Center for Practical Ethics restarts Policy Talks series

Published 3:31 pm Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A one-day conference on big data and tech in the delivery of rural health care is scheduled for Thursday (April 21) at the University of Mississippi.

The idea to examine ethical issues surrounding big data and tech started with conversations between ethicists in the Department of Philosophy and Religion and researchers in the Department of Computer and Information Science, said conference organizer Deborah Mower, UM associate professor of philosophy and the Bryant Chair of Ethics.

“A conversation with local medical providers about their increasing interest in how to harness new technological developments to improve patient care expanded the topic to additional technologies and research on big data,” Mower said. “And the specific challenges facing rural communities offers an opportunity to explore whether these new technologies can provide special benefits for care or patient access.

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“We realized that this topic would bring ethicists, computer scientists, medical providers and population health researchers together in conversation.”

Steven Skultety, chair and professor of philosophy, enthusiastically supports the idea.

“This won’t only be a great opportunity for the UM community to learn more about tech and health care, but an opportunity to explore how our deepest intuitions about care and ethical outcomes factor into our real-world judgments about policy,” he said. “This connection between ethical reasoning and decision-making is exactly what Dr. Mower’s new Center for Practical Ethics focuses upon.”

Faculty panelists are Αnne Cafer, director of the Center for Population Studies; Dawn Wilkins, chair and professor of computer and information science; and Ralph Didlake, associate vice chancellor of academic affairs and director of the Center for Bioethics at the UM Medical Center.

Guest panelists include Blake Jeter, chief operations officer at Relias Heathcare; Kevin Paterson, vice president at Indegene; Jim Lancaster, chief medical officer for Main Street Health, Southeast; and Lisa Lee, associate vice president of research and innovation and director of the Division of Scholarly Integrity and Research Compliance at Virginia Tech University and a former executive director for the Presidential Bioethics Commission during the Obama administration.

Mower said she hopes the audience will receive several benefits from the discussions.

“One is an increased understanding of the way that big data and tech are currently being implemented within health care,” she said. “Also, a look at the possibilities for how big data and tech could be used, expanding understanding of the technical issues behind the aggregation of data, algorithms, and AI.”

Most importantly, Mower expects listeners to receive a greater understanding of ethical concerns for specific technologies, effects of broad implementation, transformation of concepts such as consent, and the relation to law and policy, such as the role of HIPPA.

“Our goal for Policy Talks is civil conversations between academics, alumni, industry experts and officials to examine policies that affect our lives,” she said. “What could be more interesting than that?”

Policy Talks begins at 1 p.m. in Bryant Hall, Room 111. Registration is required due to limited seating, and all the talks will be live-streamed via Zoom. To request a seat or the Zoom link, visit

The conference is sponsored by the Self family, University Lecture Series, Department of Philosophy and Religion, Center for Population Studies, Department of Public Policy Leadership, and the Department of Computer and Information Science. The work of the Center for Practical Ethics is supported by Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Hume Bryant.

For more information about Policy Talks, visit