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02/26/2012 - 7:19am
The Nigerian Senate recently passed a bill criminalizing gay marriage.
02/26/2012 - 2:07am

I condemn in no uncertain terms the recent passage by the Nigerian Senate of the the anti-gay marriage bill. The passage of this bill once again demonstrates how disconnected Nigerian politicians and lawmakers are from the realities of the 21st century. It has confirmed that our lawmakers indeed prefer to fiddle while our social, political and economic house, called Nigeria, burns.

Otherwise how does one explain the relevance of this bill at a time when Nigeria has become almost a failed state due to terrorist attacks, sectarian violence, corruption, poverty, diseases, abuse of office, tribalism and nepotism, misguided politics and mistaken sense of statecraft?...

02/26/2012 - 2:02am

Suffocation induces a sense of extreme panic. It’s a comparatively rare experience in contemporary human life, although panic disorder, an anxiety disorder characterized by recurring severe panic attacks, is extremely unpleasant and quite common. Whatever its cause, the experience of suffocation is horrific. One’s lungs feel as though they will burst at any second. There is a loss of control of bodily functions. There is no psychological “coping mechanism”,  just an all-consuming fear, as witnessed by the traumatic effects of the waterboarding torture practised by the CIA; the entangled piles of bodies of victims in the Nazi gas chambers frantically clawing over each other to gasp in the last traces of breathable air; and the death-agonies of millions of herbivores every day in the wild.

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02/25/2012 - 10:11pm
February has been a rough month for bioethics in the USA. Alleged conflicts of interest at the American Journal of Bioethics -- the top ranked bioethics journal -- has lead to a kind of feeding frenzy of accusation, distain and soul-searching in regard to the whole idea of bioethics and how it is practiced in it's most powerful home. Is bioethics a lousy kind of philosophy? Does it just consist in rationalizing the newest biotechnology that comes along, and running intellectual roughshod over whatever traditional values (often religious) might be threatened by that technology? Is that why bioethicists are lured to agencies and institutions that are part of one might call the military-industrial-university-biotech-pharma complex? Is bioethics losing ability to speak truth to power, because they are part of (or eating hors d'oeuvres with) the 1%? Perhaps on another occasion there will be room for reflection about whether all this should be a cautionary tale for bioethics in other countries in the world, how much of it is true, and how much of it is overblown to serve the interests of other agendas. For my part, I have been lying low, staying away from bioethics news, and looking at what other journals have been putting out. A recent research ethics article in the Journal of Medical Ethics caught my eye, called 'Ethical Approval in Developing Countries is not an Option' (Online First, requiring subscription, goddammit). What struck me initially was the obviousness of the title: how is that news? It is like having an article called 'Eating people: some arguments against'. And in a certain way, the point of the article is obvious: when there is an appropriate body in developing countries to review human subjects research conducted by anyone (local or from abroad), then it should be reviewed. The authors cite a published article about research conducted in Nepal, which did not have local Nepalese research ethics committee approval. It doesn't sound like a very risky study, but that is not the point. Nepal has an ethics committee that could have reviewed it, and it was not even submitted. What makes the article publication-worthy are the underlying issues. Central among them is who should have ensured that the study was submitted to local review. Ethics committees are not detective agencies, who scour the community to find out who is doing research on what. Researchers have to volunteer this information; they also have to know that there is a committee to submit their research to. In many developing countries, this is not straightforward: in some settings, research ethics committees may not exist; where they exist, they may only review certain kinds of (biomedical) studies; and even if they do exist and they could review a certain study, getting information about them and their procedures can be unreasonably taxing for scientists. Compounding the problems, some committees may be dysfunctional and intolerably slow, undermining motivations to bother looking for them. Perhaps if a study is conducted by a developed world institution, their own research ethics committee should ensure that scientists make good faith efforts to get their research reviewed where it will be conducted, or help them get it reviewed. Or journals should not publish articles in which researchers failed to get their research reviewed where it really is human subjects research, and there really is an adequate body that can appropriately assess its ethics. The authors rightly point out that if researchers from Nepal were to do a research study in the UK or USA, but only sought ethics approval for it in Nepal, and published it, this would be considered scandalous -- but when developed world institutions do the same in the developing world, there is far less concern, even when committee members do not know much more about Nepal than Everest expeditions. So it is not news that local ethics committee review in developing world ought to be reviewed; the news is how this requirement continues to fall through the gaps.
02/25/2012 - 12:16pm

PBS NewsHour has posted a piece by Dr. Howard Markel, pediatrician, substance abuse expert, and medical historian.  Markel examines the accuracy of the health themes in this year's Oscar-nominated films.  Here is his analysis of THE DESCENDANTS.

02/25/2012 - 5:13am

And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the
 calf and the young lion and the yearling together and a little child shall lead them.”  
Isaiah 11:6

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the 
minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, others are 
running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping 
parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so.” 
Richard Dawkins
 River Out of Eden (1995)...

02/25/2012 - 4:19am
David Pearce is an independent researcher and vegan animal activist based in Brighton UK. In 1995, he wrote an online manifesto, The Hedonistic Imperative, advocating the use of biotechnology to abolish suffering throughout the living world.
02/25/2012 - 3:49am
The Toxoplasmosis Gondii parasite enters the brain and alters behavior.
02/25/2012 - 3:37am

Eating Wheaties for breakfast? Keeping Fluffy’s litter box clean? Gulping down cholesterol-lowering medication? If you think these activities are healthy, sorry… reports suggest all these habits contain the potential to poison your brain.

In an earlier essay I listed “83 ways to stupefy the brain.”  Unfortunately, four additional toxicities need to be added. If you’re serious about performing at peak cognitive proficiency, read the evidence below, and adjust your lifestyle accordingly....

02/24/2012 - 3:26pm

This is a masculine story punctuated with love of a child, work, and sports. Adapted from the 2003 book by Michael Louis, Steven  Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin wrote a script which highlights Ben Miller's delicate directorial touch.  Talk about your mixed genres, this is sports movie that is also a chick flick date movie and it's a drama. Brad Pitt's performance in Moneyball is one of reflected inner conflict, much like the struggle of the city of Oakland where the story is set. A bioethicist, notoriously without interest in professional sports, this story ”had me" at the point where less than stellar  players were intentionally recruited for the Oakland Athletics.   Some of us recall being in 5th grade; the last picked.  Who knew that a slow runner, lousy catcher and horrid pitcher could bat the daylights out of a ball?  The bioethical message of this film is that equality is not sameness. Diverse players can be treated as equally valuable despite their different skills. This is not really a story adverse to commodification of professional sport players.  Instead, it underscores how to interpret the value of a player within the game.

In bioethics, culture can be either the greatest friend of beneficence (what we ought to do with knowledge) or its enemy supporting static influences.  For the purposes of this discussion culture is: how a group defines itself. Cultural evolution is imperative to cultural survival. Cultures, which do not change, die. Moneyball first defines baseball culture, sets up a device for change and demonstrates the evolution of the culture....