public discourse

Criticising Stigma Whilst Reinforcing it: the Case of the Response to CRUK’s Anti-Obesity Campaign

Written by Rebecca Brown

There has been recent concern over CRUK’s (Cancer Research UK) latest campaign, which features the claim ‘obesity is a cause of cancer too’ made to look like cigarette packets. It follows criticism of a previous, related campaign which also publicised links between obesity and cancer. Presumably, CRUK’s aim is to increase awareness of obesity as a risk factor for cancer and, in doing so, encourage people to avoid (contributors to) obesity. It may also be hoped to encourage public support for policies which tackle obesity, pushing the Overton window in a direction which is likely to permit further political action in this domain.

The backlash is mostly focused around the comparison with smoking, and the use of smoking-related imagery to promote the message (there is further criticism of the central causal claim, since it is actually quite difficult to establish that obesity causes cancer). 

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‘Now Is Not The Time’: Is It Wrong To Engage In Political Debate Following A Tragedy?

Written by Alexandra Couto and Guy Kahane

In the days following the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018, many of the surviving students and staff gathered to demand immediate change to the gun laws that allowed Nicholas Cruz to kill so many of their friends and pupils. Many students held banners on which it was written: “We don’t want your thoughts and condolences, we want policy & change!” Speaking at the rally, teacher Melissa Falkowski said “They say ‘it’s not the time’ — Now is the time! There is no other time!”

Was Melissa Falkowski right? Or is it wrong to engage in political and moral debate so soon after such a tragedy? Should we instead just offer our “thoughts and prayers”, postponing public debate to a later time? Continue reading

Entitlement

Written by Stephen Rainey

It is often claimed, especially in heated Twitter debates, that one or other participant is entitled to their opinion. Sometimes, if someone encounters a challenge to their picture of the world, they will retort that they are entitled to their opinion. Or, maybe in an attempt to avoid confrontation, disagreement is sometimes brushed over by stating that whatever else may be going on, everyone is entitled to their opinion. This use of the phrase is highlighted in a recent piece in The Conversation. There, Patrick Stokes writes,

The problem with “I’m entitled to my opinion” is that, all too often, it’s used to shelter beliefs that should have been abandoned. It becomes shorthand for “I can say or think whatever I like” – and by extension, continuing to argue is somehow disrespectful.

I think this is right, and a problem well identified. Nevertheless, it’s not like no one, ever, is entitled to an opinion. So when are you, am I, are we, entitled to our opinion? What does it take to be entitled to an opinion?

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In Defence of Trashing

Written by University of Oxford DPhil student, Tena Thau

Prior to this year’s final exams, Oxford University announced a crackdown on “trashing,” the post-exam tradition of dousing finalists in champagne, ‘silly string,’ confetti, and the like.   In conjunction with this announcement, the University released a memo outlining its objections to trashing.

In Part I of this post, I will present a point-by-point refutation of the arguments made in this memo. In Part II, I will sketch out what I think is the central moral concern with trashing: that it is an expression of elitism.  I will conclude that this ‘elitism objection’ to trashing should be rejected, showing why it is not trashing – but rather, the campaign against it – that is guilty of elitism. Continue reading

Music Streaming, Hateful Conduct and Censorship

Written by Rebecca Brown

Last month, one of the largest music streaming services in the world, Spotify, announced a new ‘hate content and hateful conduct’ policy. In it, they state that “We believe in openness, diversity, tolerance and respect, and we want to promote those values through music and the creative arts.” They condemn hate content that “expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual based on characteristics, including, race, religion, gender identity, sex, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, veteran status, or disability.” Content that is found to fulfil these criteria may be removed from the service, or may cease to be promoted, for example, through playlists and advertisements. Spotify further describe how they will approach “hateful conduct” by artists: 

We don’t censor content because of an artist’s or creator’s behavior, but we want our editorial decisions – what we choose to program – to reflect our values. When an artist or creator does something that is especially harmful or hateful (for example, violence against children and sexual violence), it may affect the ways we work with or support that artist or creator.

An immediate consequence of this policy was the removal from featured playlists of R. Kelly and XXXTentacion, two American R&B artists. Whilst the 20 year old XXXTentacion has had moderate success in the US, R. Kelly is one of the biggest R&B artists in the world. As a result, the decision not to playlist R. Kelly attracted significant attention, including accusations of censorship and racism. Subsequently, Spotify backtracked on their decision, rescinding the section of their policy on hateful conduct and announcing regret for the “vague” language of the policy which “left too many elements open to interpretation.” Consequently, XXXTentacion’s music has reappeared on playlists such as Rap Caviar, although R. Kelly has not (yet) been reinstated. The controversy surrounding R. Kelly and Spotify raises questions about the extent to which commercial organisations, such as music streaming services, should make clear moral expressions. 
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Should Iceland Ban Circumcision? A Legal and Ethical Analysis

By Lauren Notini and Brian D. Earp

*Note: a condensed version of this article titled “Iceland’s Proposed Circumcision Ban” is being cross-published at Pursuit.

 

For a small country, Iceland has had a big impact on global media coverage recently, following its proposed ban on male circumcision before an age of consent.

Iceland’s proposed legislation seeks to criminalise circumcision on male minors that is unnecessary “for health reasons,” stating individuals who remove “part or all of the sexual organs shall be imprisoned for up to 6 years.”

The bill claims circumcision violates children’s rights to “express their views on the issues [concerning them]” and “protection against traditions that are harmful.”

According to bill spokesperson Silja Dögg Gunnarsdóttir, a key reason for the bill is that all forms of female genital cutting (FGC), no matter how minor, have been illegal in Iceland since 2005, but no similar legislation exists for males.

“If we have laws banning circumcision for girls,” she said in an interview, then for consistency “we should do so for boys.” Consequently, the bill is not specific to male circumcision, but adapts the existing law banning FGC, changing “girls” to “children.”

There is much to unpack here. We first discuss self-determination and informed consent, before addressing claims about potential health benefits and harms. We then explore the religious significance of circumcision for some groups, and ask what implications this should have.

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Cross Post: Common Sense for A.I. Is a Great Idea. But it’s Harder Than it Sounds.

Written by Carissa Veliz

Crosspost from Slate.  Click here to read the full article

At the moment, artificial intelligence may have perfect memories and be better at arithmetic than us, but they are clueless. It takes a few seconds of interaction with any digital assistant to realize one is not in the presence of a very bright interlocutor. Among some of the unexpected items users have found in their shopping lists after talking to (or near) Amazon’s Alexa are 150,000 bottles of shampoo, sled dogs, “hunk of poo,” and a girlfriend.

The mere exasperation of talking to a digital assistant can be enough to miss human companionship, feel nostalgia of all things analog and dumb, and foreswear any future attempts at communicating with mindless pieces of metal inexplicably labelled “smart.” (Not to mention all the privacy issues.) A.I. not understanding what a shopping list is, and the kinds of items that are appropriate to such lists, is evidence of a much broader problem: They lack common sense.

The Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, or AI2, created by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, has announced it is embarking on a new research $125 million initiative to try to change that. “To make real progress in A.I., we have to overcome the big challenges in the area of common sense,” Allen told the New York Times. AI2 takes common sense to include the “infinite set of facts, heuristics, observations … that we bring to the table when we address a problem, but the computer doesn’t.” Researchers will use a combination of crowdsourcing, machine learning, and machine vision to create a huge “repository of knowledge” that will bring about common sense. Of paramount importance among its uses is to get A.I. to “understand what’s harmful to people.”

This article was originally published on Slate.  To read the full article and to join in the conversation please follow this link.

Cross Post: Sex Versus Death: Why Marriage Equality Provokes More Heated Debate Than Assisted Dying

Written by Julian Savulescu

A version of this article has been published by The Conversation

Epicurus wrote: “Death does not concern us, because as long as we exist, death is not here. And when it does come, we no longer exist. ”

We are in the midst of two great ethical debates: marriage equality and assistance in dying. The great plebescite is ongoing and the Victorian parliament is debating a new law to allow assistance in dying in the last year of life.

A search of Victorian paper “The Age” reveals about 2400 results for “marriage equality” and only about 1700 for assisted dying related terms. But even more striking is the difference in the strength of the feelings they have embodied: despite the fact that one of these topics is literally a life and death matter, the same-sex marriage debate has been far more polarizing. Continue reading

Can We Trust Research in Science and Medicine?

By Brian D. Earp  (@briandavidearp)

Readers of the Practical Ethics Blog might be interested in this series of short videos in which I discuss some of the major ongoing problems with research ethics and publication integrity in science and medicine. How much of the published literature is trustworthy? Why is peer review such a poor quality control mechanism? How can we judge whether someone is really an expert in a scientific area? What happens when empirical research gets polarized? Most of these are short – just a few minutes. Links below:

Why most published research probably is false

The politicization of science and the problem of expertise

Science’s publication bias problem – why negative results are important

Getting beyond accusations of being either “pro-science” or “anti-science”

Are we all scientific experts now? When to be skeptical about scientific claims, and when to defer to experts

Predatory open access publishers and why peer review is broken

The future of scientific peer review

Sloppy science going on at the CDC and WHO

Dogmas in science – how do they form?

Please note: this post will be cross-published with the Journal of Medical Ethics Blog.

Video Series: Professor Julian Savulescu argues in favour of an experimental treatment for Charlie Gard

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