Tag: mass media

Bioethics Blogs

The Politics of Elder Care, Social Care, and the “Dementia Tax”: A View from the United Kingdom

By Richard Ashcroft
Professor Richard Ashcroft, an AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board member, teaches medical law and ethics at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in the Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London.

The United Kingdom has recently gone through a General Election. The main reason the election was called by Prime Minister Theresa May was to secure a stronger mandate for the ruling Conservative Party, which was governing with a small overall majority of 19 seats over the Opposition parties. PM May’s argument was that in the negotiations with the other member states of the European Union over the UK’s exit from that Union (Brexit), an increased majority would give her a stronger bargaining position. As the election turned out, the electorate returned the Conservatives with fewer seats, and PM May had to form a minority administration, with a partial agreement to support the Conservative Party made with one of the smaller parties, the Democratic Unionist Party, which only contests seats in Northern Ireland. As a result PM May has a working majority, but one that is more fragile, rather than stronger.
Commentators have suggested a number of reasons for this outcome, but there seems to be general agreement that a turning point in the electoral campaign was the release of the election manifesto of the Conservative Party. While there are many reasons that might explain the downturn in support for PM May, one particular policy announced in the manifesto, deemed the “dementia tax,” attracted widespread criticism. 

UK population distribution.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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

Speculative Health by Matthew Wolf-Meyer

The last thirty years have seen an intensification in ways of thinking about our health and disease in the future tense. Risk, precarity, subjunctivity — all three point to the ways that temporality shape human experience, subjectively, interpersonally, and institutionally. But what if we turn our attention away from the clinic and its therapeutic technologies — which focus on the unfolding everyday futures of therapy and the modest gains and losses experienced through aging, debilitation, and disease progression — and attend, instead, to the speculative futures of health and disease in science fiction, futurism, and other genres that creatively attempt to think through, conceptualize, and bring into being particular futures? These futures might operate at the level of the individual — different conceptions of the self and subjectivity — and they might operate at the level of society and its institutions, entailing new social orders as well as innovations in current institutions.

In this series we invite contributors to consider how speculation makes particular kinds of persons and social forms possible; to think though other models and modes of speculation about the body, health, and disease — in film, literature, and mass media; to consider how particular technologies and techniques create futures.

Possible topics might include:

–Fictional descriptions of novel social orders and institutions that produce new forms of health and wellness – or create new forms of disease, disability, and disorder

–Ethnographic engagement with emerging technologies of care, attending to the future-making of technologists, medical professionals, and the technology itself

–Historical descriptions of earlier forms of speculations, whether they be in the context of fiction in the strict sense or speculative policy making

–Considerations of how speculative genres come to influence the ways individuals conceptualize the future of health and disease

–Other explorations of how speculation operates, specifically in the contexts of health, wellness, disease, disability, and death

Contributions of 2,000-4,000 words are sought by June 1st, to begin publication by mid-June.

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

Are We All Flint? by Catherine Fennell

[This article originally appeared in Limn, Issue No. 7, “Public Infrastructures / Infrastructural Publics”.]

For the past several decades, Flint, Michigan, has staggered under waves of deindustrialization, disinvestment, and abandonment that have left the city depopulated, its built environment in shambles, and its remaining residents reeling from high unemployment and crime rates, a decimated tax base, and dwindling municipal services. While grim, Flint’s decline is by no means unique in a region whose cities have become synonymous with the booms and busts of twentieth century American manufacturing. Nor is the degree of its decay unusual. Aficionados of ruin will find crumbling infrastructures arresting and aplenty in most any “Rust Belt” city. What is singular, however, is the attention that Flint’s contaminated water has received in recent months, an attention that is now amplifying ongoing debates concerning America’s ailing and aging infrastructures. That amplification is especially apparent in variations of a phrase that has recently echoed through local, regional, and national media and activist circles: “We are all Flint.”

flint-water-filters-rg-bw

With every disclosed email, alleged wrongdoing, and denial of responsibility, the course of Flint’s contamination grows as murky and foul as the water that began flowing from its taps in 2014. In April of that year, the city switched its water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River. The switch unfolded amid a climate of intense fiscal austerity in which state-appointed emergency managers pushed Michigan’s most financially beleaguered cities to cut costs. In Flint, part of this push included a proposal to bypass Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department as the city’s water supplier, and to instead source cheaper water through a newly constructed pipeline into Lake Huron.

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 May 2016 Part I by Melanie Boeckmann

Following Anna’s post on current special issues, here are abstracts from this month’s journal outputs.

American Ethnologist

Skill and masculinity in Olympic weightlifting: Training cues and cultivated craziness in Georgia

Perry Sherouse

At the Georgian Weightlifting Federation in Tbilisi, Georgia, a mainstay of coaching is the training cue, a shouted word or phrase that coaches use to prompt weightlifters to perform in a certain psychological, physical, or technical way. In this practice, coaches cultivate and naturalize dimensions of physiology and psychology, aligning masculinity with animality, lack of restraint, and emotional surfeit, and femininity with gracefulness, control, and good technique. Although Olympic weightlifting remains stereotypically hypermasculine, coaches compliment female weightlifters’ technique as superior to men’s and train their athletes to integrate masculine “nature” and feminine “culture” in the expression of physical strength. In doing so, coaches do not instill fully formed subjectivities but manage embodied forms, using exclamatory cues to disaggregate the athlete into action, affect, and anatomy. 

“I am a radioactive mutant”: Emergent biological subjectivities at Kazakhstan’s Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site

Magdalena E. Stawskowski

The Semipalatinsk Nuclear Test Site in Kazakhstan was conceived as an experimental landscape where science, technology, Soviet Cold War militarism, and human biology intersected. As of 2015, thousands of people continue to live in rural communities in the immediate vicinity of this polluted landscape. Lacking good economic options, many of them claim to be “mutants” adapted to radiation, while outsiders see them as genetically tainted. In such a setting, how do post-Soviet social, political, and economic transformations operate with radioactivity to co-constitute a “mutant” subjectivity?

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

Resignation syndrome in refugee children – a new hypothesis

There has been much discussion about the so-called “apathetic children” in families seeking asylum in Sweden. You read that right: in Sweden, not in other countries. By all accounts, these children are genuinely ill. They do not simulate total lack of willpower; like inability to eat, speak and move. They are in a life-threatening condition and show no reactions even to painful stimuli. But why do we have so many cases in Sweden and not in other countries?

Several hundred cases have been reported, which in 2014 led the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare to introduce a new diagnosis: resignation syndrome. The “Swedish” syndrome appears to be a mystery, almost like a puzzle to crack. There are asylum seeking families all around the world: why does this syndrome occur to such an extent in a single country?

If you want to think more about this puzzling question, I recommended a new article in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, with Karl Sallin (PhD student at CRB) as first author. The article is long and technical, but for those interested, it is well worth the effort. It documents what is known about the syndrome and suggests a new hypothesis.

A common explanation of the syndrome is that it is a reaction to stress and depression. The explanation sounds intuitively reasonable, considering these children’s experiences. But if it were true, the syndrome should occur also in other countries. The mystery remains.

Another explanation is that the mother attempts to manage her trauma, her depression and her needs, by projecting her problems onto the child.

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

Combating neurohype

by Mo Costandi

Mo Costandi trained as a developmental neurobiologist and now works as a freelance writer based in London. His work has appeared in Nature, Science, and Scientific American, among other publications. He writes the Neurophilosophy blog, hosted by The Guardian, and is the author of 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need To Know, published by Quercus in 2013, and Neuroplasticity, forthcoming from MIT Press. Costandi also sits on the Board of Directors of the International Neuroethics Society.

In 2010, Judy Illes, president elect of the International Neuroethics Society, argued that neuroscientists need to communicate their research to the general public more effectively. Five years on, that message is still pertinent – and perhaps even more so.

Since then, public interest in neuroscience has continued to grow, but at the same time, coverage of brain research in the mass media is often inaccurate or sensationalist, and myths and misconceptions about the brain seem to be more prevalent than ever before, especially in areas such as business and education.
Why is this? And what can be done to remedy the situation? A handful of studies into how neuroscience is reported by the mass media and perceived by the public provide some answers – and reiterate the point made by Illes five years ago.
Several years ago, for example, researchers at University College London analysed nearly 3,000 articles about neuroscience research published in the three best-selling broadsheet and the three best-selling tabloid newspapers in the UK between 1st January 2000 and 31st December 2010.

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

Scientists shape how the media portray synthetic biology

Most of us learn about scientific developments through the media. Journalists and newspaper editors not only select what to bring to public attention but also the way the contents are conveyed. But how can we be sure that what they report is well researched?

There are some new studies on how media portray synthetic biology in different countries. It turns out that reports are both unbalanced and uncritical. Most of the stories use the same terminology, figures of speech and envision the same fields of application. This is because they rely on the same sources: press releases, press conferences or interviews with a few prolific American scientists, with Craig Venter doing the lion’s share. Stories are often optimistic and future oriented. The promising applications of synthetic biology are connected to subjects that people already prioritize like health and environment. But it also means that the possible risks are omitted or presented in a few choice words close to the end.

josepine-fernow2Scientists have a public role and a duty to perform science outreach and science communication in a responsible way. This duty is amplified by the interaction with mass media. Indeed, there are a number of national and international regulations and guidelines that provide indications on what kind of relationship and communication scientists should entertain with the media and what pitfalls they should avoid. Is it a problem that the media copy their framing and present the field with their words? If scientists can reach the public directly, does that mean that we should increase our demand on their communication?

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

“Our Family Secrets” Exposed — The Ethics of Whistleblowing

This week the Annals of Internal Medicine published an article so controversial they felt the need to publish an accompanying editorial, explaining their decision to publish the anonymous article.

The article, “Our Family Secrets” describes two experiences where a health care provider has acted inappropriately while patients were under anesthesia. The editorial describes the acts with poignant alarm: “The first incident reeked of misogyny and disrespect—the second reeked of all that plus heavy overtones of sexual assault and racism.”

Few things are as disturbing as the knowledge that things like this happen, perhaps more than we’re comfortable admitting, even if this is an extreme example. Treating patients with respect is a core value of health care, but “although we wish it were otherwise, most physicians at some point find themselves in the midst of situations where a colleague acts in a manner that is disrespectful to a patient.”

What is the right way to respond to this kind of behavior? What if the person acting inappropriately is your superior? Do you confront them immediately, as the anesthesiologist did? Do you report to their superiors? Do you try to ignore it? Do you join in, begrudgingly or otherwise? Do you write an essay for all the world to see?

While the actions of the individuals in the article are a topic for a lengthy discussion, the author’s decision to write the story, and the Annals of Internal Medicine‘s decision to publish it are an interesting conundrum altogether. The author ends his essay with, “I know this is my silence to break,” but is whistleblowing in this fashion the right way to handle these shameful secrets?

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

Guest Post : Synthetic Biology: Taking care of the public image

Written by Prof. Antonio Diéguez

Universidad de Malaga 

The public image of science is usually subjected to distortions tending to blur the nuances and to generate monolithic assessments.  The mass media contribute to a large extent to the creation of disproportionate expectations in the next and spectacular benefits provided by scientific research, or on the contrary, to the creation of exaggerate concerns lacking in many occasions of a rational basis. This is the reason why any professional scientist with the required talent and vocation should currently assume the task of offering to the public clear and accessible information about the research underway in any field. In the present circumstances, the scientific divulgation cannot be a personal hobby of some scientists or an exclusive task of scientifically educated writers, but it must be a central aspect of scientific practice. Science needs a good public image for its survival –at least in the form it has had so far.  If the scientists do not provide determinedly and abundantly the socially demanded information, then the citizens will look for it in less reliable sources (Internet has plenty of them), with the consequent proliferation of bad information. Information is like money, the counterfeit one finally circulates better than the good one.

Synthetic Biology is a disciplinal field with a huge scientific and economical potential. Some central aspects of the aims and methods in the biological research have been already modified due to its influence. But probably it is its technological potential that could be more attractive for the public opinion.

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 Oscars: Hollywood’s Biggest Night and Why it Matters to Medicine and Public Health

by Macey Henderson and Jennifer Chevinsky

The Oscars, or the glamorous Academy Awards, are known as the biggest night for Hollywood’s actors and for its big ratings for the mass media. For days following this gala, the media reports on the outfits worn, Oscars won, and perhaps most passionately, they begin to critique the process and decisions of the prestigious American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (i.e. “The Academy”).  But why should the medical and public health community care about the Academy, the big name nominees, or the ultimate winners?

An Oscar win means positive attention for the film, director, and actors. Similarly, for films with a message, intense awareness of the cause can follow a big win. For example, Al Gore did not become a climate change celebrity because of his work within the government. It was his Oscar-winning documentary that made climate change a cause celebré. We have argued before that the mass media has a responsibility to provide the public with evidence-based messaging, however that is not generally expected from popular cinematic productions. Films can provide stellar representations of human suffering, or reinforce misinformation as it pertains to particular health data and medical conditions.

Films portraying patient and family narratives in medical and social situations that challenge our ideas, values and institutional belief systems are well known in Oscar history. Past movies that have portrayed these issues realistically, shining a light on disparities, have aided in constructive social and cultural change such as happened with the film Philadelphia.  Getting attention from the Oscars can lead to worldwide critical financial support, research, and advocacy of otherwise under-recognized societal and health-related concerns.

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.