Event Announcement: Serotonin influences the use of social norms in resource dilemmas” by Prof Robert Rogers and “Prosociality and trust” by Prof Paul A.M. Van Lange
“Serotonin influences the use of social norms in resource dilemmas” and “Prosociality and trust”
Professor Robert Rogers asks how do people sustain resources for the benefit of individuals and communities and avoid the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ in which shared resources become exhausted? And Prof Paul Van Lange will discuss psychological and neuroscientific evidence showing that for prosocials, it is essential that they count on reciprocity. In contrast, for individualists, they may switch to cooperation if they come to be convinced that they can count on reciprocity
Time and Date: Friday15 November, 5pm – 7pm
Venue: Oxford Martin School, Corner of Catte and Holywell Street, Oxford
All welcome. Please register online
Press Release: British Medical Journal Head to Head: Should athletes be allowed to use performance enhancing drugs?
Stories about illegal doping in sport are a regular occurrence. On bmj.com today, experts debate whether athletes should be allowed to use performance enhancing drugs.
Professor of ethics Julian Savulescu, from the University of Oxford, argues that rather than banning performance enhancing drugs we should regulate their use.
He points out that, since Ben Johnson in 1988, only 10 men have ever run under 9.8 seconds – and only two (including Usain Bolt) are currently untainted by doping. “The zero tolerance ban on doping has failed,” he says. “It is time for a different approach.”
He argues that regulation could improve safety and says “we should assess each substance on an individual basis” and “set enforceable, fair, and safe physiological limits.”
He acknowledges that, if a substance came to dominate or corrupt performance, there would be good reason to ban it. But says, if a substance allows safer, faster recovery from training or injury, “then it does not corrupt sport or remove essential human contribution.”
And he dismisses the argument that allowing elite athletes to take drugs under medical supervision will encourage children and amateurs to imitate their heroes, pointing out that amateur doping “is already happening in an unsupervised manner.”
“Over time the rules of the sport have evolved,” he says. “They must evolve as humans and their technology evolve and the rules begin to create more problems than they solve. It is time to rethink the absolute ban and instead to pick limits that are safe and enforceable.”
But hospital doctors, Leon Creaney and Anna Vondy believe this would lead to escalating use and call for tougher enforcement.
“The argument against doping in sport is moral, not medical,” they write.
“Athletes who wanted to live a healthy existence would be pushed out altogether. Soon, the only competition that would matter would be the one to develop the most powerful drugs, and athletic opponents would enter into an exchange of ever escalating doses to stay ahead of each other.”
They warn that, in some nations, “we might see a return of the state sponsored doping programmes of the 70s and 80s” and say without the anti-doping programme “the use of performance enhancing drugs would expand exponentially and filter deeper into our society.”
Legitimising performance enhancing drugs in elite and professional sport would also change the message sport sends to society, they add. “Would a bioengineered athlete be able to inspire in the same way?”
They dismiss the argument that because we will never be able to catch every cheat, we should give up trying, saying the answer is “to make the anti-doping system more effective.”
If testing was ubiquitous, they say, “it would be virtually impossible to evade detection, and the equilibrium would be reset in favour of not cheating.”
And if a first offence led to a lifetime ban, “the risks involved would become much greater, such that fewer people would take the gamble of getting caught in the first place,” they conclude.
Professor Julian Savulescu, Uehiro Chair in Practical Ethics & Director, Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, University of Oxford, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1865 286 888
Leon Creaney, Trauma and Orthopaedics, University Hospital Birmingham, UK
On Monday, London will see the world’s first artificial meat burger cooked and tasted, by Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University.
Artificial meat stops cruelty to animals, is better for the environment, could be safer and more efficient, and even healthier. We have a moral obligation to support this kind of research. It gets the ethical two thumbs up.
The development of artificial meat is a triumph for both science and ethics. Current meat production involves inflicting significant suffering on animals. It also causes environmental damage (see the FAO report, Livestock’s Long Shadow) and is hugely inefficient because limited food resources have used to keep a large animal alive. Intensive farming of chickens and pigs is also a breeding ground for the emergence of new strains of flu, causing pandemics that could kill tens of millions. Artificial meat production will almost entirely avoid these issues.
Ethical veganism will become a much more palatable option, as one could avoid eating real meat without sacrificing an integral part of many people’s diet. Indeed, this may be a watershed moment for animal welfare – if artificial meat manages to catch on and take over a large portion of the market, many fewer animals will be cruelly raised and slaughtered through factory farming, a key goal of movements like PETA (who have, incidentally, wholly endorsed and promoted the development of artificial meat).
Of course, such large-scale beneficial effects will only be realized under three conditions: the artificial meat must be safe, cheap and tasty. The safety of Mark Post’s concoction is as yet unknown, but may well be the easiest condition to satisfy. In fact, it could become more safer as meat production could be laboratory controlled and reduce risks of emergent pandemics from flu passing from animals to humans. If he is correct and the meat is identical at the cellular level to actual meat, it should be no less dangerous – though further tests are undoubtedly needed before it could be offered to the public at large. As for cost, previous estimates put Post’s burger at around £250,000, obviously prohibitive for mainstream consumption. Just as the cost of genetic sequencing has fallen precipitously over the years, we can expect artificial meat prices to fall as more efficient means of production are developed. It remains to be seen whether artificial meat can ever be made more efficiently and cheaply than real meat, however. Finally, one of the most important tests of Monday’s event is whether the artificial meat will actually be palatable. It may be that the meat is only suitable simulating ground up meat and mixed with other ingredients to add texture and flavour – but then again, outlets like McDonald’s have made a mint producing widely-enjoyed meat out of an infamous ‘pink sludge’ that is quite disgusting on its own. Indeed, of all potential adopters, the fast-food industry – which relies on efficiency and artificiality much more than aesthetics or ‘all-natural’ ingredients – seems like the most likely outlet for artificial meat.
Perhaps the future of the fast food industry is ethical meat, instead of the unethical meat. Consumers would be hard pressed to tell the difference between an artificial Big Mac and the current one.
Some might object that artificial meat is unnatural. So it should be avoided. True, the meat would be grown in a lab rather than a farm. But what value does naturalness have, on its own? Natural meat often relies on the confinement and slaughter of animals, which many have noted is morally wrong – and in fact, the factory farms where most meat is produced are hardly ‘natural’ environments. In factory farming, they more resemble hideous torture chambers where animals eat their own faeces. Moreover, we are perfectly content to introduce numerous artificial elements into all aspects of our lives – phones replace natural communication, cars replace natural transport, factories replace natural craftsmanship, houses replace natural abodes, and so on. Part of human development is to improve upon the natural state of the world, and artificial meat is just another such development. It is not only inevitable, but should be encouraged and welcomed with open arms.
There is one ethical downside to creating artificial meat. Many animals would not come into existence who would have lived and many farmers might lose their livelihoods. The solution maybe to combine artificial meat production with controls on farming to ensure animals that are brought into existence for farming purposes only have happy, worthwhile lives and are slaughtered in humane ways.
We hope the creation of artificial meat will prompt a thoughtful debate on the ethics of food production and eating.
Doctoral Candidate in Philosophy
University of Oxford
Professor of Practical Ethics
We are pleased to announce the first issue of the Journal of Practical Ethics, a new open-access journal in moral and political philosophy (and related areas) published by the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. All the papers are free to read online or download and print.
The first issue includes three papers:
‘Associative Duties and the Ethics of Killing in War’ by Seth Lazar, with a commentary by Jeff McMahan
‘Biotechnology, Justice and Health’ by Ruth Faden and Madison Powers.
‘Situationism and Agency’ by Al Mele and Joshua Shepherd, with a commentary by Neil Levy
Come and take a look at the new website
Wednesday 27th November, 5 – 7pm
Oxford Martin School
Old Indian Institute
34 Broad St (corner of Holywell and Catte Streets)
Oxford OX1 3BD
The Oxford Centre for Neuroethics & International Neuroethics Society are pleased to present a set of two Wellcome Lectures in Neuroethics for 2013:
Brain mechanisms of voluntary action: the implications for responsibility
Prof. Patrick Haggard
University College London
The irresponsible self: Self bias changes the way we see the world
Prof. Glyn Humphreys
Department of Experimental Psychology, Oxford University
The Ethics of Male Circumcision
by Brian D. Earp. Special Issue Edited by Julian Savulescu, Brian D. Earp and Bennett Foddy.
The Journal of Medical Ethics is pleased to announce the forthcoming release of a Special Issue, ‘The Ethics of Male Circumcision’ — to be published in full in the coming days. Selected papers have already been posted Online First and can be seen by clicking here. Contributions cover a wide range of perspectives, and were invited from leading legal scholars, bioethicists, political theorists, pediatricians, and medical historians with expertise in this area. All essays were subjected to rigorous peer review. A list of main contributors and highlights from the arguments showcased in this Special Issue can be found below.
On Monday 4th of March, the Centre for Practical Ethics hosted a joint lecture on the evaluation of the effectiveness of charitable organizations, given by Toby Ord and Harry Shannon. Their lectures and ensuing discussion covered a range of different topics, including the numerical methods for assessing the effectiveness of a charity, the philosophical concepts that underpin the concept of effectiveness in charitable giving, and the moral implications of various methods of allocating money to these organizations.
You can listen to the podcast of the seminar at this link.
Toby Ord is a research fellow in philosophy at the Future of Humanity Institute, and also the founder of Giving What We Can, an organization that promotes charitable giving and evaluates charities based on their cost-effectiveness.
Harry Shannon is a medical statistician at McMaster University, who is currently visiting Oxford Brookes university.
The Future of Humanity Institute’s second thesis prize competition for students focuses on a “big picture” question with important implications for practical ethics: how can we best prepare humanity to address the global challenges of the coming century?”. First prize £2000.
Humanity has become more and more connected, from the national level to the personal. Yet are we becoming better able to collectively harness our information, goals, and ideas to lead to wise decisions? How could we best enhance humanity’s collective wisdom to help overcome the global challenges of the next century?
There are many possibilities, from familiar ideas or institutions such as freedom of the press, the adversarial legal system, Wikipedia, and global governance, to less well known ones like prediction markets or Aumann agreement. Most valuable would be high-leverage insights: those that could be easily implemented yet could make a global difference.
The Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University wants to get young researchers thinking about these big questions. Choosing a PhD thesis topic is one of the big choices affecting the direction of your career, and so deserves a great deal of thought. To encourage this, we are running a slightly unusual prize competition. The format is a two-page ‘thesis proposal’ consisting of a 300 word abstract and an outline plan of a thesis on a topic related to enhancing humanity’s collective wisdom. We will publish the best abstracts on our website and give a prize of £2,000 to the author of the proposal we deem the most promising or original.
There is much that is good to be said about Dominic Wilkinson’s new book Death or Disability? The ‘Carmentis Machine’ and decision-making for critically ill children.
My favourite part of the book is how Dominic confronts head on the issue of the best interests of the family in relation to care, and withdrawal of medical treatment, in newborns.
This is one of the most neglected areas of bioethics.
On the one hand, there is a rhetoric that goes we are all social beings, we are socially connected, not atomistic individuals, the community matters, etc etc The usual communitarian mantra.
Then there is the alleged overriding legal and medical ethical principle of the best interests of the patient, which is the newborn infant in the case of neonatal medicine. The sole basis of the provision of medical treatment is meant to be to promote the best interests of the patient, and medicine should never be used to harm the patient, etc etc. The usual medical ethics and law mantra.
And then there is real life. The interests of the parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, society etc can all diverge from the interests of the patient, even a newborn infant. How are these to be weighed? The hard edged reality is that the interests of families and especially parents do play a role in clinical decision making, and even in cases to withdraw life-prolonging medical treatment. (For example, in one survey 90% of American intensivists believed that family interests should be included in decisions for incompetent patients. )
In ‘Death or Disability?’, Dominic reaches several striking conclusions. We should certainly give some weight to the interests of the family for decisions about children. This is most likely to sway our decisions in relatively borderline cases, where the net benefit or harm to the child is small. But he also argues that the amount of weight will vary depending on the age of the child, and on the availability of resources. We should give greater weight to the wishes of parents for newborn infants than for an older child. And we should give greater weight again in societies with few resources, where the burden of caregiving is going to fall heavily on families, and where health resources are seriously limited.
It is time for an honest, open and rational approach to these kinds of dilemmas. Dominic does just that.
The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics hosts scholars and students wishing to engage in research in practical and applied ethics as academic visitors. Applications are invited three times a year and are to be submitted at least one term in advance of the proposed dates of the visit. Applications are open for one month in advance of the deadlines, which are set at the beginning of week 0 of each term.
The application deadline for the next intake of academic visitors is Monday 7 January 2013.