Thursday, December 31, 2015

Festive Leicester

Consulting Garth Crooks' latest team of the week, I see he picked Robert Huth for helping Leicester to take six points out of six over the festive period.

That's odd, given that Leicester lost to Liverpool on the 26th and then drew with Man City on the 29th. Unless 'the festive period' refers to their wins over Everton on the 19th and Chelsea on the 14th, it looks like Mr Crooks dropped a bit of a clanger there...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

College Lotteries

One perk of no longer being at Oxford is no longer having to participate in the annual admissions interviews, which are pretty draining for staff as well as candidates. One way to simplify the process, somewhat at least, would be to use a lottery to decide between suitably qualified applicants. I advocated such a proposal here.

This recent US-centric piece also advocates lotteries, noting that they allow colleges to draw in more diverse classes without requiring quotas (which are apparently unconstitutional in the US). Peter Stone - who drew my attention to this piece - is also an advocate of lotteries.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Election by Lot: Mississippi edition

The BBC reports that a seat in the Mississippi House was determined by drawing straws, after two candidates each received 4,589 votes.

This isn't a 'first'. The BBC mentions cases in New Mexico and Alaska, without giving any details. I suspect the former is this case (which I commented on at the time). I'm also aware of a case concerning a local, city council in Florida last year (Guardian; me).

Intriguingly, the report ends by saying that - after using a coin toss in 2006 - the state of Connecticut eliminated chance games the following year. There's no indication as to what method they do use though. Does anyone out there know?

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.

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.

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'.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

New Publication: Fairness and Aggregation

Now published (online) in Utilitas - available here (with subscription).

This was my first experience of co-authoring a journal article - something that's common in many fields (particularly the sciences) but still pretty rare in philosophy. It's something that I'd be happy to do again though.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Happiness, Happiness...

There's an interesting piece in the Guardian here about how pressure to be happy all the time contributes to making us unhappy. (Hat-tip: Lee Jones.)

All very sensible, but not anything particularly new. It's something that J. S. Mill was well aware of as demonstrated by this passage (from chapter 2 of Utilitarianism, shortly after the higher pleasures bit):

"If by happiness be meant a continuity of highly pleasurable excitement, it is evident enough that this is impossible. A state of exalted pleasure lasts only moments, or in some cases, and with some intermissions, hours or days, and is the occasional brilliant flash of enjoyment, not its permanent and steady flame. Of this the philosophers who have taught that happiness is the end of life were as fully aware as those who taunt them. The happiness which they meant was not a life of rapture; but moments of such, in an existence made up of few and transitory pains, many and various pleasures, with a decided predominance of the active over the passive, and having as the foundation of the whole, not to expect more from life than it is capable of bestowing. A life thus composed, to those who have been fortunate enough to obtain it, has always appeared worthy of the name of happiness. And such an existence is even now the lot of many, during some considerable portion of their lives."

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Interpretation: Tangible Objects

I remember legal philosophy seminars on interpretation featuring some pretty interesting cases, like judges deciding that '5th' was reasonably interpreted to mean '6th' (or something along those lines anyway). Here's another case that may feature in interpretation cases. I'm not clear whether it's accurate to say that the Supreme Court ruled that fish are not tangible objects. It's probably more accurate to say that they interpreted 'other tangible objects' in the law more narrowly, so as not to include fish. It's an interesting case also for those who think that legislators are prone to over-criminalization.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

ACN Lottery

Penalty shoot outs are often derided as being lotteries. (An issue I've written about before.) Prior to the introduction of shoot outs, proper lotteries - such as a coin toss - were sometimes used. Nowadays, this is rare, if not unheard of. However, sometimes two teams may be tied in a league table, not only on points but also goal difference and goals scored. Since they're not playing against each other at the time, extra time or penalties are not an option. In this case, the African Cup of Nations employs a lottery - which, most recently, saw Guinea progress at the expense of Mali. Representatives of both nations criticised the process as unfair, though without suggesting a better alternative.