William Safire Honored by Neuroethics Society

INS President Judy Illes, Steven Hyman, Dana Foundation Vice President Barbara Gill, Dana Foundation Chairman Ed Rover

Pulitzer Prize winner William Safire was widely credited with giving the word “neuroethics” its current meaning, defining it as “the examination of what is right and wrong, good and bad about the treatment of, perfection of, or unwelcome invasion of and worrisome manipulation of the human brain.” Safire was honored posthumously Friday morning with the Steven E. Hyman Award for Distinguished Service to the Field of Neuroethics at the annual meeting of the International Neuroethics Society (INS) in Washington, D.C.

A larger than life character, Safire was probably best known for his New York Times contributions, first as Op-Ed page columnist from 1972 to 2005 and then his Sunday “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and was a senior White House speechwriter for President Nixon and author of 15 books. Author Eric Alterman, in his 1999 book Sound and Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy, called Safire an institution unto himself. “Few insiders doubt that William Safire is the most influential and respected pundit alive,” Alterman wrote. Continue reading

Neuroethics Society Meeting: Science Communication

Tali Sharot, Alan Leshner, Joseph Fins, and Ed Yong

Gone are the days when science communication mainly consisted of publishing in peer-reviewed journals. Instead, there’s a “hunger” among scientists, and particularly young scientists, to communicate their work to public, said Alan Leshner, CEO emeritus of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives (DABI).

But just because the enthusiasm is there doesn’t mean that communicating science to a lay audience is an easy feat for scientists. “It’s not an innate skill, it’s an acquired skill,” Leshner said during a panel discussion at the International Neuroethics Society annual meeting yesterday in Washington, DC.   Continue reading

Neuroscience and Society: To Tell the Truth!

Elizabeth Loftus, Charles Dike, and Victoria Talwar

In the animal kingdom, humans have the unique distinction of being the species that tell lies, which researcher Victoria Talwar describes as “verbal statements made with the intention to deceive.” An emphasis is placed on the word “intention” because this is what distinguishes lies from other false statements, such as mistakes or sarcasm. During a Neuroscience & Society program held this week in conjunction with the International Neuroethics Society’s annual meeting, Talwar described her work on the development of understanding behind truth and lying in children. Fellow panelists Elizabeth Loftus focused on the malleability of human memory and how this affects honesty, while Charles Dike described the layers of many questions behind pathological liars and the distinctions this type of lying has from others.

One point all three speakers shared is that lying is a normal part of life; it follows stages of cognitive development and persists into adulthood. Adults tell an average of one lie a day, said Talwar and Dike.

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