Alan Regenberg spoke on on March 8, 2011 in Gilman 50, concerning  the impact of Bioethical issues in the popular press.

Berman Institute Bioethics Bulletin: This is something I’ve been working on a lot recently. We post original publications, what we call focus on pieces that highlight bioethics related stories, and we also publish a Bioethics in the News Roundup. I probably put up about four a day. For todays talk I’d like to do 2 things: I’d like to share some of these recent stories and raise a discussion about them. And then have a discussion about the utility of gathering these stories.

Down’s Syndrome Test Breakthrough ‘On The Horizon’ AFP, March 8, 2011: This shows a new way to test for Down’s syndrome using a blood test, so there’s no risk of losing the baby by testing for Down’s Syndrome, with 98 percent accuracy. What are the ethical implications of this new test?

– As women age, the chance of these genetic disorders increases – But should we make it easier for older women to have children? There are other reasons that an older woman might give birth to a less healthy child, and this diagnostic tool is not a “magic bullet.”

– Since the test is costly, and it isn’t feasible for a universal testing for Trisomy 21, it isn’t going to get rid of Down’s Syndrome entirely. – The only “treatment” is termination of pregnancy for a positive test


Spaghettification and the Problem of Scientific Jargon BBC News, March 8, 2011: Scientists use language to give authority to their work, but if the words become jargon, they can end up alienating the audience instead of convincing them.

– We have an obsession with credentialism in which we give more weight to an argument that appears to have coherence, but it may mean nothing. The ‘hype’ may amount to nothing, but it complicates truth to people who are trying to make sense of current scientific explanations.

– Newsmedia is prone to taking one simple sentence out of a scientific paper and “selling” it as a streamlined cure. Arguably, the advertisement of today has no place for truth. – Disconnect of how we talk about causation and correlation. – People are making up words to explain concepts rather than explaining the whole concept. The need for creating new words factors into this scientific authority.

– It also might amount to the protection of the field, in order to exclude those who aren’t “experts” and understand the terminology.

– Some of these concepts are very difficult.

– in defense of some of these academics, perhaps it is not their fault as communicators, but rather the reader’s fault as recipient; the reader isn’t working hard enough to understand.

– You need to know who you’re talking to in order to reach them. Bioethics Panel Told No Guarantee Against Unethical Research, Huffington Post, March 1, 2011: The kind of unethical medical studies that occurred half a century ago could still happen again despite more than 1,000 rules and regulations that should prevent such abuses. – What do we owe for past research abuses?

– Policy fixes seem to continue on as “business as usual” as far as actual research practices, but the apologies serve as “reparations.”

– People are a little more afraid of research and science than they are of medicine, it would seem. Medicine seems more familiar, perhaps, and has the power of the AMA.

– Scientists sometimes do need these regulations, one researcher might not have the same moral qualms as another. Overall, the scientific community does not want to be associated with unethical practice, so generally scientists like that these regulations exist.

– The IRB gets backlogged, and sometimes it gets shady. The irony is that these oversight structures are there to prevent exploitation of bodies, but now we may have just started using bodies from other countries where these oversight structures don’t exist.


New Drugs are Cheaper To Develop Than Drug Makers Claim, Experts Say, Spoonful of Medicine Blog, March 7, 2011: Sticker price of creating a new drug may be wildly overinflated.

-Is it wise for us to put our health needs in the hands of a for-profit endeavor? – The alternative might be that there is less initiative to create better working drugs for people with widespread and personal health needs.

– Lipitor’s patenting license is expiring soon. We’re at an interesting time in which we may see more generics.

– Why has there been a slowdown of innovation in drugs?

– Developing new drugs is greenlighted in accordance with the amount of money that can be made.


Giving Life After Death Row, New York Times, March 5, 2011: Man who was on death row is self admittedly guilty, wants to donate his organs, but the cocktail of drugs which usually kill people harm the organs to the point of non-medical use. Can anyone on death row give valid informed consent?

– Bizarreland of approving execution methods

– what method is “approvable” – most effective and “safe”

– What should we care about when we kill prisoners? Pain? Speed? Cost?

– What the medical community is avoiding by denying him the donations by saying that he might have HIV or run away, is saying that the real issue is the public image of the organ donation process – they don’t want to deal with what will happen when people ask who got the murderer’s retinas.


Cellphone Radiation Increases Brain Activity: Wired Science, February 22, 2011: When you use a certain type of cell phone, there’s a metabolic increase in certain brain cells. Much reporting was about how there was a problem with cellular phones affecting your brain. So to turn this all into a point: What can we gain by looking for articles in the news with a particularly interesting bioethics hook?

– In general, people don’t really know what bioethics is. By identifying these stories, you can “show” people what it is. Another problem is answering what Bioethicists do.

– One thing they can’t do is grant people some access to ethical truths. – You can help people to see what good arguments and bad arguments are, how to decipher facts from news-slant

– Public engagement: not lecturing, or speaking “at” but also see other points of view from interaction from academia and the general public by means of social media.


Stenographer: Amy Marco