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Erik Parens, Ph.D

Erik Parens photoErik Parens is a Senior Research Scholar at The Hastings Center. He investigates the ethical and social implications of using technologies like pharmacology and surgery to shape ourselves, and he investigates how emerging sciences like genetics and neuroscience shape our self-understanding.

Regarding the use of technology to shape ourselves, he has directed a wide range of research projects, including ones on the technological “enhancement” of human capacities; on the disability-community critique of prenatal genetic testing; on the surgical “normalization” of children with atypical bodies; and on the controversies surrounding the use of psychotropic drugs to treat emotional and behavioral disturbances in children.

Regarding how emerging science shapes our self-understanding, he has also directed a wide range of projects, including one on the controversies surrounding the meaning of genetic investigations of complex traits like intelligence, and one on what we can—and cannot—learn about complex traits from neuroimaging technologies such as fMRI.

Those projects have been funded by diverse sources, including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Institutes for Health. They have resulted in many publications, including Shaping Our Selves: On Technology, Flourishing, and a Habit of Thinking (Oxford University Press, 2014). They have also led to many opportunities to speak across the US and Europe. 

Mr. Parens has served as a consultant to several government and nongovernmental bodies, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, and the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.  He is also an Adjunct Professor in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at Vassar College, and a Fellow of the Center for Neuroscience and Society at The University of Pennsylvania.  

Mr. Parens was educated at The University of Chicago, where he received his Ph.D (1988) and MA (1983) from the Committee on Social Thought, and his B.A. (1979) from the Committee on General Studies in the Humanities.