Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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

By John Aspler and Ariel Cascio

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

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


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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

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

By Ryan Purcell

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

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