Brain Matters! Vancouver – Registration Now Open

March 12-14, 2014 at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue in Vancouver, BC.
Brain Matters! Vancouver is an exciting venue for scholars and members of the public to come together to explore the implications of brain science and social responsibility. Join us in expanding this conversation of relevance to all.
There will be THEMATIC SESSIONS that are designed to maximize interaction between speakers and the audience, and LIGHTNING TALKS to provide attendees with the opportunity to present their ideas.
Plan to attend by taking note of these dates
Submission of abstracts opens: JUNE 28, 2013
Submission of abstracts closes: AUGUST 30, 2013

Visiting Scholar Position in Dementia Knowledge Translation

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.

To apply, please submit a short statement describing your interest in the scholarship and proposed project, a cover letter and CV c/o Janice Matautia:

Stem cell trial for spinal cord injuries halted: SCI individuals as lab rats?

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

A home for experimental philosophy

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 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.

Perhaps even more importantly, I want to tell you about our long term goals for the site, and to enlist your help in accomplishing these goals. As many of you no doubt know, experimental philosophy is a new and developing field. In the first few years of the field, many studies were conducted in philosophy classrooms. Sadly, it’s possible that this may have resulted in biased samples, given the philosophical topics experimental philosophers are interested in. Recently, experimental philosophers have begun to run more and more studies online, which makes for a more diverse participant pool, but, given the current “pay-for-participants” resources (such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk), can be a real economic drain on philosophers’, who have not traditionally had large research budgets. Our hope in building this site is to design a resource where experimental philosophers can run studies online for free, taking advantage of a large pool of participants who are willing to give a little bit of their time to help advance philosophical research. If this turns out to be a successful model, we hope in the near future to open this resource up to all experimental philosophers.
We thank you for what you have already done to help build this site, by participating in online studies. We believe that the key to the success of this project is building an email list of participants to notify as new studies arise. By signing up for this list, you have already helped us do this. But now we would like to invite you to do something more to help the project. I am attaching to this email several logos we have designed for the website (found at the bottom of the post, and in the image at the top). I invite you to post these on your Facebook, Myspace, or (even) personal webpage, or to forward these through Twitter with a link to our website, at:
With your help, I believe we can grow this into the premier site for online research in experimental philosophy.
Mark Phelan
Lawrence University
Notice: Study responses remain completely anonymous and are never tied to your email address. These are collected and stored in different places.

Neurosociety Conference: podcasts and more

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.

Speakers include:

  • 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)

Divergent Thinking

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.

A link between neuromarketing and obesity?

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.

Neuroethics of dual-use

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