Author: M.J. Ryder

About M.J. Ryder

Writer, academic and digital communications professional.

Ethics, killing, and the Moral Machine

Just over a year ago now, I published the results of a small survey I shared with my followers on Facebook. The idea was to test a few theories I had been working on around ethics and the relative value we assign different forms of life. In this case, I was specifically interested in how we think about animal life, and how we respond to different species when it comes to decisions around life and death.

Even though my survey was relatively small, the results were quite remarkable, and show a clear trend in responses that favour saving larger and more ‘noble’ animals, over smaller, ‘less intelligent’ animals that may be perceived to be in some way less worthy. While a utilitarian perspective should in theory show that the save/kill decisions made by respondents should be weighted equally across five different species of farmyard animal (each life is, after all, of equal ‘value’), respondents very clearly favoured saving a single horse over a single chicken. This trend continued when participants were asked to choose between saving a single horse or five chickens, with many respondents still opting to save the horse, while many respondents would much prefer to kill five chickens, instead of a single horse.

Continue reading »

Stranger than fiction

Camp Concentration book coverIf there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my PhD it’s that truth is very often stranger than fiction.

I’ve just recently finished reading Thomas M. Disch’s Camp Concentration (1968), in which prisoners in the United States are injected with a form of syphilis in order to boost their intelligence. Strange as this may sound, it’s nothing compared with real life.

In 1972, whistle-blower Peter Buxtun revealed the that the US Public Health Service had been conducting secret studies on African-Americans, in the now infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment. The study started in 1932 and ran for over 40 years without the participants knowing they had the disease, and without them ever being treated with penicillin.

Of course, Disch couldn’t have known about the Tuskegee experiments when he was writing in the 1960s, but this revelation sure does make you think. Continue reading »