Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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The last frontier: The brain.

Orphaned Image. Contact me so I can provide credit and linkage.

Several months ago, I was invited to host Encephalon, probably because I send so many submissions to this blog carnival and possibly also because I am fairly good at sending traffic to the contributors of those blog carnivals that I host. Unfortunately, I have not had wifi for the past two days, so I hope that you appreciate my modest efforts on behalf of this blog carnival. So, without further ado, I present to you the 32nd edition of Encephalon.

Edit: Now that I am in the library and have wifi once again, I realize that I missed five submissions that were sent over the weekend. I apologize for not including them in this edition. Please re-submit them for the next carnival in two weeks (details at the bottom of this edition).

Brain and Behavior

Did you hear the story about the British boy with a case of viral meningitis who had to undergo surgery to drain the fluid from his brain? Well, when he recovered from his coma, he had a new accent. Why did that happen? My fellow SciBling, Jake, explains what happened in this boy’s brain to cause this.

Alvaro at SharpBrains sent this interview with Dr. Judith Beck, a cognitive therapy pioneer, on how these techniques can help people to lose weight in a healthy manner. I have seen this interview all over the internet this past week, so I am interested to know what you think about it.

Ever since Chris started writing his blog, Myomancy, he’s been banging on about the cerebellum as the cause of dyslexia. Quite reasonably, many people asked why the cerebellum, an area of the brain that controls the muscles, should have anything to do with dyslexia and he couldn’t give them a good answer. But now he can, thanks to some research that was reported on by another blog out there.

The concept of free will has been debated for centuries: is our behavior totally determined, partially determined, or not determined (i.e., free and of our own choosing)? What does “determined” mean? What are the implications for ethics? This piece by The Neurocritic briefly examines these questions.

It is time for an update on Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS) studies so Dr Shock MD PhD presents us with a brief overview of important scientific articles on VNS. In short, VNS received FDA approval in July 2005 for adjunctive, long-term use in chronic or recurrent major depression in adult patients with an inadequate response to at least four antidepressant treatments. You could say it is an option after other treatments for depression has failed. So what are the results of VNS, one year after treatment has concluded?

Suicide and Suicide Prevention

Sandra Kiume from Channel N sent this link to an interview with Kay Redfield Jamison by Charlie Rose. Jamison is professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins as well as an author who suffers from bipolar disorder. Her book Night Falls Fast [Knopf], which discusses suicide, including her own serious suicide attempt, was the main subject of this interview. “Suicide is a major public health concern,” asserts Jamison, but because of the social stigma associated with it, no one wants to talk about it. Major causes for suicide are depression, manic-depression and schizophrenia. The first 20:20 of this streaming video are devoted to Jamison. Surprisingly, I had never heard of her book before, even though I’ve read everything else that Jamison has witten, so I must get a copy of Night Falls Fast to review here.

Suicide is a major public health issue and accounts for nearly 3% of all deaths worldwide — around the world, one million people will die by suicide this year. But suicide is a taboo subject that many people, regardless of age, sex, socioeconomic status or religious and cultural affiliations, are ashamed of, and rarely speak about. This veil of secrecy leads to needless deaths worldwide. So as a result, 24 September 2007 was designated as World Suicide Prevention Day, which is designed to raise public awareness of suicide, to encourage discussion and to increase understanding about it.

After a 2003 report linking selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, with increased suicide rates among children and teen agers was published, the use of this class of antidepressants in these age groups has decreased dramatically. This also led to a change in labeling in 2003 warning that the use of these medications could increase suicidal thoughts and behavior among youths. Sadly, this ‘black box’ warning has caused a decrease in prescriptions for SSRI antidepressants which appears to have has triggered a sharp increase in suicide rates for these age groups, according to two papers that have recently been published.

Attention Deficit and Hyperactive Disorder

Diet and food additives have been suspected as a cause of ADHD since the 1970s. After its period in the sun, the idea that certain types of food or chemicals in foods were causing ADHD was discarded by mainstream science because research failed to show any consistent results. However, this did not stop many thousands of parents from changing their children’s diets, sometimes with remarkable success stories.

There have been several studies that have link attention problems like ADHD with the amount of television watched when young. There have also been occasional studies that say there is no link between ADHD and TV. Now a new study published in Pediatrics is proposing a link but the study is not all that it seems. There is evidence demonstrating that watching lots of TV as a very young child may be connected to attention problems but we need far better data than this study before we can be sure.

Brain and Perception

In 1999 the controversial linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson argued that metaphors used in language can actually affect our perceptions. Indeed, metaphors of “light” and “dark” are frequently used by politicians to represent good and evil. But Lakoff and Johnson’s research is typically applied only to linguistic meaning. Can it also apply to visual cognition? In 2004 Meier led a team that found that viewers were faster and more accurate categorizing positive words when the letters were white, and better categorizing negative words when the letters were black. (This piece includes a video and online poll).

The writers at Mindhacks present an article about Patient HM, which marks HM’s 50th anniversary of participation in neuroscience research. Basically, HM was suffering from incapacitating epileptic seizures that were not helped by any of the medications of the 1950s. So, as a last resort, neurosurgeon William Scoville tried an experimental operation where he removed 8cms of tissue from both sides of the inner parts of HM’s temporal lobes, including both hippocampi, hopefully also removing the source of his seizures. As expected, HM also suffered mental deificits, but testing has revealed these deficits to be both peculiar and fascinating.

Brain and Political Philosophies

The Neurocritic critiques a recent paper published in Nature Neuroscience that has received a lot of attention from the mainstream press. This paper finds a tight correlation between measures of brain activity and political orientation. The Neurocritic goes on to discuss a 2003 paper by Jost et al., in a blog entry entitled “Liberals Are Neurotic and Conservatives Are Antisocial“. The discussion thread for this entry is especially interesting. The Neurocritic also followed up with an email sent by the author of the research article itself.

Human Intelligence

Derek, a PhD student from the University of Louisiana has started writing about his dissertation research for you to enjoy. His interests have shifted to trying to understand intelligence by understanding how the neocortex works, and by trying to model the most important aspects of this on a computer. A lot of this focus is due to the book On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins. It’s a great read, and it’s very well written, and it explains how people, animals, and ultimately machines might think. He continues on with part 2, part 3, part 4, and part 5.

Animal Intelligence

This story about Alex the “Congo” African grey parrot features an image of Alex with some of his colored blocks. Alex died unexpectedly a couple weeks ago, at the age of 31.

Miscellaneous Psychology

The Dana Foundation kindly sent a copy of the Best of the Brain from Scientific American, a collection of 21 superb articles published previously in Scientific American magazine. This is a book review by SharpBrains for anyone who enjoys learning about the brain and speculating about what the future will bring.

Dr Martin Russell presents a humorous look at professional help in The Quicksand Guide To Professional Help.

“Necessity is the Mother of Invention” as they say. Well in this situation, it certainly is! Doctor Deb writes a brief story about how GPS technology can aid patients with medical and psychological illnesses.

Doctor Vitelli writes about William James Sidis: There seems no question that Sidis was a genius, whose IQ was estimated to be in the 250 to 300 range. He was born in New York City in 1898 to parents who were Russian immigrants and intellectuals who fled to the U.S. to escape persecution. But despite his great intellect, he died young, never managing to live up to his early potential, and his case is still followed in educational circles. For example, would things have turned out differently for him if his parents not intervened in his jail sentence as they did? Some questions can’t be answered.

Encephalon 33 will be hosted by GNIF Brainblogger on October 8th. Of course, next issue’s hosts are seeking your contributions for their issue of Encephalon, so be sure to check in with them for the deadline for sending in your submissions!

Comments

  1. #1 Mo
    September 24, 2007

    Thanks Grrl.

  2. #2 Annie
    September 24, 2007

    Fascinating reading (as I type dyslexically and re-type, correct, re-read, re-type, etc)!

    But it is so disheartening to read that your work isn’t financially supported. For you not to have internet access is obscene.

    More unfortunately, this problem isn’t confined to you. Many excellent writers struggle without patrons. When will savvy philanthropists being to fund writers, researchers and others who are toiling independent of commercial advertisers and mainstream marketing?

    This destroys the best and the brightest from being able to work unencumbered, and it deprives all of us from benefiting from their fruits.

    Restore benign patronage, fortunate Fortune 500!

  3. #3 biosparite
    September 24, 2007

    Hey, Grrl,
    Nice work. You managed to get this carnival online with well-written commentary despite your lack of Web access. You are the best.

  4. #4 Deb
    September 24, 2007

    Fantastico!

  5. #5 Alvaro
    September 24, 2007

    Very fun edition. I enjoy it when hosts like you provide a nice write-up around the entries, so the carnival becomes more of a magazine article and less a collection of links. Thanks!

    PS: I think the interview with Judith was fascinating, and the 2 research references even more, but I might be biased…

  6. #6 Mad World
    September 25, 2007

    Really interesting stuff. As a newcomer to Encephalon I found it very enlightening.
    I think things have moved on in terms of food additives and ADHD. Here in the UK the government’s Food Standards Agency has issued official advice warning parents to avoid certain additives if their children suffer from hyperactivity. The warning comes in the wake of new research conducted by Southampton University which indicated a link between the two.

  7. #7 David Harmon`
    September 25, 2007

    Nice wrapup!

    Annie: Same as it ever was…. :-(