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Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology: Events


Two Talks on Neuroscience and Society

Two Talks on Neuroscience and Society
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Date and Time
10th Jun 2016 10:30 - 10th Jun 2016 12:00
Sydney Smith Lecture Theatre, Teviot Place

10.30-12.00, 10th June 2016

Sydney Smith Lecture Theatre, Teviot Place

Usher Institute for Population Health Sciences and Informatics

Collecting and trusting brain data: a historical overview

Vincent Pidoux, U. Lausanne

Neuroscience has supposedly entered a new area of intensive data-driven research, and of big projects which promise to explain and treat mental illness as disorders of the brain. However, although cognitive neuroscientists strive to develop and share large databases across laboratories, their results still draw most of the time on a limited number of experimental subjects. Beyond criticism of the discrepancy between the promised futures and the context-bound experimental facts, my paper explores how the question of the amount of data needed to produce original and trustworthy neuroscientific knowledge was framed since the late 19th century. I argue that no matter the scale, from plethysmographic study of brain physiology to today’s neuroinformatics, scientists have been constantly overwhelmed by data provided by the techniques used to scrutinise the brain and the mind, while taking for granted the fact that these techniques were the best vehicles for progress and scientific productivity.


Vincent Pidoux is a sociologist of science, technology and healthcare based at the University of Lausanne in the STS Lab and in the Institute of Psychology (Faculty of Social and Political Sciences). He is also a Research Associate at the Institute of the History of Medicine and Public Health (UNIL-CHUV). His research interests include the history and social studies of neuroscience and mental health, with a focus on brain technologies and translational research.

Neuroscience of social problems and the reproduction of social inequalities

Torsten Heinemann, U.C. Berkeley & U. Hamburg

In the past decades, neuroscientists have made fundamental progress in the study of human behaviour. The development of new biotechnologies has helped to elucidate genetic variations and neural correlates of behaviour that is considered a social problem, for example drug abuse, criminal behaviour or racism. This research seems to allow identifying potentially ‘risky’ or ‘problematic’ individuals even before they show supposedly undesirable behaviour, irrespective of the person’s race, gender or class. It seemingly transgresses and overcomes traditional categories and domains of social inequality and social exclusion because of the use of scientific and therefore objective methods. In this talk, I will give an overview of the neuroscience of social problems. Using the neuroscience of race as an exemplary case, I argue, that neuroscientific research reaffirms and reproduce categories of social inequality that is aims to overcome. In fact, it even produces new forms of social inequalities and exclusion.


Torsten Heinemann is Marie Curie Fellow at the Institute for the Study of Societal Issues (ISSI) at the University of California, Berkeley and professor of sociology at the University of Hamburg, Germany. His research interests are in social studies of science and technology with a special focus on recent developments in the neurosciences and genetics, medical sociology, social and critical theory, cultural sociology and public understanding of science.

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