How science journalism “adjusts” findings to fit political agenda

2012/11/04 § Leave a comment

Open letter to Ms. Bojs:

I appreciate your article mentioned above since this has been my field of research and expertise. I continue to follow the current development in genetics very closely. Thank you for a well written article.

However, I respectfully like to raise one major point of objection. You claim that “there are no human races”. I understand Sweden and swedish politics well enough to know that this is a common view amongst social scientists and it is the predominant political view in Sweden. However, there are aspects of the general concept that are useful and I would maintain, are needed in life science. And this is also emphasized in the study by McVean.

On the other hand, nowehere can I find any mention of the impact on the concept of race the way you describe it in your article in McVean’s report? It appears implied in the article on DN but I think not rightfully so. To the contrary. As you mention in your article “Sådana sällsynta variationer är i hög grad knutna till särskilda platser på jorden,  visar den nya studien.” (Translation: Such rare [genetic] variations are connected to certain places in the world to a high degree).

It is exactly this variation that we mean, when we talk about the definition of race. Genetic variation that is clustered in distinct patterns around the globe.

It is, as the authors of the 1000 genomes project point out, of medical relevance too. This would not be relevant as a consequence or a finding of the 1000 genomes project if the concept of race was flawed. Genes do cluster in distinct geographic patterns due to evolutionary laws. The outcome is what we call race in biology. We could use another term, but I think we should not only do so because of a political agenda. I reject the idea to let political ideology dictate the language of science.

The definition of race is an expansion on the concept of the (family) group that becomes geographically separated and takes well established natural laws into account, such as the hardy-weinberg principle of genetic drift. It hence is a valid concept and an important one too.

I understand the political sensitivity connected to the issue of race. However, I personally doubt that it is a good idea to make statements about scientific topics driven by a political agenda.

Certainly the term race is- or rather has been- poorly defined for quite some time. However such findings as the ones described in your article help improve the definition. However, in medical treatment of, for instance, diabetes type II patience it is of crucial importance to take race in to account. Recent research has revealed many areas of major differences of individuals with different phenotypes that go far beyond the skin deep differences. Especially the newest revelation, e.g. that the so called junk DNA contains the blueprint for the regulation of complex expression patterns, calls for caution. Apparently minute differences carry major medical relevance- which is in the same vein as the finding of McVean et al.

The dogma, that has long been held, that the differences in the human sequences between different populations are too small to make a real difference in terms of phenotype have long been revised by researchers that dissect the complex regulation of genetic expression. It has become evident that minute differences between sequence patterns can have major implications for the overall expression patter.

This is before even going into the details about modifications of the DNA due to epigenetic regulation, that vary heavily within geographically separated (race) groups.

My point simply is that the concept of race- although it may need some minor revision and an adjusted modern definition- is not merely useful as a category when studying human genetics. Medically speaking it is a crucial aspect to be taken into account if one wants to develop the optimal treatment for various racial groups of people.

Why do I care? I am a proponent of freedom, also freedom from oppression of the sciences due to political agendas. We all know too well from examples such as the Nazi regime what happens when we let political agenda dictate what the findings of science should look like.

Especially natural science must be free from ideology. Natural sciences must explain how the world functions in its inner workings, it must not explain it in a watered down narrative for people with certain ideological sensitivities to being able to accept it. The consequences of the findings are not to be anticipated by science and manipulated in an attempt to prevent potentially negative consequences.

The consequences of each finding are a challenge to society, but one that society has to tackle, not science or individual scientist.

I strongly believe, neither should journalists try to shelter the public from findings or twist “words” in order to make the current science be pleasant to the current political ideology. This is what I found disappointing about your article because to me it looks like that is what you- maybe not intentionally- were doing.

This is not to say that in social sciences you are free to deal with this term “race” or the concept or its implications as you please. As a matter of fact, I believe it should be a challenge accepted by social sciences to deal, explain and come to terms with the findings of natural sciences, that challenge conventional wisdom of social sciences. Unfortunately I do not see social sciences accept that challenge on a grant scale. Rather they reject findings or try to narrate them in a different way to “make them fit” their preconceived point of view.

Certainly racism must have no basis in modern society in any form or shape under any circumstances ever. Of course people must not in any conceivable way be discriminated against on the basis of their biological make-up.

This is a challenge still to most societies, I admit. However, this is not to be solved by denying the existence of terms that are useful to biology. I fear that by merely denying differences we do not cause less discrimination but more in the end. In my opinion, we must learn to live and embrace differences, even celebrate them! not deny them.

Kind regards.

For more background please check:

1000 Genomes project

1000 genomes the study on SPON in German

DN article on the subject

Let’s go to my yacht in the West Keys

2012/07/03 § Leave a comment

For some reason I fell out of bed around 9 o’clock. This fortunate twist of fate gave me the chance to head of in time for a exploration of the Everglades and the keys. The glades really are somewhat of a no-show. I had been warned, but it is true. Spectacular is not the first term that comes to mind. Imagine a really large flat area with some type of gras. Just that the whole thing looks like a field of wheat after a strong summer rain.

Now of course you can undertake all kinds of activities. As usually, if an attraction is not too attractive in itself the tourist industry is quite nifty in coming up with ways of pulling your money out of your wallet. However, been there, done that, did not buy the t-shirt.

Next stop Islamorada (purple island?). On the way some more island of the keys. I did not go all the way to key West. The ride was simply too far for my taste. And as they say, keep something undone so you have a reason to return. I am sure this was not the last Miami has seen of me. Next time I will bring a suitcase of cash. If ya got cheese in Miami you are da big cheese. And that is certainly much more fun in the end.

They keys are nice of course. However, the beaches are not that nice before you reach key west. The keys are more about fishing, water skying, diving, and any other water sport you can think of. You will find some absolutely mind blowing homes here. You can really envy those lucky bastards who have their holiday mansion right by the water, of course including the complementary yacht.

Party in the city where the heat is on – bienvenido a Miami

2012/07/01 § 2 Comments

If you ever plan to party as if you mean it, come to Miami. There ain’t so much to add to that really. Great crowd last night. You better bring some dough though. Beer tagged at 15 bucks bottom price. Best misunderstanding ever: “I take a beer and a tab-water.” I got a Heineken and a red bull. WTF? I mean, Heineken, that is not even close to being beer!

The ladies, you ask? Well. No words for that. Sure, if you know to party in Scandinavia you may not be too surprised. But for a German there may be a lot to take in. People here sure know the meaning of the term “dress with style”. As always, the German women in the crowd drew attention for a more experimental approach to fashion.

The club made sure that there was some erotic stimulation by “putting up” exotic dancers in every corner. A girl in our group compared the women with hookers. I am rather certain though that she meant the guests rather than the dancers. Getting attention apparently works via buying it. On the other hand, that is not specific for Miami of course.

Say what now???

To my surprise it is entirely possible to smoke at the club. I do not know how they avoid the smell of smoke everywhere, but they do. Their ventilation system must be grade A. The dope they inhale must be grade A too, I am sure. Anything goes apparently is the motto in Miami. You gotta love this place.

Miami the city that keeps the roof blazing

2012/07/01 § Leave a comment

Talking of age. In Miami you are either attractive and young, or rich. Some seem to be attractive and rich, but nobody likes them.

One thing for sure, showing off is compulsory here.

I like it thus far. The beaches are pretty; the boobs are fake, and the weather not too warm. I went to Key Biscayne, a place most tourist will never be confronted with. But locals love it. I really liked it too. There is a lighthouse and nice beaches where you will find families with kids rather than wannabe pornstars and pretend-pimps.

Other than that Miami south beach apparently is the party place of the US. And if this party has a location than it is the hostel in which I reside. The location has a party-centre of course. My bed stands precisely one floor above it. Right above this epicenter of fun, whimsy dresses and far too loud club music. Yeah, talking of age.

Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Miami, uh, uh Southbeach, bringin the heat, uh!

2012/07/01 § Leave a comment

The business part of my USA trip ended on Friday eve. I went to the airport in Atlanta in order to catch a flight to Florida. I made sure to get to the airport early, which was a wise decision, considering that I ended up in thick traffic and security checks in the US are notoriously thorough and slow. Luckily my flight was delayed by 3 hours. When we finally arrive, close to midnight already, the shuttle bus to the car rental company was unreachable but eventually picked us up. Fair enough, it was late and sure not much going on any more. Well, actually 6 people were waiting before me to get their car. It took forever- at least I got an upgrade as compensation. Apparently the staff was half asleep already, which may explain why they handed me a broken navigation system.

I noticed that when it suddenly just shut off without ever turning on again. With a little luck I found my hostel. It was already well past 1 at this point. Fortunately I had booked a single room, so the deserved rest was in reach. Yeah, right.

The guy behind the counter sent me off to another building some 15 minutes drive away. Great of him to give me the wrong building number, hence I had to go back again. He then gave me a new address. However, I could not get into the building with the key he had given me. You must love the widespread inefficiency in the US and the abundant disinterested staff: No wait, you don’t.

However, the room was run down, dirty, the door looked as if someone had previously broken in, the building reeked of mold, the taps were dripping, and the atmosphere resembled hotel California, although this is Florida: You can check in but you can never leave. So off I went, back again. This time I was not in the mood to argue about the conditions. I had made up my mind. But since it was past 3 in the morning I agreed to stay in a hostel room instead. A great start of my holidays that were supposed to relax me.

After discussing with the manager I received my money back for last night and I decided to stay in the dorm room. I won’t be in much anyhow and I am so used to this, it does not matter at all. Besides, this way I can at least meet some nice people. Although they are half my age.

How to walk a cat

2011/07/12 § 1 Comment

Yesterday night it was warm and humid in my bedroom, hence I opened the window and took a fresh breath of air, leaning over the windowsill. What I saw intrigued me. A man walking up the road stopping for no apparent reason. He stopped, walked back. Obviously waiting for something. A moment later a black cat sneaked around the corned. The man turned and walked on up the road. At first I thought this is a coincidence. Noone does walk a cat. No one actually could walk a cat. But I kept observing in disbelieve. The man walked on up the road. He took slow strides, eventually stopping again. The cat seemed to follow him. But I was not convinced, as the cat stopped to explore the cars and sidewalk. But sure enough, after he had walked on for quite a distance and the cat had left my sight completely he turned again. He could not see the cat (she was in between cars I had seen from above). so he returned for a few meters. And sure enough, the cat showed up again and followed him again. This game went on for some time until I lost sight of the pair. I was intrigued. Another thing learned. You can- contrary to what people say, walk a cat. Just lo(o)se(n) the leash. They key is patience. I should have figured. I am sure though the cat was convinced she walked the man. It is all make believe with these creatures. Cats…

Thesis Literature Review (Ch.4): MEASURING MORALE AND ETHICS

2011/03/17 § 8 Comments

ALL CHAPTERS OF MY MBA THESIS ON BUSINESS ETHICS:

Introduction: Ethics and morale in a Business context and the effect of honor codes

Chapter 1: PSYCHOLOGICAL BASIS OF MORALITY

Chapter 2: SOCIAL COGNITIVE THEORY OF MORALITY

Chapter 3: TOOLS AND POLICIES REDUCING IMMORAL BEHAVIOUR

Chapter 4: MEASURING MORALE AND ETHICS

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Controlling for gender and culture factors
A study investigating ethics education with students found that there was a small but strongly significant positive effect for the participating males in reaction to the education, but no discernable effect at all for the females (Nguyen, Basuray et al. 2008). Several studies repeatedly demonstrated that female students’ ratings of ethical judgment were consistently higher than that of male students (McCabe, Ingram et al. 2006). In addition, it has been demonstrated that males experienced their work-environment as more ethical than did females (McDaniel, Shoeps et al. 2001).

Some argue that there is not general difference in ethical attitudes between men and women (Gibson 2005), while others argue that the differences are restricted to few aspects. One example being that men describe bribery as less problematic than women (McCabe, Ingram et al. 2006). The underlying reasons may well be of genetic and social origin, but dependable data is apparently not available yet, which is the more dominant factor, if any.

Similarly, investigating ethical values one must take into consideration that cultural differences influence the effects of such measures (Palazzo 2002; Helin and Sandström 2008). Significant differences were found, for both individual managers by nationality, and for companies by nationality of parents, in the area of ‘organizational loyalty’. Also the attitude towards accepting gifts and favours in exchange for preferential treatment was found to show significant differences between national groups (Jackson and Artola 1997).

Methods, tests, and scales measuring ethical values
An often employed method for studying business ethics are questionnaires such as the Defining Issues Test (DIT)(Rest 1979), the Moral Judgement Test (MJT)(Lind 1978), the Ethics Position Questionnaire (EPQ)(Forsyth 1980), the test of Machiavellianism (MACH IV) (Christie 1970), Mechanisms of moral disengagement (Bandura, Barbaranelli et al. 1996), and the Multidimensional Ethics Scale (MES)(Reidenbach 1990).

There are many additions to existing test and novel test are being developed frequently, such as the Moral Reasoning Inventory test (Weber and McGivern 2010). Adaptations are made for instance to adapt test to specific cultural circumstances (Akabayashi, Slingsby et al. 2004), or address specific research requirements (Sims 1999; Ng, White et al. 2009). The questionnaires usually apply a Likert scale, i.e. a rating scale, to measure agreement with certain propositions or statements (Likert 1932).

MDS: Moral Disengagement Scale
As mentioned above, the attributes measured by the moral disengagement scale are moral justification, euphemistic labelling, advantageous comparison, displacement of responsibility, diffusion of responsibility, disregard of distortion of consequences, dehumanisation, and attribution of blame (Bandura 2002). These are the factors that Bandura describes as the self-regulatory mechanisms governing moral disengagement (Pelton, Gound et al. 2004).

DIT: Defining Issues Test
Measure cognitive moral development, and is often employed to measure the effect of ethical education programs (Shawver and Sennetti 2009). The test uses a Likert-type scale to give quantitative rankings to five moral dilemmas. The addresses three schemas of moral reasoning: the Personal Interests Schema, the Maintaining Norms Schema and the Post-conventional Schema (Rest 1979). In 1999 the test was revised under the acronym DIT-2, which intends to improve brevity, clarity and validity criteria (Rest, Narvaez et al. 1999).

An example question for a DIT-2 is:
“If you were the Credit Manager and the start-up company’s owner was a friend of yours, would you recommend extending your friend the loan?” (Richmond Pope 2005).

MJT: Moral Judgement Test
The MJT measures two aspects of judgment behaviour, a) moral judgment competence as defined by Kohlberg , and b) moral orientations or moral preferences as defined by Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Orientation (Kohlberg 1975). The participant is asked whether s/he would accept or reject a series of arguments presented.

The MJT is different from most other instrument for the measurement of moral psychology because it is a test moral competence, while for instance the DIT tests attitudes (Ishida 2006). The MJT presents six statements (corresponding to the stages of moral orientation) for two ethical dilemmas and a suggested pro- versus con position to the action taken in the dilemma (Ishida 2006).

EPQ: Ethics Position Questionnaire
The Ethics Position Questionnaire measures ethical ideology using 20 items and a nine-point response scale (Forsyth 1980). The scale has been critically investigated but maintains its position in the validation of ethical research (Davis, Andersen et al. 2001).

An example of the items is: “There are no ethical principles that are so important
that they should be a part of any code of ethics” (Forsyth 1980).

MACH IV: Machiavellianism
Machiavellianism is a term in psychology to describe a person’s tendency to deceive and manipulate other people for their personal gain (Christie 1970). It has been demonstrated that Machiavellian attitudes are “the strongest predictor of unethical intent” (Danielle, Buckley et al. 2003).

The MACH IV measures Machiavellian attitudes using 20 statements that participants rate on a seven-point scale (see Appendix)(Richmond Pope 2005). Examples for the test can be found online (Christie 1970).

People scoring above 60 out of 100 on the MACH-IV tend to endorse statements such as, “Never tell anyone the real reason you did something unless it is useful to do so,” (No. 1 in the test). People scoring below 60 out of 100 on the MACH-IV are considered to agree with statements such as “There is no excuse for lying to someone else” (Richmond Pope 2005).

MES: The Multidimensional Ethics Scale
The Multidimensional Ethics Scale is an eight-item, three-subscale measure developed by Reidenbach and Robin and subsequently applied in several empirical studies of business ethics (Shawver and Sennetti 2009). It has been criticised for failing replication of results but also been defended by others (Hyman 1996; Loo 2004; McMahon 2005). As in for most suggested scales, subsequently suggestions for improvement have been made (Reidenbach and Robin 1993).

The MES measures constructs relevant to ethical decisions such as:
1. Deontology: One’s duty to follow ethical rules
2. Utilitarianism: Acting in a manner that will provide the greatest good for many
3. Relativism: The notion that no universal ethical rules exist
4. Egoism: Promoting an individual’s long-term self-interests
5. Justice: Based on the Aristotelian notion that equals should be treated equally

The test measures these values using vignettes such as for example:
“A company has just introduced a highly successful new kitchen appliance. The sales manager, who is paid partly on a commission basis, discovers that there has been insufficient product testing to meet government guidelines. The tests so far indicate no likelihood of any safety problem. Action: the sales manager continues to promote the product.” The test-subjects are then asked to rate the scenario on a scale.

Previous chapter: Thesis Literature Review (Ch. 3): TOOLS AND POLICIES REDUCING IMMORAL BEHAVIOUR

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REFERENCES

Akabayashi, A., B. Slingsby, et al. (2004). “The development of a brief and objective method for evaluating moral sensitivity and reasoning in medical students.” BMC Medical Ethics 5(1): 1.
Bandura, A. (2002). “Selective Moral Disengagement in the Exercise of Moral Agency.” Journal of Moral Education 31(2): 101-119.
Bandura, A., C. Barbaranelli, et al. (1996). “Mechanisms of moral disengagement in the exercise of moral agency.” Journal of personality and social psychology 71(2): 364.
Christie, C. (1970). “The Mach IV Scale.” Retrieved February 20, 2011, from http://bob.bofh.org/~robm/misc/MachIV.html.
Christie, R. (1970). Scale Construction in Studies in Machiavellianism. NY, New York.
Danielle, S. B., M. R. Buckley, et al. (2003). “Ethical decision-making: a multidimensional construct.” Business Ethics: A European Review 12(1): 88-107.
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Hyman, M. R. (1996). “A Critique and Revision of the Multidimensional Ethics Scale.” Journal of Empirical Generalisations in Marketing Science 1: 1-35.
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Pelton, J., M. Gound, et al. (2004). “The Moral Disengagement Scale: Extension with an American Minority Sample.” Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 26(1): 31-39.
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