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

Neuroskeptic
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  • January 24, 2015
  • 09:39 AM
  • 43 views

Urban Legends In The World of Clinical Trials

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Ethnographer Jill A. Fisher offers a fascinating look at the rumors and urban legends that circulate among the volunteers who get paid to take part in medical research: Stopped hearts, amputated toes and NASA




Fisher visited six clinical trial facilities across the USA. All of these facilities were exclusively devoted to running phase I trials, testing new drugs to see if they are safe in humans. She spent a total of 450 hours in the field, getting to know the 'guinea pigs', and the staf... Read more »

  • January 18, 2015
  • 08:29 AM
  • 85 views

Machine Learning: Exceeding Chance Level By Chance

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A simple statistical misunderstanding is leading many neuroscientists astray in their use of machine learning tools, according to a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience Methods: Exceeding chance level by chance.



As the authors, French neuroscientists Etienne Combrisson and Karim Jerbi, describe the issue:
Machine learning techniques are increasingly used in neuroscience to classify brain signals. Decoding performance is reflected by how much the classification results depart from the... Read more »

  • January 11, 2015
  • 01:06 PM
  • 108 views

The Tragic History of Surgery for Schizophrenia

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A compelling article in the Journal of Medical Biography recounts the story of Bayard Holmes and Henry Cotton, two American "surgeon-psychiatrists" who believed that they could cure schizophrenia by removing parts of their patients' intestines (and other organs). Both men tested their theories on their own children - with tragic results. The article is by Jonathan Davidson of Duke University.





Holmes and Cotton had a theory to justify these extreme treatments: autointoxication - the id... Read more »

  • January 10, 2015
  • 05:52 AM
  • 124 views

Oxytocin: Two New Reasons For Skepticism

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A new study offers two reasons to be cautious about some of the claims made for the role of the hormone oxytocin in human behavior.

The paper's out now in PLoS ONE from researchers James C. Christensen and colleagues, who are based at the US Air Force Research Laboratory in Ohio. That the military are interested in oxytocin at all is perhaps a testament to the huge amount of interest that this molecule has attracted in recent years. Oxytocin has been called the "hug hormone", and is said to b... Read more »

  • January 8, 2015
  • 04:43 PM
  • 136 views

Subliminal Perception: Just How Fast Is The Brain?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Subliminal perception has long been a hot topic. The idea that something (generally an image) could appear and disappear before us so quickly that it escapes conscious perception, and yet affect us subconsciously, is a fascinating (and scary) one.

Psychologists and neuroscientists are fairly skeptical of any grand or sinister claims for the power of subliminal advertising or propaganda, but on the other hand, many of them use the technique as a research tool.

So what's the absolute speed l... Read more »

  • December 30, 2014
  • 05:54 AM
  • 65 views

More On The Mystery of "Quantum Resonance Spectrometry"

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Back in April, I blogged about a paper published in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (JNMD) claiming that a little-known technique called ‘quantum resonance spectrometry’ (QRS) was able to diagnose mental health problems. I expressed surprise that the paper didn't explain what QRS actually is, how it works, or what it measures.





Now, eight months later, a Letter to the Editor has been published in the JNMD: Methodological Queries Regarding "Exploratory Quantum Resonance Spectr... Read more »

  • December 27, 2014
  • 06:46 AM
  • 165 views

The Synapse Memory Doctrine Threatened?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a provocative new paper, a group of UCLA biologists say that the leading theory for how memory is stored in the brain needs a rethink. But is it really time to throw out the textbooks?



In their study, published in Elife, authors Shanping Chen, Diancai Cai, and colleagues examined the formation of synapses, connections between neurons. They used neurons from Aplysia, a sea slug whose rather simple nervous system is popular among learning and memory neuroscientists.

Chen, Cai et al. t... Read more »

  • December 20, 2014
  • 07:37 AM
  • 174 views

The Ethics of Joke Science

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

What happens when scientists publish papers that aren't meant to be taken seriously? Is ironic, satirical and joke science all in good fun, or can it be dangerous?



This is the question asked by Drexel University researchers Maryam Ronagh and Lawrence Souder in a new paper is called The Ethics of Ironic Science in Its Search for Spoof.

The British BMJ journal is known for an annual Christmas special issue filled with unusual articles. For example, two years ago they explored the questio... Read more »

Ronagh M, & Souder L. (2014) The Ethics of Ironic Science in Its Search for Spoof. Science and engineering ethics. PMID: 25510233  

  • December 19, 2014
  • 08:56 AM
  • 151 views

Head Motion Biases Brain Structural Scans

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A regular theme here at Neuroskeptic is the worrying issue of head movement during brain scans. We've seen that motion can alter measures of functional and structural connectivity, and that common approaches to dealing with this problem may be inadequate.


Now a new study reveals that even measures of the gross structure of the brain can be biased by excessive motion: Head motion during MRI acquisition reduces gray matter volume and thickness estimates.

Harvard neurologists Martin Reuter ... Read more »

  • December 14, 2014
  • 07:57 AM
  • 161 views

Increasing Rigor in Huntington’s Disease Research

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

The CHDI Foundation, a charitable organization who fund a lot of research into Huntington's disease, are interested in reforming the scientific process.


The story comes from a paper written by British neuroscientist Marcus Munafo and colleagues (the authors including CHDI staff) published in Nature Biotechnology a couple of months ago: Scientific rigor and the art of motorcycle maintenance.



Munafo et al. begin by pointing to the history of car manufacturing as an analogy for the scie... Read more »

Munafo M, Noble S, Browne WJ, Brunner D, Button K, Ferreira J, Holmans P, Langbehn D, Lewis G, Lindquist M.... (2014) Scientific rigor and the art of motorcycle maintenance. Nature Biotechnology, 32(9), 871-3. PMID: 25203032  

  • December 11, 2014
  • 07:37 AM
  • 135 views

Are Poetry and Psychosis Linked?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

Is there a relationship between poetry and psychosis?

The idea that 'genius' is just one step removed from 'madness' is a venerable one, and psychiatrists and psychologists have spent a great (perhaps an inordinate) amount of time looking for correlations between mental illness and creativity.

Now a new British study has examined whether poets exhibit more traits of psychosis than other people. One of the authors is a published poet, Helen Mort.



The researchers recruited 294 poets i... Read more »

  • December 7, 2014
  • 06:48 AM
  • 112 views

Social Pain, Physical Pain: Different After All?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a paper just published, a group of neuroscientists report that they've changed their minds about how the brain processes social pain. Here's the paper: Separate neural representations for physical pain and social rejection



The authors are Choong-Wan Woo and colleagues of the University of Colorado, Boulder. Woo et al. say that, based on a new analysis of fMRI brain scanning data, they've found evidence inconsistent with the popular theory that the brain responds to the 'pain' of social... Read more »

Woo CW, Koban L, Kross E, Lindquist MA, Banich MT, Ruzic L, Andrews-Hanna JR, & Wager TD. (2014) Separate neural representations for physical pain and social rejection. Nature Communications, 5380. PMID: 25400102  

  • December 5, 2014
  • 12:31 PM
  • 112 views

Prosopometamorphopsia: The Woman Who Saw Dragons

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A 52 year old woman suffered from a strange problem: she saw dragons wherever she looked.




Here's the medical case report in The Lancet: Prosopometamorphopsia and facial hallucinations from a team of researchers including the famous Oliver Sacks.
In July, 2011, a 52-year-old woman presented to our psychiatric outpatient clinic with a life-long history of seeing people’s faces change into dragon-like faces and hallucinating similar faces many times a day.
What does a dragon look like? A... Read more »

Blom JD, Sommer IE, Koops S, & Sacks OW. (2014) Prosopometamorphopsia and facial hallucinations. Lancet, 384(9958), 1998. PMID: 25435453  

  • December 4, 2014
  • 04:39 PM
  • 191 views

Psychiatry: End of the Road for “Endophenotypes”?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

An important new study could undermine the concept of ‘endophenotypes’ – and thus derail one of the most promising lines of research in neuroscience and psychiatry. The findings are out now in Psychophysiology. Unusually, an entire special issue of the journal is devoted to presenting the various results of the study, along with commentary, but […]
The post Psychiatry: End of the Road for “Endophenotypes”? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.
... Read more »

  • December 4, 2014
  • 04:39 PM
  • 107 views

Psychiatry: End of the Road for "Endophenotypes"?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

An important new study could undermine the concept of 'endophenotypes' - and thus derail one of the most promising lines of research in neuroscience and psychiatry.



The findings are out now in Psychophysiology. Unusually, an entire special issue of the journal is devoted to presenting the various results of the study, along with commentary, but here's the summary paper: Knowns and unknowns for psychophysiological endophenotypes by Minnesota researchers William Iacono, Uma Vaidyanathan, Sc... Read more »

  • November 26, 2014
  • 07:37 AM
  • 196 views

A Sex Researcher At A Furry Convention

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A report in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour describes an unusual field trip made by Canadian researcher Debra W. Soh – to a furry convention, expecting to witness some kind of sexual free-for-all (or free-fur-all). Soh opens by saying that I couldn’t wait to meet a furry, someone who adopts the identity or persona […]The post A Sex Researcher At A Furry Convention appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Soh DW, & Cantor JM. (2014) A Peek Inside a Furry Convention. Archives of Sexual Behavior. PMID: 25408500  

  • November 19, 2014
  • 02:39 PM
  • 120 views

Failed Replications: A Reality Check for Neuroscience?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

An attempt to replicate the results of some recent neuroscience papers that claimed to find correlations between human brain structure and behavior has drawn a blank. The new paper is by University of Amsterdam researchers Wouter Boekel and colleagues and it’s in press now at Cortex. You can download it here from the webpage of one […]The post Failed Replications: A Reality Check for Neuroscience? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Boekel, W, Wagenmakers, E-J, Belay, L, Verhagen, J, Brown, S, & Forstmann, BU. (2014) A purely confirmatory replication study of structural brain-behavior correlations. Cortex. info:/

  • November 15, 2014
  • 07:28 AM
  • 281 views

How Your Facebook Updates Reveal Your Personality

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

The words you use in your Facebook profile reveal much about your personality, according to psychologists Gregory Park and colleagues in a new study just published. Based on a study of 71,000 Facebook users who reported their personality using an app, Park et al. found some quite unexpected words to be associated with given personality […]The post How Your Facebook Updates Reveal Your Personality appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Park G, Schwartz HA, Eichstaedt JC, Kern ML, Kosinski M, Stillwell DJ, Ungar LH, & Seligman ME. (2014) Automatic Personality Assessment Through Social Media Language. Journal of personality and social psychology. PMID: 25365036  

  • November 12, 2014
  • 01:11 PM
  • 230 views

Do Rats Have Free Will?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

New research on the neural basis of ‘spontaneous’ actions in rats could shed light on the philosophical mystery that is human ‘free will’. The study, just published in Nature Neuroscience, is called Neural antecedents of self-initiated actions in secondary motor cortex. It’s from researchers Masayoshi Murakami and colleagues of Portugal’s excellently-named Champalimaud Centre for the […]The post Do Rats Have Free Will? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Murakami M, Vicente MI, Costa GM, & Mainen ZF. (2014) Neural antecedents of self-initiated actions in secondary motor cortex. Nature neuroscience, 17(11), 1574-82. PMID: 25262496  

  • November 6, 2014
  • 05:39 PM
  • 173 views

The Inherent Limits of MRI Tractography?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

A popular neuroscience tool, diffusion MRI tractography, may fundamentally have limited accuracy. That’s according to a paper just published in PNAS: Anatomical accuracy of brain connections derived from diffusion MRI tractography is inherently limited The authors, Cibu Thomas and colleagues of Bethesda, Maryland, begin by explaining why diffusion MRI is so widely used The creation […]The post The Inherent Limits of MRI Tractography? appeared first on Neuroskeptic.... Read more »

Thomas C, Ye FQ, Irfanoglu MO, Modi P, Saleem KS, Leopold DA, & Pierpaoli C. (2014) Anatomical accuracy of brain connections derived from diffusion MRI tractography is inherently limited. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. PMID: 25368179  

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