Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics

Symposium, When Less Information is Better: Blinding as a Solution to Institutional Corruption
  • November 01, 2013 @ 09:15 AM
    Harvard Law School, Milstein West B, 1585 Mass. Ave., Cambridge

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University presents a multidisciplinary symposium to examine potential solutions to institutional corruption that use blinding: the strategy of concealing biasing information from decision makers. (View the schedule PDF.)

In the 1700s, Benjamin Franklin performed the first blindfolded experiment to debunk a charlatan's theory about a mysterious healing substance, and in the three centuries since then, blinding has become a fundamental tool to help reduce bias in biomedical science. In American courtrooms, jurors are initially selected from the community through blind draws, and once chosen, they are carefully blinded to irrelevant and biasing evidence. As the classic icon of blinded justice symbolizes, sometimes less information does produce better decisions.

Now a diverse group of scholars is exploring whether blinding can be used more broadly as a solution to institutional corruption. When is it feasible to use a blind selection, rather than hand-picking someone who will be biased? When can a funding dependency be allowed, while a decision maker nonetheless remains unbiased? These inquiries challenge industry-funded biomedical scientists to consider more robust blinding procedures, but they also raise questions about the ethics and justice of blinding, as well as questions about the incentives to use blinding within established institutions.

A raft of recent research has also revealed pervasive bias in forensic science, and there are opportunities for blinding in this domain as well, to make civil and criminal litigation more reliable. More fundamentally, these sorts of questions -- about who needs to know what -- open new doors of inquiry for the design of courts, laws, and institutions.

On November 1, 2013 the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University is convening a national symposium of leading scholars to explore these questions. The speakers bring an exceedingly diverse range of skills and methodologies, including medicine, law, philosophy, economics, psychology, sociology, the history of medicine, and the forensic sciences. The conference is being organized by Christopher Robertson (Harvard Law School and the University of Arizona) and Aaron Kesselheim (Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women's Hospital.)

The talks are open to the public, and there will be many opportunities for discussion. Refreshments during breaks will be provided. Lunch may be purchased in the Harvard Law School cafeteria.

Registration is open until October 30, and is also available at the door on the day of the event. Please click on the link below to RSVP.

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