Archive for: October, 2012

HAPPY HALLOWEEN: The Culture of Lycanthropy

Oct 31 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

One of Sci's favorite holidays is here! Halloween, where you get to dress up, pretend to eat brains, and most importantly of all, where all the candy goes on SALE. So while Sci is wolfing down truly sickening amounts of sugar, she invites you to take a spooky jaunt into an interesting disorder: LYCANTHROPY.

Ah, werewolves. We all know about them. Some of us love them.

But do we know where they come from? Where does the idea of lycanthropy arise? It's not from the dark (or the full) of the moon.

Is it a fantasy? Something not real? Well, yes and no.

...that's probably not what you wanted to hear.

But in fact, lycanthropy is real, it's a real manifestation of a severe psychiatric disorder.

Kahlil et al. "Lycanthropy as a Culture-Bound Syndrome: A Case Report and Review of the Literature" Journal of Psychiatric Practice, 2012.

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Alcoholism and Social Exclusion

Oct 30 2012 Published by under Addiction

Sci DID post yesterday, hurricane or no hurricane (The Sci-household is intact and unscathed). I was at SciAm, talking about an fMRI study looking at alcoholism and social exclusion. While alcoholics and controls behaviorally report similar social exclusion, their brains do very different things. A study like this might be helpful to evaluate whether therapeutic interventions targeting social exclusion are really helping the way alcoholics respond. Head over and check it out.

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Get kids inspired with Donor's Choose!

Oct 30 2012 Published by under Activism

Do you remember something that made you like science? Something that made you think "OMG, THIS IS COOL!!!" I know for me, it was the Magic School Bus, nature walks, frog dissections...but mostly it was things that I could do. Hands on activities, where I got to SEE the science happen and know that I did it all myself. And now you can spread that opportunity to schools in need! Check out my Donor's Choose Page, where this year I have focused on giving science materials that focus on those memorable, hands on experiences. Please help kids in need, and let's get some hands on science, and cool memories, into their lives.

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Friday Weird Science: Estrogen for President!

Oct 26 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science, Uncategorized

Today's Friday Weird Science is a synchro-blogging with the ever fabulous Kate Clancy at Context and Variation. Because when you see a paper this...special...well sometimes it takes two of us. Make sure you head over and check out her awesome coverage!

I don't know about you all, but when I do anything, I do it with my hormones. This results in issues sometimes, like when my hormones tried to take the SAT (they never can bring a #2 pencil), but I'm confident that when it comes to the voting booth in November, my estrogen will represent my interests.

Or at least, it will depending on what phase of the menstrual cycle I'm on. Otherwise I might accidentally vote for Obama or something.

Durante and Arsena. "The Fluctuating Female Vote: Politics, Religion, and the Ovulatory Cycle" To be published in Psychological Science, 2012.


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Enhancing peer pressure with Ritalin.

Oct 24 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

We often view peer pressure as a bad thing, you know, the kind of thing that makes a 10 year old smoke a cigarette or something. But peer pressure, or the more scientific term of social conformity, is not actually inherently a bad thing. Being sensitive to other people's opinions can help us get along as social beings, showing us the value of things (everyone else says that Gucci bag is worth a lot, so it must be), and allowing us to pass on those values within a group. It also allows us to understand what other people want, which can help us work within the motivations of others.

While, yes, this does lead to things like subprime mortgage crises, it also is pretty essential for effective social interaction. Social learning which leads to conformity, heading more toward what is considered the 'norm' can be used to gain reputation within a group or receive other positive social effects.

And social learning, and the social agreement that comes from conformity, is pretty important in humans. It's so important that it recruits the reinforcement and reward circuitry in the brain. Social agreement feels good and actives the reinforcement related areas, which are heavily reliant on dopamine signaling. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is often associated with the rewarding and reinforcing properties of things like cocaine, but it's also associated with something called salience, how important or relevant something is to us. When something is rewarding, it is highly, highly salient. And when something is important, it is also salient.

So the question that the authors of this study asked was this: do dopamine increases, which might increase salience, also increase our social conformity?

Campbell-Meiklejohn. "Modulation of Social Influence by Methylphenidate" Neuropsychopharmacology, 2012.


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It's Donor's Choose Time! Spread the love of SCIENCE!

Oct 23 2012 Published by under Activism

Sci is a bit late to the party, but I'm delighted to announce that my Donor's Choose Page is now live! I've got a link to it in the right sidebar down there...

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...ok it's down there keep scrolling. Or you can just head to the page via this link here! Please give what you can, and help some kids learn about SCIENCE!

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Sleeping Beauty: magic? Or hypocretin?

Oct 22 2012 Published by under Behavioral Neuro

Sci is at SciAm Blogs today, talking about an interesting new study which uncovers the mechanisms behind the waking effects of hypocretin. Take that, sleeping beauty. Head over and check it out.

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Friday Weird Science: Tornadoes and Trailer homes, aka, you can find a correlation with anything

Oct 19 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Today's post comes from the kind offices of Marc Abrahams, the genius mind behind the IgNobel prizes, and the wonderful person who sends Sci the best, and sometimes the worst, hilarity that science has to offer. And today we've got a special one. A paper that shows you that you can find a correlation anywhere, if you just take the time to do the math.


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Wu, F. "The correlation between tornadoes and trailer homes" Annals of Improbable Research, 1995.

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Why make students take chemistry?

Oct 17 2012 Published by under Activism, Uncategorized

Hello from the Society for Neuroscience meeting! Sci is headed home shortly. It's been a fabulous time, meeting new people, seeing old friends, and seeing the hottest new science! It's an overwhelming experience, but I always come away with a head full of new ideas, a liver crying for mercy, and renewed enthusiasm for the AWESOME that is neuroscience.

So you can imagine my dismay and disappointment when I saw an op-ed in the Washington Post, from a Dad who could not STAND the thought of his poor child being forced to take chemistry. You'll have to forgive the upcoming snark. It's been a long week full of science, and I have little will left to be my (usually charming!) self.

Here we go.

The sheer thrill that the writer displays in his own desire for chemical ignorance is astounding. It's nice to know he's happy about his own total lack of chemical knowledge. Unfortunately, he also displays a great deal of ignorance, not only for chemistry, but for the importance of a well rounded education.

The points he appears to try to make are these:

1. Kids shouldn't be expected to suffer through classes they don't enjoy.

So I take it I should never force my child through reading. He doesn't LIKE reading. He'll never BE a reader or an English Major or anything anyway. I shouldn't force my kid to take Government either. I mean, it sucks! And it's boring! And it's not like he's going to be a politician or even like he's going to vote. And while we're here, screw Math! My kid can add a bit and subtract, no matter what he does, he won't need MATH. There are computers and calculators and stuff for that! You could easily discount every class in the high school curriculum this way, so what's it all for, you know? Why makes the poor children suffer?!

Look, no one is going to love all their high school classes. Many people hate them all. That's not to say they aren't eventually useful.

Here we come to point #2.

2. You never learn anything important in high school chemistry anyway.

I'll admit, my high school chemistry class? There was a lot of math, a lot of rote memorization, and a lot of things like calculating moles. But there was also exposure to important things. What elements are similar to each other and why? Why do elements bond to each other in different ways? What does this mean for the way we live and the things that are around us? What does this mean for biology? For medicine? For engineering? Chemistry is the basis of so much that is incredibly important in science, and in our society. To see someone proud of their own ignorance in this area is both pathetic and depressing. The writer of the op-ed appears to have been a philosopher. If he's like other philosophers I have met (though I admit all the ones I know are much more sensible), he decries the lack of critical thinking training in our society, and becomes outraged at how students emerge from high school and college with no idea whatsoever of logic. The smug ignorance of people who disdain critical thinking and "go with their gut" probably gets him pretty riled. But really, who cares about critical thinking, right? I mean, it's not like you LEARN anything from analyzing problematic statements like "All birds have wings. This creature has wings. This creature is a bird." No one really REMEMBERS what kind of fallacy that is. And if they want to go with their gut, they really shouldn't feel FORCED to take an entire COURSE on logic. Torture, amiright? After all, how many of them will ever be philosophers?!

and now we come to my personal favorite. 3. His son isn't going to be a scientist anyway so it doesn't matter.

I'm so glad that this father knows his son well enough to know exactly what life decisions he will be making down the road, and knows exactly which things he can safely leave out of his education. But I'm very, very glad that this isn't my dad, and I'll tell you why: when I was 15, I HATED CHEMISTRY. With every atom (heh) of my being. I suffered through science and math classes. I lived for English, drama, music, history, dance. My parents really did think I'd go off to a conservatory and end up a starving artist, or maybe an English professor.

And we all know where I am now.

Who you are at 15, what your interests are, can change over time. Who knows where his son will be 10 years from now? Maybe he'll decide to study medicine. Maybe he'll decide to go into physics. Maybe he'll think about engineering. Or food chemistry, or drug design. Maybe he'll want to be a science writer. Maybe he'll want to go into any number of careers which involve a basic understanding of chemistry. Heck, maybe he'll just want to know what drugs he's taking for a condition, or what alcohol does, or whether the metals in his pipes are safe. And when he goes to reach for that knowledge of atoms, of interactions...well it won't be there. Then he could thank his Dad, who saw fit to leave his son just as prepared for the many health issues facing our society as he is, which is to say, not prepared at all.

You can give your kids more than this. You can give them chemistry. You can give them the first steps to take to learn how to find their own information and analyze it correctly. You can help them on the way to understanding how their bodies work and we they put into them and why it matters.

But, you know, maybe we shouldn't. After all, it's so boring. Just like torture! Ignorance is bliss, after all. Especially for this guy.

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Friday Weird Science: Poster presentation fashion

Oct 12 2012 Published by under Friday Weird Science

Today's Friday Weird science isn't so much weird as it is Society for Neuroscience-themed. Though I suppose it could be considered weird in the sense that it was done very badly.

The question is this: when standing at your poster this year at SfN...what WILL you wear? Forget the question of suit vs slacks vs jeans vs dress, we know the answer to that one*. No, the question is, what COLOR will you wear. Perhaps you haven't thought about it. Perhaps you have and are obsessively trawling the internet for a shirt tone that will exactly compliment the odd blue of the powerpoint-generated poster background. But the consensus of this paper? Well...don't wear the shirt on the right.

Keegan and Bannister. "Effect of colour coordination of attire with poster presentation on poster popularity" CMAJ, 2003.

Note: Dr. Zen covered this paper a while back at the Better Posters blog, and did a great job with the drawbacks. I'll also be delving into them, but if you want full color diagrams, go check out his post!

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