The International Neuroethics Society (INS) defines neuroethics as “a field that studies the implications of neuroscience for human self-understanding, ethics and policy.” Though it is oftentimes the subject of controversy, the field is crucial for understanding the significance of science and personal responsibility, and it’s also something that is vital to all criminal justice systems. Among the many advocates for responsible neuroscience, the University of London’s Sir Colin Blakemore was recently invited to speak at the International Brain Research Organization’s (IBRO) global congress to address this topic.
Every four years, since 1982, the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) sponsors a global congress to advocate public awareness and discuss the latest news in neuroscience research around the world. The non-governmental organization was founded in 1961 in response to a growing demand for improved communication among neuroscientists and currently represents more than 75,000 scientists worldwide. This year’s 9th IBRO World Congress of Neuroscience took place on July 7th-11th in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The event drew 6,000 delegates and eight other guest lecturers, who presented topics such as the effects of stress on the brain, behavior, dementia, and maintaining healthy cognitive function. Blakemore—long recognized for his outspoken views on the need for scientists to openly discuss neuroethics in medical research—gave a lecture entitled “Mysteries, myths, and miracles. The cost and benefits of neuroscience.” His talk opened up the discourse of why it is crucial for neuroscience to be looked at in ethical terms, “and differently from the rest of medicine and biology.”
Blakemore, who has conducted groundbreaking research in vision and brain development, is an executive committee member of the Dana Alliance. In 2003, he was credited by The Guardian as “one of the most powerful scientists in the country” for his work in the advancement of neuroscience. In an interview conducted at this year’s IBRO event, he said:
There are special things about the brain. [It’s] the organ of thought; it’s the organ of understanding. Without the brain, we wouldn’t have any concept of ethics. So it’s a very interesting philosophical conundrum—how do we use our brains to understand our brains…Any scientist has to have ethical principles.
With increasing attention to the topic of neuroethics, scholars, scientists, and other professionals are working together to advance the development and application of this field to their work. Blakemore noted, “Neuroethics is a very new subject; the word was really only composed a few years ago. But I think we should bring neuroethics into the agenda and understanding of every neuroscientist.”
INS holds an annual meeting, where experts address the latest news and debates in neuroethics research to help increase this understanding among other scientists, as well as the public. The 2015 INS Annual Meeting will be held at Northwestern University in Chicago. The Dana Foundation has continued to support the society since its inception in 2006 in an effort to promote the commitment toward further developing neuroethics and also celebrates its first year of hosting “The Dana Foundation Neuroethics Lecture,” which featured Blakemore’s talk at IBRO .
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– Seimi Rurup