“Cluster Failure”: fMRI False Positives Revisited

By Neuroskeptic | July 22, 2018 9:31 am

Two years ago, a paper by Swedish neuroscientist Anders Eklund and colleagues caused a media storm. The paper, Cluster Failure, reported that the most widely used methods for the analysis of fMRI data are flawed and produce a high rate of false positives.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: fMRI, methods, papers, select, statistics, Top Posts

The Ethics of Research on Leaked Data: Ashley Madison

By Neuroskeptic | July 14, 2018 9:07 am

A paper just published reports that Republicans are more likely to have used the adultery website Ashley Madison than Democrats, while Libertarians were even more likely to do so.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethics, papers, science, select, Top Posts

Scientific Self-Correction on Small Talk and Happiness

By Neuroskeptic | July 8, 2018 12:11 pm

Does idle chat and unhappiness go together? Eight years ago, a study was published (Mehl et al. 2010) suggesting that they do. The authors reported that “Well-Being Is Related to Having Less Small Talk and More Substantive Conversations”, triggering many alarming headlines.


Now, however, the same researchers have carried out a much larger study and have failed to confirm the chat-unhappiness association. The new paper is published in Psychological Science, the same journal where the original appeared. What I like about this new article is that it’s a good example of researchers revisiting their own work and openly changing their minds.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: FixingScience, papers, select, Top Posts

What Is Preregistration For?

By Neuroskeptic | July 3, 2018 4:12 pm


A paper in Psychological Science was taking a beating on Twitter last month.

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The Handeloh Happening: Psychedelic Poisoning

By Neuroskeptic | July 2, 2018 3:07 pm

In 2015, in a small town in Germany called Handeloh, a group of 29 men and women were rushed to hospital after displaying strange and sometimes violent behaviours along with other symptoms including vomiting and seizures. The victims were all attendees at a seminar on spiritual healing called ‘Die sieben Quellen’ – “The Seven Springs”.

The patients all survived, although a number were seriously ill. The organizer of seminar, a psychotherapist, admitted to police that he had given the attendees 2C-E, a psychedelic drug. In 2017, he was given a suspended prison sentence for supplying the illicit substance.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: drugs, papers, select, Top Posts

Is Public Engagement A Duty for Scientists?

By Neuroskeptic | June 24, 2018 4:40 pm

Do scientists have a responsibility to make their work accessible to the public?


“Public Engagement”, broadly speaking, means scientists communicating about science to non-scientists. Blogs are a form of public engagement, as are (non-academic) books. Holding public talks or giving interviews would also count as such.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: media, science, select, Top Posts, Uncategorized

Psychology, Neuroscience: Lacking in Individuality?

By Neuroskeptic | June 23, 2018 8:44 am

In research on people, scientists are typically interested in the group data – the mean, median, and variance of a sample of people. But according to a provocative new paper out in PNAS, the statistics of a group can obscure the variability within individuals, over time.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: science, select, statistics, Top Posts

Ayahuasca, the Psychedelic Antidepressant?

By Neuroskeptic | June 17, 2018 6:09 am

A traditional Amazonian psychedelic brew is an effective and rapid-acting antidepressant, according to a paper just published. But the new study revives some long-standing questions.

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MORE ABOUT: drugs & addiction

“The Love of Neuroscience” and the Neuroscience of Love

By Neuroskeptic | June 9, 2018 10:50 am

There is a growing research literature on the ‘Neuroscience of Love’. But what exactly is this ‘love’ that is being studied?


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CATEGORIZED UNDER: history, papers, science, select, Top Posts

The Philosophy of Roseanne’s Ambien Tweet

By Neuroskeptic | June 2, 2018 1:39 pm

As everyone knows, Roseanne Barr posted a racist tweet. She claimed that the sleeping medication Ambien affected her behavior, but her show got cancelled anyway.


Now, I think this scandal raises some surprisingly interesting philosophical questions about moral responsibility and the nature of self-control. What follows is a dialogue between two hypothetical speakers exploring some of these questions. To be clear, this is a post about philosophy, not about Roseanne. I don’t know or care if she really took any Ambien or what her views on race are.


ROSE: “Roseanne’s Ambien Defence is absurd. Ambien doesn’t make you racist. It doesn’t put racist thoughts in your head. She came up with that tweet all on her own.”

ANNE: “But what if the Ambien affected her judgment, her ability to inhibit impulses? Sure, the idea of writing that tweet didn’t come from the drug, but maybe if she hadn’t been on Ambien, she’d have thought better of it. So, while Ambien didn’t put the racism in her head, maybe it caused it to come out.”

ROSE: “Well, that doesn’t change anything. The racism came from within her, so she is still responsible for it, and deserved to lose her show.”

ANNE: “Perhaps, but she didn’t lose her show for being a racist; she lost her show for a specific action, the tweet. There are surely others out there who dream up worst tweets than hers, but who never post them. Is it fair to punish Roseanne, and not the others, just because she took Ambien, and they didn’t?”

ROSE: “It would be fairer to punish all of them, but that doesn’t mean Roseanne should get away with it.”

ANNE: “So people should be punished just for thinking of doing bad things, even if they never do them? Have you ever thought about breaking the law or saying something terrible?”

ROSE: “Yes, but I’d never do it.”

ANNE: “Maybe you would, if you took an Ambien.”

ROSE: “I don’t like where this is going. According to your logic, shouldn’t we excuse people who do or say bad things when drunk, on the grounds that alcohol is what made them lose control? Should we forgive drunk drivers?”

ANNE: “No, because people freely choose to drink. Unless someone’s drink gets spiked, that person is responsible for getting drunk. With Ambien, it’s different, because it’s a medication taken for health reasons – at least when used as prescribed. So the Ambien Defence is stronger than the Alcohol Defence because the choice to drink is freer.”

ROSE: “Hmm, well then, what about the Personality Defence?”

ANNE: “What’s that?”

ROSE: “Some people are more reckless and impulsive than others. This is their personality, based on genes and environment, neither of which people get to choose. Some people, so to speak, are born on Ambien. Can we blame them for failing to suppress their impulses?”

ANNE: “I see. You’re saying that if the Ambien Defence works, the Personality Defence must also work?”

ROSE: “The Personality Defence is even stronger. Most people would say that we have much more choice over whether to take a pill, than we do over our own nature.”

ANNE: “But if we follow that argument, how can we be held responsible for anything – our thoughts, or our actions? Our genes and environment determine both.”

ROSE: “Perhaps moral responsibility itself is an illusion. Determinism is a harsh philosophy but we must accept it.”

ANNE: “Hang on, three minutes ago, you were the one saying that Roseanne was responsible for her own racism, and now you’re denying that responsibility exists! Isn’t that a bit inconsistent?”

ROSE: “Yes, but don’t blame me – that’s just who I am.”


CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethics, law, media, philosophy, select, Top Posts


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