Monthly Archives: December 2011

Brian’s Links 15 Dec 2011: Medical Ethics, Fruit, and Water

The “Battle of Seattle” (1999 WTO protests) police chief defends the Occupy movement against police brutality, saying “even as we cull ‘bad apples’ from our police forces, we recognize that the barrel itself is rotten.” Strong words.

To control a network (and everything is a network), find the nodes of power and learn to manipulate them.

An anti-aging breakthrough?

And now, a most important question: professor or hobo?

Science fiction author and Christian mystic Phillip K. Dick’s newly published exegesis. Ethics was always a huge concern of PKD; for him goodness was the mark of an authentic human.

First the speeding neutrinos and now this! The fine-structure physical constant of the universe may not be so constant – it may vary depending on your location.

And you thought organ donors were supposed to be dead

Well, finally someone is interested in medical pollution of water.

So transvestitism is actually a reproductive strategy

Ever wonder if something got retracted? Go to this website. (Mostly bioscience.)

Did you know linking arms is an acts of violence? “The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence,” UC police Captain Margo Bennett said. “I understand that many students may not think that, but linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.” Makes hugging sound violent.

Lost Libyan civilization: their fossil water dried up.

Grapefruit cause numerous drug interactions. How weird. Just another fruit-related public service announcement to follow up on the one about persimmon bezoars.

Kansas bans the practice of evolution (The Onion, 2006). Teaching it is bad enough, but actually doing it? No you’re not.

Not all labeled as “Permanent Vegetative State” are actually PVS. Many are misdiagnosed.

Surfing on enormous waves is of ethical interest… Because of DEATH!


GTU Ethics and Social Theory Students on Indigenous Rights

GTU EAST students get published in Unbound: An Interactive Journal of Christian Social Justice. The topic of their papers? The rights of indigenous peoples.

Good job!

“Empathy-driven helping behavior in rats”

Researchers at the University of Chicago report what they call the first evidence of “empathy-driven helping behavior” in rats.

The experiments, designed by psychology graduate student and first author Inbal Ben-Ami Bartal with co-authors Decety and Peggy Mason, placed two rats that normally share a cage into a special test arena. One rat was held in a restrainer device — a closed tube with a door that can be nudged open from the outside. The second rat roamed free in the cage around the restrainer, able to see and hear the trapped cagemate but not required to take action.

The researchers observed that the free rat acted more agitated when its cagemate was restrained, compared to its activity when the rat was placed in a cage with an empty restrainer. This response offered evidence of an “emotional contagion,” a frequently observed phenomenon in humans and animals in which a subject shares in the fear, distress or even pain suffered by another subject.

While emotional contagion is the simplest form of empathy, the rats’ subsequent actions clearly comprised active helping behavior, a far more complex expression of empathy. After several daily restraint sessions, the free rat learned how to open the restrainer door and free its cagemate. Though slow to act at first, once the rat discovered the ability to free its companion, it would take action almost immediately upon placement in the test arena.

A follow-up study presented the free rat with two restrainers: one containing another rat and one containing a pile of chocolate chips.  To the researcher’s surprise, the free rat was as likely to free the restrained rat first and share the chocolate as he/she was to eat the chocolate first.  (I can’t say I’d do the same.)

Interestingly, neither the UC press release, nor the other coverage I’ve seen mentions a much earlier study on possible empathy-driven helping behavior in rats, summarized by Mark Bekoff and Jessica Pierce in their book Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (see page 96):

Another early study in 1962 by George Rice and Priscilla Gainer titled “‘Altruism’ in the Albino Rat” showed that rats would help other rats in distress.  One rat was suspended in air by a harness and a neighboring rat could press a lever to lower the suspended rat.  The suspended animal would typically squeak and wriggle in distress.  The rats were apparently made uncomfortable by signs of distress in a fellow rat, and would act to alleviate the distress by pressing the lever.  Empathy likely motivated the ‘altruistic’ response.

That we continue to be surprised by pro-social behavior in social mammals… continues to be surprising.  I hope to revisit this topic in a post sometime soon.

(Be sure to watch the video of the experimental procedure on the University of Chicago press release link.)


Brian’s Links 9 December 2011: Bioethics, Economic Ethics, and More

New Jersey nurses face job loss for refusing to assist abortions.

The doctor who euthanized King George the V.

Distributists investigate OWS up close.

YOU NEED FRUITCAKE! But only because it is made by nice Camaldolese monks and is supposed to be the best fruitcake on this planet.

Michael Ruse on evolutionary ethics, part of a series.

Philosophy turned into a humorous Dungeons and Dragons adventure.

650,000 Americans move billions of dollars from the big banks into credit unions. Banks have noticed too. And some say that moving money out of the big banks is an effective tactic.

An opera about a nun murdered in Brazil for protecting the poor.

A person with ideas on how to help the Occupy movement without actually occupying places.

Does Mars have life underground?

The corporate network paper. How only a few corporations own just about everything, as shown by network theorists and some good empirical research.

What is your slavery footprint? I need more evidence before I believe this, but it is very interesting.

Fake microchips for the US military, with love, from China.

Ideas on how to take the country back from corporate cash.

It’s not a skyscraper.  It’s an earth-scraper. A giant underground building for Mexico City?

Great graphic on the US overseas military presence.

Lastly, the Tallis Scholars perform Palestrina’s Miserere. Absolutely stunning. Music from Heaven.

When Overseas Volunteering Goes Awry: An Involuntary Sterilization in Tanzania

I was an overseas volunteer and I know it is not easy.  But this story is just bad medical practice, both for the involuntary sterilization and the failure to disclose to the patient she had a broken rib and had been sterilized. Several feminist blogs have picked it up and run with it because of its outrageous medical paternalism (I should add that their ethical analysis pretty much covers the case; there is not much more to say).

Here’s the story in brief: Woman comes in to give birth, starts dying (due to anesthesia), but the baby is safely delivered and the woman saved, and – and just one last thing – she is sterilized without consent, for her own good. And then she is not told she almost died, got her rib broken by CPR, and was sterilized.

I’m going to re-post the most relevant portion of the story here from the Google cache, because the original has been removed by the author.  But Google sees and remembers all (and don’t anybody forget it).

I suggest you go to the Google cache for the full story.  I should emphasize the doctor only witnessed the sterilization after the fact, he did not perform it. But in any case, medical ethics should not be disregarded at national borders.

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Brian’s Links 1 December 2011: How Science Helps (Or Hinders) Ethics

Bat-killing fungus identified. Identification is the first step to determining a cause and organizing a response.

Hungry, hungry sauropods.  Did they migrate to find food? New research indicates they might have.

End-Permian extinction was millions of years of lethal chaos.

Just for fun, you can now know the chemical constituents of your crayons.

Look, a pleasant ethics website!  With good advice for making you a nicer person.

The eerie power of provenance… or, the perceived history of stuff can make the stuff work better for you… or you work better with that stuff.

Bad science makes bad policy.  Duh.

Eliminating evil through science. Yeah, well, not actually eliminating it, just saying that it doesn’t exist. (I don’t think that actually works…)

Two Philadelphia abortion nurses who worked for the infamous Dr. Kermit Gosnell plead guilty to murder.

Various stories of police tasing and beating old ladies. This crazy stuff needs to be exposed to the light of day.

China gets religion. Gimme that old-time Tao

Dutch professor faked his social psychology data. Good for us social theorists to know about.

Lastly, Stayin’ Alive with some robot swagger. When the Terminator robots that come to get us are doing this dance it will be pretty weird.