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!

bostrom

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.

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.

review-of-where-science-and-ethics-meet-biochemist_feb2017

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).

 

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.

thereviewwsem

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…”.

“My brain made me do it”: are we ready for more Neurolaw?

I’m excited to say that my book Biological Determinism, Free Will and Moral Responsibility: Insights from Genetics and Neuroscience is being published this week.

determinism cover

There are 5 chapters, in which I have attempted to pull together threads from moral philosophy, from law and from neuroscience to examine the growth of Neurolaw. Around the world, notably the USA and Italy, an increasing number of defendants are appealing to their genes or issues with the structure and function of their brain as mitigation for their crimes. To what extent should we allow this, now or in the future?

Chapter summaries:

  • Free will and determinism: an overview of some of the main schools of thought regarding the “free will problem” – Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Hard Determinism.
  • Existing legislation on mental disorders and criminal cases: automatism, criminal liability, diminished responsibility, “disease of the mind”, insanity, mens rea and M’Naghten.
  • Biological basis of behaviour: background on behavioural genetics and the use of various brain imaging techniques to investigate the extent to which our behaviour might be “hard wired”.
  • Use of genetic and neuroscientific evidence in criminal cases: a brief history of neurolaw. Summarises many of the key cases in which scientific evidence has been proffered by in criminal cases as (partial) justification of the behaviour of the defendant.
  • Are we ready for an expanded use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom?: In which I caution that the current use of genetic and brain physiology evidence is, at best, premature and uncertain.