Neuroscience and Human Rights

Can human rights principles and neuroethics become more integrated in future discourse?

During the final panel of the International Neuroethics Society (INS) annual meeting, moderator Stephen Marks, from the Harvard School of Public Health, noted the absence of the human rights framework from key literature in the neuroethics field, and challenged the panelists to address this gap and identify areas where neuroscience and human rights overlap.

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Robots as Soldiers and Caretakers

INS Robots in Society

L to R: Ronald C. Arkin, Goldie Nejat, and INS President Barbara Sahakian

The International Neuroethics Society opened its annual meeting last night at AAAS in DC with a thought-provoking public program on robots in society. Though the title conjures up images from the Terminator movies (at least for me), the two speakers avoided wading too far into a futuristic, science fiction universe, and instead focused on the impact of robots in warfare and healthcare, and the ethical considerations involved.

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International Neuroethics Society Contests

The International Neuroethics Society (INS) is sponsoring two opportunities to be published and to win travel stipends to attend the annual INS meeting (November 13 and 14 in DC), among other prizes.

INS Logo

The INS welcomes abstracts reporting recent results in the field of neuroethics and related topics. Investigators at any career stage are encouraged to submit abstracts by the May 15 deadline. Selections will be made based on content, available space, and overall program balance. Participants may submit the same abstract for the INS meeting as for the Society for Neuroscience Meeting. Five submissions will be selected for oral presentations at the annual meeting, 25 will be published by the American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience, and eight cash travel stipends will be awarded.

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The Science and Ethics of Moral Enhancement

Can we create a morality pill? And if we can,
should we? Scientists at yesterday’s International Neuroethics Society panel on moral enhancement addressed these questions and others about
the potential use of hormones such as oxytocin and serotonin to shape social

Some companies and media outlets have jumped the gun, declaring oxytocin the “moral molecule” or the “love
chemical.” If you want to enhance your trustworthiness, an internet search will turn up what is supposedly "oxytocin spray." But the panelists cautioned about reading too much into these claims, noting
that this field is complicated and still in its infancy.

All three panelists, Dana Alliance member Patricia Churchland, Molly
Crockett, and Julian Savulescu, seemed to agree that two of the biggest
obstacles to the research are: (1) lack of universal definitions for terms such
as “morality” and “moral enhancement,” and (2) neurochemicals such as oxytocin
and serotonin do not act in isolation, and they shape behavior beyond
pro-social aspects.

Crockett suggested a multi-disciplinary
collaboration to determine common definitions for morality and related terms.
Churchland added that one must keep in mind that moral judgment is not neatly
separated from factors such as emotions, reasoning, motives, habits, stress,
temperament, age, etc. “Morality is not a module,” she said.

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Brain Scientists Head to San Diego

Neuroscience 2013
is this year’s big event for brain scientists. Starting Saturday, more than
30,000 researchers, funders, drug-makers, and other wonderers from around the
world are expected to swarm the San Diego Convention Center, to present and
discuss cutting-edge research on the brain and nervous system. Four
of the events are free and open to the public
, and some are being livecast, so if you’re in the area or even if you're not, do consider joining us.

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