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, January 31, 2021

Free Will & The Brain

Kevin Loughran
Philosophy Now (2020)

The idea of free will touches human decision-making and action, and so the workings of the brain. So the science of the brain can inform the argument about free will. Technology, especially in the form of brain scanning, has provided new insights into what is happening in our brains prior to us taking action. And some brain studies – especially the ones led by Benjamin Libet at the University of California in San Francisco in the 1980s – have indicated the possibility of unconscious brain activity setting up our body to act on our decisions before we are conscious of having decided to act. For some people, such studies have confirmed the judgement that we lack free will. But do these studies provide sufficient data to justify such a generalisation about free will?

First, these studies do touch on the issue of how we make choices and reach decisions; but they do so in respect of some simple, and directed, tasks. For example, in one of Libet’s studies, he asked volunteers to move a hand in one direction or another and to note the time when they consciously decided to do so (50 Ideas You Really Need to Know about the Human Brain, Moher Costandi, p.60, 2013). The data these and similar brain studies provide might justly be taken to prove that when research volunteers are asked by a researcher to do one simple thing or another, and they do it, then unconscious brain processes may have moved them towards a choice a fraction of a second before they were conscious of making that choice. The question is, can they be taken to prove more than that?

To explore this question let’s first look at some of the range of choices we make in our lives day by day and week by week, then ask what they might tell us about how we come to make decisions and how this might relate to experimental results such as Libet’s. At the very least, examining the range of our choices might provide a better, wider range of research projects in the future.

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Checked by reality, some QAnon supporters seek a way out

David Klepper
Associated Press
Originally posted 28 January 21

Here are two excerpts:

It's not clear exactly how many people believe some or all of the narrative, but backers of the movement were vocal in their support for Trump and helped fuel the insurrectionists who overran the U.S. Capitol this month. QAnon is also growing in popularity overseas.

Former believers interviewed by The Associated Press liken the process of leaving QAnon to kicking a drug addiction. QAnon, they say, offers simple explanations for a complicated world and creates an online community that provides escape and even friendship.

Smith's then-boyfriend introduced her to QAnon. It was all he could talk about, she said. At first she was skeptical, but she became convinced after the death of financier Jeffrey Epstein while in federal custody facing pedophilia charges. Officials debunked theories that he was murdered, but to Smith and other QAnon supporters, his suicide while facing child sex charges was too much to accept.

Soon, Smith was spending more time on fringe websites and on social media, reading and posting about the conspiracy theory. She said she fell for QAnon content that presented no evidence, no counter arguments, and yet was all too convincing.


“This isn't about critical thinking, of having a hypothesis and using facts to support it," Cohen said of QAnon believers. “They have a need for these beliefs, and if you take that away, because the storm did not happen, they could just move the goal posts.”

Some now say Trump's loss was always part of the plan, or that he secretly remains president, or even that Joe Biden's inauguration was created using special effects or body doubles. They insist that Trump will prevail, and powerful figures in politics, business and the media will be tried and possibly executed on live television, according to recent social media posts.

“Everyone will be arrested soon. Confirmed information,” read a post viewed 130,000 times this week on Great Awakening, a popular QAnon channel on Telegram. “From the very beginning I said it would happen.”

But a different tone is emerging in the spaces created for those who have heard enough.

“Hi my name is Joe,” one man wrote on a Q recovery channel in Telegram. “And I’m a recovering QAnoner.”

Scientific communication in a post-truth society

S. Iyengar & D. S. Massey
PNAS Apr 2019, 116 (16) 7656-7661


Within the scientific community, much attention has focused on improving communications between scientists, policy makers, and the public. To date, efforts have centered on improving the content, accessibility, and delivery of scientific communications. Here we argue that in the current political and media environment faulty communication is no longer the core of the problem. Distrust in the scientific enterprise and misperceptions of scientific knowledge increasingly stem less from problems of communication and more from the widespread dissemination of misleading and biased information. We describe the profound structural shifts in the media environment that have occurred in recent decades and their connection to public policy decisions and technological changes. We explain how these shifts have enabled unscrupulous actors with ulterior motives increasingly to circulate fake news, misinformation, and disinformation with the help of trolls, bots, and respondent-driven algorithms. We document the high degree of partisan animosity, implicit ideological bias, political polarization, and politically motivated reasoning that now prevail in the public sphere and offer an actual example of how clearly stated scientific conclusions can be systematically perverted in the media through an internet-based campaign of disinformation and misinformation. We suggest that, in addition to attending to the clarity of their communications, scientists must also develop online strategies to counteract campaigns of misinformation and disinformation that will inevitably follow the release of findings threatening to partisans on either end of the political spectrum.


At this point, probably the best that can be done is for scientists and their scientific associations to anticipate campaigns of misinformation and disinformation and to proactively develop online strategies and internet platforms to counteract them when they occur. For example, the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine could form a consortium of professional scientific organizations to fund the creation of a media and internet operation that monitors networks, channels, and web platforms known to spread false and misleading scientific information so as to be able to respond quickly with a countervailing campaign of rebuttal based on accurate information through Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Moral psychology of sex robots: An experimental study

M. Koverola, et al.
Journal of Brehavioral Robots
Volume 11: Issue 1


The idea of sex with robots seems to fascinate the general public, raising both enthusiasm and revulsion. We ran two experimental studies (Ns = 172 and 260) where we compared people’s reactions to variants of stories about a person visiting a bordello. Our results show that paying for the services of a sex robot is condemned less harshly than paying for the services of a human sex worker, especially if the payer is married. We have for the first time experimentally confirmed that people are somewhat unsure about whether using a sex robot while in a committed monogamous relationship should be considered as infidelity. We also shed light on the psychological factors influencing attitudes toward sex robots, including disgust sensitivity and interest in science fiction. Our results indicate that sex with a robot is indeed genuinely considered as sex, and a sex robot is genuinely seen as a robot; thus, we show that standard research methods on sexuality and robotics are also applicable in research on sex robotics.



Our results successfully show that people condemn a married person less harshly if they pay for a robot sex worker than for a human sex worker. This likely reflects the fact that many people do not consider sex with a robot as infidelity or consider it as “cheating, but less so than with a human person”. These results therefore function as a stepping-stone into new avenues of interesting research that might be appealing to evolutionary and moral psychologists alike. Most likely, sociologists and market researchers will also be interested in increasing our understanding regarding the complex relations between humans and members of new ontological categories (robots, artificial intelligences (AIs), etc.). Future research will offer new possibilities to understand both human sexual and moral cognition by focusing on how humans relate to sexual relationships with androids beyond mere fantasies produced by science fiction like Westworld or Blade Runner. As sex robots in the near future enter mass production, public opinion will presumably stabilize regarding moral attitudes toward sex with robots.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Automation, work and the achievement gap

Danaher, J., Nyholm, S. 
AI Ethics (2020). 


Rapid advances in AI-based automation have led to a number of existential and economic concerns. In particular, as automating technologies develop enhanced competency, they seem to threaten the values associated with meaningful work. In this article, we focus on one such value: the value of achievement. We argue that achievement is a key part of what makes work meaningful and that advances in AI and automation give rise to a number achievement gaps in the workplace. This could limit people’s ability to participate in meaningful forms of work. Achievement gaps are interesting, in part, because they are the inverse of the (negative) responsibility gaps already widely discussed in the literature on AI ethics. Having described and explained the problem of achievement gaps, the article concludes by identifying four possible policy responses to the problem.



Achievement is an important part of the well-lived life. It is the positive side of responsibility. Where we blame ourselves and others for doing bad things, we also praise ourselves for achieving positive (or value neutral) things. Achievement is particularly important when it comes to meaningful work. One of the problems with widespread automation is that it threatens to undermine at least three of the four main conditions for achievement in the workplace: it can reduce the value of work tasks; reduce the cost of committing to those work tasks; and sever the causal connection between human effort and workplace outcome. This opens up ‘achievement gaps’ in the workplace. There are, however, some potential ways to manage the threat of achievement gaps: we can focus on other aspects of meaningful work; we can find some ways to retain the human touch in the production of workplace outputs; we can emphasise the importance of teamwork in producing valuable outputs; and we can find outlets for achievement outside of the workplace.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

What One Health System Learned About Providing Digital Services in the Pandemic

Marc Harrison
Harvard Business Review
Originally posted 11 Dec 20

Here are two excerpts:

Lesson 2: Digital care is safer during the pandemic.

A patient who’s tested positive for Covid doesn’t have to go see her doctor or go into an urgent care clinic to discuss her symptoms. Doctors and other caregivers who are providing virtual care for hospitalized Covid patients don’t face increased risk of exposure. They also don’t have to put on personal protective equipment, step into the patient’s room, then step outside and take off their PPE. We need those supplies, and telehealth helps us preserve it.

Intermountain Healthcare’s virtual hospital is especially well-suited for Covid patients. It works like this: In a regular hospital, you come into the ER, and we check you out and think you’re probably going to be okay, but you’re sick enough that we want to monitor you. So, we admit you.

With our virtual hospital — which uses a combination of telemedicine, home health, and remote patient monitoring — we send you home with a technology kit that allows us to check how you’re doing. You’ll be cared for by a virtual team, including a hospitalist who monitors your vital signs around the clock and home health nurses who do routine rounding. That’s working really well: Our clinical outcomes are excellent, our satisfaction scores are through the roof, and it’s less expensive. Plus, it frees up the hospital beds and staff we need to treat our sickest Covid patients.


Lesson 4: Digital tools support the direction health care is headed.

Telehealth supports value-based care, in which hospitals and other care providers are paid based on the health outcomes of their patients, not on the amount of care they provide. The result is a greater emphasis on preventive care — which reduces unsustainable health care costs.

Intermountain serves a large population of at-risk, pre-paid consumers, and the more they use telehealth, the easier it is for them to stay healthy — which reduces costs for them and for us. The pandemic has forced payment systems, including the government’s, to keep up by expanding reimbursements for telehealth services.

This is worth emphasizing: If we can deliver care in lower-cost settings, we can reduce the cost of care. Some examples:
  • The average cost of a virtual encounter at Intermountain is $367 less than the cost of a visit to an urgent care clinic, physician’s office, or emergency department (ED).
  • Our virtual newborn ICU has helped us reduce the number of transports to our large hospitals by 65 a year since 2015. Not counting the clinical and personal benefits, that’s saved $350,000 per year in transportation costs.
  • Our internal study of 150 patients in one rural Utah town showed each patient saved an average of $2,000 in driving expenses and lost wages over a year’s time because he or she was able to receive telehealth care close to home. We also avoided pumping 106,460 kilograms of CO2 into the environment — and (per the following point) the town’s 24-bed hospital earned $1.6 million that otherwise would have shifted to a larger hospital in a bigger town.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Publish or Be Ethical? 2 Studies of Publishing Pressure & Scientific Misconduct in Research

Paruzel-Czachura M, Baran L, & Spendel Z. 
Research Ethics. December 2020. 


The paper reports two studies exploring the relationship between scholars’ self-reported publication pressure and their self-reported scientific misconduct in research. In Study 1 the participants (N = 423) were scholars representing various disciplines from one big university in Poland. In Study 2 the participants (N = 31) were exclusively members of the management, such as dean, director, etc. from the same university. In Study 1 the most common reported form of scientific misconduct was honorary authorship. The majority of researchers (71%) reported that they had not violated ethical standards in the past; 3% admitted to scientific misconduct; 51% reported being were aware of colleagues’ scientific misconduct. A small positive correlation between perceived publication pressure and intention to engage in scientific misconduct in the future was found. In Study 2 more than half of the management (52%) reported being aware of researchers’ dishonest practices, the most frequent one of these being honorary authorship. As many as 71% of the participants report observing publication pressure in their subordinates. The primary conclusions are: (1) most scholars are convinced of their morality and predict that they will behave morally in the future; (2) scientific misconduct, particularly minor offenses such as honorary authorship, is frequently observed both by researchers (particularly in their colleagues) and by their managers; (3) researchers experiencing publication pressure report a willingness to engage in scientific misconduct in the future.


Our findings suggest that the notion of “publish or be ethical?” may constitute a real dilemma for the researchers. Although only 3% of our sample admitted to having engaged in scientific misconduct, 71% reported that they definitely had not violated ethical standards in the past. Furthermore, more than a half (51%) reported seeing scientific misconduct among their colleagues. We did not find a correlation between unsatisfactory work conditions and scientific misconduct, but we did find evidence to support the theory that perceived pressure to collect points is correlated with willingness to exceed ethical standards in the future.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Late Payments, Credit Scores May Predict Dementia

Judy George
MedPage Today
Originally posted 30 Nov 20

Problems paying bills and managing personal finances were evident years before a dementia diagnosis, retrospective data showed.

As early as 6 years before they were diagnosed with dementia, people with Alzheimer's disease and related dementias were more likely to miss credit account payments than their peers without dementia (7.7% vs 7.3%; absolute difference 0.4 percentage points, 95% CI 0.07-0.70), reported Lauren Hersch Nicholas, PhD, MPP, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and co-authors.

They also were more likely to develop subprime credit scores 2.5 years before their dementia diagnosis (8.5% vs 8.1%; absolute difference 0.38 percentage points, 95% CI 0.04-0.72), the researchers wrote in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Higher payment delinquency and subprime credit rates persisted for at least 3.5 years after a dementia diagnosis.

"Our study provides the first large-scale evidence of the financial symptoms of Alzheimer's disease and related dementias using administrative financial records," Nicholas said.

"These results are important because they highlight a new source of data -- consumer credit reports -- that can help detect early signs of Alzheimer's disease," she told MedPage Today. "While doctors have long believed that dementia presents in the checkbook, our study helps show that these financial symptoms are common and span years before and after diagnosis, suggesting unmet need for assistance managing money."

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Trust does not need to be human: it is possible to trust medical AI

Ferrario A, Loi M, Viganò E.
Journal of Medical Ethics 
Published Online First: 25 November 2020. 
doi: 10.1136/medethics-2020-106922


In his recent article ‘Limits of trust in medical AI,’ Hatherley argues that, if we believe that the motivations that are usually recognised as relevant for interpersonal trust have to be applied to interactions between humans and medical artificial intelligence, then these systems do not appear to be the appropriate objects of trust. In this response, we argue that it is possible to discuss trust in medical artificial intelligence (AI), if one refrains from simply assuming that trust describes human–human interactions. To do so, we consider an account of trust that distinguishes trust from reliance in a way that is compatible with trusting non-human agents. In this account, to trust a medical AI is to rely on it with little monitoring and control of the elements that make it trustworthy. This attitude does not imply specific properties in the AI system that in fact only humans can have. This account of trust is applicable, in particular, to all cases where a physician relies on the medical AI predictions to support his or her decision making.

Here is an excerpt:

Let us clarify our position with an example. Medical AIs support decision making by the provision of predictions, often in the form of machine learning model outcomes, to identify and plan better prognoses, diagnoses and treatments.3 These outcomes are the result of complex computational processes on high-dimensional data that are difficult to understand by physicians. Therefore, it may be convenient to look at the medical AI as a ‘black box’, or an input–output system whose internal mechanisms are not directly accessible or understandable. Through a sufficient number of interactions with the medical AI, its developers and AI-savvy colleagues, and by analysing different types of outputs (eg, those of young patients or multimorbid ones), the physician may develop a mental model, that is, a set of beliefs, on the performance and error patterns of the AI. We describe this phase in the relation between the physician and the AI as the ‘mere reliance’ phase, which does not need to involve trust (or at best involves very little trust).

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Norms Affect Prospective Causal Judgments

Henne, P., & others
(2019, December 30). 


People more frequently select norm-violating factors, relative to norm-conforming ones, as the cause of some outcome. Until recently, this abnormal-selection effect has been studied using retrospective vignette-based paradigms. We use a novel set of video stimuli to investigate this effect for prospective causal judgments—i.e., judgments about the cause of some future outcome. Four experiments show that people more frequently select norm-violating factors, relative to norm-conforming ones, as the cause of some future outcome. We show that the abnormal-selection effects are not primarily explained by the perception of agency (Experiment 4). We discuss these results in relation to recent efforts to model causal judgment.

From the Discussion

The results of these experiments have some important consequences for the study of causal cognition. While accounting for some of the limitations of past work on abnormal selection, we present strong evidence in support of modal explanations for abnormal-selection effects. Participants in our studies select norm-violating factors as causes for stimuli that reduce the presence of agential cues (Experiments 1-3), and increasing agency cues does not change this tendency (Experiment 4). Social explanations might account for abnormal-selection behavior in some contexts, but, in general, abnormal-selection behavior likely does not depend on perceived intentions of agents, assessments of blame, or other social concerns. Rather, abnormal-selection effects seem to reflect a more general causal reasoning process, not just processes related to social or moral cognition, that involves modal cognition.The modal explanations for abnormal selection effects predict the results that we present here; in non-social situations, abnormal-selection effects should occur, and they should occur for prospective causal judgments. Even if the social explanation can account for the results of Experiments 1-3, it does not predict the results of Experiment 4. In Experiment 4, we increased agency cues, and we saw an increase in perceived intentionality attributed to the objects in our stimuli. But we did not see a change in abnormal-selection behavior, as social explanations predict. While these results are not evidence that the social explanation is completely mistaken about causal-selection behavior, we have strong evidence that modal explanations account for these effects—even when agency cues are increased.


Editor's note: This research is very important for psychologists, clinicians, and psychotherapists trying to understand and conceptualize their patient's behaviors and symptoms.  Studies show clinicians have poor inter-rater reliability to explain accurate the causes of behaviors and symptoms.  In this study, norm violations are more likely seen as causes, a bias for which we all need to understand.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Brain Scans Confirm There's a Part of You That Remains 'You' Throughout Your Life

Mike McRae
Science Alert
Originally published 27 Nov 20

At the very core of your identity a kernel of self awareness combines memories of the past with the fleeting sensations of the present, and adds a touch of anticipation for the future.

The question of whether this ongoing sense of 'you' is as robust as it feels has intrigued philosophers and psychologists throughout the ages. A new, small psychobiological study weighs in, looking at brain scans to conclude that at least some part of you is indeed consistent as you grow and age.

"In our study, we tried to answer the question of whether we are the same person throughout our lives," says Miguel Rubianes, a neuroscientist from the Complutense University of Madrid.

"In conjunction with the previous literature, our results indicate that there is a component that remains stable while another part is more susceptible to change over time."

Self-continuity forms the very basis of identity. Every time you use the word 'I', you're referring to a thread that stitches a series of experiences into a tapestry of a lifetime, representing a relationship between the self of your youth with one yet to emerge.

Yet identity is more than the sum of its parts. Consider the allegory of Theseus's ship, or the grandfather's axe paradox – a tool that's had its shaft replaced, as well as its head, but is still somehow the same axe that belonged to grandfather.

If our experiences change us, swapping out components of our identity with every heart break and every promotion, every illness and every windfall, can we truly still say we see ourself as the same person today as we were when we were four years old?

You can be forgiven for thinking this sounds more like philosophical navel-gazing than something science can address. But there are perspectives which psychology – and even the wiring of our neurological programming – can flesh out.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Reexamining the role of intent in moral judgements of purity violations

Kupfer, T. R., Inbar, Y. & Yybur, J.
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume 91, November 2020, 104043


Perceived intent is a pivotal factor in moral judgement: intentional moral violations are considered more morally wrong than accidental ones. However, a body of recent research argues that intent is less important for moral judgements of impure acts – that it, those acts that are condemned because they elicit disgust. But the literature supporting this claim is limited in multiple ways. We conducted a new test of the hypothesis that condemnation of purity violations operates independently from intent. In Study 1, participants judged the wrongness of moral violations that were either intentional or unintentional and were either harmful (e.g., stealing) or impure (e.g., public defecation). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness ratings that did not vary across harmful and disgusting scenarios. In Study 2, a registered report, participants judged the wrongness of disgust-eliciting moral violations that were either mundane and dyadic (e.g., serving contaminated food) or abnormal and self-directed (e.g., consuming urine). Results revealed a large effect of intent on moral wrongness judgements that did not vary across mundane and abnormal scenarios. Findings challenge the claim that moral judgements about purity violations rely upon unique psychological mechanisms that are insensitive to information about the wrongdoer's mental state.

From the Discussion

Across two studies, we found that participants rated intentional disgusting acts more morally wrong than unintentional disgusting acts. Study 1 showed that intent had a large effect on moral judgement of mundane, dyadic impure acts, such as serving contaminated food, or urinating in public. Moreover, the effect of intent on moral judgement was not different for harm and purity violations. Study 2 showed that there was also a large effect of intent on moral judgement of abnormal, self-directed, purity violations, using scenarios similar to those frequently used in past research, such as eating a pet dog (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016), drinking urine (e.g., Young & Saxe, 2011), or eating cloned human meat (e.g., Russell & Giner-Sorolla, 2011). In Study 2 the effect of intent did not differ across abnormal, self-directed purity violations and mundane, dyadic purity violations. These results are inconsistent with previous findings purporting to show little or no effect of intent on moral judgements of impure acts (e.g., Barrett et al., 2016; Chakroff et al., 2015; Young & Saxe, 2011).

Italics added.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

There Is No Christian Case for Trump

Peter Wehner
The Atlantic
Originally posted 30 Jan 21

Here is an excerpt:

In his article defending the President, Grudem declares that he knows of “no evangelical leader who ‘brushed off’ Trump’s words and behavior.” (He cites his criticism of Trump following the release of the Access Hollywood tape.) But since Trump has been president, the criticisms of his unethical behavior have been either ignored or dramatically minimized by much of the political leadership of the white evangelical world. They would have you believe that Trump is at worst imperfect—just as we all are, they will quickly add—perhaps a little unrefined, coarse, and rough around the edges, but then again, that’s because he’s “authentic,” “politically incorrect,” and a “fighter” who is rightly defending himself against grave injustices and unfair attacks.

Here’s how white evangelical leaders typically talk of Trump. Last year, Ralph Reed, speaking to his Faith and Freedom Coalition supporters, said, “There has never been anyone who has defended us and fought for us, who we have loved more than Donald J. Trump. No one!”

Robert Jeffress, the pastor of a Baptist megachurch in Dallas, described Trump as a “warrior” for Christian values who is “not perfect, just like none of us is perfect.” Indeed, only a week ago Jeffress declared, in another fawning interview with Fox’s Lou Dobbs, “I like [Trump’s] tweets. I like everything about him”—a comment Trump gleefully quoted in a tweet of his own. (During the 2016 campaign, Jeffress said, “I’ve said I want the meanest, toughest SOB I can find to protect this nation. And so that’s why Trump’s tone doesn’t bother me.”)

Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, one of the largest Christian universities in the world, put it this way: “Conservatives & Christians need to stop electing ‘nice guys.’ They might make great Christian leaders but the United States needs street fighters like @realDonaldTrump at every level of government b/c the liberal fascists Dems are playing for keeps & many Repub leaders are a bunch of wimps!” When asked in an interview if there was anything Trump could do that would endanger that support from him or other evangelical leaders, Falwell replied, “No … I can’t imagine him doing anything that’s not good for the country.”

And Grudem himself says of Trump, “Far from being ‘morally lost and confused,’ Trump seems to me to have a strong sense of justice and fair play, and he is (I think rightfully) upset that the impeachment process in the House was anything but just and fair.”


For all my objections to the op-ed by Grudem—who, it’s important to say, is not guilty in his piece of dehumanizing his political opponents—the mind-set it reveals is for me a cautionary tale. I know enough about human nature and about myself to know that confirmation bias is not confined only to those who see the world differently than I do. It’s something that we all struggle with, that I struggle with. I’m struck by how easy it is to see in others, and how difficult it is to see in ourselves. To be sure, confirmation bias is more acute in some than it is in others. Still, we all need help in that effort: to widen the aperture of our understanding, to have our views held up to scrutiny and reason, and to have people with standing in our lives identify our blind spots. Because, to paraphrase the British philosopher and poet Owen Barfield, we should be more interested in truth than victory.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Escape the echo chamber

C Thi Nguyen
Originally published  9 April 18

Here is an excerpt:

Let’s start with epistemic bubbles. They have been in the limelight lately, most famously in Eli Pariser’s The Filter Bubble (2011) and Cass Sunstein’s #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (2017). The general gist: we get much of our news from Facebook feeds and similar sorts of social media. Our Facebook feed consists mostly of our friends and colleagues, the majority of whom share our own political and cultural views. We visit our favourite like-minded blogs and websites. At the same time, various algorithms behind the scenes, such as those inside Google search, invisibly personalise our searches, making it more likely that we’ll see only what we want to see. These processes all impose filters on information.

Such filters aren’t necessarily bad. The world is overstuffed with information, and one can’t sort through it all by oneself: filters need to be outsourced. That’s why we all depend on extended social networks to deliver us knowledge. But any such informational network needs the right sort of broadness and variety to work. A social network composed entirely of incredibly smart, obsessive opera fans would deliver all the information I could want about the opera scene, but it would fail to clue me in to the fact that, say, my country had been infested by a rising tide of neo-Nazis. Each individual person in my network might be superbly reliable about her particular informational patch but, as an aggregate structure, my network lacks what Sanford Goldberg in his book Relying on Others (2010) calls ‘coverage-reliability’. It doesn’t deliver to me a sufficiently broad and representative coverage of all the relevant information.

Epistemic bubbles also threaten us with a second danger: excessive self-confidence. In a bubble, we will encounter exaggerated amounts of agreement and suppressed levels of disagreement. We’re vulnerable because, in general, we actually have very good reason to pay attention to whether other people agree or disagree with us. Looking to others for corroboration is a basic method for checking whether one has reasoned well or badly. This is why we might do our homework in study groups, and have different laboratories repeat experiments. But not all forms of corroboration are meaningful. Ludwig Wittgenstein says: imagine looking through a stack of identical newspapers and treating each next newspaper headline as yet another reason to increase your confidence. This is obviously a mistake. The fact that The New York Times reports something is a reason to believe it, but any extra copies of The New York Times that you encounter shouldn’t add any extra evidence.

Monday, January 18, 2021

We Decoded The Symbols From The Storming Of The Capitol

We looked through hours of footage from the Capitol riot to decode the symbols that Trump supporters brought with them, revealing some ongoing threats to US democracy.

Children punish third parties to satisfy both consequentialist and retributive motives

Marshall, J., Yudkin, D.A. & Crockett, M.J. 
Nat Hum Behav (2020). 


Adults punish moral transgressions to satisfy both retributive motives (such as wanting antisocial others to receive their ‘just deserts’) and consequentialist motives (such as teaching transgressors that their behaviour is inappropriate). Here, we investigated whether retributive and consequentialist motives for punishment are present in children approximately between the ages of five and seven. In two preregistered studies (N = 251), children were given the opportunity to punish a transgressor at a cost to themselves. Punishment either exclusively satisfied retributive motives by only inflicting harm on the transgressor, or additionally satisfied consequentialist motives by teaching the transgressor a lesson. We found that children punished when doing so satisfied only retributive motives, and punished considerably more when doing so also satisfied consequentialist motives. Together, these findings provide evidence for the presence of both retributive and consequentialist motives in young children.


Overall, these two preregistered studies provide clear evidence for the presence of both consequentialist and retributive motives in young children, supporting the naive pluralism hypothesis. Our observations cohere with past research showing that children between the ages of five and seven are willing to engage in costly third-party punishment, and reveal the motives behind children’s punitive behaviour. Children reliably engaged in purely retributive punishment: they punished solely to make an antisocial other sad without any possibility of deterring future antisocial behaviour.  Children did not punish in the non-communicative condition out of a preference for locking iPads in boxes, shown by the fact that children punished less in the baseline control condition. Furthermore, non-communicative punishment could not be explained by erroneous beliefs that punishing would teach the transgressor a lesson.  This demonstrates that young children are not pure consequentialists. Rather, our data suggest that young children engaged in costly third-party punishment for purely retributive reasons.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Wake Up Call for Republicans

Evangelicals Made a Bad Bargain With Trump

Peter Wehner
The Atlantic
Originally published 18, Oct 2020

Here is an excerpt:

But if politically conservative evangelicals have things they can rightly claim to have won, what has been lost?

For starters, by overlooking and excusing the president’s staggering array of personal and public corruptions, Trump’s evangelical supporters have forfeited the right to ever again argue that character counts in America’s political leaders. They might try, but if they do, they will be met with belly laughs. It’s not that their argument is invalidated; it is that because of their glaring hypocrisy, they have sabotaged their credibility in making the argument.

The conservative evangelical David French has reminded us that in 1998, during the Bill Clinton–Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a “Resolution on Moral Character of Public Officials,” declaring that it was wrong to “excuse or overlook immoral or illegal conduct by unrepentant public officials so long as economic prosperity prevails,” because “tolerance of serious wrong by leaders sears the conscience of the culture, spawns unrestrained immorality and lawlessness in the society, and surely results in God’s judgment.”

It further affirmed that “moral character matters to God and should matter to all citizens, especially God’s people, when choosing public leaders,” and “implore[d] our government leaders to live by the highest standards of morality both in their private actions and in their public duties, and thereby serve as models of moral excellence and character.”

“Be it finally RESOLVED,” the document continued, “that we urge all Americans to embrace and act on the conviction that character does count in public office, and to elect those officials and candidates who, although imperfect, demonstrate consistent honesty, moral purity and the highest character.”

It turns out that this resolution cannot have been based on deep scriptural convictions, as it was sold to the world (the Southern Baptist resolution included a dozen scriptural verses); it has to have been motivated, at least in large part, by partisanship. It’s quite possible, of course, that many of its supporters were blind to just how large a role partisanship and motivated reasoning played in the position they took. But there is simply no other way to explain the massive double standard.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Why Facts Are Not Enough: Understanding and Managing the Motivated Rejection of Science

Hornsey MJ. 
Current Directions in Psychological Science


Efforts to change the attitudes of creationists, antivaccination advocates, and climate skeptics by simply providing evidence have had limited success. Motivated reasoning helps make sense of this communication challenge: If people are motivated to hold a scientifically unorthodox belief, they selectively interpret evidence to reinforce their preferred position. In the current article, I summarize research on six psychological roots from which science-skeptical attitudes grow: (a) ideologies, (b) vested interests, (c) conspiracist worldviews, (d) fears and phobias, (e) personal-identity expression, and (f) social-identity needs. The case is made that effective science communication relies on understanding and attending to these underlying motivations.



This article outlines six reasons people are motivated to hold views that are inconsistent with scientific consensus. This perspective helps explain why education and explication of data sometimes has a limited impact on science skeptics, but I am not arguing that education and facts are pointless. Quite the opposite: The provision of clear, objective information is the first and best line of defense against misinformation, mythmaking, and ignorance. However, for polarizing scientific issues—for example, climate change, vaccination, evolution, and in-vitro meat—it is clear that facts alone will not do the job. Successful communication around these issues will require sensitive understandings of the psychological motivations people have for rejecting science and the flexibility to devise communication frames that align with or circumvent these motivations.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Association of Physician Burnout With Suicidal Ideation and Medical Errors

Menon NK, Shanafelt TD, Sinsky CA, et al. 
JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(12):e2028780. 

Key Points

Question  Is burnout associated with increased suicidal ideation and self-reported medical errors among physicians after accounting for depression?

Findings  In this cross-sectional study of 1354 US physicians, burnout was significantly associated with increased odds of suicidal ideation before but not after adjusting for depression and with increased odds of self-reported medical errors before and after adjusting for depression. In adjusted models, depression was significantly associated with increased odds of suicidal ideation but not self-reported medical errors.

Meaning  The findings suggest that depression but not burnout is directly associated with suicidal ideation among physicians.

Conclusions and Relevance  The results of this cross-sectional study suggest that depression but not physician burnout is directly associated with suicidal ideation. Burnout was associated with self-reported medical errors. Future investigation might examine whether burnout represents an upstream intervention target to prevent suicidal ideation by preventing depression.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

'How Did We Get Here?' A Call For An Evangelical Reckoning On Trump

Rachel Martin
Originally poste 13 Jan 202

Here is an excerpt:

You write that Trump has burned down the Republican Party. What has he done to the evangelical Christian movement?

If you asked today, "What's an evangelical?" to most people, I would want them to say: someone who believes Jesus died on the cross for our sin and in our place and we're supposed to tell everyone about it. But for most people they'd say, "Oh, those are those people who are really super supportive of the president no matter what he does." And I don't think that's what we want to be known for. That's certainly not what I want to be known for. And I think as this presidency is ending in tatters as it is, hopefully more and more evangelicals will say, "You know, we should have seen earlier, we should have known better, we should have honored the Lord more in our actions these last four years."

Should ministers on Sunday mornings be delivering messages about how to sort fact from fiction and discouraging their parishioners from seeking truth in these darkest corners of the Internet peddling lies?

Absolutely, absolutely. Mark Noll wrote years ago a book called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, and he was talking about the lack of intellectual engagement in some corners of evangelicalism.

I think the scandal of the evangelical mind today is the gullibility that so many have been brought into — conspiracy theories, false reports and more — and so I think the Christian responsibility is we need to engage in what we call in the Christian tradition, discipleship. Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth and the life." So Jesus literally identifies himself as the truth; therefore, if there ever should be a people who care about the truth, it should be people who call themselves followers of Jesus.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Gave Top Doctor $1.5 Million After He Was Forced to Resign Over Conflicts of Interest

Katie Thomas & Charles Ornstein
Originally published 22 Dec 20

Here is an excerpt:

After months of review, Memorial Sloan Kettering overhauled its conflict-of-interest policy, barring its top executives from serving on corporate boards of drug and health care companies and placing limits on how executives and top researchers could profit from work developed at the institution.

Like other major hospitals, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s finances have taken a hit during the coronavirus pandemic. For the first three quarters of 2020, the hospital reported an operating loss of $453 million compared with an operating profit of nearly $77 million in the first nine months of 2019. The hospital saw a decline in surgical procedures and clinic visits, as well as clinical trials and other research. The hospital did receive $100 million in relief funds as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Baselga wasn’t the only former official to receive severance from Memorial Sloan Kettering in 2019. It also paid more than $250,000 in severance to Avice Meehan, the hospital’s former chief communications officer, according to its IRS filing. Meehan declined to comment.

Laurie Styron, the executive director of CharityWatch, an independent watchdog group, said that hospitals often compensate their staff generously because they must attract highly trained and educated doctors who would be well-paid elsewhere. Still, she said, the multimillion-dollar sums can surprise donors, who typically give money to support research or patient care.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Physical Attractiveness in the Legal System

Rod Hollier
The Law Project

When I started looking into this subject, I predicted a person’s physical attractiveness would only have minor advantages. I was wrong.

In fact, I was so wrong, that in one study, the effects of physical attractiveness on judges were so influential, they fined unattractive criminals 304.88% higher than attractive criminals.

Surprising, I know.

Before we proceed, I want to address a few concerns of mine. Firstly, the information that you will read may cause some readers to feel unsettled. This is not my intention. Yes, it is disheartening. But the purpose of this article is to inform lawyers and other decision makers so that they can use the attractiveness bias to their advantage or to counter it.

A second concern of mine is that I don’t want to over-emphasise the attractiveness bias. Judges and jurors are affected by all kinds of cognitive distortions, such as emotive evidence, time of day, remorse of the defendant, socioeconomic status, race, gender, anchoring effect, and the contrast bias.

In the first section of this article, I give a ‘straight-to-the-point’ summary of the research conducted by 27 studies. Next, I enter into greater depth on the attractiveness bias and its effects on judges, jurors, and lawyers. Lastly, I provide research on the attractiveness bias in everyday life. Arguably, the last section is the most interesting.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

APA President and CEO condemn violence at Capitol

Jennifer Kelly, PhD & Arthur Evans, PhD
American Psychological Association
January 8, 2021

Dear APA Members,

The recent storming of the U.S. Capitol has shocked our nation and the world. After 200 years of peaceful transfers of power between political parties, we were assaulted with images of rioters desecrating one of our greatest symbols of democracy. Regardless of our political views, we can agree that hate and violence toward each other are never acceptable. 

All of this took place as our nation has been emerging from a year dominated by trauma—a rapidly spreading virus, widespread divisiveness, and economic uncertainty. These layers of trauma are cumulative, and make it  difficult to function.

Psychology is of immense value in a time of such complex tragedy and trauma. It is vital that our science and professional expertise are utilized to help heal the political, economic, and ideological divides in our country.

Misinformation and conspiracy theories are at the root of this week’s tragedies. Despite every state certifying the results, and those results being validated by dozens of courts across the nation, repeated claims from the President that the presidential election was “rigged” or “stolen” drove Wednesday’s demonstrators to engage in the mayhem we witnessed. As psychologists, we understand the human propensity toward confirmation bias. We must continue to educate people on how to resist seeking out information that supports their own viewpoint and promote the use of techniques that encourage more objective consideration. The continued propagation of mistruths fosters tribalism, outrage, and rancor, which prevents us as individuals from seeing our shared humanity and interests.

There is much to do, and APA is taking action. We have been educating reporters and the public on the science underlying trauma and resilience, political psychology and polarization, misinformation and conspiracy theories, and how to talk to children about traumatic events. We have been working with members of Congress and both the outgoing and the incoming administrations to ensure that psychology and our science is not just at the table, but informing vital decisions. Our APA task force on police use of force is underway and releasing recommendations early this year. And our members—all of you—are using your expertise to help individuals, communities, and policymakers.

The work that we do as a field is critical. It is understandable if you are feeling shaken, angry, or emotionally exhausted. But recognize that—as a part of the APA community—you are not alone. We are all in this together and we must be intentional in taking care of ourselves and supporting each other as we work through this national trauma in all its forms. 

Our nation faces immense challenges that will not end on Inauguration Day. Psychology and our association must play a critical role in addressing those challenges. Most people—across the political spectrum—want the best for our country. Together, we must look toward the future. Psychologists offer science and expertise that can promote hope, resilience, and a path forward for a nation that is in trauma and in need of healing. APA is committed to doing that work with all of you.

Is that artificial intelligence ethical? Sony to review all products

Nikkei staff writers
Originally posted 22 Dec 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Sony will start screening all of its AI-infused products for ethical risks as early as spring, Nikkei has learned. If a product is deemed ethically deficient, the company will improve it or halt development.

Sony uses AI in its latest generation of the Aibo robotic dog, for instance, which can recognize up to 100 faces and continues to learn through the cloud.

Sony will incorporate AI ethics into its quality control, using internal guidelines.

The company will review artificially intelligent products from development to post-launch on such criteria as privacy protection. Ethically deficient offerings will be modified or dropped.

An AI Ethics Committee, with its head appointed by the CEO, will have the power to halt development on products with issues.

Even products well into development could still be dropped. Ones already sold could be recalled if problems are found. The company plans to gradually broaden the AI ethics rules to offerings in finance and entertainment as well.

As AI finds its way into more devices, the responsibilities of developers are increasing, and companies are strengthening ethical guidelines.

Monday, January 11, 2021

'The robot made me do it': Robots encourage risk-taking behaviour in people

Press Release
University of Southampton
Originally released 11 Dec 20

New research has shown robots can encourage people to take greater risks in a simulated gambling scenario than they would if there was nothing to influence their behaviours. Increasing our understanding of whether robots can affect risk-taking could have clear ethical, practiCal and policy implications, which this study set out to explore.

Dr Yaniv Hanoch, Associate Professor in Risk Management at the University of Southampton who led the study explained, "We know that peer pressure can lead to higher risk-taking behaviour. With the ever-increasing scale of interaction between humans and technology, both online and physically, it is crucial that we understand more about whether machines can have a similar impact."

This new research, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, involved 180 undergraduate students taking the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART), a computer assessment that asks participants to press the spacebar on a keyboard to inflate a balloon displayed on the screen. With each press of the spacebar, the balloon inflates slightly, and 1 penny is added to the player's "temporary money bank". The balloons can explode randomly, meaning the player loses any money they have won for that balloon and they have the option to "cash-in" before this happens and move on to the next balloon.

One-third of the participants took the test in a room on their own (the control group), one third took the test alongside a robot that only provided them with the instructions but was silent the rest of the time and the final, the experimental group, took the test with the robot providing instruction as well as speaking encouraging statements such as "why did you stop pumping?"

The results showed that the group who were encouraged by the robot took more risks, blowing up their balloons significantly more frequently than those in the other groups did. They also earned more money overall. There was no significant difference in the behaviours of the students accompanied by the silent robot and those with no robot.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Doctors Dating Patients: Love, Actually?

Shelly Reese
Originally posted 10 Dec 20

Here is an excerpt:

Not surprisingly, those who have seen such relationships end in messy, contentious divorces or who know stories of punitive actions are stridently opposed to the idea. "Never! Grounds for losing your license"; "it could only result in trouble"; "better to keep this absolute"; "you're asking for a horror story," wrote four male physicians.

Although doctor-patient romances don't frequently come to the attention of medical boards or courts until they have soured, even "happy ending" relationships may come at a cost. For example, in 2017, the Iowa Board of Medicine fined an orthopedic surgeon $5000 and ordered him to complete a professional boundaries program because he became involved with a patient while or soon after providing care, despite the fact that the couple had subsequently married.

Ethics aside, "this is a very dangerous situation, socially and professionally," writes a male physician in Pennsylvania. A New York physician agreed: "Many of my colleagues marry their patients, even after they do surgery on them. It's a sticky situation."

Doctors' Attitudes Are Shifting

The American Medical Association clearly states that sexual contact that is concurrent with the doctor/patient relationship constitutes sexual misconduct and that even a romance with a former patient "may be unduly influenced by the previous physician-patient relationship."

Although doctors' attitudes on the subject are evolving, that's not to say they suddenly believe they can start asking their patients out to dinner. Very few doctors (2%) condone romantic relationships with existing patients — a percentage that has remained largely unchanged over the past 10 years. Instead, physicians are taking a more nuanced approach to the issue.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

The Last Children of Down Syndrome

Sarah Zhang
The Atlantic
Originally posted December 2020

Here is an excerpt:

Eugenics in Denmark never became as systematic and violent as it did in Germany, but the policies came out of similar underlying goals: improving the health of a nation by preventing the birth of those deemed to be burdens on society. The term eugenics eventually fell out of favor, but in the 1970s, when Denmark began offering prenatal testing for Down syndrome to mothers over the age of 35, it was discussed in the context of saving money—as in, the testing cost was less than that of institutionalizing a child with a disability for life. The stated purpose was “to prevent birth of children with severe, lifelong disability.”

That language too has long since changed; in 1994, the stated purpose of the testing became “to offer women a choice.” Activists like Fält-Hansen have also pushed back against the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that the medical system encourages women to choose abortion. Some Danish parents told me that doctors automatically assumed they would want to schedule an abortion, as if there was really no other option. This is no longer the case, says Puk Sandager, a fetal-medicine specialist at Aarhus University Hospital. Ten years ago, doctors—especially older doctors—were more likely to expect parents to terminate, she told me. “And now we do not expect anything.” The National Down Syndrome Association has also worked with doctors to alter the language they use with patients—“probability” instead of “risk,” “chromosome aberration” instead of “chromosome error.” And, of course, hospitals now connect expecting parents with people like Fält-Hansen to have those conversations about what it’s like to raise a child with Down syndrome.

Friday, January 8, 2021

APA Condemns Violent Attack on U.S. Capitol, Warns of Long-Term Effects of Recurring Trauma

American Psychiatric Association
Released January 7, 2021

The American Psychiatric Association today condemns the violence that occurred during what should have been a peaceful step in the transfer of power in Washington, D.C., and offers resources for those whose mental health is impacted.

The world is still processing the unprecedented assault on democracy that occurred yesterday in the nation’s capital. The leaders of yesterday’s aggression and those that encouraged such anti-American conduct must be held accountable. The stark contrast between the government’s response to Black Lives Matter protesters during the summer and fall, a significant proportion of whom were Black, and its response to mostly white MAGA protesters yesterday, is deeply concerning.

These events coupled with the ongoing COVID pandemic continue to increase the anxiety and stress many are feeling. These recurring traumatic events can have a detrimental long-term effect across many domains (emotional, physical, cognitive, behavioral, social, and developmental). As physicians, we want to tell everyone who is distressed or feeling a higher level of anxiety right now that they are not alone, and that help is available.

“Yesterday’s violence and the rhetoric that incited it are seditious,” said APA President Jeffrey Geller, M.D., M.P.H. “Americans are hurting in the pandemic and this makes the pain, fear, and stress that many of us are feeling much worse. Those who have been subject to the impacts of systemic racism are dealing with the brunt of it.”

“We, as psychiatrists, are deeply concerned and angered by the violence that has occurred and that may continue in our communities,” said APA CEO and Medical Director Saul Levin, M.D., M.P.A. “If you are feeling anxious or unsafe, talk with your family and friends. If your feelings continue and it is impacting your daily life, do not hesitate to seek help through your primary care provider, a psychiatrist or other mental health professional, or other resources in your community.”

For more information about mental health in traumatic events such as this, visit: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/coping-after-disaster-trauma

If you or a family member or friend needs immediate assistance, help is available:
  • Crisis Textline Text HOME to 741741
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 800-273-8255 or Chat with Lifeline
  • Veterans Crisis Line (VA) Call 800-273-8255 or text 838255
  • Physician Support Line Call 1-888-409-0141
  • NAMI Helpline: 800-950-6264 M-F, 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., ET

Bias in science: natural and social

Joshua May


Moral, social, political, and other “nonepistemic” values can lead to bias in science, from prioritizing certain topics over others to the rationalization of questionable research practices. Such values might seem particularly common or powerful in the social sciences, given their subject matter. However, I argue first that the well documented phenomenon of motivated reasoning provides a useful framework for understanding when values guide scientific inquiry (in pernicious or productive ways). Second, this analysis reveals a parity thesis: values influence the social and natural sciences about equally, particularly because both are so prominently affected by desires for social credit and status, including recognition and career advancement. Ultimately, bias in natural and social science is both natural and social—that is, a part of human nature and considerably motivated by a concern for social status (and its maintenance). Whether the pervasive influence of values is inimical to the sciences is a separate question.


We have seen how many of the putative biases that affect science can be explained and illuminated in terms of motivated reasoning, which yields a general understanding of how a researcher’s goals and values can influence scientific practice (whether positively or negatively). This general account helps to show that it is unwarranted to assume that such influences are significantly more prominent in the social sciences. The defense of this parity claim relies primarily on two key points. First, the natural sciences are also susceptible to the same values found in social science, particularly given that findings in many fields have social or political implications. Second, the ideological motivations that might seem to arise only in social science are minor compared to others. In particular, one’s reasoning is more often motivated by a desire to gain social credit (e.g. recognition among peers) than a desire to promote a moral or political ideology. Although there may be discernible differences in the quality of research across scientific domains, all are influenced by researchers’ values, as manifested in their motivations.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

How Might Artificial Intelligence Applications Impact Risk Management?

John Banja
AMA J Ethics. 2020;22(11):E945-951. 


Artificial intelligence (AI) applications have attracted considerable ethical attention for good reasons. Although AI models might advance human welfare in unprecedented ways, progress will not occur without substantial risks. This article considers 3 such risks: system malfunctions, privacy protections, and consent to data repurposing. To meet these challenges, traditional risk managers will likely need to collaborate intensively with computer scientists, bioinformaticists, information technologists, and data privacy and security experts. This essay will speculate on the degree to which these AI risks might be embraced or dismissed by risk management. In any event, it seems that integration of AI models into health care operations will almost certainly introduce, if not new forms of risk, then a dramatically heightened magnitude of risk that will have to be managed.

AI Risks in Health Care

Artificial intelligence (AI) applications in health care have attracted enormous attention as well as immense public and private sector investment in the last few years.1 The anticipation is that AI technologies will dramatically alter—perhaps overhaul—health care practices and delivery. At the very least, hospitals and clinics will likely begin importing numerous AI models, especially “deep learning” varieties that draw on aggregate data, over the next decade.

A great deal of the ethics literature on AI has recently focused on the accuracy and fairness of algorithms, worries over privacy and confidentiality, “black box” decisional unexplainability, concerns over “big data” on which deep learning AI models depend, AI literacy, and the like. Although some of these risks, such as security breaches of medical records, have been around for some time, their materialization in AI applications will likely present large-scale privacy and confidentiality risks. AI models have already posed enormous challenges to hospitals and facilities by way of cyberattacks on protected health information, and they will introduce new ethical obligations for providers who might wish to share patient data or sell it to others. Because AI models are themselves dependent on hardware, software, algorithmic development and accuracy, implementation, data sharing and storage, continuous upgrading, and the like, risk management will find itself confronted with a new panoply of liability risks. On the one hand, risk management can choose to address these new risks by developing mitigation strategies. On the other hand, because these AI risks present a novel landscape of risk that might be quite unfamiliar, risk management might choose to leave certain of those challenges to others. This essay will discuss this “approach-avoidance” possibility in connection with 3 categories of risk—system malfunctions, privacy breaches, and consent to data repurposing—and conclude with some speculations on how those decisions might play out.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Moral “foundations” as the product of motivated social cognition: Empathy and other psychological underpinnings of ideological divergence in “individualizing” and “binding” concerns

Strupp-Levitsky M, et al.
PLoS ONE 15(11): e0241144. 


According to moral foundations theory, there are five distinct sources of moral intuition on which political liberals and conservatives differ. The present research program seeks to contextualize this taxonomy within the broader research literature on political ideology as motivated social cognition, including the observation that conservative judgments often serve system-justifying functions. In two studies, a combination of regression and path modeling techniques were used to explore the motivational underpinnings of ideological differences in moral intuitions. Consistent with our integrative model, the “binding” foundations (in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity) were associated with epistemic and existential needs to reduce uncertainty and threat and system justification tendencies, whereas the so-called “individualizing” foundations (fairness and avoidance of harm) were generally unrelated to epistemic and existential motives and were instead linked to empathic motivation. Taken as a whole, these results are consistent with the position taken by Hatemi, Crabtree, and Smith that moral “foundations” are themselves the product of motivated social cognition.

Concluding remarks

Taken in conjunction, the results presented here lead to several conclusions that should be of relevance to social scientists who study morality, social justice, and political ideology. First, we observe that so-called “binding” moral concerns pertaining to ingroup loyalty, authority, and purity are psychologically linked to epistemic and, to a lesser extent, existential motives to reduce uncertainty and threat. Second, so-called “individualizing” concerns for fairness and avoidance of harm are not linked to these same motives. Rather, they seem to be driven largely by empathic sensitivity. Third, it would appear that theories of moral foundations and motivated social cognition are in some sense compatible, as suggested by Van Leeuween and Park, rather than incompatible, as suggested by Haidt and Graham and Haidt. That is, the motivational basis of conservative preferences for “binding” intuitions seems to be no different than the motivational basis for many other conservative preferences, including system justification and the epistemic and existential motives that are presumed to underlie system justification.