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ethics

Ban the beets?

The hot new performance-enhancing drug is…beetroot juice!? (original paper)

Nitrates in food reduces the oxygen cost of some forms of exercise and improves high-intensity exercise tolerance. So the researchers gave half a litre of beetroot juice (which is rich in nitrate) or a nitrate depleted placebo to club-level competitive cyclists. The nitrate juice produced better cycling performance when compared to the placebo. On a 16.1 km race beet juice reduced the total time by 2.7% – not much, but presumably enough to matter in a competition.

In any case, this is fun for doping discussions. Should we ban athletes from quaffing beet juice?

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What is it like to be a bee?

Do bees have feelings? What would that mean? And if they do have feelings, how should we treat them? Do we have a moral obligation toward insects?

Honeybees “exhibit pessimism” according to a recent study published in Current Biology, and summarized in this Wired Science article. Pay attention to the Wired headline – “Honeybees might have emotions” – and to these choice clippings as well: “You can’t be pessimistic if you don’t have an inner life.” And, “invertebrates like bees aren’t typically thought of as having human-like emotions.” The implication, of course, is that these invertebrates have been shown to have them.

Inner life? Human-like emotions? Is there “something it is like,” then, to be a bee?

From an ethics standpoint, questions like these make a big difference. Read More »What is it like to be a bee?

Why Wills and Kate must breed

By Charles Foster

As some may have noticed, today there is a wedding.  It has been immensely costly, and while I do not for a moment resent that expenditure, the cost has an important ethical corollary.

The money has been spent primarily to ensure dynastic continuity. By accepting our money for their Bollinger and bobbies, William and Kate are impliedly accepting our commission to use their best endeavours to breed. They have taken the People’s Shilling, and have become, first and foremost, breeding animals. Their gametes are held in trust for the nation, and they should guard them.  Kate must marinate her eggs in the finest organic nutrients that Fortnums has to offer: William must never wear tight underpants, and always wear a box when he plays cricket.Read More »Why Wills and Kate must breed

How are future generations different from potential persons?

A debate piece in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter by the philosophers Nicholas Espinoza and Martin Peterson (autotranslated version) on abortion rights has led to strong reactions in the Swedish blogosphere. The authors make two claims: First, that even people with liberal values can take issue with current abortion rights because it involves a goal conflict between the interests of present and future individuals in having their legitimate desires fulfilled. Second, that the binary view that things must be either allowed or banned is wrong, and that there exists a third domain where laws should take moral ambiguity or internal conflict into account. Their suggestion is that women who end up in situations in this third domain should neither be helped nor hindered by society, and should be allowed to end their pregnancies at clinics where the fee is proportional to their ability to pay. The short article seems tailored to anger holders of practically every view, although I suspect the authors mainly felt it was more of an interesting argument than a deliberate golden apple. Here is a small bite on the green half of the apple: is climate and abortion ethics comparable?

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Knowing is half the battle: preconception screening

In a recently released report the UK Human Genetics Commission said there are “no specific social, ethical or legal principles” against preconception screening. If a couple may benefit from it, testing should be available so they can make informed choices. Information about this kind of testing should also be made widely available in the health system (and in school). The responses in the news have been along predictable lines, with critics warning that this is a modern version of eugenics or that it would lead to some people being stigmatized.

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Autonomy: amorphous or just impossible?

By Charles Foster

I have just finished writing a book about dignity in bioethics. Much of it was a defence against the allegation that dignity is hopelessly amorphous; feel-good philosophical window-dressing; the name we give to whatever principle gives us the answer to a bioethical conundrum that we think is right.

This allegation usually comes from the thoroughgoing autonomists – people who think that autonomy is the only principle we need. There aren’t many of them in academic ethics, but there are lots of them in the ranks of the professional guideline drafters, (look, for instance, at the GMC’s guidelines on consenting patients) and so they have an unhealthy influence on the zeitgeist.

The allegation is ironic. The idea of autonomy is hardly less amorphous. To give it any sort of backbone you have to adopt an icy, unattractive, Millian, absolutist version of autonomy. I suspect that the widespread adoption of this account is a consequence not of a reasoned conviction that this version is correct, but of a need, rooted in cognitive dissonance, to maintain faith with the fundamentalist notions that there is a single principle in bioethics, and that that principle must keep us safe from the well-documented evils of paternalism. Autonomy-worship is primarily a reaction against paternalism. Reaction is not a good way to philosophise.Read More »Autonomy: amorphous or just impossible?

Nothing is like mother’s ice cream

The Icecreamists, an ice cream parlour in Covent Garden began selling a human breast-milk based ice cream last month, only to have it confiscated recently by Westminster Council in order to check that it was “fit for human consumption”. New York chef Daniel Angerer was reported as served human cheese (he didn’t, but see his blog for the recipe). He was advised by the New York Health Department to stop, since although there were no departmental codes forbidding it they claimed “cheese made from breast milk is not for public consumption, whether sold or given away”. What is it exactly that is disturbing with a human milk ice cream or cheese? And are there any good reasons to hinder selling it?

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Pulp Friction in Tasmania: when is a little dioxin to much dioxin?

When is a little dioxin too much dioxin?

Dioxin is a persistent organic pollutant (POP) that accumulates in the food chain and is highly toxic to living systems. The Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants commits signatories to ‘reduce or where feasible, eliminate the production and environmental release’ of dioxin.

So we know that dioxin is not a good thing to be releasing into the environment. And we also know that particular human activities, such as the smelting process that produces certain metals and chlorine bleaching of wood pulp in the paper industry produce dioxin. The question is when is it ‘feasible’ to eliminate the production and environmental release of dioxin?Read More »Pulp Friction in Tasmania: when is a little dioxin to much dioxin?

Intolerance we ought to encourage?

by Anders Sandberg

Government Chief Scientific Adviser John Beddington goes to war against bad science: Selective use of science ‘as bad as racism or homophobia’.  He argued: ‘We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality…We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method’. Is he right that we should be intolerant of bad science?

Read More »Intolerance we ought to encourage?