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The Duke Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science Policy is heading into its fifth year. The program was founded on the forward-thinking premise that advances in science and technology are far outpacing society’s capacity to effectively manage, much less take full advantage of, the resulting impact on our world. The frenzied pace of progress demands that scientists, ethicists, and policy makers no longer exist in their own respective bubbles. The interdisciplinary graduate program aims to provide an open, agile, and innovative space to address this growing challenge and better serve society through science.
Dr. Nita Farahany, Program Chair and Director of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, recently addressed the 2018 graduating class with a challenge: “Somebody will have to come up with meaningful new ideas, creative new approaches, and important new policies on how to address the new ethical, legal, and social challenges brought about by science and emerging technologies. We expect that somebody will be you.”
The 2017-2018 MA class bore witness to historical public demonstration in response to the growing tension between science and policy as hundreds of thousands of citizens marched for science across the world. In tech and culture, machines took an ever more dominant role in our lives, driving more than vehicles. Algorithms and sophisticated AI identify diagnoses, curate our news, sift our data, and influence our politics, even as the first deaths by autonomous vehicles and data breach after data breach ostensibly validate the concerns of many. In medicine, the FDA greenlit new gene therapies that address some of mankind’s most irremediable diseases to-date, while simultaneously, the nation came to grips with a fatal opioid crisis.
The MA program is one cornerstone in Science & Society’s effort to address these issues and steward scientific progress. Each year we look for opportunity to recognize exemplary students who embody this mission and recognize their potential through the Science & Society Leadership Award – a substantial Duke University scholarship for rising leaders in this space.
Successful leadership award candidates possess qualities necessary to lead complex and often emotional conversations in a society tuned in to and leery of bias. Qualities that will not only enable them to pioneer new policy solutions, but productively stand in the communication gap as translators between the vastly different languages of science, policy, and ethics.
While academic excellence is foundational in our search, S&S begins by identifying a hunger for knowledge and understanding, before quickly differentiating each candidate’s ability to collaborate across various fields of study. Ideal candidates do so with a willingness to abandon comfortable established spaces that threaten impasse on issues that are rarely black and white. And driving each of these qualities we look for an earnest motivation to serve society.
This spring we are proud to welcome two such individuals to our 2018-2019 class and recognize their potential through this scholarship award.
Deniz studied cognitive neuroscience at Washington University. While volunteering in multiple community engagement programs, she shared life alongside incarcerated women and low-income immigrant children while organizing campus-wide events centered around body image and eating disorders.
Deniz quickly recognized the potential for her research in moral psychology to inform policy and alleviate the systemic inequalities effecting these groups, but became frustrated at an inability to effectively connect what she was doing in the lab to a practical application in the world.
In her statement of purpose, Deniz explains, “The discrepancy between the clarity of the conclusions that I reached in my polished university classrooms and laboratories, and the suffering felt by people only miles from campus, prompted me to question the broader impacts I wanted my research to have.”
Unsatisfied with having such an isolated effect, Deniz sought out the Duke Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science policy in order to further explore the unique methods, needs, and limitations of professionals working at each step of law and policy creation. She would like to eventually design research that benefits not merely other researchers, but policy and law makers as well.
Cameron studied neuroscience and philosophy at Vanderbilt. While there he served as an intermediary between undergraduates and faculty as a member of the neuroscience executive board and in 2016 helped establish the Association of Neuroscience & Law.
As an ardent communicator, his passion to connect disparate audiences is rousing. Where in debate one might seek satisfaction in winning an audience to their point, Cameron finds fulfillment in the “resonance” and resulting “feedback loop” he cultivates in effective dialogue. The feedback loop, he explains, is only possible by first learning how to carefully listen to others in earnest.
While debates are important, he goes on to differentiate his approach: “I’ve always enjoyed eclectic explanations, discovering associates between far-flung disciplines. There’s the initial eureka moment that occurs in my mind, and then there’s the pleasure of watching someone else’s face light up when what I’m saying clicks.”
Uncertain of confining his gregarious nature to pure benchwork and unwilling to abandon his empirical mind for the amorphous discussions in the humanities, he found a path at Duke that allows him to straddle the space between.
“I want to help bring disciplines together and take science to those outside of academia,” he states in an essay, “and show them how important and compelling it can be, and I have found no better path to this goal than Duke’s MA in Bioethics and Science Policy.”
Cameron looks forward to taking advantage of the many resources and programs available in the Duke Initiative for Science & Society, where he can further hone skills that will enable him to bring real change to the world. More specifically, Cameron will deepen his understanding of the ethical, legal, and scientific issues underlying the use of brain scans in the courtroom – a growing trend in criminal defense strategies with uncertain and potentially overstated application.
Science and technology will evolve and new problems will bubble to the surface, anticipated or not. Age-old questions of self and what it means to be alive and sentient will be given new life as neuroscientists delve deeper into the inner workings of the brain. Society will grapple with balancing privacy, liberty, and luxury as commercial technology drives us forward on an empowering wave of convenience and potential. The commercialization of genomic data, whose merit has been debated for over a decade, is now providing clear examples of its mixed effects and potential for use or abuse beyond medicine.
The goal is not to slow scientific progress unnecessarily or to ignore the potential benefits because of social constraints, but to move both sides forward together. Duke University is poised to lead the effort. “We are preparing pioneers who recognize that science does not advance on its own and in isolation,” says Dr. Farahany, “who recognize that we shouldn’t simply ask if we can, but if we should; and if so, how?”
Currently, those living brain cells are used to study brain development and disorders. But the research of cerebral organoids is progressing so quickly that scientists need to consider implications like developing “what looks like consciousness or any kind of sentience, the ability to feel something like pain,” says Nita Farahany, a professor of law and philosophy at Duke University and the director of Duke Science and Society. So what are the ethics of experimenting with human brain tissue? We explore whether potential health benefits outweigh ethical risks.
Experts say it’s likely an unprecedented use of the technology, and worry about privacy implications. With comments from Sara Katsanis, instructor with the Duke Initiative for Science & Society.
Difficult questions will be raised as models of the human brain get closer to replicating its functions, explain Nita A. Farahany, Henry T. Greely and 15 colleagues.
Arizona has become the first state in the country to pass a law that would allow frozen embryos to be given to the person who wants to develop them “to birth” after a couple separates or divorces.