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    Will Smith narrates ‘One Strange Rock,’ but astronauts are the real stars

    Hosted by Will Smith, ‘One Strange Rock’ embraces Earth’s weirdness and explores the planet’s natural history.

    in Science News on March 18, 2018 11:00 AM.

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    The Selective Skepticism of Lynne McTaggart

    Lynne McTaggart is an author and leading alternative health proponent who was the foil for my first ever Neuroskeptic post, nearly 10 years ago. Ever since then I have occasionally been following McTaggart's output. McTaggart is believer in things like a "Zero Point Field (ZPF), a sea of energy that reconciles mind with matter", an opponent of vaccines, and someone who thinks that spiritual and psychological change can cure advanced cancer. Since my first post, I haven't written mo

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on March 17, 2018 06:23 PM.

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    Weekend reads: No reproducibility crisis?; greatest corrections of all time; an archaeology fraud

    The week at Retraction Watch featured the retraction of a paper on homeopathy whose authors had been arrested; news about 30 retractions for an engineer in South Korea; and a story about how two stem cell researchers who left Harvard under a cloud are being recommended for roles at Italy’s NIH. Here’s what was happening … Continue reading Weekend reads: No reproducibility crisis?; greatest corrections of all time; an archaeology fraud

    in Retraction watch on March 17, 2018 01:29 PM.

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    Inked mice hint at how tattoos persist in people

    Tattoos in mice may persist due to an immune response, challenging currently held beliefs about how the skin retains tattoos.

    in Science News on March 16, 2018 08:22 PM.

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    Former NYU researcher falsified data in 3 papers, 7 grants: ORI

    A former researcher at New York University falsified and/or fabricated data in multiple papers and grant applications, according to the U.S. Office of Research Integrity. Bhagavathi Narayanan has already retracted three papers, the result of missing original data. Among the three papers flagged by the ORI, only one remains intact: A 2011 paper in Anticancer … Continue reading Former NYU researcher falsified data in 3 papers, 7 grants: ORI

    in Retraction watch on March 16, 2018 06:52 PM.

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    No two brain injuries are identical: The future of fMRI for assessment of traumatic brain injury By Ekaterina Dobryakova

    Brain imaging is an important tool for clinicians in diagnosing patients who have suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI). Brain imaging techniques generally focus on either structure or function. With TBI, the focus is typically on the extent of structural brain damage, which is often assessed using computed tomography (CT).  Structural brain scans provide information regarding the severity of TBI, which is largely determined by the extent of damage. But, what about measures of brain function?

    Another brain imaging technique that has become a crucial instrument for scientists trying to learn more about how the brain works is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). fMRI allows the examination of human brain function in a way that is not invasive and, in contrast to a CT scan, does not involve radiation. With the help of math and statistics, brain mappers are able to measure brain activity patterns. But, can fMRI also be used as a diagnostic tool for TBI? Because (a) no two brain injuries are identical and (b) the way in which brain injuries affect cognition and brain function is highly variable, the current picture of fMRI use as a diagnostic tool for TBI is unclear.

    Nevertheless, new tools and techniques have recently been developed that allow for the assessment of brain function in TBI, as well as other types of brain injury. Using fMRI could thereby add a whole new dimension to our understanding of TBI and TBI recovery. To get a better sense of the present state of fMRI applications with TBI, we have asked three TBI experts the following question:

    Given that the utility of fMRI is still relatively undefined in the clinical realm, how do you see modern neuroimaging techniques playing a role in TBI in the future, beyond conventional scanning (CT, structural MRI)?


    Erin Bigler

    Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience
    Department of Psychology & Founding Director

    Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Research Facility at Brigham Young University:

    “I believe that there is tremendous potential for clinical applications of fMRI in TBI, but not as standalone, independent metrics of brain function. Given the uniqueness of each individual and the heterogeneity of TBI, no two brain injuries are ever identical. As such, it is unlikely that there would ever be a universal fMRI signal that would consistently differentiate or be influenced by brain injury. However, fMRI activation paradigms in response to a cognitive task can probe neural system integrity, which can also be assessed through resting state functional connectivity mapping. Integrating this information with a dynamic structural imaging approach that takes advantage of multiple methods to assess volume, thickness, and shape along with lesion analysis would provide both structural and functional information about the brain injury. Additionally, these anatomical or functionally defined networks could then be the basis for using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to explore tract integrity between regions of interest within the network.”


    Frank Hillary

    Associate Professor of Psychology

    Department of Psychology, Penn State University:

    “FMRI has provided previously unavailable opportunities to advance our understanding of the organization of human brain functioning at the systems level. There has been meaningful extension of work in the cognitive neurosciences to understand plasticity in brain disorders with several important themes emerging from fMRI work in TBI (e.g., neural recruitment, “compensation”). By contrast, after nearly two decades of fMRI research designed to establish diagnostic biomarkers in various forms of mild TBI, no reliable neural signature for injury has emerged. I anticipate that future work in this area will be met with continued failure due to individual differences and the lack of clinical specificity in task-based fMRI findings.  More recent integration of network neuroscience into fMRI research has transformed the landscape of TBI research with goals now directed toward understanding injury-induced plasticity in large-scale networks (e.g., default mode network). While in its infancy, research that couples network science with brain stimulation techniques (e.g., transcranial magnetic stimulation) represents at least one possible avenue for functional MRI to contribute meaningfully to clinical intervention in TBI. To date, however, fMRI has primarily contributed to basic science and its potential to advance clinical diagnostics and intervention in TBI remains largely unrealized.”


    Brenna McDonald

    Associate Professor of Radiology and Imaging Sciences,

    Center for Neuroimaging at Indiana University School of Medicine:

    “FMRI and advanced structural MR techniques such as DTI have come into increasing use to study behavioral and cognitive changes after TBI. In addition to being used to explore the underlying structural and functional neural correlates of TBI, such techniques have the potential to help guide treatment approaches. For example, fMRI has been used to study the neural correlates of symptom reduction following pharmacological and behavioral treatments for cognitive symptoms after TBI. The understanding gained can be used to further refine treatments. For example, in mild TBI/concussion, use of imaging can help validate proposed screening and diagnostic tools, such as sideline assessments, cognitive or behavioral instruments, biomechanical force metrics, sensory or vestibular testing, or blood biomarkers. Demonstration of a correlation between such measures and imaging variables, such as task-related fMRI activation, resting cerebral blood flow, or structural or functional connectivity, in concert with complementary data such as cognitive assessment and postconcussive symptom measurement, could provide the evidence needed to demonstrate utility of such screening or diagnostic tools. More thorough knowledge of these interactions will help advance the goals of personalized medicine initiatives by improving prediction of injury risk, outcome, and treatment response.”


    Alongside structural brain imaging techniques that are routinely used in TBI, fMRI may provide a better understanding of brain function in TBI patients. By combining structural, functional, and cognitive assessments, clinicians may evaluate individual cases in a more specific way and adapt their treatments accordingly. After all, TBI is a very heterogeneous condition and impacts brain recovery differently in different people. This heterogeneity may become more manageable once we reach a better understanding of brain function. At the very least, fMRI offers new hope that treatments could be tailored more towards the individual. If and how fMRI fits toward this goal of “personalized medicine” will become clearer in the years to come.

    Acknowledgments: The author thanks Erin Bigler, Frank Hillary, and Brenna McDonald for proving their valuable opinion and Veronica Schneider for editing the feature image.

    Any views expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of PLOS. 

    Ekaterina Dobryakova is Research Scientist in the TBI Department at the Kessler Foundation, and Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

    in PLOS Neuroscience Community on March 16, 2018 06:45 PM.

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    Delays, arguing over upcoming Cell retraction leave first author “devastated”

    After being “blindsided” a few months ago when she was told one of her 2005 papers was going to be retracted, a researcher scrambled to get information about why. And when she didn’t like the answers, she took to PubPeer. Eight days ago, Shalon (Babbitt) Ledbetter, the first author of the 2005 paper published in … Continue reading Delays, arguing over upcoming Cell retraction leave first author “devastated”

    in Retraction watch on March 16, 2018 03:24 PM.

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    What we can and can’t say about Arctic warming and U.S. winters

    Evidence of a connection is growing stronger, but scientists still struggle to explain why.

    in Science News on March 16, 2018 01:00 PM.

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    Caught Our Notice: Voinnet co-author issues another correction

    Title: AtsPLA2-α nuclear relocalization by the Arabidopsis transcription factor AtMYB30 leads to repression of the plant defense response What Caught Our Attention:  A previous collaborator with high-profile plant biologist Olivier Voinnet (who now has eight retractions) has issued an interesting correction to a 2010 PNAS paper. Susana Rivas is last author on the paper, the … Continue reading Caught Our Notice: Voinnet co-author issues another correction

    in Retraction watch on March 16, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    Astronomers can’t figure out why some black holes got so big so fast

    Early supermassive black holes are challenging astronomers’ ideas about how the behemoths grew so quickly.

    in Science News on March 16, 2018 11:00 AM.

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    Psychotherapy trainees’ experiences of their own mandatory personal therapy raise “serious ethical considerations”

    GettyImages-814596226.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

    Many training programmes for psychotherapists and counsellors include a mandatory personal therapy component – as well as learning about psychotherapeutic theories and techniques, and practising being a therapist, the trainee must also spend time in therapy themselves, in the role of a client. Indeed, the British Psychological Society’s own Division of Counselling Psychology stipulates that Counselling Psychology trainees must undertake 40 hours of personal therapy as part of obtaining their qualification.

    What is it like for trainees to complete their own mandatory therapy? A new meta-synthesis in Counselling and Psychotherapy Research is the first to combine all previously published qualitative findings addressing this question. The trainees’ accounts suggest that the practice offers many benefits, but that it also has “hindering effects” that raise “serious ethical considerations”.

    David Murphy and his colleagues at the University of Nottingham conducted a systematic review of the literature and found 16 relevant qualitative studies up to 2016, involving 139 psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists in training and who had undertaken compulsory personal psychotherapy as part of their course requirements. Most the studies involved interviews with the trainees about their experiences; the others were based on trainees’ written accounts.

    Murphy and his team identified six themes in the trainees’ descriptions. Some were positive. The trainees talked about how therapy had helped their personal and professional development, for example raising their self-awareness, emotional resilience and confidence in their skills. Personal psychotherapy also offered them a powerful form of experiential learning in which they got to see for themselves how concepts like transference play out in therapy, and they obviously experienced what it is like to be a client. They also learned about “reflexivity” – how to reflect on themselves and the way their own “self material” contributes to the dynamics of therapy.

    Another positive theme was therapeutic gains – some trainees saw their personal therapy as a form of “explicit stress management”; they said it helped them work through issues from their past; and also helped them to become their authentic selves, and accept their strengths and weaknesses.

    But the remaining themes were more concerning. The first – Do no harm – referred to the fact that many trainees spoke of the stress and anguish that the therapy caused them, and the way it affected their personal relationships. It some cases this left them feeling unable to cope with their client work (in which they were the therapist). Another theme – “Justice” – summarises the burden that trainees felt the mandatory therapy imposed on  them, in terms of time and expense, and the pressure of being assessed and of their lost autonomy.

    Finally, under the theme “Integrity“, the researchers said some trainees talked about how their therapist was unprofessional, yet it was difficult to change them; that they felt coerced into therapy and that the mandatory nature of it prevented them from truly opening up – in fact there was a sense of some trainees simply jumping through hoops in a functional way to complete their course requirement.

    Murphy and his team end their paper calling on regulatory and training institutions to consider the issues raised by their findings. Although the “hindering factors” they identified raise serious ethical issues, they believe that it may be possible to address them. “We envisage that programmes that attend to the points raised in this study will provide the best learning opportunities, compared with courses that do not regularly critically reflect upon, assess, and evaluate mandatory psychotherapy within the course.”

    A systematic review and meta-synthesis of qualitative research into mandatory personal psychotherapy during training

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 16, 2018 09:03 AM.

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    AI bests humans at mapping the moon

    AI does a more thorough job of counting craters than humans.

    in Science News on March 15, 2018 07:53 PM.

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    AI Psychosis

    The fragility of our minds and theirs

    Well with a title like that, what other picture could I possibly use? Credit: Pixabay

    We have fragile minds. Disorders of thought affect a large proportion of the population of rich countries at any one time; each person in these countries has an uncomfortably high probability of having at least one of these disorders of thought in their lifetime, peaking in early adulthood.

    These disorders come in many flavours, with many labels. Depression is common, as is anxiety. Addictions and compulsions too. More extreme are the darkness of obsessive compulsive disorders and the fragmentation of schizophrenia. They are uniquely human.

    Unknown is if they will remain uniquely human. Research in artificial intelligence is making spectacular progress; for many researchers, this progress is along the path to developing human-like general AI. This leads to a troubling thought: will a human-like AI inherit human-like disorders of thought?

    For disorders of movement that originate in the brain, we have some understanding of what happens: specific neurons get damaged, and specific movement problems result. In Parkinson’s disease, losing a small collection of dopamine neurons in the midbrain seems yoked to when tremors or difficulty in movement appear. In Huntington’s disease, loss of neurons in the striatum is directly linked to the disease’s tell-tale involuntary movements and spasms.

    Disorders of thought have yet to yield to simple mechanistic explanations. They seem rather a disorder of very large networks of neurons. Some might object that most disorders of thought have a mechanistic explanation, as they are disorders of neuromodulators – because most of their treatments change the amount of one or more neuromodulators within the brain. But all this tells us is that they have to be a network-wide problem, for neuromodulators are released all over the brain. And, as their name implies, neuromodulators change, but do not cause, the transmission of information between neurons. Even if changes in neuromodulation are at the root of thought disorders, their effect is played out in how they change the way neurons talk to each other.

    It is unclear why disorders of thought even exist. Are they inevitable in any sufficiently complex brain? If so, is this inevitability restricted to biology?

    How we answer that question depends on whether disorders of thought are due to

    (1) inherent flaws in biology,

    (2) the effects of culture, or

    (3) the inherent side-effects of large-scale complex networks of neurons.

    These are not mutually exclusive, as we’ll see.

    Inherent flaws in biology is the medical explanation. Brains are bags of cells, each of which is a bag of chemicals, and sits in a soup of other chemicals. A flaw in those chemicals, or the bags in which they sit, is a natural first target for how thought disorders arise. But innately flawed biology alone is unlikely to be the explanation. Such flaws would be selected against by evolution. Fish that can’t face another day of swimming won’t survive. Genetically inherited forms of thought disorders are rare. Instead, small differences in many genes can increase or decrease the probability of experiencing a thought disorder in a lifetime. Something then tips the balance from a probability to a reality.

    Thought disorders could thus be an inherent consequence of our cultures. Such a consequence could be the physical products we make: a pesticide, a solvent, a drug. The presence of particular manufactured chemicals in our environments has been linked to the increased probability of a few brain disorders; but thought disorders have apparently ancient origins, predating much of our industrial effluence.

    A more likely consequence of our culture is its sheer complexity. A well-rehearsed argument is that we are using our brains outside the niche in which they evolved. Our brains are subject to constant stressors in a society vastly bigger than they evolved within. Of hundreds of things to do, hundreds of things we are aware of, but have no individual control over: wars, famine, disease, climate change. Chronic stress affects the wiring of neurons, and changes how they respond to inputs. In this scenario, the genetic differences that increase or decrease the chances of a thought disorder are played out in the resilience they confer on our neuronal networks to these culturally driven changes.

    But a common factor to all disorders of thought is that they arise in the most complex network of neurons on Earth. We have 17 billion neurons in our cortex; no other animal comes close. We like to give our cortex credit for our apparently unique combination of talents, for language and writing and maths; for creativity and cooking. Indeed theories for how our cortex got to this outlier size see it as either cause or consequence of culture: either that such large, adaptable networks allow us to form large social groups, and develop language; or that forming large social groups and developing language drove the evolution of the largest cortex on Earth.

    We have a small part of cortex dedicated to the understanding and production of spoken language. Another part to written language. Loss of knowing how to speak sentences does not mean losing how to write the same sentences. Written language is an exceptionally recent event, too recent to have evolved a dedicated brain region to process it; that we have a brain region that deals with writing shows how our cortex is an adaptable, versatile machine.

    And therein lies the problem. Cortex is endlessly rewiring as new skills are learnt; as new memories are formed; as new knowledge is acquired; and as it continues to develop into early adulthood. In all that rewiring, there are chances of associations being formed between things that can’t exist, giving hallucinations; or associations that could exist, but are exceptionally unlikely, giving obsessive thoughts; or associations of bad outcomes with innocuous things, giving depression or anxiety. That the rewiring will lead to the activation of one set of neurons accidentally activating another set that are not relevant right now.

    Adaptability is not just rewiring. Cortex predicts what is about to happen. It predicts the next word in a sentence. It predicts when a sound follows a bright flash in the sky. And these predictions can grow too strong. They can write over the information from our senses. They can create events that are not happening, so hallucinating; can predict event that will never happen, depressing us.

    We seem to be the only species with a widespread and many-faceted array of things that can go wrong with our minds. We are also the only species with a 17 billion neuron cortex, containing trillions of connections. The two are plausibly linked.

    Contrast this with the current state of AI. We have witnessed remarkable progress. But at root we are still at the stage where one AI agent learns just one thing. A network learns to translate one language into another; or to classify a specific set of images; or to play Go or chess or draughts. While we have now reached the point where the same architecture, the same set of algorithms, may be used to solve different problems, the individual AI agent is still only learning one thing.

    Humans learn chess and Go and draughts; and learn multiple languages; and learn to paint. And learn sequences of events, predicting outcomes, good or bad. And do all this with one cortex. Which deals with many different types of learnt information, and many different uses of that information. In one densely complex network, ripe for malfunction.

    This line of argument suggests a “general” AI is not possible, or at best inadvisable. It suggests that a sufficiently complex network able to exhibit human-like abilities – to adapt to each new task, to make predictions, to learn, and to form memories – would also exhibit human-like frailties. That such AI would exhibit a range of disorders of thought, would have psychoses.

    The retort would be that, as we construct such AI ourselves, then we can engineer the networks we build to not fall prey to these frailties. That retort assumes we will have sufficient understanding of how these disorders arise in order to engineer around them. Patently, we do not have that at the moment, nor any indication that understanding is coming soon.

    A more refined retort may be that we need not follow the evolved brain slavishly, that we can find ways to have a complex network that can learn and do many different tasks without inheriting the design flaws of biology. In particular, that human disorders of thought seem dependent on neuromodulators, and AIs do not have them. One problem with this view is that it inherently believes neuromodulators are not doing computation. But it is all computation. A neuromodulator like serotonin changes the state of brain, by changing the strengths of connections between neurons. Neuromodulators have this role in both the tiniest nervous systems on Earth and in our cortex. We ought to assume they are necessary for being intelligent. It seems likely that AI will need something that mimics neuromodulation if it is to reach for general intelligence. For it is how real networks of neurons can be adaptively sculpted to change the problem at hand, by changing how they interact, both briefly and permanently.

    Another problem with this view is that many AI systems already use neuromodulation. Dopamine neurons change their firing to signal the difference between the outcome you expected and the outcome you got. This is the “prediction error” at the heart of many of the most spectacular recent AI demonstrations. It can drive wrong associations between actions and outcomes in AI networks just as easily as in neuronal networks.

    But say we did understand how these disorders come about. Then if they arise from anything other than pure inherent flaws in the biology, if they arise from our culture or are inherent side-effects of large densely-connected networks or both, then they cannot be engineered around. Such advanced AI would exist within our culture – one that is disengaged from it would not, by definition, be the mooted general intelligence. Such advanced AI would undoubtedly need large, complex networks, in which to learn and store many overlapping and different functions. Put this way, such advanced AI would seem just as vulnerable to thought disorders as us.

    This essay is not an answer, but a question. Because I want to know: will a network sufficiently complex to exhibit human-like intelligence also inevitably exhibit human-like disorders of thought?

    There are answers to the questions raised here. For example, if cell death and malfunction underlie every thought disorder, and those are always due to environmental stressors, then AI will be immune. In finding the answers to these questions, we will inevitably better understand the brain, and perhaps understand how to build a resilient, general purpose AI. A non-psychotic one. I think we’ve all seen enough sci-fi to agree: that would be a good thing.

    Read more on neuroscience at The Spike


    AI Psychosis was originally published in The Spike on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    in The Spike on March 15, 2018 07:00 PM.

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    Ancient climate shifts may have sparked human ingenuity and networking

    Stone tools signal rise of social networking by 320,000 years ago in East Africa, researchers argue.

    in Science News on March 15, 2018 06:48 PM.

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    STEVE the aurora makes its debut in mauve

    A newly discovered type of aurora is a visible version of usually invisible charged particles drifting in the upper atmosphere.

    in Science News on March 15, 2018 05:15 PM.

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    Why one journal will no longer accept author-suggested reviewers

    In a recent editorial, the Journal of Neurochemistry declared it would no longer accept author-suggested reviewers. While other journals have done the same in order to prevent fake reviews, the Journal of Neurochemistry is basing its decision on a different logic. We spoke with editor Jörg Schulz about why he believes relying on reviewers picked by editors helps … Continue reading Why one journal will no longer accept author-suggested reviewers

    in Retraction watch on March 15, 2018 03:38 PM.

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    “The ‘1’ key was not pressed hard enough:” Did a typo kill a cancer paper?

    Errors in a 2017 paper about a new cancer test may have occurred because of a simple typo while performing calculations of the tool’s effectiveness. According to the last author, the “1” key was likely not pressed hard enough. The error, however small, affected key values “so greatly that the conclusions of the paper can … Continue reading “The ‘1’ key was not pressed hard enough:” Did a typo kill a cancer paper?

    in Retraction watch on March 15, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    Liverwort reproductive organ inspires pipette design

    A new pipette is inspired by a plant’s female reproductive structure.

    in Science News on March 15, 2018 11:00 AM.

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    BMC at the 2018 Global Health Trials Conference, Nigeria

    The 2018 Global Health Trials Conference attracted over 350 registered participants and over 25 national and international speakers and facilitators. This year’s theme was ‘Collaborations, Networks and Partnerships for Health Research Conduct in Nigeria’. Topics discussed cut across multiple global health issues ranging from infectious diseases, communicable and non-communicable diseases, to education in global health and scientific communication.

    The keynote speaker, Prof Akin Abayomi, emphasized the need to harness local resources to fund research that prioritizes the needs of countries in Africa. He highlighted how slave trade, colonialism, neocolonialism and corruption had robbed the continent of its potential for growth and development; and how efforts needed to be invested in preventing Africa being left behind in the era of knowledge and technology development.

    Themes that emerged from the two days meeting included motivation of participants to disrupt the current norm of practice to be able to make advances with global health research. This includes questioning the convention, making choices to do things differently and thinking without the box. Such approaches make it possible for researchers in low and middle income setting to maximize possible outcomes from the collaborations with Northern based researchers offer, improves the potential values of South-South Collaborations, and pushes the frontiers of medical and global health education.

    At the meeting, I shared with participants the publishing opportunities BMC Series offers to research scholars from low and middle income countries. These include efforts to promote interesting stories. For instance a study in BMC Public Health – “Socially isolated individuals are more prone to have newly diagnosed and prevalent type 2 diabetes mellitus – the Maastricht study.” published in December 2017 has already featured on 130 news outlets worldwide.

    I shared my experience with handling of manuscripts as a section editor with the BMC Oral Health. I took participants at the workshop through the BMC peer review process reiterating that BMC focuses on publishing good quality research and not just innovative research. I highlighted that accepted research manuscript must ask a scientifically valid research question which should fill a gap in the existing knowledge, and be informed by previous research or clinical observations. The research must also use suitable data collection and data analysis methods.

    Prof William Brown, Prof Emeritus, University of Colorado School of Medicine, USA, complemented my talk by educating participants on critical considerations when determining the title of the manuscript, writing the introduction, methods, results, discussion, conclusion and abstracts of a manuscript. His talk focused on helping non-native English writers avoid various pitfalls when writing a scientific paper.

    It was nice to find out that lots of participants at the meeting were familiar with BMC. The greatest concern they had was the high article processing fee for researchers in low income countries with little or no access to research grants. I highlighted that the BMC is sensitive to this need and provides researchers with fee paying options which includes complete fee waiver when there is a justification made for such waiver. Inability to pay article processing fees is not a deterrent for publication of good quality manuscript at BMC.

    The post BMC at the 2018 Global Health Trials Conference, Nigeria appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on March 15, 2018 10:00 AM.

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    What do the public make of the “implicit association test” and being told they are subconsciously racist?

    GettyImages-836798276.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

    Many millions of people around the world have taken the “implicit association test (IAT)” hosted by Harvard University. By measuring the speed of your keyboard responses to different word categories (using keys previously paired with a particular social group), it purports to show how much subconscious or “implicit” prejudice you have towards various groups, such as different ethnicities. You might think that you are a morally good, fair-minded person free from racism, but the chances are your IAT results will reveal that you apparently have racial prejudices that are outside of your awareness.

    What is it like to receive this news, and what do the public think of the IAT more generally? To find out, a team of researchers, led by Jeffery Yen at the University of Guelph, Ontario, analysed 793 reader comments to seven New York Times articles (op-eds and science stories) about the IAT published between 2008 and 2010. The findings appear in the British Journal of Social Psychology.

    Crudely speaking, the readers could be divided into sceptics and believers. Among the former were those who felt the idea of implicit bias was an academic abstraction in a world of “real racism”. “To me the question of whether [unconscious] racism exists is almost irrelevant when 1 in 15 black adults and 1 in 9 black men between 20 and 34 is in jail,” wrote Nick. “It’s a shame so much time is spent pulling apart such … tiny bits of data … There are many, many examples of actual bias … ,” wrote Jonathan.

    Others expressed scepticism about their personal test results, and they often pushed back, arguing that the scientists behind the IAT have a political agenda. “We laugh at the religious for blindly following dogma and dismissing ‘science’. There is as much dogma in this test methodology and the conclusions its backers draw from it,” wrote Luke. An alternative, skeptical reaction was sardonic humour: “I am a white male in his mid-30s, yet I’m good. Even subconsciously! Yes!” wrote vkm.

    The reaction among believers in the validity and power of the IAT was very different from the sceptics, leading many to embark on what the researchers called “morally inflected soul searching”. For example, an Asian American voiced concern about her (according to the IAT) anti-white prejudice: “Somewhat more troubling to me is not my results, but that I almost feel proud of them, when my sense of right and wrong tells me I shouldn’t be … much as I wouldn’t be of an anti-black one,” wrote Iris.

    Others “confessed” to their implicit prejudice while make a virtue of their willingness to own up to their “guilt”: “I’m happy to own my implicit biases and glad to be made conscious of them,” wrote Jennifer. “I am open-minded enough to be introspective and search my soul for bias of which I might have been unaware previously …,” wrote Bob.

    As well as advertising their own wokeness, many of the fans of the IAT also criticised the test’s detractors. “Interesting that a number of these posts are angry,” wrote Laura. “Is this the response of defensive people who don’t want to get close enough to the truth of something to acknowledge it may have merit?” Or take John’s comment: “We should each go home and look in the mirror and recognize the ultimate Bad Guy – who ultimately must become the Good Guy to be the solution.”

    Yet another kind of reaction among believers in the IAT was to see implicit prejudice as a unavoidable aspect of being human, thereby absolving the test-taker of responsibility. “I do not believe we can ever get rid of racism and sexism from within ourselves. No amount of education on the importance of tolerance and equality can trump our biological instincts,” wrote David.

    The context of this research is that the IAT has become perhaps the most famous and widely taken modern psychological test, even though serious concerns have been raised about its reliability (take the test today and again tomorrow and you will probably find your results have changed) and validity (an individual’s score on the IAT does not tell you much, if anything, about how he or she is likely to behave in the real world). Despite these problems, the test and the concept of implicit prejudice now form the basis of compulsory diversity programmes for many employees.

    Arguably there is an important ethical discussion to be had about the fact of millions of people receiving test feedback of questionable meaning and how this might affect them (the current version of the IAT test site features a disclaimer that attempts to off-set these concerns) . However anyone hoping for a hard-hitting ethical critique of the IAT will not find it in this paper. Yen and his colleagues write that they have deliberately side-stepped these issues. “Rather, our objective has been to draw out the social implications of the science in relation to the changing context of prejudice discourse.”

    They added: “Our analysis provided a first demonstration of how this research and technology have begun to function in lay understandings of prejudice and public discourse”. In this sense, their findings make a novel and useful contribution, even though it is not clear how much New York Times readers are representative of public reaction more generally. Inevitably for research of this kind there will also have been a large dose of subjectivity in how the researchers parsed the hundreds of online comments.

    Yen’s team end on an optimistic note: “Both the idea of implicit bias and the practice of measuring it can … impact on the way people think of themselves, others, and their prejudices. They provide tools for talking about prejudice, for moral-psychological work on the self, for explaining social ills, and for mobilizing others to act in the interests of change.”

    ‘I’m happy to own my implicit biases’: Public encounters with the implicit association test

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 15, 2018 08:30 AM.

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    Acknowledging identity, privilege, and oppression in music therapy

    As clinical music therapy professionals who are goal- and solution-oriented, how much time do we spend considering our client’s experience outside the therapy room? How might taking the time to learn about a client’s multifaceted identity affect the therapeutic relationship? Furthermore, how do our own personal identities, beliefs, and experiences affect our relationships with clients? In answering these questions, we begin to scratch the surface of making our practice more intersectional.

    Intersectionality is particularly important when considering the ways in which marginalized and oppressed identities are interlinked and how they create lived experiences that are different from those with privileged identities or “social statuses.”

    Theories of intersectionality emerged from U.S. Black feminist and women of color activist communities who saw themselves omitted from dominant movements for social justice, including feminism that foregrounded White women’s issues, as well as civil rights activism focused on Black men’s experiences. The original metaphor of traffic in an intersection, coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, sought to describe how Black women’s identities often make them the target of multiple, simultaneous forms of oppression (e.g., racism and sexism).

    But intersectionality goes far beyond merely describing how people embody multiple social identities—it helps us understand how people are differently situated in society because of those identities.

    So, what does intersectionality have to do with music therapy? 

    Essential documents in the field of music therapy highlight the importance of being a culturally responsive clinician. For example, the AMTA Professional Competencies indicates a music therapist must “demonstrate awareness of the influence of race, ethnicity, language, religion, marital status, sexual orientation, age, ability, socioeconomic status, or political affiliation on the therapeutic process.” Furthermore, music therapists must demonstrate knowledge of and skill in working with culturally diverse populations. Thus, whether intentionally acknowledged or not, dynamic systems of privilege and oppression play a role in the therapeutic process and client-therapist relationship.

    Because these facets of identity consist of interwoven relationships, consideration of intersectionality is crucial to meet professional standards of practice. By acknowledging the interconnected pieces of an individual’s identity, we move away from the danger of creating harmful stereotypes or neglecting components of an individual’s identity that play crucial roles in the way they move through the world.

    Furthermore, as a profession we must consider the message our field may be sending if the identities of underrepresented and marginalized individuals are not reflected in the music therapists that serve them.

    How can we commit to intersectionality?

    Sociocultural considerations have historically been supplemental concerns within clinical research and practice; however, they really belong at the core. For example, undergraduate music therapy programs have traditionally included one course on multicultural music with the goal of helping students move towards cultural competency. Conversely, a truly intersectional approach would acknowledge that cultural differences extend far beyond just music and should be woven throughout the curriculum. Additionally, intersectional training would be sensitive to who is producing and represented in the curriculum and would insist upon inclusion of research done by and about individuals with marginalized identities (i.e., scholarship produced by and for people of color, individuals with disabilities, LGBTQ+ people, etc.).

    Furthermore, the idea of becoming culturally responsive (rather than culturally competent,) would be viewed as a life-long process of continual self-reflection and critical engagement with cultures that differ from one’s own versus, not a skill to be mastered.

    Attending to intersectionality requires we start listening to and mainstreaming voices that have been ignored in theory and research. These unheard voices are scholars of feminist theory, disability studies, critical race theory, queer theory, and burgeoning fields like transgender studies.

    Incorporating principles of critical theories in music therapy opens possibilities for progressive models of practice, such as “queer music therapy.” Even further, applying such approaches should involve continuous evaluation and refining. As in our discussion of striving toward continuous self-reflection and critical engagement with intersectionality in training and practice, research must be held to the same standard.

    Engaging with intersectionality

    It is essential for music therapists to actively engage with intersectionality in research and practice, with the ultimate goal of improving outcomes for all our clients. The only way for intersectionality theory to create any real change is to learn how to apply what we learn and begin to think more critically about putting intersectional principles into action.

    This can often be the most intimidating piece of working to improve our practice because it requires a great deal of cultural responsiveness, self-reflexivity, humility, vulnerability, and a willingness to unequivocally advocate for underrepresented voices within our client base and profession.

    However, the field of music therapy is due for a transformation—and it is likely not alone. Thus, here are some steps we’ve identified that clinicians and researchers can take in an effort to work towards the goal of moving towards more intersectional practice:

    • Read and engage with the texts of critical theory scholars and activists;
    • Start or join in critical dialogues with colleagues about how we can make the profession more representative of and affirming for members of marginalized and underrepresented groups;
    • Carry out and propel culturally responsive research, including through collaborations with members of underrepresented groups in the field; and
    • Insist upon anti-oppressive practice for marginalized clients.

    Featured image credit: Photo by Daniel van Beek. Used with permission.

    The post Acknowledging identity, privilege, and oppression in music therapy appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on March 15, 2018 07:30 AM.

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    Dwarf planet Ceres may store underground brine that still gushes up today

    Waterlogged minerals and changing ice add to evidence that Ceres is geologically active.

    in Science News on March 14, 2018 10:38 PM.

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    Is Human Adult Neurogenesis Dead? And Does It Matter?

    Does the human brain continue creating new neurons throughout adult life? The idea that neurogenesis exists in the adult human hippocampus has generated a huge amount of excitement and stimulated much research. It's been proposed that disruptions to neurogenesis could help to explain stress, depression, and other disorders. But a new study, published in Nature, has just poured cold water on the whole idea. Researchers Shawn F. Sorrells and colleagues report that neurogenesis ends in humans so

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on March 14, 2018 08:14 PM.

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    New Horizons’ next target has been dubbed Ultima Thule

    NASA has named New Horizons spacecraft’s next target Ultima Thule after the public suggested tens of thousands of monikers for the Kuiper Belt object.

    in Science News on March 14, 2018 07:52 PM.

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    Hospital admissions show the opioid crisis affects kids, too

    Opioid-related hospitalizations for children are up, a sad statistic that shows the opioid epidemic doesn’t just affect adults.

    in Science News on March 14, 2018 05:30 PM.

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    Forget Pi Day. We should be celebrating Tau Day

    Pi Day may be fun, but it’s based on a flawed mathematical constant.

    in Science News on March 14, 2018 03:30 PM.

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    Cancer biologist retracts five papers

    A cancer researcher based at The Ohio State University has retracted five papers from one journal, citing concerns about figures. The notices for all five papers state the Journal of Biological Chemistry raised questions about some figures, and the authors were not able to supply raw data in all instances. Four of the notices say … Continue reading Cancer biologist retracts five papers

    in Retraction watch on March 14, 2018 03:05 PM.

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    Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking dies at 76

    Beyond his research contributions, Stephen Hawking popularized black holes and the deep questions of the cosmos.

    in Science News on March 14, 2018 02:06 PM.

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    Handling Variability in Model Transformations and Generators

    The talk will be on Völter et al's paper on "Handling Variability in Model Transformations and Generators". Marco will provide an introduction to the topic and explain how it relates to his research.

    Paper abstract:

    Software product line engineering aims to reduce development time, effort, cost, and complexity by taking advantage of the commonality within a portfolio of similar products. The effectiveness of a software product line approach directly depends on how well feature variability within the portfolio is implemented and managed throughout the development lifecycle, from early analysis through maintenance and evolution. Using DSLs and AO to implement product lines can yield significant advantages, since the variability can be implemented on a higher level of abstraction, in less detailed models. This paper illustrates how variability can be implemented in model-to-model transformations and code generators using aspect-oriented techniques. These techniques are important ingredients for the aspectoriented model-driven product line engineering approach presented in [13].

    Date: 28/02/2018
    Time: 16:00
    Location: LB252

    in UH Biocomputation group on March 14, 2018 01:28 PM.

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    For this scientist, her name was her destiny

    Dr. Hasibun Naher of Bangladesh builds mathematical models to predict tsunamis and earthquakes

    in Elsevier Connect on March 14, 2018 01:10 PM.

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    Stem cell researchers investigated for misconduct recommended for roles at Italy’s NIH

    Two stem cell scientists who left Harvard University in the aftermath of a messy misconduct investigation may have found new roles in Italy’s National Institute of Health. According to a document on the institute’s website, which we had translated, Piero Anversa and Annarosa Leri have been approved to start work at the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) … Continue reading Stem cell researchers investigated for misconduct recommended for roles at Italy’s NIH

    in Retraction watch on March 14, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    What role does branding play in the smoking experience?

    In a study recently published in BMC Public Health, Melanie Wakefield et al. from the Cancer Council Victoria employed a within-subjects design to test their hypothesis that the presence of a premium brand name would enhance perceived smoking experience and result in higher purchase intent, compared to when that same cigarette was presented with the brand name masked. The study was carried out in 2015, approximately 2.5 years after the introduction of plain packaging in Australia.

    Using a sample of 75 Australian smokers aged 18-39 years, the researchers asked participants to smoke (take four puffs of) two identical cigarettes (1) with the brand variant name (branded) and (2) without the brand variant name (masked), the order of which was randomized. Only premium brands/more expensive mainstream brands were chosen and participants were required to be familiar with one of the eligible brand variants in order to be selected for the study.

    “Masked” cigarettes were presented to participants on a plain white, ceramic dish whereas “Branded” cigarettes were presented to participants in their premium/upper-mainstream branded pack. All packs displayed the same “Smoking causes blindness” health warning in circulation at the time of the study.

    Participants perceived that the branded cigarette tasted better and was less stale than the masked cigarette. Furthermore, fewer participants reported that they would be likely to purchase the masked cigarette compared to the branded cigarette.  The authors also found that expected enjoyment of the brand variant and objective enjoyment of the cigarette (assessed through the masked condition) both significantly predicted perceived enjoyment of the cigarette when the brand variant name was known. However, objective cigarette quality did not predict perceived quality when the brand variant name was known.

    The results of the study indicate that, even in a plain packaging marketplace, branding can still influence smokers’ perceptions and that smokers may still associate particular brands with advertising even after the introduction of plain packaging. Countries which are considering the implementation of plain packaging should therefore also consider the effects of the remaining brand variant names.

    The researchers caution that the high proportion of participants who were not considering quitting in the next 6 months may have influenced the study results, as it is possible that smokers with no desire to quit have more favorable expectations of cigarette brands. Furthermore, participants were only asked to take four puffs of each cigarette within a single testing session. Future studies which allow smokers to experience the full cigarette, in their own time and in their regular environment, may clarify findings and strengthen conclusions.

    The post What role does branding play in the smoking experience? appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on March 14, 2018 09:00 AM.

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    Investigating the “STEM gender-equality paradox” – in fairer societies, fewer women enter science

    Screenshot 2018-03-14 08.41.46.pngThe percentage of women with STEM degrees is lower in more gender-equal countries, as measured by the WEF Gender Gap Index. Image from Stoet & Geary, 2018.

    By Alex Fradera

    The representation of women in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths) is increasing, albeit more slowly than many observers would like. But a focus on this issue has begun throwing up head-scratching anomalies, such as Finland, which has one of the larger gender gaps in STEM occupations, despite being one of the more gender equal societies, and boasting a higher science literacy rate in its girls than boys. Now a study in Psychological Science has used an international dataset of almost half a million participants that confirms what they call the “STEM gender-equality paradox”: more gender-equal societies have fewer women taking STEM degrees. And the research goes much further, exploring the causes that are driving these counterintuitive findings.

    Gijsbert Stoet at Leeds Beckett University and David Geary at the University of Missouri analysed several large and often publicly available datasets, like the gender inequality measures taken by the World Economic Forum (WEF; based on metrics like women’s earnings, life expectancy and seats in parliament) and UNESCO data on STEM degrees.

    The researchers found the percentage of women STEM graduates is higher for countries that have more gender inequality. For instance, countries like Tunisia, Albania and Turkey, which come out the poorest on the WEF gender equality measures, see women making up 35-40 per cent of STEM graduates, whereas in countries with more gender equality, like Switzerland and Norway, the figure is lower at around 20 per cent, similar to Finland.

    To better understand the STEM gender-equality paradox, Stoet and Geary accessed results from a 2015 OECD educational survey of the science literacy and attitudes to science of 15 to 16-year-old students from 67 countries. Objectively, neither boys or girls were more scientifically literate – girls were better in 19 countries, boys in 22, with no difference in the others.

    These survey results suggest it is not girls’ lack of scientific knowledge or negative attitudes toward science that holds them back. It’s possible, however, that girls might match or outperform boys in science lessons in some countries and still be making a rational choice to avoid STEM routes because they outperform boys even more in other areas (it’s well documented that girls outperform boys at school on many topics, on average).

    Using the OECD survey, Stoet and Geary calculated a personal ranking for each student of their relative ability across the three main areas of maths, science and reading. In all but two of the 67 nations, boys more than girls were personally stronger in science (80 per cent of boys were personally strongest in either maths or science; in contrast, half of girls were personally strongest in reading). Stoet and Geary found that boys tending to be personally stronger in science was most apparent in more gender-equal countries, the very countries where boys go on to pursue more STEM careers. This smooths some of the kinks in the STEM gender-equality paradox: in fairer societies, boys seem to be optimising their future by pursuing science-like activities, whereas girls have other options on the table.

    However, questions remain. For instance, why should a motivated and academically talented teenage girl forego a science route because her reading slightly outperforms her other literacies? After all, reading and writing skills are also beneficial to scientists, from paper writing to fundraising.

    Stoet and Geary tried to address this question by focusing on gender differences in motivation, in terms of interest, confidence and enjoyment. In 60 per cent of countries, boys showed more interest in science than girls (in various fields, from disease prevention to energy), and the gender-gap in scientific interest was greater in the most gender-equal countries; boys also expressed more confidence in their science abilities in 39 of 67 countries, especially the gender-equal ones. And even though girls reported enjoying scientific activities more than boys in two-thirds of the countries, boys’ enjoyment was higher in the more gender-equal countries.

    Why are boys most enthusiastic, interested, and personally strongest at science in more gender-equal societies? The authors suggest that in highly stable countries with strong welfare systems, people can pursue their calling and unlock their personal potential, building their future around their genuine interests and personal strengths. This echoes the finding popularised in online lectures by psychologist Jordan Peterson that sex-related personality differences are higher in gender-equal societies – when societies’ social pressures are less tyrannical, individual tendencies can be expressed more freely.  In more repressive cultures, by contrast, young people are liable to prioritise pragmatism – food on the table – over self-actualisation, and as STEM jobs tend to be stable and well-paid, that would encourage more female representation. Consistent with this, Stoet and Geary used a United Nations life satisfaction measure as a proxy for cultural stability and found that more women took STEM degrees in countries where life satisfaction is lower – which tended to be in the unequal societies.

    These findings suggest we need a nuanced approach to the sticky issue of gender and participation in science. Firstly, there is no question from this data that objectively, young women across the globe are just as capable to tackle scientific subjects as are young men. And even after taking into account the gender differences in science attitudes and personal strengths, the researchers calculated that, in a society where women’s rational preferences led directly to their level of STEM participation, we should see women take 34 per cent of STEM degrees, while the actual global average is 28 per cent – so other factors unaddressed in this study are clearly leading women away from science roles. So the study doesn’t suggest that we sit on our laurels and validate the status quo.

    It does suggest, however, that we misunderstand the current level of STEM gender imbalance if we attribute it entirely to social injustice. A substantial cause of the current STEM gender mix may be the product of young men and women making considered, rational choices to leverage their strengths and passions in different ways.

    The Gender-Equality Paradox in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education

    Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 14, 2018 08:53 AM.

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    Scientists Illuminate Mechanism at Play in Learning

    New research illuminates complex molecular network involved in learning.

    in OIST Japan - CNU - Eric De Schutter on March 14, 2018 01:22 AM.

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    Cosmic dust may create Mars’ wispy clouds

    Magnesium left by passing comets seeds the clouds of Mars, a new study suggests.

    in Science News on March 13, 2018 09:08 PM.

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    Hey Brain Matters, I am a Neuroscience undergrad at ASU who is starting a podcast with fellow undergrads to talk about everything psychology and neuroscience. We are trying to focus on topics that deal with heuristics and delivering neuroscience as thought provoking and accessible to all audiences. Dr. B B Braden referred me to your site and I have gotten addicted listening to your episodes. I would be grateful if you could share some advice on how to start our on podcast. Thanks so much, Milo.

    Hey Milo - Thanks for listening. I’d be happy to give you some advice on how we got started. Shoot me an email at anthony@brainpodcast.com and I can hopefully provide some help.


    in Brain matters the Podcast on March 13, 2018 06:03 PM.

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    Brain waves may focus attention and keep information flowing

    Not just by-products of busy nerve cells, brain waves may be key to how the brain operates.

    in Science News on March 13, 2018 05:00 PM.

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    Dino-bird had wings made for flapping, not just gliding

    Archaeopteryx fossils suggest the dino-birds were capable of flapping their wings in flight.

    in Science News on March 13, 2018 04:00 PM.

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    Altmetrics reveal insights into the impact of scientific knowledge

    Want a higher h-index? Maybe you should be spending more time on Twitter

    in Elsevier Connect on March 13, 2018 03:20 PM.

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    Journals retract 30 papers by engineer in South Korea

    An engineer in South Korea has lost 30 papers, at least seven of which for duplication and plagiarism. He has also been fired from his university position. Soon-Gi Shin, whose affiliation was listed as Kangwon National University in Gangwon, is the sole author on the majority of the papers, published in four journals between 2000 … Continue reading Journals retract 30 papers by engineer in South Korea

    in Retraction watch on March 13, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    The retraction process needs work. Is there a better way?

    Retractions take too long, carry too much of a stigma, and often provide too little information about what went wrong. Many people agree there’s a problem, but often can’t concur on how to address it. In one attempt, a group of experts — including our co-founder Ivan Oransky — convened at Stanford University in December … Continue reading The retraction process needs work. Is there a better way?

    in Retraction watch on March 13, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    The dramatic increase in the diagnosis of ADHD has not been accompanied by a rise in clinically significant symptoms

    GettyImages-687790406.jpgBy guest blogger Helge Hasselmann

    Across the globe, ADHD prevalence is estimated around 5 per cent. It’s a figure that’s been rising for decades. For example, Sweden saw ADHD diagnoses among 10-year olds increase more than sevenfold from 1990 to 2007. Similar spikes have been reported from other countries, too, including Taiwan and the US, suggesting this may be a universal phenomenon. In fact, looking at dispensed ADHD medication as a proxy measure of ADHD prevalence, studies from the UK show an even steeper increase.

    Does this mean that more people today really have ADHD than in the past? Not necessarily. For example, greater awareness by clinicians, teachers or parents could have simply captured more patients who had previously had been “under the radar”. Such a shift in awareness or diagnostic behaviour would inflate the rate of ADHD diagnoses without necessarily more people having clinical ADHD. However, if this is not the true or full explanation, then perhaps ADHD symptoms really have become more frequent or severe over the years. A new study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry from Sweden with almost 20,000 participants has now provided a preliminary answer.

    The researchers, led by Mina Rydell at Karolinska Institutet, examined data from participants in an ongoing study of all twins in Sweden that started in 2004 and aims to study their physical and mental health, with various measures taken the year that the children turn nine years of age.

    Specifically, the researchers analysed A-TAC (Autism-Tics, ADHD and other Comorbidities Inventory) scores from 19,271 children from 9,673 families recorded between 2004 and 2014. The A-TAC is a telephone-based interview in which parents are quizzed about their kids’ behaviour and mental health, including sub-scales focused on attention deficits and hyperactivity. The questions are about symptoms with no mention of diagnostic categories and the wording has stayed the same over the years. A typical question is “Does he/she have difficulties keeping his/her hands and feet still or can he/she not stay seated?”.

    The researchers used the A-TAC scores to classify the proportion of children in different years with diagnostic-level ADHD or subthreshold ADHD or no ADHD. Important to keep in mind here is that instruments like the A-TAC are restricted to assessing the severity of certain symptoms and cannot be used to diagnose children with ADHD (only clinicians and mental health experts can diagnose someone). For example, if a child fell in the diagnostic-level ADHD category, it would mean that the severity of his or her ADHD symptoms would likely result in a diagnosis by a specialist, but this couldn’t be known for sure. The authors calculated the changes in these categories, as well as in mean A-TAC scores, over time by comparing results from the parent interviews conducted in 1995-1998, 1992-2002 and 2003-2005.

    Across the 10-year study period, 2.1 per cent of all participants (n=406) showed diagnostic-level ADHD and 10.7 per cent (n=2,058) showed subthreshold level ADHD. Interestingly, there was no statistically significant increase in diagnostic-level ADHD prevalence over time, fluctuating around 2 per cent in most years. On the other hand, the prevalence of sub-threshold ADHD increased significantly from 2004 to 2014, when at 14.76 per cent it reached its peak. Mean ADHD scores and inattention/ hyperactivity-impulsivity sub-scale scores also showed a similar increase from 1994 to 2004.

    These symptom changes over time are probably not due to changes during the study in the status of the twin families who agreed to take part in the research and those who didn’t. The researchers accessed the National Patient Register and this showed that while participants in the twin study differed from non-participants in terms of having fewer ADHD diagnoses, this difference did not change over the years of the study, suggesting that it was unlikely to explain the results. Perhaps most important, the National Patient Register showed that prevalence of clinician-diagnosed ADHD had increased more than fivefold from 2004 to 2014, which is inconsistent with the fact that the twin study found diagnostic-level ADHD prevalence did not see a similar rise.

    So while the diagnosis rates of clinical ADHD increased during the period of the study, the findings from the twin study suggest that only milder forms of ADHD-related symptoms became more frequent across the population during the same years. This suggests that the number of people who have such severe ADHD symptoms that it merits a diagnosis has actually remained stable, and that other factors are more probably the driving force behind an increased ADHD prevalence. While speculative, these could be related to changes in awareness among parents, teachers or clinicians; societal or medical norms; or better access to healthcare.

    There are several caveats that need to be kept in mind when interpreting these findings. For example, as mentioned, A-TAC relies on parents’ reports, which might not be the most adequate source of information. In fact, a diagnosis of ADHD requires symptom impairments in at least two different contexts, such as at school or at home. Because only twins were enrolled in CATSS, it is also not clear whether these results also apply to only children. A similar argument could be made about the age of the participants.

    Keeping its limitations in mind, this study highlights an important point by providing an alternative explanation for rising ADHD diagnoses. This demonstrates the effects that shifts in societal, political or medical opinion can have on the “prevalence” of an illness. Considering that more diagnoses are likely to go hand in hand with more (potentially unnecessary) medication, this study provides food for thought to clinical and political decision-makers.

    Has the attention deficit hyperactivity disorder phenotype become more common in children between 2004 and 2014? Trends over 10 years from a Swedish general population sample

    Post written for BPS Research Digest by Helge Hasselmann. Helge studied psychology and clinical neurosciences. Since 2014, he is a PhD student in medical neurosciences at Charité University Hospital in Berlin, Germany, with a focus on understanding the role of the immune system in major depression.

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 13, 2018 09:09 AM.

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    Cells and Synapse

    OIST Computational Neuroscience Unit
    13 Mar 2018

    An electron micrograph image shows a parallel fiber-Purkinje cell. The presynaptic cell, a parallel fiber, is colored red while the postsynaptic cell, a Purkinje cell, is colored green.

    in OIST Japan - CNU - Eric De Schutter on March 13, 2018 08:03 AM.

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    Model of LTP and LTD

    OIST Computational Neuroscience Unit
    13 Mar 2018

    Learning is thought to be a balance between two processes that act as a kind of molecular dial: long-term potentiation (LTP), in which the connection between two neurons is strengthened, and long-term depression (LTD), in which the connection between two neurons is weakened. Such a large, comprehensive model allows scientists to examine how complex signaling systems work together.

    in OIST Japan - CNU - Eric De Schutter on March 13, 2018 08:02 AM.

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    Eric De Schutter and Andrew Gallimore

    13 Mar 2018

    Researchers Eric De Schutter and Andrew Gallimore have modelled the molecular basis of learning in the cerebellum.

    in OIST Japan - CNU - Eric De Schutter on March 13, 2018 08:00 AM.

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    The science of sleep: Part I

    This post is gonna be about a passion of mine. Something I can indulge in anytime, anywhere, for any amount of time. Something I would choose over diamonds and Michelin restaurants. I now realise the punchline of this joke would have been better if the title hasn’t already disclosed that it’s gonna be around sleeping. Oh well.

    Sleep, as mysterious as it is necessary, still puzzles scientists -- and they have been researching it for decades (and people have been sleeping for thousands of years). What exactly happens when we sleep? Why do we do it? Can we stop sleeping at all? What happens then? Got you curious enough? Then read on and find out how close we are to answering all of these questions.


    1. Some theoretical background: the what’s and when’s of snoozing

    Everyone has heard about REM sleep: either because of its connection to dreams or because of how important it is or just because you liked “Losing My Religion”. But there is more to sleep: it also contains three non-REM stages with different characteristics and functions (and differing probabilities you will be grumpy when woken up during this stage).

    Stage 1 sleep (Non-REM1) is the drowsy sleep phase when you drift between waking and sleeping. Your muscles are not fully inhibited yet and you can experience the “I’m falling”-sensation, a sudden muscle contraction which is called “myoclonic jerk” (some scientists have assumed it might stem from brains of our primate ancestors making us confuse muscle relaxation with falling from a tree1). Moreover, there is a change in your brain waves, synchronised electrical pulses resulting from tons of neurons communicating with each other (see Fig. 1 for a visualisation of all the possible brain waves). In a waking state your brain produces a lot of brain waves called beta and gamma. Both are rather jerky and high-frequency and are either connected to concentration (beta) or theorized to play a role in creating consciousness (gamma). In this first sleep stage instead of beta and gamma your brain starts showing slower and more synchronized alpha waves (associated with relaxation and peacefulness) and even more slower theta waves (associated with deep relaxation and daydreaming) -- keyword: slowing down. This stage lasts between 1 and 10 minutes. 2, 3

     Fig 1. A short intro into what brain waves happen in your head.

    Fig 1. A short intro into what brain waves happen in your head.

    Stage 2 sleep (Non-REM2): Here, your consciousness has drifted away. Heart rate and breathing slow down, temperature decreases, you prepare to enter the deep sleep and theta waves are still very prominent. This stage together with the previous one comprise what is known as “light sleep”. We spend most of our (around 45% of the night) snoozing time in this stage. Light sleep is the best phase to wake up in as you won’t feel groggy or disoriented but rather refreshed and ready to take on the day.2, 3

    Stages 3+4 sleep (Non-REM 3 & 4): This is when things get serious: the deep sleep stage. It is also called slow-wave-sleep because -- you guessed it -- the brain waves slow down and become larger. Now delta waves, the slowest one your brain can produce, rule the party. You are unresponsive to any outside sounds, hard to wake up and your muscles are completely relaxed. This sleep stage is called restorative as your tissue gets repaired, energy gets restored, your kidneys clean your blood, you get the picture.2, 3 Waking up during a deep sleep phase leads to this state (a scientifically proven fact, no citation needed).

    giphy (2).gif

    REM sleep + sleep paralysis: The arguably most intriguing feature of sleep -- dreams -- mostly happen during this stage, being vivid and elaborate. The defining feature is the random and rapid side-to-side eye movements. The purpose of these movements is not completely clarified yet (what in neuroscience is, after all?), but theories include scanning of the scenes we see in our dreams4, 5, 6 and memory formation 7, 8, 9 (we’re gonna talk more about the sleep functions later). Your blood pressure and breathing rate rise to almost the waking level and your brain waves resemble waking state too -- there are even high-concentration beta-waves present!2 Due to all this weird stuff REM sleep has earned the title of “Paradoxical Sleep”. A bit scary but worth knowing is that your muscles become completely paralyzed during this stage -- neurotransmitters called GABA and glycine prevent your muscles from receiving brain signals and protect you from acting out on your dreams and potentially hurting yourself10. So basically we’re just laying there completely paralysed while our eyes uncontrollably dart from side to side. Lovely. Scientists believe that when the transition from and to REM sleep doesn’t go smoothly it may lead to sleep paralysis -- a frightening state when you’re already aware but still can’t move your body 11 . In this limbo between wakefulness and vivid dreams people often report seeing scary stuff which can be mostly categorized as either an incubus (you experience chest pressure and problems breathing which you might perceive to be caused by a demonic entity sitting on your chest), an intruder (you sense an unwanted presence of some fearful creature) or an out-of-body experiences 12 . This might explain a lot of reports of seeing paranormal activity 13 or being abducted by aliens 14 (sorry, Agent Mulder!). Approximately 7,6% of the general population suffers from sleep paralysis, while the rate increases drastically for students, 28% of whom have reported experiencing it. 15
    During an average night, you would go through several complete sleep cycles (one cycle lasting ca. 90 minutes) with REM stages getting longer towards morning.

     A short overview of what is going on during the night. As you can see, slow wave sleep dominates the beginning of the night while REM sleep becomes more prominent in the second half of the sleeping period.

    A short overview of what is going on during the night. As you can see, slow wave sleep dominates the beginning of the night while REM sleep becomes more prominent in the second half of the sleeping period.

    2. How does your brain fall asleep?

    It is impossible to pinpoint the exact moment of falling asleep. One moment you are still going through all the dumb stuff you did five years ago and another moment you’re already drifting away towards the second sleep stage. So what happens in your brain when you fall asleep?

    There is a tiny thing deep in your brain called suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which is the mastermind behind our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Directly from your eyes it receives information about how much light exposure you’re getting. It uses this information to reset your internal clock to correspond to the normal day-night cycle. In turn, the internal clock accordingly regulates multiple bodily functions, such as temperature, hormone release and, interestingly for us, sleep and wakefulness 16 . Interestingly, even in a complete absence of light, our internal clock still functions in a roughly 24-hour rhythmus. 17, 18 It has been found that it is due to a cyclical activity of certain genes (fittingly called “clock genes”) 19 . These genes produce different levels of various "clock proteins" depending on the time of the day -- and these proteins then regulate your daily rhytmus (such as what your body tempreture is, how much melatonin is secreted, how alert you are etc etc).
    SCN is intricately connected to the -- prepare for another long name -- ventrolateral preoptic nucleus (VLPO) 20 -- a structure which is active during sleep 21 . These connections are thought to activate VLPO and thus to promote the onset of sleep -- ‘cause when VLPO neurons are activated, they release inhibitory chemicals (called GABA and galanin) which, in turn, suppress our arousal system. So through a long chain of command a switch is turned and your arousal slowly goes to zero. VLPO neurons can also be activated by a chemical called adenosine. Adenosine builds up during the day after glycogen, the body’s principal store of energy, breaks down, and after enough of it has accumulated it starts to promote tiredness and nudge you towards a more restful state. 22, 23 This is called a homeostatic regulation as the brain strives to balance out the tiredness that builds up with some rest.

     A short overview of the chain of command. From https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/703161_2

    A short overview of the chain of command. From https://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/703161_2

    Another sleep related chemical is the one you will see as a supplement in a supermarket: melatonin. It is produced by the pineal gland and its production, as so many other things, is regulated by our circadian clock. When the sun goes down, SCN commands the pineal gland to start producing melatonin (whose levels are barely detectable during the day) which is then released into your bloodstream and induces sleep. Recently, scientists have been warning us against using smartphones, TVs and other kinds of light-emitting devices before bad as it is supposed to mess with our melatonin levels. The light from our electronic devices has a much higher concentration of blue light than the natural light does, and this treacherous blue light suppresses the melatonin production more than any other wavelength 24, 25 . This throws off the sleep-wake cycle and can lead to a poorer quantity and quality of sleep as the brain is confused about what time of the day it is right now. So do yourself a favor and read a book before sleep instead. Or do some mindfulness meditation. Or have sex. Anything without a blue light.

     Suppressed melatonin production due to the bright light exposure vs. high melatonin production when wearing goggles blocking out blue light (and obviously high melatonin production when only being subjected to the dim light).  From https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/90/5/2755/2836826

    Suppressed melatonin production due to the bright light exposure vs. high melatonin production when wearing goggles blocking out blue light (and obviously high melatonin production when only being subjected to the dim light).  From https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/90/5/2755/2836826

    3. Why do we sleep? Why is sleep important?

    This is a really good question. And unfortunately there is no definite answer. As William Dement, the founder of Stanford Sleep Research Center said, "As far as I know, the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy." So… Let’s see what we already know (besides this grain of wisdom).


    The romance between sleep and memory consolidation (that is, its stabilization) has long been suspected and numerous studies in the last decades, if not even centuries, have solidified it (but none have set the record completely straight). There is a distinction between two memory types: declarative (fact-based information, “what”-memories) and procedural (“how”-memories, like a muscle memory of how to drive a bike or play a new song on a guitar). It would be very convenient to have a clear distinction like “slow wave sleep is responsible for this and REM is responsible for that”, but unfortunately the reality is a less clear-cut mess.

    Generally, sleep helps memory: people who sleep after learning something tend to remember this newly learnt stuff better than their counterparts who stayed awake after the learning session. 26 Learning word lists 27, 28 , complex finger moving skills 29, 30 or even gaining insight into complex hidden rules 31 : all that benefited from a sleeping session following the learning.

    Slow wave sleep (SWS), dominating the first part of the night, was theorized to help specifically with the consolidation of declarative memories 32, 33, 34 . The process behind the stabilisation of newly acquired memories is believed to be their reactivation in hippocampus, our memory center, during sleep. By “replaying” the memories their traces would become more stable and less likely to perish away 35, 36 . One study found that if you learned something while smelling rose odour and then were exposed to the same smell during your SWS sleep, then your hippocampal activity increased and your memories next day were stronger 37 . So,

    1. Stronger hippocampal reactivation during SWS.
    2. Better memories.
    3. ???
    4. Profit!

    REM sleep, on the other hand, was associated with procedural memory whose consolidation does not depend on hippocampus (but rather on rehearsing the movement commands in parts of the brain concerned with muscle control, such as cerebellum, basal ganglia and motor cortex). 38, 39, 40 Not that much is known about the exact consolidation mechanisms of this kind of memory so we’re gonna keep this paragraph short. However, there are studies speaking against such a clear cut distinction (or if you wanna be scientific, against “dual-process hypothesis”). For instance, it was shown that SWS sleep can also help to consolidate memories for movements (=procedural) 41, 42 , whereas REM sleep had some part in stabilizing memories about events and facts 43, 44 . A not so clear separation of responsibilities after all, it seems. This rather indicates that both stages are important for both types of memory (this theory is called “sequential hypothesis”, again, if you wanna be scientific): they complement each other rather than compete. It just so happens that one stage (SWS) might contribute more to one type of memory (declarative) and vice versa.

    But of course this is not the end of the story. There is -- surprise -- another theory trying to describe how memories are consolidated (oh boy, was it fun to learn for the exam on memory). It is called “synaptic homeostasis” and it basically says that when you’re awake and you acquire all the new memories and experiences, the connections between your brain cells (=synapses) get stronger (and even new ones are created) and that when you sleep the brain tries to downscale all this huge daytime increase to a reasonable level by removing the unnecessary synapses. 45 So you could almost say you sleep to forget….in order to lift signal over noise and to start a new day refreshed and ready to learn again. Unnecessary connections and random memories get removed, while the important ones get stronger by being replayed. A recent study has provided a direct visual proof for this hypothesis: using extremely high-resolution microscopy the researchers first identified size and shape of 6920 synapses and then have shown that after a few hours of sleep 80% of the synapses shrank by ca. 18%. 46

        Large synapses in an awake mouse vs. shrunken synapses of a mouse who indulged in some sleep (Image Credit: med.wisc.edu)

       Large synapses in an awake mouse vs. shrunken synapses of a mouse who indulged in some sleep (Image Credit: med.wisc.edu)

    Of course there is no one correct answer -- the truth is somewhere in the middle, all these theories explaining some part of what is really going on. But now you know that you should think twice before pulling an all-nighter before an exam -- stressing out with Red Bull won’t make you remember stuff better, but some hours of restful ZZZ’s just might.


    Another theoreticized function of sleep is doing a little housekeeping. While you are sleeping the brain puts on the janitor robe and takes off to clear out all the junk that has accumulated there during all your daytime thinking. In a series of mice studies, researchers have discovered a system that drains waste products from the brain during sleep. 47 A brain equivalent of lymphatic system, a network of tiny channels flushing out waste by-products with cerebrospinal fluid, is responsible for that. Scientists called it a “glymphatic system” because, well, it functions like a lymphatic system but with the help of supportive brain cells: glial cells. See what they did there? When mice were asleep, the system went into overdrive (the awake flow was just 5% of the sleep flow!) and the brain cells even shrank in size to make the spaces around them easier to clean. The by-products that get flushed out include beta-amyloid protein, the criminal mind behind Alzheimer’s disease (it gets cleared out twice as fast during sleep as compared to wakefulness!), and other things associated with neurodegenerative disorders. So if you wanna to pull an all-nighter think about all these toxins that accumulate in your brain and hit the hay for a couple of hours instead.

    So while it is still not completely clear why we spend a third of our lives sleeping we seem to have pretty good pointers.

    Stay tuned for part II which will include fascinating infos on dreams, what can go wrong with our sleep and some advice on optimal sleeping practice!

    in Over the brainbow on March 12, 2018 06:55 PM.

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    We probably won’t hear from aliens. But by the time we do, they’ll be dead.

    Astronomers build on the Drake Equation to probe the chance that humans will find existing aliens. The answer: Not likely.

    in Science News on March 12, 2018 04:00 PM.

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    Misconduct investigation reports are uneven at best. Here’s how to make them better.

    Retraction Watch readers may have noticed that over the past year or so, we have been making an effort to obtain and publish reports about institutional investigations into misconduct. That’s led to posts such as one about a case at the University of Colorado, Denver, one about the case of Frank Sauer, formerly of the … Continue reading Misconduct investigation reports are uneven at best. Here’s how to make them better.

    in Retraction watch on March 12, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Ethics, authorship concerns sink homeopathy paper by researchers arrested last year

    For a host of reasons, a journal has retracted a paper co-authored by a researcher who reportedly once faced charges of practicing medicine without proper qualifications. According to the retraction notice for “Psorinum Therapy in Treating Stomach, Gall Bladder, Pancreatic, and Liver Cancers: A Prospective Clinical Study,” published Dec. 8, 2010 in Evidence-Based Complementary and … Continue reading Ethics, authorship concerns sink homeopathy paper by researchers arrested last year

    in Retraction watch on March 12, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    How biology breaks the ‘cerebral mystique’

    The Biological Mind rejects the idea of the brain as the lone organ that makes us who we are. Our body and environment also factor in, Alan Jasanoff says.

    in Science News on March 12, 2018 11:00 AM.

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    What does this part of brain do?

    Sarah Genon writes about how a change in perspective, and large data-banks, could help us to understand the brain’s functions.

    As you start reading these few lines you are engaging in a wide range of mental tasks, from reading the title sentence, to evaluating the option of further reading, maybe you visually screen the page to get an idea of its length and attractiveness before taking the decision to continue. Or perhaps you are thinking it is time for another coffee.

    Just by wondering to yourself “what actually am I supposed to do today?” or “do I actually have time to read this article?“, your mind and brain create a cascade of thoughts and mental functions.

    As neuroscientists, we wonder how this rich repertoire of mental functions is organized at the brain level. This remains a largely open question, and the main reason is actually that this is not the right question to ask.

    Our recently published article in the Journal TICS (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tics.2018.01.010) described how different behavioural functions have been assigned to brain regions. In line with previous authors (Poldrack, 2011), we discuss why a shift in the viewpoint is needed and propose some concrete research perspectives to support this view. Here I summarise this discussion.

    Generally, asking the question “what does this part of the brain do?” raises in our mind ideas of functions that have been formulated from the study of behaviour. Humans have always tried to understand their own mind. We have pursued this aim through different behavioural sciences , mainly under the umbrella of psychology but also in related disciplines, such as philosophy, sociology, psychiatry, neurology and behavioural economics. In all these fields, researchers or clinicians have developed theories and models explaining behavioural processes, functions, and their interactions.

    This investigation of the human mind across centuries by so many different disciplines has resulted in several concepts about the mind, such as “phonological lexicon”, “recollection” or “theory of mind”. These concepts, their related models and theories have significantly advanced our understanding of the human mind and behaviour, and more importantly, they have contributed to our understanding and treatment of dysfunctions. As any aspects of behaviour originate from one unique substrate, the brain, the question naturally arises “how do all these concepts relate to the brain?”

    After a century of neuroanatomy of the human brain, it is well acknowledged that it is spatially organized into regions and networks. We could therefore intuitively expect that all the concepts from behavioural sciences could be assigned to specific brain regions and networks. Accordingly, several approaches have been used across the last decades to relate these concepts to the brain. To understand the outcomes of this multidisciplinary endeavour, one could begin by looking in the scientific literature for what researchers have written about the hippocampus. Many different concepts can be found, such as autobiographical memory (1), explicit memory (2), contextual memory (3), associative memory (4), incremental learning (5), recollection (6), encoding (7), retention (8), consolidation (9), novelty detection (10), spatial navigation (11), scene imagination (12), creative thinking, flexible cognition (13)… This looks like a conceptual chaos.

    However, it is certainly true that the hippocampus plays a role in autobiographical memory, scene imagination and spatial navigation. The point is that, all those concepts from the study of behaviour can be related to the hippocampus, but this is not what the hippocampus does… Let’s look at this question from the brain perspective. The brain, its many regions and networks do not “name object”, “feel empathy” or “imagine a scene”. This is what humans do, but this is not what the brain does.

    The current state of affairs in the study of brain structure-function relationships could be better understood by a simple metaphor. If several communities of researchers were studying the many final output functions that are performed by computers (such as a reminder for you to send an e-mail to your colleague for his birthday) while other communities of researchers were partitioning the hardware of the computers, then what would happen when those two groups of scientific communities tried to map their respective models and components to evidence produced by the other group? Obviously, a key would be missing to bridge the observed output to the hardware architecture: the list of basic functions underlying the many tasks that the computer can perform.

    But how can we disclose this list of basics functions? That is, how can we find out the true functions of brain areas and networks? There is no straightforward approach for solving this issue. One approach to progress in this issue would be first to collect the extended pattern of behavioural functions to which each region and network is associated, in order to progressively develop new hypotheses “from the brain point of view”.

    Across the last decades, tremendous efforts have been made to collect the results of neuroimaging activation studies in databases in such a way that it is now possible to identify, for any part of the brain, the hundreds of neuroimaging studies manipulating mental tasks that have reported activations in a given part of the brain. For example, if we look at the hippocampus, we can find that it has been activated during memory retrieval, spatial navigation, but also in relations to emotions and perceptual tasks.

    Brain scans and psychometrics data (such as personality traits, cognitive skills and behavioural habits) have also been acquired in big population samples across Europe and the US and are another resource to solve our current issue. From these big datasets of the population, it is possible to identify significant relationships between parts of the brain and psychometric data. That is, we can examine correlation between grey matter volume of a brain region and a range of behavioural measures tapping into everyday functioning, such as cognitive flexibility, anxiety or spatial memory.

    We could then combine the behavioural profile of any brain region revealed by the two types of scientific approaches (one based on aggregation of activation data and the other one based on big datasets of cerebral and behavioural measures). From this hybrid profiling of brain regions and networks, we could start developing new hypothesis on the basic operation that any part of the brain computes.

    Then, to disclose any of the “hidden” functions computed in the brain, we have to rely on the unequal ability of our brain to derive meaning from specific patterns. Rather than having each scientist looking at association between one concept and the brain, we would have many scientists seeing the same whole picture of many concepts associated to a specific brain region. We can hope that many scientist brains looking from the same (brain) view at a colourful pattern of associations at the behavioural level could come up with new hypotheses. Of course, the scientific path is still long and winding, until we clearly understand the function of any brain region, but harnessing data aggregation for “community-based discovery sciences” can be the first step.

    Sarah Genon is a researcher at the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Brain & Behaviour (INM-7) in the Research Centre Jülich (Germany). She is engaged in the HBP Subproject 2: Human Brain Organisation.


    1 Bonnici, H. M., Chadwick, M. J. & Maguire, E. A. Representations of recent and remote autobiographical memories in hippocampal subfields. Hippocampus 23, 849–854, doi:10.1002/hipo.22155 (2013).

    2 Eichenbaum, H. Hippocampus: Cognitive processes and neural representations that underlie declarative memory. Neuron 44, 109–120 (2004).

    3 Maren, S. & Holt, W. The hippocampus and contextual memory retrieval in Pavlovian conditioning. Behav Brain Res 110, 97–108 (2000).

    4 Stella, F. & Treves, A. Associative memory storage and retrieval: involvement of theta oscillations in hippocampal information processing. Neural plasticity 2011, 683961, doi:10.1155/2011/683961 (2011).

    5 Meeter, M., Myers, C. E. & Gluck, M. A. Integrating incremental learning and episodic memory models of the hippocampal region. Psychological review 112, 560–585, doi:10.1037/0033–295x.112.3.560 (2005).

    6 Montaldi, D. & Mayes, A. R. The role of recollection and familiarity in the functional differentiation of the medial temporal lobes. Hippocampus 20, 1291–1314, doi:10.1002/hipo.20853 (2010).

    7 Rebola, N., Carta, M. & Mulle, C. Operation and plasticity of hippocampal CA3 circuits: implications for memory encoding. Nature reviews. Neuroscience 18, 208–220, doi:10.1038/nrn.2017.10 (2017).

    8 Moscovitch, M., Nadel, L., Winocur, G., Gilboa, A. & Rosenbaum, R. S. The cognitive neuroscience of remote episodic, semantic and spatial memory. Current opinion in neurobiology 16, 179–190, doi:10.1016/j.conb.2006.03.013 (2006).

    Poldrack, R.A. (2011) Inferring mental states from neuroimaging data: from reverse inference to large-scale decoding. Neuron 72 (5), 692–697.

    9 Kitamura, T. et al. Engrams and circuits crucial for systems consolidation of a memory. Science 356, 73–78, doi:10.1126/science.aam6808 (2017).

    10 Kumaran, D. & Maguire, E. A. Which computational mechanisms operate in the hippocampus during novelty detection? Hippocampus 17, 735–748, doi:10.1002/hipo.20326 (2007).

    11 Chersi, F. & Burgess, N. The Cognitive Architecture of Spatial Navigation: Hippocampal and Striatal Contributions. Neuron 88, 64–77, doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2015.09.021 (2015).

    12 Hassabis, D., Kumaran, D., Vann, S. D. & Maguire, E. A. Patients with hippocampal amnesia cannot imagine new experiences. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104, 1726–1731 (2007).

    13 Duff, M. C., Kurczek, J., Rubin, R., Cohen, N. J. & Tranel, D. Hippocampal amnesia disrupts creative thinking. Hippocampus 23, 1143–1149, doi:10.1002/hipo.22208 (2013).

    What does this part of brain do? was originally published in Brain Byte Blog on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    in Brain Byte - The HBP blog on March 12, 2018 10:02 AM.

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    Children with higher working memory are more inclined to finger count (and less able kids should be encouraged to do the same)

    GettyImages-833912150.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

    Finger counting by young kids has traditionally been frowned upon because it’s seen as babyish and a deterrent to using mental calculations. However, a new Swiss study in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology has found that six-year-olds who finger counted performed better at simple addition, especially if they used an efficient finger counting strategy. What’s more, it was the children with higher working memory ability – who you would expect to have less need for using their fingers – who were more inclined to finger count, and to do so in an efficient way. “Our study advocates for the promotion of finger use in arithmetic tasks during the first years of schooling,” said the researchers Justine Dupont-Boime and Catherine Thevenot at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne.

    The 84 child volunteers were recruited from six different Swiss schools where the policy is not to teach finger counting explicitly, but not to discourage it either (except for very simple additions where the sum is less than 10).

    The researchers tested the children’s working memory using the backward digit span task, which involves hearing a string of numbers and repeating them back in reverse order. Children with higher working memory can accurately repeat back longer strings.

    The researchers also videoed the children discreetly while they performed, one child at a time, simple single-digit additions, some a bit trickier than others because they involved sums larger than 10 (some kids did the addition task before the memory tests, others afterwards). The researchers later coded the videos to see which kids counted on their fingers during the addition task, and which strategy they used.

    Fifty-two of the children finger counted, and there was a significant correlation between finger counting and better performance (for the easier and harder sums), and also between finger counting and higher working memory ability. The researchers think kids with poorer working memory struggle to discover finger counting for themselves, even though it would be advantageous if they used the right strategy.

    A problem for those kids with lower working memory ability who did finger count is that they tended to use a more laborious strategy that involves counting out both addends (i.e. numbers to be added) on their fingers, whereas the children with higher working memory ability favoured an efficient strategy that only involved using the fingers to count on from the first addend – for example, for 8+3, the child would only use three fingers to count on from eight. When the kids with lower working memory used the laborious finger strategy, they actually performed worse than if they used no fingers, especially for the harder sums. However, if they used the superior strategy, they did better at addition than those who didn’t use their fingers.

    “Explicitly teaching lower achievers to use the [more efficient finger counting] strategy could be very beneficial for them,” the researchers said, adding that “… repeatedly using fingers to solve arithmetic problems should allow children to progressively abandon this strategy for more mental procedures and, thus, allow children to become more and more performant through practice.”

    The new findings build upon a previous study that tested five-year-olds’ addition skills repeatedly over a three-year period and which found that finger counting correlated with superior performance up to, but not beyond, age 8.

    High working memory capacity favours the use of finger counting in six-year-old children

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 12, 2018 09:25 AM.

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    Depression among new mothers is finally getting some attention

    Scientists search new mothers’ minds for clues to postpartum depression.

    in Science News on March 11, 2018 09:00 AM.

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    Weekend reads: A new plagiarism euphemism; how Photoshop abuse destroys science; bias against women authors

    The week at Retraction Watch featured a look at what happens to authors when a journal is delisted, a reminder of how hard it is to figure out whether a paper has been retracted, and a survey on how common plagiarism is in economics. Here’s what was happening elsewhere: That wasn’t plagiarism, it was “unprofessional … Continue reading Weekend reads: A new plagiarism euphemism; how Photoshop abuse destroys science; bias against women authors

    in Retraction watch on March 10, 2018 03:51 PM.

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    Superconductors may shed light on the black hole information paradox

    Materials that conduct electricity without resistance might mimic black hole physics.

    in Science News on March 09, 2018 09:12 PM.

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    What we do and don’t know about how to prevent gun violence

    Background checks work to prevent gun violence; concealed carry and stand-your-ground laws don’t. But lack of data makes it hard to make other links.

    in Science News on March 09, 2018 08:52 PM.

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    What Does Any Part of the Brain Do?

    How can we know the function of a region of the brain? Have we been approaching the problem in the wrong way? An interesting new paper from German neuroscientists Sarah Genon and colleagues explores these questions. According to Genon et al., neuroscientists have generally approached the brain from the standpoint of behavior. We ask: what is the neural basis of this behavioral or psychological function? Traditionally, assigning functions to brain regions has mainly been based on conc

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on March 09, 2018 08:43 PM.

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    Museum mummies sport world’s oldest tattoo drawings

    A wild bull and symbolic designs were imprinted on the bodies of two Egyptians at least 5,000 years ago.

    in Science News on March 09, 2018 05:23 PM.

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    Child took wrong compound for over a year after “communication error”

    A journal is retracting a paper after it discovered researchers gave a child the wrong supplement for more than a year. Rhiannon Bugno, managing editor for Biological Psychiatry, told Retraction Watch the mix-up did not put the patient at risk. However, the mistake was enough for the journal’s editor, John Krystal, of Yale University, to … Continue reading Child took wrong compound for over a year after “communication error”

    in Retraction watch on March 09, 2018 04:00 PM.

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    Discussing what matters when facts are not enough

    Editor in Chief Nancy Shute reflects on finding common ground with science and policy.

    in Science News on March 09, 2018 03:20 PM.

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    Readers muse about memory, magnetic monopoles and more

    Readers had questions about the physical trace of memory, magnetic monopoles, blowflies and more.

    in Science News on March 09, 2018 03:20 PM.

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    Caught Our Notice: Bioethics article retracted for…ethics violation

    Title: Bioethics and Medical Education What Caught Our Attention: As we’ve said before, you can’t make this stuff up: An article on bioethics had its own ethical issues to deal with. It turns out, the authors had “substantial unreferenced overlap” with another article, that “overlap” including the article’s title. Here’s a side by side comparison … Continue reading Caught Our Notice: Bioethics article retracted for…ethics violation

    in Retraction watch on March 09, 2018 01:00 PM.

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    Psychologists have explored why we sometimes like listening to the same song on repeat

    GettyImages-667678356.jpgBittersweet songs were listened to more often than happy or relaxing songs, and provoked a deeper connection

    By Alex Fradera

    It’s that song. Again. The one they play over, and over, and over. It might be your roommate, child, or colleague. The year I shared a flat with my brother, it was Worst Comes To Worst thrice daily. What are the properties of the songs that drive some people to repeatedly listen to them over and over? A new article in Psychology of Music explores the tunes that just won’t quit.

    In the Autumn of 2013, the research team led by Frederick Conrad of the University of Michigan asked 204 men and women, mostly in their 30s or younger, what song they were “listening to most often these days”. Participants mentioned mostly pop and rock songs, but also rap, country, jazz and reggae, with only 11 songs picked by more than one listener (the most frequently mentioned were Get Lucky, Royals, and Blurred Lines, all of which were hits in the year of the survey).

    Eighty-six per cent of participants listened to their song at least once a week, and almost half did so daily. Sixty per cent said that they liked to re-listen to this song immediately, with many enjoying a third or even fourth go. Participants reported having high levels of connection with their named song, with higher connection associated with a tendency to close their eyes during listening to devote the fullest attention to it.

    Prompted to describe their chosen song’s effect in their own words, the participants’ descriptions suggested the songs fell into three categories. Over two-thirds were happy, energetic songs – “Pumped up! Excited! Ready to dance, sing, and love!”. For these songs, beat and rhythm were important, and almost half of people who were stuck on a happy song also reported tapping their feet, clapping their hands or drumming on the furniture during listens. This is definitely the vibe that was driving my brother’s daily house party!

    The other categories were calm and relaxed (“It makes me feel at ease, calm, and helps me to put things into perspective”) and bittersweet (“It makes me feel sad. But not the bad kind of sad, and I like singing with it”). Bittersweet songs were the most likely to produce deep connections, and were also associated with a greater ability to build a “mental model” of the song, as measured by how much of the song participants felt they could replay in their head. (This ability increased with frequency of all song listens, but more so for bittersweet ones.) Bittersweet songs were listened to many more times than the other song types – on average 790 times, vs. 515 for calm songs and 175 for happy songs.

    Repeated listening to songs is a bit of a riddle, given previous research that tends to bear out the classic Wundt curve, which states that a pleasurable stimulus becomes more pleasurable with familiarity until reaching a ceiling and dropping off, as happens with songs on heavy radio rotation. But our listeners weren’t being assailed with the songs against their will (only six per cent of the songs were even on the radio during that time), they were deliberately seeking out and returning to them. For some idiosyncratic reason, a particular song speaks to this particular person, and that connection provides an incentive to listen deeply to the song, which can unlock further nuance in lyrical meaning or musical richness. And the emotional payoff is reliable, much as is a mood-regulating drug, and that reliable payoff can be more important than the hit of something novel.

    Why not review your top listens on Spotify, iTunes or Winamp – this is mine – and have a think about what they are giving you: a dose of energy to tackle the day, a tonic of restoring calm, or a companion to join you in walking through contradictory, complex feelings.

    Extreme re-listening: Songs people love . . . and continue to love

    Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 09, 2018 09:08 AM.

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    Pet ownership as a social determinant of health

    In a study published today in BMC Public Health, Megan Kiely Mueller (Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine) and colleagues used data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS), an ongoing biennial longitudinal cohort study of approximately 20,000 Americans aged 50 and older, to examine the relationship between multiple health outcomes and pet ownership. Their sample included 1,657 of the participants of the HRS. To assess the characteristics of pet ownership, participants were asked to report whether they currently owned a pet, types of pets (dog, cat, small mammal, bird, fish, reptile, or other), number of each type of pet, and number of years they have had pets.

    Participants were also asked about their attachment to pets using the Pet Attachment Questionnaire which included the following items:

    “Do you consider your pet a friend?”, “Do you talk to your pet?”, “Would you say that owning a pet adds to your happiness?”, “Do you talk to others about your pet?”, “Do you often play with your pet?” and “Does your pet know how you feel about things?”

    Overall health was also measured, using a five point self-report rating from 1 = Excellent and 5 = Poor. In addition, participants were asked if they had ever experienced depression (yes/no) and if they had experienced depression within the last week (yes/no). Finally, frequency of mild, moderate, and vigorous physical activity was also measured.

    Dogs and cats were the most frequently reported pets owned and pet owners were more likely to own their own homes compared to non-pet owners in the sample studied. The authors also found that pet ownership was more common in older adulthood. Furthermore, over 80% of all pet owners reported that they considered their pet a friend, talked to their pet regularly, felt their pet added to their happiness, talked to others about their pet and played with their pet.


    Although more than 60% of dog owners regularly walked their dogs, which may be indicative of maintaining a physically active, healthy lifestyle, there was no significant difference between pet owners and non-owners on overall health status. However, pet ownership was a significant predictor of the likelihood of ever having experienced depression. This could indicate a relationship between pet ownership and depression, but, due to the cross-sectional nature of the study, it is impossible to determine the directionality of that relationship.

    So the question arises: Do people become depressed because they have opted to include pets in their lives or do people who are depressed opt to acquire a pet as a way of treating their depression?

    It should be noted that the study found that current depression (in the last week) was not associated with pet ownership status, suggesting that the companionship of the pet may alleviate depressive symptoms or that the loss of a previous pet and subsequent loss of companionship may exacerbate depressive symptoms.

    The authors conclude their study by pointing out that, although pet ownership may increase the potential for social interaction and support, more research is needed to explore potential health benefits and challenges unique to older adults. Furthermore, intervention and longitudinal studies that identify strategies for optimizing mutually-beneficial human-animal relationships across the life-course are also required to fully understand the implications of pet ownership on health.

    The post Pet ownership as a social determinant of health appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on March 09, 2018 09:00 AM.

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    The debate over how long our brains keep making new nerve cells heats up

    Adult humans don’t have newborn nerve cells in a memory-related part of the brain, a controversial paper suggests.

    in Science News on March 08, 2018 10:14 PM.

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    Give double-layer graphene a twist and it superconducts

    When graphene layers are twisted to a “magic angle,” the material superconducts.

    in Science News on March 08, 2018 09:10 PM.

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    Newer drugs make hepatitis C-positive kidneys safe for transplant

    People without hepatitis C did not contract the disease after receiving successful transplants of infected kidneys along with newer antiviral drugs.

    in Science News on March 08, 2018 08:30 PM.

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    Oops: Elsevier journal retracts the wrong paper

    When Saidur Rahman learned last month that his 2010 review paper about nanoparticles in refrigeration systems had been retracted, he was concerned—no one at the journal had told him it was going to be pulled. Rahman, a professor of engineering at Sunway University in Selangor, Malaysia, had recently corrected his 2010 review in Renewable and … Continue reading Oops: Elsevier journal retracts the wrong paper

    in Retraction watch on March 08, 2018 08:18 PM.

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    Diamonds reveal sign of the deepest water known inside Earth

    A rare form of ice crystal in the gems could have formed only at the crushing pressures found in the mantle.

    in Science News on March 08, 2018 07:22 PM.

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    On Twitter, the lure of fake news is stronger than the truth

    An analysis of more than 4.5 million tweets discussing false and true stories reveals that in the Twittersphere, fake news gets more views.

    in Science News on March 08, 2018 07:00 PM.

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    Is plagiarism a problem in economics? Survey of editors says … yes

    In 2004, a survey of editors of economic journals found 3 out of 10 had seen at least one case of plagiarism within the past year. More than a decade later, has the problem gotten better? Or worse? Gary Hoover at the University of Oklahoma, who co-authored the 2004 paper, decided to revisit the issue … Continue reading Is plagiarism a problem in economics? Survey of editors says … yes

    in Retraction watch on March 08, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Learning sparse codes and predictive context with compartmentalised inputs

    There has been renewed interest in dendrites in computational neuroscience. The corresponding concept in artificial neural networks is that of compartmentalised inputs: integrating different pathways in distinct locations within each unit, with potentially different learning rules. Here we show how a single layer of neurons with multiple compartments can learn sparse codes and their predictive context using a local unsupervised rule, and how this could be used as a building block for cognitive architectures.

    Date: 09/03/2018
    Time: 16:00
    Location: LB252

    in UH Biocomputation group on March 08, 2018 01:43 PM.

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    50 years ago, pulsars burst onto the scene

    Thousands of pulsars have been discovered since the announcement of their detection 50 years ago.

    in Science News on March 08, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    Jabe Wilson on the future of AI and scholarly publishing

    R&D Magazine features Elsevier’s Consulting Director for Text and Data Analytics

    in Elsevier Connect on March 08, 2018 10:30 AM.

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    Best-selling introductory psychology books give a misleading view of intelligence

    Screenshot 2018-03-08 08.55.05.png12 different logical fallacies (used to dismiss intelligence research) appeared in at least one of the introductory psychology textbooks. Table from Warne et al 2018 [fallacies originally documented by Gottfredson 2009]
    By Christian Jarrett

    A researcher in human intelligence at Utah Valley University has analysed the 29 best-selling introductory psychology textbooks in the US – some written by among the most eminent psychologists alive – and concluded that they present a highly misleading view of the science of intelligence (see full list of books below).

    Russell T Warne and his co-authors found that three-quarters of the books contain inaccuracies; that the books give disproportionate coverage to unsupported theories, such as Gardner’s “multiple intelligencies”; and nearly 80 per cent contain logical fallacies in their discussions of the topic.

    Reporting their findings in an open-access article in Archives of Scientific Psychology, Warne and his colleagues say that altogether the widely used books contained “43 inaccurate statements, 129 questionably accurate statements and 51 logical fallacies” and therefore “members of the public [are] likely to learn some inaccurate information about intelligence in their psychology courses.”

    In terms of topic coverage, over 93 per cent of the books covered Gardner’s multiple intelligences and over 89 per cent covered Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence (both of which challenge the idea of there being a unitary “intelligence” per se), even though neither of these theories are mainstream or well-supported by evidence, according to Warne. In contrast, fewer than a quarter of the books covered the most strongly supported contemporary, hierarchical theories, such as Carroll’s three-statrum model and CHC theory each of which posits the influence of a general intelligence on other cognitive abilities.

    To identify factual inaccuracies, Warne’s team used as a benchmark a consensus statement on intelligence research published in 1997 by Linda Gottfredson et al, and a 1996 APA report on the state of the field. Although no longer cutting edge, Warne chose these references because they reflect consensus in the field and because they are old enough for the information in them to have filtered through to non-specialist textbook authors.

    The most common inaccuracy (appearing in nearly half the books) was that intelligence tests are biased against particular groups or individuals. This contradicts the 1997 consensus statement which tackles this issue and concludes that “intelligence tests are not culturally biased”.

    Screenshot 2018-03-08 09.05.47.pngThe 29 best-selling textbooks that were subject to scrutiny for their coverage of intelligence. From Warne et al, 2018

    Other common inaccuracies included promotion of the idea that it is not possible to measure intelligence in a meaningful way (in fact, Warne and his colleagues point out that “it is actually easier to measure intelligence than many other psychological constructs”), and claims that intelligence is only relevant in academic settings (in fact, intelligence correlates with many non-academic life outcomes, from life expectancy to risk of dying in a car accident, and is among the strongest predictors of career success).

    Among the logical fallacies in the books is what’s known as “Lewontin’s fallacy” – this idea, advanced in six of the books, states that because humans share about 99 per cent of the same genes, that genes cannot therefore have a role in the differences between individuals or groups. In fact, “slight differences in genotypes among organisms can result in major phenotype differences”, according to Warne and his team. Twelve other fallacies appeared in the books – see full list above – such as giving less scrutiny to politically correct ideas or claiming that intelligence doesn’t exist because it is a collection of abilities (suggesting the textbook authors had failed to understand the principle of g or “general intelligence”).

    In terms of questionable accuracy (i.e. errors not covered by the consensus statements), Warne highlights issues around the discussion of the taboo topic of race and IQ; textbook authors overplaying the role of “stereotype threat“, and authors having a tendency to overestimate environmental influences on intelligence (the books largely neglected the work of scholars who study the genetic influences on intelligence, such as the British researchers Ian Deary and Robert Plomin).

    Warne and his team admit there is an element of subjectivity in their analysis of the textbooks. However, they tried to mitigate this by using the two consensus publications from the 1990s as a reference point, by being as lenient as possible in their judgments of the books, and by being explicit in the how they went about their analysis.

    This new analysis helps explain why the public and lay journalists often express a scepticism toward intelligence and intelligence testing that is at odds with expert opinion (perhaps best captured by the hackneyed claim that “intelligence tests only measure your ability to take intelligence tests”). Over a million students take introductory psych courses every year in the USA alone (a majority of whom are taking the course as part of a different degree subject), and judging by the content of most popular introductory psych textbooks in America, it seems likely these students are getting a highly distorted view of the field.

    An obvious issue for our domestic readers is that it’s not clear if the same inaccuracies and bias toward intelligence research also appear in British and European introductory textbooks. In fact this is a recurring shortcoming in our coverage of investigations into psychology textbooks – there simply doesn’t seem to be the same scrutiny of psychology textbooks here as there is in America.

    “Improving the public’s understanding about intelligence starts in psychology’s own backyard with improving the content of undergraduate courses and textbooks,” Warne and his colleagues conclude. And for anyone who would like to know more about intelligence, they recommend Intelligence: All That Matters by Research Digest guest contributor Stuart Ritchie, and Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction by Ian Deary – these books are “not only accurate, but they also have a breezy writing style that makes them easily digestible”.

    What do undergraduates learn about human intelligence? An analysis of introductory psychology textbooks

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 08, 2018 09:18 AM.

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    Danielle Stodilka and the Matilda effect

    One of the speakers at the United Nations for International Women and Girls in Science day was Danielle Stodilka, a materials and data scientist from Canada who is a senior fellow with the Canadian International Council.

    Danielle received a PhD in Materials Science and Engineering from the University of Florida in the early 1990s, at a time where very few women were involved in this field.

    According to statistics presented at the UN meeting, biology has perhaps the highest percentage of women representation among the STEM fields, with engineering containing the least, at around 11% and shrinking.

    “In my country, the recruitment and retention of women in engineering was still overcoming the impact of the Montreal Massacre in 1989”, she says, “I enrolled in engineering in the early 90’s to pay respect to the young women who lost their lives, while at the same time knowing they could have mentored me”.

    What’s most remarkable about Danielle’s story is how closely it aligns with so many stories reiterated by female speakers during the conference; while pursuing a master’s degree as one of the few, if not only, women in her field, Danielle’s scientific work was appropriated by males in her research group without giving her credit. This behavior was overlooked at the institution, where all of the superiors were male and there was very much an “old boys club” atmosphere in the laboratory.

    Danielle references this to “the Matilda effect”, where the contributions of women in science are overlooked, citing an article that discusses the phenomenon in detail.

    Some women have sued institutions for this unethical behavior, others have protested within the departments, all to varying degrees of success, but ultimately this behavior is still seen today. The fact that this is going on should be a high level of concern for all STEM institutions and industries, and should be on the radar for all funding institutions.

    However, Danielle’s story is not a negative one, but very much a positive one, as she met this situation with resilience and perseverance. She told another story that perhaps many of our readers can relate to:

    When she was a small child in preschool, the boys and girls were given separate toys: the girls were given dolls, and the boys were given building blocks.

    Photo by Tup Wanders Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tupwanders/83092660/

    One day, she decided to leave the dolls for a little while and join the boys so that she could play with the blocks as well. At that point, a young boy told her she had no right to do so, since she was a girl.

    “I in no way advocate violence,” she says with wry grin, but it did lead to a bit of a tussle.

    Danielle went on to receive accolades for her work, and entered the field of Materials Science and Engineering in the early 1990s at a time when very few had been involved in the field. She went on to pursue a PhD in America on a post-graduate fellowship, when she found a female mentor in Florida in a field of her interest.

    Finding a science mentor is perhaps the greatest challenge facing women in STEM today, because there are so few women to begin with, it can be hard to find someone who can provide advice for navigating a particularly competitive and demanding field.

    Danielle strongly encourages all women and girls to join the field of science, particularly that of engineering. She says this would be an excellent strategy to avoid the Matilda effect because she believes if more women are physically present and involved in decision making processes, science will become a more female-friendly workplace.

    She went on to state that having more women involved in the STEM fields will benefit all of humanity, because they can offer new perspectives, not only for safety, efficiency, and aesthetics but also in new research discoveries and our understanding of the universe.

    The post Danielle Stodilka and the Matilda effect appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on March 08, 2018 09:00 AM.

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    Some meteorites contain superconducting bits

    Scientists find materials that conduct electricity without resistance in two meteorites.

    in Science News on March 07, 2018 10:04 PM.

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    4 surprising things we just learned about Jupiter

    Polar cyclones, surprisingly deep atmosphere and a fluid mass spinning as a rigid body are among the latest discoveries at Jupiter.

    in Science News on March 07, 2018 06:00 PM.

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    Data in biofuel paper “had either been grossly misinterpreted or fabricated”

    A biology journal has retracted a 2011 paper after the University of California, Los Angeles determined that the data in three figures “cannot be supported.” In February, the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology retracted the paper, which explores efforts to engineer bacteria to convert plant biomass into biofuel. Claudia Modlin, assistant director of UCLA’s Office … Continue reading Data in biofuel paper “had either been grossly misinterpreted or fabricated”

    in Retraction watch on March 07, 2018 04:00 PM.

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    This scientist has made a career of confronting failures

    As an environmental researcher, Dr. Dawn Fox of Guyana finds ways to turn “trash into treasure” – literally and figuratively

    in Elsevier Connect on March 07, 2018 03:52 PM.

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    This baby bird fossil gives a rare look at ancient avian development

    A 127-million-year-old fossil of a baby bird suggests diversity in how a group of extinct birds grew.

    in Science News on March 07, 2018 03:42 PM.

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    Want to tell if a paper has been retracted? Good luck

    Nowadays, there are many ways to access a paper — on the publisher’s website, on MEDLINE, PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, and other outlets. So when the publisher retracts a paper, do these outlets consistently mark it as such? And if they don’t, what’s the impact? Researchers Caitlin Bakker and Amy Riegelman at the University of Minnesota … Continue reading Want to tell if a paper has been retracted? Good luck

    in Retraction watch on March 07, 2018 01:00 PM.

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    Humans don’t get enough sleep. Just ask other primates.

    Short, REM-heavy sleep bouts separate humans from other primates, scientists find. Sleeping on the ground may have a lot to do with it.

    in Science News on March 07, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    First systematic study of people who can give themselves goose-bumps at will

    By Christian Jarrett

    For most of us, goose-bumps are something that happens outside of our conscious control, either when we’re cold or afraid, or because we’ve been moved by music or poignant art. However, it seems there are a few individuals with a kind of psychophysiological super-power – they can give themselves goose-bumps at will.

    For a new study, which they’ve released as a pre-print at PeerJ, a team led by James Heathers at Northeastern University, Boston, created a Facebook group with descriptions of “voluntary piloerection”, to use the technical term,  and invited anyone with this ability to complete a comprehensive questionnaire. Thirty-two voluntary goose-bumpers took part. Though the results are preliminary, this is a landmark study considering that voluntary piloerection has not previously been subject to systematic investigation, and that the scientific record contains just three prior case studies over a period of more than a century.

    The average age of the individuals who answered the survey was 32 and there were many consistencies in their descriptions of their goose-bump ability, closely matching the few obscure accounts in the existing medical literature. Nearly three quarters said that the voluntary sensation or action began on the back of their head or neck; many described a shiver or tingle down the spine; and ninety per cent said the sensation manifested on their arms, among other body areas. The participants overwhelmingly described their ability as a voluntary act, akin to deciding to move, as opposed to using their imagination or memories to cause the goose-bumps. They saw it as a normal, harmless activity and many were surprised to learn that others cannot do it.

    “I tighten a muscle behind my ears … and the goosebumps appear on my back and then travel to my arms”

    “I think about goose-bumps, they start to appear, I shudder/shiver, and there they are”

    “I simple [sic] think of doing it. I don’t need to have a [sic] emotion involved, in fact I can do it now without feeling any emotion whatsoever”

    “I flex a ‘muscle’ in my brain. Sometimes I have to concentrate a little if I’ve been doing it a while”

    Most of the participants said that they noticed their ability in adolescence or early adulthood; two said they only realised they had the ability after reading the description on Facebook (leading the researchers to doubt that the ability arises via conditioning).

    Although the participants didn’t use emotions to produce their goose-bumps, triggering the sensation was associated with subsequent emotional experience, especially absorption and wonder (similar to involuntary goose-bumps). In fact, nearly three quarters of them said they deliberately triggered goose-bumps while engaged in aesthetic activities, such as listening to music or dancing, and also activities like sex and study, as if to accentuate or facilitate these experiences. Half of them also used their ability to prolong involuntary goose-bumps.

    An obvious criticism of the study is that the participants’ accounts must be taken on trust – the researchers didn’t invite these individuals to the lab to study the phenomenon with their own eyes (or if they have, these results aren’t available yet). However, given the consistency of the accounts, Heathers and his colleagues doubt that the participants are fabricating, and they added: “It is unlikely any participant had prior cues or expectations regarding how their ability might be expected to work due its rarity”.

    As part of the survey, the participants also completed a personality and emotion questionnaire and the most striking result was that they scored much higher than average on the trait of Openness, and they experienced the state of absorption more often than normal. The personality finding isn’t surprising given that prior research has found that more open individuals are more prone to involuntary goose-bumps; openness is also associated with self-experimentation, which may be one way that the goose-bumpers discovered or developed their skill.

    Unfortunately, we still have no idea about the prevalence of the voluntary goose-bump ability because the researchers don’t know how many people viewed their online advertisements for the survey. We do know that they screened 682 first-year psychology students, and none of them had the ability.

    It’s going to be exciting to see what more can be discovered about this little known phenomenon, especially how other physiological systems such as heart rate are involved, and how it affects emotional experience.

    Lead author James Heathers, perhaps best known for his data sleuthing activities, said (on Twitter): “This is the strangest thing I’ve ever gotten to study, and I love it“. Can he do it? “No,” he said, adding: “Do you know how many hours I’ve spent staring at my damn arms or hands, trying to focus ‘energy’ at the back of my head?? I feel ridiculous and I absolutely cannot do it.” Check Heathers’ twitter feed @jamesheathers for more discussion and information. 

    The voluntary control of piloerection [this study is a pre-print and has not yet been subjected to peer review]

    Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 07, 2018 09:43 AM.

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    The emerging field of psychobiotics (Part 3)


    Today in Part 3 of our series on the gut-brain axis, Drs Amy Reichelt and Sarah McKay discuss mind-altering microbes and the emerging field of psychobiotics.

    The gut microbiome is a key node in the gut-brain axis. Scientists are only just uncovering how microbes in the gut influence physical, brain and even mental health.

    In 2004, a pivotal study found “germ-free” mice that lacked a gut microbiome had exaggerated emotional responses to stressful events compared to normal mice. Intriguingly, more pronounced emotional reactions were reversed when the gut microbiome was restored using probiotics. Findings such as this have lead to an explosion of interest in the use of probiotics for treating myriad illnesses including depression and anxiety in humans.

    What is the difference between probiotics and psychobiotics?

    Probiotics are living microrganisms such as bacteria or yeast, which when taken in large enough quantities, help improve and maintain the health of your gastrointestinal tract. The most frequently used probiotic bacteria are from Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus families. Also included in the class of probiotics are prebiotics, which ‘feed’ or ‘fertilise’ resident beneficial gut bacteria.

    Psychobiotics are a class of probiotics, which, when ingested, confer brain or mental health benefits through interactions with gut bacteria and the gut-brain axis.

    Psychobiotic research examines rodent behaviour to measure changes in motivation, anxiety, and depression following treatment. For example, in 2015, a study published in Neuroscience reported probiotic supplements improved resilience in rats following stressful experiences. Dosing stressed rats  with Lactobacillus helveticus lowered anxiety and depression-like behaviours.

    Gut feelings

    Animal studies have paved the way for studies testing the ability of probiotics versus placebo controls to improve mood in people.

    In a double-blind randomised controlled trial published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2007, 132 people consumed either a milk drink containing Lactobacillus casei Shirota or a milk-based placebo for three weeks. All volunteers completed mood and cognitive tests at baseline and every 10 days during the trial. When the baseline measures of those consumed the two types of drink were compared, no significant differences were found with any measure of mood or cognition. However, for a subset of volunteers who reported low moods beginning the trial, the probiotic drink improved their mood.

    Other studies have reported supplements containing a variety of probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum reduce self-reported negative moods and emotional reactions to sad experiences. Probiotic treatments also lower the body’s response to stressful situations which can be measured through cortisol levels.

    These studies suggest that probiotics have the potential to improve mood and help control responses to stress.

    Can probiotics make you smarter?

    Because of their potential to alter brain function, research has examined whether psychobiotics improve memory.

    Probiotic supplements enhance the ability of mice to solve memory tasks. This improvement was linked to increased neuroplasticity-boosting brain chemicals such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus – a key brain area for forming memories.

    Stress can increase forgetfulness, and stressed-out rats treated with probiotics were better at remembering objects than stressed rats that received placebos.

    We also know that junk food diets can be detrimental to brain function and impair memory. A recent study showed that a probiotic cocktail restored memory in rats that typically ate junk foods. Oddly, the probiotic treatment decreased memory performance in rats that usually ate a healthy diet. Such unexpected results show that manipulating the microbiome may not always be beneficial in a healthy population and have the potential to disrupt healthy brain function.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

    While the advocates (and advertisements) tout probiotics as the silver bullet for almost every illness you can think of, rightly so, there is plenty of scepticism in the neuroscientific and medical communities surrounding the use of psychobiotics as therapy for mood disorders. There is some concern that psychobiotics may be used a replacement for evidence-based treatments (including talking therapies), or as a reason to postpone seeking help from a mental health professional.

    Writing in Nature Microbiology in 2017, immunologists Jotham Suez and Eran Elinav state

    “While some studies have suggested mechanistic insights into how probiotic bacteria may mediate beneficial effects, these were mostly done in cell culture and animal models. As such, insufficient evidence supports the efficacy of the current probiotics approach (one bacterial mix is beneficial to all conditions) in most indications, while their human health benefits remain controversial.”

    Suez and Elinav acknowledge out the huge potential for gut microbiome interventions as shown by faecal microbiome transplantation (FMT) for infections such as Clostridium difficile, but caution against the “one strain fits all” therapeutic approach.

    The US NIH National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health state

    “…preliminary evidence that some probiotics are helpful in preventing diarrhoeaa caused by infections and antibiotics and in improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, but more needs to be learned.”

    For example, we still don’t know which probiotics are helpful and which are not. We also don’t know how much of the probiotic people would have to take, or who would most likely benefit from taking probiotics.

    A 2016 Trends in Neuroscience review of psychobiotics concludes with the following rather long list of outstanding questions.

    tl:dr “Plenty we don’t yet know”.

    1. What are the dose-response functions associated with psychobiotics?
    2. What are the contributions of gut hormones in the mechanisms of action of prebiotics versus probiotics?
    3. How do prebiotics and probiotics differ in terms of their impact on microbiome structure and relative abundance?
    4. Are there undetected psychophysiological costs alongside the observed benefits of psychobiotics?
    5. Does the brain adapt to long-term psychobiotic ingestion?
    6. How do bacteria-derived blood metabolites affect the central nervous system, and how do psychobiotics modulate this relationship?
    7. What is the time-course for the emergence of various psychobiotic effects, and how long do they last?
    8. Are there ceiling effects on psychobiotic benefits?
    9. What are the functional implications of altered excitation–inhibition balance (due to alterations in GABA and glutamate concentrations) in specific brain regions?
    10. Why do some strains of probiotic or prebiotic show effects while others do not, and are these linked to dosage?
    11. Do neurotransmitters produced by gut bacteria modulate synaptic transmission in the proximal neurons of the enteric nervous system?
    12. What is the direction of causality between systemic and central changes?
    13. How do factors such as diet, genotype, sex, and age moderate the effects of psychobiotics?


    The post The emerging field of psychobiotics (Part 3) appeared first on Your Brain Health.

    in Yourbrainhealth on March 07, 2018 12:08 AM.

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    These petunias launch seeds that spin 1,660 times a second

    One species of petunia spreads its seeds explosively, giving them a rotation of 1,660 times per second.

    in Science News on March 07, 2018 12:06 AM.

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    When bogs burn, the environment takes a hit

    Bogs and other peatlands around the world store outsized amounts of carbon. Climate change and agriculture are putting them at risk.

    in Science News on March 06, 2018 05:00 PM.

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    Caught Our Notice: No retraction for “likely fraudulent” study

    Title: Homocysteine as a predictive factor for hip fracture in elderly women with Parkinson’s disease What Caught Our Attention:  In a letter to the editor, researchers led by Mark Bolland recently outlined the many reasons why a study by Yoshihiro Sato and colleagues in The American Journal of Medicine was “unreliable,” including evidence that the … Continue reading Caught Our Notice: No retraction for “likely fraudulent” study

    in Retraction watch on March 06, 2018 04:00 PM.

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    4 (misguided) excuses for skipping the flu vaccine

    An Elsevier medical editor explains why people should get vaccinated for personal and public health reasons

    in Elsevier Connect on March 06, 2018 01:57 PM.

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    Open science: data from largest meta-analysis of antidepressants available

    Authors of a major study in The Lancet have made their dataset freely available on Mendeley Data

    in Elsevier Connect on March 06, 2018 01:44 PM.

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    In a pack hunt, it’s every goatfish for itself

    Pack hunting among goatfish is really about self-interest.

    in Science News on March 06, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    Against expectations, people with more egalitarian political views were more open to the idea that intelligence is fixed

    Screen Shot 2018-03-06 at 10.03.41.pngPeople lower on “social dominance orientation” were more influenced by the argument that intelligence is a fixed trait (from Hoyt et al 2018)

    By Alex Fradera

    A growth mindset – believing your capabilities can grow over time – can help us set self-improvement goals, consider mistakes as a step towards mastery, and remain upbeat when facing tribulation. Psychologists are excited by the ways we can help develop such mindsets, particularly towards creativity and intelligence, but some studies have found the impact less impressive than earlier research had suggested. Now researchers are hungry to understand the individual characteristics that might prevent these interventions making an impact on some people.

    New research in the British Journal of Social Psychology has investigated one possible candidate – political ideology, specifically a perspective known as “social dominance orientation”. If you are invested in preserving the status quo, perhaps that encourages you to see social relations as inevitable, as “just the way things are” – an essentialist, fixed view of the world that seems to carry over to how you view human capability.

    Crystal Hoyt at the University of Richmond and her colleagues asked 300 online participants to rate their agreement with statements about social dominance like “some groups of people are simply inferior to other groups.” Participants then read either an article about intelligence that promoted a growth mindset, or an article arguing for the opposite (both articles used text and graphs to suggest that intelligence was either highly influenced or entirely uninfluenced by the circumstances of our lives, respectively). Finally participants rated their agreement with fixed mindset items like “you can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence”.

    Overall, participants higher in social dominance orientation had a somewhat more fixed intelligence mindset. Their views also barely budged after reading either the growth or fixed-mindset article. In contrast, and against the researchers’ expectations, the low-dominance participants were particularly influenced by the article that argued for intelligence as a fixed quality (after reading it, they expressed a fixed mindset, as high as the high-dominance participants).

    Perhaps people who are low in social dominance beliefs are more open to scientific argument, and the fixed article was the one that presented them with a new take. In any case, the evidence suggests they are not the ones with most to gain from growth interventions, as was expected, but instead they are at greater risk of sliding towards a fixed argument.

    On a positive note, rather than suggesting that high-dominance people might be an especially hard nut for these mindset interventions to crack, the findings create a case for giving it a go – these people are no more resistant than anyone else, and may have further to go, and hence more to gain. All in all, this new research shows that individual differences are worth considering if we want to change mindset, but we’re still in early days of understanding how.

    Social dominance orientation moderates the effectiveness of mindset messages

    Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on March 06, 2018 10:12 AM.

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    BMC Family Practice: highlights of 2017

    Discussing success in support for patient self-management

    Given the rising prevalence of long-term health conditions, self-management by patients is seen as crucial to making health care service more effective.  Support for self-management (SSM) by healthcare professionals is an important contributor to patient well-being.  Evaluations of SSM tend to focus on just one or two outcomes and so do not reveal a complete picture of the quality of service provided to patients.

    Successful self-management depends on many factors, many of which cannot be influenced by a health professional.

    To address this lack from the provider perspective, Owens et al. conducted individual interviews and group discussions with health professionals who worked with patients with diabetes and/or Parkinson’s Disease.  Participants were asked to discuss what they viewed as successful SSM and what factors helped or hindered this.

    The descriptions of success were complex and included elements that inter-related and sometimes contradicted each other.  The three main groups of elements of success were related to patient health and quality of life, patient self-management capacity, and provider-patient relationships and communication.  Many of these elements were specific to certain contexts or patients, highlighting the difficulty in developing generic measures of success in SSM.  One challenge that was highlighted was that successful self-management depends on many factors, many of which cannot be influenced by a health professional; meanwhile, outcomes which providers can influence may not be those most important to patients.  Additionally, the definition of “realistic” goals is both individual and subjective.

    The discussions of success in SSM in this paper indicate the need for careful consideration of measures of success that take into account the complexity of judgment and many ways to measure quality in this area.

    Are Self-Rating Scales an Effective Tool in Primary Care for Depressed Patients?

    In Sweden, patients with depression are often treated in primary care. The recommended guidelines for this population suggest that general practitioners regularly administer self-rating scales as a means to monitor depressive symptoms. However, the most commonly used, Montgomery-Asberg Depression Rating Scale (MADRS-S), is specifically designed for a psychiatric setting.

    A recent multicenter randomized controlled study conducted by Wikberg et al., sought to address the utility of self-rating scales. The trial assessed the use of pharmacological treatment such as sedatives and antidepressants, patient’s quality of life, psychological wellbeing, sick leave, frequency of care visits, and the severity of depression.

    For three months, general practitioners across 22 primary health care centers either administered a self-rating scale monthly along with their usual course of care or proceeded to treat patients as usual.  This study found that participants in both groups had significant improvements in quality of life, depressive symptoms and psychological wellbeing between the start of the study and the three-month follow-up.

    Over the course of the study, there were also increases in the percentage of antidepressant use by the three-month mark. At the six-month follow-up, 69% of patients in the intervention group were still on anti-depressants, as compared to 59% of controls.  By the one-year mark, over 50% of patients were still using anti-depressants, with 59% in the intervention and 58% in the control groups.  Additionally, the control group visited psychology health professionals more often than the intervention group, while the intervention group visited primary care centers more than the controls.

    Wikberg et al. concluded that while the self-rating scale lead to increases in continued use of anti-depressants, the other variables measured in the study were not significantly impacted by the scales. Furthermore, it is their belief that self-rating scales may be best left to the discretion of the general practitioner and the needs of their patient.

    How health care providers’ burnout and empathy affect patient outcomes

    High blood pressure (BP) is increasingly prevalent in most populations.  Diagnosis, treatment, and monitoring of high BP regularly take place in primary care settings.  Outcomes are often poor due to a number of factors associated with how primary health care providers manage and interact with patients.

    They found that patients had significantly lower blood pressure when in the care of a doctor or nurse with low burnout.

    Yuguero et al. investigated how primary care providers’ characteristics, specifically empathy and burnout, affected BP control and management in their patients.  Physician burnout is a measure of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization towards patients, and feelings of competence and success.  They found that patients had significantly lower BP when in the care of a doctor or nurse with low burnout.  They also found a significant association between low burnout and high empathy.

    Previous studies have shown high empathy to improve immediate patient outcomes.  This suggests that the improved BP control seen in patients of health care professionals with lower burnout and higher empathy may result from a better physician-patient relationship and better adherence to treatment recommendations.

    The findings of this study support recommendations to promote skills that improve empathy and reduce burnout among health care providers, particularly in primary care, to benefit both providers and patients.

    Management of Polypharmacy in Primary Care

    Polypharmacy refers to the use of multiple medications by an individual patient over their course of treatment. Increasing rates of multi-morbidity and chronic illness, the use of disease-specific evidence-based guidelines, and the lack of guidelines for multi-morbidity, have led to increases in polypharmacy.  This phenomenon is positively associated with disease management and quality of life, but is also associated with increased risk for drug interactions and side-effects.

    In order to ensure that polypharmacy is most advantageous for patients, researchers have identified high-risk groups and provided suggestions for primary care physicians.  Researchers found those at highest risk were adults 65 and older, due to higher incidence of multi-morbidity with age, as well as patients in residential health care facilities. Outside of this group, primary care physicians have looked for patients at risk based on the number of medications they were taking.  While the number of medications prescribed to patients with risk of polypharmacy varies, it was recommended that patients taking ten or more medications should be identified.

    In an insightful debate article, Molokhia and Majeed suggest that once physicians are aware of what factors are associated with polypharmacy, electronic medical records can be a useful tool to easily filter through patients.  They also suggested improving patient-physician communication regarding risk and benefits.

    In conclusion, regularly checking in with patients to ensure that treatment are followed as directed and frequently assessing whether each drug is still necessary can allow physicians to proactively manage polypharmacy.

    The post BMC Family Practice: highlights of 2017 appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on March 06, 2018 10:00 AM.

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    Google moves toward quantum supremacy with 72-qubit computer

    Google’s 72-qubit quantum chip may eventually perform a task beyond the ability of traditional computers.

    in Science News on March 05, 2018 10:17 PM.

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    Pollution regulations help Chesapeake Bay seagrass rebound

    Regulations that have reduced nitrogen runoff into the Chesapeake Bay are driving the recovery of underwater vegetation.

    in Science News on March 05, 2018 08:00 PM.

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    By 2100, damaged corals may let waves twice as tall as today’s reach coasts

    Structurally complex coral reefs can defend coasts against waves, even as sea levels rise.

    in Science News on March 05, 2018 06:41 PM.

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    Dietary Intake of Omega Fatty Acids and Brain Health

    Omega fatty acids are well known to be important for the normal functioning of our body. These fatty acids are essential for the formation of the cell membrane. They play a critical role in brain health. In addition, they are crucial for fertility, visual acuity, and optimal cardiovascular health. Omega-3 fatty acids also have an anti-inflammatory effect.

    DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid. Omega fatty acids belong to a group called polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). There are several kinds of omega-3 fatty acids, but for humans, three of them are considered to be essential. These are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

    ALA is a short-chain fatty acid that cannot be made by our body and thus regarded as essential. EPA and DHA are classified as long-chain fatty acids. Our body can produce them in small quantities and a very inefficient manner. This is why one’s diet should provide enough of the essential and semi-essential omega-3 fatty acids. ALA is the only fatty acid which is present in plant-based food products.

    Although EPA and DHA, both of which are particularly essential for brain health, can be produced in the body from ALA, the conversion process is not very efficient. It is believed that only ~15% of dietary ALA can be converted to EPA or DHA. ALA is present in canola oil, flaxseed oil, and in some other plant oils in sufficient quantities, whereas DHA and ALA are mainly present in seafood (various varieties of fish) and found in small amounts in other animal or poultry products.

    Research has shown that although fish are rich in omega fatty acids, they are not able to produce DHA or EPA. In fact, they get omega-3 fatty acids by ingesting phytoplankton. Phytoplankton, in turn, get DHA and EPA by eating microalgae that are able to produce these fatty acids. These findings draw attention to two important facts: the importance of fish and animal products in our diet for optimal cognitive health and the importance of preserving the fragile environmental balance where everything is interconnected.

    Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for the formation of phospholipids that are in turn required for cellular membranes. DHA is particularly critical for brain health, as demonstrated by its high content in the brain. Furthermore, since DHA helps to reduce the inflammatory responses, it may have a neuroprotective action.

    There are lots of studies regarding the optimal intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and their optimal ratio in one’s diet. However, the recommendations in this regard remain inconclusive. Rather than focusing on the total amount of omega fatty acids or the ratio of various fatty acids, one should focus on the overall dietary intake of EPA and DHA.

    Although EPA and DHA have been accepted to be essential for wellbeing, healthy aging, and slowing down or preventing neurodegeneration, their levels are rarely assessed in clinical conditions. There is no standardized, universally accepted range, but the most widely accepted normal level is ~3–4% of all plasma phospholipids (for EPA and DHA combined).

    Plasma or serum fatty acid values are not very accurate, as they may change according to the content of recent meals. For this reason, many researchers recommend checking the content of EPA and DHA inthe red blood cell membranes, as this can give the approximate average of the last 120 days. At present, for European and American populations, 3–5% of EPA and DHA in erythrocyte membranes is considered in the normal range. In the Japanese population for example, where consumption of seafood is much higher, these numbers may be much higher too.

    So what are the dietary recommendations for Omega-3s?

    At present, for a healthy brain, it is recommended to consume 1.6 g of omega-3s daily for males, and 1.1 g daily for females. As mentioned earlier, specific attention should be paid to the content of DHA and EPA in food items. Flaxseed oil, chia seeds, and walnuts are all rich in ALA. However, DHA and EPA are mainly present in fish, seafood, and poultry. Considering that only a small amount of ALA can be converted to DHA or EPA, it puts vegans at risk of developing a deficiency in these omega acids and thus raises the risk of neurodegenerative disorders.

    To counter the deficit of DHA in plant-based products, many manufacturers have started to fortify soy beverages, juices, and milk products with DHA. Dietary supplements are another way of obtaining sufficient amounts of DHA. However, as most dietary supplements are based on fish oil or krill oil, if a person is strictly vegetarian, they can take algal oil-based supplements.

    The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2011-12 indicates that most of the population in the US are obtaining enough dietary omega-3 fatty acids. However, the majority of omega fatty acids are coming from a plant-based diet, meaning that American food is rich in ALA but deficient in EPA and DHA.

    Diagnosing the omega-3 deficiency is not an easy task, as there is no lower cut-off value. Researchers don’t currently know at which level an omega fatty acid insufficiency may start causing problems. Things get complicated further by individual differences. Present scientific data are insufficient to know at what level there is a risk of neural deficits, visual impairment, or alterations in immune responses. However, some people may develop specific dermatological signs in the omega-3 deficiency, like scaling of the skin or unexplained dermatitis.

    Classical omega-3 deficiency is rare in the US, but considering the importance of DHA and EPA for healthy aging and cognitive capacity, one may suppose that strict vegans, vegetarians, or those who don’t eat fish may be at higher risk when compared to those that do eat fish without supplementation.


    Dyall, S. C. (2015). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 7. doi:10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052

    McNamara, R. K. (2010). DHA Deficiency and Prefrontal Cortex Neuropathology in Recurrent Affective Disorders. The Journal of Nutrition, 140(4), 864–868. doi:10.3945/jn.109.113233

    Office of Dietary Supplements – Omega-3 Fatty Acids. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-HealthProfessional/

    Weiser, M. J., Butt, C. M., & Mohajeri, M. H. (2016). Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan. Nutrients, 8(2). doi:10.3390/nu8020099

    Image via pixel2013/Pixabay.

    in Brain Blogger on March 05, 2018 01:00 PM.

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    Massive stellar flare may have fried Earth’s nearest exoplanet

    A massive flare made Proxima Centauri 1,000 times brighter in 10 seconds, dimming hopes that its planet may be habitable.

    in Science News on March 05, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    Unveil the mist of pain: Frontiers in pain research

    Frontiers in pain research

    One important direction of pain research is to classify neurons that are involved in the pain transduction pathway. With further functional identification and neural circuit tracing, the neural network of pain can be ultimately decoded. This strategy not only applies to pain research, but also to other fields in neuroscience.

    “Breakthroughs are very likely to be made first on the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, due to their advantages of easy operation.” says Prof. Xu Zhang. The DRG neurons possess nearly ten thousand genes, regardless of the size or function of the neuron. Of them over 2000 genes are differentially expressed by 5 folds or more. Combining neural circuit tracing by viral tools, functional test by electrophysiology and behavioral test, the whole picture of DRG neurons can be revealed.

    Breakthroughs are very likely to be made first on the dorsal root ganglion (DRG) neurons, due to their advantages of easy operation.

    Dr. Xu Zhang

    In the next few years, the neuroscience community will ‘decompose the nervous system at a higher level’. The community is working together towards this goal, presenting us with a clearer view of the nervous system. Our current work is to set up a normal reference model at this level. Only by using this normal reference can we unravel abnormality in animal models or with transgenic techniques.

    To learn more about Dr. Zhang’s work on somatosensory neuron type, check out this paper. 

    Big Data-Driven Research in Studying Pain

    “The era of big data is coming, for sure,” says Dr. Zhang. As a pioneer of using big data strategy to study pain, his research benefited tremendously from the new strategy and technology. The gene profiling of DRG is like a dictionary, providing unprecedented depth of understanding and larger picture of pain study.

    From life science to pain research, multidisciplinary coordination is always needed to explore gene networks within a cell. Big data approaches like large-scale sequencing, computation and data statistics are becoming more and more essential, and will make basic research more objective and accurate. The Chinese government has been forethoughtful and gave strong financial support for the project of Mapping Brain Functional Connections, proposed by a small group of neuroscientists a few years ago and the achievements are now for all to see. This proves the power of big data in neuroscience and is a great start to a promising future of better understanding the brain.

    Admittedly, the current practice of big-data driven research is still at its preliminary stage in China. Databases supported by advanced technology and professional management are in great need for further development of China’s big-data driven research. “Particularly, I hope China can play a role in international data resource network to facilitate data sharing worldwide, thus make scientific progress more efficient.” Dr. Zhang adds.

    Big data-driven research requires technical and policy support for data management. Springer Nature pioneered in supporting scientists to share data in smooth and in order. Click here to learn more about data policy and data support.

    How Basic and Clinical Researches Are Combined in Pain Research?

    “Basic research has greatly advanced our understanding of pain. Patients with chronic pain require much more attention and more professional treatment,” Dr. Zhang points out.

    Long lasting pain may lead to alterations in brain structure which are not the direct outcome from diseases like periphery nerve injury, inflammation or cancer but rather subsequent effects of these diseases. Brain structure alterations would cause encephalopathy, resulting in a range of problems such as mania, depression, sleep disorders, learning and memory disorders and personality defects. From a clinical or medical perspective, it has been more and more accepted that “pain is a brain disease”, rather than “a local symptom” as it was previously recognized .

    The strategy of pain treatment shall be influenced by the constant advancing of people’s knowledge. In light of that, an utmost important thing to do is to provide patients with better disease diagnosis and treatment, especially timely treatment of pain to avoid its progression into a chronic status. In China, joint efforts are being made by the government, hospitals and academic societies. Medical treatment combination, which is promoted by National Health and Family Planning Commission of the People’s Republic of China and coordinated by the China-Japan Friendship Hospital and joined by hundreds of hospitals, is the channel to benefit the public with the latest research outcomes and translational applications in the pain field. The goal is to build a comprehensive pain management and treatment system, so that the “pain clinics” can be as widespread as dental clinics, thus benefitting the pain patients.

    Dr. Xu Zhang, an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, from Institute of Neuroscience, CAS, is mainly interesting in the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying pain and cognitive disorders. His lab used gene profiling strategy to identify pain modulators and underlying mechanisms, thus uncovered new regulators of pain transmission and new molecular pathways providing potential targets for clinic analgesia and drug discovery.

    The post Unveil the mist of pain: Frontiers in pain research appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on March 05, 2018 11:30 AM.

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    The human brain atlas: present and future

    The study of human brain atlas can be dated back to the early of the 20th century. At the initial stage, researchers made endless efforts to map the brain and anatomically partition it into areas based on cytoarchitectonic information. The recent human Brainnetome Atlas is a novel type of atlas that, unlike the ordinary ones, provides connectivity-based parcellation, with a specific focus on brain connectivity architecture. The unprecedented connectivity-based thought fills the gap in old-fashioned brain mapping.

    Only by constantly improving the fineness and accuracy of brain atlas, can we make good use of it to identify biomarkers for mental disorders.

    However, the journey of Brainnetome Atlas is far from over. There are still much more to do before we can finally apply it for therapies like transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and deep brain stimulation (DBS). What is more, only by constantly improving the fineness and accuracy of brain atlas, can we make good use of it to identify biomarkers for mental disorders.

    In this respect, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – the technology that existed before the atlas – has been in a dilemma for a long time. Although having been available for more than three decades and still rapidly developing, MRI has not been adopted for clinical diagnosis criteria for brain disorders, particularly mental disorders. This could be due to limited disease data and poor accuracy of brain atlases.

    Harnessing the brain atlas

    To put the atlas into use, we propose three important directions for future studies on the human Brainnetome Atlas. The first one is about identifying the biomarkers for early diagnosis, prognosis, and therapeutic efficacy evaluation in different mental disorders based on more sophisticated atlases. The second direction is to confirm the matching of different areas in the atlas to functional circuits of cognition such as emotion and memory and to generate brain functional atlases at different scales. Another direction involves the use of the language- or cognition-related brain atlas in computational modeling in brain-inspired artificial intelligence (AI) studies.

    There is tremendous amount of research that can be done on the link between brain atlas and the above-mentioned brain-inspired AI computing, which will be a research hotspot in the future. Although AI is a touted concept nowadays, challenges are everywhere including limited options of techniques for AI computation. Revealing how human brain processes information may largely facilitate the development of AI computation. For instance, it has been found that, when the human brain is processing information, the high-order interactions between neurons are characterized by the second-order interactions. It is important to uncover the false mask of the so-called high order. That will largely simplify AI computation and systemic structure design.

    Our next plan is to establish nonhuman primate brain atlases at three different levels. First, we will create a similar macroscopic atlas of macaque monkey brain as that of the human brain by parcellating its brain into different areas based on macrostructural features. Based on the macroscopic atlas, we will apply classical neural tract tracing technique and the new viral tracing methods to further create the connectivity atlas at the level of the neuronal populations (or different types of neurons). This is a major issue of importance to be addressed in the next 5 to 10 years.

    As for the fineness, it is far superior to the purely MRI-dependent method. To delineate a microscopic atlas is our ultimate goal, although hardly achievable, as currently there is no better technique available in this field other than the electron microscopy.

    The establishment of nonhuman primate brain atlas using invasive tracing techniques, which are inapplicable in human beings, would advance our understanding of the atlas of human brain. In addition, comparing nonhuman primate and human atlases at the macroscale may provide some hints on the similarity and difference between the two species during evolution at the brain functional connectivity level.

    The post The human brain atlas: present and future appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on March 05, 2018 11:25 AM.