169 posts · 57,429 views
Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.
Modern winemakers may have erred when they switched to producing high alcohol wines. According to a new paper, from Spanish neuroscientists Ram Frost and colleagues, a low alcohol content wine actually produces more brain activity in 'taste processing' areas than more alcoholic varieties do.
But what does the brain really have to say about Beaujolais? Can scanning help us pick a Sauvignon? Will neuroimaging reveal the secret to a good... er... Nero d'Avola?
In their paper, publishe... Read more »
Frost R, Quiñones I, Veldhuizen M, Alava JI, Small D, & Carreiras M. (2015) What Can the Brain Teach Us about Winemaking? An fMRI Study of Alcohol Level Preferences. PloS one, 10(3). PMID: 25785844
According to a new study from Chinese neuroscientists Fan Xu and colleagues, some monkeys can experience depression in a similar way to humans.
The researchers studied cynomolgus monkeys, also known as crab-eating macaques (Macaca fascicularis), a species native to Southeast Asia. Cynomolgus monkeys are highly social animals. Xu et al. previously showed that isolating a monkey from its companions caused it to develop depression-like behaviors. In their new paper, the authors say that they'v... Read more »
Xu F, Wu Q, Xie L, Gong W, Zhang J, Zheng P, Zhou Q, Ji Y, Wang T, Li X.... (2015) Macaques exhibit a naturally-occurring depression similar to humans. Scientific reports, 9220. PMID: 25783476
When should scientists apply for grants? Does spending more time writing applications pay off in the long run? A paper published in PLoS ONE this week examined the eternal question: To apply or not to apply?
The authors, Ted and Courtney von Hippel, start out by noting that most major grant awards are highly competitive - with success rates of just 20% in the case of US federal NIH and NSF awards. What's more, although decisions are made by a panel of expert judges, the evidence is th... Read more »
von Hippel T, & von Hippel C. (2015) To apply or not to apply: a survey analysis of grant writing costs and benefits. PloS one, 10(3). PMID: 25738742
According to a new paper, one of neuroscience's most famous case-studies came about as a result of a serious medical blunder.
Henry Molaison (1926 - 2008), better known as HM, was an American man who developed a dramatic form of amnesia after receiving surgery that removed part of the temporal lobes of his brain. The 1953 operation was intended to treat HM's epilepsy, but it had the side effect of leaving him unable to form new memories.
The consequences of HM's surgery are well known ... Read more »
Mauguière F, & Corkin S. (2015) H.M. never again! An analysis of H.M.'s epilepsy and treatment. Revue neurologique. PMID: 25726355
Multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) is an increasingly popular approach for analyzing the results of fMRI scanning experiments that measure brain activity. MVPA searches for patterns of activation that correlate with a particular mental state. This is called 'decoding' neural activity.
Now a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience from Caltech neuroscientists Julien Dubois et al. reports that MVPA is unable to decode certain kinds of information, even though single-unit recordings confirm th... Read more »
Dubois J, de Berker AO, & Tsao DY. (2015) Single-Unit Recordings in the Macaque Face Patch System Reveal Limitations of fMRI MVPA. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 35(6), 2791-802. PMID: 25673866
In an interesting short paper just published in Trends in Cognitive Science, Caltech neuroscientist Ralph Adolphs offers his thoughts on The Unsolved Problems of Neuroscience.
Here's Adolphs' list of the top 23 questions (including 3 "meta" issues), which, he says, was inspired by Hilbert's famous set of 23 mathematical problems:
Problems that are solved, or soon will be:
I. How do single neurons compute?
II. What is the connectome of a small nervous system, like that of Caenorhabi... Read more »
In a new paper, a group of MIT researchers argue that science is producing PhDs in far greater numbers than there are available tenured jobs for them to fill.
The authors, engineers Richard C. Larson, Navid Ghaffarzadegan, and Yi Xue, start out by noting that
The academic job market has become more and more competitive... nowadays, less than 17% of new PhDs in science, engineering and health-related fields find tenure-track positions within 3 years after graduation.
But why? Are we simp... Read more »
Larson RC, Ghaffarzadegan N, & Xue Y. (2014) Too Many PhD Graduates or Too Few Academic Job Openings: The Basic Reproductive Number R 0 in Academia. Systems research and behavioral science, 31(6), 745-750. PMID: 25642132
How do people in different cultures view history? Around the globe, who are regarded as the best and worst historical figures? A new survey out now in PLoS ONE reveals the patterns of world opinion: "Heroes" and "Villains" of World History across Cultures.
The researchers, led by Katja Hanke of Germany and James H. Liu of New Zealand, polled 6,902 university students from 37 different countries. In an anonymous survey, the participants rated 40 historical figures on a seven point scale f... Read more »
Hanke K, Liu JH, Sibley CG, Paez D, Gaines SO Jr, Moloney G, Leong CH, Wagner W, Licata L, Klein O.... (2015) "Heroes" and "Villains" of World History across Cultures. PloS one, 10(2). PMID: 25651504
What do Hennessy, Jack Daniels, and Everclear have in common? According to a rather fascinating new study, these three brands are especially popular with those teenage drinkers who get into booze-related fights.
In the new paper, researchers Sarah P. Roberts and colleagues of Boston say that some brands of alcohol are correlated with self-reported involvement in "alcohol related fights and injuries", in a national sample of American underage drinkers (i.e. drinkers under the age of 21).
... Read more »
Roberts SP, Siegel MB, DeJong W, Naimi TS, & Jernigan DH. (2015) Brand Preferences of Underage Drinkers Who Report Alcohol-Related Fights and Injuries. Substance use . PMID: 25612075
When scientists disagree about something, what often happens is that the two sides of the argument form separate communities, with scientists collaborating with others on their "team" while avoiding working with their "opponents". But is there a better way?
A paper just published today presents the results of an experiment that was conducted as an 'adversarial collaboration'. This is where some researchers sit down with some members of the "other side" and agree upon a plan for a study to... Read more »
Matzke D, Nieuwenhuis S, van Rijn H, Slagter HA, van der Molen MW, & Wagenmakers EJ. (2015) The effect of horizontal eye movements on free recall: A preregistered adversarial collaboration. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(1). PMID: 25621378
Ethnographer Jill A. Fisher offers a fascinating look at the rumors and urban legends that circulate among the volunteers who get paid to take part in medical research: Stopped hearts, amputated toes and NASA
Fisher visited six clinical trial facilities across the USA. All of these facilities were exclusively devoted to running phase I trials, testing new drugs to see if they are safe in humans. She spent a total of 450 hours in the field, getting to know the 'guinea pigs', and the staf... Read more »
Fisher JA. (2015) Stopped hearts, amputated toes and NASA: contemporary legends among healthy volunteers in US phase I clinical trials. Sociology of health , 37(1), 127-42. PMID: 25601069
A simple statistical misunderstanding is leading many neuroscientists astray in their use of machine learning tools, according to a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods: Exceeding chance level by chance.
As the authors, French neuroscientists Etienne Combrisson and Karim Jerbi, describe the issue:
Machine learning techniques are increasingly used in neuroscience to classify brain signals. Decoding performance is reflected by how much the classification results depart from the... Read more »
Combrisson E, & Jerbi K. (2015) Exceeding chance level by chance: The caveat of theoretical chance levels in brain signal classification and statistical assessment of decoding accuracy. Journal of Neuroscience Methods. PMID: 25596422
A compelling article in the Journal of Medical Biography recounts the story of Bayard Holmes and Henry Cotton, two American "surgeon-psychiatrists" who believed that they could cure schizophrenia by removing parts of their patients' intestines (and other organs). Both men tested their theories on their own children - with tragic results. The article is by Jonathan Davidson of Duke University.
Holmes and Cotton had a theory to justify these extreme treatments: autointoxication - the id... Read more »
Davidson J. (2014) Bayard Holmes (1852-1924) and Henry Cotton (1869-1933): Surgeon-psychiatrists and their tragic quest to cure schizophrenia. Journal of medical biography. PMID: 25504547
A new study offers two reasons to be cautious about some of the claims made for the role of the hormone oxytocin in human behavior.
The paper's out now in PLoS ONE from researchers James C. Christensen and colleagues, who are based at the US Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio. That the military are interested in oxytocin at all is perhaps a testament to the huge amount of interest that this molecule has attracted in recent years. Oxytocin has been called the "hug hormone", and is said to b... Read more »
Christensen, J., Shiyanov, P., Estepp, J., & Schlager, J. (2014) Lack of Association between Human Plasma Oxytocin and Interpersonal Trust in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Paradigm. PLoS ONE, 9(12). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0116172
Subliminal perception has long been a hot topic. The idea that something (generally an image) could appear and disappear before us so quickly that it escapes conscious perception, and yet affect us subconsciously, is a fascinating (and scary) one.
Psychologists and neuroscientists are fairly skeptical of any grand or sinister claims for the power of subliminal advertising or propaganda, but on the other hand, many of them use the technique as a research tool.
So what's the absolute speed l... Read more »
Sperdin HF, Spierer L, Becker R, Michel CM, & Landis T. (2014) Submillisecond unmasked subliminal visual stimuli evoke electrical brain responses. Human brain mapping. PMID: 25487054
Back in April, I blogged about a paper published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (JNMD) claiming that a little-known technique called ‘quantum resonance spectrometry’ (QRS) was able to diagnose mental health problems. I expressed surprise that the paper didn't explain what QRS actually is, how it works, or what it measures.
Now, eight months later, a Letter to the Editor has been published in the JNMD: Methodological Queries Regarding "Exploratory Quantum Resonance Spectr... Read more »
Baguley T, Moriarty P, Nestler S, & Ritchie SJ. (2015) Methodological Queries Regarding "Exploratory Quantum Resonance Spectrometry" (Zhang et al., 2014). The Journal of nervous and mental disease, 203(1), 71. PMID: 25536102
In a provocative new paper, a group of UCLA biologists say that the leading theory for how memory is stored in the brain needs a rethink. But is it really time to throw out the textbooks?
In their study, published in Elife, authors Shanping Chen, Diancai Cai, and colleagues examined the formation of synapses, connections between neurons. They used neurons from Aplysia, a sea slug whose rather simple nervous system is popular among learning and memory neuroscientists.
Chen, Cai et al. t... Read more »
Chen S, Cai D, Pearce K, Sun PY, Roberts AC, & Glanzman DL. (2014) Reinstatement of long-term memory following erasure of its behavioral and synaptic expression in Aplysia. eLife. PMID: 25402831
What happens when scientists publish papers that aren't meant to be taken seriously? Is ironic, satirical and joke science all in good fun, or can it be dangerous?
This is the question asked by Drexel University researchers Maryam Ronagh and Lawrence Souder in a new paper is called The Ethics of Ironic Science in Its Search for Spoof.
The British BMJ journal is known for an annual Christmas special issue filled with unusual articles. For example, two years ago they explored the questio... Read more »
Ronagh M, & Souder L. (2014) The Ethics of Ironic Science in Its Search for Spoof. Science and engineering ethics. PMID: 25510233
A regular theme here at Neuroskeptic is the worrying issue of head movement during brain scans. We've seen that motion can alter measures of functional and structural connectivity, and that common approaches to dealing with this problem may be inadequate.
Now a new study reveals that even measures of the gross structure of the brain can be biased by excessive motion: Head motion during MRI acquisition reduces gray matter volume and thickness estimates.
Harvard neurologists Martin Reuter ... Read more »
Reuter M, Tisdall MD, Qureshi A, Buckner RL, van der Kouwe AJ, & Fischl B. (2014) Head motion during MRI acquisition reduces gray matter volume and thickness estimates. NeuroImage, 107-115. PMID: 25498430
The CHDI Foundation, a charitable organization who fund a lot of research into Huntington's disease, are interested in reforming the scientific process.
The story comes from a paper written by British neuroscientist Marcus Munafo and colleagues (the authors including CHDI staff) published in Nature Biotechnology a couple of months ago: Scientific rigor and the art of motorcycle maintenance.
Munafo et al. begin by pointing to the history of car manufacturing as an analogy for the scie... Read more »
Munafo M, Noble S, Browne WJ, Brunner D, Button K, Ferreira J, Holmans P, Langbehn D, Lewis G, Lindquist M.... (2014) Scientific rigor and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Nature Biotechnology, 32(9), 871-3. PMID: 25203032
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