Chinese scientist who edited babies' genes has been fired and may face criminal charges

An investigation by the health ministry in Guangdong, China determined that scientist He Jiankui broke national laws when he used the CRISPR gene-editing technique to engineer human embryos with resistance to HIV and then implanted the embryos into women who then birthed the babies. Based on the probe, the Southern University of Science and Technology has fired He from his position as a researcher and teacher there. According to an article in the Chinese state media outlet Xinhua, police may also explore charges against He and his colleagues. From Nature:

The Xinhua article confirms many details of the case for the first time: starting in June 2016, it says, He put together a team that, from March 2017, recruited eight couples consisting of an HIV-positive father and an HIV-negative mother. He’s team edited the genes of embryos from at least two couples. (The Xinhua article does not specify what type of gene editing was done, although He claims that the embryos were edited to remove a gene that enables HIV to enter cells.) In addition to the woman who already gave birth, one other woman involved in the experiment is currently pregnant with a gene-edited embryo. Five other couples are not pregnant, the article reports, and one couple dropped out of the experiment.

The article says that He’s gene-editing activities were “clearly prohibited by the state”, but it doesn’t mention which specific laws or regulations the researcher broke.

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How to use science fiction to teach tech ethics

Science fiction writer/lawyer Casey Fiesler is a maven in the field of tech ethics education (she maintains the amazing spreadsheet of tech-ethics syllabi); she uses science fiction stories as a jumping-off point for her own classroom discussions of ethics in technology. Read the rest

Facebook hired GOP oppo firm to smear protesters by linking them to George Soros, an anti-Semitic trope: NYT

We are watching Facebook unravel in real time. I hope. Read the rest

Customizable ethics checklists for Big Data researchers

Deon is a project to create automated "ethics checklists" for data science projects; by default, running the code creates a comprehensive checklist covering data collection and storage, modeling and deployment: the checklist items aren't specific actions, they're "meant to provoke discussion among good-faith actors who take their ethical responsibilities seriously. Because of this, most of the items are framed as prompts to discuss or consider. Teams will want to document these discussions and decisions for posterity." Read the rest

A CRISPR-based hack could eradicate malaria-carrying mosquitoes

A research team from Imperial College London have published promising results of an experiment in which Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes -- responsible for the spread of malaria -- were genetically modified with a stable, gene-drive-based CRISPR modification that caused them to go extinct in the lab. Read the rest

No, Steve Bannon should not speak at your journalism conference. Here's why.

White Supremacist grifter Steve Bannon, formerly of Donald Trump's Presidential administration, has made quite the new career for himself as a lucrative speaker on the journalism and big thinker circuit. Read the rest

The Copenhagen Letter: a set of principles for ethical technology

The techlash has sparked a most welcome interest in the ethics of technology (there are hundreds of university courses on the subject!) and with it, a bustling cottage industry in the formulation and promulgation of "statements of principles" meant to guide technologists in their work. Read the rest

Will Martian colonists need to be bioengineered?

Bioengineering future Martian colonists may be easier than taking the many difficult steps to reduce radiation exposure. But is it ethical? Read the rest

Unregulated fertility technologies are being used to create babies

Mitochindrial replacement techniques, which produce "three-parent babies," promise to allow infertile couples to have babies, and even allow people with debilitating genetic disorders to have healthy babies. The largely unregulated tech is already producing babies despite the unknown long-term risks. Read the rest

Several experts explain key ethical issues about AI

Artificial intelligence has nearly unimaginable potential to shape the world, but it poses a number of significant ethical questions that need to be carefully examined at every step to reduce bias. Several experts give a rundown of the main concerns. Read the rest

Strong Female Protagonist, Book Two: the hard philosophical questions of superheroism and compassion

It's been nearly four years since the first crowdfunded collection of Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag's webcomic Strong Female Protagonist was published; the second volume, published this week, traces not just the evolution of its protagonist, the superhero Alison "Mega Girl" Green, but of its creators, who have found new and amazing depths to plumb and heights to soar to.

A dozen googlers quit over Google's military drone contract

Google's "Project Maven" is supplying machine-learning tools to the Pentagon to support drone strikes; the project has been hugely divisive within Google, with employees pointing out that the company is wildly profitable and doesn't need to compromise on its ethics to keep its doors open; that the drone program is a system of extrajudicial killing far from the battlefield; and that the firm's long-term health depends on its ability to win and retain the trust of users around the world, which will be harder if Google becomes a de facto wing of the US military. Read the rest

Syllabus for a course on Data Science Ethics

The University of Utah's Suresh Venkatasubramanian and Katie Shelef are teaching a course in "Ethics in Data Science" and they've published a comprehensive syllabus for it; it's a fantastic set of readings for anyone interested in understanding and developing ethical frameworks for computer science generally, and data science in particular. Read the rest

Koch-funded "academic freedom" grifters run into trouble at Wellesley

Reactionaries of every stripe have latched onto "academic freedom" for self-promotion as speakers on college campuses, but Wellesley College's Koch-funded Freedom Project came under scrutiny thanks to student activists and journalists. Now the program's head is taking a year off to teach "elsewhere." Read the rest

Aerial footage of a Volkswagen diesel car graveyard in California

To date, Volkswagen has bought back about 350,000 diesel vehicles in the wake of the massive environmental fraud they committed around emissions testing. Here's one of 37 VW graveyards. Read the rest

An ethical oath for programmers

Nick Johnstone's "Programmer's Oath" is billed as "An oath for programmers, comparable to the Hippocratic Oath." Naturally, it's on Github and you can create a pull request if you think that Johnstone got something wrong. Read the rest

Here's the winner of Integrity Idol, the reality show for Nigerian government workers

Nuzo Eziechi said, "I am incredibly excited to be honored as Nigeria's Integrity Idol." The show featured government workers competing to be crowned most ethical. Read the rest

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