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

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Democrats push for Supreme Court ethics code following Ginni Thomas revelations

Lauren Fedor 
The Financial Times
Originally published 29 MAR 22

Senior Democratic lawmakers are increasing calls to create a code of ethical conduct for the US Supreme Court amid mounting scrutiny of associate justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia “Ginni” Thomas.

Chris Murphy and Amy Klobuchar, Democratic senators from Connecticut and Minnesota, respectively, and Hank Johnson, a Democratic representative from Georgia, have made a renewed push for the Supreme Court Ethics Act, a piece of legislation first introduced last summer to create a code of ethical conduct for America’s highest court.

Unlike other federal judges, Supreme Court justices are not required to follow the existing code of conduct.

The lawmakers said in a joint statement on Tuesday: “Recent revelations regarding the political activities of Supreme Court justices and their spouses have increased scrutiny of the court and eroded public confidence in the institution.”

The Washington Post first reported last week the existence of almost 30 text messages exchanged between Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, and Mark Meadows, the former Republican congressman who served as Donald Trump’s final chief of staff, in late 2020 and early 2021.

The texts showed Ginni Thomas repeatedly espousing conspiracy theories and pushing Meadows to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The publication of the messages has raised fresh questions about the independence of the federal judiciary and led several Democratic lawmakers to call for Thomas to recuse himself from cases relating to the 2020 election and the January 6 2021 attack on the US Capitol. Earlier this month, Ginni Thomas revealed in an interview that she had attended the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6.

Editor's Note: As a professional organization and highest court in the land, why does the Supreme Court not have a code of ethics?  More than slightly disturbing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

When Good People Break Bad: Moral Impression Violations in Everyday Life

Guan, K. W., & Heine, S. J. (2022).
Social Psychological and Personality Science. 


The present research investigated the emotional, interpersonal, and impression-updating consequences of witnessing events that violate the moral character impressions people hold of others. Across three studies, moral character-violations predicted broad disruptions to participants’ sense of meaning, confidence judging moral character, and expectations of others’ moral characters. Participants who were in real life closer to perpetrators, directly victimized, and higher in preferences for closure and behavioral stability reported more negative outcomes. Moreover, experimental manipulations showed that character-violations lead to worse outcomes than the comparable experience of encountering consistently immoral others. The authors discuss implications for research on moral perception and meaning, as well as on understanding responses to everyday revelations about people’s characters.

From the General Discussion

Moral character-violations appear frequently in the media and occasionally in everyday life. The present research provides an explanation of how these experiences affect perceivers, grounded in the meaning maintenance model (Heine et al., 2006) and social perception literature (Goodwin et al., 2014). Across all three studies, good-to-bad character-violations were associated with disruptions in perceivers’ sense that they understand the world, their confidence judging character, and their impressions of people’s morality in general. In other words, the psychological impact is not restricted to people’s views of specific character-violated targets, but spills over to color how people view other people more generally. Studies 1 and 2 also illuminated the types of moral character-violations people tend to encounter in everyday life, exploring additional situational and dispositional factors that predict stronger feelings of loss of meaning. Study 3 found causal evidence for these effects.

Our findings speak to general experiences, but a few key variables powerfully predict recalled outcomes. Directly victimized targets, and those with higher preferences for closure and personality stability reported greater disruptions in meaning. These findings line up with past evidence that being directly betrayed or transgressed upon leads to strong negative emotions (Adams & Inesi, 2016; Hutcherson & Gross, 2011), and having higher dispositional needs for stability and closure predicts more negative reactions to meaning-violations (e.g., Doherty, 1998).

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Gene editing gets safer thanks to redesigned Cas9 protein

Science Daily
Originally posted 2 MAR 22


Scientists have redesigned a key component of a widely used CRISPR-based gene-editing tool, called Cas9, to be thousands of times less likely to target the wrong stretch of DNA while remaining just as efficient as the original version, making it potentially much safer.


Scientists have redesigned a key component of a widely used CRISPR-based gene-editing tool, called Cas9, to be thousands of times less likely to target the wrong stretch of DNA while remaining just as efficient as the original version, making it potentially much safer.

One of the grand challenges with using CRISPR-based gene editing on humans is that the molecular machinery sometimes makes changes to the wrong section of a host's genome, creating the possibility that an attempt to repair a genetic mutation in one spot in the genome could accidentally create a dangerous new mutation in another.

But now, scientists at The University of Texas at Austin have redesigned a key component of a widely used CRISPR-based gene-editing tool, called Cas9, to be thousands of times less likely to target the wrong stretch of DNA while remaining just as efficient as the original version, making it potentially much safer. The work is described in a paper published today in the journal Nature.

"This really could be a game changer in terms of a wider application of the CRISPR Cas systems in gene editing," said Kenneth Johnson, a professor of molecular biosciences and co-senior author of the study with David Taylor, an assistant professor of molecular biosciences. The paper's co-first authors are postdoctoral fellows Jack Bravo and Mu-Sen Liu.

Journal Reference:

Jack P. K. Bravo, Mu-Sen Liu, et al. Structural basis for mismatch surveillance by CRISPR–Cas9. Nature, 2022; DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04470-1

Monday, March 28, 2022

Do people understand determinism? The tracking problem for measuring free will beliefs

Murray, S., Dykhuis, E., & Nadelhoffer, T.
(2022, February 8). 


Experimental work on free will typically relies on using deterministic stimuli to elicit judgments of free will. We call this the Vignette-Judgment model. In this paper, we outline a problem with research based on this model. It seems that people either fail to respond to the deterministic aspects of vignettes when making judgments or that their understanding of determinism differs from researcher expectations. We provide some empirical evidence for a key assumption of the problem. In the end, we argue that people seem to lack facility with the concept of determinism, which calls into question the validity of experimental work operating under the Vignette-Judgment model. We also argue that alternative experimental paradigms are unlikely to elicit judgments that are philosophically relevant to questions about the metaphysics of free will.

Error and judgment

Our results show that people make several errors about deterministic stimuli used to elicit judgments about free will and responsibility. Many participants seem to conflate determinism with different  constructs  (bypassing  or  fatalism) or mistakenly interpret the implications of deterministic constraints on agents (intrusion).

Measures of item invariance suggest that participants were not responding differently to error measures across different vignettes. Hence, responses to error measures cannot be explained exclusively in terms of differences in vignettes, but rather seem to reflect participants’ mistaken judgments about determinism. Further, these mistakes are associated with significant differences in judgments about free will. Some of the patterns are predictable: participants who conflate determinism with bypassing attribute less free will to individuals in deterministic scenarios, while participants who import intrusion into deterministic scenarios attribute greater free will. This makes sense. As participants perceive mental states to be less causally efficacious or individuals as less ultimately in control of their decisions, free will is diminished. However, as people perceive more indeterminism, free will is amplified.

Additionally, we found that errors of intrusion are stronger than errors of bypassing or fatalism. Because bypassing errors are associated with diminished judgments of free will and intrusion errors are associated with amplified judgments, then, if all three errors were equal in strength, we would expect a linear relationship between different errors: individuals who make bypassing errors would have the lowest average judgments, individuals who make intrusion errors would have the highest average judgments, and people who make both errors would be in the middle (as both errors would cancel each other out). We did not observe this relationship. Instead, participants who make intrusion errors are statistically indistinguishable from each other, no matter what other kinds of errors they make.

Thus, errors of intrusion seem to trump others in the process of forming judgments of free will.  Thus, the errors people make are not incidentally related to their judgments. Instead, there are significant associations between people’s inferential errors about determinism and how they attribute free will and responsibility. This evidence supports our claim that people make several errors about the nature and implications of determinism.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Observers penalize decision makers whose risk preferences are unaffected by loss–gain framing

Dorison, C. A., & Heller, B. H. (2022). 
Journal of Experimental Psychology: 
General. Advance online publication.


A large interdisciplinary body of research on human judgment and decision making documents systematic deviations between prescriptive decision models (i.e., how individuals should behave) and descriptive decision models (i.e., how individuals actually behave). One canonical example is the loss–gain framing effect on risk preferences: the robust tendency for risk preferences to shift depending on whether outcomes are described as losses or gains. Traditionally, researchers argue that decision makers should always be immune to loss–gain framing effects. We present three preregistered experiments (N = 1,954) that qualify this prescription. We predict and find that while third-party observers penalize decision makers who make risk-averse (vs. risk-seeking) choices when choice outcomes are framed as losses, this result reverses when outcomes are framed as gains. This reversal holds across five social perceptions, three decision contexts, two sample populations of United States adults, and with financial stakes. This pattern is driven by the fact that observers themselves fall victim to framing effects and socially derogate (and financially punish) decision makers who disagree. Given that individuals often care deeply about their reputation, our results challenge the long-standing prescription that they should always be immune to framing effects. The results extend understanding not only for decision making under risk, but also for a range of behavioral tendencies long considered irrational biases. Such understanding may ultimately reveal not only why such biases are so persistent but also novel interventions: our results suggest a necessary focus on social and organizational norms.

From the General Discussion

But what makes an optimal belief or choice? Here, we argue that an expanded focus on the goals decision makers themselves hold (i.e., reputation management) questions whether such deviations from rational-agent models should always be considered suboptimal. We test this broader theorizing in the context of loss-gain framing effects on risk preferences not because we think the psychological dynamics at play are
unique to this context, but rather because such framing effects have been uniquely influential for both academic discourse and applied interventions in policy and organizations. In fact, the results hold preliminary implications not only for decision making under risk, but also for extending understanding of a range of other behavioral tendencies long considered irrational biases in the research literature on judgment and decision making (e.g., sunk cost bias; see Dorison, Umphres, & Lerner, 2021).

An important clarification of our claims merits note. We are not claiming that it is always rational to be biased just because others are. For example, it would be quite odd to claim that someone is rational for believing that eating sand provides enough nutrients to survive, simply because others may like them for holding this belief or because others in their immediate social circle hold this belief. In this admittedly bizarre case, it would still be clearly irrational to attempt to subsist on sand, even if there are reputational advantages to doing so—that is, the costs substantially outweigh the reputational benefits. In fact, the vast majority of framing effect studies in the lab do not have an explicit reputational/strategic component at all. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Anticipation of future cooperation eliminates minimal ingroup bias in children and adults

Misch, A., Paulus, M., & Dunham, Y. (2021). 
Journal of Experimental Psychology: 
General, 150(10), 2036–2056.


From early in development, humans show a strong preference for members of their own groups, even in so-called minimal (i.e., arbitrary and unfamiliar) groups, leading to tremendous negative consequences such as outgroup discrimination and derogation. A better understanding of the underlying processes driving humans’ group mindedness is an important first step toward fighting discrimination and inequality on a bigger level. Based on the assumption that minimal group allocation elicits the anticipation of future within-group cooperation, which in turn elicits ingroup preference, we investigate whether changing participants’ anticipation from within-group cooperation to between-group cooperation reduces their ingroup bias. In the present set of five studies (overall N = 465) we test this claim in two different populations (children and adults), in two different countries (United States and Germany), and in two kinds of groups (minimal and social group based on gender). Results confirm that changing participants’ anticipation of who they will cooperate with from ingroup to outgroup members significantly reduces their ingroup bias in minimal groups, though not for gender, a non-coalitional group. In summary, these experiments provide robust evidence for the hypothesis that children and adults encode minimal group membership as a marker for future collaboration. They show that experimentally manipulating this expectation can eliminate their minimal ingroup bias. This study sheds light on the underlying cognitive processes in intergroup behavior throughout development and opens up new avenues for research on reducing ingroup bias and discrimination.

From the General Discussion

The present set of studies advances the field in several important ways. First, it summarizes and tests a plausible theoretical framework for the formation of ingroup bias in the minimal group paradigm, thereby building on accounts that explain the origins of categorization based on allegiances and coalitions (e.g., Kurzban et al., 2001). Drawing on both evolutionary assumptions (Smith, 2003; West, Griffin, & Gardner, 2007; West, El Mouden, & Gardner, 2011) and social learning accounts (e.g., Bigler & Liben, 2006; 2007), our explanation focuses on interdependence and cooperation(Balliet et al., 2014; Pietraszewski, 2013; 2020; Yamagishi & Kiyonari, 2000).It extends these onto the formation of intergroup bias in attitudes: Results of our studies support the hypotheses that the allocation in a minimal group paradigm elicits the anticipation of cooperation, and that the anticipation of cooperation is one of the key factors in the formation of ingroup bias, as evident in the robust results across 4 experiments and several different measures. We therefore concur with the claim that the minimal group paradigm is not so minimal at all (Karp et al.,1993), as it (at least) elicits the expectation to collaborate.

Furthermore, our results show that the anticipation of cooperation alone is already sufficient to induce (and reduce) ingroup bias (Experiment 2). This extends previous research emphasizing the importance of the cooperative activity (e.g., Gaertner et al., 1990; Sherif et al., 1961),and highlights the role of the cognitive processes involved in cooperative behavior.  In our experiment, the cooperative activity in itself had no additional effect on the formation of ingroup bias. However, it is important to note the cooperation was operationalized here in a minimal way, and it is possible that a more direct operationalization and a more interactive experience of cooperation with the other children might have a stronger effect on children's attitudes, a subject for further research.

Friday, March 25, 2022

How development and culture shape intuitions about prosocial obligations

Marshall, J., Gollwitzer, A., et al. (2022).
Journal of experimental psychology. 
General, 10.1037/xge0001136. 
Advance online publication.


Do children, like most adults, believe that only kin and close others are obligated to help one another? In two studies (total N = 1140), we examined whether children (∼5- to ∼10-yos) and adults across five different societies consider social relationship when ascribing prosocial obligations. Contrary to the view that such discriminations are a natural default in human reasoning, younger children in the United States (Studies 1 and 2) and across cultures (Study 2) generally judged everyone-parents, friends, and strangers-as obligated to help someone in need. Older children and adults, on the other hand, tended to exhibit more discriminant judgments. They considered parents more obligated to help than friends followed by strangers-although this effect was stronger in some cultures than others. Our findings suggest that children's initial sense of prosocial obligation in social-relational contexts starts out broad and generally becomes more selective over the course of development.

From the General Discussion

Other than urban versus rural, our cross-cultural samples varied on a variety of dimensions, including (but not limited to) Westernization, collectivism versus individualism, and SES. Again, because of our samples do not vary systematically on any of these dimensions, we cannot directly examine the role of certain cultural factors in the development of prosocial obligation judgments. But we do suspect that variation in societal values related to collectivism and individualism may shape children’s emerging sense of prosocial obligation. This proposal is motivated by the finding that participants in more collectivistic societies(Japan, India, Uganda) exhibited broader senses of obligation than  those  in  more  individualistic societies (Germany,  United  States) (see Hofstede, 2011; Rarick et al., 2013).

How would collectivism and individualism shape the development of our sense of obligation?After all, collectivism in a theoretical sense tends to emphasize obligations to the group—not  necessarily to  strangers  (e.g.,  Brewer  &  Chen,  2007). It is possible, however,  that participants across societies view strangers in our stimuli as part of the cultural in-group. After all, the  characters in the stimuli are all the  same  ethnicity and also presumably live in the  same community. The variance in responses we find, then, might be variance in the degree to which they consider individuals obligated to help in-group strangers—and this in turn, may depend on cultural values, such as collectivism. Future research is best suited to address this question by examining how  group  membership  and  social relationship  independently  impact the development of obligation judgments across societies.

Regardless of which societal values ultimately impact children’s sense of obligation, the findings raise the question of how this process occurs during childhood.Adults and trusted others may explicitly or implicitly teach children about societal values either via testimony or observation(e.g., Maccoby, 2007; Pratty & Hardy, 2014; see Dahl, 2019 for a useful review). Through this process, children may then absorb this information, which ultimately alters children’s obligation judgments. Alternatively, and in line with more of a Piagetian constructivist view(Piaget, 1932), children may update  their  beliefs  about  obligation through  exploring how  individuals  in  their community act toward one another and eliciting information about obligation from others (Dahl et al., 2018; Turiel, 2015, 1983).We hope future research will investigate these questions in greater detail. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Proposal for Revising the Uniform Determination of Death Act

Hastings Bioethics Center
Originally posted 18 FEB 22

Organ transplantation has saved many lives in the past half-century, and the majority of postmortem organ donations have occurred after a declaration of death by neurological criteria, or brain death. However, inconsistencies between the biological concept of death and the diagnostic protocols used to determine brain death–as well as questions about the underlying assumptions of brain death–have led to a justified reassessment of the legal standard of death. We believe that the concept of brain death, though flawed in its present application, can be preserved and promoted as a pathway to organ donation, but only after particular changes are made in the medical criteria for its diagnosis. These changes should precede changes in the Uniform Determination of Death Act (UDDA).

The UDDA, approved in 1981, provides a legal definition of death, which has been adopted in some form by all 50 states. It says that death can be defined as the irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions or of brain functions. The act defines brain death as “irreversible cessation of all functions of the entire brain, including the brainstem.” This description is based on a widely held assumption at the time that the brain is the master integrator of the body, such that when it ceases to function, the body would no longer be able to maintain integrated functions. It was presumed that this would result in both cardiac and pulmonary arrest and the death of the body as a whole. Now that assumption has been called into question by exceptional cases of individuals on ventilators who were declared brain dead but who continued to have function in the hypothalamus. 


Revision of the UDDA should first defer to a revision of the guidelines. Clinical criteria for the diagnosis of “cessation of all functions of the entire brain” must include all pertinent functions, including hypothalamic functions such as hormone release and regulation of temperature and blood pressure, to avoid the specter of neurologic recovery in those who fulfill the current clinical criteria for the diagnosis of brain death.

It is likely that the failure to account for a full set of pertinent brain functions has led to inconsistent diagnoses and conflicting results. Such inconsistencies, although well-documented in a number of cases, may have been even more frequent but unrecognized because declaration of brain death is often a self-fulfilling prophecy: rarely do any life-sustaining interventions continue after the diagnosis is made.

To be consistent, transparent, and accurate, the cessation of function in both the cardiopulmonary and the neurological standard of the UDDA should be described as permanent (i.e., no reversal will be attempted) rather than irreversible (i.e., no reversal is possible). We recognize additional challenges in complying with the UDDA requirements that these cessation criteria for brain death include “all functions” of the “entire brain.” In the absence of universally accepted and easily implemented testing criteria, there may be real problems with being in perfect compliance with these legal criteria in spite of being in perfect compliance with the currently published medical guidelines. If the concept of brain death is philosophically valid, as we think is defensible, then the diagnostic guidelines should be corrected before any attempt is made to correct the UDDA. They must then “say what they mean and mean what they say” to eliminate any possibility of patients with persistent evidence of brain function, including hypothalamic function, being erroneously declared brain dead.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Moral Injury, Traumatic Stress, and Threats to Core Human Needs in Health-Care Workers: The COVID-19 Pandemic as a Dehumanizing Experience

Hagerty, S. L., & Williams, L. M. (2022)
Clinical Psychological Science. 


The pandemic has threatened core human needs. The pandemic provides a context to study psychological injury as it relates to unmet basic human needs and traumatic stressors, including moral incongruence. We surveyed 1,122 health-care workers from across the United States between May 2020 and August 2020. Using a mixed-methods design, we examined moral injury and unmet basic human needs in relation to traumatic stress and suicidality. Nearly one third of respondents reported elevated symptoms of psychological trauma, and the prevalence of suicidal ideation among health-care workers in our sample was roughly 3 times higher than in the general population. Moral injury and loneliness predict greater symptoms of traumatic stress and suicidality. We conclude that dehumanization is a driving force behind the psychological injury resulting from moral incongruence in the context of the pandemic. The pandemic most frequently threatened basic human motivations at the foundational level of safety and security relative to other higher order needs.

From the General Discussion

A subset of respondents added context to their experiences of moral injury in the form of narrative responses. These powerful accounts of the lived experiences of health-care workers provided us with a richer understanding of the construct of moral injury, especially as it relates to the novel context of the pandemic. Although betrayal is a known facet of moral injury from prior work (Bryan et al., 2016), our qualitative analysis suggests that dehumanization may also be a key phenomenon that underlies pandemic-related moral injury. Given our findings, we suggest that it may be important to attend to both betrayal and dehumanization when researching or intervening on the psychological sequelae of the pandemic. Our results support this because experiences of dehumanization in our sample were associated with greater symptoms of traumatic stress.

Another lens through which to view the experiences of health-care workers in the pandemic is through unsatisfied basic human motivations. Given the obvious barriers the pandemic presents to human connection (Hagerty & Williams, 2020), we had an a priori interest in studying loneliness. Our results indeed suggest that need of social connection appears relevant to the mental-health experiences of health-care workers during the pandemic such that loneliness was associated with greater traumatic stress, moral injury, and suicidal ideation. Echoing the importance of this social factor are findings from prior research suggesting that social connectedness buffers the association between moral injury and suicidality (Kelley et al., 2019) and buffers the impact of PTSD symptoms on suicidal behavior (Panagioti et al., 2014). Thus, our work further highlights lack of social connection as possible risk factor among individuals who face moral injury and traumatic stress and demonstrates its relevance to the mental health of health-care workers during the pandemic.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Could we fall in love with robots?

Rich Wordsworth
Originally published 6 DEC 21

Here is an excerpt:

“So what are people’s expectations? They’re being fed a very particular idea of how [robot companions] should look. But when you start saying to people, ‘They can look like anything,’ then the imagination really opens up.”

Perhaps designing companion robots that deliberately don’t emulate human beings is the answer to that common sci-fi question of whether or not a relationship with a robot can ever be reciprocal. A robot with a Kindle for a head isn’t likely to hoodwink many people at the singles bar. When science fiction shows us robotic lovers, they are overwhelmingly portrayed as human (at least outwardly). This trips something defensive in us: the sense of unease or revulsion we feel when a non-human entity tries to deceive us into thinking that it’s human is such a common phenomenon (thanks largely to CGI in films and video games) that it has its own name: ‘the Uncanny Valley’. Perhaps in the future, the engineering of humanoid robots will progress to the point where we really can’t tell (without a signed waiver and a toolbox) whether a ‘person’ is flesh and blood or wires and circuitry. But in the meantime, maybe the best answer is simply not to bother attempting to emulate humans and explore the outlandish.

“You can form a friendship; you can form a bond,” says Devlin of non-humanlike machines. “That bond is one-way, but if the machine shows you any form of response, then you can project onto that and feel social. We treat machines socially because we are social creatures and it’s almost enough to make us buy into it. Not delusionally, but to suspend our disbelief and feel a connection. People feel connections with their vacuum cleaners: mine’s called Babbage and I watch him scurrying around, I pick him up, I tell him, ‘Don’t go there!’ It’s like having a robot pet – but I’m perfectly aware he’s just a lump of plastic. People talk to their Alexas when they’re lonely and they want to chat. So, yes: you can feel a bond there.

“It’s not the same as a human friendship: it’s a new social category that’s emerging that we haven’t really seen before.”

As for the question of reciprocity, Devlin doesn’t see a barrier there with robots that doesn’t already exist in human relationships.

“You’ll get a lot of people going, ‘Oh, that’s not true friendship; that’s not real.’,” Devlin says, sneeringly. “Well, if it feels real and if you’re happy in it, is that a problem? It’s the same people who say you can’t have true love unless it’s reciprocated, which is the biggest lie I’ve ever heard because there are so many people out there who are falling in love with people they’ve never even met! Fictional people! Film stars! Everybody! Those feelings are very, very valid to someone who’s experiencing them.”

“How are you guys doing here?” The waitress asks with perfect waitress-in-a-movie timing as Twombly and Catherine sit, processing the former’s new relationship with Samantha in silence.

“Fine,” Catherine blurts. “We’re fine. We used to be married but he couldn’t handle me; he wanted to put me on Prozac and now he’s madly in love with his laptop.”

In 2013, Spike Jonze’s script for ‘Her’ won the Academy Award for Best Screenplay (it was nominated for four others including Best Picture). A year later, Alex Garland’s script for ‘Ex Machina’ would be nominated for the same award while arguably presenting the same conclusion: we are a species that loves openly and to a fault. 

Monday, March 21, 2022

Confidence and gradation in causal judgment

O'Neill, K., Henne, P, et al.
Volume 223, June 2022, 105036


When comparing the roles of the lightning strike and the dry climate in causing the forest fire, one might think that the lightning strike is more of a cause than the dry climate, or one might think that the lightning strike completely caused the fire while the dry conditions did not cause it at all. Psychologists and philosophers have long debated whether such causal judgments are graded; that is, whether people treat some causes as stronger than others. To address this debate, we first reanalyzed data from four recent studies. We found that causal judgments were actually multimodal: although most causal judgments made on a continuous scale were categorical, there was also some gradation. We then tested two competing explanations for this gradation: the confidence explanation, which states that people make graded causal judgments because they have varying degrees of belief in causal relations, and the strength explanation, which states that people make graded causal judgments because they believe that causation itself is graded. Experiment 1 tested the confidence explanation and showed that gradation in causal judgments was indeed moderated by confidence: people tended to make graded causal judgments when they were unconfident, but they tended to make more categorical causal judgments when they were confident. Experiment 2 tested the causal strength explanation and showed that although confidence still explained variation in causal judgments, it did not explain away the effects of normality, causal structure, or the number of candidate causes. Overall, we found that causal judgments were multimodal and that people make graded judgments both when they think a cause is weak and when they are uncertain about its causal role.

From the General Discussion

The current paper sought to address two major questions regarding singular causal judgments: are causal judgments graded, and if so, what explains this gradation?


In other words, people make graded causal judgments both when they think a cause is weak and also when they are uncertain about their causal judgment. Although work is needed to determine precisely why and when causal judgments are influenced by confidence, we have demonstrated that these effects are separable from more well-studied effects on causal judgment. This is good news for theories of causal judgment that rely on the causal strength explanation: these theories do not need to account for the effects of confidence on causal judgment to be useful in explaining other effects. That is, there is no need for major revisions in how we think about causal judgments. Nevertheless, we think our results have important implications for these theories, which we outline below.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The prejudices of expert evidence

Chin, J., Cullen, H. J., & Clarke, B. 
(2022, February 14).


The rules and procedures regulating the admission of potentially unreliable expert evidence have been substantially weakened over the past several years. We respond to this trend by focusing on one aspect of the rules that has not been explicitly curtailed: unfair prejudice. Unfair prejudice is an important component of trial judges’ authority to exclude evidence, which they may do when that unfair prejudice outweighs the evidence’s probative value. We develop the concept of unfair prejudice by first examining how it has been interpreted by judges and then relating that to the relevant social scientific research on the characteristics of expertise that can make it prejudicial. In doing so, we also discuss the research behind a common reason that judges admit expert evidence despite its prejudice, which is that judicial directions help jurors understand and weigh it. As a result, this article provides two main contributions. First, it advances knowledge about unfair prejudice, which is an important part of expert evidence law that has received relatively little attention from legal researchers. Second, it provides guidance to practitioners for challenging expert evidence under one of the few avenues left to do so.


What should courts do about the prejudices of expert evidence?

While we recognise that balancing probative value with unfair prejudice is fact-specific and contextual, the analysis above suggests considerable room for improvement in how courts assess putatively prejudicial expert evidence. Specifically, the research we reviewed indicates that courts do not fully appreciate the degree to which laypeople may overestimate the reliability of scientific claims. But, more than that, the judicial approach has been myopically focused on the CSI Effect (and in at least one case, significantly misconstrued it), rather than other well-researched expert evidence stereotypes and misconceptions. Accordingly, we recommend that judges apply the discretions to exclude evidence in sections 135 and 137 of the UEL in a way that is more sensitive to empirical research. For example, courts should recognise that experts, or counsel that emphasise the expert’s status and years of experience, also feed into that evidence’s prejudicial potential. Moreover, technical jargon and the general complexity of the evidence can serve to heighten that prejudice, such that these features of expert evidence may build upon each other in a way that is more than additive.

The expert evidence jurisprudence is even more insensitive to research on the factors that make evidence difficult or impossible to test. For example, we struggled (as others have) to find decisions acknowledging that unconscious cognitive processes and associated biases invite prejudice because the unconscious is difficult to cross-examine. Moreover, the closest decision we could find acknowledging adversarial imbalance as a limit on adversarial testing was a US decision in obiter.  And troublingly, courts sometimes simply mistake previously admitted evidence with evidence that has been adversarially tested. With evidence that defies testing, the first step for courts is to acknowledge this research on prejudice and incorporate it into the exclusionary calculus in sections 135 and 137. The next step, as we will see in the following part, is to use this knowledge to better understand the limitations of judicial directions aimed at mitigating prejudice – and perhaps craft better directions in the future. 

Saturday, March 19, 2022

The Content of Our Character

Brown, Teneille R.
Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3665288


The rules of evidence assume that jurors can ignore most character evidence, but the data are clear. Jurors simply cannot *not* make character inferences. We are so driven to use character to assess blame, that we will spontaneously infer traits based on whatever limited information is available. In fact, within just 0.1 seconds of meeting someone, we have already decided if we think they are intelligent, trustworthy, likable, or kind--based just on the person’s face. This is a completely unregulated source of evidence, and yet it predicts teaching evaluations, electoral success, and even sentencing decisions. Given the pervasive and unintentional nature of “spontaneous trait inferences” (STIs), they are not susceptible to mitigation through jury instructions. However, recognizing that witnesses will be viewed as more or less trustworthy based just on their face, the rules of evidence must permit more character evidence, rather than less. This article harnesses undisputed findings from social psychology to propose a reversal of the ban on character evidence, in favor of a strong presumption against admissibility for immoral traits only. This removes a great deal from the rule’s crosshairs and re-tethers it to its normative roots. My proposal does not rely on the gossamer thin distinction between propensity and non-propensity uses, because once jurors hear about past act evidence, they will subconsciously draw an impermissible character inference. However, in some cases this might not be unfairly prejudicial, and may even be necessary for justice. The critical contribution of this article is that while shielding jurors from character evidence has noble origins, it also has unintended, negative consequences. When jurors cannot hear about how someone acted in the past, they will instead rely on immutable facial features—connected to racist, sexist and classist stereotypes—to draw character inferences that are even more inaccurate and unfair.

Here is a section

Moral Character Impacts Ratings of Intent

Previous models of intentionality held that for an act to be considered intentional, three things had to be present. The actor must have believed that an action would result in a particular outcome, desired this outcome, and had full awareness of his behavior. Research now challenges this account, “showing that individuals attribute intentions to others even (and largely) in the absence of these components.”  Even where an actor could not have acted otherwise, and thus was coerced to kill, study participants found the actor to be more morally responsible for an act if he “identified” with it, meaning that he desired the compelled outcome. These findings do not fit with our typical model of blame, which requires freedom to act in order to assign responsibility.  However, they make sense if we adopt a character-based approach to
blame. We are quick to infer a bad character and intent when there is very little evidence of it.  

An example of this is the hindsight bias called the “praise-blame asymmetry,” where people blame actors for accidental bad outcomes that they caused but did not intend, but do not praise people for accidental good outcomes that they likewise caused but did not intend. The classic example is the CEO who considers a development project that will increase profits. The CEO is agnostic to the project’s environmental effects and gives it the go-ahead. If the project’s outcome turns out to harm the environment, people say the CEO intended the bad outcome and they blame him for it. However, if instead the project turns out to benefit the environment, the CEO receives no praise. Our folk conception of intentionality is tied to morality and aversion to negative outcomes. If a foreseen outcome is negative, people will attribute intentionality to the decision-maker, but not if the foreseen outcome is positive; the overattribution of intent only seems to cut one way. Mens rea ascriptions are “sensitive to moral valence . . . . If the outcome is negative, foreknowledge standardly suffices for people to ascribe intentionality.” This effect has been found not just in laypeople, but also in French judges. If an action is considered immoral, then our emotional reaction to it can bias mental state ascriptions.

Friday, March 18, 2022

Parents think—incorrectly—that teaching their children that the world is a bad place is likely best for them

J. D. W. Clifton & Peter Meindl (2021)
The Journal of Positive Psychology
DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2021.2016907

Primal world beliefs (‘primals’) are beliefs about the world’s basic character, such as the world is dangerous. This article investigates probabilistic assumptions about the value of negative primals (e.g., seeing the world as dangerous keeps me safe). We first show such assumptions are common. For example, among 185 parents, 53% preferred dangerous world beliefs for their children. We then searched for evidence consistent with these intuitions in 3 national samples and 3 local samples of undergraduates, immigrants (African and Korean), and professionals (car salespeople, lawyers, and cops;), examining correlations between primals and eight life outcomes within 48 occupations (total N=4,535) . As predicted, regardless of occupation, more negative primals were almost never associated with better outcomes. Instead, they predicted less success, less job and life satisfaction, worse health, dramatically less flourishing, more negative emotion, more depression, and increased suicide attempts. We discuss why assumptions about the value of negative primals are nevertheless widespread and implications for future research.

From the General Discussion

When might very positive primals be damaging illusions (i.e., associated with negative outcomes)? Study 2 was a big-net search for these contexts. We examined eight outcomes, six samples, 4,535 unique subjects, and 48 occupations (n ≥ 30), including lawyers, doctors, police officers, professors, and so forth. This unearthed 1,860 significant correlations between primals and outcomes, and the overall pattern was clear. In 99.7% of these relationships, more negative primals were associated with worse outcomes, roughly categorized as slightly less job success, moderately less job satisfaction, much less life satisfaction, moderately worse health, much increased frequency of negative emotion and other depression symptoms, dramatically decreased psychological flourishing, and moderately increased likelihood of having attempted suicide. We also found no empirical justification for the popular moderation approach. In 297 of 297 significant differences in outcomes, those who saw the world as somewhat positive always experienced worse outcomes than those who saw the world as very positive. In sum, a robust correlational relationship exists between more negative primals and more negative outcomes, even when comparing positive beliefs to positive beliefs, even when comparing within occupation. The seemingly widespread meta-belief that associates negative primals with positive outcomes is unsupported.

Thursday, March 17, 2022

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High rates of burnout among college mental health counselors is compromising quality of care, survey says

Brooke Migdon
Originally posted 17 FEB 22

College counselors and clinicians are reporting increasingly high levels of burnout and stress as the pandemic enters its third year. Experts say it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Just under 93 percent of clinicians on college campuses reported feeling burned out and stressed during the fall semester this year, according to a survey by Mantra Health, a digital mental health clinic geared at young adults. More than 65 percent of respondents reported a heavier workload and longer hours worked compared to the fall semester in 2020. 

Another 60 percent said their workload had compromised the quality of care they were able to provide to students in the fall.

Caseloads aren’t expected to fall anytime soon, as overworked clinicians are leaving the field at a rate similar to that of students asking for help, according to David Walden, the director of Hamilton College’s counseling center. Qualified candidates are also hard to come by.

“Over the last year college counseling centers have seen an uptick in professionals leaving the field and a smaller pool of applicants to refill their positions while the demand from students seeking treatment continues to rise,” he said Thursday in a statement.

Walden noted that, importantly, clinicians are also contending with their own pandemic anxieties that impact their ability to care for themselves, let alone others.

It is “increasingly difficult for directors and clinicians to avoid burnout while institutions of higher education are having increasing trouble hiring and retaining quality mental health staff,” he said.

With college-aged students reporting alarming rates of depression, anxiety and substance abuse, providing quality on- and off-campus care is critical.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Autonomy and the Folk Concept of Valid Consent

Demaree-Cotton, J., & Sommers, R. 
(2021, August 17). 


Consent governs innumerable everyday social interactions, including sex, medical exams, the use of property, and economic transactions. Yet little is known about how ordinary people reason about the validity of consent. Across the domains of sex, medicine, and police entry, Study 1 showed that when agents lack autonomous decision-making capacities, participants are less likely to view their consent as valid; however, failing to exercise this capacity and deciding in a nonautonomous way did not reduce consent judgments. Study 2 found that specific and concrete incapacities reduced judgments of valid consent, but failing to exercise these specific capacities did not, even when the consenter makes an irrational and inauthentic decision. Finally, Study 3 showed that the effect of autonomy on judgments of valid consent carries important downstream consequences for moral reasoning about the rights and obligations of third parties, even when the consented-to action is morally wrong. Overall, these findings suggest that laypeople embrace a normative, domain-general concept of valid consent that depends consistently on the possession of autonomous capacities, but not on the exercise of these capacities. Autonomous decisions and autonomous capacities thus play divergent roles in moral reasoning about consent interactions: while the former appears relevant for assessing the wrongfulness of consented-to acts, the latter plays a role in whether consent is regarded as authoritative and therefore as transforming moral rights.


Before these studies, it remained an open possibility that “valid consent” as a rich and normatively complex force existed only as a technical concept used in philosophical, legal and academic domains. We found, however, that the folk concept of consent involves normative distinctions between valid and invalid consent that are sensitive to the consenter’s autonomy, even if the linguistic utterance of “yes” is held constant, and that this concept plays an important role in moral reasoning. 

Specifically, the studies presented here examined the relationship between autonomy and intuitive judgments of valid consent in several domains: medical procedures, sexual relations, police searches, and agreements between buyers and sellers.  Across scenarios, we found that judgments of valid consent carried a specific relationship to autonomy: whether an agent possesses the mental capacity to make decisions in an autonomous way has a consistent impact on whether their consent is regarded as valid, and thus whether it was regarded as morally transformative of the rights and obligations of the consenter and of third parties.  Yet, whether the agent in fact makes their decision in an autonomous, rational way—based on their own authentic values and what is right for them—has little impact on perceptions of consent or associated rights, although it has relevance for whether the consent-obtainer is acting wrongly.  Autonomy thus has a subtle role in the ordinary reasoning about morally transformative consent, where consent given by an agent with autonomous capacities has a distinctive role in downstream moral reasoning.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Moral Consideration of Artificial Entities: A Literature Review

Harris, J., Anthis, J.R. 
Sci Eng Ethics 27, 53 (2021). 


Ethicists, policy-makers, and the general public have questioned whether artificial entities such as robots warrant rights or other forms of moral consideration. There is little synthesis of the research on this topic so far. We identify 294 relevant research or discussion items in our literature review of this topic. There is widespread agreement among scholars that some artificial entities could warrant moral consideration in the future, if not also the present. The reasoning varies, such as concern for the effects on artificial entities and concern for the effects on human society. Beyond the conventional consequentialist, deontological, and virtue ethicist ethical frameworks, some scholars encourage “information ethics” and “social-relational” approaches, though there are opportunities for more in-depth ethical research on the nuances of moral consideration of artificial entities. There is limited relevant empirical data collection, primarily in a few psychological studies on current moral and social attitudes of humans towards robots and other artificial entities. This suggests an important gap for psychological, sociological, economic, and organizational research on how artificial entities will be integrated into society and the factors that will determine how the interests of artificial entities are considered.

Concluding Remarks

Many scholars lament that the moral consideration of artificial entities is discussed infrequently and not viewed as a proper object of academic inquiry. This literature review suggests that these perceptions are no longer entirely accurate. The number of publications is growing exponentially, and most scholars view artificial entities as potentially warranting moral consideration. Still, there are important gaps remaining, suggesting promising opportunities for further research, and the field remains small overall with only 294 items identified in this review.

These discussions have taken place largely separately from each other: legal rights, moral consideration, empirical research on human attitudes, and theoretical exploration of the risks of astronomical suffering among future artificial entities. Further contributions should seek to better integrate these discussions. The analytical frameworks used in one topic may offer valuable contributions to another. For example, what do legal precedent and empirical psychological research suggest are the most likely outcomes for future artificial sentience (as an example of studying likely technological outcomes, see Reese and Mohorčich, 2019)? What do virtue ethics and rights theories suggest is desirable in these plausible future scenarios?

Despite interest in the topic from policy-makers and the public, there is a notable lack of empirical data about attitudes towards the moral consideration of artificial entities. This leaves scope for surveys and focus groups on a far wider range of predictors of attitudes, experiments that test the effect of various messages and content on these attitudes, and qualitative and computational text analysis of news articles, opinion pieces, and science fiction books and films that touch on these topics. There are also many theoretically interesting questions to be asked about how these attitudes relate to other facets of human society, such as human in-group-out-group and human-animal interactions.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Marina Ovsyannikova: Profile in Courage

From Julia Davis
Julia translates:

"What is currently happening in Ukraine is a crime. Russia is a country-aggressor. All responsibility for this aggression lies on the conscience of one person: Vladimir Putin. My father is Ukrainian, my mother is Russian. They were never enemies. This necklace around my neck signifies that Russia should immediately stop this fratricidal war and our brotherly nations can make peace with each other.

Unfortunately, for the last several years I worked at Channel One, promoting Kremlin propaganda and for that I am very ashamed right now. I am ashamed that I allowed lies to be told from TV screens, that I allowed Russian people to be zombified. We stayed quiet when all of this was just getting started in 2014. We didn't come out to protest when the Kremlin poisoned Navalny. We continued to quietly watch this inhumane regime. Now the whole world turned away from us. Ten generations of our descendants won't be able to wash away the shame of this fratricidal war.

Can you be too moral?

Tim Dean
TEDx Sydney

Interesting introduction to moral certainty and dichotomous thinking.

One of the biggest challenges of our time is not people without morals, according to philosopher Tim Dean. It is often those with unwavering moral convictions who are the most dangerous. Tim challenges us to change the way we think about morality, right and wrong, to be more adaptable in order to solve the new and emerging problems of our modern lives. Tim Dean is a Sydney-based philosopher and science writer. He is the author of How We Became Human, a book about how our evolved moral minds are out of step with the modern world. He has a Doctorate in philosophy from the University of New South Wales on the evolution of morality and has expertise in ethics, philosophy of biology and critical thinking. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Do Obligations Follow the Mind or Body?

Protzko, J., Tobia, K., Strohminger, N.,
& Schooler, J.  (2022, February 7). 
Retrieved from psyarxiv.com/m5a6g


Do you persist as the same person over time because you keep the same mind or because you keep the same body? Philosophers have long investigated this question of personal identity with thought experiments. Cognitive scientists have joined this tradition by assessing lay intuitions about those cases. Much of this work has focused on judgments of identity continuity. But identity also has practical significance: obligations are tagged to one’s identity over time. Understanding how someone persists as the same person over time could provide insight into how and why moral and legal obligations persist. In this paper, we investigate judgments of obligations in hypothetical cases where a person’s mind and body diverge (e.g., brain transplant cases). We find a striking pattern of results: In assigning obligations in these identity test cases, people are divided among three groups: “body-followers”, “mind-followers”, and “splitters”—people who say that the obligation is split between the mind and the body. Across studies, responses are predicted by a variety of factors, including mind/body dualism, essentialism, education, and professional training. When we give this task to professional lawyers, accountants, and bankers, we find they are more inclined to rely on bodily continuity in tracking obligations. These findings reveal not only the heterogeneity of intuitions about identity, but how these intuitions relate to the legal standing of an individual’s obligations.

From the General Discussion

Whether one is a mind-follower, body-follower, or splitter was predicted by several psychological traits, suggesting that participants’ decisions were not arbitrary. Furthermore, the use of comprehension checks did not moderate the results, so the variety of assigning obligations were not due to participants not understanding the scenarios. We found physical essentialism and mind/body dualism predict body-following; while the best educated participants are more likely mind-followers and the least educated are more likely splitters. The professional experts were more likely to be body-followers.

Essentialism predicted the belief that obligations track the body. This may seem mysterious, until we consider that much of essentialism has to do with tracking a physical (if invisible) properties. Here is a sample item from the Beliefs in Essentialism Scale: Trying on a sweater that Hitler wore, even if it was washed thoroughly beforehand, would make me very uncomfortable (Horne & Cimpian, 2019). If someone believes that essences are physically real in this way, it makes sense that they would also believe that obligations and identity go with the body. 

Consideration of specific items in the Mind/body Dualism Scale (Nadelhoffer et al., 2014) similarly offer insight into its relationship with the continuity of obligation in this study. Items like Human action can only be understood in terms of our souls and minds and not just in terms of our brains, indicate that for mind/body dualists, a person is not reducible to their brain. Accordingly, for mind/body dualists, though the brain may change, something else remains in the body that maintains both identity and obligations.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

The Moral Injury of COVID: How Will Nurses Survive?

Diane M. Goodman
Originally posted 11 FEB 22

Here are some excerpts:

According to recent statistics, 1 in 5 nurses have retired from active duty since the pandemic began. Far from feeling like heroes, nurses now feel exhausted, demoralized, underappreciated, and severely overworked. They are broken in ways that cannot be repaired.

Recently, an intensive care unit nurse abandoned his shift in the middle of the night and walked off into the unknown only to be found deceased 2 days later. What happened to this caregiver? Was his distress so severe he could not communicate pain? One can only wonder.

Nurses across the country are suffering from moral injury.


This is what nurses feel prepared to do, but it violates their moral code.

Nurses may be unfamiliar with the process of rationing care, but the pandemic has changed that perspective. Nurses are now dealing with a form of rationing that leaves them miserable, in tears, and in persistent distress.

Providing care for 10 patients as opposed to a maximum of five forces nurses to make appalling decisions. Which patient needs my attention now? Will another patient die while I am in this room? How can I choose without suffering lasting trauma from my decisions?

Nurses have repeatedly been placed in impossible situations throughout the pandemic.

Remember the early days of PPE shortages? Nurses went without appropriate attire to protect their peers, at times with fatal results. 


The profession prides itself on delivering the highest quality care it can. But when was the last time nurses felt that they were meeting this standard? How can they? They are working in a system where their own needs are minimized to meet the demands of an ongoing COVID patient population.

Moral injury, which can lead to moral trauma if unresolved, is different from burnout. 

Moral injury affects our sense of right and wrong. Moral injury is different because it represents a situation of witnessing care or offering care that conflicts with our internal compass. It is witnessing patients die without loved ones, repeatedly, or instituting a crisis standard of care that feels endless, although no earthquake, tornado, or bus accident has occurred. It is a feeling of running behind without the possibility of ever getting a break.

Moral injury is lasting distress that leads to feelings such as guilt, anger, and shame. There are true psychological implications for this type of angst. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Christian Nationalism and Political Violence: Victimhood, Racial Identity, Conspiracy, and Support for the Capitol Attacks

Armaly, M.T., Buckley, D.T. & Enders, A.M. 
Polit Behav (2022). 


What explains popular support for political violence in the contemporary United States, particularly the anti-institutional mob that attacked the U.S. Capitol in January 2021? Recent scholarship gives reason to suspect that a constellation of beliefs known as “Christian nationalism” may be associated with support for such violence. We build on this work, arguing that religious ideologies like Christian nationalism should be associated with support for violence, conditional on several individual characteristics that can be inflamed by elite cues. We turn to three such factors long-studied by scholars of political violence: perceived victimhood, reinforcing racial and religious identities, and support for conspiratorial information sources. Each can be exacerbated by elite cues, thus translating individual beliefs in Christian nationalism into support for political violence. We test this approach with original survey data collected in the wake of the Capitol attacks. We find that all the identified factors are positively related to each other and support for the Capitol riot; moreover, the relationship between Christian nationalism and support for political violence is sharply conditioned by white identity, perceived victimhood, and support for the QAnon movement. These results suggest that religion’s role in contemporary right-wing violence is embedded with non-religious factors that deserve further scholarly attention in making sense of support for political violence.

From Discussion and Implications

While this is not a piece of policy analysis, our findings do come with implications for governmental efforts to confront domestic extremism, which have received significant attention in the shadow of January 6. First and foremost, these efforts could repeat mistakes of earlier generations of policy designed to counter violent extremism, which tended to focus on religious ideology or beliefs in isolation. The results we present here suggest that efforts to promote “moderate” Christianity are likely to run into similar obstacles to twenty years of limited results from efforts to promote “moderate” Islam or mobilize government resources to win a “war of ideas” within Islam. Instead, religion’s impact on support for extremist violence is likely to be “interactive” (Mandaville & Nozell, 2017, 1). In this case, for example, the strong conditioning effect of support for the QAnon movement suggests the urgent need for increased data collection on the explicit or implicit ways in which conspiratorial disinformation spreads through religious congregations and institutions. Moreover, as victimhood and white identity can be cued and strategically employed by political elites (Armaly and Enders Forthcoming; Jardina 2019), our results suggest attention to the types of messages from political and religious leaders intended to exacerbate the factors that condition the impact of Christian nationalism.

Our findings, drawn from one sample and an observational research design, also provide ample opportunities for further research. First, we theorize, but do not directly observe or test, that the factors enhancing Christian nationalism’s effect on support for violence are tied to changing top-down mechanisms such as the supply of anti-establishment elite cues. Research has documented the ability of elite cues to stoke victimhood, white identity, and conspiracy beliefs, and Christian nationalism itself could well be manipulable in a similar way. Various experimental approaches could probe the mass-level effects of elite communication strategies. Building on recent experimental research (Buckley, 2020; Margolis, 2018), these designs could test which types of individuals are most responsive to Christian nationalist cues, and further investigate the reinforcing nature of cues that blend religious, racial, and even conspiratorial content. A significant body of recent research on clergy influence (Dujpe and Gilbert 2009), including attitudes related to tolerance (Djupe 2015), suggests that clergy influence may be substantial, but also contingent.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Biden Team Gets It Right on Inadmissibility of Torture Evidence

Tess Bridgeman
Originally posted 1 FEB 22

The Biden administration just took an important step to restore the rule of law in the Al-Nashiri case at the Guantanamo military commissions: it categorically rejected the use of statements obtained through torture at any stage in the proceedings and promised that the government will not seek to admit any statements the petitioner made while in CIA custody. This should be unremarkable, as it clearly reflects U.S. domestic and international legal obligations and Biden administration policy, but the position the Department of Justice (DOJ) took in its brief filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday is actually an about-face from the position prosecutors took before the military commission judge. The Al-Nashiri case has a long history, but this most recent controversy stems from prosecutors’ decision to seek to admit statements obtained through torture in pre-trial proceedings in the capital case of Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Al-Nashiri, the “alleged mastermind” of the U.S.S. Cole bombing. Although the prosecution eventually withdrew the particular statements at issue, it had essentially reserved the right to rely on torture-obtained evidence in future proceedings. 

In October of last year, Al-Nashiri filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that sought “to enjoin the government from offering, and the military commission judge from considering, torture-derived evidence.” The much-awaited U.S. government response — called a “moment of truth” for the Biden administration on torture — came yesterday. 


The government is taking the issue seriously in this case; but what about the other cases? 

The government brief states that it has “conducted a search of this case’s voluminous record, including the prosecution’s ex parte submissions” to determine whether there have been any “past orders predicated on evidence admitted in violation of” the Military Commissions Act’s prohibition of the admission of statements obtained through torture or CIDT. It found one, and has committed to “move promptly to correct” the error. This shows the administration is taking the issue seriously. 

But given al-Nashiri isn’t the only petitioner who was in the CIA’s black sites, and that the prosecution regularly makes ex parte submissions in commission proceedings, there may be instances in other cases pending before the military commissions where the same problem is lurking and could compromise the prosecution. If it isn’t doing so already, the government would be wise to undertake a thorough review of all commissions cases and withdraw any submissions it might find that contain information obtained from torture or CIDT.

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

As Suicide Attempts Rise in America, Mental Health Care Remains Stagnant

Kara Grant
Originally posted 19 JAN 22

Despite the substantial increase in suicide attempts among U.S. adults over the last decade, use of mental health services by these individuals didn't match that growth, data from the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed.

From 2008 to 2019, suicide attempts among adults increased from 481.2 to 563.9 per 100,000 (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] 1.23, 95% CI 1.05-1.44, P=0.01), reported Greg Rhee, PhD, of the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, and colleagues.

And according to their study in JAMA Psychiatry, there was a significant uptick in the number of individuals that attempted suicide within the past year who said they felt they needed mental health services but failed to receive it (34.8% in 2010-2011 vs 45.5% in 2018-2019).

Overall, the researchers found no significant changes in the likelihood of receiving past-year outpatient, inpatient, or medication services for mental health reasons, nor any change in substance use treatment services. An increase in the number of visits to mental health centers was detected, but even this change was no longer significant after correcting for different sources of mental health care.

"One would hope that as suicide attempts increase, the percentage of individuals who receive treatment in proximity to their attempt would also increase," Rhee and colleagues wrote. "Current suicide prevention interventions largely focus on individuals connected to treatment and high-risk individuals who have contact with the health care system."

"However, our finding that less than half of suicide attempters had clinical contact around the time of their attempt suggest[s] that it is not only important to expand initiatives for high-risk individuals with clinical contact, but also to implement public health-oriented strategies outside the formal treatment system," they suggested.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

"Without Her Consent" Harvard Allegedly Obtained Title IX Complainant’s Outside Psychotherapy Records, Absent Her Permission

Colleen Flaherty
Inside Higher Ed
Originally published 10 FEB 22

Here are two excerpts:

Harvard provided background information about how its dispute resolution office works, saying that it doesn’t contact a party’s medical care provider except when a party has indicated that the provider has relevant information that the party wants the office to consider. In that case, the office receives information from the care provider only with the party’s consent.

Multiple legal experts said Wednesday that this is the established protocol across higher education.

Asked for more details about what happened, Kilburn’s lawyer, Carolin Guentert, said that Kilburn’s therapist is a private provider unaffiliated with Harvard, and “we understand that ODR contacted Ms. Kilburn’s therapist and obtained the psychotherapy notes from her sessions with Ms. Kilburn, without first seeking Ms. Kilburn’s written consent as required under HIPAA,” the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which governs patient privacy.

Asked if Kilburn ever signed a privacy waiver with her therapist that would have granted the university access to her records, Guentert said Kilburn “has no recollection of signing such a waiver, nor has Harvard provided one to us.”


Even more seriously, these experts said that Harvard would have had no right to obtain Kilburn’s mental health records from a third-party provider without her consent.

Andra J. Hutchins, a Massachusetts-based attorney who specializes in education law, said that therapy records are protected by psychotherapist-patient privilege (something akin to attorney-client privilege).

“Unless the school has an agreement with and a release from the student to provide access to those records or speak to the student’s therapist—which can be the case if a student is placed on involuntary leave due to a mental health issue—there should be no reason that a school would be able to obtain a student’s psychotherapy records,” she said.

As far as investigations under Title IX (the federal law against gender-based discrimination in education) go, questions from the investigator seeking information about the student’s psychological records aren’t permitted unless the student has given written consent, Hutchins added. “Schools have to follow state and federal health-care privacy laws throughout the Title IX process. I can’t speculate as to how or why these records were released.”

Daniel Carter, president of Safety Advisors for Educational Campuses, said that “it is absolutely illegal and improper for an institution of higher education to obtain one of their students’ private therapy records from a third party. There’s no circumstance under which that is permissible without their consent.”