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Academy in Context - 2011-2012

February 2012

Catherine LutzCatherine LutzCatherine Lutz, co-director of the Costs of War research project, will speak at the Academy in Context dinner-seminar on February 28 on "Research, Media, and Politics in the Study of War."

Lutz is the Thomas J. Watson Jr. Family Professor of Anthropology and International Studies and holds a joint appointment with the Department of Anthropology, which she chairs.

At the Graduate School dinner-seminar, Lutz will present and lead a discussion on the Costs of War study. She will cover how she organized the large, collaborative project, the impulses behind it, and the best practices and pitfalls of conducting and disseminating research whose primary intention is to inform public debate about a contentious issue.

In the Costs of War project, Lutz, along with more than 20 economists, anthropologist, attorneys, political scientists and humanitarian personnel have examined the direct and indirect cost of the military response to the 9/11 attacks. It is the first comprehensive analysis of its kind that surveys all of the U.S., coalition, and civilian casualties. It also takes into account hidden costs such as interest on war-related debt and veterans' benefits.

October 2011

John P. Donoghue, a pioneer researcher in brain-computer interface, spoke at the October 26 Academy in Context dinner-seminar on "Neuroethics: ‘Terminator’ or Luke Skywalker?" 

A Brown University neuroscientist and Department of Veterans Affairs researcher, John Donoghue’s work has led to the development of an interface that links the human brain directly to digital devices such as computers. Earlier this year, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is Henry Merritt Wriston Professor and director of the Brown Institute for Brain Science.

At the Graduate School dinner-seminar, he will lead discussion on the idea of plugging into the brain. Once the domain of “The Matrix”, it is now a reality. But unlike the movie character Neo, brain implants are being used to help people with brain disorders and injured nervous systems. Donoghue will describe the status of work with brain interfaces and foster an open discussion of the ethical implications and challenges for patients, for scientists, and for society as we begin to merge mind and machines.  

He will draw on his experience working with a large group of faculty and students to develop the BrainGate brain-computer interface. The investigational system is a combination of hardware and software that uses tiny implanted electrodes to detect electrical signals produced by neurons in the brain that control movement. The system decodes those signals and translates them into digital instructions to give people with paralysis control of external devices such as computers, robotic assistive devices, or wheelchairs.