Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Return of Lombroso? Free Access Article On the Ethics of the Scientific Vision of Screening for Risk of Criminality to Prevent Future Crime

One of my research interests is about the way in which medical science and technology may be used and misused for large-scale societal aims, and how that territory should be understood ethically. In Gothenburg, I am happy to be and have been part of the growing research environment of the Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health (CELAM), involving collaboration between forensic psychiatry, criminology, psychology, law, neuromedicine, political and care science, philosophy and ethics. In a freesh article coming out of this collaboration, by myself and CELAM director Susanna Radovic, a family of visionary and currently popular ideas – advocated not least by neurocriminology enthusiast Adrian Raine – about using the science of individual causes of crime for preventive screening programmes are analyzed from an ethical standpoint, connecting to the roots of such visions in the notorious ideas of 19th century Italian criminology pioneer Cesare Lombroso. The abstract runs:

The vision of legendary criminologist Cesare Lombroso to use scientific theories of individual causes of crime as a basis for screening and prevention programmes targeting individuals at risk for future criminal behaviour has resurfaced, following advances in genetics, neuroscience and psychiatric epidemiology. This article analyses this idea and maps its ethical implications from a public health ethical standpoint. Twenty-seven variants of the new Lombrosian vision of forensic screening and prevention are distinguished, and some scientific and technical limitations are noted. Some lures, biases and structural factors, making the application of the Lombrosian idea likely in spite of weak evidence are pointed out and noted as a specific type of ethical aspect. Many classic and complex ethical challenges for health screening programmes are shown to apply to the identified variants and the choice between them, albeit with peculiar and often provoking variations. These variations are shown to actualize an underlying theoretical conundrum in need of further study, pertaining to the relationship between public health ethics and the ethics and values of criminal law policy.

We have been fortunate to possess the funds of making the article so-called open access, meaning that it is now free for viewing and download by anyone – no need for subscription or the payment of any fees.

So if the topic of how medicine, science and technology can be used, for better of for worse, for preventing crime, and what are th ethical implications of such possibilities, feel free to sample our attempt at getting an initial grip on trhis topic, here. And should you want to share it along, or post it on a blog or a forum or in an archive, the open access license permits you to do so, as long as no commercial exploitation is involved.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

A Brief Note on Palestine's Bid to Join the ICC and Have War Crimes in Occupied Territories Probed

It has been reported recently that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has made a bid to join the Rome Statute and thus recognise and be recognised by the International Criminal Court, and that this move has been recognised and affirmed by the U.N. general secretary, who have stated that the State of Palestine will join ICC by April 1 this year. ICC itself has welcomed this move by the PA as being consistent with the ICC's general striving to make the Rome Statute and the ICC universally recognised as a legitimate international legal institution. As an immediate effect, the ICC has opened a preliminary investigation of war crimes committed in the Israel occupied Palestinian territories since June 13, 2014 – as that is the date from which the PA has accepted ICC jurisdiction in its ratification of the Rome Statute (see also here and here).

As before, Israel and the USA has reacted strongly against this sort of development (see here and here). The basic point of the rhetoric this time is that it is a "tragic irony", that Israel or Israeli forces possibly might be found guilty of war crimes when Israel and Israelis have in the past been victims of terror attacks. As I have commented on similar responses from Israel and USA before, however, this is wholly hollow words. First of all, none of these states have ratified the Rome Statute, and thus do not recognise the ICC in the first place – what is more, both states have actively withdrawn former intentions to recognise the ICC (here, here), thus clearly declaring that they do not, repeat not, belong to this particular club in international politics. But this also means, that they have no say whatsoever on ICC policy - that is the choice you make when not becoming a member. Both the US and Israel could have ratified the Rome Statute, in Israel's case this used to be the intention until 2002, and thus have the court probe whatever terror activity of other states instigated against them. They have however, voluntary chosen not to, so whatever "irony" is present here is of purely Israeli and US manufacture. To this may be added, that these choices most likely were made to able to "get away with" violent actions on foreign (or occupied) soil.

Moreover, this criticism fails to recognise the elementary fact that the PA move will also mean that any action from Palestinian territories towards Israel will be open to prosecution. This aspect has been deliberately blinkered by the Israeli government propaganda before as well. That is, to the extent that there are war crimes being committed towards Israel from PA territory, these are now – thanks to the PA bid to join ICC – possible to prosecute under international law. In other words, Israel cannot validly argue that this expansion of ICC jurisdiction is a one-sided action against Israel. What does remain, of course, is that Israel is unable to demand that ICC prosecutors open investigations into such things, since Israel has actively chosen to stand outside the ICC. But, then again, this situation could be easily remedied if only the Israeli government chose to reverse its past withdrawal and ratify the Rome Statute.

So much for rhetoric and propaganda. But how should the present development be assessed from the standpoint of someone who desires increased stability, peace and justice for the people burdened by the seemingly never ending conflict in this region? My own assessment, for the time being, is this: The bid of the PA to join ICC is a good thing, as it puts pressure on the violent extremists on both sides to temper their actions, and on both states to actively restrict the ability of these groups to keep on to sabotage the peace process – and fuel the support of each other. This will also mean that political movements such as Hamas and its more or less openly aligned violent branches, will have to chose a more moderate political course, or face the force of international justice – this will go for, e.g. the Likud party in Israel and the various religious fundamentalist extreme right wing groups allied with it as well. It is obvious that all of these groups have self-interested reasons to resist the current course of development – much of their support arises out of a reality where violence prevails and both sides can point to each other as the rationale for their own excesses. This also goes for their respective financial bases – the dignitaries of each of these political organisations living comfortably thanks to the prolonged and deepened violent conflict, while the overwhelming majority of people on both sides suffers the consequences. My own hope is that, when spirits have settled down a bit in Israel – as it may do also due the obvious counter-productivity and self-destructiveness of the current policy – its government chooses to join the ICC as well, further strengthening the bonds holding back extremist violence while also restricting its own actions in the occupied territories. That would, indeed, be a wide step forward for anyone interested in sustainable peace and the interests of ordinary people in the region.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Come and Work with Us in Practical Philosophy in Gothenburg: Post Doc Positions Open!

Today was released the first in a series of calls for application over the next coming years for research positions in practical philosophy at the University of Gothenburg, attached to our strategic Moral Responsibility Research Initiative (MRRI). MRRI, which has a broad conception of what moral responsibility research may involve, recently secured an approximately € 8.8 Million grant from the Swedish Research Council, plus matching funds from the University's central purse, to recruit Professor Paul Russell from the University of British Columbia as part time visiting professor for the next 10 years, and to strengthen our already existing MRRI programme with a number of new PhD and Post Doc positions. In addition, our research fellow, Joakim Sandberg, has recently secured a generous so-called Wallenberg Academy Fellowship, for a research programme on the philosophical and ethical aspects of sustainable financial institutions, which will also include a number of hirings ahead. On top of that, we have a few other new projects that will need to hire as well, and our regular little faculty funded recruitment of PhD's.

But this time, then, it is the MRRI intiative that starts looking for new post doctoral fellows to add to our already quite dynamic practical philosophy team. The MRRI programme, to quote the call, ...

 ... conducts research on responsibility within action theory, metaethics, and applied ethics, including healthcare ethics, business ethics, and criminal responsibility.

/... /

The postdoctoral fellow will contribute to the research environment, especially with respect to foundational and analytic issues concerning moral responsibility and free will (broadly conceived). He or she will also be expected to contribute to and actively participate in MRRI's research seminar.

Apart from research, duties may include teaching, supervising graduate students, course design, and other teaching-related activities; such supplementary duties will not exceed 20% of the position?s responsibilities.

The holder of the position is expected to carry out the vast majority of her/his research in Gothenburg and to regularly and consistently participate in the research group's various activities and programs (workshops, seminars, conferences, etc.).
 The entire call is here, where you can also find relevant contact details and all information on suitable background, criteria for assessment and how to apply. So, why not take a stab at joining myself, Paul, Joakim, Gunnar Björnsson (who coordinates MRRI), Daniela Cutas, Bengt Brülde, Susanna Radovic of the partnering Centre for Ethics Law and Mental Health, and a number of already present PhD's and Post Docs!