Can “Synths” and “Posthumans” have Human Rights?

In the recently-finished third season of the intelligent drama Humans [spoiler alert…], the government has set up a Commission under the chairmanship of Lord Dryden to consider the legal status of synthetic robots (Synths). These creatures had become conscious at the end of the previous series (if you want to know more, I do recommend that you watch the box set).

chan

Mia (Gemma Chan) is a central character in the first three seasons of Humans

Against that backdrop, I was especially interested to read a new paper in the Medical Law Review by David Lawrence and Margaret Brazier. Legally Human? ‘Novel Beings’ and English Law considers ways in which the European Convention on Human Rights and English case law might be brought to bear on the legal status of human-like creatures. The authors favour the description of such beings as “sapient” rather than the more common “sentient”, not least as sentience was famously used by philosopher Jeremy Bentham as justification for broadening protection from suffering to non-human animals.

legallyhuman

Lawrence and Brazier examine three types of entity whose production is scientifically-plausible using existing technologies (whilst acknowledging that other methods might emerge in the future). These creatures are: Continue reading

Avoiding Scientific Misconduct in Prague

I recently spent an excellent few days in Prague, attending the 43rd FEBS Congress, at which I gave a talk about the importance of bioethics teaching, and ran a workshop on developing case studies in ethics teaching. A session on the final morning Scientific (mis)conduct: how to detect (and avoid) bad science illustrated one reason why this is a crucial dimension in the education of scientists.

prague1

I live-tweeted the presentations and organised them at the time within five threads. The post below represents a first attempt to use Thread Reader (@threadreaderapp) which operates a very straightforward “unroll” tool. Following the sad demise of Storify, I was curious to see if this would be a suitable alternative for curation of tweeted content. I have elected to offer both links to the unrolled threads and screenshots of the resulting notes. I’m relatively pleased with the outcome.

Getting back to the content of the session, it proved a really insightful overview of several aspects of research misconduct, and publication ethics. Continue reading

Responsible Conduct of Research

In June 2018, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council published the second version of their Australian Code for the Responsible Conduct of Research, replacing the original 2007 edition.

Cover of Australian Code 2018

The 2018 issue of the code replaces the original 2007 version

This is an outstanding document that deserves a prominent role internationally in guiding the promotion and maintenance of ethical conduct in research. As the preamble notes, the Code seeks to spell out the “broad principles that characterise an honest, ethical and conscientious research culture” (p1).

The list of 8 principles, 13 responsibilities for institutions and 16 responsibilities for researchers are clearly articulated and readily transferable to other contexts.  Only a couple of items in the code, pertaining to the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are specifically “Australian”, and it might be argued that these only exemplify what ought to be good practice for engagement with any biogeographical community.

As noted above, the clarity of the contents is exemplary. Interested parties are therefore encouraged to read the original document (A copy of the Code is available via this link). For those with limited time, the top line of the 8 principles are:

  1. Honesty in the development, undertaking and reporting of research
  2. Rigour in the development, undertaking and reporting of research
  3. Transparency in declaring interests and reporting research methodology, data and findings
  4. Fairness in the treatment of others
  5. Respect for research participants, the wider community, animals and the environment
  6. Recognition of the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be engaged in research that affects or is of particular significance to them
  7. Accountability for the development, undertaking and reporting of research
  8. Promotion of responsible research practices

 

Taking part in a Twitter-only conference: some reflections on #PressEDconf18

pressedED18

On 29th March 2018, I participated in the Twitter-based conference, #PressEDconf18. Those who follow me on Twitter (@cjrw) may know that I am an occasional contributor to the weekly Wednesday night #LTHEchat live discussion which has been running since 2014. I am also an enthusiastic live-tweeter at conferences, usually including the official Hashtag which allow for interested parties to follow what others are saying about the event as well as facilitating aggregation using the soon-to-be-sadly-missed Storify service.

This event was slightly different from a regular conference as there was no associated physical gathering. As keynote contributor Jim Groom noted, “I’ve been to conferences that used a hashtag, but this is my first conference that is a hashtag“.

JimGroomTweet

Although this was not the first event to take this format, it was certainly one of the first, and it was interesting to be part of a pioneering approach. #PressEDconf18 was the brainchild of Natalie Lafferty (@nlafferty) and Pat Lockley (@Pgogy). The theme was educational uses of WordPress blogs (for full schedule see here). I submitted two proposals; they were in the format of a tweet, so it wasn’t an especially onerous task. One related to my use of a WordPress blog to host Careers After Biological Sciences, a repository of careers awareness resources built up over the past decade. The second was more generic advice for anyone considering starting up an educational blog. It was the latter that was accepted. Continue reading

What characterises “quality” in ethics education?

I recently read Ercan Avci‘s 2017 paper Learning from experiences to determine quality in ethics education (International Journal of Ethics Education 2:3-16). Avci, from Duquesne University, conducted a literature review looking for shared characteristics in peer-reviewed, full text articles with “ethics education”, “ethics teaching” or “ethics learning” in the title and “ethics” or “ethics education” in the keywords during the period 2010-2015 (which the author describes as the “the last five years”, though it looks like six years to me). A total of 34 papers were examined, drawn from 11 academic disciplines and 10 countries (plus 3 international studies). As one might anticipate, the USA was the most represented geographical context, and healthcare (Nursing, Medicine, etc) was the discipline with the highest number of studies. I was a little surprised to see that none of the reports were from the UK.

As the author himself points out, this is a rather eclectic mix of settings. This might be spun either as an advantage (e.g. capturing diversity) or as a limitation (when it comes to drawing universal lessons). Notwithstanding these issues, Avci makes a number of important observations, some of which resonate with my own experience (e.g. see the Notes for the Tutor section, p16 onwards, in my contribution to the 2011 book Effective Learning in the Life Sciences).

AVCI

Taking a step back, there is an initial question before examining the quality of any ethics programme, namely is ethics being taught at all? It is apparent that many courses – even in Medicine, even in the States – do not include a formal ethics component. However, a broad range of subjects are now including some ethics in their teaching. Continue reading

Some tips for developing online educational repositories

As part of my work enthusing about the use of broadcast media in teaching, I am in the process of writing a guide to the use of Learning on Screen’s Box of Broadcasts resource. However my reflections on this project, coupled with the development of other blog-based resources such as Careers After Biological Science, set me thinking about some more generic recommendations for anyone thinking of setting up an online collection of educational resources. These crystallised quite naturally into a series of questions to ask oneself about the purpose, scope and authorship of the materials.

On the advice of a couple of colleagues, I submitted this to the Association for Learning Technology blog. I was delighted when they accepted it, since members of that community are likely to be developing similar resources. My self-check questions can be found via this link.

altcblog

 

When technology models poor practice

Year1 assessmentOne of the difficulties in teaching first year students is to convey the importance of appropriate handling of data, both in terms of data display and degrees of significance. I’ve commented previously on this site about times when technology can produce utterly inappropriate graphic representation of results (see A bonus lesson in my data handling tutorial).

At the end of the first semester we conduct an online exam using the Blackboard quiz tool. The assessment is out of 200, marked automatically and scaled to a percentage. When the students submit their answers at the end of the test, they get  instant reporting of their result. The screenshot on the right shows a section from the gradebook where the results are recorded in exactly the detail each students gets, i.e. up to 5 decimal places! It is unfortunate that this inappropriate “accuracy” gets displayed to the students.

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