Tag: social sciences

Bioethics Blogs

On Plastic Reason by Tobias Rees by Setrag Manoukian

Plastic Reason: An Anthropology of Brain Science in Embryogenetic Terms

by Tobias Rees

University of California Press, 2016, 352 pages

 

Plastic Reason is an excellent occasion to reflect on the relationship between poetry and science.

One might feel the proverbial contrastive tension in naming together poetry and science, a tension one finds in certain intellectual habits that foreground a distinction between human and non-human sciences, or in postures that romantically juxtapose the supposed freedom and creativity of poetry with the hard realities of science (social sciences included). However, at closer scrutiny, this tension reveals itself as an exciting site of possible conversations, to the extent that one might even end up arguing that there cannot be poetry without science, nor science without poetry. After all, the Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) made a forceful case for the necessity of poetry in the “history of human nature,” conceptualizing poetic knowledge as the fundamental articulation of humans’ changing relationship with the world. Vico distinguished poetic knowledge from the sciences of nature, however this distinction was for him historical and relational, not absolute, with the understanding that, whatever humans might be, they could not be thought without both poetry and science.

Rees’s book is foremost an engagement with plastic conceptions of the brain, but as the author wrote me in a recent email exchange, it is also “concerned with a form of poetry.” So I began to read Plastic Reason asking myself what was this form of poetry, and whether the book could provide useful leads to think poetry and science together.

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 Specter of Authoritarianism

by Andrew J. Pierce

ABSTRACT. In this essay, I provide an analysis of the much-discussed authoritarian aspects of Donald Trump’s campaign and early administration. Drawing from both philosophical analyses of authoritarianism and recent work in social science, I focus on three elements of authoritarianism in particular: the authoritarian predispositions of Trump supporters, the scapegoating of racial minorities as a means of redirecting economic anxiety, and the administration’s strategic use of misinformation. While I offer no ultimate prediction as to whether a Trump administration will collapse into authoritarianism, I do identify key developments that would represent moves in that direction.

The unorthodox campaign and unexpected election of Donald Trump has ignited intense speculation about the possibility of an authoritarian turn in American politics. In some ways, this is not surprising. The divisive political climate in the United States is fertile soil for the demonization of political opponents. George W. Bush was regularly characterized as an authoritarian by his left opposition, as was Barack Obama by his own detractors. Yet in Trump’s case, echoes of earlier forms of authoritarianism, from his xenophobic brand of nationalism and reliance on a near mythological revisionist history, to his vilification of the press and seemingly strategic use of falsehoods, appear too numerous to ignore. In this essay, I attempt to provide a sober evaluation of the authoritarian prospects of a Trump administration. As presidential agendas inevitably differ from campaign platforms, much of this analysis will be unavoidably speculative. However, the nature of Trump’s carefully studied campaign, the early actions of his administration, and the wealth of philosophical reflections on earlier forms of authoritarianism provide ample resources to inform such speculation.

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 in India and Public Health Ethics

Chhanda Chakraborti argues for a more ethically aware public health response to the to Zika in India.

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On May 27, 2017, Indian newspapers reported that the WHO confirmed three cases of Zika virus in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. The first case, in November 2016, involved a 34-year-old woman, who tested positive for Zika after she delivered a baby at B. J. Medical College. The second case, in January 2017, involved a a 22-year-old woman in her 37th week of her pregnancy. The third case, in February 2017, involved a 64-year-old man who was identified during a random monitoring and surveillance activity conducted by the B. J. Medical College.

In February 2016, the Minister of Health proclaimed that India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had adopted several actions and countermeasures to prevent the spread of Zika. However, the alerts and guidelines about Zika, that were created in consultation with the World Health Organization (WHO), only became publicly available on the Ministry’s website after media reports of Zika in India. In May 2017, the WHO asserted that India’s Ministry of Health has taken the necessary steps to address the situation. These steps include sharing national plan and guidelines on Zika with the States, setting up an Inter-Ministerial task force, displaying Zika- related information for travellers in the airports.

B. J. Medical College, Ahmedabad

Beyond the media reports and the statements issued by the Ministry and the WHO, there has been little public discussion about Zika in India. The local neighbourhood Ahmedabad, as well as the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (which is responsible for public health in the area) reportedly were unaware of the Zika cases until these were publicized by the media. In sharp contrast, there

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

Stakes of Life: Science, states, policies, publics and ‘the first thousand days’ by Fiona C. Ross

Welcome back to the “First Thousand Days of LifeSomatosphere series. Here we continue to explore the ways that a global health initiative driven by new findings in epigenetics and neuroscience and by a reframing of theories about health and disease in terms of developmental origins shape ideas about (global) health and population futures, invigorate campaigns, and take form and settle in localized contexts. Understanding the links between science, biomedicine, policy, population, well-being and relationship as simultaneously both meshed and contingent, our series posits questions about what affordances and limitations lie in new modalities of understanding human illness and well-being. It examines how policy is made and with what effects for its recipients, how states are implicated in health and its others, what forms of the everyday materialize under the lens of new findings in epigenetics and epidemiology, what modalities of knowing emerge and how they settle with older forms, and how ethnography might contribute.

Describing the research programme driven by the Thousand Days research group at the University of Cape Town, I noted that,

The emergent field both synergises a range of disciplines in the bio- and social sciences and develops new sites of humanitarian intervention, reframing current debates about population, well-being and ‘the best interests of the child’ in newly biological ways. As these findings are taken up in policy and practice, we are witnessing the making of a social object with material effects’ (www.thousanddays.uct.ac.za).

Our project has explored that making, its prior conditions and its effects.  As Michelle Pentecost noted in her opening to the Somatosphere series, the framing ‘offers fertile ground for careful thought about contemporary concepts of life, life-giving and care, offering spaces for critically assessing not only how states and people understand and enable health and well-being but also how life is conceptualized by different disciplines.’ 

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

Making the theoretical practical: Engaging undergraduate students in research methods by Hannah Mohammad

I am currently an undergraduate student in the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine at King’s College London. The Department’s UG program offers students the opportunity to study social aspects of health and medicine in a multi-disciplinary context with close collaboration between the social sciences, life sciences and biomedicine. In addition, a great emphasis is put on methods training to equip students to carry out their own empirical research projects.

Already in first year, the Research Practice and Design Studio course taught us theories and practices required for qualitative and quantitative research. However, in our undergraduate bubble, these late Tuesday afternoon sessions seemed somewhat distant from conducting actual research. In order to address this perceived disconnect, our course instructor, Dr Laurie Corna decided to adopt a problem-based learning approach that allowed us students to be positioned as emerging researchers whilst learning theoretically about a range of issues central to quantitative and qualitative research designs.

A new research methods course was designed around a series of case-based learning activities that culminated in students conducting their own mixed-methods research. Students’ assignments for the course involved working in teams of two on applying and executing various aspects of the research process in relation to the predefined topic “Physical activity in the city of London”.[1] That is, we learned how to articulate research questions, identify ethical problems, write a research proposal and develop related interview topic guides as well as survey questionnaires. Once we had conducted our research, we were tasked to present our findings in the form of a poster during a “Research Showcase” and create a final report on the research project.

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

Where to publish and not to publish in bioethics – the 2017 list

Allegedly, there are over 8.000 so called predatory journals out there. Instead of supporting readers and science, these journals serve their own economic interests first and at best offer dubious merits for scholars. We believe that scholars working in any academic discipline have a professional interest and a responsibility to keep track of these journals. It is our job to warn the young or inexperienced of journals where a publication or editorship could be detrimental to their career and science is not served. We have seen “predatory” publishing take off in a big way and noticed how colleagues start to turn up in the pages of some of these journals. While many have assumed that this phenomenon mainly is a problem for low status universities, there are strong indications that predatory publishing is a part of a major trend towards the industrialization of misconduct and that it affects many top-flight research institutions (see Priyanka Pulla: “In India, elite institutes in shady journals”, Science 354(6319): 1511-1512). This trend, referred to by some as the dark side of publishing, needs to be reversed.

Gert Helgesson, Professor of Medical Ethics, Karolinska InstitutetThus we published this blog post in 2016. This is our first annual update (the previous version can be found here). At first, we relied heavily on the work of Jeffrey Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado, who runs blacklists of “potential, possible, or probable” predatory publishers and journals. His lists have since been removed although they live on in new form (anonymous) at the Stop predatory journals site (SPJ) and they can also be found archived.

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

‘Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us’ / a conversation with Lochlann Jain by Tara Mahfoud

In the Stanford Hospital car park, there is a sign that reads “WARNING: This garage contains gasoline and diesel engine exhaust which is known to the State of California to cause cancer and/or reproductive toxicity.” The paradox is deadly – one runs the risk of developing cancer on their way to cancer treatment. The sign blatantly highlights the starting point of Lochlann Jain’s analysis of cancer in her 2014 award-winning book Malignant: How Cancer Becomes Us, which is to understand “the ways that key aspects of the economy involve both causing and treating cancer” (p. 12). Jain showed the image of that sign, taken from her book, during her talk at the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine’s 2015 Public Lecture at King’s College London. Malignant is an ethnographic investigation into how cancer, despite the millions spent to cure and prevent it, remains deeply entrenched in so many aspects of American life and culture. Jain uses her own cancer experience to reflect on prognosis and treatment, time and lifespans, screening and preventative treatment, misdiagnosis and malpractice, IVF and hormones, the war-loaded history of cancer and its treatments, and cancer objects like prostheses, wigs, and make-up. Malignant forces the reader to acknowledge the paradoxical, ugly, and inevitable reality of cancer today.

I am a teaching assistant on the Introduction to Social Medicine course at the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at King’s College London, which is taught by Carlo Caduff. The course is offered as part of an interdisciplinary BA/BSc programme in Global Health and Social Medicine that combines social science and biomedical science courses.

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 News

Ethical questions about mitochondrial replacement in humans. Three parents babies

We thus consider it necessary to establish a moratorium on their use in humans, at least until more is known about these aspects. If this knowledge is obtained, ethical questions would still remain to be resolved, among which we consider the most relevant to be those related to the dignity and identity of the human embryo.

Children with two mothers and a father

In January 2017, the prestigious scientific journal Bioethics published a special edition dedicated to the ethical aspects of nuclear transfer techniques aimed at preventing the transmission of mitochondrial diseases, a topic that we have extensively addressed in our Observatory (see HERE).

Its editorial, Ethics of mitochondrial replacement, starts by referring to the recent birth of the first baby resulting from these techniques (see HERE). It then provides a brief description of the main characteristics of mitochondrial diseases, which are inherited exclusively from the mother. It explains that mothers who carry mutations in their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) face the uncertainty of not knowing if their genetic children will or will not inherit a serious mitochondrial disease. However the emergence of mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRT) offers these mothers hope, as healthy mitochondria from a donor are used to replace those of the mother. These techniques are maternal spindle transfer (MST) and pronuclear transfer (PNT), which consist, respectively, in removing the nucleus from a healthy egg or zygote, which will keep its mitochondria. The nucleus of the mother’s oocyte (patient or carrier of the mutation) or of another zygote obtained by fertilising the mothers egg is then transferred into the enucleated oocyte or zygote.

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

Final Rule, three months later

It’s been three months since the announcement of the new Common Rule. Some reactions so far:

Shweder and Nisbett hope for vast deregulation

On March 12, Richard A. Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett published an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education celebrating the new final rule:

in January the federal government opened the door for universities to deregulate vast portions of research in the social sciences, law, and the humanities. This long-sought and welcome reform of the regulations requiring administrative oversight of federally funded human-subject research on college campuses limits the scope of institutional review board, or IRB, management by exempting low-risk research with human subjects from the board’s review.

In particular, they wrote that “the overhauled policy … holds that exempted research activities should be excused from board review with no requirement of IRB approval of the exemption.”

[Richard A. Shweder and Richard E. Nisbett, “Long-Sought Research Deregulation Is Upon Us. Don’t Squander the MomentChronicle of Higher Education, March 12, 2017.

Meyer asks, what’s new?

On March 16, Michelle N. Meyer tweeted a GIF showing that several of the provisions cheered by Shweder and Nisbett have been part of the regulations for decades. Indeed, since 2009, OHRP has grudgingly acknowledged that the Common Rule allows researchers to make exemption determinations. The problem has been persuading universities to take advantage of these longstanding provisions.

On the other hand, Meyer notes that the liberation of oral history is new, and that the exemption for “benign behavioral interventions” is, in her terms, “new & awesome.”

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

Scales and the Emotional Underside of Fatphobia

Michael Orsini explains the pervasiveness of discrimination, fear, and hatred related to ‘fatness.’

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It’s convenient to dismiss the recent flap over the removal of scales at the Carleton University gym as yet another case of political correctness run amok.

Did Carleton Athletics simply cave in to pressure from overly sensitive gym patrons who were ‘triggered’ by the sight of a scale? While tempting, that would be the wrong question to ask in the wake of this controversy. Rather, what is it about weight itself that would unleash such a torrent of emotion and name-calling?

Conservative media commentators mocked the University for its decision, revealing the extent to which the conservative battle against political correctness is fueled by ugly views about fatness.

That is not to say that all liberals are fat-loving citizens. Far from it. Fatness arouses a range of complex moral emotions in all of us, from feelings of pity and sympathy to fear and disgust, regardless of our ideological leanings.

In a world in which we come to rash conclusions about people based upon their appearance, being fat or ‘obese’ is shorthand for being slovenly, lazy, and ‘out of control.’ As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman argues in his best-selling book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, we often make decisions based on visceral feelings, strongly felt emotions that typically serve as poor guides. For example, in discussing the palpable fear of shark attacks, Freeman Dyson notes that we pay more attention to sharks because they frighten us, even though “riptides occur more frequently and may be equally lethal.”

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.