Upcoming Event with Jonathan Lazar

Jonathan Lazar on Locked Out: Investigating Societal Discrimination Against People with Disabilities Due to Inaccessible Websites

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 | 4:00 pm

Sheerr Room, Fay House, 10 Garden Street, Cambridge

Jonathan Lazar is a professor of Computer and Information Sciences, director of the undergraduate program inInformation Systems, and founder and director of the Universal Usability Laboratory, all at Towson University. His research in human-computer interaction focuses on understanding how people with disabilities interact with technologies, how improved interface design can change the quality of life for people with disabilities, and how human-computer interaction and public policy influence each other.

With his fellowship project as a Radcliffe Fellow, Lazar seeks to improve understanding of the relationship between web-based interfaces that are inaccessible to people with disabilities, and how those inaccessible interfaces lead to forms of discrimination that are illegal under US law. As part of the project, he is writing a book about the topic and collaborating on research with the Harvard Law School Project on Disability. For his fellowship presentation, he will discuss equal access to web-based information and societal discrimination in five areas: federal government, state government, county-level emergency alert information, airline reservations, and employment applications.

Lazar has published more than 120 refereed articles in journals, books, and conference proceedings. He has also authored three books and edited three, including Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction (Wiley, 2010), Universal Usability: Designing Computer Interfaces for Diverse User Populations (Wiley, 2007), and Web Usability: A User-Centered Design Approach (Addison Wesley, 2006). He was awarded a 2011 University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Public Service, a 2010 Dr. Jacob Bolotin Award from the National Federation of the Blind for working towards achieving the full integration of the blind into society on a basis of equality, and a 2009 Innovator of the Year Award from the Maryland Daily Record for his work on improving the accessibility of web-based security features. He earned MS and PhD degrees in Information Systems from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a BBA degree in Management Information Systems from Loyola University Maryland, where he received the Rev. Daniel McGuire SJ Alumni Association Service Award. He currently serves as chair of public policy for ACM SIGCHI (the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction).

This event is free and open to the public. ASL interpretation will be provided. Please forward this notice to anyone who may be interested in attending. 

For more information or to request any disability-related accommodations, please visit www.radcliffe.harvard.edu or call (617) 495 – 8212.

Upcoming event: Seminar on food subsidies and health at Tufts

Next Wednesday, Professor Sean Cash of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts will deliver a seminar presentation titled, “Fat Taxes and Thin Subsidies: Can food price interventions improve health?” Professor Cash will discuss the efficacy and health impacts of food price interventions that increase the cost of undesirable foods and/or decrease the cost of desirable ones. (For a little advance reading, take a look at his 2005 article by a similar title, which argues that estimates of the cost per statistical life saved through such subsidies compare favorably with existing U.S. government programs). Here’s a brief description of the lecture:

Activists often argue that food prices drive the obesity epidemic, and call for a change in taxes to raise the cost of undesirable foods and subsidies to lower prices of more desirable ones. Do these fat taxes and subsidies actually work? This seminar will review the evidence on efficacy, producer and consumer responses, distribution of health impacts and financial gains or losses, as well as the role of non-price interventions in relation to price changes.

As an added bonus, the seminar will be broadcast via live stream here—so no need to brave the icy cold!

Special issue in the Journal of Philosophy & Technology on evolution, genetic engineering, and human enhancement

By Yu-Chi Lyra Kuo

A special issue published this month by the Journal of Philosophy & Technology features a collection of articles discussing evolution, genetic engineering, and human enhancement. Recent years have seen a rapidly expanding variety of approaches to exploring the normativity of human enhancement, by philosophers, bioethicists, physicians, and biologists. The articles in this special issue largely focus on the question: how can evolution and aetiological teleology inform biological ethics and theories of human enhancement?

For a separate collection of articles discussing the ethics of human enhancement from the perspective of the physician-patient relationship, see this special issue by the American Journal of Bioethics, published approximately a year ago.

Happy reading, and happy holidays! ~YK

Upcoming event: Lecture on Hormonally Active Pollutants by Joan Ruderman

Tuesday, 5pm

Sheerr Room, Fay House

10 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA

Joan Ruderman will be giving a talk titled, “Hormonally Active Pollutants: What Are They, What Can They Do, and How Do We Know They’re Out There?” Here is a summary of her talk:

Over the past few decades, an increasing number of chemicals that were designed for one purpose have now been found to have the surprising, additional ability to mimic hormones like estrogen. Examples of such chemicals, often called environmental estrogens, include certain pesticides, plasticizers, detergents, and compounds added to personal care products. There is growing concern that everyday exposures to these chemicals, and to others yet to be discovered, are contributing to increases in reproductive abnormalities, infertility, and estrogen-dependent cancers in both males and females. Previously identified environmental estrogens show little structural similarity to estrogen, making it impossible to predict simply on the basis of structure alone which other chemicals may also be estrogenic. Transgenic zebrafish embryos can play a unique role in screening chemicals that mimic estrogen.

The website for this lecture series can be found here. Hope to see you there! ~YK

Upcoming Discussion: “The Objectivity of Ethics and the Unity of Practical Reason”

Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer have an interesting new article in the most recent issue of Ethics on “The Objectivity of Ethics and the Unity of Practical Reason.”


Evolutionary accounts of the origins of human morality may lead us to doubt the truth of our moral judgments. Sidgwick tried to vindicate ethics from this kind of external attack. However, he ended The Methods in despair over another problem—an apparent conflict between rational egoism and universal benevolence, which he called the “dualism of practical reason.” Drawing on Sidgwick, we show that one way of defending objectivity in ethics against Sharon Street’s recent evolutionary critique also puts us in a position to support a bold claim: the dualism of practical reason can be resolved in favor of impartiality.

On Monday, PEA Soup will begin a discussion on this article, led by Roger Crisp.  I hope to see you there! -YK

Using Tissue Samples to Make Genetic Offspring after Death

By Yu-Chi Lyra Kuo

Last month, John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka were jointly awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize for Medicine for their research on induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs).  iPSCs are capturing the public imagination as embryonic stem cells did fifteen years ago, but without the controversy surrounding the destruction of embryos: iPSCs can be garnered instead from living somatic tissue of an organism at any point in its lifespan–even late adulthood.  Yamanaka’s research has shown that somatic cells can be “reprogrammed” to develop into any kind of cell–including an embryo–speaking to the vast research potential of iPSCs.

In light of the research potential of iPSCs, I wanted to highlight the results of a remarkable study (published last month) where scientists induced iPSCs from mice into primordial germ cell-like cells, and aggregated them with female somatic cells to create mature, germinal oocytes. The team was then able to show that these oocytes, after in vitro fertilization, yield fertile offspring. Essentially, the research team created viable mouse embryos from skin cells, and fertilized them using IVF to produce healthy mice, some of which have already produced offspring of their own.

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Life Extension: Forcing Criminals to Serve Their Time? (Part I)

By Yu-Chi Kuo

Former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was recently sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for serial child sex abuse.  Sandusky had faced as great as a 400-year potential sentence during trial, but even the 30 year minimum term will likely exceed his natural lifespan all the same: at 68-years-old, Sandusky will probably die in prison long before serving his time. If he lives to the average life expectancy of 75, he will have served only a quarter of his minimum sentence.  In light of the vileness and severity of his crimes, Sandusky’s death may leave many victims and observers feeling that death provided an early exit from deserved punishment.

Curiously enough, Sandusky’s former employer patented and licensed a telomerase reporter system capable of monitoring the regulation of telomere maintenance. Telomeres are microcellular regions that protect against gene degradation and promote cell longevity. The maintenance (or lengthening) of telomeres through telomerase therapy is an exciting subfield of life-extension therapy that may radically lengthen human lifespans in future.

The arguments for and against this and other forms of human enhancement technology are fairly well combed-over in popular discourse: it’s unnatural; it’s sinful; it’s unfair; it’s arrogant. On the other hand, this and other subfields of gerontology profess some noble goals: to improve the ratio of “good years” with years of morbidity; to deliver unto humans a “gift” of possibly unlimited life.  But what if we inverted the concept of life extension therapy as a “gift,” and could administer it to criminals like Jerry Sandusky, in order to extend their remaining life up to the end of their sentence? Telomerase therapy may be a continual treatment; it could conceivably even be withdrawn to give the old man just enough “life” to watch the clock on his last day.
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