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Home > Focus > Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 5, Issue 1

Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 5, Issue 1

by Jonathan Hankins [1], 8 June 2018

The first issue of Volume 5 of the JRI [2] is a Special Issue entitled Responsible Innovation and Brain Science and includes an open access supplement Roadmap to Gene Drives: Research and Governance Needs in Social, Political, and Ecological Context.

This is a large and extremely dense publication, offering a series of research articles, perspectives, a discussion paper and responses and a report on the finings of the Committee on Gene Drives in Non-human Organisms.

The issue opens with The neurotechnology and society interface: responsible innovation in an international context, authored by Diana M. Bowman, Hermann Garden, Clare Stroud and David E. Winickoff.

This editorial piece describes how the Special Issue addresses themes that were addressed in the 2016 OECD workshop entitled 'Neurotechnology and Society: Strengthening RRI in brain science', held 15-16 September 2016 in Washington D.C. The authors then go on to describe the different sections contained in the issue with editorials on the articles present.

Having summarized the contents the authors reflect upon the different ways that governments around the world are attempting to unravel the many mysteries of the human brain, arguing that there is no 'one size fits all' approach to designing a large-scale brain initiative.

The first research article follows the introduction. In The integrated ethics and society programme of the Human Brain Project: reflecting on an ongoing experience, Christine Aicardi, Michael Reinsborough and Nikolas Rose describe the structure of the Ethics & Society Subproject of the EU-funded Human Brain Project (HBP) through their own experience of working within it and in the light of an RRI positioning.

The authors offer what they call a 'view from the trenches', through a broad picture of the HBP and of the mechanisms through which ethical, legal and social dimensions are integrated into the project (part of a responsible research and innovation (RRI) approach), reflecting upon their working practices and drawing lessons from the experience. They describe how the project changed over time and the problems involved in integrating a trial RRI process, discussing issues surrounding the Collingridge debate, synchrony, responsibility and the question of who is responsible for ethics.

In their conclusion the authors argue the importance of adopting a critical view of time within large brain studies alongside the need to build archives for future historical study, and the need for reflexivity in RI in terms of whether it furthers the aims of the work of emerging technologies themselves.

The SI continues with another research article. In RRI as the inheritor of deliberative democracy and the precautionary principle, Bernard Reber describes the evolving history of RRI as a policy framework in the EU before setting out an agenda for the framework going forward.

The article discusses (amongst other things) the seminal Richard Owen, John Bessant, and Maggy Heintz, collection Responsible Innovation: Managing the Responsible Emergence of Science and Innovation in Society, and in particular one of the chapters A Framework for Responsible Innovation written by Richard Owen, Jack Stilgoe, Phil MacNacnaghten, Mike Gorman, Erik Fischer and Dave Guston. The critique involves suggesting changes to the ranking of their dimensions due to the importance of deliberation within the concept of RI, as well as arguing that the authors reduce the concept of responsibility to one of responsiveness.

The article offers a more political and cognitive conception of deliberation through discussion of the precautionary principle and the theory of direct democracy from the particular perspective of the field of neurotechnologies.

The article closes with a conclusion that cites a pan European study called Meeting of Minds, the author concluding that:

Precautionary Principle and Theories of Direct Democracy appeared before RRI. Thus the latter is potentially inheritor of them. If the inheritance is reconstructed here, the three of them share the same concerns, even if the RRI analysts have not made these connections. To be coherent and seeking high-quality results in implementing RRI, they need to think and solve the questions PP and TDD address. Both have a great potential to build the future of strong RRI, even if the latter is historically inheritor of them.

The third research article is Responsible Research and Innovation in the context of human cognitive enhancement: some essential features, by Clare Shelley-Egan, Anders Braarud Hanssen, Laurens Landeweerd and Bjørn Hofmann.

This article takes up current work on the HCENAT (Naturalness in Human Cognitive Enhancement) project and offers some essential features of RRI for HCE in the belief that Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) offers one possible approach that aims to anticipate and reflect on potential implications and societal expectations with respect to research and innovation.

After discussing pharmaceutical cognitive enhancers and the ethical issues that their use raises, the authors discuss the need for their governance and the position of RRI within this context. They describe some essential features and issues associated with following an RRI model in this context, raising the issue of lack of availability of reliable data, risk and benefits, stakeholder engagement, anticipation, reflectiveness and responsiveness, all issues that regular readers will be familiar with. Of particular interest is the question raised of how this technology should be seen in relation to its possible contribution to addressing some of the grand challenges and aims that make up part of the EU and others' descriptions of the goals of an RRI approach.

In their conclusion the authors review the arguments before stating that the features we propose here encompass concrete questions and issues that can be used as a departure point for decision-makers to generate knowledge about and understand the application of RRI to the particular context of PCEs and HCE, more generally.

The issue continues with a discussion paper. In The electric brain: do-it-yourself healthcare with transcranial direct current stimulation, Colton D. Smith describes what transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) technology actually is, giving a brief overview of its history, introducing scientific studies that suggest the efficacy of the technology and setting out some of his concerns.

This is an entertaining and thought provoking piece, raising issues such as possible addiction, permanent changes to the brain and other risks associated with non-clinical use, alongside evidence from peer reviewed studies that seems to suggest a host of possible gains from the use of such technology.

The author concludes that he is sure that if neuroscientists and policy-makers work together to become the voice of reason behind the safe use of this technology we will be able to prevent people from unintentionally damaging themselves. And who knows, maybe we can help guide people in safely accomplishing what they set out to do with this technology.

The discussion paper receives four responses. In Response to the electric brain, Nathaniel D. May addresses this final comment cited above arguing that although Smith argues that the neuroscience community has an ethical imperative to watch over the consuming public at a time when the risks and benefits of tDCS technology are still uncertain, the real impetus for change will more likely come from agency regulation of consumer tDCS devices.

He describes the issues raised as fitting into three categories of debate, public perception, use and impact and physiological concerns, arguing that the FDA offers the greatest chance of successful intervention policy development.

In DIY tDCS: a need for an empirical look, Anita Jwa responds to the discussion by arguing a need for empirical research on the DIY tDCS user community and the mechanism in question, and the need for an optimal protocol of tDCS drawn from the research experience. The article offers a series of suggested groups that might participate in such research convinced as she is that guidelines could be drawn that would answer many of the issues raised in the article.

In their Response to The Electric Brain, Lane Conrad and Nancy Craig respond with some concepts about if, and how, DIY tDCS fits into existing regulatory frameworks, suggesting that regulators should not regulate DIY use of tDCS at this time arguing that further research is needed in order to regulate based upon sound science.

In the final comment paper Governing citizen use of brain stimulation technologies: what role for scientists?, Patrick McGurrin and Emma K. Frow describe how tDCS is currently being used and described within the scientific community, arguing that the professional to DIY dichotomy proposed by Smith may be more complicated than he suggests. The response is based upon personal professional experience which offers an interesting perspective.

The issue closes with the Perspectives section, this time containing three articles.

In Neuroethics and the NIH BRAIN Initiative, Khara M. Ramos, Karen S. Rommelfanger, Henry T. Greely and Walter J. Koroshetz discuss the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies® (BRAIN) Initiative.

In this article the authors describe the BRAIN Initiative and its implications and aspirations for neuroethics, before discussing new opportunities for collaboration and for integrating stakeholder voices.

After describing the rationale of the initiative and presenting an overview of the current situation in terms of brain related health costs, the authors explain that a key principle for maximizing the value of the BRAIN Initiative is to consider ethical implications of neuroscience research, offering explicit goals, implications and aspirations for neuroethics.

The article closes with remarks regarding new opportunities for collaboration and the integration of stakeholder voices, arguing the need for a better understanding of neuroethics on the part of the general public, as education goes hand in hand with engagement.

The section continues with SWOT analysis of The Brain Dialogue, an Australian prototype Responsible Research and Innovation engagement program for neuroscience by Rachel Nowak and Elizabeth Paton.

The authors argue that neuroscience should follow a more RRI style pathway to engagement, criticizing current working practice as inherently one-way. The article then describe a prototype program offering what they describe as a detailed, warts-and-all analysis of The Brain Dialogue's Strengths and weaknesses, and the opportunities and threats it faces, concluding that neuroscience is at a critical juncture and requires RRI practices in order to steer it towards what society actually wants.

The final article in this special issue is Progressing the health agenda: responsibly innovating in health technology by Gillian Christie.

Christie offers an adapted keynote address from the OECD's workshop on Neuro-technology and Society which aimed to examine the science and society interplay in brain research, and the development of novel neurotechnologies.

The author offers an overview of the legal, social and ethical implications of health technologies developed as part of what has been described as the fourth industrial revolution, before offering five guidelines for health technology development and concluding with a section on the responsible development of medical technology for the future.

The issue also contains an open access supplement, a review of which will follow in the coming weeks.

Once again the Journal of Responsible Innovation offers a fine collection of study materials and all at the Bassetti Foundation are thrilled to recommend this issue to our readers once more.


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  1. 1] /schedabiografica/Jonathan Hankins
  2. 2] https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tjri20/5/1?nav=tocList
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Journal of Responsible Innovation, Volume 5, Issue 1


Articles by:  Jonathan Hankins
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