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, March 31, 2024

Lifetime Suicide Attempts in Otherwise Psychiatrically Healthy Individuals

Oquendo, M. A., et al. (2024).
JAMA psychiatry, e235672.
Advance online publication.


Importance: Not all people who die by suicide have a psychiatric diagnosis; yet, little is known about the percentage and demographics of individuals with lifetime suicide attempts who are apparently psychiatrically healthy. If such suicide attempts are common, there are implications for suicide risk screening, research, policy, and nosology.

Objective: To estimate the percentage of people with lifetime suicide attempts whose first attempt occurred prior to onset of any psychiatric disorder.

Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study used data from the US National Epidemiologic Study of Addictions and Related Conditions III (NESARC-III), a cross-sectional face-to-face survey conducted with a nationally representative sample of the US civilian noninstitutionalized population, and included persons with lifetime suicide attempts who were aged 20 to 65 years at survey administration (April 2012 to June 2013). Data from the NESARC, Wave 2 survey from August 2004 to September 2005 were used for replication. Analyses were performed from April to August 2023.

Exposure: Lifetime suicide attempts.

Main outcomes and measures: The main outcome was presence or absence of a psychiatric disorder before the first lifetime suicide attempt. Among persons with lifetime suicide attempts, the percentage and 95% CI of those whose first suicide attempt occurred before the onset of any apparent psychiatric disorders was calculated, weighted by NESARC sampling and nonresponse weights. Separate analyses were performed for males, females, and 3 age groups (20 to <35, 35-50, and >50 to 65 years).

Conclusions and relevance: In this study, an estimated 19.6% of individuals who attempted suicide did so despite not meeting criteria for an antecedent psychiatric disorder. This finding challenges clinical notions of who is at risk for suicidal behavior and raises questions about the safety of limiting suicide risk screening to psychiatric populations.

Saturday, March 30, 2024

How digital media drive affective polarization through partisan sorting

Törnberg, P. (2022).
PNAS of the United States of America,


Politics has in recent decades entered an era of intense polarization. Explanations have implicated digital media, with the so-called echo chamber remaining a dominant causal hypothesis despite growing challenge by empirical evidence. This paper suggests that this mounting evidence provides not only reason to reject the echo chamber hypothesis but also the foundation for an alternative causal mechanism. To propose such a mechanism, the paper draws on the literatures on affective polarization, digital media, and opinion dynamics. From the affective polarization literature, we follow the move from seeing polarization as diverging issue positions to rooted in sorting: an alignment of differences which is effectively dividing the electorate into two increasingly homogeneous megaparties. To explain the rise in sorting, the paper draws on opinion dynamics and digital media research to present a model which essentially turns the echo chamber on its head: it is not isolation from opposing views that drives polarization but precisely the fact that digital media bring us to interact outside our local bubble. When individuals interact locally, the outcome is a stable plural patchwork of cross-cutting conflicts. By encouraging nonlocal interaction, digital media drive an alignment of conflicts along partisan lines, thus effacing the counterbalancing effects of local heterogeneity. The result is polarization, even if individual interaction leads to convergence. The model thus suggests that digital media polarize through partisan sorting, creating a maelstrom in which more and more identities, beliefs, and cultural preferences become drawn into an all-encompassing societal division.


Recent years have seen a rapid rise of affective polarization, characterized by intense negative feelings between partisan groups. This represents a severe societal risk, threatening democratic institutions and constituting a metacrisis, reducing our capacity to respond to pressing societal challenges such as climate change, pandemics, or rising inequality. This paper provides a causal mechanism to explain this rise in polarization, by identifying how digital media may drive a sorting of differences, which has been linked to a breakdown of social cohesion and rising affective polarization. By outlining a potential causal link between digital media and affective polarization, the paper suggests ways of designing digital media so as to reduce their negative consequences.

Friday, March 29, 2024

Spheres of immanent justice: Sacred violations evoke expectations of cosmic punishment, irrespective of societal punishment

Goyal, N., Savani, K., & Morris, M. W. (2023).
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 106, 104458.


People like to believe that misdeeds do not escape punishment. However, do people expect that some kinds of sins are particularly punished by “the universe,” not just by society? Five experiments (N = 1184) found that people expected more cosmic punishment for transgressions of sacred rules than transgressions of secular rules or conventions (Studies 1–3) and that this “sacred effect” holds even after violations have been punished by society (Study 4a-4b). In Study 1, participants expected more cosmic punishment for a person who had sex with a cousin (sacred taboo) than sex with a subordinate (secular harm) or sex with a family associate (convention violation). In Study 2, people expected more cosmic punishment for eating a bald eagle (sacred violation) than eating an endangered puffin (secular violation) or a farm-raised emu (convention violation). In Study 3, Hindus expected more cosmic punishment for entering a temple wearing shoes (sacred violation) rather than entering a temple wearing revealing clothing (secular violation) or sunglasses (convention violation). In all three studies, this “sacred effect” was mediated by the perceived blasphemy rather than the perceived harm, immorality, or unusualness of the violations. Study 4a measured both expectations of societal and cosmic punishment, and Study 4b measured expectations of cosmic punishment after each violation had received societal punishment. Even after violations received societal punishment, people expected more cosmic punishment for sacred violations than secular or convention violations. Results are discussed in relation to models of immanent justice and just world beliefs.

This is an article about people’s expectations of punishment for violating different social norms. It discusses the concept of immanent justice, which is the belief that people get what they deserve. The authors propose that people expect harsher cosmic punishment for violations of sacred norms, compared to secular norms or social conventions. They conducted five studies to test this hypothesis. In the studies, participants read stories about people who violated different types of norms, and then rated how likely they were to experience various punishments. The results supported the authors’ hypothesis: people expected harsher cosmic punishment for sacred norm violations, even after the violations had been punished by society. This suggests that people believe in a kind of cosmic justice that goes beyond human punishment.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Antagonistic AI

A. Cai, I. Arawjo, E. L. Glassman
Originally submitted 12 Feb 24

The vast majority of discourse around AI development assumes that subservient, "moral" models aligned with "human values" are universally beneficial -- in short, that good AI is sycophantic AI. We explore the shadow of the sycophantic paradigm, a design space we term antagonistic AI: AI systems that are disagreeable, rude, interrupting, confrontational, challenging, etc. -- embedding opposite behaviors or values. Far from being "bad" or "immoral," we consider whether antagonistic AI systems may sometimes have benefits to users, such as forcing users to confront their assumptions, build resilience, or develop healthier relational boundaries. Drawing from formative explorations and a speculative design workshop where participants designed fictional AI technologies that employ antagonism, we lay out a design space for antagonistic AI, articulating potential benefits, design techniques, and methods of embedding antagonistic elements into user experience. Finally, we discuss the many ethical challenges of this space and identify three dimensions for the responsible design of antagonistic AI -- consent, context, and framing.

Here is my summary:

This article proposes a thought-provoking concept: designing AI systems that intentionally challenge and disagree with users. It argues against the dominant view of AI as subservient and aligned with human values, instead exploring the potential benefits of "antagonistic AI" in stimulating critical thinking and challenging assumptions. While acknowledging the ethical concerns and proposing responsible design principles, the article could benefit from a deeper discussion of potential harms, concrete examples of how such AI might function, and how it would be received by users. Overall, "Antagonistic AI" is a valuable contribution that prompts further exploration and discussion on the responsible development and societal implications of such AI systems.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Whitehouse floats congressional intervention for SCOTUS fact-finding adventurism

Benjamin S. Weiss
Originally posted 21 Feb 24

One of the Senate’s most prominent Supreme Court critics on Wednesday floated the idea that Congress could step in to block the high court from what he characterized as efforts to manipulate facts in cases that benefit Republican special interests.

Under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts, the Supreme Court has had a “near-uniform pattern of handing down rulings benefitting identifiable Republican donor interests” on a smattering of issues including reproductive rights, immigration and health care, wrote Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse in an article published in the Ohio State Law Journal.

The Roberts court has presided over more than 80 5-4 rulings on issues advancing GOP policy priorities with few exceptions, he said, contending that the high court’s current conservative supermajority has pursued “results-oriented jurisprudence” for Republican political operatives.

A pattern of “extra-record fact finding” has contributed to these decisions, Whitehouse said — arguing that justices have repeatedly and improperly undertaken efforts to manipulate the facts of cases in which a lower court, or Congress, has already established a factual record.

Such malfeasance means taking the Supreme Court’s decisions on faith “is no longer automatically justified,” he said. “Too many decisions are delivered goods, not judicial work.”

Here is a summary:

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse suggests potential congressional intervention to address concerns about the Supreme Court's increasing reliance on "extra-record fact-finding" in recent rulings. He argues that this practice, where justices seemingly manipulate or ignore established facts, undermines the Court's credibility.

Whitehouse argues that a pattern of disregard for congressional findings and longstanding appellate court norms is evident in several recent Supreme Court decisions. He believes this approach benefits certain special interests and erodes trust in the Court's impartiality.

The article highlights the need for a potential response from Congress to curb this perceived judicial overreach by the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Why the largest transgender survey ever could be a powerful rebuke to myths, misinformation

Susan Miller
Originally posted 23 Feb 24

Here is an excerpt:

Laura Hoge, a clinical social worker in New Jersey who works with transgender people and their families, said the survey results underscore what she sees in her daily practice: that lives improve when access to something as basic as gender-affirming care is not restricted.

“I see children who come here sometimes not able to go to school or are completely distanced from their friends,” she said. “And when they have access to care, they can go from not going to school to trying out for their school play.”

Every time misinformation about transgender people surfaces, Hoge says she is flooded with phone calls.

The survey now gives real-world data on the lived experiences of transgender people and how their lives are flourishing, she said. “I can tell you that when I talk to families I am able to say to them: This is what other people in your child’s situation or in your situation are saying.”

Gender-affirming care has been a target of state bills

Gender-affirming care, which can involve everything from talk sessions to hormone therapy, in many ways has been ground zero in recent legislative debates over the rights of transgender people.

A poll by the Trevor Project, which provides crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ people under 25, found that 85% of trans and nonbinary youths say even the debates about these laws have negatively impacted their mental health.

In January, the Ohio Senate overrode the governor’s veto of legislation that restricted medical care for transgender young people.

The bill prohibits doctors from prescribing hormones, puberty blockers, or gender reassignment surgery before patients turn 18 and requires mental health providers to get parental permission to diagnose and treat gender dysphoria.

Here are my thoughts:

A landmark study is underway: the largest survey of transgender individuals in the United States. This comprehensive data collection holds the potential to be a powerful weapon against harmful myths and misinformation surrounding the transgender community. By providing a clear picture of their experiences, the survey can challenge misconceptions, inform policy, and ultimately improve the lives of transgender individuals. This data-driven approach has the potential to foster greater understanding and acceptance, paving the way for a more inclusive society.

Monday, March 25, 2024

Jean Maria Arrigo, Who Exposed Psychologists’ Ties to Torture, Dies at 79

Trip Gabriel
The New York Times
Originally published 19 March 24

Jean Maria Arrigo, a psychologist who exposed efforts by the American Psychological Association to obscure the role of psychologists in coercive interrogations of terror suspects in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, died on Feb. 24 at her home in Alpine, Calif. She was 79.

The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, her husband, John Crigler, said.

A headline about her as a whistle-blower in The Guardian  in 2015 put it succinctly: “‘A National Hero’: Psychologist Who Warned of Torture Collusion Gets Her Due.”

A decade earlier, Dr. Arrigo had been named to a task force by the American Psychological Association, the largest professional group of psychologists, to examine the role of trained psychologists in national security interrogations.

The 10-member panel was formed in response to news reports in 2004 about abuse at the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba, which included details about psychologists aiding in interrogations that, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, were “tantamount to torture.”

Dr. Arrigo later asserted that the A.P.A. task force was a sham — a public relations effort “to put out the fires of controversy right away,” as she told fellow psychologists in a wave-making speech in 2007.

Not all heroes wear capes.

Jean Maria Arrigo, a psychologist known for exposing the American Psychological Association's involvement in obscuring psychologists' roles in coercive interrogations post-9/11, passed away at 79 due to complications from pancreatic cancer. She was a whistleblower who revealed the APA's efforts to downplay psychologists' participation in interrogations deemed as torture. Arrigo criticized the APA's task force, stating it was a sham with ties to the Pentagon and conflicts of interest. Despite facing backlash and attacks from colleagues, she persisted in her crusade against APA complicity with brutal interrogations. Arrigo's work highlighted the ethical dilemmas faced by psychologists in national security contexts and emphasized the need for clear boundaries on involvement in such practices.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

From a Psych Hospital to Harvard Law: One Black Woman’s Journey With Bipolar Disorder

Krista L. R. Cezair
Ms. Magazine
Originally posted 22 Feb 24

Here is an excerpt:

In the spring of 2018, I was so sick that I simply couldn’t consider my future performance on the bar exam. I desperately needed help. I had very little insight into my condition and had to be involuntarily hospitalized twice. I also had to make the decision of which law school to attend between trips to the psych ward while ragingly manic. I relied on my mother and a former professor who essentially told me I would be attending Harvard. Knowing my reduced capacity for decision‐making while manic, I did not put up a fight and informed Harvard that I would be attending. The next question was: When? Everyone in my community supported me in my decision to defer law school for a year to give myself time to recover—but would Harvard do the same?

Luckily, the answer was yes, and that fall, the fall of 2018, as my admitted class began school, I was admitted to the hospital again, for bipolar depression this time.

While there, I roomed with a sweet young woman of color who was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD and was pregnant with her second child. She was unhoused and had nowhere to go should she be discharged from the hospital, which the hospital threatened to do because she refused medication. She worried that the drugs would harm her unborn child. She was out of options, and the hospital was firm. She was released before me. I wondered where she would go. She had expressed to me multiple times that she had nowhere to go, not her parents’ house, not the child’s father’s house, nowhere.

It was then that I decided I had to fight—for her and for myself. I had access to resources she couldn’t dream of, least of all shelter and a support system. I had to use these resources to get better and embark on a career that would make life better for people like her, like us.

After getting out of the hospital, I started to improve, and I could tell the depression was lifting. Unfortunately, a rockier rock bottom lay ahead of me as I started to feel too good, and the depression lifted too high. Recovery is not linear, and it seemed I was manic again.

Here are some thoughts:

In this powerful piece, Krista L. R. Cezair candidly shares her journey navigating bipolar disorder while achieving remarkable academic and professional success. She begins by describing her history of depression and suicidal thoughts, highlighting the pivotal moment of diagnosis and the challenges within mental health care facilities, particularly for marginalized groups. Cezair eloquently connects her personal experience with broader issues of systemic bias and lack of understanding around mental health, especially within prestigious institutions like Harvard Law School. Her article advocates for destigmatizing mental health struggles and recognizing the resilience and contributions of those living with mental illness.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

How prosocial actors use power hierarchies to build moral reputation

Inesi, M. E., & Rios, K. (2023).
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology,
106, 104441.


Power hierarchies are ubiquitous, emerging formally and informally, in both personal and professional contexts. When prosocial acts are offered within power hierarchies, there is a widespread belief that people who choose lower-power beneficiaries are altruistically motivated, and that those who choose higher-power beneficiaries hold a self-interested motive to ingratiate. In contrast, the current research empirically demonstrates that people can also choose lower-power beneficiaries for self-interested reasons – namely, to bolster their own moral reputation in the group. Across three pre-registered studies, involving different contexts and types of prosocial behavior, and including real financial incentives, we demonstrate that people are more likely to choose lower-power beneficiaries when reputation concerns are more salient. We also provide evidence of the mechanism underlying this pattern: people believe that choosing a lower-power beneficiary more effectively signals their own moral character.


• How do prosocial actors choose their beneficiaries in hierarchies?

• People increasingly choose lower-power beneficiaries when concerned with reputation

• This pattern is driven by a desire to signal high moral character to others

• This implies a short-term re-distribution of resources to lower-power individuals

Some thoughts:

This research challenges the common assumption that prosocial behavior towards lower-status individuals always stems from altruism, while helping those with higher power reflects self-interest. It explores how actors navigate power hierarchies to build their moral reputation.

Key findings:

Reputation matters: People are more likely to choose lower-power beneficiaries when their moral reputation is salient (e.g., being observed by others).

Strategic signaling: Choosing lower-power recipients is seen as a stronger signal of good character, even if the motivation is self-serving.

Not just altruism: Prosocial behavior can be used strategically to gain social approval and build a positive reputation, regardless of the beneficiary's status.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Nearly 50,000 veterans used free emergency suicide prevention in first year of program, VA says

K. Watson and S. Cook
CBS News
Originally posted 17 Jan 24

Here is an excerpt:

A 2021 Brown University study estimated that more than 30,000 veterans of post-9/11 conflicts have died by suicide, more than four times the 7,057 U.S. military personnel killed at the time in those conflicts. 

And the veteran suicide rate has outpaced the rate of the general U.S. public. A 2023 report by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that in 2021, the suicide rate for veterans was 71.8% higher than non-veterans when adjusted for age and sex differences.

That same report found that 6,392 veterans died by suicide in 2021, an average of more than 17 veterans taking their lives every day.

In November 2021, the Biden administration released a new national strategy to reduce military and veteran suicide, calling it a "public health and national security crisis."

"I've often said that we have only one truly sacred obligation as Americans—to prepare and properly equip our women and men in uniform when we send them into harm's way, and to care for them and their families when they return," President Biden wrote in the introduction to the strategy document. "Yet for too many who are serving or have served, we are falling short."

Key points:

49,714 veterans accessed the program: This translates to over $64 million saved in healthcare costs.

Program covers: Emergency room care, inpatient/crisis residential care for up to 30 days, and outpatient care for up to 90 days.

Accessibility: Veterans don't need to be enrolled in the VA system to qualify.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

AI-synthesized faces are indistinguishable from real faces and more trustworthy

Nightingale, S. J., & Farid, H. (2022).
PNAS of the USA, 119(8).


Artificial intelligence (AI)–synthesized text, audio, image, and video are being weaponized for the purposes of nonconsensual intimate imagery, financial fraud, and disinformation campaigns. Our evaluation of the photorealism of AI-synthesized faces indicates that synthesis engines have passed through the uncanny valley and are capable of creating faces that are indistinguishable—and more trustworthy—than real faces.

Here is part of the Discussion section

Synthetically generated faces are not just highly photorealistic, they are nearly indistinguishable from real faces and are judged more trustworthy. This hyperphotorealism is consistent with recent findings. These two studies did not contain the same diversity of race and gender as ours, nor did they match the real and synthetic faces as we did to minimize the chance of inadvertent cues. While it is less surprising that White male faces are highly realistic—because these faces dominate the neural network training—we find that the realism of synthetic faces extends across race and gender. Perhaps most interestingly, we find that synthetically generated faces are more trustworthy than real faces. This may be because synthesized faces tend to look more like average faces which themselves are deemed more trustworthy. Regardless of the underlying reason, synthetically generated faces have emerged on the other side of the uncanny valley. This should be considered a success for the fields of computer graphics and vision. At the same time, easy access (https://thispersondoesnotexist.com) to such high-quality fake imagery has led and will continue to lead to various problems, including more convincing online fake profiles and—as synthetic audio and video generation continues to improve—problems of nonconsensual intimate imagery, fraud, and disinformation campaigns, with serious implications for individuals, societies, and democracies.

We, therefore, encourage those developing these technologies to consider whether the associated risks are greater than their benefits. If so, then we discourage the development of technology simply because it is possible. If not, then we encourage the parallel development of reasonable safeguards to help mitigate the inevitable harms from the resulting synthetic media. Safeguards could include, for example, incorporating robust watermarks into the image and video synthesis networks that would provide a downstream mechanism for reliable identification. Because it is the democratization of access to this powerful technology that poses the most significant threat, we also encourage reconsideration of the often laissez-faire approach to the public and unrestricted releasing of code for anyone to incorporate into any application.

Here are some important points:

This research raises concerns about the potential for misuse of AI-generated faces in areas like deepfakes and disinformation campaigns.

It also opens up interesting questions about how we perceive trust and authenticity in our increasingly digital world.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Biden just signed the largest executive order focused on women’s health

Jennifer Gerson
Originally posted 19 March 24

President Joe Biden on Monday signed an executive order directing the most comprehensive set of actions ever taken by the president’s office to expand and improve research on women’s health. In a statement, the president and First Lady Jill Biden also announced more than 20 new actions and commitments by a wide range of federal agencies for research on issues that emerge across a woman’s lifespan, from maternal health outcomes and mental health challenges to autoimmune diseases and menopause. 

The announcement follows the November creation of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council. Currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spends only 10.8% of its overall funding on women’s health research, a figure that includes conditions specific to women and those that predominantly affect women. 

Congress first ordered the NIH to include women in clinical trials in 1993; in 2016, the NIH strengthened its own standards so that its grantees must justify if women are not included in any specific clinical trial and explain how any effects on women will be studied and analyzed. Monday’s announcement seeks to ensure that this same kind of accountability is applied to every federal research program. 

Jennifer Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council, told The 19th that with Monday’s announcement, the Biden administration is seeking to close existing research gaps when it comes to women’s health so that women’s experiences with the health care system can be changed for the better. 

Here is my summary:

President Joe Biden recently signed a significant executive order focused on women's health, marking a historic move towards advancing women's healthcare research. The order includes over 20 new actions and commitments across various federal agencies, aiming to address research gaps in women's health. Key components of the order involve prioritizing women's health research, strengthening data standards, focusing on midlife health issues like heart attacks and Alzheimer's disease, and enhancing accountability in federal research programs. This initiative also emphasizes the importance of understanding conditions that uniquely affect women, such as endometriosis and menopause. Additionally, the order directs efforts towards addressing tribal beliefs related to menopause, improving mental health services for women, and conducting new research on nutritional needs. Biden's executive order underscores a comprehensive approach to women's health beyond reproductive care, highlighting the need for increased funding and research in areas where women have been historically underrepresented.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

As guns rise to leading cause of death among US children, research funding to help prevent and protect victims lags

Deidre McPhillips
Originally posted 7 Feb 24

More children die from guns than anything else in the United States, but relatively little funding is available to study how to prevent these tragedies.

From 2008 to 2017, about $12 million in federal research awards were granted to study pediatric firearm mortality each year – about $600 per life lost, according to a study published in Health Affairs. Motor vehicle crashes, the leading cause of death among children at the time, received about $26,000 of research funding per death, while funding to study pediatric cancer, the third leading cause of death, topped $195,000 per death.

By 2020, firearm deaths in the US had reached record levels and guns had surpassed car crashes to become the leading cause of death among children. More than 4,300 children and teens died from guns in 2020, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – a 27% jump from 2017, and a number that has only continued to rise. But federal dollars haven’t followed proportionately.

Congress has earmarked about $25 million for firearm injury prevention research each year since 2020, split evenly between the CDC and the National Institutes of Health. Even if all of those dollars were spent on studies focused on pediatric deaths from firearm injury, it’d still be less than $6,000 per death.

The article highlights the critical need for increased research funding to prevent firearm-related deaths among children and teens in the U.S. Despite guns becoming the leading cause of death in this demographic, research funding remains insufficient. This lack of investment hinders the development of life-saving solutions and policies to address gun violence effectively. To protect our youth and combat this pressing issue, substantial and sustained funding for research on gun violence prevention is imperative.

Or, we could have more sensible gun laws to protect children and adolescents.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Mega Malpractice Verdicts Against Physicians on the Rise

Alicia Gallegos
Originally posted 2 Feb 24

Here is an excerpt:

Why Are Juries Awarding Higher Verdicts?

There's no single reason for the rise in nuclear verdicts, Henderson said.

One theory is that plaintiffs' attorneys held back on resolving high-dollar cases during the COVID pandemic and let loose with high-demand claims when courts returned to normal, he said.

Another theory is that people emerged from the pandemic angrier.

"Whether it was political dynamics, masking [mandates], or differences in opinions, people came out of it angry, and generally speaking, you don't want an angry jury," Henderson said. "For a while, there was the halo effect, where health professionals were seen as heroes. That went away, and all of a sudden [they] became 'the bad guys'."

"People are angry at the healthcare system, and this anger manifests itself in [liability] suits," added Bill Burns, vice president of research for the Medical Professional Liability Association, an industry group for medical liability insurers.

Hospital and medical group consolidation also reduces the personal connection juries may have with healthcare providers, Burns said.

"Healthcare has become a big business, and the corporatization of medicine now puts companies on the stand and not your local community hospital or your family doctor that you have known since birth," he said.

Plaintiffs' attorneys also deploy tactics that can prompt higher verdicts, White said. They may tell a jury that the provider or hospital is a threat to the community and that awarding a large verdict will deter others in the healthcare community from repeating the same actions.

Juries may then want to punish the defendant in addition to assessing damages for economic harm or pain and suffering, White said.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

The Argument Over a Long-Standing Autism Intervention

Jessica Winter
The New Yorker
Originally posted 12 Feb 24

Here are excerpts:

A.B.A. is the only autism intervention that is approved by insurers and Medicaid in all fifty states. The practice is widely recommended for autistic kids who exhibit dangerous behaviors, such as self-injury or aggression toward others, or who need to acquire basic skills, such as dressing themselves or going to the bathroom. The mother of a boy with severe autism in New York City told me that her son’s current goals in A.B.A. include tolerating the shower for incrementally longer intervals, redirecting the urge to pull on other people’s hair, and using a speech tablet to say no. Another kid might be working on more complex language skills by drilling with flash cards or honing his ability to focus on academic work. Often, A.B.A. targets autistic traits that may be socially stigmatizing but are harmless unto themselves, such as fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, or stereotypic behaviors commonly known as stimming—rocking, hand-flapping, and so forth.


In recent years, A.B.A. has come under increasingly vehement criticism from members of the neurodiversity movement, who believe that it cruelly pathologizes autistic behavior. They say that its rewards for compliance are dehumanizing; some compare A.B.A. to conversion therapy. Social-media posts condemning the practice often carry the hashtag #ABAIsAbuse. The message that A.B.A. sends is that “your instinctual way of being is incorrect,” Zoe Gross, the director of advocacy at the nonprofit Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told me. “The goals of A.B.A. therapy—from its inception, but still through today—tend to focus on teaching autistic people to behave like non-autistic people.” But others say this criticism obscures the good work that A.B.A. can do. Alicia Allgood, a board-certified behavior analyst who co-runs an A.B.A. agency in New York City, and who is herself autistic, told me, “The autistic community is up in arms. There is a very vocal part of the autistic population that is saying that A.B.A. is harmful or aversive or has potentially caused trauma.”


In recent years, private equity has taken a voracious interest in A.B.A. services, partly because they are perceived as inexpensive. Private-equity firms have consolidated many small clinics into larger chains, where providers are often saddled with unrealistic billing quotas and cut-and-paste treatment plans. Last year, the Center for Economic and Policy Research published a startling report on the subject, which included an account of how Blackstone effectively bankrupted a successful A.B.A. provider and shut down more than a hundred of its treatment sites. Private-equity-owned A.B.A. chains have been accused of fraudulent billing and wage theft; message boards for A.B.A. providers overflow with horror stories about low pay, churn, and burnout. High rates of turnover are acutely damaging to a specialty that relies on familiarity between provider and client. “The idea that we could just franchise A.B.A. providers and anyone could do the work—that was misinformed,” Singer, of the Autism Science Foundation, said.

Saturday, March 16, 2024

A New Equilibrium for Telemedicine: Prevalence of In-Person, Video-Based, and Telephone-Based Care in the Veterans Health Administration, 2019–2023

Ferguson, J. M., Wray, C. M., et al. (2024).
Annals of internal medicine, 10.7326/M23-2644.
Advance online publication.

Here is part of a synopsis from The Washington Post.

More than half of mental health appointments — 55 percent — are being conducted remotely, mainly via videoconferencing rather than in-person visits, according to a brief research report in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Telemedicine, also known as telehealth, enables patients to obtain care via technology, most often a cellphone, video chat, computer or tablet.

The study’s findings stem from analysis of patient information from Jan. 1, 2019, through Aug. 31, 2023, from the Department of Veterans Affairs; it included data on more than 277 million outpatient visits made by 9 million veterans.

The research confirmed that the volume of telemedicine visits overall increased dramatically once the coronavirus pandemic began, becoming far more common than in-person visits.

For primary care and mental health care, for instance, the researchers found that in-person appointments dropped from 81 percent to 23 percent in the first few months of the pandemic. By spring 2023, however, phone-based care largely had returned to its pre-pandemic level, but video-based care had stayed close to its pandemic peak, representing a 2,300 percent increase from its pre-pandemic level.

Friday, March 15, 2024

The consciousness wars: can scientists ever agree on how the mind works?

Mariana Lenharo

Neuroscientist Lucia Melloni didn’t expect to be reminded of her parents’ divorce when she attended a meeting about consciousness research in 2018. But, much like her parents, the assembled academics couldn’t agree on anything.

The group of neuroscientists and philosophers had convened at the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, Washington, to devise a way to empirically test competing theories of consciousness against each other: a process called adversarial collaboration.

Devising a killer experiment was fraught. “Of course, each of them was proposing experiments for which they already knew the expected results,” says Melloni, who led the collaboration and is based at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany. Melloni, falling back on her childhood role, became the go-between.

The collaboration Melloni is leading is one of five launched by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, a philanthropic organization based in Nassau, the Bahamas. The charity funds research into topics such as spirituality, polarization and religion; in 2019, it committed US$20 million to the five projects.

The aim of each collaboration is to move consciousness research forward by getting scientists to produce evidence that supports one theory and falsifies the predictions of another. Melloni’s group is testing two prominent ideas: integrated information theory (IIT), which claims that consciousness amounts to the degree of ‘integrated information’ generated by a system such as the human brain; and global neuronal workspace theory (GNWT), which claims that mental content, such as perceptions and thoughts, becomes conscious when the information is broadcast across the brain through a specialized network, or workspace. She and her co-leaders had to mediate between the main theorists, and seldom invited them into the same room.
Here's what the article highlights:
  • Divisions abound: Researchers disagree on the very definition of consciousness, making comparisons between theories difficult. Some focus on subjective experience, while others look at the brain's functions.
  • Testing head-to-head: New research projects are directly comparing competing theories to see which one explains experimental data better. This could be a step towards finding a unifying explanation.
  • Heated debate: The recent critique of one prominent theory, Integrated Information Theory (IIT), shows the depth of the disagreements. Some question its scientific validity, while others defend it as a viable framework.
  • Hope for progress: Despite the disagreements, there's optimism. New research methods and a younger generation of researchers focused on collaboration could lead to breakthroughs in understanding this elusive phenomenon.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

A way forward for responsibility in the age of AI

Gogoshin, D.L.
Inquiry (2024)


Whatever one makes of the relationship between free will and moral responsibility – e.g. whether it’s the case that we can have the latter without the former and, if so, what conditions must be met; whatever one thinks about whether artificially intelligent agents might ever meet such conditions, one still faces the following questions. What is the value of moral responsibility? If we take moral responsibility to be a matter of being a fitting target of moral blame or praise, what are the goods attached to them? The debate concerning ‘machine morality’ is often hinged on whether artificial agents are or could ever be morally responsible, and it is generally taken for granted (following Matthias 2004) that if they cannot, they pose a threat to the moral responsibility system and associated goods. In this paper, I challenge this assumption by asking what the goods of this system, if any, are, and what happens to them in the face of artificially intelligent agents. I will argue that they neither introduce new problems for the moral responsibility system nor do they threaten what we really (ought to) care about. I conclude the paper with a proposal for how to secure this objective.

Here is my summary:

While AI may not possess true moral agency, it's crucial to consider how the development and use of AI can be made more responsible. The author challenges the assumption that AI's lack of moral responsibility inherently creates problems for our current system of ethics. Instead, they focus on the "goods" this system provides, such as deserving blame or praise, and how these can be upheld even with AI's presence. To achieve this, the author proposes several steps, including:
  1. Shifting the focus from AI's moral agency to the agency of those who design, build, and use it. This means holding these individuals accountable for the societal impacts of AI.
  2. Developing clear ethical guidelines for AI development and use. These guidelines should be comprehensive, addressing issues like fairness, transparency, and accountability.
  3. Creating robust oversight mechanisms. This could involve independent bodies that monitor AI development and use, and have the power to intervene when necessary.
  4. Promoting public understanding of AI. This will help people make informed decisions about how AI is used in their lives and hold developers and users accountable.

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

None of these people exist, but you can buy their books on Amazon anyway

Conspirador Norteno
Originally published 12 Jan 24

Meet Jason N. Martin N. Martin, the author of the exciting and dynamic Amazon bestseller “How to Talk to Anyone: Master Small Talks, Elevate Your Social Skills, Build Genuine Connections (Make Real Friends; Boost Confidence & Charisma)”, which is the 857,233rd most popular book on the Kindle Store as of January 12th, 2024. There are, however, a few obvious problems. In addition to the unnecessary repetition of the middle initial and last name, Mr. N. Martin N. Martin’s official portrait is a GAN-generated face, and (as we’ll see shortly), his sole published work is strangely similar to several books by another Amazon author with a GAN-generated face.

In an interesting twist, Amazon’s recommendation system suggests another author with a GAN-generated face in the “Customers also bought items by” section of Jason N. Martin N. Martin’s author page. Further exploration of the recommendations attached to both of these authors and their published works reveals a set of a dozen Amazon authors with GAN-generated faces and at least one published book. Amazon’s recommendation algorithms reliably link these authors together; whether this is a sign that the twelve author accounts are actually run by the same entity or merely an artifact of similarities in the content of their books is unclear at this point in time. 

Here's my take:

Forget literary pen names - AI is creating a new trend on Amazon: ghostwritten books. These novels, poetry collections, and even children's stories boast intriguing titles and blurbs, yet none of the authors on the cover are real people. Instead, their creations spring from the algorithms of powerful language models.

Here's the gist:
  • AI churns out content: Fueled by vast datasets of text and code, AI can generate chapters, characters, and storylines at an astonishing pace.
  • Ethical concerns: Questions swirl around copyright, originality, and the very nature of authorship. Is an AI-generated book truly a book, or just a clever algorithm mimicking creativity?
  • Quality varies: While some AI-written books garner praise, others are criticized for factual errors, nonsensical plots, and robotic dialogue.
  • Transparency is key: Many readers feel deceived by the lack of transparency about AI authorship. Should books disclose their digital ghostwriters?
This evolving technology challenges our understanding of literature and raises questions about the future of authorship. While AI holds potential to assist and inspire, the human touch in storytelling remains irreplaceable. So, the next time you browse Amazon, remember: the author on the cover might not be who they seem.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Discerning Saints: Moralization of Intrinsic Motivation and Selective Prosociality at Work

Kwon, M., Cunningham, J. L., & 
Jachimowicz, J. M. (2023).
Academy of Management Journal, 66(6),


Intrinsic motivation has received widespread attention as a predictor of positive work outcomes, including employees’ prosocial behavior. We offer a more nuanced view by proposing that intrinsic motivation does not uniformly increase prosocial behavior toward all others. Specifically, we argue that employees with higher intrinsic motivation are more likely to value intrinsic motivation and associate it with having higher morality (i.e., they moralize it). When employees moralize intrinsic motivation, they perceive others with higher intrinsic motivation as being more moral and thus engage in more prosocial behavior toward those others, and judge others who are less intrinsically motivated as less moral and thereby engage in less prosocial behaviors toward them. We provide empirical support for our theoretical model across a large-scale, team-level field study in a Latin American financial institution (n = 784, k = 185) and a set of three online studies, including a preregistered experiment (n = 245, 243, and 1,245), where we develop a measure of the moralization of intrinsic motivation and provide both causal and mediating evidence. This research complicates our understanding of intrinsic motivation by revealing how its moralization may at times dim the positive light of intrinsic motivation itself.

The article is paywalled.  Here are some thoughts:

This study focuses on how intrinsically motivated employees (those who enjoy their work) might act differently towards other employees depending on their own level of intrinsic motivation. The key points are:

Main finding: Employees with high intrinsic motivation tend to associate higher morality with others who also have high intrinsic motivation. This leads them to offer more help and support to those similar colleagues, while judging and helping less to those with lower intrinsic motivation.

Theoretical framework: The concept of "moralization of intrinsic motivation" (MOIM) explains this behavior. Essentially, intrinsic motivation becomes linked to moral judgment, influencing who is seen as "good" and deserving of help.

  • For theory: This research adds a new dimension to understanding intrinsic motivation, highlighting the potential for judgment and selective behavior.
  • For practice: Managers and leaders should be aware of the unintended consequences of promoting intrinsic motivation, as it might create bias and division among employees.
  • For employees: Those lacking intrinsic motivation might face disadvantages due to judgment from colleagues. They could try job crafting or seeking alternative support strategies.
Overall, the study reveals a nuanced perspective on intrinsic motivation, acknowledging its positive aspects while recognizing its potential to create inequality and ethical concerns.

Monday, March 11, 2024

Why People Fail to Notice Horrors Around Them

Tali Sharot and Cass R. Sunstein
The New York Times
Originally posted 25 Feb 24

The miraculous history of our species is peppered with dark stories of oppression, tyranny, bloody wars, savagery, murder and genocide. When looking back, we are often baffled and ask: Why weren't the horrors halted earlier? How could people have lived with them?

The full picture is immensely complicated. But a significant part of it points to the rules that govern the operations of the human brain.

Extreme political movements, as well as deadly conflicts, often escalate slowly. When threats start small and increase gradually, they end up eliciting a weaker emotional reaction, less resistance and more acceptance than they would otherwise. The slow increase allows larger and larger horrors to play out in broad daylight- taken for granted, seen as ordinary.

One of us is a neuroscientist; the other is a law professor. From our different fields, we have come to believe that it is not possible to understand the current period - and the shifts in what counts as normal - without appreciating why and how people do not notice so much of what we live with.

The underlying reason is a pivotal biological feature of our brain: habituation, or our tendency to respond less and less to things that are constant or that change slowly. You enter a cafe filled with the smell of coffee and at first the smell is overwhelming, but no more than 20 minutes go by and you cannot smell it any longer. This is because your olfactory neurons stop firing in response to a now-familiar odor.

Similarly, you stop hearing the persistent buzz of an air-conditioner because your brain filters out background noise. Your brain cares about what recently changed, not about what remained the same.
Habituation is one of our most basic biological characteristics - something that we two-legged, bigheaded creatures share with other animals on earth, including apes, elephants, dogs, birds, frogs, fish and rats. Human beings also habituate to complex social circumstances such as war, corruption, discrimination, oppression, widespread misinformation and extremism. Habituation does not only result in a reduced tendency to notice and react to grossly immoral deeds around us; it also increases the likelihood that we will engage in them ourselves.

Here is my summary:

From a psychological perspective, the failure to notice horrors around us can be attributed to cognitive biases and the human tendency to see reality in predictable yet flawed ways. This phenomenon is linked to how individuals perceive and value certain aspects of their environment. Personal values play a crucial role in shaping our perceptions and emotional responses. When there is a discrepancy between our self-perception and reality, it can lead to various troubles as our values define us and influence how we react to events. Additionally, the concept of safety needs is highlighted as a mediating factor in mental disorders induced by stressful events. The unexpected nature of events can trigger fear and anger, while the anticipation of events can induce calmness. This interplay between safety needs, emotions, and pathological conditions underscores how individuals react to perceived threats and unexpected situations, impacting their mental well-being

Sunday, March 10, 2024

MAGA’s Violent Threats Are Warping Life in America

David French
New York Times - Opinion
Originally published 18 Feb 24

Amid the constant drumbeat of sensational news stories — the scandals, the legal rulings, the wild political gambits — it’s sometimes easy to overlook the deeper trends that are shaping American life. For example, are you aware how much the constant threat of violence, principally from MAGA sources, is now warping American politics? If you wonder why so few people in red America seem to stand up directly against the MAGA movement, are you aware of the price they might pay if they did?

Late last month, I listened to a fascinating NPR interview with the journalists Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman regarding their new book, “Find Me the Votes,” about Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. They report that Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis had trouble finding lawyers willing to help prosecute her case against Trump. Even a former Georgia governor turned her down, saying, “Hypothetically speaking, do you want to have a bodyguard follow you around for the rest of your life?”

He wasn’t exaggerating. Willis received an assassination threat so specific that one evening she had to leave her office incognito while a body double wearing a bulletproof vest courageously pretended to be her and offered a target for any possible incoming fire.

Here is my summary of the article:

David French discusses the pervasive threat of violence, particularly from MAGA sources, and its impact on American politics. The author highlights instances where individuals faced intimidation and threats for opposing the MAGA movement, such as a Georgia prosecutor receiving an assassination threat and judges being swatted. The article also mentions the significant increase in threats against members of Congress since Trump took office, with Capitol Police opening over 8,000 threat assessments in a year. The piece sheds light on the chilling effect these threats have on individuals like Mitt Romney, who spends $5,000 per day on security, and lawmakers who fear for their families' safety. The overall narrative underscores how these violent threats are shaping American life and politics

Saturday, March 9, 2024

New Evidence Suggests Long COVID Could Be a Brain Injury

Sara Novak
Originally posted 8 Feb 24

Brain fog is one of the most common, persistent complaints in patients with long COVID. It affects as many as 46% of patients who also deal with other cognitive concerns like memory loss and difficulty concentrating. 

Now, researchers believe they know why. A new study has found that these symptoms may be the result of a viral-borne brain injury that may cause cognitive and mental health issues that persist for years.

Researchers found that 351 patients hospitalized with severe COVID-19 had evidence of a long-term brain injury a year after contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The findings were based on a series of cognitive tests, self-reported symptoms, brain scans, and biomarkers. 

Brain Deficits Equal to 20 Years of Brain Aging

As part of the preprint study, participants took a cognition test with their scores age-matched to those who had not suffered a serious bout of COVID-19. Then a blood sample was taken to look for specific biomarkers, showing that elevated levels of certain biomarkers were consistent with a brain injury. Using brain scans, researchers also found that certain regions of the brain associated with attention were reduced in volume.

Patients who participated in the study were "less accurate and slower" in their cognition, and suffered from at least one mental health condition, such as depression, anxiety, or posttraumatic stress disorder, according to researchers.

The brain deficits found in COVID-19 patients were equivalent to 20 years of brain aging and provided proof of what doctors have feared: that this virus can damage the brain and result in ongoing mental health issues. 

Friday, March 8, 2024

What Does Being Sober Mean Today? For Many, Not Full Abstinence

Ernesto Londono
The New York Times
Originally posted 4 Feb 24

Here are two excerpts:

Notions of what constitutes sobriety and problematic substance use have grown more flexible in recent years as younger Americans have shunned alcohol in increasing numbers while embracing cannabis and psychedelics - a phenomenon that alarms some addiction experts.

Not long ago, sobriety was broadly understood to mean abstaining from all intoxicating substances, and the term was often associated with people who had overcome severe forms of addiction. These days, it is used more expansively, including by people who have quit drinking alcohol but consume what they deem moderate amounts of other substances, including marijuana and mushrooms.


As some drugs come to be viewed as wellness boosters by those who use them, adherence to the full abstinence model favored by organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous is shifting. Some people call themselves "California sober," a term popularized in a 2021 song by the pop star Demi Lovato, who later disavowed the idea, saying on social media that "sober sober is the only way to be."

Approaches that might have once seemed ludicrous-like treating opioid addiction with psychedelics - have gained broader enthusiasm among doctors as drug overdoses kill tens of thousands of Americans each year.

"The abstinence-only model is very restrictive," said Dr. Peter Grinspoon, a primary care physician at Massachusetts General Hospital who specializes in medical cannabis and is a recovering opioid addict. "We really have to meet people where they are and have a broader recovery tent."

It is impossible to know how many Americans consider themselves part of an increasingly malleable concept of sobriety, but there are indications of shifting views of acceptable substance use. Since 2000, alcohol use among younger Americans has declined significantly, according to a Gallup poll.

At the same time, the use of cannabis and psychedelics has risen as state laws and attitudes grow more permissive, even as both remain illegal under federal law.

A survey found that 44 percent of adults aged 19 to 30 said in 2022 that they had used cannabis in the past year, a record high. That year, 8 percent of adults in the same age range said they had used psychedelics, an increase from the 3 percent a decade earlier.

Thursday, March 7, 2024

Canada Postpones Plan to Allow Euthanasia for Mentally Ill

Craig McCulloh
Voice of America News
Originally posted 8 Feb 24

The Canadian government is delaying access to medically assisted death for people with mental illness.

Those suffering from mental illness were supposed to be able to access Medical Assistance in Dying — also known as MAID — starting March 17. The recent announcement by the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the second delay after original legislation authorizing the practice passed in 2021.

The delay came in response to a recommendation by a majority of the members of a committee made up of senators and members of Parliament.

One of the most high-profile proponents of MAID is British Columbia-based lawyer Chris Considine. In the mid-1990s, he represented Sue Rodriguez, who was dying from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as ALS.

Their bid for approval of a medically assisted death was rejected at the time by the Supreme Court of Canada. But a law passed in 2016 legalized euthanasia for individuals with terminal conditions. From then until 2022, more than 45,000 people chose to die.


Canada originally planned to expand its Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) program to include individuals with mental illnesses in March 2024.
  • This plan has been postponed until 2027 due to concerns about the healthcare system's readiness and potential ethical issues.
  • The original legislation passed in 2021, but concerns about safeguards and mental health support led to delays.
  • This issue is complex and ethically charged, with advocates arguing for individual autonomy and opponents raising concerns about coercion and vulnerability.
I would be concerned about the following issues:
  • Vulnerability: Mental illness can impair judgement, raising concerns about informed consent and potential coercion.
  • Safeguards: Concerns exist about insufficient safeguards to prevent abuse or exploitation.
  • Mental health access: Limited access to adequate mental health treatment could contribute to undue pressure towards MAiD.
  • Social inequalities: Concerns exist about disproportionate access to MAiD based on socioeconomic background.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

We're good people: Moral conviction as social identity

Ekstrom, P. D. (2022, April 27).


Moral convictions—attitudes that people construe as matters of right and wrong—have unique effects on behavior, from activism to intolerance. Less is known, though, about the psychological underpinnings of moral convictions themselves. I propose that moral convictions are social identities. Consistent with the idea that moral convictions are identities, I find in two studies that attitude-level moral conviction predicts (1) attitudes’ self-reported identity centrality and (2) reaction time to attitude-related stimuli in a me/not me task. Consistent with the idea that moral convictions are social identities, I find evidence that participants used their moral convictions to perceive, categorize, and remember information about other individuals’ positions on political issues, and that they did so more strongly when their convictions were more identity-central. In short, the identities that participants’ moral convictions defined were also meaningful social categories, providing a basis to distinguish “us” from “them.” However, I also find that non-moral attitudes can serve as meaningful social categories. Although moral convictions were more identity-central than non-moral attitudes, moral and non-moral attitudes may both define social identities that are more or less salient in certain situations. Regardless, social identity may help explain intolerance for moral disagreement, and identity-based interventions may help reduce that intolerance.

Here is my summary:

Main Hypothesis:
  • Moral convictions (beliefs about right and wrong) are seen as fundamental and universally true, distinct from other attitudes.
  • The research proposes that they shape how people view themselves and others, acting as social identities.
Key Points:
  • Moral convictions define group belonging: People use them to categorize themselves and others as "good" or "bad," similar to how we might use group affiliations like race or religion.
  • They influence our relationships: We tend to be more accepting and trusting of those who share our moral convictions.
  • They can lead to conflict: When morals clash, it can create animosity and division between groups with different convictions.
  • The research cites studies showing how people judge others based on their moral stances, similar to how they judge based on group membership.
  • It also shows how moral convictions predict behavior like activism and intolerance towards opposing views.
  • Understanding how moral convictions function as social identities can help explain conflict, prejudice, and social movements.
  • It may also offer insights into promoting understanding and cooperation between groups with differing moral beliefs.

This research suggests that moral convictions are more than just strong opinions; they act as powerful social identities shaping how we see ourselves and interact with others. Understanding this dynamic can offer valuable insights into social behavior and potential avenues for promoting tolerance and cooperation.

Tuesday, March 5, 2024

You could lie to a health chatbot – but it might change how you perceive yourself

Dominic Wilkinson
The Conversation
Originally posted 8 FEB 24

Here is an excerpt:

The ethics of lying

There are different ways that we can think about the ethics of lying.

Lying can be bad because it causes harm to other people. Lies can be deeply hurtful to another person. They can cause someone to act on false information, or to be falsely reassured.

Sometimes, lies can harm because they undermine someone else’s trust in people more generally. But those reasons will often not apply to the chatbot.

Lies can wrong another person, even if they do not cause harm. If we willingly deceive another person, we potentially fail to respect their rational agency, or use them as a means to an end. But it is not clear that we can deceive or wrong a chatbot, since they don’t have a mind or ability to reason.

Lying can be bad for us because it undermines our credibility. Communication with other people is important. But when we knowingly make false utterances, we diminish the value, in other people’s eyes, of our testimony.

For the person who repeatedly expresses falsehoods, everything that they say then falls into question. This is part of the reason we care about lying and our social image. But unless our interactions with the chatbot are recorded and communicated (for example, to humans), our chatbot lies aren’t going to have that effect.

Lying is also bad for us because it can lead to others being untruthful to us in turn. (Why should people be honest with us if we won’t be honest with them?)

But again, that is unlikely to be a consequence of lying to a chatbot. On the contrary, this type of effect could be partly an incentive to lie to a chatbot, since people may be conscious of the reported tendency of ChatGPT and similar agents to confabulate.

Here is my summary:

The article discusses the potential consequences of lying to a health chatbot, even though it might seem tempting. It highlights a situation where someone frustrated with a wait for surgery considers exaggerating their symptoms to a chatbot screening them.

While lying might offer short-term benefits like quicker attention, the author argues it could have unintended consequences:

Impact on healthcare:
  • Inaccurate information can hinder proper diagnosis and treatment.
  • It contributes to an already strained healthcare system.
  • Repeatedly lying, even to a machine, can erode honesty and integrity.
  • It reinforces unhealthy avoidance of seeking professional help.
The article encourages readers to be truthful with chatbots for better healthcare outcomes and self-awareness. It acknowledges the frustration with healthcare systems but emphasizes the importance of transparency for both individual and collective well-being.