Neurotechnologies such as cognitive enhancement (see Nature 450, 1157–1159; 2007 and Nature 451, 520–521; doi:10.1038/451520a 2008) and brain reading are likely to have huge social impact. The ethical problems connected with their expected development demand public discussion in our communities. Neuroscientists should take an active part in this debate, as you commented in your Editorial 'Neuroethics needed' (Nature 441, 907; doi:10.1038/441907a 2006).
We therefore drafted a questionnaire for the 703 members of the Italian Society of Neuroscience (see http://tinyurl.com/2pwehh). Among other questions, we asked about their interest in neuroethics issues; specific topics discussed in their labs; how they stay up to date; the amount of related reading they do; what specialists they believe are engaged in neuroethics and who they think should be; and how they rate handling of neuroethics issues by the Italian media.
Ten per cent of those surveyed responded. This sample did not vary significantly from the surveyed population with respect to age, discipline or affiliation (P<0.05). The answers showed that 91% (95% confidence interval: 84–98) of respondents are interested in neuroethics; 78% (95% confidence interval: 68–88) believe that neuroethics problems should be tackled in collaboration with bioethicists and neuroscientists; and 96% (95% confidence interval: 91–100) would be willing to take part in further initiatives. Neuroscientists under the age of 35 seemed to be the least informed.
Although the small number of responses may indicate a lack of awareness among neuroscientists in Italy about neuroethical issues, the responders show that a significant and representative proportion are interested in public debate.
We offer these results to the community in the hope that our initiative can be replicated on a larger scale. We hope that Italy's media and politicians will exploit the availability of neuroscientists to discuss scientific problems of such outstanding social interest.
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Conti, F., Corbellini, G. Italian neuroscientists are ready to start the debate. Nature 451, 627 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/451627b
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