Interdisciplinary Network on Teaching of Ethics for Neuroscientists

Lead Research Organisation: University of Manchester
Department Name: Law

Abstract

This project will create a network on the development of ethics teaching in neuroscience (study of the brain, mind and nervous system). The network will build understanding and insights through a series of workshops covering: the present state of ethics education in neuroscience; the ideal state of ethics education; what needs to be done to move from the present to the ideal state; and how this can be achieved in practical terms.

Scientific research on the brain and mind has a long history. Recent advances across a range of scientific fields have significantly advanced understanding in neuroscience, and many new applications and technologies are being developed based on this understanding. The interactions of these new technologies with our brains and minds and the broad implications of our increased knowledge of their processes are raising many questions and concerns in relation to their social and ethical effects. Some of these concerns may be exaggerated or misstated, but they are not without foundation and they are receiving increasing academic, professional, media and public attention. (This can be seen in the growing literature on neuroethics, including the recent Royal Society report Brainwaves Module 1: Neuroscience, Society and Policy and the soon to be published Oxford Handbook of Neuroethics, Judy Illes and Barbara Sahakian (eds.), Oxford University Press, June 2011.)

Scientists, while often aware of many of the implications of their work, are generally not trained to describe, analyse and communicate ethical and social dimensions of their research - especially when these go far beyond the remit of standard procedural ethics reviews. Network activities will provide information on the teaching and training currently available to neuroscientists in the UK and a range of other countries and will identify paths to improving the availability, content and delivery of such teaching.

The lead centres involved in this application - the Bradford Disarmament Research Centre (BDRC) and the Institute for Science, Ethics and Innovation (iSEI) - both have substantial experience undertaking scholarly work examining the ethical and social dimensions of scientific advances, including neuroscience, and in the practice of teaching of ethics for scientists. (Members of the two centres are contributing to the Royal Society's Brain Waves project; iSEI delivers ethics teaching to undergraduate life science students at the University of Manchester; and BDRC delivers innovative online teaching and train-the-trainers modules in dual-use bioethics.)

Participants in the network will combine expertise and understanding of how to approach issues around ethics teaching and training for scientists. They will report and reflect upon the current situation based, for example, on surveys of current practice. We believe that while the need for such education will be very similar in different countries, they are likely to be at different stages of development. The US for example, appears to be slightly ahead of the UK in the development of neuroethics (reflection and analysis on ethical dimensions and implications of neuroscience). The network will draw in international participants in order to explore these issues.

The workshops will provide realistic appreciation of the state of the science and its likely future course, of probable societal impacts and how ethical issues can be identified, understood and responded to - by individual researchers and research communities, from undergraduate teaching throughout careers. They will provide opportunities for participants to reflect on the practical steps needed to improve the current situation and to ensure that consideration of the ethical implications of research becomes an integral part of neuroscience courses.

Planned Impact

The most significant impacts of the network are expected to come from the contribution it will make to the inclusion of appropriate ethics training in the education of all neuroscientists and to the promotion of a change in culture, so that ethics education becomes an integral part of the discipline. In addition, the network is intended to have substantive benefits for a range of individuals and groups beyond academia. For example by:

- Informing policy-makers and university managers about needs and possibilities for incorporating teaching and training in ethics for neuroscientists throughout their education and professional activities.
- Establishing and/or reinforcing extensive links between and among the science ethics and neuroscience and biosecurity research and practitioner communities. We intend to develop the capacity to maintain these links through further funding applications.
- Informing professional scientists about how to evaluate, respond to, and communicate about ethical issues arising in the course of their work.
- Promoting appropriate governance nationally and internationally. Raising scientists' awareness of and willingness to address ethical issues arising from their research should enable them to engage with and inform the governance of neuroscience. This will benefit government and regulatory bodies.
- Feeding into the work of national and international bodies interested in promoting good conduct in scientific research - for example the US National Academies, which regularly publishes On Being A Scientist to advise on responsible conduct throughout science careers. (A predicted output of the project will be recommendations on content and development of On Being A Neuroscientist.)
- Enhancing public trust in neuroscience through the promotion of open and informed discussion by neuroscientists of the ethical and social dimensions of their research.
- Disseminating information on network activities to contacts working in public engagement with science, for example in Nowgen, Beltane and the Manchester Beacon for Public Engagement.

Routes to providing these benefits to those outside of academia include: publicising our website among contacts in such groups and posting regular updates on our activities and outlines of our findings; inviting representatives from these groups to participate in the network; and encouraging all network participants to interact with non-academic audiences where they have opportunities.

Publications

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Chan S (2018) In search of a post-genomic bioethics Lessons from Political Biology in History of the Human Sciences

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Chan S (2016) Genome editing and international regulatory challenges: Lessons from Mexico in Ethics, Medicine and Public Health

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Chan S (2017) Commentary: What Price Freedom? in Cambridge quarterly of healthcare ethics : CQ : the international journal of healthcare ethics committees

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Rhodes C Advancing Ethics and Biosecurity Education for Neuroscientists in The Convergence of Chemistry and Biology and the Biosecurity Education of Life Scientists: Synthetic Biology, Neuroscience and Recent Educational Advances

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Rhodes C (2012) Developing Ethics Education For Neuroscientists: An Ongoing Project in Yearbook of Biosecurity Education 2012

 
Description The impetus for this project was the realisation that, despite the increasing attention given to ethical issues in neuroscience and the ethical challenges posed by the field, very few neuroscience education programmes incorporated significant ethics teaching. With this in mind, we convened a series of four workshops aimed at defining, exploring and addressing the need for ethics education in neuroscience. Participants were invited from the neuroscience education community in the UK and internationally, forming a network to share resources and best practices and support the development of educational tools. Through the workshops, we established that there is a perceived need for more ethics education in many neuroscience programmes, and a demand for resources and materials that can help to meet that need. We discussed the challenges of providing ethics education within the various educational environments represented by participants, and identified tools and mechanisms that could be of use in addressing this. On this basis we were able to design educational materials for use in a range of teaching contexts. This has led to the implementation of new and innovative teaching activities in a number of programmes. We were also able to secure additional funding from the Wellcome Trust to continue the development and implementation of this work, and work on this further stage of the project has been in progress since 2014. We are seeking additional ongoing support from funders to continue the work further.
Exploitation Route We were able to design educational materials for use in a range of teaching contexts. This has led to the implementation of new and innovative teaching activities in a number of programmes. We were also able to secure additional funding from the Wellcome Trust to continue the development and implementation of this work, and work on this further stage of the project has been in progress since 2014. We are seeking additional ongoing support from funders to continue the work further.
Sectors Education,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

 
Description We created an online neuroethics course that was used by one of our members for giving a 30 hrs course in Poznan University. Work on this project also led to the development and implementation of a campus-based course on neuroethics for neuroscience and technology students at Imperial College, London.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Education,Healthcare
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Imperial College DTP Ethical Issues in Neurotechnology
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
Impact We have developed and continue to deliver a specialised module in ethics for graduate students on the Doctoral Training Programme in Neurotechnology at Imperial College. This has led to increased understanding of ethical and social issues among neuroscientists-in-training and has influenced some of the students to develop outreach and engagement activities around neuroethics issues.
 
Description Butterfield Award
Amount £10,000 (GBP)
Funding ID B.101 
Organisation The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2016 
End 07/2019
 
Description Impact Acceleration Award
Amount £4,980 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2016 
End 03/2017
 
Description Seed Award 'Meeting the Ethical Challenges of Social Media and Health'
Amount £71,258 (GBP)
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 03/2018
 
Description Supplementary Grant
Amount £45,738 (GBP)
Funding ID 0873321 
Organisation Wellcome Trust 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2014 
End 12/2014
 
Description Neuroethics and cognitive neuroscience 
Organisation Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan
Department Cognitive Science
Country Poland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We have developed and delivered a module on neuroethics for the Cognitive Science degree programme at Adam Mickiewicz University.
Collaborator Contribution Our partners have assisted in gaining approval for, developing, promoting and administering the module.
Impact Delivery of new module on neuroethics for cognitive science students
Start Year 2013
 
Description Conference presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Promoted discussion and ongoing dialogue with practitioners in area of neuroscience education

Increase in interest from outside organisations
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Lecture at Davidson College 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact During my IPS Fellowship in Washington DC I was invited to give a lecture on my research at Davidson College, NC. The lecture was attended by a diverse audience and promoted a good discussion afterwards.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Lecture at Front Royal 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I gave a lecture based on my IPS Fellowship research to the conservation biology researchers at SCBI Front Royal, engaging at a new disciplinary interface between bioethics and conservation science.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Lecture at GWU Biology 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact While on my IPS Smithsonian Fellowship in Washington DC, I was invited to give a lecture on my research to the George Washington University Biology Department. The lecture was well attended (~40 people) and was followed by lively discussion. The organiser and I received many highly positive comments about the talk and about the value of cross-disciplinary interaction. I continue to maintain contact with researchers in the GWU Biology Department as a result of this and may initiate formal collaboration with them in future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description SCBI postdocs discussion group 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact I led a discussion group on ethical issues in conservation biology for the Smithsonian Conservation BIology Institute postdocs journal club. Many interesting issues and questions were raised and there was general positive feedback about having the opportunity to think about conservation science from a different disciplinary perspective.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017