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)
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)
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]
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]
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 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.
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]
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]
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 Nazi Anatomists. "How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics."
The drugs don't work : a modern medical scandal - "The doctors prescribing the drugs don't know they don't do what they're meant to. Nor do their patients. The manufacturers know full well, but they're not telling."
The committee took the unprecedented step of recommending that some details of these biological studies [be] kept from the public, so that no one could use them as recipes for new bioweapons. [more inside]
Homelessness: Cutting out the middle men (Economist) "The most efficient way to spend money on the homeless might be to give it to them". [more inside]
We may soon be able to clone Neanderthals. But should we? An essay from Archaeology Magazine examines the ethical, scientific and legal ramifications. (Via Heather Pringle's Time Machine blog, where essay author Zach Zorich posted a reply and elicited a response.) [more inside]
The Canadian Journalism Project (CJP) and its websites, J-Source.ca (English) and ProjetJ.ca (French), provides a source for news, research, commentary, advice, discussion and resources about the achievement of, and challenges to, excellence in Canadian journalism.
Three psychology experiments that raise ethics questions because of the danger they posed to the research assistants. (via) [more inside]
The blood substitute PolyHeme has been previously discussed on MetaFilter, but new evidence shows that PolyHeme actually raises the chances of death by nearly 30%. PolyHeme was notable mostly for the reaction to its clinical trials, which, controversially, did not require patient consent.
The Checklist - "If a new drug were as effective at saving lives as Peter Pronovost’s checklist, there would be a nationwide marketing campaign urging doctors to use it" [single page]
Laud Humphreys was studying to be an Episcopal priest in the mid-1950s when he learned, shortly after his father's death, that his father, Oklahoma State Representative Ira D. Humphreys, took trips to New Orleans to have sex with other men. After being dismissed as an Episcopal priest in the 1960s, Laud Humphreys then enrolled as a sociology grad student where he completed a dissertation about men who had sex with other men in public bathrooms in St. Louis, which Humphreys researched by agreeing to serve as a "watch queen", looking out for the police. After writing down the license plate numbers of the men having sex, Humphreys traced the men's addresses and contacted them in disguise, claiming to be collecting data for a public health survey. The research, which was condemned as unethical for its use of covert methods, was published in 1970 as Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places. [more inside]
The Human Speechome Project - "A baby is to be monitored by a network of microphones and video cameras for 14 hours a day, 365 days a year, in an effort to unravel the seemingly miraculous process by which children acquire language.". Selected video clips. Paper (PDF, 750KB). To test hypotheses of how children learn, Prof Deb Roy's team at MIT will develop machine learning systems that “step into the shoes” of his son by processing the sights and sounds of three years of life at home. Total storage required: 1.4 petabytes.
The False Controversy of Stem Cell Research. Kinsley: In fact, thinking it through is a moral obligation, especially if you are on the side of the argument that wants to stop or slow this research. It's not complicated. An embryo used in stem-cell research (and fertility treatments) is three to five days past conception. It consists of a few dozen cells that together are too small to be seen without a microscope. It has no consciousness, no self-awareness, no ability to feel love or pain. The smallest insect is far more human in every respect except potential.
Bill Joy thinks the world will end unless we stop doing certain kinds of research right now. I think Bill Joy is full of crap, but he has valid points. (More inside)
Lots of posts lately about the election, about other strange things, (and especially about my favorite subject to not read: Nader) and we haven't had a knock-down drag-out argument about ethics for a while. So I thought I'd start one about this. Using up humans to collect medical data is unquestionably immoral and those who do it should be hung, if not put to death by torture. The question is whether those of us who had nothing to do with the collection of that data and have not done anything immoral become immoral by using data collected that way in order to save lives. I'm going to make three posts below, so be patient.