Category Archives: Ethics

Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Lawsuits? – Gikii 2015

I recently had the pleasure to be invited to give a talk at the wonderfully niche Gikii conference, organised by Andres Guadamuz (aka Technollama) and Lillian Edwards in Berlin this year. The event was hosted by the Alexander von Humboldt Centre for Internet and Society (HIIG), and covered topics such as monetising celebrity gut flora, monkeys as copyright holders, privacy in the Marvel universe and a number of questions about the urge to connect everything to the Internet of Things. Below you will find a brief overview of my paper, as well as the slides from the presentation. Continue reading Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Lawsuits? – Gikii 2015

Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras: What’s in a Name?

Things on the website have been rather quiet of late, though not for lack of interesting science and tech news. But rather I have been tied up with work projects for the last while, and am endeavoring to find some time to take a more in depth look at some recent developments. I do have some new reading material however for anyone with the dubious interest in human-animal genetic research; my piece entitled “Human-Animal  Hybrids  and  Chimeras:  What’s  in  a  Name?”,  was recently published by JAHR  –  the European  Journal  of Bioethics. You will find the abstract below: Continue reading Human-Animal Hybrids and Chimeras: What’s in a Name?

Of Mice and Markets

I was going to go with “Morals, Mice, and Markets” as the title for this post, but I just couldn’t resist the rare chance at a weak Steinbeck pun. These morally relevant mouse markets I speak of are those described wonderfully by Professor Armin Falk at his keynote speech at the International Conference on Consumer Rights (at which I gave a somewhat less gripping talk on European Net Neutrality). His talk, though somewhat less creatively named than I would have done, was an absolutely fascinating look at the potential effects of markets on moral behaviour and investigating whether people make decisions in a market situation which they would, for moral reasons,  never make in a more proximate individual situation. Continue reading Of Mice and Markets

Has The Animal-Rights Movement Overlooked Fish?

The Dish

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Biologist Culum Brown suggests so:

Every major commercial agricultural system has some ethical laws, except for fish. Nobody’s ever asked the questions: “What does a fish want? What does a fish need?” Part of the problem comes back to the question of whether fish feel pain. But for the last 30 years, the neurophysiologists have known that they do, and haven’t even argued about it. …

I think, ultimately, the revolution will come. But it’ll be slow, because the implications are huge. For example, I can’t think of a way to possibly catch fish from the open ocean in a massive commercial way to meet demand that would be anyway near our standards for ethics if we think of them like other animals. Currently, you go out, you catch a bunch of fish, you crush most of them to death in a net, you trawl them up from…

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Twitter and Taboos: The Land Where Logic and Objective Discussion Dare Not Tread

I’m sure many of you by now might have heard about the most recent flare-up, a twitter controversy no less, regarding comments made by the ever-controversial Richard Dawkins – comments which, depending on who you ask either a) suggested violent rape or abuse is worse than “milder” versions, or that b) making such an distinction (for example) does not automatically mean that the comment is tacitly endorsing the “less bad” of the two. I’m of the opinion that this was more an example of an unfortunate misunderstanding of the point Dawkins was trying to make rather than him trying to make any particularly controversial statement about either rape or child abuse, but I certainly think that this debate has raised the serious issue of whether certain subjects should be so taboo that they should not be objectively analysed or discussed. Continue reading Twitter and Taboos: The Land Where Logic and Objective Discussion Dare Not Tread

Cloning Blue Crab Blood to Prevent Infections

I recently came across this rather interesting article (ominously titled The Blood Harvest) by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic from February of this year about horseshoe crabs and the use of their startlingly blue blood for biomedical purposes. While I had read a bit about the horseshoe crab and its particularly interesting evolutionary history before, I had not heard of the rather indispensable  role it plays in modern medicine. Continue reading Cloning Blue Crab Blood to Prevent Infections

Catholicism, Moral Conservatism and Crazy Irish Laws: Part 1 – Introduction and Condoms

I’m sure the title of this post will strike many of you as a bit controversial, as I do tend to try to keep my views on religion out of my academic arguments, unless of course they are particularly relevant or particularly amusing given the topic at hand. And this topic is one I find myself explaining to non-Irish jurists time and time again, with mixed feelings of frustration, shame and bemusement. The following are a few of the more surprising facts about Irish law, both historical and current, which seem to shock, anger or amuse my colleagues who didn’t grow up in such starkly conservative or Catholic nations, and even some of those who did. While it is true that many of these laws cannot be blamed on religion alone, one cannot deny the huge, at times mind-boggling and perplexing, impact which cultural, moral and religious conservatism, and the Catholic Church in particular, have had on the law in Ireland. Some of these peculiarities are uniquely religious, even Catholic, others are simply symptomatic of cultural and moral conservatism in Ireland and Europe over the last Century. For ease of both writing and reading, I have decided to break this post up into a series of shorter pieces on specific issues. We’ll start today with an introduction and the wonderful story of illegal condoms: Continue reading Catholicism, Moral Conservatism and Crazy Irish Laws: Part 1 – Introduction and Condoms

Bioethics and Bad Reasoning: The Slippery Slope of Using Slippery Slope Arguments

Slippery Slopes and Euthanasia

A ‘slippery slope argument’ (SSA) is a particular style of argument which particularly raises my ire (a phrase I’ve always wanted an excuse to employ) as they are so often raised against points I am trying to make, but also worries me in the frequency and potency of its use. These arguments are used to disrupt or even halt debate on some particularly controversial and important themes, and – tragically – are often simply accepted at face value, as they seem powerful at first glance, but perhaps do not stand up to logical scrutiny. In its most basic form, the Slippery Slope Argument suggests that if we allow position A to come about then it is highly likely, even certain, that, through some direct or indirect connection, position Z will eventually also come about.[1] However, the validity of many of these arguments is questionable at best; David Enoch goes as far as to point out that they are often referred to as ‘slippery slope fallacies’.[2] Nonetheless, these types of argument have been used in the legal, philosophical and political spheres for many years and in debates ranging from conspiracy theories about a One World Government[3] to the question of stricter firearms control in the US[4] to discussion about abortion law reform.[5] A key aspect of SSAs is that position A is often regarded as not inherently wrong, or at least not nearly as wrong as Z, and yet it is argued that A should not be allowed happen because it may lead to Z – the primary reason for prohibiting A itself in fact has very little to do with the characteristics of A alone. Continue reading Bioethics and Bad Reasoning: The Slippery Slope of Using Slippery Slope Arguments

Irrationality and Organ Donation

As I’m currently in the process of writing something a little more substantial about the ethics of donations, in particular donations connected with incentives, I found the assignment set this week by Dan Ariely in his Coursera class on Irrationality particularly interesting. Dan asked us to come up with a theoretical solution to a real world problem using some of the observations and experimental results regarding people’s irrational behaviour. I found the reading regarding organ donation particularly fascinating, especially the fact that, despite people being sure that they would only reach such an important decision after careful consideration, most of us in fact do make snap decisions about certain big decisions and are heavily influenced by our environment. This opens up interesting policy questions about to what extent we can or should use our understanding of people’s behaviour to influence their decisions. I, for one, have found myself more than once debating whether an “opt-out” or “mandated choice” system should be implemented at national level (incidentally, I think the standard “opt-in” model to be far too ineffective to defend, and in fact, due to its connection to sadly low levels of organ donation, unethical to leave in place). You can read my short suggestion below, keeping in mind I wrote this quickly at the end of the work-day, as I was about to leave the office. Nonetheless I think it might be a point worth exploring.

Continue reading Irrationality and Organ Donation

Playing God(‘s Patent Lawyer): The Challenges of Patent Law in the Field of Genetics

Below is a slightly adapted version of a final paper I wrote for the course Intellectual Property II during my LLM in Innovation, Technology and the Law at the University of Edinburgh. One of the major drawbacks which both I and the examiner noticed about this work was that I clearly bit off more than I could chew for what should have been a 5,000 word essay, by attempting to cover the far too broad area of “genetics”, rather than focussing on a more specific subset of that field. Nonetheless, though it took away from the paper’s ability to discuss some of the finer legal points in detail, it does mean that the paper remains a fairly good short overview of the entire field of patent law and genetics for any who might be interested. Continue reading Playing God(‘s Patent Lawyer): The Challenges of Patent Law in the Field of Genetics

Why Consumers Should Be Worried About Net Neutrality

“Network Neutrality”, more commonly referred to as simply “Net Neutrality” is the concept, coined by Columbia media law professor Tim Wu, that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, and modes of communication. Continue reading Why Consumers Should Be Worried About Net Neutrality

Are Monkeys More Moral Than People

In a talk by Lori Santos from a Coursera course I’m taking at the moment (the talk is limited to those signed up for the course, but you can find a similar talk by her here), she points to an experiment from the 1960s, in which monkeys would go up to 12 days refusing to pull a lever they knew would give them food, because this lever now had the added side effect of administering a painful electric shock to another nearby monkey. Continue reading Are Monkeys More Moral Than People

The Mutant Olympics: Genetic Enhancement and Doping in Sports

Julian Savulescu, Professor of Practical Ethics at the University of Oxford, has argued that “[g]enetic enhancement is not against the spirit of sport; it is the spirit of sport” [i] quite succinctly capturing one side of the ongoing debate about the role of Human Enhancement Technologies (HETs) in competitive sports. This argument states that enhancement is the very essence of such endeavours, striving to always improve on the limits of the human body. Continue reading The Mutant Olympics: Genetic Enhancement and Doping in Sports

Consciousness, Ethics and Ravens

Image: Auguste von Bayern
Image: Auguste von Bayern

I have for a long time now been fascinated and perplexed by the challenges of basing human rights and ethics on an alternative quality such as genetics or consciousness as opposed to religion or natural law. Scientific and ethical discussion can impact and is impacting how we treat other species, particularly highly intelligent animals such as dolphins, chimps and ravens. Continue reading Consciousness, Ethics and Ravens

Popularity and Placebos: The UK’s Troubling Acceptance of Homeopathy

Last year I found myself immersed (academically – heaven forbid I should do so in any practical manner) in the workings of Medicine and Bioethics in the UK. I was, for the most part, impressed. Particularly in contrast to some positions in the US and Ireland, the UK system seemed to handle many tricky issues remarkably well. The Nuffield Council on Bioethics, the NHS, the GMC the  were all models which, while not perfect, could certainly serve as examples for some of their foreign counterparts. All in all, I found attitudes to healthcare perhaps a bit more progressive in the UK than in Ireland, in certain areas at least. This makes the widespread tacit, and even official, acceptance of homeopathy in the UK all the more surprising. Continue reading Popularity and Placebos: The UK’s Troubling Acceptance of Homeopathy

Godwin’s Law Alive and Well

This is an old rant of mine I posted to Facebook back in March 2013, during my time in Edinburgh. Being not-totally-averse-to-a-bit-of-controversial-argument and with my connections to Germany and interest in history, I often find myself trying to explain the finer points (admittedly both to myself as well as others) of the difference between being a Nazi sympathiser and arguing that not everything Germany did between 1939 and 1945 was inherently, unavoidably evil. The following is a result of my exasperation at for the 72,500th time in my life seeing “the Nazis did that” used as an argument, this time, disappointingly, in an academic setting;

Continue reading Godwin’s Law Alive and Well