Tag: hyperbole

Bioethics Blogs

Don’t Feed the Trolls: Bold Climate Action in a New, Golden Age of Denialism

by Marcus Hedahl and Travis N. Rieder

ABSTRACT. In trying to motivate climate action, many of those concerned about altering the status quo focus on trying to convince climate deniers of the error of their ways. In the wake of the  2016 Election, one might believe that now, more than ever, it is tremendously important to convince those who deny the reality of climate science of the well-established facts. We argue, however, that the time has come to revisit this line of reasoning.  With a significant majority of voters supporting taxing or regulating greenhouse gases, those who want to spur climate action ought to focus instead on getting a critical mass of climate believers to be appropriately alarmed. Doing so, we contend, may prove more useful in creating the political will necessary to spur bold climate action than would engaging directly with climate deniers.

Less than a month after the 2016 presidential election, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus stated that climate change denialism would be the “default position” of the Trump administration (Meyjes 2016). In March 2017, Scott Pruit, President Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, expressed his belief—contrary to the estabilished scientific consensus—that carbon dioxide was not one of the primary contributors of climate change (Davenport 2107). Given this existence of climate denialism at the highest reaches of U.S. government, one might believe that, now more than ever, it is tremendously important to convince those who deny the reality of climate science of the well-established facts.[1] Surely, with truth on our side, we must trumpet the evidence, making deniers our primary target and acceptance of the truth of climate change our primary goal.

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

Penny-Foolish

April 07, 2017

by Sean Philpott-Jones, Chair, Bioethics Program of Clarkson University & Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Penny-Foolish

The 2018 federal budget battle has barely begun and already critics – including myself – are questioning the wisdom of Trump’s proposal to drastically cut key agencies like the US Department of State, Health and Human Services, and the Environmental Protection Agency in order to build a wall that no one wants, to buy fighter jets that no one needs, and to give tax breaks that no one earned.

The Trump Administration claims that the President’s proposal will make Americans safer, healthier, and wealthier, but the unprecedented cuts and reallocations in this budget are likely to make us poorer, sicker, and endangered. They are also likely to do irreparable harm to America’s image overseas. Although Ronald Reagan famously described America as “a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere,” we will soon be seen as the exact opposite as the very programs that save lives, promote equality, combat poverty, and advance human rights – the very values and ideals that Americans cherish – are dismantled.

Consider, for example, Trump’s plan to cut funding from a program that provides life-saving treatment to those living with HIV/AIDS across the globe. Known as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), that program was created in 2003 by then President George W. Bush. It would not be hyperbole to describe PEPFAR as President Bush’s greatest legacy, redeeming an otherwise disastrous administration best known for embroiling America in an unjust and seemingly unending war in the Middle East and for trigger the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression.

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

“Notes on a Balinese Cockfight” and Donald Trump by Veronica Davidov

Shortly after the election, I taught “Notes on a Balinese Cockfight” to my Anthropological Theory class, as I always do, at that point in the semester. By then we had covered “old ideas” – anthropologists who saw societies as bodies that successfully regulated themselves into homeostasis, cultures as cauldrons that take all that is natural and transform it into all that is social. Then, in the timeline of the history of anthropological thought, we consider the idea of culture as a manuscript, a palimpsest of layered stories, endlessly rich in meaning – stories that work both like horcruxes, where the soul of the culture is encoded, and as mirrors, reflecting how life is lived back to the ones that live it.

“The Balinese Cockfight” is, as every anthropologist knows, a classic article written in 1972 by Clifford Geertz, who observed cockfighting during his fieldwork in Indonesia. The cockfights are illegal but widespread, with cocks – roosters – serving as proxies for powerful men and their status competition. Geertz wrote that “the cockfight is the story the Balinese tell themselves about themselves.” When I teach this article, I always start the class by saying out loud what I’ve learned students are wondering and giggling about – I tell them, “yes, the whole article is basically one protracted dirty joke. Yes, he writes about cocks exactly for the reason you think. He even notes that the wordplay where a cock is both a rooster and a penis exists in Balinese just as it does in English.”

Intellectuals have an interesting critical relationship with archetypes, especially when they appear as instances of synecdoche – they are such concentrated semiotic clusters that when they are intentionally deployed in fiction, we are taught to read them as allegory.

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

Writers Whose Expertise is Deplorably Low

Something popped up on my twitter feed the other day: this document from Oxford’s philosophy department.  (I’m not sure quite what it is.  Brochure?  In-house magazine?  Dunno.  It doesn’t really matter, though.)  In it, there’s a striking passage from Jeff McMahan’s piece on practical ethics:

Even though what is variously referred to as ‘practical ethics’ or ‘applied ethics’ is now universally recognized as a legitimate area of philosophy, it is still regarded by some philosophers as a ghetto within the broader 
area of moral philosophy.  This view is in one way warranted, as there is much work in such sub-domains of practical ethics as bioethics and business ethics that is done by writers whose expertise is in medicine, health policy, business, or some area other than moral philosophy, and whose standards of rigour in moral argument
are deplorably low.  These writers also tend
 to have only a superficial understanding of normative ethics.  Yet reasoning in practical ethics cannot be competently done without sustained engagement with theoretical issues
in normative ethics.  Indeed, Derek Parfit believes that normative and practical ethics are so closely interconnected that it is potentially misleading even to distinguish between them.  In his view, the only significant distinction is between ethics and metaethics, and even that distinction is not sharp.  [emphasis mine]

It’s a common complaint among medical ethicists who come from a philosophical background that non-philosophers are (a) not as good at philosophy, (b) doing medical ethics wrong, (c) taking over.  All right: there’s an element of hyperbole in my description of that complaint, but the general picture is probably recognisable. 

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

Creative Collaborations: The Making of “Lissa (Still Time):  a graphic medical ethnography of friendship, loss, and revolution” by Sherine Hamdy

Is there a widely accessible yet conceptually rigorous way to convey anthropological insights into the lived complexities and bioethical dilemmas that attend managing chronic illness in two vastly different contexts: the contemporary Arab world, and the United States? As it turns out, there is: comics. At the time we began to explore this question, we had both been excited by the pedagogical potentials of this genre in our medical anthropological teaching (Hamdy 2014, Nye 2015). Like other scholars working in the growing field of what Ian Williams has termed “graphic medicine,” we found that the combination of text and image in graphic memoirs such as Hyperbole and a Half or Mom’s Cancer can powerfully convey the visceral, temporal, and social dimensions of illness, while the levity of the genre makes it easier to engage with difficult topics such as suicidal depression or cancer. We began to consider that the graphic form might also make it possible to succinctly and effectively visualize medical anthropological concepts such as “structural violence,” “biotechnical embrace,” or “political etiologies.”

Motivated by the conceptual and pedagogical potentials of comics, we began the process of crafting a collaborative narrative-based graphic adaptation of our original field research (process illustrated here by Hamdy’s daughter in fig. 1). This has led to a richly collaborative multi-dimensional project developed with the guidance of award-winning cartoonist and editor Paul Karasik and illustrated by Rhode Island School of Design students Sarula Bao and Caroline Brewer. We are thrilled to announce that the resulting project, Lissa (Still Time): a graphic medical ethnography of friendship, loss, and revolution, is now forthcoming with University of Toronto Press’s ethnoGRAPHIC series edited by Anne Brackenbury.

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

University Research and Journalism: Distinctions Without Differences

Google Scholar belatedly alerts me a 2014 article in which two philosophers of education seek to distinguish investigative journalism from university-sponsored community research. They suggest it makes sense to require IRB oversight of the latter but not the former, but their arguments rest on factually doubtful claims of uncertain relevance, and they fail to show that IRB oversight makes sense for either type of research.

[Anne Newman and Ronald David Glass, “Comparing Ethical and Epistemic Standards for Investigative Journalists and Equity-Oriented Collaborative Community-Based Researchers: Why Working for a University Matters,” Journal of Higher Education 85, no. 3 (2014): 283–311, doi:10.1353/jhe.2014.0013.]

As noted on this blog, many IRB apologists are sufficiently steeped in American traditions of freedom of the press to avoid calling for IRB oversight of journalism. Some, like James Weinstein, try to distinguish the two by disparaging social science as focusing on “subjects not of public concern.” Others, like Martin Meeker, take the opposite stance, suggesting that journalism is too full of “blatant bias and even hyperbole” to be taken seriously.

Though they don’t cite Meeker, Newman and Glass follow his line and attack Weinstein, arguing that equity-oriented collaborative community-based research (EOCCBR) does indeed address “policy issues that are undoubtedly matters of public concern (e.g., drinking water contamination, mentoring programs for parolees, civic engagement of low-income racialized youth).” How then, can they justify prior restraint?

Silly Claim 1: Reporters Don’t Disclose Methodology

Newman and Glass’s article is long and somewhat rambling, so I’m not sure how many distinctions they hope to draw between university research and journalism.

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

Zika: Time for the next wave of sensationalized worry

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

On the season (series?) finale of the X-Files (Season 10, episode 6) this week, all of humanity is being attacked by the Spartan virus, a disease that seems to turn off the human immune system and permits other diseases to kill us. This episode is built on our fears of an inevitable worldwide pandemic and, of course, the recent concerns over Zika virus.

Zika is a virus spread by the Aedes mosquito. An adult who is infected may experience a “mild fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache.” Zika has been known since 1947 when the virus was found in a rhesus macaque being used for research on yellow fever in Uganda. The first case of an infected human was in Nigeria in 1954. Human infections were rare until 2007 when an epidemic hit Yap Island, Micronesia. In 2014, in French Polynesia, there was a cluster of microcephaly and Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). The current epidemic was declared a Public Health Emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February 2016.

What’s important to know is that there are two things occurring: (1) An increase in people who have been or are infected with Zika virus. And (2) a cluster of microcephaly and GBS in Brazil, French Polynesia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, and Suriname. This type of evidence is called correlative—they both are happening in similar populations. Correlation does not necessarily mean causation. For example, the divorce rate in Maine correlates with per capita consumption of margarine. That does not mean margarine cause divorce.

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 Third Rail of the CRISPR Moonshot: Minding the Germline

As the 2015 news cycle ground down and rebooted for the new year, a wide swath of news publications—industry, research, scientific, and popular—declared CRISPR gene editing to be one of 2015’s biggest stories. In the new year, an ongoing CRISPR concern is how we can strengthen and brighten the line of policy and practice that cautions against creating genetically modified human babies.

Much of the news since the #GeneEditSummit in December has focused on a very different application of CRISPR: producing therapies for patients living with genetic conditions. Jaw-dropping investment news is issuing forth as multiple biotech firms team up with drug companies and venture capitalists to bring the CRISPR moonshot of gene-editing therapies into view.

While CRISPR coverage doesn’t always make it clear, many of the leading gene-editing companies have clearly stated that they’re aiming to treat genetic disease in one consenting patient at a time, not on a population level, and not in a fertility clinic for prospective parents seeking to tailor the genetic variants they pass on to their future children. Several key players in this lab-to-market push have spoken out forcefully:

Sangamo Biosciences (key figure(s): Edward Lanphier, CEO/president)

Early in 2015 as rumors were circulating that scientists were experimenting with the CRISPR/Cas9 technology on human embryos, some biotech figures stepped up proactively to make their concerns heard.  Edward Lanphier, CEO/president of Sangamo Biosciences (using older gene-editor Zinc Fingers to develop HIV/AIDS gene therapies), published an article in Nature with colleagues from the Alliance for Regenerative Medicine entitled “Don’t edit the human germline.”

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

NPRM: How to Exclude Journalism?

Few if any argue that journalists should be required to submit their work to IRB review. Some IRB apologists think journalism is too important to bear restriction, while others consider it so full of “blatant bias and even hyperbole” that it doesn’t deserve the dignity of review. But all participants in the debate, at least in United States, seem uncomfortable with the idea of subjecting journalists to prior restraint.

The question, as always, is how to draw the line between journalism and regulated forms of conversation. The NPRM’s proposed rule attempts to do so with a specific exclusion for “Oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholarship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected.” Will that suffice?

Neither the NPRM’s language nor SACHRP’s proposed replacement is quite right, so let me suggest an alternative.

In his NPRM comments, Charles Seife, professor of journalism at NYU, fears that it will not. He writes,

I believe that it is incorrect to modify or define “journalism” in such a manner. Much journalism does not “focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected.” Journalists routinely gather information from and about individuals who are not the direct focus of our work. But the plain-language interpretation of the regulation as written would raise questions about whether, for example the following journalistic activities would be excluded from oversight:

  • Interviewing a whistleblower for a story about a corporation’s malfeasance
  • Interviewing a editor for a story about a plagiarized paper that appeared in a scientific journal
  • Interviewing a scientist for a story about another scientist’s work
  • Conducting a survey to gather opinions about a political race
  • Analyzing government personnel records to determine how agency inspectors go about their jobs

In each case, the journalist would be gathering information from and about human subjects, yet the focus of the activity in each case is not upon the individuals about or from whom the information is collected.

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

Bioethics Commission Urges Neuroscientists to Participate in Legal Processes, and Cautions Against Hype

Earlier this year, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) released the second of its two-volume report on neuroscience and ethics—Gray Matters: Topics at the Intersection of Neuroscience, Ethics, and Society (Gray Matters, Vol. 2). One of the topics it examined in depth was the application of neuroscientific evidence and concepts to legal and policy decision making processes. Neuroscience research and evidence have the potential to add value to the law by improving accuracy, decreasing errors, and helping us gain a deeper understanding of human motivation and behavior. However, the application of this novel and advancing science to the centuries-old legal institution is not without ethical and practical challenges.

In Gray Matters, Vol. 2, the Bioethics Commission made several recommendations to address ethical and practical challenges and maximize the potential value of neuroscience to the legal system. In particular, the Bioethics Commission recommended that:

Neuroscientists should participate in legal decision-making processes and policy development to ensure the accurate interpretation and communication of neuroscience information.

Neuroscience researchers are in the best position to explain scientific concepts, research results, and limitations of neurotechnologies to a legal audience. Judges and jurors need to understand how neurotechnologies work, what their limitations are, and how to accurately translate and apply research findings to a legal setting. Neuroscientists have several options for engagement. For example, they can act as expert witnesses in court, act as consultants for legal teams, or help attorneys write briefs. In addition, neuroscientists also can assist in policy making at local, state, and federal levels, by ensuring that their research findings are accurately explained to legislators and policy makers.

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.