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Fractal Conflict Spirals & the Abortion Debate

25 Feb

The epitome of a conflict spiral?

Since the 2010 election, there have been a variety of bills proposed by Republicans, at both state & federal levels, that may result in restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. This post is not designed to evaluate the merits of these proposals, but rather how the response to these proposals, particularly a recent bill proposed in South Dakota that would classify actions taken in defense of a fetus as justifiable homicide, represent the conflict spirals discussed in the article ‘Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict’ by Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin. A brief analysis of the tone and nature of the debate over this bill shows the eagerness with which sinister motives were attributed to the opposing sides in this debate. Also worthy of note was the role of the media, which emphasized negative interpretations and furthered controversy, perhaps because it was the best narrative. Continue reading


Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict

21 Feb

Emily Pronin

In their chapter, Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict, Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin examine what they see as a major cause of breakdowns in negotiation, both small- and large-scale: a tendency of each side to view the other side’s position as biased and preference-driven (rather than based on objective facts).  Kennedy and Pronin explain that we tend to see signs of bias all around us – some even posit that United States Supreme Court justices fall short of impartiality in their decisions.  The only place, it seems, where the tendency to detect bias is weak is in ourselves: people have a tendency to perceive others as susceptible to the influence of biases while at the same time viewing themselves as relatively unaffected by those biases.  That asymmetry has been referred to as a bias blind spot.  One example of this bias blind spot with particular relevance to those of us in law school is the widespread disagreement over the validity of high-stakes standardized tests, such as the LSAT.  High performers are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of poor performers who claim that the test is invalid and should not be used; poor performers, by contrast, are inclined to resent the “obvious bias” of high performers who champion the tests’ use.

Kathleen Kennedy

The first component of Kennedy and Pronin’s bias-perception conflict spiral is that disagreement leads to an even stronger perception that the other side is biased.   That is, when people disagree, they view those with whom they disagree as biased or, more specifically, as unable or unwilling to view things as they are in “objective reality.”  The reason is clear: “people generally have complete faith in the veridicality of their perceptions, and thus are suspicious of those who fail to share their perceptions.”   Kennedy and Pronin offer support for this component with a review of several experimental and real-world cases of the tendency to perceive bias in action, including an experiment conducted among partisans involved in the struggle between Unionists and Nationalists in Northern Ireland, in the wake of the “Good Friday Agreement” that established the conditions for peace in that region.  Consistent with their hypothesis, partisans in the conflict tended to feel that those who led the opposing side were more prone to these biases than were those who led their own side.

Read about the second component and some applications of the model after the jump.

Continue reading

Using Images to Say “Born Gay”

11 Feb

Of all the ways the Internet is used for humor and commentary, an especially successful format is the photo blog populated with reader submissions around an interesting theme. For instance, Awkward Family Photos became a sensation in mid-2009 for its priceless arrays of dated clothes and questionable poses, while My Parents were Awesome celebrates contributors’ relatives in their attractive, fashionable younger years.

Isaac, age 7, Western Australia

A new site, Born This Way, is now using the same format to address the important mind science question of whether homosexuality is a choice. As the article that alerted me to Born This Way puts it, the blog “pairs a snapshot of a gay person as a kid with a personal essay about what he or she sees when looking at the photo,” yielding results that are both “totally delightful… often thoughtful and funny” and “wading in contentious waters.” In multiple contexts now, from its own comments section to those of the NPR and articles about it, the site has sparked debate over the influences of choice, nature, and nurture in the development of homosexual adults.  Continue reading

State of the Medical Malpractice Reform

2 Feb

I’m willing to look at other ideas to bring down [Health Care] costs, including one that Republicans suggested last year: medical malpractice reform to rein in frivolous lawsuits. President Obama – 2011 State of the Union

The President shocked both Republicans and Patients Rights Advocates when he indicated that he would be willing to consider medical malpractice reform. Businesses, Doctors and Tort Reformers have been yelling about the “need” for Medical malpractice reform for years. Members of these groups often point to a recent study (PDF) conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health which found that 40% of malpractice filed claims lack evidence of medical error or actual patient injury. Despite this study many still take issue with the President’s depiction of medical malpractice as an out of control area that needs to be reined in. I will not discuss those arguments in this post. (See Tom Baker’s The Medical Malpractice Myth, for an examination of the academic literature on medical malpractice.)

Instead, I’d like to look at what Republican ideas the President might consider.  In the House there is currently a bill that intends to rein in those frivolous lawsuits, H.R. 5. The preamble of the bill says it is, “To improve patient access to health care services and provide improved medical care by reducing the excessive burden the liability system places on the health care delivery system.”

Among other methods, the bill seeks to accomplish its goal by imposing a $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages.

Noneconomic damages includes compensation for the pain an injured patient suffers because of a negligent hospital, doctor or other healthcare provider.  Noneconomic damages also compensates individuals for the lost company of a loved one or lifetime disfigurement.

To quote  Representative Linda Sanchez, “H.R 5 is a deplorable bill”.  Indeed, capping noneconomic damages is the most useless method for reducing frivolous lawsuits. Damages caps certainly cut down on total lawsuits, but only because the cap makes it financially infeasible for an attorney to bring a lawsuit on behalf of a person with no economic damages. No job. No lawyer. No lawsuit.

The fact is that an attorney cannot afford to take a case for someone with no income because their maximum award at trial is limited to $250,000. After expert witness fees, court costs and travel, a medical malpractice case can easily cost over $100,000 to get to trial. Leaving the plaintiff little to nothing after attorney’s fees.  And with damages capped, insurance companies have almost no incentive to settle.

Sadly, damages caps prevent lawsuits by those who are often the most vulnerable to injury from negligent health providers. Children, the elderly and disabled persons cannot secure representation when a law deems their case has a maximum value of $250,000.  We can see this happening in states that have already capped noneconomic damages.  Perhaps most notably are the tort reform measures taken in Texas–House Bill 4 and the accompanying Proposition 12. Since those measures passed in 2003 the number of medical malpractice lawsuits in Texas have dropped dramatically. But that drop has been at the expense of thousands of wrongfully injured patients who can no longer secure representation. (For further discussion on  HB4 see Mark Lanier‘s interview covering the fallout).

Without a doubt, H.B. 5 is not a solution for reducing the number of frivolous lawsuits. A cap on noneconomic damages does nothing more than arbitrarily reduce the total amount of lawsuits. This reduction is done by creating categories of individuals who get shut of the courthouse doors.

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