Science Interviews


Mon, 17th Nov 2014

Founding a neuroethics society

Professor Paul Root Wolpe, Emory University

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Meeting the founder of the International Neuroethics Society, to find out the Burning questionsmotivations and history.

During the evening wine reception, I met with one of the founders of the International Neuro Ethics Society to find out how this meeting got started.

Paul - I’m Paul Root Wolpe from Emory University, I’m at the Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Bioethics and I have many other titles that they give me in lieu of salary increases. The Neuro Ethics Society was founded by a group of people who got together in about 2004, and we decided that with all of the attention that had been paid to genetics which had then created this kind of tsunami of ethical writing about genetics, that neuroscience was being neglected. Especially because many of the things we were writing about in genetics, and I was doing some of that writing myself, things like genetic privacy, things like human enhancement. We’re going to be years away in genetics because at that time, having my genome, couldn’t say anything meaningful about me but we’re already here in neuroscience. We could already manipulate our brains, we do it all the time with alcohol and other things. So, we decided the time has come to just start some serious thought about the ethics of neuroscience. So, about twelve of us got together, including people like Mike Gazzaniga, and Steve Hymann, and Hank Greely, and myself, and Martha Farah, and Judy Illes, and we decided that it was time to try to bring people together who were interested ‘cause there was no one place that people were talking. We were scattered all over the country, so we founded the Neuroethics Society. We made Steve Hymann our first president and now, become the International Neuroethics Society and its really been a real success story.

Hannah - And did Neuroethics as a discipline, actually exist before you founded this society?

Paul - No. A lot of people were doing neuroethics in the sense that some people were doing ethics of psychiatry that they were working on, you know, psychotropics and their impact on people or their use in lifestyle. Some people on the neurology side were talking about these kinds of issues. On the law side, about things like brain imaging in the court room but it wasn’t integrated under any rubric, it was just part of bioethics. There was push-back at the beginning, with some people saying, “Oh. We don’t need another sub-field,” and there have been a number of sub-fields in bioethics. Many of which have faded or failed but what happened with neuroethics is because neuroscience has really become in some ways, the premier science in the United States around understanding human functioning. Neuroethics just grew.

Hannah - Thanks to Paul Root Wolpe.


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