The Real “Contagion” Virus


First posted 9/24/11 on Neuroskeptic

Seen Contagion yet?

It’s pretty scary. A new epidemic disease comes out of nowhere and starts killing everyone. It infects the brain – victims suffer seizures, or fall into a coma, and die. It spreads like wildfire. Humanity’s only hope lies in Lawrence Fishburne and Kate Winslet.

Luckily, that’s fiction. But only just.

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The Ethics of Forgetfulness Drugs


First posted 8/19/11 on Neuroskeptic

Drugs that could modify or erase memories could soon be possible. We shouldn’t rush to judge them unethical, says a Nature opinion piece by Adam Kolber, of the Neuroethics & Law Blog.

The idea of a pill that could make you forget something, or that could modify the emotional charge of a past experience, does seem rather disturbing.

Yet experiments on animals have gone a long to revealing the molecular mechanisms behind the formation and maintanence of memory traces. Much of the early work focussed on dangerously toxic drugs but recently more targeted approaches have appeared.

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Violent Brains in the Supreme Court


First published 7/15/11 on Neuroskeptic

Back in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a Californian law banning the sale of violent videogames to children was unconstitutional because it violated the right to free speech.

However, the ruling wasn’t unanimous. Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion. Unfortunately, it contains a whopping misuse of neuroscience. The ruling is here. Thanks to the Law & Neuroscience Blog for noticing this.

Breyer says (on page 13 of his bit)

Cutting-edge neuroscience has shown that “virtual violence in video game playing results in those neural patterns that are considered characteristic for aggressive cognition and behavior.”

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Science vs. Journalism


First published 3/13/11 on Neuroskeptic

I was at a discussion the other day about science and the media. Some scientists and some journalists were there. As a scientist, talking to other researchers was a bit of an echo chamber – everyone had very similar comments, mostly negative, about the media coverage of science.

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The Web of Morgellons


First published 2/19/11 on Neuroskeptic

A fascinating new paper:  Morgellons Disease, or Antipsychotic-ResponsiveDelusional Parasitosis, in an HIV Patient: Beliefs in The Age of the Internet

“Mr. A” was a 43-year-old man…His most pressing medical complaint was worrisome fatigue. He was not depressed…had no formal psychiatric history, no family psychiatric history, and he was a successful businessman.

He was referred to the psychiatry department by his primary-care physician (PCP) because of a 2-year-long complaint of pruritus [itching] accompanied by the belief of being infested with parasites. Numerous visits to the infectious disease clinic and an extensive medical work-up…had not uncovered any medical disorder, to the patient’s great frustration.

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Did My Genes Make Me Do It


Originally published 2/6/11 on Neuroskeptic

My PhotoA curious legal case from New York raises some interesting issues:

Court Rejects Judge’s Assertion of a Child Pornography Gene

According to the NYT:

A federal appeals court in Manhattan overturned a 6.5 year sentence in a child pornography case on Friday, saying the judge who imposed it improperly found that the defendant would return to viewing child pornography “because of an as-of-yet undiscovered gene.”

The judge, Gary L. Sharpe, was quoted as saying, “It is a gene you were born with. And it’s not a gene you can get rid of,” before he sentenced the defendant…

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said in ruling on the defendant’s appeal, “It would be impermissible for the court to base its decision of recidivism on its unsupported theory of genetics.”

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The Wheel of Peer Review

Originally published 1/09/11 on Neuroskeptic

Brian’s Note: This was obviously written for those of us who’ve either written or reviewed professional publications. It’s worth mentioning that the author, apparently a British neuro-scientist, has a terrific site with the tag-line, “Do you want the brain or something beautiful?”

In the spirit of the 9 Circles of Scientific Hell, and inspired by the evidence showing that scientific peer reviewers agree only slightly more often than they would by chance, here’s a handy tool for randomly generating your review.

Feel free to print it out and throw darts at it, or maybe make a roulette wheel kind of thing, or perhaps a ouija board. It seems to be in widespread use already, so there must be an easy way to use it.

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