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
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
Well, June was a quiet month here at The Undisciplined, what with work and me running away from responsibilities for a while to spend some time in Malta. But I’m back now and working on the second installment about Catholicism, Conservatism and Irish Law. Until then, I thought I might fall back to my tactic of posting old essays I wrote from my earlier college days. This one is one of my favourites. The topic of the skinhead subculture and how it can mean very different things to different people was one I found particularly interesting, and thankfully this odd sentiment was shared by my excellent lecturer in Criminology, Ivana Bacik, the Barrister, Senator and Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology and Penology at Trinity College Dublin. You can follow her and her ceaseless work in areas close to her heart such as human rights, equality and in particular the protection of children at her website www.ivanabacik.com or on Twitter @ivanabacik. Anyway, the following is a somewhat updated version of the original paper I wrote sometime around 2008, and it doesn’t seem to have aged all that badly: Continue reading SKINHEAD: The Evolution of a Subculture and Society’s View Thereof
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
Any of you who have the misfortune of reading my blog regularly (i.e. more than once) might have noticed a bit of a trend, in that I tend to rather effusively extol the virtues of Coursera.org and the courses I have taken with them. Well, it seems I am not alone, as the site recently won both the official award and the people’s choice award in the Education category in the 2014 Webby Awards. Continue reading Coursera is Wonderful! But Don’t Just Take My Word For It
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.
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
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