Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Science March: Can science-based advocacy be both nuanced and effective?

By Jennifer Lee

Jenn Laura Lee is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at New York University. She is also a member of the Scientist Action and Advocacy Network (ScAAN.net), which offers pro bono data science and research to organizations seeking to implement positive social change.

I believe in protests. I attend them, I endorse them, and I think that they make a difference. Raising political consciousness in the scientific community in any form seems like a good thing. The Science March moreover seems like a great opportunity for a community of people sharing common livelihood to advocate for the importance of their work in policy-making, as it relates to nuclear non-proliferation, climate change, vaccination, and so on. 

But while I plan to attend the March for Science in New York, I’m hoping to use this article to examine, articulate, and hopefully mitigate the slight unease that’s been growing in me surrounding some of the language that scientists have been using to describe the march (both critics and proponents alike).

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Would You Want to be a Savant?

By John Banja

John Banja, PhD is a medical ethicist at Emory University’s Center for Ethics, a professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, and the editor of AJOB Neuroscience.

Darold Treffert (2010), a psychiatrist who has devoted the better part of his career to studying savants, notes that there are at least 3 kinds.

First, those who manifest the “savant syndrome” and display the most astonishing of savant abilities, such as Kim Peek who was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond Babbitt, in the movie Rain Man. Peek, who died from a heart attack in 2009, was remarkable even by savant standards: He memorized more than 12,000 books and was able to read two pages simultaneously, one page with the right eye, the other page with the left. He also had a remarkably hospitable form of dyslexia where he could read words on a page turned sideways or upside down or backwards—such as reflected in a mirror. He could add a column of numbers from a telephone book page and instantly tell you the mean of those numbers, and he could do lightning calendar calculations like telling you which day of the week you were born upon knowing your birth date (Treffert, 2010, pp. 120-129). These were only a few of his talents. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

VR and PTSD: Healing from trauma by confronting fears in virtual reality environments

By Katie Givens Kime

Image courtesy of Flikr
What are the ethical implications of therapeutically re-exposing patients to trauma via virtual reality technologies? Of the 2.7 million American veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, at least 20% suffer from depression and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other studies peg that percentage even higher. As a chronic, debilitating mental illness, one PTSD symptom is hyperarousal, in which a person repeatedly re-experiences a trauma in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, and flashbacks.  One of the most long-trusted therapeutic approaches to PTSD is exposure therapy; now, virtual reality technology is increasingly being used to simulate exposure to traumatic events and to environments related to the traumatic event.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Join us for the Emory Graduate Student Neuroethics Symposium on April 28th, 2017

This spring, the Neuroscience Graduate Program and the Neuroethics Program at Emory University are teaming up to present the 2017 Emory Graduate Student Neuroethics Symposium entitled, The Use of Preclinical Biomarkers for Brain Diseases: A Neuroethical Dilemma. This year’s symposium will focus on the neuroethics of preclinical detection, including discussions of the basic and clinical research being performed and the neurotechnologies being developed for the early detection of autism, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

The symposium will take place on Friday, April 28th from 10am to 4:30pm at Emory University and is free and open to the public. The symposium will be comprised of three sessions: 
Session 1: Autism, with a focus on the ethics of conducting preclinical research.
Session 2: Schizophrenia, with a focus on the ethics of interventions and treatment.
Session 3: Alzheimer’s disease, with a focus on the ethics of delivering a preclinical diagnosis given the risks for stigma. 
Each session will include input from a patient diagnosed with the disease or family member of someone experiencing the disease, a researcher/clinician, and an ethicist. Speakers will include Dr. Cheryl Klaiman, Dr. Donna Chen, Dr. Dena Davis, Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, Dr. Elaine Walker, and Dr. Allan Levey.

Through this symposium, we hope to highlight the challenges that a patient can face after being given a preclinical diagnosis for a mental disorder, and to underscore the ethical challenges that arise when the ability to detect a future disease outreaches our ability to care for the patient.

You can find more information on our website and in the flyer below, and can register for the event here. We hope you will join us!


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Why Addiction Narratives Matter

By Katie Givens Kime

Image courtesy of
Merrimack Repertory Theatre.
“My Higher Power is: Science!” proclaims Sean, a newly recovered alcoholic. “Sean” is the lead character in a comedic play, “The White Chip,” which premiered last year at Merrimac Repertory Theatre outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Written by Sean Daniels, the play dramatizes Daniels’ own near demise from alcoholism, and his experience of recovery. Neuroethics is writ large as the play tells the story of how critically important various addiction etiologies can be for those struggling with alcoholism, or addiction of any sort. In Sean’s case, the etiology is the brain disease model of addiction (BDMA) in a notable combination with the “Higher Power” understanding of 12-step programs, which he credits with saving his life. Behind the curious twists of the play, questions linger: which model of addiction should be presented to those in recovery, when so much conflict exists amongst addiction researchers, clinicians, and recovery care providers? At what point does an effective (potentially life-saving) narrative of addiction etiology supersede the obligation to provide all sides of the controversial matter of addiction modeling?

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

M[Emory] Enhancement and its Implications

By Shweta Sahu

Imagine a situation in which you suffer from severe anterograde amnesia, a form of short term memory loss, and can’t recall information presented to you even 7 seconds before-- let alone being able to remember the one thing you went to Target to buy, but forgot. Such is the case of Clive Wearing, a man known for his lack of short term memory. His wife notes, “you ask him a question and he’ll give you an answer but while he’s giving me the answer, he’s already forgotten the question. That’s how short it is.” He himself notes “the brain has been totally inactive—day and night the same—no thoughts at all.” Though this is one of the most severe cases of amnesia observed, it underscores how crucial memory is not only to every day functioning, but also for one’s sense of self. Autobiographical memories and the ability to recall these emotional and important events are an integral component of one’s identity. These events, in turn, get tied into personal narratives that our personalities are built on. In the case of Mr. Wearing, he is stuck in this personality because of the damage to his hippocampus and closely related brain regions, an area of the brain necessary for transferring information from short term to long term memory. As a result, he reports that he feels like he is dead and is constantly waking up into a new reality.

Video courtesy of YouTube

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What is Feminist Neuroethics About?

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.

As the boundaries of what may be considered “neuroethics” extend with the development of new kinds of technologies and the evolving interests of scholars, its branches encounter substantial structures of adjacent scholarship. “Feminist neuroethics” is a multidimensional construct and a name that can be afforded both to approaches that fall within the bounds of mainstream neuroethics and metatheoretical challenges to the scope and lines of debate within neuroethics. While acknowledging that scholarship at the intersections of academic feminism/gender studies, feminist science studies, ethics, and neuroscience is much more substantial and diverse than I’m considering here, my modest aim in this post is to highlight how the label “feminist neuroethics” has been used to look at what scholars consider important for neuroethics. In so doing we can see what scholars in these fields see as worth highlighting when identifying their work as such.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Neuroeconomics and Reinforcement Learning: The Concept of Value in the Neuroscience of Morals

By Julia Haas

Julia Haas is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Rhodes College. Her research focuses on theories of valuation and choice.

Imagine a shopper named Barbara in the pasta aisle of her local market.  Just as she reaches for her favorite brand of pasta, she remembers that one of the company's senior executives made a homophobic statement. What should she do? She likes the brand's affordability and flavor but prefers to buy from companies that support LGBTQ communities. Barbara then notices that a typically more expensive brand of pasta is on sale and buys a package of that instead. Notably, she doesn't decide what brand of pasta she will buy in the future.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dangerous Love and Anti-Love Drugs: Neuroethics & Public Health Problems

By Kelsey Drewry

Kelsey Drewry is a student in the Master of Arts in Bioethics program at the Emory University Center for Ethics where she works as a graduate assistant for the Healthcare Ethics Consortium. Her current research focuses on computational linguistic analysis of health narrative data, and the use of illness narrative for informing clinical practice of supportive care for patients with neurodegenerative disorders.

The half-priced heart-shaped boxes of chocolates lining grocery store shelves serve as an undeniable marker of the recent holiday. Replete with conceptions of idyllic romance, Valentine’s Day provides an opportunity to celebrate partnership, commitment, and love. However, for those experiencing heartbreak or unrequited love, Cupid may be a harbinger of suffering rather than giddy affection.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

When Neuroethicists Become Labmates

By Timothy Brown and Margaret Thompson

Timothy Brown is a doctoral student and research assistant at the University of Washington (UW). He works with the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering's (CSNE) Neuroethics Trust, where he explores the broader moral and societal implications of neural engineering and neural technology use. Through the CSNE’s support, he is also embedded in the UW's BioRobotics Lab, where he investigates issues of autonomy and agency that arise for people with motor disorders who use next-generation, neurally-controlled deep-brain stimulators to manage their symptoms. 

Margaret Thompson is a doctoral student in the BioRobotics Laboratory in the Electrical Engineering department at University of Washington, Seattle; she is also president of the Student Leadership Council at the CSNE. She received her Master’s in Electrical Engineering from University of Washington in 2016 and her Bachelor’s in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College in 2014. She researches side-effect mitigation methods for deep brain stimulation, as well as how human subjects learn to use brain-computer interfaces over months to years at a time. 


Maggie Thompson and Tim Brown are graduate students at the University of Washington—Maggie studies electrical engineering, and Tim studies philosophy (in particular, neuroethics). They are both members of the Biorobotics Laboratory—a multidisciplinary lab investigating the interface between human bodies and machines. Tim serves as the lab’s “embedded ethicist” through the support of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering (CSNE).

Together, Maggie and Tim work on projects related to deep brain stimulators (or DBS, where electrodes implanted in key areas of the brain apply enough current to treat various disorders) and brain computer interfaces (or BCI, where changes in the brain are read by sensors and used to control a computer system). Their current study collects patient perspectives in “real-time” while they test the next-generation of deep brain stimulators. Their goal is to see how patients relate to their implant and how this relationship changes with different kinds of control over the implant and its parameters.