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

Neuroskeptic
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  • February 20, 2017
  • 10:56 AM
  • 32 views

The Science of the Rorschach Blots

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

When the psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach blotted ink onto paper to produce a series of abstract patterns, could he have known that nearly 100 years later, the Rorschach test would be a household name?



Although the use of the Rorschach to diagnose mental illness is mostly a thing of the past, research on the test continues. Last week, two new papers were published on the Rorschach blots, including a fractal analysis of the images themselves and a brain scanning study using fMRI.



The ... Read more »

Taylor RP, Martin TP, Montgomery RD, Smith JH, Micolich AP, Boydston C, Scannell BC, Fairbanks MS, & Spehar B. (2017) Seeing shapes in seemingly random spatial patterns: Fractal analysis of Rorschach inkblots. PloS one, 12(2). PMID: 28196082  

  • February 17, 2017
  • 03:03 PM
  • 85 views

The Fantasy of Connecting Two Spinal Cords

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A peculiar new paper proposes the idea of "connecting two spinal cords as a way of sharing information between two brains". The author is Portuguese psychiatrist Amílcar Silva-dos-Santos and the paper appears in Frontiers in Psychology.



Frontiers are a publisher with a troubled history of publishing dubious science. But this paper is unusual, even by Frontiers' standards, because it contains virtually no science at all.

In a nutshell, Silva-Dos-Santos suggests that it would be interest... Read more »

  • January 31, 2017
  • 07:12 AM
  • 598 views

Split Brain, Undivided Consciousness?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new paper challenges a decades-old theory in neuroscience: Split brain: divided perception but undivided consciousness



According to the famous work of Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga, "split brain" patients seem to experience a split in consciousness: the left and the right side of their brain can independently become aware of, and respond, to stimuli. Split brain patients are those who underwent surgery to sever the corpus callosum, the nerve tract connecting the two hemispheres of ... Read more »

Pinto Y, Neville DA, Otten M, Corballis PM, Lamme VA, de Haan EH, Foschi N, & Fabri M. (2017) Split brain: divided perception but undivided consciousness. Brain : a journal of neurology. PMID: 28122878  

  • January 28, 2017
  • 03:28 AM
  • 492 views

When You're Drowsy, Is Your Brain Partly Asleep?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

When we're feeling very tired, we sometimes remark that we're "half-asleep". But is this more than just a figure of speech? A new paper suggests that parts of our brain may actually 'fall asleep' even while we're still awake.



According to researchers Jeremy D. Slater and colleagues of the University of Texas, "local sleep" occurs throughout the human brain, with each brain region passing into and out of a sleep-like state over time. What's more, local sleep becomes more and more common in... Read more »

Slater JD, Chelaru MI, Hansen BJ, Beaman C, Kalamangalam G, Tandon N, & Dragoi V. (2017) Focal Changes to Human Electrocorticography With Drowsiness: A Novel Measure of Local Sleep. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. PMID: 28121257  

  • January 16, 2017
  • 04:29 PM
  • 311 views

Op, Op, Op. The Neuroscience of Gangnam Style?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

"Our results revealed characteristic patterns of brain activity associated with Gangnam Style". So say the authors of a new paper called Neural correlates of the popular music phenomenon.



The authors, Qiaozhen Chen et al. from Zhejiang in China, used fMRI to record brain activity while 15 volunteers listened to two musical pieces: Psy's 'Gangnam Style' and a "light music" control, Richard Clayderman's piano piece 'A Comme Amour'.

Chen et al. say that Gangnam Style was associated with "... Read more »

Chen Q, Zhang Y, Hou H, Du F, Wu S, Chen L, Shen Y, Chao F, Chung JK, Zhang H.... (2017) Neural correlates of the popular music phenomenon: evidence from functional MRI and PET imaging. European journal of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging. PMID: 28083689  

  • January 14, 2017
  • 11:53 AM
  • 345 views

What Can fMRI Tell Us About Mental Illness?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A remarkable and troubling new paper: Addressing reverse inference in psychiatric neuroimaging: Meta-analyses of task-related brain activation in common mental disorders



Icahn School of Medicine researchers Emma Sprooten and colleagues carried out an ambitious task: to pull together the results of every fMRI study which has compared task-related brain activation in people with a mental illness and healthy controls.

Sprooten et al.'s analysis included 537 studies with a total of 21,427 ... Read more »

  • January 11, 2017
  • 05:46 AM
  • 320 views

Two Manifestos for Better Science

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover



Two new papers outline urge scientists to make research more reproducible.



First off, Russ Poldrack and colleagues writing in Nature Reviews Neuroscience discuss how to achieve transparent and reproducible neuroimaging research. Neuroimaging techniques, such as fMRI, are enormously powerful tools for neuroscientists but, Poldrack et al. say, they are at risk of "a ‘perfect storm’ of irreproducible results". because the "high dimensionality of fMRI data, the relatively low power of mos... Read more »

Poldrack RA, Baker CI, Durnez J, Gorgolewski KJ, Matthews PM, Munafò MR, Nichols TE, Poline JB, Vul E, & Yarkoni T. (2017) Scanning the horizon: towards transparent and reproducible neuroimaging research. Nature reviews. Neuroscience. PMID: 28053326  

Marcus R. Munafò, Brian A. Nosek, Dorothy V. M. Bishop, Katherine S. Button,, Christopher D. Chambers, Nathalie Percie du Sert, Uri Simonsohn, Eric-Jan Wagenmakers,, & Jennifer J. Ware and John P. A. Ioannidis. (2017) A manifesto for reproducible science. Nat Hum Behav. info:/

  • January 3, 2017
  • 03:43 PM
  • 330 views

What Happens to Rejected Papers?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

The pain of rejection is one that every scientist has felt: but what happens to papers after they're declined by a journal?

In a new study, researchers Earnshaw et al. traced the fate of almost 1,000 manuscripts which had been submitted to and rejected by ear, nose and throat journal Clinical Otolaryngology between 2011 to 2013.





To find out if the rejected papers had eventually appeared elsewhere, Earnshaw et al. searched PubMed and Google Scholar for published papers with titles a... Read more »

Earnshaw CH, Edwin C, Bhat J, Krishnan M, Mamais C, Somashekar S, Sunil A, Williams SP, & Leong SC. (2016) An Analysis of the Fate of 917 Manuscripts Rejected from Clinical Otolaryngology. Clinical Otolaryngology. PMID: 28032954  

  • December 31, 2016
  • 10:52 AM
  • 417 views

No Need To Worry About False Positives in fMRI?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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



In my view, ... Read more »

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

The Myth of "Darwin's Body-Snatchers"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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





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

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

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

What Scientists Think About Scientists

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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

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

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

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

Neuroscience Spots Potential Criminals In Pre-School?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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


Hmmm. Not really.

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

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

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

Do We All Have Split Brains?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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

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

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

Fun With Non-Ionizing Radiation

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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

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



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

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

Do Synapses Really Store Memories?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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



Trettenbrein acknowledges that "t... Read more »

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

Pupil Size and Intelligence

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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

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

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

If You Want to Be Happy, Quit Facebook?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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





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

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

Am I An Unethical Pseudonym?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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



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

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

The Brain Basis of Hating Cheese?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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

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

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

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

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

Does The Motor Cortex Inhibit Movement?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

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



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

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