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
Showing posts with label Equality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Equality. Show all posts

Thursday, December 14, 2023

Ethical Reasoning vs. Empathic Bias: A False Dichotomy?

Law, K. F., Amormino, P. et al.
(2023, September 5).


Does empathy necessarily impede equity in altruism? Emerging findings from cognitive and affective science suggest that rationality and empathy are mutually compatible, contradicting some earlier, prominent arguments that empathy impedes equitable giving. We propose alternative conceptualizations of relationships among empathy, rationality, and equity, drawing on interdisciplinary advances in altruism research.

Here is my summary: 

This article discusses the relationship between ethical reasoning and empathic bias. Ethical reasoning is the process of using logic and reason to make moral decisions. Empathic bias is the tendency to make moral decisions that are influenced by our emotions and our personal relationships with the people involved.

The article argues that these two concepts are often seen as being in opposition to each other, but that this is a false dichotomy. Both ethical reasoning and empathic bias are important for making moral decisions. Ethical reasoning allows us to think about the broader implications of our decisions, while empathic bias allows us to connect with the individuals who are affected by our decisions.

The article concludes by suggesting that we should strive to use both ethical reasoning and empathic bias in our moral decision-making. By doing so, we can make more informed and compassionate decisions.

This article demonstrates that the Ethical Acculturation Model is not widely known by researchers.  The EAM stresses the professional's ability to integrate their own professional obligations and norms with their personal beliefs, values, and morality. Only through blending these important components can individuals resolve complex ethical/moral dilemmas.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Organs in exchange for freedom? Bill raises ethical concerns

Steve LeBlanc
Associated Press
Originally published 8 FEB 23

BOSTON (AP) — A proposal to let Massachusetts prisoners donate organs and bone marrow to shave time off their sentence is raising profound ethical and legal questions about putting undue pressure on inmates desperate for freedom.

The bill — which faces a steep climb in the Massachusetts Statehouse — may run afoul of federal law, which bars the sale of human organs or acquiring one for “valuable consideration.”

It also raises questions about whether and how prisons would be able to appropriately care for the health of inmates who go under the knife to give up organs. Critics are calling the idea coercive and dehumanizing even as one of the bill’s sponsors is framing the measure as a response to the over-incarceration of Hispanic and Black people and the need for matching donors in those communities.

“The bill reads like something from a dystopian novel,” said Kevin Ring, president of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a Washington, D.C.-based criminal justice reform advocacy group. “Promoting organ donation is good. Reducing excessive prison terms is also good. Tying the two together is perverse.”


Offering reduced sentences in exchange for organs is not only unethical, but also violates federal law, according to George Annas, director of the Center for Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at the Boston University School of Public Health. Reducing a prison sentence is the equivalent of a payment, he said.

“You can’t buy an organ. That should end the discussion,” Annas said. “It’s compensation for services. We don’t exploit prisoners enough?”

Democratic state Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, another co-sponsor of the bill, defended the proposal, calling it a voluntary program. He also said he’s open to establishing a policy that would allow inmates to donate organs and bone marrow without the lure of a reduced sentence. There is currently no law against prisoner organ donation in Massachusetts, he said.

“It’s not quid pro quo. We are open to setting policy without incentives,” Gonzalez said, adding that it is “crucial to respect prisoners’ human dignity and agency by respecting their choice to donate bone marrow or an organ.”

Thursday, January 5, 2023

The Supreme Court Needs Real Oversight

Glen Fine
The Atlantic
Originally posted 5 DEC 22

Here is an excerpt:

The lack of ethical rules that bind the Court is the first problem—and the easier one to address. The Code of Conduct for United States Judges, promulgated by the federal courts’ Judicial Conference, “prescribes ethical norms for federal judges as a means to preserve the actual and apparent integrity of the federal judiciary.” The code covers judicial conduct both on and off the bench, including requirements that judges act at all times to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. But this code applies only to lower-level federal judges, not to the Supreme Court, which has not issued ethical rules that apply to its own conduct. The Court should explicitly adopt this code or a modified one.

Chief Justice Roberts has noted that Supreme Court justices voluntarily consult the Code of Conduct and other ethical rules for guidance. He has also pointed out that the justices can seek ethical advice from a variety of sources, including the Court’s Legal Office, the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Codes of Conduct, and their colleagues. But this is voluntary, and each justice decides independently whether and how ethical rules apply in any particular case. No one—including the chief justice—has the ability to alter a justice’s self-judgment.

Oversight of the judiciary is a more difficult issue, involving separation-of-powers concerns. I was the inspector general of the Department of Justice for 11 years and the acting inspector general of the Department of Defense for four years; I saw the importance and challenges of oversight in two of the most important government agencies. I also experienced the difficulties in conducting complex investigations of alleged misconduct, including leak investigations. But as I wrote in a Brookings Institution article this past May after the Dobbs leak, the Supreme Court does not have the internal capacity to effectively investigate such leaks, and it would benefit from a skilled internal investigator, like an inspector general, to help oversee the Court and the judiciary.

Another example of the Court’s ineffective self-policing and lack of transparency involves its recusal decisions. For example, Justice Thomas’s wife, Virginia Thomas, has argued that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, sent text messages to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows urging him and the White House to seek to overturn the election, and expressed support for the pro-Trump January 6 rally on the Ellipse. Nevertheless, Justice Thomas has not recused himself in cases relating to the subsequent attack on the Capitol.

Notably, Thomas was the only justice to dissent from the Court’s decision not to block the release to the January 6 committee of White House records related to the attack, which included his wife’s texts. Some legal experts have argued that this is a clear instance where recusal should have occurred. Statute 28 U.S.C. 455 requires federal judges, including Supreme Court justices, to recuse themselves from a case when they know that their spouse has any interest that could be substantially affected by the outcome. In addition, the statute requires justices and judges to disqualify themselves in any proceeding in which their impartiality may reasonably be questioned.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Neoliberalism and the Ideological Construction of Equity Beliefs

Goudarzi, S., Badaan, V., & Knowles, E. D. (2022). 
Perspectives on Psychological Science. 


Researchers across disciplines, including psychology, have sought to understand how people evaluate the fairness of resource distributions. Equity, defined as proportionality of rewards to merit, has dominated the conceptualization of distributive justice in psychology; some scholars have cast it as the primary basis on which distributive decisions are made. The present article acts as a corrective to this disproportionate emphasis on equity. Drawing on findings from different subfields, we argue that people possess a range of beliefs about how valued resources should be allocated—beliefs that vary systematically across developmental stages, relationship types, and societies. By reinvigorating notions of distributive justice put forth by the field’s pioneers, we further argue that prescriptive beliefs concerning resource allocation are ideological formations embedded in socioeconomic and historical contexts. Fairness beliefs at the micro level are thus shaped by those beliefs’ macro-level instantiations. In a novel investigation of this process, we consider neoliberalism, the globally dominant socioeconomic model of the past 40 years. Using data from more than 160 countries, we uncover evidence that neoliberal economic structures shape equity-based distributive beliefs at the individual level. We conclude by advocating an integrative approach to the study of distributive justice that bridges micro- and macro-level analyses.

From the Conclusions section

The extant literature in psychology conceptualizes neoliberalism as a belief system that can vary dispositionally and situationally (Beattie et al., 2019; Bettache & Chiu, 2019). Bay-Cheng and colleagues (2015) developed a Neoliberal Beliefs Inventory that taps into four subfacets of neoliberal thinking: System Inequality, conceptualized as views about the existence and the extent of inequality in society; Competition, which measures the extent to which one views competition as natural and beneficial; Personal Wherewithal, defined as attributing outcomes and success to personal dispositions such as hard work and merit; and Government Interference, which gauges the extent to which state intervention is seen to constrain personal freedom and endanger the meritocratic ideal. In another attempt, Grzanka and colleagues (2020) created the single-facet Anti-Neoliberal Attitudes Scale using items from existing inventories. Moreover, the endorsement of neoliberal policies has been shown to predict other orientations and belief systems that legitimize group and system inequalities (Azevedo et al., 2019). Becker (2021) examined the situational effect of neoliberal beliefs and found that exposure to neoliberal messages that prioritize freedom over justice and equality, individual success over public spirit, and distributions according to ability over need induced antielite sentiment and that this was mediated by feelings of threat, unfairness, and hopelessness.

Although the research described above is informative, from a cultural-psychological perspective, the notion of ideology also includes laws, policies, institutions, and practices embodying prescriptive and descriptive ideas about fair socioeconomic arrangements. Therefore, a sociocultural model of neoliberal ideology entails empirically investigating the dynamics of neoliberal belief systems (at an individual level) with neoliberal laws, institutions, and cultural practices and products, as in the present analysis. To our knowledge, the empirical analysis presented in this article is the first illustration within psychology and related fields of how neoliberal macro structures influence distributive preferences and beliefs.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

If you rise, I fall: Equality is prevented by the misperception that it harms advantaged groups

Brown, N. D., Jacoby-Senghor, D. S., 
& Raymundo, I. (2022). 
Science advances, 8(18)


Nine preregistered studies (n = 4197) demonstrate that advantaged group members misperceive equality as necessarily harming their access to resources and inequality as necessarily benefitting them. Only when equality is increased within their ingroup, instead of between groups, do advantaged group members accurately perceive it as unharmful. Misperceptions persist when equality-enhancing policies offer broad benefits to society or when resources, and resource access, are unlimited. A longitudinal survey of the 2020 U.S. voters reveals that harm perceptions predict voting against actual equality-enhancing policies, more so than voters’ political and egalitarian beliefs. Finally two novel-groups experiments experiments reveal that advantaged participants’ harm misperceptions predict voting for inequality-enhancing policies that financially hurt them and against equality-enhancing policies that financially benefit them. Misperceptions persist even after an intervention to improve decision-making. This misperception that equality is necessarily zero-sum may explain why inequality prevails even as it incurs societal costs that harm everyone.

From the Discussion Section

Across nine studies, we show that advantaged group members misperceive equality-enhancing policies as harming their access to resources, even when the policies do no such thing. We identify this misperception across various inequality contexts (e.g., mortgage lending, salary, and hiring), various group boundaries (e.g., race, gender, disability, and arbitrary group distinctions), and different types of resources (e.g., money and jobs). Advantaged group members also misperceive policies that maintain the status quo or magnify inequality as improving their resource access, even when the policies actually leave them no better off. This tendency for advantaged group members to think that equality necessarily incurs a cost to their group lingered even when equality-enhancing policies mutually benefited disadvantaged and advantaged groups in a win-win fashion. That is, advantaged group members misperceive having greater inequality and fewer resources available to their group as more advantageous than having greater overall resources that were shared more equally.

We also find that these harm perceptions can have profound implications for individuals’ attitudinal and behavioral opposition to policies that promote equality. During the 2020 election, California Proposition 16 proposed relegalizing the use of affirmative action policies in the public sector. We find that the more white and Asian voters perceived that California Proposition 16 would harm their access to resources, the less likely they were to express support or vote for Proposition 16, independent of their political leaning. Moreover, we find that behavioral opposition occurs even when harm perceptions are objectively false and the effects of equality-enhancing policies are unambiguously positive. In an experimental setting, advantaged group participants were just as likely to vote for an inequality-enhancing policy that financially harmed them as they were to vote for an equality-enhancing policy that financially benefitted them. These studies suggest that real-world opposition to equality is likely caused by unduly negative perceptions of policies that could reduce inequality and unduly positive perceptions of policies that exacerbate it.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

An existential threat to humanity: Democracy’s decline

Kaushik Basu
Japan Times
Originally posted 24 DEC 21

Here are two excerpts:

Most people do not appreciate the extent to which civilizations depend on pillars of norms and conventions. Some of these have evolved organically over time, while others required deliberation and collective action. If one of the pillars buckles, a civilization could well collapse.


When a vast majority of a country’s population is ready to rebel, as seemed to be the case in Belarus in the summer of 2020, and the leader has limited capacity to suppress the uprising, how can he or she prevail?

To address this question, I developed an allegory I call the “Incarceration Game.” Some 1 million citizens of a particular country want to join a rebellion to overthrow the tyrannical leader who can catch and jail at most 100 rebels. With such a low probability of being caught, each person is ready to take to the streets. The leader’s situation looks hopeless.

Suppose he nonetheless announces that he will incarcerate the 100 oldest people who join the uprising. At first sight, it appears that this will not stop the rebellion, because the vast number of young people will have no reason to abandon it. But, if people’s ages are common knowledge, the outcome will be different. After the leader’s announcement, the 100 oldest people will not join the revolt, because the pain of certain incarceration is too great even for a good cause. Knowing this, the next 100 oldest people also will not take part in the revolution, and nor will the 100 oldest people after them. By induction, no one will. The streets will be empty.

Authoritarian rulers’ intentional or unwitting use of such an approach may help to explain why earlier revolts crumbled when on the verge of success. To demonstrate this empirically in history or in recent cases, like that of Belarus or Myanmar, will require data that we do not have yet. The incarceration game is a purely logical conjecture. What it does, importantly, is to remind us that toppling a dictator requires a strategy to foil such a tactic. Good intentions alone are not sufficient; the upholding of democracy needs a strategy based on sound analysis.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Women Carry An Undue Mental Health Burden. They Shouldn’t Have To

Rawan Hamadeh
Ms. Magazine
Originally posted 12 June 21

Here is an excerpt:

In developing countries, there is a huge gap in the availability and accessibility of specialized mental health services. Rather than visiting mental health specialists, women are more likely to seek mental health support in primary health care settings while accompanying their children or while attending consultations for other health issues. This leads to many mental health conditions going unidentified and therefore not treated. Often, women do not feel fully comfortable disclosing certain psychological and emotional distress because they fear stigmatization, confidentiality breaches or not being taken seriously.

COVID-19 has put the mental well-being of the entire world at risk. More adults are reporting struggles with mental health and substance use and are experiencing more symptoms of anxiety and depressive disorders. The stressors caused by the pandemic have affected the entire population; however, the effect on women and mothers specifically has been greater.

Women, the unsung heroes of the pandemic, face mounting pressures amid this global health crisis. Reports suggest that the long-term repercussions of COVID-19 could undo decades of progress for women and impose considerable additional burdens on them, threatening the difficult journey toward gender equality.

Unemployment, parenting responsibilities, homeschooling or caring for sick relatives are all additional burdens on women’s daily lives during the pandemic. It’s also important that we acknowledge the exponential need for mental health support for health care workers, and particularly health care mothers, who are juggling both their professional duties and their parenting responsibilities. They are the heroes on the front lines of the fight against the virus, and it’s crucial to prioritize their physical as well as their mental health.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Against Empathy Bias: The Moral Value of Equitable Empathy

Fowler, Z., Law, K. F., & Gaesser, B.
Psychological Science
Volume: 32 issue: 5, page(s): 766-779


Empathy has long been considered central in living a moral life. However, mounting evidence has shown that empathy is often biased towards (i.e., felt more strongly for) close and similar others, igniting a debate over whether empathy is inherently morally flawed and should be abandoned in efforts to strive towards greater equity. This debate has focused on whether empathy limits the scope of our morality, with little consideration of whether it may be our moral beliefs limiting our empathy. Across two studies conducted on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (N= 604), we investigate moral judgments of biased and equitable feelings of empathy. We observed a moral preference for empathy towards socially close over distant others. However, feeling equal empathy for all is seen as the most morally and socially valuable. These findings provide new theoretical insight into the relationship between empathy and morality with implications for navigating towards a more egalitarian future.

General Discussion

The present studies investigated moral judgments of socially biased and equitable feelings of empathy in hypothetical vignettes. The results showed that moral judgments of empathy are biased towards preferring more empathy for a socially close over socially distant individual. Despite this bias in moral judgments, however, people consistently judged feeling equal empathy as the most morally right. These findings generalized from judgments of others’ empathy for targets matched on objective social distance to judgments of one’s own empathy for targets that were personally-tailored and matched on subjective social distance across subjects.  Further, participants most desired to affiliate with someone who felt equal empathy. We also found that participants’ desire to affiliate with the actor in the vignette mirrored their moral judgments of empathy.

Friday, May 21, 2021

In search of the moral status of AI: why sentience is a strong argument

Gibert, M., Martin, D. 
AI & Soc (2021). 


Is it OK to lie to Siri? Is it bad to mistreat a robot for our own pleasure? Under what condition should we grant a moral status to an artificial intelligence (AI) system? This paper looks at different arguments for granting moral status to an AI system: the idea of indirect duties, the relational argument, the argument from intelligence, the arguments from life and information, and the argument from sentience. In each but the last case, we find unresolved issues with the particular argument, which leads us to move to a different one. We leave the idea of indirect duties aside since these duties do not imply considering an AI system for its own sake. The paper rejects the relational argument and the argument from intelligence. The argument from life may lead us to grant a moral status to an AI system, but only in a weak sense. Sentience, by contrast, is a strong argument for the moral status of an AI system—based, among other things, on the Aristotelian principle of equality: that same cases should be treated in the same way. The paper points out, however, that no AI system is sentient given the current level of technological development.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

‘All You Want Is to Be Believed’: The Impacts of Unconscious Bias in Health Care

April Dembosky
Originally published 21 Oct 20

Here is an excerpt:

Research shows how doctors’ unconscious bias affects the care people receive, with Latino and Black patients being less likely to receive pain medications or get referred for advanced care than white patients with the same complaints or symptoms, and more likely to die in childbirth from preventable complications.

In the hospital that day in May, Monterroso was feeling woozy and having trouble communicating, so she had a friend and her friend’s cousin, a cardiac nurse, on the phone to help. They started asking questions: What about Karla’s accelerated heart rate? Her low oxygen levels? Why are her lips blue?

The doctor walked out of the room. He refused to care for Monterroso while her friends were on the phone, she said, and when he came back, the only thing he wanted to talk about was Monterroso’s tone and her friends’ tone.

“The implication was that we were insubordinate,” Monterroso said.

She told the doctor she didn’t want to talk about her tone. She wanted to talk about her health care. She was worried about possible blood clots in her leg and she asked for a CT scan.

“Well, you know, the CT scan is radiation right next to your breast tissue. Do you want to get breast cancer?” Monterroso recalled the doctor saying to her. “I only feel comfortable giving you that test if you say that you’re fine getting breast cancer.”

Monterroso thought to herself, “Swallow it up, Karla. You need to be well.” And so she said to the doctor: “I’m fine getting breast cancer.”

He never ordered the test.

Monterroso asked for a different doctor, for a hospital advocate. No and no, she was told. She began to worry about her safety. She wanted to get out of there. Her friends, all calling every medical professional they knew to confirm that this treatment was not right, came to pick her up and drove her to the University of California-San Francisco. The team there gave her an EKG, a chest X-ray and a CT scan.

Friday, July 24, 2020

These Evangelical Women Are Abandoning Trump and the Church

Sara Stankorb
Originally posted 23 July 20

Here is an excerpt:

In exit polls from the 2016 election, 80% of white evangelicals and the majority of self-identified Christians said they voted for Donald Trump. The thrice-married, profane, biblically illiterate, sexually predacious candidate mirrored no beatitudes. While some believers rejected Trump for lack of decency, for many Christian voters, his personal failings were not disqualifying — here, at last, was a president who could muscle forward their political interests.

In her 2019 book, Red State Christians, journalist and Lutheran pastor Angela Denker describes traveling across the country after the election, talking to Christian voters and trying to understand their relationship with Donald Trump. Denker argues Trump may not know much about the Bible or evangelical Christianity, but his rhetoric resonated with a civic religion common in many Evangelical churches, especially in the South, “with its unique blend of nostalgia, plus a little misogyny and dog-whistle race politics on the side.” There’s a degree to which many churches have adopted a Christian nationalism that has wrapped faith tightly in patriotism and relies, in some cases, less on the gospel and more on “God, guns, and country.”

Many Southern Baptist churches celebrate the Sundays closest to the Fourth of July and Veterans Day with as much fervor as Easter, with services that might feature the Pledge of Allegiance, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sermons on American exceptionalism, and video montages of war veterans. It’s a church-country linkage popularized during the Cold War, a perceived battle against threats to “Christian America” rooted in a dominionist theology that portrays the white European settlement of America as a fulfillment of God’s promise. Winning the culture wars and “restoring” Christian political primacy became a spiritual mandate, a restoration of God’s promise. By the time Obama’s administration championed same-sex marriage and birth control coverage, “Democrats sounded like foreigners to Red State Christians across the South and rural America,” writes Dennker.

The info is here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Can COVID-19 re-invigorate ethics?

Louise Campbell
BMJ Blogs
Originally posted 26 May 20

The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted ethics into the spotlight.  Questions previously deliberated about by small numbers of people interested in or affected by particular issues are now being posed with an unprecedented urgency right across the public domain.  One of the interesting facets of this development is the way in which the questions we are asking now draw attention, not just to the importance of ethics in public life, but to the very nature of ethics as practice, namely ethics as it is applied to specific societal and environmental concerns.

Some of these questions which have captured the public imagination were originally debated specifically within healthcare circles and at the level of health policy: what measures must be taken to prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed if there is a surge in the number of people requiring hospitalisation?  How will critical care resources such as ventilators be prioritised if need outstrips supply?  In a crisis situation, will older people or people with disabilities have the same opportunities to access scarce resources, even though they may have less chance of survival than people without age-related conditions or disabilities?  What level of risk should healthcare workers be expected to assume when treating patients in situations in which personal protective equipment may be inadequate or unavailable?   Have the rights of patients with chronic conditions been traded off against the need to prepare the health service to meet a demand which to date has not arisen?  Will the response to COVID-19 based on current evidence compromise the capacity of the health system to provide routine outpatient and non-emergency care to patients in the near future?

Other questions relate more broadly to the intersection between health and society: how do we calculate the harms of compelling entire populations to isolate themselves from loved ones and from their communities?  How do we balance these harms against the risks of giving people more autonomy to act responsibly?  What consideration is given to the fact that, in an unequal society, restrictions on liberty will affect certain social groups in disproportionate ways?  What does the catastrophic impact of COVID-19 on residents of nursing homes say about our priorities as a society and to what extent is their plight our collective responsibility?  What steps have been taken to protect marginalised communities who are at greater risk from an outbreak of infectious disease: for example, people who have no choice but to coexist in close proximity with one another in direct provision centres, in prison settings and on halting sites?

The info is here.

Friday, May 1, 2020

During the Pandemic, the FCC Must Provide Internet for All

Gigi Sohn
Originally published 28 April 20

If anyone believed access to the internet was not essential prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, nobody is saying that today. With ongoing stay-at-home orders in most states, high-speed broadband internet access has become a necessity to learn, work, engage in commerce and culture, keep abreast of news about the virus, and stay connected to neighbors, friends, and family. Yet nearly a third of American households do not have this critical service, either because it is not available to them, or, as is more often the case, they cannot afford it.

Lifeline is a government program that seeks to ensure that all Americans are connected, regardless of income. Started by the Reagan administration and placed into law by Congress in 1996, Lifeline was expanded by the George W. Bush administration and expanded further during the Obama administration. The program provides a $9.25 a month subsidy per household to low-income Americans for phone and/or broadband service. Because the subsidy is so minimal, most Lifeline customers use it for mobile voice and data services.

The Federal Communications Commission sets Lifeline’s policies, including rules about who is eligible to receive the subsidy, its amount, and which companies can provide the service. Americans whose income is below a certain level or who receive government assistance—such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and Supplemental Security Income, or SSI—are eligible.

During this crisis, President Donald Trump’s FCC could make an enormous dent in the digital divide if it expanded Lifeline, even if just on a temporary basis. The FCC could increase the subsidy so that it can be used to pay for robust fixed internet access. It could also make Lifeline available to a broader subset of Americans, specifically the tens of millions who have just filed for unemployment benefits. But that’s unlikely to be a priority for this FCC and its chairman, Ajit Pai, who has spent nearly his entire tenure trying to destroy the program.

The info is here.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Life and death decisions of autonomous vehicles

Y. E. Bigman and K. Gray
Originally published 4 May 20

How should self-driving cars make decisions when human lives hang in the balance? The Moral Machine experiment (MME) suggests that people want autonomous vehicles (AVs) to treat different human lives unequally, preferentially killing some people (for example, men, the old and the poor) over others (for example, women, the young and the rich). Our results challenge this idea, revealing that this apparent preference for inequality is driven by the specific ‘trolley-type’ paradigm used by the MME. Multiple studies with a revised paradigm reveal that people overwhelmingly want autonomous vehicles to treat different human lives equally in life and death situations, ignoring gender, age and status—a preference consistent with a general desire for equality.

The large-scale adoption of autonomous vehicles raises ethical challenges because autonomous vehicles may sometimes have to decide between killing one person or another. The MME seeks to reveal people’s preferences in these situations and many of these revealed preferences, such as ‘save more people over fewer’ and ‘kill by inaction over action’ are consistent with preferences documented in previous research.

However, the MME also concludes that people want autonomous vehicles to make decisions about who to kill on the basis of personal features, including physical fitness, age, status and gender (for example, saving women and killing men). This conclusion contradicts well-documented ethical preferences for equal treatment across demographic features and identities, a preference enshrined in the US Constitution, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Ethical Guideline 9 of the German Ethics Code for Automated and Connected Driving.

The info is here.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Digital Ethics and the Blockchain

Dan Blum
ISACA, Volume 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Integrity and Transparency

Integrity and transparency are core values for delivering trust to prosperous markets. Blockchains can provide immutable land title records to improve property rights and growth in small economies, such as Honduras.6 In smart power grids, blockchain-enabled meters can replace inefficient centralized record-keeping systems for transparent energy trading. Businesses can keep transparent records for product provenance, production, distribution and sales. Forward-thinking governments are exploring use cases through which transparent, immutable blockchains could facilitate a lighter, more effective regulatory touch to holding industry accountable.

However, trade secrets and personal information should not be published openly on blockchains. Blockchain miners may reorder transactions to increase fees or delay certain business processes at the expense of others. Architects must leaven accountability and transparency with confidentiality and privacy. Developers (or regulators) should sometimes add a human touch to smart contracts to avoid rigid systems operating without any consumer safeguards.

The info is here.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Tech giants are seeking help on AI ethics. Where they seek it matters.

Dave Gershgorn
Originally posted March 30, 2019

Here is an excerpt:

Tech giants are starting to create mechanisms for outside experts to help them with AI ethics—but not always in the ways ethicists want. Google, for instance, announced the members of its new AI ethics council this week—such boards promise to be a rare opportunity for underrepresented groups to be heard. It faced criticism, however, for selecting Kay Coles James, the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation. James has made statements against the Equality Act, which would protect sexual orientation and gender identity as federally protected classes in the US. Those and other comments would seem to put her at odds with Google’s pitch as being a progressive and inclusive company. (Google declined Quartz’s request for comment.)

AI ethicist Joanna Bryson, one of the few members of Google’s new council who has an extensive background in the field, suggested that the inclusion of James helped the company make its ethics oversight more appealing to Republicans and conservative groups. Also on the council is Dyan Gibbens, who heads drone company Trumbull Unmanned and sat next to Donald Trump at a White House roundtable in 2017.

The info is here.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Importance of Making the Moral Case for Immigration

Ilya Somin
Originally posted on October 23, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

The parallels between racial discrimination and hostility to immigration were in fact noted by such nineteenth century opponents of slavery as Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. These similarities suggest that moral appeals similar to those made by the antislavery and civil rights movements can also play a key role in the debate over immigration.

Moral appeals were in fact central to the two issues on which public opinion has been most supportive of immigrants in recent years: DACA and family separation. Overwhelming majorities supporting letting undocumented immigrants who were brought to America as children stay in the US, oppose the forcible separation of children from their parents at the border. In both cases, public opinion seems driven by considerations of justice and morality, not narrow self-interest (although letting DACA recipients stay would indeed benefit the US economy). Admittedly, these are relatively "easy" cases because both involve harming children for the alleged sins of their parents. But they nonetheless show the potency of moral considerations in the immigration debate. And most other immigration restrictions are only superficially different: instead of punishing children for their parents' illegal border-crossing, they victimize adults and children alike because their parents gave birth to them in the wrong place.

The key role of moral principles in struggles for liberty and equality should not be surprising. Contrary to popular belief, voters' political views on most issues are not determined by narrow self-interest. Public attitudes are instead generally driven by a combination of moral principles and perceived benefits to society as a whole. Immigration is not an exception to that tendency.

This is not to say that voters weigh the interests of all people equally. Throughout history, they have often ignored or downgraded those of groups seen as inferior, or otherwise undeserving of consideration. Slavery and segregation persisted in large part because, as Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney notoriously put it, many whites believed that blacks "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Similarly, the subordination of women was not seriously questioned for many centuries, because most people believed that it was a natural part of life, and that men were entitled to rule over the opposite sex. In much the same way, today most people assume that natives are entitled to keep out immigrants either to preserve their culture against supposedly inferior ways or because they analogize a nation to a house or club from which the "owners" can exclude newcomers for almost any reason they want.

The info is here.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Want to live longer? Consider the ethics

John K. Davis
Originally published

Here is an excerpt:

Many people, such as philosopher John Harris and those in the Pew Center survey, worry that life extension would be available only to the rich and make existing inequalities even worse.

Indeed, it is unjust when some people live longer than the poor because they have better health care. It would be far more unjust if the rich could live several decades or centuries longer than anyone else and gain more time to consolidate their advantages.

Some philosophers suggest that society should prevent inequality by banning life extension. This is equality by denial – if not everyone can get it, then no one gets it.

However, as philosopher Richard J. Arneson notes, “leveling-down” – achieving equality by making some people worse off without making anyone better off – is unjust.

Indeed, as I argue in my recent book on life extension ethics, most of us reject leveling-down in other situations. For example, there are not enough human organs for transplant, but no one thinks the answer is to ban organ transplants.

Moreover, banning or slowing down the development of life extension may simply delay a time when the technology gets cheap enough for everyone to have it. TV sets were once a toy for the wealthy; now even poor families have them. In time, this could happen with life extension.

The info is here.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Curiosity and What Equality Really Means

Atul Gawande
The New Yorker
Originally published June 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

We’ve divided the world into us versus them—an ever-shrinking population of good people against bad ones. But it’s not a dichotomy. People can be doers of good in many circumstances. And they can be doers of bad in others. It’s true of all of us. We are not sufficiently described by the best thing we have ever done, nor are we sufficiently described by the worst thing we have ever done. We are all of it.

Regarding people as having lives of equal worth means recognizing each as having a common core of humanity. Without being open to their humanity, it is impossible to provide good care to people—to insure, for instance, that you’ve given them enough anesthetic before doing a procedure. To see their humanity, you must put yourself in their shoes. That requires a willingness to ask people what it’s like in those shoes. It requires curiosity about others and the world beyond your boarding zone.

We are in a dangerous moment because every kind of curiosity is under attack—scientific curiosity, journalistic curiosity, artistic curiosity, cultural curiosity. This is what happens when the abiding emotions have become anger and fear. Underneath that anger and fear are often legitimate feelings of being ignored and unheard—a sense, for many, that others don’t care what it’s like in their shoes. So why offer curiosity to anyone else?

Once we lose the desire to understand—to be surprised, to listen and bear witness—we lose our humanity. Among the most important capacities that you take with you today is your curiosity. You must guard it, for curiosity is the beginning of empathy. When others say that someone is evil or crazy, or even a hero or an angel, they are usually trying to shut off curiosity. Don’t let them. We are all capable of heroic and of evil things. No one and nothing that you encounter in your life and career will be simply heroic or evil. Virtue is a capacity. It can always be lost or gained. That potential is why all of our lives are of equal worth.

The article is here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought

Robert Wright
Originally posted March 17, 2018

Here are several excerpts:

This is attribution error working as designed. It sustains your conviction that, though your team may do bad things, it’s only the other team that’s actually bad. Your badness is “situational,” theirs is “dispositional.”


Another cognitive bias—probably the most famous—is confirmation bias, the tendency to embrace, perhaps uncritically, evidence that supports your side of an argument and to either not notice, reject, or forget evidence that undermines it. This bias can assume various forms, and one was exhibited by Harris in his exchange with Ezra Klein over political scientist Charles Murray’s controversial views on race and IQ.


Most of these examples of tribal thinking are pretty pedestrian—the kinds of biases we all exhibit, usually with less than catastrophic results. Still, it is these and other such pedestrian distortions of thought and perception that drive America’s political polarization today.

For example: How different is what Harris said about Buzzfeed from Donald Trump talking about “fake news CNN”? It’s certainly different in degree. But is it different in kind? I would submit that it’s not.

When a society is healthy, it is saved from all this by robust communication. Individual people still embrace or reject evidence too hastily, still apportion blame tribally, but civil contact with people of different perspectives can keep the resulting distortions within bounds. There is enough constructive cross-tribal communication—and enough agreement on what the credible sources of information are—to preserve some overlap of, and some fruitful interaction between, world views.

The article is here.