Beginning August 13, philosophers from around the globe will gather in Beijing at the World Congress of Philosophy. Organized every five years by the International Federation of Philosophical Societies (FISP), the congress addresses pressing philosophical issues. This year’s theme, “Learning to be Human” discusses the intricacies of humanity. Topics to be addressed include education, the environment, social learning, and governmental policy. The list below features articles that hit on some of the key subjects expected to be addressed.
Celebrating 50 years of research from Journal of Philosophy of Education
How to celebrate the 50th birthday of the Journal of Philosophy of Education (JOPE)? We made a start by looking though every print copy of every Issue of the Journal’s 50 volumes and reading many papers.
We discovered papers way ahead of their time, as well as long threads of argument which we followed through many Issues, a 20-year-old page-turner of a paper on assessment, Alasdair MacIntyre in conversation about education. We had some surprises. Going by how often his name appears in titles and abstracts of papers, Nietzsche is, after Dewey, the philosopher most frequently referred to by contributors. In the first 10 volumes 50% of the Issues had no women contributors. By the most recent decade this had dwindled to 3%. How had that happened? We also looked for the most popular and least popular topics and were amazed at what we discovered.
It soon dawned on us that the very best way of marking our 50th anniversary was to offer readers something like the experience we ourselves had been having. Our Collection, The Journal 1966- 2016, is intended to do that. The papers it contains are not necessarily the best, the most cited or the most popular, but ones chosen for their power to introduce readers to the wealth of material in this rich Archive. The 25 papers each have a Note, calledContext and Connections, with hyperlinks to help readers, using the Wiley Online Library Tools, to explore their research and teaching interests in the Archive. An Editorial elaborates on insights we gained from working in the Archive, as well as sketching a brief history of JOPE.
But this Virtual Special Issue is not just a collection of papers with notes attached. In Video Interviews two former Editors, Richard Smith and Paul Standish, and a current Assistant Editor, Doret de Ruyter, talk about how they see JOPE and its future. Judith Suissa, another Assistant Editor, interviews John White, whose first contribution was in 1970 and his most recent in 2016. Morwenna Griffiths comments on JOPE and gender and the PESGB as a place for women to do philosophy. Michael Hand introduces the Impact pamphlet series. Darren Chetty, Andrea English and Mary Healy talk about presenting papers at the PESGB Annual Conference – where many JOPE papers start their life – and their experience of submitting papers to JOPE. And we, as co-editors, talk about how we made our selection and speculate about how we think readers might use it.
We’ll be giving away many prizes throughout the event, so be sure to share with friends using #WileyHumanitiesFest on Twitter and Facebook, and comment extensively on the festival site.
Find out why thought leaders in philosophy like David S. Oderberg (Editor of Ratio), Sally Scholz (Editor of Hypatia), Willem B. Drees (Editor of Zygon: Journal of Religion and Sciences), Chris Higgins (Editor of Educational Theory), Ethan Kleinberg (Editor of History and Theory), Clara Fischer and Shelley Park (Guest Editors of upcoming special issues of Hypatia) find value in the humanities, and what they say is next for philosophy.
In a fascinating article published in Significance, author Robert Bain delves into the arguments for and against viewing human judgements and decisions in terms of Bayesian inference. We are grateful to Significance and the editor, Brian Tarran, for permission to publish the excerpt below.
The human brain is made up of 90 billion neurons connected by more than 100 trillion synapses. It has been described as the most complicated thing in the world, but brain scientists say that is wrong: they think it is the most complicated thing in the known universe. Little wonder, then, that scientists have such trouble working out how our brain actually works. Not in a mechanical sense: we know, roughly speaking, how different areas of the brain control different aspects of our bodies and our emotions, and how these distinct regions interact. The questions that are more difficult to answer relate to the complex decision-making processes each of us experiences: how do we form beliefs, assess evidence, make judgments, and decide on a course of action?
Figuring that out would be a great achievement, in and of itself. But this has practical applications, too, not least for those artificial intelligence (AI) researchers who are looking to transpose the subtlety and adaptability of human thought from biological “wetware” to computing hardware.
In looking to replicate aspects of human cognition, AI researchers have made use of algorithms that learn from data through a process known as Bayesian inference. Bayesian inference is a method of updating beliefs in the light of new evidence, with the strength of those beliefs captured using probabilities. As such, it differs from frequentist inference, which focuses on how frequently we might expect to observe a given set of events under specific conditions.
In the field of AI, Bayesian inference has been found to be effective at helping machines approximate some human abilities, such as image recognition. But are there grounds for believing that this is how human thought processes work more generally? Do our beliefs, judgments, and decisions follow the rules of Bayesian inference?
For the clearest evidence of Bayesian reasoning in the brain, we must look past the high-level cognitive processes that govern how we think and assess evidence, and consider the unconscious processes that control perception and movement.
Professor Daniel Wolpert of the University of Cambridge’s neuroscience research centre believes we have our Bayesian brains to thank for allowing us to move our bodies gracefully and efficiently – by making reliable, quick-fire predictions about the result of every movement we make. Wolpert, who has conducted a number of studies on how people control their movements, believes that as we go through life our brains gather statistics for different movement tasks, and combine these in a Bayesian fashion with sensory data, together with estimates of the reliability of that data. “We really are Bayesian inference machines,” he says.
Other researchers have found indications of Bayesianism in higher-level cognition. A 2006 study by Tom Griffiths of the University of California, Berkeley, and Josh Tenenbaum of MIT asked people to make predictions of how long people would live, how much money films would make, and how long politicians would last in office. The only data they were given to work with was the running total so far: current age, money made so far, and years served in office to date. People’s predictions, the researchers found, were very close to those derived from Bayesian calculations.
Before we accept the Bayesian brain hypothesis wholeheartedly, there are a number of strong counter-arguments. For starters, it is fairly easy to come up with probability puzzles that should yield to Bayesian methods, but that regularly leave many people flummoxed. For instance, many people will tell you that if you toss a series of coins, getting all heads or all tails is less likely than getting, for instance, tails–tails–heads–tails–heads. It is not and Bayes’ theorem shows why: as the coin tosses are independent, there is no reason to expect one sequence is more likely than another.
“There’s considerable evidence that most people are dismally non-Bayesian when performing reasoning,” says Robert Matthews of Aston University, Birmingham, and author of Chancing It, about the challenges of probabilistic reasoning. “For example, people typically ignore base-rate effects and overlook the need to know both false positive and false negative rates when assessing predictive or diagnostic tests.”
Diagnostic test accuracy explained
How is it that a diagnostic test that claims to be 99% accurate can still give a wrong diagnosis 50% of the time? In testing for a rare condition, we scan 10 000 people. Only 1% (100 people) have the condition; 9900 do not. Of the 100 people who do have the disease, a 99% accurate test will detect 99 of the true cases, leaving one false negative. But a 99% accurate test will also produce false positives at the rate of 1%. So, of the 9900 people who do not have the condition, 1% (99 people) will be told erroneously that they do have it. The total number of positive tests is therefore 198, of which only half are genuine. Thus the probability that a positive test result from this “99% accurate” test is a true positive is only 50%.
Life’s hard problems
All in all, that is quite a bit of evidence in favour of the argument that our brains are non-Bayesian. But do not forget that we are dealing with the most complicated thing in the known universe, and these fascinating quirks and imperfections do not give a complete picture of how we think.
Eric Mandelbaum, a philosopher and cognitive scientist at the City University of New York’s Baruch College, says this kind of irrationality “is most striking because it arises against a backdrop of our extreme competence. For every heuristics-and-biases study that shows that we, for instance, cannot update base rates correctly, one can find instances where people do update correctly.”
So while our well-documented flaws may shed light on the limits of our capacity for probabilistic analysis, we should not write off the brain’s statistical abilities just yet. Perhaps what our failings really reveal is that life is full of really hard problems, which our brains must try and solve in a state of uncertainty and constant change, with scant information and no time.
Robert Bain is a freelance journalist. He was previously editor of Lux magazine and deputy editor of Research magazine.
About the Magazine
Significance is published on behalf of the Royal Statistical Society and is a bimonthly magazine for anyone interested in statistics and the analysis and interpretation of data. Its aim is to communicate and demonstrate in an entertaining, thought-provoking and non-technical way the practical use of statistics in all walks of life and to show informatively and authoritatively how statistics benefit society.
With the final day of June, LGBTQ Pride Month comes to a close for 2016. The Wiley Blackwell Team hopes to serve the LGBTQ Community by continuing the much needed discussion. As a reminder, all of the curated research collections for Pride Month will be freely available through July 31.
With the final day of June, LGBTQ Pride Month comes to a close for 2016. Just last year, same-sex marriage was federally legalized in the United States. In sharp contrast, this year’s pride month was shadowed by the devastation of the Orlando shootings. We were all painfully reminded that despite great strides made by the LGBTQ community, hate and inequality still run rampant. Through this grim reality, the outpour of love and support that emerged from such a violent act of hate is a testament of hope and strength.
Thanks for visiting us each week this month to continue the necessary discussion on LGBTQ rights and issues. As a reminder, all of the curated research collections for Pride Month will be freely available through July 31.
The £1000 award is granted to the author of the best article published in that year’s volume. We offer Dr. Calhoun a hearty congratulations and are pleased to offer you free access to her winning article through the end of July.
About the Winner
Currently, Dr. Cheshire Calhoun teaches philosophy at Arizona State University and is serving as chair of the American Philosophical Association (APA) board of officers. She previously edited feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, and was chair of the APA’s LGBT Committee and the Inclusiveness Committee.
The majority of her work falls within normative ethics, moral psychology, philosophy of emotion, feminist philosophy, and gay and lesbian philosophy.
To learn more about her prolific career and work, please visit her website.
About the Journal
The Journal of Applied Philosophy provides a unique forum for philosophical research which seeks to make a constructive contribution to problems of practical concern. Open to the expression of diverse viewpoints, the journal brings critical analysis to these areas and to the identification, justification and discussion of values of universal appeal. The journal covers a broad spectrum of issues in environment, medicine, science, policy, law, politics, economics and education. Go here to subscribe today.
The journal is run by the Society for Applied Philosophy. Founded in 1982, the society aims to promote philosophical study and research that has a direct bearing on areas of practical concern. To learn about the society’s work and how you can become a member, please visit its website.
We spoke with Dr. Mary Kasule, Assistant Director of Research Ethics at the University of Botswana, on her bioethics career and upcoming trip to the World Congress of Bioethics in Edinburgh, Scotland.
The 13th World Congress of Bioethics begins tomorrow. This biennial conference is the largest gathering of bioethics thought-leaders in the world, and will this year explore “Individuals, Public Interests and Public Goods: What is the Contribution of Bioethics?” by bringing international academics, practitioners and experts together in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In support of the bioethics community, Wiley is honored to sponsor a bursary for Dr. Mary Kasule, Assistant Director of Research Ethics at the University of Botswana.
We caught up with Dr. Kasule before her trip to discuss her extensive work in bioethics, and what she hopes to see at the World Congress of Bioethics.
FN: We are honored to sponsor your trip to Edinburgh, Dr. Kasule. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. First, what sparked your interest in bioethics and public health?
MK: The courses that I took during my Bachelor of Science in Botany and Zoology and Masters in Applied Food Microbiology, as well as my teaching of Anatomy and Physiology, introduced me to most of the components of public health. To be honest, after over 20 years of lecturing at various tertiary health training institutions I felt I needed a change to specialize into something that could embrace my education background and experience gained. I saw studying public health as a gateway to a diversity of carrier opportunities and growth.
My research methodology course with a component of bioethics during my Masters in Public Health training gave me an insight into the importance of bioethics and responsible conduct of research. I also got an opportunity to work as the Secretary for the Botswana Ministry of Health National Ethics Committee (EC). By listening to EC deliberations, I came to realize the importance of good knowledge of bioethics for EC members in moral reasoning, risk/benefit analysis, and decision making. This further motivated me to find opportunities for long-term training in bioethics. I was very lucky to be awarded a scholarship by National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study for a Post Graduate Diploma in International Bioethics. This training also introduced me to research ethics administration – a new, emerging field in research ethics.
FN: What current project of yours are you most excited about?
MK: I am currently serving as the University of Botswana’s coordinator for the Fogarty African Bioethics Consortium, which was started in 2013 by the Johns Hopkins-Fogarty African Bioethics Training Program through a grant by the NIH. Under the leadership of Prof. Nancy Kass and Prof. Adnan Hyder, the project aims to create a sustainable and viable institutional bioethics consortium. The consortium seeks to advance institutional capacities to promote and pursue bioethics and research ethics activities, including training, bioethics research, bench marking and publishing and service. Through this collaboration, over ten University of Botswana Institutional Review Board members have been trained in bioethics at Johns Hopkins, greatly improving the board’s structure and function. I am hopeful that this collaborative initiative will be extended to other sub-Saharan countries to gradually harmonize their research ethics review processes.
FN: Your bio is quite impressive! From your extensive career in health, what do you think are the biggest public health priorities for Botswana today?
MK: I would say 1) gaining epidemiologic control of HIV with successful implementation of Treat All, 2) strengthening health systems (improved monitoring and evaluation), supply chain management, quality service delivery), 3) rational human resource allocations, mentorship, and capacity building, and 4) integration of comprehensive health service delivery (such as HIV, sexual and reproductive health, tuberculosis, and non-communicable diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and cancers).
FN: The World Congress of Bioethics will have attendees from quite diverse backgrounds. What unique perspective do you hope to share with others, and vice versa?
MK: I would like to share experiences and challenges with people involved in research ethics administration regarding building research ethics capacity in their countries, and discuss the present and future of bioethics.
FN: Are there any panels you’re looking forward to seeing? Any people you’re hoping to meet?
MK: Dr. Sarah Chan from the Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics, University of Edinburgh. She will be chairing a symposium on ‘Exploring International Policy Development in Regenerative Medicine’ and a panel session considering ‘Socio-Ethical and Legal (ELSI) Implications of Genome Editing Technologies.’
I am currently a member of the Ethics Working Group on the Human Health and Heredity initiative aimed at facilitating a contemporary research approach to the study of genomics and environmental determinants of common diseases with the goal of improving the health of African populations. The group aims to develop a robust and supportive ethical and governance framework for genomic research in Africa, and I hope the symposium and panel will inform this work.
I would also like to meet participants working on Informed Consent, like Dr. Danielle Bromwich (Assistant Professor of Bioethics and Metaethics at University of Massachusetts Boston) and Dr. Ana Krivokuca (Institute for Oncology and Radiology of Serbia).
MK: The paper falls under one of this year’s themes: Public Health, Ethics and Law. Effective and efficient ethics reviews are a result of good research ethics administration by well-trained research ethics administrators. The paper emphasizes the need for sub-Saharan African Ethics Committees to have these administrators manage committee operations and implement review administration with explicit focus so that committees achieve their goal – conducting high-quality, timely, and responsible ethics review. Ultimately, this translates into evidence-based policies and decisions for health care services at both individual and population level.
I hope that implementation of this paper’s recommendations would capacitate ethics committees in sub-regions and ultimately in sub-Saharan Africa. This would lead to a tremendous improvement in ethics review process and to harmonization of ethics review processes and practices in the regions and Africa as a whole, thus improvement of the effectiveness and efficiency of ethics committees. The result would be timely reviews that allow conducting research to improve timeliness of public health interventions, health services delivery, health care policies and decision making. And, this could cut down on waste of resources from delayed reviews and loss of funding which depends on timely review of proposals.
FN: Thank you. We wish you safe travels and look forward to speaking upon your return.
This bursary is sponsored by Wiley on behalf of its bioethics journals.
Read the latest in bioethics from your peers around the world, and submit your paper today. Click on the journals below to access groundbreaking research in an increasingly relevant, ever-evolving field, and check back here soon for a post on Dr. Kasule’s top bioethics article picks!