William Safire Honored by Neuroethics Society

Report from International Neuroethics Society annual meeting
November 11, 2017
4 with award
INS President Judy Illes, Steven Hyman, Dana Foundation Vice President Barbara Gill, Dana Foundation Chairman Ed Rover

Pulitzer Prize winner William Safire was widely credited with giving the word “neuroethics” its current meaning, defining it as “the examination of what is right and wrong, good and bad about the treatment of, perfection of, or unwelcome invasion of and worrisome manipulation of the human brain.” Safire was honored posthumously Friday morning with the Steven E. Hyman Award for Distinguished Service to the Field of Neuroethics at the annual meeting of the International Neuroethics Society (INS) in Washington, D.C.

Safire portrait

A larger than life character, Safire was probably best known for his New York Times contributions, first as Op-Ed page columnist from 1972 to 2005 and then his Sunday “On Language” column in the New York Times Magazine. He also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, and was a senior White House speechwriter for President Nixon and author of 15 books. Author Eric Alterman, in his 1999 book Sound and Fury: The Making of the Punditocracy, called Safire an institution unto himself. “Few insiders doubt that William Safire is the most influential and respected pundit alive,” Alterman wrote.

Edward Rover, chair of The Dana Foundation, and Barbara Gill, the Foundation’s executive vice president, accepted the award in honor of Safire. In 2002, Safire became chair of The Dana Foundation, a private philanthropic organization committed to advancing brain research and to educating the public in a responsible manner (and the publisher of this blog). One of his initiatives was to create a conference that would bring together neuroscientists, bioethicists, doctors of psychiatry and psychology, philosophers, and professors of law and public policy chart the boundaries, define the issues, and raise some of the ethical implications tied to advances in brain research.

The conference, “Neuroethics: Mapping the Field,” took place in San Francisco on May 13-14 in San Francisco. The conference was organized by Stanford University and the University of California, and underwritten by Dana. Since that time, the INS has established a foothold in the neuroscience field, and neuroethics has spawned books and articles that touch on almost every aspect of brain research.

Cerebrum, Dana’s magazine-style series, recently acknowledged the conference’s 15th anniversary with “The First Neuroethics Meeting: Then and Now,” essays by three of the original speakers: Jonathan Moreno, Patricia Churchland, and Kennenth Schaffner. Keep an eye out for next week’s Cerebrum podcast with INS founder and Harvard/MIT Broad Institute scientist Steven E. Hyman, whom the award is named and who will reflect on that first meeting, Safire’s role, and where neuroethics is today and where it may be headed in the next 15 years.