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    An ancient swimming revolution in the oceans may have never happened

    Swimmers may not have suddenly dominated the oceans during the Devonian Period after all: New analyses suggest they took over much more gradually.

    in Science News on July 17, 2018 11:05 PM.

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    The pitfalls of persistence

    Why your brain makes bad decisions sometimes

    Try and try till you succeed may not always be the best advice. (Photo credit: Raeesa Gupte)
    “I hated the movie but decided to suffer through it because I had paid for the ticket…in 3D!”
    “The store was overpriced but I bought the dress because I drove all the way out there.”
    “His business isn’t doing well but he’s sticking with it because he’s invested so much time and money in it already!”

    Sound familiar? How many times have you persisted at a task that you know deep down is an exercise in futility?

    In theory, decisions should be made based on the magnitude of future benefits for the decision-maker. However, in the real world we often make decisions based on the magnitude of past resources that have already been expended and cannot be recovered (time and money). This “sunk costs” phenomenon makes us persist with our original choices even in the face of better alternatives. If it makes you feel any better, we aren’t the only species susceptible to the sunk costs fallacy. Scientists have discovered that bad decision-making is an evolutionary glitch and exists even in animals other than humans.

    How to test if animals make bad decisions based on sunk costs?

    Scientists at the University of Minnesota used a clever experimental setup to test susceptibility to sunk costs across three species: mice, rats, and humans. For rats and mice, they exploited their natural tendency to forage for food. So they designed a “restaurant” for rodents where the menu consisted of four flavors of food pellets: plain, grape, chocolate, and banana (yum!).

    Each flavor was served at a different table that had a decision-making area (offer zone) and a wait-for-the-food area (wait zone). While in the decision-making area, a tone was played that indicated how long the animal would have to wait before it got the food. The wait time varied randomly between 1-30 seconds. Here, they had the choice to either enter the wait area or skip that table and move to the next one. In the wait area, sound tones counted down to indicate how much time was left before the animal would get the food pellet. Here, the animal could choose to wait for the food or to leave at any time and move to the next table. If they left the wait area before the time ran out, they could not return to that particular flavor without going through all the other flavor tables in the restaurant first. Here’s a schematic to explain the experimental setup:

    Credit: Sensitivity to “sunk costs” in mice, rats, and humans. Sweis BM et al., Science, 2018.

    How to quantify bad decision-making influenced by sunk costs in humans?

    For Netflix-loving, instant streaming-craving Homo Sapiens, scientists modified the foraging task slightly. Knowing how we can all forego food and sleep while binge-watching our favorite shows online, they modeled a web-surfing task for human participants. To ensure that results could reliably be compared across species, they retained the overall basic premise of the rodent experiments while modifying it to sufficiently motivate our superior human brains.

    Subjects could view short videos in one of four galleries under the following categories: dance, accidents, landscapes, or kittens. They were shown how long they would have to wait for the video to download which varied randomly between 1–30 seconds. For each video they could opt to watch the video or skip and move on to the next viewing gallery (similar to the offer zone in the rodent test). Once they clicked on the “stay” option and decided to watch the video, the screen would show a download progression bar indicating how long they would have to wait to view the video (similar to the wait zone in the rodent test). The download could be quit during this wait phase to move on to the next viewing gallery.

    Credit: Sensitivity to “sunk costs” in mice, rats, and humans. Sweis BM et al., Science, 2018.

    So, what’s the verdict?

    The researchers found that mice, rats, and humans all fell prey to the sunk cost effect. The more time that rodents spent in the wait area awaiting the food pellet, the more likely they were to persist till the end. Similarly, the longer that humans waited for the video to download, the more likely they were to stay till it finished downloading to watch it.

    Weirdly, it turned out that the time rodents and humans took to decide on the offer had no impact on how much they then persisted in waiting for it. Only when they had committed to a particular flavor food pellet or video did their probability of persisting till the very end increase. These experiments show that we keep track of effort invested in waiting, not deciding.

    Also, the longer they waited for their chosen reward, the more likely they were to persist till the end. In short, the more resources (time/money/energy) you commit to a particular task, the stronger your resolve to stay the course even if it is to your own detriment! On the other hand, the amount of time spent waiting correlated positively with how much the reward was valued. For example, after consuming the food pellet rodents lingered longer at the table where they spent a longer time waiting and humans rated videos that took longer to download as more enjoyable. Now you know why you cherish an outcome you worked really hard for more than an easy victory.

    Why would evolution want you to persist in the face of failure?

    Scientists postulate that two distinct decision-making algorithms may be at play in the brain when making choices based on sunk costs. Before committing to a task, the brain has to estimate its value to an organism by predicting future outcomes. This is a complex and difficult process. Therefore, brains of different species may have evolved in a similar manner to use past effort as a measure of predicting future value. Unfortunately, in many real-life scenarios there may only be a very limited correlation between past resources spent and future value to be gained. In such cases the parts of our brain that evolved to minimize wastage of resources kicks in and urges us not to stop till we have achieved our goal. So let’s hope our brains continue to learn and evolve to make better life-choices!

    Turning lemons into lemonade

    Perhaps evolution has dealt us a raw deal. But there’s a silver lining yet. Understanding the neurological basis of decision-making can have far-reaching implications for developing better educational programs, economic policies, and interventions for psychiatric disorders. For instance, understanding the neurobiology of sunk costs can aid in the treatment of addiction by developing drugs that alter the underlying malfunctioning neuronal circuitry or by use of cognitive behavioral therapy. This is not an unattainable goal given that the one thing we excel at as scientists is persistence!

    You can follow this crossword-solving, travel-seeking, camera-touting scientist constantly torn between coffee and chai on Twitter @NeuroRaeesa

    Want more? Follow us at The Spike

    The pitfalls of persistence 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 July 17, 2018 04:02 PM.

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    "Open science is the practice of making research publications and data freely available. It takes advantage of the digital transition to develop open access to publications and, to the fullest extent possible, to research data.

    Open science seeks to create an ecosystem in which scientific research is more cumulative, better supported by data and more transparent with faster and more universal access to results." 

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 03:45 PM.

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    Scholarly Communications Librarian - 026411 | Office of Human Resources

    "The University Libraries at Appalachian State University seek a Scholarly Communications Librarian as a member of our Digital Scholarship and Initiatives team. The successful candidate will engage and partner with the Appalachian community to support new models of research and scholarship by providing and managing innovative digital tools and publishing platforms for content creation, delivery, discovery, and analysis. This position supports faculty and students in the areas of copyright and intellectual property.

    The University Libraries seek to recruit and retain a talented and diverse faculty. Candidates who are members of underrepresented populations are strongly encouraged to apply.


    ● Develop and lead a successful scholarly communications outreach program, promote the innovative use of technologies, and incorporate best practices to support Library and University initiatives.

    ● Serve as a catalyst in developing campus adoption and implementation of new models of scholarly communications that include sustainable digital scholarship, open access, open data, and open educational resources.

    ● Lead the development and evaluation of the Libraries’ institutional repository, including possible implementation of a new platform.

    ● Integrate scholarly communications into library instruction and work with other librarians to expand their capacity to support scholarly communications.

    ● Serve as a campus resource on issues and trends relevant to: intellectual property, copyright and fair use, government and institution mandates and directives, alternative scholarly dissemination venues, repositories, author rights, public access, open access, open educational resources, open data, metrics for assessing impact, data management, reputation and identity management, grants, and tenure and promotion.

    ● Identify, implement and support services, systems and applications that provide and integrate platforms for scholarly publishing, digital content and data management, and other research activities.

    ● Develop workshops and classroom instruction for the campus and community.

    ● Oversee scholarly publishing services.

    ● Coordinate Libraries’ scholarly communications program with initiatives in the state.

    ● Analyze and create reports on use of services and products of digital scholarship, including their access, impact, functionality, and effectiveness."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 03:29 PM.

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    Open Science and its role in universities: a roadmap for cultural change | LERU

    "Open Science opens up new ways in which research/education/innovation are undertaken, archived and curated, and disseminated across the globe. Open Science is not about dogma per se; it is about greater efficiency and productivity, more transparency and a better response to interdisciplinary research needs. The LERU universities are convinced Open Science brings new and exciting opportunities for the scholarly community and for how academics interact with society. They also  realise, however, that this transition will not be straightforward to deliver. There are challenges that lie ahead. For universities and other stakeholders to embrace Open Science principles, policies and practices, there needs to be a culture change in these organisations if this transition is to be successfully negotiated."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 02:57 PM.

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    An Open Science future – Europe leads the way | About Hindawi

    "Hindawi submitted a proposal this May in response to the European Commission’s tender to launch a new publishing platform. The Commission’s aim is to build on their progressive Open Science agenda to provide an optional Open Access publishing platform for the articles of all researchers with Horizon 2020 grants. The platform will also provide incentives for researchers to adopt Open Science practices, such as publishing preprints, sharing data, and open peer review. The potential for this initiative to lead a systemic transformation in research practice and scholarly communication in Europe and more widely should not be underestimated. Here we outline our bid to the Commission and our rationale for doing so."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 02:38 PM.

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    "My topic today is the corporate hold on academic research on two different but closely interrelated fronts: open access and bibliometrics. Open access policies are very simple to understand: the publications generated by research funded with public money should be available for free to anyone interested. This is, simply, not happening. Bibliometrics used to be a system designed to aid university librarians to choose how to invest their meagre, or large, resources into the best journals available but became about ten years ago an Orwellian way of measuring what cannot be measured: scholarly reputation and impact."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 02:14 PM.

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    Jupiter has 12 more moons than we knew about — and one is bizarre

    Astronomers found a dozen previously unknown moons of Jupiter, and one may be a remnant of a larger moon that was all but ground to dust.

    in Science News on July 17, 2018 02:00 PM.

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    European Medicines Agency - News and Events - EMA’s proactive publication of clinical data a success

    "The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has published the first report on the implementation of its flagship policy on the publication of clinical data (Policy 0070). Under this policy citizens, including researchers and academics, can directly access thousands of pages from clinical reports submitted by pharmaceutical companies to EMA in the context of marketing authorisation applications for new medicines as of 1 January 2015. Clinical reports give information on the methods used and results of clinical trials conducted to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of medicines. The report covers one year from the launch of EMA’s clinical data website on 20 October 2016 and lists the 50 medicines for which clinical data were published, including orphan, paediatric, biosimilar and generic medicines, as well as the corresponding 54 regulatory dossiers. These data have attracted a total of 3,641 users, resulting in 22,164 document ‘views’ and 80,537 ‘downloads’ for non-commercial research purposes."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 02:00 PM.

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    25 years of EdTech: 2013 – Open Textbooks – The Ed Techie

    "If MOOCs were the glamorous side of open education, all breathless headlines and predictions, open textbooks were the practical, even dowdy, application. An extension of the OER movement, and particularly pertinent in the United States and Canada, open textbooks provided openly licensed versions of bespoke written textbooks, free for the digital version. The cost of textbooks provided an initial motivation for adoption, but it is the potential of adaption that makes them interesting. Open textbooks are sometimes criticised for being an unimaginative application of the possibilities of open. But they also offer a clear example of several aspects which need to align for ed tech adoption in higher ed." 

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:55 AM.

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    Open ELS Project publishes data policy to boost use of official geospatial information

    "Harmonised geospatial data from official national sources will be free to access and available under an open licence through the Open European Location Services (Open ELS) Project. The newly-published Open ELS data policy sets out the principals for accessing and reusing the data and services delivered by the Open ELS Project. In doing so, it provides certainty, to both users and the participating National Mapping, Cadastral and Land Registry Authorities, about what open data is free and under what terms and conditions."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:50 AM.

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    “A great opportunity to promote impactful work ”: Past ACRL-OR Awards for Excellence revisited! | ACRL-Oregon/OLA Academic Division Blog

    "The ACRL-Oregon Award for Excellence recognizes a project that demonstrates excellence in the field by significantly improving Oregon academic libraries or librarianship. Help us recognize the great work of our colleagues — your nominations matter!"

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:46 AM.

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    Google And The United Nations Are Joining Forces, And It Could Mean Big Things For The Environment

    "Google is teaming up with the United Nations to change the way that we understand our planet. The goal of the partnership, which was announced today, is to provide unprecedented access to anyone who wishes to use Google's extensive environmental data. When the free, open access platform is completed, it will create a much-needed bridge between environmental science and global policy, enabling governments and NGOs to create and track evidence-based environmental targets."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:43 AM.

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    World Science Festival Videos Added to the NCLOR’s OER Collection | NCLOR News and Information Portal

    "Today, over 300 free video resources were added to the open educational resources collection of the NCLOR. The added resources were videos from the World Science Festival YouTube collection. The World Science Festival gathers great minds in science and the arts to produce live and digital content that allows a broad general audience to engage with scientific discoveries. Through discussions, debates, theatrical works, interactive explorations, musical performances, intimate salons, and major outdoor experiences, the Festival takes science out of the laboratory and into the streets, parks, museums, galleries and premier performing arts venues of New York City and beyond."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:34 AM.

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    Head of Electronic Resources and Serials Acquisitions, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA | NASIG Jobs Blog

    "Harvard Library seeks a dynamic, imaginative, and collaborative leader to guide and evolve Harvard Library’s management of print serials and electronic resources.  Applying their solid record of leadership and vision across Harvard’s vast online and physical collections, the Head of Electronic Resources and Serials Acquisitions will guide the development of a unified strategy, best practices, and workflows for managing fee-based and open access online resources that encompass all library parties of the content ecosystem–collection development, technical services, and scholarly communication while maintaining the accurate and timely acquisition of a significant and robust collection of print serials."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:25 AM.

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    EMA’s proactive publication of clinical data a success | EATG

    "The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has published the first report on the implementation of its flagship policy on the publication of clinical data (Policy 0070). Under this policy citizens, including researchers and academics, can directly access thousands of pages from clinical reports submitted by pharmaceutical companies to EMA in the context of marketing authorisation applications for new medicines as of 1 January 2015. Clinical reports give information on the methods used and results of clinical trials conducted to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of medicines."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:15 AM.

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    Journal Development Editor job with Springer Nature | 376184

    "Are you keen to develop a publishing career with some of the most respected quality science journals?  If so we want to hear from you.  In joining the team you would become part of one of the world’s leading global publishers. You will be working on our respected SpringerOpen and BMC journal portfolios.  Due to the success of this business area, our team is growing and we have a fantastic opportunity for an individual with a passion for academic advancement to develop their publishing career and work alongside some of the best in this field."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:10 AM.

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    Palaeontology and Open Science news roundup: July 16th, 2018 -

    "Welcome to your usual weekly roundup of vaguely interesting stuff that happened in the last week! Enjoy, and let me know if I’ve missed anything out."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:09 AM.

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    HIREMOS – integración de las monografías de investigación en la infraestructura de la ciencia abierta europea | Universo Abierto

    Translation: "Open Science means more than mere Open Access, and Open Access does not mean just magazines. In an upward direction, it means opening the entire research process by giving access to a variety of digital objects, such as methods, software, data and intermediate documents, beyond the final peer-reviewed research article or published results. Open Science means opening knowledge silos based on disciplines, creating bridges between countries and disciplines, and supporting the aggregation and reuse of resources in interdisciplinary subjects. The development of Open Science involves going beyond the mere publication of millions of Open Access documents, to also interrelating them through useful services and building an integrated and trustworthy open knowledge system in all disciplines and fields of expertise"

    "La Ciencia Abierta significa más que el mero Acceso Abierto, y el Acceso Abierto no significa sólo revistas. En sentido ascendente, significa abrir todo el proceso de investigación dando acceso a una variedad de objetos digitales, tales como métodos, software, datos y documentos intermedios, más allá del artículo final de investigación revisado por pares o de los resultados publicados.  Significa abrir los silos de conocimiento basados en disciplinas, crear puentes entre países y disciplinas, y apoyar la agregación y la reutilización de recursos en temas interdisciplinarios. El desarrollo de la Ciencia Abierta implica ir más allá de la mera publicación de millones de documentos de Acceso Abierto, pero también interrelacionarlos a través de servicios útiles y construir un sistema de conocimiento abierto integrado y de confianza en todas las disciplinas y campos de especialización."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 11:02 AM.

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    ‘The Poisoned City’ chronicles Flint’s water crisis

    A new book examines how lead ended up in Flint’s water and resulted in a prolonged public health disaster.

    in Science News on July 17, 2018 11:00 AM.

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    How to help researchers navigate Open Access requirements | Scholarly Communication

    "Are the researchers in your department confused about what they need to do about Open Access?

    This support session will equip you to help them understand: what Open Access policies actually mean for researchers across the disciplines what they are required to do in order for their research to be eligible for REF 2021 Dr Arthur Smith of the Office of Scholarly Communication will discuss everything you need to know to guide researchers through the process of making research Open Access, and will demonstrate how to manage key tasks in Symplectic Elements." 

    Event date: Wednesday, 1 August, 2018

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 10:36 AM.

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    Massive study finds that a sizeable minority of us are in jobs that don’t fit our primary occupational interests

    GettyImages-841304270.jpgBy Alex Fradera

    In theory, our personal traits and interests should affect the jobs we pursue and where we thrive the most. This assumption is baked into the Work Psychology theory of “person-environment fit” and it’s an idea that is foundational to services we depend on like vocational guidance and career planning. But one of its key implications has until now been untested: that people who share the same job role will also have similar job interests. Now a surprising new study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior suggests that for many jobs, this simply isn’t true. 

    The Michigan State University research team led by Christopher Nye used the Strong Interest Inventory (that measures interest in six areas: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional) to determine whether people in the same occupation were similar in terms of which was their top-ranked interest. 

    Among their sample of 67,000 people, across 211 jobs, those in the same occupational role did sometimes show a strong tendency to share the same primary interest – the strongest example being for fine artists, auto mechanics and carpenters, where in each case, 82 per cent of role holders shared the same focus – Artistic for the first and Realistic for the latter two. 

    But people in other occupations showed much less similarity in interests. For instance, in almost half of the occupations, only the thinnest of majorities tended to share the same interest, meaning that a lot of the time two people in the exact same job often had very different occupational interests. 

    Could the results be skewed by the sample being stacked with people trapped in jobs that they hate? This isn’t plausible, as the study only involved people who were reasonably satisfied in their role and had worked there at least three years. 

    It’s possible the variability was exaggerated by only focusing on the top interest. So in a second study using different occupational samples (58 datasets in total), the research team tried a more sophisticated statistical angle that looked for the degree of alignment between a person’s top three interests and the three interests conventionally considered to characterise the job. Nye’s team found that just over half the jobs showed more alignment than you would expect to see at random, but the remaining 45 per cent were the same or less. What this means is that a sizeable minority of occupations are filled by people who aren’t especially interested in the type of work their role is understood to require.

    Defenders of person-environment fit could rustle up some retorts. You might find people with a poor fit in jobs with low barriers to entry, which are easy to fall into without any forethought. Perhaps if analysis were restricted to challenging vocations with higher barriers to entry, or people staying in jobs for a long time, there would be far more congruence between interests and job roles? In fact, the first study showed no effect of occupational tenure – people longer in jobs did not have a better fit than newer incumbents. And the second study showed that employees in several jobs that require extensive preparation or specialist education also had diverse interests, such as secondary school teacher and even clergy.

    This suggests we should reconsider the assumption that people are primarily drawn to jobs because of the types of things they want to do. In some cases this is sure to be true, but exceptions abound. Some people chase a job not for what it involves but for the money, or security, or the company they get to keep. And people may find ways to shape jobs around their own interests – called job crafting – or be able to draw from it rewards that may not be obvious to everyone, such as the London Tube station assistant who wrote a book on how the experience delivered to his philosophical, Investigative interests.

    This work may give some careers advisors pause for thought – occupational interests are often used as the easy shorthand to determine recommendations, but a multi-level approach considering personality and broader life goals is preferable. And for ourselves, we should allow our curiosity to be roused. When you’re next at work, why not ask your colleagues what led them to the work they are doing, and what they get from it. The answer is likely to surprise you.

    Do ornithologists flock together? Examining the homogeneity of interests in occupations

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 17, 2018 10:33 AM.

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    Seven Reasons Why Open Educational Resources Are The Wise Way To Go In Moodle | Moodle News

    "To encourage the use —and help dispel some myths— of Open Educational Resources, particularly in the Ontario region, government-funded NGO Contact North has published a ten-item OER “Fact Sheet” with actionable and interesting data about OER and its latest developments. OER continues to spread across the mainstream space and tackle the challenges posed by skeptics (and detractors)."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 10:31 AM.

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    Cengage Contributes Openly Licensed Content to OER Community

    "Cengage, an education and technology company, is contributing the narrative content for three openly licensed textbooks, as well as the learning objectives and assessments for 12 course areas as Open Educational Resources (OER). The Creative Commons Attribution licensed (CC BY) narrative content and the learning objectives are available to download from the Cengage website where content can be accessed as editable files without a required login or purchase. The CC BY licensed assessments are available via editable files with an instructor login."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 10:23 AM.

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    BioRxiv: A postprint server? – Jordan Anaya – Medium

    "Europe PMC recently started indexing preprints, which is great because the reason I made PrePubMed over 2 years ago was because no one seemed to be keeping track of these things despite the fact they were undergoing exponential growth and some of the best work was being posted as preprints."

    in Open Access Tracking Project on July 17, 2018 10:19 AM.

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    A ‘reverse chatbot’ helps med students hone their diagnostic skills

    PatientX – created by Elsevier Hacks participants – simulates patient cases, allowing medical students to practice clinical reasoning

    in Elsevier Connect on July 17, 2018 09:13 AM.

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    Wildfires are making extreme air pollution even worse in the northwest U.S.

    America’s air is getting cleaner — except in places that are prone to wildfires.

    in Science News on July 16, 2018 07:19 PM.

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    Mental Health is Not Just the Absence of Mental Illness

    In an increasingly globalized and mediatized world, in which mental illness is one of society’s most discussed cultural artifacts, Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s words ring out: “If we don’t have time to be sick, then we have to make time to be healthy”.

    With the prevalence of mental health problems, it is clear why. Mental health issues are one of the leading causes of the overall disease burden globally, according to the World Health Organisation. One study reported that mental health is the primary source of disability worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds.

    Compared to previous generations, mental illness is now said to surpass the effects of the Black Death. The root causes of the unprecedented rise in people directly affected by mental illness, and the cost of this, can be considered across at least three levels of analysis.

    If we don’t have time to be sick, then we have to make time to be healthy.

    Colleen Patrick Goudreau

    At the first level of analysis, the root cause of mental illness is an amalgamation of heredity, biology, environmental stressors, and psychological trauma.

    Notions of specific genes being responsible for illness have been supplanted by those of genetic complexity, where various genes operate in concert with non-genetic factors to affect mental illness. That is, health-relevant biology and mental health impact each other in a complex interplay, which is inherently social.

    Despite the importance of understanding the social underpinnings of biological risk factors for mental illness, there is a relative paucity of research investigating this topic. Research that does exist, is nevertheless engrossing. For example, one study, of many, found that social isolation leads to increased risk of coronary heart disease. Since low levels of social integration are related to higher levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation related to coronary heart disease, social integration is posited to be a biological link between social isolation and coronary heart disease.

    Moreover, social support affects physical perception. In a landmark study, researchers demonstrated that people accompanied by a supportive friend or those who imagined a supportive friend, estimated a hill to be less steep when compared to people who were alone.

    Mental health, like physical health, is more than the sum of functioning or malfunctioning parts.

    At the second level of analysis, the complex bio-social interplay scaffolding mental illness points to the fundamentally chemical underpinnings of human thinking and emotion.

    With recent advances in neuroscience like Clarity, we are now able to make the brain optically transparent, without having to section or reconstruct it, in order to examine the neuronal networks, subcellular structures, and more. In short, we can examine mental illness from a biological perspective.

    The depth and complexity of the bio-social root of mental illness, however, paints a more nuanced picture than discussed thus far. With such pioneering work, there is an increasingly popular assumption that the brain is the most important level at which to analyze human behavior.

    In this vein, mental illness perpetuates itself by virtue of the fact that people often consider it to be biologically determined. In turn, a ‘trait-like’ view of mental illness establishes a status quo of mental health stigma by reducing empathy. Such explanations overemphasize constant factors such as biology and underemphasize modulating factors such as the environment.

    At the third level of analysis, the obsession with seeing mental health in terms of mental illness reveals the fallible assumption that mental health is simply the absence of mental disorder. However, the problematic landscape of mental health draws on a far wider set of working assumptions. That is, mental health, like physical health, is more than the sum of the functioning or malfunctioning parts. It is an overall well-being that must be considered in light of unique differences between physical health, cognition, and emotions, which can be lost in a solely global evaluation.

    So, why do we as a society ponder solving mental illness, which should have been targeted long ago, far more than we consider improving mental health? In part, because when we think of mental health, we think of raising the mean positive mental health of a population, more than closing the implementation gap between prevention, promotion, and treatment.

    Cumulatively, social environments are the lubricating oil to biological predispositions, which influence mental health, such that mental health and physical health should be considered holistically. In this vein, national mental health policies should not be solely concerned with mental disorders, to the detriment of mental health promotion.

    It is worth considering how mental health issues can be targeted using proactive behavioral programs. To achieve this, it is pivotal to involve all relevant government sectors such as education, labor, justice, and welfare sectors.

    In a diverse range of existing players, many nonprofits’, educational institutions’, and research groups’ efforts contribute to the solution landscape of mental health promotion. In Ireland, for example, schools have mental health promotional activities such as breathing exercises and anger management programs. Nonprofits around the world are increasingly seeing the value of community development programmes and capacity building (strengthening the skills of communities in so they can overcome the causes of their isolation). In addition, businesses are incorporating stress management into their office culture.

    We think of raising the mean positive mental health of a population, more than closing the implementation gap between prevention, promotion and treatment.

    The pursuit to empower people to help themselves joins up these social ventures to teach us that promoting mental health is optimized when it is preventative, occurring before mental illness emerges, and when it is linked to practical skills within a community. Furthermore, these social ventures exemplify how different types of efforts (government, nonprofit, business etc.) cater to different populations, from children to corporates.

    While these social ventures bring hope to the future and underscore the importance of sustainable change, there are still too few programs effectively targeting people, who want to maximize already existent positive mental health not just to resolve or cope with mental health issues. If we continue to take such pride in our successful problem finding and solving of mental illness that we ignore mental illness prevention and mental health promotion, we are at risk of increasing the problem we are trying to solve.


    Heffner, K., Waring, M., Roberts, M., Eaton, C., & Gramling, R. (2011). Social isolation, C-reactive protein, and coronary heart disease mortality among community-dwelling adults. Social Science & Medicine, 72(9), 1482-1488. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.03.016

    Lozano, R., Naghavi, M., Foreman, K., Lim, S., Shibuya, K., & Aboyans, V. et al. (2012). Global and regional mortality from 235 causes of death for 20 age groups in 1990 and 2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. The Lancet, 380(9859), 2095-2128. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(12)61728-0

    Schnall, S., Harber, K., Stefanucci, J., & Proffitt, D. (2008). Social support and the perception of geographical slant. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1246-1255. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.04.011

    Image via Wokandapix/Pixabay.

    in Brain Blogger on July 16, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Convergence of Synaptic Signals is Mediated by a Protein Critical for Learning and Memory

    Researchers at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience show that protein Kinase C is a novel information integrator, keeping tabs on the recent history of neighboring synapses while simultaneously monitoring local synaptic input

    Inside the brain, is a complex symphony of perfectly coordinated signaling. Hundreds of different molecules amplify, modify and carry information from tiny synaptic compartments all the way through the entire length of a neuron. The precise interplay of these proteins is critical for normal neuronal function; ultimately allowing the brain to achieve feats like cognition, decision making, and sensory perception.

    Researchers from the lab of Ryohei Yasuda at the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience (MPFI), study the elaborate nexus of signaling proteins involved in learning and memory; looking at a unique process called synaptic plasticity, the innate ability of a neural synapse to either strengthen or weaken. Understanding how proteins behave during plasticity is key to unlocking how we learn and how memories are formed.

    In a study published in Nature Neuroscience in July 2018, Dr. Lesley Colgan, a Research Fellow in the Yasuda Lab and leading author of the paper, delves into the role that Protein Kinase C (PKC) plays in synaptic plasticity. PKC represents an entire family of 12 distinct kinases, that propagate a biochemical signal through the phosphorylation of target proteins they interact with. While previously implicated in synaptic plasticity, engineering tools sensitive enough to study PKC in the brain has been a major challenge. Yasuda’s team developed a host of sensors that can track the activity of PKCs with unprecedented specificity and sensitivity, probing when and where activation occurs as well as how these enzymes turn on and off. With these powerful sensors, they have been able to look more closely at the role that PKC plays at the single synapse level.

    One enzyme in the PKC family, PKCα, plays a direct role in facilitating synaptic plasticity. When PKCα activity is perturbed, plasticity is subsequently disrupted; demonstrating that the protein is a critical first step in the initial molecular cascade. PKCα also has very robust activation and is rather spine specific, confining its activity to only the stimulated spine and not spreading to the surrounding dendrites.

    A unique discovery of the study, found that PKCα acts to integrate two temporally distinctive signaling pathways both known to be critical for synaptic plasticity. The first is BDNF mediated, a slower, diffuse signal developing over minutes and the second, is NMDA receptor mediated calcium influx, a spine-specific signal occurring in a matter of milliseconds and necessary to begin the rapid molecular cascade of synaptic plasticity. Adaptably responding to both of these signals, PKCα is able to sample recent synaptic history and integrate it with current synaptic events, enabling complex processing of information at the single spine level.

    Investigating these intriguing findings further, the team was able to successfully link molecules to memory, uncovering that PKCα is required for efficiency of learning. Mice with PKCα removed from the brain, take a significantly longer amount of time to become proficient at a learning task than counterparts containing intact PKCα protein. Despite this lengthier learning curve, if given additional training, mice lacking PKCα will eventually learn the task just as well as wild type mice; supporting the notion that PKCα is critical for encoding a memory but may not play a significant role in the recall of a memory once it’s established.

    This work represents a substantial advancement in the field, providing integral tools that will enable the disentanglement of complex signaling related to learning and memory. According to Dr. Colgan, “These newly developed sensors will have broad usage in neuroscience and cell biology alike, allowing the study of many complex signaling pathways that PKC has a hand in.”

    This work was supported by National Institutes of Health, Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience and Max Planck Society. The content of this article is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

    Above image:
    Model of integration of TrkB and calcium signals to induce PKCα activation in paired and unpaired subthreshold stimulations. A subthreshold stimulus that was unable to induce plasticity was given alone (unpaired) or after a nearby plasticity-inducing stimulation (paired). Unpaired, the stimulus could not activate PKCa or induce plasticity. However, when paired with recent plasticity in a nearby spine, which induces a long-lasting, spreading TrkB activity, this same subthreshold stimulus led to PKCa activation and plasticity.

    PKCα integrates spatiotemporally distinct Ca2+ and autocrine BDNF signaling to facilitate synaptic plasticity.

    Lesley A Colgan, Mo Hu, Jaime A Misler, Paula Parra-Bueno, Corey M Moran, Michael Leitges, Ryohei Yasuda

    Nature Neuroscience, July 16 2018, Early Release.
    DOI: 10.1038/s41593-018-0184-3

    in Max Plank Florida Institute for Neuroscience on July 16, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Publicity over a memory test Trump took could skew its results

    Many media outlets reporting on President Trump’s cognitive assessment test could make it harder for doctors to use the exam to spot dementia.

    in Science News on July 16, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Gluten-free turkeys? Paper on dangers of wheat-based diet in birds retracted

    The journal Scientifica has retracted a 2016 paper on gut disease in turkeys for a rafter of sins including plagiarism and authors plucked out of thin air. The article, “Role of wheat based diet on the pathology of necrotic enteritis in turkeys,” was purportedly written by a team from Pakistan and France. But it turns … Continue reading Gluten-free turkeys? Paper on dangers of wheat-based diet in birds retracted

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

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    Chronic sleep deprivation could be an important driver of depression in young women

    Depression is a common psychological disorder that affects 121 million people worldwide and is the leading cause of disability when measured by years lived with disability (YLDs). Rising rates of depression diagnoses among youth, with about 20% experiencing depression before adulthood, have led many counties to prioritize initiatives that enhance prevention, early identification, and treatment efforts.

    Depression causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest in activities of daily living, impacting overall health and wellbeing. The common misinterpretation of depressed states as transient “normal” phases of adolescence combined with widespread stigma have contributed to the current situation where the vast majority of depressed youth are not being treated.

    The development of depression among youth can lead to substance (mis)use, decreased quality of life and suicide. Furthermore, young people who experience depression are also at increased risk of having poor health and economic outcomes in adulthood.

    Factors that increase the risk of depression in young people include abuse and neglect, chronic physical illness, family history of mental illness, other mental health problems and the experience of stressful life events. It has also been found that female youth develop depression twice as often as young men, although some of this difference is due to the way researchers ask questions when determining symptoms of depression.

    But what about sleep?

    Sleep is essential for health and proper sleep for young people is critical for proper growth and it it is recommended that young people aged 13-18 years sleep 8 to 10 hours per night. Yet, getting enough sleep is not commonly talked about as a potential determinant of youth depression.

    None of the existing studies look at gender differences despite the fact that women and men are known to differ in the developmental course of depression.

    Adolescence is a critical period of development that is marked by substantial reductions to slow wave and rapid eye movement sleep, increases in sleep disturbance, a circadian shift to an evening chronotype and a shortening of total duration of sleep. These neuro-endocrine changes often lead to young people lacking adequate amounts of total sleep. negative consequences of sleep deprivation include mood disturbances, poor academic performance, weight gain, increased food intake, substance use and other poor health behaviors.

    The relationship between short sleep (i.e. poor quantity) and depression in young people has not been well studied. Although some investigators have used prospective study designs that allow for some inference about causality, the majority of work in this area involves cross-sectional designs which measure both sleep deprivation and depression at the same point in time so there is no way to know if disrupted sleep precedes the emergence of depression.

    Even the studies that are somewhat better designed to assess causality frequently measure sleep problems only once and then follow people over time to identify risk of developing depression. Although not conclusive, the results of these types of studies suggest that short sleep duration precedes depression in young people but not the reverse.

    None of the existing studies look at gender differences despite the fact that women and men are known to differ in the developmental course of depression, and they also experience distinct risk factors that are known to influence depression because of their biology and social status.

    Our study

    We wanted to fill this gap in evidence using data that was collected multiple times from a large group of young people in British Columbia (BC), Canada. We used answers that young people gave to questions about their sleep and awake times to determine whether they were sleep deprived and we calculated this at three time points, roughly 6 months apart.

    This design allowed us to determine the extent to which they were chronically sleep deprived. We used this information to study the cumulative effect of chronic sleep deprivation (compared to occasional or no history of sleep deprivation) on the risk of depression from a gender perspective.

    Our work adds new evidence on the role of repeated sleep deprivation in young people on their risk of depression and how the effect differs by gender.

    Our hypothesis was that chronic sleep deprivation, defined as less than 8 hours per weeknight, would be linked to higher depression levels, and that the relationship would vary between young women and young men.

    Our results showed that cumulative sleep deprivation in young women was linked to higher depression scores at the study follow-up, but there was no clear relationship among young men. The size of the effect we found was initially medium when we used simple statistical models of the relationship; however, it was smaller when we also accounted for a number of the factors that are known to influence both depression and sleep.

    Our work adds new evidence on the role of repeated sleep deprivation in young people on their risk of depression and how the effect differs by gender. We believe this is an important area of research that needs more attention, both in terms of thinking about these relationships and in terms of measuring them in a rigorous way.

    We think it is important for young women to be supported in achieving the recommended amount of sleep as a potentially important way of promoting mental health among young people.

    The post Chronic sleep deprivation could be an important driver of depression in young women appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 16, 2018 11:27 AM.

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    Solving problems by computer just got a lot faster

    A new computer program sifts through all possible solutions to find the best answer to a given problem far faster than other algorithms.

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

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    See what’s possible when a tech team reinvents flashcards for medical education

    Powercards app by Elsevier Hacks participants uses "flashcards" to spark conversation among med students worldwide

    in Elsevier Connect on July 16, 2018 09:12 AM.

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    The biggest misconceptions about AI: the experts’ view

    Five experts reveal common misunderstandings around "the singularity" and what AI can and can’t do

    in Elsevier Connect on July 16, 2018 09:10 AM.

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    Audiobooks pack a more powerful emotional punch than film

    GettyImages-869794278.jpgBy Emma Young

    Audiobook sales are booming, almost doubling in the UK over the past five years. Some are now sophisticated, being voiced by multiple actors and featuring extensive sound effects. But even single-narrator audiobooks are, it’s been argued, more cognitively and emotionally engaging than print – in part because a listener can’t slow down, as they can with a print book. 

    As a writer whose latest psychology-themed novel She, Myself and I is now being produced as an audiobook, I can’t help wondering about the benefits, and the costs. Personally, I like to be able to control my pace through a print book, to re-read sentences or paragraphs that I particularly enjoy or that I don’t quite process properly on a first read. 

    However, as Daniel Richardson at UCL, and fellow researchers, point out in a new study, available as a pre-print on the bioRxiv service, “Our oldest narratives date back many thousands of years and pre-date the advent of writing… For the majority of human history, stories were synonymous with oral tradition; audiences listened to a story-teller imparting a tale.” Humans did not evolve to read, so perhaps there’s something primordially special about listening to a story. But, as the researchers go on to write, “in the modern era, video has emerged as a major narrative tool as well.” 

    So which is more engaging – video or audio? That’s the focus of the new paper. And I’m intrigued. I’ve also sold TV rights to the novel, and TV, of course, is the medium of mass-appeal. If my book is ultimately turned into a TV series, might viewers become more involved in the story than my audiobook listeners? 

    Video offers more information than audio, the researchers point out (while two people both hearing “The house was ablaze” would imagine slightly different things, watching a film showing a house on fire leaves nothing to the imagination.) Oral stories might therefore elicit more engagement, as the listener has to construct a personalised interpretation of the narrative. But because audio is also more demanding than video, is there a bigger risk that listeners will lose interest in the story, and switch off?

    To investigate, the researchers asked 102 men and women, aged 18-55, to wear a wrist sensor that captured their heart rate, sweating and wrist temperature while they listened to and watched a series of emotionally-charged scenes. 

    These were a mix of audio and film-version extracts from eight works of fiction, including Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, and Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. The order of the presentations, and whether a particular story was presented as a video or as an audiobook extract, varied across participants.

    At the end of each trial, participants completed a questionnaire that assessed four aspects of their perceived involvement in the story: their emotional engagement; their understanding of the narrative; their attentional focus; and the “narrative presence” (indicating to what extent they agreed or disagreed with “At times, the story was closer to me than the real world,” for example).  

    Though the participants reported feeling more engaged in the videos, their heart rates, body temperatures and skin conductance readings were all higher while they were listening to the audio. Increased heart rate was taken to indicate greater cognitive effort (there were no differences in levels of fidgeting between the audio and video trials), especially given the other data: the skin conductance and temperature readings suggested that the participants were more emotionally involved when listening to audio, the researchers argued. 

    This paper has not been peer-reviewed yet. And, due to sensor failure, the researchers were not able to gather the full set of physiological recordings for all of the participants (they got electrodermal data for only 62, for instance). But if as this work suggests, people are at a physiological level more emotionally engaged by audio than watching film, this is good news for novelists. People might love watching TV dramas, but, in getting people more involved in a story, the form of the novel – whether in print or audio – reigns supreme. 

    Measuring narrative engagement: The heart tells the story [This study is a preprint meaning that it has not yet been subjected to formal peer review]

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a novelist and Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 16, 2018 08:51 AM.

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    The brain may clean out Alzheimer’s plaques during sleep

    Sleep deprivation may speed up development of Alzheimer’s disease.

    in Science News on July 15, 2018 10:00 AM.

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    The Ethics of Research on Leaked Data: Ashley Madison

    A paper just published reports that Republicans are more likely to have used the adultery website Ashley Madison than Democrats, while Libertarians were even more likely to do so. That's a claim that could ruffle some feathers, but the way in which the researchers conducted this study might be even more controversial. That's because this paper is based on the 2015 Ashley Madison data leak, which exposed the personal data, including names and credit-card details, of millions of registered

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on July 14, 2018 02:07 PM.

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    Weekend reads: Kim Kardashian loses an authorship; legal threats follow misconduct allegations; faked job offer leads to prosecution

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured the retraction of a Nature paper over the objections of … Continue reading Weekend reads: Kim Kardashian loses an authorship; legal threats follow misconduct allegations; faked job offer leads to prosecution

    in Retraction watch on July 14, 2018 12:49 PM.

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    An epidemic of "Necessary and Sufficient" neurons

    A great deal of neuroscience has become “circuit cracking.”
    — Alex Gomez-Marin

    A miniaturized holy grail of neuroscience is discovering that activation or inhibition of a specific population of neurons (e.g., prefrontal parvalbumin interneurons) or neural circuit (e.g., basolateral amygdala nucleus accumbens) is “necessary and sufficient” (N&S) to produce a given behavior.

    from: Optogenetics, Sex, and Violence in the Brain: Implications for Psychiatry 1 

    In the last year or so, it has become acceptable to question the dominant systems/circuit paradigm of “manipulate and measure” as THE method to gain insight into how the brain produces behavior (Krakauer et al., 2017; Gomez-Marin, 2017). Detailed analysis of an organism's natural behavior is indispensable for progress in understanding brain-behavior relationships. Claims that optogenetic and other manipulations of a neuronal population can demonstrate that it is “N&S” for a complex behavior have also been challenged. Gomez-Marin (2017) pulled no punches and stated:
    I argue that to upgrade intervention to explanation is prone to logical fallacies, interpretational leaps and carries a weak explanatory force, thus settling and maintaining low standards for intelligibility in neuroscience. To claim that behavior is explained by a “necessary and sufficient” neural circuit is, at best, misleading.

    The latest entry into this fault-fest goes further, indicating that most N&S claims in biology violate the principles of formal logic and should be called ‘misapplied-N&S’ (Yoshihara & Yoshihara, 2018). They say the use of “necessary and sufficient” terminology should be banned and replaced with “indispensable and inducing” (except for a handful of instances). 2

    modified from Fig. 1A (Yoshihara & Yoshihara, 2018). The relationship between squares and rectangles as a typical example of true necessary (being a rectangle; pale green) and sufficient condition (being a square; magenta) in formal logic.

    N&S claims are very popular in optogenetics, which has become a crucial technique in neuroscience. But demonstrating true N&S is nearly impossible, because the terminology disregards: activity in the rest of the brain, whether all the activated neurons are “necessary” (instead of only a subset), what actually happens under natural conditions (rather than artificially induced), the requirement of equivalence, etc. Yoshihara & Yoshihara (2018) are especially disturbed by the incorrect use of “sufficient”, which leads to results being overstated and misinterpreted:
    The main problem comes from the word ‘sufficient,’ which is often used to emphasize that artificial expression of only a single gene or activation of only a single neuron can cause a substantial and presumably relevant effect on the whole process of interest. Although it may be sufficient as an experimental manipulation for triggering the effect, it is not actually sufficient for executing the whole effect itself.

    And for optogenetics:
    Rather, the importance of ‘sufficiency’ experiments lies in demonstrating a causal link through optogenetic activation of neurons... Thus, words such as triggers, promotes, induces, switches, or initiates may better reflect or express the desired nuance without creating such confusion.

    Y & Y (2018) aren't shy about naming names in their Commentary, and even say that misapplied-N&S has generated unproductive and misleading studies that offer no scientific insight whatsoever. Although one could say that N&S has a different meaning in biology, or is merely a figure of speech, such strong statements have consequences for the future directions of a field.

    Thanks to BoOrg Lab for the link to Gomez-Marin.


    1 “...neurons necessary and sufficient for inter-male aggression are located within the ventrolateral subdivision of the ventromedial hypothalamic nucleus (VMHvl)...”

    2 One of the instances uses the old discredited “command neuron” concept of Ikeda & Wiersma (1964). They call it A‘Witch Hunt’ of Command Neurons and note that only three command neurons meet the true N&S criteria (one each in lobster, Aplysia, and Drosophila).


    Gomez-Marin A. (2017). Causal circuit explanations of behavior: Are necessity and sufficiency necessary and sufficient? In: Decoding Neural Circuit Structure and Function (pp. 283-306). Springer, Cham.  {PDF}

    Krakauer JW, Ghazanfar AA, Gomez-Marin A, MacIver MA, Poeppel D. (2017). Neuroscience Needs Behavior: Correcting a Reductionist Bias. Neuron. 93(3):480-490.

    Yoshihara M, Yoshihara M. (2018). 'Necessary and sufficient' in biology is not necessarily necessary - confusions and erroneous conclusions resulting from misapplied logic in the field of biology, especially neuroscience. J Neurogenet. 32(2):53-64.

    in The Neurocritic on July 14, 2018 01:44 AM.

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    First global maps of Pluto and Charon show the worlds’ highs and lows

    New charts of Pluto and its moon Charon, compiled using New Horizons’ data, reveal high peaks, deep depressions and strange ridges.

    in Science News on July 13, 2018 08:50 PM.

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    UCL trachea transplants: Videregen sets lawyers on Liverpool academics Murray and Levy

    The Science and Technology Committee of the British House of Commons opened in November 2017 an inquiry into Research Integrity. This prompted two University of Liverpool academics to submit a letter to the committee, describing the inaccuracies, misrepresentations and blatant lies which incurred in the course of the trachea transplants performed by the surgeons Paolo … Continue reading UCL trachea transplants: Videregen sets lawyers on Liverpool academics Murray and Levy

    in For Better Science on July 13, 2018 08:17 PM.

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    Pregnancy depression is on the rise, a survey suggests

    Women today may be at greater risk of depression during pregnancy than previous generations.

    in Science News on July 13, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Scared of heights? This new VR therapy could help

    Virtual reality may be good training ground for facing your fears in real life.

    in Science News on July 13, 2018 02:33 PM.

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    Nearly two years after a university asked for retractions, two journals have done nothing

    How long should a retraction take? That’s a complex question, of course, depending on how long the alleged issues with a paper take to be investigated, whether authors — and their lawyers — fight tooth-and-nail against a retraction, and other factors. But once a university officially requests a retraction, how long should one take? The … Continue reading Nearly two years after a university asked for retractions, two journals have done nothing

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

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    Malaysia’s pig-tail macaques eat rats, head first

    Pig-tail macaques are seen as a menace on Malaysian palm oil plantations, but may be helping to reduce rodent populations.

    in Science News on July 13, 2018 11:00 AM.

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    Brains versus brawn: reduced brain investment in army ant soldiers

    Scientists interested in the evolution of brains often use comparisons among species to explore how the nervous system is shaped by, and adapts to, its environment. Brain tissue is very expensive, and so investment in brains (or in particular brain regions) is expected to closely match the mental or psychological challenges a species confronts: there should be just enough brain power and brain tissue to get by, and no more.

    We sought to extend this approach to ask whether members of the same species might differ predictably in brain structure and brain investment, in association with differences in behavioral demands.


    Animal societies, including human societies, can be complex to navigate. When interacting with an array of social partners and enemies, social smarts can be of great value.

    But some animal societies have been shaped by evolution such that internal conflict is minimized; this often happens when the group members are closely related, and when strong competition among groups favors group coordination and performance. Some features of these societies can then evolve in response to natural selection at the level of the group, rather than the individual.

    When individual interests align with the group as a whole, we can think of the society as a super-organism. We can then explore how natural selection on groups might drive the evolution of specializations among group members. We expect these specializations to enhance group performance or efficiency. Could group selection actually favor a reduction of brain investment in some group members?

    Comparing castes

    We used the superorganism framework to study patterns of brain investment among the members of insect societies, particularly, of army ants. Social insect colonies are famously divided into castes: classes of individuals that play distinct roles in the social group (for example, think of the reproductive queens versus the sterile, helping workers in a honey bee colony).

    Army ants have some of the most dramatic, complex caste systems known: not only are their queens distinctly different, the worker force is divided into three or even four distinct body types, each of which performs different jobs for the colony.

    A foraging medium-sized worker (gray arrow) and a soldier (white arrow) of the army ant Eciton burchellii cupiens.

    Among army ant castes, the soldiers in the genus Eciton stand out as being rather behaviorally limited. Soldiers are specialized defenders. They have large, muscle-filled heads that drive long, powerful mouthparts shaped like ice tongs.

    They are effective at tracking down, biting, and stinging enemies – mostly birds and mammals, including field biologists. But they do little else. Soldiers cannot carry the young during colony emigrations, or hunt and kill prey. Soldiers cannot even feed themselves.

    Do soldiers have reduced brain investment, as expected based on their simple behavioral repertoire? Our data suggest the answer is yes.

    Same-scale 3-D reconstructions of head capsules and brains of army ant (Eciton burchellii parvispinum) worker (A) and soldier (B). The scale bar represents 0.5 mm. Brain structures are the colored bodies in the center of each head capsule. Dark blue: learning/memory region; Light blue: chemical processing region.

    We measured head size and brain region volumes in several species of Eciton army ants, comparing workers of different sizes and soldiers in each species. Even though worker brain volume increased with body size, that increase slowed or stopped in the soldiers; even though soldiers were larger than the workers, their brains were similar in size.

    Furthermore, two key brain regions were smaller than expected based on soldiers’ overall brain size: a region that processes chemical information, and another region that is critical for learning and memory.

    These findings are exciting because they support the idea that natural selection for colony efficiency can favor the evolution of reduced brain investment in some group members, when a caste has limited behavioral demands. It appears Eciton soldiers give new meaning to the term, “meat head.”

    The post Brains versus brawn: reduced brain investment in army ant soldiers appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 13, 2018 08:30 AM.

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    Research into the mental health of prisoners, digested

    GettyImages-504701778.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

    Around the world, more people than ever are locked up in prisons – estimated to be in excess of 11 million people, up by almost 20 per cent since the turn of the millennium (pdf). According to a recent House of Commons Briefing Paper the rate of increase is even higher than this in the UK where prison populations are at a record high. Many of these incarcerated individuals have intensifying mental health needs – for instance, the same briefing paper reports that UK rates of self-harm in prisoners were 25 per cent higher in 2015 than in 2014. Ahead of this week’s meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Psychology on the topic of Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System, here we provide a digest of research into the mental health of prisoners.

    Prisoners are at much higher risk of mental health problems than the general population

    According to a systematic review published in 2012, involving data from over 30,000 prisoners worldwide from 24 different countries, around 12 per cent of prisoners have a diagnosis of depression and nearly 4 per cent have a diagnosis of psychosis (compared with approximately 4 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively, in the general population). Other mental health conditions are also more common among prison populations than the general public, including substance misuse and personality disorders. The statistics show that women prisoners seem to be at especially high risk of mental health problems.

    Prisoners are at elevated risk of suicide

    These greater mental health vulnerabilities also manifest in much higher suicide rates among prison populations than among the general public. A study published last year analysed prison suicides across 24 countries between 2011 to 2014. This revealed a threefold increased suicide risk among male prisoners, and a ninefold increased risk of suicide among female prisoners, compared with the general population. The study also measured a number of prison factors to see if these correlated with suicide rates, such as over-crowding and the staff-prisoner ratios, but none of them did. “There are no simple ecological explanations for prison suicide,” the researchers said.

    An unresolved issue is whether prison causes mental health problems or people with mental health problems are more likely to go to prison

    A recent review in Lancet Psychiatry described this question as a “key issue” for the field, citing in favour of the “importation” argument two studies that suggested offending rates are higher than average among people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or depression, which could account for the elevated rates of these diagnoses among prison populations.

    Meanwhile, a small British study published in 2011 found that rates of depression actually decreased, and rates of psychosis remained stable, among the prisoners they followed for two months from the beginning of their sentence. “It appears that the first 2 months of imprisonment do not have a universally detrimental impact on mental health, even among those with pre-existing mental illnesses,” the researchers said (other researchers have previously suggested that the relative safety of prisons, the structure, and access to psychiatric care could be responsible for symptom improvements, and there is even research on post-traumatic growth in prison through finding meaning in the experience).

    Note, however, that the pattern in the 2011 study was somewhat different for women prisoners, who did not show declines in symptoms. “The notion that women are differently and disproportionately affected by imprisonment is well supported in the literature,” the researchers added. The study also showed that symptom prevalence among prisoners was highest during the first week in prison: “Our findings confirm that the first week of custody continues to represent a period of heightened distress and risk among all newly received prisoners,” the researchers said.

    Several pre-incarceration factors have been found to correlate with increased risk of prisoner mental health problems

    While the debate continues around whether and what factors of prison increase risk of mental illness, a study published this year that assessed over 750 prisoners from two UK prisons found multiple “imported factors” that were associated with increased risk of having a mental health problem in prison (in this study, around 40 per cent the prisoners had a mental health problem).

    These factors included: describing oneself a worrier; being impulsive; having difficulty getting on with others; having been a victim of sexual abuse in childhood (see also); and having learning difficulties at school. “[P]ersonality type may be one area well worth exploring when carrying out initial intake assessments and designing regime or individual sentence plans, as it appears certain dispositions may be useful predictive markers [for risk of mental health issues],” the researchers said.

    Counter-intuitively, having a previous prison sentence, past substance abuse problems and being unemployed prior to prison were all associated with lower risk of mental health problems in prison (at a statistically significant level or showing a trend in that direction). “A possible explanation for this finding is that the presence of these factors may make the adoption of a prisonized identity an easier process, which in turn eases mental stress,” the researchers said (for more on the processes of “prisonisation” – i.e. how prison changes people – see here).

    Prisoners with mental health problems are more likely to perpetuate and be the victims of violence

    A US Department of Justice report (pdf) found that prisoners with mental health problems were more likely to have been charged with physical or verbal assault and more likely to have been injured in a fight, compared with prisoners without mental health issues. Other research has highlighted how prisoners with mental health problems are more likely to be victimised: for instance, another US study found that 1 in 12 male prisoners with a mental health diagnosis reported sexual victimisation by another inmate, compared with 1 in 33 male prisoners without a mental health diagnosis. Prisoners with mental health problems are also at increased risk of physical assault by others.

    There is a lack of quality research on interventions for prisoners with mental health needs

    Given the high rates of mental health problems among prison populations, there is a worrying lack of large-scale intervention studies. The recent Lancet Psychiatry review of mental health issues in prisons stated that this is likely due to organisational challenges, lack of funding, and “a perceived division of prisoner health from public health in general”. There is some limited evidence for beneficial effects for prisoners of programmes based around CBT, DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) and Yoga. “But the effect sizes are not large; [it remains unclear] whether they would hold in better quality designs (e.g. using active controls and not waiting list or treatment as usual controls), and it is uncertain whether any improvements are sustained,” the review states. It goes on to recommend that “More evidence is required to determine which psychological therapies are most effective for mental health problems in prison, and whether they can be provided in a group-based formats.” Findings from the community may not generalise to the community, the review authors warn, because of the unique challenges in prison of “the increased structures, different rules, housing, and access to drugs”.

    Regarding the prison drug problem, a recent report by the HM Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales warned about the “rapid increase in the availability of new psychoactive substances (new drugs such as ‘Spice’ and ‘Black Mamba’ that are developed or chosen to mimic the effects of illegal drugs such as cannabis, heroin or amphetamines and may have unpredictable and life-threatening effects)…” and it stated that these drugs have been linked with “problems such as bullying, debt and medical emergencies requiring hospitalisation”.

    The All Party Parliamentary Group for Psychology will meet on July 18 to discuss Mental Health in the Criminal Justice System.

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 13, 2018 07:43 AM.

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    50 years ago, neutrinos ghosted scientists

    In the last half-century, neutrino detectors have spotted particles cast out by the sun, supernova 1987A and a supermassive black hole.

    in Science News on July 12, 2018 08:47 PM.

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    The right mix of gut microbes relieves autism symptoms in the long run

    Replacing missing gut microbes improves autism symptoms in children even two years later.

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

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    Ötzi loaded up on fatty food before he died

    A new analysis provides a complete picture of what was in Ötzi the Iceman’s stomach when he died.

    in Science News on July 12, 2018 04:02 PM.

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    A high-energy neutrino has been traced to its galactic birthplace

    The high-energy particle was born in a blazar 4 billion light-years away, scientists report.

    in Science News on July 12, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    A publisher just retracted ten papers whose peer review was “engineered” — despite knowing about the problem of fake reviews for years

    Many publishers have been duped by fake peer reviews, which have brought down more than 600 papers to date. But some continue to get fooled. Recently, SAGE retracted 10 papers published as part of two special collections in Advances in Mechanical Engineering after discovering the peer review process that had been managed by the guest … Continue reading A publisher just retracted ten papers whose peer review was “engineered” — despite knowing about the problem of fake reviews for years

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

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    The ecosystem that controls a galaxy’s future is coming into focus

    An invisible cloak called the circumgalactic medium controls a galaxy’s life and death.

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

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    Philosophise this – psychology research by philosophers is robust and replicates better than other areas of psychology

    GettyImages-826196992.jpgExperimental philosophy or X-Phi takes the tools of contemporary psychology and applies them to unravelling how people think about major topics from Western philosophy

    By guest blogger Dan Jones

    Amid all the talk of a “replication crisis” in psychology, here’s a rare good news story – a new project has found that a sub-field of the discipline, known as “experimental philosophy” or X-phi, is producing results that are impressively robust.

    The current crisis in psychology was largely precipitated by a mass replication attempt published by the Open Science Collaboration (OSC) project in 2015. Of 100 previously published significant findings, only 39 per cent replicated unambiguously, rising to 47 per cent on more relaxed criteria.

    Now a paper in Review of Philosophy and Psychology has trained the replicability lens on the burgeoning field of experimental philosophy. Born roughly 15 years ago, X-Phi takes the tools of contemporary psychology and applies them to unravelling how people think about many of the major topics of Western philosophy, from the metaphysics of free will and the nature of the self, to morality and the problem of consciousness. 

    Take one of the earliest and most well-known findings from the field. Back in 2003, Joshua Knobe, now at Yale University, set out to study what determines whether we describe the outcome of someone’s behaviour as intentional or not. Knobe ran two short vignettes by his participants. One described the CEO of a company being brought a new business plan by his VPs that would cause harm to the environment. The CEO says “I don’t care about harming the environment, go ahead”. The project proceeds and the environment is duly hurt.

    In that case, most people say that the CEO intentionally harmed the environment. But switch the word “harm” to “help” and now people are reluctant to say that the CEO intentionally helped the environment, even though in both cases the CEO was indifferent to harming or helping the environment as a side effect of his business activities. This asymmetry, known as the Knobe effect, revealed how moral considerations affect our deployment of ostensibly non-moral concepts, like intentionality. 

    X-Phi has generated great excitement making it essential to see whether the pall of the replicability crisis darkens this field too. So the X-Phi Replicability Project (XRP) – a collaboration between twenty research teams in eight countries, devised by Brent Strickland of the Institut Jean Nicod, Paris, France and led by Florian Cova of the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences, University of Geneva, Switzerland – set about re-running a representative sample of 40 X-Phi studies to see how the field is holding up (the sample comprised the most cited X-Phi papers from 2003-2015, two random papers for each year, and a few extra to bring the total to 40).

    There are numerous criteria that can be used for determining whether a study replicates or not. The XRP used three: a subjective assessment by the replicating team; whether the replication achieved a statistically significant result in the same direction as the original study; and whether the effect sizes of the original and replication studies were comparable. The XRP found that X-Phi studies replicated 78 per cent of the time according to the first two criteria, and 71 per cent of the time judged by the third – way better than the 39-47 per cent for psychology as whole, although other specific sub-fields like cognitive psychology have also reported promising results. 

    “It’s wonderful news,” says Knobe. “And it’s a bit ironic, because the whole approach of X-Phi was modelled on the techniques used in the rest of psychology, yet we ended up with this higher replicability!”

    Why is X-Phi doing so well? A big part of the field’s success seems to come from the kinds of studies it focuses on. Specifically, 78 per cent of the studies in the XRP sample were “content-based”, meaning they looked at how participants’ behaviour, beliefs or judgments changed depending on the task or stimuli they were given (e.g., Knobe’s changing of the word “harm” to “help” to elicit different judgments about intentional behaviour), rather than being observational or demographic-based (looking at aspects of individuals that predict differences in outcome), for instance. And such content-based studies – whether in psychology as a whole or in X-Phi – replicate better than other kinds of study: 90 per cent replicated in the XRP sample (compared to 21-31 per cent for other designs), and 65 per cent in the OSC sample. Notably, content-based studies comprised just 34 per cent on the OSC sample – less than half the proportion found in X-Phi – giving X-Phi a higher overall replicability rate.

    In addition, the effect sizes studied in the predominantly content-based studies of X-Phi might typically be larger than in the rest of contemporary psychology – and as the OSC found, studies that report large effect sizes tend to replicate better. One reason for this could be that the effects X-Phi explores are powerful enough to be available to introspection. The Knobe effect, for example, has an intuitive, natural feel to it – one that Knobe sensed but needed to confirm empirically. And the XRP found that early X-Phi studies tended to produce especially large effect sizes, adding plausibility to the idea that they tapped into low-hanging, introspectively visible psychological fruit.

    A cluster of other factors may be giving X-Phi a boost. X-Phi studies tend to be cheaper and easier to run than in many areas of psychology. Often, all you need are some written vignettes and a few questions about them, and a way of delivering this material to people – a process made easy by the widely used Amazon Mechanical Turk survey platform. That means that researchers may be less invested in a given study, and feel less pressure to “p-hack” the data to produce a positive, publishable, but ultimately unreliable, result. This take is backed up by the XRP’s statistical analysis that found less evidence of p-hacking in X-Phi compared to psychology generally. What’s more, X-Phi researchers also seem to be more comfortable publishing null or negative results: while such papers comprised just 3 per cent of the total in the OSC, they made up 10 per cent of XRP’s sample.

    The success of X-Phi can’t be emulated by simply choosing to investigate psychological phenomena with large effect sizes. Nor does the high replicability of content-based studies mean that psychologists should restrict their research to these kinds of studies, which Knobe says would be absurd. 

    Florian Cova agrees, but says that the fact that some study designs tend to produce more robust findings than others should not be ignored. “If we know that certain kinds of studies are more likely to produce fragile results or false positives, we can adjust our study designs in these cases to try to minimise these risks.”

    Perhaps the broadest lesson for other psychologists is the importance of basing studies on detailed theories, rather than just looking for interesting or quirky psychological phenomena. “Research in X-Phi is usually driven by a rich theory that predicts what we should expect to happen,” says Knobe. Such theory-driven research could make null results more palatable and take the pressure off needing to find some positive result to squeeze out of the data. “If we run a study in which the predicted effect doesn’t occur, that null result is still a publishable finding because it speaks to whether the theory is true or not.”

    Estimating the Reproducibility of Experimental Philosophy

    Post written by Dan Jones (@MultipleDraftz) for the BPS Research Digest. Dan is a freelance writer based in Brighton, UK, whose writing has appeared in The Psychologist, New Scientist, Nature, Science and many other magazines. He blogs at www.philosopherinthemirror.wordpress.com.

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 12, 2018 08:55 AM.

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    Brexit update: how will withdrawal affect research funding, citizens’ rights and data regulation?

    The first in a series of articles anticipating the impact of Brexit on research in the run-up to the UK’s departure from the European Union

    in Elsevier Connect on July 12, 2018 08:37 AM.

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    Ayahuasca: Ritual psychedelic turns modern-day anti-depressant

    For any of the 300 million individuals worldwide suffering from depression, a fast-acting, effective treatment can mean the difference between life and death. Yet despite the growing number of pharmaceutical agents advertising relief from sadness, replaced by joy and contentment, their efficacy is often staggeringly slow and poor. In contrast to the promise of immediate happiness, many drugs can leave patients numb, lethargic, fighting unpleasant side-effects, and sometimes even more deeply depressed. A likely reason for the failure of many past anti-depressants is our still incomplete understanding of the neurobiological bases for this debilitating disease. This knowledge gap precludes efforts to ease depression through chemical means. Hence, the search continues for a rapid-acting, reliable therapy. Naturally available treatment options that offer little commercial incentive have remained overlooked by pharmaceutical research. However, mounting research suggests that nature may have provided an effective means to relieve depressive symptoms, in the form of a ceremonial psychedelic brew that’s been appreciated for centuries for its mind-altering and mood-enhancing properties. After early reports that ayahuasca may be a viable alternative to the countless failed pharmaceutical therapies, a team of Brazilian researchers put it to rigorous testing and found promising anti-depressant effects in this age-old spiritual medicine.

    A spiritual psychedelic brew

    Ayahuasca is an intoxicating brew used by Amazonian cultures for spiritual and medicinal purposes. It combines psychoactive plants containing the psychedelic dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and several monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Effects often last up to six hours, and include altered consciousness, sensory changes, introspection, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, vomiting, and in some cases, intense distress. Because ayahuasca can notably evoke mystical experiences and religious revelations, it has been widely used to promote spiritual awakening.

    Ayahuasca the anti-depressant

    Ayahuasca has previously been found to attenuate depression severity, but until now, its therapeutic potential had not been rigorously studied in a clinical trial. In their recent double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, Dr. Fernanda Palhano-Fontes, of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, and colleagues tested the drug in 29 patients with treatment-resistant depression. On average, these individuals were moderately to severely depressed and had tried nearly four anti-depressants without success.

    Participants consumed a single dose of either ayahuasca or placebo, after which they sat quietly under supervision while the drug took effect. Depression was assessed using two depression scales before the ayahuasca session and one, two and seven days after. Compared to patients who drank placebo, those who ingested the active brew reported fewer depressive symptoms as soon as a day later, with an even stronger reduction a week later (see Figure). By the end of the week, more patients in the ayahuasca group (64%) than the placebo group (27%) responded positively to the treatment. Although remission rates for the ayahuasca group (36%) were on average higher than placebo (7%), this difference was not significant, perhaps due to an unusually high placebo effect. The improvements in mood were not without unpleasant side-effects, notably nausea and vomiting.

    Depression ratings are lower for ayahuasca than placebo one to seven days after intake.

    The depressed brain on psychedelics

    This trial was an important step towards validating ayahuasca as an anti-depressant, a treatment option implicated by only a handful of prior studies. Others found that ayahuasca elicits anti-depressant effects up to three weeks and alters brain blood flow, but these studies were small and not placebo-controlled, the gold-standard for clinical testing. These mood-regulating benefits may not be limited to ayahuasca, as other psychedelics have similarly demonstrated therapeutic efficacy. A small study reported that psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in hallucinogenic mushrooms, alleviated depressive symptoms a week to three months later, though this trial was not placebo-controlled. Several randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that the psychedelic anesthetic ketamine reduces depression symptoms as soon as two hours and up to one week later.

    Besides offering hope for fighting depression, the rapid and robust benefits observed from ayahuasca provide valuable insight into the still mysterious neurobiological genesis of depression. To understand the mood-stabilizing powers of ayahuasca, we can look to its array of constituent chemicals. The pool of MAOIs in ayahuasca prevent the degradation of monoamines, a class of neurotransmitters implicated in depression that includes serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. The “monoamine hypothesis” of depression–which posits that monoamine deficits play a causal role–is considered inadequate to fully explain the pathogenesis of depression. However, the benefits of ayahuasca support the theory that rebalancing monoamine neurotransmission can at least partly help to combat depression. Moreover, DMT is a serotonin agonist, meaning that it activates the brain’s serotonin receptors. However, existing drugs that act as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (e.g., Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft) also increase serotonergic activity through different means, but have relatively limited efficacy. By preventing the breakdown of several monoamines through its MAOI activity, rather than targeting a particular neurotransmitter that may or may not be deficient in the individual patient, ayahuasca may offer a more generalizable therapy than conventional serotonergic drugs.

    These effects are likely augmented by DMT’s activation of sigma-1 receptors, which regulate calcium signaling and have been implicated in depression, among other psychiatric conditions. MAOIs and sigma-1 receptors also promote neurogenesis and increase brain growth factors, which may further help to regulate mood.

    The road to prescription

    Is ayahuasca the miracle drug we’ve long been awaiting to combat depression? Despite the promising evidence supporting its therapeutic potential, many outstanding questions need to be addressed before the psychedelic is prescribed in a clinical setting. The drug’s anti-depressant effects are fast-acting, but further research is needed to determine the duration of these effects and the optimal dosing regimen. Regular supervised, mind-altering trips that consume several hours may be impractical if frequent dosing is required. An equally pressing question is whether the side effects would preclude regular use and patient compliance. Though its non-addictive profile and absence of lasting changes to cognition or personality make ayahuasca an appealing option, the vomiting and hallucinations that often accompany the ayahuasca experience could be deal-breakers for patients desiring a less invasive therapy. Because psychedelic trips can sometimes be accompanied by negative experiences, including sensory or cognitive distortions, additional research is warranted to better characterize their neurobiological properties. Thus, it may be some time before the carefree laughter of an ayahuasca-user infiltrates the mass of TV drug advertisements. But at the very least, ongoing research into its antidepressant properties will bring us closer to understanding how our brain chemistry supports a healthy emotional state.



    Carhart-Harris RL et al. (2016). Psilocybin with psychological support for treatment-resistant depression: an open-label feasibility study. Lancet Psychiatry. 3(7): 619-27. doi: 10.1016/S2215-0366(16)30065-7

    Hirschfield. (2000). History and evolution of the monoamine hypothesis of depression. J Clin Psychiatry. 61: Supple 6:4-6.

    Osorio Fde L et al. (2015 Antidepressant effects of a single dose of ayahuasca in patients with recurrent depression: a preliminary report. Rev Bras Psiquiatr. 37(1): 13-20. doi: 10.1590/1516-4446-2014-1496.

    Sanches RF et al. (2016). Antidepressant Effects of a Single Dose of Ayahuasca in Patients With Recurrent Depression: A SPECT Study. J Clin Psychopharmacol. 36(1): 77-81. doi: 10.1097/JCP.0000000000000436

    Palhano-Fontes et al. (2018). Rapid antidepressant effects of the psychedelic ayahuasca in treatment-resistant depression: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Psychol Med. 15: 1-9. doi: 10.1017/S0033291718001356

    Zarate CA Jr et al. (2006). A randomized trial of an N-methyl-D-aspartate antagonist in treatment-resistant major depression. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 63(8): 856-64.

    Image credit https://www.flickr.com/photos/18996832@N00

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

    Emilie Reas received her PhD in Neuroscience from UC San Diego, where she used fMRI to study memory. As a postdoc at UCSD, she currently studies how the brain changes with aging and disease. In addition to her tweets for @PLOSNeuro she is @etreas.

    in PLOS Neuroscience Community on July 11, 2018 11:41 PM.

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    Texas toolmakers add to the debate over who the first Americans were

    Stone toolmakers inhabited Texas more than 16,000 years ago, before Clovis hunters arrived.

    in Science News on July 11, 2018 06:10 PM.

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    Cancer cells engineered with CRISPR slay their own kin

    Scientists can program the stealth cells to die before creating new tumors.

    in Science News on July 11, 2018 06:00 PM.

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    Stone tools put early hominids in China 2.1 million years ago

    Newly discovered stone tools in China suggest hominids left Africa 250,000 years earlier than we thought.

    in Science News on July 11, 2018 05:33 PM.

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    Bird poop helps keep coral reefs healthy, but rats are messing that up

    Eradicating invasive rats from islands may help boost numbers of seabirds, whose droppings provide nutrients to nearby coral reefs.

    in Science News on July 11, 2018 05:02 PM.

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    Retraction Watch readers, we could still really use your help

    Dear Retraction Watch readers: We hope that you continue to enjoy Retraction Watch, and find it — and our database of retractions — useful. Maybe you’re a researcher who likes keeping up with developments in scientific integrity. Maybe you’re a reporter who has found a story idea in our database, or on the blog. Maybe you’re an … Continue reading Retraction Watch readers, we could still really use your help

    in Retraction watch on July 11, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    See this star nursery shine in a stunning new infrared image

    A newly released image of star cluster RCW 38 shows the intricate details of wisps of gas and dust surrounding newborn stars.

    in Science News on July 11, 2018 10:00 AM.

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    Performing meaningless rituals boosts our self-control through making us feel more self-disciplined

    Screen Shot 2018-07-12 at 21.26.34.pngFrom Tian et al, 2018

    By guest blogger Tomasz Witkowski

    We could say without exaggeration that the discovery of a means of achieving full control over oneself is something of a “holy grail” for psychology. There is nothing to indicate that we are getting any closer to finding one, but recent decades have brought us a growing number of discoveries that at least partially allow us to enhance self-control mechanisms. One of them is the light which has been shed on the importance of rituals in boosting self-control. Now in a new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Allen Ding Tian and his collaborators have examined whether enacting rituals (defined as “a fixed episodic sequence of actions characterised by rigidity and repetition”) can enhance subjective feelings of self-discipline, such that rituals can be harnessed to improve behavioural self-control. 

    The researchers planned and carried out six interesting experiments. For the first they recruited 93 undergraduate women at a gym who had a goal of losing weight. All participants received the same instructions to try to reduce their calorie intake over a 5-day period, but half were told to be “mindful” about their food consumption, whereas the other half were taught a three-step pre-eating ritual to remind them to reduce calorie intake. Before every meal they had to cut their food into pieces before consuming it. Next, they rearranged the pieces so that they were perfectly symmetric on their plates, and finally they had to press their eating utensils against the top of their food three times. 

    It appears that rituals really can boost self-control. Participants who enacted a pre-eating ritual reported significantly lower calorie consumption than those who attempted to be mindful about what they ate. 

    The researchers decided to replicate this study in a laboratory and find out if any random gestures would have the same beneficial effect as repeated rituals. The participants learned they would be completing a taste test of carrots and chocolate. They received four bags from the experimenter: three contained a baby carrot, one a chocolate truffle. First, they had to eat two carrots, while preceding each act of eating with either: the exact same set of ritual movements (involving knocking the table with their knuckles, closing their eyes and counting, among other things); a set of random gestures that were similar to the ritual movements but different each time (so they didn’t resemble a ritualised script); or no behaviour. Next, the participants could choose whether to eat the remaining carrot or the truffle. Participants who had enacted a ritual before eating the first two carrots tended to make the healthier choice compared with individuals in the other groups. 

    Two further experiments involved participants either twice enacting a ritualised set of movements (though they were not labelled as such); performing one set of random gestures; or doing nothing (control group). Then they made a choice between a Snickers bar or a healthy Odwalla bar. Again, the ritual group showed greater self-control and this seemed to be driven by the way that rituals boosted their feelings of self-discipline (as measured by their agreement with statements like “I felt mentally strong when making this decision”).

    A fourth experiment assessed the effect of rituals in another self-control context—prosocial decision-making. Participants were asked to imagine that they had been invited to a friend’s party that would be a lot of fun. They were then informed that they had received an unexpected email from an affiliated charity organisation requesting their attendance that same evening at a public fundraiser. They must decide which event to go to, but before taking the decision, one group of the participants twice performed a series of ritual movements, while other groups either engaged in a one-off series of random gestures, or they took their decision immediately. The link between performing rituals and greater self-discipline was confirmed again with the ritual group showing a greater preference for the charity fundraiser. 

    A final experiment in the series demonstrated that rituals only affect decision making when a self-control conflict is involved (such as choosing between a fundraiser and party), not when choosing between two options where self-control is not an issue (such as choosing between two fun parties).

    Note that, unlike cultural rituals, all of the rituals used in the experiments were devoid of meaning. Incorporated into various spheres of our lives, cultural rituals sometimes contribute to improving self-discipline, but there are also others which induce us to abandon self-control; these include rituals surrounding the shared consumption of celebratory meals, during which excessive self-discipline can even be taken as rudeness. 

    The results of the presented studies are quite promising for anyone who would like to boost their self-control, but the authors also demonstrate how many aspects of rituals remain unexplored. One of the more interesting questions that researchers may engage concerns the potential difference in increase in self-discipline with rituals created by individuals for their own purposes, and those adopted from or even imposed by the surrounding environment. Also, does the effectiveness of a ritual depend on the amount of effort put into it? Do rituals repeated often and without requiring attention also enhance self-control? All this remains to be explored by future research. 

    Enacting rituals to improve self-control

    Post written by Dr Tomasz Witkowski for the BPS Research Digest. Tomasz is a psychologist and science writer who specialises in debunking pseudoscience in the field of psychology, psychotherapy and diagnosis. He has published over a dozen books, dozens of scientific papers and over 100 popular articles (some of them in Skeptical Inquirer). In 2016 his latest book Psychology Led Astray: Cargo Cult in Science and Therapy was published by BrownWalker Press. He blogs at https://forbiddenpsychology.wordpress.com/.

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 11, 2018 08:02 AM.

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    UK House of Commons committee wants to make sure “university investigations into research misconduct are handled appropriately”

    As Retraction Watch readers may recall, the UK’s House of Commons Science and Technology Committee has been holding an inquiry into scientific misconduct for well over a year. During that inquiry, we submitted written evidence including some statistics about how the UK’s retraction rate compared to other countries, and our Ivan Oransky gave oral testimony … Continue reading UK House of Commons committee wants to make sure “university investigations into research misconduct are handled appropriately”

    in Retraction watch on July 10, 2018 11:01 PM.

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    Bloodflowers’ risk to monarchs could multiply as climate changes

    High atmospheric carbon dioxide levels can weaken the medicinal value of a milkweed that caterpillars eat, and high temperatures may make the plant toxic.

    in Science News on July 10, 2018 10:58 PM.

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    Bobtail squid coat their eggs in antifungal goo

    Hawaiian bobtail squid keep their eggs fungus-free with the help of bacteria.

    in Science News on July 10, 2018 09:32 PM.

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    Organoids: Stunt Doubles for Human Organs

    The pursuit of new drugs to treat and cure human diseases is one of the noblest things in our civilization. However, 6 out of 10 drugs fail during the clinical trials, making the lengthy and expensive R&D process a proverbial double-edged sword. High rates of failure are often attributed to the poor predictability of 2D cell cultures and animal models that are used to test drugs during the preclinical stage. The unreliability of these models is why researchers are turning to “mini organs” in a dish, popularly known as organoids, to better understand the effects of experimental drugs on human organs. Organoids are miniaturized 3D replicas of human organs that are created by culturing stem cells or progenitor cells in a medium simulating extracellular matrix (ECM) properties.

    Organoids have numerous impactful applications, but their applicability in disease modeling is especially noteworthy. They can be used to recapitulate human pathophysiology in vitro, providing a golden opportunity to study and treat human diseases in a 3D environment. Organoids for all major organs have already been produced. For example, gastrointestinal organoid tissues, liver-on-a-chip models, and lung-on-a-chip models are made available by OcellO, Braingineering Technologies, and AlveoliX, respectively.

    This organoid technology has the potential to transform the field of precision medicine. The day when a scientist will be able to completely diagnose and cure people using their simulated forms in vitro does not seem so far away. Science Exchange believes this technology can do a world of good for R&D, which is why we have established an exhaustive network of qualified providers to make organoid products and services readily available. Listed below are a few inventive organoid technologies. If you find something that interests you, click on the provided link and request more information.

    1. Lung-on-a-Chip Model | AlveoliX

    AlveoliX offers a human lung-on-a-chip model that mimics the biophysical microenvironment of the air–blood barrier of the human lung, including the mechanical stress of inspiration/expiration. This model is expected to best predict the effects of respiratory drug candidates in humans and, thereby, reduce the number of clinical trials.


    2. Nerve-on-a-Chip | AxoSim

    AxoSim offers a 3D cell-based model that mimics living tissue in both form and function by employing micro engineering techniques and novel biomaterials. The Nerve-on-a-Chip™ platform facilitates the prediction of both clinical neurotoxicity and efficacy in human neurodegenerative disease models earlier in the drug development pipeline.



    3. ParVivo Chips | Nortis

    Nortis offers a microfluidic platform suitable for growing cells into 3D human tissues. This inventive microfluidic chip grows microscopic organ models by seeding cells into tubular voids within extracellular matrix gels.


    4. OrganDOT™ Platform | BioIVT

    Combining high-quality primary cultures with robust air-liquid interface, scientists at BioIVT (formerly BioreclamationIVT) have developed the proprietary OrganDOT™ platform to recapitulate tissue architecture and functionality. Established models created using this platform include pancreatic islets and the lung airway epithelium. Key advantages of this 3D microtissue platform include consistent function, longevity, and high throughput.


    5. MucilAir™: 3D Human Airway Epithelia | Epithelix

    Epithelix offers a unique 3D human airway epithelia reconstituted in vitro (MucilAir™). This model has potential research applications including safety testing of occupational and environmental chemicals, and drug development. MucilAir™ is available from single or multiple patient donors and from different anatomical sites (e.g., nasal, tracheal, or bronchial) and for several pathologies (e.g., asthma, cystic fibrosis, allergic rhinitis, etc.).


    in The Science Exchange Blog on July 10, 2018 08:23 PM.

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    Long-necked dinosaurs grew to be giants in more ways than one

    Some early relatives of giant, long-necked sauropods may have used a different strategy to grow to colossal sizes than previously thought.

    in Science News on July 10, 2018 03:49 PM.

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    University of Liverpool reverses course, names researcher guilty of misconduct

    A few weeks ago, we received a press release that gave us pause: The University of Liverpool said it had found one of its researchers guilty of research misconduct — but did not say who, nor which papers might be involved. Now, less than one month later, the university is naming the researcher, and identifying … Continue reading University of Liverpool reverses course, names researcher guilty of misconduct

    in Retraction watch on July 10, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Surprise! This shark looks like a male on the outside, but it’s made babies

    External male reproductive organs hid internal female capacity to give birth among hermaphrodite sharks in India.

    in Science News on July 10, 2018 02:00 PM.

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    Three years after questions surfaced, PLOS ONE retracts paper about potential antibiotic

    In April 2015, two high-profile chemistry bloggers — and their commenters — raised questions about a paper that had been published in PLOS ONE some 18 months earlier. More than three years later, the journal has now retracted the paper, with a notice that echoes the 2015 blog posts. So what took so long? PLOS … Continue reading Three years after questions surfaced, PLOS ONE retracts paper about potential antibiotic

    in Retraction watch on July 10, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    OA Big Deals: VSNU embraces greater transparency

    Over three months ago (in March) the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) published a very brief news item announcing that it had reached agreement with Springer Nature on a new OA Big Deal. 

    Curious as to the details of the agreement, I invited VSNU to answer some questions, both about the Springer Nature deal and VSNU’s failure to reach agreement with the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC), concerning which another short news item had been published at the same time. VSNU’s Spokesperson and Advisor Public Affairs Bart Pierik agree to answer my questions.

    When I sent my list of questions to him, however, Pierik appeared to change his mind. “Considering the fact that we are finalising some more deals with publishers at this moment (we just published good news about Oxford University Press) my proposal is that we would be glad to make one Q&A in April about all of these deals,” he emailed me.

    I was disappointed but decided instead to write something more wide-ranging about the growing number of OA Big Deals we can see being agreed between legacy publishers and the research community and to mention VSNU in that larger piece.

    I concluded that article by again inviting VSNU to answer my questions, adding, “By doing so they can help shine a light on this somewhat crepuscular corner of scholarly communication and demonstrate that affordability and transparency are just as important as accessibility.”

    April came and went, and I assumed my questions had fallen into a black hole somewhere never to be seen again. 

    To my surprise, however, this morning I received an email from Wilma Van Wezenbeek, Programme Manager Open Access at VSNU.

    Not only did Van Wezenbeek attach answers to my questions but she informed me that VSNU has now published the contracts it has signed with both Springer Nature and Taylor & Francis (although Springer Nature has not permitted VSNU to disclose their general terms and conditions).

    I publish below both the email and the Q&A, as I received them.

    I could have wished that the answers were fuller and more detailed, but I guess Rome wasn’t built in a day!

    The only other comment I would make at this stage is that it seems to me that if OA advocates and the wider research community want to see greater transparency over the rising number of OA Big Deals that universities, consortia and funding agencies are now signing with publishers on their behalf they are going to have to push hard. And they are going to have to keep pushing. 

    The email

    Dear Richard Poynder,

    It has been a while that you sent Bart Pierik a list of questions to be answered by us. As we mentioned earlier we wanted to respond but needed some more time to flesh out the details.

    We also thought the best moment would actually be now so that we could “put the money where the mouth is”, because we also worked on getting the contracts with Springer Nature and Taylor & Francis disclosed.

    As you might have seen today, we have (partially, Springer Nature has not agreed with opening up their general terms & conditions) now done so.

    Together with the Springer Nature negotiation team, I have answered the questions. I hope that you find them satisfactory. Please note that you can make them public if you wish to do so.

    Kind regards

    Wilma van Wezenbeek
    Programm Manager Open Access, VSNU

    The Q&A

    Wilma Van Wezenbeek
    RP: What are the main details of the new Springer Nature deal? How does it differ from previous OA deals with Springer Nature? What are the key changes over the last deal?

    VSNU: The new deal is a continuation of the Springer Nature Compact deal, comprising both reading and publishing rights.

    RP: I am thinking it is a deal that covers both reading and publishing, but perhaps not what the DEAL negotiators call a Publish & Read contract?

    VSNU: It is too early to compare what we are doing, and what the result of the German DEAL negotiations will be. We can learn from each other, and for sure we know that there are more roads that lead to open access.

    RP: What about numbers: In terms of access, how many journals does the deal provide access to? Is this all of Springer Nature’s journals? If not, what percentage of them?

    VSNU: All of the Compact Collection, comprising 2,268 journals (compared to 2,079 in 2017).

    RP: In terms of publishing, how many journals does the deal allow authors to publish OA in? Is this all of Springer Nature’s journals? If not, what percentage of the publisher’s journals? Are there any limits on the number of papers that can be published OA?

    VSNU: In over 1,854 journals the articles by corresponding authors from the Dutch universities are published in open access (in 2017 we had 1,712 journals).

    RP: How many (and what percentage of the total number of journals that authors can publish in as part of the deal) are hybrid OA journals, and how many (and what percentage of the total) are pure gold?

    VSNU: The publishing part of the deal only covers the Compact Collection, being the hybrid journals.

    RP: Has VSNU signed an NDC with Springer Nature over this? If not, are there nevertheless constraints on what it can release in the way of information about the deal and its costs?

    VSNU: VSNU advocates openness and transparency regarding the contract. In the bilateral agreement between the Ministry of OCW (Education, Culture and Sciences) and higher education recently closed, the VSNU is asked to have “disclosure” as one of the conditions with which they enter the negotiations.

    It took us several months after we published our notification that we had an agreement on the main issues to flesh out the details, but we are happy to note that Springer agreed with publishing the major details of our contract.

    RP: Either way, can you say how much will be paid to Springer Nature as part of the deal, and how the price was calculated?

    VSNU: Yes, this is in the public part of the contract which covers both reading and publishing rights. BTW, you might know that we did also have a request in the context of the Government Information (Public Access) Act and published a graph of costs incurred by publishers over the years 2011-2015.

    RP: What is the estimated APC cost for the OA publishing part of the deal?

    VSNU: Our negotiations are about non-APC based offsetting agreements. VSNU arranges what has been common practice for subscriptions for years – central financing. Calculations have been made of the virtual APCs in our deal; we refer to a publication written by Leo Waaijers, in September 2017, to the OpenAPC website, and to the most recent figures we update frequently on openaccess.nl. What you find about the APC costs in the contract, is Springer’s own interpretation/calculation.

    RP: How do these costs compare with previous deals? Are there savings, or is it cost neutral, or perhaps higher than previous deals?

    VSNU: Our VSNU mandate at the time of the start of our negotiations last year was very clear – no price increase (we only accepted the cpi, i.e., consumer price index) and a continuation of our full open access deal.

    However, a full comparison is tricky, e.g. the Adis journals have been added to the reading part (we used to pay separately, i.e., we held individual subscriptions at several of our institutes).

    RP: How do universities pay for the deal, and on what basis are their individual bills calculated, or is the government top-slicing the deal (i.e. paying Springer Nature directly for the deal)?

    VSNU: Dutch universities make use of a model to allocate the costs. Cost division is based on the total budget of a university, student numbers and scientific output.

    RP: Does the deal cover all Dutch research institutions and all researchers based in The Netherlands?

    VSNU: The deal covers all Dutch universities and university hospitals. The KNAW is also taking part in the same deal.

    RP: When does the deal go into effect? (I think the last contract ended in 2017)?

    VSNU: The deal covers the period 1/1/2018 until 31/12/2021.

    RP: So presumably it is a 3-year deal? I think the previous contracts were for 1 year. Is 3 years not too long a period to sign up for in today’s somewhat volatile OA environment?

    VSNU: Yes, this (actually 4-year deal) is covering a long period. For us, it includes an important milestone year: 2020. The articles by Dutch corresponding authors in Springer journals will then be openly available for all to read.

    RP: What went wrong with the Royal Society of Chemistry negotiations? What is the next move with the RSC?

    VSNU: The Dutch universities and Royal Society of Chemistry Publishing (RSC) have been unable to reach a new agreement on access to scientific journals. The VSNU would be happy to reopen negotiations with RSC if and when the publisher is willing to make comprehensive and fair agreements on open access, which they have not been until now.

    RP: What other publishers has VSNU failed to reach agreement with, and why?

    VSNU: There was one other publisher, namely Oxford University Press. Happily, OUP was able to present an acceptable offer a year after the previous contract had ended.

    RP: Why has VSNU published so little information about the deal? At a Couperin event in January VSNU president, Koen Becking said that the take-home point of the meeting for him was that VSNU and other negotiators need to communicate with the research community much better over what they are doing and why. Does that not imply a far greater amount of information should have been released with the announcement of the Springer Nature deal, and with the announcement that the RSC deal has failed.

    VSNU: As happened in the past, we try to share information whenever and wherever we can, and we will continue to do so. The moment that we have reached mutual ground, it does not mean that every detail of the contract has been settled. It took us longer than we anticipated, and we are happy that we can share some more information with you now.  

    Larger issues

    RP: The VSNU announcement says: “the proportion of Dutch articles published open access in Springer Nature journals has risen from 34% in 2014 to 84% in 2017.” What does that mean? 84% of what: of Dutch output? Of the output of participating institutions? These are Springer figures I believe. Has VSNU done its own calculations?

    VSNU: The figure means that 84% of the output by Dutch eligible authors have published his or her article OA at Springer Nature. In the author’s submission process the default option to publish is under a Creative Commons license. The VSNU receives monthly reports from Springer; in which these figures are shared. More information on the numbers of articles published open access at Dutch universities is available on openaccess.nl.  

    RP: At the Couperin event Ralf Schimmer (Max-Planck Society) and Koen Becking (VSNU) said that these kind of OA Big Deals are simply not sustainable on a country-by-country basis. In other words, countries need to coordinate their strategy. But history suggests that this is very unlikely does it not, even within the EU? Science Business reported in 2016 that only five EU countries want to abandon the traditional journal subscription model and move to open access publication, and most EU countries prefer green OA. How then can these deals achieve their objective, or reduce costs in the way that Schimmer and Becking predicted at Couperin?

    VSNU: The OA2020 initiative is growing, but you are right, we need more countries to follow us. This is something we also mention in our roadmap open access 2018-2020.  

    RP: Meanwhile, we see funders moving towards building their own publisher platforms (mainly using the F1000 platform). Might that not be a better approach?

    VSNU: Joining forces is an important condition to change the publishing landscape. For this reason, VSNU aligns with amongst others the Dutch funding organisation NWO and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences KNAW at the national level, and at international level (e.g. with EUA).

    As we mentioned in our open access roadmap, we would like to see the research(er) to be more in control.  Creating a publication platform is one of the actions to change the way of producing and disseminating knowledge in order to reach the goal of making research output publicly available without delay.

    RP: Many predict that these kinds of OA Big Deal contracts will lock legacy publishers into the new OA environment, lock in unsustainable prices, and threaten the continued existence of smaller publishers and pure OA publishers. How can you allay the concerns of those who worry about this?

    VSNU: These are real concerns. VSNU strives for changing the scholarly output system, not to push researchers into the hands of some publishers that impose their rules and regulations. Therefore, other actions are needed, such as a change in the rewarding and recognition policies underlying researchers’ career paths and funding policies.

    For smaller or pure OA publishers the VSNU takes into account what reasonable steps can be taken towards open access, as is mentioned in our open access roadmap.

    RP: What happens if an organisation like VSNU agrees one of these OA Big Deals with a large legacy publisher and then when it comes up for renewal cannot agree on pricing for the new one. Much has been made of the fact that researchers cannot get access to journal articles if a subscription Big Deal is not renewed, but what happens if an OA Big Deal fails? Researchers will presumably struggle to pay to publish their papers and so are more vulnerable?

    VSNU: The preferred road to open access for the VSNU is the gold route. In case this seems to be not feasible in the end, there are alternatives of green open access or delayed open access making use of Dutch legislation (the “Taverne” amendment, see again our roadmap open access).

    RP: It turns out that most open-access articles do not have a license attached to them. This has led Jon Brock to argue that publishers can deny access to the majority of open-access articles at their discretion. What if anything is VSNU doing to avoid that possibility in the deals it is signing

    VSNU: In the contracts, the VSNU negotiates the CC-BY license is seen by VSNU as the preferred default to prevent copyright issues. 

    in Open and Shut? on July 10, 2018 11:39 AM.

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    Bernard Marr on “the amazing digital transformation of Elsevier from publisher to tech company”

    Business/tech expert writes about Elsevier’s advances with artificial intelligence and big data

    in Elsevier Connect on July 10, 2018 08:49 AM.

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    Macchiarini victim Zhadyra Iglikova is dead

    English version below Умерла еще одна жертва Маккиарини – Жадыра Игликова Еще одна из пациенток, которым  Маккиарини в прошлом проводил трансплантацию трахеи, умерла 9 июля 2018. Об этом сообщила российский медицинский журналист Алла Астахова, упомнув в качестве источника аккаунт в Instagram одного из членов семьи пациентки. Аккаунт содержит много ценной информации. Жадыра Игликова получила от … Continue reading Macchiarini victim Zhadyra Iglikova is dead

    in For Better Science on July 10, 2018 08:44 AM.

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    Deep genetic divergence among Bale monkeys in continuous forest and forest fragments

    The Bale monkey (Chlorocebus djamdjamensis) is an tree-dwelling, rare primate species restricted to a small geographic range – less than 12,500 square kilometres – in the southern Ethiopian Highlands. Bale monkeys in intact forest habitats are bamboo specialist herbivores that rely on a single species of highland bamboo (Arundinaria alpina) accounting for 77-81% of their annual diet, which is mostly young leaves and shoots.

    Habitat alteration and climate change are the major threats to biodiversity conservation, particularly for those specialist, rare species inhabiting small geographic ranges. These species are assumed to be less flexible at adapting to a changing environment than generalist species. Similar to other bamboo specialist mammals, such as giant pandas and bamboo lemurs, Bale monkeys are currently at high risk of extinction because of habitat alteration.

    Bale monkeys are classified as a Vulnerable species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species with a total population size of less than 10,000 individuals and a general trend of population decline.

    Three Chlorocebus species found in Ethiopia. A. Bale monkey. B. Grivet monkey. C. Vervet monkey.

    In addition to Bale monkeys, Ethiopia harbours two other Chlorocebus species: the vervet monkey (C. pygerythrus) and the grivet monkey (C. aethiops). These two species are widely distributed in Africa, semi-terrestrial ecological generalists, inhabiting a variety of habitats and consuming a diverse diet of plant species and invertebrates.

    Studies have shown that understanding the population genetic structure of endangered species is essential to designing successful science-based management plans to ensure long-term survival. Thus, we aimed to investigate the genetic diversity and phylogeography of Bale monkey populations inhabiting continuous forest and forest fragments using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA).

    We collected a total of 119 Bale monkey faecal samples from May to December 2013 at three localities in continuous forest and nine localities in fragmented forests. We extracted, amplified and analysed mtDNA from these samples. We also included a total of 12 samples from other green monkeys in Ethiopia for the purpose of comparison.

    Deep genetic differentiation

    It was very surprising to find a strong and deep genetic differentiation between the Bale monkey populations inhabiting continuous forest and those inhabiting fragmented forests dating back 2.8 million years and corresponding to their geographic structuring.

    There is strong and deep genetic differentiation between the Bale monkey populations inhabiting continuous forest and those inhabiting fragmented forests dating back 2.8 million years

    Remarkably, Bale monkeys in fragmented forests are more closely related to their sister species (vervets  and grivets) than their conspecifics in continuous forest, suggesting hybridization between Bale monkeys in forest fragments with vervets and grivets found in the surrounding region associated with habitat alteration.

    Bale monkeys inhabiting intact bamboo forests of the Bale Mountains form monophyletic group, suggesting they are the source population of Bale monkeys and are not likely to be hybrids.

    Bale monkey populations in continuous forest and forest fragments not only differ in their genetics but also in their ecology, morphology and gut microbiota. These differences further support the hypothesis that gene flow has already altered the gene pool of Bale monkey population in fragmented forests, making these monkeys ecologically flexible and more similar to other Chlorocebus species.

    A Bale monkey in the Odobullu (continuous) forest of the Bale Mountains

    The future of Bale monkeys

    As a result of a clear and deep genetic structuring between Bale monkey populations in continuous forest and forest fragments, we therefore propose two separate management units when implementing conservation strategies for Bale monkeys. For continuous forest Bale monkeys, we recommend improved protection of their intact bamboo forest habitat. For the fragmented forest population, we recommend connecting forest fragments to increase gene flow between isolated groups.

    Overall, the results of this study increase our general understanding of how habitat fragmentation and hybridization together have shaped the genetic structure of the rare, range-restricted and bamboo-specialist Bale monkey.

    We do acknowledge, however, that our genetic analysis should be interpreted with caution because we used a single and maternally inherited mtDNA locus that tells us only about the maternal history. Further research focusing on bi-parentally and paternally inherited genetic markers, as well as morphological and ecological studies is needed to understand the evolutionary history of this unusual species.

    The post Deep genetic divergence among Bale monkeys in continuous forest and forest fragments appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 10, 2018 08:30 AM.

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    After analysing the field’s leading journal, a psychologist asks: Is social psychology still the science of behaviour?

    JPSP.jpgBy Alex Fradera

    Part of my role at the Digest involves sifting through journals looking for research worth covering, and I’ve sensed that modern social psychology generates plenty of studies based on questionnaire data, but far fewer that investigate the kind of tangible behavioural outcomes illuminated by the field’s classics, from Asch’s conformity experiments to Milgram’s research on obedience to authority. A new paper in Social Psychological Bulletin examines this apparent change systematically. Based on his findings, Dariusz Doliński at the SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland asks the bleak question: is psychology still a science of behaviour?

    Doliński is following in the footsteps of a paper published over a decade ago, which looked at the January 2006 contents of what Doliński describes as social psychology’s “flagship” publication, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association. Roy Baumeister and colleagues sought research that involved behavioural outcomes more active than “finger movements” – typing on a computer, clicking a mouse or filling in a survey by hand. They found active behavioural outcomes were measured by only 12 per cent of studies published in the journal that month, compared to an estimated 80 per cent in the same journal 30 years earlier.

    Was this a blip, or a trend? Doliński looked at six issues of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology published in the second half of 2017. He found that from 45 empirical articles, only four went beyond participants answering questions or filling in surveys; overall, only 6 per cent of the analysed studies measured actual behaviour. 

    Moreover, when behaviour was studied, it was frequently nothing more than another case of finger movement. One study measured whether people would over-report their achievements on an experimental task; another looked at endurance in solving cognitive tasks; a third involved the “prisoner’s dilemma”, a financial game that doesn’t require any overt behaviour as such. Only one study looked at a truly active behaviour – the social interactions of pre-school children. Doliński likely had his tongue only partly in cheek when wondering whether this approach would still have been used if pre-school children were comfortable filling in questionnaires.

    What’s behind this anti-behavioural turn? Some of it is connected to the cognitive revolution: the recognition in psychological science that internal processes like memory, learning and attention are crucial to understanding behaviour. This has been immensely useful and worth celebrating, but it doesn’t exclude studying a diversity of behaviours as well.

    Doliński raises a few other obvious pressures that are harder to celebrate. Studying behaviours is more difficult, and often more costly and expensive, than studying verbal declarations. Behaviours are also harder to verify (was that spontaneous gesture friendly or unfriendly?) and to record. It may also be harder to convince ethics boards to approve a behavioural study than another survey study. In addition, observed behaviour is often binary and one-shot per participant. You offer help to cross a street; you return the found item; you go to vote; you sign the petition,… or you don’t. Not only does this often call for larger sample sizes, it limits how you can analyse the data, making it harder to produce persuasive models of pathways between mechanisms.

    As a concrete example of how the behavioural instinct has been blunted, Doliński points to a piece of research on physical intimacy (from the journal issues he reviewed) that did make the effort to go into the field. Experimenters visited a clinic providing flu shots, but did they observe how waiting patients interacted, or how closely they approached the receptionist or stood in line? No: they simply asked people more questions.

    This matters because declarations of behavioural intentions do not always translate to behaviours. For instance, lottery winners rarely donate their cash to charity, even though more than a quarter of survey respondents claim they would give substantially. Also, while the very robust “bystander effect” shows that people are less likely to act to counter a transgressive act when others are present, people asked to describe their hypothetical actions believe they would be as likely to act whether several other people are also present or not. Similarly, recent work canvassing opinions on the Milgram experiment showed that most people believe they would not have carried out the experimenters’ orders, even though most people do.

    Doliński worries that social psychologists doing the important work of field studies, and those studying behaviour more generally, are being shut out of the best journals in their field. Social psychology is already going through a process of reform as it responds to concerns about research quality. Perhaps it should take this opportunity to also consider adjusting its incentive systems to make more of research that does the best it can to see how psychological manipulations impact the world.

    Is Psychology Still a Science of Behaviour?

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

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 10, 2018 08:12 AM.

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    Air pollution is triggering diabetes in 3.2 million people each year

    A new study quantifies the link between smoggy air and diabetes.

    in Science News on July 09, 2018 09:11 PM.

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    Vaginal microbes in mice transfer stress to their pups

    During birth, microbes from a stressed mouse mother can carry some aspects of stress to her offspring.

    in Science News on July 09, 2018 06:56 PM.

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    Journals punished by high-profile indexing service cry foul, demand a recount

    A group of editors of journals focused on the history of economics has gone public to urge Clarivate Analytics, which publishes a highly influential ranking of journals, to reconsider its decision to drop the titles from this year’s index. Clarivate said it suppressed the titles because of apparent “citation stacking,” in which various editors agree … Continue reading Journals punished by high-profile indexing service cry foul, demand a recount

    in Retraction watch on July 09, 2018 03:00 PM.

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    Thematic Series: Health Services Research for Opioid Use Disorders

    This month marks the launch of the thematic series, “Health Services Research for Opioid Use Disorders”, a compilation of peer reviewed articles on prevention and treatment for the public health emergency of opioid misuse and opioid use disorders. Papers will speak to the epidemic and the strategies being developed to address it. Due to their structural similarity, this special issue uses the umbrella term “opioids” to also include opiates.

    Public health crisis

    North America and Europe are currently grappling with a public health crisis associated with widespread access to prescription opioid analgesics, enhanced purity of heroin, the introduction of potent fentanyl compounds, and a rising tide of opioid overdose fatalities. In the United States, prescriptions for hydrocodone and oxycodone exploded beginning in the late 1990s. Now, more than 2 million individuals in the United States have an opioid use disorder. Most of these individuals were introduced to opioids via a prescription for an opioid analgesic (either for themselves or another party).

    more than 2 million individuals in the United States have an opioid use disorder

    Prescription drug monitoring programs have resulted in a drop in the prescription of opioid analgesics and patients dependent on opioids feel compelled to shift to the use of illicit heroin or a synthetic opioid. As a result, overdoses are on the rise and overdose fatalities exceeded 63,000 in 2016. Fentanyl derivatives now make a major contribution to the current opioid crisis, and over a short period of time they have become the substances most associated with overdose mortality. Drug overdose deaths remain high in Europe, and according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction, opioids are implicated in the majority of cases. These deaths have become the face of the opioid epidemic.

    Addiction treatment

    The good news is that treatment works. A recent study found that treatment of opioid use disorder with either methadone or buprenorphine following a nonfatal opioid overdose is associated with significant reductions in opioid related mortality. A barrier to positive long term outcomes, however, is the lack of access and retention in treatment. Exciting advances are being made to reformulate some of the traditional opioid agonist therapy (i.e., methadone and buprenorphine) to improve patient adherence to treatment. An opioid antagonist therapy (i.e., extended-release naltrexone) provides an alternative to agonist therapy. Psychosocial therapy combined with either agonist or antagonist medication facilitates healthier lives and lifestyles.

    Naloxone distribution and opioid overdose education have saved many lives. Programs such as Get Naloxone Now (http://www.getnaloxonenow.org) are effectively training care providers and community members on how to save lives.

    Call for papers

    Addiction health services research is on the front lines in the fight to address the opioid epidemic. The papers in this special issue illustrate applications of these tools in North American and Europe. Manuscripts submitted before January 30, 2019 will be reviewed for inclusion in the issue. See the call for papers announcement.

    This collection of articles is not sponsored, and the articles will be subjected to the journal’s standard peer-review process overseen by BMC Health Services Research Associate Editor Kim Hoffman and Guest Editor Dennis McCarty, who declare no competing interests.
    If you have any research you would like us to consider for inclusion in the series, please email us at BMCSeriesEditorial@biomedcentral.com

    The post Thematic Series: Health Services Research for Opioid Use Disorders appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 09, 2018 01:30 PM.

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    Researchers pull Nature paper over first author’s objections

    Researchers have retracted a 2015 Nature paper about the molecular underpinnings of immune function after discovering they could not replicate key parts of the results. The first author, Wendy Huang — who started working as an assistant professor at the University of California, San Diego, only months after the paper appeared — did not sign … Continue reading Researchers pull Nature paper over first author’s objections

    in Retraction watch on July 09, 2018 12:00 PM.

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    How a particle accelerator helped recover tarnished 19th century images

    Chemists used a synchrotron to peek beneath 150 years of grime on damaged daguerreotype images, revealing hidden portraits.

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

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    We can tell from a person’s roar whether they are bigger and stronger than us

    GettyImages-157287633.jpgBy Emma Young

    Many animals, including sea lions and dogs, can accurately predict the size and strength of a potential adversary in part by listening to their vocalisations – such as the ferocity and depth of their barks or growls. People weren’t thought to be much good at doing something similar. But in previous studies, volunteers were asked to judge the absolute height and strength of another person, based on the sound of an aggressively-spoken sentence or a ‘roar’. Now in a new study, published in iScience, when participants were instead instructed to listen to recordings and judge how much stronger, or weaker, taller or shorter the vocaliser was, compared with themselves, they could do this with a high degree of accuracy.

    As the researchers, led by David Reby at the University of Sussex, point out, this is potentially far more practically useful than being able to discern someone else’s absolute height or strength.

    The researchers recorded 30 male and 31 female drama or acting students at the University of Sussex, who were instructed to imagine themselves in a battle or war scenario, about to charge and attack, and to utter “That’s enough, I’m coming for you!”, followed by a “non-verbal vocalisation” expressing the same motivation (these usually sounded like roars). The researchers then measured each student’s height and also their flexed bicep circumference and handgrip strength, which were used to produce a single strength score for each person. 

    One group of listeners rated relative strength. These were 45 men and women recruited from Tromso (and surrounding rural towns) in Norway (all were fluent English speakers), and from the University of Sussex. They also had their own handgrip strength and flexed bicep circumference measured.

    A separate group of 56 people from the US rated the vocalisers’ relative height, and self-reported their own heights.

    These listeners rated all the vocalisers on a 101 point scale, from -50 (much weaker / shorter) to +50 (much stronger / taller), with the slider’s default position set to 0 (“same as you”).  

    The researchers found that overall both men and women were fairly good at identifying whether the vocalisers were relatively stronger/weaker and taller/shorter than themselves. For example, when judging roars – which, for male (but not female) vocalisers increased perceived strength more than the aggressive sentence – male listeners correctly rated vocalisers who were substantially stronger than they were as being stronger 88 per cent of the time (and never ranked such vocalisers as being weaker).

    But analysis of the finely-scaled judgements made using the 101-point sliding scale also revealed some biases. There was a general tendency for women to over-estimate male vocalisers’ relative strength, and men to under-estimate women’s relative strength.

    The researchers say this fits with previous findings of a general tendency for women to underestimate, and men to over-estimate their abilities. However, given that men are, on average, stronger than women, from an evolutionary perspective, it may be safer for a woman to err on the side of caution, and assume that the (invisible) owner of a male voice is significantly stronger, as she’ll be right more often than not. 

    Overall, though, as has been demonstrated with other mammals, “both male and female listeners can use available formidability cues conveyed in aggressive speech and roars to make ecologically relevant judgements about speakers with a high degree of accuracy,” the researchers conclude. 

    Human Listeners Can Accurately Judge Strength and Height Relative to Self from Aggressive Roars and Speech

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest


    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 09, 2018 08:51 AM.

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    The greatest advances in AI: the experts’ view

    Five AI researchers weigh in on the most significant advances in the field – and what is yet to come

    in Elsevier Connect on July 09, 2018 08:41 AM.

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    Phenotypic plasticity in a pandemic lineage of the Irish potato famine pathogen

    What did you find?

    Wild potato

    We studied two different races of the Irish potato famine pathogen, and we discovered that the difference invirulence between these races could not be ascribed to a genetic difference but rather to a difference in the expression of the underlying virulence gene. This adds to our knowledge of how this important scourge on world agriculture evolves to evade plant immunity.

    Why is this work important?

    As our colleague Mark Gijzen tweeted, “is this a rare and unusual curiosity or another example of a widespread biological phenomenon?” Indeed, there are few other examples in related plant pathogens, including the soybean root rot pathogen that Mark studies. This finding has far reaching implications. It indicates that these pathogens can evolve even more rapidly than anticipated thus counteracting the efforts of plant breeders to deploy disease resistant crops.

    Are potato varieties resistant to the pathogen available?

    Yes, there are. But there are several examples of potato cultivars that were initially resistant to late blight when farmers started to grow them, but succumbed to the disease a few years later. The ability to switch on and off virulence genes such as we found in this research may partly explain why the pathogen is so effective at overcoming the plants defense barriers.

    There are potato varieties initially resistant to Phytophthora infestans that have succumbed to late blight a few years later.

    What is currently done to control the disease?

    Susceptible potato cultivars must be protected by repeated applications of fungicides. If left unchecked, the disease will destroy the leaves and stems in a matter of days as in the pictured trial plot of potato varieties in the highlands of Peru.

    Is chemical protection the only way to control late blight?

    In nature, there are wild relatives of the cultivated potato and many of them can withstand the disease (see image of potato variety field trial). Breeders identify the genes in these plants and introduce them to cultivated potato through crosses or genetic transformation.

    A field trial in Peru

    How did you put this project together?

    We studied an Andean lineage of the Irish potato famine pathogen known as EC-1 so the project had an international flavor from day one. Ours was a wide reaching multinational collaboration bringing together scientists based in the UK, Japan, Netherlands, USA, Philippines, and Peru. It’s how science often goes on these days. Experts from all over the world team up to solve problems, make new discoveries and advance our knowledge.

    Anything you would have done differently?

    DNA sequencing technology develops so fast that by the time the paper gets published you wish you could apply a different method. It also takes more time to analyze the data, write up the paper etc. than to generate the sequence data. This can be frustrating.

    You posted the paper in bioRxiv before submission. Why?

    Why not? Posting the article on bioRxiv enabled us to share our findings with our colleagues and hear about it from the community as soon as possible. The tweet by Mark Gijzen we referred to above is an example of such feedback. Posting a preprint relieves some of the delays associated with publishing. It’s a liberating feeling to finish writing up a paper and immediately share it with anyone who’s interested.


    Dr. Vivianne Vleeshouwers is assistant professor in Wageningen University & Research, the Netherlands. Her research is dedicated to understand the molecular interaction between the potato late blight pathogen Phytophthora infestans and potato, and exploit this knowledge to achieve a better and more durable disease resistance.

    Dr. Hannele Lindqvist-Kreuze works as a Molecular Breeder at the International Potato Center (CIP) in Lima, Peru. Her current work focuses on the discovery and application of molecular markers in the potato and sweet potato breeding programs of CIP. She describes her work as a Haiku: Searching for Hidden Patterns, Coded in the DNA, Unknowingly selected.

    Dr. Sophien Kamoun is a Senior Scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory and a Professor of Biology at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK. He studies the interactions between plants and filamentous pathogens, notably the Irish potato famine pathogen and the rice and wheat blast fungus. He’s known for saying “Don’t bet against the pathogen.”

    The post Phenotypic plasticity in a pandemic lineage of the Irish potato famine pathogen appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 09, 2018 08:21 AM.

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    Scientific Self-Correction on Small Talk and Happiness

    Does idle chat and unhappiness go together? Eight years ago, a study was published (Mehl et al. 2010) suggesting that they do. The authors reported that "Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations", triggering many alarming headlines. Now, however, the same researchers have carried out a much larger study and have failed to confirm the chat-unhappiness association. The new paper is published in Psychological Science, the same journal where the ori

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on July 08, 2018 05:11 PM.

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    Why humans, and Big Macs, depend on bees

    Thor Hanson, the author of Buzz, explains the vital role bees play in our world.

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

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    Weekend reads: “Ethics dumping;” getting scientists to admit mistakes; the problem with conference dinner chatter

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured a collection of reports of scientific misconduct investigations, the story … Continue reading Weekend reads: “Ethics dumping;” getting scientists to admit mistakes; the problem with conference dinner chatter

    in Retraction watch on July 07, 2018 12:41 PM.

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    Designer diamonds could one day help build a quantum internet

    A new design in artificial diamonds stores and releases quantum information better than others.

    in Science News on July 06, 2018 03:43 PM.

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    Science Exchange Adds Allergan EVP & Chief R&D Officer David Nicholson to Its Board of Directors

    PALO ALTO CA, June 27, 2018 — Science Exchange, Inc. announced today that C. David Nicholson, Ph.D., EVP and Chief R&D Officer at Allergan, has joined the Science Exchange Board of Directors. Dr. Nicholson’s experience includes over forty years in research and development in the pharmaceutical industry spanning senior leadership roles at Allergan, Bayer CropScience, Schering-Plough, Organon, and Merck.

    “David Nicholson’s leadership, experience, and passion for research have made him one of the world’s most respected pharmaceutical R&D executives – he’s an extraordinarily talented business development, operating, and research executive,” said Elizabeth Iorns Ph.D., founder and CEO of Science Exchange. “We are fortunate to add David to Science Exchange’s Board of Directors during this exciting phase of the company’s growth.”

    “David is a seasoned R&D leader who brings an exceptional track record spanning more than 40 years in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Casper de Clercq, Science Exchange Board Member and Partner at Norwest Venture Partners. “His deep experience working in R&D across the U.S., UK, Germany and the Netherlands, and his unique understanding of the global clinical and regulatory environment, will be invaluable as Science Exchange continues its rapid international expansion.”

    Dr. Nicholson joined Allergan (then Actavis) as Senior Vice President, Global Brands R&D in August 2014. Previously Dr. Nicholson held senior leadership roles in R&D including serving as the Head of R&D at Bayer CropScience; Executive Vice President of R&D at Organon; and Senior Vice President Licensing and Knowledge Management at Merck.

    “I am thrilled to join the Science Exchange Board of Directors,” said Dr. Nicholson. “I’ve been following the company for some time now and am a true believer in the transformative platform it has developed for R&D companies. I admire the work that Elizabeth, Dan, and the talented Science Exchange management team have done over the past few years to speed up the process of R&D outsourcing. I look forward to joining the team and helping them further transform the outsourced R&D industry.”

    Dr. Nicholson also serves on the Board of Directors of Actinium Pharmaceuticals. He earned a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from University of Wales and a BSc in Pharmacology from Manchester University.

    in The Science Exchange Blog on July 06, 2018 03:07 PM.

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    Kilauea’s spectacular pyrotechnics show no signs of stopping

    Watch some of the most striking videos and images of the strange, fiery beauty of the Hawaii volcano’s ongoing eruption.

    in Science News on July 06, 2018 02:46 PM.

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    Q&A with LI-COR

    Guru Singh, Director of Scientific Content of Science Exchange, recently spoke with Jim Wiley, Director of Marketing, Biotechnology at LI-COR Biosciences. Follow the interview below.

    What should Science Exchange users know about LI-COR?

    We are committed to making research reproducible. To illustrate, LI-COR is the only company that has developed methods required by journals and funding agencies to ensure that the Western blot data submitter is ready to produce robust and replicable data. We are also the only company in the Western blot market to deliver training materials/courses to educate the researcher on the above methods. These are available in the new LI-COR Lambda U™ learning portal. Also, our Custom Services group can provide exploratory/confirmatory Western blot services and antibody validation services, which relate to journal requirements and ensure research reproducibility.

    Just as important, LI-COR has expertise in IRDye® products (IRDye infrared fluorescent dyes) used for surgical, therapeutic, and diagnostic applications. There are over 20 ongoing clinical trials that have propelled the use of these dyes. Unlike other life science companies, we have the products, tools, and services that can successfully help researchers take their ‘probe’ from benchtop to clinic. Custom services also include probe labeling, probe validation, and probe manufacturing (non-cGMP and cGMP).

    What makes your offerings unique?

    Only LI-COR has developed the full solution that includes products, tools, and services to set researchers up for success in delivering the most accurate, robust, and replicable Western blot data. Innovation was required to define and develop new protocols; there was no precise definition of how to calculate ‘replicates’ for Western blotting. LI-COR worked with the Journal of Biological Chemistry (JBC) to create a definition (and later a protocol) that will now be enforced.

    What are your primary proprietary technologies?

    Our proprietary technologies include the Odyssey® Imager, IRDye infrared dyes, and the related methods/protocols developed to match the journals’ and funding agencies’ stringent data creation/submission requirements.

    How is your molecular imaging superior to the chemiluminescent-based detection?

    There are limitations to film and visible fluorescent detection methods that make them very difficult to hit all the requirements. One example is the requirement that one must prove that their target and normalization signal are both in the same linear range of detection. This is straight-forward when using LI-COR products.

    Tell me about your global presence.

    LI-COR Biotechnology products are supported globally by a network of distributors and are used in more than 100 countries. We sell directly to the US, Canada, and 11 European countries.

    Interesting. How big is your company? (e.g., number of employees, funding status, etc.)

    LI-COR has been in business for over 45 years and currently consists of 300 employees. Since LI-COR is a private company, we cannot comment on our funding status.

    What type of certifications does your company have? (e.g., GxP, minority-owned, women-owned, etc.)

    We are ISO 9001:2015 certified.

    How is your technology different than that of your competitors?

    It is not just one technology that separates LI-COR from the competition, but that we offer the complete package of products (imagers, software, and reagents), tools (protocols and educational materials), and services (training from expert scientists and customer services). These were developed to aid researchers in getting the best data possible, all in alignment with the new publisher requirements.

    Whom do you serve? What does your current client base look like?

    We serve researchers that utilize Western blots or are involved in probe development in their research in all markets including academia, the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, and government agencies.

    How has your partnership with Science Exchange been?

    We are inspired by Science Exchange’s mission to drive science forward by matching the research needs of scientists with the best solution providers. Science Exchange has been a terrific partner for introducing LI-COR to researchers who are looking for what LI-COR experts can offer through our Custom Services group.

    Before we wrap up, do you have any final message to Science Exchange users?

    Take advantage of LI-COR’s over 20 years of experience in quantitative Western blotting and infrared dye applications. Our scientific experts have developed the methods and protocols that you need to successfully create the best data possible. If you need custom services and/or manufacturing, LI-COR scientists will partner with you to deliver the best results possible.

    in The Science Exchange Blog on July 06, 2018 02:35 PM.

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    “The final verdict:” Lancet retracts two papers by Macchiarini

    The Lancet chapter of the Paolo Macchiarini saga appears to finally be over. In an editorial titled “The final verdict on Paolo Macchiarini: guilty of misconduct,” the editors of the journal announce that they are retracting two papers by the now-disgraced surgeon and colleagues “after receiving requests to do so from the new President of … Continue reading “The final verdict:” Lancet retracts two papers by Macchiarini

    in Retraction watch on July 06, 2018 02:09 PM.

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    Highlights of the BMC series: June 2018

    BMC Cancer: Does hypnosis improve the quality of life for prostate cancer patients?

    Flickr: Karl Birrane

    Individuals suffering from prostate or breast cancer can experience symptoms such as emotional distress, fatigue and sleep difficulties resulting in a decrease in their quality of life. While previous studies have identified the benefits of hypnosis and other group interventions in reducing fatigue and emotional distress in breast cancer patients, a study by Grégoire et al. published in BMC Cancer sought to identify whether these types of interventions would also be beneficial to prostate cancer patients.

    The study assessed 25 men with prostate cancer and 68 women with breast cancer before and after a self-hypnosis/self-care group intervention. The researchers then analyzed the impact this group intervention had on the patients’ quality of life, sleep difficulties and fatigue.

    Interestingly, the results of the study showed that, whilst the female breast cancer group experienced positive effects of the intervention on various symptoms including depression, anxiety and fatigue, the male prostate cancer group reported no effect. The researchers suggest that this may be due to the greater difficulties and different cancer treatments the breast cancer group experienced prior to the intervention compared to the prostate cancer group. The male prostate cancer group also reported few problems with distress, sleep or fatigue prior to the intervention, which may have contributed to the lack of reported improvement on these symptoms.

    BMC Rheumatology: Knee osteoarthritis and patients’ beliefs

    A study by Darlow et al., published in BMC Rheumatology, investigates the beliefs that patients with knee osteoarthritis have the disease, as well as how these beliefs are formed and the impact they have on participating in activity, self-management and health behavior. Thirteen individuals from New Zealand with knee osteoarthritis were interviewed.

    The study found that patients were often uncertain of how to interpret their daily symptoms, and what they can do to influence the rate of decline. This resulted in patients believing that joint replacement is the only effective option available to them. Ultimately, misunderstandings about knee osteoarthritis led to a negative impact on the individuals’ participation in activity, their health behaviors and their self-management.

    The researchers concluded that improving the provision of information to those with knee osteoarthritis may help guide positive health behavior and self-management decisions.

    BMC Public Health: Association between sleep duration and metabolic syndrome

    Metabolic syndrome consists of multiple conditions such as high blood pressure, excess fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels which, when combined, increases the individuals’ risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. Previous studies have investigated the link between differing lengths of sleep duration and various diseases such as obesity, hypertension and hyperglycemia.

    In a study published by BMC Public Health, Kim et al. studied the association between sleep duration and metabolic syndrome in Koreans aged 40-69 years old. This cross-sectional study analyzed the data of over 130,000 individuals from the years 2004-2013. Sleep categories assessed were less than 6 hours, 6 to less than 8 hours, 8 to less than 10 hours and at least 10 hours.

    The researchers found that less than 6 hours of sleep a day was associated with metabolic syndrome in men, and elevated waist circumference in men and women. More than 10 hours of sleep was associated with elevated waist circumference, reduced high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and elevated fasting glucose in women, whereas elevated triglycerides and metabolic syndrome were associated with more than 10 hours sleep in both men and women.

    BMC Biomedical Engineering & BMC Chemical Engineering: Two new journals

    Flickr: Office of Naval Research

    Two new BMC journals opened for submissions in June. BMC Biomedical Engineering will focus on the combination of tools and methods from biology and medicine with mathematics, physical sciences and engineering with the ultimate goal of improving human health. BMC Chemical Engineering will encompass the production of, use, transformation, transportation and reuse of chemicals, biochemicals, materials and energy.

    Both journals are now open for submissions, and many more journals will soon be launched to expand the scope of the BMC series beyond biology and medicine and into engineering. Both journals are open access and peer reviewed, and neither makes editorial decisions on the basis of the interest of a study or its likely impact. The first articles will be published in November 2018.

    BMC Pulmonary Medicine: Earlier smoking after waking and the risk of asthma

    Research conducted by Arielle Selya, Sunita Thapa and Guarav Mehta investigated whether smoking within 5 minutes of waking up (an indicator of nicotine dependence) was independently associated with asthma. Outcomes of asthma assessed included lifetime asthma, past-year asthma, and having had an asthma attack in the past year.

    The researchers found that smoking within 5 minutes of waking up was associated with an approximately 50% increase in the likelihood of lifetime asthma and past-year asthma retrospectively. It was also associated with a 4 times increase in the likelihood of lifetime asthma. These findings may be used in order to refine the risk assessments of asthma among smokers.

    BMC Infectious Diseases: Screening swabs surpass traditional risk factors as predictors of MRSA bacteremia

    MRSA – By Janice Haney Carr, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
    A common dilemma for those that treat patients with MRSA, is whether to include their own therapy based on experience and clinical estimation (empiric therapy), as well as using vancomycin, as overuse of this antibiotic can have adverse events. In a paper published by BMC Infectious Diseases, Butler-Laporte et al. assess whether a score based on patient factors and MRSA colonization is able to predict the risk of MRSA infection in cases of S. aureus bacteremia, to inform the need for empiric coverage.

    The researchers found that MRSA colonization surpassed all other factors to be the only reliable and independent predictor of MRSA infection. Further patient diseases or disorders were not adequate predictors of MRSA colonization. The study results indicate that a clinical approach based on a patient’s known MRSA colonization status and on local susceptibility patterns may be appropriate.

    BMC Evolutionary Biology: Possible link between autism and blind cavefish

    By Ltshears [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons
    Blind cavefish exhibit human Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)-like symptoms. They exhibit repetitive behavior patterns, rarely sleep or interact with mates, swim continuously and have high levels or cortisol (the stress hormone) in their blood. In a paper published by BMC Evolutionary Biology, Yoshizawa et al. used this species as a model to study the genetic mechanisms which underlie ASD.

    Although the researchers do not believe the behaviors between humans and fish are at the same levels of complexity, their findings do suggest that the behaviors in both species are evolutionarily conserved. The study surveyed genes that share the same evolutionary ancestor between cavefish and humans and similarities were identified. They also surveyed evolved genes in the cavefish lineage, finding that ASD-risk genes evolved at twice the rate of other genes across the cavefish genome. The study concludes that the evolution of humans and fish share basic neural networks that generate ASD-like behaviors.



    The post Highlights of the BMC series: June 2018 appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on July 06, 2018 01:19 PM.

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    No matter their size, newborn stomachs need frequent filling

    Studies on newborn stomach size help explain why the tiny humans need to eat so frequently.

    in Science News on July 06, 2018 11:17 AM.

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    Researchers have identified a group of patients who are especially prone to out-of-body experiences

    GettyImages-519685592.jpgBy Emma Young

    People who’ve had an out-of-body experience (OBE) report that their conscious awareness shifted outside their physical body – often upwards, so they felt like they were floating above their own head. It’s thought that OBEs occur when the brain fails to properly integrate data from the different senses, including vision, touch, proprioception (the sense of where the limbs and other body parts are located in space) and from the vestibular system (organs in the inner ear that monitor head orientation, balance and motion). 

    Previous research has mostly focused on the role of vision and touch – for example by triggering the illusion of viewing one’s own body – but the vestibular system has largely been neglected. If it does play an important role we should expect that problems with the vestibular system – which often present as feelings of dizziness – lead to OBEs, but do they?  

    Historical case studies suggested that they might. And now, published in Cortex, the first systematic study of patients referred to a neurological specialist because of dizziness has found that they can. 

    Christophe Lopez, a neuroscientist at Aix Marseille University, and Maya Elziere, a neurologist specialising in balance disorders at the Hôpital Européen, also in Marseille, France, compared 210 patients referred to them for dizziness and vertigo (having the feeling of spinning, swaying or tilting, being off balance, or that the room is spinning) with the same number of age and gender-matched controls. They found that the patients were much more likely to report having had an OBE – 14 per cent had had at least one, compared with 5 per cent of the healthy controls. And most of these patients reported having an OBE only after their dizziness had started. 

    During their OBE, most of the patients reported vestibular sensations – of elevation and lightness, for example. (One reported a “sensation of entering my body, like in an envelope, from the top”). The vast majority of these patients also reported having had not just one but multiple OBEs, which usually lasted for a few seconds or a few minutes.

    OBEs were linked mainly to dizziness caused by obvious problems with the vestibular system itself such as vestibular neuritis and Meniere’s disease (rather than being brain-based). Yet, most patients with these same vestibular problems did not develop OBEs so something else must be going on to contribute to the experience. Questionnaire results showed that scores for “depersonalisation-derealization”, depression and anxiety, were the main predictors of OBE in patients with dizziness, suggesting these psychological factors interact with the physical problem of atypical signals being sent from the vestibular system to generate OBEs. In healthy controls, there was also a relationship between depersonalisation-derealization scores and reported OBEs. This isn’t a surprise: depersonalisation-derealization involves feelings of observing yourself from outside your body, or having the sense that things around you aren’t real. 

    As anxiety was also a significant predictor – and anxiety is known to be linked to vertigo – “we suggest that anxiety and depersonalisation-derealization may combine to precipitate OBE in patients with dizziness,” the researchers write. 

    Out-of-body experience in vestibular disorders – A prospective study of 210 patients with dizziness

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on July 06, 2018 07:43 AM.

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    Latchman and Wohl Foundation: gifts that keep on giving

    Imagine being so rich that not you are employed as rector by the university, it is your university whom you give money to, from the inherited charity trust you preside over. If such a precious rector had over 40 of his publications flagged for what definitely looks like grossly manipulated data, it would be simply … Continue reading Latchman and Wohl Foundation: gifts that keep on giving

    in For Better Science on July 06, 2018 05:00 AM.

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    Soaring spiders may get cues from electric charges in the air

    Spiders can sense atmospheric electric fields, which might give them cues to take to the air.

    in Science News on July 05, 2018 08:48 PM.

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    Nerve cells that help control hunger have been ID’d in mice

    A mysterious bump on the human brain may be able to dial appetite up or down.

    in Science News on July 05, 2018 07:43 PM.