Björn Brembs

45 posts · 40,898 views

I'm a neurobiologist working on operant learning in invertebrate animals at the Freie Universität Berlin, Germany.

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  • October 8, 2013
  • 04:27 AM
  • 223 views

Almost 80 years on, progress on operant and classical conditioning

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

This year’s Winter Conference on Animal Learning and Behavior (WCALB) will be on one of my oldest and most central research projects, the commonalities and differences between operant and classical conditioning. I picked this project for my Diploma (Master’s) thesis […] ↓ Read the rest of this entry...... Read more »

B. F. Skinner. (1935) Two Types of Conditioned Reflex and a Pseudo Type. The Journal of General Psychology, 12(1), 66-77. DOI: 10.1080/00221309.1935.9920088  

J. Konorski, & S. Miller. (1937) On Two Types of Conditioned Reflex. The Journal of General Psychology, 16(1), 264-272. DOI: 10.1080/00221309.1937.9917950  

J. Konorski, & S. Miller. (1937) Further Remarks on two Types of Conditioned Reflex. The Journal of General Psychology, 17(1), 405-407. DOI: 10.1080/00221309.1937.9918010  

  • September 10, 2013
  • 04:39 AM
  • 269 views

The cost of the rejection-resubmission cycle

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Rejection is one of the unpleasant but inevitable components of life. There are positive components to rejection: they build character, they force you to deal with negativity and sometimes they force you to change your life to avoid future rejections. […] ↓ Read the rest of this entry...... Read more »

  • May 30, 2013
  • 04:18 AM
  • 281 views

Dissecting a fly’s course control system

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Until 1986, it was thought that so-called optomotor responses, i.e., the tendency of all animals and humans to follow moving visual stimuli with their eyes or their bodies were a prerequisite for gaze or trajectory stabilization: whenever the scenery in […] ↓ Read the rest of this entry...... Read more »

Bahl, A., Ammer, G., Schilling, T., & Borst, A. (2013) Object tracking in motion-blind flies. Nature Neuroscience, 16(6), 730-738. DOI: 10.1038/nn.3386  

  • January 25, 2013
  • 07:20 AM
  • 449 views

Are we incentivizing hype in science? A case study

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

There is a lively discussion going on right now in various forums on the incentives for scientists to publish their work in this venue or another. Some of these discussions cite our manuscript on the pernicious consequences of journal rank, others don't. In our manuscript, we speculate that the scientific community may be facing a deluge of fraud and misconduct, because of the incentives to publish in high-ranking journals, a central point of contention in the discussions lnked to above. An exam........ Read more »

Wasserman, S., Salomon, A., & Frye, M. (2013) Drosophila Tracks Carbon Dioxide in Flight. Current Biology. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.12.038  

  • December 28, 2012
  • 07:40 AM
  • 439 views

Human learning systems interact much like fly learning systems

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

When we discovered a novel learning system in the fruitfly Drosophila (Brembs & Plendl, 2008) and then found out how it interacted with the one learning system which is described in all relevant textbooks (Brembs 2009), we weren't quite sure how general these findings would be for other animals and humans. In the subsequent years, genetically similar processes were discovered in the marine snail Aplysia, songbirds and mice, so we started to be quite confident that we had discovered something........ Read more »

Shmuelof, L., Huang, V., Haith, A., Delnicki, R., Mazzoni, P., & Krakauer, J. (2012) Overcoming Motor "Forgetting" Through Reinforcement Of Learned Actions. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(42), 14617-14621. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2184-12.2012  

  • December 26, 2011
  • 05:26 PM
  • 712 views

Impact factor predicts unreliability of research papers

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Last week, we've already seen that the most prominent way of ranking scholarly journals, Thomson Reuters' Impact Factor (IF), isn't a very good measure for predicting how many citations your scientific paper will attract. Instead, there is evidence that IF is much better at predicting the chance that your paper might get retracted.Now, I've just been sent a paper (subscription required) which provides evidence that the reliability of some research papers correlates negatively with journal IF. In........ Read more »

Munafò, M., Stothart, G., & Flint, J. (2009) Bias in genetic association studies and impact factor. Molecular Psychiatry, 14(2), 119-120. DOI: 10.1038/mp.2008.77  

  • December 14, 2011
  • 05:37 AM
  • 3,650 views

Science without journals: More evidence that journal rank is a poor predictor of citations

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

In response to my last post, Dwight Kravitz from the NIH alerted me to his paper on a similar topic: Toward a new model of scientific publishing: discussion and a proposal. His paper contains some very interesting data, such as this analysis of citations and journal rank:The left-skewed form of the data is of course nothing new, but their analysis of how predictive journal rank is for actual citations opens a new aspect, I think:Our evaluation reveals that far from a perfect filter, the distr........ Read more »

  • November 22, 2011
  • 09:58 AM
  • 701 views

What does determinism have in common with gods, the flying spaghetti monster and pink, invisible unicorns?

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

I usually don't blog about physics. Actually, I don't think I ever have, which is not surprising given that I'm not a physicist. This unusual post was prompted by an ongoing series of encounters with people asking me how I can be so sure that the universe is indeterministic. I'm explicitly writing this as an interested layperson, even though I took elementary quantum mechanics as special subject in high school and was supervised during my PhD by Martin Heisenberg, the youngest son of Werner Heis........ Read more »

  • November 4, 2011
  • 05:28 AM
  • 595 views

Is FoxP a coin with autism on one side and schizophrenia on the other?

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

The FOXP2 gene is well-known for its involvement in language disorders. We are just getting ready to publish our discovery that a relative of this gene in the fruit fly Drosophila, dFoxP, is necessary for a learning mechanism that resembles language learning in a lot of ways, operant self-learning. This discovery traces one of the evolutionary roots of language back to the 'Urbilaterian', the last common ancestor of invertebrates and vertebrates, more than half a billion years before the first w........ Read more »

Crespi, B., Stead, P., & Elliot, M. (2009) Comparative genomics of autism and schizophrenia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(suppl_1), 1736-1741. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0906080106  

  • October 31, 2011
  • 08:29 AM
  • 534 views

'The neurobiology of self-learning' - the birth of a new field in neuroscience?

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

It's been a while since I've last been so excited about a new finding by someone else And until today, this paper from last week even flew completely under my radar. I had seen the title and decided it's not relevant. A collaborator of mine sent it to me after she found it searching for a current affiliation of a former postdoc of hers - which was how she realized how pertinent this work was to our research and sent it to me (which says something about the way scientists are able to stay on to........ Read more »

Rochefort, C., Arabo, A., Andre, M., Poucet, B., Save, E., & Rondi-Reig, L. (2011) Cerebellum Shapes Hippocampal Spatial Code. Science, 334(6054), 385-389. DOI: 10.1126/science.1207403  

  • September 27, 2011
  • 08:38 AM
  • 563 views

In which creationism threatens patients

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Republican presidential hopeful and Texas governor Rick Perry is pushing hard in support for unapproved stem-cell therapies in Texas and allegedly had such a therapy performed on himself. In this case not coincidentally, Perry is also a self-professed creationist. There are many reasons why stem-cell therapies might be dangerous, the two recently reported deaths are among the so far unidentified causes. One other, recently discovered potential risk of stem-cell therapies involves mutation and se........ Read more »

Hussein, S., Batada, N., Vuoristo, S., Ching, R., Autio, R., Närvä, E., Ng, S., Sourour, M., Hämäläinen, R., Olsson, C.... (2011) Copy number variation and selection during reprogramming to pluripotency. Nature, 471(7336), 58-62. DOI: 10.1038/nature09871  

  • September 13, 2011
  • 08:38 AM
  • 961 views

Programming Free Will: creative robots

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

I wasn't planning to comment on Kerri Smith's piece on Free Will (probably paywalled) in the last issue of Nature magazine. However, this morning I read a paper on Free Will in robots (or rather 'agents'), which urged me to suggest some updates to the sadly (otherwise Ms. Smith is producing outstanding work, especially her podcasts!) outdated discussion in the Nature article.Her article starts out with a modern variation of Libet's famous experiments. These experiments can be caricatured like th........ Read more »

  • August 18, 2011
  • 03:59 AM
  • 848 views

Retractions correlate better with 'Impact Factor' than citations

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Thomson Reuters' Impact Factor (IF) is supposed to provide a measure for how often the average publication in a scientific journal is cited and thus a quantitative basis for ranking journals. However, there are (at least) three major problems with the IF:The IF is negotiable and doesn't reflect actual citation counts (source)The IF cannot be reproduced, even if it reflected actual citations (source)The IF is not statistically sound, even if it were reproducible and reflected actual citations (so........ Read more »

  • July 18, 2011
  • 03:42 AM
  • 771 views

Assessing ancient traumatic brain injury

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Last month, a group of researchers led by Marcel Kamp in Düsseldorf. Germany, rose to fame by studying traumatic brain injury brought about by acts of violence like this:The group analyzed over 700 injuries recorded in the 34 Asterix comic books and published their results in the official journal of the European Association of Neurosurgical Societies, known as Acta Neurochirurgica. For some odd reason, I only was made aware of this groundbreaking study now. Well worth reading!Kamp, M., Slott........ Read more »

  • June 13, 2011
  • 12:27 PM
  • 693 views

Is the sensorimotor hypothesis based on laboratory artifacts?

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Most neuroscientists would subscribe to the sensorimotor hypothesis, according to which brains mainly evaluate sensory input to compute motor output. For instance, Mike Mauk wrote now over ten years ago: “brain function is ultimately best understood in terms of input/output transformations and how they are produced” [1]. Tony Dickinson recognized already in 1985 that “Indeed, so pervasive is the basic assumption of this model that it is common to refer to any behaviour as a ‘response’ ........ Read more »

Dickinson, A. (1985) Actions and Habits: The Development of Behavioural Autonomy. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 308(1135), 67-78. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.1985.0010  

Raichle, M. (2010) Two views of brain function. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 14(4), 180-190. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2010.01.008  

  • April 29, 2011
  • 08:28 AM
  • 1,134 views

What can the spinal cord teach us about learning and memory?

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

Only very few laboratories in the world perform operant conditioning of spinal reflexes. In fact, a quick PubMed search reveals there is only a single lab which has published in this field in the last decade, the lab of Jonathan Wolpaw. Jonathan's review "What Can the Spinal Cord Teach Us about Learning and Memory?" in The Neuroscientist shows what neuroscience is missing out on by not investing more in this fascinating field.Operant conditioning of spinal reflexes is probably the most con........ Read more »

  • April 28, 2011
  • 08:18 AM
  • 1,022 views

The neurobiology of operant conditioning

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

It turns out, operant conditioning is very different from other forms of learning, all the way from the genes up. When I started my research on operant conditioning in 1995, I did so with the opposite hypothesis, namely that the underlying mechanism of all learning processes was always synaptic plasticity with the well-known molecular pathway: Ca++, cAMP, PKA, CamK, CREB and so on. After all, wasn't that pathway conserved all the way from flies, snails and mice to humans? By the time I finished ........ Read more »

  • April 19, 2011
  • 12:12 PM
  • 1,141 views

Creationists, this is the evidence you have to beat

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

The last decades of research on human evolution have provided an astounding body of converging evidence for an African origin of the human lineage just under about 200k years ago, with a subsequent migration across the globe starting around 60k years ago until all the main regions of this planet were inhabited by humans at around 15k years ago. Compare this scenario to the creationist story, where humans were shaped by a magic man out of clay about 6k years ago, which means it happened just a........ Read more »

Green, R., Krause, J., Ptak, S., Briggs, A., Ronan, M., Simons, J., Du, L., Egholm, M., Rothberg, J., Paunovic, M.... (2006) Analysis of one million base pairs of Neanderthal DNA. Nature, 444(7117), 330-336. DOI: 10.1038/nature05336  

Linz, B., Balloux, F., Moodley, Y., Manica, A., Liu, H., Roumagnac, P., Falush, D., Stamer, C., Prugnolle, F., van der Merwe, S.... (2007) An African origin for the intimate association between humans and Helicobacter pylori. Nature, 445(7130), 915-918. DOI: 10.1038/nature05562  

  • February 9, 2011
  • 10:19 AM
  • 811 views

Even in science, sometimes it really seems there is nothing new under the sun

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

In this week's journal club, we talked about an old paper from 1918! "The reactions to light and to gravity in Drosophila and its mutants" by Robert McEwen, in the Journal of Experimental Zoology.As the title says, the author studied how the fruit fly Drosophila responds to light and gravity. He tested this in walking flies and compared flies both with intact wings and clipped wings, wing mutations, clipped antennae, glued wings or clipped middle legs. He discovered that flies without wings or ........ Read more »

Chiappe, M., Seelig, J., Reiser, M., & Jayaraman, V. (2010) Walking Modulates Speed Sensitivity in Drosophila Motion Vision. Current Biology, 20(16), 1470-1475. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.06.072  

Haag, J., Wertz, A., & Borst, A. (2010) Central gating of fly optomotor response. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(46), 20104-20109. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1009381107  

  • January 31, 2011
  • 12:55 AM
  • 711 views

Do fruit flies dream of electric bananas?

by Björn Brembs in bjoern.brembs.blog

That's the title of my 'Thought Experiment' column in the next issue of 'The Scientist', due to appear on February 1. Sarah Greene from The Scientist approached me in my role as F1000 faculty member at this year's SfN annual meeting in San Diego and asked me if I didn't want to write something for The Scientist.The short article is about visualizing neuronal activity in small brains. I've recently applied for a starting grant at the European Research Council to develop a microscope which can rec........ Read more »

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