Since the Brexit vote decided nothing, it is merely interesting

37% of the UK electorate voted to leave the European Community – slightly more than voted to remain. There is evidence that some of them regret their votes. The former editor of the Sun, Kelvin Mackenzie, who voted ‘Leave’, has spoken publicly about his ‘buyer’s remorse’.  Others have indicated that they would not vote ‘leave’ again.

There are calls for a second referendum, generally based on assertions that the ‘Leave’ campaign made misrepresentations (for instance about how money saved by leaving the EU would be spent), or on the contention that an issue as constitutionally tectonic should not be decided on such a slender majority, or the observation that an overwhelming number of young voters (who will be affected by the decision for the longest) voted to remain. Continue reading

Cross Post: Next time you ask the doctor for some antibiotics – consider whether you’re being immoral

Written by Alberto Giubilini, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics

This article was originally published in The Conversation

Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of microorganisms causing infections to survive exposure to antimicrobial drugs such as antibiotics. This is considered by some to be a slowly emerging disaster. According to the recently released Review on Antimicrobial Resistance commissioned by the UK government, by 2050 some 10m lives a year will be at risk because of drug resistant infections.

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Announcement: 2016 Effective Altruism Global Research Meeting Call for Abstracts

Location: August 5th to 7th, University of California, Berkeley

Abstract Deadline: July 10th

Contact: researchmeeting@centerforeffectivealtruism.org

Overview

The 2016 Effective Altruism Global Research Meeting is an opportunity for Postgraduate students and early stage academics from a variety of disciplines to present research relevant to Effective Altruism. The meeting will take place on August 5th to 7th, 2016 at UC Berkeley alongside the Effective Altruism Global conference. The meeting will consist of two events, an academic poster session and a number of short oral presentations. Presentations will be awarded to the most exceptional submissions. Participants selected for presentations will still have the option to present a poster.

The Effective Altruism movement, which promotes the use of reason and evidence to determine the most effective ways to improve the world, has grown rapidly over the last three years. It is an interdisciplinary movement which has gained traction amongst academics in a wide range of fields, including Philosophy, Economics and Health. Last year’s Effective Altruism Global conference welcomed renowned philosopher Peter Singer and behavioral economist Dan Ariely, as well as 1000 attendees. This year, our speakers include Philip Tetlock (author of Superforecasting), Cass Sunstein (legal scholar and former Administrator of the White House OIRA), Thomas Kalil (Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House OSTP), Jaan Tallinn (Co-Founder of Skype) and Irene Pepperberg (noted animal cognition scientist).  

Effective Altruism Global’s featured topics include discussions of the replication crisis, prediction markets, decision making under uncertainty, CRISPR, our obligations to the global poor, as well as a number of other topics that are important to shaping the future. The Research Meeting will run alongside Effective Altruism Global to give academics access to the large audience of interested attendees, and expose the more than 1,000 expected philanthropists, CEOs, and students to research relevant to Effective Altruism. Continue reading

Why is chemical castration being used on offenders in some countries?

Written by Dr Jonathan Pugh
This article was originally published on The Conversation

The answer for some. Shutterstock

Following a horrific act of sexual violence against a 14-year-old girl, the president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, recently signed a decree into law, which, among other things, authorised the death penalty for convicted child sex offenders, and also the use of chemical castration of such offenders.

The main justification cited by Widodo was that castration would act as a deterrent. But how do such interventions fit in the criminal justice system? Are they likely to be successful? Continue reading

Three Black Teenagers

Written by Dr Joshua Shepherd

Yesterday the term ‘three black teenagers’ trended heavily on twitter. (see https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/jun/09/three-black-teenagers-anger-as-google-image-search-shows-police-mugshots) The trend began when @iBeKabir tweeted the results of two Google searches. A search for three white teenagers turned up images of wholesome smiling white teenagers. A search for three black teenagers turned up images of mugshots. (Google images is already going meta over the story, with Google images now turning up images of three black teenagers contrasted with three white teenagers.) Continue reading

Organ Mules

Julian Savulescu

While politicians wring their hands about sensible solutions to the organ shortage, scientists are progressing with genetic manipulations that may see human organs grown in pigs.

US scientists are creating novel life forms: “human pig chimeras”. These are a blend of human and pig characteristics. They are like mules who will provide organs to us. A mule is the offspring of a male donkey (jack) and a female horse (mare). Horses and donkeys are different species, with different numbers of chromosomes but they can breed together.

In this case, they take a skin cell from a person and turn it back in time to make stem cells capable of producing any cell or tissue in the body, “induced pluripotent stem cells.” They then inject this into a pig embryo. This makes a pig human chimera.

However they do a modification to the pig embryo first. They use gene editing, or CRISPR, to knock out the pig’s genes which produce an organ, say the pancreas. The human stem cells for the pancreas then make an almost entirely human pancreas in the pig human chimera. It functions like an organ mule. (The blood vessels are still porcine.)

In this way, your skin cell could grow a new liver, heart, pancreas, or lung.

This is a technique with wider possibilities: other US teams are working on a chimera –based treatment, this time for Parkinson’s disease which will use chimeras to create human neurones.

CRISPR is also credited with enhancing the safety of this technique, with the BBC reporting  that a Harvard team were able to use the new and revolutionary technique to remove copies of a pig retrovirus.

Safety is always a major concern when science crosses new boundaries. But even if a sufficient guarantee of safety could be reached, are there ethical problems?

Continue reading

Affirmative Action for Women in Mathematics: Fighting Discrimination with Discrimination?

The University of Melbourne (the most prestigious university in my hometown) has advertised three senior positions in mathematics. Like some (but not all) other STEM subjects, mathematics has a low proportion of female academics. In part, this is a pipeline problem: women are significantly less likely to do mathematics degrees than men (28% of maths students at Melbourne are female). The head of the school of mathematics and statistics at the university hopes that the appointments might help by fixing the leaking pipeline: the three appointments will provide role models and mentors for female students and might encourage more of them to enrol, finish and go on to higher degrees. Continue reading

Hide your face?

A start-up claims it can identify whether a face belongs to a high-IQ person, a good poker player, a terrorist, or a pedophile. Faception uses machine-learning to generate classifiers that signal whether a face belongs in one category or not. Basically facial appearance is used to predict personality traits, type, or behaviors. The company claims to already have sold technology to a homeland security agency to help identify terrorists. It does not surprise me at all: governments are willing to buy remarkably bad snake-oil. But even if the technology did work, it would be ethically problematic.

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Love by design: when science meets sex, lust, attraction and attachment

A version of this post was originally published in the Conversation 

You are on holiday with your partner of several years. Your relationship is going pretty well, but you wonder if it could be better. It’s Valentine’s Day and you find a bottle on the beach. You rub it. A love genie appears. He (or she) will grant you three special Valentine wishes. Here are some of your choices:

  • to have more or less sexual desire (lust);
  • to remain always as “in love” as you were when you first fell in love (romantic attraction);
  • to be more or less bonded to your partner emotionally (attachment);
  • to be (happily) monogamous or polygamous.

What would you choose? What should you choose? What would your partner choose? Would you choose together, if you could? What would you choose for your partner?

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Video Series: Dominic Wilkinson on Conscientious Objection in Healthcare

Associate Professor and Consultant Neonatologist Dominic Wilkinson (Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics) argues that medical doctors should not always listen to their own conscience and that often they should do what the patient requests, even when this conflicts with their own values.

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