House Republicans voted in a closed-door meeting Monday night to strip the independent Office of Congressional Ethics of its powers to speak publicly, report crimes, get anonymous tips, and act independently. If this amendment is passed, the Office will now be under the control of the House Ethics Committee. The Ethics Committee is run by members of the House, the body that the Office was intended to investigate. [more inside]
Philosopher Derek Parfit has died. The author of the landmark Reasons and Persons was 74. If you've never heard of Parfit, you may have heard of the Repugnant Conclusion (which highlights paradoxes in how we understand obligations to future generations). Or if you've ever mused on what would happen to you if you used a Star Trek-style transporter, you may enjoy Parfit's treatment of the philosophical implications in the teletransportation paradox. For more about Parfit, read this profile by Larissa MacFarquhar in the New Yorker.
The World's Largest Hedge Fund Is Building an Algorithmic Model of Its Founder's Brain - "Mr. Dalio has the highest stratum score at Bridgewater, and the firm has told employees he has one of the highest in the world. Likewise, Bridgewater's software judges Mr. Dalio the firm's most 'believable' employee in matters such as investing and leadership, which means his opinions carry more weight. Mr. Dalio is always in search of new data with which to measure his staff. He once raised the idea of using head bands to track people's brain waves, according to one former employee. The idea wasn't adopted." [more inside]
Inside the insectary - "These gene drives, they're able to copy themselves. So instead of half of the offspring inheriting the gene drive, almost all of them do. So what happens is that it spreads and it spreads and it spreads. And this is the fantastic thing. Because it allows that gene to be selfish in a population. And in a very short amount of time you can actually transform an entire wild population into a modified population. It's powerful." (previously: 1,2,3)
Programming is Forgetting: Toward a New Hacker Ethic - Allison Parrish In the process of programming, or scanning or sampling or digitizing or transcribing, much of the world is left out or forgotten. Programming is an attempt to get a handle on a small part of the world so we can analyze and reason about it. But a computer program is never itself the world. [more inside]
Eating Right, Harper's, by John Herron I think that the metaphor of seeing ethics in terms of a supermarket array of consumption decisions is all too pervasive in contemporary society. -- Philosopher Paul B. Thompson [more inside]
At Crooked Timber, philosopher Harry Brighouse links to an article from Law, Ethics and Philosophy that features a provocative article by Phillipe Van Parijs. In “Four Puzzles on Gender Equality,” Van Parijs observes: There are dimensions along which men seem to be disadvantaged, on average, relative to women. For example, they can expect to live less years; in a growing number of countries they are, on average, less educated than women; they form an electoral minority; and their greater propensity to misbehave means that the overwhelming majority of the prison population is drawn from their ranks. These disadvantages, if they are real, all derive from an unchosen feature shared by one category of human beings: being a male. Does it follow that these advantages are unjust? [more inside]
"Anthropodermic bibliopegy, or books bound in human skin," writes Megan Rosenbloom in Lapham's Quarterly, "are some of the most mysterious and misunderstood books in the world’s libraries and museums. The historical reasons behind their creation vary [...] The best evidence most of these alleged skin books have ever had were rumors and perhaps a pencil-written note inside that said 'bound in human skin'...until now." Anthropodermic biblipegy on Metafilter previously and previously. Warning: links may contain details disturbing for some. [more inside]
How Morality Changes in a Foreign Language. Studies show that the way we think about moral questions is subtly influenced by the language we're using at the time. People using a non-native language tend to be more cerebral and less emotional. What does this say about the concept of the moral center, or "just knowing" what's right and what's wrong?
How big data increases inequality and threatens democracy - "A former academic mathematician and ex-hedge fund quant exposes flaws in how information is used to assess everything from creditworthiness to policing tactics, with results that cause damage both financially and to the fabric of society. Programmed biases and a lack of feedback are among the concerns behind the clever and apt title of Cathy O'Neil's book: Weapons of Math Destruction." [more inside]
"Mr. Bertling, 56, said in an interview that he had not heard what he considered sexist remarks in his decades of practice. But after the fine, he asked a lawyer in his office if she had. She showed him inappropriate comments in deposition transcripts, but said she did not seek penalties for them because, like many female lawyers, she thought doing so was futile." As of this Monday, after months of debate, that may no longer be the case: Goodbye to 'Honeys' in Court, by Vote of American Bar Association. [more inside]
The Economic Lessons of Star Trek's Money-Free Society - "[Manu Saadia] points to technologies like GPS and the internet as models for how we can set ourselves on the path to a Star Trek future. 'If we decide as a society to make more of these crucial things available to all as public goods, we're probably going to be well on our way to improving the condition of everybody on Earth', he says. But he also warns that technology alone won't create a post-scarcity future... 'This is something that has to be dealt with on a political level, and we have to face that.' " (via) [more inside]
Ethics and the Eye of the Beholder by Katie J.M. Baker [Buzzfeed] Thomas Pogge, one of the world’s most prominent ethicists, stands accused of manipulating students to gain sexual advantage. Did the fierce champion of the world's disempowered abuse his own power? [more inside]
Recently, a dataset of 70,000 scraped OkCupid profiles from November 2014 to March 2015 was released on the Open Science Framework. The set, which was acquired without the consent of either OKCupid or the profile owners, had no anonymization performed on it, meaning that the profiles could be easily correlated to the people behind them, effectively doxing these individuals, a gross violation of research ethics on a number of grounds. Social computing expert Oliver Keyes described the release as "without a doubt one of the most grossly unprofessional, unethical and reprehensible data releases I have ever seen." [more inside]
World After Capital by Albert Wenger [Work in Progress; GitHub; GitBook; PDF; FAQ] - "Technological progress has shifted scarcity for humanity. When we were foragers, food was scarce. During the agrarian age, it was land. Following the industrial revolution, capital became scarce. With digital technologies scarcity is shifting from capital to attention. World After Capital suggests ways to expand economic, informational and psychological freedom to go from an industrial to a knowledge society." (previously)
I told her I didn’t want to continue our date because she had been dishonest, and given that honesty is the foundation of any meaningful relationship, this was clearly not a good start. After a pause, thick with the tension between us, I took some of the hostility out of my voice. “Look, humor is really important to me, and you’re funny,” I told her. “Be honest next time, and you will find you the right guy. It’s not me.” I told her I was going to leave and got up from the table.
That’s when the cameras came out. In front of them, a shiny-faced man dressed in a suit approached me with an extended microphone. It was John Quiñones, and he told me that I was on ABC’s What Would You Do?
From the Cold War to the War on Terror, conservatives have protested the “evils” of moral relativism for decades, and now it may be a relic of the past. But although conservatives got what they wanted, they didn’t get what they expected. It’s hard to say for sure whether they’re better off now than they were before. It depends on how you look at it. Or, as some might say, it’s all relative
We are glad you are here! This blog was created for us to address the many questions people have about farmers and modern day agriculture. We hope that our blog will be a source of answers for people who are searching for the truth! ... This blog will focus mainly on family farmers like us who live in the Midwest and grow typical Midwest crops and livestock (wheat, corn, soybeans, sorghum, cattle, etc). There are countless other farmers out there who grow all sorts of different things (fruits, veggies, nuts, etc.) and raise all sorts of different animals (swine, poultry, dairy, etc.), but since my expertise lies solely on Midwest USA farmers, that’s what I will generally be referencing! The point to take away here is that we need to appreciate all farmers, no matter what kind they are, and we should all do our best to thank those who help grow our food! [more inside]
"When Hadza want to find honey, they shout and whistle a special tune. If a honeyguide is around, it’ll fly into the camp, chattering and fanning out its feathers. The Hadza, now on the hunt, chase it, grabbing their axes and torches and shouting “Wait!” They follow the honeyguide until it lands near its payload spot, pinpoint the correct tree, smoke out the bees, hack it open, and free the sweet combs from the nest. The honeyguide stays and watches. It’s one of those stories that sounds like a fable—until you get to the end, where the lesson normally goes. Then it becomes a bit more confusing."
While Martin Shkreli's decision to raise the price of a cancer drug by a factor of more than 50 has attracted some bad press, another problem plagues patients: drug shortages are forcing doctors to ration access. [more inside]
Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World - "With interviewees ranging from Elon Musk to a gaming addict, Werner Herzog presents the web in all its wildness and utopian potential in this dizzying documentary." (via)
Inside the Snitch Tank. After his arrest for the worst mass shooting in Orange County, CA history, Scott Dekraai poured out his feelings to a jailhouse informant. But instead of nailing down a death-penalty conviction against a confessed killer who was arrested with murder weapons in his car, the bugging of Dekraai’s cell touched off a legal storm over prosecutorial misconduct and the misuse of jailhouse informants which has delayed justice and drawn national attention. The Orange County Register has set up an extensive website to accompany their ongoing investigation and report.
When an NBC producer fell for celebrated surgeon Paolo Macchiarini while filming a Dateline documentary special about him, she thought her biggest problem was a breach of journalistic ethics. Then things got really interesting.
Tufts University's Human-Robot Interaction Lab are trying to figure out how to develop mechanisms for robots to reject orders that it receives from humans, as long as the robots have a good enough excuse for doing so.
At Philosop-her, Meena Krishnamurthy invites women in philosophy to introduce themselves and their work. For example, Elizabeth Barnes, "Confessions of a Bitter Cripple": "I have sat in philosophy seminars where it was asserted that I should be left to die on a desert island ... I have been told that, while it isn't bad for me to exist, it would've been better if my mother could've had a non-disabled child instead ... And these things weren't said as the conclusions of careful, extended argument ... They were the kind of thing you skip over without pause because it's the uncontroversial part of your talk." [more inside]
Who bought the Las Vegas Review-Journal? It's anybody's guess. Nevada's largest circulating daily newspaper has been sold to News+ Media Capital Group, which was incorporated in Delaware on September 21st. The ownership of News + Media Capital Group is a complete mystery. [more inside]
"When I started taking EPO, he told me, 'if you say that to anyone I'm going to kill you" In an exclusive Cyclingnews podcast, Canadian cyclist Geneviève Jeanson details the abusive coach-athlete relationship that she alleges led to her career-long doping. [more inside]
The New York Times looks back on the boy in the bubble.
“I think the post-war turn towards social responsibility in science and engineering was less a turn than a sideways glance. .. If researchers like us were actually supposed to know or care about this stuff in any operationally significant way, well, I think we didn't get the memo. So let me retransmit it.” - Phillip Rogaway. The Moral Character of Cryptographic Work. [more inside]
Last April, motivated by rumors of a Chinese paper published the next month that physically demonstrated the technical feasibility of editing human germline DNA with CRISPR by successfully modifying human embryos, a coalition of well regarded scientists assembled to address this fundamentally new ability and they called for an international summit. It was to be billed as a new Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA for a new age in order to lead a new global conversation on questions of whether and how to control human inheritance, which could only be dreamed of 40 years ago. This is a fundamental departure from the non-inheritable gene engineering with CRISPR covered on the blue recently. Thus, from December 1-3, the International Summit on Human Gene Editing, held as a collaborative effort between U.S. National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Medicine, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and The Royal Society, met to discuss the future of this technology and has come out with a clear consensus statement. [more inside]
Life of the Law is a scrupulously fair podcast that tells stories and asks questions about the place where the law and everyday life intersects. As part of its commitment to making the law accessible, each episode comes with a full transcript. Life of the Law has covered a variety of topics ranging from pregnancy and motherhood in prison to rules about where cops can live to the hidden costs of traffic stops to the reason lawyer ads get so ridiculous. You learn useful tidbits, too, like the secret power of jury nullification and how difficult it is to legally sell weed in "legal" states. Not all the episodes are so weighty, though; Life of the Law has also been known to cover things like history of legal humor.
Emily Anthes on drug testing and pregnancy
Because it has long been considered unethical to include expectant mothers in clinical trials, scientists simply don’t know whether many common medicines are safe for pregnant women. Of the more than 600 prescription drugs that the US Food and Drug Administration approved between 1980 and 2010, 91 per cent have been so meagrely researched that their safety during pregnancy remains uncertain.
Over the last few years, however, a small, tight-knit group of ethicists, including Lyerly, have become determined to reverse this longstanding scientific neglect of pregnant women. Science and society, they argue, have got it utterly wrong: our efforts to protect women and their fetuses have actually put them both in jeopardy. “Ethics doesn’t preclude including pregnant women in research,” says Lyerly. “Actually, ethics requires it.”
Humans 2.0 - "With CRISPR, scientists can change, delete, and replace genes in any animal, including us. Working mostly with mice, researchers have already deployed the tool to correct the genetic errors responsible for sickle-cell anemia, muscular dystrophy, and the fundamental defect associated with cystic fibrosis. One group has replaced a mutation that causes cataracts; another has destroyed receptors that H.I.V. uses to infiltrate our immune system." [more inside]
The Future of (Post)Capitalism - "Paul Mason shows how, from the ashes of the recent financial crisis, we have the chance to create a more socially just and sustainable global economy." (previously; via) [more inside]
She told the family of a severely disabled man that she could help him to communicate with the outside world. Then, she says, they fell in love. [more inside]
What it’s like to earn a living as a research subject in clinical trials Today, Stone no longer relies on strangers in bars—instead, he’s a part of a small community that shares info about study opportunities. Stone says he sends mass texts whenever he sees a new study online. In exchange, the group does the same for him. The members of this group call themselves guinea pigs, or lab rats. They also call themselves professionals.
In 1992-1994 and 2005-2009, Yuka Makino studied the lopping practices in the oak forests of Garwhal, Himalaya. Her PhD dissertation (PDF) contains a fascinating prologue describing the practical and ethical issues for conducting ethnographic research in an area where distrust of outsiders runs high and where gender and caste norms are strictly enforced. One afternoon, several children came and were chatting with us when a 10-year-old girl joined us. Though she still took part in the conversation in a loud voice, she stood at the edge of the veranda, far away from the door. (...) I realized that she was a Scheduled Caste girl and if she had stood at the doorway her shadow would have fallen into the room and may have touched my assistant’s plate of food, contaminating or polluting it. I let her stand there so that neither she nor my assistant would feel uncomfortable. [more inside]
"Every society struggles to care for people with mental illness. In parts of West Africa, where psychiatry is virtually unknown, the chain is often a last resort for desperate families who cannot control a loved one in the grip of psychosis. Religious retreats, known as prayer camps, set up makeshift psychiatric wards, usually with prayer as the only intervention." NYTimes. Links contain upsetting images and video. [more inside]
After a drunk man pummels a Pepper robot greeting customers at a store in Japan, robotics ethicists call for a new type of legal protection that would apply specifically to robots.
As more-advanced robots can already react to basic stimuli, navigate complex environments, and use specialized “intelligence” to accomplish narrowly defined tasks, they present themselves as far from human but also as something rather different from a toaster or basic tool. Weng calls for a set of laws to guide human interaction with robots as they become more common and more social. He argues that they are a “third existence,” after people and property, deserving of their own legal protections.[more inside]
On the Nature of Things Humanity Was Not Meant to Know: Cosma Shalizi considers Lucretius' De Rerum Natura ('On the Nature of Things') as a "real-life Necronomicon, a book full of things humanity was not meant to know."
Why are little kids in Japan so independent? - 'If we had a nonviolent society, kids could walk around on their own, unafraid, like they do in Japan'. (via)
Robot ethicists have launched the Campaign Against Sex Robots, seeking a ban on the development of robotic sexytimes. Robot ethicists Kathleen Richardson of De Montfort University and Erik Billing from University of Skövde are the co-creators of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, which seeks to bring awareness to the issue and proposes a robot sex ban. They compare it to similar campaigns that seek to limit development of “killer” robots.
Steve Albini Shows That Punk Rock Ethics Are Good Business “If you start from the premise of refusing to be an asshole, then a lot of other decisions kind of make themselves.” - posted at Psychology Today, of all places.
Marion True, former curator at the Getty, discusses the charges of looting leveled against her in 2005. “The art is on the market. We don’t know where it comes from. And until we know where it comes from, it’s better off in a museum collection. And when we know where it comes from, we will give it back.”
When intelligence officials justify surveillance, they tend to use the stilted language of national security, and we typically hear only from senior officials who stick to their platitudes. It is rare for mid-level experts — the ones conducting the actual surveillance — to frankly explain what they do and why. And in this case, the candid confessions come from the NSA’s own surveillance philosopher. The columns answer a sociological curiosity: How does working at an intelligence agency turn a privacy hawk into a prophet of eavesdropping?What Happens When a Failed Writer Becomes a Loyal Spy? Peter Maass for The Intercept
What were snakes doing before they lost their legs? A new fossil discovery of an early snake with four tiny, stubby legs might shed some light on that question. Assuming it really is a snake, of course. However, the status of this fossil as a specimen from a private collection raises ethical questions. This is likely to be an illegally obtained specimen, like 2012's controversial Tarbosaurus bataar (previously, previously). Is it ethical for Science to promote findings from unethically sourced fossils when these are an increasing problem for paleontology? (Previously, previously.)