Friday, April 23, 2010

Science smarts is no guarantee of ethics

What else can you say about a geneticist who says that, when taking people's DNA samples, "informed consent" does NOT include telling them what specific lines of study the research is intended to be about, or even, if such information is given, necessarily limiting oneself to such lines of study.
“I was doing good science,” Therese Markow, now a professor at the University of California, San Diego, said in a telephone interview.
Maybe you were doing going science, in a narrow definition, but you were doing terrible ethics.

Is it any wonder that indigenous people around the world, including the Havasupai Indians mentioned in the story, don't trust various life scientists treading into their homelands?

And, it gets worse.
“Everyone wants to be open and transparent,” said Dr. David Karp, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who has studied informed consent for DNA research. “The question is, how far do you have to go? Do you have to create some massive database of people’s wishes for their DNA specimens?”
Yes, you do!

And, while the question is foremost for and about indigenous peoples, I know full well that I don't want scientists with the ethical stances of Karp or Markow asking me to participate in DNA research, either.

And, the historical obtuseness doesn't just stop there. The exploitation of Henrietta Lack's DNA, without informing her or her family, some 50 years ago, just became public earlier this year.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

No, you CAN'T multitask

Not really. Not even if you're a woman. It looks like the human brain, using its bilateral division, assigns two tasks to different hemispheres and does something similar to computer buffering as needed.
"The human prefrontal function seems to be built to control two tasks simultaneously. It means in everyday behaviour we can readily switch between two tasks but not between three. With three tasks the division is limited to only two hemispheres, so there is a problem," Dr. Etienne Koechlin said.
What does that mean if you're doing more than two things at once, or trying to? Pretty simple:
The study suggests that this basic division of the brain into two halves may explain why human beings tend to prefer a simple choice between two options rather than three or more.
The story author then tries to extrapolate to British politics, and perhaps goes too far:
It might even explain why the Liberal Democrats, as the third political party, find it hard to get a look in at general elections.
Nope, not an explanation. Look at Germany, for example. Rather, the British, like the Americans, have a "first past the post" election system which makes it tougher on third parties.

Beyond that misconjecture, though, the full story is worth a read.

First Amendment trumps 12-Steppers again

When will officers of the parole, rehab and other parts of the legal system finally learn that AA is a religion, under two U.S. appellate court rulings, rather than either be ignorant or lie? And, in light of that, assume that NA is the same?

And, when will they either ignorantly or arrogantly stop costing the rest of us money through leaving state governments, or the federal one, open to lawsuits, damages, etc.? And, since the 9th Circuit, which includes California, was one of two federal appellate courts, in 2007, to have already found AA to be religious in First Amendment terms, this case is even more egregious.

Considering that the Bay Area is home to a major "secular" recovery group, Lifering Secular Recovery, parole agent Mitch Crofoot is either very ignorant or very lying.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Chomsky not so right on brain and language

Yesterday, I blogged about how some of the latest findings in language usage are dialing back past claims about the degree of the brain's modularity.

More on that today; it appears that language usage by the brain is more of a kluge, or "workaround," than has previously been understood.

It probably undercuts, again, claims to human "rationality," too. I'm thinking more and more the old Enlightenment duality between "rational" and "irrational" needs evaluation and modification.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Questioning the brain's modularity a bit more

In recent years, the idea that the human brain is "massively modular" have come under more scrutiny. The latest on this? Different languages use different parts of the brain. I'm not saying the brain is not at all modular, just less modular than has been claimed.

And, this has implications far beyond language. Like for evolutionary psychology.

I'm now an Amazon top-1,000 reviewer

Reviewing almost no classical fiction and absolutely ZERO modern everyday novels, I am now a top1,000 reviewer. Here's what I'm reading.

Religion may just be irrational

AND linked with a continuum of other irrational beliefs, per a new study in Finland.

It sounds like a very interesting article. Now (and not to oversell MRIs) it would be interesting to take this to the next level. Are their brains functioning differently in some specific ways?

And, if at least "opennmindedness" to religious belief does pair with the other beliefs, who will tell New Atheist "guru" (not in MY book he ain't) Sam Harris, already on the record as accepting the possibility of psi phenomena?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Just how conscious are we?

New Scientist appears to transcend its slide into the crapper of the past few years with a serious of vignettes on different aspects of consciousness.

First, unconscious reactions that we later label as products of conscious free will appear to occur seconds before a "conscious determination," not just Benjamin Libet's well-known 300 millisecond delay.

Second, it appears that consciousness is not "vs." unconsciousness, but that the two are on a spectrum.

In light of all of this, in addition to it becoming clearer that the human mind does not operate like a computer, it's clearer that we are a long ways away from creating a conscious machine, something that would pass a Turing test when viewed by a true skeptic.