No, it’s not a stupid joke. It’s my candidate for the worst press release title of September? “Neurons Found To Be Similar To U.S. Electoral College“:

A tiny neuron is a very complicated structure. Its complex network of dendrites, axons and synapses is constantly dealing with information, deciding whether or not to send a nerve impulse, to drive a certain action.

It turns out that neurons, at one level, operate like another complicated structure — the United States, particularly its system of electing a president, through the Electoral College. (source).

Uh. . . thanks for that bizarre free-association, Northwestern University!

The release goes on to elaborate:

In this model, each dendritic branch of a neuron receives and integrates thousands of electrical inputs, deciding on just one signal to send to the axon. The axon then receives signals from all the dendrites, much like electoral votes coming in from state elections, and a final decision is made. The result could be an output in the form of an impulse, or action potential, or no action at all.

Wow. The Electoral College metaphor has revolutionized my understanding of introductory neuroscience! NOT.

In other news, Every Vesicle Has A Voice! activists are campaigning to eliminate dendrites and axons, so synapses can elect a President directly.


  1. #1 Jared
    September 21, 2009

    “Every Vesicle Has A Voice”–can I run for office on this platform?

  2. #2 whoever
    September 21, 2009

    IPSPs rule.

  3. #3 Jessica Palmer
    September 21, 2009

    Absolutely, Jared. Go for it.

    BTW, my bf disagrees with me on this – he argues that it’s so hard to get people to pay attention to science, it’s fair for writers of press releases to invoke any creative analogy they can, even if it’s a bit of a stretch. He thinks I’m letting my neuroscience snobbery get the better of me here.

  4. #4 Comrade PhysioProf
    September 21, 2009

    I’m with you, BioE. It’s a stupid analogy and does more to distract and obfuscate than it does to focus and clarify.

  5. #5 Gaythia
    September 21, 2009

    I agree with you on this. Any attention gained by this silliness is likely to be quite brief, and not long enough to convey any actual information on neuroscience. It is a form of “crying wolf” that will only build resistance and make it harder to get attention the next time.

    If we make expectations for science journalism quite high, maybe we will increase opportunities for those who are actually really good at interpreting science and who also have excellent communication skills.

  6. #6 John
    September 21, 2009

    So are axons archaic structures intended to give the synapses in small dendrites a disproportionately larger role than synapses in large dendrites?

  7. #7 Coturnix
    September 21, 2009

    Now, if only people actually understood how Electoral College works. From what I recall, every four years the media tries to explain, to no avail.

  8. #8 Prod to be a Merkin
    September 21, 2009

    Are you sure the title wasn’t actually “Morons Found To Be Similar To U.S. Electoral College”?

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