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SPINS - The Stanford Program in Neuroscience and Society

Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Stanford Program in Neuroscience and Society

The Stanford Neurosciences Institute is creating the Stanford Program in Neuroscience and Society (SPINS), a multidisciplinary initiative to study how neuroscience affects society, and to bring neuroscientists knowledge of human behavior and cognition from scholars in law, education and business. Through SPINS, SNI will create cooperative dialogue and partnership between these disciplines. After all, our nervous systems evolved to produce behavior, which neuroscience seeks to explain.

SPINS will be based in the Stanford Law School and directed by law professor Hank Greely. Anthony D. Wagner, professor of psychology and neuroscience, will be the deputy director.

Innovations in neuroscience are rapidly expanding our understanding of how the brain functions and providing new insights into diseases and mental health conditions. Beyond the medical implications of neuroscience research, new discoveries and techniques are already affecting the broader society in a wide range of contexts, from criminal defendants’ use of brain scans in court, and companies selling neuroimaging-based lie detection services, to increasing efforts to sell or use “brain enhancement.” 

SPINS will bring together neuroscientists and scholars from many fields both at Stanford and around the world to understand how neuroscience is currently influencing society and to consider and make recommendations about future implications. SPINS will not only study these issues, but will seek to improve public understanding and to help shape policy responses to these developments. 

Through SPINS, SNI intends to have the societal impacts of neuroscience become an integral part of all its initiatives, including the Big Ideas in Neuroscience, with the goal of making all neuroscientists more knowledgeable about, and able to engage in projects relating to, the societal impact of their work. Participation in SPINS programs by graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will create future researchers who are able to start their academic careers ready to take on these issues.

Specifically, SPINS will do three things:

  • Every year it will explore a specific issue where questions about the effects of neuroscience on society are pressing.  This exploration will take the form of a working group that will meet several times, analyze the science and its social consequences, and issue a report with concrete recommendations.  For example, one such working group could analyze the use of neuroimaging for pain detection and make recommendations about whether, how, and under what circumstances those methods should be used. Another example would be to review the marketing of “brain enhancing” devices (including software) and to recommend whether or what kind of regulation or other actions might be appropriate.  Each working group should lead to several publications.
  • It will sponsor various educational and public events at Stanford. It will hold a regular journal club and host regular afternoon or evening panels or presentations on these issues, involving both local and outside speakers. It may also create and offer courses at Stanford.
  • It will employ fellows to research issues identified as important to the field. We expect these Stanford scholars to continue into academic careers that deal with the intersection of neuroscience and various aspects of society. 

Learn more about SPINS