Monday, December 30, 2013

An Ethics for the Future of Genetic Testing; Atlantic, 12/30/13

Sara Hendren, Atlantic; An Ethics for the Future of Genetic Testing: "The available prenatal testing technologies for expectant parents are constantly changing in dramatic and subtle ways, and 2013 saw its share of those changes. These tests are tricky territory, especially when it comes to genetic screening. What can these technologies reliably offer to those anxiously hoping for news of a healthy, “normal” fetus? 23andMe caused an uproar this year when it patented a “designer baby” platform, even while it disavowed any intention to develop it. It’s still just an idea—by a company whose services have temporarily been suspended by the FDA—but it sparked plenty of bioethical hand-wringing about the lurking dystopian future it threatens... Bioethical debates have accompanied this technology, too: If genetic information is available at such an early point in a pregnancy, prospective parents can more privately choose to selectively abort a fetus based on genetic traits alone."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway? A New Approach to Fighting Cyberbullying;, 12/23/13

Joanna Finkelstein,; Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway? A New Approach to Fighting Cyberbullying: "A 2011 study by researchers at Ohio University, University of North Carolina, and University of Pennsylvania found that people are less likely to help someone if there is someone else present and if they strongly fear embarrassment... Anti-cyberbullying campaigns should focus more on the bystanders. They should emphasize that no one should encourage or support the bully and that it is each individual's responsibility to intervene when she/he witnesses cyberbullying. Helping a victim should be seen as something positive and empowering, not embarrassing. Further, it should be portrayed as what should be done and what is done. Once one person helps a victim, the false consensus is destroyed and others are much more likely to also help the victim. Observers could calmly confront the bully, support the victim, or use an anonymous resource to report the bullying. These are simple and effective steps that are likely to spread and become even more powerful. Even if the current campaigns are preventing some bullying, they are not eliminating it. In order to end bullying, the observers need to play a more prominent role. The current bystanders can become active fighters in stopping and preventing future cyberbullying."

Ethics Panel Hands Down Holiday Gift Rules — In Rhyme; NPR, 12/9/13

Peter Overby, NPR; Ethics Panel Hands Down Holiday Gift Rules — In Rhyme: "Time was when business-suited Santas would spend December roaming the corridors of Congress, bestowing all sorts of goodies upon their elected friends, prospective friends and staffers: baskets of food, bottles of booze, even high-priced tickets to sports events. That last item is the kind of thing that sent uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. It also brought the House of Representatives a new set of ethics rules — stern and often complex limits on accepting gifts. And so every December, the House Ethics Committee sends out its "," an ethics memo known in Capitol Hill parlance as a pink sheet."

The Price Is Wrong And You Know It: Do You Buy That Ticket?; NPR, 12/27/13

Mark Memmott, NPR; The Price Is Wrong And You Know It: Do You Buy That Ticket? : ""Delta To Honor Extremely Cheap Mistake Fares." The news, says the Associated Press, is that: "From about 10 a.m. to noon ET [Thursday], certain Delta fares on the airline's own website and other airfare booking sites were showing up incorrectly, offering some savvy bargain hunters incredible deals. A roundtrip flight between Cincinnati and Minneapolis for February was being sold for just $25.05 and a roundtrip between Cincinnati and Salt Lake City for $48.41. The correct price for both of those fares is more than $400." It isn't known just how many folks snapped up the bargains, but Delta says it will honor the fares. As we said, this kind of snafu isn't that unusual. So we want to focus on one particular aspect of the story that doesn't seem to get mentioned much: Why would it be all right, ethically, to purchase tickets at prices that were so obviously wrong? Is it just because "you" weren't to blame and no human being was involved at the other end?"

Is the Internet a Mob Without Consequence?; New York Times, 12/24/13

Nick Bilton, New York Times; Is the Internet a Mob Without Consequence? : "Ms. Sacco was tried and judged guilty in a public square of millions and soon attacked in a way that seemed worse than her original statement. Within hours, people threatened to rape, shoot, kill and torture her. The mob found her Facebook and Instagram accounts and began threatening the same perils on photos she had posted of friends and family. Not satisfied, people began threatening her family directly. The incident was a trending topic on Twitter and a huge forum thread on Reddit. This all happened while Ms. Sacco was on a 12-hour flight without Wi-Fi to Africa. When she landed, it was game over. She deleted her entire social footprint online, including her Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, and was fired from her job, effective 12 hours earlier. “This default to hate, this automatic mockery and derision, needs to be viewed with the same hatred as Sacco’s tweet,” wrote Tauriq Moosa, a tutor in ethics, bioethics and critical thinking at the University of Cape Town, South Africa."

Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward; New York Times, 12/27/13

David Kocieniewski, New York Times; Academics Who Defend Wall St. Reap Reward: "What Mr. Pirrong has routinely left out of most of his public pronouncements in favor of speculation is that he has reaped financial benefits from speculators and some of the largest players in the commodities business, The New York Times has found. While his university’s financial ties to speculators have been the subject of scrutiny by the news media and others, it was not until last month, after repeated requests by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, that the University of Houston, a public institution, insisted that Mr. Pirrong submit disclosure forms that shed some light on those financial ties... Mr. Pirrong’s research was cited extensively by the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by Wall Street interests in 2011 that for two years has blocked the limits on speculation that had been approved by Congress as part of the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. During that same time period, Mr. Pirrong has worked as a paid research consultant for one of the lead plaintiffs in the case, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, according to his disclosure form... On his blog, Mr. Pirrong has dismissed suggestions that his work for a school that trains future oil industry executives creates a conflict of interest. “Uhm, no, dipstick,” he wrote in 2011, replying to a reader who had questioned his objectivity. “I call ’em like I see ’em.”... When asked about Mr. Pirrong’s disclosure, Richard Bonnin, a university spokesman said only that all employees were given annual training on the school’s policy, which requires researchers to report paid outside consultant work. Professors as Pitchmen Concerns about academic conflicts of interest have become a major issue among business professors and economists since the financial crisis. In 2010, the documentary “Inside Job” blasted a handful of prominent academic economists who did not reveal Wall Street’s financial backing of studies which, in some cases, extolled the virtues of financially unsound assets. Two years later, the American Economic Association adopted tougher disclosure rules."

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Can you be too ethical?; Guardian, 12/27/13

Andrew Brown, Guardian; Can you be too ethical? : "The essence of virtue, then, is moderation, or perhaps just proportion. Framing it this way avoids the obvious retort – so often heard in discussion of ethics here – that you can have far too much moderation because you can't have too much justice. And neither, properly speaking, can we ever be too ethical. We're lucky if we can just be ethical enough."

"Duck Dynasty" Pits Free Speech Against Shifting Cultural Taboos;, 12/26/13

Cathy Young,; "Duck Dynasty" Pits Free Speech Against Shifting Cultural Taboos: "There are at least two lessons to be learned from the “Duck Dynasty” debacle, in which reality TV star Phil Robertson got indefinitely suspended from the A&E hit show after making anti-gay remarks in a GQ magazine interview. One: on freedom of speech, hypocrisy and double standards are rampant across the political spectrum (the title of 1992 book by the great civil libertarian Nat Hentoff, “Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee,” remains ever-relevant). Two: while some speech will always be regarded as beyond the pale in even the freest society, the rapid shifting of those boundaries is sure to generate intense cultural anxiety and conflict."

Monday, December 23, 2013

When ‘60 Minutes’ Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door; New York Times, 12/22/13

David Carr, New York Times; When ‘60 Minutes’ Checks Its Journalistic Skepticism at the Door: "Coming as it does on the heels of the now-discredited Benghazi report — in which “60 Minutes” said it was fooled by an eyewitness who was apparently nothing of the kind — the N.S.A. segment raises the question of whether the program has not just temporarily lost its mojo, but its skepticism as well. It didn’t help that the day after the piece aired, a federal judge ruled that the agency’s program of collecting phone records was most likely unconstitutional... Let’s stipulate that “60 Minutes” has been and continues to be a journalistic treasure, which just this year has done hard-hitting pieces on the damaging practices of credit report agencies, the high rate of suicide among returning veterans, and how tainted pain medication that caused fungal meningitis killed dozens and sickened hundreds... Historically, the news that “60 Minutes” was in the lobby or on the phone has struck fear in the hearts of both the stalwart and the venal. The show made its targets quake and audiences thrill as it did the hard, often amazing work of creating consequence and accountability. But in the last few months, there have been significant lapses into credulousness, when reporters have been more “gee whiz” than “what gives?” The news that “60 Minutes” is calling could be viewed as less ominous and more of an opportunity. More than once this year, the show has traded skepticism for access."

China To Media: Don't Report 'Wrong Points Of View'; Reuters via Huffington Post, 12/23/13

Reuters via Huffington Post; China To Media: Don't Report 'Wrong Points Of View' : "...[S]ince Xi Jinping became party chief and then national president, he has overseen a media crackdown to bring newspapers in particular back in line. Under new guidelines to enforce "core socialist values", the media must "steadfastly uphold the correct guidance of public opinion". "Strengthen the management of the media, do not provide channels for the propagation of the wrong points of view," read the guidelines, which were published by the official Xinhua news agency... Xi has also taken a tough line on internet censorship, and the new guidelines implied that would continue."

You Can’t Save Them All; New York Times, 12/22/13

Chris Suellentrop, New York Times; You Can’t Save Them All: "You don’t play video games, but you’re curious about them. How should you get started? That’s a question that Steve Gaynor, the writer and director of the independent game Gone Home, has taken to asking guests on his podcast (Tone Control: Conversations with Video Game Developers): What would they recommend to someone who is entirely new to the medium? It’s an interesting and difficult query that highlights how forbidding many games can be to inexperienced players... The Walking Dead game, however, is excellent even if it’s not challenging. It’s particularly good as an example of how to give a player interpretive freedom without undermining the integrity of the story or the characters — or relying on black-and-white “moral choices.” The right, or best, course of action in The Walking Dead is rarely clear."

Leave These Southwest Ruins Alone; New York Times, 12/22/13

David Roberts, New York Times; Leave These Southwest Ruins Alone: "By now, all that saves the still-pristine sites such as the one on the Navajo reservation is their obscurity and the difficulty of getting to them. With my fellow aficionados of the canyon country, I adhere to a rigid ethic: When you visit the ruins and rock art, disturb nothing, and if you write about them, be deliberately vague about where they are... The most ominous new trend is the proliferation of websites giving the GPS coordinates of those prehistoric ruins and rock art panels. Armed with those numbers, the most casual curiosity seeker need not even read a map: One can simply home in on the place with device in hand. And it is those folks, I believe, like the climber on Flickr with the self-portrait of his illegal climb into the forbidden ruin, who are most likely to take home potsherds or arrowheads as souvenirs, or to damage the stone-and-adobe rooms as they clamber through them. Can anything be done to reverse this trend?... Educating the public may be the only hope."

Sunday, December 22, 2013

After Beijing And Marrakesh, WIPO Copyright Committee Feels The Pressure; Intellectual Property Watch, 12/17/13

Catherine Saez, Intellectual Property Watch; After Beijing And Marrakesh, WIPO Copyright Committee Feels The Pressure: "Expectations are high this week on the outcome of discussions of the World Intellectual Property Organization committee on copyright. On the agenda is a potential new treaty protecting broadcasting organisations, and limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries, archives, and education. In the mix is a new proposal by Japan to include computer networks in protected broadcasts. After two consecutive successes in Beijing in 2012, with the Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances, and in Marrakesh in 2013, with the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired, or Otherwise Print Disabled, the committee is expected to continue work on a treaty that would protect broadcasting organisations and has been under discussion for the last 15 years... For developing countries, the issue of limitations and exceptions to copyright for libraries and archives, educational, teaching and research institutions, and persons with other disabilities, is of central importance, according to several opening statements, such as the Group of Latin American and Caribbean countries (GRULAC), the Asia and Pacific Group, and the African Group. Algeria, on behalf of the African Group, said the international copyright system should respond to both private and public interests and should help the universal propagation of knowledge. The Marrakesh treaty, the delegate said, paved the way towards this goal. No delegations “can dispute the need for developing countries to have greater access to knowledge,” she said."

Government Requests to Remove Online Material Increase at Google; New York Times, 12/19/13

Claire Cain Miller, New York Times; Government Requests to Remove Online Material Increase at Google: "Governments, led by the United States, are increasingly demanding that Google remove information from the Web... Often, the requests come from judges, police officers and politicians trying to hide information that is critical of them. The most common request cites defamation, often of officials... Government requests to remove information increased most significantly in Turkey and Russia because of online censorship laws, according to Google... Google also said officials were resorting to new legal methods to demand that Google remove content, such as citing copyright law to take down transcripts of political speeches or government news releases."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Roboticist Illah Nourbakhsh explores the dark side of our "robot futures"; Pittsburgh City Paper, 12/18/13

Bill O'Driscoll, Pittsburgh City Paper; Roboticist Illah Nourbakhsh explores the dark side of our "robot futures" : "Illah Nourbakhsh studies and designs robots for a living. But if you expect his new book, Robot Futures, to depict a care-free Tomorrowland of electronic butlers and automated fun, look elsewhere. The lively and accessible Robot Futures ($24.95, MIT Press) warns of a society warped by our relationships with a new "species" that knows more about us than we know about it ... and whose representatives are often owned by someone profiting at our expense. The problem, says Nourbakhsh, is that we're racing into our Robot Future without considering the social, moral and legal implications."

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Should a Student Conceal Her Lesbian Identity in College Application Essays?; New York Times, 12/3/13

Steven Petrow, New York Times; Should a Student Conceal Her Lesbian Identity in College Application Essays? : "Q. Dear Civil Behavior: Our daughter is a senior in high school and quite comfortable with her lesbian identity. We support her 100 percent, but we know the world is not always so tolerant. As she’s writing her college application essays this fall, she’s “coming out” in them — and we think that’s a bad idea. You just never know who’s reading these essays, so why risk revealing your orientation to someone who might be biased against you? We’ve strongly suggested she think over the ramifications of what she’s doing, but she doesn’t seem to have any doubt about it. Deadlines are approaching and we are at an impasse. How can we persuade her to keep some things private if they might hurt her chances of admission?” — Anonymous... A...The Common App invites applicants to share “a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it.” I can think of several such topics that may feel core to a high school senior. If your daughter had been adopted, had had a life-altering accident, or were biracial, would you discourage her from writing about it? I doubt it. As one gay student told me, “My parents did something similar and it gave me a sense of shame, that there was something wrong with me that needed to be hidden.” In the end, the strategic question probably can’t be definitely answered — nor may it be the best one to ask. In 20 years will she remember what her essay was about? I doubt it. As one mother wrote me, “In the end it actually matters very little what she decides to write in her application, but it matters a lot if she starts to think that her parents want her to hide who she is from the world.” Clearly you’ve given your daughter a strong sense of self and the confidence to be who she is, even if the world is not as tolerant as we’d all hope. Sure, one of a parent’s jobs is to worry, but after 17 or so years you can’t be there for every important decision in life. So, please reconsider what message you are sending to her when you ask her to conceal her identity."

Rights Group Is Seeking Status of ‘Legal Person’ for Captive Chimpanzee; New York Times, 12/2/13

James Gorman, New York Times; Rights Group Is Seeking Status of ‘Legal Person’ for Captive Chimpanzee: "The Nonhuman Rights Project has been working on this legal strategy for years, sifting through decisions in all 50 states to find one that is strong on what is called common law, and one that recognizes animals as legal persons for the purpose of being the beneficiary of a trust. The leader of the project, Steven M. Wise, who has written about the history of habeas corpus writs in the fight against human slavery and who views the crusade for animal rights as a lifelong project, said New York fit the bill... Laurence H. Tribe, a professor at Harvard Law School, said in an email that in seeking rights for nonhuman animals, “The classic writ of habeas corpus is as good a place to begin as any.”... Chimps were granted certain legal rights by the Spanish Parliament in 2008, and sporadic efforts in other countries, like India, have had some successes."