Ethics. Research. Community.

Blogging Ethics

Note: blog content is not currently included in EthicShare's Search Results.

02/20/2011 - 4:53pm

The current way of thinking seems to imply that small-scale production is the way to go. Of course, for much of the 20th century, small-scale production was a sign of affluence: only the wealthy could afford to have a craftsman dedicate hours, perhaps days, to the task of custom-making an item just for them. Today, everyone from yuppies to hippies is clamoring for just that, in their rush to grab for things perceived as local and green and anti-commercial. We don’t want multinationals to get between us and the skilled hands that make our loafers, and we want no agrifood giants mediating our relationship with the farmer who lovingly raised the goats that gave the milk that made the cheese. We want our business small, and indie. We want our consumer goods “bespoke,” and “artisanal.”

This vague association of the small with the ethical misses the fundamental truth that, when it comes to production methods, size brings efficiency. Mass production tends to be efficient in its use of energy, materials, and labour. There are of course tradeoffs and exceptions: it’s entirely possible for a factory mass-producing something to be highly efficient in the use of labour, but to be highly inefficient in the use of, say, water — especially if water is had at no cost. But generally, mass production is efficient; that’s its raison d’etre. Consider: a local tailor spending an entire day hand-stitching a jacket has to use, to begin with, an entire day’s worth of energy to light and heat his workshop. Alternatively, the same jacket could be made in a garment factory in a matter of minutes, using a few minutes’ worth, rather than an entire day’s worth, of energy....

02/20/2011 - 8:33am

My initial reaction to reading about IBM’s “Watson” supercomputer and software was a big fat ho-hum. OK, I figured, a program that plays Jeopardy! may be impressive to Joe Blow in the street, but I’m an AI guru so I know pretty much exactly what kind of specialized trickery they’re using under the hood. It’s not really a high-level mind, just a fancy database lookup system.

But while that cynical view is certainly technically accurate, I have to admit that when I actually watched Watson play Jeopardy! on TV — and beat the crap out of its human opponents — I felt some real excitement … and even some pride for the field of AI. Sure, Watson is far from a human-level AI, and doesn’t have much general intelligence. But even so, it was pretty bloody cool to see it up there on stage, defeating humans in a battle of wits created purely by humans for humans — playing by the human rules and winning....

02/19/2011 - 4:49pm

Last Saturday, Wesley J. Smith repeated a metaphor that he has been using for a few years to describe the resolution of medical futility disputes by intramural hospital committees:  "star chambers."  

Pointing both to the recent Albert Barnes case in Minnesota and a case in which he was involved, Smith argues that "disputes over whether to continue wanted life sustaining treatment belong in court, not in secret and confidential bioethics committee meetings."  His post was not a categorical opposition to unilateral decisions to withhold or withdraw life-sustaining treatment (as he has made in the past).  Rather, he attacks the process by which many such decisions are reached.  ...

02/19/2011 - 2:49pm

Proposed R2K legislation in Arizona failed in the last session.  But, this month, Arizona legislators introduced S.B.1447.  The key operative provision in the bill is this:

02/19/2011 - 11:26am

Social networking among physicians is raising concerns for a variety of obvious reasons--it challenges our standard ways of thinking about the physician-patient relationship which for the most part has been confined to the exam room. Now social networks open up...

02/19/2011 - 8:55am

Humans and dolphins are inventing a common language together. This is big news!

In all the recent hoopla over the world ending due to being asteroid-smashed, man becoming immortal thanks to the Singularity in 2045, and Watson the trivia-machine winning on Jeopardy!, the story of budding interspecies communication got under-reported....

02/19/2011 - 8:46am

On Friday, DHHS issued a Final Rule that narrows the scope of ("partially rescinds") federal conscientious objection protection for healthcare workers.  

Gene Cartels
Publisher SiteIn the first half of this richly-detailed book, Luigi Palombi takes us on a leisurely tour of the history of patents, going all the way back to King James I of England’s creation of royal letters patent as a way to bypass Parliament in raising money for the monarchy.

Palombi then discusses Louis Pasteur and his 1873 patenting in the U.S. of the use of purified yeast in a better beer-making method, contending that the novelty was the process that prevents the yeast from spoiling, and not the actual purified yeast, which already existed in nature.
Continuing the theme of novel processes used to re-create or build on products existing in nature, he moves on to the present age of patenting genetic intellectual property, that began in 1980 with the use of recombinant DNA, the same year Chakrabarty v. Diamond was heard before the U.S. Supreme Court and Chakrabarty won the right to patent a new bacterium he obtained by inserting two plasmids in an existing life form.

The European Union patent system for genetic products and methods is contrasted with the present U.S. system.

Patent law aspects of Insulin, Hepatitis-B Surface Antigen and the Hepatitis-B Virus, Human Tissue Plasminogen Activator, BRCA-1 (patented by Myriad) and more are examined from a similar point of view: the novelty of the method used to obtain them vs. the creation of a new life form.

He concludes with a look at synthetic biology, where genes are combined by researchers in ways similar, but not identical to the natural processes of genome formation.

Luigi Palombi. Gene cartels : biotech patents in the age of free trade. Cheltenham, UK ; Northampton, MA : Edward Elgar, ©2009.

02/18/2011 - 12:28pm

It's February and our next issue of AJOB is now available online. This month the first of our Target Articles is authored by Peter Ubel and Robert Silbergelt on behavioral equipoise as an alternative to clinical equipoise. Their view is...

02/18/2011 - 10:42am
Ontario Superior Court Justice Helen Rady has affirmed the decision of the Consent and Capacity Board, and has ordered the parents of 13-month-old Joseph Maraachli to comply with the doctors’ decision to remove the boy’s breathing tube by 10 a.m. Monday.  (Toronto Sun)  Maraachli, who suffers from a progressive neurological disease, has been at the London Health Sciences Centre since October.  The parents wanted doctors to perform a tracheotomy so their son could breathe and be allowed to die at home.  But Joseph's doctors say while a tracheotomy - an incision is made in a patient's airway, to help breathing - may prolong the baby's life, it's futile in this case and would likely cause much discomfort. It would certainly also increase the risk of infection and pneumonia.