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

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  • March 14, 2016
  • 10:53 AM

When Brain Waves Go Traveling

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In July last year I asked, Could Traveling Waves Upset Cognitive Neuroscience? This was a post about a paper from David Alexander et al. arguing that neuroscience was overlooking the importance of how neural activity moves or travels through the brain.

Now Alexander et al. are back with a new PLoS ONE paper in which they describe traveling waves in human brain activity, as measured with magnetoencephalography (MEG). The authors scanned 20 volunteers during a visual and auditory task.

A... Read more »

Alexander DM, Nikolaev AR, Jurica P, Zvyagintsev M, Mathiak K, & van Leeuwen C. (2016) Global Neuromagnetic Cortical Fields Have Non-Zero Velocity. PloS one, 11(3). PMID: 26953886  

  • March 10, 2016
  • 05:32 AM

What Is "Open Debate" In Science?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Last October, Michael R. Blatt, editor in chief of the journal Plant Physiology, ruffled many feathers with an editorial, Vigilante Scientists. In this piece, Blatt argued that anonymous online comments were bad for science, pointing to PubPeer as an especially problematic site.

I wasn't convinced by Blatt's arguments. True, I have used the term "vigilante science" (in 2013) myself, in reference to PubPeer, but I meant it as a compliment.

Now Blatt has re-entered the debate over anonym... Read more »

Blatt MR. (2016) When Is Science 'Ultimately Unreliable'?. Plant physiology, 170(3), 1171-3. PMID: 26933091  

  • March 6, 2016
  • 08:46 AM

No, We Can't "Upload Knowledge To Your Brain"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

According to a spectacularly misleading article in the Telegraph: Scientists discover how to 'upload knowledge to your brain'
Feeding knowledge directly into your brain, just like in sci-fi classic The Matrix, could soon take as much effort as falling asleep, scientists believe. Researchers claim to have developed a simulator which can feed information directly into a person’s brain and teach them new skills in a shorter amount of time...

Researchers from HRL Laboratories, based in Cali... Read more »

  • February 28, 2016
  • 07:51 AM

"Joke Addiction" As A Neurological Symptom

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a new paper, neurologists Elias D. Granadillo and Mario F. Mendez describe two patients in whom brain disorders led to an unusual symptom: "intractable joking."

Patient #1 was
A 69-year-old right-handed man presented for a neuropsychiatric evaluation because of a 5-year history of compulsive joking... On interview, the patient reported feeling generally joyful, but his compulsive need to make jokes and create humor had become an issue of contention with his wife. He would  wake her u... Read more »

Granadillo ED, & Mendez MF. (2016) Pathological Joking or Witzelsucht Revisited. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. PMID: 26900737  

  • February 20, 2016
  • 07:00 AM

The Myth of "Mind-Altering Parasite" Toxoplasma Gondii?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny organism that lives inside cells. It may well live inside your cells - the parasite up to 50% of the world's population, along with cats and many other animal species.

This is worrying, because many researchers believe that T. gondii infection, or toxoplasmosis, can alter human behavior. Among other organs, the parasite infects the brain, and it has been blamed for making people more impulsive, and more prone to mental illness, including schizophrenia. The ... Read more »

  • February 13, 2016
  • 06:39 AM

Winter Brain, Summer Brain: Seasonality in Brain Responses?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new paper in PNAS raises the interesting suggestion that our brain function goes through yearly cycles. According to authors Christelle Meyer and colleagues, their findings reveal new evidence of seasonal effects in human cognitive brain function "that could contribute to cognitive changes at specific times of year."

However in my view, the study is too small to be conclusive.

Meyer et al. used fMRI to scan 28 young participants. Each of the volunteers spent 4 1/2 days in a laborator... Read more »

Meyer C, Muto V, Jaspar M, Kussé C, Lambot E, Chellappa SL, Degueldre C, Balteau E, Luxen A, Middleton B.... (2016) Seasonality in human cognitive brain responses. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 26858432  

  • February 6, 2016
  • 02:16 PM

"Troubling Oddities" In A Social Psychology Data Set

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A potential case of data manipulation has been uncovered in a psychology paper. The suspect article, Why money meanings matter in decisions to donate time and money, came out in 2012 from University of Arizona psychologists Promothesh Chatterjee, Randall L. Rose, and Jayati Sinha.

This study fell into the genre of 'social priming', specifically 'money priming'. The authors reported that making people think about cash reduces their willingness to help others, while thinking of credit cards has... Read more »

Pashler, H., Rohrer, D., Abramson, I., Wolfson, T., & Harris, C. (2016) A Social Priming Data Set With Troubling Oddities. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 38(1), 3-18. DOI: 10.1080/01973533.2015.1124767  

  • February 5, 2016
  • 05:24 PM

Would You Stick Pins In A Voodoo Doll of Your Child?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Well? Would you...?

This was the question faced by the participants in a rather extraordinary series of studies described in a new paper from Illinois psychologists Randy J. McCarthy and colleagues. In total, 1081 parents with children aged under 18 were presented with an outline of a person, and asked to imagine that it was their own child. They were told to think of a time when their child made them angry. Finally, they were asked how many pins they would like to stick into the "doll" in or... Read more »

McCarthy RJ, Crouch JL, Basham AR, Milner JS, & Skowronski JJ. (2016) Validating the Voodoo Doll Task as a Proxy for Aggressive Parenting Behavior. Psychology of violence, 6(1), 135-144. PMID: 26839734  

  • February 1, 2016
  • 05:14 PM

Schizophrenia, Hubris and Science

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A press-release from the Harvard-MIT Broad Institute reaches astonishing heights of hyperbole in announcing a new schizophrenia study (Sekar et al. 2016). Here's the release:
Genetic study provides first-ever insight into biological origin of schizophrenia

Landmark analysis reveals excessive "pruning" of connections between neurons in brain predisposes to schizophrenia

A landmark study, based on genetic analysis of nearly 65,000 people, has revealed that a person’s risk of schizo... Read more »

Sekar A, Bialas AR, de Rivera H, Davis A, Hammond TR, Kamitaki N, Tooley K, Presumey J, Baum M, Van Doren V.... (2016) Schizophrenia risk from complex variation of complement component 4. Nature. PMID: 26814963  

  • January 30, 2016
  • 08:01 AM

The Automatic Neuroscientist

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

We've learned this week that computers can play Go. But at least there's one human activity they will never master: neuroscience. A computer will never be a neuroscientist. Except... hang on. A new paper just out in Neuroimage describes something called The Automatic Neuroscientist. Oh.

So what is this new neuro-robot? According to its inventors, Romy Lorenz and colleagues of Imperial College London, it's a framework for using "real-time fMRI in combination with modern machine-learning te... Read more »

  • January 21, 2016
  • 07:39 PM

"Cat-gras Delusion" - The Man Who Saw His Cat As An Impostor

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Capgras syndrome is a strange disorder in which the sufferer becomes convinced that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor.

Yet now, a new and even stranger variant of the syndrome has been reported - "Cat-gras". This is the name coined by Harvard neurologists R. Ryan Darby and David Caplan in a new paper in the journal Neurocase. The authors describe the case of a man who believed that his cat was in fact a different cat.

According to Darby and Caplan, the patient ... Read more »

  • January 17, 2016
  • 10:04 AM

A Neural Response to "Trigger" Stimuli in PTSD?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new paper in the prestigious Journal of Neuroscience makes some exciting claims about the neurobiology of PTSD - but are the methods solid?

Canadian researchers Mišić et al. used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to measure neural activity in four groups: traumatized Canadian soldiers, non-traumatized soldiers, civilians with mild traumatic brain injury, and healthy civilians. They found that
Soldiers with PTSD display inter-regional hypersynchrony at high frequencies (80–150 Hz), as well a... Read more »

Mišić B, Dunkley BT, Sedge PA, Da Costa L, Fatima Z, Berman MG, Doesburg SM, McIntosh AR, Grodecki R, Jetly R.... (2016) Post-Traumatic Stress Constrains the Dynamic Repertoire of Neural Activity. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 36(2), 419-31. PMID: 26758834  

  • January 16, 2016
  • 07:37 AM

Genetic Testing for Autism as an Existential Question

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A special issue of the journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics features perspectives from various people who have experience with genetic testing. Many of the articles look interesting - with titles such as I Had Genetic Testing for Alzheimer's Disease Without My Consent. But my attention was drawn to one piece in particular, called A Sister, a Father and a Son: Autism, Genetic Testing, and Impossible Decisions. The author of the article has chosen to remain anonymous.

The piece recounts how o... Read more »

  • January 9, 2016
  • 10:51 AM

The Myth of the Brain's Pain Matrix?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

How does the brain encode physical pain? Which brain areas (if any) respond only to painful stimuli?

A new paper reports that one supposedly "pain-selective" brain region, the posterior insula, doesn't actually specifically encode pain - it activates in response to diverse non-painful stimuli as well. The study appears in PLoS Biology and it comes from Giulia Liberati and colleagues of the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium.

Liberati et al. found that the insula responds to non-... Read more »

Liberati G, Klöcker A, Safronova MM, Ferrão Santos S, Ribeiro Vaz JG, Raftopoulos C, & Mouraux A. (2016) Nociceptive Local Field Potentials Recorded from the Human Insula Are Not Specific for Nociception. PLoS Biology, 14(1). PMID: 26734726  

  • January 6, 2016
  • 11:13 AM

Does Ageism Cause Alzheimer's?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Last month, a neuroscience paper got a lot of attention for reporting that Negative Age Stereotypes Predict Alzheimer's Disease Biomarkers.

It was greeted by headlines such as:
If you think elderly people are icky, you're more likely to get Alzheimer’s (Healthline)

Lack of respect for elderly may be fuelling Alzheimer's epidemic (The Telegraph)

Your attitude about aging may impact how you age (TIME)
The research, published in the journal Psychology and Aging, wasn't about Alzheimer's ... Read more »

  • January 2, 2016
  • 10:24 AM

Can Psychology Be an Empirical Science?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a provocative new paper, Norwegian psychologist Jan Smedslund argues that psychology "cannot be an empirical science". Smedslund is a veteran of the field; his first paper was published in 1953.

He opens by saying that
Psychology is a science in crisis, both with respect to theoretical coherence and practical efficiency.
This, he says, is not a problem that could be remedied by further development of psychological theory. Rather, the point is that the whole enterprise is inherently... Read more »

Smedslund, J. (2015) Why Psychology Cannot be an Empirical Science. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science. DOI: 10.1007/s12124-015-9339-x  

  • January 1, 2016
  • 07:47 AM

Sleep Deprivation Alters Brain Connectivity

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Missing out on a night's sleep causes "robust alterations" in the functional connectivity of the brain, according to a new paper just out in Neuroimage.

Neuroscientists Tobias Kaufmann et al. of the University of Oslo acquired resting state fMRI scans from 60 male volunteers. The participants were scanned three times each - once in the morning, again the same evening, and then finally the next morning. But only some of the volunteers were allowed to sleep in the night before the final sca... Read more »

Kaufmann T, Elvsåshagen T, Alnæs D, Zak N, Pedersen PØ, Norbom LB, Quraishi SH, Tagliazucchi E, Laufs H, Bjørnerud A.... (2015) The brain functional connectome is robustly altered by lack of sleep. NeuroImage. PMID: 26712339  

  • December 29, 2015
  • 06:40 AM

Martyrs to Science? When Research Participants Die

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a short piece for the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics, Susan E. Lederer discusses what happens when research participants die in the course of medical research.

Lederer opens by noting that in the 1950s, little outrage greeted the reports of deaths among volunteers. For instance:

In March of 1952 James S. Leedom (known as "Stan") was an 18-year-old freshman honors student at Seattle University, and one of 40 volunteers in a University of Washington study of the safety... Read more »

  • December 20, 2015
  • 08:26 AM

Only 2% of People Will Return A Christmas Card From A Stranger

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

If you got a Christmas card in the mail from a complete stranger, would you send them one back?

Surprisingly, this isn't a purely hypothetical question. Social psychologists have used Christmas cards from a stranger as a model to research the 'reciprocity norm' - the expectation that you should return a favor, and help someone who helps you.

In 1976, researchers Phillip Kunz and Michael Woolcott sent cards to a random sample of 578 Americans. Overall, they found that 20% of the recipients ... Read more »

  • December 17, 2015
  • 08:33 AM

The Case of the Bishop's Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In an unusual new paper, a group of German neuroscientists report that they scanned the brain of a Catholic bishop: Does a bishop pray when he prays? And does his brain distinguish between different religions?

The researchers were Sarita Silveira and colleagues of Munich, and they used fMRI to measure brain activity in "a German bishop aged 72 years". He's said to be "an eminent representative of the Catholic Church in Germany."

I assume he removed his mitre before entering the scanner.

... Read more »

Silveira S, Bao Y, Wang L, Pöppel E, Avram M, Simmank F, Zaytseva Y, & Blautzik J. (2015) Does a bishop pray when he prays? And does his brain distinguish between different religions?. PsyCh journal, 4(4), 199-207. PMID: 26663626  

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