Posts Tagged ‘ Neuroscience ’

New Book: “The History of the Brain and Mind Sciences. Technique, Technology, Therapy” (Ed. by Stephen T. Casper and Delia Gavrus)

9781580465953The History of the Brain and Mind Sciences. Technique, Technology, Therapy 

Edited by Stephen T. Casper and Delia Gavrus

University of Rochester Press
Format: Hardback

June 2017
318 pages

How did technicians, epidemics, zoos, German exiles, methamphetamine, disgruntled technicians, modern bureaucracy, museums, and whipping cream shape the emergence of modern neuroscience?
This history explores the exceptionally complex scientific and medical techniques and practices that have allowed practitioners to claim expertise in the brain and mind sciences over the past two centuries. Based on meticulous historical studies, essays in the volume move from the postrevolutionary Parisian Menagerie of the Jardin des Plantes to the political contexts of neuroscience within the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States in the late twentieth century. Touching on such disparate topics as the luggage of German exiles, the role of whipping cream in industrial food production, the emergence of neurosurgery, and the private musings of a disgruntled medical technician, the contributors to this volume make a powerful case for concentrating scholarly attention on seemingly marginal chapters of the history of the mind and brain sciences. By so doing, the authors contend that it is in the obscure, peripheral, and marginal stories of the past that we can best see the emerging futures of the medicine and science of the brain and the mind. Collectively these essays thus reveal that the richness of the history of the brain and mind sciences cannot and should not be reduced to a unitary, uncomplicated narrative of progressive discovery.
CONTRIBUTORS: Brian P. Casey, Stephen T. Casper, Justin Garson, Delia Gavrus, Katja Guenther, L. Stephen Jacyna, Kenton Kroker, Thomas Schlich, Max Stadler, Frank W. Stahnisch
Stephen Casper is Associate Professor of History at Clarkson University. Delia Gavrus is Assistant Professor of the History of Science at the University of Winnipeg.

Call for Graduate Student Papers: “Sorting Brains Out: Tasks, Tests, and Trials in the Neuro- and Mind Sciences” (U. Penn, September 2015)

Invitation and Call for Graduate Student Papers

Sorting Brains Out: Tasks, Tests, and Trials in the Neuro- and Mind Sciences, 1890–2015

University of Pennsylvania, Sept. 18/19, 2015

Since the late nineteenth century, scientists have devised an ever-increasing number of tasks, tests, and trials to understand the body, the senses, the self, the mind, and the connections between them. Psychologists, physiologists, neuroscientists, and others have made the relation between functions of the brain and individual personalities and social behaviors a core aspect of their research. For scientists of the turn of the century as for practitioners today, standardized assessments, physiological experiments, and imaging technologies of many kinds have formed the basis for knowledge claims about minds, brains, and people.

How do the ways in which tools of the neurosciences—tasks, tests, and trials—sort people into groups connect to the ways in which they aim to “sort out” psychopathologies? How do the technologies and procedures used to explore minds and brains reflect, inform, and break from the societies and cultures in which they are made and used? How does the object of investigation itself change as these techniques change? In other words, when, why, where, and crucially how did brains and minds become neuronal, neurochemical, distributed, dimorphic, average, imageable, computational, enactive, mirroring, plastic, enhanceable, or combinations of these definitions? And, finally, how have the tasks, tests, and trials that make up a large part of knowledge production in the mind sciences led to a doubled view in which the mind/brain is seen as limited, determined, and inaccessible, and at the same time as expansive, malleable, and understandable?

This conference is a forum to compare, contrast, and continue the histories of tasks, tests, and trials in the mind and brain sciences over the past 125 years. We invite participants to think broadly and deeply about the social, philosophical, political, and ethical commitments that have been reflected, reinforced, denounced, or discarded by these fields. We ask participants to look forward and back in time, to explore how contemporary conceptions of mind and brain prolong and elaborate much older ideas, and how the histories of these sciences can help us understand both continuities and ruptures in theories, practices, and values.


The conference will be hosted on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on Sept. 18/19, 2015. The afternoon and evening of Friday, Sept. 18, will be devoted to graduate student presentations. We invite abstracts for papers that respond to and go beyond the questions stated above. Senior faculty will chair the graduate student panels;all who are interested are invited to attend and contribute to a stimulating discussion.

Invited senior faculty will present and discuss their current research projects on Saturday, Sept. 19. The list of confirmed speakers includes Dr. Cathy Gere (UCSD), Dr. Katja Guenther (Princeton), Dr. Nicolas Langlitz (The New School), Dr. Emily Martin (NYU), Dr. Tobias Rees (McGill), and Dr. Matthew Wolf-Meyer (UCSC). All Friday presenters and other interested individuals are invited to join the audience and participate in discussion.

Contact and Submission

Graduate students or postdoctoral scholars wishing to participate in the Friday sessions should submit an abstract of no more than 400 words to by May 31, 2015. Please use the same email address for any questions you may have. Thisconference is organized by Ekaterina Babintseva, Tabea Cornel, Matthew Hoffarth, and Prashant Kumar, graduate students in the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania, with the supervision of Dr. John Tresch.

Postdoctoral Positions in Society and Neuroscience (Columbia University)

Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience

Columbia University is pleased to announce three postdoctoral positions for researchers who have earned the doctorate, or its equivalent, in a humanities or social science discipline—such as psychiatry, psychology, public health, law, history, economics, literature, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, journalism, music and the arts—and who have extensive acquaintance with and critical understanding of neuroscience research.  These Presidential Scholars will form the inaugural members of an innovative program that will eventually include nine postdoctoral positions and a large group of mentors and affiliated faculty from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences.

Over the last decade, Columbia University has assembled a distinguished group of neuroscientific researchers in the Zuckerman Mind, Brain, Behavior Institute which, with the infusion of new funds and a new building, stands poised to become one of the most important loci of neuroscience research in the world. Columbia University is committed to supplementing the groundbreaking experimental inquiry of the neuroscience faculty by systematic investigation into the conceptual underpinnings and the social foundations and consequences of such newly obtained knowledge.  The Presidential Scholars in Society and Neuroscience will add the perspective of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences to intensify and broaden the neuroscientific research base and help advance transformative interdisciplinary research throughout the University.

The goal of this interdisciplinary experiment is to train and foster a new generation of scholars with the capacity to advance understanding of the humanist and social dimensions of mind, brain, and behavior.  In order to foster true interdisciplinary research, each Presidential Scholar will work very closely with two senior mentors, one drawn from neuroscience and the other from the humanities or social science discipline closest to the work of the scholar.  The Presidential Scholars, mentors, and affiliated faculty will meet bi-weekly throughout the academic year, inviting guest discussions from accomplished scholars around the world and serving as a locus for the Presidential Scholars’ presentation of their own work.

Successful applicants will be appointed in the Center for Science and Society at Columbia University.  Appointments will be made at the level of postdoctoral scholar or scientist, or associate research scholar or scientist, with a start date of July 1, 2015 for the 2015-16 academic year.  Renewal for the second and third years will be based on satisfactory performance.  The annual salary will be approximately $80,000, plus benefits.


Eligibility Requirements: Candidates must hold the doctoral degree by July 1, 2015 (and have received the doctorate after July 1, 2010) in a humanities or social science discipline, and must demonstrate extensive acquaintance with and critical understanding of an aspect of neuroscience.

Review of applications will begin on January 15, 2015 and will continue until the positions are filled.  All applications must be submitted through Columbia University’s online Recruitment of Academic Personnel System (RAPS) and must include:  a cover letter of application, curriculum vitae, dissertation abstract, writing sample of up to 30 pages (article or book chapter),  proposal for an interdisciplinary research project (or projects) that builds on your own disciplinary background and an aspect of neuroscientific research,  work sample or portfolio (if applicable – for applicants with a background in the Arts), and three letters of reference.   For more information and to apply, please go to

For questions about the application process, please contact

Columbia is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action employer.


Neuroscience, Free Will, and a New Wave in Criminal Law?


The Atlantic features an article by neuroscientist David Eagleman (Baylor College of Medicine, USA) entitled “The Brain on Trial.”  In it, he argues that neuroscience and genetics today offer a way of approaching criminal behavior that potentially promises to both make society more secure and rehabilitate offenders.  He advocates we adopt a more scientifically nuanced, actuarial-based perspective when considering not only issues like guilt and innocence, but also sentencing.  He is especially critical of the casework and clinical approaches of parole boards and psychiatrists:

So researchers tried a more actuarial approach. They set about recording dozens of characteristics of some 23,000 released sex offenders: whether the offender had unstable employment, had been sexually abused as a child, was addicted to drugs, showed remorse, had deviant sexual interests, and so on. Researchers then tracked the offenders for an average of five years after release to see who wound up back in prison. At the end of the study, they computed which factors best explained the reoffense rates, and from these and later data they were able to build actuarial tables to be used in sentencing.


Which factors mattered? Take, for instance, low remorse, denial of the crime, and sexual abuse as a child. You might guess that these factors would correlate with sex offenders’ recidivism. But you would be wrong: those factors offer no predictive power. How about antisocial personality disorder and failure to complete treatment? These offer somewhat more predictive power. But among the strongest predictors of recidivism are prior sexual offenses and sexual interest in children. When you compare the predictive power of the actuarial approach with that of the parole boards and psychiatrists, there is no contest: numbers beat intuition. In courtrooms across the nation, these actuarial tests are now used in presentencing to modulate the length of prison terms.

Eagleman tends to portray all this as the result of recent discoveries in neuroscience and genomics, but students of forensic psychiatry and criminology know that these arguments are hardly new.  They can be traced back to “social defense” theory, the “modern school of law,” and the criminal biology of the nineteenth- and early-twentieth-centuries.  It should also be pointed out that the claim that these methods are proven to be more accurate and effective than clinical assessment is something a number of prominent criminologists have called into question (among them, Bernard Harcourt and Karen Franklin).

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