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Comments on neurobiology, neuroimaging, and psychiatry from a skeptical neuroscientist.

Neuroskeptic
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  • December 31, 2016
  • 10:52 AM
  • 688 views

No Need To Worry About False Positives in fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Earlier this year, neuroscience was shaken by the publication in PNAS of Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates. In this paper, Anders Eklund, Thomas E. Nichols and Hans Knutsson reported that commonly used software for analysing fMRI data produces many false-positives.



But now, Boston College neuroscientist Scott D. Slotnick has criticized Eklund et al.'s alarming conclusions in a new piece in Cognitive Neuroscience.



In my view, ... Read more »

  • December 29, 2016
  • 05:57 AM
  • 502 views

The Myth of "Darwin's Body-Snatchers"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Did Charles Darwin's thirst for skulls contribute to the near-extinction of the Aboriginal Tasmanian people?





If you believe certain creationists, Darwin sought examples of Tasmanian skulls in order to prove that this unfortunate race was a 'missing link' between humans and apes. However, according to John van Wyhe in a new paper called Darwin's body-snatchers?, this story has zero basis in fact.
As a Darwin scholar, I thought I had heard all the myths concerning Charles Darwin but on... Read more »

van Wyhe J. (2016) Darwin's body-snatchers?. Endeavour. PMID: 28012688  

  • December 23, 2016
  • 01:47 PM
  • 577 views

What Scientists Think About Scientists

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Most people believe that scientists have high levels of objectivity and integrity - and scientists themselves share these positive views of their own profession. But according to scientists, not all researchers are equally upstanding, with male and early-career scientists being seen as somewhat less trustworthy than others.



That's according to a new paper from Dutch researchers Coosje Veldkamp et al.: Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist?

Based on a series of studies in... Read more »

Veldkamp CL, Hartgerink CH, van Assen MA, & Wicherts JM. (2016) Who Believes in the Storybook Image of the Scientist?. Accountability in research. PMID: 28001440  

  • December 19, 2016
  • 04:52 AM
  • 636 views

Neuroscience Spots Potential Criminals In Pre-School?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new post at Quartz discusses
The disturbingly accurate brain science that identifies potential criminals while they’re still toddlers... scientists are able to use brain tests on three-year-olds to determine which children are more likely to grow up to become criminals.


Hmmm. Not really.

The research in question is from from North Carolina researchers Avshalom Caspi et al.: Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden. It's based on a long-term... Read more »

Caspi, A., Houts, R., Belsky, D., Harrington, H., Hogan, S., Ramrakha, S., Poulton, R., & Moffitt, T. (2016) Childhood forecasting of a small segment of the population with large economic burden. Nature Human Behaviour, 5. DOI: 10.1038/s41562-016-0005  

  • December 8, 2016
  • 05:12 PM
  • 669 views

Do We All Have Split Brains?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

When you're doing two things at once - like listening to the radio while driving - your brain organizes itself into two, functionally independent networks, almost as if you temporarily have two brains. That's according to a fascinating new study from University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists Shuntaro Sasai and colleagues. It's called Functional split brain in a driving/listening paradigm



In referring to 'split brains' in their title, Sasai et al. are linking their work to the litera... Read more »

Sasai, S., Boly, M., Mensen, A., & Tononi, G. (2016) Functional split brain in a driving/listening paradigm. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201613200. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1613200113  

  • December 6, 2016
  • 02:29 PM
  • 563 views

Fun With Non-Ionizing Radiation

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Does non-ionizing radiation pose a health risk? Everyone knows that ionizing radiation, like gamma rays, can cause cancer by damaging DNA. But the scientific consensus is that there is no such risk from non-ionizing radiation such as radiowaves or Wi-Fi.

Yet according to a remarkable new paper from Magda Havas, the risk is real: it's called When theory and observation collide: Can non-ionizing radiation cause cancer?



There are a few remarkable things about this paper but chief among th... Read more »

  • December 4, 2016
  • 03:34 PM
  • 580 views

Do Synapses Really Store Memories?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Most neuroscientists will tell you that long-term memories are stored in the brain in the form of synapses, the connections between neurons. On this view, memory formation occurs when synaptic connections are strengthened, or entirely new synapses are formed.



However, in a new piece in Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, Austrian researcher Patrick C. Trettenbrein critiques the synapse-memory theory: The Demise of the Synapse As the Locus of Memory.



Trettenbrein acknowledges that "t... Read more »

  • November 20, 2016
  • 01:54 PM
  • 452 views

Pupil Size and Intelligence

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Are the eyes the windows to intelligence? In an interesting paper, Georgia psychologists Jason S. Tsukahara and colleagues report that there's a positive correlation between pupil size and cognitive ability.



It's well known that our pupil size varies over time due to changes in both emotional state and cognitive 'effort'. As Tsukahara et al. put it
Starting in the 1960s it became apparent to psychologists that the size of the pupil is related to more than just the amount of light enterin... Read more »

Tsukahara JS, Harrison TL, & Engle RW. (2016) The relationship between baseline pupil size and intelligence. Cognitive psychology, 109-123. PMID: 27821254  

  • November 16, 2016
  • 01:30 PM
  • 552 views

If You Want to Be Happy, Quit Facebook?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A remarkable paper claims that staying off Facebook for a week could make you happier: The Facebook Experiment, by Morten Tromholt of Denmark.





What makes this study so interesting is that it was a randomized controlled trial (RCT) and so was able, at least in theory, to determine whether quitting Facebook actually causes changes in well-being. Previously, there has been lots of research reporting correlations between social network use and happiness, but correlation isn't causation.
... Read more »

  • November 10, 2016
  • 04:09 PM
  • 562 views

Am I An Unethical Pseudonym?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

I've blogged about my fair share of scientific papers over the years, but this is a new one: a paper about me.



Writing in Science and Engineering Ethics, author Jaime A. Teixeira da Silva discusses the question of Are Pseudonyms Ethical in (Science) Publishing? Neuroskeptic as a Case Study



Teixeira da Silva, a plant scientist and frequent poster on PubPeer amongst other forums, opens with the following:
There is a prominent blogger called Neuroskeptic who has a web-site and even a... Read more »

  • November 8, 2016
  • 06:41 AM
  • 635 views

The Brain Basis of Hating Cheese?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Do you find gruyère gross? Are you repelled by roquefort?



Neuroscientists are now investigating why this might be. A new paper claims to reveal The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese.

French (heh) researchers Jean-Pierre Royet and colleagues used fMRI to scan 15 people who liked cheese and 15 who "hated" it. During the scan, the participants were shown images of cheese and were exposed to cheese odors.

The six neuro-cheeses were blue cheese, cheddar, goat cheese, gruyère, parmesan, ... Read more »

Royet JP, Meunier D, Torquet N, Mouly AM, & Jiang T. (2016) The Neural Bases of Disgust for Cheese: An fMRI Study. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 511. PMID: 27799903  

  • November 3, 2016
  • 01:49 PM
  • 616 views

Does The Motor Cortex Inhibit Movement?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new paper could prompt a rethink of a basic tenet of neuroscience. It is widely believed that the motor cortex, a region of the cerebral cortex, is responsible for producing movements, by sending instructions to other brain regions and ultimately to the spinal cord. But according to neuroscientists Christian Laut Ebbesen and colleagues, the truth may be the opposite: the motor cortex may equally well suppress movements.



Ebbesen et al. studied the vibrissa motor cortex (VMC) of the rat, ... Read more »

  • October 27, 2016
  • 11:14 AM
  • 411 views

Advances in the Psychology of Passing the Salt

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover



I just came across a remarkable new paper on the science of salt-passing behavior: Expected Results Show that a Longer Nose Means Slower Times for Passing the Salt and Pepper: A Second Report



The article, which I have no doubt is entirely serious in nature, lists as its authors Canadian researchers Minér Patrick, Léon Le Néz and Pat Minér.

Here's how Patrick et al. describe their work:
Eighty female student subjects were tested by being asked to pass salt or pepper by another stud... Read more »

Patrick M, Le Néz L, Minér P. (2016) Expected Results Show that a Longer Nose Means Slower Times for Passing the Salt and Pepper: A Second Report. Dual Diagnosis: Open Access. info:/

  • October 22, 2016
  • 06:00 AM
  • 568 views

Does Effect Size Matter for fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

fMRI researchers should care about (and report) the size of the effects that they study, according to a new Neuroimage paper from NIMH researchers Gang Chen and colleagues. It's called Is the statistic value all we should care about in neuroimaging?. The authors include Robert W. Cox, creator of the popular fMRI analysis software AFNI.



Chen et al. explain the purpose of their paper:
Here we address an important issue that has been embedded within the neuroimaging community for a long tim... Read more »

  • October 13, 2016
  • 11:37 AM
  • 497 views

Social Priming - Does It Work After All?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

"Social priming" has been the punching-bag of psychology for the past few years.

The term "social priming" refers to the idea that subtle cues can exert large, unconscious influences on human behaviour. The classic example of a social priming effect was the "professor priming" study in which volunteers who completed a task in which they had to describe a typical professor, subsequently performed better on a general knowledge task. In other words, as the authors put it, "priming a stereotype o... Read more »

Payne BK, Brown-Iannuzzi JL, & Loersch C. (2016) Replicable effects of primes on human behavior. Journal of experimental psychology. General, 145(10), 1269-1279. PMID: 27690509  

  • October 10, 2016
  • 11:31 AM
  • 447 views

Are There Too Few Jobs In Neuroscience?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover



Is European neuroscience facing a jobs crisis? Writing in The Lancet Neurology, Mario Bonato and Esperanza Jubera-Garcia sound the alarm:


As young European neuroscientists, we want to bring attention to the dramatic absence of professional long-term opportunities that researchers are facing mostly, although not exclusively, in the south of Europe.

In the past few years, young scientists from several European countries have been forced to move to other countries, or to quit research a... Read more »

  • October 3, 2016
  • 05:05 PM
  • 611 views

Can Electricity Stimulate Your Brain To Work Faster?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A widely-used 'brain stimulation' tool has no effect on the speed of the brain's responses, according to a new study from Australian neuroscientists Jared Horvath et al.


The technique of transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) involves attaching electrodes to the scalp and applying a weak electrical current. This current is thought to flow through the brain and alter neural activity in areas close to the electrodes. tDCS is a popular experimental method in neuroscience, and there's a... Read more »

  • September 29, 2016
  • 12:11 PM
  • 692 views

The Terrorist Inside Robin Williams' Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

The journal Neurology published a unique and touching paper today: it's by artist Susan Schneider Williams, the widow of actor Robin Williams, who died by suicide in August 2014. It's titled The terrorist inside my husband's brain, the 'terrorist' being Lewy Body disease (LBD), the neurodegenerative disorder that, as Schneider Williams recounts, destroyed his life.





Here's how she describes the first signs of her husbands' illness:
The colors were changing and the air was crisp; it wa... Read more »

Williams SS. (2016) The terrorist inside my husband's brain. Neurology, 87(13), 1308-11. PMID: 27672165  

  • September 15, 2016
  • 04:41 AM
  • 687 views

How to Hold Scientific Journals Accountable?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Writing in PLoS Biology, neurobiologist Thomas C. Südhof discusses Truth in Science Publishing: A Personal Perspective. Südhof is a Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford. A veteran scientist, he's been publishing since 1982.

So what's the state of science publishing as Südhof sees it?


He first notes that "scientists, public servants, and patient advocates alike increasingly question the validity of published scientific results, endangering the publi... Read more »

  • September 13, 2016
  • 01:39 PM
  • 588 views

How Well Does Brain Structure Predict Behaviour?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

To what extent does brain structure correlate with different psychological traits? An interesting new paper from Massachusetts General Hospital researchers Mert R. Sabuncu and colleagues uses a new method to examine what the authors call the 'morphometricity' of various behaviours and mental disorders.



Sabuncu et al. define morphometricity as "the proportion of phenotypic variation that can be explained by macroscopic brain morphology" - in other words, the degree to which people with sim... Read more »

Sabuncu MR, Ge T, Holmes AJ, Smoller JW, Buckner RL, Fischl B, & Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative. (2016) Morphometricity as a measure of the neuroanatomical signature of a trait. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 27613854  

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