In any given event open to public participation, it is not always easy getting to know the opinion of each and all of the attendees. Usually, only a few raise their voice –and maybe they are not representative of the mainstream view. This “silence” is mostly due to the fact that we feel more comfortable in the anonymity, especially when we are not experts in the field we could comment on.
A method to solve this gap is the one used in the citizen debates on neuro-enhancement organized in Spain, the SuperMI events. After a brief introduction of 5 to 10 minutes where scientific, legal and commercial aspects of neuro-enhancement are presented, the audience is faced with different issues. Attendees vote through a simple interactive system of remote controls (user-friendly to all age and educated groups), and the results of such voting are projected on a screen in real time. This way, comments and opinions raised in the subsequent debate are based on the actual opinions of those attending the event, and not just on the views of the few who dare to speak up.
Following this format, the Science Communication Observatory of Universitat Pompeu Fabra (OCC-UPF), together with one of the most important science museums in Spain, CosmoCaixa of Obra Social “La Caixa”, and in collaboration with the Fundación Española para la Ciencia y Tecnología (FECYT), organized the second citizen debate on neuro-enhancement called SuperMI. The debate took place in Barcelona on November the 13th and its main objective was to discover society needs and expectations towards neuro-enhancement, as well as its limitations and conditions. The event was moderated by Vladimir de Semir (science journalist and director of the Masters Degree on Science, Medical and Environmental Communication from UPF-IDEC) and Gema Revuelta (professor at the Experimental and Health Sciences Department at UPF and Deputy Director of the OCC). The speakers of the session were Casto Rivadulla (professor at the University of Coruña, member of the research group Neurocom and investigator at the Biomedical Research Institute of Coruña), Shira Knafo (doctor of Neurosciences and Medicine, and researcher at Ikerbasque, the Basque Foundation for Science, Biscay), Anna Mura (doctor of Natural Sciences and member of SPECS -Laboratory of Synthetic Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems- from UPF), Aureli Soria-Frisch (doctor in Engineering and Head of the Neuroscience Unit at Starlab S.L.) and Carmen Casado (lawyer specialized in IT rights at JAUSAS).
In this SuperMI, experts talked about the various aspects of neuro-enhancement and raised a huge interest among the public. Almost 3 out of 4 people voted in favour of using this new substances and technologies in healthy individuals in order to prevent cognitive damage caused by age (such as memory loss), while 1 out of 2 would not agree on using them for leisure purposes (or without specifying a reason). Varied and suggestive, opinions from SuperMI are just a sample of this field’s open debate.