This is the abstract for one of the two talks that I gave last week in Búzios, Brazil for the SBNeC conference: “Why Is It So Hard To Think About The Brain?” The talk didn’t end up following this plan exactly, but all of the ideas are here. I had an incredible time at SBNeC and learned much; I’d like to thank everyone who made it possible for me to be there, especially Olavo Amaral and Patricia Bado.
“Why Is It So Hard To Think About The Brain?”
Today, we are thinking – and talking – about the brain more than ever before. It is widely said that neuroscience has much to teach psychiatry, cognitive science, economics, and others. Practical applications of brain science are proposed in the fields of politics, law enforcement and education. The brain is everywhere.
This “Neuro Turn” has, however, not always been accompanied by a critical attitude. We ought to be skeptical of any claims regarding the brain because it remains a mystery – we fundamentally do not understand how it works. Yet much neuro-discourse seems to make the assumption that the brain is almost a solved problem already.
Imagine that someone else was controlling your actions. You would still look like you, and sound like you, but you wouldn’t be the one deciding what you did and what you said. Now consider: would anyone notice the difference?
The case of a woman who began compulsively writing poems after being treated for epilepsy offers a rare glimpse into the ‘inner’ dimension of a neurological disorder. Here’s the paper in Neurocase from British neurologists Woollacott and colleagues.
In a long and interesting article over at Edge, social neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman discusses (amongst other things) the ‘replication crisis’ in his field. Much of what he says will be of interest to regular readers of this blog.
Are men who inject testosterone and other anabolic steroids at risk of entering a violent “roid rage“?
Many people think so. Whenever a professional athlete commits a violent crime, it’s not long before someone suggests that steroids may have been involved. The most recent example of this is the case of Jonathan “War Machine” Koppenhaver. The steroid theory has emerged as an explanation for why he violently assaulted his girlfriend and then went on the run, e.g. here.
But the whole “roid rage” theory is flawed, according to a new study from Swedish researchers Lena Lundholm and colleagues, published today in the journal Addiction: Anabolic androgenic steroids and violent offending
Academic bunfight ahoy! A new paper from Nick Brown – famed debunker of the “Positivity Ratio” – and his colleagues, takes aim at another piece of research on feel-good emotions.
The target is a 2013 paper published in PNAS from positive psychology leader Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues: A functional genomic perspective on human well-being.
The disputed paper claimed to have found significant correlations between questionnaire measures of human happiness, and the expression of a set of 53 stress related genes in blood cells.
This story went quiet for a while, but now it’s back, with the publication of an extraordinary document called: Evidence-based analysis: The rise and fall of Head and Neck Oncology I : the audit and subsequent investigations. This paper is, to my knowledge, unique in the medical literature. In it, the editor of a medical journal devotes a whole 15 pages to defending his own behavior as editor, and refuting charges of misconduct against him.
What would happen if scientists stopped trusting each other?
Before trying to answer this question, I’ll explain why it has been on my mind. Science fraud, questionable research practices, and replication have got a lot of attention lately. One issue common to all of these discussions is trust. Scientists are asking: can we trust other scientists to be honest? Is peer review based on trust? Is the act of discussing these issues itself eroding trust? What can we do to restore trust?
But what is trust, in a scientific context, and where does it come from?
According to a provocative paper just published, it’s possible to accurately determine how narcissistic someone is by asking them just one thing.