Your Brain on Maths: Educational Neurononsense Revisited

By Neuroskeptic | March 26, 2016 11:19 am

Earlier this week, I was asked on Twitter why I had never blogged about the “neuro-myths” of Jo Boaler. I confessed I’d never heard of her. So I looked her up and learned that Boaler is a professor at Stanford, and an expert on the teaching of mathematics. Her work in that field has been both influential and controversial.

Boaler argues that any child can become proficient at maths, given time, if they believe in themselves and in their ability to improve. Children should not be told that they have fixed traits such as ‘clever’ or ‘bad at math’, but rather they should be given a ‘growth mindset’. This is a mindset in which they see ability as learnable, and they see mistakes as chances to learn.

I’m no maths teacher, but Boaler’s ideas seem reasonable to me. We do learn from our mistakes, or at least we can do. On the other hand, I found some of Boaler’s claims about the brain to be problematic.

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From “Observations” to “Data”: The Changing Language of Science

By Neuroskeptic | March 19, 2016 10:32 am

Today we hear a lot about scientific data – data sharing, data integrity, and Big Data, are all hot topics in science. Yet is science really about “data”? Did scientists in the past talk about it as much as we do?

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

Psychologists Throw Open The “File Drawer”

By Neuroskeptic | March 17, 2016 3:43 pm


The ‘file drawer problem’ refers to the fact that in science, many results remain unpublished – especially negative ones. This is a problem because it produces publication bias.

Now, a group of Belgian psychology researchers have decided to make a stand. In a bold move against publication bias, they’ve thrown open their own file drawer. In the new paper, Anthony Lane and colleagues from the Université catholique de Louvain say that they’ve realized that over the years, “our publication portfolio has become less and less representative of our actual findings”. Therefore, they “decided to get these [unpublished] studies out of our drawer and encourage other laboratories to do the same.”

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When Brain Waves Go Traveling

By Neuroskeptic | March 14, 2016 8:53 am

In July last year I asked, Could Traveling Waves Upset Cognitive Neuroscience? This was a post about a paper from David Alexander et al. arguing that neuroscience was overlooking the importance of how neural activity moves or travels through the brain.

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

What Is “Open Debate” In Science?

By Neuroskeptic | March 10, 2016 3:32 am

Last October, Michael R. Blatt, editor in chief of the journal Plant Physiology, ruffled many feathers with an editorial, Vigilante Scientists. In this piece, Blatt argued that anonymous online comments were bad for science, pointing to PubPeer as an especially problematic site.


I wasn’t convinced by Blatt’s arguments. True, I have used the term “vigilante science” (in 2013) myself, in reference to PubPeer, but I meant it as a compliment.

Now Blatt has re-entered the debate over anonymity with a new piece called When Is Science ‘Ultimately Unreliable’?
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CATEGORIZED UNDER: blogging, science, select, Top Posts

No, We Can’t “Upload Knowledge To Your Brain”

By Neuroskeptic | March 6, 2016 6:46 am


According to a spectacularly misleading article in the Telegraph: Scientists discover how to ‘upload knowledge to your brain’

Feeding knowledge directly into your brain, just like in sci-fi classic The Matrix, could soon take as much effort as falling asleep, scientists believe. Researchers claim to have developed a simulator which can feed information directly into a person’s brain and teach them new skills in a shorter amount of time…

Researchers from HRL Laboratories, based in California, studied the electric signals in the brain of a trained pilot and then fed the data into novice subjects as they learned to pilot an aeroplane in a realistic flight simulator… subjects who received brain stimulation via electrode-embedded head caps improved their piloting abilities and learnt the task 33 per cent better than a placebo group.

Except… that’s not what happened at all.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: funny, media, neurofetish, papers, select, Top Posts

What is a P-Value?

By Neuroskeptic | March 5, 2016 2:48 pm

P-values are a statistical tool that are ubiquitous in science today, but they’re often misunderstood. I remember when I was taught statistics, I learned something about what p-values did, and how to use them, but I didn’t grasp what they were. So I’ve created a YouTube video – my first ever – to try to explain the essence of the concept.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: blogging, science, select, statistics, Top Posts

“Joke Addiction” As A Neurological Symptom

By Neuroskeptic | February 28, 2016 5:51 am

In a new paper, neurologists Elias D. Granadillo and Mario F. Mendez describe two patients in whom brain disorders led to an unusual symptom: “intractable joking.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: mental health, papers, select, Top Posts

The Myth of “Mind-Altering Parasite” Toxoplasma Gondii?

By Neuroskeptic | February 20, 2016 5:00 am

Toxoplasma gondii is a tiny organism that lives inside cells. It may well live inside your cells – the parasite up to 50% of the world’s population, along with cats and many other animal species.


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The Macchiarini Scandal: When The Surgeon Met The Rapper

By Neuroskeptic | February 15, 2016 9:06 am

One of the biggest science scandals of recent years is the ongoing downfall of Paolo Macchiarini, the Swiss-born surgeon who transplanted stem-cell enhanced artifical tracheas into a number of patients.


Macchiarini was a superstar, a professor at Sweden’s prestigious Karolinksa Institute (KI), widely hailed as a medical pioneer. But allegations of scientific misconduct have been building, and a Swedish documentary recently revealed that the clinical outcome of many of Macchiarini’s transplants was far worse than he claimed. Meanwhile, a recent Vanity Fair piece reveals Macchiarini as a fantasist who claimed to know everyone from Barack Obama to the Pope.

But there’s a curious aspect of the affair that no-one seems to have picked up on yet. This is Prof. Macchiarini’s connection to the world of hip hop.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: ethics, history, music, select, Top Posts


No brain. No gain.

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