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

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Doctors are burning out twice as fast as other workers. The problem's costing the US $4.6 billion each year.

Lydia Ramsey
Originally posted May 31, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

To avoid burnout, some doctors have turned to alternative business models.

That includes new models like direct primary care, which charges a monthly fee and doesn't take insurance. Through direct primary care, doctors manage the healthcare of fewer patients than they might in a traditional model. That frees them up to spend more time with patients and ideally help them get healthier.

It's a model that has been adopted by independent doctors who would otherwise have left medicine, with insurers and even the government starting to take notes on the new approach.

Others have chosen to set their own hours by working for sites that virtually link up patients with doctors.

Even so, it'll take more to cut through the note-taking and other tedious tasks that preoccupy doctors, from primary-care visits to acute surgery. It has prompted some to look into ways to alleviate how much work they do on their computers for note-taking purposes by using new technology like artificial-intelligence voice assistants.

The info is here.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Understanding Unbelief: Atheists and agnostics around the world

Stephen Bullivant, Miguel Farias, Jonathan Lanman, & Lois Lee
Research Report - 2019

Eight key findings

1. Atheists (i.e., people who ‘don’t believe in God’) and agnostics (i.e., people who ‘don’t know whether there is a God or not, and don’t believe there is a way to find out’) exhibit significant diversity both within, and between, different countries. Accordingly, there are very many ways of being an unbeliever (i.e., atheists/agnostics combined).

2. In all six of our countries, majorities of unbelievers identify as having ‘no religion’. Nevertheless, in Denmark fully 28% of atheists and agnostics identify as Christians; in Brazil the figure is 18%. 8% of Japan’s unbelievers say they are Buddhists. Conversely, in Brazil (79%), the USA (63%),  Denmark (60%), and the UK (52%), a majority of unbelievers were brought up as Christians.

3. Relatively few unbelievers select ‘Atheist’ or ‘Agnostic’ as their preferred (non)religious or secular identity. 38% of American atheists opt for ‘Atheist’, compared to just 19% of Danish atheists. Other well-known labels – ‘humanist’, ‘free thinker’, ‘sceptic’, ‘secular’ – are the go-to identity for only small proportions in each country.

4. Popular assumptions about ‘convinced, dogmatic atheists’ do not stand up to scrutiny. Atheists and
agnostics in Brazil and China are less confident that their beliefs about God are correct than are Brazilians and Chinese as a whole. Although American atheists are typically fairly confident in their views about God, importantly, so too are Americans in general.

5. Unbelief in God doesn’t necessarily entail unbelief in other supernatural phenomena. Atheists and (less so) agnostics exhibit lower levels of supernatural belief than do the wider populations. However, only minorities of atheists or agnostics in each of our countries appear to be thoroughgoing naturalists.

6. Another common supposition – that of the purposeless unbeliever, lacking anything to ascribe ultimate meaning to the universe – also does not bear scrutiny. While atheists and agnostics are disproportionately likely to affirm that the universe is ‘ultimately meaningless’ in five of our countries, it still remains a minority view among unbelievers in all six countries.

7. Also perhaps challenging common suppositions: with only a few exceptions, atheists and agnostics endorse the realities of objective moral values, human dignity and attendant rights, and the ‘deep value’ of nature, at similar rates to the general populations in their countries.

8. There is remarkably high agreement between unbelievers and general populations concerning the
values most important for ‘finding meaning in the world and your own life’. ‘Family’ and ‘Freedom’ ranked highly for all. Also popular – albeit less unanimously so – were ‘Compassion’, ‘Truth’, ‘Nature’, and ‘Science’.

The research is here.

Friday, June 28, 2019

‘We as a species need to come to terms’ with CRISPR technology

Ashley Turner
Originally posted May 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Tuesday that He’s research was a “horrible experiment and it established a horrible precedent.” Gottlieb said He’s experiment risked causing people to “rightfully” turn away from the science.

Gottlieb said he has yet to see any compelling arguments in favor of human germline editing.

Paul Dabrowski, CEO of Synthego, a genome engineering company, agreed the scientific community is not yet ready for germline editing. He wondered whether allowing parents to choose to genetically alter their future children can be ethical if they’re not the one who is having their DNA changed.

“How do you make sure you can align the person who is consenting and the person who is taking the risk?” Dabrowski asked.

Stanford’s Hurlbut said there are risks to editing DNA, as those traits can then be passed down to future generations. Editing certain genes can also cause changes in other genes, according to Hurlbut.

“We want to be very careful, nature is a profound balance and if we intervene in a way that is not profound we can upset things,” Hurlbut said.

The info is here.

Moralized memory: binding values predict inflated estimates of the group’s historical influence

Luke Churchill, Jeremy K. Yamashiro & Henry L. Roediger III
Memory (2019)
DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2019.1623261


Collective memories are memories or historical knowledge shared by individual group members, which shape their collective identity. Ingroup inflation, which has previously also been referred to as national narcissism or state narcissism, is the finding that group members judge their own group to have been significantly more historically influential than do people from outside the group. We examined the role of moral motivations in this biased remembering. A sample of 2118 participants, on average 42 from each state of the United States, rated their home state’s contribution to U.S. history, as well as that of ten other states randomly selected. We demonstrated an ingroup inflation effect in estimates of the group’s historical influence. Participants’ endorsement of binding values – loyalty, authority, and sanctity, but particularly loyalty – positively predicted the size of this effect. Endorsement of individuating values – care and fairness – did not predict collective narcissism. Moral motives may shape biases in collective remembering.

The research can be found here.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Wayfair Walkout Is a Different Kind of Tech Worker Protest

From center, Wayfair co-chairmen and co-founders Steve Conine and Niraj Shah ring the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 2, 2014.April Glaser
Originally posted June 26, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

This time, the Wayfair employees went very public—and they did so during a week of renewed public outrage over the Trump administration’s border policies, thanks to reports of appalling conditions at a facility in Clint, Texas, holding migrant children who had been separated from their families. When Wayfair employees disrupt business on Wednesday by walking out, they’ll highlight that even a company best known for cheap sofas is entangled with a system that has split up families, locked asylum-seekers in cages, and detained children who have been found sick and without access to sufficient food or places to bathe.

This isn’t a typical use of organized labor, but it’s of a piece with the methods used by white-collar workers in the technology industry over the past two years. So far, the movement to force companies to oppose various activities of the Trump administration has had mixed success. Wayfair’s case suggests it will now grow beyond the very largest tech companies—and that employees are realizing signing a petition isn’t their only move.

The Wayfair protesters aren’t fighting to improve their own working conditions: They’re organizing to change their employer’s business practices. Google employees did this in 2018 with a petition that lead to the nonrenewal of a Department of Defense contract to build software systems for drones. Microsoft and Salesforce employees were less successful last year when they sent letters to their respective CEOs demanding they stop contracting with federal immigration agencies. More than 4,200 Amazon employees recently called on the company, unsuccessfully, to reduce its carbon footprint and stop offering cloud services to the oil and gas industry.

The info is here.

This doctor is recruiting an army of medical experts to drown out fake health news on Instagram and Twitter

Christine Farr
Originally published June 2, 2019

The antidote to fake health news? According to Austin Chiang, the first chief medical social media officer at a top hospital, it’s to drown out untrustworthy content with tweets, pics and posts from medical experts that the average American can relate to.

Chiang is a Harvard-trained gastroenterologist with a side passion for social media. On Instagram, where he refers to himself as a “GI Doctor,” he has 20,000 followers, making him one of the most influential docs aside from TV personalities, plastic surgeons and New York’s so-called “most eligible bachelor,” Dr. Mike.

Every few days, he’ll share a selfie or a photo of himself in scrubs along with captions about the latest research or insights from conferences he attends, or advice to patients trying to sort our real information from rumors. He’s also active on Twitter, Microsoft’s LinkedIn and Facebook (which owns Instagram).

But Chiang recognizes that his following pales in comparison to accounts like “Medical Medium,” where two million people tune in to the musings of a psychic, who raves about vegetables that will cure diseases ranging from depression to diabetes. (Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop has written about the account’s creator glowingly.) Or on Pinterest and Facebook, where anti-vaccination content has been far more prominent than legitimate public health information. Meanwhile, on e-commerce sites like Amazon and eBay, vendors have hawked unproven and dangerous health “cures, ” including an industrial-strength bleach that is billed as eliminating autism in children.

The info is here.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The computational and neural substrates of moral strategies in social decision-making

Jeroen M. van Baar, Luke J. Chang & Alan G. Sanfey
Nature Communications, Volume 10, Article number: 1483 (2019)


Individuals employ different moral principles to guide their social decision-making, thus expressing a specific ‘moral strategy’. Which computations characterize different moral strategies, and how might they be instantiated in the brain? Here, we tackle these questions in the context of decisions about reciprocity using a modified Trust Game. We show that different participants spontaneously and consistently employ different moral strategies. By mapping an integrative computational model of reciprocity decisions onto brain activity using inter-subject representational similarity analysis of fMRI data, we find markedly different neural substrates for the strategies of ‘guilt aversion’ and ‘inequity aversion’, even under conditions where the two strategies produce the same choices. We also identify a new strategy, ‘moral opportunism’, in which participants adaptively switch between guilt and inequity aversion, with a corresponding switch observed in their neural activation patterns. These findings provide a valuable view into understanding how different individuals may utilize different moral principles.


From the Discussion

We also report a new strategy observed in participants, moral opportunism. This group did not consistently apply one moral rule to their decisions, but rather appeared to make a motivational trade-off depending on the particular trial structure. This opportunistic decision strategy entailed switching between the behavioral patterns of guilt aversion and inequity aversion, and allowed participants to maximize their financial payoff while still always following a moral rule. Although it could have been the case that these opportunists merely resembled GA and IA in terms of decision outcome, and not in the underlying psychological process, a confirmatory analysis showed that the moral opportunists did in fact switch between the neural representations of guilt and inequity aversion, and thus flexibly employed the respective psychological processes underlying these two, quite different, social preferences. This further supports our interpretation that the activity patterns directly reflect guilt aversion and inequity aversion computations, and not a theoretically peripheral “third factor” shared between GA or IA participants. Additionally, we found activity patterns specifically linked to moral opportunism in the superior parietal cortex and dACC, which are strongly associated with cognitive control and working memory.

The research is here.

The evolution of human cooperation

Coren Apicella and Joan Silk
Current Biology, Volume 29 (11), pp 447-450.

Darwin viewed cooperation as a perplexing challenge to his theory of natural selection. Natural selection generally favors the evolution of behaviors that enhance the fitness of individuals. Cooperative behavior, which increases the fitness of a recipient at the expense of the donor, contradicts this logic. William D. Hamilton helped to solve the puzzle when he showed that cooperation can evolve if cooperators direct benefits selectively to other cooperators (i.e. assortment). Kinship, group selection and the previous behavior of social partners all provide mechanisms for assortment (Figure 1), and kin selection and reciprocal altruism are the foundation of the kinds of cooperative behavior observed in many animals. Humans also bias cooperation in favor of kin and reciprocating partners, but the scope, scale, and variability of human cooperation greatly exceed that of other animals. Here, we introduce derived features of human cooperation in the context in which they originally evolved, and discuss the processes that may have shaped the evolution of our remarkable capacity for cooperation. We argue that culturally-evolved norms that specify how people should behave provide an evolutionarily novel mechanism for assortment, and play an important role in sustaining derived properties of cooperation in human groups.

Here is a portion of the Summary

Cooperative foraging and breeding provide the evolutionary backdrop for understanding the evolution of cooperation in humans, as the returns from cooperating in these activities would have been high in our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Still, explaining how our ancestors effectively dealt with the problem of free-riders within this context remains a challenge. Derived features of human cooperation, however, give us some indication of the mechanisms that could lead to assortativity. These derived features include: first, the scope of cooperation — cooperation is observed between unrelated and often short-term interactors; second, the scale of cooperation — cooperation extends beyond pairs to include circumscribed groups that vary in size and identity; and third, variation in cooperation — human cooperation varies in both time and space in accordance with cultural and social norms. We argue that this pattern of findings is best explained by cultural evolutionary processes that generate phenotypic assortment on cooperation via a psychology adapted for cultural learning, norm sensitivity and group-mindedness.

The info is here.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Truth by Repetition: Explanations and Implications

Unkelbach, C., Koch, A., Silva, R. R., & Garcia-Marques, T. (2019).
Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(3), 247–253. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963721419827854


People believe repeated information more than novel information; they show a repetition-induced truth effect. In a world of “alternative facts,” “fake news,” and strategic information management, understanding this effect is highly important. We first review explanations of the effect based on frequency, recognition, familiarity, and coherent references. On the basis of the latter explanation, we discuss the relations of these explanations. We then discuss implications of truth by repetition for the maintenance of false beliefs and ways to change potentially harmful false beliefs (e.g., “Vaccination causes autism”), illustrating that the truth-by-repetition phenomenon not only is of theoretical interest but also has immediate practical relevance.

Here is a portion of the closing section:

No matter which mental processes may underlie the repetition-induced truth effect, on a functional level, repetition increases subjective truth. The effect’s robustness may be worrisome if one considers that information nowadays is not randomly but strategically repeated. For example, the phenomenon of the “filter bubble” (Pariser, 2011) suggests that people get verbatim and paraphrased repetition only of what they already know and believe. As discussed, logically, this should not strengthen information’s subjective truth. However, as discussed above, repetition does influence subjective truth psychologically. In combination with phenomena such as selective exposure (e.g., Frey, 1986), confirmation biases (e.g., Nickerson, 1998), or failures to consider the opposite (e.g., Schul, Mayo, & Burnstein, 2004), it becomes apparent how even blatantly false information may come “to fix itself in the mind in such a way that it is accepted in the end as a demonstrated truth” (Le Bon, 1895/1996). For example, within the frame of a referential theory, filter bubbles repeat information and thereby add supporting coherent references for existing belief networks, which makes them difficult to change once they are established. Simultaneously, people should also process such information more fluently. In the studies reviewed here, statement content was mostly trivia. Yet, even for this trivia, participants evaluated contradictory information as being less true compared with novel information, even when they were explicitly told that it was 100% false (Unkelbach & Greifeneder, 2018). If one considers how many corresponding references the information that “vaccination leads to autism” may instigate for parents who must decide whether to vaccinate or not, the relevance of the truth-by-repetition phenomenon becomes apparent.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Not so Motivated After All? Three Replication Attempts and a Theoretical Challenge to a Morally-Motivated Belief in Free Will

Andrew E. Monroe and Dominic Ysidron


AbstractFree will is often appraised as a necessary input to for holding others morally or legally responsible for misdeeds. Recently, however,Clark and colleagues (2014), argued for the opposite causal relationship. They assert that moral judgments and the desire to punish motivate people’s belief in free will. In three experiments—two exact replications (Studies 1 & 2b) and one close replication(Study 2a)we seek to replicate these findings. Additionally, in a novel experiment (Study 3) we test a theoretical challenge derived from attribution theory, which suggests that immoral behaviors do not uniquely influence free will judgments. Instead, our non-violation model argues that norm deviations, of any kind—good, bad, or strange—cause people to attribute more free will to agents, and attributions of free will are explained via desire inferences.Across replication experiments we found no evidence for the original claim that witnessing immoral behavior causes people to increase their belief in free will, though we did replicate the finding that people attribute more free will to agents who behave immorally compared to a neutral control (Studies 2a & 3). Finally, our novel experiment demonstrated broad support for our norm-violation account, suggesting that people’s willingness to attribute free will to others is malleable, but not because people are motivated to blame.Instead, this experiment shows that attributions of free will are best explained by people’s expectations for norm adherence, and when these expectations are violated people infer that an agent expressed their free will to do so.

From the Discussion Section:

Together these findings argue for a non-moral explanation for free will judgments with norm-violation as the key driver. This account explains people’s tendency to attribute more free will to behaving badly agents because people generally expect others to follow moral norms, and when they don’t, people believe that there must have been a strong desire to perform the behavior. In addition, a norm-violation account is able to explain why people attribute more free will to agents behaving in odd or morally positive ways. Any deviation from what is expected causes people to attribute more desire and choice (i.e., free will)to that agent.Thus our findings suggest that people’s willingness to ascribe free will to others is indeed malleable, but considerations of free will are being driven by basic social cognitive representations of norms, expectations, and desire. Moreover, these data indicate that when people endorse free will for themselves or for others, they are not making claims about broad metaphysical freedom. Instead, if desires and norm-constraints are what affect ascriptions of free will, this suggests that what it means to have (or believe) in free willis to be rational (i.e., making choices informed by desires and preferences) and able to overcome constraints.

A preprint can be found here.

Motivated free will belief: The theory, new (preregistered) studies, and three meta-analyses

Clark, C. J., Winegard, B. M., & Shariff, A. F. (2019).
Manuscript submitted for publication.


Do desires to punish lead people to attribute more free will to individual actors (motivated free will attributions) and to stronger beliefs in human free will (motivated free will beliefs) as suggested by prior research? Results of 14 new (7 preregistered) studies (n=4,014) demonstrated consistent support for both of these. These findings consistently replicated in studies (k=8) in which behaviors meant to elicit desires to punish were rated as equally or less counternormative than behaviors in control conditions. Thus, greater perceived counternormativity cannot account for these effects. Additionally, three meta-analyses of the existing data (including eight vignette types and eight free will judgment types) found support for motivated free will attributions (k=22; n=7,619; r=.25, p<.001) and beliefs (k=27; n=8,100; r=.13, p<.001), which remained robust after removing all potential moral responsibility confounds (k=26; n=7,953; r=.12, p<.001). The size of these effects varied by vignette type and free will belief measurement. For example, presenting the FAD+ free will belief subscale mixed among three other subscales (as in Monroe and Ysidron’s [2019] failed replications) produced a smaller average effect size (r=.04) than shorter and more immediate measures (rs=.09-.28). Also, studies with neutral control conditions produced larger effects (Attributions: r=.30; Beliefs: rs=.14-.16) than those with control conditions involving bad actions (Attributions: r=.05; Beliefs: rs=.04-.06). Removing these two kinds of studies from the meta-analyses produced larger average effect sizes (Attributions: r=.28; Beliefs: rs=.17-.18). We discuss the relevance of these findings for past and future research and the significance of these findings for human responsibility.

From the Discussion Section:

We suspect that motivated free will beliefs have become more common as society has become more humane and more concerned about proportionate punishment. Many people now assiduously reflect upon their own society’s punitive practices and separate those who deserve to be punished from those who are incapable of being fully responsible for their actions. Free will is crucial here because it is often considered a prerequisite for moral responsibility (Nichols & Knobe, 2007; Sarkissian et al., 2010; Shariff et al., 2014). Therefore, when one is motivated to punish another person, one is also motivated to inflate free will beliefs and free will attributions to specific perpetrators as a way to justify punishing the person.

A preprint can be downloaded here.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

On the belief that beliefs should change according to evidence: Implications for conspiratorial, moral, paranormal, political, religious, and science beliefs

Gordon Pennycook, James Allan Cheyne, Derek Koehler, & Jonathan Fugelsang
PsyAirXiv PrePrints - Last edited on May 24, 2019


Does one’s stance toward evidence evaluation and belief revision have relevance for actual beliefs? We investigate the role of having an actively open-minded thinking style about evidence (AOT-E) on a wide range of beliefs, values, and opinions. Participants indicated the extent to which they think beliefs (Study 1) or opinions (Studies 2 and 3) ought to change according to evidence on an 8-item scale. Across three studies with 1,692 participants from two different sources (Mechanical Turk and Lucid for Academics), we find that our short AOT-E scale correlates negatively with beliefs about topics ranging from extrasensory perception, to respect for tradition, to abortion, to God; and positively with topics ranging from anthropogenic global warming to support for free speech on college campuses. More broadly, the belief that beliefs should change according to evidence was robustly associated with political liberalism, the rejection of traditional moral values, the acceptance of science, and skepticism about religious, paranormal, and conspiratorial claims. However, we also find that AOT-E is much more strongly predictive for political liberals (Democrats) than conservatives (Republicans). We conclude that socio-cognitive theories of belief (both specific and general) should take into account people’s beliefs about when and how beliefs should change – that is, meta-beliefs – but that further work is required to understand how meta-beliefs about evidence interact with political ideology.


Our 8-item actively open-minded thinking about evidence (AOT-E) scale was strongly predictive of a wide range of beliefs, values, and opinions. People who reported believing that beliefs and opinions should change according to evidence were less likely to be religious, less likely to hold paranormal and conspiratorial beliefs, more likely to believe in a variety of scientific claims, and were more political liberal (in terms of overall ideology, partisan affiliation, moral values, and a variety of specific political opinions). Moreover, the effect sizes for these correlations was often large or very large, based on established norms (Funder & Ozer, 2019; Gignac & Szodorai, 2016). The size and diversity of AOT-E correlates strongly supports one major, if broad, conclusion: Socio-cognitive theories of belief (both specific and general) should take into account what people believe about when and how beliefs and opinions should change (i.e., meta-beliefs). That is, we should not assume that evidence is equally important for everyone. However, future work is required to more clearly delineate why AOT-E is more predictive for political liberals than conservatives.

A preprint can be downloaded here.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Morality and Self-Control: How They are Intertwined, and Where They Differ

Wilhelm Hofmann, Peter Meindl, Marlon Mooijman, & Jesse Graham
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last edited November 18, 2018


Despite sharing conceptual overlap, morality and self-control research have led largely separate lives. In this article, we highlight neglected connections between these major areas of psychology. To this end, we first note their conceptual similarities and differences. We then show how morality research, typically emphasizing aspects of moral cognition and emotion, may benefit from incorporating motivational concepts from self-control research. Similarly, self-control research may benefit from a better understanding of the moral nature of many self-control domains. We place special focus on various components of self-control and on the ways in which self-control goals may be moralized.


Here is the Conclusion:

How do we resist temptation, prioritizing our future well-being over our present pleasure? And how do we resist acting selfishly, prioritizing the needs of others over our own self-interest? These two questions highlight the links between understanding self-control and understanding morality. We hope we have shown that morality and self-control share considerable conceptual overlap with regard to the way people regulate behavior in line with higher-order values and standards. As the psychological study of both areas becomes increasingly collaborative and integrated, insights from each subfield can better enable research and interventions to increase human health and flourishing.

The info is here.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Tech, Data And The New Democracy Of Ethics

Neil Lustig
Originally posted June 10, 2019

As recently as 15 years ago, consumers had no visibility into whether the brands they shopped used overseas slave labor or if multinationals were bribing public officials to give them unfair advantages internationally. Executives could engage in whatever type of misconduct they wanted to behind closed doors, and there was no early warning system for investors, board members and employees, who were directly impacted by the consequences of their behavior.
Now, thanks to globalization, social media, big data, whistleblowers and corporate compliance initiatives, we have more visibility than ever into the organizations and people that affect our lives and our economy.

What we’ve learned from this surge in transparency is that sometimes companies mess up even when they’re not trying to. There’s a distinct difference between companies that deliberately engage in unethical practices and those that get caught up in them due to loose policies, inadequate self-policing or a few bad actors that misrepresent the ethics of the rest of the organization. The primary difference between these two types of companies is how fast they’re able to act -- and if they act at all.

Fortunately, just as technology and data can introduce unprecedented visibility into organizations’ unethical practices, they can also equip organizations with ways of protecting themselves from internal and external risks. As CEO of a compliance management platform, I believe there are three things that must be in place for organizations to stay above board in a rising democracy of ethics.

The info is here.

It's not biology bro: Torture and the Misuse of Science

Shane O'Mara and John Schiemann
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last edited on December 24, 2018


Contrary to the (in)famous line in the film Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA's torture program was not based on biology or any other science. Instead, the Bush administration and the CIA decided to use coercion immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then veneered the program's justification with a patina of pseudoscience, ignoring the actual biology of torturing human brains. We reconstruct the Bush administration’s decision-making process from released government documents, independent investigations, journalistic accounts, and memoirs to establish that the policy decision to use torture took place in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks without any investigation into its efficacy. We then present the pseudo-scientific model of torture sold to the CIA based on a loose amalgamation of methods from the old KUBARK manual, reverse-engineering of SERE training techniques, and learned helplessness theory, show why this ad hoc model amounted to pseudoscience, and then catalog what the actual science of torturing human brains – available in 2001 – reveals about the practice. We conclude with a discussion of how process of policy-making might incorporate countervailing evidence to ensure that policy problems are forestalled, via the concept of an evidence-based policy brake, which is deliberately instituted to prevent a policy going forward that is contrary to law, ethics and evidence.

The info is here.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Legal Promise Of Equal Mental Health Treatment Often Falls Short

Graison Dangor
Kaiser Health News
Originally pubished June 7, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The laws have been partially successful. Insurers can no longer write policies that charge higher copays and deductibles for mental health care, nor can they set annual or lifetime limits on how much they will pay for it. But patient advocates say insurance companies still interpret mental health claims more stringently.

“Insurance companies can easily circumvent mental health parity mandates by imposing restrictive standards of medical necessity,” said Meiram Bendat, a lawyer leading a class-action lawsuit against a mental health subsidiary of UnitedHealthcare.

In a closely watched ruling, a federal court in March sided with Bendat and patients alleging the insurer was deliberately shortchanging mental health claims. Chief Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that United Behavioral Health wrote its guidelines for treatment much more narrowly than common medical standards, covering only enough to stabilize patients “while ignoring the effective treatment of members’ underlying conditions.”

UnitedHealthcare works to “ensure our products meet the needs of our members and comply with state and federal law,” said spokeswoman Tracey Lempner.

Several studies, though, have found evidence of disparities in insurers’ decisions.

The info is here.

Moral Judgment Toward Relationship Betrayals and Those Who Commit Them

Dylan Selterman Amy Moors Sena Koleva
Created on January 18, 2019


In three experimental studies (total N = 1,056), we examined moral judgments toward relationship betrayals, and how these judgments depended on whether characters and their actions were perceived to be pure and loyal compared to the level of harm caused. In Studies 1 and 2 the focus was confessing a betrayal, while in Study 3 the focus was on the act of sexual infidelity. Perceptions of harm/care were inconsistently and less strongly associated with moral judgment toward the behavior or the character, relative to perceptions of purity and loyalty, which emerged as key predictors of moral judgment across all studies. Our findings demonstrate that a diversity of cognitive factors play a key role in moral perception of relationship betrayals.

Here is part of the Discussion:

Some researchers have argued that perception of a harmed victim is the cognitive prototype by which people conceptualize immoral behavior (Gray et al.,2014).This perspective explains many phenomena within moral psychology.  However, other psychological templates may apply regarding sexual and relational behavior, and that purity and loyalty play a key role in explaining how people arrive at moral judgments toward sexual and relational violations. In conclusion, the current research adds to ongoing and fruitful research regarding the underlying psychological mechanisms involved in moral judgment. Importantly, the current studies extend our knowledge of moral judgments into the context of specific close relationship and sexual contexts that many people experience.

The research is here.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Ethics of 'Biohacking' and Digital Health Data

Sy Mukherjee
Originally posted June 6, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Should personal health data ownership be a human right? Do digital health program participants deserve a cut of the profits from the information they provide to genomics companies? How do we get consumers to actually care about the privacy and ethics implications of this new digital health age? Can technology help (and, more importantly, should it have a responsibility to) bridge the persistent gap in representation for women in clinical trials? And how do you design a fair system of data distribution in an age of a la carte genomic editing, leveraged by large corporations, and seemingly ubiquitous data mining from consumers?

Ok, so we didn’t exactly come to definitive conclusions about all that in our limited time. But I look forward to sharing some of our panelists’ insights in the coming days. And I’ll note that, while some of the conversation may have sounded like dystopic cynicism, there was a general consensus that collective regulatory changes, new business models, and a culture of concern for data privacy could help realize the potential of digital health while mitigating its potential problems.

The information and interview are here.

We Need a Word for Destructive Group Outrage

Cass Sunstein
Originally posted May 23, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

In the most extreme and horrible situations, lapidation is based on a lie, a mistake or a misunderstanding. People are lapidated even though they did nothing wrong.

In less extreme cases, the transgression is real, and lapidators have a legitimate concern. Their cause is just. They are right to complain and to emphasize that people have been hurt or wronged.

Even so, they might lose a sense of proportion. Groups of people often react excessively to a mistake, an error in judgment, or an admittedly objectionable statement or action. Even if you have sympathy for Harvard’s decision with respect to Sullivan, or Cambridge’s decision with respect to Carl, it is hard to defend the sheer level of rage and vitriol directed at both men.

Lapidation entrepreneurs often have their own agendas. Intentionally or not, they may unleash something horrific – something like the Two Minutes Hate, memorably depicted in George Orwell’s “1984.”


What makes lapidation possible? A lot of the answer is provided by the process of “group polarization,” which means that when like-minded people speak with one another, they tend to go to extremes.

Suppose that people begin with the thought that Ronald Sullivan probably should not have agreed to represent Harvey Weinstein, or that Al Franken did something pretty bad. If so, their discussions will probably make them more unified and more confident about those beliefs, and ultimately more extreme.

A key reason involves the dynamics of outrage. Whenever some transgression has occurred, people want to appear at least as appalled as others in their social group. That can transform mere disapproval into lapidation.

The info is here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A tech challenge? Fear not, many AI issues boil down to ethics

Peter Montagnon
Originally posted June 3, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Ethics are particularly important when technology enters the governance agenda. Machines may be capable of complex calculation but they are so far unable to make qualitative or moral judgments.

Also, the use and manipulation of a massive amount of data creates an information asymmetry. This confers power on those who control it at the potential expense of those who are the subject of it.

Ultimately there must always be human accountability for the decisions that machines originate.

In the corporate world, the board is where accountability resides. No one can escape this. To exercise their responsibilities, directors do not need to be as expert as tech teams. For sure, they need to be familiar with the scope of technology used by their companies, what it can and cannot do, and where the risks and opportunities lie.

For that they may need trustworthy advice from either the chief technology officer or external experts, but the decisions will generally be about what is acceptable and what is not.

The risks may well be of a human rather than a tech kind. With the motor industry, one risk with semi-automated vehicles is that the owners of such cars will think they can do more on autopilot than they can. It seems most of us are bad at reading instructions and will need clear warnings, perhaps to the point where the car may even seem disappointing.

The info is here.

Psychologists Mitchell and Jessen called to testify about ‘torture’ techniques in 9/11 tribunals

Thomas Clouse
Originally posted May 20, 2019

Two Spokane psychologists who devised the “enhanced interrogation” techniques that a federal judge later said constituted torture could testify publicly for the first time at a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that is trying five men charged with helping to plan and assist in the 9/11 attacks.

James E. Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen are among a dozen government-approved witnesses for the defense at the military tribunal. Mitchell and Jessen’s company was paid about $81 million by the CIA for providing and sometimes carrying out the interrogation techniques, which included waterboarding, during the early days of the post 9/11 war on terror.

“This will be the first time Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen will have to testify in a criminal proceeding about the torture program they implemented,” said James Connell, a lawyer for Ammar al Baluchi, one of the five Guantanamo prisoners.

Both Mitchell and Jessen were deposed but were never forced to testify as part of a civil suit filed in 2015 in Spokane by the ACLU on behalf of three former CIA prisoners, Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud.

According to court records, Rahman was interrogated in a dungeon-like Afghanistan prison in isolation, subjected to darkness and extreme cold water, and eventually died of hypothermia. The other two men are now free.

The U.S. government settled that civil suit in August 2017 just weeks before it was scheduled for trial in Spokane before U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush.

The info is here.

Monday, June 17, 2019

How Jared Kushner is the ultimate test for US ethics laws

Image result for jared kushnerZachary Wolf
Originally posted June 14, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Some of the things we knew about Kushner already are that he's in charge of coming up with a Middle East peace plan, he's been chummy with the Saudi crown prince the CIA thinks ordered the murder of a US-based journalist and he had trouble getting a security clearance.

But there is so very much we don't know about him. According to a report in the Guardian, a real estate company called Cadre in which he has an interest got some money from Saudi Arabia through an offshore fund run by Goldman Sachs. Their report is based on two unnamed sources. CNN has not independently verified the report.

If true, does that mean Kushner can't be involved in Middle East policy? Apparently not. The situation illustrates that the US laws meant to identify conflicts of interest don't do much to prevent them, particularly when it comes to extremely rich people like Kushner with complicated financial root systems.

Cadre is among scores of LLCs in which Kushner reported owning a stake. In his filings, Kushner reported leaving his official positions with Cadre in 2017 and is not involved in day-to-day operations. According to the new disclosures, his ongoing investment, however, is valued at $25 million to $50 million, though he reported receiving no income from it in 2018.

Here's another example having to do with Kushner's interest in Cadre. Last November, the company pitched opportunities to take advantage of a tax break created by the 2017 tax overhaul that encourages real estate investment in low-income areas. Is it a conflict that Kushner's wife, Ivanka Trump, a fellow White House adviser, pushed hard for the so-called "opportunity zone" tax break in the new tax law? She's showed up at events promoting the investment opportunity. Watchdog groups asked the Justice Department to launch an investigation.

The info is here.

Why High-Class People Get Away With Incompetence

Heather Murphy
The New York Times
Originally posted May 20, 2019

Here are two excerpt:

The researchers suggest that part of the answer involves what they call “overconfidence.” In several experiments, they found that people who came from a higher social class were more likely to have an inflated sense of their skills — even when tests proved that they were average. This unmerited overconfidence, they found, was interpreted by strangers as competence.

The findings highlight yet another way that family wealth and parents’ education — two of a number of factors used to assess social class in the study — affect a person’s experience as they move through the world.

“With this research, we now have reason to think that coming from a higher social class confers yet another advantage,” said Jessica A. Kennedy, a professor of management at Vanderbilt University, who was not involved in the study.


Researchers said they hoped that the takeaway was not to strive to be overconfident. Wars, stock market crashes and many other crises can be blamed on overconfidence, they said. So how do managers, employers, voters and customers avoid overvaluing social class and being duped by incompetent wealthy people? Dr. Kennedy said she had been encouraged to find that if you show people actual facts about a person, the elevated status that comes with overconfidence often fades away.

The info is here.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Kellyanne Conway Should Be Fired For Violating Ethics Law, Oversight Office Says

Brian Naylor & Peter Overby
Originally published June 13, 2019

Presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway has repeatedly criticized Democratic candidates in her official capacity in violation of the Hatch Act and should lose her job, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

The OSC, which oversees federal personnel issues, issued a stinging report Thursday, calling Conway "a repeat offender."

"As a highly visible member of the Administration, Ms. Conway's violations, if left unpunished, send a message to all federal employees that they need not abide by the Hatch Act's restrictions. Her actions thus erode the principal foundation of our democratic system — the rule of law," the office wrote to President Trump.

OSC is an independent federal ethics agency that has no relationship with former Department of Justice special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.

The Hatch Act forbids executive branch employees from taking part in political activities while engaged in their official duties.

In March 2018, the ethics agency found Conway broke the law twice in interviews about the Alabama Senate race. The new report focuses on her commentary on Democratic presidential candidates. It cites examples of her rhetoric, including suggesting Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey was "sexist" and alleging that former Vice President Joe Biden was unwilling to be "held to account for his record."

The info is here.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Legal questions surround police use of facial recognition tech

Alexander J Martin, Technology Reporter and Tom Cheshire
Originally posted August 23, 2017

Here is an excerpt:

He noted that despite this threat to privacy "this new database is subject to none of the governance controls or other protections which apply as regards the DNA and fingerprint databases" - and that it "has been put into operation without public or parliamentary consultation or debate."

Similar concerns were raised by Parliament's science and technology committee, which also complained to the Government that it was running two years late on its planned publication date for the joint forensics and biometrics strategy.

Although a separate forensics strategy has since been published, the biometrics strategy - which will set out how police can use technologies such as facial recognition - has still not been released by the Home Office, and it is now four years overdue.

The committee also noted that facial biometrics were currently not covered by strict rules that govern the police's collection of DNA profiles and fingerprints, and recommended the biometrics commissioner's role be expanded to include them.

The info is here.

Friday, June 14, 2019

From the talking cure to a disease of silence: Effects of ethical violations in a psychoanalytic institute

Jane Burka, Angela Sowa, Barbara A. Baer, & others
The International Journal of Psychoanalysis (2019) 100:2, 247-271,


This article presents an in-depth study of one institute’s efforts to recover from effects of ethical violations by two senior members. Qualitative data analysis from voluntary member interviews details the damage that spread throughout the institute, demonstrating that a violation of one is a violation of many. Members at all levels reported feeling disturbed in ways that affected their emotional equilibrium, their thinking processes, and their social and professional relationships. The aggregated interview data were reported to the institute community in large and small group meetings designed to reverse the “disease of silence” and to allow members to talk with each other. Outside consultation helped with this emotionally arduous process. The authors offer hypotheses concerning the nature of group anxieties during ethics crises. We assert that both sexual and non-sexual boundary violations break the incest taboo, as they breach the generational protection required of professional interactions. Ethical violations attack the group’s foundational ethos of care, unleashing primitive anxieties and defences that interfere with capacities for thinking, containment, collaboration, and integration. Since the full reality of what happened is unknowable, hybrid truths emerge, causing conflict and disturbances that inhibit thoughtful group discourse.

The article can be downloaded here.

The Ethics of Treating Loved Ones

Christopher Cheney
Originally posted May 19, 2019

When treating family members, friends, colleague, or themselves, ER physicians face ethical, professional, patient welfare, and liability concerns, a recent research article found.

Similar to situations arising in the treatment of VIP patients, ER physicians treating loved ones or close associates may vary their customary medical care from the standard treatment and inadvertently produce harm rather than benefit.

"Despite being common, this practice raises ethical concerns and concern for the welfare of both the patient and the physician," the authors of the recent article wrote in the American Journal of Emergency Medicine.

There are several liability concerns for clinicians, the lead author explained.

"Doctors would be held to the same standard of care as for other patients, and if care is violated and leads to damages, they could be liable. Intuitively, family and friends might be less likely to sue but that is not true of subordinates. In addition, as we state in the paper, for most ED physicians, practice outside of the home institution is not a covered event by the malpractice insurer," said Joel Geiderman, MD, professor and co-chairman of emergency medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

The info is here.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Moral dilemmas in (not) treating patients who feel they are a burden

Metselaar S, Widdershoven G.
[published online April 23, 2019]
Bioethics. 2019;33(4):431-438.


Working as clinical ethicists in an academic hospital, we find that practitioners tend to take a principle‐based approach to moral dilemmas when it comes to (not) treating patients who feel like a burden, in which respect for autonomy tends to trump other principles. We argue that this approach insufficiently deals with the moral doubts of professionals with regard to feeling that you are a burden as a motive to decline or withdraw from treatment. Neither does it take into adequately account the specific needs of the patient that might underlie their feeling of being a burden to others. We propose a care ethics approach as an alternative. It focuses on being attentive and responsive to the caring needs of those involved in the care process—which can be much more specific than either receiving or withdrawing from treatment. This approach considers these needs in the context of the patient's identity, biography and relationships, and regards autonomy as relational rather than as individual. We illustrate the difference between these two approaches by means of the case of Mrs K. Furthermore, we show that a care ethics approach is in line with interventions that are found to alleviate feeling a burden and maintain that facilitating moral case deliberation among practitioners can supports them in taking a care ethics approach to moral dilemmas in (not) treating patients who feel like a burden.

The info is here.

Alleviating Burdensome Beliefs Through a Care Ethics Approach

Medical Bag
Originally posted May 29, 2019

Compared with a principles-based approach, taking a care ethics approach to patients who believe they are a burden may be more effective for addressing moral dilemmas related to treatment, according to research published in Bioethics.

Two clinical ethicists from the department of medical humanities at VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, shared the case of Mrs K, a 66-year-old patient with leukemia, and examined the ways in which physicians can approach treating a patient who feels like a burden.

Mrs K recently received a bone marrow transplant, but because of rejection symptoms, is now taking an antirejection treatment. Although a cure is possible, the treatment is both taxing and extensive and presents a host of physical and mental challenges. Although Mrs K had previously focused on survival, her mindset has shifted: She says that she is burdening her husband and feels that he deserves better. Mrs K feels that life is no longer worth living and has considered stopping her antirejection treatment, which will result in her death.

Noticing that Mrs K’s mood has been poor over a long period of time, the treating physician suggests antidepressant therapy; they believe that by treating the patient’s depression, the patient will be more optimistic about continuing the antirejection therapy. Mrs K’s husband — also a physician — strongly disagrees with this course of treatment. Mrs K’s care team contacts the clinical ethicist to address this moral dilemma.

The info is here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Americans Say U.S. Moral Values Not Good and Getting Worse

Megan Brenan
Originally posted May 31, 2019

Americans continue to rate U.S. moral values negatively, on balance, and overwhelmingly agree that they are getting worse. These readings, from Gallup's May 1-12 Values poll, are the latest in the 18-year trend that shows similarly bleak findings.

Line graph. Americans’ views of moral values in the U.S. getting worse since 2002, currently 77%.

For the third consecutive year, 77% of Americans think moral values in the U.S. are getting worse, slightly below Gallup's all-time 82% high in 2007. Just 19% currently believe that morals are getting better.

The info is here.

'Ethics Bots' and Other Ways to Move Your Code of Business Conduct Beyond Puffery

Michael Blanding
Harvard Business Week
Originally posted May 14, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Even if not ready to develop or deploy such technologically advanced solutions, companies can still make their ethics codes more intuitive, interactive, and practical for day-to-day decision-making, Soltes says. That may mean reducing the number of broad-brush value statements and uninspired clip-art, instead making the document more concise in describing practical guidelines for the company’s employees.

He also recommends thinking beyond the legal department to bring in other areas of the company, such as marketing, communications, or consumer behavior specialists, to help design a code that will be understandable to employees. Uber, for example, rolled out a mobile app-focused version of its ethics code to better serve its employees, who are younger and more tech savvy.

Lastly, Soltes advises that firms not be afraid to experiment. An ethics code shouldn’t be a monolith, but rather a living document that can be adapted to the expanding needs of a firm and its employees. After rolling out a policy to a subgroup of employees, for example, companies should evaluate how the code is actually being used in practice and how it can be further refined and improved.

That kind of creativity can help companies stay away from the scrutiny of regulators and avoid negative headlines. “Ultimately, the goal should not simply be to just create a legal document, but instead a valuable tool that helps cultivate the kind of behavior and culture the firm wants to support on a day-to-day basis,” Soltes says.

The info is here.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Lawyer Who Wants to Transform Legal Ethics with Behavioral Science

Brian Gallagher
Originally posted May 28, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

In a paper on the psychology of conflicts of interest, you wrote that, “Too often, the Supreme Court has made assumptions about the behavior of defense lawyers without empirical support.” How does behavioral science inform the way the Supreme Court should think about defense lawyers?

In the last 40 years, the Supreme Court has analyzed conflicts of interest in a manner that, I believe, makes unsupported assumptions about how criminal defense lawyers respond to allegations about their own misbehavior. My argument is that lawyers—like all people—are poorly equipped to recognize and address their own conflicts of interest. As a result, I propose that constitutional standards for conflicts of interest should be treated more like the ethical rules concerning conflicts, which focus on the risk that a conflict will influence a lawyer’s behavior rather than whether a conflict has, in fact, caused an adverse effect on the legal representation that a client received. I’m happy that my analysis has been cited by a few state courts that have looked at these and similar issues—and who knows, maybe someday the Supreme Court will cite behavioral research in forming its opinion on this topic.

You recently shared a paper on your blog, calling it a “fascinating discussion of the role of behavioral ethics in the context of judicial decision-making.” Which points or lessons stood out to you the most?

Interestingly, in a series of decisions about the constitutional standards for judicial conflicts of interest, the Supreme Court seems to be a bit more behaviorally realistic about conflicts of interest than it has been about attorney conflicts. For instance, in a case from a few terms ago, the Supreme Court—in deciding whether a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court could properly adjudicate a death penalty case when he had previously been the prosecutor who authorized capital charges against the defendant—noted that “bias is easy to attribute to others and difficult to discern in oneself.” The Court went even further, noting that when a judge is asked to participate in a case in which he or she previously served as a prosecutor, there is “a risk that the judge would be so psychologically wedded to his or her previous position as a prosecutor that the judge would consciously or unconsciously avoid the appearance of having erred or changed position.”

The info is here.

Moral character: What it is and what it does

Cohen, T. R., & Morse, L. (2014).
In A. P. Brief & B. M. Staw (Eds.), Research in Organizational Behavior.


Moral character can be conceptualized as an individual’s disposition to think, feel, and behave in an ethical versus unethical manner, or as the subset of individual differences relevant to morality. This essay provides an organizing framework for understanding moral character and its relationship to ethical and unethical work behaviors. We present a tripartite model for understanding moral character, with the idea that there are motivational, ability, and identity elements. The motivational element is consideration of others—referring to a disposition toward considering the needs and interests of others, and how one’s own actions affect other people. The ability element is self-regulation—referring to a disposition toward regulating one’s behavior effectively, specifically with reference to behaviors that have positive short-term consequences but negative long-term consequences for oneself or others. The identity element is moral identity—referring to a disposition toward valuing morality and wanting to view oneself as a moral person. After unpacking what moral character is, we turn our attention to what moral character does, with a focus on how it influences unethical behavior, situation selection, and situation creation. Our research indicates that the impact of moral character on work outcomes is significant and consequential, with important implications for research and practice in organizational behavior.

A copy can be downloaded here.

Monday, June 10, 2019

A Missed Opportunity for the Malpractice System to Improve Health Care

Aaron Carroll
The New York Times
Originally posted May 27, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

First, the good news: These doctors quit at higher rates than other physicians. And they also tend not to pick up and move somewhere else to start fresh (which many thought they’d do given that licenses and malpractice are regulated at the state level).

But the overwhelming majority of doctors who had five or more paid claims kept on going. And they also moved to solo practice and small groups more often, where there’s even less oversight, so those problematic doctors may produce even worse outcomes.

We have long known that some doctors are likelier than others to be sued. Those who practice in certain higher-risk specialties — like surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and emergency medicine — are more likely to be sued than those in lower-risk specialties like family medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry. Men are more likely to be sued than women. Lawsuits seem to peak when doctors are around 40.


Those who accumulated more claims were more likely to stop practicing medicine. Even though they were more likely to retire, more than 90 percent of doctors who had at least five claims were still in practice.

Physicians with more claims were also not any more likely than those with fewer or no complaints to move to another state and continue practicing. This is actually one of the reasons the practitioner data bank was created — to prevent doctors from running away from their history by moving between states. In that respect, it appears to be working.

What’s worrisome, though, is that physicians with more claims shifted their type of practice. Those with five or more claims had more than twice the odds of moving into solo practice.

The info is here.

Does evolutionary biology contribute to ethics?

Bateson, P.
Biol Philos (1989) 4: 287.


Human propensities that are the products of Darwinian evolution may combine to generate a form of social behavior that is not itself a direct result of such pressure. This possibility may provide a satisfying explanation for the origin of socially transmitted rules such as the incest taboo. Similarly, the regulatory processes of development that generated adaptations to the environment in the circumstances in which they evolved can produce surprising and sometimes maladaptive consequences for the individual in modern conditions. These combinatorial aspects of social and developmental dynamics leave a subtle but not wholly uninteresting role for evolutionary biology in explaining the origins of human morality.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

German ethics council expresses openness to eventual embryo editing

Sharon Begley
Originally posted May 13, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The council’s openness to human germline editing was notable, however. Because of the Nazis’ eugenics programs and horrific human medical experiments, Germany has historically been even warier than other Western countries of medical technologies that might violate human dignity or could be exploited for eugenic purposes. The country’s 1990 Embryo Protection Act prohibits germline modifications for the purpose of reproduction.

“Germany has been very reluctant to get involved with anything that could lead to a re-introduction of eugenic practices in their society,” Annas said.

Despite that history, a large majority of the council called further development and possible use of germline editing “a legitimate ethical goal when aimed at avoiding or reducing genetically determined disease risks,” it said in a statement. If the procedure can be shown not to harm embryos or the children they become, it added, then altering a gene that otherwise causes a devastating illness such as cystic fibrosis or sickle cell is acceptable.

While some ethicists and others argue against embryo editing on the ground that it violates the embryos’ dignity, the German council wrote, “the question also arises as to whether the renunciation of germline intervention, which could spare the people concerned severe suffering, would not violate their human dignity, too.” Similarly, failing to intervene in order to spare a future child pain and suffering “would at least have to be justified,” the council said, echoing arguments that some families with a history of inherited diseases have.

The info is here.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Anger, Fear, and Echo Chambers: The Emotional Basis for Online Behavior

Wollebæk, D., Karlsen, R., Steen-Johnsen, K., & Enjolras, B.
(2019). Social Media + Society. 


Emotions, such as anger and fear, have been shown to influence people’s political behavior. However, few studies link emotions specifically to how people debate political issues and seek political information online. In this article, we examine how anger and fear are related to politics-oriented digital behavior, attempting to bridge the gap between the thus far disconnected literature on political psychology and the digital media. Based on survey data, we show that anger and fear are connected to distinct behaviors online. Angry people are more likely to engage in debates with people having both similar and opposing views. They also seek out information confirming their views more frequently. Anxious individuals, by contrast, tend to seek out information contradicting their opinions. These findings reiterate predictions made in the extant literature concerning the role of emotions in politics. Thus, we argue that anger reinforces echo chamber dynamics and trench warfare dynamics in the digital public sphere, while fear counteracts these dynamics.

Discussion and Conclusion

The analyses have shown that anger and fear have distinct effects on echo chamber and trench warfare dynamics in the digital sphere. With regard to the debate dimension, we have shown that anger is positively related to participation in online debates. This finding confirms the results of a recent study by Hasell and Weeks (2016). Importantly, however, the impact of anger is not limited to echo chamber discussions with like-minded and similar people. Angry individuals are also over-represented in debates between people holding opposing views and belonging to a different class or
ethnic background. This entails that regarding online debates, anger contributes more to what has been previously labeled as trench warfare dynamics than to echo chamber dynamics.

The research is here.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Trading morality for a good economy

Michael Gerson
Originally posted May 28, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Bennett went on to talk about how capitalism itself depends on good private character; how our system of government requires leaders of integrity; how failings of character can't be neatly compartmentalized. "A president whose character manifests itself in patterns of reckless personal conduct, deceit, abuse of power and contempt for the rule of law," he wrote, "cannot be a good president."

Above all, Bennett argued that the cultivation of character depends on the principled conduct of those in positions of public trust. "During moments of crisis," he wrote, "of unfolding scandal, people watch closely. They learn from what they see. And they often embrace a prevailing attitude and ethos, and employ what seems to work for others. So it matters if the legacy of the president is that the ends justify the means; that rules do not apply across the board; that lawlessness can be excused. It matters, too, if we demean the presidency by lowering our standards of expectations for the office and by redefining moral authority down. It matters if truth becomes incidental, and public office is used to cover up misdeeds. And it matters if we treat a president as if he were a king, above the law."

All this was written while Bill Clinton was president. And Bennett himself now seems reluctant to apply these rules "across the board" to a Republican president. This is not unusual. It is the political norm to ignore the poor character of politicians we agree with. But this does nothing to discredit Bennett's argument.

If you are a sexual harasser who wants to escape consequences, or a businessperson who habitually plays close to ethical lines, your hour has come. If you dream of having a porn-star mistress, or hope to game the tax system for your benefit, you have found your man and your moment. For all that is bent and sleazy, for all that is dishonest and dodgy, these are the golden days.

The info is here.

Cameras Everywhere: The Ethics Of Eyes In The Sky

Tom Vander Ark
Originally posted May 8, 2019

Pictures from people's houses can predict the chances of that person getting into a car accident. The researchers that created the system acknowledged that "modern data collection and computational techniques...allow for unprecedented exploitation of personal data, can outpace development of legislation and raise privacy threats."

Hong Kong researchers created a drone system that can automatically analyze a road surface. It suggests that we’re approaching the era of automated surveillance for civil and military purposes.

In lower Manhattan, police are planning a surveillance center where officers can view thousands of video cameras around the downtown.

Microsoft turned down the sale of facial recognition software to California law enforcement arguing that innocent women and minorities would be disproportionately held for questioning. It suggests that the technology is running ahead of public policy but not ready for equitable use. 

And speaking of facial recognition, Jet Blue has begun using it in lieu of boarding passes on some flights much to the chagrin of some passengers who wonder when they gave consent for this application and who has access to what biometric data.

The info is here.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

A socio-historical take on the meta-problem of consciousness

Hakwan Lau and Matthias Michel
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last Edited May 21, 2019


Whether consciousness is hard to explain depends on the notion of explanation at play. Importantly, for an explanation to be successful, it is necessary to have a correct understanding of the relevant basic empirical facts (i.e. the explanans). We review socio-historical factors that account for why, as a field, the neuroscience of consciousness has not been particularly successful at getting the basic facts right. And yet, we tend to aim for explanations of an unrealistically and unnecessarily ambitious nature. This discrepancy between ambitious notions of explanations and the relatively poor quality of explanans may account for what Chalmers calls “the meta-problem”.

The paper is here.

What's Behind A Rise In Conscience Complaints For Health Care Workers?

Selena Simmons-Duffin
Originally posted May 9, 2019

When health care workers feel they have been forced to do something they disagree with on moral or religious grounds, they can file complaints with the Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights. Some high-profile cases have involved nurses who objected to providing abortion services.

For a decade, the agency got an average of one of these complaints of conscience violations each year. The complaints can include doctors, nurses or other health care workers who feel a hospital or clinic that receives federal funds has discriminated against them because of their moral position. Groups of health care providers also can file complaints.

Last year, the number of complaints jumped to 343.

That increase was cited by the Office of Civil Rights as one reason for issuing a new rule designed to protect conscience rights, unveiled publicly last week. HHS estimates that implementing and enforcing the rule will cost taxpayers $312 million in its first year.

But why did the number of complaints increase?

HHS declined to offer any specifics on the 343 complaints, such as where they were from or what might be behind the sudden increase over past years.

The info is here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Ethics questions about President Trump's transportation secretary surface for second week in a row

Matthew Rozsa
Originally posted June 3, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

After ethics questions were referred to officials in the State and Treasury Departments, and media outlets like Times began to look into Chao's unusual travel requests, the trip was cancelled.

"She had these relatives who were fairly wealthy and connected to the shipping industry. Their business interests were potentially affected by meetings," a State Department official, who was involved in deliberations pertaining to the meetings, told the Times. Another State Department official, David Rank, told the Times the requests were "alarmingly inappropriate."

Chao's family runs an American shipping company, the Foremost Group, which is connected to China's political and economic ruling class, since it conducts most of its business there. As a result, allowing family members to participate in sensitive meetings — especially considering that Chao's actions as transportation secretary could directly impact America's shipping industry, and goes to the heart of the U.S.-China trade policies being handled by the Trump administration — poses a major conflict of interest.

The info is here.

To cheat or not to cheat? Researchers uncover the moral dilemmas of doping

Press Release
University of Birmingham
Originally posted May 9, 2019

Elite athletes are less likely to take banned substances if they consider the morality of what they are doing, and not just the health consequences of doping, according to a new study led by the University of Birmingham and funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).


The researchers were also interested in finding out what factors might reduce these justifications, which would ultimately allow athletes to suppress their feelings of guilt and use banned substances. The key factor which seems to protect athletes from doping was moral identity. This means how important it was to the players to be a moral person, and how strong their moral values, such as being fair or honest, were. Those players who had a strong moral identity did not use justifications for doping, expected to feel more guilt for doping, and ultimately were less likely to dope.

The researchers also found that coaches' behavior, and the 'performance climate' in which athletes were training also had a significant effect on their doping likelihood. If coaches were creating a climate in which players who made a mistake were penalised, or if they gave undue attention to the best players, athletes were more likely to turn towards banned substances. The coach can therefore play an important role in doping prevention.

The research findings are forming the basis for anti-doping interventions aimed at challenging players' attitudes towards banned substances. Funded by the World Anti-Doping Agency and the International Olympic Committee, the team has developed a series of interventions which highlight the moral angle through stories of athletes who have been affected by these issues, and what it has meant for them, and for their team mates and families.

The pressor is here.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Vatican, Catholic colleges weigh-in on emerging AI ethics debate

Jack Jenkins
National Catholic Reporter
Originally posted May 25, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Mastrofini also noted that the partnership emerged after Pope Francis asked the academy to study the topic of ethics and AI.

"The technologies are advancing but they are not neutral," he told Religion News Service via email. "The Church, expert in humanity, can show the way for a development that makes the world more human and fair."

Microsoft officials declined to comment on the meeting.

The conversation between the Pope and Smith is one of several recent attempts by religious groups to wade into Silicon Valley's ongoing debate over the ethics of artificial intelligence.

Not long after Microsoft announced its partnership with the Vatican, Francis addressed the issue directly during a speech to a plenary meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Life. The pontiff noted that he had previously spoken to the seriousness of artificial intelligence during his January 2018 address to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, but doubled-down on the potential dangers of misusing technology.

"It should be noted that the designation of 'artificial intelligence,' although certainly effective, may risk being misleading," Francis told the Pontifical Academy. "The terms conceal the fact that — in spite of the useful fulfillment of servile tasks (this is the original meaning of the term 'robot'), functional automatisms remain qualitatively distant from the human prerogatives of knowledge and action. And therefore they can become socially dangerous."

The info is here.

What's The Difference Between Compliance And Ethics?

Bruce Weinstein
Originally posted May 9, 2019

I've noticed some confusion about the roles that ethics and compliance play in organizations. This confusion arises, in part, from the way these two fields are identified. Some companies have only a compliance department. Others have a compliance and ethics (or ethics and compliance) department. Some companies have a Chief Ethics Officer separate from compliance.

To get some clarity on these crucial roles, I asked seven leaders who are involved in both ethics and compliance to explain the similarities and differences as they saw them. I'll present their views, offer my own analysis and then consider what this means for your career and your organization.


The Takeaways

What does all of this mean for you?

  1. If you're in compliance and/or ethics, it's worth having a clear understanding of what each department or program is about, how they're similar and how they differ. Then make sure that everyone in the organization understands these similarities and differences and what this means for their own roles.
  2. If you're not in compliance or ethics, find out how the company defines each area and what this means for you. Whether you want to move up in the organization or simply remain gainfully employed there, you will put yourself in good stead if you know the difference between ethics and compliance as your company defines them.
  3. No matter how your company views compliance and ethics, what its code of conduct is or whether you work within or outside of the compliance and ethics programs, it's not enough to ask, "What do laws, regulations or policies require of me?" The follow-up question should always be, "What is the right thing to do?"

Monday, June 3, 2019

IVF couples could be able to choose the ‘smartest’ embryo

Hannah Devlin
Originally posted May 24, 2019

Couples undergoing IVF treatment could be given the option to pick the “smartest” embryo within the next 10 years, a leading US scientist has predicted.

Stephen Hsu, senior vice president for research at Michigan State University, said scientific advances mean it will soon be feasible to reliably rank embryos according to potential IQ, posing profound ethical questions for society about whether or not the technology should be adopted.

Hsu’s company, Genomic Prediction, already offers a test aimed at screening out embryos with abnormally low IQ to couples being treated at fertility clinics in the US.

“Accurate IQ predictors will be possible, if not the next five years, the next 10 years certainly,” Hsu told the Guardian. “I predict certain countries will adopt them.”

Genomic Prediction’s tests are not currently available in the UK, but the company is planning to submit an application to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority by the end of the year, initially to offer a test for risk of type 1 diabetes.

The info is here.

Regulation of AI as a Means to Power

Daniel Faggella
Last updated May 5, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The most fundamental principle of power and artificial intelligence is data dominance: Whoever controls the most valuable data within a space or sector will be able to make a better product or solve a better problem. Whoever solves the problem best will win business and win revenue, and whoever wins customers wins more data.

That cycle continues and you have the tech giants of today (a topic for a later AI Power essay).

No companies are likely to get more general search queries than Google, and so people will not likely use any search engine other than Google – and so Google gets more searches (data) to train with, and gets an even better search product. Eventually: Search monopoly.

No companies are likely to generate more general eCommerce purchases than Amazon, and so people will not likely use any online store other than Amazon – and so Amazon gets more purchases and customers (data) to train with, and gets an even better eCommerce product. Eventually: eCommerce monopoly.

There are 3-4 other well-known examples (Facebook, to some extent Netflix, Uber, etc), but I’ll leave it at two. AI may change to become less reliant on data collection, and data dominance may eventually be eclipsed by some other power dynamic, but today it’s the way the game is won.

I’m not aiming to oversimplify the business models of these complex companies, nor and I disparaging these companies as being “bad”. Companies like Google are no more filled with “bad” people than churches, law firms, or AI ethics committees.

The info is here.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Promoting competent and flourishing life-long practice for psychologists: A communitarian perspective

Wise, E. H., & Reuman, L. (2019).
Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 50(2), 129-135.


Based on awareness of the challenges inherent in the practice of psychology there is a burgeoning interest in ensuring that psychologists who serve the public remain competent. These challenges include remaining current in our technical skills and maintaining sufficient personal wellness over the course of our careers. However, beyond merely maintaining competence, we encourage psychologists to envision flourishing lifelong practice that incorporates positive relationships, enhancement of meaning, and positive engagement. In this article we provide an overview of the foundational competencies related to professionalism including ethics, reflective practice, self-assessment, and self-care that underlie our ability to effectively apply technical skills in often complex and emotionally challenging relational contexts. Building on these foundational competencies that were initially defined and promulgated for academic training in health service psychology, we provide an initial framework for conceptualizing psychologist well-being and flourishing lifelong practice that incorporates tenets of applied positive psychology, values-based practice, and a communitarian-oriented approach into the following categories: fostering relationships, meaning making and value-based practice, and enhancing engagement. Finally, we propose broad strategies and specific examples intended to leverage current continuing education mandates into a broadly conceived vision of continuing professional development to support enhanced psychologist functioning for lifelong practice.

The info is here.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Does It Matter Whether You or Your Brain Did It?

Uri Maoz, K. R. Sita, J. J. A. van Boxtel, and L. Mudrik
Front. Psychol., 30 April 2019


Despite progress in cognitive neuroscience, we are still far from understanding the relations between the brain and the conscious self. We previously suggested that some neuroscientific texts that attempt to clarify these relations may in fact make them more difficult to understand. Such texts—ranging from popular science to high-impact scientific publications—position the brain and the conscious self as two independent, interacting subjects, capable of possessing opposite psychological states. We termed such writing ‘Double Subject Fallacy’ (DSF). We further suggested that such DSF language, besides being conceptually confusing and reflecting dualistic intuitions, might affect people’s conceptions of moral responsibility, lessening the perception of guilt over actions. Here, we empirically investigated this proposition with a series of three experiments (pilot and two preregistered replications). Subjects were presented with moral scenarios where the defendant was either (1) clearly guilty, (2) ambiguous, or (3) clearly innocent while the accompanying neuroscientific evidence about the defendant was presented using DSF or non-DSF language. Subjects were instructed to rate the defendant’s guilt in all experiments. Subjects rated the defendant in the clearly guilty scenario as guiltier than in the two other scenarios and the defendant in the ambiguously described scenario as guiltier than in the innocent scenario, as expected. In Experiment 1 (N = 609), an effect was further found for DSF language in the expected direction: subjects rated the defendant less guilty when the neuroscientific evidence was described using DSF language, across all levels of culpability. However, this effect did not replicate in Experiment 2 (N = 1794), which focused on different moral scenario, nor in Experiment 3 (N = 1810), which was an exact replication of Experiment 1. Bayesian analyses yielded strong evidence against the existence of an effect of DSF language on the perception of guilt. Our results thus challenge the claim that DSF language affects subjects’ moral judgments. They further demonstrate the importance of good scientific practice, including preregistration and—most critically—replication, to avoid reaching erroneous conclusions based on false-positive results.