Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Almost Ten Years On: Why are we still talking about The Essential Difference?

Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, The Essential Difference: The Truth About The Male And Female Brain (2003), is almost a decade old now, but his thesis keeps popping up in various places. For example, in a recent (and truly delightful) book on neuroscience and religion, Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not (2011), Robert McCauley uses Baron-Cohen’s work to suggest that researchers looking for “hyper-empathetic” subjects might want to check out the local convent.

Monday, January 30, 2012

AJOB Neuroscience Grad Student Issue -Deadline Extended and Prize

~~~Deadline Extension~~~
The American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience is putting together an entire issue featuring the work of graduate students to be published in the Summer of 2012.
To encourage the submission of articles by all interested graduate students, the deadline for submission has been extended until February 20th.
As a reminder, articles are limited to 3000 words and can be on any topic in neuroethics.
A $250 Travel Award to the 2012 International Neuroethics Society Meeting (http://www.neuroethicssociety.org) will be awarded to the best graduate student submission.
If you have any questions, please email the Graduate Student Issue guest editor Meera Modi at [email protected]
Take advantage of this great opportunity to be published in one of the preeminent neuroethics journals!
For more details, see the attached flier.
Looking forward to your submissions,
The AJOB Neuroscience Editorial Board

Thursday, January 26, 2012

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 , from http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2012/01/neuroethics-debates-by-emory.html

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Disgust and a New Political Neuropsychology

Do politicians disgust you? If you are shown a photo of a politician you despise, chances are you will suddenly feel as though you were gulping down your least favorite food. But beyond the personality flaws of our politicians, a tendency toward being easily disgusted can affect a person’s view on political issues. In studies where participants are shown sickening images, such as a person eating worms, conservatives report higher levels of disgust than do liberals (Smith et. al, 2011). The emotion of disgust encourages humans to avoid infection; images of disfigurement and infection temporarily increase behavioral avoidance of novelty (Neuberg, Kenrick, & Schaller 2011). For a long time, the prevailing theory was that we form opinions and make decisions based on formal reasoning (Kohlberg, 1975). The theory of social intuitionism proposes that we use reasoning to justify our opinions ad hoc. It is possible that formal reasoning has more influence in other parts of human thinking, but the emphasis on irrationality of social intuitionist theory seems well suited for political thought.

Along with a greater propensity toward disgust, conservatives tend to see purity as a moral characteristic while liberals do not. This has the mundane consequence that liberals have messier bedrooms. More exciting is that conservatives are more likely to view premarital sex as immoral because it conflicts with the notion of purity. Disgust, as a reaction to impurity, is one of the most powerful emotions. According to the theory of social intuitionism, disgust for homosexuality would drive conservative opposition to gay marriage. In the Smith (2011) study, the correlation between disgust sensitivity and conservative social values is strong, but there is little or no correlation between disgust sensitivity and political attitudes on tax policy and foreign aid. Liberals have little use for purity and do not generally oppose gay marriage. Anatomical MRI has recently corroborated the psychological evidence supporting social intuitionist theory.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Careers in Neuroscience: Women in Science, is pregnancy a “disability”?

16 significant women in science for details visit: http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/

My entering class of 2002 at Emory University consisted almost entirely women with the exception of maybe 2-3 men in a large group of maybe 15 or so people. This super-sized class was a complete fluke–almost everyone who received offers from Emory chose Emory as their top pick that year to the chagrin of many fine graduate neuroscience programs. In retaliation, other schools moved their deadlines up the following year. I felt lucky to have such a large diverse class, like I had a better sampling of the population of future neuroscientists.

Read more here: http://emoryethics.blogspot.com/2012/01/women-in-science-is-pregnancy-short.html 

Monday, January 9, 2012

Neurogenetics and its Implications

In October 2007, The Sunday Times Magazine ran an interview that contained the following:
"He says that he is 'inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa' because 'all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really', and I know that this 'hot potato' is going to be difficult to address…His hope is that everyone is equal, but he counters that 'people who have to deal with black employees find this not true'."

So who said this? None other than James Watson, the Nobel Prize-winning geneticist famous for discovering the structure of DNA.  The interview, understandably, generated a storm of controversy and led to Watson retiring from his position at the ColdSpring Harbor Laboratory. He later clarified his statements and said: "To all those who have drawn the inference from my words that Africa, as a continent, is somehow genetically inferior, I can only apologize unreservedly. That is not what I meant. More importantly from my point of view, there is no scientific basis for such a belief."

 James Watson


Framing and Responsibility in Consciousness Studies: a review of Nicholas Humphrey’s Soul Dust: the Magic of Consciousness

The first book I read of Nicholas Humphrey's was  The Mind's I, a short, cutesy book on the evolution of intelligence. There were little cartoon men that made complementary, cliff-note-type points in thought bubbles, always poking their head in from the edges of the text. The cutesy makes sense; Humphrey has that clipped British tradition of economic phrasing, on full display in Dawkins and Hitchens, a kind of stylistic embrasure raised against Teutonic opacity.  Soul Dust, the obligatory book about consciousness that all science popularizers eventually write toward the end of their life cycle, is no different. Like all those who write about consciousness, he is motivated by an ethical, indeed, the supreme ethical concern. As Jerry Fodor said, "If it isn't literally true that my wanting is causally responsible for my reaching and my itching is causally responsible for my scratching, and my believing is causally responsible for my saying… If none of that is literally true, then practically everything I believe about anything is false and it's the end of the world."