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

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  • December 15, 2011
  • 03:54 AM

"Mad Honey" Sex Is A Bad Idea

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A cautionary tale from Turkey - do not eat poison honey to try to spice up your sex life. "Mad honey" is honey made by bees from the nectar of toxic Rhododendron flowers. In places where wild Rhododendrons grow, including Turkey, it's a health hazard. The dangers of mad honey were known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and it's reported that leaving tainted honeycombs in the path of invading armies was a popular military tactic.2000 years later, some people still haven't quite got the message. ........ Read more »

Mikail Yarlioglues et al. (2011) Mad-Honey Sexual Activity and Acute Inferior Myocardial Infarctions in a Married Couple. Texas Heart Institute Journal. info:/

  • December 13, 2011
  • 04:08 AM

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Here's a paper - soon to appear in Psychological Science - which says that Most Reported Genetic Associations with General Intelligence Are Probably False PositivesThe authors tried to replicate published associations between particular genetic variants (SNPs) and IQ (specifically the g factor). They looked at three datasets, a total of about 10,000 people, and didn't confirm any of the 12 associations.As Razib Khan says in his post on this, "My hunch is that these results will be unsatisfying t........ Read more »

Chabris, C. F. et al. (2011) Most Reported Genetic Associations with General Intelligence Are Probably False Positives . Psychological Science. info:/

  • December 11, 2011
  • 08:58 AM

Do Antidepressants Make Some People Worse?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Antidepressants may help depression in some people but make it worse for others, according to a new paper.This is a tough one so bear with me.Gueorguieva, Mallinckrodt and Krystal re-analysed the data from a number of trials of duloxetine (Cymbalta) vs placebo. Most of the trials also had another antidepressant (an SSRI) as well. And the SSRIs and duloxetine seemed to be indistinguishable so from now on I'll just call it antidepressants vs. placebo as the authors did.People on placebo got, on av........ Read more »

  • February 24, 2009
  • 05:53 PM

A Genomic Map of the Mouse Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Nature Neuroscience has a nice little report about a new resource that should prove useful for neuroscientists - an anatomic gene expression atlas of the adult mouse brain.The atlas is freely available at, courtesy of the Allen Foundation. It's a map of the entire adult mouse brain including data on the expression levels of 4,376 genes. You can click on a point in the brain and see which areas have a similar pattern of gene expression:The hotter the colour, the mo........ Read more »

Lydia Ng, Amy Bernard, Chris Lau, Caroline C Overly, Hong-Wei Dong, Chihchau Kuan, Sayan Pathak, Susan M Sunkin, Chinh Dang, Jason W Bohland.... (2009) An anatomic gene expression atlas of the adult mouse brain. Nature Neuroscience, 12(3), 356-362. DOI: 10.1038/nn.2281  

  • January 1, 2009
  • 09:08 AM

Are Faces Special?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There's been a glut of face-based science lately. There was the first American face transplant (the second if you count the ill-fated Travolta/Cage one...) Then an Atlanta group allegedly found that chimpanzees have a part of the brain specialized for recognizing the faces of their fellow chimps.As I'll explain, this would be extremely important if true. This research is just the latest chapter in a long and contentious debate going back many years - a debate which, believe it or not, may hold t........ Read more »

L PARR, E HECHT, S BARKS, T PREUSS, & J VOTAW. (2008) Face Processing in the Chimpanzee Brain. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2008.11.048  

  • August 12, 2010
  • 07:09 PM

Drugs for Starcraft Addiction

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Are you addicted to Starcraft? Do you want to get off and on a psychoactive drug?Well, South Korean psychiatrists Han et al report that Bupropion sustained release treatment decreases craving for video games and cue-induced brain activity in patients with Internet video game addiction.They took 11 people with "Internet Game Addiction" - the game being Starcraft, this being South Korea - and gave them the drug bupropion (Wellbutrin), an antidepressant that's also used in drug addiction........ Read more »

  • February 1, 2009
  • 12:35 PM

Lies, Libel and Love Detection

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Via Mind Hacks, we learn about the case of Francisco Lacerda, a University of Stockholm academic who's been threatened with legal action by the sinister-sounding Nemesysco company. Nemesysco sell software which, they claim, can detect deception and emotions by analyzing the sound of people's voices - lie detection, in other words. (In fact it turns out that it can also be used to detect love, or at least, so they say - see below...)The legal dispute surrounds a 2007 paper authored by Lacerda and........ Read more »

Anders Eriksson, & Francisco Lacerda. (2008) Charlatanry in forensic speech science: A problem to be taken seriously. International Journal of Speech Language and the Law, 14(2). DOI: 10.1558/ijsll.2007.14.2.169  

  • March 14, 2009
  • 07:35 PM

Amphetamine, Cocaine and DAT

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The brain is a tightly regulated system. Levels of neurotransmitters, for example, are regulated by reuptake proteins, which move transmitters from outside the cell to inside, where they are inactive. This means that after cells release a neurotransmitter, such as dopamine, it is rapidly taken back up again.Interestingly, however, the levels of the reuptake protiens themselves are variable and can change in response to various things. If dopamine levels rise, for example, nearby cells rapidly in........ Read more »

  • February 15, 2009
  • 04:29 PM

Ecstasy vs. Horseriding

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Which is more dangerous, taking ecstasy or riding a horse?This is the question that got Professor David Nutt, a British psychiatrist, into a spot of political bother. Nutt is the Editor of the academic Journal of Psychopharmacology. He recently published a brief and provocative editorial called "Equasy".Equasy is a fun read with a serious message. (It's open access so you can read the whole thing - I recommend it.) Nutt points out that the way in which we think about the harms of illegal drugs, ........ Read more »

  • October 2, 2009
  • 04:05 PM

How Brain Cells Avoid Getting All Tied Up

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

During the development of the brain, young neurones need to form connections with other cells. But equally important, they need to avoid making connections with themselves.Unfortunately, the chance of this happening is rather high. As a neurone grows and branches out in all directions, many of the branches will inevitably come into contact with others from the same cell. They're right next to each other.So, how do brains achieve self-avoidance? The answer, according to a new Nature paper buildin........ Read more »

  • January 6, 2009
  • 06:52 PM

Critiquing a Classic: "The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

One of the most blogged-about psychology papers of 2008 was Weisberg et. al.'s The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations.As most of you probably already know, Weisberg et. al. set out to test whether adding an impressive-sounding, but completely irrelevant, sentence about neuroscience to explanations for common aspects of human behaviour made people more likely to accept those explanations as good ones. As they noted in their Introduction:Although it is hardly mysterious that members of ........ Read more »

Deena Skolnick Weisberg, Frank C. Keil, Joshua Goodstein, Elizabeth Rawson, & Jeremy R. Gray. (2008) The Seductive Allure of Neuroscience Explanations. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 20(3), 470-477. DOI: 10.1162/jocn.2008.20040  

  • February 22, 2009
  • 09:17 AM

How To Read Minds

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

In the last couple of weeks we've seen not one but two reports about "reading minds" through brain imaging. First, two Canadian scientists claimed to be able to tell which flavor of drink you prefer (Decoding subjective preference from single-trial near-infrared spectroscopy signals). Then a pair of Nashville neuroimagers said that they could tell which of two pictures you were thinking about through fMRI (Decoding reveals the contents of visual working memory in early visual areas); you can rea........ Read more »

  • March 2, 2009
  • 10:57 AM

A Very Optimistic Genetics Paper

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Saturday saw the Guardian on fine form with a classic piece of bad neuro-journalism which made it all the way onto the front page: Psychologists find gene that helps you look on the bright side of lifeThose unfortunate enough to lack the 'brightside gene' are more likely to suffer from mental health problems such as depression What the research actually found was nothing to do with looking on the bright side of anything, and was nothing to do with depression ........ Read more »

Elaine Fox, Anna Ridgewell and Chris Ashwin. (2009) Looking on the bright side: biased attention and the human serotonin transporter gene. Proc. R. Soc. B.

  • January 4, 2009
  • 01:14 PM

Lessons from the Video Game Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

See also Lessons from the Placebo Gene. Also, if you like this kind of thing, see my other fMRI-curmudgeonry(1, 2)The life of a neurocurmudgeon is a hard one, but once in a while, fate smiles upon us. This article in the Daily Telegraph neatly embodies several of the mistakes that people make about the brain, all in one bite-size portion.The article is about a recent fMRI study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research. 22 healthy Stanford student volunteers (half of them male) played a "........ Read more »

F HOEFT, C WATSON, S KESLER, K BETTINGER, & A REISS. (2008) Gender differences in the mesocorticolimbic system during computer game-play. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 42(4), 253-258. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2007.11.010  

  • January 16, 2009
  • 06:35 PM

NOS1 - An Impulsivity Gene?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic has warned before of the pitfalls of candidate gene association studies. With small sample sizes and multiple comparisons, false positive results are all too common, especially in behavioural genetics. Yet it's not all bad. The renowned Klaus-Peter Lesch and colleagues have just produced a paper which is a cut above the rest. They report on an association between a promoter region polymorphism in the gene NOS1 and "impulsive" traits.NOS1 codes for the enzyme nitric oxide synthase 1,........ Read more »

Andreas Reif, MD; Christian P. Jacob, MD; Dan Rujescu, MD; Sabine Herterich, PhD; Sebastian Lang, MD;, Lise Gutknecht, PhD; Christina G. Baehne, Dipl-Psych; Alexander Strobel, PhD; Christine M. Freitag, MD;, Ina Giegling, MD; Marcel Romanos, MD; Annette Hartmann, MD; Michael Rösler, MD; Tobias J. Renner, MD;, & Andreas J. Fallgatter, MD; Wolfgang Retz, MD; Ann-Christine Ehlis, PhD; Klaus-Peter Lesch, MD. (2009) Influence of Functional Variant of Neuronal Nitric Oxide Synthase on Impulsive Behaviors in Humans. Archives of General Psychiatry, 66(1), 41-50. DOI:  

  • April 7, 2009
  • 08:52 PM

The Voodoo Strikes Back

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

Just when you thought it was safe to compute a correlatation between a behavioural measure and a cluster mean BOLD change...The fMRI voodoo correlations controversy isn't over. Ed Vul and collegues have just responded to their critics in a new article (pdf). The critics appear to have scored at least one victory, however, since the original paper has now been renamed. So it's goodbye to "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience" - now it's "Puzzlingly high correlations in fMRI studies of emoti........ Read more »

EDWARD VUL, CHRISTINE HARRIS, PIOTR WINKIELMAN, AND, & HAROLD PASHLER. (2009) Reply to comments on “Puzzlingly high correlations in fMRI studies of emotion, personality, and social cognition”. Perspectives in Psychological Science.

  • January 13, 2009
  • 06:55 PM

Mice, Math and Drugs: On Science without Understanding

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

The latest issue of Neuropsychopharmacology is chock full of goodies - not only one of the first ever controlled trials of medical marijuana, but also a surprise gem from an American-Israeli collaboration, called A Data Mining Approach to In Vivo Classification of Psychopharmacological Drugs. Yet despite being an excellent paper, it raises some worrying questions about what is and isn't science.In a nutshell, the authors sought to discover a way of efficiently determining what a drug does. There........ Read more »

Apostolos P Georgopoulos, Elissaios Karageorgiou, Arthur C Leuthold, Scott M Lewis, Joshua K Lynch, Aurelio A Alonso, Zaheer Aslam, Adam F Carpenter, Angeliki Georgopoulos, Laura S Hemmy.... (2007) Synchronous neural interactions assessed by magnetoencephalography: a functional biomarker for brain disorders. Journal of Neural Engineering, 4(4), 349-355. DOI: 10.1088/1741-2560/4/4/001  

  • January 12, 2009
  • 07:13 PM

Medical Marijuana Helps HIV Pain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

There have long been anecdotal reports that marijuana can have pain-killing (analgesic) effects in types of chronic pain which are otherwise difficult to treat. This has led to great enthusiasm about the prospect of "medical marijuana" - but, attractive as that might sound, there has always been a lack of hard evidence showing that marijuana in fact works. Being highly illegal in the U.S.A (more illegal than cocaine in fact), it's hard to study.A paper out today in Neuropsychopharmacology aimed ........ Read more »

Ronald J Ellis, Will Toperoff, Florin Vaida, Geoffrey van den Brande, James Gonzales, Ben Gouaux, Heather Bentley, & J Hampton Atkinson. (2008) Smoked Medicinal Cannabis for Neuropathic Pain in HIV: A Randomized, Crossover Clinical Trial. Neuropsychopharmacology, 34(3), 672-680. DOI: 10.1038/npp.2008.120  

  • January 20, 2009
  • 11:16 AM

Prozac and Old Mice

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A while back, I wrote about an important paper which cast doubt on the "neurogenesis hypothesis" of antidepressant drug action, which I summarized as...the proposal that antidepressants work by promoting the survival and proliferation of new neurones in certain areas of the brain - the "neurogenesis hypothesis". Neurogenesis, the birth of new cells from stem cells, occurs in a couple of very specific regions of the adult brain, including the elaborately named subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentat........ Read more »

S Couillard-Despres, C Wuertinger, M Kandasamy, M Caioni, K Stadler, R Aigner, U Bogdahn, & L Aigner. (2009) Ageing abolishes the effects of fluoxetine on neurogenesis. Molecular Psychiatry. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2008.147  

  • June 30, 2009
  • 05:41 AM

The Shotgun Approach to Psych Drug Discovery

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic

A foundation is offering to fund research into novel psychiatric medications, we read in the latest Nature Neuroscience:The Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts has launched an initiative called ‘PsychHTS’ inviting scientists with ideas and data suggesting novel mechanisms contributing to psychiatric disease to apply for access to the Broad’s infrastructure and expertise for high throughput screening (HTS) of chemical compound libraries.HTS is a clever technique for discovering new........ Read more »

Editorial. (2009) Mining chemistry for psychiatry. Nature Neuroscience, 12(7), 809-809. DOI: 10.1038/nn0709-809  

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