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European Neuroscience and Society Network tackles neurosocieties head-on

The neurosciences have such a wide-ranging influence on so many areas of life that a new concept of the community has developed called neurosocieties. To bring this community together, the European Neuroscience and Society Network (ENSN), funded by the European Science Foundation (ESF), has initiated a series of activities to stimulate discussions and exchange on the social, legal and ethical implications of new developments in the neurosciences. The project, which will run from 2007 to 2012, will lead European conferences and organize workshops and innovative neuroschools to foster inter-disciplinary learning across Europe and North America.

The ENSNs inaugural conference, Neurosocieties: the rise and impact of the new brain sciences held at the BIOS Centre in the London School of Economics last November, brought together 100 people from the neurosciences and social sciences in a lively discussion covering topics ranging from neuroeconomics to neuropharmacology. These subjects were considered from a variety of perspectives including health and politics in an effort to understand the full impact of the neurosciences on society. Results from the workshops show that the word neuro has a strong claim as an almost universal prefix, touching as it does on a multitude of disparate fields.

The success of the meeting was in giving leading European researchers in this field a chance to gather together for discussions that will help to set the stage for the future, said Linsey McGoey, co-founder and advisory expert to the ENSN, This led to provocative debate, as one of the novelties of the ENSN is that we are very keen to open the debate to those critical of the capitalization of the neurotechnologies and those who believe the best way to bring neurotechnologies to the market is to engage industry experts with scientists. This way we aim to foster greater collegiality between disciplines rather than adversarial stances.

McGoey explained that in addition to bridging inter-disciplinary divides, the conference offered participants an affordable venue for experts to meet: Many industry events are prohibitively expensive for a lot of social scientists, particularly junior researchers. Another positive aspect of the event was that we were able to host one of the neurotechnology industrys leading representatives at an accessible event open to researchers from a variety of disciplines. This fostered a large amount of productive dialogue.

According to McGoey, increasing cross-disciplinary literacy is a continuing challenge since experts with different perspectives on the implications of neuroscience have few opportunities to meet, a challenge which the ENSN seeks to resolve.

Future events designed to bridge this divide include an invitational workshop to be held at Harvard University in May, providing European members of the network with an opportunity to engage with researchers in the US. In addition, Dr. Giovanni Frazzetto, co-founder and advisory expert to ENSN, is chairing a neuroschool to take place in Rome in September. The first inter-disciplinary neuroschool, an ENSN initiative, will bring together junior researchers, neuroscientists and social scientists to exchange disciplinary skills. The participants will receive hands-on training on behavioural genetics and contextualization in contemporary society, focusing on the genetic disposition of certain anxiety and psychiatric disorders. Finally, another European conference is planned in Portugal in spring 2009. A call for applications inviting individual researchers to submit abstracts to the conference in Portugal will be issued by the ENSN shortly.


Contact: Dr. Frank Kuhn
European Science Foundation

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