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Neuroethics Debates by Emory Neuroscience Graduate Students

In addition to writing blog posts about neuroethical issues provided to each group (as posted on the blog already), Emory neuroscience graduate students in the Neuroscience: Communication and Ethics Seminar held debates on neuroethical issues of their choosing. The idea behind the debates came from trying to develop better ways for the students to be engaged with concepts of neuroethics. Whereas discussions about neuroethical issues in a classroom often become discussions between the more vocal students and leave quieter students voiceless, the debate format would allow each student a set amount of time to voice their opinions. Course director Dr. Andy Jenkins arranged an instructional session for the class with Bill Newman, coach of the Barkley Forum, Emory’s award winning debate team. At the beginning of the semester, the instructors provided a handful of potential debate topics and allowed the students to contribute ideas that they came up with throughout the semester. A few weeks before the debates, the student groups selected the topics they wanted to debate.

The format for the debates was established as follows to allow each student time to speak and equal time for the affirmative and negative sides:
First Affirmative Speech 6 min
Cross examination by 2nd Negative Speaker 3 min
First Negative Speech 8 min
Cross examination by 1st Affirmative Speaker 3 min
Second Affirmative Speech 5 min
Negative Rebuttal 6 min
Affirmative Rebuttal 3 min

Following each debate, the audience was allowed to discuss the issues raised in the debate and discuss elements each side did well and could have improved on. These open discussions became quite lively and without the time constraints of the class could have continued on indefinitely. In addition, votes were taken before and after the debate to see which side was more persuasive and where the audience fell on the debate topics.

The first debate topic was “Use of cogniceuticals by healthy persons should be encouraged”.

The second debate topic was “Religion provides the best guide for the ethical conduct of science”. 

The third debate topic was “fMRI represents an invasion of privacy”. 


With all said and done, the students seemed to enjoy participating in the debates. Some students indicated that whereas other classroom discussions merely presented neuroethics issues, the debate format allowed each student to dive in and be fully engaged with a topic of interest and work to communicate their viewpoints. Watching the videos definitely prove that to be the case!

–Karl Schmidt
Emory Neuroscience Graduate Student, Weinshenker laboratory

Want to cite this post?

Schmidt, K. (2012). Neuroethics Debates by Emory Neuroscience Graduate Students. The Neuroethics Blog. Retrieved on
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