Science Interviews


Mon, 17th Nov 2014

An ethical evening!

Professor James Giordano, Georgetown University

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Evening relaxation and chats at a jolly good scientific poster wine

As well as wine at the reception, there was scientific posters. I met Professor James Giordani from Georgetown University Medical Centre, he had a big presence there.

James - We have twelve of our posters and Iím very proud of those, not because theyíre mine, only because these are my students and my fellows. What that really indicates is that theyíre making a presence in the field Ďcause as young and up-coming students, itís vital that not only their lens and their   but this is also a platform, a nexus for them to interact with the current, the next generation of neuroscientists and thatís exciting.

Hannah - And what kind of work are they presenting at the conference?

James - Well, it really reflects the interests that we have of our neuroethics studies program and of course, our program is international. So, itís based in Georgetown but itís internationally collaborative, so weíre doing some work with colleagues in Germany, some colleagues in the UK, and some colleagues in Italy. The majority of our foci are really emphasizing three main themes. Weíre looking at the neuroethics of deep brain stimulation. Weíre also trying to plot the field in terms of one of the really important points. Weíre looking at this in a pragmatic way, so we want to make sure that weíre just not pie in the sky, but really trying to plot one of the most important areas and domains the deep brain stimulation youíll encounter will affect. This should become the focus of neuroethical regard, deliberation, and discourse. Weíre also looking at animal neuroethics. And the way we engage animals in research based upon the most contemporary knowledge we have about animal brains, animal minds, and that speaks very, very largely also to the way we not only engage animals in the laboratory, to engagement in daily life, and perhaps even the way we look at other selves, other consciousness. And then the last area weíre dealing with is the whole problem of enhancement. What constitutes treatment, what constitutes enhancement, what constitutes enablement which is a term that our group has developed, so as to look at the ways you might specifically augment particular tasks of neurological function in very, very discrete silos of performance that are socially sanctioned. Like peace officer, fire fighter, or even a soldier, or a doctor.

Hannah - And do you think that the area of neuroethics is becoming increasingly popular amongst students? Is there are an increase in the number of people that are taking up, looking into this area?

James - I think neuroethics is not only a field that is growing by virtue of popularity but I think the popularity reflects necessity, and thatís important because I think our current generation of neuroscience students recognize that you canít extricate the science from the society. We donít live in a social vacuum and certainly, science is influenced by society and influences society. Neuroethics really provides that bridge. Itís that nexus between what we do with our brain science and what we do with the meaning of our brain science. In many ways, we see it as the bridge between the synaptic to the social.

Hannah - And then finally, what were your top highlights from the conference today?

James - Well, you know, these conferences, the International Neuroethics Society provides a very, very unique forum. It allows some of the up and coming students, fellows, and scholars, and young academicians in the field to literally meet with the old guard if you will, those who have developed the field. The field is really only about ten to twelve years old, so there are those neuroscientists who recognize the need for neuroethics and they become almost iconographic. So, itís a nice opportunity for the up and coming generation to rub elbows with those who are the founders of the field. But itís also a great opportunity for the next generation of neuroscientists and neuroethicist to provide their voice, their lens, and make their mark on what is going to be a very, very exciting field as we move into neuroethics second generation in the second decade.

Hannah - Thanks to James Giordani, and isnít his voice lovely? He told me heís also done voice-over work and weíll be hearing more from his bassy tones later in the series discussing how the American military program DARPA, are funding neuroscience research. Well, thatís all we have time for in this special episode of Naked neuroscience. Iím Hannah Critchlow reporting from the International Neuroethics 2014 meeting, hosted at the AAAS or the American Association for the Advancements for Science at Washington DC. Thanks to all those who took part in this episode, Goldie Nejet, Barbara Sahakian, Paul Root Wolpe, and James Giordani. In the next episode, weíll be hearing from DARPA, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency who are funding brain projects, and weíll be asking should governments wipe their secret service agentís memories after theyíve completed missions and should we implant positive memories into veterans who return from combat? Join us again for this special Naked Neuroscience series to open your mind.


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