Skip to content

Neil Levy

It would be foolish of me to attempt to say anything substantive about the ethics of abortion in a blog post. But I do want to comment on Obama’s recent foray into the question, as well as on one interpretation of those comments. Addressing the graduating class of Notre Dame University, a traditionally Catholic university, and in the face of demonstrators denouncing him for his ‘pro-choice’ views, Obama called for each side to be respectful of the other. We can, he said, avoid demonizing one another, and work together on common causes. In particular, he said, we can work to reduce the number of abortions, by reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, and work also to make the lives of women who go ahead with pregnancies in difficult situations more bearable.

Read More »

Lotteries and Fairness

The English Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, is reported  to be considering scrapping the lotteries which determine whether parents get their first choice of schools for their children. Balls is quoted as saying that the lottery system can feel “arbitrary” and “random”. Well, give that man a dictionary. The Telegraph adds that he ‘admitted that they were "unfair"’,… Read More »Lotteries and Fairness

Which issues are moral issues? The Case of Egg Freezing

The link in the Guardian reads "Fertility experts warn about morality of egg freezing". In the Telegraph the word "moral" doesn't appear in the headline, but does appear in the lede (the first sentence of the story, which is supposed to summarize the essential facts): The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Fertility Society… Read More »Which issues are moral issues? The Case of Egg Freezing

Placebos as cognitive enhancers?

A recent study on the efficacy of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – antidepressants like Prozac – has been widely reported in the media. Unfortunately it has not been reported very well. Headlines like ‘Antidepressant drugs don’t work’ (The Independent) are misleading. What the study actually found is that the efficacy of SSRIs varies with… Read More »Placebos as cognitive enhancers?

Obesity and genes

An interesting new study on the heritability of childhood obesity has been widely publicised. The paper, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found only a modest effect of shared environment on body mass index. The study used the common technique of comparing monozygotic and dizygotic twins; that is, twins who share all or… Read More »Obesity and genes

The Daily Mail reports on a helmet that supposedly ‘could reverse the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease within weeks of being used’. The helmet uses near infrared light, which can penetrate the skull of patients. According to the Mail: Its creators believe it could reverse the symptoms of dementia – such as memory loss and anxiety… Read More »

Race, IQ and James Watson

A couple of months ago, James Watson – who, together with Francis Crick, was awarded the Nobel Prize for deciphering the double helix structure of DNA – claimed that black people are less intelligent that white  He invoked the authority of science to make his claim. Of course, if the claim had simply been that on average (say) African-Americans had lower scores on IQ tests than White Americans (and that this difference was reflected in educational achievement and other socioeconomic indicators), Watson would simply have been citing facts. The controversial part of Watson’s claim was that the difference was rooted in the genes of blacks and whites and therefore fixed. The first part of the claim is (probably) false – the genetic differences between blacks and white are largely skin deep. But even were it true it would be irrelevant to the real question. Watson calls himself ‘gloomy about the prospect of Africa’, because he thinks that ‘genetic’ means ‘fixed’. But ‘genetic’ does not mean ‘fixed’; the fact that the differences between two individuals are explained by differences in their genes has no implications whatsoever about how hard or easy it is to eliminate the difference. Differences rooted in environmental factors (to the –limited – extent to which it even makes sense to separate environmental factors from genetic) may be easier to eliminate than those rooted in the genes, or they may be harder. Genes work like sets of switches, under the control of other genes and environmental factors. These sets can be configured differently to produce very different results; changing a few triggers thereby produces very different products from much the same genes. In any case, the evidence strongly suggests that this particular IQ deficit is remediable.

Read More »Race, IQ and James Watson