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, September 18, 2019

California Requires Suicide Prevention Phone Number On Student IDs

Mark Kreider
Kaiser Health News
Originally posted August 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

A California law that has greeted students returning to school statewide over the past few weeks bears a striking resemblance to that Palo Alto policy from four years ago. Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, all IDs for California students in grades seven through 12, and in college, must bear the telephone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. That number is 800-273-TALK (8255).

“I am extremely proud that this strategy has gone statewide,” said Herrmann, who is now superintendent of the Roseville Joint Union High School District near Sacramento.

The new student ID law marks a statewide response to what educators, administrators and students themselves know is a growing need.

The numbers support that idea — and they are as jarring as they are clarifying.

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death in the United States among people ages 10 to 24 in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The suicide rate among teenagers has risen dramatically over the past two decades, according to data from the CDC.

The info is here.

Reasons or Rationalisations: The Role of Principles in the Moral Dumbfounding Paradigm

Cillian McHugh, Marek McGann, Eric Igou, & Elaine L. Kinsella 
Last edited August 15, 2019


Moral dumbfounding occurs when people maintain a moral judgment even though they cannot provide reasons for it. Recently, questions have been raised about whether dumbfounding is a real phenomenon. Two reasons have been proposed as guiding the judgments of dumbfounded participants: harm-based reasons (believing an action may cause harm) or norm-based reasons (breaking a moral norm is inherently wrong). Participants who endorsed either reason were excluded from analysis, and instances of moral dumbfounding seemingly reduced to non-significance. We argue that endorsing a reason is not sufficient evidence that a judgment is grounded in that reason. Stronger evidence should additionally account for (a) articulating a given reason, and (b) consistently applying the reason in different situations. Building on this, we develop revised exclusion criteria across 2 studies. Study 1 included an open-ended response option immediately after the presentation of a moral scenario. Responses were coded for mention of harm-based or norm-based reasons. Participants were excluded from analysis if they both articulated and endorsed a given reason. Using these revised criteria for exclusion, we found evidence for dumbfounding, as measured by the selecting of an admission of not having reasons. Study 2 included a further three questions assessing the consistency with which people apply harm-based reasons. As predicted, few participants consistently applied, articulated, and endorsed harm-based reasons, and evidence for dumbfounding was found.

The research is here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Aiming For Moral Mediocrity

Eric Schwitzgebel
Res Philosophica, Vol 96 (3), July 2019.
DOI: 10.11612/resphil.1806


Most people aim to be about as morally good as their peers—not especially better, not especially worse. We do not aim to be good, or non-bad, or to act permissibly rather than impermissibly, by fixed moral standards. Rather, we notice the typical behavior of our peers, then calibrate toward so-so. This is a somewhat bad way to be, but it’s not a terribly bad way to be. We are somewhat morally criticizable for having low moral ambitions. Typical arguments defending the moral acceptability of low moral ambitions—the So-What-If-I’m-Not-a-Saint Excuse, the Fairness Objection, the Happy Coincidence Defense, and the claim that you’re already in The-Most-You-Can-Do Sweet Spot—do not survive critical scrutiny.


Most of us do not aim to be morally good by absolute standards. Instead we aim to be about as morally good as our peers. Our peers are somewhat morally criticizable—not morally horrible, but morally mediocre. If we aim to approximately match their mediocrity, we are somewhat morally
criticizable for having such low personal moral ambitions. It’s tempting to try to rationalize one’s mediocrity away by admitting merely that one is not a saint, or by appealing to the Fairness Objection or the Happy Coincidence Defense, or by flattering oneself that one is already in TheMost-You-Can-Do Sweet Spot—but these self-serving excuses don’t survive scrutiny.

Consider where you truly aim. Maybe moral goodness isn’t so important to you, as long as you’re not among the worst. If so, own your mediocrity.  Accept the moral criticism you deserve for your low moral ambitions, or change them.

When do we punish people who don’t?

Martin, J., Jordan, J., Rand, D., & Cushman, F.
(2019). Cognition, 193(August)


People often punish norm violations. In what cases is such punishment viewed as normative—a behavior that we “should” or even “must” engage in? We approach this question by asking when people who fail to punish a norm violator are, themselves, punished. (For instance, a boss who fails to punish transgressive employees might, herself, be fired). We conducted experiments exploring the contexts in which higher-order punishment occurs, using both incentivized economic games and hypothetical vignettes describing everyday situations. We presented participants with cases in which an individual fails to punish a transgressor, either as a victim (second-party) or as an observer (third-party). Across studies, we consistently observed higher-order punishment of non-punishing observers. Higher-order punishment of non-punishing victims, however, was consistently weaker, and sometimes non-existent. These results demonstrate the selective application of higher-order punishment, provide a new perspective on the psychological mechanisms that support it, and provide some clues regarding its function.

The research can be found here.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sex misconduct claims up 62% against California doctors

Vandana Ravikumar
Originally posted August 12, 2019

The number of complaints against California physicians for sexual misconduct has risen by 62% since the fall of 2017, according to a Los Angeles Times investigation.

The investigation, published Monday, found that the rise in complaints coincides with the beginning of the #MeToo movement, which encouraged victims of sexual misconduct or assault to speak out about their experiences. Though complaints of sexual misconduct against physicians are small in number, they are among the fastest growing types of allegations.

Recent high-profile incidents of sexual misconduct involving medical professionals were also a catalyst, the Times reported. Those cases include the abuses of Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics doctor who was sentenced in 2018 for 40-175 years in prison for molesting hundreds of young athletes.

That same year, hundreds of women accused former University of Southern California gynecologist George Tyndall of inappropriate behavior. Tyndall, who worked at the university for nearly three decades, was recently charged for sexually assaulting 16 women.

The info is here.

Increasing altruistic and cooperative behaviour with simple moral nudges

Valerio Capraro, Glorianna Jagfeld,
Rana Klein, Mathijs Mul & Iris van de Pol
Published Online August 15, 2019

The conflict between pro-self and pro-social behaviour is at the core of many key problems of our time, as, for example, the reduction of air pollution and the redistribution of scarce resources. For the well-being of our societies, it is thus crucial to find mechanisms to promote pro-social choices over egoistic ones. Particularly important, because cheap and easy to implement, are those mechanisms that can change people’s behaviour without forbidding any options or significantly changing their economic incentives, the so-called “nudges”. Previous research has found that moral nudges (e.g., making norms salient) can promote pro-social behaviour. However, little is known about whether their effect persists over time and spills across context. This question is key in light of research showing that pro-social actions are often followed by selfish actions, thus suggesting that some moral manipulations may backfire. Here we present a class of simple moral nudges that have a great positive impact on pro-sociality. In Studies 1–4 (total N =  1,400), we use economic games to demonstrate that asking subjects to self-report “what they think is the morally right thing to do” does not only increase pro-sociality in the choice immediately after, but also in subsequent choices, and even when the social context changes. In Study 5, we explore whether moral nudges promote charity donations to humanitarian organisations in a large (N =  1,800) crowdfunding campaign. We find that, in this context, moral nudges increase donations by about 44 percent.

The research is here.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

To Study the Brain, a Doctor Puts Himself Under the Knife

Adam Piore
MIT Technology Review
Originally published November 9, 2015

Here are two excerpts:

Kennedy became convinced that the way to take his research to the next level was to find a volunteer who could still speak. For almost a year he searched for a volunteer with ALS who still retained some vocal abilities, hoping to take the patient offshore for surgery. “I couldn’t get one. So after much thinking and pondering I decided to do it on myself,” he says. “I tried to talk myself out of it for years.”

The surgery took place in June 2014 at a 13-bed Belize City hospital a thousand miles south of his Georgia-based neurology practice and also far from the reach of the FDA. Prior to boarding his flight, Kennedy did all he could to prepare. At his small company, Neural Signals, he fabricated the electrodes the neurosurgeon would implant into his motor cortex—even chose the spot where he wanted them buried. He put aside enough money to support himself for a few months if the surgery went wrong. He had made sure his living will was in order and that his older son knew where he was.


To some researchers, Kennedy’s decisions could be seen as unwise, even unethical. Yet there are cases where self-experiments have paid off. In 1984, an Australian doctor named Barry Marshall drank a beaker filled with bacteria in order to prove they caused stomach ulcers. He later won the Nobel Prize. “There’s been a long tradition of medical scientists experimenting on themselves, sometimes with good results and sometimes without such good results,” says Jonathan Wolpaw, a brain-computer interface researcher at the Wadsworth Center in New York. “It’s in that tradition. That’s probably all I should say without more information.”

The info is here.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Do People Want to Be More Moral?

Jessie Sun and Geoffrey Goodwin
PsyArXiv Preprints
Originally posted August 26, 2019


Most people want to change some aspects of their personality, but does this phenomenon extend to moral character, and to close others? Targets (N = 800) and well-acquainted informants (N = 958) rated targets’ personality traits and reported how much they wanted the target to change each trait. Targets and informants reported a lower desire to change more morally-relevant traits (e.g., honesty, compassion), compared to less morally-relevant traits (e.g., anxiety, sociability). Moreover, although targets and informants generally wanted targets to improve more on traits that targets had less desirable levels of, targets’ moral change goals were less calibrated to their current levels. Finally, informants wanted targets to change in similar ways, but to a lesser extent, than targets themselves did. These findings shed light on self–other similarities and asymmetries in personality change goals, and suggest that the general desire for self-improvement may be less prevalent in the moral domain.

From the Discussion:

Why don’t people particularly want to be more moral? One possibility is that people see less room for improvement on moral traits, especially given the relatively high ratings on these traits.  Our data cannot speak directly to this possibility, because people might not be claiming that they have the lowest or highest possible levels of each trait when they “strongly disagree” or “strongly agree” with each trait description (Blanton & Jaccard, 2006). Testing this idea would therefore require a more direct measure of where people think they stand, relative to these extremes.

A related possibility is that people are less motivated to improve moral traits because they already see themselves as being quite high on such traits, and therefore morally “good enough”—even if they think they could be morally better (see Schwitzgebel, 2019). Consistent with this idea, supplemental analyses showed that people are less inclined to change the traits that they rate themselves higher on, compared to traits that they rate themselves lower on. However, even controlling for current levels, people are still less inclined to change more morally-relevant traits(see Supplemental Materialfor these within-person analyses), suggesting that additional psychological factors might reducepeople’s desire to change morally-relevant traits.One additional possibility is that people are more motivated to change in ways that will improve their own well-being(Hudson & Fraley, 2016). Whereas becoming less anxious has obvious personal benefits, people might believe that becoming more moral would result in few personal benefits (or even costs).

The research is here.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Intention matters to make you (im)moral: Positive-negative asymmetry in moral character evaluations

Paula Yumi Hirozawa, M. Karasawa & A. Matsuo
(2019) The Journal of Social Psychology
DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2019.1653254


Is intention, even if unfulfilled, enough to make a person appear to be good or bad? In this study, we investigated the influence of unfulfilled intentions of an agent on subsequent moral character evaluations. We found a positive-negative asymmetry in the effect of intentions. Factual information concerning failure to fulfill a positive intention mitigated the morality judgment of the actor, yet this mitigation was not as evident for the negative vignettes. Participants rated an actor who failed to fulfill their negative intention as highly immoral, as long as there was an external explanation to its unfulfillment. Furthermore, both emotional and cognitive (i.e., informativeness) processes mediated the effect of negative intention on moral character. For the positive intention, there was a significant mediation by emotions, yet not by informativeness. Results evidence the relevance of mental states in moral character evaluations and offer affective and cognitive explanations to the asymmetry.


In this study, we investigated whether intentions by themselves are enough to make an agent appear to be good or bad. The answer is yes, but with a detail. We found negative intentions are more indicative of an immoral character than positive intentions are diagnostic of moral character. Simply intending to offer cookies should not, after all, make a neighbor particularly virtuous, unless the intention is acted out. The positive-negative asymmetry demonstrated in the present study may capture a fundamental aspect of people’s moral judgments, particularly for disposition-based evaluations.

The dynamics of social support among suicide attempters: A smartphone-based daily diary study

Coppersmith, D.D.L.; Kleiman, E.M.; Glenn, C.R.; Millner, A.J.; Nock, M.K.
Behaviour Research and Therapy (2018)


Decades of research suggest that social support is an important factor in predicting suicide risk and resilience. However, no studies have examined dynamic fluctuations in day-by-day levels of perceived social support. We examined such fluctuations over 28 days among a sample of 53 adults who attempted suicide in the past year (992 total observations). Variability in social support was analyzed with between-person intraclass correlations and root mean square of successive differences. Multi-level models were conducted to determine the association between social support and suicidal ideation. Results revealed that social support varies considerably from day to day with 45% of social support ratings differing by at least one standard deviation from the prior assessment. Social support is inversely associated with same-day and next-day suicidal ideation, but not with next-day suicidal ideation after adjusting for same-day suicidal ideation (i.e., not with daily changes in suicidal ideation). These results suggest that social support is a time-varying protective factor for suicidal ideation.

The research is here.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Americans Have Shifted Dramatically on What Values Matter Most

Chad Day
The Wall Street Journal
Originally published August 25, 2019

The values that Americans say define the national character are changing, as younger generations rate patriotism, religion and having children as less important to them than did young people two decades ago, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey finds.

The poll is the latest sign of difficulties the 2020 presidential candidates will likely face in crafting a unifying message for a country divided over personal principles and views of an increasingly diverse society.

When the Journal/NBC News survey asked Americans 21 years ago to say which values were most important to them, strong majorities picked the principles of hard work, patriotism, commitment to religion and the goal of having children.

Today, hard work remains atop the list, but the shares of Americans listing the other three values have fallen substantially, driven by changing priorities of people under age 50.

Some 61% in the new survey cited patriotism as very important to them, down 9 percentage points from 1998, while 50% cited religion, down 12 points. Some 43% placed a high value on having children, down 16 points from 1998.

Views varied sharply by age. Among people 55 and older, for example, nearly 80% said patriotism was very important, compared with 42% of those ages 18-38—the millennial generation and older members of Gen-Z.

Two-thirds of the older group cited religion as very important, compared with fewer than one-third of the younger group.

“There’s an emerging America where issues like children, religion and patriotism are far less important. And in America, it’s the emerging generation that calls the shots about where the country is headed,” said Republican pollster Bill McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt.

The info is here.

Morals Ex Machina: Should We Listen To Machines For Moral Guidance?

Michael Klenk
Originally posted August 12, 2019

Here are two excerpts:

The prospects of artificial moral advisors depend on two core questions: Should we take ethical advice from anyone anyway? And, if so, are machines any good at morality (or, at least, better than us, so that it makes sense that we listen to them)? I will only briefly be concerned with the first question and then turn to the second question at length. We will see that we have to overcome several technical and practical barriers before we can reasonably take artificial moral advice.


The limitation of ethically aligned artificial advisors raises an urgent practical problem, too. From a practical perspective, decisions about values and their operationalisation are taken by the machine’s designers. Taking their advice means buying into preconfigured ethical settings. These settings might not agree with you, and they might be opaque so that you have no way of finding out how specific values have been operationalised. This would require accepting the preconfigured values on blind trust. The problem already exists in machines that give non-moral advice, such as mapping services. For example, when you ask your phone for the way to the closest train station, the device will have to rely on various assumptions about what path you can permissibly take and it may also consider commercial interests of the service provider. However, we should want the correct moral answer, not what the designers of such technologies take that to be.

We might overcome these practical limitations by letting users input their own values and decide about their operationalisation themselves. For example, the device might ask users a series of questions to determine their ethical views and also require them to operationalise each ethical preference precisely. A vegetarian might, for instance, have to decide whether she understands ‘vegetarianism’ to encompass ‘meat-free meals’ or ‘meat-free restaurants.’ Doing so would give us personalised moral advisors that could help us live more consistently by our own ethical rules.

However, it would then be unclear how specifying our individual values, and their operationalisation improves our moral decision making instead of merely helping individuals to satisfy their preferences more consistently.

The info is here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Assessment of Patient Nondisclosures to Clinicians of Experiencing Imminent Threats

Levy AG, Scherer AM, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Larkin K, Barnes GD, Fagerlin A.
JAMA Netw Open. Published online August 14, 20192(8):e199277.


How common is it for patients to withhold information from clinicians about imminent threats that they face (depression, suicidality, abuse, or sexual assault), and what are common reasons for nondisclosure?


This survey study, incorporating 2 national, nonprobability, online surveys of a total of 4,510 US adults, found that at least one-quarter of participants who experienced each imminent threat reported withholding this information from their clinician. The most commonly endorsed reasons for nondisclosure included potential embarrassment, being judged, or difficult follow-up behavior.


These findings suggest that concerns about potential negative repercussions may lead many patients who experience imminent threats to avoid disclosing this information to their clinician.


This study reveals an important concern about clinician-patient communication: if patients commonly withhold information from clinicians about significant threats that they face, then clinicians are unable to identify and attempt to mitigate these threats. Thus, these results highlight the continued need to develop effective interventions that improve the trust and communication between patients and their clinicians, particularly for sensitive, potentially life-threatening topics.

How The Software Industry Must Marry Ethics With Artificial Intelligence

Christian Pedersen
Originally posted July 15, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Companies developing software used to automate business decisions and processes, military operations or other serious work need to address explainability and human control over AI as they weave it into their products. Some have started to do this.

As AI is introduced into existing software environments, those application environments can help. Many will have established preventive and detective controls and role-based security. They can track who made what changes to processes or to the data that feeds through those processes. Some of these same pathways can be used to document changes made to goals, priorities or data given to AI.

But software vendors have a greater opportunity. They can develop products that prevent bad use of AI, but they can also use AI to actively protect and aid people, business and society. AI can be configured to solve for anything from overall equipment effectiveness or inventory reorder point to yield on capital. Why not have it solve for nonfinancial, corporate social responsibility metrics like your environmental footprint or your environmental or economic impact? Even a common management practice like using a balanced scorecard could help AI strive toward broader business goals that consider the well-being of customers, employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders.

The info is here.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Physicians Talking With Their Partners About Patients

Morris NP, & Eshel N.
JAMA. Published online August 16, 2019.

Maintaining patient privacy is a fundamental responsibility for physicians. However, physicians often share their lives with partners or spouses. A 2018 survey of 15 069 physicians found that 85% were currently married or living with a partner, and when physicians come home from work, their partners might reasonably ask about their day. Physicians are supposed to keep patient information private in almost all circumstances, but are these realistic expectations for physicians and their partners? Might this expectation preclude potential benefits of these conversations?

In many cases, physician disclosure of clinical information to partners may violate patients’ trust. Patient privacy is so integral to the physician role that the Hippocratic oath notes, “And whatsoever I shall see or hear in the course of my profession...if it be what should not be published abroad, I will never divulge, holding such things to be holy secrets.” Whether over routine health care matters, such as blood pressure measurements; or potentially sensitive topics, such as end-of-life decisions, concerns of abuse, or substance use, patients expect their interactions with physicians to be kept in the strictest confidence. No hospital or clinic provides patients with the disclaimer, “Your private health information may be shared over the dinner table.” If a patient learned that his physician shared information about his medical encounters without permission, the patient may be far less likely to trust the physician or participate in ongoing care.

Physicians who share details with their partners about patients may not anticipate the effects of doing so. For instance, a physician’s partner could recognize the patient being discussed, whether from social connections or media coverage. After sharing patient information, physicians lose control of this information, and their partners, who may have less training about medical privacy, could unintentionally reveal sensitive patient information during future conversations.

The info is here.

Can Ethics Be Taught?

Peter Singer
Project Syndicate
Originally published August 7, 2019

Can taking a philosophy class – more specifically, a class in practical ethics – lead students to act more ethically?

Teachers of practical ethics have an obvious interest in the answer to that question. The answer should also matter to students thinking of taking a course in practical ethics. But the question also has broader philosophical significance, because the answer could shed light on the ancient and fundamental question of the role that reason plays in forming our ethical judgments and determining what we do.

Plato, in the Phaedrus, uses the metaphor of a chariot pulled by two horses; one represents rational and moral impulses, the other irrational passions or desires. The role of the charioteer is to make the horses work together as a team. Plato thinks that the soul should be a composite of our passions and our reason, but he also makes it clear that harmony is to be found under the supremacy of reason.

In the eighteenth century, David Hume argued that this picture of a struggle between reason and the passions is misleading. Reason on its own, he thought, cannot influence the will. Reason is, he famously wrote, “the slave of the passions.”

The info is here.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Why Some Christians ‘Love the Meanest Parts’ of Trump

Emma Green
The Atlantic
Originally posted August 18, 2019

Ben Howe is angry at evangelicals. As he describes it, he is angry that they didn’t just vote for Donald Trump in record numbers, but repeatedly provide moral cover for his outrageous failings. He is angry that leaders of the religious right, who long claimed to be the champions of American morality, appear to have gladly traded their values for power. He is angry that Christians claim they support the president because they want to end abortion or protect religious liberty, when supporting Trump suggests that what they really want is a champion who will mock and crush their perceived enemies.

To redeem themselves, Howe believes, evangelicals have to give up their take-no-prisoners culture war.

This is the story Howe, a writer and pundit, tells in his new book, The Immoral Majority—the title aptly riffs on the Moral Majority, the 1980s-era Christian political machine created by the influential pastor Jerry Falwell. Right-wing Christianity is Howe’s native territory: He grew up attending Falwell’s church in Virginia, Thomas Road Baptist Church, down the street from Liberty University, where Howe’s father, a Southern Baptist pastor, taught classes. In other years, Howe’s family attended First Baptist Church in Dallas, which is now pastored by one of Trump’s most vocal supporters, Robert Jeffress. After being raised in the bosom of the religious right, Howe went on to become a filmmaker, a Tea Party activist, and a blogger for the conservative website RedState, where he spent a not insignificant portion of his time trolling progressives. He was later fired from that website, along with other writers, because of his vocally anti-Trump views, he claims. (Rosie Gray wrote about the purge for The Atlantic in the spring of 2018.)

The interview is here.

China approves ethics advisory group after CRISPR-babies scandal

Hepeng Jia
Originally published August 8, 2019

China will establish a national committee to advise the government on research-ethics regulations. The decision comes less than a year after a Chinese scientist sparked an international outcry over claims that he had created the world’s first genome-edited babies.

The country's most powerful policymaking body, the Central Comprehensively Deepening Reforms Commission of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, headed by President Xi Jinping, approved at the end of last month a plan to form the committee. According to Chinese media, it will strengthen the coordination and implementation of a comprehensive and consistent system of ethics governance for science and technology.

The government has released few details on how the committee will work. But Qiu Renzong, a bioethicist at the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing, says it could help to reduce the fragmentation in biomedical ethics regulations across ministries, identifying loopholes in the enforcement of regulations and advise the government on appropriate punishments for those who violate the rules.

The info is here.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

DC Physician Indicted for Almost $13M in Medicare Fraud

Ken Terry
Originally posted August 9, 2019

A physician who has a practice in the District of Columbia has been charged with participation in an alleged $12.7 million healthcare fraud scheme that involved submitting false claims to Medicare for complicated procedures that were never performed, according to a Department of Justice (DOJ) news release.

In an indictment filed July 30 in the District of Columbia, physiatrist Frederick Gooding, MD, aged 68, of Wilmington, Delaware, was charged with 11 counts of healthcare fraud. He was arrested on August 1.

According to the indictment, from January 2015 to August 2018, Gooding participated in a healthcare fraud scheme in which he submitted Medicare claims for injections and aspirations that were not medically necessary, not provided, or both.

Gooding allegedly knew that the injections were not provided. To disguise his scheme, he allegedly falsified medical documents to make it appear as if the purported medical services billed to Medicare were medically necessary.

The info  is here.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment

Thibault Le Texier
Originally posted August 8, 2019


The Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) is one of psychology’s most famous studies. It has been criticized on many grounds, and yet a majority of textbook authors have ignored these criticisms in their discussions of the SPE, thereby misleading both students and the general public about the study’s questionable scientific validity. Data collected from a thorough investigation of the SPE archives and interviews with 15 of the participants in the experiment further question the study’s scientific merit. These data are not only supportive of previous criticisms of the SPE, such as the presence of demand characteristics, but provide new criticisms of the SPE based on heretofore unknown information. These new criticisms include the biased and incomplete collection of data, the extent to which the SPE drew on a prison experiment devised and conducted by students in one of Zimbardo’s classes 3 months earlier, the fact that the guards received precise instructions regarding the treatment of the prisoners, the fact that the guards were not told they were subjects, and the fact that participants were almost never completely immersed by the situation. Possible explanations of the inaccurate textbook portrayal and general misperception of the SPE’s scientific validity over the past 5 decades, in spite of its flaws and shortcomings, are discussed.

From the Conclusion:

4) The SPE survived for almost 50 years because no researcher has been through its archives. This was, I must say, one of the most puzzling facts that I discovered during my investigation. The experiment had been criticized by major figures such as Fromm (1973) and Festinger (1980), and the accounts of the experiment have been far from disclosing all of the details of the study; yet no psychologist seems to have wanted to know if the archives what exactly did the archives contain. Is it a lack of curiosity? Is it an excessive respect for the tenured professor of a prestigious university? Is it due to possible access restrictions imposed by Zimbardo? Is it because archival analyses are a time-consuming and work-intensive activity?  Is it due to the belief that no archives had been kept? The answer remains unknown.The recent replication crisis in psychology has shown, however, that psychologists are not indifferent to the functioning of science. This crisis can be seen as a sign of the good health and vigor of the field of psychology, which can correct its errors and improve its methodology (Chambers, 2017, p.171-217). Hopefully, the present study will contribute to psychology’s epistemological self-examination, and expose the SPE for what it was: an incredibly flawed study that should have died an early death.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Study: College Presidents Prioritizing Student Mental Health

Jeremy Bauer-Wolf
Originally posted August 12, 2019

With college students reporting problems with anxiety and depression more than ever before, and suicides now a big problem on campuses, university presidents are responding accordingly.

More than 80 percent of top university executives say that mental health is more of a priority on campus than it was three years ago, according to a new report released today by the American Council on Education.

"Student mental health concerns have escalated over the last 10 years," the report states. "We wanted to know how presidents were responding to this increase. To assess short-term changes, we asked presidents to reflect on the last three years on their campus and whether they have observed an increase, decrease, or no change in how they prioritize mental health."

ACE, which represents more than 1,700 college and university presidents, surveyed more than 400 college and university leaders from two- and four-year public and private institutions. About 78 percent of those surveyed were at four-year universities, and the remainder led two-year institutions.

The association found 29 percent of all the presidents surveyed received reports of students with mental health issues once a week or more. About 42 percent of the presidents reported hearing about these problems at least a few times every month. As a result, presidents have allocated more funding to addressing student mental health problems -- 72 percent of the presidents indicated they had spent more money on mental health initiatives than they did three years ago. One unnamed president even reported spending $15 million on a new “comprehensive student well-being building.”

The info is here.

Walking on Eggshells With Trainees in the Clinical Learning Environment—Avoiding the Eggshells Is Not the Answer.

Gold MA, Rosenthal SL, Wainberg ML.
JAMA Pediatr. 
Published online August 05, 2019.

Here is an excerpt:

Every trainee inevitably will encounter material or experiences that create discomfort. These situations are necessary for growth and faculty should be able to have the freedom in those situations to challenge the trainee’s assumptions.5 However, faculty have expressed concern that in the effort to manage the imbalance of power and protect trainees from the potential of abuse and harassment, we have labeled difficult conversations and discomfort as maltreatment. When faculty feel that the academic institution sides with trainees without considering the faculty member’s perspective and actions, they may feel as if their reputation and hard work as an educator has been challenged or ruined. For example, if a trainee reports a faculty member for creating a “sexually hostile” environment because the faculty has requested that the trainee take explicit sexual histories of adolescents, it may result in the faculty avoiding this type of difficult conversation and lead to a lack of skill development in trainees. Another unintended consequence is that trainees will not gain skills in having difficult conversations with their faculty, and without feedback they may not grow in their clinical expertise. As our workforce becomes increasingly diverse and we care for a range of populations, the likelihood of misunderstandings and the need to talk about sensitive topics and have difficult conversations increases.

There are several ways to create an environment that fosters the ability for trainees and faculty to walk across eggshells without fear. It is important to continue medical school training regarding unconscious bias, cultural sensitivity, and communication skills. This should include helping trainees not only apply these skills with each other and with their patients but also with their faculty. Trainees are likely to have as many unconscious biases toward their faculty as their faculty have toward them. For example, one study found that at one institution, female medical school faculty were given significantly lower teaching evaluations by third-year medical students in all clerkship rotations compared with male medical school faculty. Pediatrics showed the second largest difference, with surgery having the greatest difference.

The info is here.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Trump eyes mental institutions as answer to gun violence

Kevin Freking
Associated Press
Originally published August 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

But Trump’s support for new “mental institutions” is drawing pushback from many in the mental health profession who say that approach would do little to reduce mass shootings in the United States and incorrectly associates mental illness with violence.

Paul Gionfriddo, president and chief executive of the advocacy group Mental Health America, said Trump is pursuing a 19th century solution to a 21st century problem.

“Anybody with any sense of history understands they were a complete failure. They were money down the drain,” said Gionfriddo.

The number of state hospital beds that serve the nation’s most seriously ill patients has fallen from more than 550,000 in the 1950s to fewer than 38,000 in the first half of 2016, according to a survey from the Treatment Advocacy Center, which seeks policies to overcome barriers to treatment.

John Snook, the group’s executive director, said Trump’s language “hasn’t been helpful to the broader conversation.” But he said the president has hit on an important problem — a shortage of beds for the serious mentally ill.

“There are headlines every day in almost every newspaper talking about the consequences of not having enough hospital beds, huge numbers of people in jails, homelessness and ridiculously high treatment costs because we’re trying to help people in crisis care,” Snook said.

The info is here.

Allegations of sexual assault, cocaine use among SEAL teams prompt 'culture' review

Image result for navy sealsBarbara Starr
Originally posted August 12, 2019

In the wake of several high-profile scandals, including allegations of sexual assault and cocaine use against Navy SEAL team members, the four-star general in charge of all US special operations has ordered a review of the culture and ethics of the elite units.

"Recent incidents have called our culture and ethics into question and threaten the trust placed in us," Gen. Richard Clarke, head of Special Operations Command, said in a memo to the entire force.
While the memo did not mention specific incidents, it comes after an entire SEAL platoon was recently sent home from Iraq following allegations of sexual assault and drinking alcohol during their down time -- which is against regulations.

Another recent case involved an internal Navy investigation that found members of SEAL Team 10 allegedly abused cocaine and other illicit substances while they were stationed in Virginia last year. The members were subsequently disciplined.


"I don't know yet if we have a culture problem, I do know that we have a good order and discipline problem that must be addressed immediately," Green said.

In early July, a military court decided Navy SEAL team leader Eddie Gallagher, a one-time member of SEAL Team 7, would be demoted in rank and have his pay reduced for posing for a photo with a dead ISIS prisoner while he was serving in Iraq. Another SEAL was sentenced in June for his role in the 2017 death of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, a Green Beret, in Bamako, Mali.

The info is here.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Telehealth use jumps at inpatient settings

Shannon Muchmore
Originally posted August 6, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Hospital-owned outpatient facilities were more likely to use telehealth than those not owned by hospitals. Outpatient facilities tended to use patient portals or apps more than inpatient respondents but also had broad adoption of hub and spoke models.

Still, providers in a variety of settings keeping a close watch on possibilities and wanting to stay at the forefront of the technology, said Kate Shamsuddin, SVP of strategy at Definitive.

The results "show how telehealth continues to be one of the core linchpins" for providers, she told Healthcare Dive.

The inpatient report found telehealth use jumped from 54% when the survey was first taken in 2014 to 85% in 2019. The most common model is hub and spoke (65%), followed by patient portals or apps (40%), concierge services (29%) and clinical- and consumer-grade remote patient monitoring.

The tech most often used in that setting was two-way video between physician and patient. That is also the category respondents said they were most likely to invest in for the future.​ Shamsuddin said hospitals and health systems tend to have a broader mixture in the types of technologies they use due to their larger budgets and scale.

The info is here.

AI Ethics Guidelines Every CIO Should Read

Image: Mopic - stock.adobe.comJohn McClurg
Originally posted August 7, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Because AI technology and use cases are changing so rapidly, chief information officers and other executives are going to find it difficult to keep ahead of these ethical concerns without a roadmap. To guide both deep thinking and rapid decision-making about emerging AI technologies, organizations should consider developing an internal AI ethics framework.

The framework won’t be able to account for all the situations an enterprise will encounter on its journey to increased AI adoption. But it can lay the groundwork for future executive discussions. With a framework in hand, they can confidently chart a sensible path forward that aligns with the company’s culture, risk tolerance, and business objectives.

The good news is that CIOs and executives don’t need to come up with an AI ethics framework out of thin air. Many smart thinkers in the AI world have been mulling over ethics issues for some time and have published several foundational guidelines that an organization can use to draft a framework that makes sense for their business. Here are five of the best resources to get technology and ethics leaders started.

The info is here.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Psychologist Found Guilty of Sexual Assault During Psychotherapy

Richard Bammer
Originally published July 27, 2019

A Solano County Superior Court judge on Friday sentenced to more than 11 years behind bars a former Travis Air Force Base psychologist found guilty last fall of a series of felony sexual assaults on female patients and three misdemeanor counts.

After hearing victim impact testimony and statements from attorneys — but before pronouncing the prison term — Judge E. Bradley Nelson looked directly at Heath Jacob Sommer, 43, saying he took a version of exposure therapy “to a new level” and used his “position of trust” between 2014 and 2016 to repeatedly take advantage of “very vulnerable people,” female patients who sought his help to cope with previous sexual trauma while on active duty.

And following a statement from Sommer — “I apologize … I never intended to be offensive to people,” he said — Nelson enumerated the counts, noting the second one, rape, would account for the greatest number of years, eight, in state prison, with two other felonies, oral copulation by fraudulent representation and sexual battery by fraudulent means, filling out the balance.

Nelson added 18 months in Solano County Jail for three misdemeanor charges of sexual battery for the purpose of sexual arousal. He then credited Sommer, shackled at the waist in a striped jail jumpsuit and displaying no visible reaction to the sentence, with 904 days in custody. Additionally, Sommer will be required to serve 20 years probation upon release, register as a sex offender for life, and pay nearly $10,000 in restitution to the victims and other court costs.

The info is here.

Moral Obstinacy in Political Negotiations

Andrew Delton, Peter DeScioli, and
Timothy Ryan


Research in behavioral economics finds that moral considerations bear on the offers that people make and accept in negotiations. This finding is relevant for political negotiations, wherein moral concerns are manifold. However, behavioral economics has yet to incorporate a major theme from moral psychology: people differ, sometimes immensely, in which issues they perceive to be a matter of morality. We review research about the measurement and characteristics of moral convictions. We hypothesize that moral conviction leads to uncompromising bargaining strategies and failed negotiations. We test this theory in three incentivized experiments in which participants bargain over political policies with real payoffs at stake. We find that participants’ moral convictions are linked with aggressive bargaining strategies, which helps explain why it is harder to forge bargains on some political issues than others. We also find substantial asymmetries between liberals and conservatives in the intensity of their moral convictions about different issues.

Part of the Conclusion:

Looking across our studies, we see substantial convergence in how attitude facets relate to compromise. Specifically, both attitude extremity and moral conviction independently and consistently predicted tough bargaining strategies. In contrast, personal relevance did not affect bargaining, and importance had inconsistent effects. We suggest that the effect of extremity is to be expected because extremity is a sort of omnibus index of attitude strength (Visser et al. 2006, 56).  However, we think that the persistent effect of moral conviction merits further attention, since moral conviction is a less studied dimension of political attitudes. Moreover, the finding that moral conviction predicted resistance to compromise aligns with moral psychology research, which finds that people’s moral judgments are shaped by strong prohibitions and obligations that resist cost benefit considerations (e.g., Cushman 2013; Haidt 2012; Tetlock et al. 2000).

The research is here.

Monday, September 2, 2019

The next election is more about morality than policies. We must heal together.

The next election is more about morality than policies. We must heal together. | OpinionHuma Munir
The Sun Sentinel
Originally published August 9, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

As a Muslim-American, I deeply empathize with those who feel like outsiders. But I take comfort in the following words of the Holy Prophet Muhammad who said: “O people, your Lord is one, you are the progeny of the same father...”

There are people in this country who discriminate against those who have a different skin color or those who speak a different language. In fact, some of my Muslim friends have been told to take off their headcovering because “this is America.” This is hard to bear.

As a citizen of this country, it is hard to see fellow citizens act in such a barbaric manner. But the Holy Quran says our different skin colors and our different tongues are meant for “easy recognition” and nothing else (30:23).

The way to peace, unity and coexistence is realizing that our differences cannot erase our humanity. We must have compassion in our hearts for all people.

I would also encourage our political leaders to reject racism vehemently. President Trump needs to embrace pluralism rather than make people feel alienated in their own country. Our leaders should represent their citizens equally and without any discrimination.

The info is here.

The Robotic Disruption of Morality

John Danaher
Philosophical Disquisitions
Originally published August 2, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

2. The Robotic Disruption of Human Morality

From my perspective, the most interesting aspect of Tomasello’s theory is the importance he places on the second personal psychology (an idea he takes from the philosopher Stephen Darwall). In essence, what he is arguing is that all of human morality — particularly the institutional superstructure that reinforces it — is premised on how we understand those with whom we interact. It is because we see them as intentional agents, who experience and understand the world in much the same way as we do, that we start to sympathise with them and develop complex beliefs about what we owe each other. This, in turn, was made possible by the fact that humans rely so much on each other to get things done.

This raises the intriguing question: what happens if we no longer rely on each other to get things done? What if our primary collaborative and cooperative partners are machines and not our fellow human beings? Will this have some disruptive impact on our moral systems?

The answer to this depends on what these machines are or, more accurately, what we perceive them to be. Do we perceive them to be intentional agents just like other human beings or are they perceived as something else — something different from what we are used to? There are several possibilities worth considering. I like to think of these possibilities as being arranged along a spectrum that classifies robots/AIs according to how autonomous or tool-like they perceived to be.

At one extreme end of the spectrum we have the perception of robots/AIs as tools, i.e. as essentially equivalent to hammers and wheelbarrows. If we perceive them to be tools, then the disruption to human morality is minimal, perhaps non-existent. After all, if they are tools then they are not really our collaborative partners; they are just things we use. Human actors remain in control and they are still our primary collaborative partners. We can sustain our second personal morality by focusing on the tool users and not the tools.

The blog post is here.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

There is no Universal Objective Morality

An Interview with Homi Bhabha
Interviewer: Paula Erizanu

Here is an excerpt:

What does that imply for human rights conventions?

Those who assert the absolute nature of morality are not aware of how much power – political and personal power – gets mixed into the moral idea. The same person who would kneel in church and pray for God’s notion of universal love and brotherhood would go and lynch a person of colour, or would do violence to an untouchable in India. So, morality has to be understood in terms of power and authority in addition to circumstances, cases, forms of interpretation.

Moralities  are enlightened recommendations about how to live your life in a way that is fair and responsible towards others. But at the same time, the question of morality gets so mixed in with political power, with issues of affect, making people anxious, nervous about their conditions, making people feel like they live in a world of insecurity and threat. You know, it’s a much more complex package than can be understood in terms of universal moralities on the one hand, or objective and subjective moralities on the other.

For a number of important legal and political reasons, we want to go with the UDHR and absolutely support the view that all people are born equal, that all people have a foundational dignity, and therefore deserve the protections and provisions of human rights. Having said that, we know from long and bitter experience that only too often states find ways of violating the human rights of their own peoples and the rights of other peoples and countries. They do so with a kind of international impunity, and if I may say so, a collusive insouciance.

There always seem to be forms of legal architecture – however well-intentioned – that make the perfect the enemy of the good, and that is putting it generously. On the negative side, executive orders and states of exception are the enemies of the good. Look at the way in which the basic human rights of Mexicans on the Texan border are being violated on a daily basis. Let me simply refer to a recent comment from the NYT that puts the issue poignantly and pointedly:

“In fact the migrants are mostly victims of the broken immigration system. They are not by and large killers, rapists or gang members. Most do not carry drugs. They have learned how to make asylum claims, just as the law allows them to do.”

The info is here.