Sunday, 29 December 2013

This Was Philosophical Comment 2013

Time once again to make a bit of a summary for this blog during a year which will soon end – last year's summary is here.

The trend mentioned last year of a seemingly (after my recovery from illness) continuously increasing popularity (in terms of reads) seems this year to have initially continued and then leveled out somewhat after last year's extremely positive surge. The monthly figures have in 2013 been residing rather steadily between over 6 000 and over 9 000 reads, with 9 549 as the top figure for September and today the total number of reads ever passed 188 000. There will, however, be a notable dip in reads for this the last month of the year, as with a few days left the figure is still only at slightly more than 3 600 (click the image to see a larger version).

I have also noticed a tendency of a less secured minimum number of monthly hits during autumn, although I've had a few posts that have attracted more than the average attention to make for good monthly figures in the end. A main explanatory factor for this development, as it seems, is that Blogger has chosen to move its Blogs of Note page, where Philosophical Comment has been featured and thus widely displayed at the top since August 2012, into archive mode, favouring instead the increasing integration with the Google+ platform and its blog function. During the year, I've also – albeit with some reluctance due to my dislike of the increasing dominance of Google and what that means to make for a less dynamically evolving internet – finally chosen to integrate Philosophical Comment with Google+, although much remains to be done on that front to have impact on read numbers. I have to say, I do prefer to have the quality and attraction of posts to determine readership over strategic marketing tricks like these. But I can't deny the world around me, so here we are, we'll see next year if I managed to conjure the energy to maximize exposure in this new environment, or found the time and inspiration to post more regularly.

So, over to the posts themselves. This is the all time high statistics of the blog so far (click the image to see a larger version):

Compared to last year, some significant changes have occurred. First, after several years at the top, the WikiLeaks piece is now third, with my musings over various less impressive sides of the new online landscape of academic publishing is at the top. There are still a few posts connecting to my comments on the many strange moves connecting the the management of the American Journal of Bioethics up there, but as that affair is now a thing of the past, I expect these to gradually be pushed down and eventually off the list by fresher and more relevant material. A few posts that made last year's all time high list have been so pushed off, to be replaced this year by a rather sarcastic piece commenting on a scandalous and eventually officially declared unlawful police registry of roma people in south Sweden, a lament over my academic colleague Adrienne Ash, who sadly passed away this year, a brief pointer to a post by my colleague Udo Schuklenk on his Ethx Blog regarding how to reason around the idea of a military intervention in Syria and, finally, a cross post and referral to a nicely indexed eminent series of posts on moral responsibility, free will and such matters by John Danaher on his Philosophical Disquisitions blog. Not that John really needs the assistance, but I'm nevertheless happy to have been able to thus helped a few people find their way to one of the better philosophy blogs around. Off the list fell, most notably, my comment on how to assess the possible criminal insanity of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. It may also be noted that while last year it took about 650 reads to make the list, a post this year needs to get above 840, another indication that the leveling out of reads numbers mentioned above has more to do with a less stable minimum than decreased numbers of the top hits of this blog.

Finally, as tradition dictates, a look at the geographic source of the total readership (click the image to see a larger version):

The USA readership is increasing its dominance further, and in all the main reader of Philosophical Comment continues to be anglophone or European, although China has this year made the top ten country of reader list. The full span of the geographic home of readers, however, is better displayed by this image from the ClustrMap function attached to this blog (where larger red markings indicate a larger concentrated number of unique readers of the blog – click the image to see a larger version):

This function displays statistics starting later than Blogger's own, and also counts only unique hits on the entire site (thus not number of readers of individual posts or number of reads). As you can see, Philosophical Comment has a notable readership also in South America, Asia and, albeit still weaker, throughout Africa. Go here to inspect the numerical relations in more detail!

So, that's it. As usual, I wish to thank all you people who read Philosophical Comment, who follow the blog in the various ways available, who comment on the posts, like them on Facebook and other places, +-click, tweet, cross-post and refer to them in other ways. A happy new year and a very best 2014 to you all!

Friday, 13 December 2013

An Extremely Loudmouthed Very Minor Minority: Anonymous Racist Net-haters Exposed in Sweden

The last week or so, the big news in my country has been the reporting in daily tabloid Expressen of the result of the independent Research Group's unmasking of the most active and organized online "net-haters" on various racist or semi-racist or "nationalist" internet fora – a phenomenon I discussed from a moral psychological point of view in a former post. The messages of the haters convey a rich collection of completely unrestrained, inconsiderate or even mildly civil language, open blatant racism, many statements about the need for using fire arms as a reaction to current Swedish immigration policy. And, of course, countless attacks of a similar sort on people who openly question their views  or those of our own little new-racist party, the Sweden Democrats (for my take on the European new-racist political movement se the series of posts linked to here), inciting to violence and, in the case of a 16-year old girl who dared express opposition, organized rape. All under the prescious protection of a perceived online anonymity.

English coverage of this news is here and here. The Swedish reports of Expressen are here, here and here (with many further links to comments, particular analyses, debate and so on) and further comments can be found here, here and here, just to mention an extreme few of a lot of domestic news reporting. The analyses from the Research Group itself can be accessed via their webpage "Avkodat", i.e. Decoded. The unmasking itself was apparently done without any sort of illegal hacking, it is reported. Rather, the Research Group used modern, smart approaches to effectively assemble and analyze publicly available information, albeit apparently some of this information was public due to a security flaw of the Disqus online community service. I'm unsure, however, of how significant that particular aspect was in facilitating the unmasking.

The exposure of the identity of the net-haters first demonstrated a number of elected or otherwise public representatives of the Sweden Democrats, most of which immediately resigned or were forced out in accordance with the zero tolerance for racism policy that was proclaimed by the party's central leadership some years back and has resulted in the resignation or disappearance from public view of a great many people at all levels of the party. Further analysis has revealed that these and a rather small number of other people have been extremely active in various online debate fora in a way that can only be described as a consciously coordinated campaign, going on since many years, to the effect of creating the false impression of a change of public attitudes to immigration, etc. and to consistently and repeatedly terrorize and scare people who hold other views to keep them from voicing them publicly. Thus creating the false impression of the new-racist agenda as being in fashion, more widely accepted, and so on. In effect, the alleged "silent majority" that these sort of people love to hold themselves out as speaking for has turned out to be a cowardly and not even minimally civil or morally decent extremely small minority of loudmouthed extremists, lacking any sort of support among ordinary people and when exposed conveying loving character traits such as blaming their own children to have hijacked their computers. This, to me, is the most important result of the unmasking done by the Research Group and Expressen – this whole sense of a "nationalist", "racist" ideological wind having gotten hold of large portions of the population does not hold up to scrutiny. It's a marketing lie created by a very, very minor group of very unusual and extreme people under cover of supposed anonymity, but as all trolls exposed to the sun, when brought up in the daylight from their murky, foul dwellings, they burst just as well as that empty balloon of the image of public opinion they have been trying to create.

Now, Expressen choose to expose not only people holding public or political office, but also some of the other most active of the haters without any such formal ties to any party or organization. This created a small burst of criticism on press-ethical grounds. It's one thing, the argument went (expressed for instance by Ulf Bjereld, a professor of political science at my university) to expose public figures in this way, that's like catching officials taking bribes, or criticising political representatives for furthering a double agenda. But to expose "ordinary persons" who are not formally representing a political party or holding a public office is more problematic. The editor in chief of Expressen, Thomas Mattsson, has replied in a way making it obvious that he is aware of the press-ethical problem as such, but has made another judgement than Bjereld.

In this debate, in spite of being generally rather critical of what I see as an often much too eager willingness of the press to identify individuals, I side with Mattsson. Bjereld's argument rests solely on the assumption that being a public figure has to be defined in rigid, formalistic terms such as being an elected politician. I rather hold that the relevant questions are, first, if the person is a public figure and, second, to what extent the dissemination of the information is in the public interest. These two criteria together, due to the circumstances described earlier mean: (a) that the most active of the net-haters have, by their own conscious actions and fully aware of acting in the public domain, made themselves into public figures (these are not your average Joe shooting of an ill-considered comment in a forum or discussion thread now and then), (b) the result of the totality of their coordinated (I'm not saying planned, I don't assume a conspiracy here) actions are of the utmost importance from a public perspective by creating widespread false impressions influencing democratic and public discourse. Observe, also, that Expressen's exposure in no way curtails these people's freedom of speech or opinion or expression or somehow punishes or condemns them or in any other way undermines what may be seen as democratically important values. It simply reports about an issue of large national and principal democratic importance, in which said people have by their own free actions chosen to implicate themselves. Now, what this means is, of course, that I also agree with Bjereld that there is a limit to what level of identification of those active under anonymity in these fora would be press-ethically justified. But just as in the case of other publication decisions, the determination of that boundary is not done by assuming an arbitrarily chosen rigid formalist criterion of the sort suggested by Bjereld.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Radio Documentary Podcast on Hate Crime and Hate Crime Policy

I've been blogging a bit before about activities coming out of a European research project I've been involved with together with my colleague David Brax, When Law and Hate Collide. The earlier posts, containing links to presentations, videos from conferences, actual proposed lines of reasoning om particular topics and so on is here. Our own main input about the philosophy of hate crime, besides an upcoming special issue of the Journal of Interpersonal Violence is the Philosophy of Hate Crime Anthology, which can be downloaded in whole from the project website - the Introduction to the Philosophy of Hate Crime which is a part of that can be read online for free here.

Now has been made available yet another output, namely a one hour radio documentary in two parts, freely available as podcast or for download from here. It features me and David, as well as several other scholars from the project, and experts and professionals that we have been collaborating with, including representatives of the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights.

Streams of the two parts of the program are embedded for immediate listening here:

Please feel free to use and share this material for education or just increased awareness as you please!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Cross Post: More psychiatric research misconduct at the U? A Fox 9 television report on Dan Markingson and another abused research subject at U of Minnesota Psychiatry

Cross-posting this from the Fear and Loathing in Bioethics blog. It connects to several of my earlier posts, the last of which is here, on the appalling research ethical scandal connecting to University of Minnesota Psychiatry. And once you thought you heard it all, more comes to light through this Fox 9 documentary:


When having watched it, you might want to sign this petition to the Minnesota governor for an independent investigation of the University of Minnesota pertaining these matters.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

R.I.P. Adrienne Asch – Bioethicist, Philosopher and Disability Ethics Pioneer

Today, I'm reached by the sad news that Adrienne Asch – a pivotal figure in bioethics, particularly known for her important contributions to the understanding of disability-based perspectives on bioethics, not least  regarding prenatal and other sorts of such reproductive genetic testing this world doesn't seem to ever get enough of – passed away this morning after having suffered bad cancer for some time.

Confirmation of this last news is here, and the death notice has been traveling around Twitter and Facebook today, e.g., via my trusted Canadian colleague Udo Schuklenk, originating apparently from the account of the US National Federation of the Blind (where Adrienne was a prominent spokesperson):

Addendum 2013-11-20: the day after, Yeshiva University has now officially posted an in memoriam.

The NFB also provides a link to this recent address that Adrienne gave at their convention this summer. It tells the tale of her way into bioethics and philosophy from human rights activist work, explains why the disability perspective is so important to bioethics, and why bioethics is so important to the disability movement, and ends by some pretty hard to chew food for thought for bioethicists, disabled people as well as anyone. Information about her writings and other accomplishments can be sampled via her webpage at Yeshiva University, where she held three parallel chaired professorships and one directorship. But don't take my word on her qualities as a scholar for it, here's a video piece where you can watch her in action talking on her special topic and judge for yourself:

My own contact with Adrienne came via her work on the disability based criticism of prenatal (PNT) and eventually preimplantation genetic testing (PGD), which still holds up as the most eloquently put, stringently made and thought-through devised version of that important critique, which she nevertheless continued to develop (she had a couple of pieces in the American Journal of Bioethics last year). I had myself been barely sniffing some of what Adrienne herself had the full grip on in my work on PNT and PGD in the 1990's, but when I came to writing my first encyclopedia piece om PGD a few years later, I was lucky and awed to discover it all so much better told by Adrienne and since then, her work has been my main reference on that topic whenever I need to provide one. Many years later, as part of a European Commission sponsored project on access to higher education for disabled people and charged with arranging a workshop on relevant disability-related research, Adrienne's name was the first one to come to my mind as speaker – and to my astonishment and joy she said yes. This was not so long time back, so this is how I remember her, as in the picture above: working! Because that she did and contributed everything I could have ever wished for, including cracking a joke when it was best needed. There were plans made then that we never got around to finishing (or even initiating), but she nevertheless honoured me by referencing my PNT work, and we shared space in this book, which came about thanks to Daniela Cutas, who worked with me in this project and was introduced to Adrienne at that same workshop.

Also, used to getting around as a blind person in New York City, when we asked before she came to that workshop if she needed any special assistance, she declined, albeit finding out that this thing with the cobblestones and the trams of Gothenburg and all made it slightly less manageable than maybe she was used to or had expected. Did she intentionally show anything of that? Never! I sensed then the divide of experience between us that probably made an ocean of difference in our angle of approach into our respective work – as much as we reached conclusions of close proximity. The divide between one who in virtue of physiological constitution has always enjoyed the default upper societal hand and the one who has always encountered a basic tweaking the other way around. In any case, this is my own personal connection to and remembrance of Adrienne; hardworking, insightful, generous, profound, funny and proud.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Catholic Aid getting Its Priorities Straight: Typhoones, Rosaries and the Message of Love

Connecting to my former post re. certain gaps in human moral psychology made visible by the global aid response to the typhoon Hayian (also known as Yolanda), it is not exactly uplifting to be forced to share this evidence of morally adequate compassion being most seriously lacking where one would perhaps expect it the most: from aid organisations working from a christian ethical basis, with the message of love at the core of its mission – or not?

Have a look at this admirable crock of /%&€ of an initiative of a Catholic aid organization at providing the homeless, starving and plagued by social unrest and disease of Manilla with what they allegedly really need the most: rosaries to pray effectively (not made clear for what of all those thing said organization has chosen not to provide instead).

It is not revealed exactly how many people that "Rosaries for Life" or the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines view it fit to leave dying or suffering serious injury of lack of resources that could have been provided instead of these no doubt cute little gadgets for securing the obviously very important "spiritual needs" hereby attended to. Christian ethics in practice, indeed!

Reminds me of this early post of this blog, by the way: Message of Love: If Only You Could Eat It.

Friday, 15 November 2013

South Sweden Police's Registry of Roma is Illegal on Multiple Counts – and More Criticism May Well Be Coming!

So a while back I posted an admittedly rather annoyed and highly sarcastic piece regarding the revelations of a registry of more than 4 500 people, mostly of roma origin or related to roma people, some of them since long dead and over 1 000 of them small children, and the feeble and completely confused attempts of responsible police officials to deny any wrongdoing, responsibility or simply sweep the whole thing under the carpet. After that it has been revealed that the registry has contained a large number of people with no suspiscion of or  connection whatsoever to criminal activities and completely respectable lives, jobs social situation etc. – they just "happen" to be roma or having roma relations.

 As I reported about then, a criminal investigation of possible illegal actions in the setup, management and use of the registry was immediately opened by a criminal prosecuter and two police officers have since then been notified of suspiscions of crimes in this respect so far. Parallel investigations were opened by the the Commission on Security and Integrity Protection (SIN) and the Swedish Discrimination Ombudsman (DO). The former authority "supervises the use by crime-fighting agencies of secret surveillance and qualified assumed identities and associated activities" and today delivered its report on what has become known as the "roma registry". Reports in the press can be found (1st one in English) here, here, here, here, here, here, here.

The verdict is that the registry is severly misconceived from the outset, handled sloppily and with lack of discipline and illegal on multiple counts. This, it should be noted, is an administrative legal verdict and does not – however severe its administrative legal implications – by itself imply criminal wrongdoing of any person, but it's hardly good news for the already notified officers mentioned or others formally responsible or users of the registry in South or other parts of Sweden that may be under the criminal prosecuter's scrutiny. What the outcome of this criminal legal process will be remains to be seen.

Likewise, the SIN verdict does not settle the issue of whether or not the setup and running and use of the "roma registry" amounts to illegal discrimination (on ethnic grounds). This is the topic of the DO investigation, which is still ongoing. SIN does note in its report that, apparently, ethnicity has not been the only ground of inclusion of people into the registry – however, this does not settle the illegal discrimination issue, since it seems that people have been included (almost) only if they have either roma origins or relations to people of such origins. That is, while more or less well-founded suspiscion of crime or feared future criminal activity has indeed been a reason for inclusion, a great many people falling into that category have not been included and, seemingly, this is due primarily to their lack of roma origins or connections. It remains to be seen how the DO will assess this delicate situation.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Post Haiyan: A Very Brief Ethical Annotation Re. the Current Situation in the Philipines and Indonesia

In the aftermath of the monster typhoon Haiyan that hit especially hard in the Philipines and Indonesia recently, news have been continuing the past week of the tens of thousands of dead, many more injured and, of course long-term material and economic consequences which in turn will induce secondary and tertiary human harm, for instance through the social chaos emerging in the tracks of a destroyed civilisation. Reports are also coming, once again when catastrophes of this magnitude hit, of the willingness of nations and people all around the globe to help and assist in whatever way possible – acting on solidarity and compassion for the plight of others. Planes and ships with materials and competence are shuffled in the direction of need. This is how it should be, and the willingness to sacrifice masses of resources, time and own security for the sake of others makes me rejoice a bit over my own species in the middle of all the devastation.

However, one thing does not bring me joy, namely something that I in connection to the Haitian earth quake disaster in 2010 discussed in one of my earliest posts on this blog under the heading: How Our Compassion Reveals a Moral Abyss.

I point to it now, once again. Since it is relevant, since it is timely, since what now goes on shows how another order in this world could in fact have been possible – if it hadn't been for its weakest link: us.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

What's This Thing Called Online Automated Bibliometrics and Citation, Anyway? - Scam, Fraud or just Plain Hustling?

It's been a while since the last substantial post, blaming deadlines, deadlines, deadlines for that. Having submitted a major delivery this Friday, here's a sort of inhale before I jump right into the next leg of the fall semester triathlon – a major research bid that I'll be heading.

So, this week, the distinguished science journal Nature's online news section published an entertaining piece on what the outcome may be when all researchers, regardless of field, are ranked according to citation – how much their work is referred to by other researchers – using open online automated resources, such as Google Scholar, or its special citation section. Using a service called Scholarometer, Nature had this guy, slightly surprisingly to many, coming out on top (wonder who he is? - click the pic!):

Strange, isn't it? Not when considering that they have been using the so-called h-index, a mathematical construct devised to reflect the citation weight (rather than rate) of a scholar (that is, this is h-index as used in Google Scholar, in the more professionally advanced and commercial Web of Knowldge, it is something else, but the purpose is the same), thereby reflecting the value of having more articles with more citations rather than just many concentrated to one publication. They then perform what is referred to as normalisation for different scholars in relation to the size of their respective fields. So, what makes Marx come out on top is that he is a more well-cited historian than what, e.g., Albert Einstein is a well-cited physicist, considering that physics is a very much larger discipline than history is. Now, of course, none of this says anything about quality or influence on the progress of research (no more than what the Billboard chart says regarding music) – it merely measures popularity as an object of citation among fellow scholars. In fact, the notion that citation proves anything over and above that others have taken some sort of interest in one's work is highly contestable – said without denying the no doubt important use that citation and citation tracking has in science and research.

But here's the funny thing. Having been pointed to the Scholarometer toy, I of course couldn't resist checking out my own pet fields! So here's what came out when looking at the h-index ranking in bioethics – the field where much of my most weighty specialisation is located (click the image to view a scaled up version):

I could recognize some names, such as Simo Vehmas who happens to be a good friend, but several others were completely unfamiliar to me.  Now, bioethics broadly conceived is a large field so it need not be surprising that one doesn't know the name of completely decent fellows within it, but the fact that I could not place any of the top four names made me wonder. But then it struck me: wait a second, I do know one of those names, the top one at that, but certainly not in the role of a bioethicist, but as a world-renowned researcher in reproductive genetic medicine and leader of the team that performed the first successful preimplantation genetic diagnosis in the early 1990's. I happened to know this, since I published a book on the ethics in the aftermath of this technological advance in 1999 (available for online reading and download through that link). So Alan H Handyside is a prime medical researcher, which of course is what ups his h-index to such heights, as may be confirmed by inspecting a Google Scholar search on his name - what makes him top name in bioethics is, seeemingly, merely that someone tagged his name with that disciplinary affiliation. So what about A Pandiella? Same story it appears, this is a cell-biologist with a no doubt impressive citation count and, I'm certain, many important results up the sleeve. Moving on to R Frydman it's almost the same story, as the bulk of the publications are here in reproductive biomedicine, but it's more complicated as it appears that there is also another R Frydman, who is publishing in the field of health policy/economics, but these persons are treated as one! Next one, J Kimmelman is likely to be a similar story, since there is one with a good number of publications clearly in bioethics [retrospective note added after publication of this post: this person, Jonathan Kimmelman has added a comment below and clarified his affiliation, which is indeed in bioethics] and another publishing in very specialised biomedical science that has attracted vast numbers of citations (I checked some of the respective author affiliations in this case and they don't seem to match either). Last, before we get to my friend Simo, we have F Olivennes, who again seems to be a purely biomedical researcher in the field of reproductive medicine and embryology, who for some reason has been tagged as belonging to bioethics.

These, then are the top researchers of my field according to Scholarometer - no wonder I never heard of them in that role. And, in fact, it seems that the problem appears already at the Google Scholar source, for checking the top name of the straight citation ranking for bioethics, we meet this guy – yup, yet another biomedical researcher classified as a bioethicist. Number two is this guy, whoever he is, same story all over again, and then come some names I'm familiar with and respect in the way one would expect of people ranked to be at the top of one's field. Just to twist the knife some extra turns, I also did a quick check for medical ethics; same story, this is the top guy, apparently, and this is no. three I hear (number two in this ranking actually is a well-known bioethicist who happens to also be a medical researcher, so that kind of animal does exist).

So, what we may conclude is that for these fields, attempts at measuring citation has been severely corrupted by failures of disciplinary/field classification that swamp rankings with citation counts of no relevance for the field at all. I haven't looked through the entire publication lists of the people mentioned, but many of them appear to have basically no output belonging to ethics of any sort. They might, of course, have tagged along on a few ethics papers led by others as clinical/scientific experts (which is fine), but this does not make them highly cited bioethicists, it makes them medical researchers whose medical citation counts look impressive in the context of a field-normalisation to bioethics rather than medicine. In addition, we have seen an obvious identity problem, where the automated online citation counters are unable to distinguish people with similar surname plus initial – makes for quite a lot of error, I would say.

But what is the root of the classification errors with regard to field-normalised/specific citation measures? There are several (possibly overlapping) possibilities. One is, of course, that authors misclassify themselves, as may happen in Google Scholar Citation, where you as author decide what fields to belong to. For example, I could myself have made a strategic choice to pass myself off as belonging to the philosophy of medicine field, which would not exactly be lie albeit bending it a bit, and with my current total citation of 408 ended up in a handsome 6th place, rather than the less impressive placings I enjoy as bio- or medical ethicist or just ethicist. But not all authors are in this system, as you have to actively join it and manage it a bit for it to work (thus your responsibility for how you classify yourself), so the problem might also come from the classification done by the Google Scholar staff; I wouldn't be surprised if several of the strange things described earlier are due to Google's experts confusing "bioethics" with "biometrics" or "biotechnical", for example. The qualification of this staff for doing what they are doing is completely blacked out to me, as I suspect it is to most other scholars, and still many us – like the team behind Scholarometer – take it rather serious. Now, with regard to Scholarometer, there may certainly be error sources located there as well, since one may require of an academically construed automation tool that it is checked for serious error of the sort I have been displaying – which has apparently not occurred to or engaged the team at Indiana University Bloomington responsible for the product.

But wait a second! Wouldn't that mean to, sort of, making the automated citation counter, sort of, not automated? Yes indeed, that is what it means! And hence the title of this little peak into the fascinating games sometimes played in the world of academia to no apparent use for anyone. Alas, though, through the way in which governments and other funders of research are increasingly using bibliometrics and citation as quality indicators to determine the allocation of funds, preferably in an as automated way as possible (partly because of the hype represented by Scholarometer and the article in Nature), thus falling prey to the sort of weirdness here described, this sad example of pretending to have a technology that works when one hasn't, is actually putting fellow scholars and researchers at risk of losing funds and other resources, miss jobs and promotions, et cetera, for no good reason at all.

My plea to Nature and other journals, Scholarometer and Google Scholar is simply this: stop pretending that there's something there that is actually not in evidence. Those who provide these services: make them work as they should or shut them down. Scholarly media: ignore them until they have something to show for real and not merely for fancy.

See you soon!

Monday, 21 October 2013

A Bunch of Posters and Presentations on the Ethics of Person Centred Care and Shared Decision Making in Adolescent Diabetes now Online

Yea, what he said! These things are all outcomes of ongoing research in the cross-disciplinary project Organizing Person Centred Care in Pediatric Diabetes: Communication, Decision-making, Ethics and Health, where myself and some younger philosophers/ethicists collaborate with psychologists, linguists, care and organisation researchers and medical specialists. The project's original plan can be seen here. We are now a few years in and the last week has been a hectic one of delivery both at the yearly international conference of pediatric and adolescent diabetes specialists, ISPAD 2013, that was held in my town last week, and an ethics seminar at the University of Groningen that I visited this thursday.

Here's what came out:

1) An oral presentation (slides) of the main results so far of our entire project, delivered by one of the senior researchers, Marianne Törner.

2) A poster by my Ph.D. student Thomas Hartvigsson and myself, presenting results from an ongoing analysis of videotaped meetings between doctors, patients and parents on the possible value of assessing decision competence as part of a person centred consultation session. The title is Respecting the Adolescent Diabetes Patient as an Autonomous Person - What Does it Imply? Assessing and Managing Decision Capacity for Care Decisions and Self-care

3) Another poster, this time by my post doc in the project, Anders Herlitz, and myself likewise presenting results from an ongoing analysis of videotaped meetings between doctors, patients and parents, this time in the form of a general claim with regard to how person centred care and shared decision making needs to be adapted to fit patients with weak or vulnerable capacities for responsibility and conditions requiring care to be mostly self-managed. The title is The Moral Psychology of Person Centred Adolescent Diabetes Care: two potentially conflicting ethical dimensions of shared decision making for sustainable self-care

4) An oral presentation (slides) that I gave in Groningen more or less at the same time as Anders presented the one above that develops our argument that standard models of shared decision making and person centredness of care lacks a crucial virtue ethical elelment that needs to be added and that this complicates the ethical assessment of the organisation of such care. The title is the same as above.

Currently me and Anders and Thomas and the rest of the team are working hard on, first, two articles, that we hope to submit shortly, and then another batch of two following up more complications of person centred acre and shared decision making that we have discovered through our video-studies. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Why Southern Sweden's Police Should Immediately Create a Registry of Police Officers and their Families

So here's the not so very tasty news from my country today, broken by our largest daily, Dagens Nyheter: The police force of southern Sweden has been running a registry, based on biological/genetic/familial/genealogical principles worthy of any classic nazi or racial biologist, of roma or "traveller" people, comprising of over 4000 persons, among which are 1000 plus children – and also some long deceased ancestors. Read English reports here, here and here (some other Swedish reports are here, here, here, here). One of the family-tree structures look like this (click it for more examples):

The police of south Sweden has made a number of increasingly pathetic attempts to dodge this obviously undodgeable shitstorm, ranging from first denying the existence of any registry, then admitting that but claiming that it is not organised by any "ethnic" principles (the title of the registry is "traveler abouts" – duh!), then possibly sensing this is not going to go away, starting to shift the blame to the classic sort of patsy: the lone, slightly crazed police officer acting "on his own" and excessing a little bit in his/her otherwise admirarable sense of duty. This nice composition of headlines from today sums up how totally feeble and cowardly this whole thing is being handled by those responsible locally:

 Right. And at the same time the registry, for legally it is one, is reported to have been in wide use, not only in the south, but also in my own quarters of Western Sweden, for instance. Ok, so maybe not a lone gunman after all....

By now the national chief of police, Bengt Svensson, reacted strongly and critically, to say the least, and ordered all regional chiefs to probe if anything similar is going on anywhere else (you hear those shredders working all through the nights, and all those hard-drives being dismounted and crushed, folks?) and, in consequence, the police has reported itself to.... the police and the relevant prosecutor has already said that an investigation will be opened regarding possible crimes against the law on registration of personal information (PUL, which is pretty strict), and possibly other laws as well. A bit late, but still, our minister of Justice, Beatrice Ask – otherwise famous for condoning police racial profiling, or at least pooh-poohing reports about it – also has made a statement. Should that fail, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muznieks, has already stated his view that the whole thing is in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights (since Sweden is an EU member state, also a part of my country's constitution), so that would take the case to a probable loss in the European Court of said human rights, which would then force a legal change, if necessary. In parallel, also today, UN's committee against racial discrimination is once again mounting criticism against Sweden, among other things for its lack of action against discrimination and stigmatisation of people of roma origin.

This leads into the funny bit, which motivates this post:

It is namely the last line of defense (offered by deputy chief, Petra Stenkula, and picked up by this shady excuse for a legal commentator, to mention one of a bunch – nice company you keep, deaputy chief!), apparently, of the south Sweden police, that the registry (which is not a registry, but a "list") of roma or travelers (which is not that but a list of "traveler abouts") is (at least initially), in fact a completely legitimate part of a police investigation of some crime connected to a family feud some years back – let alone, it might have gone a bit astray over the years. Right, that's why they need those long deceased people born in the 1800's and the two year olds in there - stupid me, I should have known!

But wait a bit, let's not be too harsh!! Let's in fact accept this explanation - it is actually quite apt by the police to set up registries of this sort, if only it pertains to an ongoing criminal investigation. Let's now chew really well on exactly that:

As we saw, there's a new criminal investigation that has just been opened! Apparently it's about police officers in south Sweden creating and using possibly illegal and unlawfully racist registries of people. So, let's accept the just given explanation and the principle that it implies and act really thoroughly on that: Let's have that registry of all those police officers in south Sweden who are potentially implicated for setting up or using (the Swedish law relevant here may actually ban mere use) the registry – quite possibly that'll be all of them. And be very sure to have deputy chief Stenkula's name as the very first entry, as the feeble attempt at whitewashing that she has offered obviously makes her a prime suspect. And while you're at it, let's put all their family members in there too - including small children of about two and up and a few long dead ones as well, just for good measure. 

You just act on your own fine principles and do just that! Savor how good it feels! Do it tomorrow, do it now, do it yesterday and enjoy!

Saturday, 21 September 2013

When is a Person's Religion A Personal Matter and When is it Not?

The following piece will not dig deep into the concept of religious belief and how it may or may not be different than other sorts of belief or committments. I have done that elsewhere.

I am happy to live in a country that is fairly secularised in the political sense. This secularisation is of the sensibly liberal and tolerant kind, where people of openly displayed, institutionalised religious affiliation are as welcome as anybody else to run for political office, and anyone that may feel like it has the right to make religiously grounded arguments to support or reject political suggestions. Of course, it is also free for all to publicly display whatever symbol of one's faith on one's body that one may please – just as free as it is for anybody to display any sort of symbol of any kind, as long as these are not of particular types of political meaning (due to hate speech considerations). At the same time, while there are quite a few people in Sweden that belong to or identify with institutionalised religious organisations, rather few take the specific content of their faith into the realm of politics or public debate, albeit this content may inspire their political opinions and influence, e.g., voting behavior. These people expect, quite reasonably so, to be left free by society and other people to practice their religion as they please within then the same legal framework that demarcates acceptable behavior for any sort of personal or life-style activity. True, other people may have opinions about this and are free to express those, just as they may have opinions on any sort of activity of other people, but that's nothing special for institutionalised religion. In cases like this, which are the most common in my own country, people's religion are undoubtedly a purely personal matter, just as one choice of favourite sports team is.

Fine. But what about when a person of such religious commitment takes it with him or her into a political career, in particular when such a person belongs to a religious institution that openly propagate particular and strong political views, say, with regard to the legislation around abortion or people of LGBTQ sexuality. This is a heated issue at the moment in my country, as our prime minister, who represents a party (Moderaterna) presenting itself mainly as a liberal or even (when it comes to taxes, public services and trade) libertarian political body – although in the now rather distant past, it used to stand for a more traditional value conservative stance (King and Country and Church and the glorious days of old and so on) – choose to include in his newly formed cabinet a minister of just this sort of religious affiliation, Elisabeth Svantesson. The choice sparked immediate controversy (here, here), as Svantesson used to belong to an extreme neo-calvinist, Christian right, militant pro-life church, called Livets Ord, has been markedly active in the organised movement against current Swedish abortion legislation,  and now belongs to a church called Kristet Centrum, that is not only openly oppose that legislation, but also openly stands for very negative views of LGBTQ people and seems to propagate a rather restrictive room for them to entertain the same rights in the area of family as others (Swedish links: here, here, here, here, here). A young, female representative of Moderaterna has publicly demanded that Svantesson officially distance herself from the political movements against legal abortion etc., or at least clarify where she stands. Svantesson herself has tried to rebut such requests as being about a "private matter", and she has been defended against the criticism by a number of debaters claiming that the critique is an example of persecution – the word "witch-hunt" has even been used – due to her religious faith, albeit one analyst has made the point that she is probably being let off the critical hook more easily than if she had been a muslim and had had a history of fundamentalist views coming from that particular camp.

My own view is the following. When a religious organisation propagates particular political views as part of its religious message, the question of whether or not a person of political office belongs to or sympathises with that institution or its message is certainly not a private or personal matter anymore. This is so, because such a religious institution is just as much a political organisation – the one does simply not exclude the other. The fact that such a political organisation also has a religious side to it cannot and should not immunise it against public critical scrutiny of the political views it represents, and the same goes for its political representatives. In this case, Elisabeth Svantesson.

The remaining issue is, of course, how sound the criticism is. With the extremely solid public support of the Swedish liberal abortion legislation (a pregnant woman a a positive right to have an abortion performed up to pregnancy week 18, after that it is very very difficult to have one and special permission is needed, but out of the question if the fetus is viable), the possible smuggling into the highest circles of political power a person committed to the opposite view would seem pretty relevant for voters. Similarly, a predominantly liberal/libertarian party lika Moderaterna, would seem to have a qualified identity problem if one of its highest political officers and most influential members represent ideas in the area of sexual orientation and identity related rights that sparks such a stark contrast to the party mainstream as reports suggest. True, with about a year to the next parliamentary elections, this is mostly a tactical problem for Moderaterna, but my point is simply that the fact that the problem has its roots in a minister's religious fundamentalist convictions does nothing to make it go away, in fact or even ideally. In conclusion, Svantesson needs to come clean and cannot hide behind a shield of alleged privacy or immunity against criticism for religion-based political ideas.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Further Complications with the US Argument for 'Punishing' Syria for Chemical Attacks: Hypocricy and Lack of Foundation

So, yesterday I had a post pointing to a piece by Udo Schuklenk, rather convincingly picking apart the US case for military attacking Syria as a 'punishment' for the current regime's alleged chemical warfare attacks against civilians. Today, I found two further reasons against any such idea, besides the numerous ones presented by Udo:

1. Articles in The Daily Mail, making public solid evidence to the effect that the UK, whose prime minister David Cameron has apparently swallowed president Obama's argument for an attack whole and unchewed and made motions in parliament to gain support for this line (to no effect, so far), has for many years when Syria was suspected of stockpiling chemical weapons agents, like sarin, exported ingredients for manufacturing exactly such agents to Syria with the government's and relevant agencies' open approval and license. The ingredient in question is one that in other contexts is perfectly innocent or benign, namely sodium fluoride (an ingredient in almost all tooth paste and sometimes added to drinking water to boost population dental health), but as here described, also a necessary bit in the manufacturing of sarin, which is exactly the gas claimed by the US to have been used by the Assad regime (and famous since the terrorist attacks in the Tokyo underground in 1995). It wouldn't surprise me one bit if also other of those countries now contemplating jumping onto the US attack wagon, at least if UN support can be produced, similarly have exported this or some other part of the alleged Syrian chemical weapons arsenal – in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if also the US government can be found to have done the same.

The relevance of this for Obama's argument is the following: If the Syrian regime is to be punished by a military attack (that will most certainly kill lots of people having nothing to do with the matter, besides being unlucky enough to reside inside Syrian territory – nobody believes in the fairy tales about precision warfare anymore), then surely a proportional punishment has to be directed at those that have aided and abetted such a serious act. That is, if the alleged action of the Assad regime is to be seen as a crime worthy of such a degree of punishment (including foreseeable collateral damages of substantial proportion), surely aiding and abetting such a crime must be viewed as deserving a punishment in the same ballpark, although at a more moderate proportion in the same way that assisting a murder deserves less punishment than the murder itself. Note that the argument that the aiding was unwitting does not hold up to scrutiny, since the UK and the rest of the countries here viewed Syria as a danger from the chemical weapons perspective already in those times and were fully well informed about the military application of sodium fluoride.

So, it would seem, that the same legal logic invoked by president Obama to motivate attacking Syria would force him to the conclusion that if, say, Damascus is to be bombed in punishment for the alleged attack, then some more minor part of the UK – say Middlesbrough or Bristol – should be in for a similar treatment.And it doesn't end there, for it would also seem that David Cameron himself, as a matter of legal logic, would have to accept and support such a conclusion. Lovely, isn't it?

2. Now, and this is something that dawned on my today, there's a basic fault of the whole attempt to try to make a legal argument in support of a military attack aimed at punishing a country's leaders or its officer's at lower levels for an alleged crime. This argument requires that due process is applied, and what Obama has suggested is far from that. Due process would seem to require that those that are suspects in the crime are apprehended for subsequent inquiry and investigation by the International Criminal Court – not that Damascus or whatever other place is contemplated by the Washington hawks as a fitting target is reduced to a pile of rubble, possibly killing the Syrian leadership possibly responsible for chemical attacks together with a huge bunch of other people, without anything even resembling trial. There is only one problem: the USA, for entirely selfish reasons, is on record as actively working against the ICC and its underlying idea of installing a legally secure institution for punishing war crimes and crimes against humanity. In conclusion: Obama's argument relies on the idea of applying due legal process and rule of law, while what he suggests is the opposite. Not only that, he represents a country that is an active enemy of the very notion of such rule of law.

So, in the end, it would seem that, even discounting for the blind eye towards those who have made the alleged chemical attack possible and the hypocricy implied by that – the entire attempt of the US regime and president Obama to dress up in legal garment what is, I suppose, in the end the same old 'preventive self-defense' rubbish as usual, fails even more splendidly than argued by Udo yesterday.

Now, should Obama change his mind and accept, as EU leaders now seem keen on, that an ICC-based due process handling of the alleged chemical attack of the Syrian regime is applied, as would seem logical in view of the legal argument made, such a due process would also have to include, of course, the crime of aiding and abetting such alleged criminal behaviour, which in turn would seem to imply that David Cameron and relevant ministers (of security, defense and foreign trade) should, at the very least, be held for questioning and possible a number of other governments should be in for the same treatment. A little something for the EU council of ministers to contemplate in their further musings on this matter.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

What to Read to take a Stand on the Syria Military Attack Issue

I'm so happy that my bioethics colleague Udo Schuklenk of Queens University, Canada, and editor in chief of the journal Bioethics got around to writing this post. It's frankly the only thing you need to read to base a decided opinion on the issue of whether or not there should be a military strike against Syria, as has been so eloquently proposed by US president Obama in a recent speech.

Udo hits the head on the nail: if you're all for retribution whatever the consequences on the basis of arbitrary rules, then you should be for an attack - otherwise not. If you're that sort of soft bloke that, together with Udo and myself, actually thinks that what happens to people in Syria and other places should be the main factor to consider when making decisions like these, you might also want to weigh in the factor that Russia today declared that it will use the military capability of its warships , present off the Syrian coast, to rebut any attempt to attack from out side Syria, and muse a bit on the implications of that before picking your side.

Happy thinking!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Another Comment on Empirical Research Relating to Ethics and Morality: The Moral Behavior is not Necessarily so Moral at All

So, once again I have dared to post a small comment on an article in the mighty PLOS ONE open access science journal. Last time, as some of you may recall, it was a piece of psychology research claiming demonstrated predictive links (indeed!) between very particular emotional features and equally very particular types of moral judgements, to which I had some to my mind rather devastating comments based on the authors' apparent lack of insight into elementary ethical theory, quite besides the gap between the conclusion reached and the methodology applied. This time, it is once again psychology, albeit the thesis isn't quite as bold, but still interesting enough to probe. In Does “Science” Make You Moral? The Effects of Priming Science on Moral Judgments and Behavior, Christine Ma-Kellams and Jim Blascovich claim to have demonstrated through a series of experiments that people who think about (yes indeed, merely having in their thoughts) science are more likely to exhibit moral behaviour – the independently supported explanation of this being that science is regularly associated with positive moral features. Also here, however, the argumentation of the article is lacking and, in the end, deeply flawed due to lack of basic competence in ethical theory or moral philosophy. It is also flawed logically, independently of that, due to imprecise concepts being employed in the analysis. My conclusion is that while the study may confirm the rather trivial claim that people who think about moral features will engage more with (perceived) moral features in practical decision making and action, the engagement demonstrated in the studies may very well be immoral from the perspective of the moral features the subjects were aware of and/or engaged with. Read more here.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

My View of Chelsea (FKA Bradley) Manning's Sentence

NOTE: due to Manning's own request to be referred to by the name of Chelsea and as being of female gender, the original text has been slightly updated on August 23, 2013.

Today, Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley and of male gender through the massive mass media reporting) received her sentence after having been declared guilty on 20 of the 21 charges on which she had been put before military court (several of which she confessed to) for leaking an abundance of classified material, among that the infamous diplomatic cables, to Wikileaks. She was acquitted on the charge of aiding the enemy, which potentially could have motivated life or even a death sentence. The prosecutor had moved for 60 years out of the originally 136, eventually reduced to 90, total maximum years for the crimes for which she was convicted, but the judge settled on a maximum 35 years in military prison (of which she has to serve a third) – some commentators reporting "a minimum of 5.2 years in prison with a 32 year maximum" – without explicit motivation. Commentators, however, refer to Manning's age, her confession, and plea for forgiveness and, not least, the brutal way in which she was treated at the first extended phase of her arrest as reasons for reducing the sentence. The general guess is that counting everything, she may be out in 10 years time from now. The prosecutor has expressed dissatisfaction and stated that the sentencing will be appealed. See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, just to name a few of the sources available.

Commentators are very varied in their responses, but many on the side of things that I spontaneously sympathize with are making the point that the sentence is overly harsh compared to (a) US soldiers convicted for war crimes, or (b) other people convicted for leaking military or otherwise classified info to the press. The (a) type comment received some extra spunk this tuesday, when the US Director of Justice filed for having a court granting immunity to George W. Bush, Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz against allegations of unlawfully instigating the war in Iraq in a recent suit. Now, I agree in a way with both these types of comments with regard to the unfairness and lack of legal security they expose, and I'm on the record as stating that Manning's actions were not only morally permissible, they were in fact required and admirable and have equally expressed my horror at the infamous video of a US helicopter crew laughing and joyfully gunning down civilians in Iraq. But at the same time I would like to insist on a distinction being made here between normative comments and factual ones. Moreover, among the normative comments, one must distinguish between those pertaining to the single case and those pertaining to the institutional order handling said single case (in this case the US system of criminal justice).

So, normative comments are about, simply, whether or not the sentence is a good thing. Given the moral permissibility of Manning's action to leak the material she did, the answer is simple: no, of course not! But this is mainly because from this same point of view, there should have been no conviction, no court proceedings and no arrest in the first place.

At the same time, this attitude, as I mentioned in my second post on Manning's leaks, is inconsistent with viewing Manning's actions as morally justifiable civil disobedience (since that assumes unlawfulness and that the offender takes the legal consequences). This latter analysis, which I support, brings into the picture the existence of a system of law that there is a value in upholding and allow to rule. Now, it may very well be that such rule of law is unsystematic in the US context, and that, e.g., president Obama has been hypocritical when condemning Manning's action more harshly than those of, e.g. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the infamous pentagon papers. However, that does not justify undermining rule of law even more. It is quite clear that Manning committed criminal acts when leaking, no matter how morally justified these leaks were. It may very well be that the system of law defining these crimes is perverted in various ways, for instance in that it lets US soldiers who commit heinous war crimes (or political leaders who unlawfully order entire wars, for that matter) off the hook much too easily, but that is merely an argument in favour of harsher sentences in those cases (in the political case, equality before the law and due process in holding politicians legally accountable on the same condition as anyone else), not acquittal, amnesty or a milder sentence in Manning's case. Moreover, this is still a system where everyone, Manning included, had the possibility to understand the legal standing of her actions and what she could to expect in consequence. Much, much worse would be a system were law is just a cheap show, and court verdicts vary according to the momentary whims of those that happen to be in power to enforce whatever preferences they happen to entertain at the moment. That would be the rule where the only law is that of the strongest and no order or system whatsoever exists for anyone, except briefly for those fortunate to be allied with whoever is in momentary power in everyone's war against everyone else; where the life of the common person is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" as Thomas Hobbes so famously remarked. So, in sum, while I may support the claims that there are perversions in the US legal system in its view on crimes connected to the military and imperfections and hypocricy in its application, this does not justify even more of the same.

Now, none of this is to say that Manning's sentence is legally correct or reasonable; I know far too little about the US legal system to be a judge of that. But it seems to me perfectly reasonable (a) that she was convicted for crimes due to her leaks and (b) that she received a substantial sentence for that. This in no way reduces the moral worth of her action to leak, it just underscores that sometimes it is one's moral right and duty to break the law and that this may hold even with regard to laws that are in general quite reasonable (like those protecting military secrets in a world where military conflict is abundant). This is the nature of civil disobedience and, according to standard notions of the conditions for justified such disobedience, you should also face the legal consequences as part of your action. Having reached that conclusion, we can then debate how hard the sentence should be in a case like this (this is very much open to moral argument and judicial discretion in the US legal system as I understand it) and, even more, how soon a pardon should be extended, but those are matters that I leave open.

Instead I close by moving from the normative discussion to a factual one: how should Manning's sentence be assessed in relation to realistic expectations?  In fact, and this is the end of my line of comment, my impression is that the sentence is actually much milder than what was to be expected given the circumstances. These circumstances include: (a) the guilty verdict, (b) the American fondness of (irrationally) harsh sentencing in criminal law, (c) the claim of the prosecution for almost double the jail time eventually settled for by the judge, (d) the maximum sentence for the crimes for which Manning was convicted being almost three times what she received, (e) the nature and circumstances of the actions: leaking military information in the midst of military conflict, (f) the (by me alleged) fact that a large portion of US citizens probably simplistically view Manning as a common traitor and wouldn't have cared less if she had been locked away for good (no nice view of mine of the American people, but hey, I didn't choose they public relations agency, they did – in free elections!) – a harsh sentence thereby bringing no political risk from a legitimacy point of view.

In short: Manning's actions were morally right, required and admirable. It is at the same time quite in order that she has been convicted of crimes and sentenced for that and Americans should all be thankful for living in a society where rule of law prevails (however imperfectly) even when having such unpleasant consequences, albeit it would be even better if US military war criminals were convicted and sentenced proportionally to the seriousness of their crimes, and the President refrained from making statements possibly inconsistent with case law. The reasonableness of the sentence can surely be debated (not least, I would say, taking into account the fact that Manning's intention was to expose serious criminal behaviour that she had good reason to believe would for strategic military reasons have received no attention, had she tried to move the matter internally according to due military process), but given the circumstances the actual sentence is in fact a very, very pleasant surprise! Even more, given these very same circumstances, my reading is that the judge is actually making a (however subtle) statement in Manning's favour!

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Update: The University of Minnesota Psychiatry Research Ethics Scandal

This is to update a little bit on the situation with regard to the disgraceful twists and ugly and very possible bona fide cover-up activities and general lack of transparency of the University of Minnesota management to avoid a real investigation of the tragic, Astra Zeneca sponsored psychiatry drug trials that caused several suicides and that raise a number of serious queries about irregularities and abuse, such as possibly falsified consent forms. I have reported about this increasingly shameful affair here, here and here.

A petition to the governor of Minnesota to launch an independent investigation of the University of Minnesota psychiatry department has assembled almost 3 000 names – many of which are prominent medical researchers or practitioners and bioethicists from all over the world, who are baffled by the University's attitude and actions – and on Facebook, a Community Alliance for Ethics in Minnesota Psychiatry page has been launched.

Today, Carl Elliott, medical ethicist at the very same university who relentlessly has been pressing for release of vital documents and investigations, summarises where the whole thing currently stands in this blog post at Huffington Post. Carl's final judgement of his own university is not uplifting, and you can read or follow links to descriptions of the latest disgraceful dance-steps of the management to avoid exposure of what for every such move just keeps looking dirtier and dirtier:

In the 23 years I have been teaching and writing about the ethics of medical research, I have never come across a case of abuse this outrageous. Nor have I ever encountered university officials so aggressive in stonewalling legitimate investigation and intimidating critics.
I will, of course, continue to report on the future developments with regard to this business. In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, you may inspect and consider signing the petition to the Minnesota governor for an independent investigation of University of Minnesota Psychiatry.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Slides to Two Recent Talks Connecting the Themes of Ethics, Crime and Psychiatry are Now Online

Just to inform that the slides to my two talks at the 33rd International Congress of Law and Mental Health, held in Amsterdam earlier this summer, are now available online for viewing, download and sharing via my site. Both talks represent work in progress, where I am in the beginning of combining thinking on different topics that I have been touching on in isolation before, but which are nevertheless related through their connection to certain aspects of criminal law policy connecting to medical views of human nature.

They are:

1. The Return of Lombroso? Ethical and Philosophical Aspects of  (Visions of) Forensic Screening

Italian nineteenth century criminologist Cesare Lombroso is notorious for his seminal ideas about criminality and anti-social behaviour resulting from physiological anomalies that should be detected by society and used for forensic preventive purposes. After an extended period of disrepute following World War II, similar ideas have been resurrected in psychiatry, genetics, neurology and criminology in the past decade or two. In particular, there is a growing focus on early detection and application of preventive measures. This development actualizes a complex web of ethics and policy issues having to do with the well-known fact that screening and prevention in the health area are far from ethically clear-cut activities and actualize vivid prospects of doing extensive harm to individuals as well as society. Also, taken to its extreme, it actualizes the idea of using prenatal or preimplantation testing to preselect against children with a predisposition for criminal or antisocial behaviour. In the forensic case, such screening-prevention strategies will connect further to a complicated issue about the proper use of risk-assessment models for societal decision-making for precautionary purposes. Based on former work in all of these areas, this presentation will outline and analyze the basic issue of the defensibility of activities of this sort, with the perspective of forestalling unintentional harm to individuals and society.


2. Hate Crime, Mental Disorder and Criminal Responsibility

Hate crimes are ordinary crimes committed in connection with a negatively prejudiced, biased, disparaging, or antagonistic attitude towards the victim in terms of a perceived membership of a social group. Some hate crimes are elaborate political acts of terror or elaborate persecution, some are so-called “hate speech”, but the overwhelming majority are instances of mundane criminality, involving everything from murder to theft and harassment. Hate crime policies rest on the idea that the bias or “hate”feature make such crimes worse, and that offenders for this reason should be held more firmly responsible. At the same time, the attitude of making a crime into a hate crime involves more or less distorted ideas about reality, together with a willingness to transgress social norms on that basis. In some cases, these views amount to major delusions, resistant to rational scrutiny. In other cases, we may move closer to a point where the belief-desire cluster can be seen as ordinary negligence. Thus, many hate crimes have features that may be argued acting to diminish responsibility according to standard ideas in the philosophy of punishment. The presentation maps underlying value conflicts, tensions, and incoherence in legal practice connected to this complexity of criminal law.

Enjoy for what it's worth!