2019 Annual Meeting
Chicago, IL, USA
October 17-18

Interview With Roland Nadler

Neuroscience May Help Curb Prison Violence – But Should It?

Roland Nadler, JD, is starting a doctorate program in law at the University of British Columbia. He was formerly Visiting Professor at the University of Ottawa in the Center for Health, Law, Policy and Ethics. He will moderate a panel discussion on 'Ethics and the Imprisoned Brain' at the 2019 INS Annual Meeting.

Describe your background and your field of research

I’m a neuroethicist and a legal scholar. I became interested in neuroscience and law while I was at Neuroethics Canada in Vancouver, then I went to Stanford Law School, and now I’m about to embark on a PhD back at UBC. My particular focus is the way in which the growing understanding of brain science and neurotechnology will impact the legal system in terms of both evidence and doctrine. Neuroscience will help change how moral and legal concepts are understood by lawyers and the public.

Image of Roland Nadler

What got you interested in neuroethics?

Part of the influence was the philosophy I studied as an undergraduate in context with cognitive neuroscience. It made me think carefully about concepts of brain and mind, and how that could be better applied to society. Law school increased my awareness of neuroscience’s impact on how individual cases are litigated.

Why are you involved with the INS?

The INS has accompanied me every step of the way through my academic career. Steve Hyman [former President of the INS] encouraged me to go to the 2008 annual meeting and I was immediately hooked. Since then, the INS has been both important professional service and enjoyable—it’s my favorite event of the year!

What will the session cover that you are moderating?

The theme of ‘Ethics and the imprisoned brain’ came to my attention in an article on a study in Spain where the investigators had worked on possibility of using brain stimulation to reduce aggressive behavior in prison populations. The topic dovetails with projects I have been working on at the University of Ottawa. Being in prison is horrible enough even without violence, yet the power in the hands of medicine or the state to make people more docile may sound dystopian. There are also pressing but not insurmountable research ethics challenges on how to run studies in prisons.

What are some of the existing and emerging neuro-interventions being used in prisons to deal with violent crime?

The technology of most interest now is transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). It’s not easy to talk about running electricity through brains - tDCS only uses a mild current – but that doesn’t mean it is risk free. When we are evaluating it shouldn’t be freighted with associated legitimate techniques like electro-convulsive therapy or discredited interventions like lobotomy. The de facto method of “treating” aggression is with anti-psychotic drugs, but that’s not ideal solution.

In the future? Without speculating too many decades away, one could use non-invasive neuro-feedback to help prisoners retrain their own brains. There are always science fiction ideas around more invasive, even surgical methods, which should put neuroethics high on the agenda. Could there be Clockwork Orange re-programming of the criminal brain? Few if any people want to do that but the ideas arise from humane impulses, so we need to design a process to prevent potentially dangerous power being misapplied.

What parts of the Annual Meeting are you excited about?

For me, one of the greatest excitements is seeing the posters that early career scholars are presenting. People coming to the INS annual meeting for the first time, maybe they are even representing their country for the first time.

Why should people attend the INS Annual Meeting?

So many reasons: firstly because it’s the best available opportunity to talk about the best work being done in this interdisciplinary field. You make connections with the people who are at the forefront of research, and with those coming up with new ideas. I see much room for neuroethics to grow, but one of the virtues of it being fairly small now is that you can speak to leaders in the field.


Mapping Neuroethics: An Expanded Vision

The 2019 Annual Meeting of the International Neuroethics Society (INS) will gather a diverse group of scholars, scientists, clinicians, and professionals dedicated to the responsible use of advances in brain science. Attendees will participate in intellectually stimulating and dynamic sessions that will explore neuroethics in a global context.

Discounted registration rates are available until September 20.

Meeting Program