21–22 November 2014
Venue: Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Luisenstraße 56, Festsaal, 10117 Berlin
Organizers: Felix Hasler, Isabelle Bareither, Arno Villringer, Anna Strasser
Neuroskepticism is on the rise. After decades of enthusiasm about the explanatory potential and the purportedly far-reaching practical consequences of the “New Sciences of the Brain”, contemporary neuroscience is now under attack in books, scientific papers, conferences, popular media coverage and internet blogs. In turn, the criticism of neuroscience is itself criticized as being exaggerated, misguided and generally unhelpful in progressing science. It is time to reconcile the divergent voices.
In a two-day symposium at the Berlin School of Mind and Brain of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, in cooperation with the Department of Neurology at the Max Planck Institut for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (Leipzig), we will examine the complex relationship between neuroscience and society from different perspectives. It is more urgent than ever to understand their modes of interaction and to reach consensus positions on the future role of neuroscience in society. Some of the questions that will guide our symposium are: What are the expectations of society regarding relevant neuroscientific progress? How do the media cover neuroscience findings? Are researchers perhaps forced to publicly oversell their results in an increasingly competitive research environment? What can be done to reform neuroscientific research practices in order to increase the outcome of truly relevant data, e.g. in biological psychiatry? Do we need to rethink the publication process of scientific data, encourage more replication studies and improve the feasibility of publishing negative findings?
The workshop will be organized around these questions, with two keynote lectures and five short talks. There will also be six specialized working groups dedicated to these questions, each working group panel headed by two experts in the field.
A summary of the outcome of each working group will be given to the other participants in the afternoon of day two. Following the Mind the Brain! symposium, the outcome of our meeting will be presented to a broader audience in a public lecture as well as in a press conference.
Working group 1: Criticizing critical neuroscience
This group will offer a meta-critique of contemporary neuroskepticism. Several internet blogs are dedicated to Critical Neuroscience and even high-impact journals publish papers pointing at fundamental problems in neuroscience. But can this sort of criticism lead to any changes in the field? Are the criticisms valid? And who should criticize future neuroscientific practice and by what means?
Working group 2: Good Scientific Practice in neuroscience
Poor reproducibility of neuroscientific studies and low test-retest reliability are some of the most fundamental methodological problems of contemporary neuroscience. How can these important issues be addressed? Should we establish mandatory rules of ‘Good Scientific Practice’ within the field of neuroscience? We will examine one possible solution: a ‘Fair Science’ label that may be attached to excel high quality research.
Working group 3: Interdisciplinarity and its Discontents
Although the formation of disciplines has been key to the success story of modern science, we are witnessing a growing discontent with the cantonization of knowledge production. “Interdisciplinarity” and “transdisciplinarity” have been important buzzwords in academia and science policy making at least since the 1990s. They have also been hailed as new roads to scientific progress in brain research. Bringing together all sorts of biologists and computer scientists, psychologists and radiologists, physicists and psychiatrists, the neurosciences are essentially a “postdisciplinary” enterprise. More recently, they have also been amalgamated with humanities and social sciences giving rise to fields such as neuroeconomics, neuropsychoanalysis, neurohistory, and neurophilosophy. But are these cases of genuine transdisciplinarity or have the neurosciences “neurologized" the human sciences without fundamentally changing themselves? In this workshop, we will discuss case by case how these integrations have worked out, what has been gained and what has been lost, and whether we could and should strive to realize the positivist dream of a unified science of the mind-brain.
Working group 4: The publication system
Publishing experimental findings is perhaps the most important part of the current scientific system. Career and funding of neuroscientists depend on the number and impact factors of their publications. At the same time, many neuroscientists regard the publication system as problematic. The selection criteria are seen as arbitrary and even as inhibitory to genuine scientific progress. For example, negative findings and replication-studies are unlikely to be published in a high-impact journal, even though they may be of high scientific value. In this panel we will discuss possible ways of reforming and improving the current scientific publication process.
Working group 5: Neuroscience and media
The popular media have been criticized for systematically exaggerating (neuro)scientific findings to make up sensational stories for their readers. The result is a distorted, over-optimistic view of the public what contemporary neuroscience is capable of understanding and explaining. On the other hand, (neuro)scientists are suspected of using the media for their own agenda, e.g. the advancement of personal careers, by feeding media representatives with the messages they want to have transported to the public. Who is truly responsible for the ongoing neuroscience hype in the media? And more importantly, are there ways to encourage a more honest relationship of media and science? Can science blogs serve as alternative sources of trustworthy information for both neuroscientists and the public?
Working group 6: Novel directions in neuroscientific research
Recently, the “memorandum reflexive neuroscience” has been published by a group of German researchers, most of them cognitive neuroscientists. In the memorandum, which was authored on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the famous “Manifest der Hirnforscher”, systems biology is portrayed as a promising way to meet the complexity of the mind/brain. What we need in the first place is not more descpritive data but novel explanatory concepts. A field called Theoretical Neurobiology - possibly based on computational neuroscience - could come up with non-linear mathematical models eventually leading to a novel theory of the brain. One aim of the workshop is to discuss epistemic potentials and practical limits of the “Memorandum reflexive neuroscience”.*)
*) By the time of our symposium, an English translation of the “memorandum” will be available.