Brainwashed, by Sally Satel and Scott O Lilienfeld. Basic Books.
I wanted to dislike this book.
You see, I was suspicious of the fact that one of the authors is a resident scholar with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an organization whose political values I oppose, and, insofar as it’s an organization with political values, has little business going near science.
Then, when I found that the book cites me (with fellow neurobloggers Mind Hacks and Neurocritic) in the Acknowledgements and elsewhere, that actually made it worse. A sense of intellectual possessiveness joined my ideological reasons for not liking the thing.
I was hoping that it would be dreadful so that I could unleash the venom I had brewed up: “Ayn Rand, Please Get Off My Bandwagon”; “The only good bits here are the bits they stole from me” – it would have been glorious.
However, sadly, Brainwashed turned out to be good.
An interesting new paper asks Why Do Some Irish Drink So Much? (EDIT: please note, this is the actual title of the paper)
In a survey of students attending University College Dublin, (n=3500 respondents), the authors examined self-reported alcohol consumption. Participants also answered various questions about their family background and their place of origin, to allow the authors to investigate possible geographic influences.
I’ve been thinking lately about PhDs, so I’ve written down some advice for anyone considering starting one, based on my own experience and those of the students and former students that I know. My PhD was in neuroscience but as far as I can tell, the situation is similar in most sciences. However, I’m not sure how far the following applies outside of the UK.
It’s important to find a course and supervisor that’s right for you – because your supervisor is pretty much your God. There are few checks and balances on their influence. If you don’t get on with God, you’re in hell. I know plenty of horror stories of PhD students who were mistreated by their supervisor. I was lucky enough to have an awesome one, but it really was ‘lucky’, because I didn’t get to know her before I started. It could have gone either way.
A flaw in data processing could be leading to biases in fMRI brain functional connectivity patterns, according to a new report: The Nuisance of Nuisance Regression.
Ironically, two high-profile recent papers about bias are amongst the victims.
Your IQ at the age of eleven predicts your brain anatomy sixty years later, according to a Canadian/Scottish team of neuroscientists: Childhood cognitive ability accounts for associations between cognitive ability and brain cortical thickness in old age.
The authors of the new paper, Karama et al, made use of a unique long-term study of Scottish volunteers, all of whom had IQ tests back in 1947, when they were 11. In 2009, aged 73, those who were still alive and willing to participate had an MRI brain scan – a total of 588 people.
Why is a major academic publisher printing a journal that seems a lot like the newsletter of the editor’s fan club?
Nursing Science Quarterly (NSQ) is published by SAGE, one of the big publishers in science and the humanities. Even I’m a SAGE contributor, having published in their Perspectives on Psychological Science.
But NSQ may be their most interesting of their publications. I came across it when I was searching for research on ‘elation’ (don’t ask) and have been exploring the rabbit hole I found thereby for a while.
The NSQ was established 25 years ago under founding editor Rosemarie Rizzo Parse. She’s still there. What’s unusual is that as well as editing it, Parse seems to be the main topic of the NSQ.
Take for instance the term ‘humanbecoming’, which was coined by Parse in 2007 in reference to her central theory (of which more later). In the 7 years since, there have been 103 PubMed-indexed academic papers mentioning this concept – and a full 98 of those were in the NSQ. That’s more than three ‘humanbecoming’ articles per quarterly issue. Similarly, of the 36 papers dealing with the “Parse research method”, 34 appeared in the NSQ.
Simply asking people whether they experienced an event can trick them into later believing that it did occur, according to a neat little study just out: Susceptibility to long-term misinformation effect outside of the laboratory
Psychologists Miriam Lommen and colleagues studied 249 Dutch soldiers were deployed for a four month tour of duty in Afghanistan. As part of a study into PTSD, they were given an interview at the end of the deployment asking them about their exposure to various stressful events that had occurred. However, one of the things discussed was made up – a missile attack on their base on New Year’s Eve.
Yesterday, I read a paper that, to my mind, embodies what’s wrong with cognitive neuroscience: Changes in the Amygdala Produced by Viewing Strabismic Eyes
I have no wish to attack the authors of the piece. This post is rather unfair on them: their paper is no worse than a hundred others, it’s just a clear case of a widespread disease. My own research over the years has certainly not been immune.
So I’m not claiming to be without sin, but equally, someone has to cast the first stone at the elephant in the room.
Neuroskeptic readers will know that there’s been a lot of concern lately over unreproducible results and false positives in psychology and neuroscience.
In response to these worries, there have been growing calls for reform of the way psychology is researched and published. We’ve seen several initiatives promoting replication and, to my mind even more importantly, registration of studies to prevent bad scientific practice in future.
But the problem is not limited to psychology. Concern is growing too in cancer biology, as revealed in a new study from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas: A Survey on Data Reproducibility in Cancer Research.
The researchers polled all of the nearly 3000 staff at the center. Unfortunately, just 15% responded, but of those that did, 55% reported having been unable to reproduce a published result, but only 33% of those published it.
Google Glass is cool. But could it be philosophically dangerous?
60 years ago, Ludwig Wittgenstein famously wrote:
Where does this idea come from? It is like a pair of glasses on our nose through which we see whatever we look at. It never occurs to us to take them off.