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

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

Thursday, 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.


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
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)


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
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.


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
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.


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
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


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


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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

There’s No Such Thing as Free Will

Stephen Cave
The Atlantic
Originally published June 2016

Here is an excerpt:

What is new, though, is the spread of free-will skepticism beyond the laboratories and into the mainstream. The number of court cases, for example, that use evidence from neuroscience has more than doubled in the past decade—mostly in the context of defendants arguing that their brain made them do it. And many people are absorbing this message in other contexts, too, at least judging by the number of books and articles purporting to explain “your brain on” everything from music to magic. Determinism, to one degree or another, is gaining popular currency. The skeptics are in ascendance.

This development raises uncomfortable—and increasingly nontheoretical—questions: If moral responsibility depends on faith in our own agency, then as belief in determinism spreads, will we become morally irresponsible? And if we increasingly see belief in free will as a delusion, what will happen to all those institutions that are based on it?


Determinism not only undermines blame, Smilansky argues; it also undermines praise. Imagine I do risk my life by jumping into enemy territory to perform a daring mission. Afterward, people will say that I had no choice, that my feats were merely, in Smilansky’s phrase, “an unfolding of the given,” and therefore hardly praiseworthy. And just as undermining blame would remove an obstacle to acting wickedly, so undermining praise would remove an incentive to do good. Our heroes would seem less inspiring, he argues, our achievements less noteworthy, and soon we would sink into decadence and despondency.

The info is here.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Economic Effects of Facebook

Mosquera, Roberto,  Odunowo, Mofioluwasademi, and others
December 1, 2018.


Social media permeates many aspects of our lives, including how we connect with others, where we get our news and how we spend our time. Yet, we know little about the economic effects for users. Using a large field experiment with over 1,765 individuals, we document the value of Facebook to users and its causal effect on news consumption and awareness, well-being and daily activities. Participants reveal how much they value one week of Facebook usage and are then randomly assigned to a validated Facebook restriction or normal use. Those who are off Facebook for a week reduce news consumption, are less likely to recognize politically-skewed news stories, report being less depressed and engage in healthier activities. One week of Facebook is worth $25, and this increases by 15% after experiencing a Facebook restriction (26% for women), reflecting information loss or that using Facebook may be addictive.

Ethical/Clinical Question: Knowing this research, is it ethical and clinically appropriate to recommend depressed patients to stop using Facebook?

‘Science and the Good’ Review: The Anatomy of Morality

Julian Baggini
The Wall Street Journal
Originally published Jan. 15, 2019

Here is the conclusion of this book review:

But the authors’ core idea here—that if morality lacks some ultimate, non-natural basis, then it isn’t really morality—is a hangover from a Christian-Platonic way of thinking. For evidence that there is another way, look to China. There the ethics of an entire civilization has for millennia been based on a Confucian philosophy that concerns itself with how we live good lives and create an orderly society in the here and now—without pointing to a metaphysical realm for justification. Messrs. Hunter and Nedelisky rule out the possibility that what we understand as morality in the West might be revisable without our losing what is most essential about it.

They are right, however, to warn that such a deflated morality—concerned primarily with the pragmatics of social harmony—risks becoming a “sophisticated intellectualization for our pervasive regime of instrumental rationality.” Their important and timely book reminds us that ethics at its best challenges rather than justifies the status quo, which is why a purely descriptive science of ethics is never enough.

The info is here.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Sex talks

Rebecca Kukla
Originally posted February 4, 2019

Communication is essential to ethical sex. Typically, our public discussions focus on only one narrow kind of communication: requests for sex followed by consent or refusal. But notice that we use language and communication in a wide variety of ways in negotiating sex. We flirt and rebuff, express curiosity and repulsion, and articulate fantasies. Ideally, we talk about what kind of sex we want to have, involving which activities, and what we like and don’t like. We settle whether or not we are going to have sex at all, and when we want to stop. We check in with one another and talk dirty to one another during sex. 

In this essay I explore the language of sexual negotiation. My specific interest is in what philosophers call the ‘pragmatics’ of speech. That is, I am less interested in what words mean than I am in how speaking can be understood as a kind of action that has a pragmatic effect on the world. Philosophers who specialise in what is known as ‘speech act theory’ focus on what an act of speaking accomplishes, as opposed to what its words mean. J L Austin developed this way of thinking about the different things that speech can do in his classic book, How To Do Things With Words (1962), and many philosophers of language have developed the idea since.

The info is here.

Happy Valentine's Day

Can artificial intelligences be moral agents?

Bartosz Brożek and Bartosz Janik
New Ideas in Psychology
Available online 8 January 2019


The paper addresses the question whether artificial intelligences can be moral agents. We begin by observing that philosophical accounts of moral agency, in particular Kantianism and utilitarianism, are very abstract theoretical constructions: no human being can ever be a Kantian or a utilitarian moral agent. Ironically, it is easier for a machine to approximate this idealised type of agency than it is for homo sapiens. We then proceed to outline the structure of human moral practices. Against this background, we identify two conditions of moral agency: internal and external. We argue further that the existing AI architectures are unable to meet the two conditions. In consequence, machines - at least at the current stage of their development - cannot be considered moral agents.

Here is the conclusion:

The second failure of the artificial agents - to meet the internal condition of moral agency - is connected to the fact that their behaviour is not emotion driven. This makes it impossible for them to fully take part in moral practices. A Kantian or a Benthamian machine, acting on a set of abstract rules, would simply be no fit for the complex, culture-dependent and intuition-based practices of any particular community. Finally, both failures are connected: the more human-like machines become, i.e. the more capable they are of fully participating in moral practices, the more likely it is that they will also be recognised as moral agents.

The info is here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Former San Diego psychiatrist won't see jail time after admitting to sexual contact with patients

Mark Saunders
Originally posted January 18, 2019

A former San Diego County psychiatrist who admitted to having sexual contact with seven female patients during office visits and sexual battery will not see any jail time.

Leon Fajerman, 75, was not sentenced to any jail time during his sentencing hearing Friday. Instead, the judge ordered Fajerman to serve house arrest for a year, pay an undetermined amount of restitution, and he must register as a sex offender.

He is eligible to have an ankle bracelet removed after six months of house arrest, pending good behavior.

Friday, victim impact statement's were read in court by the victims' attorney, who called the sentencing of no jail time absurd. Jessica Pride, an attorney representing two victims said they suffered from, “post-traumatic stress disorder, they are also suffering from anxiety, night terrors, insomnia, suicidal ideations.”

The info is here.

The Art of Decision-Making

Joshua Rothman
The New Yorker
Originally published January 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

For centuries, philosophers have tried to understand how we make decisions and, by extension, what makes any given decision sound or unsound, rational or irrational. “Decision theory,” the destination on which they’ve converged, has tended to hold that sound decisions flow from values. Faced with a choice—should we major in economics or in art history?—we first ask ourselves what we value, then seek to maximize that value.

From this perspective, a decision is essentially a value-maximizing equation. If you’re going out and can’t decide whether to take an umbrella, you could come to a decision by following a formula that assigns weights to the probability of rain, the pleasure you’ll feel in strolling unencumbered, and the displeasure you’ll feel if you get wet. Most decisions are more complex than this, but the promise of decision theory is that there’s a formula for everything, from launching a raid in Abbottabad to digging an oil well in the North Sea. Plug in your values, and the right choice pops out.

In recent decades, some philosophers have grown dissatisfied with decision theory. They point out that it becomes less useful when we’re unsure what we care about, or when we anticipate that what we care about might shift.

The info is here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

How to tell the difference between persuasion and manipulation

Robert Noggle
Originally published August 1, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

It appears, then, that whether an influence is manipulative depends on how it is being used. Iago’s actions are manipulative and wrong because they are intended to get Othello to think and feel the wrong things. Iago knows that Othello has no reason to be jealous, but he gets Othello to feel jealous anyway. This is the emotional analogue to the deception that Iago also practises when he arranges matters (eg, the dropped handkerchief) to trick Othello into forming beliefs that Iago knows are false. Manipulative gaslighting occurs when the manipulator tricks another into distrusting what the manipulator recognises to be sound judgment. By contrast, advising an angry friend to avoid making snap judgments before cooling off is not acting manipulatively, if you know that your friend’s judgment really is temporarily unsound. When a conman tries to get you to feel empathy for a non-existent Nigerian prince, he acts manipulatively because he knows that it would be a mistake to feel empathy for someone who does not exist. Yet a sincere appeal to empathy for real people suffering undeserved misery is moral persuasion rather than manipulation. When an abusive partner tries to make you feel guilty for suspecting him of the infidelity that he just committed, he is acting manipulatively because he is trying to induce misplaced guilt. But when a friend makes you feel an appropriate amount of guilt over having deserted him in his hour of need, this does not seem manipulative.

The info is here.

Certain Moral Values May Lead to More Prejudice, Discrimination

American Psychological Association Pressor
Released December 20, 2018

People who value following purity rules over caring for others are more likely to view gay and transgender people as less human, which leads to more prejudice and support for discriminatory public policies, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“After the Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality and the debate over bathroom rights for transgender people, we realized that the arguments were often not about facts but about opposing moral beliefs,” said Andrew E. Monroe, PhD, of Appalachian State University and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General®.

“Thus, we wanted to understand if moral values were an underlying cause of prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

Monroe and his co-author, Ashby Plant, PhD, of Florida State University, focused on two specific moral values — what they called sanctity, or a strict adherence to purity rules and disgust over any acts that are considered morally contaminating, and care, which centers on disapproval of others who cause suffering without just cause — because they predicted those values might be behind the often-heated debates over LGBTQ rights. 

The researchers conducted five experiments with nearly 1,100 participants. Overall, they found that people who prioritized sanctity over care were more likely to believe that gay and transgender people, people with AIDS and prostitutes were more impulsive, less rational and, therefore, something less than human. These attitudes increased prejudice and acceptance of discriminatory public policies, according to Monroe.

The info is here.

The research is here.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Recent events highlight an unpleasant scientific practice: ethics dumping

Science and Technology
The Economist
Originally published January 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Ethics dumping is the carrying out by researchers from one country (usually rich, and with strict regulations) in another (usually less well off, and with laxer laws) of an experiment that would not be permitted at home, or of one that might be permitted, but in a way that would be frowned on. The most worrisome cases involve medical research, in which health, and possibly lives, are at stake. But other investigations—anthropological ones, for example—may also be carried out in a more cavalier fashion abroad. As science becomes more international the risk of ethics dumping, both intentional and unintentional, has risen. The suggestion in this case is that Dr He was encouraged and assisted in his project by a researcher at an American university.

Escape the echo chamber

By C Thi Nguyen
Originally posted April 9, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Epistemic bubbles also threaten us with a second danger: excessive self-confidence. In a bubble, we will encounter exaggerated amounts of agreement and suppressed levels of disagreement. We’re vulnerable because, in general, we actually have very good reason to pay attention to whether other people agree or disagree with us. Looking to others for corroboration is a basic method for checking whether one has reasoned well or badly. This is why we might do our homework in study groups, and have different laboratories repeat experiments. But not all forms of corroboration are meaningful. Ludwig Wittgenstein says: imagine looking through a stack of identical newspapers and treating each next newspaper headline as yet another reason to increase your confidence. This is obviously a mistake. The fact that The New York Times reports something is a reason to believe it, but any extra copies of The New York Times that you encounter shouldn’t add any extra evidence.

But outright copies aren’t the only problem here. Suppose that I believe that the Paleo diet is the greatest diet of all time. I assemble a Facebook group called ‘Great Health Facts!’ and fill it only with people who already believe that Paleo is the best diet. The fact that everybody in that group agrees with me about Paleo shouldn’t increase my confidence level one bit. They’re not mere copies – they actually might have reached their conclusions independently – but their agreement can be entirely explained by my method of selection. The group’s unanimity is simply an echo of my selection criterion. It’s easy to forget how carefully pre-screened the members are, how epistemically groomed social media circles might be.

The information is here.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Misunderstood Higher-Order Approach to Consciousness

Richard Brown, Hakwan Lau, & Joseph E. LeDoux
PsyArXiv Preprints
Originally posted January 7, 2019


Critics have often misunderstood the higher-order theory (HOT) of consciousness. Here we clarify its position on several issues, and distinguish it from other views such as the global workspace theory (GWT) and early sensory models, such as first-order local recurrency theory. The criticism that HOT overintellectualizes conscious experience is inaccurate because in reality the theory assumes minimal cognitive functions for consciousness; in this sense it is an intermediate position between GWT and early sensory views, and plausibly accounts for shortcomings of both. Further, compared to other existing theories, HOT can more readily account for complex everyday experiences, such as of emotions and episodic memories, and make HOT potentially useful as a framework for conceptualizing pathological mental states.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Are groups more competitive, more selfish-rational or more prosocial bargainers?

UlrikeVollstädt & RobertBöhm
Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Available online 14 December 2018


Often, it is rather groups than individuals that make decisions. In previous experiments, groups have frequently been shown to act differently from individuals in several ways. It has been claimed that inter-group interactions may be (1) more competitive, (2) more selfish-rational, or (3) more prosocial than inter-individual interactions. While some of these observed differences may be due to differences in the experimental setups, it is still not clear which of the three kinds of behavior is prevailing as they have hardly been distinguishable in previous experiments. We use Rubinstein’s alternating offers bargaining game to compare inter-individual with inter-group behavior since it allows separating the predictions of competitive, selfish-rational and prosocial behavior. We find that groups are, on average, more selfish-rational bargainers than individuals, in particular when being in a weak as opposed to a strong position.

From the Conclusion section:

From these four results, we could infer that groups are not more competitive than individuals since being more competitive would mean making higher first round demands and needing more rounds than individuals in both discount factor combinations. Nevertheless, it was not clear
whether the observed behavior was more rational or more prosocial.

A pdf can be downloaded here.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Empathy is hard work: People choose to avoid empathy because of its cognitive costs

Daryl Cameron, Cendri Hutcherson, Amanda Ferguson,  and others
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last edited January 25, 2019


Empathy is considered a virtue, yet fails in many situations, leading to a basic question: when given a choice, do people avoid empathy? And if so, why? Whereas past work has focused on material and emotional costs of empathy, here we examined whether people experience empathy as cognitively taxing and costly, leading them to avoid it. We developed the Empathy Selection Task, which uses free choices to assess desire to empathize. Participants make a series of binary choices, selecting situations that lead them to engage in empathy or an alternative course of action. In each of 11 studies (N=1,204) and a meta-analysis, we found a robust preference to avoid empathy, which was associated with perceptions of empathy as effortful, aversive, and inefficacious. Experimentally increasing empathy efficacy eliminated empathy avoidance, suggesting cognitive costs directly cause empathy choice. When given the choice to share others’ feelings, people act as if it’s not worth the effort.

The research is here.

Relational Ethics in Therapeutic Practice

Kenneth J. Gergen
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy 2015, 36, 409–418


A therapist’s ethical values will not always match those of his/her clients; nor may the values they share be congenial with those central to their acquaintances outside. To whose values should a therapist then be responsible?  Here it is useful to think in terms of first and second order ethics. First order ethics are those common to everyday life; they are under continuous production, and may or may not be fully articulated. They are also in frequent conflict, inciting animosity and hatred. A second order ethic, however, is one that places the supreme value on the relational process from which all ethics spring. It is thus an ethic that prizes those actions that can bring multiple and conflicting voices into productive communication. Illustrative therapeutic practices are provided.

Here is part of the conclusion:

As I am proposing, the ethical posture of the therapist extends far beyond the therapeutic relationship. The therapeutic life-world ripples across an extended sea of relationships. It is in this respect that the relational ethic explored here is also one that incorporates – without condoning – all traditions of moral value. It seeks to move beyond the local worlds in which we dwell and to build bridges among them. This does not mean sacrificing one’s values as a therapist, nor sympathising with all those
proclivities from which clients draw satisfaction. But it does mean resisting the temptation to be right; to know the good. It means enabling the process by which multiple worlds become mutually infused.

A pdf can be downloaded here.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Do People Believe That They Are More Deontological Than Others?

Ming-Hui Li and Li-Lin Rao
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
First published January 20, 2019


The question of how we decide that someone else has done something wrong is at the heart of moral psychology. Little work has been done to investigate whether people believe that others’ moral judgment differs from their own in moral dilemmas. We conducted four experiments using various measures and diverse samples to demonstrate the self–other discrepancy in moral judgment. We found that (a) people were more deontological when they made moral judgments themselves than when they judged a stranger (Studies 1-4) and (b) a protected values (PVs) account outperformed an emotion account and a construal-level theory account in explaining this self–other discrepancy (Studies 3 and 4). We argued that the self–other discrepancy in moral judgment may serve as a protective mechanism co-evolving alongside the social exchange mechanism and may contribute to better understanding the obstacles preventing people from cooperation.

The research is here.

Google is quietly infiltrating medicine, but what rules will it play by?

Michael Millenson
Originally posted January 3, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Other tech companies are also making forays into fields previously reserved for physicians as they compete for a slice of the $3.5 trillion health care pie. Renowned surgeon and author Dr. Atul Gawande was hired to head the still-nascent health care joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JPMorgan. Apple recently hired more than 50 physicians to tend its growing health care portfolio. Those efforts include Apple Watch apps to detect irregular heart rhythms and falls, a medical record repository on your iPhone, a genetic risk score for heart disease, and a partnership with medical equipment manufacturer Zimmer Biomet aimed at improving knee and hip surgery.

Google is hiring physicians, too. Its high-profile hires include the former chief executives of the Geisinger Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. The company’s ambitious health care expansion plans reportedly encompass everything from the management of Parkinson’s disease to selling hardware to providers and insurers.

To be clear, I’ve connected the dots among separate Google companies in a way Google might dispute. However, there are some concerns about how and whether any separation of information will be maintained. In November, Bloomberg reported that plans in the United Kingdom to combine an Alphabet subsidiary using artificial intelligence on medical records with the Google search engine were “tripping alarm bells about privacy.”

The info is here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Are scientists’ reactions to ‘CRISPR babies’ about ethics or self-governance?

Nina Frahm and Tess Doezema
Originally published January 28, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The research community widely agreed that He and his colleagues crossed an ethical line with the first inheritable genetic modification of human beings. Gene-editing experts as well as bioethicists described the transgression as being conducted by a “rogue” individual. But when leading voices such as NIH Director Francis Collins assert that He’s work “represents a deeply disturbing willingness by Dr. He and his team to flout international ethical norms,” what are they actually expressing concern about? Who determines what are the ethics of altering human life?

We believe that the alarm being sounded by the scientific community isn’t really about ethics. It’s about protecting a particular form of scientific self-governance, which the “ethics” discourse supports. What are currently treated as matters of research ethics are in fact political and social questions of fundamental human importance.

Key decisions about when and how it will be appropriate to make inheritable changes to human beings currently lie in the hands of scientists. Although ethics are repeatedly invoked, the most prominent condemnations of He’s actions don’t actually address whether it’s ethical to tinker with human life through gene editing. A largely ignored part of the story are the five “draft ethical principles” of He’s lab at the Southern University of Science and Technology of China. If the outcry from scientists was truly about ethics, we would be seeing a discussion of the relative merits of He’s ethical principles, engagement with their content, and perhaps an exploration of how to jointly achieve a better set of operating principles. Instead, the ethics of using CRISPR for germline gene editing have apparently been determined and settled among scientists, closing down a meaningful debate about the limits and opportunities of genetic engineering.

The info is here.

Artificial Intelligence and ethics will drive a patient matching revolution in 2019

Mark Larow
MedCity News
Originally posted January 1, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Yet nowhere can AI have a more immediate and accessible impact than in patient matching. Currently, health systems have teams of data stewards and health information management (HIM) professionals dedicated to finding, reviewing, researching, and resolving records that their EHR or EMPI has flagged as “potential duplicates.” Essentially, these employees are spending hours each day looking at, for example, a record for Jane Jones and another for Jane Smith, trying to decide if both Janes are actually the same person and if her records should be merged.

Referential matching technology can automate 50-to-75 percent of this manual effort by being an intelligent and data-driven technology. It can automatically find and resolve duplicate records that EHRs and EMPIs have missed, enabling data stewards and HIM staff to focus on higher-value projects—while simultaneously lowering the operational costs and inefficiencies plaguing health systems by automating manual work.

Ultimately, automating the discovery and resolution of duplicate records with referential matching technology can reduce claims denials to save up to $1.5 million, reduce operational costs by at least $200,000, improve the ROI of EHR deployments, and enable value-based care and patient engagement initiatives by enabling more complete and accurate patient health histories.


Health systems are increasingly making technology investments not just to reduce costs or improve efficiencies, but also because not using new technologies is becoming unethical. We have reached a tipping point where innovative new technologies are prominent, successful, and inexpensive enough for ethics to begin driving technology purchasing decisions.

The info is here.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

China's Latest Cloned-Monkey Experiment Is an Ethical Mess

Ryan F. Mandelbaum
Originally published January 19, 2019

Chinese researchers have cloned five gene-edited monkeys with a host of genetic disease symptoms, according to two scientific papers published today.

The researchers say they want to use the gene-edited macaques for biomedical research; basically, they hope that engineering sick primates will reduce the total number of macaques used in research around the world. But their experiment is a minefield of ethical quandaries—and makes you wonder whether the potential benefits to science are enough to warrant all of the harm to these monkeys.

The researchers began by using CRISPR/Cas9 to alter the DNA of a donor macaque. CRISPR/Cas9 is the often-discussed gene editing tool derived from bacteria that combines repeating sequences of DNA and a DNA-cutting enzyme in order to customize DNA sequences. Experts and the press have heralded it as an important advance due to how quickly and cheaply it can alter DNA, but recent research has demonstrated it may cause more unintended effects than previously thought.


This research combines a ton of ethical issues into one package, from those surrounding animal rights to cloning to gene editing. As bioethicist Carolyn Neuhaus from The Hastings Center summarized her reaction to the announcement: “Whoa, this is a doozy.”

The info is here.

Sexual Harassment in Academia: Ethical Climates and Bounded Ethicality

Ann E. Tenbrunsel, McKenzie R. Rees, and Kristina A. Diekmann
Annual Review of Psychology
Vol. 70:245-270 (Volume publication date January 2019)
First published as a Review in Advance on August 29, 2018


This article reviews research on sexual harassment, particularly that pertaining to academia, to understand its underlying causes. Arguing that sexual harassment is an ethical issue, we draw on the field of behavioral ethics to structure our review. We first review ethical climate antecedents at the individual, leader, organizational, and environmental levels and examine their effects on both the occurrence of and responses to sexually harassing behaviors. This discussion is followed by an exploration of research that speaks to the cognitive processes of bounded ethicality—including ethical fading, motivated blindness, and the slippery slope—and their role in facilitating and perpetuating sexual harassment. We conclude by highlighting the value to be gained from integrating research on sexual harassment with research on behavioral ethics and identifying several practical steps that can be taken to curb sexual harassment in academia.

The research is here.

Monday, February 4, 2019

What “informed consent” really means

Stacy Weiner
Originally published January 19, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Conflicts around consent

The informed consent process is not without its thornier aspects. At times, malpractice suits shift the landscape. For example, in a 2017 Pennsylvania case with possible implications in other states, the court ruled that the physician performing a procedure — not a delegate — must personally ensure that the patient understands the risks involved.

And sometimes, informed consent grabs headlines, as happened recently with allegations that medical students are performing pelvic exams on anesthetized women without consent.

That claim, Orlowski notes, relied on studies from more than 10 years ago, before such changes as more detailed consent forms. Typically, she says, students practice pelvic exams with special mannequins and standardized patients who are specifically trained for this purpose. When students and residents do perform pelvic exams on surgical patients, Orlowski adds, specific consent must be obtained first. “Performing pelvic examinations under anesthesia without patients’ consent is unethical and unacceptable,” she says.

In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that “pelvic examinations on an anesthetized woman … performed solely for teaching purposes should be performed only with her specific informed consent obtained before her surgery.”

Marie Walters, a student at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, says she was perplexed by the allegations, so she checked with fellow students at her school and elsewhere. Her explanation: medical students may not know that patients agreed to such exams. “Although students witness some consent processes, we’re likely not around when patients give consent for the surgeries we observe,” says Walters, who is a member of the AAMC Board of Directors. "We may be there just for the day of the surgery,” she notes.

The info is here.

(Ideo)Logical Reasoning: Ideology Impairs Sound Reasoning

Anup Gampa, Sean Wojcik, Matt Motyl, Brian Nosek, & Pete Ditto
Originally posted January 15, 2019

Beliefs shape how people interpret information and may impair how people engage in logical reasoning. In 3 studies, we show how ideological beliefs impair people's ability to: (1) recognize logical validity in arguments that oppose their political beliefs, and, (2) recognize the lack of logical validity in arguments that support their political beliefs. We observed belief bias effects among liberals and conservatives who evaluated the logical soundness of classically structured logical syllogisms supporting liberal or conservative beliefs. Both liberals and conservatives frequently evaluated the logical structure of entire arguments based on the believability of arguments’ conclusions, leading to predictable patterns of logical errors. As a result, liberals were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting conservative beliefs and conservatives were better at identifying flawed arguments supporting liberal beliefs. These findings illuminate one key mechanism for how political beliefs distort people’s abilities to reason about political topics soundly.

The research is here.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Leaders matter morally: The role of ethical leadership in shaping employee moral cognition and misconduct.

Moore, C., Mayer, D. M., Chiang, F. F. T., Crossley, C., Karlesky, M. J., & Birtch, T. A. (2019). Journal of Applied Psychology, 104(1), 123-145.


There has long been interest in how leaders influence the unethical behavior of those who they lead. However, research in this area has tended to focus on leaders’ direct influence over subordinate behavior, such as through role modeling or eliciting positive social exchange. We extend this research by examining how ethical leaders affect how employees construe morally problematic decisions, ultimately influencing their behavior. Across four studies, diverse in methods (lab and field) and national context (the United States and China), we find that ethical leadership decreases employees’ propensity to morally disengage, with ultimate effects on employees’ unethical decisions and deviant behavior. Further, employee moral identity moderates this mediated effect. However, the form of this moderation is not consistent. In Studies 2 and 4, we find that ethical leaders have the largest positive influence over individuals with a weak moral identity (providing a “saving grace”), whereas in Study 3, we find that ethical leaders have the largest positive influence over individuals with a strong moral identity (catalyzing a “virtuous synergy”). We use these findings to speculate about when ethical leaders might function as a “saving grace” versus a “virtuous synergy.” Together, our results suggest that employee misconduct stems from a complex interaction between employees, their leaders, and the context in which this relationship takes place, specifically via leaders’ influence over employees’ moral cognition.

Here is the Conclusion:

Our research points to one of the reasons why 'cleaning house' of morally compromised leaders after scandals may be less effective than we might expect. The fact that leadership affects the extent to which subordinates morally disengage means that their influence may be more profound and nefarious than one might conclude given earlier understandings of the mechanisms through which ethical leadership elicits its outcomes. One can eliminate perverse incentives and remove poor role models, but once a leader shifts how subordinates cognitively construe decisions with ethical import, their continuing influence on employee misconduct may be harder to undo.

The info is here.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

A systematic review of therapist effects: A critical narrative update and refinement to Baldwin and Imel's (2013) review

Robert G. Johns, Michael Barkham, Stephen Kellett, & David Saxon.
Clinical Psychology Review
Volume 67, February 2019, Pages 78-93


To review the therapist effects literature since Baldwin and Imel's (2013) review.

Systematic literature review of three databases (PsycINFO, PubMed and Web of Science) replicating Baldwin and Imel (2013) search terms. Weighted averages of therapist effects (TEs) were calculated, and a critical narrative review of included studies conducted.

Twenty studies met inclusion criteria (3 RCTs; 17 practice-based) with 19 studies using multilevel modeling. TEs were found in 19 studies. The TE range for all studies was 0.2% to 29% (weighted average = 5%). For RCTs, 1%–29% (weighted average = 8.2%). For practice-based studies, 0.2–21% (weighted average = 5%). The university counseling subsample yielded a lower TE (2.4%) than in other groupings (i.e., primary care, mixed clinical settings, and specialist/focused settings). Therapist sample sizes remained lower than recommended, and few studies appeared to be designed specifically as TE studies, with too few examples of maximising the research potential of large routine patient datasets.

Therapist effects are a robust phenomenon although considerable heterogeneity exists across studies. Patient severity appeared related to TE size. TEs from RCTs were highly variable. Using an overall therapist effects statistic may lack precision, and TEs might be better reported separately for specific clinical settings.

Friday, February 1, 2019

In battle against doctor burnout, reading—for fun—is fundamental

Sara Berg
American Medical Association News
Originally posted January 18, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

How reading replenishes

One survey of 513 physicians examined the impact of non-medical reading habits on burnout. The chances of emotional exhaustion or depersonalization fell as physicians became more consistent readers.

When compared to nonreaders, the relative risk of burnout for consistent readers—those who read at least one book per month—fell by 19 percent across the emotional exhaustion and 44 percent across the depersonalization domain.

In an unpublished study by Dr. Marchalik, more than 200 urology trainees were surveyed about work characteristics, as well as relaxation techniques. These included watching movies, meditation, yoga, reading and other ways of relaxing. Meditation, exercise and yoga were not protective against burnout— but reading was.

Controlling for the biggest predictors of burnout, which were resident level, work hours and gender, reading made an impact: the odds of burnout decreased by 59 percent for residents who read for relaxation. A similar effect was seen in Dr. Marchalik’s national survey of palliative care providers, in which the odds of burnout dropped by 39 percent for readers, even when controlling for age, clinical discipline and the presence of fatigue.

The info is here.

Intellectual humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong

Brian Resnick
Originally posted January 4, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Social psychologists have learned that humility is associated with other valuable character traits: People who score higher on intellectual humility questionnaires are more open to hearing opposing views. They more readily seek out information that conflicts with their worldview. They pay more attention to evidence and have a stronger self-awareness when they answer a question incorrectly.

When you ask the intellectually arrogant if they’ve heard of bogus historical events like “Hamrick’s Rebellion,” they’ll say, “Sure.” The intellectually humble are less likely to do so. Studies have found that cognitive reflection — i.e., analytic thinking — is correlated with being better able to discern fake news stories from real ones. These studies haven’t looked at intellectual humility per se, but it’s plausible there’s an overlap.

Most important of all, the intellectually humble are more likely to admit it when they are wrong. When we admit we’re wrong, we can grow closer to the truth.

One reason I’ve been thinking about the virtue of humility recently is because our president, Donald Trump, is one of the least humble people on the planet.

The info is here.