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

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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).

 

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…”.

Is there a gene for oversimplistic analysis?

Earlier today I had the privilege of attending* the annual Sluckin Memorial Lecture given by eminent Oxford neuroscientist and academic blogger Professor Dorothy Bishop. Dorothy’s theme was ‘Developmental dyslexia and other neurodevelopmental disorders: Distinct syndromes or part of normal variation?‘. There was much in the talk worthy of blogging here, but since I’ve got a stack of final year dissertations to mark I will, for the moment, limit myself to reflections on one point that she raised.

Slide 19 in a presentation by Dorothy Bishop available on Slideshare

Slide 19 in a presentation by Dorothy Bishop available on Slideshare (click image for link)

As with many conditions in the genomic era, there is a desire to find the underlying genetic ’cause’ for dyslexia. This search is not without justification. For example, classic comparison of monozygotic twins (“identical” twins, i.e. same genetics, notwithstanding any epigenetic influences) and dizygotic twins (“non-identical twins”, no more genetically related than any brother or sister) strongly implies that there is a genetic component to dyslexia.

There is stronger evidence than this, particularly for a correlation between dyslexia and the catchily name gene DCDC2. A 2005 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a “Premier League” academic journal, showed a link between specific mutations in this gene and reading disability. A subsequent paper by Tom Scerri and colleagues (including Dorothy) found that a particular Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (a SNP, i.e. a particular base change difference in the DCDC2 gene) was associated with 31% of dyslexics. It was also found in 23% of the control (i.e. non-dyslexic) group, but nevertheless the difference the two is statistically significant (p = 0.005). Continue reading

  • Awards

    The Power of Comparative Genomics received a Special Commendation

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