In 2013 the Nuffield Council on Bioethics launched their report Novel Neurotechnologies: Intervening in the Brain. The report, which adopts the European Commission’s notion of Responsible Research and Innovation, puts forward a set of priorities to guide ethical research into, and the development of, new therapeutic neurotechnologies. In this paper, we critically engage with these priorities. We argue that the Nuffield Council’s priorities, and the Responsible Research and Innovation initiative as a whole, are laudable and should guide research and innovation in all areas of healthcare. However, we argue that operationalising Responsible Research and Innovation requires an in-depth understanding of the research and clinical contexts. Providing such an understanding is an important task for empirical ethics. Drawing on examples from sociology, science and technology studies, and related disciplines, we propose four avenues of social science research which can provide such an understanding. We suggest that these avenues can provide a manifesto for empirical ethics.
- Biomedical research
- Clinical ethics
- Social control of science and technology