Research ethics & societal impact



Lecture 1: Introduction to ethical theory
Christine Mitchell, HMS

Lecture 2: Computer ethics and the HBP
Bernd Stahl, DMU

Lecture 3: The Ethical Roboticist
Alan Winfield, UWE

Lecture 4: Responsible Research and the Human Brain Project
Nikolas Rose, KCL

Lecture 5: Scaling up neuroscience - Responsible Research and the big brain projects
Nikolas Rose, KCL

Lecture 6: Neuroscience and the problem of dual use
Malcolm Dando, UoB

Lecture 7: Ethics in biomedical research and the 3Rs
Viveka Hillegaart, KI

Lecture 8: Societal attitudes to animal research
Rafael Frias, KI

Lecture 9: Research integrity and ethics management - HBP case study
Emma Harris, DMU

Lecture 10: Cognitive enhancement: Ethics and efficacy
Sebastian Porsdam Mann, HMS

Lecture 11: The Thinking Robot
Alan Winfield, UWE

This course explores ethical and social issues that have arisen, and continue to arise, from the rapid research development in neuroscience, medicine and ICT. Lectures focus on key ethical issues contained in the HBP – such as ethics of robotics, dual use, ICT ethical issues, big data and individual privacy, and the use of animals in research.



ECTS credits: 1.5 (after attendance of the online course, one full workshop and successfully passing the exam)

Find further information about the completing workshop on the workshop subpage. 



Dando picture Malcolm Dando trained originally as a biologist (B.Sc and PhD at St. Andrews University, Scotland).  After post-doctoral studies in the United States (University of Michigan and University of Oregon) he held UK Ministry of Defence funded fellowships in Operational Research at the University of Sussex during the 1970s. Since then he has worked on arms control and disarmament, particularly on chemical and biological issues (DSc. University of Bradford).  In recent years this work has been focused on awareness raising and education of life scientists in regard to dual use and biosecurity, for example in the recent Royal Society Brain Waves module on Neuroscience, conflict and security. He is a Fellow of the UK Society of Biology.


Lecture title: Neuroscience and the problem of dual use

The UK Royal Society in its 2012 study of Neuroscience, conflict and security had as its first recommendation that: “There needs to be fresh effort by the appropriate professional bodies to inculcate the awareness of the dual-use challenge (i.e., knowledge and technologies used for beneficial purposes can also be misused for harmful purposes) among neuroscientists at an early stage of their training.” There can be little doubt that the need to raise awareness of this challenge remains among practicing neuroscientists today. This lecture aims to give an introduction and overview of the dual-use challenge as it applies to neuroscience today and will apply in coming decades. Following a brief introduction to the general problem of dual-use biotechnology, the lecture is divided into four sections. The first section outlines how the threat of chemical and biological weapons developed in the last century. The second section then shows how benignly-intended civil science was taken up in the production of chemical and biological weapons that attacked the nervous system in the last century. The third section discusses how the States Parties to the BTWC and the CWC have responded to this possible misuse of neuroscience, and the final section focuses on the problem of awareness-raising amongst neuroscientists.

Frias picture Rafael Frias is Director of the Unit for Education and Training in Laboratory Animal Science, Comparative Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. He received his veterinary degree from the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Murcia, Spain, in 1999. In 2007, he obtained a master’s degree in laboratory animal science and welfare by the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, and in 2013 he received a doctoral degree in veterinary medicine by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Helsinki, Finland. Rafael has an interdisciplinary veterinary and scientific background, involving various veterinary medical fields, animal species and models, and research disciplines. He has extensive teaching experience in the field of laboratory animal science at both national and international level, is actively involved in scientific projects, and is author or co-author of more than 20 international peer-reviewed publications, 25 research abstracts and 2 book chapters in the field.


Lecture title: Societal attitudes to animal research

In the European Union (EU), animals are recognised to have an intrinsic value that must be respected. Since 1986, the EU provides specific legislation to protect the use of animals for scientific purposes. The Directive was extensively updated in 2010, with the aim to strengthen legislation, improve the welfare of those animals still needed in scientific procedures, as well as to firmly adopt the principle of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement). The Directive 2010/63 is widely recognised as the world’s most stringent and progressive legal framework for protecting animals used in scientific procedures. According to the Eurobarometer of March 2016 about attitudes of Europeans towards animal welfare, it is clearly recognised that animal welfare and animal protection are very important issues for European citizens. This report also illustrates that attitudes towards animals may be slightly different between EU Member States, and some countries demand more extensive animal-welfare rules than those generally agreed at the EU level. The use of animals in scientific procedures rises particularly significant ethical concerns to the society, especially when it comes to the use of non-human primates, dogs and cats in scientific procedures. Specific opinion polls carried out by the Swedish (2008) and UK Governments (2014) about societal attitudes to animal research indicate that most people in the society think that the use of animals is acceptable (60-80%) if experiments are meaningful and are carried out under certain conditions e.g. the 3Rs. Although the percentage of the society against all forms of animal research is small, they represent large numbers of people. In March 2015, the European Citizens’ Initiative “Stop Vivisection” submitted more than 1,150,000 certified signatures to the European Commission. The main aim of this initiative was to repeal the EU Directive 2010/63, which this Initiative regarded as a step back in animal protection and for the development of non-animal alternative methods. Finally, such an initiative was not accepted by the European Commission in June 2015, as complete ban of animal testing was regarded by the EU as premature and detrimental for Europe’s leading role in advancing biomedical research.

Harris picture Dr Emma A Harris has a research background in film and cultural history, but has more recently moved from science fiction to science fact. Her research interests include research ethics and RRI: Responsible Research and Innovation, the representations of technology and A.I. in media and culture, and research governance.

Lecture title: Research integrity and ethics management - HBP case study

Research integrity has become an increasingly important aspect of modern research. Problems such as the reproducibility crisis and fierce pressure on academics to succeed motivate organisations at all levels to engage with initiatives that support good research conduct. But what is research integrity? How does it differ from ethics? This talk will give a brief overview of the developments in research integrity and the relationship it has to ethics. The ways in which high standards of ethics and integrity are supported and managed in the HBP will be outlined as a case study of this topic.

Hillegaart picture

Viveka Hillegaart is by training a zoologist with interdisciplinary interest from evolutionary biology, ecology, ethology to behavioral sciences (psychology) bridging over to behavioral pharmacology, neurophysiology, pharmacology and brain anatomy. Her Ph.D. thesis was an interdisciplinary project at Göteborg’s University involving the Department of Zoology, the Department of Pharmacology and the Department of Psychology. Her post-doc was in the area of cognitive and anatomical psychology at the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA, USA. Her career has been in the field of life sciences, with competence from various University-settings in Sweden and America and from research in industry. Experience from research and development procedures in the pharmaceutical industry and from University, as well as safety and regulatory aspects towards authorities. Her skills are from scientific procedures, techniques and statistical analysis to project driven management. She has an academic scientific profile (Docent), with teaching and student supervision at the graduate and postgraduate level, as well as basic research within neurobiology, animal behavioral sciences, brain anatomy, histology and pharmacology mainly in the CNS research area. Her original research has resulted in 47 peer-reviewed original publications. At present she has the title as Docent in Zoology, at Stockholm University and hold a position since 2015 as a “Senior 3R officer at Comparative medicine at the Karolinska Institutet. From 2010 to 2015 she was appointed head of the Department for Animal Welfare and Health, at the Swedish Board of Agriculture, Jönköping, Sweden, were we implemented the Directive 2010/63/EU on protection on animals used for scientific purposes into Swedish legislation.


Lecture title: Ethics in biomedical research and the 3Rs

What is Ethics in biomedical research? In this case the ethics we talk about is how we think we can use animals in biomedical research and what we gain from the experimental setup of experiments. We will talk about “a common set of values” and how 3R engagement can make a difference to experimental procedures and a progress in the positive outcome of experimental procedures and results and scientific papers of the future. Comparative Medicine (CM) is built on the vision that the 3Rs should permeate every aspect of care and use of laboratory animals at KI. The aim is to offer a cutting edge research environment set in a best practice and care culture fostered by the staff at CM. A thread of 3R activities based on evidence-based practice is being implemented and harmonization on the national level and within the EU is another goal. To live up to regulations and regulatory requirements, CM has established a backbone of support for the laboratories and the animal facilities composed of an Infrastructure unit, an Education and training unit and an Executive office. To be able to implement the 3Rs concept from the Directive 2010/63/EU, CM has created a position as “Senior 3R officer” within the executive office and with the missions to make all the 3Rs visible both externally and internally in a transparent way, and that all research performed at KI shall be aligned with the 3R intentions of the Directive. To accomplish this aspiration, a program for the 3Rs has been set up at KI. Highlights of this program are (1) a yearly event where employees, researchers, students and others can exchange new concepts and results around animal welfare in biomedical research and the 3Rs, (2) custom tailored educational efforts in collaboration with the LAS education office to increase knowledge and awareness of the 3Rs, (3) to embed the animal welfare officer function (AWO) in the 3R office, and (4) the senior 3R officer is the chairperson of the local animal welfare body (AWB) at KI.

Mitchell picture Christine Mitchell is Executive Director of the Center for Bioethics and Senior Lecturer at Harvard Medical School.  She directs the capstone program and teaches a two semester seminar on “the ethics of bioethics” as well as teaching medical students and bioethics fellows. Prior to her current work, Mitchell founded and led the clinical ethics program and consultation service at Boston Children’s Hospital.  She serves on numerous national ethics committees, including the newly formed Council of Neuroethics Program Leaders, as well as the Ethics Management Team for the EU Human Brain Project.


Lecture title: Introduction to ethical theory

Neuroethics has been described as containing at least two components - the neuroscience of ethics, and the ethics of neuroscience. The first involves neuroscientific theories, research, and neuro-imaging focused on how the brain arrives at moral decisions and actions, which challenge existing descriptive theories of how humans develop moral thinking and make ethical decisions. The second, ethics of neuroscience, involves applying normative theories about what is right, good and fair to ethical questions raised by neuroscientific research and new technologies, such as how to balance the public benefit of “big data” neuroscience while protecting individual privacy and norms of informed consent. This lecture explicates selected theories of ethics as applied to questions raised by the Human Brain Project.

Porsdam Mann picture Sebastian Porsdam Mann is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard Medical School’s Center for Bioethics. Having split his childhood years between his native Denmark and Germany, he moved to England for his studies following a year of service in German Military Police. Originally enrolled in the philosophy program at the University of Cambridge, he soon developed an interest in the sciences of the mind, graduating with a degree in philosophy, psychology and neuroscience. This background enabled him to pursue graduate work at the intersection of philosophy and the brain sciences in the emerging field of neuroethics. His current work explores the moral dimensions of modifying and creating lifeforms, human rights, informed consent, medical data sharing, and the role and responsibilities of modern universities. Sebastian’s future work will be supported by a Carlsberg Foundation Distinguished Postdoctoral Research Fellowship grant.


Lecture title: Cognitive enhancement: Ethics and efficacy

Cognitive functions underlie everything we feel, think, and do. It has often been assumed that the cognitive capacities of an individual, whether human or animal, is fixed, either at birth or at maturation. Yet recent studies have demonstrated that cognitive functions can be modified by a wide variety of factors, many of which are controllable. Some of these, including sleep and meditation, are not currently ethically controversial. But others, especially those which make use of advanced technology or unfamiliar drugs, have been challenged on ethical grounds. This lecture explores the morally relevant aspects of cognitive enhancement, with special emphasis on safety, fairness, authenticity and coercion (peer pressure). It will also touch upon the less-widely discussed issue of moral status and cognitive function.

Rose picture Nikolas Rose is Professor of Sociology and Head of the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Kings College London.  Before joining King’s in 2012, he was Martin White Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Political Science, Head of the Department of Sociology from 2002 to 2006, and Director of the LSE's BIOS Centre for the Study of Bioscience, Biomedicine, Biotechnology and Society, which he founded in 2003.   He was trained as a biologist before switching to psychology and then to sociology. He is founder and co-editor of BioSocieties: an interdisciplinary journal for social studies of the life sciences. has published widely on the social and political history of the human sciences, on the genealogy of subjectivity, on the history of empirical thought in sociology, on law and criminology, and on changing rationalities and techniques of political power. His most recent books include books The Politics of Life Itself : Biomedicine, Power, and Subjectivity in the Twenty-First Century (2006) Governing The Present (written with Peter Miller, 2008) and Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind (written with Joelle Abi-Rached, 2013). He is a member of the Steering Committee of the Society and Ethics Division of the Human Brain Project, a European FET Flagship Project, and is responsible for their Foresight Laboratory.  He is the lead investigator from Kings in several large EPSRC funded collaborations with Imperial College, London to develop research and capacity in synthetic biology, and is currently engaged in comparative research on mental health and migration in megacities such as Shanghai.  For six years he was a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.  He was lead partner in BIONET, a 21 partner consortium, funded by the European Commission, examining the ethical governance of research in the life sciences in China and Europe. He is Chair of the Neuroscience and Society Network (previously funded by the European Science Foundation) and has worked in various capacities with the Academy of Medical Science and the Wellcome Trust, and with the Royal Society, where he is currently a member of the Science Policy Committee.


Lecture title: Responsible Research and the Human Brain Project

In the face of perceived public concerns about technological innovations, leading national and international bodies increasingly argue that there must be ‘dialogue' between policy makers, scientific researchers, civil society organizations and members of the public, to shape the pathways of technology development in a way that meets societal needs and gains public trust. This is not new, of course, and such concerns go back at least to the debates over the development of nuclear technologies and campaigns for social responsibility in science. Major funding bodies in the UK, Europe and elsewhere are now addressing this issue by insisting on Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in the development of emerging technology. Biotechnologies such as synthetic biology and neurotechnologies have become a particular focus of RRI, partly because of the belief that these are risky technologies involving tinkering with the very building blocks of life, and perhaps even with human nature. With my fellow researchers, I have been involved in trying to develop Responsible Research and Innovation in these technologies for several years. In this session we will consider the methods and methodologies we have developed, and the challenges involved, in working with life scientists to enhance their capacity for understanding, and taking responsibility for, the social implications of their research.


Lecture title: Scaling up neuroscience - Responsible Research and the big brain projects

In this lecture I consider some of the key social and ethical issues raised by the ‘big brain projects’ currently under way in Europe, the USA, China, Japan and many other regions. I will draw upon our own experience in the ‘ Foresight Lab’ of the HBP to discuss the ways in which these can usefully be approached from the perspective of responsible research and innovation and the AREA approach - anticipation, reflection, engagement and action. These include data protection, privacy and data governance; the search for ‘neural signatures’ of psychaitric and neurological disorders; ‘dual use’ or the military use of developments initially intended for clinical and civilian purposes; brain-computer interfaces and neural prosthetics; and the use of animals in brain research. Following a brief discussion of the challenges of translation from the lab to the real world, I will conclude by arguing that success in contemporary scientific research and innovation is best assured by openness, collaboration, sharing with fellow researchers; robust systems of data governance involving lay persons; frankness about realities of scientific research and innovation with fellow citizens; realism about complexities of links between researchers, publics and private enterprise; and understanding and engaging with the realities of science today in the real world.

Stahl picture

Bernd Carsten Stahl is Professor of Critical Research in Technology and Director the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. His interests cover philosophical issues arising from the intersections of business, technology, and information. This includes ethical questions of current and emerging of ICTs, critical approaches to information systems and issues related to responsible research and innovation.


Lecture title: Computer ethics and the HBP

The HBP as an ICT flagship project crucially relies on ICT and will contribute important input into the development of new computing principles and artefacts. Individuals working on the HBP should therefore be aware of the long history of ethical issues discussed in computing. The discourse on ethics and computing can be traced back to Norbert Wiener and the very beginning of digital computing. From the 1970s and 80s it has developed into an active discussion involving academics from various disciplines, professional bodies and industry. The lecture will provide an overview of the most widely discussed ethical issues in computing and demonstrate that privacy and data protection are by no means the only issue worth worrying about. It will cover likely ethical issues that can be expected in emerging ICTs and specifically look at the issues that are likely to arise in the context of the HBP.

Winfield picture Alan Winfield is Professor of Robot Ethics at the University of the West of England (UWE), Bristol, UK, and Visiting Professor at the University of York. He received his PhD in Digital Communications from the University of Hull in 1984, then co-founded and led APD Communications Ltd until taking-up appointment at UWE, Bristol in 1992. Winfield co-founded the Bristol Robotics Laboratory where his current research is focussed on cognitive robotics.  Winfield is an advocate for robot ethics; he is a member of the British Standards Institute working group that drafted BS 8611: Guide to the Ethical Design of Robots and Robotic Systems, and he currently chairs the General Principles committee of the IEEE Global Initiative on Ethical Considerations in the Design of Autonomous Systems. Winfield has published over 200 works, including ‘Robotics: A Very Short Introduction’ (Oxford University Press, 2012), and lectures widely on robotics, presenting to both academic and public audiences.


Lecture title: The Ethical Roboticist

Like any transformative technology, intelligent robotics has the potential for huge benefit, but is not without ethical or societal risk. In this lecture I will explore two questions. Firstly, the increasingly urgent question of the ethical use of robots: are there particular applications of robots that should be proscribed, in eldercare, or surveillance, or war fighting for example? When intelligent autonomous robots make mistakes, as they inevitably will, who should be held to account? Secondly, I will consider the longer-term question of whether intelligent robots themselves could or should be ethical. Seventy years ago Isaac Asimov created his fictional Three Laws of Robotics. Is there now a realistic prospect that we could build a robot that is Three Laws Safe?


Lecture title: The Thinking Robot

Press headlines frequently refer to robots that think like humans, or even have feelings, but is there any basis of truth in such headlines, or are they simply sensationalist hype? Computer scientist EW Dijkstra famously wrote, “the question of whether machines can think is about as relevant as the question of whether submarines can swim”, but the question of robot thought is one that cannot so easily be dismissed. In this talk I will attempt to answer the question “how intelligent are present day intelligent robots?” and describe efforts to design robots that are not only more intelligent but also have a sense of self. But if we should be successful in designing such robots, would they think like animals, or even humans? And what are the realistic prospects for future (sentient) robots as smart as humans?


Manuel Guerrero (Uppsala University, Sweden)
Kerstin Hakansson (Linnaeus University, Sweden)

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