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

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

US Senators Call for International Guidelines for Germline Editing

Jef Akst
Originally published July 16, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

“Gene editing is a powerful technology that has the potential to lead to new therapies for devastating and previously untreatable diseases,” Feinstein says in a statement. “However, like any new technology, there is potential for misuse. The international community must establish standards for gene-editing research to develop global ethical principles and prevent unethical researchers from moving to whichever country has the loosest regulations.” (Editing embryos for reproductive purposes is already illegal in the US.)

In addition, the resolution makes clear that the trio of senators “opposes the experiments that resulted in pregnancies using genome-edited human embryos”—referring to the revelation last fall that researcher He Jiankui had CRISPRed the genomes of two babies born in China.

The info is here.

The “Fake News” Effect: An Experiment on Motivated Reasoning and Trust in News

Michael Thaler
Harvard University
Originally published May 28, 2019


When people receive information about controversial issues such as immigration policies, upward mobility, and racial discrimination, the information often evokes both what they currently believe and what they are motivated to believe. This paper theoretically and experimentally explores the importance in inference of this latter channel: motivated reasoning. In the theory of motivated reasoning this paper develops, people misupdate from information by treating their motivated beliefs as an extra signal. To test the theory, I create a new experimental design in which people make inferences about the veracity of news sources. This design is unique in that it identifies motivated reasoning from Bayesian updating and confirmation bias, and doesn’t require elicitation of people’s entire belief distribution. It is also very portable: In a large online experiment, I find the first identifying evidence for politically-driven motivated reasoning on eight different economic and social issues. Motivated reasoning leads people to become more polarized, less accurate, and more overconfident in their beliefs about these issues.

From the Conclusion:

One interpretation of this paper is unambiguously bleak: People of all demographics similarly motivatedly reason, do so on essentially every topic they are asked about, and make particularly biased inferences on issues they find important. However, there is an alternative interpretation: This experiment takes a step towards better understanding motivated reasoning, and makes it easier for future work to attenuate the bias. Using this experimental design, we can identify and estimate the magnitude of the bias; future projects that use interventions to attempt to mitigate motivated reasoning can use this estimated magnitude as an outcome variable. Since the bias does decrease utility in at least some settings, people may have demand for such interventions.

The research is here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Is belief superiority justified by superior knowledge?

Michael P.Hall & Kaitlin T.Raimi
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 76, May 2018, Pages 290-306


Individuals expressing belief superiority—the belief that one's views are superior to other viewpoints—perceive themselves as better informed about that topic, but no research has verified whether this perception is justified. The present research examined whether people expressing belief superiority on four political issues demonstrated superior knowledge or superior knowledge-seeking behavior. Despite perceiving themselves as more knowledgeable, knowledge assessments revealed that the belief superior exhibited the greatest gaps between their perceived and actual knowledge. When given the opportunity to pursue additional information in that domain, belief-superior individuals frequently favored agreeable over disagreeable information, but also indicated awareness of this bias. Lastly, experimentally manipulated feedback about one's knowledge had some success in affecting belief superiority and resulting information-seeking behavior. Specifically, when belief superiority is lowered, people attend to information they may have previously regarded as inferior. Implications of unjustified belief superiority and biased information pursuit for political discourse are discussed.

The research is here.

Ethics In The Digital Age: Protect Others' Data As You Would Your Own

uncaptionedJeff Thomson
Originally posted July 1, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

2. Ensure they are using people’s data with their consent. 

In theory, an increasing amount of rights to data use is willingly signed over by people through digital acceptance of privacy policies. But a recent investigation by the European Commission, following up on the impact of GDPR, indicated that corporate privacy policies remain too difficult for consumers to understand or even read. When analyzing the ethics of using data, finance professionals must personally reflect on whether the way information is being used is consistent with how consumers, clients or employees understand and expect it to be used. Furthermore, they should question if data is being used in a way that is necessary for achieving business goals in an ethical manner.

3. Follow the “golden rule” when it comes to data. 

Finally, finance professionals must reflect on whether they would want their own personal information being used to further business goals in the way that they are helping their organization use the data of others. This goes beyond regulations and the fine print of privacy agreements: it is adherence to the ancient, universal standard of refusing to do to other people what you would not want done to yourself. Admittedly, this is subjective and difficult to define. But finance professionals will be confronted with many situations in which there are no clear answers, and they must have the ability to think about the ethical implications of actions that might not necessarily be illegal.

The info is here.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Experts question the morality of creating human-monkey ‘chimeras’

Kay Vandette
Originally published July 5, 2019

Earlier this year, scientists at the Kunming Institute of Zoology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences announced they had inserted a human gene into embryos that would become rhesus macaques, monkeys that share about 93 percent of their DNA with humans. The research, which was designed to give experts a better understanding of human brain development, has sparked controversy over whether this type of experimentation is ethical.

Some scientists believe that it is time to use human-monkey animals to pursue new insights into the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. These genetically modified monkeys are referred to as chimeras, which are named after a mythical animal that consists of parts taken from various animals.

A resource guide on the science and ethics of chimeras written by Yale University researchers suggests that it is time to “cautiously” explore the creation of human-monkey chimeras.

“The search for a better animal model to stimulate human disease has been a ‘holy grail’ of biomedical research for decades,” the Yale team wrote in Chimera Research: Ethics and Protocols. “Realizing the promise of human-monkey chimera research in an ethically and scientifically appropriate manner will require a coordinated approach.”

A team of experts led by Dr. Douglas Munoz of Queen’s University has been studying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in monkeys by using injections of beta-amyloid. The accumulation of this protein in the brain is believed to kill nerve cells and initiate the degenerative process.

The info is here.

AI Ethics – Too Principled to Fail?

Brent Mittelstadt
Oxford Internet Institute


AI Ethics is now a global topic of discussion in academic and policy circles. At least 63 public-private initiatives have produced statements describing high-level principles, values, and other tenets to guide the ethical development, deployment, and governance of AI. According to recent meta-analyses, AI Ethics has seemingly converged on a set of principles that closely resemble the four classic principles of medical ethics. Despite the initial credibility granted to a principled approach to AI Ethics by the connection to principles in medical ethics, there are reasons to be concerned about its future impact on AI development and governance. Significant differences exist between medicine and AI development that suggest a principled approach in the latter may not enjoy success comparable to the former. Compared to medicine, AI development lacks (1) common aims and fiduciary duties, (2) professional history and norms, (3) proven methods to translate principles into practice, and (4) robust legal and professional accountability mechanisms. These differences suggest we should not yet celebrate consensus around high-level principles that hide deep political and normative disagreement.

The paper is here.

Shift from professional ethics to business ethics

The outputs of many AI Ethics initiatives resemble professional codes of ethics that address design requirements and the behaviours and values of individual professions.  The legitimacy of particular applications and their underlying business interests remain largely unquestioned.  This approach conveniently steers debate towards the transgressions of unethical individuals, and away from the collective failure of unethical businesses and business models.  Developers will always be constrained by the institutions that employ them. To be truly effective, the ethical challenges of AI cannot conceptualised as individual failures. Going forward, AI Ethics must become an ethics of AI businesses as well.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Community Standards of Deception

Levine, Emma
Booth School of Business
(June 17, 2019).
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3405538


We frequently claim that lying is wrong, despite modeling that it is often right. The present research sheds light on this tension by unearthing systematic cases in which people believe lying is ethical in everyday communication and by proposing and testing a theory to explain these cases. Using both inductive and experimental approaches, I demonstrate that deception is perceived to be ethical, and individuals want to be deceived, when deception is perceived to prevent unnecessary harm. I identify nine implicit rules – pertaining to the targets of deception and the topic and timing of a conversation – that specify the systematic circumstances in which deception is perceived to cause unnecessary harm, and I document the causal effect of each implicit rule on the endorsement of deception. This research provides insight into when and why people value honesty, and paves the way for future research on when and why people embrace deception.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

An Obligation to Enhance?

Anton Vedder
Topoi 2019; 38 (1) pp. 49-52. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3407867


This article discusses some rather formal characteristics of possible obligations to enhance. Obligations to enhance can exist in the absence of good moral reasons. If obligation and duty however are considered as synonyms, the enhancement involved must be morally desirable in some respect. Since enhancers and enhanced can, but need not coincide, advertency is appropriate regarding the question who exactly is addressed by an obligation or a duty to enhance: the person on whom the enhancing treatment is performed, or the controller or the operator of the enhancement. Especially, the position of the operator is easily overlooked. The exact functionality of the specific enhancement, is all-important, not only for the acceptability of a specific form of enhancement, but also for its chances of success for becoming a duty or morally obligatory. Finally and most importantly, however, since obligations can exist without good moral reasons, there can be obligations to enhance that are not morally right, let alone desirable.

From the Conclusion:

Obligations to enhance can exist in the presence and in the absence of good moral reasons for them. Obligations are based on preceding promises, agreements or regulatory arrangements; they do not necessarily coincide with moral duties. The existence of such obligations therefore need not be morally desirable. If obligation and duty are considered as synonyms, the enhancement involved must be morally desirable in some respect. Since enhancers and enhanced can, but need not coincide, advertency is appropriate regarding the question who exactly is addressed by an obligation or a duty to enhance: the person on whom the enhancing treatment is performed, or the controller or the operator of the enhancement? Especially, the position of the operator is easily overlooked. Finally, the exact functionality of the specific enhancement, is all-important, not only for the acceptability of a specific form of enhancement, but also for its chances of success for becoming a duty or morally obligatory. 

Friday, July 26, 2019

Dark Pathways to Achievement in Science: Researchers’ Achievement Goals Predict Engagement in Questionable Research Practices

Janke, S., Daumiller, M., & Rudert, S. C. (2019).
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 10(6), 783–791.


Questionable research practices (QRPs) are a strongly debated topic in the scientific community. Hypotheses about the relationship between individual differences and QRPs are plentiful but have rarely been empirically tested. Here, we investigate whether researchers’ personal motivation (expressed by achievement goals) is associated with self-reported engagement in QRPs within a sample of 217 psychology researchers. Appearance approach goals (striving for skill demonstration) positively predicted engagement in QRPs, while learning approach goals (striving for skill development) were a negative predictor. These effects remained stable when also considering Machiavellianism, narcissism, and psychopathy in a latent multiple regression model. Additional moderation analyses revealed that the more researchers favored publishing over scientific rigor, the stronger the association between appearance approach goals and engagement in QRPs. The findings deliver first insights into the nature of the relationship between personal motivation and scientific malpractice.

The research can be found here.

The Effects of Pornography on Unethical Behavior in Business

Mecham, Nathan and Lewis-Western, Melissa Fay and Wood, David A.
(June 5, 2019). Journal of Business Ethics, Forthcoming.
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3399630


Pornography is no longer an activity confined to a small group of individuals or the privacy of one’s home. Rather, it has permeated modern culture, including the work environment. Given the pervasive nature of pornography, we study how viewing pornography affects unethical behavior at work. Using survey data from a sample that approximates a nationally representative sample in terms of demographics, we find a positive correlation between viewing pornography and intended unethical behavior. We then conduct an experiment to provide causal evidence. The experiment confirms the survey — consuming pornography causes individuals to be less ethical. We find that this relationship is mediated by increased moral disengagement from dehumanization of others due to viewing pornography. Combined, our results suggest that choosing to consume pornography causes individuals to behave less ethically. Because unethical employee behavior has been linked to numerous negative organization outcomes including fraud, collusion, and other self-serving behaviors, our results have implications for most societal organizations.

From the Conclusion:

Because pornography increases unethical behavior and the effect stems from an increased propensity to dehumanize others, our results have implications for numerous business and organizational decisions. For example, an increased tendency to lie to obtain gain and to view others only as a means to an end is likely to be highly detrimental to team effectiveness and cooperation. In addition, treating customers like objects rather than respecting them is likely to reduce customer satisfaction. Also, organizations’ ability to retain and develop talented women may be undermined when employees, particularly those in leadership positions, consume pornography and more aggressively engage in dehumanizing behavior. Finally, increased employee propensity to dehumanize co-workers is likely to increase the incidence of sexual harassment or hostile work environments, both of which can decrease firm productivity and lead to costly litigation.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Samsung faces ethics charges in France over deceptive advertising

French Press Agency
Originally published March 7, 2019

The French subsidiary of Samsung Electronics is facing charges of deceptive marketing over its corporate ethics pledges after local activists complained that the smartphone giant's practices in its factories, including the use of underage labor, violated human rights, two NGOs said Wednesday.

The preliminary charges were lodged in April against the South Korean firm by a Paris investigating magistrate following a complaint by two French activist groups: Sherpa and ActionAid France - Peuples Solidaires.

The complaint directly to the investigating magistrate circumvents prosecutors, who declined to pursue similar complaints by activists.

"This is the first time in France that it was recognized that corporate ethics pledges may be considered marketing practices that are binding on a firm," the activist groups said in a statement.

In their complaint filed in June 2018, a copy of which was viewed by AFP, the groups accused Samsung of not respecting the ethics pledges it makes on its website.

The info is here.

Societal and ethical issues of digitization

Lambèr Royakkers, Jelte Timmer, Linda Kool, & Rinie van Est
Ethics and Information Technology (2018) 20:127–142


In this paper we discuss the social and ethical issues that arise as a result of digitization based on six dominant technologies: Internet of Things, robotics, biometrics, persuasive technology, virtual & augmented reality, and digital platforms. We highlight the many developments in the digitizing society that appear to be at odds with six recurring themes revealing from our analysis of the scientific literature on the dominant technologies: privacy, autonomy, security, human dignity, justice, and balance of power. This study shows that the new wave of digitization is putting pressure on these public values. In order to effectively shape the digital society in a socially and ethically responsible way, stakeholders need to have a clear understand-ing of what such issues might be. Supervision has been developed the most in the areas of privacy and data protection. For other ethical issues concerning digitization such as discrimination, autonomy, human dignity and unequal balance of power, the supervision is not as well organized.

The paper is here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

We need to talk marketing ethics: What to consider as a content writer

Natasha Lane
Originally posted June 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Are content marketing ethics journalism ethics?

Content marketing and blogging aren’t journalism. Journalism is primarily impartial, and when content is created as part of a business’ marketing strategy, it’s understood that it can’t be entirely impartial.

However, well-written content (whether it’s blog posts, case studies, how-to guides, white papers, etc.) will have journalistic value. The bottom line is that a brand should seek to provide value through all their marketing efforts, so rather than trying to sell, content created with the intention to inform and teach its audience will be a legitimate resource to its readers.

And to make something a trustworthy resource, you’ll need to stick to the same ethical principles of traditional journalism. It’s about being honest and outright with the reader – honest in your intention to inform truthfully and honest about your biases. Providing appropriate disclosures to acknowledge potential conflicts of interest and making it clear in the byline for which company the author works are the most basic starting points.

Whose responsibility is it? 

In an era when audience trust is increasingly difficult to gain, businesses are best advised to follow white-hat practices across all their marketing strategies. But we have to face the facts – that won’t always be the case.

As freelance writers, we come across all sorts of offers. I know I did. It might be a request to write a review for a product you’ve never tried or to plug in some shady statistics.

The info is here.

Campuses Are Short on Mental-Health Counselors. But They’ve Got Plenty of Antidepressants.

Lily Jackson
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Originally posted June 28, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

A Potential for Lopsided Treatment

It is generally accepted that the most effective treatment for medium-to-severe depression is a mix of therapy and medication. But on most college campuses, it’s easier to get the latter than the former.

A student experiencing symptoms of depression who wants to see a counselor may have to wait weeks. The average wait for a first-time appointment among all college counseling centers is about seven business days, according to a report by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors. And nearly two-thirds of counseling directors whose centers offer psychiatric services say they need “more hours of psychiatric services than they currently have to meet student needs,” according to the same report.

On many campuses, the path to a prescription is simpler. A student can walk into a campus clinic where a medical employee can administer an evaluation called the PHQ-9, a nine-question rubric, commonly used across medicine, that assesses the patient's well-being with questions like, “Have you been feeling blue for the last two weeks?” and “Have you experienced thoughts of suicide?”

Based on the student’s evaluation score, psychologists can direct them toward medication or therapy, or both, based on the severity of their symptoms. Some students are seeking mental health resources with a driving force of “instant relief,” said Gregory Eells, executive director of Counseling and Psychological Services at the University of Pennsylvania and the president-elect of Aucccd.

So they tell their physician what they want, Eells said, rather than inquiring about what they need.

It’s common, experts say, for a patient to leave the first visit with a prescription for an antidepressant.

“Most students come in knowing one thing: They want help,” said William E. Neighbor, clinical professor of family medicine at the University of Washington Hall Health Center. “They are interested in medications because most have friends who have been on them.”

The info is here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

How celebrity activists are changing morality in America

Image result for influencersCaroline Newman
Originally posted July 1, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Q. What are some of the risks of viewing celebrities as moral authorities?

A. Many argue that celebrities have no right to speak out on these issues because they do not have traditional credentials in law, religion or philosophy. I do not believe that. While there is a risk that people will pay less attention to those traditional leaders, religious or otherwise, that might not be such a bad thing, given some of the scandals we have seen recently.

Perhaps the biggest risk is that anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account can now get on their soapbox and start making moral proclamations, often with little to back that up. Morality has become more of a free-for-all and the responsibility for determining morality rests on the shoulders of everyday Americans, who might find it easier to listen to celebrities they already like rather than conducting research themselves. However, this is arguably what we have done all along, with priests, rabbis, political leaders, etc.

Q. What are some of the benefits?

A. One important benefit is that ethics becomes part of everyday life and everyday discussions. It used to be that people who studied philosophy or religion were kind of off to the side. Now that people like Taylor Swift, Oprah or Colin Kaepernick are talking about very important moral issues; those issues and debates have become mainstream and, if not cool, at least more frequently talked about.

The info is here.

Editor's Note: Ugh.

The Gap Between Rich And Poor Americans' Health Is Widening

Susie Neilson
Originally posted June 28, 2019

Hereis an excerpt:

The researchers looked at differences in health between white and black people and between three income brackets. They assessed the degree to which race, income and gender influenced health outcomes over time, a measure they called "health justice."

Finally, they calculated the gap between people's health outcomes and that of the most privileged demographic: high-income white men.

"Results of this analysis suggest that there has been a clear lack of progress on health equity during the past 25 years in the United States," the researchers write.

Income was the biggest predictor of differences in health outcomes, according to Zimmerman. Health differences between the highest income group and lowest income group increased "really quite dramatically," he says.

Things weren't all negative. On one measure — disparity between health outcomes for black and white people — the gap between health outcomes narrowed significantly.

But gender and race still influenced health outcomes.

Lisa Cooper, a Bloomberg distinguished professor in health equity at Johns Hopkins University, called the study's conclusions "frustrating, but honestly not surprising."

The info is here.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Thomas Fisher on The Ethics of Architecture and Other Contradictions

Michael Crosbie
Originally posted June 21, 2019

Here is an excerpt from the interview between Michael Crosbie and Thomas Fisher:

MJC: Most architects don’t give serious consideration to ethics in their design work. Why not?

TF: The revision of AIA’s Code of Ethics requiring members to discuss the environmental impacts of a project with the client really gets at that. In the past, architects have been wary to have such discussions because it questions the power of the client to do whatever they want because they have the means to do so. Architects have been designing for people with power and money for a very long time. It’s easier to talk about aesthetics, function, or the pragmatics of design because it doesn’t question a client’s power.

MJC: “The pursuit of happiness” is a very strong idea in American culture. How do architects balance serving clients—in their “pursuit of happiness” through architecture—with the greater good of the community?

TF: In ethics, “the pursuit of happiness” is often misunderstood. Utilitarian ethics states that you strive to make the greatest number of people happy; the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham promoted “the greatest good for the greatest number.” But ethics is also about understanding how others view the world, and how our actions affect the lives and welfare of others. The role of professionals is to look after the greater good. Licensure is a social contract in which, in exchange for a monopoly in providing professional services, the professional is responsible for the larger picture. Designing to satisfy someone’s hedonistic “pursuit of happiness” without regard to that bigger picture is unethical behavior for an architect. It violates the social contract behind licensure. I think an architect should lose his or her license for an action like that. Such an action might not be illegal, but it’s unethical. Ethics is really about our day-to-day interactions with people in the realm of space, public and private.

The interview is here.

Understanding the process of moralization: How eating meat becomes a moral issue

Feinberg, M., Kovacheff, C., Teper, R., & Inbar, Y. (2019).
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 117(1), 50-72.


A large literature demonstrates that moral convictions guide many of our thoughts, behaviors, and social interactions. Yet, we know little about how these moral convictions come to exist. In the present research we explore moralization—the process by which something that was morally neutral takes on moral properties—examining what factors facilitate and deter it. In 3 longitudinal studies participants were presented with morally evocative stimuli about why eating meat should be viewed as a moral issue. Study 1 tracked students over a semester as they took a university course that highlighted the suffering animals endure because of human meat consumption. In Studies 2 and 3 participants took part in a mini-course we developed which presented evocative videos aimed at inducing moralization. In all 3 studies, we assessed participants’ beliefs, attitudes, emotions, and cognitions at multiple time points to track moral changes and potential factors responsible for such changes. A variety of factors, both cognitive and affective, predicted participants’ moralization or lack thereof. Model testing further pointed to two primary conduits of moralization: the experience of moral emotions (e.g., disgust, guilt) felt when contemplating the issue, and moral piggybacking (connecting the issue at hand with one’s existing fundamental moral principles). Moreover, we found individual differences, such as how much one holds their morality as central to their identity, also predicted the moralization process. We discuss the broad theoretical and applied implications of our results.

A pdf can be viewed here.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

The world is broken—and human kindness is the only solution

Anee Kingston
Originally published June 19, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

The U.S. government has literally institutionalized cruelty, caging migrant children and arresting “Good Samaritans” helping ailing migrants at the Mexican border. Austerity programs, including those in Ontario, are targeting the vulnerable—the poor, children, those on the margins. The divisive, toxic political climate gave rise to the British group Compassion in Politics, founded last fall by activists and academics. “People look at British politics and see a lack of compassion in policy on refugees, immigration, housing, Brexit,” group co-founder Ma
tt Hawkins tells Maclean’s. Forty years of neo-liberal, free-market policies created widening inequities, falling incomes and a sense of desperation, he says. “There’s frustration with a political system that puts party above universal progress, majorities in Parliament over collaboration.” Support has been overwhelmingly positive, Hawkins says, including from the moral philosopher Peter Singer and Noam Chomsky; there’s interest in Australia and they’re liaising with Ardern’s office. In May, a cross-party group of British MPs called for legislation to contain a “compassion threshold.”

The loudest cries for compassion, tellingly, are heard within systems literally created to care for people. Compassionomics: The Revolutionary Scientific Evidence that Caring Makes a Difference, by American physician-scientists Stephen Trzeciak and Anthony Mazzarelli, published in April, is the latest book to sound the alarm about systemic inhumanity within “patient-based” medicine. The authors identify a “compassion crisis” in U.S. health care; treating patients more kindly, they argue, improves health outcomes, reduces doctor burnout and lowers costs.

Canada is in similar straits, Toronto physician Brian Goldman, author of the 2018 bestseller The Power of Kindness: Why Empathy is Essential in Everyday Life, tells Maclean’s. “We’ve designed a system that edits out empathy, that makes it almost impossible.” Something has to crack, Goldman says: “We’ve reached the limit of the myth of the superman-superwoman [doctor] who can juggle 10 things at once.”

The info is here.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Microsoft Reconsidering AI Ethics Review Plan

Microsoft executives are reconsidering plans to add AI ethics to audits for products to be releasedDeborah Todd
Originally posted June 24, 2019

Here is an except:

In March, Microsoft executive vice president of AI and Research Harry Shum told the crowd at MIT Technology Review’s EmTech Digital Conference the company would  someday add AI ethics reviews to a standard checklist of audits for products to be released. However, a Microsoft spokesperson said in an interview that the plan was only one of “a number of options being discussed,” and its implementation isn’t guaranteed. He said efforts are underway for an AI strategy that will influence operations companywide, in addition to the product stage.

“Microsoft has implemented its internal facial recognition principles and is continuing work to operationalize its broader AI principles across the company,” said the spokesman.

The adjustment comes during a time when executives across Silicon Valley are grappling with the best ways to ensure the implicit biases affecting human programmers don’t make their way into machine learning and artificial intelligence architecture. It also comes as the industry works to address issues where bias may have already crept in, including facial recognition systems that misidentify individuals with dark skin tones, autonomous vehicles with detection systems that fail dark-skinned pedestrians more than any other group and voice recognition systems that struggle to recognize non-native English speakers.

The info is here.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Revisiting Morality In the Age of Dishonesty

Wim Laven
Originally posted June 27, 2019

If Donald Trump actually follows through on his recently tweeted promise that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “will begin deporting the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States … as fast as they come in,” what will you do?

According to the faith I was raised with I hope I would act according to the lessons found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus told of a traveler who was beaten, stripped, and left naked waiting for death. People who claimed to have good faith avoided this victim, but it was the Samaritan who stopped and rendered aid—a selfless act of altruism. Charity, compassion, and forgiveness are the highest values I was raised with. I do my best to dedicate myself to their service, and I’m sure I’m not the only one left in a bind: what will I do?

Recent stories tell of modern day Samaritans rendering aid to travelers (some seeking asylum, some trying to immigrate legally, some illegally…) at great risk. The case of Scott Warren in Arizona presents offering humanitarian aid as a crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison; but there is no verdict, the jury is hung. His specific crimes are putting out food and water, and pointing directions (actions consistent with No More Deaths, a part of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tucson), which appears reflect values just like I was raised with. Do I have the strength to follow my religious convictions, even in the face of criminal prosecution like Warren has?

The info is here.

Cognitive skills and decision-making are related to distinct facets of trait mindfulness

Tung Bui, Neil Dittmann, Kaleb Hobgood, and Neil Schmitzer-Torbert
PsyArXiv Preprints
Lasted edited June 1, 2019


Objective: Mindfulness has been an active area of research focused on the potential links to health. Recent work has also established that trait mindfulness is also related to cognition and decision-making. The present study tested the relationship between dimensions of trait mindfulness and measures of perception, cognition, and decision-making.

Method: Forty-three undergraduate males and 126 online participants (54 females) completed a perceptual accuracy task, Stroop task, and surveys assessing five facets of trait mindfulness, problem solving, decentering, and mental health measures (stress, depression, anxiety).

Results: Overall, only a subset of mindfulness facets were related to performance on the perceptual accuracy and Stroop tasks, partially replicating previous reports. Similarly, a subset of mindfulness dimensions was related to ethical decision-making and problem-solving success. In contrast, measures of poor mental health (stress, worry, depression) were non-specifically related to the majority of mindfulness facets. Relationships between mental health measures, but not measures of cognition and decision-making, were mediated by decentering. One exception was perceptual accuracy, which was related to several mindfulness facets, and mediated by decentering.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that separable dimensions of mindfulness are specifically related to distinct cognitive skills and decision-making, and that these relationships are largely distinct from those between mindfulness and psychological health.

The research is here.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Theory That Justified Anti-Gay Crime

Caleb Crain
The New Yorker
Originally posted June 26, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

As preposterous as the idea of homosexual panic may sound today, for much of the twentieth century it was treated as something like common sense. “When a beast attacks, you are justified in killing him,” is the way one defense attorney phrased the principle behind it, in 1940. The press, too, sometimes discussed the idea approvingly. The New York Daily News described a 1944 murder of a gay man as an “honor slaying.” In 1952, homosexual panic was listed as a mental disorder in the first edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, and, as late as the nineteen-nineties, the notion was still so current in the popular mind that a Christopher Street shop selling gay-themed T-shirts was called, in what seems to have been ironic homage, Don’t Panic.

It turns out that the psychological concept has a less than illustrious origin. The term “homosexual panic,” Polchin reports, was coined by a psychiatrist named Edward Kempf, in a 1920 treatise titled “Psychopathology.” Polchin garbles a key quote from Kempf, printing “sexually attracted” where Kempf wrote “sexually attractive,” and I took a look at the relevant chapter to see if I could make sense of it. It’s understandable that Polchin got confused. Kempf’s text is neither lucid nor coherent.

Kempf theorized that homosexual panic emerged from “the pressure of uncontrollable perverse sexual cravings,” that is, from the frustration of homosexual urges that typically arose in same-sex environments, such as prison or the military. According to Kempf, symptoms of the panic included a fearfulness that could lead to catatonia, a “compulsion to seek or submit to assault,” and delusional perceptions of being poisoned or entranced. Indeed, the hallucinations and paranoid delusions that many of Kempf’s patients suffered from were quite serious. One patient imagined that broken pills were being surreptitiously put into his pudding; another went through spells of believing he was God.

The info is here.

Taking Ethics Seriously: Toward Comprehensive Education in Ethics and Human Rights for Psychologists

Duška Franeta
European Psychologist (2019), 24, pp. 125-135.

Education in ethics and professional regulation are not alternatives; education in ethics for psychologists should not be framed merely as instruction regarding current professional regulation, or “ethical training.” This would reduce ethics to essentially a legal perspective, diminish professional responsibility, debase professional ethics, and downplay its primary purpose – the continuous critical reflection of professional identity and professional role. This paper discusses the meaning and function of education in ethics for psychologists and articulates the reasons why comprehensive education in ethics for psychologists should not be substituted by instruction in professional codes. Likewise, human rights education for psychologists should not be downgraded to mere instruction in existing legal norms. Human rights discourse represents an important segment of the comprehensive education in ethics for psychologists. Education in ethics should expose and examine substantial ethical ideas that serve as the framework for the law of human rights as well as the interpretative, multifaceted, evolving, even manipulable character of the human rights narrative. The typically proclaimed duty of psychologists to protect and promote human rights requires a deepening and expounding of the human rights legal framework through elaborate scrutiny of its ethical meaning. The idea of affirming and restoring human dignity – the concept often designated as the legal and ethical basis, essence, and purpose of human rights – represents one approach to framing this duty by which the goals of psychology on the professional and ethical levels become unified.

The info is here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Deep Ethics: The Long-Term Quest to Decide Right from Wrong

Simon Beard
Originally posted June 18, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Our sense of right and wrong goes back a long way, so it can be helpful to distinguish between ethics and “morality”. Morality is an individual’s, largely intuitive and emotional, sense of how they should treat others. It has probably existed for hundreds of thousands of years, and maybe even in other species. Ethics, on the other hand, is a formalised set of principles that claim to represent the truth about how people should behave. For instance, while almost everyone has a strong moral sense that killing is wrong and that it simply “mustn’t be done”, ethicists have long sought to understand why killing is wrong and under what circumstances (war, capital punishment, euthanasia) it may still be permissible.

Put a small group of people together in relative isolation and this natural moral sense will usually be enough to allow them to get along. However, at some point in our history, human societies became so large and complex that new principles of organisation were needed. Originally these were likely simple buttresses to our pre-existing emotions and intuitions: invoking a supernatural parent might bring together multiple kinship groups or identifying a common enemy might keep young men from fighting each other.

However, such buttresses are inherently unstable and attempts to codify more enduring principles began shortly after our ancestors began to form stable states. From the earliest written accounts, we see appeals to what are recognisably ethical values and principles.

The information is here.

Responsibility for Killer Robots

Johannes Himmelreich
Ethic Theory Moral Prac (2019).


Future weapons will make life-or-death decisions without a human in the loop. When such weapons inflict unwarranted harm, no one appears to be responsible. There seems to be a responsibility gap. I first reconstruct the argument for such responsibility gaps to then argue that this argument is not sound. The argument assumes that commanders have no control over whether autonomous weapons inflict harm. I argue against this assumption. Although this investigation concerns a specific case of autonomous weapons systems, I take steps towards vindicating the more general idea that superiors can be morally responsible in virtue of being in command.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Experts Recommend SCOTUS Adopt Code of Ethics to Promote Accountability

Jerry Lambe
Originally posted June 24, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

While the high court’s justices must already abide by an ethical code, many of the experts noted that the current code does not sufficiently address modern ethical standards.

“The impartiality of our judiciary should be beyond reproach, so having a basic ethics code for its members to follow is a natural outgrowth of that common value, one that should be no less rigorously applied to our nation’s highest court,” Roth testified.

He added that disclosures from the court are particularly opaque, especially when sought out by the general public.

“To the outside observer, the current protocol makes it seem as if the judiciary is hiding something. […] With members of the judiciary already filling out and filing their reports digitally, the public should obtain them the same way, without having my organization act as the middleman,” Roth said.

Frost told the subcommittee that holding a hearing on the topic was a good first step in the process.

“Part of what I care about is not just the reality of impartial and fair justice, but the public’s perception of the courts,” she said, adding, “There have been signals by the justices that the court is considering rethinking adopting a code of ethics.”

The info is here.

The possibility and risks of artificial general intelligence

Phil Torres
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 
Volume 75, 2019 - Issue 3: Special issue: The global competition for AI dominance


This article offers a survey of why artificial general intelligence (AGI) could pose an unprecedented threat to human survival on Earth. If we fail to get the “control problem” right before the first AGI is created, the default outcome could be total human annihilation. It follows that since an AI arms race would almost certainly compromise safety precautions during the AGI research and development phase, an arms race could prove fatal not just to states but for the entire human species. In a phrase, an AI arms race would be profoundly foolish. It could compromise the entire future of humanity.

Here is part of the paper:

AGI arms races

An AGI arms race could be extremely dangerous, perhaps far more dangerous than any previous arms race, including the one that lasted from 1947 to 1991. The Cold War race was kept in check by the logic of mutually-assured destruction, whereby preemptive first strikes would be met with a retaliatory strike that would leave the first state as wounded as its rival. In an AGI arms race, however, if the AGI’s goal system is aligned with the interests of a particular state, the result could be a winner-take-all scenario.

The info is here.

Monday, July 15, 2019

How the concept of forgiveness is used to gaslight women

Sophie King
Originally posted June 13, 2019

I’m not against the concept of forgiveness, I’ve chosen to forgive people countless times. However, what I’m definitely against, is pressuring people to forgive and shaming them if they don’t. I’ve found there’s a lot of stigma attached to those who choose not to forgive, especially if you’re a woman.

Women that don’t forgive, are assumed to be “scorned”, “bitter and twisted”. The stereotypes that surround “unforgiving” women, are used to gaslight them.

When women express that they’re upset or angry (and justifiably so), as a result of being hurt, people dismiss them as “bitter” and the validity of their feelings and experiences are questioned.

She isn’t psychologically traumatised because she’s been wronged, she’s just a “scorned woman”, “got an axe to grind”, “holding a grudge” and “unable to move on”. The fault lies with her, not the perpetrator because she won’t “let it go” and “get over it”. She’s not the victim, she’s bringing it on herself by not forgiving. The blame is shifted from the wrongdoer to the victim.

The info is here.

Why parents are struggling to find mental health care for their children

Bernard Wolfson
Kaiser Health News/PBS.org
Originally posted May 7, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Think about how perverse this is. Mental health professionals say that with children, early intervention is crucial to avoid more severe and costly problems later on. Yet even parents with good insurance struggle to find care for their children.

The U.S. faces a growing shortage of mental health professionals trained to work with young people — at a time when depression and anxiety are on the rise. Suicide was the No. 2 cause of death for children and young adults from age 10 to 24 in 2017, after accidents.

There is only one practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist in the U.S. for about every 1,800 children who need one, according to data from the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Not only is it hard to get appointments with psychiatrists and therapists, but the ones who are available often don’t accept insurance.

“This country currently lacks the capacity to provide the mental health support that young people need,” says Dr. Steven Adelsheim, director of the Stanford University psychiatry department’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

The info is here.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Voluntariness of Voluntary Consent: Consent Searches and the Psychology of Compliance

Sommers, Roseanna and Bohns, Vanessa K.
Yale Law Journal, Vol. 128, No. 7, 2019. 
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3369844


Consent-based searches are by far the most ubiquitous form of search undertaken by police. A key legal inquiry in these cases is whether consent was granted voluntarily. This Essay suggests that fact finders’ assessments of voluntariness are likely to be impaired by a systematic bias in social perception. Fact finders are likely to under appreciate the degree to which suspects feel pressure to comply with police officers’ requests to perform searches.

In two preregistered laboratory studies, we approached a total of 209 participants (“Experiencers”) with a highly intrusive request: to unlock their password-protected smartphones and hand them over to an experimenter to search through while they waited in another room. A separate 194 participants (“Forecasters”) were brought into the lab and asked whether a reasonable person would agree to the same request if hypothetically approached by the same researcher. Both groups then reported how free they felt, or would feel, to refuse the request.

Study 1 found that whereas most Forecasters believed a reasonable person would refuse the experimenter’s request, most Experiencers — 100 out of 103 people — promptly unlocked their phones and handed them over. Moreover, Experiencers reported feeling significantly less free to refuse than did Forecasters contemplating the same situation hypothetically.

Study 2 tested an intervention modeled after a commonly proposed reform of consent searches, in which the experimenter explicitly advises participants that they have the right to with- hold consent. We found that this advisory did not significantly reduce compliance rates or make Experiencers feel more free to say no. At the same time, the gap between Experiencers and Forecasters remained significant.

These findings suggest that decision makers judging the voluntariness of consent consistently underestimate the pressure to comply with intrusive requests. This is problematic because it indicates that a key justification for suspicionless consent searches — that they are voluntary — relies on an assessment that is subject to bias. The results thus provide support to critics who would like to see consent searches banned or curtailed, as they have been in several states.

The results also suggest that a popular reform proposal — requiring police to advise citizens of their right to refuse consent — may have little effect. This corroborates previous observational studies, which find negligible effects of Miranda warnings on confession rates among interrogees, and little change in rates of consent once police start notifying motorists of their right to refuse vehicle searches. We suggest that these warnings are ineffective because they fail to address the psychology of compliance. The reason people comply with police, we contend, is social, not informational. The social demands of police-citizen interactions persist even when people are informed of their rights. It is time to abandon the myth that notifying people of their rights makes them feel empowered to exercise those rights.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The Worst Patients in the World

David Freedman
The Atlantic - July 2019 Issue

Here are two excerpts:

Recriminations tend to focus on how Americans pay for health care, and on our hospitals and physicians. Surely if we could just import Singapore’s or Switzerland’s health-care system to our nation, the logic goes, we’d get those countries’ lower costs and better results. Surely, some might add, a program like Medicare for All would help by discouraging high-cost, ineffective treatments.

But lost in these discussions is, well, us. We ought to consider the possibility that if we exported Americans to those other countries, their systems might end up with our costs and outcomes. That although Americans (rightly, in my opinion) love the idea of Medicare for All, they would rebel at its reality. In other words, we need to ask: Could the problem with the American health-care system lie not only with the American system but with American patients?


American patients’ flagrant disregard for routine care is another problem. Take the failure to stick to prescribed drugs, one more bad behavior in which American patients lead the world. The estimated per capita cost of drug noncompliance is up to three times as high in the U.S. as in the European Union. And when Americans go to the doctor, they are more likely than people in other countries to head to expensive specialists. A British Medical Journal study found that U.S. patients end up with specialty referrals at more than twice the rate of U.K. patients. They also end up in the ER more often, at enormous cost. According to another study, this one of chronic migraine sufferers, 42 percent of U.S. respondents had visited an emergency department for their headaches, versus 14 percent of U.K. respondents.

Finally, the U.S. stands out as a place where death, even for the very aged, tends to be fought tooth and nail, and not cheaply. “In the U.K., Canada, and many other countries, death is seen as inevitable,” Somava Saha said. “In the U.S., death is seen as optional. When [people] become sick near the end of their lives, they have faith in what a heroic health-care system will accomplish for them.”

The info is here.

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Troubled History of Psychiatry

Jerome Groopman
The New Yorker
Originally posted May 20, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Yet, despite the phenomenal success of Prozac, and of other SSRIs, no one has been able to produce definitive experimental proof establishing neurochemical imbalances as the pathogenesis of mental illness. Indeed, quite a lot of evidence calls the assumption into question. Clinical trials have stirred up intense controversy about whether antidepressants greatly outperform the placebo effect. And, while SSRIs do boost serotonin, it doesn’t appear that people with depression have unusually low serotonin levels. What’s more, advances in psychopharmacology have been incremental at best; Harrington quotes the eminent psychiatrist Steven Hyman’s assessment that “no new drug targets or therapeutic mechanisms of real significance have been developed for more than four decades.” This doesn’t mean that the available psychiatric medication isn’t beneficial. But some drugs seem to work well for some people and not others, and a patient who gets no benefit from one may do well on another. For a psychiatrist, writing a prescription remains as much an art as a science.

Harrington’s book closes on a sombre note. In America, the final decade of the twentieth century was declared the Decade of the Brain. But, in 2010, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health reflected that the initiative hadn’t produced any marked increase in rates of recovery from mental illness. Harrington calls for an end to triumphalist claims and urges a willingness to acknowledge what we don’t know.

Although psychiatry has yet to find the pathogenesis of most mental illness, it’s important to remember that medical treatment is often beneficial even when pathogenesis remains unknown. After all, what I was taught about peptic ulcers and stress wasn’t entirely useless; though we now know that stress doesn’t cause ulcers, it can exacerbate their symptoms. Even in instances where the discovery of pathogenesis has produced medical successes, it has often worked in tandem with other factors. Without the discovery of H.I.V. we would not have antiretroviral drugs, and yet the halt in the spread of the disease owes much to simple innovations, such as safe-sex education and the distribution of free needles and condoms.

The info is here.

Tribalism is Human Nature

Cory Clark, Brittany Liu, Bo Winegard, and Peter Ditto


Humans evolved in the context of intense intergroup competition, and groups comprised of loyal members more often succeeded than those that were not. Therefore, selective pressures have consistently sculpted human minds to be "tribal," and group loyalty and concomitant cognitive biases likely exist in all groups. Modern politics is one of the most salient forms of modern coalitional conflict and elicits substantial cognitive biases. Given the common evolutionary history of liberals and conservatives, there is little reason to expect pro-tribe biases to be higher on one side of the political spectrum than the other. We call this the evolutionarily plausible null hypothesis and recent research has supported it. In a recent meta-analysis, liberals and conservatives showed similar levels of partisan bias, and a number of pro-tribe cognitive tendencies often ascribed to conservatives (e.g., intolerance toward dissimilar others) have been found in similar degrees in liberals. We conclude that tribal bias is a natural and nearly ineradicable feature of human cognition, and that no group—not even one’s own—is immune.

Here is part of the Conclusion:

Humans are tribal creatures. They were not designed to reason dispassionately about the world; rather, they were designed to reason in ways that promote the interests of their coalition (and hence, themselves). It would therefore be surprising if a particular group of individuals did not display such tendencies, and recent work suggests, at least in the U.S. political sphere, that both liberals and conservatives are substantially biased—and to similar degrees. Historically, and perhaps even in modern society, these tribal biases are quite useful for group cohesion but perhaps also for other moral purposes (e.g., liberal bias in favor of disadvantaged groups might help increase equality). Also, it is worth noting that a bias toward viewing one’s own tribe in a favorable light is not necessarily irrational. If one’s goal is to be admired among one’s own tribe, fervidly supporting their agenda and promoting their goals, even if that means having or promoting erroneous beliefs, is often a reasonable strategy (Kahan et al., 2017). The incentives for holding an accurate opinion about global climate change, for example, may not be worth the social rejection and loss of status that could accompany challenging the views of one’s political ingroup. However, these biases decrease the likelihood of consensus across political divides. Thus, developing effective strategies for disincentivizing political tribalism and promoting the much less natural but more salutary tendencies toward civil political discourse and reasonable compromise are crucial priorities for future research. A useful theoretical starting point is that tribalism and concomitant biases are part of human nature, and that no group, not even one’s own, is immune.

A pre-print is here.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Civic honesty around the globe

Alain Cohn, Michel André Maréchal, David Tannenbaum, & Christian Lukas Zünd
Science  20 Jun 2019:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aau8712


Civic honesty is essential to social capital and economic development, but is often in conflict with material self-interest. We examine the trade-off between honesty and self-interest using field experiments in 355 cities spanning 40 countries around the globe. We turned in over 17,000 lost wallets with varying amounts of money at public and private institutions, and measured whether recipients contacted the owner to return the wallets. In virtually all countries citizens were more likely to return wallets that contained more money. Both non-experts and professional economists were unable to predict this result. Additional data suggest our main findings can be explained by a combination of altruistic concerns and an aversion to viewing oneself as a thief, which increase with the material benefits of dishonesty.

Here is the conclusion:

Our findings also represent a unique data set for examining cross-country differences in civic honesty. Honesty is a key component of social capital, and here we provide an objective measure to supplement the large body of work that has traditionally examined social capital using subjective survey measures. Using average response rates across countries, we find substantial variation in rates of civic honesty, ranging from 14% to 76%. This variation largely persists even when controlling for a country’s gross domestic product, suggesting that other factors besides country wealth are also at play. In the supplementary materials, we provide an analysis suggesting that economically favorable geographic conditions, inclusive political institutions, national education, and cultural values that emphasize moral norms extending beyond one’s in-group are also positively associated with rates of civic honesty. Future research is needed to identify how these and other factors may contribute to societal differences in honest behavior.

The research is here.

The Business of Health Care Depends on Exploiting Doctors and Nurses

Danielle Ofri
The New York Times
Originally published June 8, 2019

One resource seems infinite and free: the professionalism of caregivers.

You are at your daughter’s recital and you get a call that your elderly patient’s son needs to talk to you urgently.  A colleague has a family emergency and the hospital needs you to work a double shift.  Your patient’s M.R.I. isn’t covered and the only option is for you to call the insurance company and argue it out.  You’re only allotted 15 minutes for a visit, but your patient’s medical needs require 45.

These quandaries are standard issue for doctors and nurses.  Luckily, the response is usually standard issue as well: An overwhelming majority do the right thing for their patients, even at a high personal cost.

It is true that health care has become corporatized to an almost unrecognizable degree.  But it is also true that most clinicians remain committed to the ethics that brought them into the field in the first place.  This makes the hospital an inspiring place to work.

Increasingly, though, I’ve come to the uncomfortable realization that this ethic that I hold so dear is being cynically manipulated.

By now, corporate medicine has milked just about all the “efficiency” it can out of the system.  With mergers and streamlining, it has pushed the productivity numbers about as far as they can go.

But one resource that seems endless — and free — is the professional ethic of medical staff members.

This ethic holds the entire enterprise together.  If doctors and nurses clocked out when their paid hours were finished, the effect on patients would be calamitous.  Doctors and nurses know this, which is why they don’t shirk.  The system knows it, too, and takes advantage.

The demands on medical professionals have escalated relentlessly in the past few decades, without a commensurate expansion of time and resources.  For starters, patients are sicker these days.  The medical complexity per patient — the number and severity of chronic conditions — has steadily increased, meaning that medical encounters are becoming ever more involved.  They typically include more illnesses to treat, more medications to administer, more complications to handle — all in the same-length office or hospital visit.

The information is here.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Fostering an Ethical Culture on Your Sales Team

Kristen Bell DeTienne, Bradley R. Agle, and others
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted June 20, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Create a Culture of Ethical Values. 

Employees can suffer several negative consequences if they are told to do things that conflict with their ethical values. Meanwhile, companies can suffer negative consequences from employees not living up to the organization’s values. Managers can help by involving sales associates in conversations about personal and organizational values and by helping employees reconcile discrepancies and honor both their personal and organizational values.

During one of our ethics training sessions with a U.S.-based corporation, employees first described their own values and the company’s values. In teams, they set goals for sales achievement, then wrote a code of conduct that would promote that achievement while still respecting both individual and company values. One associate’s value was “not to push the clients too much when they need time to decide.” This seemed at odds with the company’s values to “finalize the sale” and “never abandon an opportunity.” So, the employees created a rule that honored both values: “Give your customers the time they need to think about your offer, but immediately fix the next appointment.” This hybrid rule brought peace of mind to employees—and a better sales experience to their customers.

The info is here.

Association Between Life Purpose and Mortality Among US Adults Older Than 50 Years

Aliya Alimujiang, Ashley Wiensch, Jonathan Boss, and others
JAMA Network Open 2019;2(5):e194270. 


Importance  A growing body of literature suggests that having a strong sense of purpose in life leads to improvements in both physical and mental health and enhances overall quality of life. There are interventions available to influence life purpose; thus, understanding the association of life purpose with mortality is critical.

Objective  To evaluate whether an association exists between life purpose and all-cause or cause-specific mortality among older adults in the United States.

Main Outcomes and Measures  All-cause and cause-specific mortality were assessed between 2006 and 2010. Weighted Cox proportional hazards models were used to evaluate life purpose and mortality.

Results  Of 6985 individuals included in the analysis, 4016 (57.5%) were women, the mean (SD) age of all participants was 68.6 (9.8) years, and the mean (SD) survival time for decedents was 31.21 (15.42) months (range, 1.00-71.00 months). Life purpose was significantly associated with all-cause mortality in the HRS (hazard ratio, 2.43; 95% CI, 1.57-3.75, comparing those in the lowest life purpose category with those in the highest life purpose category). Some significant cause-specific mortality associations with life purpose were also observed (heart, circulatory, and blood conditions: hazard ratio, 2.66; 95% CI, 1.62-4.38).

Conclusions and Relevance  This study’s results indicated that stronger purpose in life was associated with decreased mortality. Purposeful living may have health benefits. Future research should focus on evaluating the association of life purpose interventions with health outcomes, including mortality. In addition, understanding potential biological mechanisms through which life purpose may influence health outcomes would be valuable.

The research is here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Does psychology have a conflict-of-interest problem?

Tom Chivers
Originally published July 2, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

But other psychologists say they think personal speaking fees ought to be declared. There is no suggestion that any scientists are deliberately skewing their results to maintain their speaking income. But critics say that lax COI disclosure norms could create problems by encouraging some scientists to play down — perhaps unconsciously — findings that contradict their arguments, and could lead them to avoid declaring other conflicts. “A lot of researchers don’t know where to draw the line [on COIs],” says Chris Chambers, a psychologist at the University of Cardiff, UK, who is an editor for five journals, including one on psychology. “And because there are no norms they gravitate to saying nothing.”

Researchers who spoke to Nature about their concerns say they see the issue as connected to psychology’s greater need for self-scrutiny because of some high-profile cases of misconduct, as well as to broader concerns about the reproducibility of results. “Even the appearance of an undisclosed conflict of interest can be damaging to the credibility of psychological science,” says Scott Lilienfeld, the editor-in-chief of Clinical Psychological Science (CPS), which published papers of Twenge’s in 2017 and 2018. “The heuristic should be ‘when in doubt, declare’,” he says (although he added that he did not have enough information to judge Twenge’s non-disclosures in CPS). Psychology, he adds, needs to engage in a “thoroughgoing discussion of what constitutes a conflict of interest, and when and how such conflicts should be disclosed”.

The info is here.

A Waste of 1,000 Research Papers

Ed Yong
The Atlantic
Originally posted May 17, 2019

In 1996, a group of European researchers found that a certain gene, called SLC6A4, might influence a person’s risk of depression.

It was a blockbuster discovery at the time. The team found that a less active version of the gene was more common among 454 people who had mood disorders than in 570 who did not. In theory, anyone who had this particular gene variant could be at higher risk for depression, and that finding, they said, might help in diagnosing such disorders, assessing suicidal behavior, or even predicting a person’s response to antidepressants.

Back then, tools for sequencing DNA weren’t as cheap or powerful as they are today. When researchers wanted to work out which genes might affect a disease or trait, they made educated guesses, and picked likely “candidate genes.” For depression, SLC6A4 seemed like a great candidate: It’s responsible for getting a chemical called serotonin into brain cells, and serotonin had already been linked to mood and depression. Over two decades, this one gene inspired at least 450 research papers.

But a new study—the biggest and most comprehensive of its kind yet—shows that this seemingly sturdy mountain of research is actually a house of cards, built on nonexistent foundations.

Richard Border of the University of Colorado at Boulder and his colleagues picked the 18 candidate genes that have been most commonly linked to depression—SLC6A4 chief among them. Using data from large groups of volunteers, ranging from 62,000 to 443,000 people, the team checked whether any versions of these genes were more common among people with depression. “We didn’t find a smidge of evidence,” says Matthew Keller, who led the project.

The info is here.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Making Policy on Augmented Intelligence in Health Care

Elliott Crigger and Christopher Khoury
AMA J Ethics. 2019;21(2):E188-191.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2019.188


In June 2018, the American Medical Association adopted new policy to provide a broad framework for the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI) in health care that is designed to help ensure that AI realizes the benefits it promises for patients, physicians, and the health care community.

Here is the end of the article:

The AMA’s adoption of H-480.940 suggests the ethical importance of these questions in calling for development of thoughtfully designed, high-quality, clinically validated health care AI that does the following:

a) is designed and evaluated in keeping with best practices in user-centered design, particularly for physicians and other members of the health care team;
b) is transparent;
c) conforms to leading standards for reproducibility;
d) identifies and takes steps to address bias and avoids introducing or exacerbating health care disparities including when testing or deploying new AI tools on vulnerable populations; and
e) safeguards patients’ and other individuals’ privacy interests and preserves the security and integrity of personal information.

Values of ethical relevance considered in this policy include professionalism, transparency, justice, safety, and privacy.

The info is here.

Prediction Models for Suicide Attempts and Deaths: A Systematic Review and Simulation

Bradley Belsher, Derek Smolenski, Larry Pruitt, and others
JAMA Psychiatry. 2019;76(6):642-651.

Importance  Suicide prediction models have the potential to improve the identification of patients at heightened suicide risk by using predictive algorithms on large-scale data sources. Suicide prediction models are being developed for use across enterprise-level health care systems including the US Department of Defense, US Department of Veterans Affairs, and Kaiser Permanente.

To evaluate the diagnostic accuracy of suicide prediction models in predicting suicide and suicide attempts and to simulate the effects of implementing suicide prediction models using population-level estimates of suicide rates.

Evidence Review
A systematic literature search was conducted in MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Embase, and the Cochrane Library to identify research evaluating the predictive accuracy of suicide prediction models in identifying patients at high risk for a suicide attempt or death by suicide. Each database was searched from inception to August 21, 2018. The search strategy included search terms for suicidal behavior, risk prediction, and predictive modeling. Reference lists of included studies were also screened. Two reviewers independently screened and evaluated eligible studies.

From a total of 7306 abstracts reviewed, 17 cohort studies met the inclusion criteria, representing 64 unique prediction models across 5 countries with more than 14 million participants. The research quality of the included studies was generally high. Global classification accuracy was good (≥0.80 in most models), while the predictive validity associated with a positive result for suicide mortality was extremely low (≤0.01 in most models). Simulations of the results suggest very low positive predictive values across a variety of population assessment characteristics.

Conclusions and Relevance
To date, suicide prediction models produce accurate overall classification models, but their accuracy of predicting a future event is near 0. Several critical concerns remain unaddressed, precluding their readiness for clinical applications across health systems.

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Time to End Physician Sexual Abuse of Patients: Calling the U.S. Medical Community to Action

AbuDagga, A., Carome, M. & Wolfe, S.M.


Despite the strict prohibition against all forms of sexual relations between physicians and their patients, some physicians cross this bright line and abuse their patients sexually. The true extent of sexual abuse of patients by physicians in the U.S. health care system is unknown. An analysis of National Practitioner Data Bank reports of adverse disciplinary actions taken by state medical boards, peer-review sanctions by institutions, and malpractice payments shows that a very small number of physicians have faced “reportable” consequences for this unethical behavior. However, physician self-reported data suggest that the problem occurs at a higher rate. We discuss the factors that can explain why such sexual abuse of patients is a persistent problem in the U.S. health care system. We implore the medical community to begin a candid discussion of this problem and call for an explicit zero-tolerance standard against sexual abuse of patients by physicians. This standard must be coupled with regulatory, institutional, and cultural changes to realize its promise. We propose initial recommendations toward that end.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Congress weighs dropping ban on altering the DNA of human embryos used for pregnancies

Embryonic cell divisionSharon Begley and Andrew Joseph
Originally posted June 4, 2019

A congressional committee is expected to vote on Tuesday to drop a ban on altering the genomes of human embryos intended for pregnancies, which could open the door to creating babies with genetic material from three people or with genomes that have been modified in a way that would be inherited by their descendants, as China’s “CRISPR babies” were.

The prohibition on modifying the DNA of embryos for reproduction (as opposed to doing so in basic research that stops short of pregnancies) has been attached to bills that fund the Food and Drug Administration since December 2015. But last month, a House appropriations subcommittee approved a version of an FDA spending bill without the amendment, or rider — amid worldwide condemnation of the CRISPR babies experiment last year and calls by leading scientists for a global moratorium on creating gene-edited babies.

“People don’t appreciate that this is the only piece of legislation in the United States that stands between us and genetically engineered children,” said science historian J. Benjamin Hurlbut of Arizona State University, who supports a “global observatory” to track uses of CRISPR, the powerful genome-editing technology.

The info is here.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Ethical considerations in the use of Pernkopf's Atlas of Anatomy: A surgical case study

Yee, A., Zubovic, E, and others
Surgery May 2019Volume 165, Issue 5, Pages 860–867


The use of Eduard Pernkopf's anatomic atlas presents ethical challenges for modern surgery concerning the use of data resulting from abusive scientific work. In the 1980s and 1990s, historic investigations revealed that Pernkopf was an active National Socialist (Nazi) functionary at the University of Vienna and that among the bodies depicted in the atlas were those of Nazi victims. Since then, discussions persist concerning the ethicality of the continued use of the atlas, because some surgeons still rely on information from this anatomic resource for procedural planning. The ethical implications relevant to the use of this atlas in the care of surgical patients have not been discussed in detail. Based on a recapitulation of the main arguments from the historic controversy surrounding the use of Pernkopf's atlas, this study presents an actual patient case to illustrate some of the ethical considerations relevant to the decision of whether to use the atlas in surgery. This investigation aims to provide a historic and ethical framework for questions concerning the use of the Pernkopf atlas in the management of anatomically complex and difficult surgical cases, with special attention to implications for medical ethics drawn from Jewish law.

The info is here.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

What a Pediatrician Saw Inside a Border Patrol Warehouse

Jeremy Raff
The Atlantic
Originally posted July 3, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

As agents brought in the children she requested, Sevier said, the smell of sweat and soiled clothing filled the room. They had not been allowed to bathe or change since crossing the Rio Grande and turning themselves over to officials. Sevier found that about two-thirds of the kids she examined had symptoms of respiratory infection. The guards wore surgical masks, but the detainees breathed the air unfiltered. As the children filed in, Sevier said she found evidence of sleep deprivation, dehydration, and malnutrition too.


During the exam, she noticed that the toddler behaved differently from the kids his age she sees every day. In an exam room at her clinic decorated with a Lion King mural, I watched her do a routine checkup on a slightly younger boy. This toddler pulled back when Sevier touched him, but was easily soothed by his mother. The reaction was normal—“a small oscillation between worried and okay,” Sevier explained. A little shyness is typical, she said, but toddlers “shouldn't be fearful of a stranger.” When they are afraid—when the memory of their last shots is fresh in their mind, for instance—they resist Sevier by crying, clinging to their caregiver, or squirming beneath her stethoscope.

At Ursula, however, the children Sevier examined—like the panting 2-year-old—were “totally fearful, but then entirely subdued,” she told me. She could read the fear in their faces, but they were perfectly submissive to her authority. “I can only explain it by trauma, because that is such an unusual behavior,” she said. Sevier had brought along Mickey Mouse toys to break the ice, and the kids seem to enjoy playing with them. Yet none resisted, she said, when she took them away at the end of the exam. “At some point,” Sevier mused, “you’re broken and you stop fighting.”

The info is here.