Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Teaching Intersex, Teaching Interdisciplinarity: Interview with Sara Freeman

Sara Freeman
Graduate Student
Department of Neuroscience
Emory University
In this post, I would like to highlight the work of another Emory graduate student, Sara Freeman. Just when Cyd Cipolla and I (in the Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) were coming up with our plan to teach an interdisciplinary course bringing together gender studies and neuroscience, we found out that Sara (in the Neuroscience Graduate Program) was developing her own interdisciplinary course bringing together developmental biology and the sociology of gender.

Sara’s course, which she is teaching this semester, is called “Intersex: Biology & Gender,” and is cross-listed in the departments of Biology, Sociology, and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with physical reproductive or sexual characteristics that cannot be easily classified as male or female (for more information, visit the Intersex Society of North America or the American Psychological Association’s page on intersex). FYI: October 26th was Intersex Awareness Day! In Sara’s course, she is teaching about both the developmental biology of intersex in humans and the social, political, legal and ethical issues related to intersex.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Who is to blame when no one is to be praised?

Let’s imagine for a moment that I am extraordinarily brilliant, but my brilliance is not due to my own hard work nor is it due to the wonderful instruction I have received; rather my brilliance is due to the fact that I was born with gene X. Let’s further imagine that the effects of gene X are robust. That is, the effects of gene X (my extraordinary brilliance!) are largely insensitive to environmental variation and developmental course. As long as some minimal conditions of life are met, having gene X guarantees that I will be exactly as brilliant as I in fact turned out to be.

Question: Who is to be praised for my brilliance?

The glasses pair well with the genes.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Zombies and Zombethics! Symposium

Zombies and Zombethics! Walking with the Dead: An Ethics Symposium for the Living on Halloween 2012.

This symposium will feature a Zombie Braains Inspired Panel (among many other exciting panels, see Zombethics Tab for more info) inspired by The Walking Dead Clip Below. This discussion will include a stellar group of virtual and local speakers followed by a moderated discussion.

If you already RSVP’d, lucky you! If you didn’t RSVP, see how to get on the waiting list below.  The Zombie Walk at 1130am is open and does not require registration. Contact Alison Kear ([email protected]) for details.

The Walking Dead: Season 1 Episode 6: Test Subject-19 Brain Scan of Transformation


Also joining us will be our local friends of the Neuroethics Program:

  • Eddy Nahmias PhD. Neurophilosopher and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgia State University. Dr. Nahmias will discuss the relationship between the brain and free will.

  • Bob McCauley, PhD. Director of Emory’s Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture and Professor of Philosophy. Dr. McCauley will discuss the relationship between the brain and mind.

  • Darryl Neill, PhD. Professor of Psychology at Emory.  Darryl Neill will discuss the psychological underpinnings of zombiehood.

The session will be moderated by Emory’s Neuroethics Program Director, Dr. Karen Rommelfanger.

This event is hosted by the Center for Ethics and organized by the Neuroethics Program and the Religion and Public Health Ethics Program.

The event is free, but seating is limited and attendance will be by RSVP only! Seating is now by waiting list only. Contact Alison Kear ([email protected]) to be added to the waiting list.

 For full day’s events, please click the Zombethics Tab.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Military and Dual Use Neuroscience, Part II

In a previous post, I discussed several promising neuroscience technologies currently under investigation by the military. Simply knowing that such technology exists, however, does not in itself dictate a way forward for neuroscientists and others who are concerned about the possible consequences of military neuroscience research. In part, the complexity of the situation derives from the diversity of possible viewpoints involved: an individual’s beliefs about military neuroscience technology likely stem as much from beliefs about the military in general, or technological advancement in general, as from beliefs about the specific applications of the neuroscientific technologies in question.

Star Trek's Commander Spock was generally ethical in his personal use of directed energy weapons, but not all of us are blessed with a Vulcan’s keen sense of right and wrong (Image).  

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Neurolaw: Brains in the Courtroom

Regular readers of this blog know we often touch on issues about law and neuroscience: whether  it’s about crime, the lie detection seminar Emory hosted last spring, or work on ethics and free will. (Also, spoiler alert, neurolaw is to be the focus of our next journal club meeting- please come!) The field of neurolaw, which is exactly what it sounds like- neuroscience and law, has been growing rapidly over the past decade. Most of the discussions in neurolaw focus on how, and if, new discoveries in neuroscience will affect legal definitions of responsibility and culpability by changing the way we understand how the decision to commit a crime is made. However- in the past year there have been several studies looking at another side of brains the courtroom: that is, the neuroscience of judgment itself. These studies are exploring how people consider evidence and how they balance moral and ethical decisions against empathic and sympathetic reactions. This new work opens up new avenues for interventions from neurolaw and neuroethics around the construction and use of institutions like the judge and the jury.
Science says: Lock 'em up.
(image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Army’s on Ecstasy: Marching toward an ethical drug policy

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among American soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan has reached epidemic proportions, affecting between 75,000 to 225,000 veterans. In fact, suicide is now the leading cause of death in the army, with more soldiers dying by suicide than in combat. Frustratingly, existing treatments for PTSD are limited and ineffective for between 25-50% of patients. Last year a clinical trial using MDMA (i.e. Ecstasy) in conjunction with psychotherapy was shown to ameliorate PTSD symptoms far more effectively than any other known treatment. Despite these promising results, it could be ten years or more before MDMA is approved for use in treating PTSD, and even then clinicians will face additional hurdles until our nation’s drug policy is seriously overhauled. Given the public health imperative for effective PTSD treatment, it’s high time to rethink our stance toward illegal drugs and create an ethical drug policy that paves the way for expedient psychedelics research while providing honest education, harm reduction measures, and on-demand treatment for drug addiction.

PTSD is a chronic, debilitating mental illness. People with PTSD are hyperaroused, repeatedly re-experience their trauma in the form of nightmares, panic attacks, and flashbacks, and often suffer from comorbid depression and drug abuse. The army's own research illustrates that trauma is widespread and long-lasting: around 25% of Vietnam veterans remain symptomatic, even decades after the end of their service. The army is fully aware of this growing issue, and has taken many steps over the years to address it, including the formation of the National Center for PTSD within the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which has emerged as the world’s leading research and educational center on PTSD. The Obama administration has also increased funding for mental health services at the VA by 39% since 2009. Despite these and other efforts, the statistics are alarming: about 18 veterans take their lives each day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Intrepid Grrrl Reporter: A Dispatch from the NeuroGenderings II Conference

Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of attending the NeuroCultures – NeuroGenderings II Conference at the University of Vienna. The conference brought together an international group of scholars to discuss brain research on sex and gender from a feminist perspective. The conference was a treat for me, as I was able to meet a number of leading scholars in the field, including some of the people I have mentioned in previous blogs. I presented a poster on the course, "Feminism, Sexuality, and Neuroethics," which Cyd Cipolla and I co-taught last spring, and also presented a paper reviewing contemporary neuroscience research on transsexuality.

Although it is difficult to summarize two days' worth of keynote speeches, panels, and poster presentations, I would say that two main themes emerged within the conference: the first was a critique of neurosexism both within scientific research on sex, gender, and brain and in how this research is communicated to the public through the media. The second was an attempt to explore whether it would be possible to conduct feminist neuroscience research on sex and gender and, if so, what such research would look like.