Webcast: brain science and social responsibility. Join the conversation.

logo2 no bgOur team at the National Core for Neuroethics has been hard at work preparing for the upcoming Brain Matters! Vancouver conference happening this week in beautiful Vancouver, BC.
We almost didn’t notice when something wonderful happened: our Wednesday night public event, “Mapping International Research: Big Data, Big Ethics?”, sold out!
That said, you can still participate in this important conversation by tuning in to the webcast and joining the discussion on Twitter (#AskBrainMatters).
See below, and visit our website www.brainmattersvancouver.ca, for more information!
Mapping International Research: Big Data, Big Ethics?
Keynote Lecture by: Dr. Bartha Knoppers, Professor, McGill UniversityFollowed by a Panel Discussion featuring:
Dr. Wylie Burke, Professor, University of Washington
Dr. Daniel Goldowitz, Professor, University of British Columbia
Dr. Christopher Scott, Senior Research Scholar, Stanford University
and Moderator, Kathryn Gretsinger, Former CBC Radio Host / Instructor, UBC Graduate School of JournalismReception to follow.

The event will be on:
06:30 PM – 08:30 PM PDT
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Asia Pacific Hall
at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue
580 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC

The event is open to the public free of charge, and will also be streamed live online (click here for details) for those who cannot make it to Vancouver.

Admission to the public event is FREE, but registration is required.
Download the flyer here.

For those who cannot make it to Vancouver, we are pleased to announce that this public event will be streamed live online.

For webcast instructions, please read below:
1. Click the orange “Click here to watch the webcast” button. (Or if this does not work, please copy-paste the link found below the button)
2. Click on “Big Data Meets Brain Science (Brain Matters! Vancouver)”. (The link will only be live during the event time.)

Click here to watch the webcast

*If the button does not work, go here: http://creative-services.sfu.ca/broadcast/

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Please note that a high speed internet connection is required for reliable viewing (minimum 500kbps download speed, maximum 200ms “ping” or latency).  Also, you must ensure that you are not behind a firewall that is blocking certain required ports (80, 443, and 1935; you can check to see if these ports are open here).  If you have any ports that are blocked, you will need to contact your local system administrator or internet service provider well ahead of time and make arrangements to have them opened.

Jonathan Haidt in conversation

ImageJonathan Haidt, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia and author of The Righteous Mind has been visiting UBC the past few days, and he stopped by at the National Core for Neuroethics to discuss a variety of issues in which we have a common interest.  While he was here, he was kind enough to sit with me and have a conversation about groupish genes, the response to his upcoming appearance on the Colbert Report, and current events.

Consultation on novel neurotechnologies

Today the Nuffield Council on Bioethics launches its consultation on novel neurotechnologies that intervene in the brain as part of its inquiry into the issues raised by these technologies.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body based in the UK that examines the ethical, social and legal issues raised by new developments in biological and medical research, and recently it has established a Working Party to consider the issues raised by novel neurotechnologies that intervene in the brain, such as neurostimulation, brain–computer interfaces and neural stem cell therapy. As you will be aware, these neurotechnologies are the focus of intense research for the development of new treatments for diseases such as dementia and conditions like severe brain injury. There is also significant ongoing research into the development of non-medical applications like computer gaming and human enhancement.

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics would very much like to hear your thoughts on these neurotechnologies. The consultation can be found here and the deadline for responses is 23 April 2012, 5pm. All responses will be considered and a report will be published during autumn 2013.

A modest proposal: introduce bioethical review into the drug approval process

There has been raucous furor over the decision of Kathleen Sibelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Obama administration, to overrule the FDA’s approval of the drug known as Plan B One-Step as an over-the-counter drug. It has never previously transpired that the FDA has been overruled on a matter that falls under its jurisdiction such as this, and FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg issued a carefully worded response which, given that Sibelius is her boss, was remarkable for its forthrightness: Continue reading

Slate series on radical enhancement

Slate is sponsoring a discussion on transhumanism.  The players are Kyle Munkittrick (pro) and the tag team of Brad Allenby (against, sort of) and Nicholas Agar (against in all likelihood, although his post is not yet up). And if you are in the DC area, you can hear Brad and Dan Sarewitz, co-authors of the book The Techno-Human Condition (highly recommended!!) debate the issues with Emily Yoffe of Slate as the moderator.


Retribution, the dictionary tells us, is the dispensing of punishment for misdeeds. Derived from the Latin re tribuere, it literally means to pay back. We humans have strong retributive instincts, and it is often said that this behaviour arose as a product of our evolution as social beings: the threat of retribution enforces social norms, and was among the features that increased the likelihood of cooperation among members of society in the early years of human evolution. Given that cooperation confers significant adaptive advantages to the group, retributive norms flourished, and whether via genes or enculturation, the desire for retribution has been passed on to us.

The value of retributive impulses in the modern world is more difficult to discern. We humans are noted for having the ability to not only act in a manner that is instinctive, but also to reflect upon the propriety of our actions. Amongst philosophers, retribution is often contrasted with consequentialism, the notion that the response to a misdeed should produce the best result for society. Consequentialism is possible because the modern human brain is able to reason, and by so doing we are able to anticipate near, medium and long-term futures: we can decide whether the best response to a misdeed is retribution, education, or even doing nothing at all. At different times, different responses may be called for. What matters most to the consequentialist is not the payback but rather the outcome. The tension between retribution and consequentialism is a hot button issue in the field of neurolaw, where neuroessentialists argue that it is time to rethink the concept of punishment, while traditionalists suggest that deterrence remains the best way of organizing civil society. Continue reading

The Science of Compassion

Stephen Post, Professor of Preventive Medicine and the Director and Founder of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University will be speaking in Vancouver on Friday April 29th.  Sponsored by the Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education, Dr. Post will be speaking on “The Power of Giving, Compassion and Hope“.  As it happens, this week’s Big Think newsletter has a short video by Dr. Post, which I have inserted below.

Just watching it will improve your day.

20 TED talks about the brain

Over at onlineclasses.org, they have recently posted a list of 20 fascinating TED talks about the brain.  I have recproduced their post below.

The brain is man’s most amazing organ, and appropriately, much thought has been put into it. TED talks explore creativity, and quite a few of these talks have been devoted to thinking creatively about the brain, from brain-modeled supercomputers to brains in love. Check out these talks from TED to explore your mind. Continue reading