Tuesday, December 6, 2016

"Inflammation might be causing depression": Stigma of mental illness, reductionism, and (mis-)representations of science

by Katie Givens Kime

Image courtesy of Flickr
Is depression a Kind of Allergic Reaction?” Provocative headlines like these appear throughout popular media. Besides misrepresenting scientific findings, such journalistic coverage impacts perceptions of mental illness, as well as expectations of those seeking treatment. In last month’s Neuroethics in the News talk, Dr. Jennifer Felger, from Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, shared her experiences and insights on the translation (and mistranslation) of research by journalists. In relating the story of her own interactions with the media, Felger emphasized the complex and varying transactional relationships between journalists and scientists. The impact of such coverage carries notable neuroethical dimensions, potentially affecting the capacity for agency and/or aspects of a sense of self for a person experiencing mental illness.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"American Horror Story" in Real Life: Understanding Racialized Views of Mental Illness and Stigma

By Sunidhi Ramesh

Racial and ethnic discrimination have taken various forms in the
United States since its formation as a nation. The sign in the image
reads: "Deport all Iranians. Get the hell out of my country."
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.
From 245 years of slavery to indirect racism in police sanctioning and force, minority belittlement has remained rampant in American society (1). There is no doubt that this history has left minorities in the United States with a differential understanding of what it means to be American and, more importantly, what it means to be an individual in a larger humankind.

Generally, our day-to-day experiences shape the values, beliefs, and attitudes that allow us to navigate the real world (2). And so, with regards to minorities, consistent exposure to these subjective experiences (of belittlement and discrimination, for example) can begin to shape subjective perceptions that, in turn, can mold larger perspectives and viewpoints.

Last spring, I conducted a project for a class to address the reception (3) of white and non-white, or persons of color (POC), students to part of an episode from American Horror Story: Freak Show. The video I asked them to watch portrays a mentally incapacitated woman, Pepper, who is wrongfully framed for the murder of her sister’s child. The character’s blatant scapegoating is shocking not only for the lack of humanity it portrays but also for the reality of being a human being in society while not being viewed as human.

Although the episode remains to be somewhat of an exaggeration, the opinions of the interview respondents in my project ultimately suggested that there exists a racial basis of perceiving the mental disabilities of Pepper—a racial basis that may indeed be deeply rooted in the racial history of the United States.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Debating the Replication Crisis - Why Neuroethics Needs to Pay Attention

By Ben Wills

Ben Wills studied Cognitive Science at Vassar College, where his thesis examined cognitive neuroscience research on the self. He is currently a legal assistant at a Portland, Oregon law firm, where he continues to hone his interests at the intersections of brain, law, and society.

In 2010 Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy, and Andy Yap published a study showing that assuming an expansive posture, or “power pose,” leads to increased testosterone levels, task performance, and self-confidence. The popular media and public swooned at the idea that something as simple as standing like Wonder Woman could boost performance and confidence. A 2012 TED talk that author Amy Cuddy gave on her research has become the site’s second-most watched video, with over 37 million views. Over the past year and change, however, the power pose effect has gradually fallen out of favor in experimental psychology. A 2015 meta-analysis of power pose studies by Ranehill et al. concluded that power posing affects only self-reported feelings of power, not hormone levels or performance. This past September, reflecting mounting evidence that power pose effects are overblown, co-author Dana Carney denounced the construct, stating, “I do not believe that ‘power pose’ effects are real.”

What happened?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The 2016 Kavli Futures Symposium: Ethical foundations of Novel Neurotechnologies: Identity, Agency and Normality

By Sean Batir (1), Rafael Yuste (1), Sara Goering (2), and Laura Specker Sullivan (2)

Image from Kavli Futures Symposium
(1) Neurotechnology Center, Kavli Institute of Brain Science, Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University, New York, NY 10027

(2) Department of Philosophy, and Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195

Detailed biographies for each author are located at the end of this post

Often described as the “two cultures,” few would deny the divide between the humanities and the sciences. This divide must be broken down if humanistic progress is to be made in the future of transformative technologies. The 2016 Kavli Futures Symposium held by Dr. Rafael Yuste and Dr. Sara Goering at the Neurotechnology Center of Columbia University addressed the divide between the humanities and sciences by curating an interdisciplinary dialogue between leading neuroscientists, neural engineers, and bioethicists across three broad topics of conversation. These three topics include conversations on identity and mind reading, agency and brain stimulation, and definitions of normality in the context of brain enhancement. The message of such an event is clear: dialogue between neurotechnology and ethics is necessary because the novel neurotechnologies are poised to generate a profound transformation in our society.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

On the ethics of machine learning applications in clinical neuroscience

By Philipp Kellmeyer

Dr. med. Philipp Kellmeyer, M.D., M.Phil. (Cantab) is a board-certified neurologist working as postdoctoral researcher in the Intracranial EEG and Brain Imaging group at the University of Freiburg Medical Center, German. His current projects include the preparation of a clinical trial for using a wireless brain-computer interface to restore communication in severely paralyzed patients. In neuroethics, he works on ethical issues of emerging neurotechnologies. He is a member of the Rapid Action Task Force of the International Neuroethics Society and the Advisory Committee of the Neuroethics Network.

What is machine learning, you ask? 
As a brief working definition up front: machine learning refers to software that can learn from experience and is thus particularly good at extracting knowledge from data and for generating predictions [1]. Recently, one particularly powerful variant called deep learning has become the staple of much of recent progress (and hype) in applied machine learning. Deep learning uses biologically inspired artificial neural networks with many processing stages (hence the word "deep"). These deep networks, together with the ever-growing computing power and larger datasets for learning, now deliver groundbreaking performances at many tasks. For example, Google’s AlphaGo program that comprehensively beat a Go champion in January 2016 uses deep learning algorithms for reinforcement learning (analyzing 30 million Go moves and playing against itself). Despite these spectacular (and media-friendly) successes, however, the interaction between humans and algorithms may also go badly awry.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Good Death: Towards Alternative Dementia Personhoods

By Melissa Liu

Melissa is a Medical Anthropology PhD student at the U. of Washington, Seattle. Her nascent research circles the intersection of neuroscience, dementia, and design. Melissa is also a Neuroethics Fellow with the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, an NSF ERC.  

Something is amiss. Why is there a neighborhood of houses within this assisted living facility? Why do all the houses in the neighborhood have the same 1950s design? Am I standing on carpet? It looks like a garden path. The ceiling feels like a sunset in real time. [1] Where am I? When is this? The questions above are inspired by Lantern, one of several memory care facilities in Ohio based on a patent-pending memory care program created by Jean Makesh where rehabilitation is the goal [2] [3]. However, many more models around the world are based on Reminiscence therapy, a type of therapy which technically has “[no] single definition” but generally “[involves] the recalling of early life events and interaction between individuals” [4]. Research shows that “Reminiscence therapy is used extensively in dementia care and evidence shows when used effectively it helps individuals retain a sense of self-worth, identity and individuality” [4].

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Zombethics 2016: (in)visible disabilities and troubling normality

By Shweta Sahu

Zombethics Case Graphic 
With Halloween just around the corner, zombies and other atypical creatures are much on our minds, but such constructs are rarely thought of from an ethical perspective. This year, on October 26th at 5:30 pm at the Center for Ethics, 1531 Dickey Drive, Ethics Commons Room 102, Emory Center for Ethics is collaborating with Emory Integrity Project (EIP) to boggle your mind with ethical considerations and encourage you to consider how students should engage across (in)visible differences at Emory. The discussion will be based around three interesting case studies which can be found here. These scenarios will lead to questions such as, ‘should people ask others what gender pronouns they prefer to be associated with, even if the answer may seem “obvious” at first glance.’ On the other hand, what are the implications of assuming non-visible disability based on a person’s behaviors or appearance? The goal of the symposium will be to help participants handle controversial issues like these and to guide them to effectively deal with such situations.

To find out more about the event, I spoke with coordinator Dr. Paul Wolpe from the Emory Center for Ethics as well as Ms. Emily Lorino and Dr. Rebecca Taylor from the Emory Integrity Project, and Dr. Karen Rommelfanger, chair of the Zombethics® conference series. Here’s what I asked:

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Racial Biases in Face Judgment- When You “Look” Criminal

By Carlie Hoffman

Image courtesy of Pixabay
Racial bias can, and often does, occur in several elements of the criminal justice process, including on initial police contact, during eye-witness identification, and in jurors’ decisions. This disparity of how people are treated throughout the justice system is likely influenced by the criminal black male stereotype that pervades our American culture (1). Some propose that this stereotype originated in the slavery and post-slavery eras, with the onset of Jim Crow laws and other post-slavery codes that instigated segregation and also sanctioned racially-biased punishments for blacks, and especially for black males. Racially-biased punishments are still present today, with a 2015 article in Slate magazine citing that black Americans are more likely to have their cars searched, to be arrested for drug use, to be jailed while awaiting a trial, and to serve longer sentences for the same offense as white Americans.

The presence of racial bias in the criminal justice system is irrefutable, and investigation into the elements fueling this bias has recently moved into the realm of neuroscience. In last month’s Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News talk, Dr. Heather Kleider-Offutt from Georgia State University explained that not all black men are stereotyped in the same way. Instead, certain black men are subject to a higher degree of negative bias than other black men, and inclusion in this select subgroup is based on face-type and not skin color alone.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Rethinking Irreversibility and Its Implications on Determining Death

By Alex Lin

Alex Lin is an undergraduate student at Rutgers University pursuing a dual degree in Biological Sciences and Philosophy. As an aspiring physician, he is interested in medical ethics and runs the Rutgers Bioethics Society alongside a diverse team of student thinkers. Alex is from Paramus, New Jersey, and volunteers as an emergency medical technician for his community.

Death, by definition, is irreversible. The notion of irreversibility is a central component of the current standards of death, cardiopulmonary and neurological alike. Given that the neurological criteria−the irreversible cessation of whole brain function−is the legally recognized criterion of death in many countries, including the United States [1], forthcoming advancements in neurotechnology under the BRAIN Initiative will be crucial to the accurate determination of death. With the development of technologies that allow scientists to study how individual neurons interact in significantly greater detail, questions emerge concerning the particular moment of truly irreversible total brain failure.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Prescribing the Placebo Effect

By Sarika Sachdeva

This post was written as part of a class assignment from students who took a neuroethics course with Dr. Rommelfanger in Paris of Summer 2016. 

Sarika Sachdeva is an undergraduate junior at Emory studying Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology and Economics. She is involved with research on stimulant abuse and addiction under Dr. Leonard Howell at Yerkes National Primate Research Center. 

In 2006, Dr. Ted Kaptchuk designed a clinical drug trial to evaluate a new pain pill in patients with severe arm pain. Participants in the study were assigned to receive either the pill or an acupuncture treatment for several weeks. Dr. Kaptchuk found that the people who received acupuncture ended up with more pain relief than those who had taken the pain pill. This difference was surprising, not because the pain pill was expected to be more effective, but because neither treatment was real- the pain pills contained cornstarch and the acupuncture was done with false needles that never pierced the skin.