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2024 Research Highlights

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"Neglected Tropical Diseases and Long-Term Captive Animals: Ethical Considerations with Venom Lab Snakes"

By Derek Halm (postdoctoral scholar) Journal of Applied Animal Ethics Research (Apr. 24, 2024)

Venomous snakebite is a neglected tropical disease and disease of poverty, affecting hundreds of thousands of people annually. The only effective medical intervention for snakebite is antivenom, produced primarily using captive venomous snakes as a source of venom.

This paper analyzes snakes’ welfare at venom labs within this global health context. I recommend significant changes to improve the welfare of captive snakes, particularly in light of recent ethological research and attention on snakes. These recommendations are broadly consequentialist, aiming to improve the lives of the snakes and ensure that people have increased access to affordable antivenom.


Published research from the Role of Conscience Conference

Introduction Reuven Brandt,  The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

In April 2022 a multidisciplinary group comprised of researchers from the Institute for Practical Ethics at the University of California, San Diego and the University of San Diego School of Law began organizing a conference on the matter of conscience protections in law and ethics. At the time we could not know that our chosen subject would catapult in importance. But just two months later the Dobbs decision shattered the constitutional right to abortion that had stood for a half century. On the tail of this decision many states enacted laws making it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to terminate pregnancies in a broad range of cases. The U.S. entered an era of state-coerced gestation.

Valuing Conscience and the Conscientious Provision of Abortions by Carolyn McLeod, The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

In this paper, I hope to do two things. First, I want to show that we should take the ability of physicians to act on their conscience seriously, because normally something important is at stake in allowing them to do so. That’s true regardless of what their views are on abortion. There is value in allowing physicians to act conscientiously, whether that action involves the conscientious provision or conscientious refusal of abortions. I will argue that the value of acting conscientiously supports a system that regulates these two types of action symmetrically. Here, I will draw on a theory about the value of conscience that I develop fully in my book, Conscience in Reproductive Health Care.

The Many Faces of Conscience: A Comment on Professor McLeod by Steven D. Smith, The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

Professor McLeod’s paper has two parts. The first part is about the value of conscience as a general matter. Why should we respect and try to accommodate conscience anyway? The second part is a more specific argument related to abortion: Professor McLeod argues that although the consciences of medical professionals who are committed to providing abortions and of those who are opposed to performing abortions are both valuable, the former group—that is, the abortion providers—should receive greater accommodation. It is likely that this more specific argument is of greater interest to the participants in this conference. But time is limited, and although I would have objections to that more specific argument, my assignment was to talk about general premises and problems involving conscience. So with apologies … , I’m going to focus on the first part of Professor McLeod’s paper.

The Future of Health Care Conscience Laws Post-Dobbs by Nadia N. Sawicki, The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

The Supreme Court’s rejection of a constitutional right to choose abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has prompted legislatures to make significant changes to state laws. Some states have criminalized abortion in most circumstances, while others have granted patients and health care providers broader rights to choose and access abortion. Another, perhaps less-recognized, avenue for legislative change is by amending existing state conscience laws. This Article describes the avenues state legislatures might take in using conscience laws to impact abortion access in accordance with the state’s policy preferences.

Crisis of Conscience in Post-Roe America By Elizabeth Sepper, The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

This essay proceeds in four parts. Summarizing my previous writing, Part II explains that since Roe, the law has systematically favored refusing individuals and institutions. This asymmetry was unjustified, because “[c]onscience equally may compel a doctor or nurse to deliver a controversial treatment to a patient in need.” After Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the asymmetry may deepen. In restrictive states, Part III contends, the crisis of conscience for willing providers will increase, even as rights to refusal expand. Part IV identifies several possible complications for the legal framework governing conscience in medicine. It suggests that as refusal bills broaden, they may (unintentionally) shield providers committed to delivering at least some care. And as abortion bans grow more severe, hospitals once categorized as refusing may find themselves willing to perform life- and health-saving abortions. They may experience irreconcilable tension between abortion bans and their (religious and moral) healthcare mission. Part V turns to issues of conscience in those states seeking to safeguard abortion. It argues that the normalization of refusal and the reach of religious healthcare systems will erect major barriers to the expansion of reproductive healthcare in these states. State policies expanding abortion access will have to be carefully designed around shifting constitutional doctrine related to the religion and speech rights of healthcare institutions.

Conscience Clauses and Institutional Policies: Applicability of Employment Law and Medical Ethics By Mark A. Rothstein, The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

This article explores the possibility of using employment law-based tort actions for wrongful discharge to permit healthcare professionals to invoke a positive right to provide medically appropriate, institutionally prohibited care. Although the scope and implications of conscience clauses and policies are extremely broad, the article focuses on the role of physicians in the provision of abortion-related services, which raises the central issues in their sharpest and most controversial context.

The Lopsided Law of Medical Conscience By Dov Fox, The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

We’re used to hearing about conscientious refusal: when physicians or pharmacists deny services they deem sinful or wrong, in violation of hospital policies or malpractice laws. Less familiar is conscientious provision: when clinicians supply care that their employer or state restricts. America’s conscience regime often protects refusers categorically: they get conscience without conditions or consequences. But doctors with heartfelt reasons to supply care their institution or government forbids? For them, conscience is no defense.

Conscience or Disobedience? Comments on Dov Fox, “The Lopsided Law of Medical Conscience” By Samuel C. Rickless, The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, Volume 25, Issue 1 (2024)

I am grateful to have been asked to comment on Dov Fox’s excellent and thought-provoking paper. Fox argues that “the conscience regime that governs American healthcare is broken.” By this, he means that whereas conscientious healthcare deniers are protected in various ways by state legal systems, conscientious healthcare providers are not similarly protected. This, argues Fox, is both morally unjust and legally indefensible. Instead, he claims, we should replace our tattered and unjust conscience regime with one that vindicates most forms of conscience, whether they involve denial or provision of healthcare, for those who invoke it in good faith, though this may sometimes require that conscientious providers pay to offset the harms of accommodation. The major restrictions on the invocation of conscience in the healthcare arena Fox accepts are: respect for informed consent, no discrimination on the basis of morally arbitrary characteristics, such as race, sex, and age, and no abandonment in emergencies.

"Human mediation should be a non-factor in hybridization and conservation" by Derek Halm (postdoctoral scholar) in Conservation Science and Practice, A Journal of the Society for Conservation Biology (June 2024)

Hybridization by introgression (“hybridization”) is a complex topic in conservation. Many conservation decision-makers are concerned about hybridization by introgression because it may threaten species persistence or local phenotypes, among other potential long-term problems. While attitudes have changed towards hybridization as a conservation threat, there are still concerns about hybridization as a problem, particularly if the hybridization was anthropogenically mediated. I propose that these concerns are overblown and that it is misguided to focus on whether hybridization is unintentionally human-mediated. I argue that practitioners should still consider the effects of hybridization on conservation, but the reasons should concern the long-term environmental consequences, such as ecological function and social and cultural that hybridization has, rather than whether humans “caused” the hybrid. I propose a series of steps to think differently about these cases.

"Expertise, moral subversion, and climate deregulation" by Ahmad Elabbar (past visiting graduate student) in Synthese - An International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of ScienceVolume 203, article number 147 (Apr. 2024)

The weaponizing of scientific expertise to oppose regulation has been extensively studied. However, the relevant studies, belonging to the emerging discipline of agnotology, remain focused on the analysis of empirical corruption: of misinformation, doubt mongering, and other practices that cynically deploy expertise to render audiences ignorant of empirical facts. This paper explores the wrongful deployment of expertise beyond empirical corruption. To do so, I develop a broader framework of morally subversive expertise, building on recent work in political philosophy (Howard, 2016). Expertise is subversive if it sets up its audience to fail morally, either intentionally or negligently. I distinguish three modes of subversive expertise: empirical subversion (the focus of agnotology), normative subversion and motivational subversion. Drawing on these distinctions, I offer a revisionary account of the Trump Administration’s regulatory science as a case study. I show that the Trump Administration’s use of expertise to dismantle climate regulation, contra the standard charge, cannot be explained using the resources of agnotology alone: the Administration produced highly reliable climate assessments, detailing the risks of climate change, candidly admitting the harms of its proposed policies, and still successfully deployed these findings to justify massive climate deregulation. The lesson of the analysis is that dismissing the expertise that underpins climate deregulation as empirically corrupt ‘anti-science’ both obscures its actual role in the politics of climate change and understates its wrongfulness: it misses the breadth of the assault on moral agency that sustains climate injustice.

"Sharing Pain: A Hybrid Expressivist Account" by Jada Wiggleton-Little (past Ph.D. fellow) in Australasian Journal of Philosophy  (Published online Feb. 15, 2024)

When one communicates that they are in pain, it is often assumed that the speaker is providing an assertion or report. Call this the cognitivist stance of pain utterances. Nevertheless, many sentential pain utterances seem to have both assertive and imperatival communicative content in virtue of expressing both the speaker's pain belief and the pain experience, respectively. I call this view hybrid expressivism about pain. In this paper, I take the imperativist idea of pain seriously and show that, via an expression relation, pain utterances inherit the imperative and motivational force of the pain. A hybrid expressivist stance better explains why pain utterances often have the perlocutionary effect of eliciting care from others, and it can provide a new understanding of what it means to silence one's pain.

"Disembodied Brains: Understanding our Intuitions on Human-Animal Neuro-Chimeras and Human Brain Organoids?" by John H. Evans (Institute of Practical Ethics co-director) published by Oxford University Press (Jan. 2024)

Society has long been fascinated with mixes of humans and animals, and scientists have recently developed human-animal neuro-chimeras, animals with some component of a human brain. Society has also been fascinated by the “brain in the vat,” and now scientists have developed human brain organoids, small parts of a human brain in a dish grown from cells from a person’s body. The typical reaction to these technologies is shock or disgust, responses which this book closely examines. The public tends to believe in a foundational distinction between humans and animals, and the neuro-chimera violates this distinction, resulting in public opposition. Similarly, the public tends to believe that disembodied human parts are not totally separate from the human from whom they were taken, and therefore that a brain organoid in a dish retains the “essence” of its human source. This too results in greater concern about such organoids. The book also examines more general attitudes toward biotechnology that affect the public’s views of neuro-chimeras and organoids. It concludes with a discussion of how to set a public policy so that limits on these technologies are possible—allowing the development of the technologies for medical research but preventing them from achieving the public’s dystopian vision of the very human animal or the organoid that is perceived as actually a part of another human.

2023 Publications

"Disruption and emergence: How to think about human rights futures" by Austin Choi-Fitzpatrick (former visiting scholar) in Journal of Human Rights (Nov. 2023)

This article suggests that humanity may be approaching a critical juncture, since a confluence of macro-historical changes might—individually or collectively—fundamentally transform the field of human rights, and usher in a second human rights era. In particular, it suggests that the confluence of tectonic geopolitical changes, system-wide shifts in climate and energy, and fundamentally new developments in science and technology might lead to a rupture of the same scale as the cluster of events that heralded the onset of the current rights regime. This argument builds on a number of literatures, especially those focused on norms cycles, rights generations, and what is being called the “ontological turn.” Yet the implications extend beyond these conversations in terms of both conceptual scale (the emphasis here is on critical junctures between eras, rather than cycles or generations within eras) as well as temporal scale (the emphasis is on the medium-to-long-range future, rather than the near future). An effort to ground this speculation takes the form of testable hypotheses and practical recommendations.

"The Tangle of Science: Reliability Beyond Method, Rigour, and Objectivity" By Nancy Cartwright, Jeremy Hardie, Eleonora Montuschi, Matthew Soleiman and Ann C. Thresher* Oxford University Press, 2023 *Professor Cartwright is a member of the Institute for Practical Ethics. Soleiman and Thresher are past Ph.D. fellows.

Science is remarkably reliable. It puts people on the moon, performs laser eye surgery, tells us about ancient civilizations and species, and predicts the future of our climate. What underwrites this reliability? This book argues that the standard answers — the scientific method, rigour, and objectivity — are insufficient for the job.

Here we propose a new model of science which places its products front and centre. In The Tangle of Science we show how any reliable piece of science is underpinned by a vast, diverse, and thick network of other scientific products. In doing so we bring back into focus areas of science that have been long neglected, emphasizing how every product, from the screws that hold the space shuttle together, to ways of measuring the consumer price index, to Einstein's theory of general relativity, work together to support results we can trust.

"Promoting Equality in the Governance of Heritable Human Genome Editing through Ubuntu: Reflecting on a South African Public Engagement Study" by Bonginkosi Shozi (postdoctoral scholar) and Donrich Thaldar  in The American Journal of Bioethics (May 19, 2023)

In a recent public engagement study on heritable human genome editing (HHGE) conducted among South Africans, participants approved of using HHGE for serious health conditions—viewing it as a means of bringing about valuable social goods—and proposed that the government should actively invest resources to ensure everyone has equal access to the technology for these purposes. This position was animated by the view that future generations have a claim to these social goods, and this entitlement justified making HHGE available in the present. This claim can be ethically justified in the Ubuntu ethic (deriving from South Africa) as it (a) emphasizes the interests of the community, and (b) espouses a metaphysical conception of the community that transcends the present generation and includes past and future generations. On this basis, a compelling claim can be made on behalf of prospective persons in favor of equal access to HHGE.

“The curatorial view of assessment and the ethics of scientific advice: Beyond decisional autonomy towards distributive epistemic justice" by Ahmad Elabbar (visiting graduate student). 2023 History and Philosophy of Science Essay Prize winner from the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUHPST).

In summary, this essay looks at contemporary scientific advice through the lens of museum studies, history and philosophy of science, and political philosophy, with the aim of placing justice in the distribution of knowledge at the centre of advisory ethics.

"Screening Out Neurodiversity" by Jada Wiggleton-Little (past Ph.D. fellow) and Craig Callender (Institute for Practical Ethics) in Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, Volume 33, Number 1, (March 2023)

Autistic adults suffer from an alarmingly high and increasing unemployment rate. Many companies use pre-employment personality screening tests. These filters likely have disparate impacts on neurodivergent individuals, exacerbating this social problem. This situation gives rise to a bind. On the one hand, the tests disproportionately harm a vulnerable group in society. On the other, employers think that personality test scores are predictors of job performance and have a right to use personality traits in their decisions. It is difficult to say whether these negative disparate impacts are a case of wrongful discrimination. Nevertheless, we will show that pre-employment personality tests prey on several features of autism in an unfair way, and for this reason, we suggest the contours of some regulation that we deem necessary.

“Is a right to health a means to protect public health? South Africa as a model for a communitarian interpretation of the right to health for the promotion of public health” by Safura Abdool-Karim and Bonginkosi Shozi (postdoctoral scholar) in The International Journal of Human Rights (March 24, 2023).

The right to health has primarily been developed and understood as an individualistic right and framed in terms of healthcare services. Public health and disease prevention have become increasingly important, particularly with the increasing occurrence of novel pandemics. The ability of the traditional framing of the right to health is less helpful in contexts where one seeks to apply a human rights-based approach to public health interventions. Though it has been posited that this may be remedied through the introduction of a collective right to public health, the South African experience illustrates the potential of the existing right to health to support public health efforts.

“Somatic Genome Editing Governance Approaches and Regulatory Capacity in Different Countries” by Piers Millet et al (including Bonginkosi Shozi, postdoctoral scholar) in Social Science Research Network (March 7, 2023)

Note: This report contains research that was undertaken over multiple years by an international team lead by Piers Millet at the request of the Royal Society to help inform the Third Human Genome Editing Summit. The findings were presented March 8, 2023 at the Third Human Genome Editing Summit.

There has been considerable international and national effort invested in developing governance frameworks for human genome editing. The international scientific community have come together through a series of global summits to explore if, how, and when we can begin to trial clinical applications of human genome editing. The World Health Organization has developed a governance framework for human genome editing and made recommendations as to how such technologies might be used, safely, securely, and responsibly. While there is strong agreement we are not yet ready to explore heritable human genome editing, there has been considerable progress towards clinical trials in somatic human genome editing.

“The Normative Standard for Future Discounting” by Craig Callender (Institute for Practical Ethics) in Australian Philosophical Review (Feb. 9, 2023)

This paper challenges the conventional wisdom dominating the social sciences and philosophy regarding temporal discounting, the practice of discounting the value of future utility when making decisions. Although there are sharp disagreements about temporal discounting, a kind of standard model has arisen, one that begins with a normative standard about how we should make intertemporal comparisons of utility. This standard demands that in so far as one is rational one discounts utilities at future times with an exponential discount function. Tracing the justification for this standard through economics, philosophy and psychology, I’ll make what I believe is the best case one can for it, showing how a non-arbitrariness assumption and a dominance argument together imply that discounting ought to be exponential. Ultimately, however, I don’t find the case compelling. Non-exponential temporal discounting is often rational. If this is correct, Instead of trying to ‘fix’ non-exponential discounting because it is irrational and associated with negative life outcomes, we might instead focus attention on why the conditions obtain that make such discounting rational.

2022 Publications

"How Secrecy Leads to Bad Public Technology" by Julia Slupska, Jeanette Lowrie, Lilly Irani (Institute for Practical Ethics), Deian Stefan in University of California eScholarship (December 2022)

System security should not depend on the secrecy of its implementation (National Institute of Standards and Technology 2008). A widely accepted principle of cryptography, Kerckoff’s Principle, argues that cybersecurity must be robust against an enemy that knows how the system is constructed. Systems that rely on secrecy are vulnerable to breaches. Further, commercial systems cannot be kept secret as they are sold on the market. Best practices for Internet of Things and smart city cybersecurity include clear expectations about maintaining the security of infrastructure and data flows (Goodman 2020). This allows technical experts and members of the public to review and identify potential problems before data breaches happen (Bellovin & Bush 2002).

"Broken Promises of Civic Innovation: Technological, Organizational, Fiscal, and Equity Challenges of GE Current CityIQ" by Lilly Irani (Institute for Practical Ethics) and Cedric Deslandes Whitney in University of California eScholarship (December 2022)

The claimed public benefits of the Intelligent Cities project, billed as the 'the World’s Largest Smart City Platform' by the city, were promoted as creating data for sustainability, promoting civic innovation, and saving energy on lighting. The City states that this project is a tremendous technological benefit to the city and our citizens, and that from easier parking and decreased traffic congestion, enhanced public safety and environmental monitoring, enhanced bicycle route planning, to enhanced urban and real estate development planning, this platform can improve the quality of life in our city and boost economic growth.

The city has already spent three years and millions of dollars on this platform implementation. Yet these aspirations for civic empowerment and sustainability data have not been realized. This project has been limited by technical breakdowns, organizational limitations, and an opportunity structure that adversely affects lower income San Diegans.

“Expecting Equality: How Prenatal Screening Policy Harms People with Disabilities” by Athmeya Jayaram in Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy (Vol. 23, No. 1 (2022))

The “expressivist objection” argues that prenatal screening leading to termination of embryos or fetuses with disabilities sends a harmful message to people with disabilities, such as the message that their lives are not worth living. I first argue that whether it sends such a message depends on how a reasonable person would see the motives behind the screening. I then argue that a reasonable person would see a harmful message, not when individuals terminate embryos, and not for severe disabilities, but when the state allows the screening and termination of embryos with less severe conditions, such as Down syndrome. This sends the message that it is permissible not to pay a higher cost to support people with disabilities, when there is an abled alternative. This attitude is harmful to the welfare, rights and self-worth of people with disabilities because it reinforces the refusal to provide them with equal opportunity. The state therefore has a strong pro tanto reason to ban prenatal screening for less severe disabilities.

"A deliberative public engagement study on heritable human genome editing among South Africans: Study results" by Donrich Thaldar, Bonginkosi Shozi (Institute for Practical Ethics postdoctoral scholar), Michaela Steytler, Gill Hendry, Marietjie Botes, Ntokozo Mnyandu, Meshandren Naidoo, Siddharthiya Pillay, Magda Slabbert and Beverley Townsend in PLOS ONE (Noveber 2022).

This paper reports the results of a public engagement study on heritable human genome editing (HHGE) carried out in South Africa, which was conducted in accordance with a study protocol that was published in this journal in 2021.

"Establishing a blockchain-enabled Indigenous data sovereignty framework for genomic data" by Tim K. Mackey, Alec J. Calac (former Practical Ethics Ph.D. fellow), B S Chenna Keshava, Joseph Yracheta, Krystal S. Tsosie and Keolu Fox in Cell (July 2022).

Technological advances have enabled the rapid generation of health and genomic data, though rarely do these technologies account for the values and priorities of marginalized communities. In this commentary, we conceptualize a blockchain genomics data framework built out of the concept of Indigenous Data Sovereignty.

"The Limits of Democratizing Science: When Scientists Should Ignore the Public" by visiting scholar S. Andrew Schroeder in Philosophy of Science (May 2022)

Scientists are frequently called upon to “democratize” science, by bringing the public into scientific research. One appealing point for public involvement concerns the nonepistemic values involved in science. Suppose, though, a scientist invites the public to participate in making such value-laden determinations but finds that the public holds values the scientist considers morally unacceptable. Does the argument for democratizing science commit the scientist to accepting the public’s objectionable values, or may she veto them? I argue that there are a limited set of cases in which scientists can, consistently with a commitment to democratized science, set aside the public’s judgments.

"Justifying an Intentional Species Extinction: The Case of Anopheles gambiae" by Daniel Callies and Yasha Rohwer in Enironmental Values (April 2022).

Each year, over 200 million people are infected with the malaria parasite, nearly half a million of whom succumb to the disease. Emerging genetic technologies could, in theory, eliminate the burden of malaria throughout the world by intentionally eradicating the mosquitoes that transmit the disease. In this paper, we offer an ethical examination of the intentional eradication of Anopheles gambiae, the main malaria vector of sub-Saharan Africa. In our evaluation, we focus on two main considerations: the benefit of alleviating the malaria burden, and the loss of value that would accompany the eradication of the species. We outline a typology of the different ways in which species are valued or could be valuable, then use that typology to appraise the value of the species in question. We argue that Anopheles gambiae has minor (and redundant) instrumental value, little final subjective value and no objective final value.

"An Ethical Framework for Presenting Scientific Results to Policy-Makers" by visiting scholar S. Andrew Schroeder in Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal (Vol. 32, No. 1, March 2022)

Scientists have the ability to influence policy in important ways through how they present their results. Surprisingly, existing codes of scientific ethics have little to say about such choices. I propose that we can arrive at a set of ethical guidelines to govern scientists' presentation of information to policymakers by looking to bioethics: roughly, just as a clinician should aim to promote informed decision-making by patients, a scientist should aim to promote informed decision-making by policymakers.

"The ethical gene" by Reuven Brandt in Bioethics (Jan. 31, 2022).

In this paper I argue that current law and policy governing germline genetic modification are overly broad and in fact prohibit medical interventions normally considered unobjectionable. The root of the problem lies in the fact law and policy tend to espouse a near categorical ban on medical interventions that alter germline DNA. However, if we pay close attention to the biological mechanisms at play we see that many standard medical interventions result in alterations to DNA that can be transmitted to future generations. The correct focus of policy and regulation thus ought to be determining which kinds of transmissible genetic modifications ought to be permitted, and not whether they should be permitted at all.

"Rule by Automation: How Automated Decision Systems Promote Freedom and Equality" by Jacob Sparks and Athmeya Jayaram in Moral Philosophy and Politics (Jan. 6, 2022).

Using automated systems to avoid the need for human discretion in government contexts – a scenario we call ‘rule by automation’ – can help us achieve the ideal of a free and equal society. Drawing on relational theories of freedom and equality, we explain how rule by automation is a more complete realization of the rule of law and why thinkers in these traditions have strong reasons to support it. Relational theories are based on the absence of human domination and hierarchy, which automation helps us achieve. Nevertheless, there is another understanding of relational theories where what matters is the presence of valuable relationships with those in power. Exploring this further might help us see when and why we should accept human discretion.

2021 Publications

"On the Horns of a Dilemma: Let the Northern White Rhino Vanish or Intervene?" by Craig Callender in Ethics, Policy & Environment (2021).

Two females, Nadine and Fatu, are the sole surviving Northern White Rhinos (NWR). The subspecies is functionally extinct. Hope for NWR now lies in emerging reproductive and genetic technologies, which could potentially produce NWR from induced pluripotent stem cells. What is the rationale for this project? This question raises almost every philosophical issue facing conservation science today. I argue that NWR recovery is hard to justify via many traditional paths (e.g., historical fidelity, ecosystem health, biodiversity), but if we shift focus to white rhinos in general or even mammals then clear benefits emerge.

"Setting ethical limits on human gene editing after the fall of the somatic/germline barrier" by John H. Evans in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (volume 118, 22)

The ethical debate about what is now called human gene editing (HGE) has gone on for more than 50 y. For nearly that entire time, there has been consensus that a moral divide exists between somatic and germline HGE. Conceptualizing this divide as a barrier on a slippery slope, in this paper, I first describe the slope, what makes it slippery, and describe strong barriers that arrest the slippage down to the dystopian bottom of pervasive eugenic enhancement. I then show how the somatic/germline barrier in the debate has been weakened to the level of ineffectiveness, with no replacement below.

"Assessing Climate Policies: Catastrophe Avoidance & the Right to Sustainable Development" by Daniel Callies and Darrel Moellendorf in Politics, Philosophy & Economics (volume 20, issue 2)

With the significant disconnect between the collective aim of limiting warming to well below 2°C and the current means proposed to achieve such an aim, the goal of this paper is to offer a moral assessment of prominent alternatives to current international climate policy.

"Making sense of algorithms: Relational perception of contact tracing and risk assessment during COVID-19" by Ph.D. fellows Chuncheng Liu and Ross Graham in Big Data & Society (volume 8, issue 1)

Governments and citizens of nearly every nation have been compelled to respond to COVID-19. Many measures have been adopted, including contact tracing and risk assessment algorithms, whereby citizen whereabouts are monitored to trace contact with other infectious individuals in order to generate a risk status via algorithmic evaluation. Based on 38 in-depth interviews, we investigate how people make sense of Health Code (jiankangma), the Chinese contact tracing and risk assessment algorithmic sociotechnical assemblage.

Drivers of Carbon Price Adoption in Wealthy Democracies: International or Domestic Forces?” by Ph.D. fellow Daniel Driscoll in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World (volume 7)

Is carbon price adoption in wealthy democracies driven more by international or domestic forces? Event history analyses reveal that carbon price adoption is more likely in countries with less fossil fuel energy use (and, by proxy, less powerful fossil fuel business-elite actors) and with less encumbered democratic institutions (i.e., fewer institutional veto points). These findings are triangulated through cross-sectional comparisons and case studies. In short, wealthy democracies enact carbon prices according to the degree to which domestic actors or costs constrain or enable enactment and implementation.

"How to Interpret Covid-19 Predictions: Reassessing the IHME’s Model" by visiting scholar S. Andrew Schroeder in Philosophy of Medicine (March 19, 2021)

The IHME Covid-19 prediction model has been one of the most influential Covid models in the United States. Early on, it received heavy criticism for understating the extent of the epidemic. I argue that this criticism was based on a misunderstanding of the model.

“Insights on Vaccine Hesitancy from Religious People’s View of Science” by John H. Evans for the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs (Feb. 16, 2021) 

From the article: “Members of many religious traditions are distrustful of scientists—albeit not for the reasons most scientists think. I worry that for a portion of the U.S. religious community, when they hear that a new vaccine is a triumph of ‘science’ and is promoted by scientists, vaccine hesitancy will be reinforced. I also worry that the scientific community will misunderstand the views religious people have of science and will not effectively combat hesitancy. It may be useful for people engaged in religion and vaccination programs to know the insights of recent sociological research on what religious people think of science.”

“Justifying the Risks of COVID Challenge Trials: The Analogy with Organ Donation” by Athmeya Jayaram, Jacob Sparks and Daniel Callies in Bioethics (June 27, 2021)

In the beginning of the COVID pandemic, researchers and bioethicists called for human challenge trials to hasten the development of a vaccine for COVID. However, the fact that we lacked a specific, highly effective treatment for COVID led many to argue that a COVID challenge trial would be unethical and we ought to pursue traditional phase III testing instead. These ethical objections to challenge trials may have slowed the progress of a COVID vaccine, so it is important to evaluate their merit.

“Political Liberalism and Public Health” by Athmeya Jayaram and Michael Kates in The American Journal of Bioethics (volume 21, issue 9)

In “Neutrality and Perfectionism in Public Health,” Hafez Ismaili M’hamdi (2021) poses a dilemma for defenders of “state neutrality” about political justification: either they must reject a wide range of common-sense public health interventions like public smoking bans and mask mandates, or they must abandon their commitment to state neutrality and accept perfectionism. Fortunately for defenders of state neutrality, this dilemma only has force against Gerald Gaus’ more libertarian version of the theory; it poses no problem for John Rawls’ theory of political liberalism.

2020 Publications

“Gene Editing and the War Against Malaria” by Ethan Bier and Elliott Sober in American Scientist (volume 108, number 3)

Using CRISPR gene drives to breed fitter mosquitoes may prevent a devastating disease. Malaria is a tropical illness that blood-feeding mosquitoes spread from person to person. In 2018, approximately 228 million malaria cases emerged, with an estimated 405,000 deaths recorded in the same period. More than half of those deaths were young children.

Making Science Better: Lessons From the COVID-19 Front” by Craig Callender in Issues in Science and Technology (June 11, 2020).

As the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is ravaging the globe, the global scientific community is responding in an unprecedented way. The virus was quickly understood to be a grave and fast-moving threat that does not respect political or geographical borders. If science is to be effective against coronavirus, it too needs to be fast, global, and focused on the world’s needs. Science-as-normal will not do. So right under our noses, with few noticing, science dramatically transformed.

“Bednets or Biotechnology: To Rescue Current Persons or Research for the Future?” by Daniel Callies in Fudan Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (Aug. 13, 2020).

Malaria is still a significant cause of death and suffering throughout much of the developing world. Fortunately, the global community provides significant (though, not sufficient) resources to combat the disease and the parasite that causes it. How ought we to allocate these resources? One option is to purchase and distribute perhaps the best tool we have to prevent malaria: insecticide-treated nets. Another route would see us invest in research and development of a novel biotechnology that could eradicate the disease in perpetuity. If we choose to spend our money on insecticide-treated nets, we will be rescuing current individuals at risk of being infected with the parasite. Though, we can be almost certain there will be future individuals who will also need rescuing. If we instead invest in the novel biotechnology, we could benefit countless future individuals who never have to experience the threat of malaria. Hence, this would mean that some number of current individuals will die due to the lack of insecticide-treated nets that otherwise could have saved their lives. So, ought we to rescue current, identifiable individuals, or ought we invest in research for the sake of the future? After an exploration of the duty to rescue and cost-effectiveness analysis, I suggest we look towards the literature on intergenerational justice for a justifiable answer to the question of how we ought to allocate our malaria resources.

“Revising, Correcting, and Transferring Genes” by Bryan Cwik in The American Journal of Bioethics (volume 20, issue 8).

The distinction between germline and somatic gene editing is fundamental to the ethics of human gene editing. Multiple conferences of scientists, ethicists, and policymakers, and multiple professional bodies, have called for moratoria on germline gene editing, and editing of human germline cells is considered to be an ethical “red line” that either never should be crossed, or should only be crossed with great caution and care. However, as research on germline gene editing has progressed, it has become clear that not all germline interventions are alike, and that these differences make a significant moral difference, when it comes to ethical questions about research, regulation, clinical application, and medical justification. In this paper, I argue that, rather than lumping all germline interventions together, we should distinguish between revising, correcting, and transferring genes, and I assess the consequences of this move for the ethics of gene editing.

“The Human Gene Editing Debate” by John H. Evans published by Oxford University Press (September 2020).

In 2018 the first genetically modified babies were reportedly born in China, made possible by the invention of CRISPR technology in 2012. This controversial advancement overturned the pre-existing moral consensus, which had held for over fifty years before: while gene editing an adult person was morally acceptable, modifying babies, and thus subsequent generations, crossed a significant moral line. If this line is passed over, scientists will be left without an agreed-upon ethical limit. What do we do now?

“Who Doesn’t Trust Fauci? The Public’s Belief in the Expertise and Shared Values of Scientists in the Covid-19 Pandemic” by John H. Evans and Eszter Hargittai in Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World (volume 6).

The primary tension in public discourse about the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been President Trump’s disagreement with scientists. The authors analyze a national survey of 1,593 Americans to examine which social groups agree with scientists’ ability to understand the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and which agree that COVID-19 scientists share their values. Republicans and independents are less trusting than Democrats on both measures, as are African Americans. The authors find conservative Protestants and Catholics to be skeptical of scientists’ knowledge but not their values. Working-class men and those who live outside cities believe in scientists’ knowledge but do not think they share scientists’ values. There is little evidence for a direct effect of President Trump’s criticism of scientists. The authors discuss the pragmatic implications for scientists trying to remain influential in COVID-19 policy.

“Cutting out the Surrogate: Caesarean Sections in the Mexican Surrogacy Industry” by April Hovav in Social Science & Medicine (volume 256).

Childbirth practices shed light on cultural values, ideologies of gender and motherhood, and social inequalities. Transnational, commercial surrogacy presents a useful lens through which to view the social dynamics that shape childbirth experiences. Surrogacy challenges dominant views on the naturalness and inevitability of maternal-fetal bonds because it involves the separation of gestation from motherhood. What ideologies inform childbirth practices in the consumer-driven context of surrogacy in which the woman giving birth is neither the consumer nor the “mother”? Based on multi-sited ethnographic research between 2014 and 2017 and in-depth interviews with 120 participants in the Mexican surrogacy industry, I argue that doctors draw on normative ideologies of kinship, gender, and maternal-child bonding to justify and normalize the use of Caesarean sections among surrogates. The ideology espoused by these doctors reinforces the notion that maternal-fetal bonding is natural and inevitable, constructs women as irrational and driven by hormones, and presumes that bonding between surrogate mothers and the children they gestate is detrimental to the surrogacy process. Furthermore, the proffered justifications for the Caesarean sections reproduces stereotypes about poor Mexican women as risky patients, contributes to the “disposability” of their labor, and reinforces a hierarchy in which the perceived interests of intended parents and children are elevated above those of surrogate mothers. This article contributes to social science studies of medicine by demonstrating how classist and racist stereotypes, and folk notions of kinship, gender, and maternal-child bonding are biologized in medical practice.

“Empowering Marginalized Communities” by Athmeya Jayaram in The American Journal of Bioethics (volume 20, issue 5).

Pratt et al. (2020) rightly argue that, if community engagement aimed to develop solidarity between health researchers and the marginalized communities they work in, it can improve cooperation and even reduce the disparity in power between the two groups. Solidarity certainly plays that role within political communities, so it makes sense to think it can have similar benefits in other types of cooperation. However, it is also important to note the disanalogies between political and research cooperation. These differences point to ways in which solidarity can actually worsen the power disparity between researchers and marginalized communities. If community engagement is to aim at solidarity, we should take care to mitigate any of these perverse effects.

“For the People, By the Viewpoints? Realism and Idealism in Public Reason” by Athmeya Jayaram in Journal of Moral Philosophy (Aug. 8, 2020).

Since John Rawls, public reason theorists have attempted to show how liberal political norms could be acceptable to people with diverse religious and ethical viewpoints. However, these theories overlook the importance of the distinction between acceptability to realistic people and acceptability to viewpoints, which matters because public reason theories are committed to the former, but only deliver the latter, thereby failing to justify liberal norms. Public reason theories therefore face a dilemma: abandon realistic people and lose normative appeal, or retain realism and find a new way to justify liberalism.

“Climate and Coronavirus: the Science is not the Same” by Eric Schliesser and Eric Winsberg in New Statesman (March 23, 2020).

Comparing scientific research into climate change with new findings about coronavirus is a false equivalence. When we look at Covid-19, we need transparency and critical discussion in order to “trust the science,” say Eric Schliesser and Eric Winsberg.

“When Extinction Is Warranted: Invasive Species, Suppression-Drives and the Worst-Case Scenario” by Ann Thresher in Ethics, Policy & Environment (November 2020)

Most current techniques to deal with invasive species are ineffective or have highly damaging side effects. To this end suppression-drives based on clustered regularly inter-spaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR/Cas9) have been touted as a potential silver bullet for the problem, allowing for a highly focused, humane and cost-effective means of removing a target species from an environment. Suppression-drives come with serious risks, however, such that the precautionary principle seems to warrant us not deploying this technology. The focus of this paper is on one such risk – the danger of a suppression-drive escaping containment and wiping out the target species globally.

2019 Publications

“The Ethical Landscape of Gene Drive Research” by Daniel Callies in Bioethics (Volume 33, issue 9).

Gene drive technology has immense potential. The ability to bypass the laws of Mendelian inheritance and almost ensure the transmission of specific genetic material to future generations creates boundless possibilities. But alongside these boundless possibilities are major social and ethical issues. This article aims to introduce gene drive technology, some of its potential applications, and some of the social and ethical issues that arise during research into the technology. For example, is investigation into gene drives hubristic? Would applications of gene drives count as technological fixes? Or does research into such a technology sit on a slippery slope or lock us in to its full‐scale use? Are there perverse effects of engaging in research, and, most importantly, who ought to be included in the decision‐making process regarding research and field trials? Understanding the basic ethical landscape of this technology will prove invaluable to the public, scientists, and policy‐makers as research moves forward.

“The Slippery Slope Argument against Geoengineering Research” by Daniel Callies in Journal of Applied Philosophy (Volume 36, Issue 4).

With the lack of progress there has been so far on climate change, some have begun researching the potential of geoengineering to allay future climatic harms. However, others contend that such research should be abandoned. One of the most‐cited reasons as to why research into geoengineering should be abandoned is the idea that such research sits at the top of slippery slope. The Slippery Slope Argument warns that even mere research into geoengineering will create institutional momentum, ultimately leading to the deployment of a technology that is untested and perhaps morally objectionable. This article clearly lays out the Slippery Slope Argument against geoengineering research and analyses its premises. I claim that both the empirical premise – that research will inevitably lead to deployment – and the normative premise – that we have decisive moral reasons to avoid deployment – are questionable. The main conclusion of the article is that while we should be cognizant of the potential for research to lead to undesirable deployment scenarios, engaging in research need not necessarily lead inexorably to deployment. While insufficient to ground a moratorium on research, the Slippery Slope Argument points to the need for regulation and oversight in order to prevent undesirable deployment.

“Climate Engineering: A Normative Perspective” by Daniel Callies, published by Lexington Books (2019).

“Climate Engineering: A Normative Perspective” takes as its subject a prospective policy response to the urgent problem of climate change, one previously considered taboo. Climate engineering, the “deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment in order to counteract anthropogenic climate change,” encapsulates a wide array of technological proposals. Daniel Edward Callies here focuses on one proposal currently being researched — stratospheric aerosol injection — which would spray aerosol particles into the upper atmosphere to thus reflect a small portion of incoming sunlight and slightly cool the globe.

“Producing Moral Palatability in the Mexican Surrogacy Industry” by April Hovav in Gender & Society (Volume 33, Issue 2)

Scholars have long debated the relationship between morality and the market. Some argue that morality tempers market interests, while others argue that the market has its own moral order. Meanwhile, feminist scholars have argued that a false binary between altruism, family, and intimacy on the one hand, and the cold calculus of the market on the other, is based in gender ideologies. Norms around motherhood, in particular, emphasize self-sacrifice, love, and altruism in opposition to self-interested market logics. Commercial surrogacy blurs the line between family and commerce and is therefore an ideal setting for studying tensions between altruism and profit. Drawing on ethnographic research and interviews with 114 actors in the Mexican surrogacy industry, I demonstrate that treating altruism and commercialism as dichotomous can further market interests by preserving the moral palatability and profitability of the industry while perpetuating power asymmetries rooted in gender, race, class, and nationality between surrogate mothers and intended parents.

“Science, Values, and Science Communication: Competencies for Pushing Beyond the Deficit Model” by Sherry Seethaler, John H. Evans, Cathy Gere and Ramya M. Rajagopalan in Science Communication (Volume 41, Issue 3).

The deficit (knowledge transmission) model of science communication is widespread and resistant to change, highlighting the limited influence of science communication research on practice. We argue that scholar–practitioner partnerships are key to operationalizing science communication scholarship. To demonstrate, we present a transformative product of one such partnership: a set of ethics and values competencies to foster effective communication with diverse audiences about scientific research and its implications. The 10 competencies, focused on acknowledging values, understanding complexities of decision making, strategies to deal with uncertainty, and diversifying expertise and authority, provide a guiding framework for re-envisioning science communication professional development.

“You Give Love A Bad Name” by Jacob Sparks in Business Ethics Journal Review (Volume 7, Issue 2)

Brennan and Jaworski (2018) accuse [Sparks] of misunderstanding their thesis and failing to produce a counterexample to it. In this Response, [Sparks] clarifies [his] central argument in “Can’t Buy Me Love,” explains why [he] used prostitution as an example, and works to advance the debate.

“Islands as Laboratories: Indigenous Knowledge and Gene Drives in the Pacific” by Riley Taitingfong in Human Biology (Volume 91, Issue 3).

This article argues that the genetic engineering technology known as gene drive must be evaluated in the context of the historic and ongoing impacts of settler colonialism and military experimentation on indigenous lands and peoples. After defining gene drive and previewing some of the key ethical issues related to its use, the author compares the language used to justify Cold War-era nuclear testing in the Pacific with contemporary scholarship framing islands as ideal test sites for gene drive-modified organisms. In both cases, perceptions of islands as remote and isolated are mobilized to warrant their treatment as sites of experimentation for emerging technologies. Though gene drive may offer valuable interventions into issues affecting island communities (e.g., vector-borne disease and invasive species management), proposals to conduct the first open trials of gene drive on islands are complicit in a long history of injustice that has treated islands (and their residents) as dispensable to the risks and unintended consequences associated with experimentation. This article contends that ethical gene drive research cannot be achieved without the inclusion of indigenous peoples as key stakeholders and provides three recommendations to guide community engagement involving indigenous communities: centering indigenous self-determination, replacing the deficit model of engagement with a truly participatory model, and integrating indigenous knowledge and values in the research and decision-making processes related to gene drive.

“Therapeutic citizens and clients: Diverging practices in Malawi’s healthcare facilities” by Amy Zhou in Sociology of Health & Illness (Volume 41, Issue 4).

This article examines how HIV policies and the funding priorities of global institutions affect practices in prenatal clinics and the quality of healthcare women receive. Data consist of observations at health centres in Lilongwe, Malawi and interviews with providers (N = 37). I argue that neoliberal ideology, which structures the global health field, produces a fragmented healthcare system on the ground. Findings show two kinds of healthcare practices within the same clinic: donor‐funded NGOs took on HIV services while government providers focused on prenatal care. NGO practices were defined by surveillance, where providers targeted pregnant HIV‐positive women and intensively monitored their adherence to drug treatment. In contrast, state‐led practices were defined by rationing. Government providers worked with all pregnant women, but with staff and resource shortages, they limited time and services for each patient in order to serve everyone. This paper builds on concepts of therapeutic citizenship and clientship by exploring how global health priorities produce different conditions, practices and outcomes of NGO and state‐led care.

2018 Publications

“Institutional Legitimacy and Geoengineering Governance” by Daniel Callies in Ethics, Policy & Environment (Volume 21, issue 3).

There is general agreement amongst those involved in the normative discussion about geoengineering that if we are to move forward with significant research, development, and certainly any future deployment, legitimate governance is a must. However, while we agree that the abstract concept of legitimacy ought to guide geoengineering governance, agreement surrounding the appropriate conception of legitimacy has yet to emerge. Relying upon Allen Buchanan’s metacoordination view of institutional legitimacy, this paper puts forward a conception of legitimacy appropriate for geoengineering governance, outlining five normative criteria an institution ought to fulfill if it is to justifiably coordinate our action around geoengineering.

“Solar Geoengineering and Democracy” by Joshua Horton, Jesse Reynolds, Holly Jean Buck and Daniel Callies in Global Environmental Politics (Volume 18, number 3).

Some scientists suggest that it might be possible to reflect a portion of incoming sunlight back into space to reduce climate change and its impacts. Others argue that such solar radiation management (SRM) geoengineering is inherently incompatible with democracy. In this article, we reject this incompatibility argument. First, we counter-argue that technologies such as SRM lack innate political characteristics and predetermined social effects, and that democracy need not be deliberative to serve as a standard for governance. We then rebut each of the argument’s core claims, countering that (1) democratic institutions are sufficiently resilient to manage SRM, (2) opting out of governance decisions is not a fundamental democratic right, (3) SRM may not require an undue degree of technocracy, and (4) its implementation may not concentrate power and promote authoritarianism. Although we reject the incompatibility argument, we do not argue that SRM is necessarily, or even likely to be, democratic in practice.

“The Potential for Climate Engineering with Stratospheric Sulfate Aerosol Injections to Reduce Climate Injustice” by Toby Svoboda, Peter Irvine, Daniel Callies and Masa Sugiyama in the Journal of Global Ethics (Volume 14, issue 3).

Climate engineering with stratospheric sulfate aerosol injections (SSAI) has the potential to reduce risks of injustice related to anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Relying on evidence from modeling studies, this paper makes the case that SSAI could have the potential to reduce many of the key physical risks of climate change identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Such risks carry potential injustice because they are often imposed on low-emitters who do not benefit from climate change. Because SSAI has the potential to reduce those risks, it thereby has the potential to reduce the injustice associated with anthropogenic emissions. While acknowledging important caveats, including uncertainty in modeling studies and the potential for SSAI to carry its own risks of injustice, the paper argues that there is a strong case for continued research into SSAI, especially if attention is paid to how it might be used to reduce emissions-driven injustice.