Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Neurodevelopmental Disability on TV: Neuroethics and Season 1 of ABC’s Speechless

By John Aspler and Ariel Cascio


John Aspler, a doctoral candidate in Neuroscience at McGill University and the Neuroethics Research Unit, focuses on the experiences of key stakeholders affected by fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, the way they are represented and discussed in Canadian media, and the potential stigmatization they face given related disability stereotypes. 

Ariel Cascio, a postdoctoral researcher at the Neuroethics Research Unit of the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, focuses primarily on autism spectrum conditions, identity, subjectivity, and biopolitics. 

Introduction

Television can be an important medium through which to explore cultural conceptions of complex topics like disability – a topic tackled by Speechless, a single-camera family sitcom. Speechless tells the story of JJ DiMeo, a young man with cerebral palsy (CP) portrayed by Micah Fowler, who himself has CP. The show focuses on JJ’s daily life as well as the experiences of his parents and siblings. JJ’s aide, an African-American man named Kenneth, voices for JJ, as the latter uses a head-mounted laser pointer to indicate words and letters on a communication board (explaining the show’s title).

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Dog Days: Has neuroscience revealed the inner lives of animals?

By Ryan Purcell

Image courtesy of Pexels.
On a sunny, late fall day with the semester winding down, Emory neuroscientist Dr. Gregory Berns gave a seminar in the Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News series on campus. Berns has become relatively famous for his ambitious and fascinating work on what he calls “the dog project”, an eminently relatable and intriguing study that has taken aim at uncovering how the canine mind works using functional imaging technology.

The seminar was based on some of the ideas in his latest book, What It’s Like to Be a Dog (and other adventures in Animal Neuroscience). In it, Berns responds to philosopher Thomas Nagel’s influential anti-reductionist essay “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” and recounts his journey to perform the world’s first functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) session on an awake, unrestrained dog. Like so many seemingly impossible tasks, when broken down into many small, discrete steps, getting a dog to step into an fMRI machine and remain still during scanning became achievable (see training video here). 

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: White Christmas

By Yunmiao Wang

Miao is a second year graduate student in the Neuroscience Program at Emory University. She has watched Black Mirror since it first came out, and has always been interested in the topics of Neuroethics. 

Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences may be lurking behind our rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is the final installment of a series of posts that discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show, and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 

SPOILER ALERT: The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series, Black Mirror

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Neuroethics in the News Recap: Psychosis, Unshared Reality, or Clairaudiance?

By Nathan Ahlgrim

Even computer programs, like DeepDream, hallucinate.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Experiencing hallucinations is one of the most sure-fire ways to be labeled with one of the most derogatory of words: “crazy.” Hearing voices that no one else can hear is a popular laugh line (look no further than Phoebe in Friends), but it can be a serious and distressing symptom of schizophrenia and other incapacitating disorders. Anderson Cooper demonstrated the seriousness of the issue, finding the most mundane of tasks nearly impossible as he lived a day immersed in simulated hallucinations. Psychotic symptoms are less frequently the butt of jokes with increasing visibility and sensitivity, but people with schizophrenia and others who hear voices are still victims of stigma. Of course, people with schizophrenia deserve to be treated like patients in the mental healthcare system to ease their suffering and manage their symptoms, but there is a population who are at peace with the voices only they can hear. At last month’s Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News meeting, Stephanie Hare and Dr. Jessica Turner of Georgia State University painted the contrast between people with schizophrenia and people that scientists call “healthy voice hearers.” In doing so, they discussed how hearing voices should not necessarily be considered pathological, reframing what healthy and normal behavior should include.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Neuroethics, the Predictive Brain, and Hallucinating Neural Networks

By Andy Clark

Andy Clark is Professor of Logic and Metaphysics in the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences, at Edinburgh University in Scotland. He is the author of several books including Surfing Uncertainty: Prediction, Action, and the Embodied Mind (Oxford University Press, 2016). Andy is currently PI on a 4-year ERC-funded project Expecting Ourselves: Prediction, Action, and the Construction of Conscious Experience.

In this post, I’d like to explore an emerging neurocomputational story that has implications for how we should think about ourselves and about the relations between normal and atypical forms of human experience.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Allies and Enemies in the Fight for Mental Health Reform

 By Nathan Ahlgrim

The Need for Allies

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Mental healthcare in the United States is in need of serious reform. Mental healthcare is less accessible than other services, and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act could put adequate care out of reach for millions more Americans.

Opposition to mental healthcare reform comes from all sides, with the popular talking points demanding law and order, fiscal responsibility, and moral accountability. Still, the consequences of un- or under-treated people interacting with un- or under-trained authorities are hard to ignore, most strikingly in the criminal justice system. Americans with mental illnesses are sixteen times more likely to be shot by police, and more than half of all inmates in America suffer from mental health problems. Mental health reform, then, stands to benefit the healthcare system, criminal justice, and family structure itself.

Given the opposition, legislative policy victories will require a rallying of the troops and solidarity among all conceivable allies. Though it is tempting to welcome any and all help, even the purest of idealists can be hamstrung by allying with activists who actively fight the mainstream. The decisions of who to include and exclude as allies can determine a movement’s success as much as the message itself.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Check out our 8.4 Special Issue on head transplantation!

Image courtesy of Flickr user ellajphillips.
AJOBN is proud to announce that our 8.4 Special Issue on head transplantation is live. This issue features posts from Dr. Paul Root Wolpe (“Ahead of Our Time: Why Head Transplantation is Ethically Unsupportable”) and Dr. Sergio Canavero and Ren Xiaoping (“HEAVEN IN THE MAKING BETWEEN THE ROCK (the Academe) AND A HARD CASE (a Head Transplant)”). This issue is being published amongst a flurry of news coverage surrounding head transplantation. Though Dr. Canavero has been planning and promoting his idea for a head transplantation surgery for the last several years (watch his 2015 TedTalk entitled, “Head Transplantation: The Future Is Now”), the actual transplant is scheduled to occur by the end of this year. In fact, just a few days ago Canavero announced that he has successfully completed a head transplant surgery on a human corpse. Karen Rommelfanger and Paul Boshears wrote the editorial piece for the 8.4 issue and also recently released a Newsweek article discussing Canavero’s upcoming head transplant surgery on a live patient.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Summary of what you (may have) missed at last week’s International Neuroethics Society meeting!

Image courtesy of Gillian Hue.
The AJOBN Editorial team recently returned from the 11th annual International Neuroethics Society (INS) meeting, which took place on November 9-10th in Washington, DC. The theme for the meeting was Honoring our History, Forging our Future, and it brought together scientists, philosophers, professionals, and scholars from over 10 countries to both summarize the first 15 years of the neuroethics field and to discuss our prospective future. The day and a half conference included plenary lectures, a public forum, panel discussions, and a poster session, and addressed topics ranging from the development of lying in children to the neuroethical considerations that accompany the use of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS).

In case you didn't get the chance to attend the conference this year, here is a brief summary of what you missed (a full program recap can be found here).

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

International governance of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology: Whom to trust with the assessment of future pathways?

By Nina María Frahm

Nina María Frahm is a research fellow and PhD candidate at the Munich Center for Technology in Society, Technical University Munich. Previously, she obtained a BA in European Studies and an MSc in Science and Technology Studies at Maastricht University, and was a research fellow at the Technical University of Berlin, where she investigated heterogeneous cultures of cooperation in collaborative forms of research and development of emerging technologies. Her interest in the crossroads of science, technology, and public policy was fueled during a junior research position at University of Quilmes, Buenos Aires, where she conducted a project on technologies for social inclusion. Her current interest in neuroethics focuses on different cultures of responsible knowledge-making in emerging brain science, and the limits and opportunities these cultures represent for transnational neuroscience. 

There is a growing consensus about the need to better align neuroscience and neurotechnology (NS/NT) with societal needs, values, and expectations. In particular, researchers and policy-makers are increasingly calling for better international coordination of neuroscientific research and neuroethical consultation.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: Men Against Fire

By Sunidhi Ramesh

Image courtesy of Pexels.
Humans in the 21st century have an intimate relationship with technology. Much of our lives are spent being informed and entertained by screens. Technological advancements in science and medicine have helped and healed in ways we previously couldn’t dream of. But what unanticipated consequences may be lurking behind our rapid expansion into new technological territory? This question is continually being explored in the British sci-fi TV series Black Mirror, which provides a glimpse into the not-so-distant future and warns us to be mindful of how we treat our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is part of a series of posts that will discuss ethical issues surrounding neuro-technologies featured in the show and will compare how similar technologies are impacting us in the real world. 

SPOILER ALERT: The following contains plot spoilers for the Netflix television series, Black Mirror