Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Child Selection in the News

There's a piece in today's Guardian about whether parents should genetically engineer their children. It does note that editing children's genes goes beyond merely selecting them (via Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis). Nonetheless, the piece refers to the ideas of Julian Savulescu - who has defended the view that parents have a moral obligation to select for better children - so it seemed like a reasonable excuse to point again to my latest publication, which defends Savulescu's position against one particular line of criticism. More details here.

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Monday, October 12, 2015

Publication: Procreative Beneficence, Intelligence, and the Optimization Problem

The Oxford philosopher Julian Savulescu proposed that, where screening technology is available, parents have a moral obligation to select the children expected to enjoy the best lives. He terms this the principle of procreative beneficence. Unsurprisingly, this principle is controversial and it has been subjected to a number of criticisms, including accusations that it is eugenic. (I have criticised it myself here.)


My latest publication, ‘Procreative Beneficence, Intelligence, and the Optimization Problem’ (forthcoming in the Journal of Medicine and Philosophy; doi: 10.1093/jmp/jhv026), is a response to another line of criticism.


In a recent piece in the Journal of Applied Philosophy, Adam Carter and Emma Gordon argued that even if we accept the principle of procreative beneficence, the results are less radical than Savulescu suggests. They accept, at least for sake of argument, that parents might have an obligation to choose healthy children rather than those that will suffer (or are likely to suffer) from disease or disability. However, they argue that Savulescu fails to provide a clear example of a non-disease trait that parents have an obligation to select for (or against). In particular, they focus on Savulescu’s favoured example of intelligence, arguing that greater intelligence need not conduce to greater wellbeing.


My paper responds to this criticism, on behalf of Savulescu. First of all, I argue that while greater intelligence does not necessarily improve wellbeing, it is nonetheless plausible that if often does (at least within a certain range). Second, I argue that, even if this is false, Carter and Gordon’s objection to Savulescu succeeds only if the net effect of intelligence on wellbeing is neutral. If, contrary to my earlier argument, intelligence is inversely correlated with wellbeing, then parents should select in favour of lower intelligence.


Finally, I note that the effects of intelligence on wellbeing are likely to vary at different levels, partly for social or positional reasons (for instance, as Carter and Gordon point out, someone much more intelligent than his or her peers may have difficulty finding companions). Consequently, the optimum intelligence, with respect to wellbeing, is unlikely to be either the maximum or minimum possible. Further, this optimum level will likely vary depending upon the reproductive choices of other parents. Thus, the principle of procreative beneficence does make demands on parents, but compliance with these demands is likely to be more difficult than hitherto realised.

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Friday, September 11, 2015

College is certainly no ordinary commodity...

A friend shared this on Facebook back in June, but I've scheduled this post for now because it seems relevant to those starting university this month or next.

It's an interesting piece because, rather than simply attacking the idea that college should be seen as an economic investment, it makes the point that what you get out of education largely depends on what you put in. Though students are consumers, lecturers cannot simply pocket their fees and force an education into their heads.

I sometimes use an analogy (not my own) with gym membership. Paying a subscription to a gym doesn't magically make you fitter and healthier - it provides you with opportunities to use the facilities, but you still have to work to make the most of it. So it is with university: there are many opportunities available to students at any university, but students have a responsibility to make the most of them.

This is one reason why it's difficult to rank universities based on results - those results depend not only on the 'service providers' but also the 'service consumers'.

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Monday, September 07, 2015

Queues, Fairness, and Efficiency

When a scarce good has to be allocated, 'first come, first served' is often considered a decent allocative principle. According to a recent study, however, this is inefficient because of the time wasted. Adopting the principle 'last-in, first-served' - provided everyone knows this - is more efficient, because people will stagger their arrival times.

The brief BBC report - here - also mentions the possibility of picking people from the 'queue' at random. I don't see a link in the report, but it seems to be based on 'The curse of first-in-first-out queue discipline', available as a working paper here, so it's an unpublished finding as far as I'm aware. I've not had chance to read the paper yet, but it sounds interesting.

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Friday, August 07, 2015

Bioethics Paper on Procreative Beneficence

My latest publication appears in the September issue of Bioethics.

The article is a response to Rebecca Bennett's criticisms of Julian Savulescu's Principle of Procreative Beneficence (PPB). Briefly, she argues that the Non-Identity Problem (NIP) shows that there cannot be a duty of Procreative Beneficence, since no one is harmed by non-compliance with this alleged duty. I reply, firstly, that she misinterprets the NIP as an argument, rather than a trilemma. One way out of this problem is to accept the notion of harmless wrongs (a possibility that she neglects, assimilating it to impersonal harm).

Second, I argue that, even if she is right that PB is not a moral duty, this doesn't show that it is a 'mere preference'. Some preferences, such as those over works of art, exhibit a similar objective or categorical status as moral judgements purport to.

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Friday, June 19, 2015

Summer Berry Smoothies

We recently acquired a new blender (this one if you're interested - Amazon affiliate link) and, as a result, have rediscovered our love for smoothies. Luckily for us, this coincided with receiving some vouchers from Tesco for money off their summer berries and cherries range, which meant we #TriedForLess.

Here I'm getting things started, with bananas, raspberries, and blueberries...

You may notice this isn't our new blender - that was waiting to be washed, so using our old smoothie maker in the meantime.
'Recipe' 1 just uses milk (soya milk alternative in our case), plus two bananas and about half the packet (100g) of raspberries.

The result looks like this:

That was it for my partner, since she doesn't like blueberries in smoothies (she describes the texture as 'gloopy'). Nonetheless, blueberries are supposed to be very good for you, so here's 'recipe' 2 - pour out my partner's raspberry smoothie and now add a small handful of blueberries (about 40-50g):
The result is clearly darker:

The downside of the blueberries is that they do make more of a mess of whatever you're drinking out of - but that's what the dishwasher is for!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

School Trip Lottery

Lotteries are often used to distribute goods (e.g. scarce resources such as transplant organs) and bads (e.g. military conscription). Of course, this isn't particularly surprising since any lottery distributing a good can be re-described as one distributing the bad of not getting that good, and vice versa.

Recently in the news was this case of five primary school children who were excluded from an over-subscribed school trip to Disneyland. The headline highlights that names were drawn from a hat to decide who WOULDN'T go, but names could just as easily have been drawn to decide who would go - it would simply have taken much longer and not obviously been at all preferable.

The bullet point below ("School says drawing names was fair way to deal with over-subscription") also seems to implicate that a lottery was not fair - since it does not state this as fact but only as something the school says (though no better alternative is suggested).

To be clear, we have to separate two distinct issues here. The first is whether it's necessary to exclude five children from the trip at all. One might argue that the school could somehow have avoided this situation arising. However, if we take as given that there are 54 people wanting to go and only 49 places, so that the only question is how to allocate the good of places fairly, then a lottery seems pretty clearly fair.

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