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  • Archive for the 'Bioethics' Category

    The Gut: Tribalism’s Home and Not Always a Bad Thing

    Posted by Ginny on 30th August 2008 (All posts by )

    Thanks, Shannon for your blogging, which has provided a smorgasbord. 

     

    In the comments to his “Identity-Politics Insanity” post, Helen’s observation reminds us of a truth about American politics but more importantly about human nature.  For instance, a balanced ticket is attractive, because we assume more ideas are in play and more people feel an identity with their leaders.  On the other hand, Shannon is right:   identity politics encourages a tribalism whose restraint has been the great triumph of western civilization and a prerequisite for a diverse nation ruled by predictable, equitable laws.  We rightly fear identities that trump law & duty, but we also fear ideologies which encourage children to betray their parents and wives their husbands.  We ignore such passions – natural to our species – at our own peril: unacknowledged they threaten chaos; diminished, we lack a glue that holds communities and even identities together.

      Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Human Behavior, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy | 3 Comments »

    Faulkner’s Grip on Psychology

    Posted by Ginny on 10th May 2008 (All posts by )

    “The old fierce pull of blood.” – Faulkner

    Literature helps us understand human nature. Disciplines designed to do so are not always so good at it. Sometimes, indeed, they seem counterproductive. “Buried Prejudice”, an article by Siri Carpenter in Scientific American Mind (via A&L), argues that “[e]ven our basic visual perceptions are skewed toward our in-groups. Many studies have shown that people more readily remember faces of their own race than of other races.” But to Carpenter (and the researchers summarized) the tension between our understanding of truth and justice (transcendent ideals that also pulled Faulkner’s young hero, Sarty) and our feel of the tribal (which he feels mixed with “despair” and “grief”) is not the tension between feeling and thinking, the biological and the rational. Our culture has slowly developed institutions to restrain the tribal passions central to our earlier survival but detrimental to a more diverse and larger society. But, Carpenter describes a group of researchers who have found (“[u]sing a variety of sophisticated methods,” that we “unwittingly hold an astounding assortment of stereotypical beliefs and attitudes about social groups: black and white, female and male, elderly and young, gay and straight, fat and thin.” (The word “astounding” is telling.) Of course, this is not always helpful – say, in sitting on a jury – when we link (as Jesse Jackson implies he did in the catchy intro) “black” with “danger”.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Civil Society | 2 Comments »

    Unclean! Unclean!

    Posted by Shannon Love on 3rd May 2008 (All posts by )

    Megan McArdle’s post on the resurgence of measles due to a lack of vaccinations prompted me to think about the modern moral and legal ramifications of someone choosing to go about unvaccinated.

    When a person becomes infected with a lethal contagious disease, the disease microbe turns their body into a biological warfare factory churning out billions of weapons which automatically seek out and attack other people. If a person infected themself on purpose and then went about their daily life, we would regard it as a form of lethal violence against everyone they came in contact with. How then should we regard those who fail to take simple, cheap and low-risk steps to prevent such an occurrence by accident?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Morality and Philosphy, Science, Society | 10 Comments »

    WWPZD?

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 30th April 2008 (All posts by )

    Again, from the usual source: with reference to this … TBN is a sewer, Crouch is a parasite, and Stein is upholding the finest tradition of Hollywood celebrities, and I mean that in the worst possible way.

    Lots of other people, I hope, will be quoting Jacob Bronowski today, from the “Knowledge or Certainty” episode of The Ascent of Man:

    It’s said that science will dehumanize people and turn them into numbers. That’s false, tragically false. Look for yourself. This is the concentration camp and crematorium at Auschwitz. This is where people were turned into numbers. Into this pond were flushed the ashes of some four million people. And that was not done by gas. It was done by arrogance, it was done by dogma, it was done by ignorance. When people believe that they have absolute knowledge, with no test in reality, this is how they behave. This is what men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods.
     
    Science is a very human form of knowledge. We are always at the brink of the known; we always feel forward for what is to be hoped. Every judgment in science stands on the edge of error and is personal. Science is a tribute to what we can know although we are fallible. In the end, the words were said by Oliver Cromwell: “I beseech you in the bowels of Christ: Think it possible you may be mistaken.”
     
    I owe it as a scientist to my friend Leo Szilard, I owe it as a human being to the many members of my family who died here, to stand here as a survivor and a witness. We have to cure ourselves of the itch for absolute knowledge and power. We have to close the distance between the push-button order and the human act. We have to touch people.

    I’m not finished. I know PZ Myers. I’ve corresponded with him, spoken with him, and been a guest in his house. Nor was I there under false pretenses; he knows exactly what I am. I can think of few contrasts sharper than that between the way atheist liberal blue-state biology professor PZ Myers treated evangelical libertarian red-state corporate slug Jay Manifold and the way PZ is getting treated by these cretins.

    It’s about time somebody started a “Christian Fans of PZ Myers” club, complete with WWPZD bracelets.

    Did I mention that TBN is a sewer?

    Posted in Academia, Bioethics, History, Human Behavior, Personal Narrative, Quotations, Science | 56 Comments »

    Another Reminder

    Posted by Ginny on 9th January 2008 (All posts by )

    To keep Borlaug on our horizon, here is John Pollock’s  Green Revolutionary in Technology Review.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics | 1 Comment »

    How I Learned to be the Adult – And Why I Often Forget – 2 -

    Posted by Ginny on 9th May 2007 (All posts by )

    May 10 update: Instapundit links to another discussion of Rubin by Will Wilkinson in The Economist.

    May 9 post:

    When I started my little business, I despaired when a large chain opened down the street two weeks before we did. What I should have recognized was that large chains & naïfs could see our college town needed copy shops. We survived – for quite a while. Tired and worn out, both from a pregnancy in my forties and a series of rather stupid business moves on my part, I sold out years later to a locally run company. We were doing several times the amount of business we had that first year – and, while some such shops had come and gone during thirteen years, several survived, making varying but real profits.

    I was wrong, but I was working from the gut. Paul Rubin’s “Evolution, Update: Immigration and Trade” points to why I felt as I did and why I was wrong. Just as it is probably not always wise to do what both villains & heroes do in adventure dramas – head for the high ground – we retain instincts that once helped us survive.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Business | 2 Comments »

    Imagine Insanity

    Posted by Shannon Love on 24th April 2007 (All posts by )

    In reading Ginny’s post below as well as the posts and comments of the sites she links to, I note a strong presumption among most that in the case of mental illness we should err on the side of under-treating rather than risk over-treating someone. Dr. Jonathan Kellerman makes this observation:

    Talk to anyone who’s tried to commit a dangerously violent child or parent for even a few days: A stranger with a law degree will show up at the hearing and paint you as a fascist. So it’s far too much to expect anything resembling a decisive approach to those whose level of threat remains at the verbal level.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, Law, Morality and Philosphy, Science | 8 Comments »

    We May be Biased Toward Hawks, but We’ve Become Doves

    Posted by Ginny on 4th January 2007 (All posts by )

    Pinker’s brief contribution to the Edge‘s year-end treat gives a cheerful & progressive sense of proportion. While acknowledging our historical tendency toward cruelty and barbarism, he describes a world more dovish. But also this week Arts & Letters links to a Foreign Policy article “Why Hawks Win” that argues our reasoning is biased toward war. Both seem flawed but both attempt to understand the elusive “nature of man.” Of course, both also come with their own preconceptions.

    Pinker might see this “hawkishness” in terms of the tribal loyalties so central to traditional defense. Daniel Kahneman and Jonathan Renshon are, I suspect, finding such tribal perspectives when discovering bias:

    Evidence suggests that this bias is a significant stumbling block in negotiations between adversaries. In one experiment, Israeli Jews evaluated an actual Israeli-authored peace plan less favorably when it was attributed to the Palestinians than when it was attributed to their own government. Pro-Israel Americans saw a hypothetical peace proposal as biased in favor of Palestinians when authorship was attributed to Palestinians, but as “evenhanded” when they were told it was authored by Israelis.

    What the authors don’t acknowledge is how those biases helped earlier generations protect their own. That we tend not to trust the “other” may at times have to do with the nature of the “other” (Arafat’s reign did little to lead Israelis to find Palestinians trustworthy), but the biological truth remains: we trust our own. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics, War and Peace | 13 Comments »

    Do Blondes Have More Fun

    Posted by Ginny on 28th April 2006 (All posts by )

    My oldest daughter. whose good looks are a bit Slavic & definitely brunette was quite irritated as she searched for a cake “topper” five years ago: she wanted a brunette bride paired with a groom of the blonde/blue-eyed good looks of her Nordic husband-to-be. (Perfectly sensible people tend toward the sentimental at such times; I figured she figured she would only marry once & why not with marzipan schmalz?) Dark brides were everywhere, but always coupled with dark grooms. And perhaps as many plastic couples were dark grooms with blonde brides. Clearly, these reflected our culture’s vision of a generic “handsome couple.” But, now, I see in AL Daily, “Corrected-Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun”, the ancient path of evolutionary choice, though I’m not sure this is enough evidence. With such ratios, the males chose, but what will women find alluring? If cake ornaments (generally chosen by women) are any indication, blonde men don’t have (or aren’t) more fun.

    Another thought, will women become dark & dowdy if the ratios in China & India continue – and perhaps spread? (I’m looking forward to being in fashion myself.) When men died young & hard:

    The increase in competition for males led to rapid change as women struggled to evolve the most alluring qualities. Frost believes his theory is supported by studies which show blonde hair is an indicator for high oestrogen levels in women.

    Whatever. My daughter’s search says something, but I’m not sure what. I put this under “bioethics” but suspect it’s trivia.

    Posted in Bioethics | 3 Comments »

    The Good Death – or Not?

    Posted by Ginny on 17th January 2006 (All posts by )

    Lehrer reported tonight on the Supreme Court decision on assisted death. I believe most of us have conflicted feelings about end-of-life questions. This may have been the best choice – but the remark by an opponent that suicides are often victims of depression was answered a little too glibly by his opposite, who quickly contended that none euthanized had suffered from depression.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics | 1 Comment »

    Let Them Eat Organic Cake!

    Posted by demimasque on 1st September 2005 (All posts by )

    Despite the opposition of President Bush to federal subsidies for embryonic stem cell research, the United States isn’t the only jurisdiction that has had problems coming to terms with the implications of the genetic revolution. Ronald Bailey reports on EU intransigence on genetically modified (GM) crops, and how these EU regulations are having dire consequences for the livelihoods of the world’s poor people:

    [T]he constituency of anti-biotech environmental groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth is not poor African and Asian farmers and their families, but affluent and easily frightened European consumers. In response to ferocious pressure ginned up by the misleading campaigns of ideological environmentalists, EU politicians and bureaucrats have built an all but impenetrable wall of anti-biotech regulations around themselves. Wielding these onerous crop biotechnology regulations, the EU, on specious safety grounds, has essentially banned the importation of most biotech crops and foods. But these regulations do not only have consequences for European farmer and consumers.

    The EU wants to export its regulatory system to the world, and it is offering “capacity building” foreign aid to persuade developing countries to adopt its no-go or go-slow approach to crop biotechnology regulations. Even more tragically, some developing countries are so afraid of the EUs anti-biotech wrath that they are willing to risk the lives of millions of their hungry by rejecting food aid that contains genetically enhanced crops.

    Activists usually blame the inaction of rich countries for killing people in poor countries. However, instead of outrage here, we get Greenpeace geneticist Doreen Stabinsky primly quipping in the Post-Dispatch, “Hunger is not solved by producing more food. We’re the breadbasket of the world, and we have hungry people in the U.S.”

    Hunger may not be solved by producing more food, but it sure couldnt hurt.

    There’s a saying, that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach him to fish, you feed him for a life time. What the anti-biotech groups’ approach boils down to is a refusal to teach their poorer neighbors to fish. This is unsurprising, as such groups are generally anti-liberal (in that they expect government to provide), and dispensing immediate aid doesn’t require teaching anyone how to be self-sufficient. This is of a piece with the anti-liberal hostility toward individual responsibility. (Do not confuse this with the liberal sympathy for the plight of the poor, as true liberals advocate both giving the man a fish and teaching him to fish.)

    Rather odd, given the chidings that Americans are usually subjected to from Europeans dismissing our supposedly parochial attitudes toward technology. You’d think they’d know better. Then again, if their own farmers were at least marginally more efficient, they wouldn’t have to import food and thus run the risk of importing GM foods. Try telling that to someone in Brussels.

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Bioethics, Environment, Europe | 1 Comment »

    Europe’s Population Implosion

    Posted by demimasque on 3rd August 2005 (All posts by )

    Much has been said and written about Europe’s fertility rate, the white portion of which is below replacement levels. Here are some clues why this is happening. Compare those stories with an American one, and you can begin to get a sense of the differing values.

    James Taranto addressed this in a way in January:

    Medical statistics can be tricky: An excellent hospital may have a higher death rate than a mediocre one because of differences in the patient population, with the former treating much harder cases than the latter. That is what seems to have happened here: Kristof has alighted on a statistical artifact of American excellence and misconstrued it as a sign of America’s shortcomings.

    Perhaps America’s much-ballyhooed religiosity is also her saving grace in this context, as, despite Roe v. Wade, we are more likely to try to save perinatal infants instead of dumping the baby in the rubbish. Or, as James Taranto points out in “The Roe Effect“, perhaps our religiosity remains because of Roe v. Wade. Who knows?

    It is entirely possible, of course, that the European women who discarded those babies did, in fact, endure much emotional anguish. But in the end, their decision was indubitably made easier by the more cavalier attitudes of their postmodern upbringing. I hope it wasn’t quite so easy, of course. I’d hate to think that some woman decided, after carrying a baby nearly to term, that she’d rather not give up the single life, that she’d rather not give up being able to afford items of haute couture or dinners of haute cuisine. In short, I’d hate to think that women who want to live like the girls of Sex and the City would make a decision to bring a baby to term, then give it up all at the last minute just because it’s “inconvenient”. I’d also hate for Europeans to have to resort to the excuse that these women didn’t know any better; wouldn’t that take away their ability to mock the United States for our (admitted) lack of good sex education?

    [Cross-posted at Between Worlds]

    Posted in Bioethics | 25 Comments »

    An Expert Weighs In

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 3rd May 2005 (All posts by )

    In this post I talked about how universal health care, though popular, was probably doomed to failure. One of people who left a comment was Kevin Fleming, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. I thought the comment deserved its own post:
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics | 9 Comments »

    Memes

    Posted by Ginny on 16th April 2005 (All posts by )

    Joseph Carroll:

    Memes, for example, spread or reproduce in a way that has some parallels with the spread of genes, but no memeno idea or cultural image–contains a molecular mechanism adapted by natural selection to replicate itself. Ideas and cultural images are themselves inert. They are replicated only by serving as stimuli for psychological processes eventuating in symbolic activity that stimulates other psychological processes. The differences in causal mechanisms between molecular replication and this memetic process are subtle but fundamental.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics | 5 Comments »

    A Reply to Ken

    Posted by Ginny on 24th October 2004 (All posts by )

    The readers of Reason, Ken, Megan McArdle are asked to ponder the importance of their votes, to argue convincingly. Ken’s stance was the least cynical, the most objective. It seemed a grown up complaint. Still, I was heartened by his comment, which led me to think that his stance was rhetorically effective but, fortunately, a bit empty. (And I do mean that in the best of all possible ways interesting to read, eye-catching, but, in the end, reaching a complex resolution himself.) Still, here is a response.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Bioethics | 9 Comments »

    Finally, a reason to vote against Bush

    Posted by ken on 23rd October 2004 (All posts by )

    that can be taken seriously – that isn’t either a blatant distortion (Iraq is a disaster!), a reason to vote for Bush (he’s going to reduce Social Security benefits! He’s going to go to war against Iran!), or a failing that Kerry would magnify if he got the chance (he spends too damn much money!)

    Apparently, the current administration is pushing for a UN convention intended to ban all forms of cloning worldwide. (Another link here; Kleiman’s post has a link to a Financial Times article that requires registration and payment)

    This is absolutely insane. To protect organisms that cannot possibly be people, that don’t even have the most rudimentary brains that are the first and most basic requirement for sentient life, the Administration is advocating that all of humanity be forbidden to investigate or use techniques that may lead to the possibility of transplanting your own matching organs or even replacing your entire body, and show an exciting prospect for one day finally eliminating the dreaded, agonizing, degenerative disease that has plagued every last generation of humanity since the very beginning of the race, perhaps in time to save you from certain death.

    To be sure, the UN has no power to actually enforce such a prohibition, and the US Congress declined to enact one on its own and would probably continue to do so even if the UN asked it to. But how much needed and useful investment would go on in this country in the presence of an Administration that openly advocates criminalizing the fruit of such long and expensive labors?

    If only his opponent, and his entire party, weren’t so openly hostile to the very idea of market forces being allowed to produce technological improvements, price reduction, and increased supply in the medical field, and in favor of “solving” the problems caused by ill-advised interventions in the marketplace by adding more interventions.

    If only his opposition wasn’t so disdainful of the very possibility of bringing some measure of liberty and democracy to places that knew only oppression and jihad, or so committed to the notion that the introduction of free-market capitalism is a provocation that enrages the locals and understandably makes them turn into jihadis and plot revenge against such outrageous injury.

    Damn, I’m really beginning to hate this election.

    (Update: Maybe Bush is pushing for UN action because it has little practical effect, while allowing him to pretend to take positive action against the evils of cloning and stem-cell research. If we grant that assumption, this move goes into the “reasons to vote for Bush” column. But I don’t know if that explanation makes sense. What do y’all think?)

    Posted in Bioethics | 23 Comments »