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

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Christians, Gun Rights, and the American Social Compact

David French
The Dispatch
Originally posted September 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Why would I say that Christians are celebrating Rittenhouse? For one thing, a Christian crowdfunding site has raised more than $450,000 for his legal defense. Christian writers have called him a “good Samaritan” and argued that he’s a “decent, idealistic kid who entered that situation with the desire to do good, and, in fact, did do good.” (Emphasis added.)

Rittenhouse’s case comes on the heels of the Republican decision to showcase Mark and Patricia McCloskey at the Republican National Convention, the St. Louis couple that has been criminally charged for brandishing weapons at Black Lives Matter protesters who were marching outside their home.

The McCloskeys are obviously entitled to a legal defense, and I am not opining on the legal merits of their case (again, there is much we don’t know), but as a gun-owner, I cringed at their actions. They weren’t heroic. They were reckless. Pointing a weapon at another human being is a gravely serious act. It’s inherently dangerous, and if done unlawfully it often triggers in its targets an immediate right of violent (and potentially deadly) self-defense.

At the same time, we’re seeing an increasing number of openly-armed, rifle-toting conservative vigilantes not just aggressively confronting far-left crowds in the streets, but also using their weapons to intimidate lawmakers into canceling a legislative session.

In other words, we are watching gun-owners, sometimes cheered on by Christian conservatives, breaking the social compact. They aren’t exercising their rights responsibly, they’re pushing them to the (sometimes literally) bleeding edge, pouring gasoline on a civic fire, and creating real fear in their fellow citizens.

This is exactly when a healthy conservative Christian community rises up and quite simply says, “No.” With one voice it condemns vigilantism and models civic responsibility.

The information is here.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Do We Listen to Advice Just Because We Paid for It? The Impact of Cost of Advice on Its Use

Gino, F. (2008). 
Organizational Behavior and Human 
Decision Processes, 107(2), 234–245. 


When facing a decision, people often rely on advice received from others. Previous studies have shown that people tend to discount others' opinions. Yet, such discounting varies according to several factors. This paper isolates one of these factors: the cost of advice. Specifically, three experiments investigate whether the cost of advice, independent of its quality, affects how people use advice. The studies use the Judge-Advisor System (JAS) to investigate whether people value advice from others more when it costs money than when it is free, and examine the psychological processes that could account for this effect. The results show that people use paid advice significantly more than free advice and suggest that this effect is due to the same forces that have been documented in the literature to explain the sunk costs fallacy. Implications for circumstances under which people value others' opinions are discussed.

From the Discussion

Many of the decisions people make on a daily basis result from weighing their own opinions with advice from other sources. The present work explored one factor that might affect the use of advice: advice cost. In particular, the initial hypothesis was that, independent of its quality, people would weigh advice significantly more when it costs money than when it is free. This hypothesis was tested in three experiments requiring participants to answer questions about US history with or without advice from others.  The results of the studies show that participants relied more heavily on advice when it cost money than when it was free. The results also suggest that this paid-advice effect is due to the same forces that have been documented in the literature to explain prior instances of the sunk costs fallacy.  

The cost of advice affected the degree to which participants used advice but did not affect the value gained by following advice. In the studies, advice came from another participant who was randomly chosen on a question-by-question basis. On average, advisors were as equally informed or knowledgeable as judges. In fact, individuals who were history experts could not participate in the studies. Moreover, participants had no opportunity to assess the accuracy of advisors’ estimates. Nor had they the opportunity to assess the accuracy of their own estimates, as no performance feedback was provided. When advice cost money, participants weighed their personal opinions less than others’. When advice was free, they instead weighed their personal opinions more than others’.

We Don’t Know How to Warn You Any Harder. America is Dying.

Umair Haque
Originally poste 29 Aug 20

Right about now, something terrible is happening in America. Society is one tiny step away from the final collapse of democracy, at the hands of a true authoritarian, and his fanatics. Meanwhile, America’s silent majority is still slumbering at the depth and gravity of the threat.

I know that strikes many of you as somehow wrong. So let me challenge you for a moment. How much experience do you really have with authoritarianism? Any? If you’re a “real” American, you have precisely none.

Take it from us survivors and scholars of authoritarianism. This is exactly how it happens. The situation could not — could not — be any worse. The odds are now very much against American democracy surviving.

If you don’t believe me, ask a friend. I invite everyone who’s lived under authoritarianism to comment. Those of us how have?

We survivors of authoritarianism have a terrible, terrible foreboding, because we are experiencing something we should never do: deja vu. Our parents fled from collapsing societies to America. And here, now, in a grim and eerie repeat of history, we see the scenes of our childhoods played out all over again. Only now, in the land that we came to. We see the stories our parents recounted to us happening before our eyes, only this time, in the place they brought us to, to escape from all those horrors, abuses, and depredations.


There is a crucial lesson there. America already has an ISIS, a Taliban, an SS waiting to be born. A group of young men willing to do violence at the drop of a hat, because they’ve been brainwashed into hating. The demagogue has blamed hated minorities and advocates of democracy and peace for those young men’s stunted life chances, and they believe him. That’s exactly what an ISIS is, what a Taliban is, what an SS is. The only thing left to do by an authoritarian is to formalize it.

But when radicalized young men are killing people they have been taught to hate by demagogues right in the open, on the streets — a society has reached the beginnings of sectarian violence, the kind familiar in the Islamic world, and is at the end of democracy’s road.

The info is here.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Military AI vanquishes human fighter pilot in F-16 simulation. How scared should we be?

Sébastien Robli
Originally published 31 Aug 20

Here is an excerpt:

The AlphaDogfight simulation on Aug. 20 was an important milestone for AI and its potential military uses. While this achievement shows that AI can master increasingly difficult combat skills at warp speed, the Pentagon’s futurists still must remain mindful of its limitations and risks — both because AI remains long away from eclipsing the human mind in many critical decision-making roles, despite what the likes of Elon Musk have warned, and to make sure we don’t race ahead of ourselves and inadvertently leave the military exposed to new threats.

That’s not to minimize this latest development. Within the scope of the simulation, the AI pilot exceeded human limitations in the tournament: It was able to consistently execute accurate shots in very short timeframes; consistently push the airframe’s tolerance of the force of gravity to its maximum potential without going beyond that; and remain unaffected by the crushing pressure exerted by violent maneuvers the way a human pilot would.

All the more remarkable, Heron’s AI pilot was self-taught using deep reinforcement learning, a method in which an AI runs a combat simulation over and over again and is “rewarded” for rapidly successful behaviors and “punished” for failure. 

I emboldened the last sentence because of its importance.

Money, Morality and What Religion Has to Do With It

Ben Schott
Originally posted 7 August 20

In Plato’s “Euthyphro,” Socrates poses a timeless question: “Is that which is holy loved by the gods because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?” From this arises an equally thorny theological dilemma: Does morality derive exclusively from divinity, or can one be good without God?

Luckily, for the second question at least, we have data.

Around the world, 45% of people said that a belief in God was necessary to “be moral and have good values,” according to a Pew Research Center poll of 38,426 people in 34 ­countries, conducted from May to October 2019.

Of course, within this headline stat are a swath of regional, demographic and socioeconomic variations. In most countries surveyed, considering piety a prerequisite for morality was more common among the elderly, and it tended to be associated with the political right. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the U.S. had the widest ideological gap of any of the countries surveyed. Whereas, on average, 44% of Americans said that morality depends on religiosity, that number diverged significantly by political leaning: 24% on the left, 37% in the center and 63% on the right. This 39% right-left ideological imbalance compares to 24% in Canada, 15% in the U.K. and 9% in Sweden. (Slovakia was the only county polled where this political divide was reversed; 16% more left-leaning Slovakians said piety and morality are linked than those on the right.)

The info is here.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Blatant dehumanization in the mind's eye: Prevalent even among those who explicitly reject it?

Petsko, C. D., Lei, R., Kunst, J. R., & others
(2020, August 5).


Research suggests that some people, particularly those on the political right, have a tendency to blatantly dehumanize low-status groups. However, these findings have largely relied on self-report measures, which are notoriously subject to social desirability concerns. To better understand just how widely blatant forms of intergroup dehumanization might extend, the present paper leverages an unobtrusive, data-driven perceptual task to examine how U.S. respondents mentally represent ‘Americans’ vs. ‘Arabs’ (a low-status group in the U.S. that is often explicitly targeted with blatant dehumanization). Data from two reverse-correlation experiments (original N = 108; pre-registered replication N = 336) and seven rating studies (N = 2,301) suggest that U.S. respondents’ mental representations of Arabs are significantly more dehumanizing than their representations of Americans. Furthermore, analyses indicate that this phenomenon is not reducible to a general tendency for our sample to mentally represent Arabs more negatively than Americans. Finally, these findings reveal that blatantly dehumanizing representations of Arabs can be just as prevalent among individuals exhibiting low levels of explicit dehumanization (e.g., liberals) as among individuals exhibiting high levels of explicit dehumanization (e.g., conservatives)—a phenomenon into which exploratory analyses suggest liberals may have only limited awareness. Taken together, these results suggest that blatant dehumanization may be more widespread than previously recognized, and that it can persist even in the minds of those who explicitly reject it.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

University Crime Alerts: Do They Contribute to Institutional Betrayal and Rape Myths?

Adams-Clark, A. and others
Dignity: A Journal on SexualExploitation 
and Violence: Vol. 5: Iss. 1, Article 6.
DOI: 10.23860/dignity.2020.05.01.06 


Universities are mandated by the Clery Act (20 USC § 1092(f)) to publicize the occurrence of certain
campus crimes. Many universities rely on “Crime Alert” emails to quickly and effectively communicate when a crime has occurred. However, communications of sexual crimes are often narrow (e.g., limited to stranger-perpetrated crimes) and misleading (e.g., containing safety tips that are not applicable to most types of sexual violence). The current paper presents the results of two studies that test the effects of reading crime alert emails on subsequent endorsement of rape myths and institutional betrayal. In Study 1, participants read a typical crime alert email describing a stranger-perpetrated crime, an alternative email describing an acquaintance-perpetrated crime, or a control email describing an event unrelated to interpersonal violence. Men were significantly more likely to endorse rape myths than were women in the control condition, but not in the typical or alternative email condition. In addition, results from Study 1 indicate that issuing crime alert emails following stranger-perpetrated sexual violence leads to a sense of institutional betrayal among students who have experienced acquaintance-perpetrated violence. In Study 2, participants read a typical crime alert email or an alternative digest email. Participants who read the typical email reported higher rape myth acceptance, but not institutional betrayal, than those who read the digest email. There were also significant gender differences in student opinions of each email that suggest the digest email format may serve as a useful tool for engaging male students in the issue of campus sexual violence. Taken together, these studies provide converging evidence that university communication regarding sexual violence can either perpetuate or positively influence attitudes towards sexual violence.

Friday, September 25, 2020

Science can explain other people’s minds, but not mine: self-other differences in beliefs about science

André Mata, Cláudia Simão & Rogério Gouveia
(2020) DOI: 10.1080/15298868.2020.1791950


Four studies show that people differ in their lay beliefs concerning the degree to which science can explain their mind and the minds of other people. In particular, people are more receptive to the idea that the psychology of other people is explainable by science than to the possibility of science explaining their own psychology. This self-other difference is moderated by the degree to which people associate a certain mental phenomenon with introspection. Moreover, this self-other difference has implications for the science-recommended products and practices that people choose for themselves versus others.

General discussion

These  studies  suggest  that  people  have  different  beliefs  regarding  what  science  can explain  about the  way they  think  versus  the  way  other  people  think.  Study 1 showed that,  in  general, people  see  science  as  better  able  to  explain  the  psychology  of other people than their own, and that this is particularly the case when a certain psychological phenomenon is highly associated with introspection (though there were other significant moderators  in this  study, and  results were  not consistent  across dependent  variables). Study 2 replicated  this interaction, whereby  science is seen as  having a greater explanatory  power  for  other  people  than  for  oneself,  but  that  this  is  only  the  case  when introspection is involved. Whereas Studies 1–2 provided correlational evidence,  Study 3 provided  an  experimental  test  of  the  role  of  introspection  in  self-other  differences  in thinking about science and  what it  can explain.  The results lent clear support to those of the previous  studies: For highly introspective phenomena, people believe that  science is better  at  making sense  of others than  of  themselves, whereas  this self-other  difference disappears  when introspection  is not  thought  to  be  involved.  Finally,  Study  4  demonstrated that this self-other difference has implications in terms of the choices that people make  for  themselves  and  how they  differ  from  the  choices that  they  advise others  to make.  In  particular, people  are  more reluctant  to  try certain  products  and  procedures targeted  at areas  of  their mental  life  that are  highly associated  with  introspection, but they are less reluctant to advise other people to try those same products and procedures. Lending  additional  support  to  the  role  of  introspection  in  generating  this  self-other difference,  this  choice-advice  asymmetry  was  not  observed  for  areas  that  were  not associated with  introspection.

A pdf can be downloaded here.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

A Failure of Empathy Led to 200,000 Deaths. It Has Deep Roots.

Olga Khazan
The Atlantic
Originally published 22 September 20

Here is an excerpt:

Indeed, doctors follow a similar logic. In a May paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, a group of doctors from different countries suggested that hospitals consider prioritizing younger patients if they are forced to ration ventilators. “Maximizing benefits requires consideration of prognosis—how long the patient is likely to live if treated—which may mean giving priority to younger patients and those with fewer coexisting conditions,” they wrote. Perhaps, on a global scale, we’ve internalized the idea that the young matter more than the old.

The Moral Machine is not without its criticisms. Some psychologists say that the trolley problem, a similar and more widely known moral dilemma, is too silly and unrealistic to say anything about our true ethics. In a response to the Moral Machine experiment, another group of researchers conducted a comparable study and found that people actually prefer to treat everyone equally, if given the option to do so. In other words, people didn’t want to kill the elderly; they just opted to do so over killing young people, when pressed. (In that experiment, though, people still would kill the criminals.) Shariff says these findings simply show that people don’t like dilemmas. Given the option, anyone would rather say “treat everybody equally,” just so they don’t have to decide.

Bolstering that view, in another recent paper, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, people preferred giving a younger hypothetical COVID-19 patient an in-demand ventilator rather than an older one. They did this even when they were told to imagine themselves as potentially being the older patient who would therefore be sacrificed. The participants were hidden behind a so-called veil of ignorance—told they had a “50 percent chance of being a 65-year-old who gets to live another 15 years, and a 50 percent chance of dying at age 25.” That prompt made the participants favor the young patient even more. When told to look at the situation objectively, saving young lives seemed even better.

Neural signatures of prosocial behaviors

Bellucci, G., Camilleri, J., and others
Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews
Volume 118, November 2020, Pages 186-195


Prosocial behaviors are hypothesized to require socio-cognitive and empathic abilities—engaging brain regions attributed to the mentalizing and empathy brain networks. Here, we tested this hypothesis with a coordinate-based meta-analysis of 600 neuroimaging studies on prosociality, mentalizing and empathy (∼12,000 individuals). We showed that brain areas recruited by prosocial behaviors only partially overlap with the mentalizing (dorsal posterior cingulate cortex) and empathy networks (middle cingulate cortex). Additionally, the dorsolateral and ventromedial prefrontal cortices were preferentially activated by prosocial behaviors. Analyses on the functional connectivity profile and functional roles of the neural patterns underlying prosociality revealed that in addition to socio-cognitive and empathic processes, prosocial behaviors further involve evaluation processes and action planning, likely to select the action sequence that best satisfies another person’s needs. By characterizing the multidimensional construct of prosociality at the neural level, we provide insights that may support a better understanding of normal and abnormal social cognition (e.g., psychopathy).


• A psychological proposal posits prosociality engages brain regions of the mentalizing and empathy networks.

• Our meta-analysis provides only partial support to this proposal.

• Prosocial behaviors engage brain regions associated with socio-cognitive and empathic abilities.

• However, they also engage brain regions associated with evaluation and planning.


Taken together, we found a set of brain regions that were consistently activated by prosocial behaviors. These activation patterns partially overlapped with mentalizing and empathy brain regions, lending support to the hypothesis based on psychological research that socio-cognitive and empathic abilities are central to prosociality. However, we also found that the vmPFC and, in particular, the dlPFC were preferentially recruited by prosocial acts, suggesting that prosocial behaviors require the involvement of other important processes. Analyses on their functional connectivity profile and functional roles suggest that the vmPFC and dlPFC might be involved in valuation and planning of prosocial actions, respectively. These results clarify the role of mentalizing and empathic abilities in prosociality and provides useful insights into the neuropsychological processes underlying human social behaviors. For instance, they might help understand where and how things go awry in different neural and behavioral disorders such as psychopathy and antisocial behavior (Blair, 2007).

The research is here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Do Conflict of Interest Disclosures Facilitate Public Trust?

D. M. Cain, & M. Banker
AMA J Ethics. 2020;22(3): E232-238.
doi: 10.1001/amajethics.2020.232.


Lab experiments disagree on the efficacy of disclosure as a remedy to conflicts of interest (COIs). Some experiments suggest that disclosure has perverse effects, although others suggest these are mitigated by real-world factors (eg, feedback, sanctions, norms). This article argues that experiments reporting positive effects of disclosure often lack external validity: disclosure works best in lab experiments that make it unrealistically clear that the one disclosing is intentionally lying. We argue that even disclosed COIs remain dangerous in settings such as medicine where bias is often unintentional rather than the result of intentional corruption, and we conclude that disclosure might not be the panacea many seem to take it to be.


While most medical professionals have the best intentions, conflicts of interest (COIs) can unintentionally bias their advice. For example, physicians might have consulting relationships with a company whose product they might prescribe. Physicians are increasingly required to limit COIs and disclose any that exist. When regulators decide whether to let a COI stand, the question becomes: How well does disclosure work? This paper reviews laboratory experiments that have had mixed results on the effects of disclosing COIs on bias and suggests that studies purporting to provide evidence of the efficacy of disclosure often lack external validity. We conclude that disclosure works more poorly than regulators hope; thus, COIs are more problematic than expected.

The info is here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

How to be an ethical scientist

W. A. Cunningham, J. J. Van Bavel,
& L. H. Somerville
Science Magazine
Originally posted 5 August 20

True discovery takes time, has many stops and starts, and is rarely neat and tidy. For example, news that the Higgs boson was finally observed in 2012 came 48 years after its original proposal by Peter Higgs. The slow pace of science helps ensure that research is done correctly, but it can come into conflict with the incentive structure of academic progress, as publications—the key marker of productivity in many disciplines—depend on research findings. Even Higgs recognized this problem with the modern academic system: “Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough.”

It’s easy to forget about the “long view” when there is constant pressure to produce. So, in this column, we’re going to focus on the type of long-term thinking that advances science. For example, are you going to cut corners to get ahead, or take a slow, methodical approach? What will you do if your experiment doesn’t turn out as expected? Without reflecting on these deeper issues, we can get sucked into the daily goals necessary for success while failing to see the long-term implications of our actions.

Thinking carefully about these issues will not only impact your own career outcomes, but it can also impact others. Your own decisions and actions affect those around you, including your labmates, your collaborators, and your academic advisers. Our goal is to help you avoid pitfalls and find an approach that will allow you to succeed without impairing the broader goals of science.

Be open to being wrong

Science often advances through accidental (but replicable) findings. The logic is simple: If studies always came out exactly as you anticipated, then nothing new would ever be learned. Our previous theories of the world would be just as good as they ever were. This is why scientific discovery is often most profound when you stumble on something entirely new. Isaac Asimov put it best when he said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny ... .’”

The info is here.

Monday, September 21, 2020

The ethics of pausing a vaccine trial in the midst of a pandemic

Patrick Skerrett
Originally posted 11 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:

Is the process for clinical trials of vaccines different from the process for drug or device trials?

Mostly no. The principles, design, and basic structure of a vaccine trial are more or less the same as for a trial for a new medication. The research ethics considerations are also similar.

The big difference between the two is that the participants in a preventive vaccine trial are, by and large, healthy people — or at least they are people who don’t have the illness for which the agent being tested might be effective. That significantly heightens the risk-benefit calculus for the participants.

Of course, some people in a Covid-19 vaccine trial could personally benefit if they live in communities with a lot of Covid-19. But even then, they might never get it. That’s very different than a trial in which individuals have a condition, say melanoma or malignant hypertension, and they are taking part in a trial of a therapy that could improve or even cure their condition.

Does that affect when a company might stop a trial?

In every clinical trial, the data and safety monitoring board takes routine and prescheduled looks at the accumulated data. They are checking mainly for two things: signals of harm and evidence of effectiveness.

These boards will recommend stopping a trial if they see a signal of concern or harm. They may do the same thing if they see solid evidence that people in the active arm of the trial are doing far better than those in the control arm.

In both cases, the action is taken on behalf of those participating in the trial. But it is also taken to advance the interests of people who would get this intervention if it was to be made publicly available.

The current situation with AstraZeneca involves a signal of concern. The company’s first obligation is to the participants in the trial. It cannot ethically proceed with the trial if there is reason for concern, even based on the experience of one participant.

Changing morals: we’re more compassionate than 100 years ago, but more judgmental too

N. Haslam, M. J. McGrady, & M. A. Wheeler
The Conversation
Originally published 4 March 19

Here is an excerpt:

Differently moral

We found basic moral terms (see the black line below) became dramatically scarcer in English-language books as the 20th century unfolded – which fits the de-moralisation narrative. But an equally dramatic rebound began in about 1980, implying a striking re-moralisation.

The five moral foundations, on the other hand, show a vastly changing trajectory. The purity foundation (green line) shows the same plunge and rebound as the basic moral terms. Ideas of sacredness, piety and purity, and of sin, desecration and indecency, fell until about 1980, and rose afterwards.

The other moralities show very different pathways. Perhaps surprisingly, the egalitarian morality of fairness (blue) showed no consistent rise or fall.

In contrast, the hierarchy-based morality of authority (grey) underwent a gentle decline for the first half of the century. It then sharply rose as the gathering crisis of authority shook the Western world in the late 1960s. This morality of obedience and conformity, insubordination and rebellion, then receded equally sharply through the 1970s.

Ingroup morality (orange), reflected in the communal language of loyalty and unity, insiders and outsiders, displays the clearest upward trend through the 20th century. Discernible bumps around the two world wars point to passing elevations in the “us and them” morality of threatened communities.

Finally, harm-based morality (red) presents a complex but intriguing trend. Its prominence falls from 1900 to the 1970s, interrupted by similar wartime bumps when themes of suffering and destruction became understandably urgent. But harm rises steeply from about 1980 in the absence of a single dominating global conflict.

The info is here.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Financial Conflicts of Interest are of Higher Ethical Priority than “Intellectual” Conflicts of Interest

Goldberg, D.S.
Bioethical Inquiry 17, 217–227 (2020).


The primary claim of this paper is that intellectual conflicts of interest (COIs) exist but are of lower ethical priority than COIs flowing from relationships between health professionals and commercial industry characterized by financial exchange. The paper begins by defining intellectual COIs and framing them in the context of scholarship on non-financial COIs. However, the paper explains that the crucial distinction is not between financial and non-financial COIs but is rather between motivations for bias that flow from relationships and those that do not. While commitments to particular ideas or perspectives can cause all manner of cognitive bias, that fact does not justify denying the enormous power that relationships featuring pecuniary gain have on professional behaviour in term of care, policy, or both. Sufficient reason exists to take both intellectual COIs and financial COIs seriously, but this paper demonstrates why the latter is of higher ethical priority. Multiple reasons will be provided, but the primary rationale grounding the claim is that intellectual COIs may provide reasons to suspect cognitive bias but they do not typically involve a loss of trust in a social role. The same cannot be said for COIs flowing from relationships between health professionals and commercial industries involving financial exchange. The paper then assumes arguendo that the primary rationale is mistaken and proceeds to show why the claims that intellectual COIs are more significant than relationship-based COIs are dubious on their own merits. The final section of the paper summarizes and concludes.


iCOIs exist and they should be taken seriously. Nevertheless, fCOIs are of greater ethical priority. The latter diminish trust in a social role to a much greater extent than do the former, at least in the broad run of cases. Moreover, it is not clear how providers could avoid developing intellectual commitments and preferences regarding particular therapeutic modalities or interventions—and even if we could prevent this from occurring, it is far from evident that we should. We can easily imagine cases where a studied determination to remain neutral regarding interventions would be an abdication of moral responsibility, would be decidedly unvirtuous, and would likely result in harm to care- and service-seekers. While we also have evidence that some intellectual commitments can motivate bias in ways that likely result in harm to care- or service-seekers, this premise only justifies taking iCOIs seriously—it is literally no argument for deprioritizing fCOIs. Although the fact that iCOIs are in many cases unavoidable is a weak justification for ignoring iCOIs, the comparable avoidability of the vast majority of fCOIs is indeed a reason for prioritizing the latter over the former.

A pdf is here.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Don’t ask if artificial intelligence is good or fair, ask how it shifts power

Pratyusha Kalluri
Originally posted 7 July 20

Here is an excerpt:

Researchers in AI overwhelmingly focus on providing highly accurate information to decision makers. Remarkably little research focuses on serving data subjects. What’s needed are ways for these people to investigate AI, to contest it, to influence it or to even dismantle it. For example, the advocacy group Our Data Bodies is putting forward ways to protect personal data when interacting with US fair-housing and child-protection services. Such work gets little attention. Meanwhile, mainstream research is creating systems that are extraordinarily expensive to train, further empowering already powerful institutions, from Amazon, Google and Facebook to domestic surveillance and military programmes.

Many researchers have trouble seeing their intellectual work with AI as furthering inequity. Researchers such as me spend our days working on what are, to us, mathematically beautiful and useful systems, and hearing of AI success stories, such as winning Go championships or showing promise in detecting cancer. It is our responsibility to recognize our skewed perspective and listen to those impacted by AI.

Through the lens of power, it’s possible to see why accurate, generalizable and efficient AI systems are not good for everyone. In the hands of exploitative companies or oppressive law enforcement, a more accurate facial recognition system is harmful. Organizations have responded with pledges to design ‘fair’ and ‘transparent’ systems, but fair and transparent according to whom? These systems sometimes mitigate harm, but are controlled by powerful institutions with their own agendas. At best, they are unreliable; at worst, they masquerade as ‘ethics-washing’ technologies that still perpetuate inequity.

Already, some researchers are exposing hidden limitations and failures of systems. They braid their research findings with advocacy for AI regulation. Their work includes critiquing inadequate technological ‘fixes’. Other researchers are explaining to the public how natural resources, data and human labour are extracted to create AI.

The info is here.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Cognitive Barriers to Reducing Income Inequality

Jackson, J. C., & Payne, K. (2020).
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 


As economic inequality grows, more people stand to benefit from wealth redistribution. Yet in many countries, increasing inequality has not produced growing support for redistribution, and people often appear to vote against their economic interest. Here we suggest that two cognitive tendencies contribute to these paradoxical voting patterns. First, people gauge their income through social comparison, and those comparisons are usually made to similar others. Second, people are insensitive to large numbers, which leads them to underestimate the gap between themselves and the very wealthy. These two tendencies can help explain why subjective income is normally distributed (therefore most people think they are middle class) and partly explain why many people who would benefit from redistribution oppose it. We support our model’s assumptions using survey data, a controlled experiment, and agent-based modeling. Our model sheds light on the cognitive barriers to reducing inequality.

General Discussion

These findings emphasize a new perspective on inequality. In addition to institutional drivers of inequality, our studies outline several cognitive constraints on people’s calculation of their support for wealth redistribution. By relying partly on subjective income to determine whether redistribution is in their interest, people leave themselves open to the effects of selective social comparison and insensitivity to large numbers. These cognitive tendencies help explain why most people believe they are middle class, occupying the middle of a bell-shaped distribution of SES, despite the extreme skew present in actual income distributions.

Both of these problems can potentially be mitigated. Accessible resources that help people learn whether they will benefit from wealth redistribution could help people select economic policies that are in their best interest. On a larger scale, reducing residential segregation or otherwise increasing inter-group contact across social class lines could facilitate more representative social comparisons, and more accurate judgments of economic self-interest. 

Attitudes about redistribution are not the only influences on people’s voting decisions and contribute to rising inequality. Institutional factors like gerrymandering may distort voting outcomes, and social factors such as moral and intergroup values may lead people to vote against their economic interests in favor of symbolic or group interests.

A pdf can be found here.

Italics added.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Sensitivity to Ingroup and Outgroup Norms in the Association Between Commonality and Morality

M. R.Goldring & L. Heiphetz
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 91, November 2020, 104025


Emerging research suggests that people infer that common behaviors are moral and vice versa.
The studies presented here investigated the role of group membership in inferences regarding
commonality and morality. In Study 1, participants expected a target character to infer that
behaviors that were common among their ingroup were particularly moral. However, the extent
to which behaviors were common among the target character’s outgroup did not influence
expectations regarding perceptions of morality. Study 2 reversed this test, finding that
participants expected a target character to infer that behaviors considered moral among their
ingroup were particularly common, regardless of how moral their outgroup perceived those
behaviors to be. While Studies 1-2 relied on fictitious behaviors performed by novel groups,
Studies 3-4 generalized these results to health behaviors performed by members of different
racial groups. When answering from another person’s perspective (Study 3) and from their own
perspective (Study 4), participants reported that the more common behaviors were among their
ingroup, the more moral those behaviors were. This effect was significantly weaker for
perceptions regarding outgroup norms, although outgroup norms did exert some effect in this
real-world context. Taken together, these results highlight the complex integration of ingroup
and outgroup norms in socio-moral cognition.

A pdf of the article can be found here.

In sum: Actions that are common among the ingroup are seen as particularly moral.  But actions that are common among the outgroup have little bearing on our judgments of morality.

In this election, ‘costly signal deployment’

Christina Pazzanese
Harvard Gazette
Originally posted 15 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:


Trump isn’t merely saying things that his base likes to hear. All politicians do that, and to the extent that they can do so honestly, that’s exactly what they are supposed to do. But Trump does more than this in his use of “costly signals.” A tattoo is a costly signal. You can tell your romantic partner that you love them, but there’s nothing stopping you from changing your mind the next day. But if you get a tattoo of your partner’s name, you’ve sent a much stronger signal about how committed you are. Likewise, a gang tattoo binds you to the gang, especially if it’s in a highly visible place such as the neck or the face. It makes you scary and unappealing to most people, limiting your social options, and thus, binding you to the gang. Trump’s blatant bigotry, misogyny, and incitements to violence make him completely unacceptable to liberals and moderates. And, thus, his comments function like gang tattoos. He’s not merely saying things that his supporters want to hear. By making himself permanently and unequivocally unacceptable to the opposition, he’s “proving” his loyalty to their side. This is why, I think, the Republican base trusts Trump like no other.

There is costly signaling on the left, but it’s not coming from Biden, who is trying to appeal to as many voters as possible. Bernie Sanders is a better example. Why does Bernie Sanders call himself a socialist? What he advocates does not meet the traditional dictionary definition of socialism. And politicians in Europe who hold similar views typically refer to themselves as “social democrats” rather than “democratic socialists.” “Socialism” has traditionally been a scare word in American politics. Conservatives use it as an epithet to describe policies such as the Affordable Care Act, which, ironically, is very much a market-oriented approach to achieving universal health insurance. It’s puzzling, then, that a politician would choose to describe himself with a scare word when he could accurately describe his views with less-scary words. But it makes sense if one thinks of this as a costly signal. By calling himself a socialist, Sanders makes it very clear where his loyalty lies, as vanishingly few Republicans would support someone who calls himself a socialist.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

There are no good choices

Ezra Klein
Originally published 14 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:

In America, our ideological conflicts are often understood as the tension between individual freedoms and collective actions. The failure of our pandemic response policy exposes the falseness of that frame. In the absence of effective state action, we, as individuals, find ourselves in prisons of risk, our every movement stalked by disease. We are anything but free; our only liberty is to choose among a menu of awful options. And faced with terrible choices, we are turning on each other, polarizing against one another. YouTube conspiracies and social media shaming are becoming our salves, the way we wrest a modicum of individual control over a crisis that has overwhelmed us as a collective.

“The burden of decision-making and risk in this pandemic has been fully transitioned from the top down to the individual,” says Dr. Julia Marcus, a Harvard epidemiologist. “It started with [responsibility] being transitioned to the states, which then transitioned it to the local school districts — If we’re talking about schools for the moment — and then down to the individual. You can see it in the way that people talk about personal responsibility, and the way that we see so much shaming about individual-level behavior.”

But in shifting so much responsibility to individuals, our government has revealed the limits of individualism.

The risk calculation that rules, and ruins, lives

Think of coronavirus risk like an equation. Here’s a rough version of it: The danger of an act = (the transmission risk of the activity) x (the local prevalence of Covid-19) / (by your area’s ability to control a new outbreak).

Individuals can control only a small portion of that equation. People can choose safer activities over riskier ones — though the language of choice too often obscures the reality that many have no economic choice save to work jobs that put them, and their families, in danger. But the local prevalence of Covid-19 and the capacity of authorities to track and squelch outbreaks are collective functions.

The info is here.

The Panopticon Is Already Here

Ross Anderson
The Atlantic
Originally published September 2020

Here is an excerpt:

China is an ideal setting for an experiment in total surveillance. Its population is extremely online. The country is home to more than 1 billion mobile phones, all chock-full of sophisticated sensors. Each one logs search-engine queries, websites visited, and mobile payments, which are ubiquitous. When I used a chip-based credit card to buy coffee in Beijing’s hip Sanlitun neighborhood, people glared as if I’d written a check.

All of these data points can be time-stamped and geo-tagged. And because a new regulation requires telecom firms to scan the face of anyone who signs up for cellphone services, phones’ data can now be attached to a specific person’s face. SenseTime, which helped build Xinjiang’s surveillance state, recently bragged that its software can identify people wearing masks. Another company, Hanwang, claims that its facial-recognition technology can recognize mask wearers 95 percent of the time. China’s personal-data harvest even reaps from citizens who lack phones. Out in the countryside, villagers line up to have their faces scanned, from multiple angles, by private firms in exchange for cookware.

Until recently, it was difficult to imagine how China could integrate all of these data into a single surveillance system, but no longer. In 2018, a cybersecurity activist hacked into a facial-recognition system that appeared to be connected to the government and was synthesizing a surprising combination of data streams. The system was capable of detecting Uighurs by their ethnic features, and it could tell whether people’s eyes or mouth were open, whether they were smiling, whether they had a beard, and whether they were wearing sunglasses. It logged the date, time, and serial numbers—all traceable to individual users—of Wi-Fi-enabled phones that passed within its reach. It was hosted by Alibaba and made reference to City Brain, an AI-powered software platform that China’s government has tasked the company with building.

City Brain is, as the name suggests, a kind of automated nerve center, capable of synthesizing data streams from a multitude of sensors distributed throughout an urban environment. Many of its proposed uses are benign technocratic functions. Its algorithms could, for instance, count people and cars, to help with red-light timing and subway-line planning. Data from sensor-laden trash cans could make waste pickup more timely and efficient.

The info is here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Morality has been stripped from public life. Here’s a four-step plan to revive it

Boris Johnson and Donald TrumpRoger Paxton
Originally posted 13 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:

From the top down, public morality is corroded. If morality, not to mention competence, were valued by the electorate, the approval ratings of Boris Johnson (and Donald Trump) would surely have plummeted, but they haven’t. As others have noted, for many people truth has become unimportant. Selfishness is assumed and encouraged, and opponents, dissenters and people seen as “other” are denigrated and worse. The most important thing is one’s own short-term interest.

What can be done about the crisis? Of course a new government is needed, but even if a Labour government is elected, the divisions and the damage done to public morality will need to be repaired. Just as there is a need to promote physical and mental wellbeing, so morality could be promoted by means of the concept of moral wellbeing.

For physical wellbeing, we have the dietary advice of five-a-day; for mental wellbeing the New Economics Foundation’s five ways to wellbeing, as used by the NHS. For moral wellbeing there is a similar framework that could be useful: the psychological model developed by James Rest, outlining the four components of moral reasoning.

This is a framework for improving thoughtfulness and clarity about moral matters. The first stage is moral sensitivity – recognising when an issue is one of morality, rather than a personal preference or practicality. The second component is moral reasoning. Having identified that a question is one of right and wrong, you then decide what the right thing to do would be. Third comes moral motivation – acknowledging other interests and motives that influence your thinking about the issue, and then weighing up the conflicting motives. The fourth and final stage is moral implementation, which means bringing moral reasoning and moral motivation together to make and act on a decision.

The information is here.

Is Morality All About Cooperation?

John Danaher
Originally posted 27 July 20

Here are two excerpts:

Morality as Cooperation (MAC): The Basic Theory

MAC takes as its starting point the view that human morality is about cooperation. In itself, this is not a particularly ground-breaking insight. Most moral philosophers have thought that morality has something to do with how we interact with other people — with “what we owe each other” in one popular formulation. Scott Curry, in his original paper on the MAC, does a good job reviewing some of the major works in moral philosophy and moral psychology, showing how each of them tends to link morality to cooperation.

Some people might query this and say that certain aspects of human morality don’t seem to be immediately or obviously about cooperation, but one of the claims of MAC is that these seemingly distinctive areas of morality can ultimately be linked back to cooperation. For what it is worth, I am willing to buy the idea that morality is about cooperation as a starting hypothesis. I have some concerns, which I will air below, but even if these concerns are correct I think it is fair to say that morality is, in large part, about cooperation.


In summary, the idea behind the MAC is that human moral systems derive from attempts to resolve cooperative problems. There are seven basic cooperative problems and hence seven basic forms of human morality. These are often blended and combined in actual human societies (more on this in a moment), nevertheless you can still see the pure forms of these moral systems in many different societies. The diagram below summarises the model and gives some examples of the ethical norms that derive from the different cooperative problems.

The blog post is here.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Trump lied about science

H. Holden Thorp
Originally published 11 Sept 20

When President Donald Trump began talking to the public about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in February and March, scientists were stunned at his seeming lack of understanding of the threat. We assumed that he either refused to listen to the White House briefings that must have been occurring or that he was being deliberately sheltered from information to create plausible deniability for federal inaction. Now, because famed Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward recorded him, we can hear Trump’s own voice saying that he understood precisely that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was deadly and spread through the air. As he was playing down the virus to the public, Trump was not confused or inadequately briefed: He flat-out lied, repeatedly, about science to the American people. These lies demoralized the scientific community and cost countless lives in the United States.

Over the years, this page has commented on the scientific foibles of U.S. presidents. Inadequate action on climate change and environmental degradation during both Republican and Democratic administrations have been criticized frequently. Editorials have bemoaned endorsements by presidents on teaching intelligent design, creationism, and other antiscience in public schools. These matters are still important. But now, a U.S. president has deliberately lied about science in a way that was imminently dangerous to human health and directly led to widespread deaths of Americans.

This may be the most shameful moment in the history of U.S. science policy.

In an interview with Woodward on 7 February 2020, Trump said he knew that COVID-19 was more lethal than the flu and that it spread through the air. “This is deadly stuff,” he said. But on 9 March, he tweeted that the “common flu” was worse than COVID-19, while economic advisor Larry Kudlow and presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway assured the public that the virus was contained. On 19 March, Trump told Woodward that he did not want to level with the American people about the danger of the virus. “I wanted to always play it down,” he said, “I still like playing it down.” Playing it down meant lying about the fact that he knew the country was in grave danger.

The info is here.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies

B. Verhulst, L. J. Evans, & P. K. Hatemi
Am J Pol Sci. 2012 ; 56(1): 34–51.


The assumption in the personality and politics literature is that a person's personality motivates them to develop certain political attitudes later in life. This assumption is founded on the simple correlation between the two constructs and the observation that personality traits are genetically influenced and develop in infancy, whereas political preferences develop later in life. Work in psychology, behavioral genetics, and recently political science, however, has demonstrated that political preferences also develop in childhood and are equally influenced by genetic factors. These findings cast doubt on the assumed causal relationship between personality and politics. Here we test the causal relationship between personality traits and political attitudes using a direction of causation structural model on a genetically informative sample. The results suggest that personality traits do not cause people to develop political attitudes; rather, the correlation between the two is a function of an innate common underlying genetic factor.

From the Discussion section

Based on the current results, the claim that personality traits lead to political orientations should no longer be assumed, but explicitly tested for each personality and political trait prior to making any claims about their relationship. We recognize that no single analysis can provide a definitive answer to such a complex question, and our analysis did not include the Agreeableness, Conscientiousness, and Openness Five-Factor Model measures. Future studies which use different personality measures, or other methodological designs, including panel studies that examine the developmental trajectories of personality and attitudes from childhood to adulthood, would be invaluable for investigating more nuanced relationships between personality traits and political attitudes. These would also include models which capture the nonrandom selection into environments that foster the development of more liberal or conservative political attitudes (active gene-environment covariation) as well as the possibility for differential expression of personality traits and political attitudes at different stages of the developmental process that may illuminate “critical periods” for the interface of personality and attitudes.

A link to the pdf can be found on this page.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Psychotherapy, placebos, and informed consent

Leder G
Journal of Medical Ethics 
Published Online First: 20 August 2020.
doi: 10.1136/medethics-2020-106453


Several authors have recently argued that psychotherapy, as it is commonly practiced, is deceptive and undermines patients’ ability to give informed consent to treatment. This ‘deception’ claim is based on the findings that some, and possibly most, of the ameliorative effects in psychotherapeutic interventions are mediated by therapeutic common factors shared by successful treatments (eg, expectancy effects and therapist effects), rather than because of theory-specific techniques. These findings have led to claims that psychotherapy is, at least partly, likely a placebo, and that practitioners of psychotherapy have a duty to ‘go open’ to patients about the role of common factors in therapy (even if this risks negatively affecting the efficacy of treatment); to not ‘go open’ is supposed to unjustly restrict patients’ autonomy. This paper makes two related arguments against the ‘go open’ claim. (1) While therapies ought to provide patients with sufficient information to make informed treatment decisions, informed consent does not require that practitioners ‘go open’ about therapeutic common factors in psychotherapy, and (2) clarity about the mechanisms of change in psychotherapy shows us that the common-factors findings are consistent with, rather than undermining of, the truth of many theory-specific forms of psychotherapy; psychotherapy, as it is commonly practiced, is not deceptive and is not a placebo. The call to ‘go open’ should be resisted and may have serious detrimental effects on patients via the dissemination of a false view about how therapy works.


The ‘go open’ argument is based on a mistaken view about the mechanisms of change in psychotherapy and threatens to harm patients by undermining their ability to make informed treatment decisions. This paper has argued that the prima facie ethical problem raised by the ‘go open’ argument is diffused if we clear up a conceptual confusion about what, exactly, we should be
going open about. Therapists should be open with patients about the differing theories of the mechanisms of change in psychotherapy; this can, but need not involve discussing information
about the therapeutic common factors.

The article is here.

Note from Dr. Gavazzi: Using "deception" is the wrong frame for this issue.  How complete is your informed consent?  Can we ever give "perfect" informed consent?  The answer is likely no.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Why Being Kind Helps You, Too—Especially Now

Elizabeth Bernstein
The Wall Street Journal
Originally posted 11 August 20

Here is an excerpt:

Kindness can even change your brain, says Stephanie Preston, a psychology professor at the University of Michigan who studies the neural basis for empathy and altruism. When we’re kind, a part of the reward system called the nucleus accumbens activates—our brain responds the same way it would if we ate a piece of chocolate cake. In addition, when we see the response of the recipient of our kindness—when the person thanks us or smiles back—our brain releases oxytocin, the feel-good bonding hormone. This oxytocin boost makes the pleasure of the experience more lasting.

It feels so good that the brain craves more. “It’s an upward spiral—your brain learns it’s rewarding, so it motivates you to do it again,” Dr. Preston says.

Are certain acts of kindness better than others? Yes. If you want to reap the personal benefits, “you need to be sincere,” says Sara Konrath, a psychologist and associate professor at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, where she runs a research lab that studies empathy and altruism.

It also helps to expect good results. A study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology in 2019 showed people who believed that kindness is good for them showed a greater increase in positive emotions, satisfaction with life and feelings of connection with others—as well as a greater decrease in negative emotions—than those who did not.

How can you be kind even when you may not feel like it? Make it a habit. Take stock of how you behave day to day. Are you trusting and generous? Or defensive and hostile? “Kindness is a lifestyle,” says Dr. Konrath.

Start by being kind to yourself—you’re going to burn out if you help everyone else and neglect your own needs. Remember that little acts add up: a smile, a phone call to a lonely friend, letting someone have the parking space. Understand the difference between being kind and being nice—kindness is genuinely helping or caring about someone; niceness is being polite. Don’t forget your loved ones. Kindness is not just for strangers.

The info is here.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Practices to Foster Physician Presence and Connection With Patients in the Clinical Encounter

Zulman DM, Haverfield MC, Shaw JG, et al.
JAMA. 2020;323(1):70–81.

Key Points

Question  What are the most promising practices to foster physician presence and connection with patients?

Findings  This mixed-methods study identified 5 practices that may enhance physician presence and meaningful connection with patients in the clinical encounter: (1) prepare with intention; (2) listen intently and completely; (3) agree on what matters most; (4) connect with the patient’s story; and (5) explore emotional cues.

Meaning  For busy clinicians with multiple demands and distractions, 5 recommended practices have the potential to facilitate meaningful interactions with patients.

Importance  Time constraints, technology, and administrative demands of modern medicine often impede the human connection that is central to clinical care, contributing to physician and patient dissatisfaction.

Objective  To identify evidence and narrative-based practices that promote clinician presence, a state of awareness, focus, and attention with the intent to understand patients.

Evidence Review  Preliminary practices were derived through a systematic literature review (fromJanuary 1997 to August 2017, with a subsequent bridge search to September 2019) of effective interpersonal interventions; observations of primary care encounters in 3 diverse clinics (n = 27 encounters); and qualitative interviews with physicians (n = 10), patients (n = 27), and nonmedical professionals whose occupations involve intense interpersonal interactions (eg, firefighter, chaplain, social worker; n = 30). After evidence synthesis, promising practices were reviewed in a 3-round modified Delphi process by a panel of 14 researchers, clinicians, patients, caregivers, and health system leaders. Panelists rated each practice using 9-point Likert scales (−4 to +4) that reflected the potential effect on patient and clinician experience and feasibility of implementation; after the third round, panelists selected their “top 5” practices from among those with median ratings of at least +2 for all 3 criteria. Finalrecommendations incorporate elements from all highly rated practices and emphasize the practices with the greatest number of panelist votes.

Findings  The systematic literature review (n = 73 studies) and qualitative research activities yielded 31 preliminary practices. Following evidence synthesis, 13 distinct practices were reviewed by the Delphi panel, 8 of which met criteria for inclusion and were combined into a final set of 5 recommendations: (1) prepare with intention (take a moment to prepare and focus before greeting a patient); (2) listen intently and completely (sit down, lean forward, avoid interruptions); (3) agree on what matters most (find out what the patient cares about and incorporate these priorities into the visit agenda); (4) connect with the patient’s story (consider life circumstances that influence the patient’s health; acknowledge positive efforts; celebrate successes); and (5) explore emotional cues (notice, name, and validate the patient’s emotions).

Conclusions and Relevance  This mixed-methods study identified 5 practices that have the potential to enhance physician presence and meaningful connection with patients in the clinical encounter. Evaluation and validation of the outcomes associated with implementing the 5 practices is needed, along with system-level interventions to create a supportive environment for implementation.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Hate Trumps Love: The Impact of Political Polarization on Social Preferences

Eugen Dimant
Published 4 September 20


Political polarization has ruptured the fabric of U.S. society. The focus of this paper is to examine various layers of (non-)strategic decision-making that are plausibly affected by political polarization through the lens of one's feelings of hate and love for Donald J. Trump. In several pre-registered experiments, I document the behavioral-, belief-, and norm-based mechanisms through which perceptions of interpersonal closeness, altruism, and cooperativeness are affected by polarization, both within and between political factions. To separate ingroup-love from outgroup-hate, the political setting is contrasted with a minimal group setting. I find strong heterogeneous effects: ingroup-love occurs in the perceptional domain (how close one feels towards others), whereas outgroup-hate occurs in the behavioral domain (how one helps/harms/cooperates with others). In addition, the pernicious outcomes of partisan identity also comport with the elicited social norms. Noteworthy, the rich experimental setting also allows me to examine the drivers of these behaviors, suggesting that the observed partisan rift might be not as forlorn as previously suggested: in the contexts studied here, the adverse behavioral impact of the resulting intergroup conflict can be attributed to one's grim expectations about the cooperativeness of the opposing faction, as opposed to one's actual unwillingness to cooperate with them.

From the Conclusion and Discussion

Along all investigated dimensions, I obtain strong effects and the following results: for one, polarization produces ingroup/outgroup differentiation in all three settings (nonstrategic, Experiment 1; strategic, Experiment 2; social norms, Experiment 3), leading participants to actively harm and cooperate less with participants from the opposing faction. For another, lack of cooperation is not the result of a categorical unwillingness to cooperate across factions, but based on one’s grim expectations about the other’s willingness to cooperate. Importantly, however, the results also cast light on the nuance with which ingroup-love and outgroup-hate – something that existing literature often takes as being two sides of the same coin – occurs. In particular, by comparing behavior between the Trump Prime and minimal group prime treatments, the results suggest that ingroup-love can be observed in terms of feeling close to one another, whereas outgroup hate appears in form of taking money away from and being less cooperative with each other. The elicited norms are consistent with these observations and also point out that those who love Trump have a much weaker ingroup/outgroup differentiation than those who hate Trump do.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Fallen Soldier Insults Give Trump a Lot to Fear

Cass Sunstein
Originally published 6 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:

Building on Haidt’s work, Harvard economist Benjamin Enke has studied the rhetoric of numerous recent presidential candidates, and found that one has done better than all others in emphasizing loyalty, authority and sanctity: Trump. On the same scales, Hillary Clinton was especially bad. (Barack Obama was far better.) Enke also found that Trump’s emphasis on these values mattered to many voters, and attracted them to his side.

This framework helps sort out what many people consider to be a puzzle: Trump avoided military service, has been married three times, and has not exactly been a paragon of virtue in his personal life. Yet many people focused on patriotism, religious faith and traditional moral values have strongly supported him. A key reason is that however he has lived his life, he speaks their language — and indeed does so at least as well as, and probably better than, any presidential candidate they have heard before.

That’s why his reported expressions of contempt and disrespect for American soldiers threaten to be uniquely damaging — far more so than other outrageous comments he has made. When he said that Mexico is sending rapists to the U.S., made fun of the looks of prominent women, mocked disabled people, or said that protesters should be roughed up, people might have nodded or cringed, or laughed or been appalled.

As a matter of pure politics, though, saying that soldiers are “losers” or “suckers” is much worse for Trump because it attacks the foundation of his appeal: However he lives his life, at least he expresses deep love for this country and reverence for those who fight for it, and at least he speaks out for traditional moral values.

There are strong lessons here for both Trump and his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. Through both word and deed, the president needs to do whatever he can to make it clear that he respects and supports American soldiers.

The info is here.

Pharma drew a line in the sand over Covid-19 vaccine readiness, because someone had to

Ed Silverman
Originally posted 7 Sept 20

Here is an excerpt:

The vaccine makers that are signing this pledge — Pfizer, Merck, AstraZeneca, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline, BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Novavax — are rushing to complete clinical trials. But only Pfizer has indicated it may have late-stage results in October, and that’s not a given.

Yet any move by the FDA to green light a Covid-19 vaccine without late-stage results will be interpreted as an effort to boost Trump — and rightly so.

Consider Trump’s erratic and selfish remarks. He recently accused the FDA of slowing the vaccine approval process and being part of a “deep state.” No wonder there is concern he may lean on Hahn to authorize emergency use prematurely. For his part, Hahn has insisted he won’t buckle to political pressure, but he also said emergency use may be authorized based on preliminary data.

“It’s unprecedented in my experience that industry would do something like this,” said Ira Loss of Washington Analysis, who tracks pharmaceutical regulatory and legislative matters for investors. “But we’ve experienced unprecedented events since the beginning of Covid-19, starting with the FDA, where the commissioner has proven to be malleable, to be kind, at the foot of the president.”

Remember, we’ve seen this movie before.

Amid criticism of his handling of the pandemic, Trump touted hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old malaria tablet, as a salve and the FDA authorized emergency use. Two weeks ago, he touted convalescent blood plasma as a medical breakthrough, but evidence of its effectiveness against the coronavirus is inconclusive. And Hahn initially overstated study results.

Most Americans seem to be catching on. A STAT-Harris poll released last week found that 78% of the public believes the vaccine approval process is driven by politics, not science. This goes for a majority of Democrats and Republicans.

The info is here.

Monday, September 7, 2020

From sex robots to love robots: is mutual love with a robot possible?

S.R. Nyholm and L.E. Frank
Philosophy & Ethics

Some critics of sex-robots worry that their use might spread objectifying attitudes about sex, and common sense places a higher value on sex within love-relationships than on casual sex. If there could be mutual love between humans and sex-robots, this could help to ease the worries about objectifying attitudes. And mutual love between humans and sex-robots, if possible, could also help to make this sex more valuable. But is mutual love between humans and robots possible, or even conceivable? We discuss three clusters of ideas and associations commonly discussed within the philosophy of love, and relate these to the topic of whether mutual love could be achieved between humans and sex-robots: (i) the idea of love as a “good match”; (ii) the idea of valuing each other in our distinctive particularity; and (iii) the idea of a steadfast commitment. We consider relations among these ideas and the sort of agency and free will that we attribute to human romantic partners. Our conclusion is that mutual love between humans and advanced sex-robots is not an altogether impossible proposition. However, it is unlikely that we will be able to create robots sophisticated enough to be able to participate in love-relationships anytime soon.

From the Conclusion:

As with the development of any new technology that has the potential to be socially disruptive, we urge caution and careful ethical examination prior to and continuing through the research-and-development process. The consequences and techno-moral change that will potentially accompany the advancement of robots that can love and be loved is very difficult to predict. But a “no” answer to the question of whether we should invest in the creation of love robots should not be based on mere conservatism with respect to love relationships, unjustified preference for the natural over the artificial,  or an unsupported fear of the potential risks. Any such answer, in our view, should rather be based on an “opportunity cost” argument: that is, if it can be shown that the time, energy, and resources could be better spent on other, more easily attain-able endeavors, then those other projects should perhaps be favored over something as relatively far-fetched as sex robots advanced enough to participate in relationships of mutual love along the lines described in the previous sections.

A pdf can be downloaded here.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Our morally unserious president on display in Kenosha

Michael Sean Winters
National Catholic Reporter
Originally posted 4 September 20

President Donald Trump went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, this week to "survey the property damage" according to a White House transcript. He spoke a lot about law and order and very little about justice, as if the concepts are not necessarily related. To him, they probably are not.

A morally serious person would begin any examination of the damage in Kenosha with a look at an MRI of Jacob Blake's shattered torso. Blake was shot seven times in the back — reports said he was shot at "point blank range," but that phrase covers a range of distances — the gun only a few feet from his body. The video made the shooting look like a public execution.

Donald Trump is not a morally serious person.

A morally serious person would continue his survey of the damage in Kenosha by visiting with the family of Jacob Blake, especially his three young sons who witnessed the shooting. They are ages 3, 5 and 8, and the trauma to which they were exposed is horrific to contemplate. A morally serious person would express sympathy with the family and the community, mindful of how much more shocking the shocking video of Blake's shooting was if you knew the victim.

Donald Trump is not a morally serious person.

A morally serious person would understand that, while it is entirely fitting for the nation's chief magistrate to mourn the death of Aaron "Jay" Danielson, the 39-year old Trump supporter gunned down on the streets of Portland, Oregon, it is wrong to mourn his death publicly without mentioning the shooting of Blake, on the very day you are going to Kenosha. Such uneven treatment epitomizes the very reason it is still necessary to remind the nation that Black lives matter.

Donald Trump is not a morally serious person.

A morally serious person would inquire into the legacy of racism, structural racism, in Kenosha and elsewhere, the racism that made the shooting of Blake horrifying but not surprising. A morally serious person would not take refuge in chatter about "a few bad apples" but confront the police culture that permits such bad apples to poison the bushel. A morally serious person would work, and work hard, at finding ways to ameliorate the effects of racism and call fellow citizens to that deep examination of conscience every episode of police brutality against Black men demands.

Donald Trump is not a morally serious person.

The info is here.