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

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Too far or not far enough: The ethics and future of neuroscience and law

By Jonah Queen

Image courtesy of Pixabay.
As neurotechnology advances and our understanding of the brain increases, there is a growing debate about if, and how, neuroscience can play a role in the legal system. In particular, some are asking if these technologies could ever be used to accomplish things that humans have so far not been able to, such as performing accurate lie detection and predicting future behavior.

For September’s Neuroethics and Neuroscience in the News event, Dr. Eyal Aharoni of Georgia State University spoke about his research on whether biomarkers might improve our ability to predict the risk of recidivism in criminal offenders. The results were published in a 2013 paper titled “Neuroprediction of future rearrest1," which was reported in the media with headlines such as “Can we predict recidivism with a brain scan?” The study reports evidence that brain scans could potentially improve offender risk assessment. At the event, Dr. Aharoni led a discussion of the legal and ethical issues that follow from such scientific findings. He asked: “When, if ever, should neural markers be used in offender risk assessment?”

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. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: The Entire History of You

By Somnath Das

Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. The son of two Indian immigrants, he developed an interest in healthcare after observing how his extended family sought help from India's healthcare system to seek relief from chronic illnesses. Somnath’s interest in medicine currently focuses on understanding the social construction of health and healthcare delivery. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 

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.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Criminal Law and Neuroscience: Hope or Hype?

By Stephen J. Morse

Stephen J. Morse, J.D., Ph.D., is a lawyer and a psychologist. He is Ferdinand Wakeman Hubbell Professor of Law, Professor of Psychology and Law in Psychiatry, and Associate Director of the Center for Neuroscience & Society at the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Morse is also a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology. He has been working on the relation of neuroscience to law, ethics and social policy for over two decades, has written numerous articles and book chapters on these topics and has edited A Primer on Neuroscience and Criminal Law (Oxford University Press, 2013, with Adina Roskies). He was previously Co-Director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project and was a member of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Research Network. Professor Morse is a recipient of the American Academy of Forensic Psychology’s Distinguished Contribution Award, and a recipient of the American Psychiatric Association’s Isaac Ray Award for distinguished contributions to forensic psychiatry and the psychiatric aspects of jurisprudence. 

The discovery of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 1991, which permits non-invasive imaging of brain function, and the wide availability of scanners for research starting in about 2000 fueled claims that what we would learn about the brain and behavior would transform and perhaps revolutionize criminal law. Most commonly, many thought that traditional notions of criminal responsibility would be undermined for various reasons, such as demonstrating that people really cannot control themselves as well as we believe, or as indicating that more action was automatic, thoughtless and non-rational than we think. Most radically, the neuroexuberants argued that neuroscience shows that no one is really responsible because we are not agents; rather, we are victims of neuronal circumstances that mechanistically produce our epiphenomenal thoughts and our bodily movements. Similar claims were made when the genome was cracked. The age of cognitive, affective, and social neuroscience (behavioral neuroscience)—the neurosciences most relevant to law—is almost two decades old. What have we learned that is legally relevant and how has it transformed criminal law doctrine and practice?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Grounding ethics from below: CRISPR-cas9 and genetic modification

By Anjan Chatterjee

The University of Pennsylvania Anjan Chatterjee is the Frank A. and Gwladys H. Elliott Professor and Chair of Neurology at Pennsylvania Hospital. He is a member of the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, and the Center for Neuroscience and Society at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Philosophy from Haverford College, MD from the University of Pennsylvania and completed his neurology residency at the University of Chicago. His clinical practice focuses on patients with cognitive disorders. His research addresses questions about spatial cognition and language, attention, neuroethics, and neuroaesthetics. He wrote The Aesthetic Brain: How we evolved to desire beauty and enjoy art and co-edited: Neuroethics in Practice: Mind, medicine, and society, and The Roots of Cognitive Neuroscience: behavioral neurology and neuropsychology. He is or has been on the editorial boards of: American Journal of Bioethics: Neuroscience, Behavioural Neurology, Cognitive and Behavioral Neurology, Neuropsychology, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, European Neurology, Empirical Studies of the Arts, The Open Ethics Journal and Policy Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology. He was awarded the Norman Geschwind Prize in Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology by the American Academy of Neurology and the Rudolph Arnheim Prize for contribution to Psychology and the Arts by the American Psychological Association. He is a founding member of the Board of Governors of the Neuroethics Society, the past President of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics, and the past President of the Behavioral and Cognitive Neurology Society. He serves on the Boards of Haverford College, the Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired and The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. 

In 1876, Gustav Fechner (1876) introduced an “aesthetics from below.” He contrasted this approach with an aesthetics from above by which he meant that, rather than defining aesthetic experiences using first principles, one could investigate people’s responses to stimuli and use these data to ground aesthetic theory. Neuroethics could benefit with a similar grounding by an ethics from below, especially when ethical concerns affect public policy and regulation.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Revising the Ethical Framework for Deep Brain Stimulation for Treatment-Resistant Depression

By Somnath Das

Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 

Despite the prevalence of therapeutics for treating depression, approximately 20% of patients fail to respond to multiple treatments such as antidepressants, cognitive-behavioral therapy, and electroconvulsive therapy (Fava, 2003). Zeroing on an effective treatment of “Treatment-Resistant Depression” (TRD) has been the focus of physicians and scientists. Dr. Helen Mayberg’s groundbreaking paper on Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) demonstrates that electrical modulation an area of the brain called subgenual cingulate resulted in a “sustained remission of depression in four of six (TRD) patients” These patients experienced feelings that were described as “lifting a void,” or “a sudden calmness.” (Mayberg et al. 2005). The importance of this treatment lies in the fact participants who received DBS for TRD (DBS-TRD) often have no other treatment avenues, and thus Mayberg’s findings paved the way for DBS to have great treatment potential for severely disabling depression. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Diagnostic dilemmas: When potentially transient preexisting diagnoses confer chronic harm

By Elaine Walker

Elaine Walker is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Emory University.   She leads a research laboratory that is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study risk factors for psychosis and other serious mental illnesses.  Her research is focused on the behavioral and neuromaturational changes that precede psychotic disorders.   She has published over 300 scientific articles and 6 books. 

The diagnostic process can be complicated by many factors. Most of these factors reflect limitations in our scientific understanding of the nature and course of disorders. But in the current US healthcare climate, legislative proposals concerning insurance coverage for preexisting conditions add another layer of complexity to the diagnostic process. It is a layer of complexity that is riddled with ethical dilemmas which are especially salient in the field of mental health care. The following discussion addresses the interplay between medical practice and health-care system policy in the diagnostic process. The diagnosis of psychiatric disorders is emphasized because they present unique challenges [1]. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: Be Right Back

By Somnath Das

Somnath Das recently graduated from Emory University where he majored in Neuroscience and Chemistry. He will be attending medical school at Thomas Jefferson University starting in the Fall of 2017. The son of two Indian immigrants, he developed an interest in healthcare after observing how his extended family sought help from India's healthcare system to seek relief from chronic illnesses. Somnath’s interest in medicine currently focuses on understanding the social construction of health and healthcare delivery. Studying Neuroethics has allowed him to combine his love for neuroscience, his interest in medicine, and his wish to help others into a multidisciplinary, rewarding practice of scholarship which to this day enriches how he views both developing neurotechnologies and the world around him. 
----

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mental Privacy in the Age of Big Data

By Jessie Ginsberg

Jessie Ginsberg is a second year student in the Master of Arts in Bioethics program and a third year law student at Emory University. 

A father stood at the door of his local Minneapolis Target, fuming, and demanding to speak to the store manager. Holding coupons for maternity clothes and nursing furniture in front of the manager, the father exclaimed, “My daughter got this in the mail! She’s still in high school, and you’re sending her coupons for baby clothes and cribs? Are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant?”

Target was not trying to get her pregnant. Unbeknownst to the father, his daughter was due in August.  

In his February 16, 2012 New York Times article entitled, “How Companies Learn Your Secrets,” Charles Duhigg reported on this Minneapolis father and daughter and how companies like Target use marketing analytics teams to develop algorithms to anticipate consumers’ current and future needs. Accumulating data from prior purchases, coupon use, surveys submitted, emails from Target that were opened, and demographics, a team of analysts render each consumer’s decision patterns into neatly packaged data sets tailored to predict their future buying choices. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fake News – A Role for Neuroethics?

By Neil Levy

Neil Levy is professor of philosophy at Macquarie University, Sydney, and a senior research fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford.

Fake news proliferates on the internet, and it sometimes has consequential effects. It may have played a role in the recent election of Donald Trump to the White House, and the Brexit referendum. Democratic governance requires a well-informed populace: fake news seems to threaten the very foundations of democracy.

How should we respond to its challenge? The most common response has been a call for greater media literacy. Fake news often strikes more sophisticated consumers as implausible. But there are reasons to think that the call for greater media literacy is unlikely to succeed as a practical solution to the problem of fake news. For one thing, the response seems to require what it seeks to bring about: a better informed population. For another, while greater sophistication might allow us to identify many instances of fake news, some of it is well crafted enough to fool the most sophisticated (think of the recent report that the FBI was fooled by a possibly fabricated Russian intelligence report).

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Have I Been Cheating? Reflections of an Equestrian Academic

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.

After reading a recent study in Frontiers in Public Health (Ohtani et al. 2017) I realized I might have unwittingly been taking part in cognitive enhancement throughout the vast majority of my life. I have been a dedicated equestrian for over twenty years, riding recreationally and professionally in several disciplines. A fairly conservative estimate suggests I’ve spent over 5000 hours in the saddle. However, new evidence from a multi-university study in Japan suggests that horseback riding improves certain cognitive abilities in children. Thus, it seems my primary hobby and passion may have unfairly advantaged me in my academic career. Troubled by the implication that I may have unknowingly spent much of my time violating the moral tenets upon which my intellectual work rests, I was compelled to investigate the issue.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Neuroethics Blog Series on Black Mirror: Virtual Reality

By Hale Soloff

Hale is a Neuroscience PhD student at Emory University. He aims to integrate neuroethics investigations with his own research on human cognition. Hale is passionate about science education and public science communication, and is pursuing a career in teaching science. 

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 utilize our technology and how it can affect us in return. This piece is the first in 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. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Gender Bias in the Sciences: A Neuroethical Priority

By Lindsey Grubbs

Lindsey Grubbs is a doctoral candidate in English at Emory University, where she is also pursuing a certificate in bioethics. Her work has been published in Literature & Medicine and the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience, and she has a chapter co-authored with Karen Rommelfanger forthcoming in the Routledge Handbook of Neuroethics.   

In a March 29, 2017 lecture at Emory University, Dr. Bita Moghaddam, Chair of the Department of Behavioral Neuroscience at Oregon Health & Science University, began her talk, “Women’s Reality in Academic Science,” by asking the room of around fifty undergraduate and graduate students, “Who’s not here today?”

The answer? Men. (Mostly. To be fair, there were two.) Women in the audience offered a few hypotheses: maybe men felt like they would be judged for coming to a “women’s” event; maybe they wanted the women in their community to enjoy a female-majority space; maybe they don’t think that gender impacts their education and career.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How you’ll grow up, and how you’ll grow old

By Nathan Ahlgrim

Nathan Ahlgrim is a third year Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Program at Emory. In his research, he studies how different brain regions interact to make certain memories stronger than others. In his own life, he strengthens his own brain power by hiking through the north Georgia mountains and reading highly technical science...fiction.

An ounce of prevention can only be worth a pound of cure if you know what to prevent in the first place. The solution to modifying disease onset can be fairly straightforward if the prevention techniques are rooted in lifestyle, such as maintaining a healthy diet and weight to prevent hypertension and type-II diabetes. However, disorders of the brain are more complicated – both to treat and to predict. The emerging science of preclinical detection of brain disorders was on display at Emory University during the April 28th symposium entitled, “The Use of Preclinical Biomarkers for Brain Diseases: A Neuroethical Dilemma.” Perspectives from ethicists, researchers conducting preclinical research, and participants or family members of those involved in clinical research were brought together over the course of the symposium. The diversity of panelists provided a holistic view of where preclinical research stands, and what must be considered as the field progresses.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Happy 15th Birthday, Neuroethics!

By Henry T. Greely

Henry T. (Hank) Greely is the Deane F. and Kate Edelman Johnson Professor of Law and Professor, by courtesy, of Genetics at Stanford University. He specializes in ethical, legal, and social issues arising from advances in the biosciences, particularly from genetics, neuroscience, and human stem cell research. He directs the Stanford Center for Law and the Biosciences and the Stanford Program on Neuroscience in Society; chairs the California Advisory Committee on Human Stem Cell Research; is the President Elect of the International Neuroethics Society; and serves on the Neuroscience Forum of the National Academy of Medicine; the Committee on Science, Technology, and Law of the National Academy of Sciences; and the NIH Multi-Council Working Group on the BRAIN Initiative. He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2007. His book, THE END OF SEX AND THE FUTURE OF HUMAN REPRODUCTION, was published in May 2016. 

Professor Greely graduated from Stanford in 1974 and from Yale Law School in 1977. He served as a law clerk for Judge John Minor Wisdom on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and for Justice Potter Stewart of the United States Supreme Court. After working during the Carter Administration in the Departments of Defense and Energy, he entered private law practice in Los Angeles in 1981. He joined the Stanford faculty in 1985. 

Fifteen years ago, on May 13, 2002, a two-day conference called “Neuroethics: Mapping the Field” began at the Presidio in San Francisco. And modern neuroethics was born. That conference was the first meeting to bring together a wide range of people who were, or would soon be, writing in “neuroethics;” it gave the new field substantial publicity; and, perhaps most importantly, it gave it a catchy name. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Reading into the Science: The Neuroscience and Ethics of Enhancement

By Shweta Sahu

Image courtesy of Pexels.
I was always an average student: I was good, just not good enough. I often wondered what my life and grades would be like if I’d had a better memory or learned faster. I remember several exams throughout my high school career where I just could not recall what certain rote memorization facts or specific details were, and now in college, I realize that if I could somehow learn faster, how much time would I save and be able to study even more? Would a better memory have led me to do better on my exams in high school, and would my faster ability to learn new information have increased my GPA?

Such has been the question for years now in the ongoing debates of memory enhancement and cognitive enhancement, respectively. I’m not the only student to have ever felt this way and I’m sure I won’t be the last. Technology and medicine seem to be on the brink of exciting new findings, ones that may help us in ways we’ve never before thought imaginable.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The [Sea] Monster Inside Me

By Sunidhi Ramesh

A side-by-side comparison of a sea horse and the human
hippocampus (Greek for sea monster).
(Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
In 1587, Venetian anatomist Julius Aranzi gave a name to the intricate, hallmark structure located in the medial temporal lobe of the human brain—the hippocampus, Greek for sea monster.

The hippocampus, often said to resemble a sea horse, has since been identified as a key player in the consolidation of information (from short-term memory to long-term memory) and in the spatial memory that allows for our day-to-day navigation. Because of its importance in learning and memory, hippocampal damage is often a culprit in varying forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, short-term memory loss, and amnesia.

Since its discovery, the hippocampus has been the subject of extensive research ranging from understanding diet and exercise as cognitive modulators to demonstrating the three-step encoding, storage, and retrieval process that the structure so consistently performs. In this time, it has become apparent that the hippocampus is not only a vital structure for normal human functioning, but it is also necessary to what makes us uniquely human.

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.