PhD scholarship: Neuroethics at Monash University

29 January 2015

Closing date for expressions of interest: Friday 26 February 2015, 11:55 p.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Time

A PhD scholarship, equivalent to an Australian Postgraduate Award, is available to examine treatment-induced compulsive behaviours in Parkinson’s disease. The Scholarship is provided by an Australia Research Council Discovery Early Career Award received by Dr Adrian Carter (2014-2017) entitled “Treatment-induced compulsive behaviours: Ethical and policy implications”.

Some medications can produce compulsive behaviours that challenge our understanding of decision-making and raise significant ethical questions about our control over and responsibility for our actions. Around one in five individuals receiving dopamine replacement therapy (DRT), usually for Parkinson’s disease, will develop severe compulsive behaviours or impulse control disorders (ICDs). These behaviours, which include pathological gambling, compulsive buying, hypersexuality, Internet addiction, and compulsive eating, can cause significant harm and distress to sufferers and their families. Individuals have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, homes and businesses from pathological gambling and compulsive buying, while others have developed a compulsive interest in sex that, in some cases, have resulted in criminal prosecutions. These conditions pose an imminent problem not only for these individuals, but also clinicians, judges and loved ones that deal with the consequences of these behaviours.

Very little is known about the impact that these disorders have upon those who suffer from them. Clinicians prescribe these medications with little ethical guidance, while courts make judgements on the culpability of compulsive actions in criminal cases that are minimally informed by the scientific literature. There is also little that can be done to prevent or ameliorate these behaviours other than stopping or reducing a medication that is essential to control life-threatening motor disturbances. There is therefore an urgent need to understand these conditions, the ethical and legal issues that they raise, and to develop more effective methods of minimising their occurrence or the harms that they cause.

The PhD Scholarship aims to:
1. Identify the ethical and legal issues raised by the use of dopaminergic drugs, such as DRT, that cause compulsive behaviour, and the implications they have for agency and moral responsibility.
2. Determine the impact of dopamine-induced compulsive behaviour on affected individuals, including their ability to control their behaviour, their understanding of these behaviours, and their sense of moral agency.
3. Increase knowledge and understanding of the impact of dopaminergic drugs on behaviour and decision-making

Research Plan:
These aims will be achieved using three inter-related methodologies:
1. Critical ethical and policy analysis
2. Qualitative study of affected individuals and clinicians
3. Neuropsychological assessment of persons affected by these disorders.

For further information, including remuneration package, candidate requirements, and application details go here.

Enquiries should be directed to:
Dr Adrian Carter
School of Psychological Sciences
Monash University
adrian.carter@monash.edu
Telephone: +613 9902 9431


Conference: The Human Sciences after the Decade of the Brain – Perspectives on the neuro-turn in the social sciences and the humanities.

25 November 2014

March 30th – March 31st, 2015

Philosophy Department, Johannes Gutenberg-University of Mainz, Germany

It is now almost 25 years since the U.S. Congress authorized the then president, George Bush sr., to proclaim the decade beginning January 1, 1990 as the Decade of the Brain. This proclamation stimulated a number of initiatives that substantially benefitted neuroscience research in the following years. Alongside this rise of neuroscience and the corresponding increase of public awareness, many disciplines in the humanities and social sciences have shifted towards more brain based and evolutionary informed approaches. New research fields such as Neuroethics, Neuroeconomics, Cognitive Cultural Studies, Neuroaesthetics or even Neurotheology have gained a following. In addition to surveying the mutual interactions between the cognitive neurosciences and the social sciences and humanities, this interdisciplinary symposium investigates the methodological and conceptual prospects and perils of choosing a neuroscience approach to the social sciences and the humanities. The symposium aims to shed light on a broad range of epistemological, historical and sociological questions about the
purported neuro-turn in the social sciences and the humanities including (but not limited to):

• How and why have brain based approaches to the social sciences and humanities developed?
• What exactly distinguishes cognitive and brain based approaches from their traditional counterparts?
• How are brain-based sub-disciplines of the traditional humanities institutionalized?
• How does research policy contribute to the development of a neuro-turn in the social sciences and the humanities?
• Are there common motives for turning to cognitive neuroscience approaches in the different disciplines of social sciences and humanities? If so, which?
• Are there any historical examples of a turn to brain based approaches in the social sciences and the humanities?
• If so, what could be learned from this history for practicing social sciences and humanities today?
• What, if anything, can the humanities and the social sciences learn from the neurosciences?
• What, if anything, can the neurosciences learn from the social sciences and the humanities?
• How does neuroscience change the social sciences and the humanities?
• How do the humanities and the social sciences change neuroscience?

We invite submission of abstracts of 300-500 words from researchers in relevant disciplines such as history of science, science and technology studies, philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, cognitive neuroscience, psychology or any sub-discipline of the social sciences or the humanities, which approaches its subject from a cognitive science perspective.

Abstracts should be emailed to leefmann[at]uni-mainz.de by December 15, 2014. Applicants will be notified by mid-January 2015 whether their abstract has been accepted.

Conference website here.

This symposium is part of the international project ‘The Neuro-Turn in the Social Sciences and the Humanities’ (NESSHI) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). For information on the project see: www.nesshi.eu


Event: 2014 Wellcome Lecture in Neuroethics

27 October 2014

Thursday 30 October 2014,  5.30pm-6.45pm, Oxford Martin School Lecture Theatre, Oxford.

Professor Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

‘Implicit Moral Attitudes’

Most moral philosophers and psychologists focus on explicit moral beliefs that people give as answers to questions. However, much research in social psychology shows that implicit moral attitudes (unconscious beliefs or associations) also affect our thinking and behavior. This talk will report our new psychological and neuroscientific research on implicit moral attitudes (using a process dissociation procedure) and then explore potential implications for scientific moral psychology as well as  for philosophical theories of moral epistemology, responsibility, and virtue. If there is time, I will discuss practical uses of these findings in criminal law, especially regarding the treatment of psychopaths and prediction of their recidivism.

Registration is required.  Please register at https://bookwhen.com/uehiro


Job: Project leader at the Nuffield Council on Bioethics

16 March 2012

Fixed term 12 month contract (to start no later than the beginning of July 2012)
Salary range: £42,995 – £47,986

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics examines the ethical issues raised by advances in biology and medicine. It has achieved an international reputation based on quality, independence and the timeliness of its reports which both stimulate public debate in bioethics and give advice to policy-makers. We are now looking to recruit a Project Leader to supervise the production of a report on novel neurotechnologies that intervene in the brain.

You will undertake research, prepare, organise and support meetings of a Working Party and prepare the final report for publication. You will work with a wide range of academics, professionals and policy-makers.

Candidates will need a sound understanding of both science and ethics; a strong academic background in a relevant discipline; excellent drafting and organisational skills; energy, motivation, and the ability to work independently. The contract is expected to be for 12 months full-time, although the Council will consider alternative working arrangements that will meet the requirements for the post, and is happy to consider filling the role being by means of a secondment.

This is an excellent opportunity for those interested in the high-profile area of bioethics, providing an opportunity to work closely in the development of policy and the promotion of debate in bioethics.

Closing date for applications: 30 March 2012
Interviews: w/c 10 or 16 April

For further information and details on how to apply, please visit our website or email recruitment [at] nuffieldfoundation.org


Event: Neuroscience and Neuromania

10 May 2011

Tuesday, 14 June 2011
6.30pm – 8.00pm, followed by a drinks reception
The British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1

Professor Raymond Tallis in conversation with Professor Robin Dunbar FBA

Neuroscience is making astounding progress in helping us to understand how the brain works and this will deliver advances in the management of brain disease. Unfortunately, it has a Dark Companion – Neuromania – which is founded on the belief that brain activity is not merely a necessary but a sufficient condition for human consciousness and that consequently our behaviour in every day life can be entirely understood neural terms. This has resulted in wild claims about the potential of neuroscience to cast light on art, to explain economic behaviour, to inform social policy and the justice system,  and even to account for religious belief. The talk will show why such hype is bad for the reputation of neuroscience and may have dangerous consequences.

About the Speakers:

Raymond Tallis trained as a doctor before going on to become Professor of Geriatic Medicine at the University of Manchester. He was elected Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences for his research in clinical neuroscience.

He retired from medicine in 2006 to become a full-time writer. He has published fiction, poetry and over a dozen books of cultural criticism and philosophical anthropology including, most recently, The Kingdom of Infinite Space (2008) and Michelangelo’s Finger (2010).

Robin Dunbar is currently Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology at the University of Oxford and Director of its Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology.  He is a Fellow of Magdalen College and was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1998. He is co-Director of the British Academy’s Centenary Research Project, ‘Lucy to Language: The Archaeology of the Social Brain’, a multi-disciplinary project involving research groups at the Universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Royal Holloway (University of London), Southampton and Kent. His principal research interest is the evolution of sociality, with specific focus on humans, nonhuman primates and ungulates.

Attendance is free, but registration is required for this event. Please register via the British Academy website.


Radio/iPlayer: The medicalisation of misbehaviour

20 March 2011

Are we too willing to excuse bad behaviour as the morally-neutral symptom of newly-defined mental disorders? A combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk with Michael Portillo, Clifford Longley, Melanie Phillips and Kenan Malik.

Listen to the 45min program on the BBC iPlayer here.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the Bible of American psychiatry, is reported this week to be debating whether to recognise ‘sex addiction’ as a treatable medical condition. Private rehab clinics say that more and more clients are seeking treatment for sex addiction. Those who have already undergone therapy for it include Russell Brand, Tiger Woods and Michael Douglas. So should we tear up the seventh commandment and replace it with ‘If you commit adultery you should seek therapy’? We could replace a few more commandments. In place of ‘Remember the Sabbath’, ‘Thou shalt not covet’, ‘Thou shalt not steal’ and ‘Honour thy father and mother’, we could have ‘Recognise that you may be a workaholic, a shopaholic or a kleptomaniac, or that you may have Oppositional Defiant Disorder.’ If any socially-unacceptable behaviour is a symptom of a condition that can be treated with drugs or therapy or both, where does that leave those quaint old moral terms good and bad, right and wrong? Are we nowadays too willing to excuse bad behaviour as the morally-neutral symptom of some newly-defined mental disorder? Or is medical science finding new ways to diagnose and treat the causes of deviance where traditional morality has failed?


Conference: Situating Mental Illness Between Scientific Certainty and Personal Narrative

20 March 2011

April 28-29th 2011, Berlin, Germany

Contemporary neuroscience reduces mental illness to brain-based operations, instantiating a division between biology and culture, mechanism and context, brain and biography. This has the effect of marginalising a richer, inner-subjective complex of individual meaning, personal history and narrative. This meeting surveys recent significant shifts in biological psychiatry methods for the assessment of mental illness and questions their validity and limitations. It also explores nuances and interstices between the regard of psychiatric disorders as neurochemical flaws and experiential conditions; the cultural history of psychopathologies; and how brain-based accounts of mental illness circulate in the public domain and are incorporated in culture.

List of Speakers: Lisa Appignanesi, Noga Arikha, Lisa Blackman, Laura Bossi, Felicity Callard, Trudy Dehue, John Forrester, Allen Frances, Stephan Schleim, Ilina A. Singh

The meeting has three main sessions:

1. Tensions of Diagnosis
The current neuroscience set of co-circulating methods including diagnostic categories, behaviour rating scales, animal models and biological markers implies a superimposition of subjective symptoms, neurochemical markers and objective endophenotypology.  What are the advantages and limitations to the introduction of biological measures in DSM-V? What are their repercussions for epidemiology, criteria of inclusion in trials and treatment? The scope of this session is to illustrate difficulties conciliating validity/reliability of measurements with respect for heterogeneity in disease manifestation, both at the biological and phenomenological level and to bring emerging evidence from clinical, epidemiological and biological research, as well as sociological analysis.

2. Voices from within
The second session will be devoted to exploring nuances and interstices between psychiatric disorders as neurochemical flaws and as experiential conditions, the former characterization now being favored due to its measurability, and thus facilitation of standardization. Attention will be given to the role of narratives and personal accounts in illustrating differences in severity and sequence of symptoms as well as values and motivations among patients behind biological interpretation of illness, and pharmaceutical treatment.

3. Neurotransmitters and psychopathology in history and culture
In the final session, we will explore the history of certain psychopathologies and how brain-based accounts of mental illness circulate in the public domain and are incorporated in culture.
What ideas and representations of ‘illness’ do biological interpretations let circulate in culture? How are they welcomed, endorsed or resisted by the general public? What scientific or commonsensical ideas do we live by to describe and explain illness, and what is their valence?

There is no conference fee. For further information and to register please contact Giovanni Frazzetto at giovanni.frazzetto(at)ici-berlin.org

Updated information will be available on the conference website.