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Webinar Science and Life

Impulses, intent, and the science of evil

This webinar is brought to you by the Science/AAAS Custom Publishing Office

Impulses, intent, and the science of evil

Recorded 04 September 2019


There is a tacit assumption when it comes to the value of science: that it serves to improve the human enterprise. As humans, we believe that our fellow beings are predominantly motivated to do good. However, science has been used to design weapons of mass destruction and effective methods of torture. Furthermore, numerous investigators have dedicated their lives to the study of evil and what motivates bad actions. Can research into humankind’s most destructive inclinations help us become better people? In this webinar we examine the science of evil. We attempt to unpack the nature of evil and ask if we can eliminate it or whether indeed, we should. Does a science-driven adjustment of society toward good represent an exercise in social redesign that contravenes the essence of humanity—the constant struggle between good and evil? Can science act as an antidote to wrongdoing, or is it only a tool to be exploited by those who master it? Don’t dare miss this webinar!

This webinar will last for approximately 60 minutes.

Speaker bios

Abigail Marsh, Ph.D.

Georgetown University
Washington, DC

Dr. Marsh is a professor of psychology, neuroscience, and cognitive science at Georgetown University. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University and conducted postdoctoral research at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Her research is aimed at answering the following questions: How do we understand what others think and feel? What drives us to help other people? What prevents us from harming them? She addresses these questions using functional and structural brain imaging in adolescents and adults as well as behavioral, cognitive, genetic, and pharmacological techniques. She is the author of over 70 journal publications and a trade book about her research on the brain basis of empathy and compassion, entitled The Fear Factor: How One Emotion Connects Altruists, Psychopaths, and Everyone In-Between (2017, Hachette Book Group). She presented her work in a 2016 TED talk and has received multiple awards, including the Cozzarelli Prize for scientific excellence and originality from the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the S&R Kuno Award for Applied Science for the social good, and the Richard J. Wyatt Memorial Fellowship Award for translational research from NIMH.

Michael Stone, M.D.

Columbia University
New York, NY

Dr. Stone graduated with his medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and is board-certified in psychiatry by the Columbia Psychoanalytic Institute. He is currently a professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University in New York, where he specializes in personality disorders, particularly borderline personality disorder. His recent interest has been persons showing antisocial, psychopathic, and sadistic traits, particularly those who commit murder, including serial killers and torturers. He was featured in the series Most Evil on the Discovery Channel, in which he places serial killers and murderers on his 22-point “Gradations of Evil” scale. He has written numerous books about his research, including The Anatomy of Evil (2009) and its follow up, The New Evil: Understanding the Emergence of Modern Violent Crime (2019), which was written together with clinical psychologist Dr. Gary Brucato, also from Columbia University. The New Evil explains Dr. Stone’s scale of evil, inspired by Dante’s Inferno, and describes a shift in the types of violent crimes seen in the last six decades and how new technologies and sociological/cultural shifts might play a role. Through his research, Dr. Stone hopes to shed light on how to define “evil,” what drives criminal behavior, and how such violence may be prevented in the future.

Gary Brucato, Ph.D.

Columbia University
New York, NY

Dr. Brucato is an associate research scientist in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) in New York. He is assistant direct of the Center of Prevention and Evaluation (COPE) at CUIMC, where he clinically evaluates and conducts grant-funded research with individuals experiencing early psychotic symptoms, examining potential violence risk and developing novel screening measures for aggression. He regularly contributes to the literature on these subjects. Dr. Brucato completed his undergraduate training in psychology at St. John’s University in Jamaica, New York. He later completed his Master’s in general psychology and Ph.D. in clinical psychology at The New School for Social Research in New York City. After his forensic training, he turned his attention to clinical and research work, focusing on the assessment and characterization of the prodromal or attenuated phase of emergent psychotic illness, including schizophrenia and psychotic affective disorders, and severe violence in the contexts of psychosis, personality disorders, and other factors. He oversees community outreach, workshops, talks, and grand rounds on the psychosis risk state and violence risk at academic centers, clinics, and hospitals across the tri-state area. He is director of COPE’s psychology externship program and trains all students and volunteers at COPE in the assessment of attenuated and threshold psychosis, the evaluation of violence risk, and differential diagnosis. He is coauthor with Dr. Michael Stone of the 2019 book The New Evil: Understanding the Emergence of Modern Violent Crime.

Sean Sanders, Ph.D.

Washington, DC

Dr. Sanders did his undergraduate training at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and his Ph.D. at the University of Cambridge, UK, supported by the Wellcome Trust. Following postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health and Georgetown University, Dr. Sanders joined TranXenoGen, a startup biotechnology company in Massachusetts working on avian transgenics. Pursuing his parallel passion for writing and editing, Dr. Sanders joined BioTechniques as an editor, before joining Science/AAAS in 2006. Currently, Dr. Sanders is the Director and Senior Editor for Custom Publishing for the journal Science and Program Director for Outreach.

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