In Cerebrum’s June article, Knowing Sin: Making Sure Good Science Doesn’t Go Bad bioethicist Henry T. Greely, J.D., of Stanford University, wrote, “The potential beneﬁts from neuroscience are breathtaking, but so are some of the potential harms.” Citing several examples of neuroscience applications outrunning the research, he argued that scientists could take reasonable steps to prevent negative consequences.
Greely described one model for such an undertaking: the 1975 meeting of geneticists at the Asilomar Conference Center in California. At that meeting, many of the leading researchers working on recombinant DNA technology declared a moratorium on their own research until questions about its safety could be answered. While pointing out that some researchers feel that action held back the science, Greely wrote, “No one can deny that molecular biologists, having learned from the experience of nuclear physicists, did face directly at least some of the possible risks of their work.”
Now, more than 30 years later, an interdisciplinary group of neuroscientists, scholars, and clinicians has followed the lead of the geneticists and, in May, met at Asilomar to discuss the social, legal, ethical, and policy implications of advances in brain research.
As a result of that meeting, a new Neuroethics Society was established and announced in July. Its stated mission is “to promote the development and responsible application of neuroscience through better understanding of its capabilities and its consequences.” The Asilomar attendees decided that a permanent organization would be valuable in supporting sustained interaction, learning, and critical discussion, as well as helping to draw new people into neuroethics. The Society will host events at scientiﬁc meetings, publish a newsletter, and partner with The American Journal of Bioethics and The Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience to disseminate neuroethics research.
The president of the new society is Steven E. Hyman, M.D., provost of Harvard University and a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School. (Dr. Hyman is also a member of the Dana Foundation board of directors.) Greely is a member of the Society’s 5-member executive committee, along with Martha J. Farah, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, Judy Illes, Ph.D., also of Stanford, Turhan Canli, Ph.D., of State University of New York at Stony Brook, and Barbara Sahakian, Ph.D., of Cambridge University. The 7-member governing board of top scholars and neuroscientists includes Michael S. Gazzaniga, Ph.D., Stephen Morse, J.D., Ph.D., Paul R. Wolpe, Ph.D. Patricia S. Churchland, Ph.D., Anjan Chatterjee, M.D., Elizabeth Phelps, Ph.D, and Laurie Zoloth, Ph.D.
Several Neuroethics Society leaders have been contributors to Cerebrum and to the Dana Foundation Series on Neuroethics. You can ﬁnd examples of their writing about neuroethics in the Dana Foundation Web site’s Neuroethics section, along with information about Dana Press books, Webcasts, Podcasts, and other resources on this important new ﬁeld of inquiry.
The Dana Foundation supported the ﬁrst conference on neuroethics in the United States in San Francisco, May, 2002, hosted by Stanford University and the University of California, San Francisco. The landmark conference proceedings, Neuroethics: Mapping the Field, were published by the Dana Press, and are available for free download.