Rethinking (brain imaging) research in a time of socio-ecological crisis

Polona Kalc Organizer
Jena University Hospital
Tuesday, Jun 25: 9:00 AM - 10:15 AM
Room: Grand Ballroom 104-105 
In 2015, the United Nations member states agreed on Sustainable Development Goals to form the so-called Agenda 2030. Seventeen (more or less mutually dependent) actionable goals were created two years later to be adopted by state and non-state actors alike.
Scientists are in the forefront of identifying the problems and searching for solutions to improve living conditions on this planet. Why is it important that we act and what can we as (prospective) scientists do to co-create a sustainable future on Earth?
The symposium provides a participatory platform to highlight concerns, propose strategies, and affirm the confidence in our members to mitigate the socio-environmental crisis as a community. One of the primary objectives of the SEA-SIG is to educate the OBHM community on the environmental impacts of neuroimaging research activities. This year's symposium strives to provide a wider perspective on the topic of sustainability in (neuro)science and academia in general. It provides an alternative mode of thinking about our scientific practice in/and/about (academic) environment. It is designed to foster longer discussion among the audience and provide a space for rethinking our future (actions).


- Recognize the ethical imperative of our pro-environmental (academic) behavior
- Bridge the gap between environmental and societal problems in light of climate justice
- Get acquainted with alternative models of practicing science in times of socio-ecological crisis

Target Audience

The target audience of this symposium are (prospective) scientists and academics interested in (the interconnectedness of) societal and environmental topics, with a proactive attitude to change. 


1. Ethical obligations to consider social and environmental harms in data-driven research: a call for action

Health research that uses data-driven and artificial intelligence (AI) methods is associated with a range of environmental, social, and health harms. These include harms associated with carbon dioxide emissions related with the energy required to generate and process data, increasing resource use associated with the ever need for minerals to manufacture technological components, and electronic-waste (e-waste) that comes from the amount of digital devices constantly disposed. They also include harms associated with issues of bias, discrimination, and inequities. I describe these harms and argue that researchers have a moral obligation as part of any research ethics best practice to address them as a matter of justice.


Gabrielle Samuel, King's College London London
United Kingdom

2. Considering global access to neuroimaging research in the context of the climate crisis

Access to neuroimaging research, in terms of who gets to do the research and what populations are studied, is not equally distributed around the world. This represents an unjust situation and also imposes limits on our scientific knowledge of the human brain. Avenues do exist to expand participation to more people, but these are often technological in nature and may rely on resources that we may wish to preserve to protect the global ecosystem. Starting from my own work investigating associations between national research budgets and neuroimaging research output, we will discuss the current situation and reflect on possible solutions. Potential conflict between aims will be considered in the light of just outcomes at the global level.


Niall Duncan, Taipei Medical University Taiwan, Taipei 

3. Rethinking academia in a time of climate crisis, or – how to be a scientist in a world on fire

To address the climate and ecological crisis, we need radical and urgent action at all levels of society. Universities are ideally positioned to lead these societal transformations, yet are largely failing to do so. At the same time, academics find themselves impeded by corporatization and bureaucracy, a loss of academic freedom, overwork, casualisation, and poor mental health. In this talk, we will draw on Kate Raworth’s (2017) Doughnut Economics framework to diagnose these experiences as symptoms of an overarching problem: that modern academic life increasingly transgresses human and planetary limits while failing to provide a socially just foundation for its communities. In response, we suggest seven new principles for rethinking the norms of scientific practice. Based on these principles, we propose a call to action, and encourage academics to take concrete steps towards a thriving scientific enterprise that works better for people and responds to the climate crisis. 


Clare Kelly, School of Psychology, Trinity College Dublin Dublin, Dublin