The Education and Training theme of The Canadian Dementia Knowledge Translation Network (CDKTN) project at UBC is seeking Visiting Scholars whose interests lie at the intersection of dementia and knowledge translation. The program funds 2-6 month fellowships for investigators, academic faculty and clinicians to conduct research, deliver other scholarly products such as case reviews and books, or produce innovative multimedia materials in dementia or knowledge translation research in Canada. This is an outstanding opportunity to participate in world class research in dementia KT and interact with high calibre scholars at the Neuroethics Core & the UBC Hospital Clinic for Alzheimer Disease and Related Disorders.
Applicants for these competitive fellowships must hold an MD and/or PhD degree. Scholars selected for the Vancouver-based program will receive both travel support and a monthly stipend. Openings are currently available and applications will be reviewed upon receipt.
The world’s first official trial for spinal cord injuries with embryonic stem cell-based products has been halted. Geron, the investigator company who received FDA approval for this study in 2009 and enrolled its first patient in 2010, announced on November 15 2011 that this trial would be discontinued with “immediate effect”.
Geron justified its decision on grounds of “capital scarcity and uncertain economic conditions” in its official press release. These concerns were reiterated in their webcast, which explained their steps along the lines of stakeholders’ interests: Geron had to keep the highest return for stakeholders in mind. The company suggested that the resources would now be used for advancing its in-house cancer trials (phase II).
Patient advocates were disappointed with the decision, particularly in relation to the motivations for the decision. Daniel Heumann was quoted by the Washington post as saying: “”I’m disgusted. It makes me sick. To get people’s hopes up and then do this for financial reasons is despicable. They’re treating us like lab rats.”” Continue reading
I received this note from Mark Phelan, one of the driving forces behind the New Experimental Philosophy. If you are interested, by all means pop over there to participate in some experiments (or even better, design some of your own!!).
Thank you all for signing up to the email list for the experimental philosophy experiment site at http://www.yale.edu/cogsci/XM/Home.html. Over the course of the last week, we have uploaded several new studies to the site and removed many of the old studies. We plan to make more additions over the course of the next week. I invite you to visit the site and participate in these new studies.
The Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (InSIS) and the European Neuroscience and Society Network (ENSN) recently jointly organised an international conference at Oxford’s Saïd Business School on Neurosociety. The theme of the conference was the rise of the brain and the emergence of the brain industry or ‘neuro markets’. The aim was to explore how, why and in what ways the figure of the brain has come to permeate so many different areas of thinking and practice in academic and commercial life. What are the consequences for academia, business, commerce and policy?
They have now posted podcasts and slides for many of the talks here.
- Kelly Joyce (College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA)
- Sabine Maasen (University of Basel)
- Patricia Pisters (University of Amsterdam)
- Nikolas Rose (London School of Economics and Political Science)
- Jonathan Rowson (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA)
- Steve Woolgar (InSIS, Said Business School, Oxford)
- Paul Wouters (Leiden University)
Ken Robinson on Changing Education Paradigms.
I won’t say much about it, except that it raises all kinds of issues about how the world that we live in, and in particular the educational system which engulfs us, is doing a bit of a disservice to us. Manifest, of course, through our brains.
Watch and enjoy.
For us neuroessentialists, it’s immediately obvious that our brains control our weight. In a direct way, the brain regulates appetite, and feelings of hunger and satiety. In a more subtle way, the complex associations between motivation, reward and emotions can lead to behaviors such as emotional eating. In a third, even more removed way, our perception of taste can be altered by several stimuli. A recent study highlights this changing taste perception with a clever experimental paradigm in children.
The researchers were interested in assessing if placing the image of a popular character on the packaging of a product (this marketing ploy is called “character licensing”) is an effective way to sell food to kids. To test this, the researchers studied three foods: graham crackers, gummy bears and baby carrots. The participants in the study, children aged 4 to 6 years old, were presented with two packages of the same food item (for example, graham crackers). The only difference was that one of the packages had a sticker of a cartoon character (Scooby-Doo, Dora or Shrek) on it. The kids were then asked to say if one of the two foods tasted better, and if so, which one.
Are children that oblivious to this obvious and dubious marketing trick? Absolutely. Overall, children perceived the food items with the cartoon on them to taste better than the ones in the plain packaging. This finding was statistically significant for the “junk” food (the crackers and the gummy bears). As it turns out, character licensing is especially effective in children because they lack the ability to understand that the advertisement is meant to be persuasive. You would think that all you would have to do to solve the obesity crisis is to paste Elmo’s face on broccoli and apples, but the fact that the character licensing experiment didn’t work as well with the carrots suggests this wouldn’t necessarily do the trick and adds a level of complexity to this type of marketing.
What does this all have to do with neuroethics? This experiment acts as a stepping-stone for one of the latest “neuro” words to be coined: neuromarketing. What will happen when the food industry knows exactly which buttons to push for us to consume what they are selling? How can neuromarketing impact our notion of free will? Will neuromarketing eventually expand beyond the consumer market and become a form of mind control (neuropolitics)?
Your thoughts in the comments!
Reference: Influence of licensed characters on children’s taste and snack preferences. (2010) Roberto et al. Pediatrics, 126(1):88-93.
A post brought to you by Scientific Chick.
Malcolm Dando thinks we neuroethicists are not talking enough about the problem of dual-use: the simultaneous application of advances in (neuro)science to both improving society as a whole and to assist military capabilities. I think he is right. In an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Dando tells us that,
“in regard to the question of dual-use the advances in neuroscience have already seen application in the Russian use of some form of fentanyl, a powerful painkiller, as a novel incapacitating chemical agent to break the 2002 Moscow theater siege. Moreover, Russia is unlikely to be the only state interested in the development of such new agents, given the changing nature of modern warfare. One can only hope that neuroethicists will begin to pay some attention to the clear and present danger that the hostile misuse of modern neuroscience could lead to the erosion of the prohibition of chemical weapons embodied in the Chemical Weapons Convention and make a valuable contribution to the discussion of this problem in the run up to the 3rd Five Year Review Conference of the convention in 2013. For example, the peaceful purpose defined in Article II.9 (d) as “Law enforcement including domestic riot control purposes” could be read to mean that ordinary domestic riot control agents are a sub-category of a larger group of chemical agents that can be used legally. On this reading, novel so-called non-lethal chemical incapacitating agents based on advances in modern civil neuroscience could be developed and used. Yet all the evidence is that use of such agents would be very difficult to distinguish from the use of lethal agents; recall that more than 120 of the hostages in the Moscow theater siege were killed by the chemical agent. Such developments by states could undermine the whole prohibition and lead to a downward spiral of misuse. Therefore, this issue of dual-use should be of great concern to neuroscientists, and particularly neuroethicists, who wish to help protect civil neuroscience from such dreadful distortion of its intended purpose.”
The truth is that other than Jonathan Moreno, few neuroethicists have applied serious scholarship to the issue of dual use. Of course, it is a simple matter to just say no: neuroscience should only be used for improving the quality of human life. But frankly, that is too simplistic. One can take a rather strong position against the use of neurobiological tools for torture and killing, but there are some very challenging grey zones as well. The one that springs to mind most readily is the idea of developing ‘calmants’, agents that might incapacitate an enemy briefly, allowing them to be captured without any loss of life. As recounted in Dando’s piece, the Russians used fentanyl as an incapacitating agent to end the 2002 siege at a Moscow theatre; the consequences were disastrous, with more than 120 people killed. Of course, fentanyl is a very potent fast acting narcotic that has been around since the 1060′s. Worrying about fentanyl’s use as a ‘calmant’ is in some ways akin to worrying about methylphenidate as a cognitive enhancer: both agents have been around for a while, and while some people (college students and the Russian government come to mind) might think they are useful in one arena or another, they are really crude tools. But if a better agent were to be developed, would such incapacitation be unacceptable? Would allowing some forms of chemical warfare (there is really no other word for it) open the door to a whole new armamentarium that emerges from neuroscience laboratories? The only thing that I know for certain is that this is an area worthy of further debate.
Link to Malcolm Dando’s article
Image Credit: Nature
It’s often said that metaphors for the brain reflect the technological innovations of the day; from Descartes’ pneumatic system of hydraulic neural plumbing to the mechanical models of the Industrial Revolution, and marching on through signal-processing metaphors to the computer-brain of the late 20th century. More recently, a focus on dynamic networks in the brain has a metaphorical correlate in the ever-expanding complexity and interactivity of the World Wide Web. Although some computer programmers have taken inspiration from research on neural networks, this technological traffic has tended not to go in the other direction. But when it comes to conceptions of human nature, personhood, and responsibility, scientific views of the mind both reflect, and are reflected in, our culture and ‘folk’ thinking.
The grammatically cautious amongst you might notice that I’ve been careful to use ‘correlate’, ‘reflects’, and ‘accompanied’ – as historians often remind us, these kind of narratives are only one, linear thread in a complex weft of circumstance. Where you unpick the fabric affects how it unravels. So for example, recent interest in functional imaging of the adolescent brain to explore behavioural characteristics such as risk-taking, empathising, and impulsiveness has been cited in policy discussion, but also takes place against a background of increasing angst about a supposedly violent, disaffected youth.
This dialogue between different elements of our leaky scientific world and its cultural contexts has been studied in many different ways. I’m particularly interested in what studying popular culture might reveal about how we’re absorbing, integrating, or challenging ‘neuroconcepts’. In a recent analysis of how functional brain images are represented in the media, I found many examples of a brain map being used as an iconic tool for mapping out different components of a particular domain. For example, a flyer for a book prize had one half of the brain flagged “fiction”, and the other flagged “non-fiction”, and an advert for Shell used a graphic in which different ‘brain regions’ represent different green technologies.
Daniel Buchman at the National Core for Neuroethics recently pointed out the example shown here – an advert for UBC’s Celebrate Research Week that features a simplified line-drawing of a brain, different anatomical regions flagged with various research domains. Entitled “What’s on your mind?”, and featuring the UBC motto “a place of mind” at the bottom, it seems to make a materialist statement: your mind = your brain. Continue reading