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.)
How often do ethics professors call their mothers? My son Davy, then seven years old, was in his booster seat in the back of my car. ‘What do you think, Davy?’ I asked. ‘People who think a lot about what’s fair and about being nice – do they behave any better than other people? Are they more likely to be fair? Are they more likely to be nice?’ Davy didn’t respond right away. I caught his eye in the rearview mirror. ‘The kids who always talk about being fair and sharing,’ I recall him saying, ‘mostly just want you to be fair to them and share with them.’
Spock the Impaler: A Belated Retrospective on Vulcan Ethics - Peter Watts As you know, Bob, Nimoy’s defining role was that of Star Trek‘s Mr. Spock, the logical Vulcan who would never let emotion interfere with the making of hard choices. This tended to get him into trouble with Leonard McCoy, Trek‘s resident humanist. “If killing five saves ten it’s a bargain,” the doctor sneered once, in the face of Spock’s dispassionate suggestion that hundreds of colonists might have to be sacrificed to prevent the spread of a galaxy-threatening neuroparasite. “Is that your simple logic?” The logic was simple, and unassailable, but we were obviously supposed to reject it anyway. [more inside]
The New Mexico Law Review just published an issue dedicated entirely to Breaking Bad. It features eight articles that analyze the illegal acts committed on the show, their real-world parallels, and the consequences attached:
Given the array of legal issues raised, our editorial board was excited to take the opportunity to present analysis of Breaking Bad by scholars and legal practitioners. In April 2014 we issued a call for papers requesting abstracts on topics including the application of the Fourth Amendment to drug crimes under the New Mexico and/or U.S. Constitutions; the War on Drugs; ethical duties of lawyers; drug-offense sentencing; drug enforcement in rural, urban, and/or Tribal areas; and substance abuse and the law.Some of the greatest legal minds in New Mexico (and the country) came together to examine how Walter White would look to a jury, how the war on drugs affects peripheral citizens like Skyler, and whether Heisenberg could have stayed legit by fighting for his stake in Grey Matter in the courts. [via] [more inside]
“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals,” write two New York Times reporters. “Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die.” In Washington, this weekly meeting has been labeled “Terror Tuesday.” Once established, the list of nominees is sent to the White House, where the president orally gives his approval to each name. With the “kill list” validated, the drones do the rest. [more inside]
China rates its own citizens - including online behaviour: "The Chinese government is currently implementing a nationwide electronic system, called the Social Credit System, attributing to each of its 1,3 billion citizens a score for his or her behavior. The system will be based on various criteria, ranging from financial credibility and criminal record to social media behavior. From 2020 onwards each adult citizen should, besides his identity card, have such a credit code." [more inside]
Lesser-Known Trolley Problem Variations There’s an out of control trolley speeding towards Immanuel Kant. You have the ability to pull a lever and change the trolley’s path so it hits Jeremy Bentham instead. Jeremy Bentham clutches the only existing copy of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. Kant holds the only existing copy of Bentham’s The Principles of Morals and Legislation. Both of them are shouting at you that they have recently started to reconsider their ethical stances. [more inside]
Yascha Mounk at the utopian conducts An Interview with T.M. Scanlon: I: Free Will, Punishment and The Significance of Choice
T.M. (Tim) Scanlon is Alford Professor of Natural Religion, Moral Philosophy, and Civil Polity at Harvard, a moral philosopher, expert in contractualism, and the author of What We Owe To Each Other [more inside]
The Utopian: One of philosophy’s oldest worries is causal determinism: the fear that, if what we do and think is determined by physical processes beyond our control, then we should abandon moral categories like praise and blame and choice. But I take it that you’re less worried about that than many of your colleagues?
Tim Scanlon: I think there are three ways in which this problem arises – the problem being the possibility that a causal explanation of a reaction we give would undermine its significance in one way or another.
The CRISPR Revolution [ungated: 1,2,3] - "Biologists continue to hone their tools for deleting, replacing or otherwise editing DNA and a strategy called CRISPR has quickly become one of the most popular ways to do genome engineering. Utilizing a modified bacterial protein and a RNA that guides it to a specific DNA sequence, the CRISPR system provides unprecedented control over genes in many species, including perhaps humans. This control has allowed many new types of experiments, but also raised questions about what CRISPR can enable." [more inside]
The NHL instituted a draft lottery system after the Ottawa Senators flopped to select Alexandre Daigle first overall in 1993. The gambit backfired. Daigle is considered among hockey’s biggest draft busts. Former Washington Capitals coach Ron Wilson admitted this month – without providing all the details – his general manager, George McPhee, ordered him to lose down the 1998-99 homestretch to improve draft position. The NBA changed its postseason seeding rules when the 2005-06 Los Angeles Clippers seemingly tanked games to dodge Cuban’s Mavericks in the first round. The 2006 Swedish hockey team lost a game to avoid playing Canada or Russia in the Olympic quarterfinals. Four women’s badminton doubles teams were ejected from the 2012 Olympics for throwing round-robin matches to manipulate their seedings. Last month, two Tennessee high school girls’ basketball teams were banned from their postseason. They tried to lose to each other and avoid playing the defending state champ in the regional tournament. They committed blatant fouls and even shot into the wrong basket. The Ethics of Tanking
Rep. Aaron Schock (R-IL) has announced that he will resign from Congress. He has been recently been in the news for alleged ethics violations including a Downton Abbey office redecoration he didn't pay for, sketchy real estate deals, claiming 170,000 miles in reimbursement on a personal vehicle that he later sold with 80,000 miles on the odometer, and much much more! [more inside]
The early days of Apple's ResearchKit software seem set to revolutionize clinical research recruitment, with one Parkinson's study enrolling thousands of people in just a few hours. Apple's new ResearchKit: 'Ethics quagmire' or medical research aid?, from The Verge, discusses some of the ethical quandaries surrounding recruitment for medical studies via mobile app. A follow-up article discusses some changes already made to the developer guidelines to address some of these concerns about informed consent and data sharing. Ars Technica covers the Food and Drug Administration's regulatory requirements for medical devices and how they may apply to mobile apps, including those using ResearchKit.
John Gray: The Truth About Evil:
Blair made this observation in November 2002, four months before the invasion of Iraq, when he invited six experts to Downing Street to brief him on the likely consequences of the war. The experts warned that Iraq was a complicated place, riven by deep communal enmities, which Saddam had dominated for over 35 years. Destroying the regime would leave a vacuum; the country could be shaken by Sunni rebellion and might well descend into civil war. These dangers left the prime minster unmoved. What mattered was Saddam’s moral iniquity. The divided society over which he ruled was irrelevant. Get rid of the tyrant and his regime, and the forces of good would prevail. If Saddam was uniquely evil 12 years ago, we have it on the authority of our leaders that Isis is uniquely evil today. Until it swept into Iraq a few months ago, the jihadist group was just one of several that had benefited from the campaign being waged by western governments and their authoritarian allies in the Gulf in support of the Syrian opposition’s struggle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. Since then Isis has been denounced continuously and with increasing intensity; but there has been no change in the ruthless ferocity of the group, which has always practised what a radical Islamist theorist writing under the name Abu Bakr Naji described in an internet handbook in 2006 as “the management of savagery”.[more inside]
Brian Williams, Under Scrutiny, Will Take Leave From ‘NBC Nightly News’ [New York Times]
Brian Williams, acknowledging that the scrutiny and criticism he was attracting was becoming a distraction for his network, said on Saturday that he was stepping aside as anchor of NBC’s “Nightly News” for the next several days.[more inside]
Religion in China: Cracks in the atheist edifice - "Yang Fenggang of Purdue University, in Indiana, says the Christian church in China has grown by an average of 10% a year since 1980. He reckons that on current trends there will be 250m Christians by around 2030, making China's Christian population the largest in the world. Mr Yang says this speed of growth is similar to that seen in fourth-century Rome just before the conversion of Constantine, which paved the way for Christianity to become the religion of his empire." [more inside]
From the King of Clickbait to the "President" of Instagram to the Parody Twitter Illuminati...As The Washington Post says: "Everyone's stealing jokes online--Why doesn't anyone care?"
The Deep Mind of Demis Hassabis - "The big thing is what we call transfer learning. You've mastered one domain of things, how do you abstract that into something that's almost like a library of knowledge that you can now usefully apply in a new domain? That's the key to general knowledge. At the moment, we are good at processing perceptual information and then picking an action based on that. But when it goes to the next level, the concept level, nobody has been able to do that." (previously: 1,2) [more inside]
It's summer in Australia and that can only mean one thing: lots and lots of cricket! (Some previous discussions of cricket on Metafilter.) Cricket has long had a reputation as a "gentlemanly game", which quietly ignores the increasing popularity of women's cricket that has existed since 1745. Times change and some substantial technology is now being used to assist the umpires and referees. As the sport becomes more professional and attracts more money, controversy is increasing in these less genteel times. However, there is now one great ethical dilemma facing cricketers: should the batter voluntarily walk (dismiss themselves) when they know they are out, even if the umpire fails to give them out? [more inside]
An investigation for Scientific American by MeFi's own cgs06 uncovers evidence of widespread fraud in scientific publishing's peer review system. Alarming signs point to the Chinese government as a source of institutional support and funding for questionable papers and fake peer reviewers. [more inside]
Seasoned news photographer John Harte is telling stories, naming names, and even sharing unpublished pictures from his 28-year stint at The Bakersfield Californian at a new blog, You can't have my job, but I'll tell you a story: My three decades of photojournalism in one hell of a news town. Be warned that some of these photos may be disturbing. (They include images of dead children — notably the famous, award-winning, and highly controversial Hart Park drowning photo, which generated 500 calls of protest and a bomb threat against the newspaper.) Less-upsetting highlights include the stories in these individual entries: Meet the sheriff! My first arrest, We can't upset our readers!, and The greatest sports photo in history.
3QD's 2014 finalists for best blog posts on philosophical topics: Should animal products have ethical warning labels? Why is scientific uncertainty a moral responsibility [see last 4 mins.]? Should people choose probabilistically among competing moral theories? What are some bad ways of arguing about free will? Are most of us just not good enough to be utilitarians? Are volunteer soldiers morally responsible for unjust wars? Do P2P networks provide a model for something to do with consciousness, reality, and, yep, quantum mechanics? When are delusions good for us (see also)? What's up with philosophical systems that knock themselves down, e.g. Nāgārjuna's, Nietzsche's, and Rorty's? There's also an archive page for older prizes and other categories (previously).
Profs Bumble Into Big Legal Trouble After Election Experiment Goes Way Wrong Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch filed a complaint Friday alleging that Stanford University and Dartmouth College researchers broke four laws by sending 100,000 election mailers to voters that appeared to come from the state. Their peers in the field have ripped their social science experiment as a "misjudgment" or -- stronger still -- "malpractice." [more inside]
"The possibility of withholding care represents a departure from the 'do everything' philosophy in most American hospitals and a return to a view that held sway a century ago, when doctors were at greater risk of becoming infected by treating dying patients. 'This is another example of how this 21st century viral threat has pulled us back into the 19th century,' said medical historian Dr. Howard Markel of the University of Michigan.
"It’s about readers and their trust in us." Dave McKinney, longtime Chicago Sun-Times political reporter, resigns after the paper appears to cave to pressure from billionaire Illinois Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner to punish McKinney for writing an article that portrayed Rauner as a thug. After supporting McKinney publicly but attempting to remove him from the political beat, the paper reversed its three-year-old policy of not endorsing candidates by endorsing Rauner, who until recently owned 10% of the company that owns the paper.
Why not eat octopus? [New Yorker]
"I like to think of an octopus as a blobby, eight-fingered hand with a mind of its own. And then I’m suddenly not so keen on the idea of eating it."
The political economy of a universal basic income: "your view of what is feasible should not be backwards looking. The normalization of gay marriage and legalization of marijuana seemed utopian and politically impossible until very recently. Yet in fact those developments are happening, and their expansion is almost inevitable given the demographics of ideology... UBI — defined precisely as periodic transfers of identical fixed dollar amounts to all citizens of the polity — is by far the most probable and politically achievable among policies that might effectively address problems of inequality, socioeconomic fragmentation, and economic stagnation." [more inside]
The more we learn about the emotions shared by all mammals, the more we must rethink our own human intelligence [more inside]
Patrick Lin discusses ethics, responsibility and liability related to safety programming in self-driving cars: Robot Cars With Adjustable Ethics Settings.
- Welfare economics: an introduction
- The perils of Potential Pareto
- Inequality, production, and technology
- Welfare theorems, distribution priority, and market clearing
- Normative is performative, not positive
Farm Confessional: I Raise Livestock and I Think It May Be Wrong - "[Bob] Comis talked to Modern Farmer about the self-doubt he feels while raising animals for slaughter and his desire to see humanity evolve into a species that does not kill to eat." [more inside]
We need a theory of jerks. We need such a theory because, first, it can help us achieve a calm, clinical understanding when confronting such a creature in the wild. Imagine the nature-documentary voice-over: ‘Here we see the jerk in his natural environment. Notice how he subtly adjusts his dominance display to the Italian restaurant situation…’ And second – well, I don’t want to say what the second reason is quite yet.[more inside]
The VR Chicken Matrix: "a virtual chicken world in which caged animals think they're wandering happily around in the open... got me thinking again about Facebook's recent purchase of Oculus VR."
"Buy our car, but be aware that it might drive over a cliff rather than hit a car with two people." The Mathematics of Murder: Should a Robot Sacrifice Your Life to Save Two?
"If an NHS trust proposed today that it was going to introduce Viagra sales reps into men's genitourinary wards, or reps for walking aids to orthopaedic wards, the very least you'd expect would be some stout resistance. It is a measure of the strength of the association between "motherhood" and "buying stuff" that the presence of commercial representatives on maternity wards has been tolerated for so long."[more inside]
UN Climate Report: We Must Focus On 'Decarbonization', and It Won't Wreck the Economy - "The basic message is simple: We share a planet. Let's start acting like it." [more inside]
The NBA season has ended, and the playoffs have begun, causing a figurative ton of internet ink to be spilled on predictions and power rankings. But one word in particular seems to keep popping up in articles to describe white players like Steve Novak, Cody Zeller, Mason Plumlee, Andrew Bogut, and Josh McRoberts: "Dorky." And the writers that use it are inevitably white. Triangle Offense's Khalid Saalam (previously) thinks they should probably cut that out.
"Stevenson High's star player Jalen Brunson was in the process of scoring a Illinois state semifinal record 56 points when he sank what would have been a three-point shot. The basket was waived off as a foul. Brunson raised his hands in protest. Photographers captured the moment." But what really happened? [more inside]
The women of Gugulethu and Khayelitsha township. The third installment of photographer Julia Gunther’s ongoing project ‘Proud Women of Africa,’ which is in many ways is an outsider's continuation of visual activist Zanele Muholi's 'Faces and Phases' series, “marking, mapping, and preserving an often invisible community for posterity.” In an interview with the New Statesman, Muholi grappled with the ethical implications of documentary photography: “It’s been done for many years. Africa has mostly been projected and documented by the outside world.” (previously)
With recognition software making the use of recycled term papers impractical, a new service is now allowing students to hire unemployed professors to write term papers from scratch.
Is it possible to create a prison management game without trivializing or misrepresenting the issue of mass incarceration? So begins a critique by Paolo Pedercini, developer of "games addressing issues of social and environmental justice," of Introversion Software's upcoming game Prison Architect, currently in still in development but available as an early access beta. Prison Architect's producer, Mark Morris, and its designer, Chris Delay, respond in a lengthy youtube video. [more inside]
In the wake of recent debates about the responsibility of journalists to their subjects, this essay from TampaBay.com, about a woman suffering from a rare disorder, and the writer's relationship with her before and after the story is being written, has been hearalded as a good counterexample of "a journalist analyzing her actions ferociously," and doing a more ethical job of dealing with "suffering, suicide and a journalist's responsibility".
NYTimes: "The paleontologist Richard Leakey has called their removal a “sacrilege.” Kenyan villagers have said their theft led to crop failure and ailing livestock. It is little wonder, then, that the long, slender wooden East African memorial totems known as vigango are creating a spiritual crisis of sorts for American museums." [more inside]
This Video Will Hurt
A detailed explanation of a fascinating field of science and medicine by the always interesting C.G.P. Grey.[more inside]
The Awl presents the article that would've accompanied that Atlantic Monthly cover from Ghostbusters.
The Nazi Anatomists. "How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics."
The Bangka Belitung islands are a picture postcard tropical paradise, except where the tin is mined. Tin that is used in smartphone solders, and that is responsible for widespread ecological devastation. Following a Friends of the Earth campaign, all of the major manufacturers bar one have acknowledged their role in this destruction, and are seeking improved standards for tin mining. But if you truly want ethical consumer electronics, you'll have to wait for the Fairphone(Fairphone previously).