December 4, 2013 1:23 pm
Have you ever committed a crime?
Stop lying: you almost definitely have. Have you run a red light? Texted while driving? Used a fake ID? Bought pot? Most people have broken some sort of law. Most people just don’t get caught. And now, one group is documenting the unknown criminal records we all secretly possess.
Participants in We Are All Criminals tell stories of crimes they got away with. While there are some exceptions, the majority of the people interviewed relayed numerous offenses. In most cases, only one of the stories has been cataloged.
The participants are doctors and lawyers, social workers and students, retailers and retirees who consider how very different their lives could have been had they been caught. The photographs, while protecting participants’ identities, convey personality: each is taken in the participant’s home, office, crime scene, or neighborhood.
Their point is less that we’re all bad people, and more that those who are caught aren’t really all that worse than the rest of us. Gail Rosenblum at the Star Tribune showed the project to Michael Friedman, the executive director of the Legal Rights Center in Minneapolis. “I don’t think I’ve come across anybody who has not committed crimes as a juvenile,” Friedman told Rosenblum. “Allowing society to use juvenile criminal records as a marker for someone’s potential success, or risk for employment or opportunity, is not scientific. It’s dangerous and discriminatory.”
You can submit your own stories of transgression on We Are All Criminal’s website. Don’t worry; we won’t tell.
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December 2, 2013 11:35 am
Kate Darling, a legal scholar working with the Berkman Center, is trying to answer questions most people have never even thought about: Would you murder a robot? If you did, should you be charged for it?
Darling set up a heart breaking experiment. Participants are given an adorable dinosaur robot and given time to bond with it. Then they’re handed knives, hatchets and weapons and instructed to turn them on the dinosaur they just learned to love. People’s reactions? Horror. Richard Fisher from BBC Future reports:
After an hour of play, the people refused to hurt their Pleo with the weapons they had been given. So then Darling started playing mind games, telling them they could save their own dinosaur by killing somebody else’s. Even then, they wouldn’t do it.
Finally, she told the group that unless one person stepped forward and killed just one Pleo, all the robots would be slaughtered. After much hand-wringing, one reluctant man stepped forward with his hatchet, and delivered a blow to a toy.
After this brutal act, the room fell silent for a few seconds, Darling recalls. The strength of people’s emotional reaction seemed to have surprised them.
This moral quandary, whether or not to torture and kill a pile of parts, has implications for our future selves, argues Darling. The fact is that we’re going to interact with robots more and more, and we currently don’t have a moral or legal framework to do so. Ethan Zuckerman explains:
People are going to keep creating these sorts of robots, if only because toy companies like to make money. And if we have a deep tendency to bond with these robots, we may need to discuss the idea of instituting protections for social robots. We protect animals, Kate explains. We argue that it’s because they feel pain and have rights. But it’s also because we bond with them and we see an attack on an animal as an attack on the people who are bonded with and value that animal.
Not only are we going to interact more with machines, but our interactions with them are going to become more symbolic, Darling argues. Robots could learn to feel pain, and the way adults treat robots could teach their children what is and isn’t acceptable. In many ways, Darling argues, robots are no different from animals. But animals are protected under the law. Robots are not—not yet, at least.
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November 29, 2013 10:03 am
Earlier this week, ten retired N.H.L. players sued the league for fraud and negligence, arguing that for years the league ignored the dangers of head injuries and failed to curb the culture of violence. The players taking action include famous players like Rick Vaive, Darren Banks and Gary Leeman, who began their careers back in the ’70s and ’80s.
In seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, the players said in their complaint that the N.H.L. “knew or should have been aware” of the effects of head hits but “took no remedial action to prevent its players from unnecessary harm” until 1997, when the league created a program to research and study brain injuries. Even then, the suit said, “the N.H.L. took no action to reduce the number and severity of concussions among its players during that period and Plaintiffs relied on the N.H.L.’s silence to their detriment.”
The suit comes just a few months after the National Football League paid $765 million to former players for similar concussion related side effects. The players argue that not only did the NHL know about the risks of head injury, the league actually tried to conceal just how much it knew.
The NHL, of course, claims no wrong doing. “While the subject matter is very serious, we are completely satisfied with the responsible manner in which the league and the Players’ Assn. have managed player safety over time, including with respect to head injuries and concussions,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement. “We intend to defend the case vigorously and have no further comment at this time.”
Football often gets the majority of the press about head injuries, but other full contact sports like boxing and hockey are seeing players with long term side effects as well. It’s been 16 years since the NHL began studying concussions, but it wasn’t until 2011 that they issued new concussion protocols. And for players feeling the impact, that’s far too long.
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November 27, 2013 12:23 pm
Before karaoke, spelling bees and trivia nights became nightly bar activities, New York bars used to host a different kind of fun: turkey raffles.
Turkey raffles are governed by the state now, but according to The Bowery Boys, ” in the 19th century, raffles were widely seen in saloons, a jovial excuse for men to get liquored up and throw their money in for a chance at a moderate prize. In essence, it was gambling most fowl.”
There were lots of ways you could win the turkey. One game involved rolling dice. Another involved dumping pennies on the table to see who got the most heads up. They all involved drinking. So much drinking that many pointed to these turkey raffles as the epitome of the debaucherous male. In 1914, the New York Sun rejoiced that they were declining:
It is intensely pleasing to discover that New York has advanced so far in virtue that the anxious gardens of her morals have had leisure of late to discover the turkey raffle and fulminate against it. It has long been suspected that this form of gambling was ruining men and wrecking homes. Besides, its as always a postponed peril to turkeys that had survived all the normal hazards of Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We can only imagine what the New York Sun might have thought of bars that serve jello shots.
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November 26, 2013 9:45 am
On Friday, the FDA sent a warning letter to Anne Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, a personal genome testing service, telling the company to stop selling their product immediately. This was a particularly intense letter. It cited the lack of evidence for several claims the company has made about the medical usefulness of their genetic results and the dangers of those claims, and it’s been described as “unusually stern” and “brutally scathing.”
“You don’t need to be an expert in the regulations covering medical tests to know that the Food and Drug Administration has just about had it with Silicon Valley’s 23andMe,” writes Scott Hensley at NPR.
The issue is not that company does genetic testing, but that it markets the test as medical service that can help people plan healthier lives. But, really, this debate isn’t about 23andMe, but a broader question of how to deliver and interpret personal genetic data. Can people interpret their own results and act in a medically appropriate way?
The FDA points to the BRCA gene as an example:
For instance, if the BRCA-related risk assessment for breast or ovarian cancer reports a false positive, it could lead a patient to undergo prophylactic surgery, chemoprevention, intensive screening, or other morbidity-inducing actions, while a false negative could result in a failure to recognize an actual risk that may exist.
The bigger problem, as Christine Gorman points out at Scientific American, the $99 kit from 23andMe can give you data but can’t analyze it for you. Simply getting your genetic sequence without comparing it to others isn’t all that useful. You need analysis to identify medical risks, Gorman writes:
Using home gene kits to imagine where your ancestors might hail from is one thing. That’s basically the 21st century equivalent of looking up your horoscope–entertaining but not really a matter of life and death. Cheap sequence data from 23andMe and other gene testing companies has much greater potential to harm without the proper interpretation of the results, which is still quite difficult and expensive in most cases.
23andMe has never been approved for medical use. The company applied to the FDA for clearance in September of 2012, and not only failed to qualify, but failed to address any of the questions and issues the agency brought up regarding that application, according to the FDA. In fact, the FDA says in its letter, it hasn’t heard a word from 23andMe since May. Most proponents of 23andMe don’t dispute whether the company has played by the rules with the FDA. Instead, they’re arguing that the rules are stupid. At the Conversation, Gholson Lyon writes:
Somehow the US and UK governments find it acceptable to store massive amounts of data about their own citizens and that of the rest of the world. They are happy spending billions on such mass surveillance. But if the same people want to spend their own money to advance genomic medicine and possibly improve their own health in the process, they want to stop them.
More to the point, patients have a right to make dumb decisions if they want to. We don’t ban patients from reading medical textbooks or WebMD, even though doing so undoubtedly leads to some harmful self-diagnoses. In a free society, patients have a right to accurate information about their health, even if medical professionals and regulators fear patients will misuse it. That includes information about our genetic code.
For Lee and Gholson, the question isn’t really about whether or not 23andMe has failed to work with the FDA or not, but rather about our intrinsic right to our own data. And 23andMe’s seemingly complete failure to work with the FDA could set all sorts of genetic testing services back, according to Matthew Herper at Forbes:
The FDA would probably like to be able to regulate genetic tests much the same way as it does drugs, regulating each individual use to make sure there is enough data to support it. But that’s untenable; there are about two dozen drugs approved each year, while there are tens of thousands of genes that mean different things in different combinations, or when there are different changes in them.
For now, if it wants to be on the bleeding edge of personal genetic testing, 23andMe will have to try and patch things up with the FDA. They have 15 days to respond to the FDA’s letter, but it might already be too late.
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