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

Friday, July 10, 2020

Aging in an Era of Fake News

Brashier, N. M., & Schacter, D. L. (2020).
Current Directions in 
Psychological Science, 29(3), 316–323.

Abstract

Misinformation causes serious harm, from sowing doubt in modern medicine to inciting violence. Older adults are especially susceptible—they shared the most fake news during the 2016 U.S. election. The most intuitive explanation for this pattern lays the blame on cognitive deficits. Although older adults forget where they learned information, fluency remains intact, and knowledge accumulated across decades helps them evaluate claims. Thus, cognitive declines cannot fully explain older adults’ engagement with fake news. Late adulthood also involves social changes, including greater trust, difficulty detecting lies, and less emphasis on accuracy when communicating. In addition, older adults are relative newcomers to social media and may struggle to spot sponsored content or manipulated images. In a post-truth world, interventions should account for older adults’ shifting social goals and gaps in their digital literacy.

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The focus on “facts” at the expense of long-term trust is one reason why I see news organizations being ineffective in preventing, and in some cases facilitating, the establishment of “alternative narratives”. News reporting, as with any other type of declaration, can be ideologically, politically, and emotionally contested. The key differences in the current environment involve speed and transparency: First, people need to be exposed to the facts before the narrative can be strategically distorted through social media, distracting “leaks”, troll operations, and meme warfare. Second, while technological solutions for “fake news” are a valid effort, platforms policing content through opaque technologies adds yet another disruption in the layer of trust that should be reestablished directly between news organizations and their audiences.

A pdf can be found here.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Addiction, Identity, Morality

Earp, B.D., Skorburg, J.A. Everett, J. & Savulescu, J.
(2019) AJOB Empirical Bioethics, 10:2, 136-153.
DOI: 10.1080/23294515.2019.1590480

Background: Recent literature on addiction and judgments about the characteristics of agents has focused on the implications of adopting a “brain disease” versus “moral weakness” model of addiction. Typically, such judgments have to do with what capacities an agent has (e.g., the ability to abstain from substance use). Much less work, however, has been conducted on the relationship between addiction and judgments about an agent’s identity, including whether or to what extent an individual is seen as the same person after becoming addicted.

Methods: We conducted a series of vignette-based experiments (total N = 3,620) to assess lay attitudes concerning addiction and identity persistence, systematically manipulating key characteristics of agents and their drug of addiction.

Conclusions: In Study 1, we found that U.S. participants judged an agent who became addicted to drugs as being closer to “a completely different person” than “completely the same person” as the agent who existed prior to the addiction. In Studies 2–6, we investigated the intuitive basis for this result, finding that lay judgments of altered identity as a consequence of drug use and addiction are driven primarily by perceived negative changes in the moral character of drug users, who are seen as having deviated from their good true selves.

The research is here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

A Normative Approach to Artificial Moral Agency

Behdadi, D., Munthe, C.
Minds & Machines (2020). 
https://doi.org/10.1007/s11023-020-09525-8

Abstract

This paper proposes a methodological redirection of the philosophical debate on artificial moral agency (AMA) in view of increasingly pressing practical needs due to technological development. This “normative approach” suggests abandoning theoretical discussions about what conditions may hold for moral agency and to what extent these may be met by artificial entities such as AI systems and robots. Instead, the debate should focus on how and to what extent such entities should be included in human practices normally assuming moral agency and responsibility of participants. The proposal is backed up by an analysis of the AMA debate, which is found to be overly caught in the opposition between so-called standard and functionalist conceptions of moral agency, conceptually confused and practically inert. Additionally, we outline some main themes of research in need of attention in light of the suggested normative approach to AMA.

Conclusion

We have argued that to be able to contribute to pressing practical problems, the debate on AMA should be redirected to address outright normative ethical questions. Specifically, the questions of how and to what extent artificial entities should be involved in human practices where we normally assume moral agency and responsibility. The reason for our proposal is the high degree of conceptual confusion and lack of practical usefulness of the traditional AMA debate. And this reason seems especially strong in light of the current fast development and implementation of advanced, autonomous and self-evolving AI and robotic constructs.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Can COVID-19 re-invigorate ethics?

Louise Campbell
BMJ Blogs
Originally posted 26 May 20

The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted ethics into the spotlight.  Questions previously deliberated about by small numbers of people interested in or affected by particular issues are now being posed with an unprecedented urgency right across the public domain.  One of the interesting facets of this development is the way in which the questions we are asking now draw attention, not just to the importance of ethics in public life, but to the very nature of ethics as practice, namely ethics as it is applied to specific societal and environmental concerns.

Some of these questions which have captured the public imagination were originally debated specifically within healthcare circles and at the level of health policy: what measures must be taken to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed if there is a surge in the number of people requiring hospitalisation?  How will critical care resources such as ventilators be prioritised if need outstrips supply?  In a crisis situation, will older people or people with disabilities have the same opportunities to access scarce resources, even though they may have less chance of survival than people without age-related conditions or disabilities?  What level of risk should healthcare workers be expected to assume when treating patients in situations in which personal protective equipment may be inadequate or unavailable?   Have the rights of patients with chronic conditions been traded off against the need to prepare the health service to meet a demand which to date has not arisen?  Will the response to COVID-19 based on current evidence compromise the capacity of the health system to provide routine outpatient and non-emergency care to patients in the near future?

Other questions relate more broadly to the intersection between health and society: how do we calculate the harms of compelling entire populations to isolate themselves from loved ones and from their communities?  How do we balance these harms against the risks of giving people more autonomy to act responsibly?  What consideration is given to the fact that, in an unequal society, restrictions on liberty will affect certain social groups in disproportionate ways?  What does the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on residents of nursing homes say about our priorities as a society and to what extent is their plight our collective responsibility?  What steps have been taken to protect marginalised communities who are at greater risk from an outbreak of infectious disease: for example, people who have no choice but to coexist in close proximity with one another in direct provision centres, in prison settings and on halting sites?

The info is here.

Racial bias skews algorithms widely used to guide care from heart surgery to birth, study finds

Sharon Begley
statnews.com
Originally posted 17 June 20

Here is an excerpt:

All 13 of the algorithms Jones and his colleagues examined offered rationales for including race in a way that, presumably unintentionally, made Black and, in some cases, Latinx patients less likely to receive appropriate care. But when you trace those rationales back to their origins, Jones said, “you find outdated science or biased data,” such as simplistically concluding that poor outcomes for Black patients are due to race.

Typically, developers based their algorithms on studies showing a correlation between race and some medical outcome, assuming race explained or was even the cause of, say, a poorer outcome (from a vaginal birth after a cesarean, say). They generally did not examine whether factors that typically go along with race in the U.S., such as access to primary care or socioeconomic status or discrimination, might be the true drivers of the correlation.

“Modern tools of epidemiology and statistics could sort that out,” Jones said, “and show that much of what passes for race is actually about class and poverty.”

Including race in a clinical algorithm can sometimes be appropriate, Powers cautioned: “It could lead to better patient care or even be a tool for addressing inequities.” But it might also exacerbate inequities. Figuring out the algorithms’ consequences “requires taking a close look at how the algorithm was trained, the data used to make predictions, the accuracy of those predictions, and how the algorithm is used in practice,” Powers said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have these answers for many of the algorithms.”

The info is here.

Monday, July 6, 2020

HR researchers discovered the real reason why stressful jobs are killing us

Arianne Cohen
fastcompany.com
Originally posted 20 May 20

Your job really might kill you: A new study directly correlates on-the-job stress with death.

Researchers at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business followed 3,148 Wisconsinites for 20 years and found heavy workload and lack of autonomy to correlate strongly with poor mental health and the big D: death. The study is titled “This Job Is (Literally) Killing Me.”

“When job demands are greater than the control afforded by the job or an individual’s ability to deal with those demands, there is a deterioration of their mental health and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of death,” says lead author Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources. “We found that work stressors are more likely to cause depression and death as a result of jobs in which workers have little control.”

The reverse was also true: Jobs can fuel good health, particularly jobs that provide workers autonomy.

The info is here.

Reframing Clinician Distress: Moral Injury Not Burnout

W. Dean, S. Talbot, and A. Dean
Fed Pract. 2019 Sep; 36(9): 400–402.

For more than a decade, the term burnout has been used to describe clinician distress. Although some clinicians in federal health care systems may be protected from some of the drivers of burnout, other federal practitioners suffer from rule-driven health care practices and distant, top-down administration. The demand for health care is expanding, driven by the aging of the US population. Massive information technology investments, which promised efficiency for health care providers, have instead delivered a triple blow: They have diverted capital resources that might have been used to hire additional caregivers, diverted the time and attention of those already engaged in patient care, and done little to improve patient outcomes. Reimbursements are falling, and the only way for health systems to maintain their revenue is to increase the number of patients each clinician sees per day. As the resources of time and attention shrink, and as spending continues with no improvement in patient outcomes, clinician distress is on the rise. It will be important to understand exactly what the drivers of the problem are for federal clinicians so that solutions can be appropriately targeted. The first step in addressing the epidemic of physician distress is using the most accurate terminology to describe it.

Freudenberger defined burnout in 1975 as a constellation of symptoms—malaise, fatigue, frustration, cynicism, and inefficacy—that arise from “making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources” in the workplace. The term was borrowed from other fields and applied to health care in the hopes of readily transferring the solutions that had worked in other industries to address a growing crisis among physicians. Unfortunately, the crisis in health care has proven resistant to solutions that have worked elsewhere, and many clinicians have resisted being characterized as burned out, citing a subtle, elusive disconnect between what they have experienced and what burnout encapsulates.

In July 2018, the conversation about clinician distress shifted with an article we wrote in STAT that described the moral injury of health care. The concept of moral injury was first described in service members who returned from the Vietnam War with symptoms that loosely fit a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but which did not respond to standard PTSD treatment and contained symptoms outside the PTSD constellation. On closer assessment, what these service members were experiencing had a different driver. Whereas those with PTSD experienced a real and imminent threat to their mortality and had come back deeply concerned for their individual, physical safety, those with this different presentation experienced repeated insults to their morality and had returned questioning whether they were still, at their core, moral beings. They had been forced, in some way, to act contrary to what their beliefs dictated was right by killing civilians on orders from their superiors, for example. This was a different category of psychological injury that required different treatment.

The article is here.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Utilitarianism and the pandemic

J. Savulescu, I. Persson, & D. Wilkinson
Bioethics
Originally published 20 May 20

Abstract

There are no egalitarians in a pandemic. The scale of the challenge for health systems and public policy means that there is an ineluctable need to prioritize the needs of the many. It is impossible to treat all citizens equally, and a failure to carefully consider the consequences of actions could lead to massive preventable loss of life. In a pandemic there is a strong ethical need to consider how to do most good overall. Utilitarianism is an influential moral theory that states that the right action is the action that is expected to produce the greatest good. It offers clear operationalizable principles. In this paper we provide a summary of how utilitarianism could inform two challenging questions that have been important in the early phase of the pandemic: (a) Triage: which patients should receive access to a ventilator if there is overwhelming demand outstripping supply? (b) Lockdown: how should countries decide when to implement stringent social restrictions, balancing preventing deaths from COVID‐19 with causing deaths and reductions in well‐being from other causes? Our aim is not to argue that utilitarianism is the only relevant ethical theory, or in favour of a purely utilitarian approach. However, clearly considering which options will do the most good overall will help societies identify and consider the necessary cost of other values. Societies may choose either to embrace or not to embrace the utilitarian course, but with a clear understanding of the values involved and the price they are willing to pay.

The info is here.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

In the face of Covid-19, the U.S. needs to change how it deals with mental illness

Jeffrey Geller
STAT NEWS
Originally posted 29 May 20

Here are two excerpts:

Frontline physicians, nurses, and other health care workers are looking death in the face every day. Shift workers in economically treacherous situations are forced to risk their health for a paycheck. Millions of Americans have lost their jobs. Still more are separated from the people they love, their daily routines have been disrupted, and they are making anxious choices every day that affect their physical and mental health.

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Second, Covid-19 has laid bare the severe doctor shortage across the United States, and that shortage includes psychiatrists. While every kind of mental health professional is necessary and indeed critical to responding to the crisis, psychiatrists bring unique expertise in serving some of the most severely compromised patients in psychiatric units and hospitals, long-term care facilities, homeless shelters, and jails and prisons. Forgiving some of the debt that students amass during medical school would incentivize more individuals to serve in these capacities, as would lifting caps on federal funding for new residency slots.

Third, we needed more psychiatric beds in hospitals before Covid-19, and need even more now as physical distancing continues — yet some hospitals have decreased the number of psychiatric beds by converting them to beds for individuals with Covid-19. Patients in psychiatric units who contract Covid-19 need to be separated from other patients. We currently do not have enough beds to treat everyone for the length of time they need. Without federal funding for psychiatric beds, we will have an increase in deaths from the mental health sequelae of Covid-19.

The info is here.

Friday, July 3, 2020

American Psychiatric Association Presidential Task Force to Address Structural Racism Throughout Psychiatry

Press Release
American Psychiatric Association
2 July 2020

The American Psychiatric Association today announced the members and charge of its Presidential Task Force to Address Structural Racism Throughout Psychiatry. The
Task Force was initially described at an APA Town Hall on June 15 amidst rising calls from psychiatrists for action on racism. It held its first meeting on June 27, and efforts, including the planning of future town halls, surveys and the establishment of related committees, are underway.

Focusing on organized psychiatry, psychiatrists, psychiatric trainees, psychiatric patients, and others who work to serve psychiatric patients, the Task Force is initially charged with:
  1. Providing education and resources on APA’s and psychiatry’s history regarding structural racism;
  2. Explaining the current impact of structural racism on the mental health of our patients and colleagues;
  3. Developing achievable and actionable recommendations for change to eliminate structural racism in the APA and psychiatry now and in the future;
  4. Providing reports with specific recommendations for achievable actions to the APA Board of Trustees at each of its meetings through May 2021; and
  5. Monitoring the implementation of tasks 1-4.

The Moral Determinants of Health

Donald M. Berwick
JAMA
Originally posted 12 June 20

Here is an excerpt:

How do humans invest in their own vitality and longevity? The answer seems illogical. In wealthy nations, science points to social causes, but most economic investments are nowhere near those causes. Vast, expensive repair shops (such as medical centers and emergency services) are hard at work, but minimal facilities are available to prevent the damage. In the US at the moment, 40 million people are hungry, almost 600 000 are homeless, 2.3 million are in prisons and jails with minimal health services (70% of whom experience mental illness or substance abuse), 40 million live in poverty, 40% of elders live in loneliness, and public transport in cities is decaying. Today, everywhere, as the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests make clear yet again, deep structural racism continues its chronic, destructive work. In recent weeks, people in their streets across the US, many moved perhaps by the “moral law within,” have been protesting against vast, cruel, and seemingly endless racial prejudice and inequality.

Decades of research on the true causes of ill health, a long series of pedigreed reports, and voices of public health advocacy have not changed this underinvestment in actual human well-being. Two possible sources of funds seem logically possible: either (a) raise taxes to allow governments to improve social determinants, or (b) shift some substantial fraction of health expenditures from an overbuilt, high-priced, wasteful, and frankly confiscatory system of hospitals and specialty care toward addressing social determinants instead. Either is logically possible, but neither is politically possible, at least not so far.

Neither will happen unless and until an attack on racism and other social determinants of health is motivated by an embrace of the moral determinants of health, including, most crucially, a strong sense of social solidarity in the US. “Solidarity” would mean that individuals in the US legitimately and properly can depend on each other for helping to secure the basic circumstances of healthy lives, no less than they depend legitimately on each other to secure the nation’s defense. If that were the moral imperative, government—the primary expression of shared responsibility—would defend and improve health just as energetically as it defends territorial integrity.

The info is here.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Professional Psychology: Collection Agencies, Confidentiality, Records, Treatment, and Staff Supervision in New Jersey

SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY
APPELLATE DIVISION
DOCKET NO. A-4975-17T3

In the Matter of the Suspension or Revocation of the License of L. Barry Helfmann, Psy.D.

Here are two excerpts:

The complaint included five counts. It alleged Dr. Helfmann failed to do the following: take reasonable measures to protect confidentiality of the Partnership's patients' private health information; maintain permanent records that accurately reflected patient contact for treatment purposes; maintain records of professional quality; timely release records requested by a patient; and properly instruct and supervise temporary staff concerning patient confidentiality and record maintenance. The Attorney General sought sanctions under the UEA.

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The regulation is clear. The doctor's argument to the contrary, that a psychologist could somehow confuse his collection attorney with a patient's authorized representative, is refuted by the regulation's plain language as well as consideration of its entire context. The doctor's argument is without sufficient merit to warrant further discussion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).

We find nothing arbitrary about the Board's rejection of Dr. Helfmann's argument that he violated no rule or regulation because he relied on the advice of counsel in providing the Partnership's collection attorney with patients' confidential information. His assertion is contrary to the sworn testimony of the collection attorney who was deposed, as distinguished from another collection attorney with whom the doctor spoke in the distant past. The latter attorney's purported statement that confidential information might be necessary to resolve a patient's outstanding fee does not consider, let alone resolve, the propriety of a psychologist releasing such information in the face of clear statutory and regulatory prohibitions.

The Board found that Dr. Helfmann, not his collection attorneys, was charged with the professional responsibility of preserving his patients' confidential information. Perhaps the doctor's argument that he relied on the advice of counsel would have had greater appeal had he asked for a legal opinion on providing confidential patient information to collection attorneys in view of the psychologist-patient privilege and a specific regulatory prohibition against doing so absent a statutory or traditional exception. That the Board found unpersuasive Dr. Helfmann's hearsay testimony about what attorneys told him years ago is hardly arbitrary and capricious, considering the Partnership's current collection attorney's testimony and Dr. Helfmann's statutory and regulatory obligations to preserve confidentiality.

The decision is here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Unusual Legal Case: Small Social Circles, Boundaries, and Harm

This legal case shows how much our social circles interrelate and how easily boundaries can be violated.  If you ever believe that you are safe from boundary violations in a current, complex culture, you may want to rethink this position.  A lesson for all in this legal case.  I will excerpt a fascinating portion of this case.

Roetzel and Andres
jdsupra.com
Originally posted 10 June 20

Possible Employer Vicarious Liability For Employee’s HIPAA Violation Even When Employee Engages In Unauthorized Act

Here is the excerpt:

When the plaintiff came in for her appointment, she handed the Parkview employee a filled-out patient information sheet. The employee then spent about one-minute inputting that information onto Parkview’s electronic health record. The employee recognized the plaintiff’s name as someone who had liked a photo of the employee’s husband on his Facebook account. Suspecting that the plaintiff might have had, or was then having, an affair with her husband, the employee sent some texts to her husband relating to the fact the plaintiff was a Parkview patient. Her texts included information from the patient chart that the employee had created from the patient’s information sheet, such as the patient’s name, her position as a dispatcher, and the underlying reasons for the plaintiff’s visit to the OB/Gyn. Even though such information was not included on the chart, the employee also texted that the plaintiff was HIV-positive and had had more than fifty sexual partners. While using the husband’s phone, the husband’s sister saw the texts. The sister then reported the texts to Parkview. Upon receipt of the sister’s report, Parkview initiated an investigation into the employee’s conduct and ultimately terminated the employee. As part of that investigation, Parkview notified the plaintiff of the disclosure of her protected health information.

The info is here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Want To See Your Therapist In-Person Mid-Pandemic? Think Again

Todd Essig
Forbes.com
Originally posted 27 June 20

Here is an excerpt:

Psychotherapy is built on a promise; you bring your suffering to this private place and I will work with you to keep you safe and help you heal. That promise is changed by necessary viral precautions. First, the possibility of contact tracing weakens the promise of confidentiality. I promise to keep this private changes to a promise to keep it private unless someone gets sick and I need to contact the local health department.

Even more powerful is the fact that a mid-pandemic in-person psychotherapy promise has to include all the ways we will protect each other from very real dangers, hardly the experience of psychological safety. There will even be a promise to pretend we are safe together even when we are doing so many things to remind us we are each the source of a potentially life-altering infection.

When I imagine how my caseload would react were I to begin mid-pandemic in-person work, like I did for a recent webinar for the NYS Psychological Association, I anticipate as many people welcoming the chance to work together on a shared project of viral safety as I do imagining those who would feel devastated or burdened. But even for the first group of willing co-participants, it is important to see that such a joint project of mutual safety is not psychotherapy. No anticipated reaction included the experience of psychological safety on which effective psychotherapy rests.

Rather than feeling safe enough to address the private and dark, patients/clients will each in their own way labor under the burden of keeping themselves, their families, their therapist, other patients, and office staff safe. The vigilance required to remain safe will inevitably reduce the therapeutic benefits one might hope would develop from being back in the office.

The article is here.

Why Sex? Biologists Find New Explanations.

Christie Wilcox
Quanta Magazine
Originally posted 23 April 20

Here are several excerpts:

The immediate benefit of sex for the algae is that they form resistant diploid spores that can outlast a bad environment. When better conditions return, the algal cells return to their haploid state through meiosis. But as Nedelcu and her colleagues point out, the process of meiosis also offers unique opportunities for genomic improvement that go beyond diversity.

Like all multicellular organisms, these algae have ways of healing small breaks or errors in their DNA. But if the damage is bad enough, those mechanisms struggle to accurately repair it. In those cases, having a second copy of that strand of DNA to use as a template for the repairs can be a lifesaver. “That’s basically what most organisms have by being diploid,” Nedelcu explained.

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Such indirect benefits may extend far beyond meiosis. “Sex also refers to copulation and sexual behaviors,” McDonough said. Researchers studying everything from crickets to mice are starting to see that having sex can have all sorts of unexpected upsides.

Unexpected, that is, because it’s generally assumed not only that sex is inefficient compared to asexual reproduction, but that it imposes an energy burden on the individuals involved. Producing eggs or sperm, finding a mate, the act of mating — all of it takes energy and resources. Consequently, there’s a trade-off between reproduction and other things an organism might do to survive longer, such as growing bigger or bolstering its immune system.

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Of course, those consequences go both ways: Cultural beliefs and views on sex influence how we go about studying and interpreting the results from research on other organisms. Our biases regarding sexual activity — like which kinds are or aren’t “normal” or proper — “have essentially affected what it is that we’ve deemed important to study in animals,” Worthington said.

McDonough agrees that our preconceptions of what sex should look like and the reasons why an individual should or shouldn’t have it have biased our understanding of animal behavior. They point to the research on same-sex behaviors in animals as a prime example of this. McDonough and their colleagues noticed that the scientific discourse surrounding same-sex behaviors involves a lot of weak or baseless assumptions — for example, that engaging in sexual acts is inherently costly, so same-sex sexual interactions must provide some overwhelming benefit, such as a large increase in lifetime reproductive output, for the behavior to arise and stick around through natural selection. But “in many situations, it isn’t costly, and it may have some kind of benefit that we don’t understand,” McDonough said.

The info is here.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Universal basic income seems to improve employment and well-being

Donna Lu
New Scientist
Originally post 6 May 20

The world’s most robust study of universal basic income has concluded that it boosts recipients’ mental and financial well-being, as well as modestly improving employment.

Finland ran a two-year universal basic income study in 2017 and 2018, during which the government gave 2000 unemployed people aged between 25 and 58 monthly payments with no strings attached.

The payments of €560 per month weren’t means tested and were unconditional, so they weren’t reduced if an individual got a job or later had a pay rise. The study was nationwide and selected recipients weren’t able to opt out, because the test was written into legislation.

Minna Ylikännö at the Social Insurance Institution of Finland announced the findings in Helsinki today via livestream.

The study compared the employment and well-being of basic income recipients against a control group of 173,000 people who were on unemployment benefits.

Between November 2017 and October 2018, people on basic income worked an average of 78 days, which was six days more than those on unemployment benefits.

There was a greater increase in employment for people in families with children, as well as those whose first language wasn’t Finnish or Swedish – but the researchers aren’t yet sure why.

When surveyed, people who received universal basic income instead of regular unemployment benefits reported better financial well-being, mental health and cognitive functioning, as well as higher levels of confidence in the future.

The info is here.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

The economics of faith: using an apocalyptic prophecy to elicit religious beliefs in the field

Augenblick, N., Cunha, J. M., Dal Bo, E.
and Rao, J. M.
Journal of Public Economics
Volume 141, September 2016, Pages 38-49

Abstract

We model religious faith as a “demand for beliefs,” following the logic of the Pascalian wager. We show how standard experimental interventions linking financial consequences to falsifiable religious statements can elicit and characterize beliefs. We implemented this approach with members of a group that expected the “End of the World” to occur on May 21, 2011 by varying monetary prizes payable before and after May 21st. To our knowledge, this is the first incentivized elicitation of religious beliefs ever conducted. The results suggest that the members held extreme, sincere beliefs that were unresponsive to experimental manipulations in price.

Highlights
• We present a model of religious faith and show how standard experimental interventions can characterize beliefs.

• We implement the approach with people who expected the Apocalypse on May 21, 2011 by varying prizes payable before and after May 21.

• The results suggest the members held extreme, sincere beliefs that were unresponsive to experimental manipulations in price.

The paper is here.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Disasters and Community Resilience: Spanish Flu and the Formation of Retail Cooperatives in Norway

H. Rao and H. R. Greve
Academy of Management Journal
Vol. 61, No. 1

Abstract

Why are some communities resilient in the face of disasters, and why are others unable to recover? We suggest that two mechanisms matter: the framing of the cause of the disaster, and the community civic capacity to form diverse non-profits. We propose that disasters that are attributed to other community members weaken cooperation and reduce the formation of new cooperatives that serve the community, unlike disasters attributed to chance or to nature, which strengthen cooperation and increase the creation of cooperatives. We analyze the Spanish Flu, a contagious disease that was attributed to infected individuals, and compare it with spring frost, which damaged crops and was attributed to nature. Our measure of resilience is whether the community members could form retail cooperatives—non-profit community organizations. We find that communities hit by the Spanish Flu during the period 1918–1919 were unable to form new retail cooperatives in the short and long run after the epidemic, but this effect was reduced over time and countered by civic capacity. Implications for research on disasters and institutional legacies are outlined.

From the Discussion:

Our primary interest is in contagious disease outbreaks (such as the Spanish Flu) as an instance of disasters attributed to other community members, and we use weather shocks as a contrasting example of disasters attributed to nature. We find that disasters attributed to other community members weaken cooperation, increase suspicion and distrust of the other, and lead to a long-term (with a declining effect) reduction in organization building. By contrast, disasters attributed to an act of nature evoke a sense of shared fate which fosters cooperation, although with short term effect. These findings suggest that disasters are not merely physical events but socially constructed as well.

The research is here.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Record-Low 54% in U.S. Say Death Penalty Morally Acceptable

Megan Brenan
gallup.com
Originally posted 23 June 20

A record-low 54% of Americans consider the death penalty to be morally acceptable, marking a six-percentage-point decrease since last year. This finding, from Gallup's May 1-13 Values and Beliefs poll, is in line with polling last fall that showed decreased public support for the death penalty and a record-high preference for life imprisonment over the death penalty as a better punishment for murder.

Gallup has measured Americans' beliefs about the moral acceptability of the death penalty and numerous other social issues each May since 2001.

This year, 40% of U.S. adults think the death penalty is morally wrong, the highest in Gallup's 20-year trend. The high point in the public's belief that the death penalty is morally acceptable, 71%, was in 2006. That year and again in 2007, it topped the list of issues rated for moral acceptability.

The latest decrease in the public's tolerance for the death penalty is largely owed to political liberals and moderates. While two-thirds of conservatives still consider it to be morally acceptable, moderates (56%) and liberals (37%) are at their lowest levels since 2001.

The info is here.

And, oddly enough, smoking marijuana is more morally acceptable (by a small percent) than gay or lesbian relationships.

Debunking the Secular Case for Religion

Gurwinder Bhogal
rabbitholemag.com
Originally published 28 April 20

Here is an excerpt:

Could we, perhaps, identify the religious traditions that protect civilizations by looking at our history and finding the practices common to all long-lived civilizations? After all, Taleb has claimed that religion is “Lindy;” that is to say it has endured for a long time and therefore must be robust. But the main reason religious teachings have been robust is not that they’ve stood the test of time, but that those who tried to change them tended to be killed. Taleb also doesn’t explain what happens when religious practices differ or clash. Should people follow the precepts of the hardline Wahhabi brand of Islam, or those of a more moderate one? If the Abrahamic religions agree that usury leads to recessions, which of them do we consult on eating pork? Do we follow the Old Testament’s no or the New Testament’s yes, the green light of Christianity or the red light of Islam and Judaism?

Neither Taleb nor Peterson appear to answer these questions. But many evolutionary psychologists have: they say we should not blindly accept any religious edict, because none contain any inherent wisdom. The dominant view among evolutionary psychologists is that religion is not an evolutionary adaptation but a “spandrel,” a by-product of other adaptations. Richard Dawkins has compared religion to the tendency of moths to fly into flames: the moth did not evolve to fly into flames; it evolved to navigate by the light of the moon. Since it’s unable to distinguish between moonlight and candlelight, its attempt to keep a candle-flame in a fixed ommatidium (unit of a compound eye) causes it to keep veering around the flame, until it spirals into it. Dawkins argues that religion didn’t evolve for a purpose; it merely exploits the actual systems we evolved to navigate the world. An example of such a system might be what psychologist Justin Barrett calls the Hyperactive Agent Detection Device, the propensity to see natural phenomena as products of design. Basically, in our evolutionary history, mistaking a natural phenomenon for an artifact was far less risky than mistaking an artifact for a natural phenomenon, so our brains erred toward the former.

The info is here.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

‘It’s a moral issue:’ Mississippi Baptist Convention calls for new state flag

Geoff Pender
mississippitoday.com
Originally posted 23 June 20

The powerful Mississippi Baptist Convention on Tuesday called for state leaders to change the Mississippi flag, with its Confederate battle emblem in one corner.

“It has become apparent that the discussion about changing the flag of Mississippi is not merely a political issue,” Baptist leaders said in a statement. “… The racial overtones of the flag’s appearance make this discussion a moral issue. Since the principal teachings of Scripture are opposed to racism, a stand against such is a matter of biblical morality.”

The convention includes about 2,100 churches in Mississippi, and Baptists are the largest denomination in the state, with over 500,000 members. Leaders said their stance on the flag doesn’t represent every member church, but they believe it represents a majority and asked for “Mississippi Baptists to make this a matter of prayer and to seek the Lord’s guidance in standing for love instead of oppression, unity instead of division, and the gospel of Christ instead of the power of this world.”

The convention’s statement said: “Given the moral and spiritual nature of this issue, Mississippi Baptist leaders offer prayers for our state officials to have wisdom, courage and compassion to move forward. We encourage our governor and state Legislature to take the necessary steps to adopt a new flag for the state of Mississippi that represents the dignity of every Mississippian and promotes unity rather than division.”

The info is here.

Deepfakes Are Going To Wreak Havoc On Society. We Are Not Prepared.

Rob Toews
Forbes.com
Originally posted 25 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

A handful of websites dedicated specifically to deepfake pornography have emerged, collectively garnering hundreds of millions of views over the past two years. Deepfake pornography is almost always non-consensual, involving the artificial synthesis of explicit videos that feature famous celebrities or personal contacts.

From these dark corners of the web, the use of deepfakes has begun to spread to the political sphere, where the potential for mayhem is even greater.

It does not require much imagination to grasp the harm that could be done if entire populations can be shown fabricated videos that they believe are real. Imagine deepfake footage of a politician engaging in bribery or sexual assault right before an election; or of U.S. soldiers committing atrocities against civilians overseas; or of President Trump declaring the launch of nuclear weapons against North Korea. In a world where even some uncertainty exists as to whether such clips are authentic, the consequences could be catastrophic.

Because of the technology’s widespread accessibility, such footage could be created by anyone: state-sponsored actors, political groups, lone individuals.

In a recent report, The Brookings Institution grimly summed up the range of political and social dangers that deepfakes pose: “distorting democratic discourse; manipulating elections; eroding trust in institutions; weakening journalism; exacerbating social divisions; undermining public safety; and inflicting hard-to-repair damage on the reputation of prominent individuals, including elected officials and candidates for office.”

The info is here.

Removing Confederate Monuments

Travis Timmerman
1000 Word Philosophy
Originally posted 19 June 20

Here are two excerpt:

1. A Moral Argument for Removing Confederate Monuments in Two Parts
Part 1:

(1) If some monument(s) unavoidably harms undeserving people, then there is moral reason to remove that monument.

(2) Public Confederate monuments unavoidably harm at least (i) those who suffer as a result of knowing the racist motivation behind the existence of most Confederate monuments and having those motivations made obvious by public Confederate monuments, and/or (ii) those who suffer as a result of being reminded of the horrors of the Civil War and the United States’ racist history by public Confederate monuments.

(3) Therefore, there is strong moral reason to remove public Confederate monuments.

If premises (1)-(2) are true, then the truth of (3) is logically guaranteed.

(1) should be uncontroversial since it follows from the more general claim that we have moral reason to avoid harming innocent people.

Part (i) of (2) is supported by the ample testimony of the groups fighting to remove Confederate monuments. Many know the history behind them, and are constantly reminded of the racist motivation for their creation, and suffer as a consequence.

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3. Conclusion

The above argument is but one possible point of entry into this complex debate. If successful, it shows that we’re obligated to continue removing public Confederate monuments.

The Pro and Con arguments are here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Shifting prosocial intuitions: neurocognitive evidence for a value-based account of group-based cooperation

Leor M Hackel, Julian A Wills, Jay J Van Bavel
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
nsaa055, https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsaa055

Abstract

Cooperation is necessary for solving numerous social issues, including climate change, effective governance and economic stability. Value-based decision models contend that prosocial tendencies and social context shape people’s preferences for cooperative or selfish behavior. Using functional neuroimaging and computational modeling, we tested these predictions by comparing activity in brain regions previously linked to valuation and executive function during decision-making—the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), respectively. Participants played Public Goods Games with students from fictitious universities, where social norms were selfish or cooperative. Prosocial participants showed greater vmPFC activity when cooperating and dlPFC-vmPFC connectivity when acting selfishly, whereas selfish participants displayed the opposite pattern. Norm-sensitive participants showed greater dlPFC-vmPFC connectivity when defying group norms. Modeling expectations of cooperation was associated with activity near the right temporoparietal junction. Consistent with value-based models, this suggests that prosocial tendencies and contextual norms flexibly determine whether people prefer cooperation or defection.

From the Discussion section

The current research further indicates that norms shape cooperation. Participants who were most attentive to norms aligned their behavior with norms and showed greater right dlPFC-vmPFC connectivity when deviating from norms, whereas the least attentive participants showed the reverse pattern. Curiously, we found no clear evidence that decisions to conform were more valued than decisions to deviate. This conflicts with work suggesting social norms boost the value of norm compliance (Nook and Zaki, 2015). Instead, our findings suggest that norm compliance can also stem from increased functional connectivity between vmPFC and dlPFC.

The research is here.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Scathing COVID-19 book from Lancet editor — rushed but useful

Stephen Buranyi
nature.com
Originally posted 18 June 20

Here is an excerpt:

Horton levels the accusation that US President Donald Trump is committing a “crime against humanity” for defunding the very World Health Organization that is trying to help the United States and others. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in Horton’s view, either lied or committed misconduct in telling the public that the government was well prepared for the pandemic. In fact, the UK government abandoned the world-standard advice to test, trace and isolate in March, with no explanation, then scrambled to ramp up testing in April, but repeatedly failed to meet its own targets, lagging weeks behind the rest of the world. A BBC investigation in April showed that the UK government failed to stockpile neccessary personal protective equipment for years before the crisis, and should have been aware that the National Health Service wasn’t adequately prepared.

Politicians are easy targets, though. Horton goes further, to suggest that although scientists in general have performed admirably, many of those advising the government directly contributed to what he calls “the greatest science policy failure for a generation”.

Again using the United Kingdom as an example, he suggests that researchers were insufficiently informed or understanding of the crisis unfolding in China, and were too insular to speak to Chinese scientists directly. The model for action at times seemed to be influenza, a drastic underestimation of the true threat of the new coronavirus. Worse, as the UK government’s response went off the rails in March, ostensibly independent scientists would “speak with one voice in support of government policy”, keeping up the facade that the country was doing well. In Horton’s view, this is a corruption of science policymaking at every level. Individuals failed in their responsibility to procure the best scientific advice, he contends; and the advisory regime was too close to — and in sync with — the political actors who were making decisions. “Advisors became the public relations wing of a government that had failed its people,” he concludes.

The text is here.

The Neuroscience of Moral Judgment: Empirical and Philosophical Developments

J. May, C. I. Workman, J. Haas, & H. Han
Forthcoming in Neuroscience and Philosophy,
eds. Felipe de Brigard & Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (MIT Press).

Abstract

We chart how neuroscience and philosophy have together advanced our understanding of moral judgment with implications for when it goes well or poorly. The field initially focused on brain areas associated with reason versus emotion in the moral evaluations of sacrificial dilemmas. But new threads of research have studied a wider range of moral evaluations and how they relate to models of brain development and learning. By weaving these threads together, we are developing a better understanding of the neurobiology of moral judgment in adulthood and to some extent in childhood and adolescence. Combined with rigorous evidence from psychology and careful philosophical analysis, neuroscientific evidence can even help shed light on the extent of moral knowledge and on ways to promote healthy moral development.

From the Conclusion

6.1 Reason vs. Emotion in Ethics

The dichotomy between reason and emotion stretches back to antiquity. But an improved understanding of the brain has, arguably more than psychological science, questioned the dichotomy (Huebner 2015; Woodward 2016). Brain areas associated with prototypical emotions, such as vmPFC and amygdala, are also necessary for complex learning and inference, even if largely automatic and unconscious. Even psychopaths, often painted as the archetype of emotionless moral monsters, have serious deficits in learning and inference. Moreover, even if our various moral judgments about trolley problems, harmless taboo violations, and the like are often automatic, they are nonetheless acquired through sophisticated learning mechanisms that are responsive to morally-relevant reasons (Railton 2017; Stanley et al. 2019). Indeed, normal moral judgment often involves gut feelings being attuned to relevant experience and made consistent with our web of moral beliefs (May & Kumar 2018).

The paper can be downloaded here.

Monday, June 22, 2020

5 Anti-Racist Practices White Scholars Can Adopt Today – #BLM Guest Post

Marius Kothor
TheProfessorIsIn.com
Originally posted 17 June, 2020

We are facing a historic moment of reckoning. The violent murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis ignited a movement that has engulfed the entire country. As people demand companies and organizations to account for their complicity in systemic racism, Black scholars are shedding new light on the anti-Blackness embedded within academic institutions. 

Black scholars such as Dr. Shardé M. Davis and Joy Melody Woods, for example, have started the #BlackintheIvory to bring renewed attention to the Micro and Macro level racism Black scholars experience in academia. A number of white scholars, on the other hand, are using this moment as an opportunity for hollow virtue signaling. Many have taken to social media to publicly declare that they are allies of Black people. It is unclear, however, if these performances of “woke-ness” will translate into efforts to address the systemic racism embedded in their departments and universities. From my experiences as a graduate student, it is unlikely that it will. Yet, for white scholars who are genuinely interested in using this moment to begin the process of unlearning the racist practices common in academia, there are a few practical steps that they can take. 

Below is a list of 5 things I think white scholars can do to begin to address racism in their day-to-day encounters with Black scholars. 
  1. Publicly Articulate Solidarity with Black Scholars
  2. Stop Calling the Black People in Your Institution by the Wrong Name
  3. Do Not Talk to Black People as if You Know their Realities Better than They do
  4. Cite Black Scholars in the Body of Your work, Not Just in the Footnotes 
  5. Don’t Try to Get Black Scholars to Validate Your Problematic Project 

Ethics of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Müller, Vincent C.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
(Summer 2020 Edition)

1. Introduction

1.1 Background of the Field

The ethics of AI and robotics is often focused on “concerns” of various sorts, which is a typical response to new technologies. Many such concerns turn out to be rather quaint (trains are too fast for souls); some are predictably wrong when they suggest that the technology will fundamentally change humans (telephones will destroy personal communication, writing will destroy memory, video cassettes will make going out redundant); some are broadly correct but moderately relevant (digital technology will destroy industries that make photographic film, cassette tapes, or vinyl records); but some are broadly correct and deeply relevant (cars will kill children and fundamentally change the landscape). The task of an article such as this is to analyse the issues and to deflate the non-issues.

Some technologies, like nuclear power, cars, or plastics, have caused ethical and political discussion and significant policy efforts to control the trajectory these technologies, usually only once some damage is done. In addition to such “ethical concerns”, new technologies challenge current norms and conceptual systems, which is of particular interest to philosophy. Finally, once we have understood a technology in its context, we need to shape our societal response, including regulation and law. All these features also exist in the case of new AI and Robotics technologies—plus the more fundamental fear that they may end the era of human control on Earth.

The ethics of AI and robotics has seen significant press coverage in recent years, which supports related research, but also may end up undermining it: the press often talks as if the issues under discussion were just predictions of what future technology will bring, and as though we already know what would be most ethical and how to achieve that. Press coverage thus focuses on risk, security (Brundage et al. 2018, see under Other Internet Resources [hereafter OIR]), and prediction of impact (e.g., on the job market). The result is a discussion of essentially technical problems that focus on how to achieve a desired outcome. Current discussions in policy and industry are also motivated by image and public relations, where the label “ethical” is really not much more than the new “green”, perhaps used for “ethics washing”. For a problem to qualify as a problem for AI ethics would require that we do not readily know what the right thing to do is. In this sense, job loss, theft, or killing with AI is not a problem in ethics, but whether these are permissible under certain circumstances is a problem. This article focuses on the genuine problems of ethics where we do not readily know what the answers are.

The entry is here.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Downloading COVID-19 contact tracing apps is a moral obligation

G. Owen Schaefer and Angela Ballantyne
BMJ Blogs
Originally posted 4 May 20

Should you download an app that could notify you if you had been in contact with someone who contracted COVID-19? Such apps are already available in countries such as Israel, Singapore, and Australia, with other countries like the UK and US soon to follow. Here, we explain why you might have an ethical obligation to use a tracing app during the COVID-19 pandemic, even in the face of privacy concerns.

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Vulnerability and unequal distribution of risk

Marginalized populations are both hardest hit by pandemics and often have the greatest reason to be sceptical of supposedly benign State surveillance. COVID-19 is a jarring reminder of global inequality, structural racism, gender inequity, entrenched ableism, and many other social divisions. During the SARS outbreak, Toronto struggled to adequately respond to the distinctive vulnerabilities of people who were homeless. In America, people of colour are at greatest risk in several dimensions – less able to act on public health advice such as social distancing, more likely to contract the virus, and more likely to die from severe COVID if they do get infected. When public health advice switched to recommending (or in some cases requiring) masks, some African Americans argued it was unsafe for them to cover their faces in public. People of colour in the US are at increased risk of state surveillance and police violence, in part because they are perceived to be threatening and violent. In New York City, black and Latino patients are dying from COVID-19 at twice the rate of non-Hispanic white people.

Marginalized populations have historically been harmed by State health surveillance. For example, indigenous populations have been the victims of State data collection to inform and implement segregation, dispossession of land, forced migration, as well as removal and ‘re‐education’ of their children. Stigma and discrimination have impeded the public health response to HIV/AIDS, as many countries still have HIV-specific laws that prosecute people living with HIV for a range of offences.  Surveillance is an important tool for implementing these laws. Marginalized populations therefore have good reasons to be sceptical of health related surveillance.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Forensic mental health expert testimony and judicial decision-making: A systematic literature review

R.M.S.van Es, M.J.J.Kunst, & J.W.de Keijser
Aggression and Violent Behavior
Volume 51, March–April 2020, 101387

Abstract

Forensic mental health expertise (FMHE) is an important source of information for decision-makers in the criminal justice system. This expertise can be used in various decisions in a criminal trial, such as criminal responsibility and sentencing decisions. Despite an increasing body of empirical literature concerning FMHE, it remains largely unknown how and to what extent this expertise affects judicial decisions. The aim of this review was therefore to provide insight in the relationship between FMHE and different judicial decisions by synthesizing published, quantitative empirical studies. Based on a systematic literature search using multiple online databases and selection criteria, a total of 27 studies are included in this review. The majority of studies were experiments conducted in the US among mock jurors. Most studies focused on criminal responsibility or sentencing decisions. Studies concerning criminal responsibility found consistent results in which psychotic defendants of serious, violent crimes were considered not guilty by reason of insanity more often than defendants with psychopathic disorders. Results for length and type of sanctions were less consistent and were often affected by perceived behavioral control, recidivism risk and treatability. Studies on possible prejudicial effects of FMHE are almost non-existent. Evaluation of findings, limitations and implications for future research and practice are discussed.

Highlights

• 27 studies examined effects of FMHE on judicial decisions on guilt and sentencing.

• Majority of studies from US with an experimental vignette design among mock jurors.

• FMHE on psychotic disorders led to more NGRI verdicts than psychopathic disorders.

• Effect of FMHE on sentencing is affected by disorder, behavioral control, treatability or recidivism risk.

• Research on prejudicial effects is almost non-existent.

 The info is here.

Friday, June 19, 2020

My Bedside Manner Got Worse During The Pandemic. Here's How I Improved

Shahdabul Faraz
npr.org
Health Shots
Originally published 16 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

These gestures can be as simple as sitting in a veteran's room for an extra five minutes to listen to World War II stories. Or listening with a young cancer patient to a song by our shared favorite band. Or clutching a sick patient's shoulder and reassuring him that he will see his three daughters again.

These gestures acknowledge a patient's humanity. It gives them some semblance of normalcy in an otherwise difficult period in their lives. Selfishly, that human connection also helps us — the doctors, nurses and other health care providers — deal with the often frustrating nature of our stressful jobs.

Since the start of the pandemic, our bedside interactions have had to be radically different. Against our instincts, and in order to protect our patients and colleagues, we tend to spend only the necessary amount of time in our patients' rooms. And once inside, we try to keep some distance. I have stopped holding my patients' hands. I now try to minimize small talk. No more whimsical conversational detours.

Our interactions now are more direct and short. I have, more than once, felt guilty for how quickly I've left a patient's room. This guilt is worsened, knowing that patients in hospitals don't have family and friends with them now either. Doctors are supposed to be there for our patients, but it's become harder than ever in recent months.

I understand why these changes are needed. As I move through several hospital floors, I could unwittingly transmit the virus if I'm infected and don't know it. I'm relatively young and healthy, so if I get the disease, I will likely recover. But what about my patients? Some have compromised immune systems. Most are elderly and have more than one high-risk medical condition. I could never forgive myself if I gave one of my patients COVID-19.

The info is here.

Better Minds, Better Morals A Procedural Guide to Better Judgment

Schaefer GO, Savulescu J.
J Posthum Stud. 2017;1(1):26‐43.
doi:10.5325/jpoststud.1.1.0026

Abstract

Making more moral decisions - an uncontroversial goal, if ever there was one. But how to go about it? In this article, we offer a practical guide on ways to promote good judgment in our personal and professional lives. We will do this not by outlining what the good life consists in or which values we should accept.Rather, we offer a theory of procedural reliability: a set of dimensions of thought that are generally conducive to good moral reasoning. At the end of the day, we all have to decide for ourselves what is good and bad, right and wrong. The best way to ensure we make the right choices is to ensure the procedures we're employing are sound and reliable. We identify four broad categories of judgment to be targeted - cognitive, self-management, motivational and interpersonal. Specific factors within each category are further delineated, with a total of 14 factors to be discussed. For each, we will go through the reasons it generally leads to more morally reliable decision-making, how various thinkers have historically addressed the topic, and the insights of recent research that can offer new ways to promote good reasoning. The result is a wide-ranging survey that contains practical advice on how to make better choices. Finally, we relate this to the project of transhumanism and prudential decision-making. We argue that transhumans will employ better moral procedures like these. We also argue that the same virtues will enable us to take better control of our own lives, enhancing our responsibility and enabling us to lead better lives from the prudential perspective.

A pdf is here.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Measuring Information Preferences

E. H. Ho, D. Hagmann, & G. Loewenstein
Management Science
Published Online:13 Mar 2020

Abstract

Advances in medical testing and widespread access to the internet have made it easier than ever to obtain information. Yet, when it comes to some of the most important decisions in life, people often choose to remain ignorant for a variety of psychological and economic reasons. We design and validate an information preferences scale to measure an individual’s desire to obtain or avoid information that may be unpleasant but could improve future decisions. The scale measures information preferences in three domains that are psychologically and materially consequential: consumer finance, personal characteristics, and health. In three studies incorporating responses from over 2,300 individuals, we present tests of the scale’s reliability and validity. We show that the scale predicts a real decision to obtain (or avoid) information in each of the domains as well as decisions from out-of-sample, unrelated domains. Across settings, many respondents prefer to remain in a state of active ignorance even when information is freely available. Moreover, we find that information preferences are a stable trait but that an individual’s preference for information can differ across domains.

General Discussion

Making good decisions is often contingent on obtaining information, even when that
information is uncertain and has the potential to produce unhappiness. Substantial empirical
evidence suggests that people are often ready to make worse decisions in the service of avoiding
potentially painful information. We propose that this tendency to avoid information is a trait that
is separate from those measured previously, and developed a scale to measure it. The scale asks
respondents to imagine how they would respond to a variety of hypothetical decisions involving
information acquisition/avoidance. The predictive validity of the IPS appears to be largely driven
by its domain items, and although it incorporates domain-specific subscales, it appears to be
sufficiently universal to capture preferences for information in a broad range of domains.

The research is here.

We already knew, to some extent, that there are cases where people avoid information.  This is important in psychotherapy in which avoidance promotes confirmatory hypothesis testing, which enhances overconfidence.  We need to help people embrace information that may be inconsistent or incongruent with their worldview.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

13th is now free on YouTube



Combining archival footage with testimony from activists and scholars, director Ava DuVernay's examination of the U.S. prison system looks at how the country's history of racial inequality drives the high rate of incarceration in America.

This piercing, Oscar-nominated film won Best Documentary at the Emmys, the BAFTAs and the NAACP Image Awards.

 US Rating: TV-MA For mature audiences. May not be suitable for ages 17 and under.

Vice dressed as virtue

Paul Russell
aeon.com
Originally published 22 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

When I speak of moralism, in this context, what I am concerned with, in general terms, is the misuse of morality for ends and purposes that are themselves vicious or corrupt. Moralisers present the facade of genuine moral concern but their real motivations rest with interests and satisfactions of a very different character. When these motivations are unmasked, they are shown to be tainted and considerably less attractive than we suppose. Among these motivations are cruelty, malice and sadism. Not all forms of moralism, however, are motivated in this way. On the contrary, it could be argued that the most familiar and common form of moralism is rooted not in cruelty but in vanity.

The basic idea behind vain moralism is that the agents’ (moral) conduct and conversation is motivated with a view to inflating their social and moral standing in the eyes of others. This is achieved by way of flaunting their moral virtues for others to praise and admire. Any number of moralists through the ages – reaching back to the likes of François de La Rochefoucauld (1613-80) and Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) – have attempted to show that it is vanity that lies behind most, if not all, of our moral conduct and activity. While theories of this kind no doubt exaggerate and distort the truth, they do make sense of much of what troubles us about moralism.

One feature of vain moralism that is especially troubling is that an excessive or misplaced concern with our moral reputation and standing suggests that moralisers of this kind lack any deep or sincere commitment to the values, principles and ideals that they want others to believe animates their conduct and character. Moralisers of this kind are essentially superficial and fraudulent. We have, of course, countless examples of this sort of moral personality, ranging from Evangelical preachers caught in airport motels taking drugs with male prostitutes, to any number of highly paid professors wining and dining on the lecture circuit while explaining the need for social justice and advocating extreme forms of egalitarianism. For the most part, these characters and their activities – whatever their doctrine – are a matter of ridicule rather than of grave moral concern. Over time, the motivations behind their ‘grandstanding’ and ‘virtue signalling’ will be exposed for what it is, and the moralisers’ shallow commitment to their professed ideals and values becomes apparent to all. While we shouldn’t dismiss the vain moraliser as simply innocuous, there is no essential connection between moralism of this kind and cruelty or sadism.

The info is here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Prejudiced and unaware of it: Evidence for the Dunning-Kruger model in the domains of racism and sexism

K. West and A. A. Eaton
Personality and Individual Differences
Volume 146, 1 August 2019, Pages 111-119

Abstract

Prior research, and high-prolife contemporary examples, show that individuals tend to underestimate their own levels of bias. This underestimation is partially explained by motivational factors. However, (meta-) cognitive factors may also be involved. Conceptualising contemporary egalitarianism as type of skill or competence, this research proposed that egalitarianism should conform to the Dunning-Kruger model. That is, individuals should overestimate their own ability, and this overestimation should be strongest in the least competent individuals. Furthermore, training should improve metacognition and reduce this overestimation. Two studies on racism (N = 148), and sexism (N = 159) partially supported these hypotheses. In line with the Dunning-Kruger model, participants overestimated their levels of racial and gender-based egalitarianism, and this pattern was strongest among the most prejudiced participants. However, diversity training did not affect participants' overestimation of their egalitarianism. Implications for contemporary prejudice, and prejudice-reducing strategies are discussed.

(cut)

Conclusions

For many reasons, contemporary discussions of prejudice can be quite acrimonious. Members of socially advantaged groups may find such discussions difficult, unpleasant, or threatening Apfelbaum, Pauker, Ambady, Sommers, & Norton, 2008; Dover, Major, & Kaiser, 2016; Norton et al., 2006). Political divisions may lead members of both advantaged and disadvantaged groups to attribute overly negative motivations to the other group (Goff et al., 2014; Reeder, 2005; Taber, Brook, & Franklin, 2006). Motivation certainly forms an important part of the picture. However, this research suggests that, even if such motivational considerations were accounted for, there may be important cognitive hindrances to understanding and reducing prejudice that would have to be addressed. In line with the Dunning-Kruger model, this research found that very prejudiced individuals (i.e., those low in egalitarianism) may be genuinely unaware of their shortcomings because they lack the meta-cognition necessary to perceive them. It is thus possible that some solutions to contemporary prejudice may rely less on motivation and more on education.

The research is here.

Concealment of nonreligious identity: Exploring social identity threat among atheists and other nonreligious individuals

Mackey, C. D., Silver, and others
(2020). Group Processes & Intergroup Relations.
https://doi.org/10.1177/1368430220905661

Abstract

Negative attitudes toward the nonreligious persist in America. This may compel some nonreligious individuals to conceal their identity to manage feelings of social identity threat. In one correlational study and one experiment, we found evidence of social identity threat and concealment behavior among nonreligious Americans. Our first study showed that Southern nonreligious individuals reported higher levels of stigma consciousness and self-reported concealment of nonreligious identity, which in turn predicted lower likelihood of self-identifying as “atheist” in public settings than in private settings. Our second study successfully manipulated feelings of social identity threat by showing that atheists who read an article about negative stereotypes of their group subsequently exhibited higher concealment scores than did atheists who read one of two control articles. Implications for how nonreligious individuals negotiate social identity threat and future directions for nonreligion research are discussed.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Suicide Risk Increases Immediately After Gun Purchase

Psychiatric News Alert
Originally published 11 June 20

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine expands on past research on the association between access to guns and suicide, finding that handgun ownership is associated with an elevated risk of suicide by firearm, particularly immediately after the gun is acquired.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, gun sales have sharply increased, an accompanying commentary pointed out. In March, Americans bought nearly two million guns, marking the second-highest monthly total since 1998, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began publishing such data.

“How will the current surge of gun purchases affect firearm-related violence?” wrote Chana A. Sacks, M.D., M.P.H., and Stephen J. Bartels, M.D., in their commentary. “With an additional 2 million guns now in households across the country at a time of widespread unemployment, social isolation, and acute national stress that is unprecedented in our lifetime, we urgently need to find out.”

Lead author David M. Studdert, LL.B., Sc.D., of the Stanford Law School and School of Medicine and colleagues tracked firearm ownership and mortality over 12 years (2004-2016) among 26.3 million adults in California. They used the California Statewide Voter Registration Database to form the cohort, as the database updates its information on registered voters in the state every year.

The researchers then used the California Department of Justice’s Dealer Record of Sale for details on which cohort members acquired handguns and when. Additionally, the California Death Statistical Master Files provided records of all deaths reported during the study period.

The alert is here.

The dual evolutionary foundations of political ideology

S. Claessens, K. Fischer, and others
PsyArXiv
Originally published 18 June 19

Abstract

What determines our views on taxation and crime, healthcare and religion, welfare and gender roles? And why do opinions about these seemingly disparate aspects of our social lives coalesce the way they do? Research over the last 50 years has suggested that political attitudes and values around the globe are shaped by two ideological dimensions, often referred to as economic and social conservatism. However, it remains unclear why this ideological structure exists. Here, we highlight the striking concordance between these two dimensions of ideology and two key aspects of human sociality: cooperation and group conformity. Humans cooperate to a greater degree than our great ape relatives, paying personal costs to benefit others. Humans also conform to group-wide social norms and punish norm violators in interdependent, culturally marked groups. Together, these two shifts in sociality are posited to have driven the emergence of large-scale complex human societies. We argue that fitness trade-offs and behavioural plasticity have maintained strategic individual differences in both cooperation and group conformity, naturally giving rise to the two dimensions of political ideology. Supported by evidence from psychology, behavioural genetics, behavioural economics, and primatology, this evolutionary framework promises novel insight into the biological and cultural basis of political ideology.

The research is here.