Stroke and Personhood

fasttooTV viewers in the UK will likely have noted that the Public Health England “Act F.A.S.T.” adverts promoting stroke awareness are back on our screens. The campaign has run periodically since 2009* and emphasises the importance of knowing the signs that someone is having a stroke – Face (has their face fallen on one side?), Arms (can they raise both arms and keep them there?), Speech (is their speech slurred?), Time to call 999.

The campaign has evolved over the years. For example, a broader ethnic range of characters experiencing stroke was introduced in 2014.

This year there has been a highly significant additional change. Did you spot it? The final tag line for the advert has been altered from “The faster you act, the more of the person you save” to  “The faster you act, the better their chances“.

The change is subtle, but hugely important. The previous version reinforces a perception that someone who has suffered a stroke is somehow less human they were before. This is ableist and reflect a view of personhood that considers, albeit unintentionally, someone with a disability as less of a person than those who are able-bodied. I welcome this change and congratulate Public Health England for correcting this error.


*Official analysis of the impact of the Act F.A.S.T. campaign has been mixed. In 2012 the government reported an increase in stroke-related calls to the 999 emergency number,  however a qualitative study published the following year was more sceptical (see  Dombrowski et al (2013) BMC Public Health 13:915).


Reflecting on lecture capture: the good, the bad and the lonely

reflect-logoWe have been using lecture capture for about two years. I have to say at the outset that I am a big fan. Having said that however, there are aspects of lecture capture that I find problematic. Here I offer some quick and dirty reflections on my experience of lecture capture so far. This is not a scientific study, and I certainly haven’t gone away and done an extensive literature search, so I may well be rediscovering old truths.

The Good. There are many attractive features of lecture capture. These include:

  • Availability for review and revision. This is, of course, the main raison d’être of lecture capture, but it is important not to overlook the value this provides – students can go back over the sections that were unclear the first time.
  • Similarly the recordings can be used by those with legitimate cause to be absent (e.g due to illness, away sports fixture, etc)
  • Recordings can be useful for the lecturer themselves. We know that the first time you prepare a set of lectures you are likely to have recently read around the subject and be naturally “on top” of your material. The second year can be a different challenge – the slides are in the can, but you may not recall some of the wider points you had made to embellish the on-screen text and images. Listening back to recordings of your own lecture from the previous year can help to fill in the blanks.
  • The recordings can also be useful when we have to provide a substitute due to lecturer illness. A few year back, before we had our official lecture capture system, I had to take a semester off due to ill health. Fortunately I had audio recordings which could be provided to my “stunt double” along with the slides. Officially captured lectures can now fulfil this role.
  • In times of absolute need the recording can be officially made available in lieu of the live session. We had to use this route when a colleague was ill during the last week of a semester – there was no time to warm up a replacement and rescheduling was not feasible, so we actually showed a recording of the previous year’s equivalent lecture. I “hosted” the session and was really encouraged by the large proportion of the class who turned up in a 5pm slot, knowing that a recording was going to be aired (and that it was already available to them via the VLE).
  • Recordings can be built into reflection to help improve one’s own teaching or as part of an informal peer review process.
  • The tools for lecture capture can be used to pre-record material as a contribution to a “flipped teaching” model.
  • Lecture capture software (certainly the Panopto tool we use at Leicester) includes remarkably powerful inbuilt stats on usage by students. This can shine light on the aspects of a lecture that they felt needed clearer explanation.
  • You can change the speed of the recording. This might be slowing it down slightly for better note-taking, or it might be speeding it up (one of my students confessed that they like to listen to lectures by a colleague at a quickened pace because the lecture naturally delivers their material at an unduly leisurely pace).

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Another great review for “Where Science & Ethics Meet”

The February 2-8th 2017 Edition of Times Higher Education (number 2291) carried another enthusiastic review for Where Science and Ethics Meet.


Review of Where Science and Ethics Meet

I’ve been notified about two great new reviews for our book Where Science and Ethics Meet: Dilemmas at the frontiers of medicine and biology. One is currently embargoed, though I’m allowed to say it includes “This is the best introduction to the topic that I have ever seen” which is obviously very pleasing. More of that at a later stage.

The second has appeared in BioNews, newsletter of the Progress Educational Trust. Reviewer Cassandra Dighton describes Where Science and Ethics Meet as “a fantastic introductory text to the dilemmas faced by medical ethicists“,  adding that it is “extremely engaging“. The full review can be found by clicking the image below (but be warned it includes a spoiler for the first scenario). She does point out that for readers with higher qualifications in Medical Ethics, this is “not the book to turn to for a comprehensive explanation of a Kantian or Utilitarian approach to ethics”, which is entirely fair!


Warning: (minor) spoiler alert!


Review of Neurolaw text

neuroloaw1b.jpgThe October 2016 edition of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics has a special focus on Clinical Neuroethics. It contains a review of my Neurolaw book Biological Determinism, Free Will and Moral Responsibility: Insights from genetics and neuroscience.

I’m thrilled that the review is hugely positive about the book. Quotable quotes include:

  • “…a very accessible explanation of the need to reconsider notions of free will and moral responsibility in an age of scientific breakthroughs in genomics and brain science…”
  • “…an insightful philosophical account of the apparent stand-off between free will and the evidence of determinism…”
  • “…a remarkably lucid account of the relevance of science for the debate on free will and determinism…”
  • “…an impressive prudential approach, balancing the reliability of scientific achievement with caution about its applicability to criminal courts…”
  • “…an extraordinary resource for engaging moral responsibility in the age of genetics and neuroscience…”.

“Jugar a ser Dios” wins National prize in Spain

jugarI was thrilled by the news that Jugar a ser Dios, the Spanish version of the introductory bioethics text written with my colleague Salvador Macip, has won best popular science prize at the 19th National University Edition Awards (link to announcement article, in Spanish, here).

The original Catalan version Jugar a ser Déus also won a prize (see here for my reflections on going to collect that award).

We are now hoping that Where Science and Ethics Meet, the English-language version, will earn a gong to accompany the plaudits it has received to date (e.g. here).

An Academic Life Observed: “Stoner” (book review)

As far as I can gather, John Williams’ 1965 novel Stoner became an overnight sensation nearly fifty years after it was written. Cover endorsements include Nick Hornby describing it as “A brilliant, inexorably sad, wise, and elegant novel” and Julian Barnes declaring it “A terrific novel of echoing sadness“. An uncredited reviewer in the Sunday Times labelled it “The greatest novel you’ve never read“.


Stoner tells the story of the eponymous academic’s career

Stoner tracks the life and career (in the first half of the twentieth century) of William (Bill) Stoner, a man raised in an agricultural community who goes on to become a lecturer at his alma mater, the University of Missouri in Columbia.

On one level, it would be hard to dismiss outright the critics who say it is a book in which nothing happens to an insignificant man working at nowhere-of-importance. Tom Hanks is right to say “it’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher“. Yet, as Hanks goes on to acknowledge it is a fascinating account; the beauty with which an apparently trivial life is described, and the rich insights the story offers into everyday, ‘mundane’, human existence contribute to the appeal of Williams’ tale. I found myself reflecting that the book is in some senses a fore-runner of those fly-on-the-wall documentaries such as Educating Essex or Educating Yorkshire which focus on an unexceptional teacher in a typical comprehensive school going about their everyday business, in a manner that turns out to be unexpectedly profound and life-affirming.

There is, however, more to the contemporary appeal of Stoner than simply the quality of the writing. The setting may be 4000 miles from the UK, in a relatively obscure Midwestern institution in a different age, but it is easy to see why the book has proven popular amongst academics. There are themes within the novel that resonate with contemporary educational issues. Here are just a few that have struck me (with inevitable spoilers):

Widening participation: Bill Stoner is the first member of his family to go to University. It is actually his father’s idea for Stoner to enroll at the College of Agriculture at the University to learn more about novel farming techniques. The appeal to encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds into university education as a vehicle for encouraging their social mobility remains an important goal today.

The merits of non-vocational study: unfortunately for Stoner’s father, the experience of university life draws Bill in a different direction. He abandons his vocational course in favour of the more esoteric delights of English Literature, eventually becoming an expert in Middle English language and literature. Has Bill taken a self-indulgent turn? Is it wrong for students to take courses without clear utility? One driver in current attitudes regarding the purpose of university education sees the merits very much in terms of the contribution the emerging graduate will then make to the (financial) betterment of wider society.

The thrill of your first book publication: Stoner develops his PhD thesis into a book. He is initially excited by the prospect of his work reaching a wider audience. Over time, however, this enthusiasm is dampened by a realisation that most people have not and will not notice its existence; those that do are lukewarm regarding the merits of his tome. The author of an academic work may have generated an elegant synthesis of a topic close to their heart, but it requires the alignment of factors beyond their control – an unanticipated zeitgeist, adoption and promotion by prominent individuals elsewhere – for the magnus opus to gain real influence.

The gnawing doubts about the value of your contribution to Project Humanity: concerns about the purpose of our academic lives don’t necessarily stop at reflection about the value of our written work. Teachers at any level can struggle to remain convinced that their labours are truly making a difference. In a previous job we used to talk of the three years an undergraduate is at university as times when you were helping to build sandcastles on a conveyor belt. If you are teaching basic neuroanatomy to a woman who goes on to be a top brain surgeon then, albeit with hindsight, you can identify a direct correlation between your input and their contribution to society. But for someone teaching about the principles of Anglo-Saxon versification, or even the nuances of the Kreb’s Cycle, the connection between our toil and the broader flourishing of mankind may be harder to gauge.

The perils of making significant enemies within the academy (whilst doing the right thing): Like it or not, our progress through the academy is significantly influenced by other people’s views of us (e.g. local promotions, grant awarding panels, peer review of papers). Bill Stoner’s career is becalmed when he falls out with colleague Hollis Lomax. Stoner questions whether a graduate student Walker has sufficient academic aptitude to be allowed to proceed with his plan to author a dissertation on Shelley and the Hellenistic Ideal. Colleagues know Stoner is right, but Lomax is determined that his protégé Walker will be allowed to proceed. Unfortunately for Stoner their dispute occurs just prior to Lomax’s appointment as Head of Department. From his elevated position Lomax assigns Stoner a burdensome teaching schedule that effectively kills off his development of a second book.