Tag: comprehension

Bioethics Blogs

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: The Ethical Dilemma of Youth Politics, written by Andreas Masvie

 This essay was the runner up in the undergraduate category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics 2017

Written by University of Oxford Student, Andreas Masvie

 

The West in general, and perhaps Europe in particular, tend to celebrate youth politics as a vital force of democracy. This is reflected in the current literature on youth politics, which appears to be almost exclusively descriptive (e.g. ‘What is the level of youth politics in country X?’) or positively normative (e.g. ‘How can country X heighten engagement in youth politics?’). Various youth councils and parliaments are encouraged and empowered by government as well as civil society, both at local and national level. This is also the case internationally. The UN, for instance, demands that youth politics be stimulated: “[Such] engagement and participation is central to achieving sustainable human development.”[1] I will approach the rationale of this collective celebration as a syllogism, defining ‘youth politics’ as organized political engagement of people aged 13–25:

P1        Youth politics increases the level of political engagement;

P2        Political engagement promotes democratic vitality and sustainability; thus

C1        Youth politics promotes democratic vitality and sustainability.

In this paper I am interested in challenging P2. Does the increased political engagement due to youth politics promote democratic vitality and sustainability? For the sake of argument, I will posit the trueness of P1. When it comes to P2: it would be difficult to argue that all forms of political engagement promote democratic vitality and sustainability (e.g. authoritarian neo-Nazism or revolutionary Communism). Hence, I shall take it for granted that P2 is constrained to activities and policies compatible with democracy.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals–March 2017, Part I by Julia Kowalski

Here is Part I of our March article round-up.

American Anthropologist

A Dog’s Life: Suffering Humanitarianism in Port-au-Prince, Haiti

Greg Beckett

In the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, most residents are dependent on humanitarian and foreign assistance for food, services, aid, and jobs. Yet, some residents feel that the conditions under which such aid is provided actively blocks their ability to live a life they find meaningful. In this article, I explore how some Haitians theorize this humanitarian condition through the figure of the dog, an animal that exemplifies, for Haitians, the deep history of violence, dehumanization, and degradation associated with foreign rule. I then contrast this with how foreign aid workers invoke the figure of the dog to illustrate their compassionate care for suffering others. Drawing on research among Bel Air residents and foreign aid workers in the years after a devastating earthquake destroyed much of Port-au-Prince, I show how the figure of the dog is central both to Haitian critiques of humanitarian aid and to the international humanitarian imaginary that responds to forms of suffering it deems cruel.

Biosocieties

“Let’s pull these technologies out of the ivory tower”: The politics, ethos, and ironies of participant-driven genomic research

Michelle L. McGowan, Suparna Choudhury, Eric T. Juengst, Marcie Lambrix, Richard A. Settersten Jr., Jennifer R. Fishman

This paper investigates how groups of ‘citizen scientists’ in non-traditional settings and primarily online networks claim to be challenging conventional genomic research processes and norms. Although these groups are highly diverse, they all distinguish their efforts from traditional university- or industry-based genomic research as being ‘participant-driven’ in one way or another.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

In the Journals – January 2017 by Anna Zogas

Welcome to a new year of Somatosphere’s In the Journals section! Here are some of the articles available in January 2017. Enjoy!

Medical Anthropology

Chronic Subjunctivity, or, How Physicians Use Diabetes and Insomnia to Manage Futures in the United States
Matthew Wolf-Meyer & Celina Callahan-Kapoor

Prognostication has become central to medical practice, offering clinicians and patients views of particular futures enabled by biomedical expertise and technologies. Drawing on research on diabetes care and sleep medicine in the United States, in this article we suggest that subjectivity is increasingly modeled on medical understandings of chronic illness. These chronic conceptions of the self and society instill in individuals an anxiety about future health outcomes that, in turn, motivate practices oriented at self-care to avoid negative health outcomes and particular medical futures. At its most extreme, these anxieties of self-care trouble conceptions of self and social belonging, particularly in the future tense, leading patients and clinicians to consider intergenerational and public health based on the threats that individual patients pose for others.

Decoding the Type 2 Diabetes Epidemic in Rural India (open access)
Matthew Little, Sally Humphries, Kirit Patel & Cate Dewey

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is an escalating public health problem in India, associated with genetic susceptibility, dietary shift, and rapid lifestyle changes. Historically a disease of the urban elite, quantitative studies have recently confirmed rising prevalence rates among marginalized populations in rural India. To analyze the role of cultural and sociopolitical factors in diabetes onset and management, we employed in-depth interviews and focus groups within a rural community of Tamil Nadu.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

HIV Cure Research and The Dual Aims of the Informed Consent Process

Guest Post: Danielle Bromwich and Joseph Millum

Paper: Informed Consent to HIV Research 

Special Issue: The benefit/risk ratio challenge in clinical research, and the case of HIV cure

A cure for HIV would be tremendously valuable. Approximately 37 million people worldwide are HIV-positive and 15 million are currently on antiretroviral therapy. Until recently it was assumed that this therapy would be the extent of HIV treatment and that those with access to it would need to take their drugs for life. But what once seemed impossible is now in early phase clinical trials: interventions designed to completely eradicate HIV from the immune system.

Excitement surrounding these “HIV cure” studies is tempered by ethical concern. They require participants to come off their antiretroviral therapy and undergo highly risky interventions using gene transfers or stem cell therapy. These are currently proof of concept studies—no one expects the participants to be cured. Their purpose is to provide essential information about safety and pharmacokinetics, but in doing so they expose participants to high risks with little prospect of direct benefit.

If we could be confident that participants understood their trials’ true risk-benefit ratio, these high risks might be less troubling. But such confidence would be misplaced. Decades of data show poor comprehension of risk among participants in clinical trials. The fact that HIV is still a stigmatized condition amplifies this concern. Potential participants may be desperate to be rid of their disease and so downplay the risks and exaggerate the potential benefits. Understandably, HIV cure researchers and research ethics committees are worried.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Climate Change Activism: Fear vs. Reality

Image via NASA

STUDENT VOICES

By: Chelsea Zantay

This essay is in response to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs video clip “Global Ethics Forum: Ethics Matter: A Conversation with Bill McKibben.”  

Often when a problem is too big or too scary we throw up our hands and announce that “there is nothing we can do” to solve it.  Admittedly, climate change feels like one of those problems.  It seems like a quagmire of depressing facts and statistics.  It is now scientific fact that the polar ice caps are melting, our oceans are rising and becoming more acidic, and if we do not curb our consumption of fossil fuels, our planet will be rendered unlivable.  The plethora of disturbing information on climate change is enough to cause anyone to have a sleepless night or make them wish they had never heard the truth about our warming planet.  However, ostriches with their heads buried in the sand do not get much done, and once you know some truth, you cannot un-know it.  And so the question at hand is not “is climate change happening?” for that question has been answered in the affirmative (although climate change deniers would like to see this issue removed from our national political discourse).  The question right now is “what are we going to do about it, if anything?”

Bill McKibben, environmental scientist and founder of 350.org, has spent his career writing about climate change and mobilizing communities as an activist for the cause. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Celebrity Medicine: Ben Stiller’s Prostate Edition

by Kaitlynd Hiller

During an interview in early October, Ben Stiller spoke publicly for the first time about his successful battle with prostate cancer, and how, if it were up to the American Cancer Society (ACS), perhaps he wouldn’t have won. Stiller also published a same-day article on Medium[1] that detailed the care he received and the factors that guided those decisions. Although this public reveal is reminiscent of Angelina Jolie’s 2013 Op-Ed on genetic testing and prophylactic mastectomies, Stiller’s is more controversial. Not only did he pursue screening earlier than suggested and question the evidence-based national guidelines, he’s also gone on to advocate for a position that many public health experts today are trying to walk back on: that screening saves lives.

Unlike Jolie, Stiller had no family history of the disease he received screening for. At the time he began having his PSA levels routinely tested, Stiller was 48 years old with no other known risk factors. The ACS recommends starting the discussion of prostate screening with men like Stiller (counted as “average risk”) at age 50.[2] The American Urological Association’s guideline does not recommend annual screening in average risk men ages 40 to 55 years, and the US Preventative Services Task Force recommends against the use of the PSA test in all asymptomatic, average risk populations.[3] Stiller credits his cancer-free status to his “thoughtful internist,” who began discussing PSA testing multiple years ahead of what these guidelines suggest. Ben puts it into perspective: “If [my doctor] had waited, as the American Cancer Society recommends, until I was 50, I would not have known I had a growing tumor until two years after I got treated.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Tobias Rees’s Plastic Reason: An Anthropology of Brain Science in Embryogenetic Terms by Nima Bassiri

Plastic Reason: An Anthropology of Brain Science in Embryogenetic Terms

by Tobias Rees

University of California Press, 2016, 352 pages

 

In the prefatory pages of Plastic Reason, Tobias Rees explains that his ethnographic study of the lab of French biologist Alain Prochiantz — one of the earliest proponents, technicians, and conceptual architects of neuronal plasticity — is ultimately “about the emergence of possibilities where before there were none” (xiii). If we are to appreciate the conceptual transformation in neuronal research that took place in France and specifically in Prochiantz’s lab in the late 1990s, Rees insists that we must view this development not only as the formation of a new style of neuroscientific thinking but also as the emergence of an entirely new object. Rees writes, “Within the roughly one hundred years I cover here (from the 1890s to the 1990s), what the brain is changed many times over. […] Conceptually speaking, each one of these changes mutated what the brain is, and each mutation changed, however slightly, the analytic focus of the neuronal sciences” (89). Plastic Reason, then, has a double focus: on the one hand to narrate and rationalize the emergence of Prochiantz’s specific doctrine of neuronal plasticity and, on the other hand, to take stock of the very object that emerged, “the enactment of a brain that is neither a fixed chemical machine nor an already wired computer, but instead a living organ characterized by ceaseless cellular becoming” (195).

Central for Rees is the claim that Prochiantz’s specific conception of plasticity — namely, neuro-cellular embryogenesis that continues into adulthood — was radically different from, and effectively sought to dethrone, the preceding dominant view of plasticity defined by synaptic rewiring.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Doctor Knows Best?

Photo Credit: NIH

Here is a write-up of a talk I recently gave at the NIH. The topic is a good one, about doctors and decision making and all that crap. But the real importance of linking you to the story is to find out if you hate my sport coat as much as my wife does. It is the only one I own now, and I’ve had it for 25+ years. Time for a new one?

Does doctor always know best? Patients often ask their doctor: “What would you do in my situation?” But as the doctor explains the risks and benefits of treatment options and imparts advice, it’s important to remember there’s a human behind that medical chart, a patient with unique values, opinions and personal preferences.

A doctor’s recommendation often influences a patient’s treatment choice, so the clinician has a huge moral responsibility to recommend well, said Dr. Peter Ubel, a physician and behavioral scientist who teaches public policy and business at Duke University. He led an animated, thought-provoking discussion about shared decision-making among doctors and patients at a bioethics lecture Mar. 22 in Lipsett Amphitheater.

“People want to be heard and understood. That, to me, is what shared decision-making is; that’s what partnership is,” said Ubel, who helps prepare business students for jobs in health care. “What we need to do as clinicians is to get better at eliciting those patient preferences. [Clinicians should tell patients]:‘I’m the expert on medical facts, but you’re the expert on you.’”

Ubel used the example of a patient with low-grade prostate cancer who was trying to decide between surveillance or surgery and radiation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

AlphaGo and Google DeepMind: (Un)Settling the Score between Human and Artificial Intelligence

By Katie L. Strong, PhD 

In a quiet room in a London office building, artificial intelligence history was made last October as reigning European Champion Fan Hui played Go, a strategy-based game he had played countless times before. This particular match was different from the others though – not only was Fan Hui losing, but he was losing against a machine.

The machine was a novel artificial intelligence system named AlphaGo developed by Google DeepMind. DeepMind, which was acquired by Google in 2014 for an alleged $617 million (their largest European acquisition to date), is a company focused on developing machines that are capable of learning new tasks for themselves. DeepMind is more interested in artificial “general” intelligence, or AI machines that are adaptive to the task at hand and can accomplish new goals with little or no preprogramming. DeepMind programs essentially have a kind of short-term working memory that allows them to manipulate and adapt information to make decisions. This is in contrast to AI that may be very adept at a specific job, but cannot translate these skills to a different task without human intervention. For the researchers at DeepMind, the perfect platform to test these types of sophisticated AI: computer and board games. 

Courtesy of Flickr user Alexandre Keledjian
DeepMind had set their sights high with Go; since IBM’s chess playing Deep Blue beat Garry Karparov in 1997, Go has been considered the holy grail of artificial intelligence, and many experts had predicted that humans would remain undefeated for at least another 10 years.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.

Bioethics Blogs

Oxford Uehiro Prize in Practical Ethics: Are offensive jokes more permissible if they’re funny? Written by Raphael Hogarth

This essay received an Honourable Mention in the Undergraduate Category of the Oxford Uehiro Prize of Practical Ethics

Written by New College Oxford student Raphael Hogarth

Three moral agents walk into a bar. They get to joking and, with each round, their banter becomes more risqué. After the second pint, Agent A ventures a humourless and offensive joke about Jews and big noses: Agents B and C scowl and move on. After the third pint, Agent A has another crack with a joke about the holocaust – a more insensitive joke, but also apparently one with more potential to amuse. Agent B can’t help but giggle; Agent C is incandescent with outrage. Agents A and B retort in chorus: “But it’s funny!”[1]

This is a familiar sort of exchange. Someone accused of moral turpitude for a tasteless quip will often reach for its comedic value as a defence. Conversely, witlessness is often seen to add insult to injury with offensive jokes: “It wasn’t even funny!” This phenomenon is surprisingly under-philosophised. There has been some debate about how the moral character of a joke can affect how funny it is (the ‘comic moralism/immoralism/amoralism’ debate),[2] but virtually none about whether how funny a joke is can affect its moral character. This is an important question. We form and nourish many of our personal relationships through jokes; their moral status affects ours. Though my focus here is on ethics, not politics, the answer may also have implications for public life – about proper penance for those who make offensive jokes in official capacities, for instance.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.