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Analysis and Comment (85)

George Brandis argues that it is the government’s duty to investigate and prevent serious crimes – and that metadata can help. AAP/Alan Porritt

Metadata and privacy: surveillance state or business as usual?

Metadata, previously a word limited to the tech-savvy, is now not only a hot topic of public discussion but the focus of new national security legislation. The public discussion seems split between two…
Old fashioned scandals meet new-fangled complexity. Andy Dean Photography

Will all the ethical social scientists please stand up?

Social scientists have to get better at recognising and responding to ethical problems. Although economists, political scientists and psychologists have not been responsible for the same level of abuses…
Confucius stands guard at Beijing’s Renmin University. George (Sam) Crane

Confucius doesn’t live here anymore

In today’s China, the philosopher Confucius is back. To mark his 2,565th birthday this September, the nation’s President, Xi Jinping, paid homage to the sage at an international conference convened for…
Should teachers dictate what’s right or wrong? Blackboard via pupunkkop/Shutterstock

We need to teach children how to think, not what to think

In its ideal form, education should be socially progressive. We teach the next generation of scientists, engineers and medical researchers who will improve our quality of life: they will learn more about…
Legislating for commercial surrogacy would enable Australia to overcome concerns about poorly regulated clinics overseas, such as this one in Thailand. EPA/Rungroj Yongrit

Commercial surrogacy in Australia: rethinking notions of ‘natural’

Often emphasised in discussions about children’s best interests is the idea that certain ways of having and raising children are “natural”. For example, this word appears frequently in reference to how…
He’s having a laugh: Jack Ma with the NYSE traders. Justin Lane/EPA

Alibaba feeding frenzy shows how little we have learnt

Greed is still good. Wall Street has just witnessed its largest ever stock market launch as Chinese internet giant Alibaba raised some $25 billion and watched its share price rise by 35% on its first day’s…
There is a meaningful distinction to be drawn between moral and ethical decisions. Helga Weber

You say morals, I say ethics – what’s the difference?

Certain customs or behaviours are recognised as good and others as bad, and these collectively comprise morality – arguably the summation of our value system as human beings. So a conversation about ethical…
Very little we say in the policy room can contain the enormous complexity of family life. Kitty DuKane

The ‘perfect family’ has created an ethical and moral vacuum

Whether we’re reading about family studies research in Women’s Day , Scientific American or the Journal of GLBT Family Studies, most of us look for evidence that will help us understand where we sit along…
Is morality – and happiness – determined by how you affect the people around you? Shutterstock

Telling right from wrong: why is utilitarianism under attack?

It is a word we hear from time to time, but few of us know what it means. Utilitarianism is the method most people use to decide whether an action is right or wrong. We decide the moral merits of what…
One of the self-drive cars already being used by Google in Nevada, in the US. EPA/Google

Self-driving cars need ‘adjustable ethics’ set by owners

One of the issues of self-driving vehicles is legal liability for death or injury in the event of an accident. If the car maker programs the car so the driver has no choice, is it likely the company could…
YouTube footage of a man kicking a squirrel off a cliff has prompted outrage, yet we all need to stop and think about how we treat animals. YouTube

Outcry over squirrel kicker, yet disrespecting animals is the norm

An online video apparently showing a French tourist kicking a squirrel off a cliff in Grand Canyon National Park was greeted with horror and incredulity after being posted (and since removed) on YouTube…
Despite claims of independence, academics that work closely with industry often have their views unconsciously shaped. Fellowship of the Rich/Flickr

Academics on the payroll: the advertising you don’t see

In the endless drive to get people’s attention, advertising is going ‘native’, creeping in to places formerly reserved for editorial content. In this Native Advertising series we find out what it looks…
US army ‘deserter’ Bowe Bergdahl had deep and abiding questions about the justice of the cause he signed up for. EPA/IntelCenter

Deserters aren’t born, but made: Bowe Bergdahl and moral injury

The public debate around the recent prisoner swap that saw US Army sergeant Bowe Bergdahl returned from five years' imprisonment in Afghanistan in exchange for five senior Taliban leaders has had two main…
Three in four Australians see aid to help the world’s most vulnerable poor as a simple human priority. Their government has a different view of the aid program. Julien Harneis/Flickr

Why not cut aid? Let us count the ethical reasons, just for a start

Major changes have been made recently to Australia’s official aid program. Funding has been cut sharply. Australia’s aid agency AusAID has been absorbed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and…
Genetics is just the latest specialist knowledge threatening to take the question of criminal responsibility away from law and hand it over to science. Graham/Flickr

Genes made me do it: genetics, responsibility and criminal law

Welcome to Biology and Blame, a series of articles examining historical and current influences on the notion of criminal responsibility. Today, Arlie Loughnan considers the challenge to the legal system…
The ancient philosophers knew the perils of expecting other people to complete us emotionally. Candybox Images/Shutterstock

Love problems? There’s a pill for that, but Plato offers a wiser cure

We take pills and potions for everything from a bad back to depression. Why shouldn’t we adopt the same approach to love and the miseries it may cause? Oxford ethicist Brian Earp has proposed that we should…
Self-interest and greed drive the decision-making of too many of the professional classes who most influential global policies. www.shutterstock.com

Want ethical responses to a world of trouble? Focus on character

We read a lot these days about corruption, self-interest and personal tragedies. The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the first time explicitly considers climate change…
The university was worried the student would not practice medicine safely even if she completed her degree. Jack Hynes/ Flickr

A fine balance: disability, discrimination and public safety

A recent discrimination case has highlighted the difficulty of balancing the rights of disabled medical students with the rights of the community to safe medical and health care. In the BKY v The University…
We live in an era when chronically ill people are exposed to technological interventions that may not serve them well. Carlos Fonseca/Flickr

How do we decide the value of death (and life)?

Allowing people with incurable and unsupportable illness to die is ethically acceptable to most people, even though it’s unlikely there will ever be unanimity about when and how we allow such deaths. But…
Your robot’s decisions will be less of a shock if you plan ahead. x-ray delta one

If you want to trust a robot, look at how it makes decisions

Robots, and autonomous systems in general, can cause anxiety and uncertainty, particularly as their use in everyday tasks becomes a more immediate possibility. In order to lessen at least some of that…
Research of supplements already in the market has no incentive for robustness. Health Gauge/Flickr

Alternative medicine research must be publicly funded

TESTING ALTERNATIVE THERAPIES - La Trobe University’s decision to accept funding from Swisse for a new centre to research alternative medicines has sparked controversy. This article considers the ethical…
Should artists refuse to work with the Sydney Biennale – whose major sponsor has contracts to operate offshore detention centres? AAP Image/Caris Bizzaca

Should artists boycott the Sydney Biennale over Transfield links?

Sydney will host its 19th biennale from March 21. It’s one of the most significant international art events on the local calendar. But questions have arisen over its connection to Australia’s policy of…
Is it worse to be hated or forgotten as a reality-show contestant? Courtesy of Seven Network

My Kitchen Rules pair are all the rage on social media – for now

The launch of the current series of My Kitchen Rules has undoubtedly been successful, both in terms of television ratings and in capturing a social media audience, clearly winning the battle for the Twitter…
Schapelle Corby remains behind bars – but Channel 9 is spruiking its telemovie about her time in jail in Indonesia. AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Did she do it? The ethics of the Schapelle Corby telemovie

However 4.2 kilograms of marijuana made its way into Indonesia in a body board bag in 2004, the story of Schapelle Corby’s arrest, conviction and subsequent jailing for drug smuggling is known by every…
The former 100m world record holder tested positive for a banned stimulant last June. Matt Slocum/AP

Asafa Powell may be guilty of doping but he’s also a victim

As Asafa Powell faces the Jamaica Anti-Doping Disciplinary Panel, we already know his defence – that he was given a supplement called Epiphany D1 by his former physiotherapist, Chris Xuereb, without his…
Russian forces detained all those aboard Greenpeace’s Arctic Sunrise after activists tried to hang a banner from an oil platform. EPA/Igor Podgorny/Greenpeace

Greenpeace’s Arctic 30 act on idea of a community of nations

Should the Australian government require Colin Russell to repay at least some of its costs for acting on his behalf when the Russians imprisoned him and 29 other Greenpeace activists and journalists, known…
Choosing a mobile phone isn’t just about new features – it should also be about ethics. Fairphone

Will your next phone be Fair Trade?

Organic, cage-free or home-grown? We think about our purchasing ethics in many areas of daily life, but not often about technology. As with any product, though, we should think about the effects of our…
Protestors against Lynas mine processing in Malaysia Peter Boyle

Rare earths and our insatiable appetite for digital memory

This week a dozen protesters travelled from Malaysia to Australia to protest outside the Annual General Meeting (AGM) of Lynas Corporation, an Australian rare earth mining company, for the third year running…
While the NSA leaks keep coming, major email providers have tightened up security. But is encryption completely beneficial? mrbill78636

Encryption ethics: are email providers responsible for privacy?

Ex-National Security Agency (NSA) employee Edward Snowden’s various leaks – the most recent being a slide showing that the NSA infected 50,000 of computer networks with remote-controlled spyware – confirm…
A large proportion of drug trial data never gets published, skewing our picture of drugs' effectiveness and safety. opensource.com

Making all clinical data public is vital for better medical care

An article published in the journal of the British Medical Association, BMJ, earlier this week illustrates a devastating problem with the “evidence base” in the academic medical literature. A large proportion…
If it’s common practice to pay bribes for contracts, is it alright? Not quite. Sigurd Rage

‘Local business practice’ doesn’t justify unethical behaviour

You’d have thought corporate executives in a post-GFC world would have learnt, the hard way, the relevance of ethical behaviour. So it may come as a surprise that in a recent survey by Ernst & Young…
If a comet was heading for earth, would you just go about your life? Mark Mathosian

A question of ethics: journalists and climate change

Breaking news: scientists have discovered a comet that will collide with Earth in 30 years. Its impact will be devastating, killing millions, flooding coastal cities and disrupting civilisation as we know…
The scandal started with allegations that GlaxoSmithKline had made illegal payments to doctors and government officials. Ian Wilson

China’s pharma scandal and the ethics of the global drug market

China is in the midst of conducting a series of corruption investigations of pharmaceutical companies that have been operating in the country. It all started with the investigation of officials from pharmaceutical…
The recent tobacco tax rise showed the usual entrenched positions of public health advocates and libertarians. Nick|Allen/Flickr

Slurs aside, let’s talk about the ethics of public health measures

Predictable positions followed the recent announcement of an increase in tobacco tax by 12.5% a year for four years. Public health advocates praised the tax, labelling those questioning it as “tobacco…
Where does the Australian ‘fear’ of asylum seekers arriving by boat come from? AAP/Scott Fisher

Drowning mercy: why we fear the boats

There’s a Latin word: misericordia. It’s usually translated “mercy” or “pity”. Thomas Aquinas took misericordia to be a kind of grief at the suffering of others as if that suffering were our own. Alasdair…
Damien Hirst has always made ripples with his work, but now he’s in too deep. PA

Damien Hirst insults the dignity of the dead

Is it right to use the severed head of a newly dead man as a humourous prop for a photograph? And if such a snap exists is it right to display it in art galleries? A photograph of artist Damien Hirst at…
There could be good moral reasons to reject an opt-out organ donation system, but we’d better be clear about what they are. Shutterstock

Opt-out organ donation in Wales: a model for Australia?

The National Assembly of Wales has legislated to introduce an “opt-out” system for human organ and tissue transplantation, which will come into effect in 2015. In doing so, Wales joins a host of other…
Wheat-free: fields full of quick-growing miscanthus grass, an energy-rich biofuel. Andrew Parsons/PA

Food first, fuel second is the UN’s message on biofuels

Critics of the conversion of plants into biofuel have long argued that it is an issue of food versus fuel‎, and a recent UN report gives some weight to their argument. Since the amount of maize needed…
Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas or the ethical underpinning of self-regulation. AAP/RSPCA

Ethics is a jealous God: self-regulation vs self-sacrifice

Late one night recently I got a very frustrated email from a close friend. He’d just spent the evening arguing with investors about whether they needed to take ethics into account in their investment decisions…
Misplaced faith in the possibility of risk-free warfare may end up putting more lives at risk. L.C.Nøttaasen

Lethal autonomous robots must be stopped in their tracks

The topic of killer robots was drawn back into the public sphere last week with the widely publicised call for a moratorium on the development and use of “lethal autonomous robotics” by a top UN human…
There is mounting evidence that babies might have more of a moral compass than we once thought. Baby image from www.shutterstock.com

Young morals: can infants tell right from wrong?

Psychologists from Yale and the University of British Columbia think they have found a way to show that infants in their first year of life possess the psychological building blocks of a moral sense. These…
Every day around three Australian families face an end-of-life decision for their child. Image from shutterstock.com

Navigating the grey zone in end-of-life care for children

Recently on The Conversation, legal academic Neera Bhatia drew attention to two recent Australian court cases of withdrawing of life-saving medical treatment from infants with severe brain damage. She…
Doctors and sports scientists have to negotiate the goals of their employers with the expectations of their profession. Quinn Dombrowski

Embedded sports scientists and doctors walk an ethical tightrope

The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) findings about the actions of “specific coaches, sports scientists and high-performance staff” in condoning or orchestrating the administration of prohibited substances…
Researchers decoded the whole mitochondrial DNA of five Neanderthal men, one of whom belonged to the El Sidron site (pictured) in Asturias, northern Spain, in 2009. EPA/CSIC

Caveman ethics? The rights and wrongs of cloning Neanderthals

It now appears that the scientist who seemed to be advocating that we clone Neanderthals was suggesting only that “we need to start talking about it.” Ethics is an essential part of such a conversation…
Drugs treat symptoms but do nothing to help people navigate depression. Shutterstock

Treating depression ethically requires more than drugs

Spot the problem in this scenario. Richard* is stressed. While he’s a high-flyer (a Rhodes Scholar no less), he’s under the pump at work and has just moved his family across nations. The job is taking…
Unequal access to technology and technological literacy are the biggest challenges to open health. Stethoscope image from www.shutterstock.com

Diagnosing the inequality problems of open health

Open health programs create a range of ethical concerns. Some of these are old, and some are new; some need action now, and some need a longer view. Responding to these concerns requires the use of a limited…
Southern Cross Austereo CEO Rys Holleran has expressed “sorrow” at the death of Jacintha Saldanha, but who is to blame? AAP/Joe Castro

Between guilt and innocence: 2Day FM and the moral blame game

This past weekend, we saw the media – old, new, and social – trying to digest the indigestible. The death of Jacintha Saldanha, the British nurse who apparently took her own life after being caught up…
What are our ethical responsibilities for racing greyhounds? Jo Anne McArthur

The unbearable lightness of being a greyhound

Background Briefing’s program The Quick and the Dead exposed one of the key animal welfare issues facing the greyhound racing industry: the high rates of euthanasia of healthy dogs. During an interview…
How does Australia measure up morally? Are we in a moral decline? Compass image from www.shutterstock.com

Moral compass: is Australia a kind nation?

We’re in a state of moral decline in the West – or so we’re told. From sky-rocketing divorce rates and the shrinking of life-long commitments to an excessive concern with self and consumerism. Morality…
How much is enough to compensate someone who is about to die for allowing someone else to financially benefit from their death? leiris202/Flickr

Death and the market: the peculiar dealings of Joseph Caramadre

Is profiting from the deaths of others wrong? In an interview on This American Life, Joseph Caramadre maintains it’s not. At least, he says, “Not if it’s done morally, ethically, and legally.” This month…
Plagiarism is happening at universities, but technology is not the way to solve the problem. Computer image from www.shutterstock.com

Delusions of candour: why technology won’t stop plagiarism

Plagiarism at university is a time-old scourge. Some would have us believe it can be sought out with ever-improving technology, and with more consistent vetting of student essays with the latest detection…
Soy might seem simply better, but what do the figures say? mc5556/Flickr

Soy versus dairy: what’s the footprint of milk?

Are soy milk’s environmental attributes based on substance or froth? Is soy a sustainable solution in the dairy debate? Comparative environmental analysis of different food groups is like comparing, well…
Animals are not just an incidental first choice of research method. usda/Wikimedia Commons

Animal-based research is still relevant and necessary

Drug development is a slow process involving years, even decades, of research and animal models have always been integral to this work. But progress in translating animal work into human benefits has been…
The dead soldier’s funeral holds an important place in our society. (AAP Image/Australian Department of Defence, LS Andrew Dakin)

From religion to patriotism: how we see the death of a soldier

Another Australian soldier has tragically lost his life while on his seventh tour in Afghanistan. The 40 year-old special forces soldier from Perth was shot while on a counter-insurgency operation in the…
Jeannie Blackburn was the victim of horrific domestic violence from a man commended for heroism. AAP/Julian Smith

The ethics of bravery: why a Black Saturday ‘hero’ lost his award

Last week, I received an email with the subject line: “Bravery award for baby killer.” It urged readers to sign a Change.org petition calling on the Royal Humane Society of Australia to rescind a bravery…
Can ethical markets solve the problems of persistent poverty and global income inequality? Michelle Brea

Challenge 7: The market, morals, ethics, and poverty

In part seven of our multi-disciplinary Millennium Project series, Adrian Walsh argues that a humane market asks something of us that we may not want to give. Global challenge 7: How can ethical market…
We’ve had a glimpse into the world of Craig Thomson, but he’s trying to justify a view that no one outside the political game can understand. AAP Image/Lukas Coch

All in the game: shining a light into the weird world of Craig Thomson

The ALP and the union movement have never liked scabs. But yesterday we witnessed a labour scab of a different sort as The Wound Formally Known As Craig Thomson continued to be bleed rather than heal…
Encouraging GPs to “on-sell” products to patients is likely to produce unnecessary or inappropriate prescribing. fuzzirella/Flickr

Swisse Vitamins highlights the failure of industry self-regulation

Swisse Vitamins Pty Ltd has been in the news recently over their Federal Court action to suppress a determination of the Therapeutic Goods Advertising Complaint Resolution Panel (CRP) about a number of…
Intellectually disabled children who undergo the “Ashley procedure” are stunted to prevent the onset of puberty. flickr/visions by vicky

Ashley’s treatment: the arrested development of a disabled child

A growing number of parents are seeking the “Ashley Treatment,” a highly experimental medical intervention designed to arrest the physical and sexual development of severely disabled children. This invasive…
On the ninth anniversary of the US-led Iraqi invasion, suicide attacks were used against civilians in Iraq. EPA/Mohammed Jalil

Good and bad deaths: why we react to suicide bombers the way we do

Suicide attacks and car bombings across Iraq this week have killed at least 43 people and left 255 wounded. We are sadly now very familiar with the phenomenon of the suicide bomber, but the particular…
The Coalition’s election promise controversy highlights the fraught nature of accountancy. AAP

Do accountants act in the public interest? Not always

According to the profession’s code of ethics, “a distinguishing mark of the accountancy profession is its acceptance of the responsibility to act in the public interest.” That is, not exclusively to satisfy…
Former rugby league player and convicted match-fixer, Ryan Tandy will likely not play the game again, but who’s really to blame? AAP Image/Tracey Nearmy

Business or pleasure? Ryan Tandy and the NRL take the fun out of rugby league

I’m a relatively well-disciplined guy. In my brief time in this world, I’ve managed to complete a degree, quit smoking, and exercise thirty-odd kilos of self-indulgence away. But if there’s a TV on in…
Universities need to remember why they research: to advance knowledge. Flickr/Gates Foundation

Forget profits. Universities need morals.

Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Macquarie University, recently claimed that universities should break from being treated as businesses and recapture their moral purpose. He used the example of Jonas…
Rupert Murdoch holding a copy of The Times, a News International paper. AAP

The perils of trying to regulate for ethical behaviour

In little more than two weeks, the long simmering issue of illegal phone hacking at News Corporation’s British newspaper News of the World has developed into a cascading crisis, with fatal results for…
Appearing before a parliamentary committee was “my humblest day” according to Rupert Murdoch. AFP PHOTO/PARBUL

Murdochs' defence strategy: ‘Sorry, we had no idea what was going on’

So, after a day of drama at Westminster, what have we learnt, other than the fact that Rupert Murdoch’s wife Wendi packs a mean left hook (future pranksters beware)? For the best part of six hours we Westminster-watchers…
An ethical journalistic culture cannot be imposed from above but must develop within a news gathering organisation. AAP

Ethical reporting after NotW phone hacking: it isn’t black and white

The handwritten sign hanging on the bereaved family’s door says: “No media". As a reporter, do you knock? Most journalism students yell back a resounding “No". Okay then, what if the family has a high…
The phones of victims of the London bombings were allegedly hacked by staff at the News of the World. AFP/Dylan Martine/WPA pool

‘Deplorable and indefensible’: the ethics of the News of the World

The British newspaper The News of the World is being investigated over allegations of hacking into the phones of relatives of the victims of the bombings in London in July 2005. It’s also thought those…

Columnists (3)

Integrity in politics

Below is the text of Michelle Grattan’s Accountability Round Table lecture, November 18, 2014. Most of us who’ve been around politics for a while in one capacity or another can remember the time when misleading…

Research and News (3)

Research Briefs (3)

The upper class: liars and cheaters?

Rich people are more likely to engage in unethical activity, a new study has found. Researchers at the University of California…