Category Archives: Brain

Great science reads: Does “brain porn” fail the test?

“Brain porn” is a term given to the simplistic (and reductionist) thinking that leads to attempts to use neuroscience (especially brain-scanning technologies) to explain the way the human brain works. This recent suite of articles discusses neuroscience, neuroscientists and the complexity involved in describing the human brain.

1. Let’s kick things off with a swift kick to the idea that neuroscience can explain nearly everything, including voting for the Republicans (Quart’s example in this first article) and even playing poker (as Blum mentions in article 5 below).

Neuroscience: under attack by Alissa Quart at The New York Times

2. This piece runs through some of the issues around drawing too many conclusions from brain imaging. I will paste a quotation from this article below because it is relevant to article number three in this selection:

“Scientists are also still struggling to construct theories about how arrays of individual neurons relate complex behaviors, even in principle. Neuroscience has yet find its Newton, let alone its Einstein.”

Neuroscience fiction by Gary Marcus at The New Yorker

3. This article picks up on the theme of a neuroscience equivalent for Newton.

Does Neuroscience need a Newton? by Scicurious at Scientific American blogs

4. If you want a great run-down of some neuroscience history along with the Newton-like nominees for neuroscience, read this piece.

Nominees for the Newton of neuroscience by Zen Faulkes at NeuroDojo

5. As you can tell from the title of this piece, we finish with a journalistic angle to the “brain porn” debate.

Winter of discontent: Is the hot affair between neuroscience and science journalism cooling down? by Deborah Blum at Knight Science Journalism at MIT

Great science reads of the fortnight – Dec 1 2012

1. We’ve all heard of “white noise” but scientists have uncovered a smell they are calling “olfactory white”. The “white” or bland smell is based on a combination of odours and would probably not be found in nature. But it will help scientists to learn about the human olfactory system and brain.

The whiff of white could hide strong odours by Zoë Corbyn in Nature

2. A jumping spider called Nefertiti recently returned from a 100-day stay at the International Space Station. The experiment, devised by 18-year-old Egyptian Amr Mohamed, tested whether Nefertiti would be able to adjust her hunting methods in a low-gravity environment and then readjust back on Earth. The video shows how Nefertiti got the hang of hunting in low gravity.

World’s First “Spidernaut” Lands at Smithsonian by the Newsdesk at the Smithsonian

3. Devastating floods have inundated California every 200 years for the last 2000-odd years, according to scientists who analysed sediment deposits. The last flood was in 1861…

Megastorms Could Drown Massive Portions of California by Michael D. Dettinger and B. Lynn Ingram in Scientific American

4. Today is World AIDS Day and discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS still exists. This post discusses some of the history around the stigma attached to infectious diseases.

What can we learn from disease stigma’s long history? by Sara Gorman in PLOS Blogs

5. Severe stress and chronic stress have opposite effects on the behavioural response of animals. This discussion of a study in mice shows scientists edging closer to understanding the physiology of severe stress.

Stressing out really does make it worse by Scicurious in Scientific American Blogs

Great science reads of the week – Nov 17 2012

1. A NASA supercomputer has modelled how winds move aerosols around the Earth. You can see dust (red) from the Sahara, the movement of carbon (green) from fires in Africa and Australia, sea salt (blue) in tornadoes and hurricanes over the Pacific and sulphates (white) from a volcanic eruption. For snapshots of these features or for more information go to this NASA webpage:

Paint by particle by NASA

Video credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.

2. Physics moves forward when new findings conflict with existing theories. But at this early stage, it looks like the Higgs-like particle fits exactly with the existing theory (the Standard Model). But don’t worry, there is still hope that future data will throw up something unexpected.

New Higgs Results Bring Relief – and Disappointment by Michael Moyer at Scientific American

3. I have never felt comfortable with the idea that some people use the “medical model” to fully account for psychological conditions. The medical model would direct a doctor to treat a psychological problem as if it is a physical affliction, like a broken leg. In other words, it all comes down to biology or the physical condition of the brain or body. Read this article for the argument against the medical model of addiction.

Why addiction is NOT a brain disease by Marc Lewis at PLOS Blogs

4. Rappers had their brains scanned in two situations: while they were freestyling and while they were reciting memorised lyrics. Comparing the two sets of brain scans helped researchers to understand the creative process.

Brain scans of rappers shed light on creativity by Daniel Cressey at Nature News

5. Got an opinion on whether exercise should be “slow and long” or “fast and hard”? This article gives you the run-down on the various options for intense exercise.

Fast and furious: intensity is the key to health and fitness by Nigel Stepto and Chris Shaw at The Conversation

Scientific study tests whether acupuncture can help menopausal hot flushes

News Story

A Melbourne doctor has started a trial of acupuncture for menopausal women after finding many of her patients did not want to take hormone replacement therapy.

Dr Caroline Ee, a general practitioner and acupuncturist from the Department of General Practice at the University of Melbourne, has already completed a pilot study of 23 women but needs more women for this study.

“I tried using acupuncture for a few women who were flushing and they felt a lot better,” Ee says.

Ee says there is controversy about universities teaching complementary medicine, but that it is important to look at these treatments because many people use them.

“Our study is one of the examples of the ways in which we are using very strict scientific principles to examine an old therapy,” she says.

Read more

Can online brain training improve mental processing in the over 50s?

News Story

Training delivered online can boost the mental processing of the over 50s, a Swinburne University study has found.

Professor Con Stough’s team at Swinburne University of Technology asked 34 Australians aged between 53 and 75 to complete 21 days of training using a popular online program.

They found a 10 per cent improvement in mental processing speeds for two of the tasks tested.

Stough said this improvement was a good start but further studies were needed.

He said “crystallised intelligence”, or stored knowledge, does not begin to decline until after 60, whereas “fluid intelligence”, or speed of learning, decreases after the age of 21.

Stough said the online training would help fluid intelligence.

Read more of this News Story