Non-Epistemological Values in Collaborative Research in Neuroscience: The Case of Alleged Differences Between Human Populations

American Journal of Bioethics Neuroscience 11 (3):203-206 (2020)
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The goals and tasks of neuroethics formulated by Farahany and Ramos (2020) link epistemological and methodological issues with ethical and social values. The authors refer simultaneously to the social significance and scientific reliability of the BRAIN Initiative. They openly argue that neuroethics should not only examine neuroscientific research in terms of “a rigorous, reproducible, and representative neuroscience research process” as well as “explore the unique nature of the study of the human brain through accurate and representative models of its function and dysfunction”, but also its responsibilities or social consequences. In our commentary, we would like to concentrate on problem selection, which is shortly noticed by Farahany and Ramos, and by BRAIN Initiative’s Neuroethics Report itself. The document raises an important issue related to problem selection, which is strengthening or perpetuating existing prejudices and biases by choosing a research subject: “scientists are prompted to consider how the questions they choose to study in the laboratory might amplify existing biases.” This leads to several further problems: what constitutes bias?; how biases may be embedded in the selection of research programs?; is it possible to conduct completely unbiased research?; who should be a gatekeeper in the case of research that may amplify biases? We try to notice possible answers to these questions in the context of the research on differences (e.g., cognitive, medical, behavioral) between human populations.

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Author Profiles

Tomasz Żuradzki
Jagiellonian University
Joanna Karolina Malinowska
Adam Mickiewicz University