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

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

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Answer to a COVID-19 Vaccine May Lie in Our Genes, But ...

Ifeoma Ajunwa & Forrest Briscoe
Scientific American
Originally posted 13 May 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Although the rationale for expanded genetic testing is obviously meant for the greater good, such testing could also bring with it a host of privacy and economic harms. In the past, genetic testing has also been associated with employment discrimination. Even before the current crisis, companies like 23andMe and Ancestry assembled and started operating their own private long-term large-scale databases of U.S. citizens’ genetic and health data. 23andMe and Ancestry recently announced they would use their databases to identify genetic factors that predict COVID-19 susceptibility.

Other companies are growing similar databases, for a range of purposes. And the NIH’s AllofUs program is constructing a genetic database, owned by the federal government, in which data from one million people will be used to study various diseases. These new developments indicate an urgent need for appropriate genetic data governance.

Leaders from the biomedical research community recently proposed a voluntary code of conduct for organizations constructing and sharing genetic databases. We believe that the public has a right to understand the risks of genetic databases and a right to have a say in how those databases will be governed. To ascertain public expectations about genetic data governance, we surveyed over two thousand (n=2,020) individuals who altogether are representative of the general U.S. population. After educating respondents about the key benefits and risks associated with DNA databases—using information from recent mainstream news reports—we asked how willing they would be to provide their DNA data for such a database.

The info is here.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Self-Nudging and the Citizen Choice Architect

Samuli Reijula, Ralph Hertwig.
Behavioural Public Policy, 2020
DOI: 10.1017/bpp.2020.5


This article argues that nudges can often be turned into self-nudges: empowering interventions that enable people to design and structure their own decision environments—that is, to act as citizen choice architects. Self-nudging applies insights from behavioral science in a way that is practicable and cost-effective but that sidesteps concerns about paternalism or manipulation. It has the potential to expand the scope of application of behavioral insights from the public to the personal sphere (e.g., homes, offices, families). It is a tool for reducing failures of self-control and enhancing personal autonomy; specifically, self-nudging can mean designing one’s proximate choice architecture to alleviate the effects of self-control problems, engaging in education to understand the nature and causes of self-control problems, and employing simple educational nudges to improve goal attainment in various domains. It can even mean self-paternalistic interventions such as winnowing down one’s choice set by, for instance, removing options.  Policy makers could promote self-nudging by sharing knowledge about nudges and how they work. The ultimate goal of the self-nudging approach is to enable citizen choice architects’ efficient self-governance, where reasonable, and the self-determined arbitration of conflicts between their mutually exclusive goals and preferences.

From the Conclusion:

Commercial choice architects have become proficient in hijacking people’s attention and desires (see, e.g., Nestle 2013; Nestle 2015; Cross and Proctor 2014; Wu 2017), making it difficult for consumers to exercise agency and freedom of choice. Even in the best of circumstances, the potential for public choice architects to nudge people toward better choices in their personal and proximate choice environments is limited. Against this background, we suggest that policy makers should consider the possibility of empowering individuals to make strategic changes in their proximate choice architecture. There is no reason why citizens should not be informed about nudges that can be turned into self-nudges and, more generally, about the design principles of choice environments (e.g., defaults, framing, cognitive accessibility). We suggest that self-nudging is an untapped resource that sidesteps various ethical and practical problems associated with nudging and can empower people to make better everyday choices. This does not mean that regulation or nudging should be replaced by self-nudging; indeed, self-nudging can benefit enormously from the ingenuity of the nudging approach and the evidence accumulating on it. But, as the adage goes, give someone a fish, and you need them for a day. Teach someone to fish, and you feed them for a lifetime. We believe that sharing  behavioral insights from psychology and behavioral economics will provide citizens with a the citizen choice architect means for taking back power, giving them more control over the design of their proximate choice environments–in other words, qualifying them as citizen choice architects.

The article is here.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Humans are complicated—do we need behavioral science to get through this?

Cathleen O'Grady
Ars Technica
Originally published 16 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

Leaning on the evidence

If humans didn’t insist on being quite so messily human, pandemic response would be much simpler. People would stay physically separated whenever possible; leaders would be proactive and responsive to evidence; our fight could be concentrated on the biomedical tools we so urgently need. The problem is that our maddening, imperfect humanity gets in the way at every turn, and getting around those imperfections demands that we understand the human behavior underlying them.

It's also clear that we need to understand the differences between groups of people to get a handle on the pandemic. Speculation has been rampant about how cultural differences might influence what sort of responses are palatable. And some groups are suffering disproportionately: death rates are higher among African-American and Latinx communities in the US, while a large analysis from the UK found that black, minority ethnic, and poorer people are at higher risk of death—our social inequalities, housing, transport, and food systems all play a role in shaping the crisis. We can’t extricate people and our complicated human behavior and society from the pandemic: they are one and the same.

In their paper, Van Bavel, Willer and their group of behavioral research proponents point to studies from fields like public health, sociology and psychology. They cover work on cultural differences, social inequality, mental health, and more, pulling out suggestions for how the research could be useful for policymakers and community leaders.

Those recommendations are pretty intuitive. For effective communications, it could be helpful to lean on sources that carry weight in different communities, like religious leaders, they suggest. And public health messaging that emphasizes protecting others—rather than fixating on just protecting oneself—tends to be persuasive, the proponents argue.

But not everyone is convinced that it would necessarily be a good idea to act on the recommendations. “Many of the topics surveyed are relevant,” write psychologist Hans IJzerman and a team of critics in their draft. The team's concern isn’t the relevance of the research; it’s how robust that research is. If there are critical flaws in the supporting data, then applying these lessons on a broad scale could be worse than useless—it could be actively harmful.

The info is here.

When Is “Gay Panic” Accepted? Exploring Juror Characteristics and Case Type as Predictors of a Successful Gay Panic Defense

Michalski, N. D., & Nunez, N. (2020).
Journal of Interpersonal Violence. 


“Gay panic” refers to a situation in which a heterosexual individual charged with a violent crime against a homosexual individual claims they lost control and reacted violently because of an unwanted sexual advance that was made upon them. This justification for a violent crime presented by the defendant in the form of a provocation defense is used as an effort to mitigate the charges brought against him. There has been relatively little research conducted concerning this defense strategy and the variables that might predict when the defense is likely to be successful in achieving a lesser sentence for the defendant. This study utilized 249 mock jurors to assess the effects of case type (assault or homicide) and juror characteristics (homophobia, religious fundamentalism, and political orientation) on the success of the gay panic defense compared with a neutral provocation defense. Participant homophobia was found to be the driving force behind their willingness to accept the gay panic defense as legitimate. Higher levels of homophobia and religious fundamentalism were found to predict more leniency in verdict decisions when the gay panic defense was presented. This study furthers the understanding of decision making in cases involving the gay panic defense and highlights the need for more research to be conducted to help understand and combat LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) prejudice in the courtroom.

The research is here.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Ethical road map through the COVID-19 pandemic

Zoe Fritz and others
BMJ 2020; 369
doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2033

The covid-19 pandemic has created profound ethical challenges in health and social care, not only for current decisions about individuals but also for longer term and population level policy decisions. Already covid-19 has generated ethical questions about the prioritisation of treatment, protective equipment, and testing; the impact of covid-19 strategies on patients with other health conditions; the approaches taken to advance care planning and resuscitation decisions; and the crisis in care homes.

Ethical questions continue to multiply as the pandemic progresses and new evidence emerges, including how best to distribute any new vaccines and treatments; how best to respond to evidence that disease severity and mortality are substantially greater in ethnic minority populations; how to prioritise patients for care as medical services re-open; how to manage assessment of immunity and its implications; and how the health system should be configured to manage any future peaks in cases.

Science and values

The UK government repeatedly states that it is “following the science” by heeding the advice provided through the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE). However, this implies that the science alone will tell us what to do. Not only does this rhetoric shift the responsibility for difficult decisions on to “the science”, it is also wrong. Science may provide evidence on which to base decisions, but our values will determine what we do with that evidence and how we select the evidence to use. It is disingenuous and misleading to imply that value-free science leads the way. Both science and policy are value laden.

Values questions are being addressed primarily by professional organisations, although the UK government has independent advice, for example, from the Moral and Ethical Advisory Group. Despite such efforts to plot an ethical path, the current approach is piecemeal, confusing, and risks needless duplication of effort. Concerns are mounting about a lack of transparency around the ethical agenda underpinning decisions, a lack of coordination, and the absence of clear national leadership.

The info is here.

Global health without justice or ethics

S Venkatapuram
Journal of Public Health

The great promise at the start of the twenty-first century that Anglo-American philosophers would produce transformative theories and practical guidance for realizing global health equity and justice has largely gone unfulfilled. The publication of The Law of Peoples by John Rawls in 1999 formally inaugurated the emerging academic field of global justice philosophy.1 After 2000, numerous monographs, journal articles and conferences discussed global justice. And new academic associations, journals and research centres were established.

One remarkable aspect of the new field was that the stark inequalities in health across societies were often the starting concern. Despite our diverse philosophical and ethical views, reasonable people are likely to be morally troubled about the large inequalities in life expectancies between some sub-Saharan country X and the USA or another rich country. This initially shared moral intuition or indignation, then, motivated diverse arguments about what precisely is morally bad about global health inequalities and global poverty and the possible demands of justice. Some philosophers described what ‘our’ duties are or, indeed, are not, to help ‘those people over there’. Others minimized the distinction between us and them by arguing for theories of radical global equality, the arbitrariness of political borders and duties that follow from our complicity in transnational harms experienced in other countries.

Progress in global justice philosophy seemingly promised real-world progress in global health equity and justice, because health inequality was the foremost issue in philosophical debates on global inequality, poverty and claims of the ‘global poor’. At the same time, largely driven by HIV research, bioethics went global as it was exported alongside medical research to resource poor settings. Bioethicists also began to go beyond clinical and research settings to examine public health ethics, social inequalities in health and social determinants—from local conditions all the way to global institutions and processes. Nevertheless, as of 2020, it is difficult to identify any compelling conceptions of global justice or global health justice or to identify any significant philosophical contributions to the practical improvement of global health and inequalities. What happened?

The rest of the article is linked above.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Trust in Medical Scientists Has Grown in U.S.

C. Funk, B. Kennedy, & C. Johnson
Pew Research Center
Originally published 21 May 20

Americans’ confidence in medical scientists has grown since the coronavirus outbreak first began to upend life in the United States, as have perceptions that medical doctors hold very high ethical standards. And in their own estimation, most U.S. adults think the outbreak raises the importance of scientific developments.

Scientists have played a prominent role in advising government leaders and informing the public about the course of the pandemic, with doctors such as Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, among others, appearing at press conferences alongside President Donald Trump and other government officials.

But there are growing partisan divisions over the risk the novel coronavirus poses to public health, as well as public confidence in the scientific and medical community and the role such experts are playing in public policy.

Still, most Americans believe social distancing measures are helping at least some to slow the spread of the coronavirus disease, known as COVID-19. People see a mix of reasons behind new cases of infection, including limited testing, people not following social distancing measures and the nature of the disease itself.

These are among the key findings from a new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted April 29 to May 5 among 10,957 U.S. adults, and a new analysis of a national survey conducted April 20 to 26 among 10,139 U.S. adults, both using the Center’s American Trends Panel.

Public confidence in medical scientists to act in the best interests of the public has gone up from 35% with a great deal of confidence before the outbreak to 43% in the Center’s April survey. Similarly, there is a modest uptick in public confidence in scientists, from 35% in 2019 to 39% today. (A random half of survey respondents rated their confidence in one of the two groups.)

The info is here.

'A coronavirus depression could be the great leveller'

Kyrill Hartog
The Guardian
Originally published 30 April 2020

Here is an excerpt:

So could the pandemic of our era, already considered the greatest global crisis since the second world war, turn out to be a great societal leveller?

Scheidel’s short answer is that the longer the pandemic wreaks havoc on the global economy, the greater the potential for radical equalising change. “It depends on how severe the crisis is going to be, how long it’s going to last and how much it’s ultimately going to interrupt supply chains.”

The pandemic has already exposed the limits of the market and highlighted the importance of effective state intervention and strong public healthcare provision. In the future this may well create a tolerance for higher and more progressive taxation. Governments have had to intervene to prop up businesses and jobs in ways that only months ago would have seemed unimaginable. The viability of a universal basic income — a dream for egalitarians worldwide — is once again part of the mainstream debate in many countries.

The response at EU level also shows a willingness for strong public intervention and an end to the fiscal restraint approach of the last decade — at least, temporarily.

As people start to believe in government intervention again, the post-corona political landscape may well provide fertile soil for reversing a situation where, since 1980, the richest 1% in the UK have tripled their share of household income and the wealth of the European top 1% grew twice as fast as the bottom 50%.

But Scheidel cautions that, while disasters are not uncommon, tectonic shifts are historical anomalies. In other words, it may take a disaster to usher in more equality, but not every disaster does.

The info is here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Rebuilding the Economy Around Good Jobs

Zeynep Ton
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted 22 May 20

One thing we can predict: Customers who are struggling economically will be looking more than ever for good value. This will give the companies that start building a good jobs system a competitive advantage over those that don’t. After the financial crisis of 2008, Mercadona — Spain’s largest grocery chain and a model good jobs company — reduced prices for its hard-pressed customers by 10% while remaining profitable and gaining significant market share. Hard work and input from empowered front lines had a lot to do with it.

The pandemic is likely to accelerate the ongoing shakeup of U.S. retailing. The United States has 24.5 square feet of retail space per person versus 16.4 square feet in Canada and 4.5 square feet in Europe. This is almost certainly too much and the mediocre — the ones that don’t make their customers want to keep coming back — will not survive.

The pandemic is likely to speed up the adoption of new technologies. Although typically seen as a way to reduce headcount, adopting, scaling, and leveraging new technologies require a capable and motivated (even if smaller) workforce.

There is an alternative: A good jobs system that has already proven successful. Long before the pandemic, there were successful companies — including Costco and QuikTrip — that knew their frontline workers were essential personnel and treated and paid them as such. Even in very competitive, low-cost retail sectors, these companies adopted a good jobs system and used it to win.

There’s a strong financial case for good jobs. Offering good jobs lowers costs by reducing employee turnover, operational mistakes, and wasted time. It improves service, which increases sales both in the short term and — through customer loyalty — in the long term.

The info is here.

Four concepts to assess your personal risk as the U.S. reopens

Leana Wen
The Washington Post
Originally posted 21 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

So what does that mean in terms of choices each of us makes — what’s safe to do and what’s not?

Here are four concepts from other harm-reduction strategies that can help to guide our decisions:

Relative risk. Driving is an activity that carries risk, which can be reduced by following the speed limit and wearing a seat belt. For covid-19, we can think of risk through three key variables: proximity, activity and time.

The highest-risk scenario is if you are in close proximity with someone who is infected, in an indoor space, for an extended period of time. That’s why when one person in the household becomes ill, others are likely to get infected, too.

Also, certain activities, such as singing, expel more droplets; in one case, a single infected person in choir practice spread covid-19 to 52 people, two of whom died.

The same goes for gatherings where people hug one another — funerals and birthdays can be such “superspreader” events. Conversely, there are no documented cases of someone acquiring covid-19 by passing a stranger while walking outdoors.

You can decrease your risk by modifying one of these three variables. If you want to see friends, avoid crowded bars, and instead host in your backyard or a park, where everyone can keep their distance.

Use your own utensils and, to be even safer, bring your own food and drinks.

Skip the hugs, kisses and handshakes. If you go to the beach, find areas where you can stay at least six feet away from others who are not in your household. Takeout food is the safest. If you really want a meal out, eating outdoors with tables farther apart will be safer than dining in a crowded indoor restaurant.

Businesses should also heed this principle as they are reopening, by keeping up telecommuting and staggered shifts, reducing capacity in conference rooms, and closing communal dining areas. Museums can limit not only the number of people allowed in at once, but also the amount of time people are allowed to spend in each exhibit.

Pooled risk. If you engage in high-risk activity and are around others who do the same, you increase everyone’s risk. Think of the analogy with safe-sex practices: Those with multiple partners have higher risk than people in monogamous relationships. As applied to covid-19, this means those who have very low exposure are probably safe to associate with one another.

This principle is particularly relevant for separated families that want to see one another. I receive many questions from grandparents who miss their grandchildren and want to know when they can see them again. If two families have both been sheltering at home with virtually no outside interaction, there should be no concern with them being with one another. Families can come together for day care arrangements this way if all continue to abide by strict social distancing guidelines in other aspects of their lives. (The equation changes when any one individual resumes higher-risk activities — returning to work outside the home, for example.)

The info is here.

Monday, May 25, 2020

How Could the CDC Make That Mistake?

Alexis C. Madrigal & Robinson Meyer
The Atlantic
Originally posted 21 May 20

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is conflating the results of two different types of coronavirus tests, distorting several important metrics and providing the country with an inaccurate picture of the state of the pandemic. We’ve learned that the CDC is making, at best, a debilitating mistake: combining test results that diagnose current coronavirus infections with test results that measure whether someone has ever had the virus. The upshot is that the government’s disease-fighting agency is overstating the country’s ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19. The agency confirmed to The Atlantic on Wednesday that it is mixing the results of viral and antibody tests, even though the two tests reveal different information and are used for different reasons.

This is not merely a technical error. States have set quantitative guidelines for reopening their economies based on these flawed data points.

Several states—including Pennsylvania, the site of one of the country’s largest outbreaks, as well as Texas, Georgia, and Vermont—are blending the data in the same way. Virginia likewise mixed viral and antibody test results until last week, but it reversed course and the governor apologized for the practice after it was covered by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Atlantic. Maine similarly separated its data on Wednesday; Vermont authorities claimed they didn’t even know they were doing this.

The widespread use of the practice means that it remains difficult to know exactly how much the country’s ability to test people who are actively sick with COVID-19 has improved.

The info is here.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Suicides of two health care workers hint at the Covid-19 mental health crisis to come

Wendy Dean
Originally posted 30 April 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Denial, minimizing, and compartmentalizing are essential strategies for coping with a crisis. They are the psychological tools we reach for over and over to get through harrowing situations. Health care workers learn this through experience and by watching others. We learn how not to pass out in the trauma bay. We learn to flip into “rational mode” when a patient is hemorrhaging or in cardiac arrest, attending to the details of survival — their vital signs, lab results, imaging studies. We learn that if we grieve for the 17-year-old gunshot victim while we are doing chest compressions we will buckle and he will die. So we shut down feeling and just keep doing.

What few health care workers learn how to do is manage the abstractness of emotional recovery, when there is nothing to act on, no numbers to attend, no easily measurable markers of improvement. It is also hard to learn to resolve emotional experiences by watching others, because this kind of intense processing is a private undertaking. We rarely get to watch how someone else swims in the surf of traumatic experience.

Those on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially those in the hardest-hit areas, have seen conditions they never imagined possible in the country with the most expensive health care system in the world. Watching patients die alone is traumatic. Having to choose your own safety over offering comfort to the dying because your hospital or health care system doesn’t have enough personal protective equipment to go around inflicts moral injury. When facing the reality of constrained resources and unthinkable choices, working to exhaustion, and caring for patients at great personal risk, the only way to get through each shift is to do what is immediately at hand.

The info is here.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Proximate Cause Explained: An Essay in Experimental Jurisprudence

Knobe, Joshua and Shapiro, Scott J.
University of Chicago Law Review,


Among the oldest debates in American jurisprudence concerns the concept of “proximate cause.” According to so-called formalists, the legal concept of “proximate cause” is the same as the ordinary concept of “cause.” The legal question of whether a cause is proximate for the purposes of establishing tort liability, therefore, is an objective matter about the external world determinable by familiar descriptive inquiry. By contrast, legal realists think that issues of proximate causation are disguised normative questions about responsibility. As the realists William Prosser and Robert Keeton put it, “Proximate cause is better called ‘responsible cause’.”

Recent work in cognitive science has afforded us new insights into the way people make causal judgments that were unavailable at the time of the original debate between formalists and realists. We now have access to the results of systematic experimental studies that examine the way people ordinarily think about causation and morality. This work opens up the possibility of a very different approach to understanding the role of causation in the law — one which combines the attractive features of both formalism and realism without accepting their implausible consequences.

In addition to providing a model for interpreting the case law of proximate cause, this paper also exemplifies a new way of doing legal theory — a method we call “experimental jurisprudence.” Experimental jurisprudence is the study of jurisprudential questions using empirical methods. Jurisprudential disputes about proximate cause are especially ripe for empirical analysis because the debate revolves around whether the legal concept of proximate cause is the same as the ordinary concept of causation. Interrogating the ordinary concept of causation, therefore, should shed light on this question.

The paper can be downloaded here.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Is identity illusory?

Andreas L. Mogensen
European Journal of Philosophy
First published 29 April 2020


Certain of our traits are thought more central to who we are: they comprise our individual identity. What makes these traits privileged in this way? What accounts for their identity centrality? Although considerations of identity play a key role in many different areas of moral philosophy, I argue that we currently have no satisfactory account of the basis of identity centrality. Nor should we expect one. Rather, we should adopt an error theory: we should concede that there is nothing in reality corresponding to the perceived distinction between the central and peripheral traits of a person.

Here is an excerpt:

Considerations of identity play a key role in many different areas of contemporary moral philosophy. The following is not intended as an exhaustive survey. I will focus on just four key issues: the ethics of biomedical enhancement; blame and responsibility; constructivist theories in meta‐ethics; and the value of moral testimony.

The wide‐ranging moral importance of individual identity plausibly reflects its intimate connection to the ethics of authenticity (Taylor, 1991). To a first approximation, authenticity is achieved when the way a person lives is expressive of her most centrally defining traits. Inauthenticity occurs when she fails to give expression to these traits. The key anxiety attached to the ideal of authenticity is that the conditions of modern life conspire to mask the true self beneath the demands of social conformity and the enticements of mass culture (Riesman, Glazer, & Denney, 1961/2001; Rousseau, 1782/2011). In spite of this perceived incongruity, authenticity is considered one of the constitutive ideals of modernity (Guignon, 2004; Taylor, 1989, 1991).

Considerations of authenticity have played a key role in recent debates on human enhancement (Juth, 2011). The specific type of enhancement at issue here is cosmetic psychopharmacology: the use of psychiatric drugs to bring about changes in mood and personality, allowing already healthy individuals to lead happier and more successful lives by becoming less shy, more confident, etc. (Kramer, 1993). Many find cosmetic psychopharmacology disturbing. In an influential paper, Elliott (1998) suggests that what disturbs us is the apparent inauthenticity involved in this kind of personal transformation: the pursuit of a new, enhanced personality represents a flight from the real you. Defenders of enhancement charge that Elliott's concern rests on a mistaken conception of identity. DeGrazia (2000, 2005) argues that Elliott fails to appreciate the extent to which a person's identity is determined by her own reflexive attitudes. Because of the authoritative role assigned to a person's self‐conception, DeGrazia concludes that if a person wholeheartedly desires to change some aspect of herself, she cannot meaningfully be accused of inauthenticity.

The paper is here.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Discussing the ethics of hydroxychloroquine prescriptions for COVID-19 prevention

Sharon Yoo
Originally published 19 May 20

President Donald Trump said on Monday that he's been taking hydroxychloroquine to protect himself against the coronavirus. It is a drug typically used to treat malaria and lupus.

The Federal Drug Administration issued warnings that the drug should only be used in clinical trials or for patients at a hospital under the Emergency Use Authorization.

"Yeah, a White House doctor, didn't recommend—I asked him what do you think—and he said well, if you'd like it and I said yeah, I'd like it, I'd like to take it," President Trump said, when a reporter asked him if a White House doctor recommended that he take hydroxychloroquine on Monday.

In a statement, the President's physician, Dr. Sean Conley said after discussions, they've concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risks. All this, despite the FDA warnings.

University of Minnesota bioethics professor Joel Wu said this is problematic.

"It's ethically problematic if the President is being treated for COVID specifically by hydroxychloroquine because our understanding based on the current evidence is not safe or effective in treating or preventing COVID," Wu said.

The info is here.

The Difference Ethical Leadership Can Make in a Pandemic

Caterina Bulgarlla
Originally posted May 2, 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Since the personal costs of social isolation also depend on the behavior of others, the growing clamors to reopen the economy create a twofold risk. On the one hand, a rushed reopening may lead to new contagion; on the other, it may blunt the progress that has already been made toward mitigation. Not only can more people get sick, but many others—especially, lower-risk groups like the young—may start reevaluating whether it makes sense to sacrifice themselves in the absence of a shared strategy toward controlling the spread.

Self-sacrifice becomes less of a hard choice when everybody does his/her part. In the presence of a genuinely shared effort, not only are the costs of isolation more fairly spread, but it’s easier to appreciate that one’s personal interest is aligned with everyone else’s. Furthermore, if people consistently cooperate and shelter-in-place, progress toward mitigation is more likely to unfold in a steady and linear fashion, potentially creating a positive-feedback loop for all to see.

Ultimately, whether people cooperate or not has more to do with how they weigh the costs and benefits of cooperation than the objective value of those costs and benefits. Uncertainty—such as the uncertainty of whether one’s personal sacrifices truly matter—may lead people to view cooperation as a more costly choice, but trust may increase its value. Similarly, if the choice to cooperate is framed in terms of what one can gain—such as in “stay home to avoid getting sick”—rather than in terms of how every contribution is critical for the common good, people may act more selfishly.

For example, some may start pitting the risk of getting sick against the risk of economic loss and choose to risk infection. In contrast, if people are forced to evaluate whether they bear responsibility for the life of others, they may feel compelled to cooperate. When it comes to these types of dilemmas, cooperation is less likely to manifest if the decisions to be made are framed in business terms rather than in ethical ones.

The info is here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Ethics of controlled human infection to study COVID-19

Shah, S.K, Miller, F.G., and others
Science  07 May 2020
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc1076


Development of an effective vaccine is the clearest path to controlling the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. To accelerate vaccine development, some researchers are pursuing, and thousands of people have expressed interest in participating in, controlled human infection studies (CHIs) with severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) (1, 2). In CHIs, a small number of participants are deliberately exposed to a pathogen to study infection and gather preliminary efficacy data on experimental vaccines or treatments. We have been developing a comprehensive, state-of-the-art ethical framework for CHIs that emphasizes their social value as fundamental to justifying these studies. The ethics of CHIs in general are underexplored (3, 4), and ethical examinations of SARS-CoV-2 CHIs have largely focused on whether the risks are acceptable and participants could give valid informed consent (1). The high social value of such CHIs has generally been assumed. Based on our framework, we agree on the ethical conditions for conducting SARS-CoV-2 CHIs (see the table). We differ on whether the social value of such CHIs is sufficient to justify the risks at present, given uncertainty about both in a rapidly evolving situation; yet we see none of our disagreements as insurmountable. We provide ethical guidance for research sponsors, communities, participants, and the essential independent reviewers considering SARS-CoV-2 CHIs.

The info is here.

People judge others to have more control over beliefs than they themselves do.

Cusimano, C., & Goodwin, G. (2020, April 3).


People attribute considerable control to others over what those individuals believe. However, no work to date has investigated how people judge their own belief control, nor whether such judgments diverge from their judgments of others. We addressed this gap in seven studies and found that people judge others to be more able to voluntarily change what they believe than they themselves are. This occurs when people judge others who disagree with them (Study 1) as well as others agree with them (Studies 2-5, 7), and it occurs when people judge strangers (Studies 1-2, 4-5) as well as close others (Studies 3, 7). It appears not to be explained by impression management or self-enhancement motives (Study 3). Rather, there is a discrepancy between the evidentiary constraints on belief change that people access via introspection, and their default assumptions about the ease of voluntary belief revision. That is, people spontaneously tend to think about the evidence that supports their beliefs, which leads them to judge their beliefs as outside their control. But they apparently fail to generalize this feeling of constraint to others, and similarly fail to incorporate it into their generic model of beliefs (Studies 4-7). We discuss the implications of our findings for theories of ideology-based conflict, actor-observer biases, naïve realism, and on-going debates regarding people’s actual capacity to voluntarily change what they believe.


The  present  paper  uncovers  an  important  discrepancy in  how  people  think  about  their  own  and  others’  beliefs; namely, that people judge that others have a greater capacity to voluntarily change their beliefs than they, themselves do.  Put succinctly, when someone says, “You can choose to believe in God, or you can choose not to believe in God,” they may often mean that you can choose but they cannot.  We have argued that this discrepancy derives from two distinct ways people reason about belief control: either by consulting their default theory of belief, or by introspecting and reporting what they feel when they consider voluntarily changing a belief. When people apply their default theory of belief, they judge  that  they  and  others  have  considerable  control  over what they believe. But, when people consider the possibility of trying to change a particular belief, they tend to report that they have less control. Because people do not have access to the experiences of others, they rely on their generic theory of beliefs when judging others’ control. Discrepant attributions of control for self and other emerge as a result.  This may in turn have important downstream effects on people’s behavior during disagreements. More work is needed to explore these downstream effects, as well as to understand how much control people actually have over what they believe.  Predictably,we find the results from these studies compelling, but admit that readers may believe whatever they please.

The research is here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

A pandemic plan was in place. Trump abandoned it - and science

Jason Karlawish
Originally posted 17 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

And then on Jan. 21, 2017, Donald Trump became president.

Beginning the morning after his inauguration, a spectacular science-related tragedy has unfolded. The Trump administration has systematically dismantled the executive branch’s science infrastructure and rejected the role of science to inform policy, essentially reversing both Republican and Democrat presidential administrations since World War II, when Vannevar Bush, an engineer, advised Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.

President Trump’s pursuit of anti-science policy has been so effective that as the first cases of Covid-19 were breaking out in Wuhan, China, no meaningful science policy infrastructure was in place to advise him. As a consequence, America is suffering from a pandemic without a plan. Our responses are ineffectual and inconsistent. We are increasingly divided by misinformation and invidious messaging. And it’s not even over.

Facts will drive scientific decisions, not the other way around

On April 27, 2009, on the eve of his 100th day in office, Obama made a five-block trip from the White House to 2101 Constitution Ave. There, in the Great Hall of the National Academy of Sciences, he spoke about his administration’s commitment to science.

“Science is more essential for our prosperity, our security, our health, our environment, and our quality of life than it has ever been before,” he announced. He introduced the members of PCAST and explained how his administration would engage the scientific community directly in the work of public policy.

“I want to be sure that facts are driving scientific decisions — and not the other way around,” the president said. The audience broke into laughter.

Obama explained that his science advisers were already briefing him daily on the emerging threat of swine flu, which some were projecting could kill thousands of Americans.

The info is here.

Uncovering the moral heuristics of altruism: A philosophical scale

Friedland J, Emich K, Cole BM (2020)
PLoS ONE 15(3): e0229124.


Extant research suggests that individuals employ traditional moral heuristics to support their observed altruistic behavior; yet findings have largely been limited to inductive extrapolation and rely on relatively few traditional frames in so doing, namely, deontology in organizational behavior and virtue theory in law and economics. Given that these and competing moral frames such as utilitarianism can manifest as identical behavior, we develop a moral framing instrument—the Philosophical Moral-Framing Measure (PMFM)—to expand and distinguish traditional frames associated and disassociated with observed altruistic behavior. The validation of our instrument based on 1015 subjects in 3 separate real stakes scenarios indicates that heuristic forms of deontology, virtue-theory, and utilitarianism are strongly related to such behavior, and that egoism is an inhibitor. It also suggests that deontic and virtue-theoretical frames may be commonly perceived as intertwined and opens the door for new research on self-abnegation, namely, a perceived moral obligation toward suffering and self-denial. These findings hold the potential to inform ongoing conversations regarding organizational citizenship and moral crowding out, namely, how financial incentives can undermine altruistic behavior.

The research is here.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Reviving the US CDC

The Lancet
Volume 395, 10236
Originally published 16 May 20

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen in the USA with 1·3 million cases and an estimated death toll of 80 684 as of May 12. States that were initially the hardest hit, such as New York and New Jersey, have decelerated the rate of infections and deaths after the implementation of 2 months of lockdown. However, the emergence of new outbreaks in Minnesota, where the stay-at-home order is set to lift in mid-May, and Iowa, which did not enact any restrictions on movement or commerce, has prompted pointed new questions about the inconsistent and incoherent national response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flagship agency for the nation's public health, has seen its role minimised and become an ineffective and nominal adviser in the response to contain the spread of the virus. The strained relationship between the CDC and the federal government was further laid bare when, according to The Washington Post, Deborah Birx, the head of the US COVID-19 Task Force and a former director of the CDC's Global HIV/AIDS Division, cast doubt on the CDC's COVID-19 mortality and case data by reportedly saying: “There is nothing from the CDC that I can trust”. This is an unhelpful statement, but also a shocking indictment of an agency that was once regarded as the gold standard for global disease detection and control. How did an agency that was the first point of contact for many national health authorities facing a public health threat become so ill-prepared to protect the public's health?

The article is here.

Cultural evolution, Covid-19, and preparing for what’s next

Michael Muthukrishna
London School of Economics
and Political Science
Originally posted 22 April 2020

Here is an excerpt:

A recent analysis suggests that countries with efficient governments and tight, norm-enforcing cultures have the slowest rate of increase in Covid-19 cases adjusted for population size and the fewest deaths controlling for GDP per capita, inequality, and median age, weighting for time. Together, these explain 41% of the variance. Put another way, societies with institutions that advocate behaviours that reduce caseloads and citizens who conform to those behaviours are successful in managing this outbreak. Countries with institutions with behaviours that do not reduce caseloads and citizens who conform, and countries with institutions who advocate appropriate behaviours, but citizens who do not conform have worse outcomes. In addition to general government efficiency and a tendency to enforce norms, past research has implicated a package of behaviours classed as “collectivism” as having evolved as an adaptation to material insecurity, including pathogen prevalence, and other pressures that required avoiding individualistic behaviours that threatened the group welfare or challenges that required collective action. That is, collectivist cultures may have evolved a suite of behaviours that are well adapted to epidemics: less mouth-to-mouth romantic kissing and physical affection in general, more vigilance of others, even in-group members, social learning, conformity, obedience to authority, avoidance orientation, and so on. Indeed, a quick and dirty re-analysis of Gelfand et al’s models replacing tightness with collectivism, shows that collectivism alone predicts 36% of the variance, and together with the controls, predicts 48% of the variance (see Table 1).

The info is here.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Veil-of-Ignorance Reasoning Favors Allocating Resources to Younger Patients During the COVID-19 Crisis

Huang, K., Bernhard, R., and others
(2020, April 22).


The COVID-19 crisis has forced healthcare professionals to make tragic decisions concerning which patients to save. A utilitarian principle favors allocating scarce resources such as ventilators toward younger patients, as this is expected to save more years of life. Some view this as ageist, instead favoring age-neutral principles, such as “first come, first served”. Which approach is fairer? Veil-of-ignorance reasoning is a decision procedure designed to produce fair outcomes. Here we apply veil-of-ignorance reasoning to the COVID-19 ventilator dilemma, asking participants which policy they would prefer if they did not know whether they are younger or older. Two studies (pre-registered; online samples; Study 1, N=414; Study 2 replication, N=1,276) show that veil-of-ignorance reasoning shifts preferences toward saving younger patients. The effect on older participants is dramatic, reversing their opposition toward favoring the young. These findings provide concrete guidance to healthcare policymakers and front line personnel charged with allocating scarce medical resources during times of crisis.

From the General Discussion

In two pre-registered studies, we show that veil-of-ignorance reasoning favors allocating scarce medical resources to younger patients during the COVID-19 crisis. A strong majority of participants who engaged in veil-of-ignorance reasoning concluded that a policy of maximizing the number of life-years saved is what they would want for themselves if they did not know whom they were going to be.Importantly, engaging in veil-of-ignorance reasoning subsequently produced increased moral approval of this utilitarian policy. These findings, though predicted based on prior research(Huang, Greene, &Bazerman, 2019), make three new contributions. First, they apply directly to an ongoing crisis in which competing claims to fairness must be resolved. While the ventilator shortage in the developed world has been less acute than many feared, it may reemerge in greater force as the COVID-19 crisis spreads to the developing world (Woodyatt, 2020). Second, the dilemma considered here differs from those considered previously because it concerns maximizing the number of life-years saved, rather than the number of lives saved.Finally, the results show the power of the veil to eliminate self-serving bias. In the control condition, few older participants (33%) favored prioritizing younger patients. But after engaging in veil-of-ignorance reasoning, most older participants (62%) favored doing so, just like younger participants.

The research is here.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Hospitals prepare for wave of mental health disorders among their workers

Del Quentin Wilber
The Los Angeles Times
Originally posted May 6, 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Mental health practitioners pointed to the suicide late last month of Dr. Lorna Breen as a warning flare. Colleagues said the 49-year-old Breen, an emergency room physician at NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital in Manhattan, took her life after becoming overwhelmed by the volume of coronavirus patients who died on her watch.

“People at these elite medical institutions are talented, disciplined, strong and resilient,” said Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, the chair of psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, where Breen was an assistant professor of emergency medicine. “But everyone has a breaking point. Tragically, in her case, her dedication pushed her past the breaking point.”

Healthcare professionals said the potential for trouble is particularly acute in New York, which has emerged as ground zero in the U.S. for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Its hospitals have been crushed by an onslaught of severely ill patients. With no proven treatments or cures, physicians and nurses say they have often felt powerless to prevent the sickest from dying. Nearly 14,000 people have perished from the disease in the city, health officials say. During the height of the outbreak a month ago, doctors at Mt. Sinai Hospital were reporting at least 20 deaths a day. Typically, the hospital has one or two.

“The mortality that even veteran clinicians are witnessing has been massive and devastating to healthcare workers,” Lieberman said.

The info is here.

Friday, May 15, 2020

“Do the right thing” for whom? An experiment on ingroup favouritism, group assorting and moral suasion

E. Bilancini, L. Boncinelli, & others
Judgment and Decision Making, 
Vol. 15, No. 2, March 2020, pp. 182-192


In this paper we investigate the effect of moral suasion on ingroup favouritism. We report a well-powered, pre-registered, two-stage 2x2 mixed-design experiment. In the first stage, groups are formed on the basis of how participants answer a set of questions, concerning non-morally relevant issues in one treatment (assorting on non-moral preferences), and morally relevant issues in another treatment (assorting on moral preferences). In the second stage, participants choose how to split a given amount of money between participants of their own group and participants of the other group, first in the baseline setting and then in a setting where they are told to do what they believe to be morally right (moral suasion). Our main results are: (i) in the baseline, participants tend to favour their own group to a greater extent when groups are assorted according to moral preferences, compared to when they are assorted according to non-moral preferences; (ii) the net effect of moral suasion is to decrease ingroup favouritism, but there is also a non-negligible proportion of participants for whom moral suasion increases ingroup favouritism; (iii) the effect of moral suasion is substantially stable across group assorting and four pre-registered individual characteristics (gender, political orientation, religiosity, pro-life vs pro-choice ethical convictions).

From the Discussion:

The interest in moral suasion stems, at least in part, from being a cheap and possibly effective policy tool that could be applied to foster prosocial behaviours. While the literature on moral behaviour has so far produced a substantial body of evidence showing the effectiveness of moral suasion, its dependence on the identity of the recipients of the decision-maker’s actions is far less studied, leaving open the possibility that individuals react to moral suasion by reducing prosociality towards some types of recipients. This paper has addressed this issue in the setting of a decision to split a given amount of money between members of one’s own group and members of another group, providing experimental evidence that, on average, moral suasion increases pro-sociality towards both the ingroup and the outgroup; however, the increase towards the outgroup is greater than the increase towards the ingroup, and this results in the fact that ingroup favouritism, on average, declines under moral suasion.

The research is here.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Is justice blind or myopic? An examination of the effects of meta-cognitive myopia and truth bias on mock jurors and judges

M. Pantazi, O. Klein, & M. Kissine
Judgment and Decision Making, 
Vol. 15, No. 2, March 2020, pp. 214-229


Previous studies have shown that people are truth-biased in that they tend to believe the information they receive, even if it is clearly flagged as false. The truth bias has been recently proposed to be an instance of meta-cognitive myopia, that is, of a generalized human insensitivity towards the quality and correctness of the information available in the environment. In two studies we tested whether meta-cognitive myopia and the ensuing truth bias may operate in a courtroom setting. Based on a well-established paradigm in the truth-bias literature, we asked mock jurors (Study 1) and professional judges (Study 2) to read two crime reports containing aggravating or mitigating information that was explicitly flagged as false. Our findings suggest that jurors and judges are truth-biased, as their decisions and memory about the cases were affected by the false information. We discuss the implications of the potential operation of the truth bias in the courtroom, in the light of the literature on inadmissible and discredible evidence, and make some policy suggestions.

From the Discussion:

Fortunately, the judiciary system is to some extent shielded by intrusions of illegitimate evidence, since objections are most often raised before a witness’s answer or piece of evidence is presented in court. Therefore, most of the time, inadmissible or false evidence is prevented from entering the fact-finders’ mental representations of a case in the first place. Nevertheless, objections can also be raised after a witnesses’ response has been given. Such objections may not actually protect the fact-finders from the information that has already been presented. An important question that remains open from a policy perspective is therefore how we are to safeguard the rules of evidence, given the fact-finders’ inability to take such meta-information into account.

The research is here.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What To Do If You Need to See Patients In Office?

If you are a mental health professional who continues to see (some) patients in the office because of patient needs, the following chart may be helpful.  

To protect my patients, I imagine I am a carrier, even though I have no way of knowing because our government lacks the capacity for adequate COVID-19 testing.

America's Mental Health Crisis Hidden Behind Bars

Eric Westervelt & Liz Baker
Originally posted 25 Feb 20

Here is an excerpt:

It's a culmination of decades of policies affecting those with a mental illness. Many of the nation's asylums and hospitals were closed over the past 60-plus years — some horrific places that needed to be shuttered, others emptied to cut costs.

The idea was that they'd be replaced with community-based mental health care and supportive services. That didn't happen. Ensuing decades saw tougher sentencing under aggressive "war on drugs and crime" policies as well as cuts to subsidized housing and mental health. It all created a perfect storm of failed policies driving more of the mentally ill into the nation's jails and prisons.

Many were left to fend for themselves. Substance abuse and homelessness sometimes followed, as did encounters with police, who often are called first to help deal with the effects of or related to mental crises.

It has put the jails in an awkward position. Today the three biggest mental health centers in America are jails: LA County, Cook County, Ill. (Chicago) and New York City's Rikers Island jail. Without the support needed, conditions have created new asylums, advocates say, that can resemble the very places they vowed to shut down.

"Local jails and prisons have become the de facto mental health institutions," says Elizabeth Hancq, director of research at the Treatment Advocacy Center, a national nonprofit that works to eliminate barriers to treatment for people with severe mental illness. "It's really a humanitarian crisis that if you suffer from a severe mental illness in this country, you almost need to commit a crime in order to get into the system."

The info is here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Freedom in an Age of Algocracy

John Danaher
forthcoming in Oxford Handbook on the Philosophy of Technology
edited by Shannon Vallor


There is a growing sense of unease around algorithmic modes of governance ('algocracies') and their impact on freedom. Contrary to the emancipatory utopianism of digital enthusiasts, many now fear that the rise of algocracies will undermine our freedom. Nevertheless, there has been some struggle to explain exactly how this will happen. This chapter tries to address the shortcomings in the existing discussion by arguing for a broader conception/understanding of freedom as well as a broader conception/understanding of algocracy. Broadening the focus in this way enables us to see how algorithmic governance can be both emancipatory and enslaving, and provides a framework for future development and activism around the creation of this technology.

From the Conclusion:

Finally, I’ve outlined a framework for thinking about the likely impact of algocracy on freedom. Given the complexity of freedom and the complexity of algocracy, I’ve argued that there is unlikely to be a simple global assessment of the freedom-promoting or undermining power of algocracy. This is something that has to be assessed and determined on a case-by-case basis. Nevertheless, there are at least five interesting and relatively novel mechanisms through which algocratic systems can both promote and undermine freedom. We should pay attention to these different mechanisms, but do so in a properly contextualized manner, and not by ignoring the pre-existing mechanisms through which freedom is undermined and promoted.

The book chapter is here.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Why some nurses have quit during the coronavirus pandemic

Safia Samee Ali
Originally posted 10 May 20

Here is an excerpt:

“It was an extremely difficult decision, but as a mother and wife, the health of my family will always come first. In the end, I could not accept that I could be responsible for causing one of my family members to become severely ill or possibly die.”

As COVID-19 has infected more than one million Americans, nurses working on the front lines of the pandemic with little protective support have made the gut-wrenching decision to step away from their jobs, saying they were ill-equipped and unable to fight the disease and feared not only for their own safety but also for that of their families.

Many of these nurses, who have faced backlash for quitting, say new CDC protocols have made them feel expendable and have not kept their safety in mind, leaving them no choice but to walk away from a job they loved.

'We're not cannon fodder, we’re human beings'

As the nation took stock of its dwindling medical supplies in the early days of the pandemic, CDC guidance regarding personal protective equipment quickly took a back seat.

N95 masks, which had previously been the acceptable standard of protective care for both patients and medical personnel, were depleting so commercial grade masks, surgical masks, and in the most extreme cases homemade masks such as scarves and bandanas were all sanctioned by the CDC -- which did not return a request for comment -- to counter the lacking resources.

The info is here.

US 'Deaths of Despair' From COVID-19 Could Top 75,000, Experts Warn

Megan Brooks
Originally posted 8 May 20

An additional 75,000 Americans could die by suicide, drugs, or alcohol abuse because of the COVID-19 pandemic, projections from a new national report released today suggest.

The number of "deaths of despair" could be even higher if the country fails to take bold action to address the mental health toll of unemployment, isolation, and uncertainty, according to the report from the Well Being Trust (WBT) and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care.

"If nothing happens and nothing improves ― ie, the worst-case scenario ― we could be looking at an additional 150,000 people who died who didn't have to," Benjamin Miller, PsyD, WBT chief strategy officer, told Medscape Medical News.

"We can prevent these deaths. We know how and have a bevy of evidence-based solutions. We lack the resources to really stand this up in a way that can most positively impact communities," Miller added.

Slow Recovery, Quick Recovery Scenarios

For the analysis, Miller and colleagues combined information on the number of deaths from suicide, alcohol, and drugs from 2018 as a baseline (n = 181,686). They projected levels of unemployment from 2020 to 2029 and then used economic modeling to estimate the additional annual number of deaths.

Across nine different scenarios, the number of additional deaths of despair range from 27,644 (quick recovery, smallest impact of unemployment on suicide, alcohol-, and drug-related deaths) to 154,037 (slow recovery, greatest impact of unemployment on these deaths), with 75,000 being the most likely.

The info is here.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Superethics Instead of Superintelligence: Know Thyself, and Apply Science Accordingly

Pim Haselager & Giulio Mecacci (2020)
AJOB Neuroscience, 11:2, 113-119
DOI: 10.1080/21507740.2020.1740353


The human species is combining an increased understanding of our cognitive machinery with the development of a technology that can profoundly influence our lives and our ways of living together. Our sciences enable us to see our strengths and weaknesses, and build technology accordingly. What would future historians think of our current attempts to build increasingly smart systems, the purposes for which we employ them, the almost unstoppable goldrush toward ever more commercially relevant implementations, and the risk of superintelligence? We need a more profound reflection on what our science shows us about ourselves, what our technology allows us to do with that, and what, apparently, we aim to do with those insights and applications. As the smartest species on the planet, we don’t need more intelligence. Since we appear to possess an underdeveloped capacity to act ethically and empathically, we rather require the kind of technology that enables us to act more consistently upon ethical principles. The problem is not to formulate ethical rules, it’s to put them into practice. Cognitive neuroscience and AI provide the knowledge and the tools to develop the moral crutches we so clearly require. Why aren’t we building them? We don’t need superintelligence, we need superethics.

The article is here.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Naïve Normativity: The Social Foundation of Moral Cognition

Kristin Andrews
Journal of the American Philosophical Association
Volume 6, Issue 1
January 2020 , pp. 36-56


To answer tantalizing questions such as whether animals are moral or how morality evolved, I propose starting with a somewhat less fraught question: do animals have normative cognition? Recent psychological research suggests that normative thinking, or ought-thought, begins early in human development. Recent philosophical research suggests that folk psychology is grounded in normative thought. Recent primatology research finds evidence of sophisticated cultural and social learning capacities in great apes. Drawing on these three literatures, I argue that the human variety of social cognition and moral cognition encompass the same cognitive capacities and that the nonhuman great apes may also be normative beings. To make this argument, I develop an account of animal social norms that shares key properties with Cristina Bicchieri's account of social norms but which lowers the cognitive requirements for having a social norm. I propose a set of four early developing prerequisites implicated in social cognition that make up what I call naïve normativity: the ability to identify agents, sensitivity to in-group/out-group differences, the capacity for social learning of group traditions, and responsiveness to appropriateness. I review the ape cognition literature and present preliminary empirical evidence supporting the existence of social norms and naïve normativity in great apes. While there is more empirical work to be done, I hope to have offered a framework for studying normativity in other species, and I conclude that we should be open to the possibility that normative cognition is yet another ancient cognitive endowment that is not human-unique.

The info is here.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Social-media companies must flatten the curve of misinformation

Joan Donovan
Originally posted 14 April 20

Here is an excerpt:

After blanket coverage of the distortion of the 2016 US election, the role of algorithms in fanning the rise of the far right in the United States and United Kingdom, and of the antivax movement, tech companies have announced policies against misinformation. But they have slacked off on building the infrastructure to do commercial-content moderation and, despite the hype, artificial intelligence is not sophisticated enough to moderate social-media posts without human supervision. Tech companies acknowledge that groups, such as The Internet Research Agency and Cambridge Analytica, used their platforms for large-scale operations to influence elections within and across borders. At the same time, these companies have balked at removing misinformation, which they say is too difficult to identify reliably.

Moderating content after something goes wrong is too late. Preventing misinformation requires curating knowledge and prioritizing science, especially during a public crisis. In my experience, tech companies prefer to downplay the influence of their platforms, rather than to make sure that influence is understood. Proper curation requires these corporations to engage independent researchers, both to identify potential manipulation and to provide context for ‘authoritative content’.

Early this April, I attended a virtual meeting hosted by the World Health Organization, which had convened journalists, medical researchers, social scientists, tech companies and government representatives to discuss health misinformation. This cross-sector collaboration is a promising and necessary start. As I listened, though, I could not help but to feel teleported back to 2017, when independent researchers first began uncovering the data trails of the Russian influence operations. Back then, tech companies were dismissive. If we can take on health misinformation collaboratively now, then we will have a model for future efforts.

The info is here.

Repetition increases Perceived Truth even for Known Falsehoods

Lisa Fazio
Originally posted 23 March 20

Repetition increases belief in false statements. This illusory truth effect occurs with many different types of statements (e.g., trivia facts, news headlines, advertisements), and even occurs when the false statement contradicts participants’ prior knowledge. However, existing studies of the effect of prior knowledge on the illusory truth effect share a common flaw; they measure participants’ knowledge after the experimental manipulation and thus conditionalize responses on posttreatment variables. In the current study, we measure prior knowledge prior to the experimental manipulation and thus provide a cleaner measurement of the causal effect of repetition on belief. We again find that prior knowledge does not protect against the illusory truth effect. Repeated false statements were given higher truth ratings than novel statements, even when they contradicted participants’ prior knowledge.

From the Discussion

As in previous research (Brashier et al., 2017; Fazio et al., 2015), prior knowledge did not protect participants from the illusory truth effect.Repeated falsehoods were rated as being more true than novel falsehoods, even when they both contradicted participants’ prior knowledge. By measuring prior knowledge before the experimental session, this study avoids conditioning on posttreatment variables and provides cleaner evidence for the effect (Montgomery et al., 2018). Whether prior knowledge is measured before or after the manipulation, it is clear that repetition increases belief in falsehoods that contradict existing knowledge.

The research is here.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Restoring the Economy Is the Last Thing We Should Want

Douglas Rushkoff
Originally published 27 April 20

Everyone wants to know when we’re going to get the economy started up again, and just how many lives we’re willing to surrender before we do. We’ve all been made to understand the dilemma: The sooner we “open up” American and get back to our jobs, the more likely we spread Covid-19, further overwhelming hospitals and killing more people. Yet the longer we wait, the more people will suffer and die in other ways.

I think this is a false choice. Yes, it may be true that every 1% rise in unemployment leads to a corresponding 1% rise in suicides. And it’s true that an extended freeze of the economy could shorten the lifespan of 6.4 million Americans entering the job market by an average of about two years. But such metrics say less about the human cost of the downturn than they do about the dangerously absolute dependence of workers on traditional employment for basic sustenance — an artifact of an economy that has been intentionally rigged to favor big banks and passive shareholders over small and local businesses that actually provide goods and services in a sustainable way.

In reality, the sooner and more completely we restore the old economy, the faster we simply recreate the conditions that got us sick in the first place and rendered us incapable of mounting an effective response. The economy we’re committed to restoring is no more the victim of the Covid-19 crisis than it is the cause. We have to stop asking when will things get back to normal. They won’t. There is no going back. And that’s actually good news.

The info is here.