Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Hot Off the Presses: The Neuroethics Blog Reader and Issue 8.4

It is our pleasure to present you with two newly released publications: the second edition of The Neuroethics Blog reader and the 8.4 issue of the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Leo Reynolds.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: San Junipero

By Nathan Ahlgrim

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
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 episode “San Junipero” of the Netflix television series Black Mirror.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

“It is sometimes a sad life, and it is a long life:” Artificial intelligence and mind uploading in World of Tomorrow

By Jonah Queen

"The world of tomorrow" was the motto of the
1939 New York World's Fair
Image courtesy of Flickr user Joe Haupt
“One day, when you are old enough, you will be impregnated with a perfect clone of yourself. You will later upload all of your memories into this healthy new body. One day, long after that, you will repeat this process all over again. Through this cloning process, Emily, you will hope to live forever.”

These are some of the first lines of dialogue spoken in the 2015 animated short film, World of Tomorrow.* These lines provide an introduction to the technology and society that this science fiction film imagines might exist in our future. In response to a sequel, which was released last month, I am dedicating a post on this blog to discussing the film through a neuroethical lens.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Getting Out While the Getting's Good

By Dena Davis

Dr. Davis is currently at Lehigh University. She taught at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law (Cleveland State University) and Central Michigan University. She received her doctorate in religion from the University of Iowa and her J.D. from University of Virginia. Her specialty is bioethics, and her specific focus is on the ethics of genetic medicine and genetic research. Dr. Davis’ latest book is Genetic Dilemmas: Reproductive Technology, Parental Choices, and Children’s Futures (2nd Edition, University of Oxford Press, 2010). Dr. Davis has been a Fulbright scholar in India, Italy, Israel, Indonesia, and Sweden. Dr. Davis serves on the Central Institutional Review Board of the National Cancer Institute, and is a member of the NIH Embryonic Stem Cell Eligibility Working Group.

A number of times in the last two years I have been invited to speak about Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The venues have all been academic, but nonetheless have differed widely: South Carolina and New York City; bioethicists; physicians; undergraduates; hospital staff. I always begin by inviting people to participate in a thought experiment. I tell them that I am going to describe two people and then ask them which of the two they would prefer to be. (These people are actually my parents, but I don’t tell them that.) I first describe “M,” who remains cognitively intact and lives independently until his death from an aneurysm at 87. Then I describe “F,” who died at 99, after a ten year decline into Alzheimer’s disease. (I usually give a few details, such as when F was no longer able to live independently, when she became incontinent, when she no longer recognized family and friends.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Neuroethics of Brainprinting

By Anna Farrell 

Anna Farrell is a rising second year undergraduate student at Emory University. Early on in her Neuroscience major she became interested in Neuroscience’s interdisciplinary nature and continued on to declare a second major in English. 

As cyber espionage and hacking are on the rise (Watson, 2016), major corporations, governments, and financial systems have pushed for using biometrics as a more secure way to guard their data. Biometrics measures unique physical characteristics as a way of ascertaining someone’s identity. A wide range of physical characteristics are currently used in biometrics, including DNA, iris, retina, face, fingerprint, finger geometry, hand geometry, odor, vein, and voice identification (Types of Biometrics). Governmental uses for biometrics span border control, customs services, and online access to critical systems. However, fingerprint and iris identification results are becoming more replicable as hacker’s abilities advance (Watson, 2016), causing researchers to begin to look beyond the typical biometric features. One of the new methods being studied is electroencephalogram (EEG)-based neurological identification. However, using brain wave biometrics as a means of identification establishes a framework which, if underestimated, could put sensitive personal data in jeopardy. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Neuroethics as Outreach

By Adina Roskies

Adina Roskies is The Helman Family Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and chair of the Cognitive Science Program at Dartmouth College. She received a Ph.D from the University of California, San Diego in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science in 1995, a Ph.D. from MIT in philosophy in 2004, and an M.S.L. from Yale Law School in 2014. Prior to her work in philosophy she held a postdoctoral fellowship in cognitive neuroimaging at Washington University with Steven Petersen and Marcus Raichle from 1995-1997, and from 1997-1999 was Senior Editor of the neuroscience journal Neuron. Dr. Roskies’ philosophical research interests lie at the intersection of philosophy and neuroscience, and include philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and ethics. She has coauthored a book with Stephen Morse, A Primer on Criminal Law and Neuroscience

As I write this, I am thinking more broadly about ethics and neuroscience than I usually do, pushed by political necessity. The topic of my concern is science education, construed generally. In this era in which “alternative facts” are allowed to bear that name, rather than their true name -- which is “lies and misinformation” -- and in which science is ignored, deemed irrelevant, or actively suppressed, I see a growing need for people in all the sciences and in ethics to speak out and to educate, wherever possible.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: White Bear

By Kristie Garza

Image courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons.
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 of the 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 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. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What can neuroethicists learn from public attitudes about moral bioenhancement?

By Peter Reiner

Dr. Reiner is Professor and co-founder of the National Core for Neuroethics at the University of British Columbia where he is a member of the Department of Psychiatry and the Centre for Brain Health. Dr. Reiner began his research career studying the cellular and molecular physiology of the brain, with particular interests in the neurobiology of behavioural states and the molecular underpinnings of neurodegenerative disease. In 1998, Dr. Reiner became President and CEO of Active Pass Pharmaceuticals, a drug discovery company that he founded to tackle the scourge of Alzheimer's disease. Upon returning to academic life in 2004, Dr. Reiner refocused his scholarly work in the area of neuroethics, co-founding the National Core for Neuroethics with Dr. Judy Illes in 2007. Dr. Reiner has championed quantitative analysis of public attitudes towards diverse issues in neuroethics including the propriety of cognitive and moral enhancement, the contours of autonomy in the real world, and the neuroethical implications of Technologies of the Extended Mind.

Moral behavior is fundamental to human society. Wherever one goes on the planet, one finds a set of norms that guide behavior, and following these norms is a basic tenet of peaceful coexistence with one’s fellow humans. Despite abundant evidence that the arc of human history trends towards decreased violence (Pinker, 2011), a proxy for moral behavior, scholars have suggested that society might be better off were we to enhance our moral capacities, and that using biological methods to do so is warranted (Douglas, 2008; Persson and Savulescu, 2008). This has engendered a vigorous debate that goes beyond the usual divide between bioconservatives and technoprogressives (Reiner, 2013a); in this arena, even ardent proponents of enhancement technologies have registered dissent (Harris, 2010).

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

A Feminist Neuroethics of Mental Health

By Ann E. Fink

Ann Fink is currently the Wittig Fellow in Feminist Biology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, with an appointment in Gender and Women’s Studies and concurrent affiliations with Psychology and the Center for Healthy Minds. Her research in cellular and behavioral neuroscience has appeared in the Journal of Neuroscience, Journal of Neurophysiology, PNAS and other journals. Ann’s interdisciplinary work addresses the ethics of neuroscience in relation to gender, mental health and social justice. 

Emotionality and gender are tied together in the popular imagination in ways that permeate mental health research. At first glance, gender, emotion, and mental health seem like a simple equation: when populations are divided in two, women show roughly double the incidence of depression, anxiety, and stress-related disorders1-3. Innate biological explanations are easy to produce in the form of genes or hormones. It could be tempting to conclude that being born with XX chromosomes is simply the first step into a life of troubled mood. Yet, buried in the most simplistic formulations of mental illness as chemical imbalance or mis-wiring is the knowledge that human well-being is a shifting, psychosocial phenomenon. Learning and memory research offers a treasure trove of knowledge about how the physical and social environment changes the brain. Feminist scholarship adds to this understanding through critical inquiry into gender as a mode of interaction with the world. This essay explores how a feminist neuroethics framework enriches biological research into mental health. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Politics of Elder Care, Social Care, and the “Dementia Tax”: A View from the United Kingdom

By Richard Ashcroft

Professor Richard Ashcroft, an AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board member, teaches medical law and ethics at both the undergraduate and postgraduate level in the Department of Law at Queen Mary University of London.

The United Kingdom has recently gone through a General Election. The main reason the election was called by Prime Minister Theresa May was to secure a stronger mandate for the ruling Conservative Party, which was governing with a small overall majority of 19 seats over the Opposition parties. PM May’s argument was that in the negotiations with the other member states of the European Union over the UK’s exit from that Union (Brexit), an increased majority would give her a stronger bargaining position. As the election turned out, the electorate returned the Conservatives with fewer seats, and PM May had to form a minority administration, with a partial agreement to support the Conservative Party made with one of the smaller parties, the Democratic Unionist Party, which only contests seats in Northern Ireland. As a result PM May has a working majority, but one that is more fragile, rather than stronger.

Commentators have suggested a number of reasons for this outcome, but there seems to be general agreement that a turning point in the electoral campaign was the release of the election manifesto of the Conservative Party. While there are many reasons that might explain the downturn in support for PM May, one particular policy announced in the manifesto, deemed the “dementia tax,” attracted widespread criticism.