reported on Thursday. At the time, she was his fiancée.

That company, StormChaser Partners, helped produce the mega-hit movie “Wonder Woman,” which grossed $90 million in China, according to the Times. Yet, because of China’s restrictions on foreign films, the producers received a small portion of that money. Mnuchin has been personally engaged in trying to ease those rules, which could be a boon to the industry, according to the Times.

The info is here.

We're Teaching Consent All Wrong

Sarah Sparks
www.edweek.org
Originally published January 8, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Instead, researchers and educators offer an alternative: Teach consent as a life skill—not just a sex skill—beginning in early childhood, and begin discussing consent and communication in the context of relationships by 5th or 6th grades, before kids start seriously thinking about sex. (Think that's too young? In yet another study, the CDC found 8 in 10 teenagers didn't get sex education until after they'd already had sex.)

Educators and parents often balk at discussing strategies for and examples of consent because "they incorrectly believe that if you teach consent, students will become more sexually active," said Mike Domitrz, founder of the Date Safe Project, a Milwaukee-based sexual-assault prevention program that focuses on consent education and bystander interventions. "It's a myth. Students of both genders are pretty consistent that a lot of the sexual activity that is going on is occurring under pressure."

Studies suggest young women are more likely to judge consent on verbal communication and young men relied more on nonverbal cues, though both groups said nonverbal signals are often misinterpreted. And teenagers can be particularly bad at making decisions about risky behavior, including sexual situations, while under social pressure. Brain studies have found adolescents are more likely to take risks and less likely to think about negative consequences when they are in emotionally arousing, or "hot," situations, and that bad decision-making tends to get even worse when they feel they are being judged by their friends.

Making understanding and negotiating consent a life skill gives children and adolescents ways to understand and respect both their own desires and those of other people. And it can help educators frame instruction about consent without sinking into the morass of long-running arguments and anxiety over gender roles, cultural values, and teen sexuality.

The info is here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

The college admissions scandal is a morality play

Elaine Ayala
San Antonio Express-News
Originally posted March 16, 2019

The college admission cheating scandal that raced through social media and dominated news cycles this week wasn’t exactly shocking: Wealthy parents rigged the system for their underachieving children.

It’s an ancient morality play set at elite universities with an unseemly cast of characters: spoiled teens and shameless parents; corrupt test proctors and paid test takers; as well as college sports officials willing to be bribed and a ring leader who ultimately turned on all of them.

William “Rick” Singer, who went to college in San Antonio, wore a wire to cooperate with FBI investigators.

(cut)

Yet even though they were arrested, the 50 people involved managed to secure the best possible outcome under the circumstances. Unlike many caught shoplifting or possessing small amounts of marijuana and who lack the lawyers and resources to help them navigate the legal system, the accused parents and coaches quickly posted bond and were promptly released without spending much time in custody.

The info is here.

OpenAI's Realistic Text-Generating AI Triggers Ethics Concerns

William Falcon
Forbes.com
Originally posted February 18, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Why you should care.

GPT-2 is the closest AI we have to make conversational AI a possibility. Although conversational AI is far from solved, chatbots powered by this technology could help doctors scale advice over chats, scale advice for potential suicide victims, improve translation systems, and improve speech recognition across applications.

Although OpenAI acknowledges these potential benefits, it also acknowledges the potential risks of releasing the technology. Misuse could include, impersonate others online, generate misleading news headlines, or automate the automation of fake posts to social media.

But I argue these malicious applications are already possible without this AI. There exist other public models which can already be used for these purposes. Thus, I think not releasing this code is more harmful to the community because A) it sets a bad precedent for open research, B) keeps companies from improving their services, C) unnecessarily hypes these results and D) may trigger unnecessary fears about AI in the general public.

The info is here.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Actions Speak Louder Than Outcomes in Judgments of Prosocial Behavior

Daniel A. Yudkin, Annayah M. B. Prosser, and Molly J. Crockett
Emotion (2018).

Recently proposed models of moral cognition suggest that people's judgments of harmful acts are influenced by their consideration both of those acts' consequences ("outcome value"), and of the feeling associated with their enactment ("action value"). Here we apply this framework to judgments of prosocial behavior, suggesting that people's judgments of the praiseworthiness of good deeds are determined both by the benefit those deeds confer to others and by how good they feel to perform. Three experiments confirm this prediction. After developing a new measure to assess the extent to which praiseworthiness is influenced by action and outcome values, we show how these factors make significant and independent contributions to praiseworthiness. We also find that people are consistently more sensitive to action than to outcome value in judging the praiseworthiness of good deeds, but not harmful deeds. This observation echoes the finding that people are often insensitive to outcomes in their giving behavior. Overall, this research tests and validates a novel framework for understanding moral judgment, with implications for the motivations that underlie human altruism.

Here is an excerpt:

On a broader level, past work has suggested that judging the wrongness of harmful actions involves a process of “evaluative simulation,” whereby we evaluate the moral status of another’s action by simulating the affective response that we would experience performing the action ourselves (Miller et al., 2014). Our results are consistent with the possibility that evaluative simulation also plays a role in judging the praiseworthiness of helpful actions.  If people evaluate helpful actions by simulating what it feels like to perform the action, then we would expect to see similar biases in moral evaluation as those that exist for moral action. Previous work has shown that individuals often do not act to maximize the benefits that others receive, but instead to maximize the good feelings associated with performing good deeds (Berman et al., 2018; Gesiarz & Crockett, 2015; Ribar & Wilhelm, 2002). Thus, the asymmetry in moral evaluation seen in the present studies may reflect a correspondence between first-person moral decision-making and third-person moral evaluation.

Download the pdf here.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

How Should AI Be Developed, Validated, and Implemented in Patient Care?

Michael Anderson and Susan Leigh Anderson
AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(2):E125-130.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2019.125.

Abstract

Should an artificial intelligence (AI) program that appears to have a better success rate than human pathologists be used to replace or augment humans in detecting cancer cells? We argue that some concerns—the “black-box” problem (ie, the unknowability of how output is derived from input) and automation bias (overreliance on clinical decision support systems)—are not significant from a patient’s perspective but that expertise in AI is required to properly evaluate test results.

Here is an excerpt:

Automation bias. Automation bias refers generally to a kind of complacency that sets in when a job once done by a health care professional is transferred to an AI program. We see nothing ethically or clinically wrong with automation, if the program achieves a virtually 100% success rate. If, however, the success rate is lower than that—92%, as in the case presented—it’s important that we have assurances that the program has quality input; in this case, that probably means that the AI program “learned” from a cross section of female patients of diverse ages and races. With diversity of input secured, what matters most, ethically and clinically, is that that the AI program has a higher cancer cell-detection success rate than human pathologists.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Ethical considerations on the complicity of psychologists and scientists in torture

Evans NG, Sisti DA, Moreno JD
Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps 
Published Online First: 20 February 2019.
doi: 10.1136/jramc-2018-001008

Abstract

Introduction 
The long-standing debate on medical complicity in torture has overlooked the complicity of cognitive scientists—psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists—in the practice of torture as a distinct phenomenon. In this paper, we identify the risk of the re-emergence of torture as a practice in the USA, and the complicity of cognitive scientists in these practices.

Methods 
We review arguments for physician complicity in torture. We argue that these defences fail to defend the complicity of cognitive scientists. We address objections to our account, and then provide recommendations for professional associations in resisting complicity in torture.

Results 
Arguments for cognitive scientist complicity in torture fail when those actions stem from the same reasons as physician complicity. Cognitive scientist involvement in the torture programme has, from the outset, been focused on the outcomes of interrogation rather than supportive care. Any possibility of a therapeutic relationship between cognitive therapists and detainees is fatally undermined by therapists’ complicity with torture.

Conclusion 
Professional associations ought to strengthen their commitment to refraining from engaging in any aspect of torture. They should also move to protect whistle-blowers against torture programmes who are members of their association. If the political institutions that are supposed to prevent the practice of torture are not strengthened, cognitive scientists should take collective action to compel intelligence agencies to refrain from torture.

4 Ways Lying Becomes the Norm at a Company

Ron Carucci
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted February 15, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Unjust accountability systems. When an organization’s processes for measuring employee contributions is perceived as unfair or unjust, we found it is 3.77 times more likely to have people withhold or distort information. We intentionally excluded compensation in our research, because incentive structures can sometimes play disproportionate roles in influencing behavior, and simply looked at how contribution was measured and evaluated through performance management systems, routine feedback processes, and cultural recognition. One interviewee captured a pervasive sentiment about how destructive these systems can be: “I don’t know why I work so hard. My boss doesn’t have a clue what I do. I fill out the appraisal forms at the end of the year, he signs them and sends them to HR. We pretend to have a discussion, and then we start over. It’s a rigged system.” Our study showed that when accountability processes are seen as unfair, people feel forced to embellish their accomplishments and hide, or make excuses for their shortfalls. That sets the stage for dishonest behavior. Research on organizational injustice shows a direct correlation between an employee’s sense of fairness and a conscious choice to sabotage the organization. And more recent research confirms that unfair comparison among employees leads directly to unethical behavior.

Fortunately, our statistical models show that even a 20% improvement in performance management consistency, as evidenced by employees belief that their contributions have been fairly assessed against known standards, can improve truth telling behavior by 12%.

The info is here.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

An ethical pathway for gene editing

Julian Savulescu & Peter Singer
Bioethics
First published January 29, 2019

Ethics is the study of what we ought to do; science is the study of how the world works. Ethics is essential to scientific research in defining the concepts we use (such as the concept of ‘medical need’), deciding which questions are worth addressing, and what we may do to sentient beings in research.

The central importance of ethics to science is exquisitely illustrated by the recent gene editing of two healthy embryos by the Chinese biophysicist He Jiankui, resulting in the birth of baby girls born this month, Lulu and Nana. A second pregnancy is underway with a different couple. To make the babies resistant to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), He edited out a gene (CCR5) that produces a protein which allows HIV to enter cells. One girl has both copies of the gene modified (and may be resistant to HIV), while the other has only one (making her still susceptible to HIV).

He Jiankui invited couples to take part in this experiment where the father was HIV positive and the mother HIV negative. He offered free in vitro fertilization (IVF) with sperm washing to avoid transmission of HIV. He also offered medical insurance, expenses and treatment capped at 280,000 RMB/CNY, equivalent to around $40,000. The package includes health insurance for the baby for an unspecified period. Medical expenses and compensation arising from any harm caused by the research were capped at 50,000 RMB/CNY ($7000 USD). He says this was from his own pocket. Although the parents were offered the choice of having either gene‐edited or ‐unedited embryos transferred, it is not clear whether they understood that editing was not necessary to protect their child from HIV, nor what pressure they felt under. There has been valid criticism of the process of obtaining informed consent.4 The information was complex and probably unintelligible to lay people.

The info is here.

Actions speak louder than outcomes in judgments of prosocial behavior.

Yudkin, D. A., Prosser, A. M. B., & Crockett, M. J. (2018).
Emotion. Advance online publication.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000514

Abstract

Recently proposed models of moral cognition suggest that people’s judgments of harmful acts are influenced by their consideration both of those acts’ consequences (“outcome value”), and of the feeling associated with their enactment (“action value”). Here we apply this framework to judgments of prosocial behavior, suggesting that people’s judgments of the praiseworthiness of good deeds are determined both by the benefit those deeds confer to others and by how good they feel to perform. Three experiments confirm this prediction. After developing a new measure to assess the extent to which praiseworthiness is influenced by action and outcome values, we show how these factors make significant and independent contributions to praiseworthiness. We also find that people are consistently more sensitive to action than to outcome value in judging the praiseworthiness of good deeds, but not harmful deeds. This observation echoes the finding that people are often insensitive to outcomes in their giving behavior. Overall, this research tests and validates a novel framework for understanding moral judgment, with implications for the motivations that underlie human altruism.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Professional ethics takes a team approach

Richard Kyte
Lacrosse Tribune
Originally posted February 24, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Why do some professions enjoy consistently high levels of trust while other professions rate low year after year?

Part of the answer may lie in the motivations of individuals within the professions. When I ask nursing students why they want to go into nursing, they invariably respond by saying they want to help others. Business students, by contrast, are more likely to be motivated by self-interest.

But motivation does not fully explain the reputational difference among professions. Most young people who go into ministry or politics also embark upon their careers with pro-social motivations. And my own experience of lawyers, bankers, real estate agents and car salespeople suggests that the individuals in those professions are just as trustworthy as anybody else.

If that is true, then what earns a profession a positive or negative reputation is not just the people in the profession but the way the profession is practiced. Especially important is the way different professions handle ethically problematic cases and circumstances.

The info is here.

Why Sexual Morality Doesn't Exist

Alan Goldman
iai.tv
Originally posted February 12, 2019

There is no such thing as sexual morality per se. Put less dramatically, there is no morality special to sex: no act is wrong simply because of its sexual nature. Sexual morality consists in moral considerations that are relevant elsewhere as well being applied to sexual activity or relations. This is because the proper concept of sexual activity is morally neutral. Sexual activity is that which fulfills sexual desire.  Sexual desire in its primary sense can be defined as desire for physical contact with another person’s body and for the pleasure that such contact brings. Masturbation or desire to view pornography are sexual activity and desire in a secondary sense, substitutes for normal sexual desire in its primary sense. Sex itself is not a moral category, although it places us in relations in which moral considerations apply. It gives us opportunity to do what is otherwise regarded as wrong: to harm, deceive, or manipulate others against their will.

As other philosophers point out, pleasure is normally a byproduct of successfully doing things not aimed at pleasure directly, but this is not the case with sex. Sexual desire aims directly at the pleasure derived from physical contact. Desire for physical contact in other contexts, for example contact sports, is not sexual because it has other motives (winning, exhibiting dominance, etc.), but sexual desire in itself has no other motive. It is not a desire to reproduce or to express love or other emotions, although sexual activity, like other activities, can express various emotions including love.

The info is here.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Atlanta child psychologist admits to molesting girl, posting it online

Ben Brasch and Kristal Dixon
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Originally posted February 15, 2019

A metro Atlanta psychologist who spent years counseling children will spend two decades in prison after violating the trust of those around him and molesting a pre-teen girl.

In a muffled voice, Jonathan Gersh, 38, admitted in a Cobb County court Friday that he took lewd pictures of the girl, which he put online and were viewed around the world.

Prosecutors said he also took cell phone pictures of children in bathing suits in public and offered to trade photos online. “These pictures are not baseball cards to be traded,” said Judge Steven Schuster.

Gersh’s charges included child molestation and child pornography, but Schuster said “I have a duty to the victim, the victim’s family and society to stop any form of what I perceive to be sex trafficking.”

Defense attorney Richard Grossman had asked the judge for five years in prison. Prosecutors asked for 18 years. Grossman said described his client’s actions as compulsive “voyeurism” and said Gersh “led an exemplary life” as a loving father who offered pro bono counseling to the community.

The info is here.

Sex robots are here, but laws aren’t keeping up with the ethical and privacy issues they raise

Francis Shen
The Conversation
Originally published February 12, 2019

Here is an except:

A brave new world

A fascinating question for me is how the current taboo on sex robots will ebb and flow over time.

There was a time, not so long ago, when humans attracted to the same sex felt embarrassed to make this public. Today, society is similarly ambivalent about the ethics of “digisexuality” – a phrase used to describe a number of human-technology intimate relationships. Will there be a time, not so far in the future, when humans attracted to robots will gladly announce their relationship with a machine?

No one knows the answer to this question. But I do know that sex robots are likely to be in the American market soon, and it is important to prepare for that reality. Imagining the laws governing sexbots is no longer a law professor hypothetical or science fiction.

The info is here.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Steven Mnuchin’s financial disclosures haven’t earned ethics officials’ blessing. What’s the hold-up?

Carrie Levine
The Center for Public Integrity
Originally published March 8, 2019

The executive branch’s chief ethics watchdogs have yet to certify Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s annual financial disclosure — an unusually lengthy delay in finalizing a document they’ve had for more than eight months.

While the Office of Government Ethics won’t publicly explain the holdup, an analysis of Mnuchin’s disclosure, which was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity, identified entries that outside ethics experts say could be the hitch.

The disclosure statement covers Mnuchin’s 2017 personal finances, and Treasury’s own ethics officials certified it after finding no conflicts of interest.

Some entries on Mnuchin’s 53-page form involve Stormchaser Partners LLC, a film production company owned by Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton.

Mnuchin’s ethics agreement, negotiated when he joined the government, required him to step down from the chairmanship of Stormchaser Partners and divest his own ownership interest in it within 90 days of his confirmation in February 2017. (Mnuchin also agreed to divest dozens of other assets that ethics officials said potentially presented conflicts of interest or the appearance of one.)

The info is here. 

The Parking Lot Suicide

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux.
The Washington Post
Originally published February 11, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Miller was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and suicidal thoughts when he checked into the Minneapolis Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in February 2018. After spending four days in the mental-health unit, Miller walked to his truck in VA’s parking lot and shot himself in the very place he went to find help.

“The fact that my brother, Justin, never left the VA parking lot — it’s infuriating,” said Harrington, 37. “He did the right thing; he went in for help. I just can’t get my head around it.”

A federal investigation into Miller’s death found that the Minneapolis VA made multiple errors: not scheduling a follow-up appointment, failing to communicate with his family about the treatment plan and inadequately assessing his access to firearms.

Several days after his death, Miller’s parents received a package from the Department of Veterans Affairs — bottles of antidepressants and sleep aids prescribed to Miller.

His death is among 19 suicides that occurred on VA campuses from October 2017 to November 2018, seven of them in parking lots, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

While studies show that every suicide is highly complex — influenced by genetics, financial uncertainty, relationship loss and other factors — mental-health experts worry that veterans taking their lives on VA property has become a desperate form of protest against a system that some veterans feel hasn’t helped them.

The most recent parking lot suicide occurred weeks before Christmas in St. Petersburg, Fla. Marine Col. Jim Turner, 55, dressed in his uniform blues and medals, sat on top of his military and VA records and killed himself with a rifle outside the Bay Pines Department of Veterans Affairs.

“I bet if you look at the 22 suicides a day you will see VA screwed up in 90%,” Turner wrote in a note investigators found near his body.

The info is here.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Rethinking Medical Ethics

Insights Team
Forbes.com
Originally posted February 11, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

In June 2018, the American Medical Association (AMA) issued its first guidelines for how to develop, use and regulate AI. (Notably, the association refers to AI as “augmented intelligence,” reflecting its belief that AI will enhance, not replace, the work of physicians.) Among its recommendations, the AMA says, AI tools should be designed to identify and address bias and avoid creating or exacerbating disparities in the treatment of vulnerable populations. Tools, it adds, should be transparent and protect patient privacy.

None of those recommendations will be easy to satisfy. Here is how medical practitioners, researchers, and medical ethicists are approaching some of the most pressing ethical challenges.

Avoiding Bias

In 2017, the data analytics team at University of Chicago Medicine (UCM) used AI to predict how long a patient might stay in the hospital. The goal was to identify patients who could be released early, freeing up hospital resources and providing relief for the patient. A case manager would then be assigned to help sort out insurance, make sure the patient had a ride home, and otherwise smooth the way for early discharge.

In testing the system, the team found that the most accurate predictor of a patient’s length of stay was his or her ZIP code. This immediately raised red flags for the team: ZIP codes, they knew, were strongly correlated with a patient’s race and socioeconomic status. Relying on them would disproportionately affect African-Americans from Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods, who tended to stay in the hospital longer. The team decided that using the algorithm to assign case managers would be biased and unethical.

The info is here.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Can AI Help Reduce Disparities in General Medical and Mental Health Care?

Irene Y. Chen, Peter Szolovits, and Marzyeh Ghassemi
AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(2):E167-179.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2019.167.

Abstract

Background: As machine learning becomes increasingly common in health care applications, concerns have been raised about bias in these systems’ data, algorithms, and recommendations. Simply put, as health care improves for some, it might not improve for all.

Methods: Two case studies are examined using a machine learning algorithm on unstructured clinical and psychiatric notes to predict intensive care unit (ICU) mortality and 30-day psychiatric readmission with respect to race, gender, and insurance payer type as a proxy for socioeconomic status.

Results: Clinical note topics and psychiatric note topics were heterogenous with respect to race, gender, and insurance payer type, which reflects known clinical findings. Differences in prediction accuracy and therefore machine bias are shown with respect to gender and insurance type for ICU mortality and with respect to insurance policy for psychiatric 30-day readmission.

Conclusions: This analysis can provide a framework for assessing and identifying disparate impacts of artificial intelligence in health care.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Seven moral rules found all around the world

University of Oxford
phys.org
Originally released February 12, 2019

Anthropologists at the University of Oxford have discovered what they believe to be seven universal moral rules.

The rules: help your family, help your group, return favours, be brave, defer to superiors, divide resources fairly, and respect others' property. These were found in a survey of 60 cultures from all around the world.

Previous studies have looked at some of these rules in some places – but none has looked at all of them in a large representative sample of societies. The present study, published in Current Anthropology, is the largest and most comprehensive cross-cultural survey of morals ever conducted.

The team from Oxford's Institute of Cognitive & Evolutionary Anthropology (part of the School of Anthropology & Museum Ethnography) analysed ethnographic accounts of ethics from 60 societies, comprising over 600,000 words from over 600 sources.

Dr. Oliver Scott Curry, lead author and senior researcher at the Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, said: "The debate between moral universalists and moral relativists has raged for centuries, but now we have some answers. People everywhere face a similar set of social problems, and use a similar set of moral rules to solve them. As predicted, these seven moral rules appear to be universal across cultures. Everyone everywhere shares a common moral code. All agree that cooperating, promoting the common good, is the right thing to do."

The study tested the theory that morality evolved to promote cooperation, and that – because there are many types of cooperation – there are many types of morality. According to this theory of 'morality as cooperation," kin selection explains why we feel a special duty of care for our families, and why we abhor incest. Mutualism explains why we form groups and coalitions (there is strength and safety in numbers), and hence why we value unity, solidarity, and loyalty. Social exchange explains why we trust others, reciprocate favours, feel guilt and gratitude, make amends, and forgive. And conflict resolution explains why we engage in costly displays of prowess such as bravery and generosity, why we defer to our superiors, why we divide disputed resources fairly, and why we recognise prior possession.

The information is here.

Is It Good to Cooperate? Testing the Theory of Morality-as-Cooperation in 60 Societies

Oliver Scott Curry, Daniel Austin Mullins, and Harvey Whitehouse
Current Anthropology
The paper is here.

Abstract

What is morality? And to what extent does it vary around the world? The theory of “morality-as-cooperation” argues that morality consists of a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation recurrent in human social life. Morality-as-cooperation draws on the theory of non-zero-sum games to identify distinct problems of cooperation and their solutions, and it predicts that specific forms of cooperative behavior—including helping kin, helping your group, reciprocating, being brave, deferring to superiors, dividing disputed resources, and respecting prior possession—will be considered morally good wherever they arise, in all cultures. To test these predictions, we investigate the moral valence of these seven cooperative behaviors in the ethnographic records of 60 societies. We find that the moral valence of these behaviors is uniformly positive, and the majority of these cooperative morals are observed in the majority of cultures, with equal frequency across all regions of the world. We conclude that these seven cooperative behaviors are plausible candidates for universal moral rules, and that morality-as-cooperation could provide the unified theory of morality that anthropology has hitherto lacked.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Prominent psychiatrist accused of sexually exploiting patients

Michael Rezendes
The Boston Globe
Originally posted February 21, 2019

A prominent North Shore psychiatrist is facing lawsuits from three female patients who say he lured them into degrading sexual relationships, including beatings, conversations about bondage, and, in one case, getting a tattoo of the doctor’s initials to show his “ownership” of her, according to court documents.

The women allege that Dr. Keith Ablow, an author who was a contributor to Fox News network until 2017, abused his position while treating them for acute depression, leaving them unable to trust authority figures and plagued with feelings of shame and self-recrimination.

“He began to hit me when we engaged in sexual activities,” wrote one plaintiff, a New York woman, in a sworn affidavit filed with her lawsuit. “He would have me on my knees and begin to beat me with his hands on my breasts,” she wrote, “occasionally saying, ‘I own you,’ or ‘You are my slave.’”

The malpractice lawsuits, two of them filed on Thursday in Essex Superior Court and a third filed last year, paint a picture of a therapist who encouraged women to trust and rely on him, then coaxed them into humiliating sexual activities, often during treatment sessions for which they were charged.

When the New York woman had trouble paying her therapy bills, she said, Ablow advised her to work as an escort or stripper because the work was lucrative.

Although the women used their real names in their lawsuits, the Globe is withholding their identities at their request.  The Globe does not identify alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent.

The info is here.

Supreme Court should adopt an ethics code

Robert H. Tembeckjian
Special to the Washington Post
Originally published February 23, 2019

During the contentious Supreme Court confirmation process for Brett Kavanaugh, and soon after he was confirmed on Oct. 6, dozens of ethics complaints against him were filed. All were dismissed on Dec. 18 by a federal judicial review panel, without investigation, because once Kavanaugh was elevated to the Supreme Court, he became immune to ethics oversight that applies to judges in lower courts.

Allegations that the review panel had deemed “serious” – that Kavanaugh had testified falsely during his confirmation hearings about his personal conduct and about his activities in the White House under President George W. Bush, and that he had displayed partisan bias and a lack of judicial temperament – went into ethical limbo.

The fate of the Kavanaugh complaints seems to have stirred House Democrats to action: The first bill introduced in the 116th Congress, H.R. 1, includes, along with provisions for voting rights and campaign finance reform, a measure to require the development of a judicial code of ethics that would apply to all federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts is on the record as opposing such a move. In 2011, he addressed it at some length in his year-end report on the federal judiciary. Roberts argued that the justices already adhere informally to some ethical strictures, and that the separation-of-powers doctrine precludes Congress from imposing such a mandate on the Supreme Court.

Roberts’ statement didn’t deter Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., from introducing legislation in 2013 and in subsequent sessions that would impose a code of ethics on the Supreme Court. Slaughter died last year. Her proposals never gained traction in Congress, and the current incarnation of the idea probably faces a steep challenge, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats controlling the House.

The info is here.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

A Pedophile Doctor Drew Suspicions for 21 Years. No One Stopped Him.

Christopher Weaver, Dan Frosch and Gabe Johnson
The Wall Street Journal
Originally posted February 8, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

An investigation by The Wall Street Journal and the PBS series Frontline found the IHS repeatedly missed or ignored warning signs, tried to silence whistleblowers and allowed Mr. Weber to continue treating children despite the suspicions of colleagues up and down the chain of command.

The investigation also found that the agency tolerated a number of problem doctors because it was desperate for medical staff, and that managers there believed they might face retaliation if they followed up on suspicions of abuse. The federal agency has long been criticized for providing inadequate care to Native Americans.

After a tribal prosecutor outside of the IHS finally investigated his crimes, Mr. Weber was indicted in 2017 and 2018 for sexually assaulting six patients in Montana and South Dakota. Court documents and interviews with former patients show that Mr. Weber plied teen boys with money, alcohol and sometimes opioids, and coerced them into oral and anal sex with him in hospital exam rooms and at his government housing unit.

“IHS, the local here, they want to just forget it happened,” said Pauletta Red Willow, a social-services worker on the Pine Ridge reservation. “You can’t ever forget how someone did our children wrong and affected us for generations to come.”

The info is here.

Stanford investigates links to scientist in baby gene-editing scandal

Guardian staff and agencies
The Guardian
Originally posted February 7, 2019

Stanford University has begun an investigation following claims some of its staff knew long ago of Chinese scientist He Jiankui’s plans to create the world’s first gene-edited babies.

A university official said a review was under way of interactions some faculty members had with He, who was educated at Stanford. Several professors including He’s former research adviser have said they knew or strongly suspected He wanted to try gene editing on embryos intended for pregnancy.

The genetic scientist sparked global outcry after he claimed in a video posted on YouTube in November 2018 that he had used the gene-editing tool Crispr-Cas9 to modify a particular gene in two embryos before they were placed in their mother’s womb. He – who works from a lab in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen – said the twin girls, known as Lulu and Nana, were born through regular IVF but using an egg that was modified before being inserted into the womb. He focused on HIV infection prevention because the girls’ father is HIV positive.

The info is here.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Former Ethics Chief Blasts Groups for Holding Events at Trump Hotel

Charles Clark
www.govexec.com
Originally posted March 4, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

“How many members of Congress, who have a constitutional duty to conduct meaningful oversight of the executive, giddily participate in events at the Trump International Hotel, a taxpayer owned landmark where Trump is his own landlord and the emoluments flow like the $35 martinis?” Shaub wrote.

The criticism of Kuwait was prompted by a letter tweeted earlier by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif. Kuwait's ambassador to Washington, Salem Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, had invited Lieu to the February celebration of Kuwait’s 58th National Day and 28th Liberation Day.

Lieu wrote the ambassador on Feb. 11 saying that while he looked forward to a continuing productive partnership, “Regrettably, the event will take place at the Trump International Hotel, which is owned by the President of the United States. I must therefore decline your invitation, as the Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 8) stipulates that no federal officeholders shall receive gifts or payments from foreign state or rulers without the consent of Congress.”

Lieu then warned the embassy that the issue raises “serious ethical and legal questions,” and that continuing to hold events “could amount to a violation of the U.S. Constitution.”

The info is here.

Call for retraction of 400 scientific papers amid fears organs came from Chinese prisoners

Melissa Davey
The Guardian
Originally published February 5, 2019

A world-first study has called for the mass retraction of more than 400 scientific papers on organ transplantation, amid fears the organs were obtained unethically from Chinese prisoners.

The Australian-led study exposes a mass failure of English language medical journals to comply with international ethical standards in place to ensure organ donors provide consent for transplantation.

The study was published on Wednesday in the medical journal BMJ Open. Its author, the professor of clinical ethics Wendy Rogers, said journals, researchers and clinicians who used the research were complicit in “barbaric” methods of organ procurement.

“There’s no real pressure from research leaders on China to be more transparent,” Rogers, from Macquarie University in Sydney, said. “Everyone seems to say, ‘It’s not our job’. The world’s silence on this barbaric issue must stop.”

A report published in 2016 found a large discrepancy between official transplant figures from the Chinese government and the number of transplants reported by hospitals. While the government says 10,000 transplants occur each year, hospital data shows between 60,000 to 100,000 organs are transplanted each year. The report provides evidence that this gap is being made up by executed prisoners of conscience.

The info is here.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Suicide rates at a record high, yet insurers still deny care

Patrick Kennedy and Jim Ramstad
thehill.com
Originally posted February 15, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reinforces the seriousness of our nation’s mental health crisis. Life expectancy is declining in a way we haven’t seen since World War. With more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in 2017 and suicides increasing by 33 percent since 1999, the message is clear: People are not getting the care they need. And for many, it’s a simple matter of access.

When the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, also known as the Federal Parity Law, passed in 2008, those of us who drafted and championed the bill knew that talking about mental health wasn’t enough — we needed to ensure access to care as well. Hence, the Federal Parity Law requires most insurers to cover illnesses of the brain, such as depression or addiction, no more restrictively than illnesses of the body, such as diabetes or cancer. We hoped it would remove the barriers that families like Sylvia’s often face when trying to get help.

It has been 10 years since the law passed and, unfortunately, too many Americans are still being denied coverage for mental health and addiction treatment. The reason? A lack of enforcement.

As things stand, the responsibility to challenge inadequate systems of care and illegal denials falls on patients, who are typically unaware of the law or are in the middle of a personal crisis. This isn’t right. Or sustainable. The responsibility for mental health equity should lie with insurers, not with patients or their providers. Insurers should be held accountable for parity before plans are sold.

The info is here.

Mental hospital accused of holding Texas patients against their will has filed for bankruptcy

Sarah Sarder
www.dallasnews.com
Originally posted February 12, 2019

A North Texas mental health institution with hospitals in Garland, Fort Worth and Arlington has filed for bankruptcy months after being indicted in a criminal case over illegally detaining patients.

Sundance Behavioral Healthcare System filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Thursday. The system faces 20 charges of violating state mental health codes after being indicted in November and December.

In December, Sundance stopped accepting patients at its hospitals and “voluntarily brought its patient count to zero,” its attorneys said.

The corporation announced that it had surrendered its license on Dec. 21 to the state. Attorneys said the hospital could not financially sustain its services in light of the court proceedings.

The info is here.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

When and why people think beliefs are “debunked” by scientific explanations for their origins

Dillon Plunkett, Lara Buchak, and Tania Lombrozo

Abstract

How do scientific explanations for beliefs affect people’s confidence in those beliefs? For example, do people think neuroscientific explanations for religious belief support or challenge belief in God? In five experiments, we find that the effects of scientific explanations for belief depend on whether the explanations imply normal or abnormal functioning (e.g., if a neural mechanism is doing what it evolved to do). Experiments 1 and 2 find that people think brain based explanations for religious, moral, and scientific beliefs corroborate those beliefs when the explanations invoke a normally functioning mechanism, but not an abnormally functioning mechanism. Experiment 3 demonstrates comparable effects for other kinds of scientific explanations (e.g., genetic explanations). Experiment 4 confirms that these effects derive from (im)proper functioning, not statistical (in)frequency. Experiment 5 suggests that these effects interact with people’s prior beliefs to produce motivated judgments: People are more skeptical of scientific explanations for their own beliefs if the explanations appeal to abnormal functioning, but they are less skeptical of scientific explanations of opposing beliefs if the explanations appeal to abnormal functioning. These findings suggest that people treat “normality” as a proxy for epistemic reliability and reveal that folk epistemic commitments shape attitudes towards scientific explanations.

The research is here.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Serious Ethical Violations in Medicine: A Statistical and Ethical Analysis of 280 Cases in the United States From 2008–2016

James M. DuBois, Emily E. Anderson, John T. Chibnall, Jessica Mozersky & Heidi A. Walsh (2019) The American Journal of Bioethics, 19:1, 16-34.
DOI: 10.1080/15265161.2018.1544305

Abstract

Serious ethical violations in medicine, such as sexual abuse, criminal prescribing of opioids, and unnecessary surgeries, directly harm patients and undermine trust in the profession of medicine. We review the literature on violations in medicine and present an analysis of 280 cases. Nearly all cases involved repeated instances (97%) of intentional wrongdoing (99%), by males (95%) in nonacademic medical settings (95%), with oversight problems (89%) and a selfish motive such as financial gain or sex (90%). More than half of cases involved a wrongdoer with a suspected personality disorder or substance use disorder (51%). Despite clear patterns, no factors provide readily observable red flags, making prevention difficult. Early identification and intervention in cases requires significant policy shifts that prioritize the safety of patients over physician interests in privacy, fair processes, and proportionate disciplinary actions. We explore a series of 10 questions regarding policy, oversight, discipline, and education options. Satisfactory answers to these questions will require input from diverse stakeholders to help society negotiate effective and ethically balanced solutions.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Ex-Bush ethics chief: GOP lawmaker 'should be arrested' for witness tampering

Aris Folley
TheHill.com
Originally posted February 27, 2019

Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration, called for the speedy arrest of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), accusing him of witness tampering hours after he issued what many perceived to be a threatening tweet directed at Michael Cohen on the eve of Cohen's public congressional testimony.

Gaetz drew sharp backlash on Tuesday after posting a tweet, which has since been deleted, that suggested Cohen had not been faithful to his wife and questioned whether his wife would remain faithful to him while he serves time in prison.

(cut)

Gaetz later issued an apology for the tweet after a number of legal experts and Democrats suggested the post may constitute witness tampering.

Gaetz sought to clarify that it was not his “intent to threaten” Cohen in his earlier tweet and added that “he should have chosen words that better showed my intent.”

The info is here.

Editor's Note: I guess I should not be shocked that nearly one thousand people retweeted a threat at time of this screen capture.  There were more.  Tribalism.......

Once-prominent 'conversion therapist' will now 'pursue life as a gay man'

Julie Compton
NBC News
Originally posted January 23, 2019

David Matheson, a once prominent Mormon “conversion therapist” who claims to have helped some gay men remain in heterosexual marriages, is looking for a boyfriend.

The revelation broke Sunday night after the LGBTQ nonprofit Truth Wins Out obtained a private Facebook post made by “conversion therapy” advocate Rich Wyler, which stated that Matheson “says that living a single, celibate life ‘just isn’t feasible for him,’ so he’s seeking a male partner.”

Matheson then confirmed Wyler’s assertions on Tuesday with a Facebook post of his own. “A year ago I realized I had to make substantial changes in my life. I realized I couldn’t stay in my marriage any longer. And I realized that it was time for me to affirm myself as gay,” he wrote.

Matheson, who was married to a woman for 34 years and is now divorced, also confirmed in an interview with NBC News that he is now dating men.

The info is here.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Should Watson Be Consulted for a Second Opinion?

David Luxton
AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(2):E131-137.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2019.131.

Abstract

This article discusses ethical responsibility and legal liability issues regarding use of IBM Watson™ for clinical decision making. In a case, a patient presents with symptoms of leukemia. Benefits and limitations of using Watson or other intelligent clinical decision-making tools are considered, along with precautions that should be taken before consulting artificially intelligent systems. Guidance for health care professionals and organizations using artificially intelligent tools to diagnose and to develop treatment recommendations are also offered.

Here is an excerpt:

Understanding Watson’s Limitations

There are precautions that should be taken into consideration before consulting Watson. First, it’s important for physicians such as Dr O to understand the technical challenges of accessing quality data that the system needs to analyze in order to derive recommendations. Idiosyncrasies in patient health care record systems is one culprit, causing missing or incomplete data. If some of the data that is available to Watson is inaccurate, then it could result in diagnosis and treatment recommendations that are flawed or at least inconsistent. An advantage of using a system such as Watson, however, is that it might be able to identify inconsistencies (such as those caused by human input error) that a human might otherwise overlook. Indeed, a primary benefit of systems such as Watson is that they can discover patterns that not even human experts might be aware of, and they can do so in an automated way. This automation has the potential to reduce uncertainty and improve patient outcomes.

‘Three Identical Strangers’: The high cost of experimentation without ethics

Barron H. Lerner
The Washington Post
Originally published January 27, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Injunctions against unethical research go back at least to the mid-19th century, when the French scientist Claude Bernard admonished his fellow investigators never to do an experiment that might harm a single person, even if the result would be highly advantageous to science and the health of others. Yet despite Bernard’s admonition, the next century was replete with experiments that put orphans, prisoners, minorities and other vulnerable populations at risk for the sake of scientific discovery. Medical progress often came at too high a human cost, something the CNN documentary exposes.

Human experimentation surged during World War II as American scientists raced to find treatments for diseases encountered on the battlefield. This experimental enthusiasm continued into the Cold War years, as the United States competed with the Soviet Union for scientific knowledge. In both eras, a utilitarian mind-set trumped concerns about research subjects.

That the experiments continued after the war was especially ironic given the response to the atrocities committed by Nazi physicians in concentration camps. There, doctors performed horrific experiments designed to help German soldiers who faced extreme conditions on the battlefield. This research included deliberately freezing inmates, forcing them to ingest only seawater and amputating their limbs.

The info is here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Business Ethics And Integrity: It Starts With The Tone At The Top

Betsy Atkins
Forbes.com
Originally posted 7, 2019

Here is the conclusion:

Transparency leads to empowerment:

Share your successes and your failures and look to everyone to help build a better company.  By including everyone, you create the illusive “we” that is the essence of company culture.  Transparency leads to a company culture that creates an outcome because the CEO creates a bigger purpose for the organization than just making money or reaching quarterly numbers.  Company culture guru Kenneth Kurtzman author of Common Purpose said it best when he said “CEOs need to know how to read their organizations’ emotional tone and need to engage behaviors that build trust including leading-by-listening, building bridges, showing compassion and caring, demonstrating their own commitment to the organization, and giving employees the authority to do their job while inspiring them to do their best work.”

There is no substitute for CEO leadership in creating a company culture of integrity.  A board that supports the CEO in building a company culture of integrity, transparency, and collaboration will be supporting a successful company.

The info is here.

How People Judge What Is Reasonable

Kevin P. Tobia
Alabama Law Review, Vol. 70, 293-359 (2018)

Abstract

A classic debate concerns whether reasonableness should be understood statistically (e.g., reasonableness is what is common) or prescriptively (e.g., reasonableness is what is good). This Article elaborates and defends a third possibility. Reasonableness is a partly statistical and partly prescriptive “hybrid,” reflecting both statistical and prescriptive considerations. Experiments reveal that people apply reasonableness as a hybrid concept, and the Article argues that a hybrid account offers the best general theory of reasonableness.

First, the Article investigates how ordinary people judge what is reasonable. Reasonableness sits at the core of countless legal standards, yet little work has investigated how ordinary people (i.e., potential jurors) actually make reasonableness judgments. Experiments reveal that judgments of reasonableness are systematically intermediate between judgments of the relevant average and ideal across numerous legal domains. For example, participants’ mean judgment of the legally reasonable number of weeks’ delay before a criminal trial (ten weeks) falls between the judged average (seventeen weeks) and ideal (seven weeks). So too for the reasonable number of days to accept a contract offer, the reasonable rate of attorneys’ fees, the reasonable loan interest rate, and the reasonable annual number of loud events on a football field in a residential neighborhood. Judgment of reasonableness is better predicted by both statistical and prescriptive factors than by either factor alone.

This Article uses this experimental discovery to develop a normative view of reasonableness. It elaborates an account of reasonableness as a hybrid standard, arguing that this view offers the best general theory of reasonableness, one that applies correctly across multiple legal domains. Moreover, this hybrid feature is the historical essence of legal reasonableness: the original use of the “reasonable person” and the “man on the Clapham omnibus” aimed to reflect both statistical and prescriptive considerations. Empirically, reasonableness is a hybrid judgment. And normatively, reasonableness should be applied as a hybrid standard.

The paper is here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Strengthening Our Science: AGU Launches Ethics and Equity Center

Robyn Bell
EOS.org
Originally published February 14, 2019

In the next century, our species will face a multitude of challenges. A diverse and inclusive community of researchers ready to lead the way is essential to solving these global-scale challenges. While Earth and space science has made many positive contributions to society over the past century, our community has suffered from a lack of diversity and a culture that tolerates unacceptable and divisive conduct. Bias, harassment, and discrimination create a hostile work climate, undermining the entire global scientific enterprise and its ability to benefit humanity.

As we considered how our Centennial can launch the next century of amazing Earth and space science, we focused on working with our community to build diverse, inclusive, and ethical workplaces where all participants are encouraged to develop their full potential. That’s why I’m so proud to announce the launch of the AGU Ethics and Equity Center, a new hub for comprehensive resources and tools designed to support our community across a range of topics linked to ethics and workplace excellence. The Center will provide resources to individual researchers, students, department heads, and institutional leaders. These resources are designed to help share and promote leading practices on issues ranging from building inclusive environments, to scientific publications and data management, to combating harassment, to example codes of conduct. AGU plans to transform our culture in scientific institutions so we can achieve inclusive excellence.

The info is here.

The Role of Emotion Regulation in Moral Judgment

Helion, C. & Ochsner, K.N.
Neuroethics (2018) 11: 297.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-016-9261-z

Abstract

Moral judgment has typically been characterized as a conflict between emotion and reason. In recent years, a central concern has been determining which process is the chief contributor to moral behavior. While classic moral theorists claimed that moral evaluations stem from consciously controlled cognitive processes, recent research indicates that affective processes may be driving moral behavior. Here, we propose a new way of thinking about emotion within the context of moral judgment, one in which affect is generated and transformed by both automatic and controlled processes, and moral evaluations are shifted accordingly. We begin with a review of how existing theories in psychology and neuroscience address the interaction between emotion and cognition, and how these theories may inform the study of moral judgment. We then describe how brain regions involved in both affective processing and moral judgment overlap and may make distinct contributions to the moral evaluation process. Finally, we discuss how this way of thinking about emotion can be reconciled with current theories in moral psychology before mapping out future directions in the study of moral behavior.

Here is an excerpt:

Individuals may up- or down- regulate their automatic emotional responses to moral stimuli in a way that encourages goal-consistent behavior. For example, individuals may down-regulate their disgust when evaluating dilemmas in which disgusting acts occurred but no one was harmed, or they may up-regulate anger when engaging in punishment or assigning blame. To observe this effect in the wild, one need go no further than the modern political arena. Someone who is politically liberal may be as disgusted by the thought of two men kissing as someone who is politically conservative, but may choose to down-regulate their response so that it is more in line with their political views [44]. They can do this in multiple ways, including reframing the situation as one about equality and fairness, construing the act as one of love and affection, or manipulating personal relevance by thinking about homosexual individuals whom the person knows. This affective transformation would rely on controlled emotional processes that shape the initial automatically elicited emotion (disgust) into a very different emotion (tolerance or acceptance). This process requires motivation, recognition (conscious or non-conscious) that one is experiencing an emotion that is in conflict with ones goals and ideals, and a reconstruction of the situation and one’s emotions in order to come to a moral resolution. Comparatively, political conservatives may be less motivated to do so, and may instead up-regulate their disgust response so that their moral judgment is in line with their overarching goals. In contrast, the opposite regulatory pattern may occur (such that liberals up-regulate emotion and conservatives down-regulate emotion) when considering issues like the death penalty or gun control.

Monday, February 25, 2019

A philosopher’s life

Margaret Nagle
UMaineToday
Fall/Winter 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Mention philosophy and for most people, images of the bearded philosophers of Ancient Greece pontificating in the marketplace come to mind. Today, philosophers are still in public arenas, Miller says, but now that engagement with society is in K–12 education, medicine, government, corporations, environmental issues and so much more. Public philosophers are students of community knowledge, learning as much as they teach.

The field of clinical ethics, which helps patients, families and clinicians address ethical issues that arise in health care, emerged in recent decades as medical decisions became more complex in an increasingly technological society. Those questions can range from when to stop aggressive medical intervention to whether expressed breast milk from a patient who uses medical marijuana should be given to her baby in the neonatal intensive care unit.

As a clinical ethicist, Miller provides training and consultation for physicians, nurses and other medical personnel. She also may be called on to consult with patients and their family members. Unlike urban areas where a city hospital may have a whole department devoted to clinical ethics, rural health care settings often struggle to find such philosophy-focused resources.

That’s why Miller does what she does in Maine.

Miller focuses on “building clinical ethics capacity” in the state’s rural health care settings, providing training, connecting hospital personnel to readings and resources, and facilitating opportunities to maintain ongoing exploration of critical issues.

The article is here.

Information Processing Biases in the Brain: Implications for Decision-Making and Self-Governance

Sali, A.W., Anderson, B.A. & Courtney, S.M.
Neuroethics (2018) 11: 259.
https://doi.org/10.1007/s12152-016-9251-1

Abstract

To make behavioral choices that are in line with our goals and our moral beliefs, we need to gather and consider information about our current situation. Most information present in our environment is not relevant to the choices we need or would want to make and thus could interfere with our ability to behave in ways that reflect our underlying values. Certain sources of information could even lead us to make choices we later regret, and thus it would be beneficial to be able to ignore that information. Our ability to exert successful self-governance depends on our ability to attend to sources of information that we deem important to our decision-making processes. We generally assume that, at any moment, we have the ability to choose what we pay attention to. However, recent research indicates that what we pay attention to is influenced by our prior experiences, including reward history and past successes and failures, even when we are not aware of this history. Even momentary distractions can cause us to miss or discount information that should have a greater influence on our decisions given our values. Such biases in attention thus raise questions about the degree to which the choices that we make may be poorly informed and not truly reflect our ability to otherwise exert self-governance.

Here is part of the Conclusion:

In order to consistently make decisions that reflect our goals and values, we need to gather the information necessary to guide these decisions, and ignore information that is irrelevant. Although the momentary acquisition of irrelevant information will not likely change our goals, biases in attentional selection may still profoundly influence behavioral outcomes, tipping the balance between competing options when faced with a single goal (e.g., save the least competent swimmer) or between simultaneously competing goals (e.g., relieve drug craving and withdrawal symptoms vs. maintain abstinence). An important component of self-governance might, therefore, be the ability to exert control over how we represent our world as we consider different potential courses of action.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Biased algorithms: here’s a more radical approach to creating fairness

Tom Douglas
theconversation.com
Originally posted January 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

What’s fair?

AI researchers concerned about fairness have, for the most part, been focused on developing algorithms that are procedurally fair – fair by virtue of the features of the algorithms themselves, not the effects of their deployment. But what if it’s substantive fairness that really matters?

There is usually a tension between procedural fairness and accuracy – attempts to achieve the most commonly advocated forms of procedural fairness increase the algorithm’s overall error rate. Take the COMPAS algorithm for example. If we equalised the false positive rates between black and white people by ignoring the predictors of recidivism that tended to be disproportionately possessed by black people, the likely result would be a loss in overall accuracy, with more people wrongly predicted to re-offend, or not re-offend.

We could avoid these difficulties if we focused on substantive rather than procedural fairness and simply designed algorithms to maximise accuracy, while simultaneously blocking or compensating for any substantively unfair effects that these algorithms might have. For example, instead of trying to ensure that crime prediction errors affect different racial groups equally – a goal that may in any case be unattainable – we could instead ensure that these algorithms are not used in ways that disadvantage those at high risk. We could offer people deemed “high risk” rehabilitative treatments rather than, say, subjecting them to further incarceration.

The info is here.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

The Psychology of Morality: A Review and Analysis of Empirical Studies Published From 1940 Through 2017

Naomi Ellemers, Jojanneke van der Toorn, Yavor Paunov, and Thed van Leeuwen
Personality and Social Psychology Review, 1–35

Abstract

We review empirical research on (social) psychology of morality to identify which issues and relations are well documented by existing data and which areas of inquiry are in need of further empirical evidence. An electronic literature search yielded a total of 1,278 relevant research articles published from 1940 through 2017. These were subjected to expert content analysis and standardized bibliometric analysis to classify research questions and relate these to (trends in) empirical approaches that characterize research on morality. We categorize the research questions addressed in this literature into five different themes and consider how empirical approaches within each of these themes have addressed psychological antecedents and implications of moral behavior. We conclude that some key features of theoretical questions relating to human morality are not systematically captured in empirical research and are in need of further investigation.

Here is a portion of the article:

In sum, research on moral behavior demonstrates that people can be highly motivated to behave morally. Yet, personal convictions, social rules and normative pressures from others, or motivational lapses may all induce behavior that is not considered moral by others and invite self-justifying
responses to maintain moral self-views.

The review article can be downloaded here.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Choices

Christy Shake
Calvin's Story Blog
Originally published February 13, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

If Michael and I had known early on of Calvin's malformed brain, and had we known the dreadful extent to which it might impact his well-being and quality of life, his development, cognition, coordination, communication, vision, ability to move about and function independently, and his increased odds of having unstoppable seizures, or of being abused by caregivers, would we have chosen to terminate my pregnancy? I really can't say. But one thing I do know with certainty: it is torturous to see Calvin suffer on a daily basis, to see him seize repeatedly, sometimes for several consecutive days, bite his cheek so bad it bleeds, see terror in his eyes and malaise on his face, be a veritable guinea pig for neurologists and me, endure the miseries of antiepileptic drugs and their heinous side effects, to see him hurt so needlessly.

Especially during rough stints, it's hard not to imagine how life might have been—perhaps easier, calmer, happier, less restricted, less anxious, less heartbreaking—if Calvin had never come into this world. One moment I lament his existence and the next I wonder what I would do without him. And though Calvin brings me immense joy at times, and though he is as precious to me as any mother's child could be, our lives have been profoundly strained by his existence. All three of us suffer, but none more than our sweet Calvin. Life with him, worrying about and watching him endure his maladies—despite, or perhaps owing to, the fact I love him immeasurably—is such a painful and burdensome endeavor that at times I regret ever deciding to have a child.

The blog post is here.

Facebook Backs University AI Ethics Institute With $7.5 Million

Sam Shead
Forbes.com
Originally posted January 20, 2019

Facebook is backing an AI ethics institute at the Technical University of Munich with $7.5 million.

The TUM Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence, which was announced on Sunday, will aim to explore fundamental issues affecting the use and impact of AI, Facebook said.

AI is poised to have a profound impact on areas like climate change and healthcare but it has its risks.

"We will explore the ethical issues of AI and develop ethical guidelines for the responsible use of the technology in society and the economy. Our evidence-based research will address issues that lie at the interface of technology and human values," said TUM Professor Dr. Christoph Lütge, who will lead the institute.

"Core questions arise around trust, privacy, fairness or inclusion, for example, when people leave data traces on the internet or receive certain information by way of algorithms. We will also deal with transparency and accountability, for example in medical treatment scenarios, or with rights and autonomy in human decision-making in situations of human-AI interaction."

The info is here.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Federal ethics agency refuses to certify financial disclosure from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

Wilbur RossJeff Daniels
CNBC.com
Originally published February 19, 2019

The government's top ethics watchdog disclosed Tuesday that it had refused to certify a financial disclosure report from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

In a filing, the Office of Government Ethics said it wouldn't certify the 2018 annual filing by Ross because he didn't divest stock in a bank despite stating otherwise. The move could have legal ramifications for Ross and add to pressure for a federal probe.

"The report is not certified," OGE Director Emory Rounds said in a filing, explaining that a previous document the watchdog received from Ross indicated he "no longer held BankUnited stock." However, Rounds said an Oct. 31 document "demonstrates that he did" still hold the shares and as a result, "the filer was therefore not in compliance with his ethics agreement at the time of the report."

A federal ethics agreement required that Ross divest stock worth between $1,000 and $15,000 in BankUnited by the end of May 2017, or within 90 days of the Senate confirming him to the Commerce post. He previously reported selling the stock twice, first in May 2017 and again in August 2018 as part of an annual disclosure required by OGE.

The info is here.

Court awards $1.5 million to Anniston couple who lost custody of child

Tim Lockette
The Anniston Star
Originally posted December 13, 2018

A Calhoun County jury ordered a psychologist to pay $1.5 million in damages to a couple who lost custody of their child following the psychologist’s evaluation of them.

John and Farrah Lynn were Anniston residents in 2014, when the Department of Human Resources placed their infant son Oliver in foster care. Oliver Lynn, who had been born with a birth defect, died a little more than a month later.

“Everybody, even DHR, said there was nothing wrong with this family,” said the couple’s lawyer, George Monk. “Only the psychologist objected.”

According to court documents, Oliver Lynn’s birth defect required surgery at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham. The hospital contacted DHR before the infant was released back to the Lynns, setting up an in-home visit to determine whether the Lynns were able to care for the child while he was recovering from surgery.

Social workers found no problem at the Lynns’ Anniston home, Monk said, but did request a psychological assessment of both parents. Dennis Sizelove, a clinical psychologist and owner of Faith-Based Psychological Associates in Sheffield, examined both John and Farrah Lynn.

Sizelove recommended removing the child from the home, citing “occupational, social, and emotional functioning” that put the infant at risk of harm. Sizelove also noted a “self-reported inability to read” on behalf of both the parents.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Precision medicine’s rosy predictions haven’t come true. We need fewer promises and more debate

Michael Joyner and Nigel Paneth
STATnews.com
Originally published February 7, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

While we are occasionally told that we are Luddites or nihilists (generally without much debate of the merits of our position), the most frequent communications we receive have been along the lines of “I agree with you, but can’t speak up publicly for fear of losing my grants, alienating powerful people, or upsetting my dean.” This atmosphere cannot be good for the culture of science.

We are calling for an open debate, in all centers of biomedical research, about the best way forward, and about whether precision medicine is really the most promising avenue for progress. It is time for precision medicine supporters to engage in debate — to go beyond asserting the truism that all individuals are unique, and that the increase in the volume of health data and measurements combined with the decline in the cost of studying the genome constitute sufficient argument for the adoption of the precision medicine program.

Enthusiasts of precision medicine must stop evading the tough questions we raise. The two of us have learned enormously from the free and open exchange of ideas among our small band of dissenters, and we look forward to a vigorous debate engaging an ever-larger fraction of the scientific community.

The info is here.

Why Won’t John Roberts Accept an Ethics Code for Supreme Court Justices?

Steven Lubet
Slate.com
Originally posted January 16, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Chief Justice John Roberts addressed the anomaly of the missing ethics code in his 2011 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary, acknowledging that the lower courts’ code is a good “starting point” for ethics inquiries. Nonetheless, he asserted that there is “no reason” to adopt a SCOTUS code because members of his court consult a wide variety of other sources for guidance. In addition, Roberts noted that current iterations of the judicial code do “not adequately answer some of the ethical considerations unique to the Supreme Court,” and that “no compilation of ethical rules can guarantee integrity.”

The chief justice’s observations are all reasonable, but they do not begin to justify the absence of a Supreme Court code. Nearly all of his explanations apply with equal force to every other court in the U.S., and yet those courts have, without exception, adopted written codes. It is true, of course, that no “compilation” of rules can guarantee compliance, but the same could be said for all other codes, ranging from the Bill of Rights to the Ten Commandments. He is right that existing judicial codes do not address issues “unique to the Supreme Court,” but that is why the proposed legislation allows “provisions that are applicable only” to SCOTUS justices.

The info is here.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Even psychological placebos have an effect

University of Basel Press Release
Published February 5, 2019

Psychotherapy and placebos are both psychological interventions that not only have comparable effects, but that are also based on very similar mechanisms. Both forms of treatment are heavily influenced by the relationship between patients and those treating them, as well as by the expectations of recovery. Whereas placebo research mostly focuses on a biomedical model – an inert pill is provided with a medical rationale, which produces a corresponding effect – little is known about the effect of placebos provided with a psychological rationale.

“Green is calming”

Placebos can also have effects when specific psychological effects are attributed to them. This is the conclusion that researchers from the Division of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at the University of Basel reached in three independent experiments with 421 healthy participants. The accompanying explanation – the narrative – played a key role when dispensing the placebos, as did the relationship between the researchers and the participants.

The researchers used the color green as the placebo in the video experiments, examining it both with and without a psychological narrative (“green is calming because it activates early conditioned emotional schemata”), as well as in the context of a neutral or a friendly relationship.

After viewing the videos, the participants assessed their subjective condition with questionnaires over several days. The results showed that the placebo had a positive effect on the participants’ well-being when it was prescribed together with a psychological narrative and in the context of a friendly relationship. The observed effect was strongest after administering the placebo but remained evident for up to one week.

Ethical implications

“The observed effects were comparable with those of psychotherapeutic interventions in the same populations,” says principal investigator Professor Jens Gaab. The fact that psychological placebos can have significant effects is not only important for understanding psychological interventions: “It challenges both research and clinical practice to address these mechanisms and effects, as well as their ethical implications.”

The pressor is here

How Our Attitude Influences Our Sense Of Morality

Konrad Bocian
Science Trend
Originally posted January 18, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

People think that their moral judgment is as rational and objective as scientific statements, but science does not confirm that belief. Within the two last decades, scholars interested in moral psychology discovered that people produce moral judgments based on fast and automatic intuitions than rational and controlled reasoning. For example, moral cognition research showed that moral judgments arise in approximately 250 milliseconds, and even then we are not able to explain them. Developmental psychologists proved that at already the age of 3 months, babies who do not have any lingual skills can distinguish a good protagonist (a helping one) from a bad one (a hindering one). But this does not mean that peoples’ moral judgments are based solely on intuitions. We can use deliberative processes when conditions are favorable – when we are both motivated to engage in and capable of conscious responding.

When we imagine how we would morally judge other people in a specific situation, we refer to actual rules and norms. If the laws are violated, the act itself is immoral. But we forget that intuitive reasoning also plays a role in forming a moral judgment. It is easy to condemn the librarian when our interest is involved on paper, but the whole picture changes when real money is on the table. We have known that rule for a very long time, but we still forget to use it when we predict our moral judgments.

Based on previous research on the intuitive nature of moral judgment, we decided to test how far our attitudes can impact our perception of morality. In our daily life, we meet a lot of people who are to some degree familiar, and we either have a positive or negative attitude toward these people.

The info is here.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Trump lawyers may have given false info about Cohen payments

Tal Axelrod
thehill.com
Originally posted February 15, 2019

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said Friday the panel believes two attorneys for President Trump may have given false information to government ethics officials.

Cummings said the panel has reviewed newly uncovered documents from the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) suggesting Trump's personal lawyer Sheri Dillon and former White House lawyer Stefan Passantino gave false info about hush-money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal.

“It now appears that President Trump’s other attorneys — at the White House and in private practice — may have provided false information about these payments to federal officials,” Cummings wrote in a letter to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.

Cummings said Dillon “repeatedly stated to federal officials at OGE that President Trump never owed any money to Mr. Cohen in 2016 and 2017” and Passantino falsely told officials that Trump and his former lawyer Michael Cohen had a “retainer agreement.”

The info is here.

State ethics director resigns after porn, misconduct allegations

Richard Belcher
WSB-TV2
Originally published February 8, 2019

The director of the state Ethics Commission has resigned -- with a $45,000 severance -- and it’s still unknown whether accusations against him have been substantiated.

In January, Channel 2 Action News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke the story that staff members at the Ethics Commission wrote letters accusing Stefan Ritter of poor work habits and of watching pornography in the office.

Ritter was placed on leave with pay to allow time to investigate the complaints.

Ritter continued to draw his $181,000 salary while the accusations against him were investigated, but he and the commission cut a deal before the investigation was over.

The info is here.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Physician burnout now essentially a public health crisis

Priyanka Dayal McCluskey
Boston Globe
Originally posted January 17, 2019

Physician burnout has reached alarming levels and now amounts to a public health crisis that threatens to undermine the doctor-patient relationship and the delivery of health care nationwide, according to a report from Massachusetts doctors to be released Thursday.

The report — from the Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association, and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health — portrays a profession struggling with the unyielding demands of electronic health record systems and ever-growing regulatory burdens.

It urges hospitals and medical practices to take immediate action by putting senior executives in charge of physician well-being and by giving doctors better access to mental health services. The report also calls for significant changes to make health record systems more user-friendly.

While burnout has long been a worry in the profession, the report reflects a newer phenomenon — the draining documentation and data entry now required of doctors. Today’s electronic record systems are so complex that a simple task, such as ordering a prescription, can take many clicks.

The info is here.