Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

97% of reporters fabricate some part of their stories (probably)

December 21, 2018

Claas Relotius at Der Spiegel, Jayson Blair at The New York Times, Johann Hari at The Guardian and Jim Avila at ABC News are only the tip of the iceberg. They are not exceptions but merely examples of the malaise. They are all a part of the general erosion of journalistic ethics. But what was just a decline of ethical standards has now degenerated to the point where every news story has an agenda. The use of fabrication, lying, cherry picking, and omission are standard. A journalistic report which is not skewed and which is not trying to promote a particular viewpoint has become a very rare exception. Journalists today find it perfectly acceptable to be lobbyists and activists and propagandists while purporting to be objective reporters.

The line between advertising and reporting has virtually disappeared. It is not difficult to get media desperate for copy to print pure advertising material as objective reports. It is virtually impossible for some media to report any story which does not reinforce their own biases.

 

“Journalists” caught lying include Mel Judson, Juan Thompson and Brian Williams among others. Journalists who fabricated include Louis Sebold, Stephen Glass, Jant Cooke, Patricia Smith and  Carl Cameron among many others. Cheating is the norm not the exception.

The Media Still Hasn’t Figured Out Why They’re Losing Credibility

The outlook is bad for media credibility. Poll after poll finds public confidence in the press is at historic lows. The AP cites a Pew Research Center report that two-thirds of Americans believe “fabricated news” is causing a “great deal of confusion” about basic facts, and a poll conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago found the percentage of Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the press has fallen from 28 percent in 1976 to just 8 percent in 2016.

The American Press Institute put the percentage at an even lower 6 percent in an April 2016 survey, which also found 85 percent of Americans rate getting the facts right as extremely or very important, and prioritize that metric most highly when deciding which news outlets to trust. “Accuracy is the paramount principle of trust,” the survey noted.

The simple truth is that it is more likely that 97% of all journalists now fabricate some part of their stories, rather than that 97% of journalists are honest reporters.


 

Advertisements

Rules of killing need to be modified to cover drones and robots

May 27, 2014

Should a civilian operator of a killing drone be considered an armed or an unarmed combatant? Can such an operator be targeted in accordance with the Rules of War? Is the US targeting and killing of a US citizen by a drone attack lawful? Can a robot drone ethically be programmed to defend itself, automatically and without any human control, if such defence would require harm to other humans. Asimov’s 3 laws of robotics come to mind.

First Law: A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm, unless this would violate a higher order law.
Second Law: A robot must obey orders given it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with a higher order law.
Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with a higher order law.

The ethics of killing now need to be revisited.

According to the New America Foundation:

  • The CIA drone campaign began in Yemen in 2002 and in Pakistan in 2004.
  • Drone strikes in Pakistan rose steadily under President Barack Obama in 2009, to their peak of 122 in 2010.
  • Starting in 2011, strikes in Pakistan began to decline, while they spiked in Yemen, particularly as the Obama administration began using drones to support the Yemeni government’s battles against al-Qaeda-linked militants in 2012.
  • The civilian and “unknown” casualty rate from drone strikes has fallen steadily over the life of the program.
  • The casualty rate in Pakistan for civilians and “unknowns” — those who are not identified in news reports definitively as either militants or civilians — was around 40% under President George W. Bush. It has come down to about 7% under President Obama.
  • Only 58 known militant leaders have been killed in drone strikes in Pakistan, representing just 2% of the total deaths.
  • In 2012, 2% of the drones’ victims were characterized as civilians in news reports and 9% were described in a manner that made it ambiguous whether they were militants or civilians.
  • In 2013, civilian casualties are at their lowest ever. That is partly the result of a sharply reduced number of drone strikes in Pakistan — 26 so far in 2013, compared with a record 122 in 2010 — and also more precise targeting.
US Drone killings in Pakistan (New America Foundation)

US Drone killings in Pakistan (New America Foundation)

According to a UN survey, civilians have been killed in 33 separate drone attacks around the world. In Pakistan, an estimated 2,200 to 3,300 people have been killed by drone attacks since 2004, 400 of whom were civilians. According to the latest figures from the Pakistani Ministry of Defense, 67 civilians have been killed in drone attacks in the country since 2008.

Of course the Rules of War are notoriously flexible and tend to follow the actions of the strong. They are not much in evidence in Syria. They were largely ignored in the invasion of Iraq. We have heard today about air attacks by the Ukrainian government on armed “rebels” who wish to secede in Donetsk.

KTH Press ReleaseIn her recent thesis on the ethics of automation in war, Linda Johansson, a researcher in robot ethics at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology, suggests that it is necessary to reconsider the international laws of war, and to begin examining whether advanced robots should be held accountable for their actions. ….

She also questions the ethics of assigning drone operators the task of tracking a targeted person from a safe distance for days, perhaps even a week, before striking. “This is different from ordinary combat soldiers who face their opponents directly,” she says. “The post-traumatic stress syndrome that affects an operator may be just as severe as for a regular soldier.”

Currently drones are still operated remotely by a human being, but technological advancement is so rapid that full automation is more than just a grim science fiction fantasy.

Johansson sketches out a scenario to show how reaching that point presents other ethical questions:

“Soon we may be facing a situation where an operator controls two drones instead of one, on account of cost reasons,” Johansson says. “Add to that the human tendency to rely on technology. Now imagine a situation where very quick decisions must be made. It becomes easy to step out of the decision loop and hand over control to the robot or computer.

“Man becomes the weakest link.”

It could also be argued that robots are not entitled to defend themselves, since under the rules of war they are not in danger of losing their lives. “Does it mean that they have lost the right to kill human soldiers?” she asks.

Robots, especially drones, can also facilitate the conduct of “secret war”, with low transparency and minimal involvement of troops.

Linda Johansson’s research has resulted in a compilation of seven articles. In addition to autonomous systems in the war, she studied other aspects of robots. One of the articles is about care-giver robots and the ethics around them. Two of her articles focus on the so-called “agent landscape” – or if and when advanced robots can be held responsible for their actions.

Copenhagen Zoo’s justifications for killing Marius if applied to humans

February 12, 2014

Copenhagen Zoo has been marshalling support on the scientific and the ethical plane to try and justify their decision to kill Marius the healthy giraffe. They protest too much and it is a revealing exercise to apply their argumentation to humans.

Their basic theme is that He died so that others could live

Capital punishment could be applied for all humans convicted of murder or  causing a fatal accident or whose genes are defective in any way so that others may live. In current Danish politics, the wrong skin colour in a human is indicative of defective genes.

Culling is for the greater good of the giraffes

The man who pulled the trigger, the zoo’s own veterinarian Mads Frost Bertelsen, says that a very positive situation lies behind the Zoo’s action. 

”Up until now, we have not had to cull the giraffes. But now we have reached the point where the population is doing so well that a giraffe like Marius could not be relocated. Then the best solution is to put him down,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen.

The vet explains that a central European coordinator keeps track of pedigrees, and which genes are represented by individual giraffes in European zoos. The coordinator estimated from these data that Marius’ genes were already well represented and recommended that Marius was killed to protect the population best suited to the gene pool.

But now we have reached the point where the human population is doing so well in so many countries. Many individuals cannot be relocated. From East Europe or Africa to Europe for example. Then the best solution is to put them down, especially if their genes are already well represented. Something like the policy China had. Enforced abortion for all children after the first. 

The right time for Marius to die

Marius was allowed to live for one and a half years, then that was it. At that age he can, according to Bertelsen, be described as a ‘teenager’. It was an age when his father had also started roughing him up.

“In the wild he would leave the herd. If he were lucky, he would meet and join up with other young male giraffes. If he were  unlucky, he would be killed by lions,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen, explaining that it was not unnatural for Marius to die young.

In fact, the young male giraffes are most at risk of being killed and eaten on the savannah, because they do not have the protection of the herd when they are looking for females to mate.

If contraception or abortion are not permitted then the individual can be allowed to live for a while and put down just before it reaches child-bearing age. Lions and other carnivores could soon develop a liking for human flesh.

How to lead a natural life in the zoo

The Copenhagen Zoo lets the animals breed because one of the biggest challenges of keeping animals in captivity is that they are bored. …… a great activity for the captive animals is to find a partner, nest, have offspring, feed an raise their offspring, and finally spend energy on throwing the kids out.

“The side effect is that we have a surplus of animals. It is in fact fortunate that we can use them as food. Instead of killing 20 goats or a cow, we can use the giraffe,” says Mads Frost Bertelsen. ….. 

“Our function is not to keep the individual animal alive, but to keep the species alive,” says the Jens Sigsgaard and continues:

“We have decided that even if an animal is over-represented in the gene pool, we will let it breed and have as normal a life as possible. We prefer to kill ‘surplus animals’ rather than send them to zoos we cannot approve.”

For defective humans or humans of low intelligence, breeding could be encouraged as an antidote to boredom. Surplus individuals produced by such breeding can always then be culled and used as food. They should be killed rather than being sent to countries unwilling to accept them or to countries which cannot be approved.

The adult animals breed – the young must die

Aalborg Zoo has several arguments for allowing animals to breed, even if it may result in too many babies. …. “The animals are allowed to breed because it is an important part of their natural behavior to have offspring and experience the process of taking care of the them. Looking after the young is one of the best and most natural ways to occupy animals in captivity, In the wild there comes a time when the baby is old enough to break away from the mother and maybe become part of another group. That is the time when we try to find another well-suited zoo for it. If that is not possible, the young animal must be put down,” ”says Jens Sigsgaard. 

The animals can also be adversely affected if they are not allowed to breed and have offspring. They may find it difficult ever to start breeding again. And if there are no kids in the flock, the younger animals will not get the experience of what it is like to care for babies. 

The humans with the defective genes are allowed to breed as part of their natural behaviour. But when any young individual is old enough to break away from the mother we can try and find a new location for the individual. If that is not possible then it must be put down.

It is not the killing of an animal that is the problem; it is allowing the individual to be bred with the intention of killing it (and where the feeding of the carcass to lions is only incidental). And there is a difference in the breeding of mice for the purpose of being fed to snakes.

Animals are kept captive and alive in zoos just for gawking at. Once upon a time we did that with human “freaks”. I would like to think that we are more “civilised” now where I take “civilised” to be elegance in behaviour. The behaviour of Copenhagen Zoo with Marius was particularly inelegant.

The fundamental issue is that Copenhagen Zoo – like all zoos – are places for human entertainment.  They fool themselves – and others – into thinking that they are performing a scientific or conservation function – but that is just twaddle. (That is also the fundamental flaw in the conservation of species in zoos where – instead of trying to get the species to adapt genetically – the zoos try to “freeze” the animals genetically in a frozen and artificially maintained habitat).

There is something lacking in the ethics of Copenhagen Zoo – and all zoos for that matter.

Is PwC plagiarising Andreff’s Sochi Olympic result predictions?

February 7, 2014

In November last year I posted about this paper which used economic factors to develop a model for Olympics medal results and then used the model to predict medals won at the Sochi Winter Olympics starting today. Today Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) have with great fanfare made their predictions for the winter Olympics. In their press release they make no mention of this earlier paper

W AndreffEconomic development as major determinant of Olympic medal wins: predicting performances of Russian and Chinese teams at Sochi Games, in Int. J. Economic Policy in Emerging Economies, 2013, 6, 314-340.

The PwC predictions are slightly different but remarkably similar to the results published by Andreff. They claim to have looked at the same factors as Andreff did. They make the same prediction of home advantage for Russia as Andreff did. I don’t have access to their full report but their press release makes absolutely no reference to the earlier paper and seeks to take credit for the analysis. If their report makes no acknowledgement of the work by Andreff then it does look very much like plagiarism by PwC. Even if their “econometric” model has been developed independently, it is still a plagiarism of ideas if an acknowledgement of Andreff’s analysis has not been made.

Andreff Result Predictions:

Medal predictions Sochi 2014 - M Andreff

Medal predictions Sochi 2014 – M Andreff

PWC Medal Predictions

PWC sochi predictions

PWC sochi predictions

Press Release via ConsultantNews:

London, 31 Jan 2014As with the Summer Olympics, home advantage could play a key part in how the Winter Olympics medals are shared out next month – with hosts Russia looking set to capture a record haul.

But the hosts – along with close rivals Germany, Canada, Austria and Norway – will have their work cut out to catch the US team. Further down the table, after their London 2012 Olympics success, the GB team may have to settle for just a couple of medals. And unfortunately the cool Jamaican bobsled team don’t even make it into the running. 

Once again, economists at PwC have used their skills to project the likely medal tally – this time for the Olympic Winter Games at Sochi starting on 7 February. Their analysis is based on econometric modelling, testing the historic correlation between a range of socio-economic metrics and historic medal success.

The modelling results show that the size of the economy is significant in determining success, with total GDP appearing as a significant variable. However, a large economy is not sufficient on its own for a strong performance. Climate is an important factor, with snow coverage and the number of ski resorts per head having a significant and positive impact on medal shares.

Larger, developed countries with the right climate dominate the top of the projected medals table; but Austria and Norway demonstrate that a smaller economy is not a barrier to success, with a greater estimated medal haul than countries such as China and France.

William Zimmern, PwC economist, said: “While this is a light-hearted analysis, it makes an important point of how organisations can use economic techniques to help make better business decisions. The purpose of our model is not to forecast medal totals with complete accuracy, but rather to increase the predictive power of medal projections over and above using historic medal results alone.

The model allows us to make better, more confident and more informed forecasts. Businesses can use similar techniques to do the same.”

Home advantage – PwC

We used regression analysis to produce the results in Table 1, employing a Tobit model to estimate medal share for the 28 countries which have won at least one medal in the last three Winter Olympics. The variables used were total GDP, ski resorts per head, level of snow coverage, medal shares in the previous two Winter Olympics, and dummies for countries with a “tradition” of winter sports and for host countries.

I have worked with PwC many times during my career. They are very effective but they are not slow in trying to take credit wherever they can – even if it is undeserved. And their ethics are generally as lacking as is endemic in their industry (audit/consultancy).  A little bit of plagiarism by PwC – and not for the first time – would not be a great surprise.

US “sells” Norway Ambassadorship to an uninformed hotelier

January 27, 2014

The uglier side of “democracy”.

That generous donors to the US political parties are rewarded with Ambassadorships is common knowledge. The smaller and “less important” countries are usually the destination for these bought positions unless a very large donation is made. $6.2 million can buy an Ambassadorship to France or Monaco.

And now Norway knows precisely how unimportant it is considered by Obama’s establishment as George Tsunis, a rich Greek-American hotelier and a very generous donor to the Democratic Party made an idiot of himself at the Senate confirmation hearings. After all he can’t do much harm sitting in Oslo!!!

He thought Norway was a Republic and didn’t know which parties were in the coalition ruling Norway. It would have been pointless asking him the name of the King. An ignorant person is a correct description – at least about Norway. He does apparently know something about running a hotel. It does not say much for his knowledge (and perhaps also his intelligence) but it does not say much either for the briefings he must have received from the State Department. A member of the Greek Orthodox church now going to be an expert in a Lutheran country!!

Or did the career diplomats deliberately make sure he was not briefed properly because they wanted to showcase his ignorance? 

George Tsunis at US Senate in Jnuary 2014 - source screen grab - The Local

George Tsunis at US Senate in Jnuary 2014 – source screen grab – The Local

Future US envoy displays total ignorance of Norway

The US’s next ambassador to Norway has committed a jaw-dropping diplomatic blunder before he even begins, describing politicians from the Progress Party, which has seven ministers, as “fringe elements” that “spew their hatred” in a US Senate hearing.

Asked by Senator John McCain what he thought it was about the “anti-immigration” Progress Party that appealed to Norwegian voters, Greek American businessman George Tsunis seemed unaware of the party’s role in the ruling coalition. 
“You get some fringe elements that have a microphone and spew their hatred,” he said in the pre-appointment hearing. “And I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them.” 
McCain interrupted him, pointing out that as part of the coalition, the party was hardly being denounced. 
“I stand corrected,”  Tsunis said after a pause.  “I would like to leave my answer at… it’s a very,very open society and the overwhelming amount of Norwegians and the overwhelming amount of people in parliament don’t feel the same way.”
The blunder came after a faltering, incoherent performance from Tsunis, in which he made a reference to Norway’s “president”, apparently under the impression that the country is a republic rather than a constitutional monarchy. 
Tsunis founded the hotel management company Chartwell Hotels, which operates properties for InterContinental Hotels, and other major hotel groups. He is one of the leading figures in the Greek-American establishment, and is heavily involved in the Greek Orthodox Church. 
He donated $267,244 to the Democratic party in the 2012 election cycle, and $278,531 in 2010, making him one of the party’s top individual donors. 
His ineptitude has also been noticed in the US (but he was confirmed anyway).

billmoyers.com:

The State Department is filled with veteran foreign service officers with years of experience in international relations. Most of them are products of elite universities, where they studied subjects like conflict resolution or international trade theory. Many are multilingual, and all have deep expertise on the political scenes of various countries.

Yet they routinely watch as deep-pocketed political donors with little or no foreign service experience are appointed to serve as America’s ambassadors overseas. The practice is so common that a pair of international relations scholars at the University of Pennsylvania were able to put prices on various plumb ambassadorships. According to The New York Times, “the study found that political ambassadors who had made campaign donations of $550,000, or bundled contributions of $750,000, had a 90 percent chance of being posted to a country in Western Europe.” The best postings — in France or Monaco — could cost up to $6.2 million in direct contributions. ….

Other Norwegian media described Tsunis as having “trampled through the salad bowl,” according to Olivier Knox at Yahoo NewsKnox added that Tsunis wasn’t the first to fumble the hearing:

McCain, already flummoxed by the apparent inability of Obama’s choice to be ambassador to Hungary to list strategic US interests there, closed his questioning with a bit of sarcasm: “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees.”

Moral in the morning, lying in the evening, cheating by suppertime…

October 30, 2013

Of course it is another paper demonstrating great insight into human behaviour with far reaching conclusions. Needless to say it is a hypothesis dreamed up by social psychologists.

Is it good science? Unlikely. Is it trivial? Undoubtedly. Does it provide real empirical data? Yes. Is it relevant? Hardly.

Is it even science?  

Maryam Kouchaki and Isaac H. Smith, The Morning Morality Effect: The Influence of Time of Day on Unethical BehaviorPsychological Science, October 28, 2013,  doi: 10.1177/0956797613498099

Kouchacki is a post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard University and completed her doctoral studies at the University of Utah, where Smith is a current doctoral student. Kouchaki has been involved with a previous “priming” study about the effect of thinking about money on morality. And as is now well known, most “priming” studies are highly suspect.

It is not for nothing that the the APS journal Psychological Science is the highest ranked empirical journal in psychology.

The authors conducted experiments on college-age participants and on a sample of on-line participants:

  1. … college-age participants were shown various patterns of dots on a computer. For each pattern, they were asked to identify whether more dots were displayed on the left or right side of the screen. Importantly, participants were not given money for getting correct answers, but were instead given money based on which side of the screen they determined had more dots; they were paid 10 times the amount for selecting the right over the left. Participants therefore had a financial incentive to select the right, even if there were unmistakably more dots on the left, which would be a case of clear cheating.
  2. … also tested participants’ moral awareness in both the morning and afternoon by presenting them with word fragments such as “_ _RAL” and “E_ _ _ C_ _”

Their results showed that in line with their hypothesis, participants tested between 8:00 am and 12:00 pm were less likely to cheat than those tested between 12:00 pm and 6:00pm — a phenomenon the researchers call the “morning morality effect.” In the second experiment morning participants were more likely to form the words “moral” and “ethical,” whereas the afternoon participants tended to form the words “coral” and “effects,” lending further support to the morning morality effect.

Clearly the arduous field-work consisted of wandering around their dangerous college campus(es) soliciting subjects and then spending many long-nights on-line to get their “on-line” sample.

…. both undergraduate students and a sample of U.S. adults engaged in less unethical behavior (e.g., less lying and cheating) on tasks performed in the morning than on the same tasks performed in the afternoon. This morning morality effect was mediated by decreases in moral awareness and self-control in the afternoon. Furthermore, the effect of time of day on unethical behavior was found to be stronger for people with a lower propensity to morally disengage. These findings highlight a simple yet pervasive factor (i.e., the time of day) that has important implications for moral behavior.

Presumably a good afternoon nap could restore our moral behaviour in the evenings?

It seems to me that the hypothesis has been designed/invented primarily to grab headlines and to ensure publication.

Observer’s political correspondent caught plagiarising

August 14, 2013

Picture of Andrew Rawnsley

Andrew Nicholas James Rawnsley (born 5 January 1962, Leeds), according to his Guardian profileis the Observer’s award-winning chief political commentator. He is also a critically acclaimed broadcaster and author.

But – and in the best tradition of Johann Hari’s  techniques and ethics – he is not above lifting a few paragraphs of text from others when it suits his purpose.

The revelations about Rawnsley came 2 weeks ago from Guido Fawkes on his blog (run by Paul Staines and is probably the most read right-of-centre political blog in the UK):

Catching up with Andrew Rawnsley’s “award winning” column yesterday, Guido could not help think he had read the same points being made, with all the same examples and the same anecdotes, somewhere before. Rawnsley tackles the great North/South divide debate with a remarkable similarity to Jeremy Cliffe, the Economist’s UK politics correspondent, who wrote extensively on the issue in April. Cliffe’s two pieces are online here and here.

Guido first smelt a rat at the mention of Alastair Campbell, who Rawnsley writes “secured his two, even more whopping landslides in 1997 and 2001 by winning for Labour in places that had been previously thought unreachable. On the night of his first victory, he thought his staff were pulling his leg when they reported that Labour had won St Albans.”Something Economist readers would know from April, minus the insider anecdote.

“Alastair Campbell, Mr Blair’s spin doctor, recalls the party’s astonishment at the results: “seats were falling that we would never have imagined standing a hope in hell of winning.” The greatest swing was in the south-east and eastern regions, where Labour won 44 constituencies, including such leafy, middle-class suburbs as St Albans (now comfortably Tory once more).”

A coincidence, surely? So Guido started compare the rest of Rawnsley’s column to the Economist pieces, and it does not look good. See if you can spot the differences here:

Economist:

“Of the 158 seats that make up the three northern English regions, only 43 are Conservative […] Of the 197 MPs representing the English south beyond the capital, just ten are now Labour. The Tories hold only two seats in the north-east and one in Scotland.”

Rawnsley:

“Of the 158 seats in the three northern English regions, only 43 have a Conservative MP. The Tories hold just two seats in the north-east and have only one MP in the whole of Scotland. […] Under a line drawn from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, there are 197 seats outside London. Just 10 of those seats are represented by a Labour MP.”

Lifting statistics from the Economist is one thing, but what about whole chunks of analysis?

Economist:

“well-off people in the north are more likely to vote Labour than the poor are in the south […] northerners from the highest social class are more likely to vote Labour than are southerners from the lowest social class.”

Rawnsley:

“Well-heeled parts of the north are these days much more likely to vote Labour than their counterparts in the south. […] Affluent northerners (the As and Bs of pollsters’ jargon) are more likely to vote Labour than poorer southerners (the Ds and the Es).” 

The Guide Fawkes post contains many more examples of the filching of text/ideas

Somebody else filled in for Rawnsley last week and Guido reports that he is still away and may be replaced for next week’s column as well.

Perhaps he is on extended gardening leave!

Canada used indigenous children to “study” malnutrition

July 28, 2013

Yet another depressing story of how, in the name of “science”, the “establishment” made use of less “worthy” populations to carry out medical experiments.

This time in Canada from 1942 -1952.

There was no difference of principle and only one of degree between the medical experiments carried out in Nazi Germany and those carried out on native or disadvantaged populations in Australia, Canada, and the USA (among many other countries).

We may like to think that it does not happen any more. I am not so sure. The real story of Haiti and its cholera and the use of cheap, untested vaccines is yet to be told Similarly, some of the stories about the intentional “creation” of new strains of influenza and the subsequent discovery and dissemination of new vaccines for their cure may never ever become public.

Mosby, I. Social History 46, 145–172 (2013). Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952

Abstract: Between 1942 and 1952, some of Canada’s leading nutrition experts, in cooperation with various federal departments, conducted an unprecedented series of nutritional studies of Aboriginal communities and residential schools. The most ambitious and perhaps best known of these was the 1947–1948 James Bay Survey of the Attawapiskat and Rupert’s House Cree First Nations. Less well known were two separate long-term studies that went so far as to include controlled experiments conducted, apparently without the subjects’ informed consent or knowledge, on malnourished Aboriginal populations in Northern Manitoba and, later, in six Indian residential schools. This article explores these studies and experiments, in part to provide a narrative record of a largely unexamined episode of exploitation and neglect by the Canadian government. At the same time, it situates these studies within the context of broader federal policies governing the lives of Aboriginal peoples, a shifting Canadian consensus concerning the science of nutrition, and changing attitudes towards the ethics of biomedical experimentation on human beings during a period that encompassed, among other things, the establishment of the Nuremberg Code of experimental research ethics.

Nature also reports:

Canadian government scientists used malnourished native populations as unwitting subjects in experiments conducted in the 1940s and 1950s to test nutritional interventions. The tests, many of which involved children at state-funded residential schools, had been largely forgotten until they were described earlier this month in the journal Social History by Ian Mosby, who studies the history of food and nutrition at the University of Guelph in Canada.

The work began in 1942, when government scientists visited several native communities in northern Manitoba and discovered widespread hunger and malnutrition. “Their immediate response was to study the problem by testing nutritional supplements,” says Mosby. From a group of 300 malnourished people selected for the tests, 125 were given vitamin supplements, and the rest served as ‘untreated’ controls. ….

Nancy Walton, a medical ethicist at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, and former chairwoman of the university’s research-ethics board, says that such a project would never be allowed today, “but in the context of that time, it’s unfortunately not surprising”. Awareness of the need for informed consent in human studies was growing — informed consent was a central tenet of the Nuremberg Code, developed in the late 1940s — but the idea had not yet been adopted around the world.

“It’s not just bad ethics, it’s bad science,” Walton says of the Canadian government research. “They didn’t appear to try and prove or disprove any hypothesis that I can see, or make any statistical correlations.”

Indeed, says Mosby, very little of value came out of the research. He found no evidence that the northern Manitoba study was completed or published. The school experiments were presented at conferences and published, but they led to no important advances in nutritional science or improvements in conditions at the schools. “They mostly just confirmed what they already knew,” Mosby says. ….

 

Reproduction after death: Guppies do it, humans can – but should they?

June 13, 2013

Guppies use stored sperm while humans can use stored sperm. Using the sperm of someone long dead is certainly possible to “create” a new human. The ethical question – if there is one – is the responsibility (whose?) to the child so produced. And this could be even more important if it is also true that the age of the sperm producer at the time of sperm production has an impact on the health of the child. And is there a responsibility to the deceased sperm donor? By agreeing to the storage of sperm does not the donor implicitly consent to the use of that sperm even after his demise unless he explicitly forbids it?

Photo shows guppies.

Guppies are small freshwater fish PHOTO CREDIT: PIERSON HILL.

UCRtoday:

Performing experiments in a river in Trinidad, a team of evolutionary biologists has found that male guppies continue to reproduce for at least ten months after they die, living on as stored sperm in females, who have much longer lifespans (two years) than males (three-four months).

“Populations that are too small can go extinct because close relatives end up breeding with each other and offspring suffer from inbreeding,” said David Reznick, a professor of biology at the University of California, Riverside and the principal investigator of the research project.  “If there are stored sperm, then the real population size is bigger than the number of animals you see.  Also, stored sperm can increase genetic variation in other ways.”

Scientific American:

Is it ethical to use a dead man’s sperm to father a child? Experts are calling for a consensus on policies surrounding this question, which currently vary widely across the country.

It has been possible for a few decades to obtain a man’s sperm after his death and use it to fertilize an egg. Today, requests for postmortem sperm retrieval (PMSR) are growing, yet the United States has no guidelines governing the retrieval of sperm from deceased men, said Dr. Larry Lipshultz, a urologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Texas.

In the absence of government regulations, medical institutions should come up with their own rules so they can handle the time-sensitive and ethically questionable procedures, Lipshultz argued in an editorial published June 5 in the journal Fertility and Sterility. 

Requests for PMSR can come from the wife or parents of a young man who suddenly died in an accident before having a chance to leave a child, and requests can also come from living, terminally ill men who wish to preserve sperm to be used after death.

But the institutions trying to draft a protocol for these situations face a number of ethical concerns. For example, has the deceased consented to have his sperm used for reproduction after he’s gone? Could just anybody request to obtain his sperm? Is it in the best interest of the child to be brought into the world without having a father? …… 

…. PMSR is currently illegal in France, Germany, Sweden and other countries, even with written consent from the deceased. In the United Kingdom, it can be done if there is written consent, and in Israel, the sperm can be retrieved, but then a judge has to decide whether it can be used.

Parliamentary pigs and taxpayer troughs

June 11, 2013

Apparently pigs and humans share many genetic characteristics:

Researchers, who undertook the largest ever study of the pig genome, found that swine are adaptable, easy to seduce with food and susceptible to domestication – much like humans. 

Insights into the genetic code of pigs reveal the swine and its cousin the wild boar have much in common with humans.

from bellscorners.wordpress.com

This affinity between human and pig behaviour is demonstrated daily – and especially – by parliamentarians the world over. They don’t just feed – they gorge themselves. Perhaps it is the availability of the trough of taxpayers money which triggers our parliamentarians to revert to ancient type. Following the recent revelations about UK parliamentarians and their greed (Trougher Yeo), or in the US for example, comes this story from Australia:

The New South Wales Finance Minister Greg Pearce is facing further accusations about his parliamentary travel, with a Sydney newspaper reporting that he spent thousands of dollars on flights that coincided with sports events.

Last week, Premier Barry O’Farrell initiated an inquiry into claims the minister may have breached travel guidelines by taking a trip to Canberra that was initially booked through his office but was subsequently repaid by the minister.

The move came just days after he was accused of being drunk in parliament, prompting a public warning from the Premier.

Now the Daily Telegraph newspaper is reporting Mr Pearce has made at least $9,000 worth of trips to major sporting events around the country.

It says the events include the Melbourne Cup, AFL Grand Final and Australian Open, although Mr Pearce has denied the newspaper’s suggestions that he travelled to a V8 event on the Gold Coast last year.

I suppose they could all employ the defence that it is all in their genes and it is the fault of the taxpayers in providing them with the temptations which trigger their piggy instincts.


%d bloggers like this: