There’s truth and then there’s, well lying!

We have been discussing what we believe is truth and how we determine what is truth in our lives. We have discussed it in a way dealing with one of the most powerful of human actions, murder, the act of killing another human being (or as some in the class pointed out any animal, regardless of whether or not they’re human). So this last class we began our look at the other side of truth: lying. It seems that we had some difficulty determining what should qualify as a lie, but we began our investigation of the truth of lying (so to speak with this video).

This led us further into the discussion of what we can do about lying, but importantly what does it mean for our society if we lie as much as seems to be predicted from the research. One thing we looked at was the potential impact on the criminal justice system. Police officers and courts rely extensively on eye-witness testimony, but what happens when they are not so accurate. The Innocence Project (an American group working for the defence of the wrongly accused) claims that eye-witness testimony is the single largest contributory factor in wrongful convictions. If true, it appears that the heart of our system of justice might be deeply flawed.

So how well do you do in the following test.

So, now in many cases that might not be lying, but it does seem to show that we are susceptible to other information, and also easily influence by it. We can, in effect hold two completely opposing ideas in our brains at one time. So how about something even more personal read this example here, the potential for a lie or real lie has serious impacts on another person, in this case the child.

Ethics – oh baby, do we have issues?

What does it mean to be ethical? What are the things that we need to do to lead an ethical life?

Michio Kaku is one of the most well-known scientists of our time and we can find him here speculating on things that might soon come to pass in the world of genetics and science. The question that remains unanswered, but which is vital to this whole discussion is: are any of these experiments, as he describes them, ethical? Is this something that we should as a species be doing?

Here Dr. Kaku talks about some of the great threats to humans as a species. These can only be done if scientists chose to work on this. However as we move down the scale to high school (yes, even high school) students and give more and more people the ability to create DNA and other genetic material how should we teach people to be ethical? Then of course there’s the ‘guy in the basement’ theory, what can we do about those? Can we teach  people to be ethical?

It is not uncommon for scientists to do things without thinking through all of the potential outcomes. Here is the somewhat disturbing story of Fritz Haber (who was discussed in history class). In this case he knew exactly what he was doing, but what is the ethical requirement for scientists to consider their impact on other humans. Should he have won the Nobel Prize? Here is the aforementioned biography of Herr Doktor Profesor Haber.

Needless to say the effects of Professor Haber’s creations have been long-lasting and had a huge impact. How can we use this knowledge to help us with ethical decisions in science, or elsewhere  for that matter.

PS Wow, there’s always something, here’s the story of the scientist who discovered the oldest living thing on earth and promptly killed it. Oops!

 

Data and statistics can be so hard and yet so… flimsy.

One of the problems that Dr. Ben Goldacre highlighted in his talk that we watched last week was the use of studies that don’t seem to tell all the whole truth when it comes to getting drugs approved for use. It certainly can be a problem for doctors who need to understand the effect of the drug on their patients. We can also read about this problem here, I’m not sure how much I want to trust my health to a sense of ‘randumbness.’

The question however is what about us, the non-doctors, what about when we try and understand studies and statistics, most of which have important implications for us, but yet seem slightly incomprehensible. To begin with read this story about trying to estimate numbers for a crowd, these are numbers that are often thrown out by media and other organizations as fact, yet are they really?  Then there is this short blog entry about the way basic income statistics can be made to look very different, even when dealing with the same data.

On the other hand here is a different look at the world than what we normally hear about. Are there any questions that this raises in as you watch?

Think those statistics are interesting – check out this website and start playing with some. It will take a few minutes to get used to it, but it’s fairly workable. Find one that interests you and be prepared to discuss it in class.