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  • August 28, 2016
  • 07:30 PM
  • 20 views

Biofuels are not as green, claim scientists from UMich

by vitul in Think, Ask and Resolve

Contrary to the popularly held belief, biofuels increase carbon emissions. ... Read more »

DeCicco, J., Liu, D., Heo, J., Krishnan, R., Kurthen, A., & Wang, L. (2016) Carbon balance effects of U.S. biofuel production and use. Climatic Change. DOI: 10.1007/s10584-016-1764-4  

  • August 28, 2016
  • 06:29 PM
  • 12 views

Healing Prayer and the Brain: Not a Match Made in Heaven

by The Neurocritic in The Neurocritic

Activity of the medial prefrontal cortex after psycho-spiritual healing (Baldwin et al., 2016).Everything we do and feel and experience changes the brain. Psychotherapy, juggling, taxi driving, poverty, reading, drugs, art, music, anger, love. If it didn't we'd be dead. Why should prayer be any different? The trick is to accurately determine the structural or physiological changes that are unique to a specific activity. And when assessing the effectiveness of clinical interventions, how the changes compare to an adequately matched control intervention. Plenty of high profile studies have failed to do that, including a recent one on emotionally focused therapy.1 I feel bad about criticizing a study on the neural correlates of healing prayers. I'm not one of those smug atheists who lord their intellectual superiority over the unwashed religious masses. Certain atheist organizations claim they're all about promoting scientific literacy and a secular worldview. But I think these New Atheists are detrimental to science literacy, since they alienate the vast majority of the population.So why am I blogging about a prayer intervention for depression? It's not to sneer at the authors. And it's especially not to sneer at the participants, who were recruited from Houston-area churches. My interest is the unholy alliance between brain imaging and a psychological intervention with no control condition. As I've said before......neuroimaging studies of psychotherapy that have absolutely no control conditions are of limited usefulness. We don't know what sort of changes would have happened over an equivalent amount of time with no intervention. More importantly, we don't know whether the specific therapy under consideration is better than another form of psychotherapy, or better than going bowling once a week.Healing Prayer, Trauma, and ForgivenessThis is especially true for a treatment that is based on faith and a strong belief that the intervention will work — a Christian form of prayer focused on forgiveness and psycho-spiritual healing (PSFH). A prayer minister “led the subject through three different phases: (1) a prayer of forgiveness for the perpetrator of the hurtful event; (2) a prayer of blessing on the perpetrator; and (3) a prayer to heal the emotional damage caused by the traumatic event.”Study design for the 6 week healing prayer intervention (Baldwin et al., 2016).The 18 participants had moderate to severe levels of depression on the Hamilton Depression Scale (HAM-D). Oddly, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was not assessed before or after the intervention. This was a major weakness, given that the purpose of the intervention was to forgive the perpetrator of childhood abuse and to heal from emotional trauma. In this sense, PSFH is akin to more formalized psychotherapies such as forgiveness therapy. It's no surprise that a non-randomized, unblinded prayer intervention in religious persons resulted in dramatically reduced HAM-D scores in the 14 participants who completed the study (11 of whom were available for a one year followup). Who am I to criticize a practice that helps suffering people? I won't do that.What I will do is point out difficulties in task design that make it nearly impossible to interpret some aspects of their fMRI study. The task used a symptom provocation paradigm using 3 key words to evoke memories of the traumatic event (15 seconds) and feelings of the traumatic event (15 seconds), separated by a 2 second blank screen.2 Is it possible to separate traumatic memories from the feelings they evoke, and to switch between them on such short notice? Certain therapies (such as prolonged exposure) are designed to do just that. The authors stated that anecdotally, this appeared to be the case here as well:In this and our previous study, subjects frequently mentioned informally that PSFH results in a separation of the traumatic memory and associated feelings: while the memory remains intact, it no longer associates with traumatic feelings. Activity of the precuneus to Bad Feelings was higher before psycho-spiritual healing (Baldwin et al., 2016). It is, however, difficult to interpret a 23 voxel decrease in precuneus activity in 14 subjects as a reflection of such a complex therapeutic change, especially since this brain region is involved in both self-referential processing and episodic memory retrieval.But to be even more fair, the authors listed ten caveats to their admittedly preliminary study.3 When all is said an... Read more »

  • August 28, 2016
  • 02:29 PM
  • 16 views

A visual nudge can disrupt recall of what things look like

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Interfering with your vision makes it harder to describe what you know about the appearance of even common objects, according to researchers. This connection between visual knowledge and visual perception challenges widely held theories that visual information about the world -- that alligators are green and have long tails, for example -- is stored abstractly, as a list of facts, divorced from the visual experience of seeing an alligator.... Read more »

  • August 28, 2016
  • 10:15 AM
  • 19 views

Rainbow Research: It’s a field!

by vitul in Think, Ask and Resolve

Recently published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, scientists have revisited the field of rainbow research and all the possible applications it provides.... Read more »

  • August 28, 2016
  • 07:45 AM
  • 35 views

How can saliva indicate evolution?

by vitul in Think, Ask and Resolve

Scientists, in a recent study, tested the saliva of five primates (including humans) for the MUC7 gene, which could give us deep insights into evolutionary paths.... Read more »

Xu, D., Pavlidis, P., Thamadilok, S., Redwood, E., Fox, S., Blekhman, R., Ruhl, S., & Gokcumen, O. (2016) Recent evolution of the salivary mucin MUC7. Scientific Reports, 31791. DOI: 10.1038/srep31791  

  • August 27, 2016
  • 07:44 PM
  • 35 views

Improving Human Virome Studies: Updates to Virus Classification

by Geoffrey Hannigan in Prophage

Taxonomy is an important aspect of microbiome research. Whether we are studying communities of bacteria, viruses, or other microbes, there are benefits to labeling microbes. Taxonomic names immediately give us information about their relationships to each other, such as similar bacteria being grouped into the same genus...... Read more »

Krupovic, M., Dutilh, B., Adriaenssens, E., Wittmann, J., Vogensen, F., Sullivan, M., Rumnieks, J., Prangishvili, D., Lavigne, R., Kropinski, A.... (2016) Taxonomy of prokaryotic viruses: update from the ICTV bacterial and archaeal viruses subcommittee. Archives of Virology, 161(4), 1095-1099. DOI: 10.1007/s00705-015-2728-0  

Thompson, C., Amaral, G., Campeão, M., Edwards, R., Polz, M., Dutilh, B., Ussery, D., Sawabe, T., Swings, J., & Thompson, F. (2014) Microbial taxonomy in the post-genomic era: Rebuilding from scratch?. Archives of Microbiology, 197(3), 359-370. DOI: 10.1007/s00203-014-1071-2  

  • August 27, 2016
  • 01:27 PM
  • 39 views

Researchers report new Zika complication

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

If zika didn't seem scary enough in the media, there is new data showing that there could be a new neurological complication of infection with the Zika virus.

... Read more »

Medina, M., England, J., Lorenzana, I., Medina-Montoya, M., Alvarado, D., De Bastos, M., Fontiveros, S., Sierra, M., & Contreras, F. (2016) Zika virus associated with sensory polyneuropathy. Journal of the Neurological Sciences. DOI: 10.1016/j.jns.2016.08.044  

  • August 27, 2016
  • 05:05 AM
  • 53 views

On autism spectrum disorder [research] validity

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

Today I'm directing your reading attention to a really, really interesting paper by Lynn Waterhouse and colleagues [1] (open-access) whose review findings suggest that: "the ASD [autism spectrum disorder] diagnosis lacks biological and construct validity."The paper is a bit of a long read but most definitely worth it as the quite complicated subject of exactly what goal the label of autism actually serves is discussed. The results of various questions posed by the authors suggest: "No unitary ASD brain impairment or replicated unitary model of ASD brain impairment exists. ASD core diagnostic symptoms are not uniquely linked and are only very rarely expressed without nondiagnostic symptoms. ASD has no reliable early predictor, no unitary developmental course, no unitary life outcome, no unitary recurrence risk, no unitary pattern of BAP [broader autism phenotype] features, and no standard homogeneous subgroups." They conclude that from a research perspective at least, disbanding the label of autism as it currently stands is the next logical step. Said disbanding "is likely to be reductive and uncomfortable" particularly when it comes to all those grand [sweeping] theories of autism put forward down the years. Feathers would not doubt be ruffled.The authors do make reference to two important concepts when it comes how we might want to rethink autism: the Research Domain Criteria framework (RDoC) and Early Symptomatic Syndromes Eliciting Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examinations (ESSENCE). One is an attempt to move away from simple psychiatric labels as somehow denoting homogeneity, the other is the recognition that labels rarely appear in some sort of diagnostic vacuum. Both are in some way the future of autism research and indeed, the future is already now.I'm impressed with the paper from Waterhouse et al. The authors have done a good job of basically saying that as things stand, one single label covering such a diverse and heterogeneous group is not fit for purpose. To see real progress in autism research, science needs to think more about those 'autisms' (see here) and stop using the label of autism as the starting point for research (see here). I struggle to disagree with both those sentiments and other authors appear to have reached similar conclusions [2]. Exactly what that means for the autism in the future - from both a research and clinical perspective - is still a little up in the air but the label has weathered change before and no doubt will continue to do so.And if that isn't enough reading material for you, how about the latest instalment from the British Psychological Society here in Blighty when it comes to autism? Perhaps this will need a revision or two as the Waterhouse suggestions start to percolate through the research community?----------[1] Waterhouse L. et al. ASD validity. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. 2016. Aug 10.[2] Geier DA. et al. Examining genotypic variation in autism spectrum disorder and its relationship to parental age and phenotype. Appl Clin Genet. 2016 Jul 28;9:121-9.----------Waterhouse, L., London, E., & Gillberg, C. (2016). ASD Validity Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s40489-016-0085-x... Read more »

Waterhouse, L., London, E., & Gillberg, C. (2016) ASD Validity. Review Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. DOI: 10.1007/s40489-016-0085-x  

  • August 26, 2016
  • 02:20 PM
  • 68 views

Next steps in understanding brain function

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

The most complex piece of matter in the known universe is the brain. Neuroscientists have recently taken on the challenge to understand brain function from its intricate anatomy and structure. There is no sure way to go about it, and researchers in Madrid proposed a solution to the problem.

... Read more »

  • August 26, 2016
  • 07:02 AM
  • 66 views

Juvenile offenders, divorce likelihood, assessing conscious awareness  and myth-busting in 2016

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

Here’s another collection of tidbits that did not stimulate full posts but that we found interesting enough to share with you so that you can investigate them more for yourself if you so desire. While this post contains more serious information than we usually share in these sorts of posts, it is useful information to […]

Related posts:
Myth-busting: ”Today’s adults have a shorter attention span than a goldfish” 
So is that juvenile offender a “wayward youth” or a “superpredator”?
The Bias Awareness Scale 


... Read more »

  • August 26, 2016
  • 06:49 AM
  • 64 views

From :-D to =8-0 - Effects of Emoticons on the Brain

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

An unusual study reports the effects of emoticons on human brain activity: Neural correlates of text-based emoticons



South Korean neuroscientists Ko Woon Kim et al. used fMRI to record brain activation in 18 volunteers who were shown various expressive text symbols, in both the Asian 'vertical' and Western 'horizontal' styles:

However, it turned out that the brain doesn't really respond to emoticons at all: there was no significant difference in the brain response to the real emoticons... Read more »

  • August 26, 2016
  • 06:41 AM
  • 73 views

How Do Most People Do Mathematics?

by Stefan Buijsman. in United Academics

Mathematics is an important part of modern society. Science and engineering are hard to imagine without mathematics, and even simple things such as calculating the cost of groceries involve mathematics. So, it's not strange to stop and wonder what mathematics is. That turns out to be a very difficult question.... Read more »

Stefan Buijsman. (2016) Philosophy of Mathematics for the Masses: Extending the scope of the philosophy of mathematics. Stockholm: Department of Philosophy, Stockholm University . info:other/978-91-7649-351-9

  • August 26, 2016
  • 05:03 AM
  • 49 views

A new Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome review

by Joana Guedes in BHD Research Blog

Gupta et al. (2016b) recently published a review about Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome (BHD) exploring the key points and research advances in genetics and pathogenesis, clinical manifestations, diagnosis and disease management.... Read more »

Gupta N, Sunwoo BY, & Kotloff RM. (2016) Birt-Hogg-Dubé Syndrome. Clinics in chest medicine, 37(3), 475-86. PMID: 27514594  

  • August 26, 2016
  • 05:00 AM
  • 45 views

Friday Fellow: Six-Spot Burnet

by Piter Boll in Earthling Nature

by Piter Kehoma Boll Found in Europe, today’s Friday Fellow is a nice day-flying moth with beautiful colors and toxic compounds. Scientifically known as Zygaena filipendulae, its common name is six-spot burnet, burnet being the common name of moths in the … Continue reading →... Read more »

  • August 26, 2016
  • 03:38 AM
  • 49 views

What does the Autism Spectrum Quotient (AQ) actually measure?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Higher AQ [Autism Spectrum Quotient] scores were associated with higher scores of loneliness, social anxiety, depression, and anxiety, as well as with lower scores of quality of life (QoL)."Those were some of the key findings reported by Phil Reed and colleagues [1] who used the very popular 'are you autistic?' AQ screening tool to look at the presence of autistic traits "along with depression, anxiety, loneliness, quality of life, and social anxiety" in a University student cohort (N=413).Finding that among their research population some 8% scored above the cut-offs used by the AQ, researchers also reported those important 'associations' all tied into QofL.Accepting that I'm probably a little biased when it comes to the 'problematic' use of the AQ as a screening tool for autism (see here and see here), my interpretation of the Reed results plays into the idea that the AQ is certainly picking up something, but exactly what is still the source of some debate (see here). I might for example, point you in the direction of the findings by Kitazoe and colleagues [2] who, based on similar student cohort, talked about "qualitatively different groups" over and above "a single homogeneous group" when it came to high scorers on the AQ.It is also pretty well accepted that issues such as social anxiety and depression are over-represented when it comes to a diagnosis of autism (see here and see here respectively) and one has to wonder whether the AQ might be tuned into to the features of those labels over and above core autism. Indeed, going back a few years, the findings reported by Kunihira and colleagues [3] kinda signalled as much where personality traits "toward an obsessional personality" were seemingly connected to AQ scores in a non-autistic population as well as "higher depression and anxiety." Such findings might also be 'useful' when it comes to looking at the AQ in the context of eating disorders too [4].I look forward to seeing more research done on this important topic (something ripe for more University student research projects perhaps).----------[1] Reed P. et al. Loneliness and Social Anxiety Mediate the Relationship between Autism Quotient and Quality of Life in University Students. J Dev Phys Disabil. 2016. Aug 12.[2] Kitazoe N. et al. Whether the Autism Spectrum Quotient consists of two different subgroups? Cluster analysis of the Autism Spectrum Quotient in general population. Autism. 2016 Apr 30. pii: 1362361316638787.[3] Kunihira Y. et al. 'Autistic' traits in non-autistic Japanese populations: relationships with personality traits and cognitive ability. J Autism Dev Disord. 2006 May;36(4):553-66.[4] Mansour S. et al. Emotions mediate the relationship between autistic traits and disordered eating: A new autistic-emotional model for eating pathology. Psychiatry Res. 2016 Aug 8;245:119-126.----------Reed, P., Giles, A., Gavin, M., Carter, N., & Osborne, L. (2016). Loneliness and Social Anxiety Mediate the Relationship between Autism Quotient and Quality of Life in University Students Journal of Developmental and Physical Disabilities DOI: 10.1007/s10882-016-9504-2... Read more »

  • August 25, 2016
  • 03:48 PM
  • 67 views

Polar Bears Stubbornly Stick to Habitats, Even as Ice Melts

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish



"I don't know what you're talking about," said the polar bear. "Everything seems normal to me! Watch out for that puddle."

Up in the Arctic, things are getting slushy. But some polar bears are refusing to change their ways. Instead of compromising on where they spend their time, they're clinging to the icy habitats they've always loved. As those habitats keep shrinking, though, the bears will eventually find things too crowded and uncomfortable to ignore. 

Researchers divide polar bear... Read more »

Wilson RR, Regehr EV, Rode KD, & St Martin M. (2016) Invariant polar bear habitat selection during a period of sea ice loss. Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, 283(1836). PMID: 27534959  

  • August 25, 2016
  • 02:50 PM
  • 70 views

The relationship between low physical activity and psychotic symptoms

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Physical activity can help reduce cardiovascular disease and premature mortality in people with psychological problems. However, there is limited data on exercise in people with serious mental disorders, especially from low- and middle-income countries. This study explored whether complying with the World Health Organization recommendations of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous exercise per week is related to psychotic symptoms or the diagnosis of a psychosis.

... Read more »

Brendon Stubbs, Ai Koyanagi, Felipe Schuch, Joseph Firth, Simon Rosenbaum, Fiona Gaughran, James Mugisha, & Davy Vancampfort. (2016) Physical Activity Levels and Psychosis: A Mediation Analysis of Factors Influencing Physical Activity Target Achievement Among 204 186 People Across 46 Low- and Middle-Income Countries. Schizophrenia bulletin . info:/10.1093/schbul/sbw111

  • August 25, 2016
  • 09:40 AM
  • 85 views

How to rebuild a brain

by gdw in FictionalFieldwork

After the stroke The human brain is complicated. Very complicated. And like any piece of complex machinery that relies on the smooth functioning of many components, it’s not immune to malfunction. When a part of the brain doesn’t get proper nutrition through a nice and smooth blood flow, things go awry and a stroke occurs. […]... Read more »

  • August 25, 2016
  • 03:45 AM
  • 69 views

Hospitalisation for infection and risk of death by suicide

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"An increased risk of death by suicide was found among individuals hospitalized with infection in prospective and dose-response relationships. These findings indicate that infections may have a relevant role in the pathophysiological mechanisms of suicidal behavior."Some intriguing data has been recently reported by Helene Lund-Sørensen and colleagues [1] (open-access) examining the possibility that certain types of infection (or perhaps the biological response to infection) might increase the risk of suicidal behaviour. Some good media coverage about the study can be read here.If your sticking with my interpretation of the results, Denmark was the the source of the data, as yet again one of those quite amazing Scandinavian population registries provides a starting cohort of around 7 million people "observed for a total of 149 061 786 person-years" from which subsequent results are derived.Sadly, some 32,000 suicides (completed) were recorded during the study period; around a quarter of such reports were among people who had "previously been diagnosed as having an infection during a hospitalization." Such data was reported in terms of incidence rate ratios (IRRs) and equated to those hospitalised for infection being 42% more likely to die by suicide than those not hospitalised for infection. The 'dose-response' relationship eluded to in that opening sentence refers to the finding that the more serious the infection and/or the longer the hospital stay (treatment), the more likely the risk of death by suicide. Such an association also held when adjustment was made for potential confounding variables such as sex, age and socio-economic status.Accepting that suicide - whether contemplated, attempted or completed - is a very complicated and often very individual process these are interesting results. Of course one has to be slightly careful in drawing too many conclusions from such data given both the large number of 'infections' included as part of the analyses and the possible "psychological effect of being hospitalized with a severe infection." The Lund-Sørensen data is still data built on association not necessarily 'cause and effect'.Still, adding to the increasingly popular idea that infections or the biological response to infection at critical periods of development and life can seemingly affect behaviour (see here and see here for a few more potential examples) as well as physiology, the current study makes an important case for further study in this area. Not least because even if only playing a role in a small proportion of suicides, there may be important screening and possible intervention avenues to explore. I'm also wondering what such a possible association might mean with regards to the 'transmission' of certain infections and potential suicide risk? Y'know added to the speculation that some types of depression could perhaps be relabelled as an infectious disease [2] and in light of the strong connection between depression and suicidal behaviours...----------[1] Lund-Sørensen H. et al. A Nationwide Cohort Study of the Association Between Hospitalization With Infection and Risk of Death by Suicide. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016. Aug 10.[2] Canli T. Reconceptualizing major depressive disorder as an infectious disease. Biology of Mood & Anxiety Disorders. 2014; 4:10----------Lund-Sørensen H, Benros ME, Madsen T, Sørensen HJ, Eaton WW, Postolache TT, Nordentoft M, & Erlangsen A (2016). A Nationwide Cohort Study of the Association Between Hospitalization With Infection and Risk of Death by Suicide. JAMA psychiatry PMID: 27532502... Read more »

  • August 24, 2016
  • 05:05 PM
  • 83 views

Theses and dissertations: pros and cons of the traditional and alternative formats

by SciELO in SciELO in Perspective

In order to expedite the writing and assessment of theses, institutions and graduate programs in several countries, including Brazil, are choosing to allow candidates who have published papers on their masters or doctorate research topics to replace the thesis chapters by these articles, headed by an introduction, conclusion and review of scientific literature. Is this format ideal and applicable to all? … Read More →... Read more »

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