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Neuroscience, society and policy

The Royal Society’s Science Policy Centre project, Brain Waves, investigates developments in neuroscience and their implications for society and policy. The steering committee includes Cambridge Neuroscientists: Professor Trevor Robbins, Professor Barbara Sahakian, and Emeritis Professor Nicholas Mackintosh.

Brain Waves is already gaining momentum and influence, having recently been highlighted in the New Scientist magazine editorial calling for neuroscience research to inform education policy and practice (4th October, New Scientist, Time for teachers to take another look at neuroscience).

The Brain Waves project comprises five modules running in sequence until summer 2011, with each producing a corresponding report.

1. Neuroscience insights for policy
2. Neuroscience, education and lifelong learning
3. Neuroscience, conflict and arms control
4. Neuroscience, responsibility and the law
5. Lessons for the governance of novel areas of science and new
technologies.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, (pictured right) part of the Brain Waves steering Committee, and based here at the Cambridge University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural and Clinical Neurosciences Institute commented:

“I find the project especially important, exciting and topical because new technologies, including various forms of imaging, have allowed us to develop insights into complex human behaviour and its underlying neural ciruitry.

Furthermore, areas such as psychopharmacology, are providing novel
treatments for common neuropsychiatric disorders, including Alzheimer's disease, depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, as well as informing us of the role of different neurotransmitters in the modulation of forms of cognition (eg episodic memory, attentional bias, and impulsivity and cognitive control). In addition, psychopharmacology impacts in other ways, for example the increasing lifestyle-use by healthy people of cognitive enhancing drugs and the use of drugs in conflict and war.

Other key issues for neuroscience and society are free will, responsibility and the law in the context of disorders such as substance abuse and addiction. Another demonstration of the dramatic impact that neuroscience is having on society in the 21st century is neuroeducation or how knowledge about the brain can inform evidence-based educational programmes throughout the lifecourse. Usha Goswami and I are on the Working group for Module 2 which is chaired by Uta Frith. We recently attend a workshop as part of the
Project to begin the important dialogue between neuroscientists, educators, cognitive psychologists, social scientists and policy makers to provide a good education for all.

As scientists, we are part of society and therefore have an obligation to engage the public in active discussion in regard to novel developments and discoveries in science and their impact on society. Furthermore, consideration of new developments in neuroscience and their role in realizing a better future for society should be our goal. By examining novel neuroscientific technologies and discoveries and their implication for policy, The Brain Waves Project does just that”.

Posted on 25/10/2010

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