Ethics in the News: California’s Wildfires and Climate Change Warnings, The Bioethics of Loneliness, Teaching Tech and AI Ethics, The Beauty of Sex, & More – November 16, 2018


Newsfeed Nov 16 (2)
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Climate Change Ethics

Death toll rises to 56 in California wildfires
“The death toll from the wildfires burning in Northern and Southern California has risen to 56 people, authorities announced, making it the deadliest wildfire in a century. An additional 287 people have been assigned to comb through the rubble for bodies, authorities told The AP, bringing the number of rescuers and searches to over 461.”

California’s Wildfire and Climate Change Warnings Are Still Too Conservative, Scientist Says
“As firefighters in California battle to contain the deadliest and most destructive wildfire in state history, a climate scientist says the reality on the ground is surpassing what a government report projected just months ago in assessing the links between climate change and an increasing frequency and severity of wildfires in the state.”

See how a warmer world primed California for large fires
“Because of this effect of climate change, wildfires are increasing in size, both in California and across the western U.S., says Park Williams, a fire expert at Columbia University. Since the 1980’s, he and a colleague reported in 2016, climate change contributed to an extra 10 million acres of burning in western forests— an area about the size of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined.”

Gov. Brown, fire-besieged California hit back at Trump over blame tweet
“California Gov. Jerry Brown, now seeking a ‘major disaster declaration’ from the White House to bolster the emergency response to three catastrophic wildfires, warned Sunday that those who deny climate change ‘are definitely contributing to the tragedy’ of what he predicted could be years of damaging firestorms due to rising temperatures and increased drought conditions in his state.”

For richer Californians, private firefighters help battle blaze
“Some California homeowners eager to save their properties — and themselves — from the wildfires raging across parts of the state have an advantage others don’t: private firefighters. Several major property casualty insurers began hiring out private fire departments roughly a decade ago to protect their high-end clients.”


Appointment of acting attorney general challenged in court
“The state [Maryland] argues that Congress always intended for an attorney general to be confirmed by the Senate given the national security and criminal justice powers inherent in the position, including the authority to control an investigation into the president. Without an established chain of command, according to the filing, presidents could select and then remove a series of attorneys general until they got their way.”

Florida’s high-stakes recounts for governor and Senate, explained
“The close races have fueled partisan attacks. Republicans, including President Donald Trump, Sen. Marco Rubio, and Scott, are claiming — without evidence — that voter fraud is responsible for Democrats’ growing vote tallies. Scott even went so far as to request that the state investigate; one day later, Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement said it had received ‘no allegations of criminal activity.”

Democrats Say Their First Bill Will Focus On Strengthening Democracy At Home
“Democrats will take control of the U.S. House in January with big items topping their legislative to-do list: Remove obstacles to voting, close loopholes in government ethics law and reduce the influence of political money. Party leaders say the first legislative vote in the House will come on H.R. 1, a magnum opus of provisions that Democrats believe will strengthen U.S. democratic institutions and traditions.”

Trump, Democrats dig battle lines over new era of investigations
“He [President Trump] and his top officials will soon be facing Democratic probes, hearings and potentially subpoenas on everything from his unreleased tax returns to the family separations storm, from his alleged obstruction of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe to his family finances. He is already seeking to brand Democrats as a party obsessed with attacking him, while ignoring the challenges he believes many Americans care about, like the humming economy and what he sees as an immigration crisis.”

Biomedical/Medical Ethics

Texas Lesbian Couple First to Both Carry Same Baby
“Ashleigh and Bliss Coulter of North Texas had their son Stetson through what’s called effortless IVF, using Bliss’ eggs and a donor’s sperm. Instead of placing the sperm and eggs into incubators, they are put into a device called an INVOcell that’s placed in the body for five days where the eggs are fertilized and early embryo development begins. In this case, Bliss carried the INVOcell. The embryos were frozen and one was transferred to Ashleigh, who carried the baby to term, CBS News reported.”

“Are You Lonesome Tonight”: A Bioethics Perspective on a New Public Health Epidemic
“I suggest that a bioethics of loneliness would take an interdisciplinary approach to examining what questions one should be asking, and to determining whether the change represents an exercise in autonomy or is in fact causing real harm. The fact that older measures of engagement are not met, does not mean that social engagement is at risk. We should not simply accept the headlines but rather should take a critical eye to analyzing the data, examine the change in technologies and how people interact, and then offer an informed, ethical perspective on our brave new world.”

Social prescribing and the bioethics of loneliness
“This week the British government unveiled an ambitious plan to combat the country’s ‘loneliness epidemic’, including recommendations that doctors prescribe art lessons and dancing classes to lonely patients. GPs will be encouraged to refer patients to social activities and voluntary services instead of drug-based treatments as part of the new cross-party government strategy unveiled by Prime Minister Theresa May.”

How to Leverage Ethics Principles in Med School Interviews
About 50% of medical schools are now using multiple mini interviews as their primary interview evaluation of applications. These mini interviews frequently involve ethical scenarios where one must employ critical thinking skills and objective decision making to work through the various situations. Using the pillars of medical ethics can help an applicant break down different scenarios into concrete, tangible steps in order to develop a fluid and complete assessment.

Technology Ethics

Colleges Grapple With Teaching the Technology and Ethics of A.I.
“The ethical issues raised by A.I. — among them privacy, security and job displacement — and how to teach them are something educators across the country are wrestling with. And many professors and students say more needs to be done in A.I. classes — not just in separate ethics courses — to ensure students become workers who are thoughtful about the role of A.I.”

Chinese search firm Baidu joins global AI ethics body
“The AI ethics body formed by five of the largest US corporations has expanded to include its first Chinese member, the search firm Baidu. The Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society – known as the Partnership on AI (PAI) – was formed in 2016 by Google, Facebook, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft to act as an umbrella organisation for the five companies to conduct research, recommend best practices and publish briefings on areas including ethics, privacy and trustworthiness of AI.”

How technology can shine a light on murky supply chains
“How can we both support and empower these, often female, farmers and ensure that they have access to technology that can remove the barriers to a fair deal and create more transparency in the supply chain? The answer may lay in some very simple technology, backed by some very sophisticated solutions. Companies such as Annona use blockchain to connect farmers to exporters and importers to provide full transparency on pricing and profit-and-loss reporting via SMS. Annona can provide payment functions to ensure that payments are made on time. It can also be operated offline, meaning that even farmers without a reliable internet connection are able to input data and take advantage of the technology.”

A day in the life of a tech ethicist
“One major role for tech ethicists is attempting to create a globally recognised and agreed upon code of ethics into technologies. But finding common ground for something so broad and diverse, with major commercial interests involved, can be a difficult task. This is the fundamental problem with simply telling tech giants such as Facebook and Google to act differently. “If we tell people to do good but make less money, that’s where it becomes problematic in a capitalist society,” Polgar says.”

Business Ethics

Ethics And Consumer Action Will Transform Privacy
“For too long, organizations have wrongly assumed that consumers are ambivalent about their privacy. Now, as Facebook’s repeated privacy breaches have shown, user trust is neither infinite nor unwavering. In the coming year of privacy-minded consumer action, companies must consider how to appease not just regulators but also their customers.”

Can Employees Change the Ethics of Tech Firms?
“Many companies, it seems, are growing their conscience — or at least, their employees are. Workers are exercising greater muscle when they see their employer taking on a contract they perceive as involving morally questionable work, and they are taking action. At Google, employees recently protested their own company’s bid to develop a search engine for China that censors results based on terms blacklisted by the government. Meanwhile, workers at Microsoft have petitioned their bosses to cancel the company’s contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.”

Convercent wants to make it easier for companies to measure ethical behavior
“He [Patrick Quinlain] believes this can be measured, and the Convercent Ethics Dashboard is designed to provide metrics about how well your company is complying with a set of internal guidelines. The Convercent platform includes components to enable employees to safely report bad practices going on in a company such as bribery, corruption, sexual harassment and more. A more automated API driven system pulls in data from a variety of internal systems and analyzes that for ethical gaps.”

Sexual Ethics

Vatican orders US bishops to delay taking action on sexual abuse crisis
“The Vatican has told the US Conference of Catholic Bishops to delay voting on measures to hold bishops accountable for failing to protect children from sexual abuse, the president of the conference said in a surprise announcement Monday morning. In announcing the decision to his fellow bishops, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo said he was disappointed by the Vatican’s interference, which he said he learned of on Sunday afternoon.”

Opinion: Recovering the Beauty of Sex
“Each year during Opening Days, freshmen sit through a mandatory theatrical production called “Speak About It” in which, over an hour of sexual reenactments, they learn that as long as they have “consent,” they are free to engage in whatever with whomever they please. What matters is not the act consented to, but the consent itself. While consent is obviously essential to the very nature of sex, there is so much more to it than just a verbal assent extracted from the other party in order to do whatever one desires.”

Careful Consent
Ahead of the Trump administration’s release of new regulations around Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the federal gender antidiscrimination law that governs how institutions adjudicate cases of sexual violence, Donna Freitas, a noted expert, speaker and consultant on college students and sex, and visiting associate professor at Adelphi University, has released a new book, Consent on Campus: A Manifesto (Oxford University Press). In it, she discusses the flaws around Title IX enforcement and how universities can better teach their students about consent in a realistic way.

The Architect of #MeToo Says the Movement Has Lost Its Way
“Burke says that in the year since the movement began, she’s observed an unwavering obsession with the perpetrators — a cyclical circus of accusations, culpability, and indiscretions. In part, Burke blames the media for latching onto every salacious detail in stories from #MeToo survivors. She also blames a culture that’s prone to fixate on high drama. But nevertheless, Burke has a strategy to correct the course of the movement she conceived of so many years ago, a three-part plan she’s been working to launch alongside the one-year anniversary of the viral moment.”

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