Philosophy & Ethics


You might never know that you're hard of thinking. Robin Zebrowski/Flickr, CC BY-NC

By Stephan Lewandowsky, University of Bristol and Richard Pancost, University of Bristol

It is an unfortunate paradox: if you’re bad at something, you probably also lack the skills to assess your own performance. And if you don’t know much about a topic, you’re unlikely to be aware of the scope of your own ignorance.


Knockaloe Camp. Stefan Manz

By Stefan Manz, Aston University

The German-Jewish painter and writer Paul Cohen-Portheim had spent a peaceful summer in 1914 visiting friends in Devon and enjoying the beautiful south-west coast.

But his idyllic holiday came to an abrupt end after Britain’s entry into war on August 4. Despite there being no suggestion of any sympathy towards his homeland’s military ambitions, Cohen-Portheim was classified as an “enemy alien” and prevented from leaving the country.

This is a commonly used argument, indeed often taken for granted. We can simulate physics on a computer. So, the argument goes, what is to stop us eventually simulating your whole body including your brain? And if so, is it not just a matter of time, and increasing computer power before we have exact simulations of humans as computer programs? Programs whose behaviour is indistinguishable from humans?

This is a staple of many science fiction stories of course. But some logicians, philosophers and physicists think there are flaws in this argument.

We know the laws of physics are incomplete. Could there be physical processes which for some reason are impossible to simulate using a computer program? And could processes like that go on in a human being?


Proof of life beyond earth is coming. Stargazing image via Shutterstock

By David A. Weintraub, Vanderbilt University


Research undertaken on beagles and the contraceptive pill in the 1970s was found to be fabricated - there never were any beagles. Flickr/Understanding Animal Research, CC BY-SA

By Mark Israel, University of Western Australia

There are a few things you might need for an experiment involving beagles and the side effects of contraceptive pills. Animal research ethics aside, beagles might be a good start.


Old fashioned scandals meet new-fangled complexity. Andy Dean Photography

By Mark Israel, University of Western Australia


How much risk can health workers be asked to take on? Mike Segar/Reuters

By Catherine Womack, Bridgewater State University

Taking care of sick people has always involved personal risk.

From plague to tuberculosis to smallpox to SARS, health-care workers have put themselves in danger in the course of fulfilling their duties to care for others. Many have lost their lives doing just that.

In 2005, John Ioannidis wrote a paper in PLOS Medicine showing that most published research findings are false. 



There are many different conceptions of God, and endless questions. Credit: Waiting For The Word, CC BY-NC-SA

By Graham Oppy, Monash University

Disputes about the existence of God — like most disputes about religion, politics, and sex — almost always generate heat but not light.

The question of the existence of God seems intractable. As with other philosophical questions, there is no method to follow in seeking to answer it. Moreover, there is no prospect of reaching an agreed answer to it.


Should academics be disciplined by their universities for things said over Twitter? Credit: Opensource.com/ Flickr, CC BY-SA

By Janna Thompson, La Trobe University

Academic freedom has been put in the spotlight with two universities recently coming down hard on academics for comments on social media.