Where Science and Ethics Meet

praegercoverI’m delighted that the English language version of my introductory book on bioethics, co-written with colleague Salvador Macip, is now available. Where Science and Ethics Meet: Dilemmas at the frontiers of medicine and biology is published by American company ABC-Clio (under their Praeger imprint). It may not make into your local Waterstone’s or WHSmith (at least not initially) but is available in the UK via online agents, including Amazon.

Praeger have done a fantastic job – the book is hardback with a dust jacket and looks really good. We are, however, always told not to judge a book by its cover and I’ve been thrilled that Where Science and Ethics Meet has had some stellar pre-publication endorsements.  These include:

  • This is the most readable introductory bioethics book I have ever come across. Impressively up-to-date and informative, it grips the reader with its strong sense of narrative. Strongly recommended.“—Michael J. Reiss, Professor of Science Education, UCL Institute of Education
  • Imaginative and enthralling. . . . With impressive expertise the authors present fascinating and user-friendly case studies for an enlightened and balanced account of pivotal bioethical debates for non-expert readers. What results is a highly original and authoritative roadmap of the moral and social implications that both clarify and potentially challenge the established norms of humanity and civilization.“—Gerard Magill, Vernon F. Gallagher Chair and Professor, Center for Healthcare Ethics, Duquesne University
  • The authors provide clear, well-balanced, and entertaining accounts of cutting-edge and frequently controversial topics in bioscience. I strongly recommend this original, thought-provoking introduction to bioethics that will prove of great value both to members of the general public and to those already embarked on a career in biology or medicine.“—David Adams, Editor, Effective Learning in the Life Sciences. How Students Can Achieve Their Full Potential
  • I commend strongly this well-written, readable, and informative book. Topics are introduced by beautifully crafted case studies followed by up-to-the-minute accounts of the related biomedical technologies, even-handed ethical discussions, and dozens of helpful text-boxes. A very valuable addition to bioethics literature.“—John Bryant, Emeritus Professor of Biosciences, University of Exeter; author of Beyond Human?
  • It often seems that developments in science race ahead while ethical debate is slow to catch up. Here, eight areas of cutting-edge scientific development and their related ethical debates are presented in an extremely clear and engaging manner using narratives that hook readers into the science and guide them through the ethical arguments for and against each development. I recommend this book to any reader interested in understanding the relationship between current scientific developments and ethics. Willmott and Macip urge us to reflect on the ethical impact of scientific developments and, crucially, to ask what kind of society is ethically acceptable for ourselves and future generations.“—Ann Gallagher, Professor of Ethics and Care, International Care Ethics Observatory, University of Surrey
  • As engrossing as any work of fiction and just as full of twists and turns, this book tackles some of the biggest ethical dilemmas we face by masterfully mixing hypothetical scenarios with real-world examples at the edge of scientific discovery. A gripping and thought-provoking read.“—Luís Carrasqueiro, Chief Executive, healthtalk.org
  • Written in a lively and engaging style, and enriched by intriguing case studies, this book is an invaluable introduction to bioethics. It will prove useful both for self study and for use in a wide range of courses dealing with this highly topical area. A particular merit is the book’s encouragement for readers to come to their own (now well-informed) conclusions.“—Professor Alastair V. Campbell, Corr FRSE, Director, Centre for Biomedical Ethics, National University of Singapore
  • This is a wonderfully lucid and well-organized text that will be very useful for anyone teaching bioethics to students of medicine or life sciences in school or university.“—Professor Richard Ashcroft, School of Law, Queen Mary University of London

The book is a slightly revised version of the work which won us the European Prize for the Popularization of Science in November 2013.

C & S 1

The authors

“My brain made me do it”: are we ready for more Neurolaw?

I’m excited to say that my book Biological Determinism, Free Will and Moral Responsibility: Insights from Genetics and Neuroscience is being published this week.

determinism cover

There are 5 chapters, in which I have attempted to pull together threads from moral philosophy, from law and from neuroscience to examine the growth of Neurolaw. Around the world, notably the USA and Italy, an increasing number of defendants are appealing to their genes or issues with the structure and function of their brain as mitigation for their crimes. To what extent should we allow this, now or in the future?

Chapter summaries:

  • Free will and determinism: an overview of some of the main schools of thought regarding the “free will problem” – Libertarianism, Compatibilism and Hard Determinism.
  • Existing legislation on mental disorders and criminal cases: automatism, criminal liability, diminished responsibility, “disease of the mind”, insanity, mens rea and M’Naghten.
  • Biological basis of behaviour: background on behavioural genetics and the use of various brain imaging techniques to investigate the extent to which our behaviour might be “hard wired”.
  • Use of genetic and neuroscientific evidence in criminal cases: a brief history of neurolaw. Summarises many of the key cases in which scientific evidence has been proffered by in criminal cases as (partial) justification of the behaviour of the defendant.
  • Are we ready for an expanded use of neuroscientific evidence in the courtroom?: In which I caution that the current use of genetic and brain physiology evidence is, at best, premature and uncertain.

Putting the moving image to work in biochemistry education

The December edition of the Biochemical Society magazine The Biochemist has historically taken a slightly less serious look at some aspect of the subject. This year the focus is Biochemistry on Screen. Articles include discussion of Star Trek, Jurassic World, Contagion, Spiderman and others. I contributed a piece about the different ways that use moving image (especially TV) can be used in Biochemistry education. A copy can be accessed via this link.

Update: the article is now also mirrored on the website of ERA, the Educational Recording Agency (accessed via this link).

The December 2015 edition of The Biochemist focuses on screen representations of Biochemistry

The December 2015 edition of The Biochemist focuses on screen representations of Biochemistry

Getting referencing right: applying the 4 Cs

For a variety of reasons, I have been reflecting on principles that undergird good citation practice. So far I’ve come up with “the 4 Cs guide” (I say I’ve come up with them, as I’ve not done any reading on this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this or something similar has co-evolved elsewhere).

When advising students or colleagues on appropriate organisation of their references at the end of a document, I encourage them to check that they’ve followed the 4 Cs guide:

Correct: Have they cited the correct sources? This might mean drilling back to the first occurrence of an observation (e.g. in the primary literature) rather than a review article. Clearly we don’t want to be encouraging people to cite the original paper if they’ve not read it, but you sometime see statements such as “Smith and Bloggs have shown…” when actually Smith and Bloggs wrote the review in which they discussed the experimental work of Ramone and Farnes-Barnes who made the observation described. Continue reading

When assessment interferes with the measured

There was a time, not so long ago, when no scientific presentation could afford to omit at least one cartoon from The Far Side. One of my personal favourites (which can be seen here) depicts people of an apparently remote part of the world hiding their luxury Western goods as anthropologists arrive unannounced in the village.

I was reminded of this cartoon recently whilst washing my hands at work. This surprising mental leap was prompted by the temporary addition of a tool for monitoring water consumption in one of our buildings.

Can the method of assessment interfere with the thing it is supposed to be measuring?

Can the method of assessment interfere with the thing it is supposed to be measuring?

As can be seen in the photograph, the equipment being used scores few points for subtlety. I cannot believe that people use their usual amounts of water when confronted by this instrument. This raises the question of their value given that the method of monitoring is almost certainly interfering with the thing that is being measured. Continue reading

Introducing BiologyOnTheBox

Today I am officially launching my latest project. BiologyOnTheBox is a website for sharing recommendations regarding broadcast media programmes and clips that might be useful in the teaching of bioscience. The majority of links and reviews relate to TV shows in the UK, though some relate to radio.

biologyonthebox.wordpress.com is a site for sharing recommendations regarding TV and radio resources for use in teaching bioscience

biologyonthebox.wordpress.com is a site for sharing recommendations regarding TV and radio resources for use in teaching bioscience

Recommendations on BiologyOnTheBox can, in principle, be used by anyone with access to copies of the original programmes. It is, however, intended to dovetail particularly closely with the fantastic Box of Broadcasts resource. I’ve enthused previously about Box of Broadcasts (BoB), including here (TES Opinion) and here (this blog). However having had a lunchtime conversation recently with a number of colleagues who had no idea what BoB was, here’s a brief intro. If you are already familiar with BoB feel free to jump down to the section on BiologyOnTheBox. Continue reading

Why I *still* love Delicious

Delicious logo

Delicious has survived various changes of ownership in the last ten years. Fortunately rumours of its demise have never been correct (yet)

This week, I passed a landmark of sorts when I bookmarked my 10,000th website using the Delicious tool.

Back in December 2007, my colleague Alan Cann persuaded me to try out a new social bookmarking tool, then called del.icio.us (I guess from a current vantage point we’d call this an early example of “cloud computing“). Here was a way to mark websites in case you wanted to find them again at a later stage. If that sounds a bit like “favourites” on your PC, then it was – but this was SO much more. Using del.icio.us you could:

  • add to one list of sites regardless of which machine you happened to be using
  • add tags of your choosing (“folksonomies”) meaning that you could mark the page by content, by source, by potential use, etc
  • add some additional notes or comments
  • share the sites with other people (including setting up RSS feeds)
  • dip into the bookmarks being used by other people, the “social” dimension.

The value of this resource was immediately obvious to me. As someone with eclectic interests, coupled with a significant horder streak, here was a mechanism to flag up things I might want to find again at a later stage without clogging my office with paper print outs. This was a point I tried to convey in a pair of (slightly contrived) photos in a July 2008 presentation about social bookmarking (still available on Slideshare which is, incidentally, one of my other favourite resources). Continue reading


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