Who wants to be a transhumanist postman?

I was recently looking through the new collection Rethinking Cognitive Enhancement when I had an uncontrolled laugh out loud moment in the University library. Flicking through the index I saw a reference to Bostrom’s Why I want to be a postman when I grow up.  As readers may know, Oxford academic Nick Bostrom is a leading light of the transhumanist movement.  His paper Why I want to be a posthuman when I grow up (copy via this link) is somewhat different.

To the best of my knowledge, Bostrom has no desire to be delivering letters in his enhanced state!

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Another great review for Where Science and Ethics Meet

CQcoverThe July 2017 edition of the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics has recently gone live. It contains a lovely review of our book Where Science and Ethics Meet, written by Tom Cole of the McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics, University of Texas.

Cole generously calls this “the best introduction to the topic I have ever seen”.  Commenting on the fictional case studies that introduce each chapter, he notes “These scenarios are far more imaginative and narrated than most bioethics cases: they are so well written that readers will inevitably want to turn the pages”.

Interestingly, he also draws attention to the fact that both my co-author Salvador Macip and I have “dual training”; Sal is a qualified medical doctor and an author of both popular science and science fiction in Catalonia (as well as conducting research into ageing and cancer… busy man!) and I have an MA in Ethics alongside my PhD in Biochemistry. This, Cole suggests, may place us in an especially strong position to discuss the underlying science in an appropriate manner for a lay audience.

This link takes you (I believe) to a preview of the first page of the article which, since this is a one-page review, actually constitutes the full text.

Why I use Capitals in Hashtags

nowthatchersdeadI’m a big fan of hashtags on Twitter.
A judicious tag:

  • can be a useful way to highlight key content in a linked story
  • can facilitate searches across multiple tweets, including those of people you do not regularly follow
  • are integral to the use of Storify to aggregate and capture tweets on a particular theme, such as commentary on a conference (and I know that’s a contentious habit in its own right)

Care needs to be employed, however, in the choice of hashtag. This issue was brought into sharp relief in April 2013 with the death of former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The hashtag #nowthatchersdead using only lower case letters was misconstrued by fans of songstress Cher as an indication that their idol had died – see story here. (There was another unfortunate misunderstanding regarding a tag used to advertise the launch of a new album by Britain’s Got Talent winner Susan Boyle, but I’m not going to unpack that one here.)

For these reasons I like to employ appropriate capitalisation within hashtags; it doesn’t add to the overall length of the tweet, but reduces the likelihood that the meaning will be mistaken.

Chris is @cjrw on Twitter.

More plaudits for Where Science and Ethics Meet

The February edition of The Biochemist (magazine of the Biochemical Society) included another very positive review of our book Where Science and Ethics Meet: Dilemmas at the frontiers of medicine and biology. The review notes that “Willmott and Macip fulfil their promise of providing epistemologically balanced tools to the reader” and concludes that the book “certainly represents a valuable tool for teaching ethics at the undergraduate level and for engaging a wider audience in the challenges arising from scientific and biotechnical developments” which is gratifying since this was exactly our ambition in writing the book.

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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.

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