Brain and Behavior en Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology Entries Accepted Until June 15, 2019 <span>Eppendorf &amp; Science Prize for Neurobiology Entries Accepted Until June 15, 2019</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Researchers 35 years and younger, the annual Eppendorf &amp;Science Prize for Neurobiology, which is awarded for contributions to neurobiological research based on methods of molecular and cell biology, is now open for entries.<br /><br /> Applying requires a 1,000-word essay and tell the prize committee about your work.<br /><br /> The prize is $25,000 plus Science magazine will publish an essay about your work. You'll have travel paid to the Prize Ceremony held in conjunction with the Annual Meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in the USA and AAAS throws in a 10-year AAAS membership (but only a digital subscription to the magazine).</p> <p><img src="" /></p> <p>The application deadline is June 15, 2019. Apply <a href="">here</a>.</p> <p> </p></div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/hankcampbell" lang="" about="/author/hankcampbell" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">hank_campbell</a></span> <span>Wed, 04/03/2019 - 10:38</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Wed, 03 Apr 2019 14:38:26 +0000 hank_campbell 151416 at #5: Competition horses calmed by lavender <span>#5: Competition horses calmed by lavender</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>In looking back over the history of the blog, I thought it would be fun to take another glimpse at the top 5 most popular posts in 2017 thus far...</p> <p><img class="attachment-fullpage " src="" sizes="(max-width: 933px) 100vw, 933px" alt="" width="516" height="387" /></p> <div id="body"> <div id="main" class="full-width"> <div class="str-inside clearfix"> <div id="content"> <div class="clearfix post-3034 attachment type-attachment status-inherit hentry">Image of lavender from GFDL 1.2, <a href=""></a></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div id="body"> <div id="main"> <div class="str-inside clearfix"> <div id="content"> <div id="post-3033" class="post-full clearfix post-3033 post type-post status-publish format-standard hentry category-life_science tag-competition tag-diffused tag-essential-oil tag-horse tag-lavender tag-oil tag-stress science_blog-brain-and-behavior science_blog-education science_blog-environment science_blog-highlighted science_blog-life-science science_blog-medicine"> <div class="main"> <div class="content entry-content"> <p>While lavender aromatherapy has been documented to reduce stress in humans, little is known about its potential for reducing stress in veterinary medicine. Horses can develop elevated heart rates and stress hormone levels when they are confined to horse trailers and transported to new competition venues. Therapies to reduce stress in competition horses are regulated and often prohibit the use of sedatives or oral supplements. Kylie Heitman, an undergraduate student at Albion College, was interested in whether aromatherapy could be used to calm competition horses during transportation. Kylie exposed horses to air-diffused lavender oil or water during transport and found that exposure to diffused lavender oil significantly reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol although there was no significant effect on heart rate. Her research was presented at the 2017 Experimental Biology meeting in Chicago last month.</p> <p><strong>Sources: </strong></p> <p>PH Koulivand, MK Ghadiri, A Gorji. Lavender and the Nervous System. <em>Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.</em> 2013; 2013: 681304. doi: 10.1155/2013/681304</p> <p><a href="">American Physiological Society press release</a></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/dr-dolittle" lang="" about="/author/dr-dolittle" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">dr. dolittle</a></span> <span>Tue, 10/17/2017 - 06:26</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 17 Oct 2017 10:26:39 +0000 dr. dolittle 150526 at Cheap Science Books <span>Cheap Science Books</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Two science books cheap (Kindle version, two bucks):</p> <p><strong><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B0030DHPA2&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=885bb06959181fa45c4593137ae80f89">The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B0030DHPA2" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></strong></p> <blockquote><p>Dr. Louann Brizendine, the founder of the first clinic in the country to study gender differences in brain, behavior, and hormones, turns her attention to the male brain, showing how, through every phase of life, the "male reality" is fundamentally different from the female one. Exploring the latest breakthroughs in male psychology and neurology with her trademark accessibility and candor, she reveals that the male brain:</p> <p>-is a lean, mean, problem-solving machine. Faced with a personal problem, a man will use his analytical brain structures, not his emotional ones, to find a solution.<br /> -thrives under competition, instinctively plays rough and is obsessed with rank and hierarchy.<br /> -has an area for sexual pursuit that is 2.5 times larger than the female brain, consuming him with sexual fantasies about female body parts.<br /> -experiences such a massive increase in testosterone at puberty that he perceive others' faces to be more aggressive.</p> <p>The Male Brain finally overturns the stereotypes. Impeccably researched and at the cutting edge of scientific knowledge, this is a book that every man, and especially every woman bedeviled by a man, will need to own.</p></blockquote> <p>I'm not endorsing this book, but if you are a student of sex differences you may want to have a look even if you hate it. But also see by the same author: <a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B000URWYT8&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=17eadddfddfdf5a85ff8166c8b48a049">The Female Brain</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B000URWYT8" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></p> <p><strong><a target="_blank" href=";camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=B01GNC7FPG&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=grlasbl0a-20&amp;linkId=f9f3140e42334b41015521290eac49e2">Unlocking the Past: How Archaeologists Are Rewriting Human History with Ancient DNA</a><img src="//;l=am2&amp;o=1&amp;a=B01GNC7FPG" width="1" height="1" border="0" alt="" style="border:none !important; margin:0px !important;" /></strong></p> <blockquote><p>In Unlocking the Past, Martin Jones, a leading expert at the forefront of bioarchaeology—the discipline that gave Michael Crichton the premise for Jurassic Park—explains how this pioneering science is rewriting human history and unlocking stories of the past that could never have been told before. For the first time, the building blocks of ancient life—DNA, proteins, and fats that have long been trapped in fossils and earth and rock—have become widely accessible to science. Working at the cutting edge of genetic and other molecular technologies, researchers have been probing the remains of these ancient biomolecules in human skeletons, sediments and fossilized plants, dinosaur bones, and insects trapped in amber. Their amazing discoveries have influenced the archaeological debate at almost every level and continue to reshape our understanding of the past.</p> <p>Devising a molecular clock from a certain area of DNA, scientists were able to determine that all humans descend from one common female ancestor, dubbed "Mitochondrial Eve," who lived around 150,000 years ago. From molecules recovered from grinding stones and potsherds, they reconstructed ancient diets and posited when such practices as dairying and boiling water for cooking began. They have reconstituted the beer left in the burial chamber of pharaohs and know what the Iceman, the 5,000-year-old hunter found in the Alps in the early nineties, ate before his last journey. Conveying both the excitement of innovative research and the sometimes bruising rough-and-tumble of scientific debate, Jones has written a work of profound importance. Unlocking the Past is science at its most engaging.</p></blockquote> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/gregladen" lang="" about="/author/gregladen" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">gregladen</a></span> <span>Wed, 10/04/2017 - 08:02</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Wed, 04 Oct 2017 12:02:43 +0000 gregladen 34556 at Pigeons outperform humans when it comes to multitasking <span>Pigeons outperform humans when it comes to multitasking</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div style="width: 555px;"><img src="" alt="Frau mit Taube in der Hand" width="545" height="363" /> Sara Letzner had humans compete against pigeons in a behavioural experiment. Photo from: Ruhr-Universitat at Bochum </div> <div id="meta-menu-wrapper"> <div id="sub-menu-and-content-wrapper"> <div id="content"> <div id="content-inner"> <div class="ds-2col node node-standard view-mode-full clearfix language-en"></div> <div class="field-item even">A new study conducted by Drs. Sara Letzner and Onur Gunturkun (Ruhr-Universitat at Bochum) as well as Dr. Christian Beste (Technische Univeritat at Dresden) shows that pigeons are better than humans when it comes to multitasking. Their findings were published in <em>Current Biology.</em></div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field-item even"></div> <div class="field-item even">The findings from the study show that the mammalian cerebral cortex, with all of its cortical layers, is not the only type of brain that can perform complex tasks as birds do not have a similar cortical organization. "For a long time, scientists used to believe the mammalian cerebral cortex to be the anatomical cause of cognitive ability; it is made up of six cortical layers. That means the structure of the mammalian cortex cannot be decisive for complex cognitive functions such as multitasking," Dr. Letzner said in a press release. Instead, pigeons have 6 times more nerve cells per cubic millimeter of brain tissue than humans! What this means is that information does not have to travel as far since the distance between nerve cells is half that of humans.</div> <div class="field-item even"></div> <div class="field-item even">The research team studied the time it took for participants to stop a task they were doing and to start a new task as fast as possible. Fifteen humans and 12 pigeons were in the experiment. True multitasking happens when there is no delay between tasks and the brain must therefore think of both tasks at the same time. In contrast, switching completely between two tasks requires nerves that control each task to communicate. They found that pigeons switched tasks 250 milliseconds faster than humans. What this means is that pigeons are able to not only process information faster, but also communicate more efficiently between cells undergoing different tasks.</div> <div class="field-item even"></div> <div class="field-item even"><strong>Sources:</strong></div> <div id="meta-menu-wrapper"> <div id="sub-menu-and-content-wrapper"> <div id="content"> <div id="content-inner"> <div class="ds-2col node node-standard view-mode-full clearfix language-en"> <div class="group-left"> <div class="group-left-inner"> <div class="content-inner-inner-wrapper"> <div class="field-std-text"> <div class="flex infobox-wrapper"> <div class="infobox-text"> <p>Sara Letzner, Onur Gunturkun, Christian Beste: How birds outperform humans in multi-component behavior, in: Current Biology, 2017, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2017.07.056</p> <p><a href="">Press release</a></p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <div id="contents" class="container white"> <div class="row"> <div class="col-sm-8 main less-padding-right hyphenate"> <div class="row"> <div class="col-md-8 col-md-push-4"> <!-- /story_photo --><div id="story_text" class="hyphenate"> <!-- /story_source --><div id="journal_references"> <p> </p> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/dr-dolittle" lang="" about="/author/dr-dolittle" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">dr. dolittle</a></span> <span>Thu, 09/28/2017 - 18:51</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Thu, 28 Sep 2017 22:51:54 +0000 dr. dolittle 150523 at Torturing more mice in the name of antivaccine pseudoscience: PubPeer versus antivaxers <span>Torturing more mice in the name of antivaccine pseudoscience: PubPeer versus antivaxers</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>Last week, an antivaxer "challenged" me to look over <a href="">a paper</a> purporting to show that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines cause inflammation of the brain and therefore contribute to autism, a paper that she would be "citing frequently." Being someone who lives by the motto, "be careful what you wish for," <a href="">I looked it over in detail</a>. Not surprisingly, my conclusion was that the experiments were poorly done using obsolete and not very quantitative methodology and that the results do not support the conclusions made by the authors. I was not alone in this conclusion. Skeptical Raptor was, if anything, even <a href="">harsher on the paper than I was</a>.</p> <!--more--><p>The <a href="">paper in question</a> came out of the lab of Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia. As I note every time I examine a paper by these two warriors for antivaccine pseudoscience, both have a long history of publishing antivaccine “research,” mainly falsely blaming the aluminum adjuvants in vaccines for autism and, well, just about any health problem children have and <a href="">blaming Gardasil for premature ovarian failure</a> and all manner of woes <a href="">up to and including death</a>. Shaw was even prominently featured in the rabidly antivaccine movie <a href="">The Greater Good</a>. Not surprisingly, they’ve <a href="">had a paper retracted</a>, as well.</p> <p>Given the authors' history and a paper that I and others found completely consistent with that history of publishing bad science in the service of antivaccine views, you might reasonably ask: Why am I writing about it again? It turns out that I was indeed far too kind the first time around. You see, I didn't look at all the DNA gels and Western blot films closely enough. I confess that sometimes I don't, particularly when the images provided by the journal online are relatively low resolution. Fortunately, however, there are others with a much sharper eye for photos of DNA gels and films of Western blots than I am, and, if what these people are saying is correct, I rather suspect that Shaw and Tomljenovic might well be cruising for their second retracted paper. Before I explain why, it's necessary for me to briefly explain two things for nonscientists not familiar with the methodology used.</p> <p>In last week's post, I complained that the authors had basically ground up mouse brains and used semiquantitative PCR to measure the level of messenger RNA for each immune cytokine examined. There's no need for me to go into how this method is only roughly quantitative or how there are much better methods available now. <a href="">I did that last time</a>. What I do need to point out is that, after the PCR reaction is run, the PCR products (DNA fragments amplified by the PCR reaction) are separated by placing them in an agarose gel and running an electrical current through it. This gel electrophoresis works because DNA migrates towards the positive electrode and, once it solidifies, agarose forms a gel that separates the DNA fragments by size. The gel can then be stained with ethidium bromide, whose fluorescence allows visualization of the bands, which can be assessed for size and purity. Photos of the gel can be taken and subjected to densitometry to estimate how much DNA is in each band relative to the other bands.</p> <p>To measure protein, Western blots work a little differently. Basically isolated cell extracts or protein mixtures are subjected to polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis (PAGE) with a denaturing agent (SDS). Again, like DNA, protein migrates towards the positive electrode, and the gel forms pores that impeded the process, allowing separation by size and charge. The proteins are then transferred to a membrane (the Western blot) and visualized by using primary antibodies to the desired protein, followed by a secondary antibody with some sort of label. In the old days, we often used radioactivity. These days, we mostly use chemiluminescence. Blots are then exposed to film or, more frequently today, to a phosphoimager plate, which provides a much larger linear range for detecting the chemiluminescence than old-fashioned film. Just like DNA gels, the bands can be quantified using densitometry. In both cases, it's very important not to "burn" (overexpose) the film, which pushes the band intensity out of the linear ranger) or to underexpose them (noise can cause problems). It's also important how the lines are drawn around the bands using the densitometry software and how the background is calculated. More modern software can do it fairly automatically, but there is almost always a need to tweak the outlines chosen, which is why I consider it important that whoever is doing the densitometry should be blinded to experimental group, as bias can be introduced in how the bands are traced.</p> <p>So why did I go through all this? Hang on, I'll get to it. First, however, I like to point out to our antivaccine "friends" that peer review doesn't end when a paper is published. Moreover, social media and the web have made it easier than ever to see what other scientists think of published papers. In particular, there is a website called <a href="">PubPeer</a>, which represents itself as an "online journal club." More importantly, for our purposes, PubPeer is a site where a lot of geeky scientists with sharp eyes for anomalies in published figures discuss papers and figures that seem, well, not entirely kosher. It turns out that some scientists with sharp eyes have been <a href="">going over Shaw and Tomljenovic's paper</a>, and guess what? They've been finding stuff. In fact, they've been finding stuff that to me (and them) looks rather...suspicious.</p> <p>One, for instance, took figure 1C of the paper and adjusted the background and contrast to accentuate differences in tones:</p> <p><a href="/files/insolence/files/2017/09/image-1505914692638.jpg"><img src="" alt="" width="450" height="226" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-11074" /></a></p> <p>It was <a href="">immediately noted:</a></p> <blockquote><ol><li>A clear and deliberate removal of the Male 3 Control TNF result. This isn't an unacknowledged splice, as there is no background pattern from a gel contiguous with either band, left or right.</li> <li>Removal of the left half of the Male 1 Control IFN-g. Dubious also about Male 3 Control IFN-g, as the contrast highlight shows boxing around the band.</li> <li>What appears like an unacknowledged splice in ACHE blot, between AI Animal 2, Control Animal 3</li> </ol><p>Comparing this representative blot to the densitometry accompanying it, they score from 5 independent experiments IFN-g fold change from control to AI, relative to actin, as on average 4.5, with an SEM ranging from ~2.7 to 6.5. This seems too good to be true.</p></blockquote> <p>Look at the band. It's the second from last band. It looks as though the band has been digitally removed. There is an obvious square there. The edges are clear. Now, this could be a JPEG compression artifact. Indeed, one of the commenters is very insistent about reminding everyone that compression artifacts can look like a square and fool the unwary into thinking that some sort of Photoshopping had occurred.. However, I do agree with another of the PubPeer discussants this is enough of a problem that the journal should demand the original blot.</p> <p>On this one, I'll give Shaw and Tomljenovic the benefit of the doubt. (Whether they deserve it or not, you can judge for yourself.) That might be a compression artifact. Other problems discovered in the gels are not so easily dismissed. For instance, there definitely appears to be the ol' duplicated and flipped gel bands trick going on in Figure 2A:</p> <p><a href="/files/insolence/files/2017/09/RrLUlyk.jpg"><img src="" alt="" width="450" height="296" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-11075" /></a></p> <p>Spotting these takes a little bit of skill, but look for distinctive parts of bands and then look to see if they show up elsewhere. It's also necessary to realize that there could be multiple different exposures of the same band, such that the same band can appear more or less intense <em>and</em> mirror-imaged. You have to know what to look for, and I fear that some readers not familiar with looking at blots like these might not see the suspicious similarities, even when pointed out. Still, let's take a look. There are more examples, for instance, these two bands in Figure 4C:</p> <p><a href="/files/insolence/files/2017/09/image-1506251227792.jpg"><img src="" alt="" width="450" height="262" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-11076" /></a></p> <p>And Figures 4B and 4D, where bubbles on the gels serve as markers:</p> <p><a href="/files/insolence/files/2017/09/image-1506305957384.png"><img src="" alt="" width="450" height="297" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-11077" /></a></p> <p>You can look at the rest of the PubPeer images for yourself and decide if you agree that something fishy is going on here. I've seen enough that I think there is, as is <a href="">pointed out near the end</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> Great to see such rapid progress being made: Band duplications firmly established for gels in Figs. 2 and 4. Perhaps we can add some RT-PCR from Fig. 1 too? In Fig. 2, seek out the band marked above that looks like a sailing boat with mast and forestay. Now look for it in Fig. 1A. And then perhaps check for any other duplications?</p></blockquote> <p>Others note that Shaw and Tomljenovic have engaged in a bit of self-plagiarism, too. Figure 1 in the 2017 paper is identical (and I do mean identical, except that the bars in the older paper are blue) to a paper they published in 2014. Basically, they threw a little primary data into one of their crappy review articles trying to blame "environment" (i.e., vaccines) for autism, this one <a href="">published in 2014 in OA Autism</a>. Don't take my word for it. Both articles are open-access, and you can judge for yourself.</p> <p>Some <a href="">comments from PubPeer</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> As far as I can see figure 1 is identical in the two papers? But in the 2014 paper hisograns are described as means +/- SEM from three independent experiments and in 2017 as means +/- SEM of five independent experiments? <a href=""></a></p></blockquote> <p><a href="">And</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> Brazen self-plagiarism of the open access 2014 paper’s Fig. 1 is a key find by the human commentator. Especially since it is not in PubMed (though it is Ref. 166 here). This means that they have used certain elements of a single gel four times in three years: Nice work if you can get it.</p> <p>Here is the direct link to 2014 Fig. 1</p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p>The licence for the 2014 paper states “Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY)”. Unfortunately, the 2017 recycling of Fig. 1 is neither creative nor is it attributed.</p> <p>What this means is that Elsevier were misled regarding the copyright situation and the originality of the work. So this finding surely gives the 2017 publisher a get out of jail card. If they choose to play it, they can now unilaterally withdraw this embarrassing Anti-vaxxer concoction on these grounds alone.</p> <p>Don’t forget to archive the two papers for your records: They might disappear from the publishers’ web sites at some point.</p></blockquote> <p>And that's <em>still</em> not all. Let's take a visit to our scaly friend, Skeptical Raptor, where he notes that <a href="">The Mad Virologist</a> and the <a href="">Blood-Brain Barrier Scientist</a> jointly analyzed the paper and found:</p> <blockquote><p> But there are six other key points that limit what conclusions can be drawn from this paper:</p> <ol><li>They selected genes based on old literature and ignored newer publications.</li> <li>The method for PCR quantification is imprecise and cannot be used as an absolute quantification of expression of the selected genes.</li> <li>They used inappropriate statistical tests that are more prone to giving significant results which is possibly why they were selected.</li> <li>Their dosing regime for the mice makes assumptions on the development of mice that are not correct.</li> <li>They gave the mice far more aluminum sooner than the vaccine schedule exposes children to.</li> <li>There are irregularities in both the semi-quantitative RT-PCR and Western blot data that strongly suggests that these images were fabricated. This is probably the most damning thing about the paper. If the data were manipulated and images fabricated, then the paper needs to be retracted and UBC needs to do an investigation into research misconduct by the Shaw lab.</li> </ol><p>Taken together, we cannot trust Shaw’s work here and if we were the people funding this work, we’d be incredibly ticked off because they just threw away money that could have done some good but was instead wasted frivolously. Maybe there’s a benign explanation for the irregularities that we’ve observed, but until these concerns are addressed this paper cannot be trusted.</p></blockquote> <p>I note that they go into even more detail about the problems with the images that have led me (and others) to be suspicious of image manipulation, concluding:</p> <blockquote><p> These are some serious concerns that raise the credibility of this study and can only be addressed by providing a full-resolution (300 dpi) of the original blots (X-ray films or the original picture file generated by the gel acquisition camera).</p> <p>There has been a lot of chatter on PubPeer discussing this paper and many duplicated bands and other irregularities have been identified by the users there. If anyone is unsure of how accurate the results are, we strongly suggest looking at what has been identified on PubPeer as it suggests that the results are not entirely accurate and until the original gels and Western blots have been provided, it looks like the results were manufactured in Photoshop.</p></blockquote> <p>I agree. Oh, and I agree with their criticism of the use of statistics. I even brought up their failure to control for multiple comparisons, but Shaw and Tomljenovic also used a test that is appropriate for a normal distribution when their data obviously did not follow a normal distribution.</p> <p>So, my dear readers, it turns out that Orac, as Insolent as he can be when slapping down bad science by antivaxers, was not nearly Insolent enough in this case. Mea culpa. I should have known better, given Shaw and Tomljenovic's history. Not only do we have poorly done and analyzed experiments, but we also have self-plagiarism and, quite possibly, scientific fraud. Only releasing the full resolution original images from the original experiments (which are now probably four years old) can put these questions to rest.</p> <p>Science matters. I hate to see it abused like this, particularly when experimental animals are killed in the service of such awful science.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/oracknows" lang="" about="/oracknows" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">oracknows</a></span> <span>Wed, 09/27/2017 - 01:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Wed, 27 Sep 2017 05:00:40 +0000 oracknows 22631 at Torturing more mice in the name of antivaccine pseudoscience, 2017 aluminum edition <span>Torturing more mice in the name of antivaccine pseudoscience, 2017 aluminum edition</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><div class="featured-image"><img alt="" class="attachment-post-thumbnail size-post-thumbnail wp-post-image" data-entity-type="" data-entity-uuid="" height="344" sizes="(max-width: 590px) 100vw, 590px" src="" width="590" /><div class="caption" style="width:590px;"> </div> <div class="caption" style="width:590px;">"Why, oh, why do I have to die in the cause of such crappy science?"</div> </div> <p>For antivaxers, aluminum is the new mercury.</p> <p>Let me explain, for the benefit of those not familiar with the antivaccine movement. For antivaxers, it is, first and foremost, always about the vaccines. Always. Whatever the chronic health issue in children, vaccines must have done it. Autism? It’s the vaccines. Sudden infant death syndrome? Vaccines, of course. Autoimmune diseases? Obviously it must be the vaccines causing it. Obesity, diabetes, ADHD? Come on, you know the answer!</p> <p>Because antivaxers will never let go of their obsession with vaccines as The One True Cause Of All Childhood Health Problems, the explanation for how vaccines supposedly cause all this harm are ever morphing in response to disconfirming evidence. Here’s an example. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, antivaxers in the US (as opposed to in the UK, where the MMR vaccine was the bogeyman) focused on mercury in vaccines as the cause of autism. That’s because many childhood vaccines contained thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury. In an overly cautious bit of worshiping at the altar of the precautionary principle, in 1999 the CDC recommended removing the thimerosal from childhood vaccines, and as a result it was removed from most vaccines by the end of 2001. (Some flu vaccines continued to contain thimerosal for years after that, but no other childhood vaccine did, and these days it’s uncommon for thimerosal-containing vaccines of any kind.)</p> <p>More importantly, the removal of thimerosal from childhood vaccines provided a natural experiment to test the hypothesis that mercury causes or predisposes to autism. After all, if mercury in vaccines caused autism, the near-complete removal of that mercury from childhood vaccines in a short period of time should have resulted in a decline in autism prevalence beginning a few years after the removal. Guess what happened? Autism prevalence didn’t decline. It continued to rise. To scientists, this observation was a highly convincing falsification of the hypothesis through a convenient natural experiment, although those who belong to the strain of antivaccine movement sometimes referred to as the mercury militia still flog mercury as a cause of autism even now. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is perhaps the most famous mercury militia member, although of late he’s been sounding more and more like a run-of-the-mill antivaxer.</p> <p>Which brings us to aluminum.</p> <p>With mercury in vaccines pretty definitively eliminated as The One True Cause Of Autism, antivaxers started looking for other ingredients to blame for autism because, as I said before, it’s first, foremost, and always all about the vaccines. So naturally they shifted their attention to the aluminum adjuvants in many vaccines. Adjuvants are compounds added to vaccine in order to boost the immune response to the antigen used, and aluminum salts <a href="">have been used</a> as <a href="">effective adjuvants</a> for <a href="">many years now</a> and <a href="">have an excellent safety record</a>. None of that has stopped antivaxers from trying to make aluminum the new mercury by blaming aluminum-containing vaccines for autism. I was reminded by this earlier this week when my e-mail was flooded with messages about new study being <a href="" rel="nofollow">flogged by antivaxers</a> in spectacularly ignorant ways, including three—yes, three—identical messages from a certain antivaxer with a severe case of Dunning-Kruger and delusions of grandeur basically challenging me to review this study and assuring me that antivaxers would be citing it for a long time. Well, whenever I receive messages like that, particularly annoying repetition, my answer is: Be very careful what you wish for.</p> <p>Also: Challenge accepted.</p> <p>Which brings us to the study itself. It’s by antivaccine “researchers” whose <a href="">previous studies</a> and <a href="">review articles</a> I’ve <a href="">discussed before</a>. Yes, I’m referring to Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of British Columbia. Both have a long history of publishing antivaccine “research,” mainly falsely blaming the aluminum adjuvants in vaccines for autism and, well, just about any health problem children have and <a href="">blaming Gardasil for premature ovarian failure</a> and all manner of woes <a href="">up to and including death</a>. Shaw was even prominently featured in the rabidly antivaccine movie <a href="">The Greater Good</a>. Not surprisingly, they’ve <a href="">had a paper retracted</a>, as well..</p> <p>This time around, they’ve gone back to their old stomping grounds, the <em>Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry</em>, and, along with two other co-authors, published <a href="">Subcutaneous injections of aluminum at vaccine adjuvant levels activate innate immune genes in mouse brain that are homologous with biomarkers of autism</a>. It’s where they published review article in 2011 <a href="">full of antivaccine misinformation and distortions</a>. So, given Shaw and Tomljenovic’s history, it is not unreasonable to be suspicious of this study as well. But, hey, you never know. Maybe it’s a good study that sheds light on an important aspect of the pathogenesis of autism…Ah, who’m I kidding? It’s nothing of the sort. It’s yet another study designed to imply that aluminum adjuvants cause autism.</p> <p>Before we look at the study itself, specifically the experiments included in it, let’s consider the hypothesis being tested, because experiments in any study should be directed at falsifying the hypothesis. Unfortunately, there is no clear statement of hypothesis where it belongs, namely in the introduction. Instead, what we get is this:</p> <blockquote><p>Given that infants worldwide are regularly exposed to Al adjuvants through routine pediatric vaccinations, it seemed warranted to reassess the neurotoxicity of Al in order to determine whether Al may be considered as one of the potential environmental triggers involved in ASD.</p> <p>In order to unveil the possible causal relationship between behavioral abnormalities associated with autism and Al exposure, we initially injected the Al adjuvant in multiple doses (mimicking the routine pediatric vaccine schedule) to neonatal CD-1 mice of both sexes.</p> </blockquote> <p>This is basically a fishing expedition in which the only real hypothesis is that “aluminum in vaccines is bad and causes bad immune system things to happen in the brain.” “Fishing expeditions” in science are studies in which the hypothesis is not clear and the investigators are looking for some sort of effect that they suspect they will find. In fairness, fishing expeditions are not a bad thing in and of themselves—indeed, they are often a necessary first step in many areas of research—but they are hypothesis-generating, not hypothesis confirming. After all, there isn’t a clear hypothesis to test; otherwise it wouldn’t be a fishing expedition. The point is that this study does not confirm or refute any hypothesis, much less provide any sort of slam-dunk evidence that aluminum adjuvants cause autism.</p> <p>Moving along, I note that this is a mouse experiment, and somehow antivaxers are selling this as compelling evidence that vaccines cause autism through their aluminum adjuvants causing an inflammatory reaction in the brain. Now, seriously. Mouse models can be useful for a lot of things, but, viewed critcally, for the most part autism is not really one of them. After all, autism is a human neurodevelopmental disorder diagnosed entirely by behavioral changes, and correlating mouse behavior with human behavior is very problematic. Indeed, correlating the behavior of any animal, even a primate, with human behavior is fraught with problems. Basically, there is no well-accepted single animal model of autism, and autism research has been littered with mouse models of autism that were found to be very much wanting. (<a href="">“Rain mouse,” anyone?</a>) Basically, despite the <a href="">existence of many mouse strains</a> touted to be relevant to autism, almost none of them are truly relevant because:</p> <blockquote><p>A good animal model satisfies three fundamental criteria. The first, called face validity, requires sufficient similarities between the phenotype of the mice and symptoms of the human disorder. The second, called construct validity, is achieved if the biological cause of the human disease is replicated in the mouse — for example, when an autism-associated gene is mutated in mice. Finally, a mouse model has predictive validity if treatments improve both the human symptoms of the disorder and the mouse phenotype.</p> <p>Diagnosis of autism is purely behavioral and requires clearly defined symptoms in each of three core categories: abnormal social interactions, impaired communication and repetitive behavior. One of the challenges in studying mouse models is determining which behaviors from the mouse repertoire could be considered analogous to these symptoms.</p> </blockquote> <p>And:</p> <blockquote><p>So far, very few of these mouse models display behavioral phenotypes relevant to all three core domains of autism. What’s more, in some cases, physical problems such as poor general health following seizures, or low exploratory activity, produce false positives that prevent the interpretation of more complex, autism-relevant phenotypes.</p> </blockquote> <p>Pay particular attention to the part about construct validity. The assumption behind this study is that immune changes in the brain of mice will be relevant to immune activation in the brains of autistic humans. That is an assumption that hasn’t yet been confirmed with sufficient rigor to view this study’s results as any sort of compelling evidence that aluminum adjuvants cause autism. Yes, the authors include this important-looking diagram describing how they think immune system activation causes autism (click to embiggen):</p> <p><a href=""><img alt="" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-11064" data-entity-type="" data-entity-uuid="" height="184" sizes="(max-width: 450px) 100vw, 450px" src="" /></a></p> <p>In the end, though, as impressive as it is, the relevance of this chart to autism is questionable at best, as is the relevance of this study. So let’s look at the mouse strain chosen by the investigators, <a href="">CD-1 mice</a>. Basically, there’s nothing particularly “autistic” (even in terms of existing mouse models purported to be relevant to autism) about these mice, which are described in most catalogues of companies selling them as “general purpose.” Basically, the authors used them because they had used them before in previous studies in which they reported that aluminum injections caused <a href="">motor neuron degeneration</a> (nope, no autism) and another crappy paper in the same journal from 2013 purporting to <a href="">link aluminum with adverse neurological outcomes</a>. That’s it.</p> <p>As for the experiment itself, neonatal mice were divided into two groups, a control group that received saline injections and the experimental group received injections of aluminum hydroxide in doses timed such that they that purportedly mimicked the pediatric vaccine schedule. Looking over the schedule used, I can’t help but note that there’s a huge difference between human infant development and mouse development. Basically, the mice received aluminum doses claimed to be the same as what human babies get by weight six times in the first 17 days of life. By comparison, in human babies these doses are <a href="">separated by months</a>. In addition, in human babies, vaccines are injected intramuscularly (in a muscle). In this study, the mice were injected subcutaneously (under the skin). This difference immediately calls into question applicability and construct validity. The authors stated that they did it because they wanted to follow previously utilized protocols in their laboratory. In some cases, that can be a reasonable rationale for an experimental choice, but in this case the original choice was questionable in the first place. Blindly sticking with the same bad choice is just dumb.</p> <p>So what were the endpoints examined in the mice injected with aluminum hydroxide compared to saline controls? After 16 weeks, the mice were euthanized and their brains harvested to measure gene expression and the levels of the proteins of interest. Five males and five females from each group were “randomly paired” for “gene expression profiling.” Now, when I think of gene expression profiling, I usually think of either cDNA microarray experiments, in which the levels of thousands of genes are measured at the same time, or next generation sequencing, in which the level of every RNA transcript in the cell can be measured simultaneously. That doesn’t appear to be what the authors did. Instead, they used a technique known as PCR to measure the messenger RNA levels of a series of cytokines. Basically, they examined the amount of RNA coding for various immune proteins in the brain chosen by the authors as relevant to inflammation. The authors also did Western blots for many of those proteins, which is a test in which proteins are separated on a gel, blotted to a filter, and then probed with specific antibodies, resulting in bands that can be measured by a number of techniques, including autoradiography or chemiluminescence, both of which can be recorded on film on which the relevant bands can be visualized. Basically, what the authors did wasn’t really gene expression profiling. It was measuring a bunch of genes and proteins and hoping to find a difference.</p> <p>There’s an even weirder thing. The authors didn’t use quantitative real time reverse transcriptase PCR, which has been the state-of-the-art for measuring RNA message levels for quite some time. Rather, they used a very old, very clunky form of PCR that can only produce—at best—semiquantitative results. (That’s why we used to call it semiquantitative PCR.) Quite frankly, in this day and age, there is absolutely zero excuse for choosing this method for quantifying gene transcripts. If I were a reviewer for this article, I would have recommended not publishing it based on this deficiency alone. Real time PCR machines, once very expensive and uncommon, are widely available. (Hell, I managed to afford very simple one in my lab nearly 15 years ago.) Any basic or translational science department worth its salt has at least one available to its researchers.</p> <p>The reason that this semiquantitative technique is considered inadequate is that the amount of PCR product grows exponentially, roughly doubling with every cycle of PCR, asymptotically approaching a maximum as the primers are used up.<br /> It usually takes around 30-35 cycles before everything saturates and the differences observed in the intensity of the DNA bands when they are separated on a gel become indistinguishable. That’s why PCR was traditionally and originally primarily considered a “yes/no” test. Either the RNA being measured was there and produced a PCR band, or it didn’t. In this case, the authors used 30 cycles, which is more than enough to result in saturation. (Usually semiquantitative PCR stops around 20-25 cycles or even less.) And I didn’t even (yet) mention how the authors didn’t use DNAse to eliminate the small amounts of DNA that contaminate nearly all RNA isolations. Basically, the primers used for PCR pick up DNA as well as any any RNA, and DNA for the genes of interest will be guaranteed to contaminate the specimens without DNAse treatment. Yes, you molecular biologists out there, I know that’s simplistic, but my audience doesn’t consist of molecular biologists.</p> <p>Now, take a look at Figures 1A and 1B as well as Figures 2A and 2B. (<a href="">You can do it if you want</a>. The article is open access.) Look at the raw bands in the A panels of the figures. Do you see much difference, except for IFNG (interferon gamma) in Figure 1A? I don’t. What I see are bands of roughly the same intensity, even the ones that are claimed to vary by three-fold. In other words, I basically am very skeptical that the investigators saw much of difference in gene expression between controls and the aluminum-treated mice. In fairness, for the most part, the protein levels as measured by Western blot did correlate with what was found on PCR, but there’s another odd thing. The investigators didn’t do Western blots for all the same proteins whose gene expression they measured by PCR. Of course, they present primers for 27 genes, but only show blots for 18 (17 inflammatory genes plus beta actin, which was used as a standard to normalize the values for the other 17 genes).</p> <p>I also question the statistical tests chosen by the authors. Basically, they examined each gene separately and used Student’s t-test to assess statistical significance. However, in reality they did many comparisons, at least 17, and there’s no evidence that the authors controlled for multiple comparisons. If one chooses statistical significance to occur at p &lt; 0.05 and compares 20 samples, by random chance alone at least one will be different. Add to that the fact that there is no mention of whether the people performing the assays were blinded to experimental group, and there's a big problem. Basic science researchers often think that blinding isn't necessary in their work, but there is a potential for unconscious bias that they all too often don't appreciate. For example, the authors used Image J, free image processing software developed by the NIH. I've used Image J before. It's a commonly used app used to quantify the density of bands on gels, even though it's old software and hasn't been updated in years. Basically, it involves manually drawing outlines of the bands, setting the background, and then letting the software calculate the density of the bands. The potential for bias shows up in how you draw the lines around the bands and set the backgrounds. As oblivious as they seem to be to this basic fact, basic scientists are just as prone to unconscious bias as the rest of us, and, absent blinding, in a study like this there is definitely the potential for unconscious bias to affect the results. In fairness, few basic science researchers bother to blind whoever is quantifying Western blots or ethidium bromide-stained DNA gels of PCR products, but that's just a systemic problem in biomedical research that I not infrequently invoke when I review papers. Shaw and Tomljenovic are merely making the same mistake that at least 90% of basic scientists make.</p> <p>But let’s step back and take the authors’ results at face value for a moment. Let’s assume that what is reported is a real effect. In the rest of the paper, the authors present evidence of changes in gene expression that suggest the activation of a molecular signaling pathway controlled by a molecule called NF-κB and that male mice were more susceptible to this effect than females. (Just like autism!) Funny, but I know NF-κB. I’ve <a href="">published on NF-κB</a>. I had an NIH R01 grant to study how my favorite protein affected NF-κB. True, I ended up abandoning that line of research because I hit some dead ends. True, I’m not as familiar with NF-κB as I used to be. But I do know enough to know that NF-κB is easy to activate and very nonspecific. I used to joke that just looking at my cells funny would activate NF-κB signaling. Also, NF-κB activation is indeed associated with inflammation, but so what? What we have is an artificial model in which the mice are dosed much more frequently with aluminum than human infants. Does this have any relevance to the human brain or to human autism? who knows? Probably not. No, almost certainly not.</p> <p>Also, the mouse immune system is <a href="">different</a> from the <a href="">human</a> <a href="">immune system</a>. None of this stops the authors from concluding:</p> <blockquote><p>Based on the data we have obtained to date, we propose a tentative working hypothesis of a molecular cascade that may serve to explain a causal link between Al and the innate immune response in the brain. In this proposed scheme, Al may be carried by the macrophages via a Trojan horse mechanism similar to that described for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C viruses, travelling across the blood-brain-barrier to invade the CNS. Once inside the CNS, Al activates various proinflammatory factors and inhibits NF-κB inhibitors, the latter leading to activation of the NF-κB signaling pathway and the release of additional immune factors. Alternatively, the activation of the brain’s immune system by Al may also occur without Al traversing the blood-brain barrier, via neuroimmuno-endocrine signaling. Either way, it appears evident that the innate immune response in the brain can be activated as a result of peripheral immune stimuli. The ultimate consequence of innate immune over-stimulation in the CNS is the disruption of normal neurodevelopmental pathways resulting in autistic behavior.</p> </blockquote> <p>That’s what we call in the business conclusions not supported by the findings in a study. On a more “meta” level, it’s not even clear whether the markers of inflammation observed in autistic brains are causative or an epiphenomenon. As Skeptical Raptor noted. It could be that the inflammation reported is caused by whatever the primary changes in the brain that result in autism. Cause and effect are nowhere near clear. One can’t help but note that many of the infections vaccinated against cause way more activation of the immune system and cytokines than vaccination.</p> <p>So what are we left with?</p> <p>Basically, what we have is yet another mouse study of autism. The study purports to show that aluminum adjuvants cause some sort of “neuroinflammation,” which, it is assumed, equals autism. By even the most charitable interpretation, the best that can be said for this study is that it might show increased levels of proteins associated with inflammation in the brains of mice who had been injected with aluminum adjuvant way more frequently than human babies ever would be. Whether this has anything to do with autism is highly questionable. At best, what we have here are researchers with little or no expertise in very basic molecular biology techniques using old methodology that isn’t very accurate overinterpreting the differences in gene and protein levels that they found. At worst, what we have are antivaccine “researchers” who are not out for scientific accuracy but who actually want to promote the idea that vaccines cause autism. (I know, I know, it’s hard not to ask: Why not both?) If this were a first offense, I’d give Shaw and Tomljenovic the benefit of the doubt, but this is far from their first offense. Basically, this study adds little or nothing to our understanding of autism or even the potential effects of aluminum adjuvants. It was, as so many studies before, the torture of mice in the name of antivax pseudoscience. <a href="">The mice used in this study died in vain</a> in a study supported by the <a href="">profoundly antivaccine Dwoskin Foundation</a>.</p> <p>Also, I’ll tell my antivax admirer the same thing I once told J.B. Handley when he taunted me to examine a study that he viewed as “slam dunk” evidence for a vaccine-autism link: <a href="">You don’t tug on Superman’s cape</a>. And, no, <a href="">your name isn’t Slim</a>. You’re not an exception.</p> <p><strong>ADDENDUM 9/27/2017</strong>: Apparently I wasn’t…Insolent…enough with this paper. On PubPeer there is a big discussion about whether the images in this paper were manipulated and whether the authors self-plagiarized Figure 1 from another paper. <a href="">It looks bad</a>.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/oracknows" lang="" about="/oracknows" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">oracknows</a></span> <span>Thu, 09/21/2017 - 01:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Thu, 21 Sep 2017 05:00:11 +0000 oracknows 22627 at Comments of the Week #173: From quantum uncertainty to Earth's final total solar eclipse <span>Comments of the Week #173: From quantum uncertainty to Earth&#039;s final total solar eclipse</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><blockquote><p>“It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” ―Galadriel, LOTR, J.R.R. Tolkien</p></blockquote> <p>The scientific stories we've covered this week have been out-of-this-world here at <a href="">Starts With A Bang!</a> But the greatest show is still to come. Right now, I'm on my way down to the path of totality in Oregon, along with millions of others hoping to catch a glimpse and enjoy the experience of a sight unlike any others on Earth. When the sunlight goes completely out, some truly wonderful things will be revealed, and I hope to see them all! For everyone who's joining me, across the path of totality, I wish you clear and cloud-free skies, and a fabulous viewing experience!</p> <p>And now, onto the scientific stories we covered this past week:</p> <ul><li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Where does quantum uncertainty come from?</a> (for Ask Ethan),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Five things you must not do during totality at the solar eclipse</a> (my most-read article ever, for Mostly Mute Monday),</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Will scientists ever discover life without a home planet?</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Why you can't see the Moon during a total solar eclipse</a>,</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Voyager's 'cosmic map' of Earth's location is hopelessly wrong</a>, and</li> <li><a href="" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Earth's final total solar eclipse will happen in less than a billion years</a>.</li> </ul><p>As the release date of <a href="">Treknology</a> approaches (less than two months now!), there will be a slew of talks and events occurring in Oregon and Washington to promote it and meet me, with more to come around the country as time goes on. Look for it! And now, onto the main event: our <a href="">comments of the week</a>!</p> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">Steve Blackband</a> on X-rays at the airport: "On the banana thing and airport x-ray scanners, an issue is not the total dose but the distribution. TSA seems to divide by the whole body, but the dose is concentrated at the skin so the dose there is many times higher."</p></blockquote> <p>This is actually not true of X-rays in general. Yes, they hit the skin first, but X-rays are of an energy such that the overwhelming majority penetrates the skin and goes into your body. There are a portion of the X-rays, however, that hit the skin and reflect, and that's how the backscattering X-ray imaging works. It's kind of the opposite of traditional X-rays, which measure what goes <em>through</em> your body. But as with all things, we've got to be quantitative. For the airport scanner, you'd need to go through it 200,000 times to equal the radiation of one CT scan.</p> <p>By the way, there <em>is</em> radiation that primarily affects your skin: radioactive alpha-decay sources. They are the most harmless of all radiation, since the outer layer of your skin stops it. Only if you ingest or inhale an alpha-emitter are you in trouble.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/07/fig-nearterm_all_UPDATE_2017-panela-1.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36427" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/07/fig-nearterm_all_UPDATE_2017-panela-1-600x308.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="308" /></a> Correctly calibrated satellite data, as well as the more recent temperature data up through 2016, shows that climate predictions and observations are perfectly in line with one another. Image credit: HadCRUT4.5, Cowtan &amp; Way, NASA GISTEMP, NOAA GlobalTemp, BEST, via Ed Hawkins at Climate Lab Book. </div> <p>From <a href="">Denier</a> on what his true beef was with my response to Heartland's climate article: "The boiled down core of what I’m driving at is I felt you wanted a win so bad that you decided hitting below the belt was justified. It wasn’t just Spencer making that observation about 2013. Schmidt(2014) noted it, and it is even reflected in the Climate Lab Book alteration of the IPCC AR5 graph you posted in the article. Heartland made a cherry-picked but accurate statement, and rather than calling it out for what it was, you straw-manned them and made your own counter-factual statement that was not supported by the best science we have on the subject.<br /> A little lower in the article, Heartland did the same thing with a statistical decline in the strength of hurricanes making landfall in the US. 100% Accurate –and- 100% cherry picked. There again you failed to call it out for what it was and went with the cheap Ad Hominem about how the scientist citing the true statistic was biologically related to someone at Heartland.<br /> There is so much good science to support your viewpoint that you don’t need to stoop to these tactics. You don’t need to Straw-man. You don’t need to deny good science. You don’t need to resort to Ad Hominem attacks. I was disappointed in your tactics and felt they were beneath you. That uncharacteristic behavior combined with your talk of de-platforming certain ideas made me think we were losing you to tribalism."</p></blockquote> <p>I've been thinking a lot about tribalism and appearances lately as well, and maybe I need to go easier on people who are politically much farther to one side than I am. I think reviewing Alex's latest book brought that to my attention as well, and after some reflection (and some investigation), I think I understand why it hits so many of us so hard. We aren't impartial or objective, no matter how hard we try to be. We view our work and our opinions on issues in terms of what we value as important in this world.</p> <p>Imagine that politics is a left-right spectrum (I know that doesn't encapsulate it all, but we're oversimplifying for clarity), and you're somewhere on it. Let's assume you're near the center, but slightly to the left. Now there's someone you see who's also near the center, but slightly to the right. To the right of center, but also (and moreso) to the right of you. You both accept the same science facts about issues, but how you feel about and react to those issues are very different. How do you see the person to the right of you? Even if they write things that are both "anti-left" and "anti-right", you'll see the "anti-right" things they write as no-brainers, but then the "anti-left" things will appear biased to you. If you were instead far-right instead of left-of-center, you might see the converse: the "anti-left" things the author writes appear as no-brainers, but the "anti-right" things appear biased.</p> <p>You and I are always going to disagree about what's "good science" in this realm. I think if you're using the UAH data as it was before the calibration flaw found in 2014 was corrected, you're intentionally spreading falsehoods. That was my beef with what Heartland was doing on that particular issue. You and I may disagree about the egregiousness of cherry-picking data; we had an argument a year ago where you admitted that Newt Gingrich had done that with crime statistics, but you argued that his point was still valid based on the data he had selected. I think cherry-picking -- or "not looking at the full suite of evidence" as I often call it -- is just lying, usually with the intent to mislead.</p> <p>In any case, you haven't lost me to tribalism, but on certain issues, you and I view one another's positions as inherently flawed. More on that when we get to the comments about Alex's book.</p> <blockquote><p>From <a href="">Steve Blackband</a> on speaking against Nazism: "I understand your frustration and feeling of powerlessness in the face of hatred and bigotry.<br /> But this is not the forum. Keep this a science blog, please, so i don’t have to troll through all these folks e-shouting at each other.<br /> Please!!"</p></blockquote> <p>Sorry, Steve, this is the <em>only</em> forum. This is the platform I have online where I get to go beyond my own science writing and get to talk about larger issues; I literally use ScienceBlogs as a Starts With A Bang forum. If I could write about science without people sending me death threats related to ovens, destroying my life, slurs against my ethnicity/religion/whatever-you-perceive-Jewishness-as, it might be a different story, but I hope not.</p> <p>Some people will always e-shout about what their opinions are, and my options are to either ban them or not. I've chosen not for the people who are still around. You can scroll past the parts you don't like, but there will still be plenty of science, so long as people are still commenting about it.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/03/neutron-star-black-hole-theory-1-02.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-32582" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2015/03/neutron-star-black-hole-theory-1-02-600x424.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="424" /></a> A spinning neutron star, with its magnetic field lines illustrated. Image credit: ESO/L. Calçada. </div> <p>From <a href="">eric</a> on neutron stars and magnetism: "if for <i>atomic number</i> you’re only going to count the core and not the surface, then when it comes to <i>charge and magnetic field</i> you should only count the core and not the surface too, right? Otherwise you’re arriving at your conclusion that a neutron star has a magnetic field but Z=0 only by flipping back and forth between two different definitions of “neutron star” – one that only counts the core, and one that includes the surface."</p></blockquote> <p>So I will say that this poses an interesting question. If you have a neutral object like a neutron, and you spin it, do you get a magnetic field? Your intuition would say "no," but now consider that a neutron is made up of charged particles itself. If there's a charge separation in there at all, and those charges move around, you could get a magnetic field, couldn't you? Here's the thing: we can take a single neutron and measure its magnetic moment. For electric charges, a proton is +1, a neutron is 0, and an electron is -1. For magnetic moments? Electrons are -1, protons are +2.79, and neutrons are -1.91. You would have a magnetic field, after all.</p> <p>But it wouldn't be nearly as strong as the magnetic field if you include the neutron star's surface, which is no longer made up of neutrons, and which can no longer be treated as a single nucleus. How much stronger? We're not sure, but suffice it to say it's many orders of magnitude. Still, there's a big difference between a factor of 10,000 and a factor of 1,000,000,000, and I'm not sure where the core of the neutron star lies in this. An interesting consideration!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/white-background-3.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36480" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/white-background-3-600x549.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="549" /></a> Front cover of the hard copy of the Little Black Book of Junk Science. Image credit: American Council on Science and Health. </div> <p>From <a href="">Alex Berezow</a>, who dropped by to comment on a comment about the content of his book: "You wrote: “Ive been telling everyone that this book taught me that hexavalent chromium isn’t cancerous”<br /> I explained in my book: “If inhaled, chromium-6 can cause lung cancer, but there is no reason it causes cancer when ingested.”"</p></blockquote> <p>When you've got a point to make, you're always going to appear biased to people who don't feel the same point is worth making when it comes to that particular issue. I think this is true for everyone; I get accused of my political bias in exactly that way every time I write about a science issue that's political also. And there are some issues with the Little Black Book of Junk Science that I have, but whether you think it's Alex's political bias or my political bias will depend on your politics. For example:</p> <ul><li>Natural gas is better than coal and oil for sure from a pollutant standpoint, but it still adds the same amount of CO2 for the energy you get out to the atmosphere.</li> <li>Oil pipelines are much safer and cleaner than any other method of transporting crude, but it also represents a commitment to burning 100% of what's buried in the ground, and represents a commitment to doing it faster, regardless of how dirty it is.</li> <li>Organic food is neither healthier nor does it deliver superior crop yields to conventional foods, but there are many problems inherent to our modern agricultural system that organic practices represent one small, incremental step towards improving, even though they've been co-opted by industrial agriculture.</li> </ul><p>When one writes about a topic and doesn't address what you believe the core, or most important, issue on that topic is, their writing is going to appear severely biased (or missing-the-point) to you. That doesn't mean it's wrong, but it may mean it's misleading, depending on how you feel. I don't know that there's a solution to this, other than to acknowledge that most of these issues -- yes, even climate science -- are multi-faceted. Someone who disagrees with you may not be wrong as much as they possess different values and focus on different conclusions that the facts may also support.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/09/1-Yr4wE4q4x2BQ8DtbhqcuQw.gif"><img class="size-medium wp-image-35170" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/09/1-Yr4wE4q4x2BQ8DtbhqcuQw.gif" alt="" width="600" height="450" /></a> Visualization of a quantum field theory calculation showing virtual particles in the quantum vacuum. Image credit: Derek Leinweber. </div> <p>From <a href="">Elle H.C.</a> on what particle/antiparticle pairs look like: "Cool to see the QCD animation of how particle/antiparticle pairs pop up, how connected ‘holes’ show up and how the Vacuum starts to be shake up. Curious if these tremblings differ very much from Gravity waves?!"</p></blockquote> <p>It's vital to remember, when you see either the animation above (representing quantum fields) or the <a href="">one from the original article</a> (representing individual pairs), that this is a visualization only. This is not what's actually, physically happening. Quantum field theory is a calculational tool, an extremely useful calculational tool, but it is not literally what's going on with the Universe. You can't grab these particles that "pop into existence" and scatter off of them. You can't bend through empty space because of their electric or magnetic fields. They would need to be "real" particles (like the valence quarks, gluons, or sea quarks inside a proton) for that to happen.</p> <p>But gravity waves are very different, and are produced by accelerating masses in a non-uniform spacetime. They're real. They do affect everything they pass through. They interact. They are more than just a calculational tool. That's the major difference.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/8-12-Uncertainty-1200x636.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36490" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/8-12-Uncertainty-1200x636-600x318.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="318" /></a> An illustration between the inherent uncertainty between position and momentum at the quantum level. Image credit: E. Siegel / Wikimedia Commons user Maschen. </div> <p>From <a href="">D.C. Sessions</a> on quantum uncertainty: "Voltage and charge have a different product from the others?<br /> This is news to me."</p></blockquote> <p>There are all sorts of quantum commutation relations that go beyond "position and momentum" or "energy and time". I talked about the angular momentum one (for the Stern-Gerlach experiment) but there are others. Voltage and free electric charge, magnetic vector potential and electric current, and so on. If you obey the <a href="">canonical commutation relation</a>, i.e., your commutator is non-zero, you're in for a world of uncertainty.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/8188705798_20ba66d81f_o.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36514" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/8188705798_20ba66d81f_o-600x500.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="500" /></a> The Moon and Sun each take up approximately half a degree on the sky as viewed from Earth. When the Moon is slightly larger in angular size than the Sun is and all three bodies perfectly align, a total solar eclipse is the result, but only if you're in the path of totality. Image credit: Romeo Durscher / NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center. </div> <p>From <a href="">eric</a> on eclipse safety during totality: "You can take your glasses off and look at the sun at totality <i>only if</i> you’re in the narrow region of the country where the eclipse is total."</p></blockquote> <p>Of course! If you're not in that region, you don't get totality. But this is worth saying: <em>do not take off your eye protection and look at the Sun if any part of the solar disk is visible</em>.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/totality.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36499" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/totality-600x359.jpg" alt="If you make the wrong decisions as far as what you do and look at during the moments of totality, you risk squandering the experience of a lifetime. Image credit: Luc Viatour /" width="600" height="359" /></a> If you make the wrong decisions as far as what you do and look at during the moments of totality, you risk squandering the experience of a lifetime. Image credit: Luc Viatour / <a href=""></a>. </div> <p>From <a href="">Brian Bassett</a> on the 5 things you mustn't do during totality: "Vague, regurgitated hash off other sites. Yawn!"</p></blockquote> <p>I know, right? It's almost like there's this vast body of knowledge that some group of people have been gathering and developing for centuries, distilling it down to its most important rules and essences, and then disseminating that knowledge and those conclusions worldwide. So boring, right? ;-)</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/starlightDeflectionFig3.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36525" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/starlightDeflectionFig3-600x565.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="565" /></a> The Newtonian and Einsteinian predictions for gravitational deflection of a distant radio source during the Earth's orbital period (1 year) due to the Sun. The black dots are 2015 data. Image credit: The deflection of light induced by the Sun's gravitational field and measured with geodetic VLBI; O. Titov, A. Girdiuk (2015). </div> <p>From <a href="">Anonymous Coward</a> on eclipse science since Eddington: "The bending of light experiment has been repeated many times since Eddington’s day. Astronomers from Lick Observatory went to Australia for the 1922 eclipse and repeated the observations. It was done again during an eclipse in 1952 by Yerkes Observatory astronomers who travelled all the way to Khartoum, Sudan to see it. In 1973, astronomers from the University of Texas went to the Chinguetti Oasis in Mauritania to do the same thing. Each time they found results reasonably consistent with General Relativity. It seems people are going to try to do the same thing with this upcoming eclipse. NASA has even given instructions on how to do it:<br /><a href="" rel="nofollow"></a>"</p></blockquote> <p>All of this is true, but I'll do you one better. Do you see the image above? That's a radio source that exists far beyond the Solar System. And the x-and-y-axes? That's how much its position deviates over the course of a year. The cause of that deviation? That's the gravitational influence of the Sun! If we could see stars during the day, we never would have needed solar eclipse's or Eddington's work to do the confirmation. As it stands, radio astronomy gives us that ability (not with every star, but with some bright-enough radio sources), and it agrees tremendously with General Relativity.</p> <p>You no longer need an eclipse to confirm relativity, even in the exact same fashion that it was first confirmed!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/jhvhrdes3.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36502" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/jhvhrdes3-600x265.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="265" /></a> On this semilog plot, the complexity of organisms, as measured by the length of functional non-redundant DNA per genome counted by nucleotide base pairs (bp), increases linearly with time. Time is counted backwards in billions of years before the present (time 0). Image credit: Shirov &amp; Gordon (2013), via <a href=""></a>. </div> <p>From <a href="">John</a> on life coming to Earth from space: "Drs. Hoyle and Wickramasinghe were serious proponents of Panspermia."</p></blockquote> <p>Yes, but.</p> <p>Before I go any further, panspermia, you must realize, can take many different forms. See that graph, above? At what stage do you think this life came to Earth? According to Hoyle and Wickramasinghe, it was "the advanced prokaryotes that gave rise to modern cell, like diatoms, were what came to Earth." Also, they argued, that life couldn't have begun on Earth at all, that the conditions were all wrong.</p> <p>Neither of these statements is likely to be correct. That they are part of a larger "panspermia" story, some of which may be true, does not translate into anything they said having any validity. Wickramasinghe continues to make the same claims he made in the 1970s... no matter what the modern evidence shows.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/10ECLIPSE-FLOATER-master768.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36498" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/10ECLIPSE-FLOATER-master768-600x373.jpg" alt="" width="600" height="373" /></a> No matter how you choose to experience the eclipse, I hope it's a spectacular one for you. Image credit: Beawiharta/Reuters. </div> <p>From <a href="">PJ</a> on eclipse wishes that we all share: "May good viewing fall upon those who venture out for Monday’s grand view."</p></blockquote> <p>May the entire path of totality be cloud-free. If you do have clouds, may they not lessen the spectacular nature of the show for you. May there be no hazes or wildfires affecting the attendees. May traffic move smoothly. May everyone be safe, and bring enough food, water, blankets, and comfort.</p> <p>Good luck out there; these wishes apply to me, too!</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/Voy_and_cover.jpg"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36511" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/Voy_and_cover-600x334.jpg" alt="The gold-plated aluminum cover (L) of the Voyager golden record (R) both protects it from micrometeorite bombardment and also provides a key to playing it and deciphering Earth's location. Image credit: NASA." width="600" height="334" /></a> The gold-plated aluminum cover (L) of the Voyager golden record (R) both protects it from micrometeorite bombardment and also provides a key to playing it and deciphering Earth's location. Image credit: NASA. </div> <p>From <a href="">Candice H. Brown Elliott</a> on whether we should announce our presence to aliens: "Not that thought that creating even a perfect map was a good idea… frankly a truly sapient species would have understood that using Bayesian logic, that even if only a tiny handful of other species were dangerous, the risks aren’t worth taking and it would be better to keep one’s head down and NOT announce one’s presence to other sentients in the universe. (This is my favorite solutions to the Fermi Paradox.) But we are too foolish and too disunited to follow such a course."</p></blockquote> <p>A lot of people feel the way you do, Candice. Sometimes, Stephen Hawking expresses similar fears. So does Elon Musk, for example. In any great endeavor into the unknown, there are naysayers. There is the sentiment, "Beware! Here be dragons!"</p> <p>But the alternative goes against everything it means to be human. To remain here, alone, isolated, and "safe." Yes, sometimes curiosity kills the cat, but you cannot stop us from being curious. We want to know, we want to explore, and we want to find out. If that is how we'll meet our demise -- no matter how unlikely that possibility is -- we'll meet it exactly the way we should: by aiming for the best possible options humanity could ever aspire to. To shoot for the planets, the stars, and the Universe beyond.</p> <p>In short, I do not agree with your recommendation.</p> <blockquote><div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/05/1280px-Solar_evolution_English.svg_.png"><img class="size-medium wp-image-34683" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2016/05/1280px-Solar_evolution_English.svg_-600x428.png" alt="" width="600" height="428" /></a> The evolution of some of the Sun’s properties over time. Luminosity is what impacts the temperature here on Earth. Note how slightly the radius changes over the next billion years. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons user RJHall, based on Ribas, Ignasi (2010), “The Sun and stars as the primary energy input in planetary atmospheres”. </div> <p>And finally, from <a href="">Omega Centauri</a> on the possibility of solar eclipses going away entirely: "The sun is also swelling due to evolution. As I understand it at this epoch, the surface temperature stays nearly constant, but the radius must increase to accommodate the increasing luminosity. Both the sun growing fatter, as well as the moon looking smaller push towards annular eclipse. Maybe it will happen faster than your calculation has it (assuming you only used one factor)?"</p></blockquote> <p>The swelling is only a few percent, however. Do keep this in mind; as the Moon spirals outward, the Sun grows, but only by about 1% every 250 million years. I thought this was taken into account in the 600-700 Myr calculation I did, but then Michael Richmond showed me that I was in error. As you can see from his graph, below, that tiny rate-of-growth makes a big difference!</p> <div style="width: 610px;display:block;margin:0 auto;"><a href="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/sunmoon_a_color.png"><img class="size-medium wp-image-36526" src="/files/startswithabang/files/2017/08/sunmoon_a_color-600x420.png" alt="" width="600" height="420" /></a> The angular diameter of the Sun and Moon as seen from Earth, over time, with the top lines representing perigee/perihelion and the bottom representing apogee/aphelion. Image credit: Michael Richmond. </div> <blockquote><p>As <a href="">Michael Richmond</a> noted: "The increase of the Sun’s radius due to solar evolution has a significant effect, too. Using the evolutionary models of from the Dartmouth Stellar Evolution website, one can show that the last total eclipse will occur around 450 million years in the future."</p></blockquote> <p>However, if, as <a href="">Denier</a> says, the Earth-Moon system spirals away from the Sun during the red giant phase, then perhaps billions of years into the future, when the Sun quiets down to a white dwarf, the Moon's shadow will once again fall on the Earth. If it does, it will be approximately the size of the Moon, instead of just tens-to-hundreds of kilometers across, and solar eclipses will be truly spectacular once again on the charred remnant of our world.</p> <p>And on that note, have a great rest-of-your-weekend and enjoy tomorrow's eclipse!</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/startswithabang" lang="" about="/startswithabang" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">esiegel</a></span> <span>Sat, 08/19/2017 - 23:00</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Sun, 20 Aug 2017 03:00:48 +0000 esiegel 37074 at Trump touts racial segregation, antisemitism, lewd behavior, at Boy Scout rally <span>Trump touts racial segregation, antisemitism, lewd behavior, at Boy Scout rally</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>If you give your children over to the Boy Scouts for a day or two, they may do something to them akin to abuse. This happened. </p> <p>The Boy Scouts knew what they were getting into when they invited Donald Trump to speak at their national event. They even posted warnings for the troop leaders and scouts, on <a href="">their blog</a>.</p> <blockquote><p>As a unit leader or staff member, you can help make the president’s visit a success by ensuring that any reactions to the president’s address are, as we state in our Scout Law, friendly, courteous, and kind. This includes understanding that chants of certain phrases heard during the campaign (e.g. “build the wall,” “lock her up”) are considered divisive by many members of our audience, and may cause unnecessary friction between individuals and units. Please help us ensure that all Scouts can enjoy this historical address by making sure that your troop members are respectful not only of the president, but of the wide variety of viewpoints held by Scouts and Scouters in the audience tonight.</p> </blockquote> <p>The speech was a travesty. It was rambling and foggy, the sort of thing that might make one worry about drug abuse or a brain problem. It was insulting to many people. It was inappropriate, including profanity and reference to sexual exploits of famous people (see below). It was dishonest, unfair, un-American, and stupid. </p> <p>Many felt right away that the Boy Scouts should be asked to formally and publicly disavow the speech or make some sort of comment on what happened. For my part, I called the Northern Star Boy Scout office (that’s our regional Boy Scout thing) and complained. My friend Dave wrote this public letter:</p> <blockquote><p>Dear Boy Scouts of America,</p> <p>During the Kennedy administration, I was a cub scout in Vienna, Austria, a city on the front line of the Cold War. Parts of that city, and nearly every other city in Europe, were still in ruins after the war ignited by an out-of-control demagogue placed in power by a minority of the voters. Part of my mother’s family had to flee their homes to America, while others were murdered by agents of that government. </p> <p>That is why I forced myself to watch the current president’s speech to the Boy Scouts Jamboree in its entirety. It was a disgrace. It began with outright lies and accusations. (“The fake press will say there were 200 people here.”) It trashed his opponent, who was favored by more voters, though not by electoral tampering with the majority, and whom many Boy Scout parents must have voted for. It favored one religion over another. It used what at least used to be a swear word. It sowed divisiveness amongst Americans. It urged disrespect against a former President. It denigrated the nation’s government itself. It promoted its political campaign rhetoric and co-opted the audience into shouting its slogan.</p> <p>According to the speaker, he is an honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America. I urge you to rescind that title.</p> <p>I expect that as honorable officials of the Boy Scouts of America, you will issue a statement to all troops identifying the remarks that were inappropriate and did not conform to the Boy Scout regulations about politics.</p> <p>Sincerely,</p> <p>David J. Formanek</p></blockquote> <p>All the media, being fake and all, have gone after Trump (though I’m not sure about FOX news), and generally speaking, the reaction is strong and widespread. Even as this is happening, of course, Trump-trolls are scanning social media for anti-Trump comments, and complaining about how we are taking away Donald’s “free speech.” Which, of course, no one has done. We have the First Amendment right to complain about what the president says, and forces that intend to curtail that right are truly nefarious.</p> <p>(Note: One item on a local FOX news page decries the comparison liberals are making between Hitler, the Hitler Youth, and Trump’s Boy Scout Speech. That comparison certainly has been made by many! I just watched the famous Hitler to the Youth speech (not the Hitler Youth, just German youth). The comparison is apt, but Hitler was a much more focused orator than Trump.)</p> <p>Many parents of scouts, and many former scouts, reacted negatively to Trump’s speech and in many cases to the Scouts’ lack of good decision making and failure to take responsibility for the fiasco they knowingly created. See twitter examples below. The BSA, for its part, has as of this writing said nothing other than that they do these events and invite the presidents, so what?</p> <p>Clearly, the Scouts, as an organization, are clueless, even if many of their members are still prying their jaws off the floor. They should know something about the Constitution by now, and recognize that Donald Trump is the greatest threat to it since Major General Sir George Prevost. After all, the Boy Scouts of America have been in a <a href="">Constitutional fight</a> or two. </p> <blockquote><p>In a five to four decision, the Supreme Court ruled that opposition to homosexuality is part of BSA’s “expressive message” and that allowing homosexuals as adult leaders would interfere with that message.</p> </blockquote> <p>It is inappropriate to subject youth, especially in the context of an organization that desired to have no undesirables near their boys just in case, to the sort of Drek spewed by Donald Trump at this Jamboree. It is Orwellian, at best, to pretend nothing bad happened, that the Boy Scouts of America didn’t do something horribly wrong by inviting the profane and obnoxious pussy-grabber-in-chief to speak to their kids. The Boys Scouts of America have committed the unforgivable sin of pretending that nothing is wrong, that all is normal, of standing by while our Democracy burns, and perhaps, adding fuel to the fire. </p> <p>My son will not be joining the Boy Scouts. What about yours?</p> <h2 id="exampletweetsaboutthetrumpyouthrally">Example Tweets About The Trump Youth Rally</h2> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <p><a href=""></a></p> <h2 id="thewilliamlevittdigression">The William Levitt Digression</h2> <p>I put this as an appendix because to get the full force of it all, you have to read a lot of rambling and offensive text and look stuff up in Wikipedia. </p> <p>I remember growing up in New York State learning that William Levitt was famous for creating white suburbs developing land on Long Island and elsewhere in order to facilitate a white flight from increasingly non-white Manhattan. He may or may not have been involved in the conspiracy to keep public transit busses off Long Island because they were used by black folk to get to places like Coney Island. Anyway, from Wikipiedia:</p> <blockquote><p>Levitt refused to integrate his developments. The Jewish Levitt barred Jews from Strathmore, his first pre-Levittown development on Long Island in New York, and he refused to sell his homes to blacks. His sales contracts also forbade the resale of properties to blacks through restrictive covenants, although in 1957 a white couple resold their house to the first black family to live in a Levitt home. Levitt’s all-white policies also led to civil rights protests in Bowie, Maryland in 1963. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Civil Liberties Union opposed Levitt’s racist policies, and the Federal Housing Administration prepared to refuse mortgages on his next Levittown. Nevertheless, Levitt would not back down and continued planning another whites-only Levittown in Willingboro Township, New Jersey. He fought legal challenges in New Jersey courts until the United States Supreme Court refused to hear his case.</p> </blockquote> <p>Trump, also associated with promoting and renting segregated housing in New YOrk, went on a long tirade about how great Levitt was, and how the Scouts should aspire to be him.,<br /></p> <blockquote><p><br /><br /> … When I was young there was a man named William Levitt. You have some here. You have some in different states. Anybody ever hear of Levittown?</p> <p>And he was a very successful man, became unbelievable – he was a home builder, became an unbelievable success, and got more and more successful. [Note: Levitt was like Trump, went bankrupt and otherwise failed quite often at business.] And he’d build homes, and at night he’d go to these major sites with teams of people, and he’d scour the sites for nails, and sawdust and small pieces of wood, and they cleaned the site, so when the workers came in the next morning, the sites would be spotless and clean, and he did it properly. And he did this for 20 years, and then he was offered a lot of money for his company, and he sold his company, for a tremendous amount of money, at the time especially. This is a long time ago. Sold his company for a tremendous amount of money.</p> <p>And he went out and bought a big yacht, and he had a very interesting life. I won’t go any more than that, because you’re Boy Scouts so I’m not going to tell you what he did.</p> <p>[This may be a reference to Levitt’s divorse, affair with his secretary whom he later married, and his later affair and marriage with a french art dealer, but who knows. Maybe Trump knows more than just that. Anyway, Levitt might have been a fellow pussygrabber.]</p> <p>Should I tell you? Should I tell you?</p> <p>You’re Boy Scouts, but you know life. You know life.</p> <p>So look at you. Who would think this is the Boy Scouts, right? So he had a very, very interesting life, and the company that bought his company was a big conglomerate, and they didn’t know anything about building homes, and they didn’t know anything about picking up the nails and the sawdust and selling it, and the scraps of wood. This was a big conglomerate based in New York City.</p> <p>And after about a 10-year period, there were losing a lot with it. It didn’t mean anything to them. And they couldn’t sell it. So they called William Levitt up, and they said, would you like to buy back your company, and he said, yes, I would. He so badly wanted it. He got bored with this life of yachts, and sailing, and all of the things he did in the south of France and other places. You won’t get bored, right? You know, truthfully, you’re workers. You’ll get bored too, believe me. Of course having a few good years like that isn’t so bad.</p> <p>[None of that is true. Levitt became the titular head of the company after he sold it, and it was even named after him, but he never re-owned it. Not that this matters; Just letting you know the alt-facts are flowing. Most of this story is incorrect, muddled, or made up.]</p> <p>But what happened is he bought back his company, and he bought back a lot of empty land, and he worked hard at getting zoning, and he worked hard on starting to develop, and in the end he failed, and he failed badly, lost all of his money. He went personally bankrupt, and he was now much older. And I saw him at a cocktail party. And it was very sad because the hottest people in New York were at this party. </p> <p>[Reminder: this is a speech to the Boy Scouts of America.]</p> <p>It was the party of Steve Ross – Steve Ross, who was one of the great people. He came up and discovered, really founded Time Warner, and he was a great guy. He had a lot of successful people at the party.</p> <p>And I was doing well, so I got invited to the party. I was very young. And I go in, but I’m in the real estate business, and I see a hundred people, some of whom I recognize, and they’re big in the entertainment business.</p> <p>And I see sitting in the corner was a little old man who was all by himself. Nobody was talking to him. I immediately recognized that that man was the once great William Levitt, of Levittown, and I immediately went over. I wanted to talk to him more than the Hollywood, show business, communications people.</p> <p>So I went over and talked to him, and I said, “Mr. Levitt, I’m Donald Trump.” He said, “I know.” I said, “Mr. Levitt, how are you doing?” He goes, “Not well, not well at all.” And I knew that. But he said, “Not well at all.” And he explained what was happening and how bad it’s been and how hard it’s been. And I said, “What exactly happened? Why did this happen to you? You’re one of the greats ever in our industry. Why did this happen to you?”</p> <p>And he said, “Donald, I lost my momentum. I lost my momentum.” A word you never hear when you’re talking about success when some of these guys that never made 10 cents, they’re on television giving you things about how you’re going to be successful, and the only thing they ever did was a book and a tape. But I tell you – I’ll tell you, it was very sad, and I never forgot that moment.</p> <p>And I thought about it, and it’s exactly true. He lost his momentum, meaning he took this period of time off, long, years, and then when he got back, he didn’t have that same momentum.</p></blockquote> <p>I’m so glad the Boy Scouts got to hear that inane and inaccurate story. </p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/author/gregladen" lang="" about="/author/gregladen" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">gregladen</a></span> <span>Tue, 07/25/2017 - 08:12</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 25 Jul 2017 12:12:10 +0000 gregladen 34460 at An antivaxer starts a petition for a five year moratorium on childhood vaccines. Hilarity ensues. <span>An antivaxer starts a petition for a five year moratorium on childhood vaccines. Hilarity ensues.</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>I've been writing about antivaccine loons for a long time, and during that time I've seen them propose some crazy ideas. The other day, I came across one proposing what might well be the craziest, most irresponsible idea I've ever seen from an antivaccine activist. It comes from our old friend Kent Heckenlively. Heckenlively, as you might recall, started out over at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism but, for whatever reason, left the blog to write somewhere else. Amazingly, that "somewhere else" turned out to be the website of one Patrick "Tim" Bolen, whom I just mentioned yesterday because of his <a href="">hilariously conspiratorial take on Donald Trump's new CDC director</a>. Basically, I can't figure out if Heckenlively left because Age of Autism decided he was becoming too far out there even for AoA or whether he left AoA because he felt it wasn't antivaccine enough. It's hard to tell. Either possibility isn't good. However, either possibility is not inconsistent with his fantasies of being <a href="">Aragorn leading the armies of Gondor and Rohan</a> in a last stand against Sauron's forces at the Black Gate of Mordor and his even darker fantasies of seeing "justice" done to all the scientists and doctors who support vaccines.</p> <!--more--><p> This time around, over on BolenReport, I learned of his latest proposal, that of a <a href="" rel="nofollow">Five Year Moratorium on Childhood Vaccines</a>. He's even <a href="">started a petition</a>, something I wasn't sure still existed since Donald Trump became President. And, yes, Heckenlively means moratorium. He introduces his petition on BolenReport with the sort of <a href="" rel="nofollow">apocalyptic, histrionic language</a> we've come to expect from him:</p> <blockquote><p> One in six US children has a learning or behavior problem. One in ten has asthma. One in ten has ADHD. One in thirteen has a food allergy. One in fifty has autism. Thirty five hundred children a year die from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Seven hundred and fifty thousand children suffer from seizures.</p> <p>All of these problems can be traced to the toxic witches’ brew of vaccines, that recent evidence has shown to be contaminated with unsuspected chemical and biological agents. As our understanding of science gets better, we now understand that the vaccine program has been an unrestricted experiment in immuno-therapy on our children and they are suffering the consequences.</p> <p>The authorities in charge of our government and science have done NOTHING to stop this crisis.</p> <p>It is time to DEMAND action.</p> <p>We must IMPOSE AN IMMEDIATE FIVE YEAR BAN ON ALL CHILDHOOD VACCINES AND FIX THE LEGAL AND SCIENTIFIC PROBLEMS WHICH HAVE LED TO THIS DISASTER FOR HUMANITY.</p></blockquote> <p>That's not all. In Heckenlively's world, not only are vaccines a "toxic witches' brew," but they're downright evil:</p> <blockquote><p> This is about the fate of the human race. Every single one of us. If you do not care about the future of humanity, you have lost your soul. Maybe permanently.</p> <p>In another age we would freely speak the name of the force that would allow the destruction of humanity. That name would be evil. It would be Satan. It would be Lucifer.</p> <p>I believe it is high time we abandon the namby-pamby humanism which allows people in positions of authority to avoid responsibility. To allow this harm to children to take place for a single day more is EVIL.</p></blockquote> <p>So let's see. I've seen Heckenlively compare vaccines and autism to Sauron, the near all-powerful dark lord in J.R.R. Tolkien's <em>The Lord of the Rings</em>, fantasizing himself, Walter Mitty-like, to be Aragorn, the heir of Isildur and rightful king of Gondor, the only one who could unite the disparate nations of men to battle the threat of Mordor. We've seen him liken pediatricians, CDC scientists, and the public health establishment that promotes vaccination to Nazi war criminals, with him as the one dispensing "justice" to them for what he views as their "crimes." Now we've seen him characterize vaccines as Lucifer, Satan, evil seeking to destroy humanity. I'm not sure how much more ridiculous or disturbing Heckenlively's rhetoric can get, but I'll give him one thing. At least he's honest about being vaccine. No "I'm not antivaccine, I'm a vaccine safety activist" for our Kent! No, no, no.</p> <p>So what's Kent's great idea? What, exactly does his petition demand? Behold! He's toned down the language, but only somewhat, which should go a long way to convincing whatever poor White House staffer has to deal with his petition that he isn't certifiable. Fortunately, he's only gotten less than 3,000 signatures, and he needs 100,000 to get a response from the White House. Still, let's see what he wants:</p> <blockquote><p> American children are in crisis with an explosion of once-rare neurological problems like autism and seizures.</p> <p>Recent scientific evidence has shown massive contamination of vaccines with unsuspected chemical and biological agents. Other evidence shows dramatic differences in in health outcomes between vaccinated and un-vaccinated children. In order to remedy this we ask the White House to:</p> <p>ONE: Impose a five year moratorium on all childhood vaccines from birth to age eighteen.</p> <p>TWO: Repeal the 1986 National Childhood vaccine injury Act and return vaccines to the traditional civil justice system.</p> <p>THREE: Perform large scale studies of vaccinated and un-vaccinated children.</p> <p>FOUR: Ban direct pharmaceutical advertising to consumers and allow such advertising only to medical professionals</p></blockquote> <p>Proposals two through four are standard antivaccine "demands," particularly the demand for a "vaxed/unvaxed" study that is unnecessary and would <a href="">require far more resources than cranks understand</a> and, depending on how it's designed, <a href="">potentially highly unethical</a>. Proposal four isn't even that bad. (Leave it to someone like Heckenlively to insert one reasonable idea into a list of horrible irresponsible ideas.) However, proposal one is pure insanity. It's so bad that I doubt even most antivaxers would be down with it, because I doubt even they would want to leave every child in the US born during the next five years unvaccinated.</p> <p>The results, of course, would be highly predictable: Outbreaks galore of vaccine-preventable infectious diseases. It would almost certainly start with the measles, one of the most contagious, easily transmissible infectious diseases in existence, and pertussis, also highly contagious. There would be more and bigger outbreaks until measles is once again endemic. Would we reach levels of measles that were routinely observed before the measles vaccine was first licensed in the 1960s? Probably not. After all, there would still be a lot of vaccinated people around from before the "moratorium." However, it would be bad. Real bad. Basically, it would be, for the children affected for five years, getting close to turning back the clock 60 years. Hell, it's possible that even polio would make a comeback if we stopped vaccinating against it for five years. Heckenlively's proposal is so utterly irresponsible and potentially disastrously harmful to children that it's hard to believe that anyone would seriously propose it.</p> <p>But, hey, this is Kent Heckenlively we're talking about. Yesterday, eh even <a href="" rel="nofollow">doubled down on his proposal</a>, while at the same time trying to sell his books:</p> <blockquote><p> Let me be clear. I intend to hurt pharma because they have not acted like responsible human beings. I mean to turn BIG PHARMA into little pharma.</p> <p>And I believe those in pharma are SO STUPID that they are going to help me in this mission.</p> <p>ACTIVATE THE LIST-SERV OF PHARMA MOUTHPIECES! MULTIPLE EDITORIALS USING THE EXACT SAME WORDS MUST APPEAR IN DIFFERENT PUBLICATIONS AROUND THE GLOBE ON THE EXACT SAME DAY TO FIGHT THIS WHITE HOUSE PETITION!</p> <p>Just so there’s no confusion, Kent Heckenlively, co-author of PLAGUE and author of INOCULATED is calling for a FIVE YEAR MORATORIUM ON CHILDHOOD VACCINES. As long as the mainstream media gets that point correct in every article they write about this effort, I promise to fight you with half my brain tied behind my back.</p> <p>If you leave out the fact that I’ve written TWO FABULOUS BOOKS which extensively detail the scientific corruption around these issues, I’ll take you on with the full force of my intellect. And it won’t be pretty.</p></blockquote> <p>No, it won't be pretty, but not for the reason that Heckenlively appears to think. Seriously, if Heckenlively wants to engage in a battle of intellect, all I can do is respond: "Bring it!" On the other hand, I don't like battling unarmed opponents. Yes, I feel conflicted.</p> <p>Heckenlively finishes by "calling out" various figures to respond to his appeal. The list is long and utterly risible. It includes figures as fringe as Mike Adams and a variety of antivaxers many of you have at least heard of before, if not become familiar with. It includes mainstream vaccine scientists. It even includes Paul Offit:</p> <blockquote><p> Head of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and chief public vaccine defender. Did I mention that I worked for Crystal Jiang’s team at Lawrence-Livermore Labs, the group who found your vaccine was contaminated with pig viruses? Yes see, I know science has the tools necessary to uncover the contamination in our vaccines. They just need to find the political will. (Included for the same reason as Lipkin.)</p></blockquote> <p>Of course, for supposedly having worked with her Heckenlively appears not to be able to spell Dr. Jaing's name correctly.</p> <p>Spelling aside, I wonder if Mr. Heckenlively means <a href="">this study</a>? Basically, using next generation sequencing techniques doing what we like to call "deep reads" that detect a lot of minor variants, it purported to have detected in Rotarix porcine circovirus-1 (PCV1), a highly prevalent nonpathogenic pig virus that has has not been shown to be infectious in humans. Of course, what Mr. Heckenlively fails to mention is that after that study was published <a href="">use of the vaccine was suspended by the FDA</a> pending further investigation. After the investigation, the FDA found that the PCV <a href="">posed no threat and that it was safe to use Rotarix</a>. A <a href="">subsequent study</a> found no evidence that PCV was detectible in ileal tissue samples of vaccinated children. Ironically, Laura Hewitson, an investigator who briefly became a hero of the antivaccine movement after she <a href="">published a risibly bad study</a> purporting ot show that the thimerosal preservative in vaccines caused harm to baby macaque monkeys and then did a <a href="">followup study that failed to find anything of the sort</a>. Both studies were unconscionable, unethical wastes of precious primates.</p> <p>The even more hilarious thing is that Rotarix isn't even Dr. Offit's rotavirus vaccine. Rotateq is. Truly the Dunning-Kruger is strong in this one. [Note added from comments: Also, Dr. Offit works at Children's Hospital of <em><strong>Philadelphia</strong></em>, not Pittsburgh. Silly Mr. Heckenlively. Silly me. I should have spotted that flub myself.]</p> <p>That little detour aside, Heckenlively even appeals to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, and <a href="">Rep. Jason Chaffetz</a>. (Apparently he doesn't know that <a href="">Rep. Chaffetz resigned</a> as of June 30.) He even appeals to Milo Yiannopolous. I kid you not! His rationale? This:</p> <blockquote><p> Okay, the gay conservative author of DANGEROUS, one of the best selling books in the country and a GREAT READ, has absolutely NOTHING TO DO WITH VACCINES. But as possibly the only person in the country more viciously attacked than the parents of vaccine-injured children, I thought I’d take a chance and see if I could get a response!</p></blockquote> <p>Of course, there's a reason why Yiannopolous is "attacked." He seeks it out by <a href="">intentionally saying outrageous things</a> that could be considered hate speech. I don't think Yiannopolous would help Heckenlively's cause, but Heckenlively is deluded and starstruck enough to think that it will.</p> <p>Lest you think that there aren't more out there like Heckenlively, just peruse some of the comments after his <a href="" rel="nofollow">first</a> and <a href="" rel="nofollow">second posts</a>. There's ranting against big pharma and its "eugenics" program that includes vaccines. (Vaccines: Worst. Eugenics. Program. Ever.) One commenter even says that vaccines kill more children than the diseases they prevent. (At least she admits that vaccines prevent disease.) One of them even posted a link to a <a href="">federal class action lawsuit and criminal complaint against "mandatory vaccination"</a>. It's <a href="">hilarious reading</a>. Here's a little taste:</p> <blockquote><p> I, being a layman and non-expert in the fields of biology, immunology, immunization, inoculation, vaccination, corporate greed, corruption, abuse of governmental authority or violation of oath of office, cannot produce my own empirical evidence to prove why vaccines can be unsafe and why individuals and parents should have a right, defined in whichever manner, to decide when and if vaccination is a better choice for such individuals or their family members and whether to vaccinate or not. I can only come to my own conclusion using true mental openness to consider all the available and relevant information at my disposal using real, objective, unobstructed, unbiased and non-partisan critical thinking to come to a conclusion as to whether vaccines, in any form, degree or recurrence should be allowed to be injected into me and my family members. And I have concluded that vaccines have an actual risk of injury that is not worth taking, as they can be detrimental to our overall health as described herein.</p></blockquote> <p>Huh? If Ricardo Beas, who made this complaint, is a layman and non-expert, how is it that he has sufficient information to make such sweeping condemnations of vaccines? He trusts the "experts" who are "unbiased":</p> <blockquote><p> Therefore, I defer to the experts in the field of vaccination theory and reality, in particular those without financial or other interests in the promotion of vaccines and mandatory vaccination, to show proof of such dangers of vaccines by citing such sources in the text and footnotes of this complaint as my proof that (a) vaccines are not safe, (b) vaccination should not be mandatory and/or compulsory, and that (c) coordinated and speedy legal action should and must be taken against all involved Criminal Participants. I adopt herein all footnotes, exhibits, noted internet articles and videos by reference and incorporation.</p></blockquote> <p>Not surprisingly, these "unbiased" experts whom Beas cites include Andrew Wakefield, Toni Bark, Nancy Banks, Jay Gordon, Tetyana Obukhanych, Lawrence Palevsky, Russell Blaylock, Leonard Horowitz, Suzanne Humphries, Boyd Haley, Philip Weeks (a naturopath, of course!), Sherri Tenpenny, Theresa Deisher, Lucija Tomljenovic, and other well-known antivaccine crank "scientists" and physicians.</p> <p>So, basically, we have an antivaccine activist demanding a moratorium on vaccines for five years until all his concerns that can never be answered are answered and another antivaccine activist who is making frivolous criminal complaints against Tom Frieden, Julie L. Gerberding, Paul A. Offit , William Thompson, "other CDC employees," Dorit Rubinstein, Merck, and...oh, forget it. What's even more amazing is that they both apparently believe not only that what they are doing is justified but that they will be met with anything other than richly deserved ridicule.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/oracknows" lang="" about="/oracknows" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">oracknows</a></span> <span>Mon, 07/10/2017 - 21:52</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Tue, 11 Jul 2017 01:52:12 +0000 oracknows 22583 at Yawn. Another study tries to convince us that mind-body interventions can "reprogram our DNA." It fails. <span>Yawn. Another study tries to convince us that mind-body interventions can &quot;reprogram our DNA.&quot; It fails.</span> <div class="field field--name-body field--type-text-with-summary field--label-hidden field--item"><p>One of the most persistent narratives latched on to by advocates of "integrative medicine" is that the "mind" can somehow "heal" the body. Sometimes, the claim is that such interventions <a href="">work through "powerful placebo" effects</a>. Sometimes it involves the abuse of emerging science, such overblown claims about what can be accomplished <a href="">through epigenetic</a> <a href="">modifications</a> of DNA and gene expression. While my wife and I were away on vacation last month, there was another example of this claim popping up in the media under headlines like these:</p> <ul><li><a href="">Mindfulness and meditation dampen down inflammation genes</a></li> <li><a href="">Yoga and Meditation Can Change Your Genes, Study Says</a></li> <li><a href="">Meditation and Yoga May Change How Stress Affects Our DNA, Study Finds</a></li> <li><a href="">Mind-body exercises may work at molecular level</a></li> <li><a href="">Mind-Body Practices Downregulate Inflammation-Related Genes</a></li> <li><a href="">How Meditation And Yoga Can Alter The Expression Of Our Genes</a></li> <li><a href="">Meditation and yoga can 'reverse' DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests</a></li> </ul><p><a href="">An example of the reporting</a>:</p> <blockquote><p> Meditation and tai chi don’t just calm the mind – they seem to affect our DNA too. There’s evidence that such “mind-body practices” dampen the activity of genes associated with inflammation – essentially reversing molecular damage caused by stress.</p> <p>Mind-body practices such as mindfulness meditation are widely claimed to protect against stress-related diseases from arthritis to dementia. But although there’s plenty of evidence that they can relieve stress, the scientific case for physical health benefits has not yet been proven.</p> <p>Recent advances mean it’s now easier to study patterns of gene activity inside cells, and there has been growing interest in using this approach to investigate how nurturing inner peace might influence the immune system and disease risk.</p> <p><a href="">Ivana Buric</a>, a psychologist at the Coventry University’s Brain, Belief and Behaviour lab, and her colleagues have now conducted the first systematic review of such studies. The team analysed 18 trials including 846 participants, ranging from a 2005 study of Qigong to a 2014 trial that tested whether tai chi influenced gene activity in people with insomnia. </p></blockquote> <p>You get the idea, and there's more where that came from. (I picked that particular quote because Jo Marchant wrote it, and <a href="">we've met her</a> <a href="">before</a>.) The idea is that "mind-body" practices change our genes. Some reports even went so far as to imply that <a href="">such practices can "reprogram" your DNA</a>. Of course, I always find the category of "mind-body" practices to be problematic because it lumps together practices with actual science demonstrating a plethora of health benefits with other modalities that are probably not. Inevitably, the "body" part of "mind-body" emphasizes "exotic" forms of exercise, like yoga, tai chi, or quigong, over more mundane forms of exercise like running, bicycling, or more gentle forms of exercise like walking. The "mind" forms of "mind-body medicine" also tend to mix potentially science-based with more questionable claims. Of course, the whole name "mind-body" is problematic in itself as well. After all, it rather assumes Cartesian mind-body dualism, when in fact the mind is a product of the activity the body, specifically the brain.</p> <p>Buric is a graduate student in a joint program between Coventry University and Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and the senior author of the paper is Inti Brazil at the Collaborative Antwerp Psychiatric Research Institute in Belgium. The study was published in <em>Frontiers in Immunology</em> and is entitled <a href="">What Is the Molecular Signature of Mind–Body Interventions? A Systematic Review of Gene Expression Changes Induced by Meditation and Related Practices</a>. Let's take a look.</p> <h2>A systematic review of "mind-body" interventions, or: GIGO</h2> <p>I've read many systematic reviews and meta-analyses in my time, and if there's one thing that I've learned it's that they are very, very dependent upon the quality of the input. Computer programmers have a term that is very applicable here: GIGO, which stands for "<a href=",_garbage_out">garbage in, garbage out</a>." It's a term that is applicable to virtually any form of data analysis or synthesis. If the data used to do the analysis is not of high quality (i.e., it is garbage), then the results of analyzing the data will also not be of high quality (i.e., it will be garbage too). When it comes to meta-analyses, what I like to say is that aggregating a bunch of low quality studies will not miraculously result in high quality, highly reliable conclusions. Indeed, if the studies share similar problems, such as bias, aggregating them will can actually amplify those problems. Similarly, systematic reviews, which are different from meta-analyses in that they don't involve trying to aggregate the data from the studies being examined and come to conclusions but rather are what the name implies, systematic reviews of existing evidence, can produce low quality and/or biased results if the input consists of low quality or biased studies. That's why there are all sorts of rules and best practices for meta-analyses, but even those won't save a systematic review or meta-analysis from the GIGO phenomenon. Unfortunately, these days, when it comes to meta-analysis and systematic reviews, GIGO all too often seems to stand for "garbage in, gospel out." We sometimes see this phenomenon in evidence-based medicine (EBM), where meta-analyses and systematic reviews are considered the <a href="">highest forms of evidence on the pyramid</a>.</p> <p>That means we have to dive into the weeds of how this systematic review was carried out:</p> <blockquote><p> We will now review studies on MBIs (mindfulness, yoga, RR, Tai Chi, and Qigong) that include gene expression analysis as an outcome measure, in order to assess the evidence for their effects on gene expression, and what changes in gene expression underpin the psychological benefits of MBIs. Studies were identified by searching PubMed through September 2016 using the following combination of keywords: (meditation OR mindfulness OR relaxation response OR yoga OR tai chi OR Qigong) and (gene expression OR microarray OR transcriptome). A total of 716 articles were returned and their titles and abstracts were screened (see Figure 1). We excluded studies that did not meet the following eligibility criteria:</p> <ol><li>The population studied should only contain adults.</li> <li>Both clinical and non-clinical samples were allowed (for example, students, cancer patients, and caregivers) and studies with all sample sizes were included.</li> <li>Studies with experienced practitioners or non-experienced practitioners were allowed, making both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies eligible.</li> <li>Gene expression changes had to be one of the outcome variables (any number of analyzed genes, cell type and any gene expression technology were eligible).</li> <li>The independent variables had to be any type of MBI.</li> <li>Articles should be written in English.</li> <li>Only research papers were included. Review papers, meta-analyses, commentaries, and conference proceedings were excluded.</li> </ol></blockquote> <p>Most of these are not unreasonable criteria. However, there is one big problem, and that's the variety of interventions that fall under mind-body interventions (MBIs). For instance, on what basis does one group a psychological intervention (e.g., mindfulness or relaxation response) with various exercises (yoga, tai chi, quigong)? This is particularly problematic given the relatively low number of studies. The authors screened 716 articles, but only ended up with 18 encompassing 846 participants. None of the studies were particularly large, and most were not randomized. The average number of participants per group averaged over the studies was 23.6, which is not large. The studies were also of mixed design: cross-sectional (17%), longitudinal (50%), rapid response (11%), and mixed (22%). A <a href="">cross-sectional study</a> is an observational study in which data are collected at a specific point in time and compared between groups. A longitudinal study is also an observational study, except that data are <a href="">collected repeatedly over time from the same subjects</a>, specifically at different time points. Rapid response studies, as the name implies, observe what happens at brief time points after an intervention.</p> <p>There were a lot of differences in experimental methodology as well, for instance, how gene expression changes were measured. Most of the studies (72%) harvested RNA from peripheral blood monocytes (PBMCs) to measure changes in gene expression, while others (17%) used lymphocytes. A variety of techniques for measuring gene expression were used as well, from just using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to examine two to twenty-three genes to using Affymetrix or Illumina cDNA microarrays, to using next generation sequencing methods like RNASeq. Of course, as we've learned from John Ioannidis, <a href=";Expires=1498407869&amp;Signature=cpkfg2LsPTwhmxpkOP918MXNWQI%3D&amp;response-content-disposition=inline%3B%20filename%3DRepeatability_of_published_microarray_ge.pdf">reproducibility is a major problem</a> in whole genome gene expression studies. Also, psychology studies <a href="">suffer greatly from this problem as well</a>, and mindfulness studies are no exception.</p> <p>Of course, the studies one really wants to look at are randomized controlled clinical trials, and less than a third of the studies examined were randomized, specifically these:</p> <ol><li>Creswell JD, Irwin MR, Burklund LJ, Lieberman MD, Arevalo JM, Ma J, et al. Mindfulness-based stress reduction training reduces loneliness and proinflammatory gene expression in older adults: a small randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun (2012) 26(7):1095–101. doi:10.1016/j.bbi.2012.07.006</li> <li>Black DS, Cole SW, Irwin MR, Breen E, Cyr NMS, Nazarian N, et al. Yogic meditation reverses NF-κB and IRF-related transcriptome dynamics in leukocytes of family dementia caregivers in a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology (2013) 38(3):348–55. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2012.06.011</li> <li>Irwin MR, Olmstead R, Breen EC, Witarama T, Carrillo C, Sadeghi N, et al. Tai chi, cellular inflammation, and transcriptome dynamics in breast cancer survivors with insomnia: a randomized controlled trial. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr (2014) 2014(50):295–301. doi:10.1093/jncimonographs/lgu028</li> <li>Bower JE, Greendale G, Crosswell AD, Garet D, Sternlieb B, Ganz PA, et al. Yoga reduces inflammatory signaling in fatigued breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology (2014) 43:20–9. doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.01.019</li> <li>Bower JE, Crosswell AD, Stanton AL, Crespi CM, Winston D, Arevalo J, et al. Mindfulness meditation for younger breast cancer survivors: a randomized controlled trial. Cancer (2014) 121(8):1231–40. doi:10.1002/cncr.29194</li> <li>Epel ES, Puterman E, Lin J, Blackburn EH, Lum PY, Beckmann ND, et al. Meditation and vacation effects have an impact on disease-associated molecular phenotypes. Transl Psychiatry (2016) 6(8):e880. doi:10.1038/tp.2016.164</li> </ol><p>These, and the other studies, had a variety of controls as well, ranging from basically no controls to "active" controls to "passive" controls. Curious what constitutes an "active" control, I examined a couple of the studies above</p> <h2>"Mind-body" interventions: Less there than meets the eye</h2> <p>The first study I looked at was reference #2 (<a href="">Black et al</a>). This was a study of people who were caring for a frail or demented family member, based on the rationale that caregivers tend to have worse mental and physical health than matched controls probably due to stress-induced upregulation of inflammation-related genes and downregulation of innate antiviral genes. The two groups were Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM) or Relaxing Music (RM) listening for 12 minutes daily for 8 weeks, after which subjects had blood drawn for gene expression profiling studies. The authors reported that in the KKM treatment group, 68 genes were found to be differentially expressed (19 up-regulated, 49 down-regulated) compared to the RM control group after adjusting for potentially confounded differences in sex, illness burden, and BMI. Up-regulated genes included immunoglobulin-related transcripts. Down-regulated transcripts included pro-inflammatory cytokines and activation-related immediate-early genes. One thing I noticed right away in this study is that the effect sizes were quite small. The authors set their criteria for a positive result as genes whose transcript levels change by more than 1.2-fold, which is casting a very wide net indeed. None of the genes examined changed by more than 1.65-fold, something that always sends up a red flag to me as far as whether the effect observed is truly biologically relevant. Moreover, one of the sets of genes, the set that responds to Interferon Response Factors (IRF) barely achieved statistical significance (p=0.04, which for a study of this type is pretty lousy). As for NF-κB, having worked with this particular transcription factor in the past rather extensively, I know that it's hyper-responsive to many things; indeed, I used to joke that if I just looked at my cells funny it would activate NF-κB signaling.</p> <p>Another interesting publication was the last one, which describes the result of a collaboration with Deepak Chopra, whose foundation funded the study. The study itself took place at the Chopra Center for Wellbeing at the OMNI La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, CA. It looks very much to be a publication that flowed from a collaboration between Chopra and various academic medical centers who should know better than to delve this deeply into quackademic medicine, but don't. It's a collaboration that <a href="">I wrote about nearly three years ago</a>, and this study appears to be the "fruit" of that collaboration.</p> <p>In the study, healthy women aged 30–60 were recruited to stay at the resort and then randomized to a vacation arm or novice meditator arm, for a total of 94 participants who completed the program. A comparison group of regulator meditators was recruited from women aged 30–60 who had already enrolled in the retreat. According to the supplemental data, the sample included women who were non-meditators and lived in California who were randomized to a “vacation” arm or a meditation arm. They did not pay for their stay at the resort. The comparison group of non-randomized women (the "experienced" meditators) was recruited from the pool of those already registered for the retreat and paid for their own expenses. I'm sure you can see part of the problem right here. First, it's a bit dicey ethically to charge anyone for their stays. Second, the experienced meditators were not randomized, and they could easily have confounding differences that could affect their results. In any event, although it wasn't described in the methods of the paper itself, promotional literature described the retreat goal as "to promote an intensive period of learning and psychological change." The vacation group was hosted at the same resort, but they did not participate in any retreat activities. Subjects reported on well-being immediately after (on day 5), 1 month later, and 10 months later to assess maintenance of benefits.</p> <p>Here's an ad for the study:</p> <p><a href=""><img src="" alt="" width="450" height="272" class="aligncenter size-medium wp-image-9066" /></a></p> <p>It's worth also reposting a link to a promotional video Chopra made for the study:</p> <iframe width="560" height="315" src="" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p> In the video, Chopra states:</p> <blockquote><p> The idea is to prove—scientifically—that your biology is a product of the choices that you make, and these choices are made every day, and that we can actually consciously create the experience of a joyful energetic body, a loving compassionate heart, a restful reflective mind, and lightness of being. </p></blockquote> <p>Very scientific sounding, isn't it? But what does this even mean? How, specifically, do you measure whether or not the participants have consciously created “the experience of a joyful energetic body, a loving compassionate heart, a restful reflective mind, and lightness of being”? Besides, it's trivial to say that our choices affect our biology. Of course they do! If you smoke, you hurt your heart and lungs and vastly increase your risk of heart disease and cancer. If you drink to excess, you vastly increase your risk of liver disease and, to a lesser degree, your risk of variety of cancers. If you’re a sedentary slug who never exercises (as I was and still sometimes am), you vastly increase your risk of developing any number of harmful conditions and diseases, such as hypertension and type II diabetes. These are trivial observations.</p> <p>Of course, confirming such trivial observations, long confirmed by medical science, was not what Chopra was about. Notice his unscientific language. He didn't say “test the hypothesis” or “see if this program results in X and Y.” He didn't know what he’s looking for before the experiment was done. He only knew that it would be good. Basically, there was no hypothesis except that his center's program is good for your health. So he said things like “prove scientifically” that his program does all sorts of wonderful things that aren’t specified in concrete, measurable ways. Instead, he planned to shotgun measure a whole boatload of markers and endpoints, including next generation whole genome sequencing. Here's another problem. Because a “whole program” was tested, it is impossible to tell what's responsible for the changes, as subjects in the vacation group could do whatever they wished. In fairness, "fishing expeditions" like this can be good for generating hypotheses, but the design of this trial makes me doubt the hypotheses generated from the conclusions of the study.</p> <p>In any case, the study noted improvements in psychological well-being in all groups. (Surprise! Surprise!) Investigators also identified gene expression signatures that changed in all three groups consisting of 390 genes. This is code for saying that there wasn't a detectable difference between the groups in changes in this gene signature, which the authors attribute to the "vacation effect." They did, however, find differences in another gene signature whose change differed between the vacation and novice meditator arms versus the regular meditator arm. That's nice, but it doesn't really tell us anything, given that the regular meditators could easily have confounding factors at play based on behaviors and diet different from the vacation and novice meditator groups.</p> <p>I didn't go through each and every study in the systematic review, but I think you get the idea. The studies were generally preliminary and often not of the best quality. The Chopra study didn't even really compare the effects of meditation versus not meditating in a rigorous fashion. That doesn't stop the authors from concluding:</p> <blockquote><p> The results of 18 studies that used gene expression analysis in research on meditation and related MBIs have overall found downregulation of NF-κB-targeted genes, which can be understood as the reversal of the molecular signature of the effects of chronic stress. Even though the study designs, the population, and the types of MBI used in the studies included in this review vary, it indicates that some of the psychological and physical benefits of MBIs are underpinned by biological changes in NF-κB genes. These results need to be replicated in larger samples and with stronger research designs that control for non-specific effects of these practices and for as confounding lifestyle factors, such as sleep, diet, and exercise. </p></blockquote> <p>Ya think? I can't help but note that NF-κB is basically at the heart of inflammation, but it isn't alone. In any case, I also can't help but note that a <a href="">recent review of 20 randomized clinical trials</a> of mindfulness meditation and the immune system was a lot more tentative. Only three of the studies found decreased NF-KB, for instance.</p> <p>None of this means that I don't find it fairly plausible that various exercise regimens could decrease the level of pro-inflammatory gene expression. I even find it plausible that relaxation and meditation might result in similar effects. It is, however a long stretch to claim that such activities "reprogram your DNA" in that changing gene expression doesn't require doing anything to the DNA itself, just changing levels of the proteins that regulate expression of the genes whose levels change. In any case, this is preliminary research massively overhyped, and I didn't even mention until now that it's in a <em>Frontiers</em> journal, and <em>Frontiers</em> journals are known among my colleagues for their poor peer review.</p> <p>But that's not all.</p> <h2>Publication bias a-go-go</h2> <p>Remember how I started out this post with the aphorism "GIGO"? There's plenty of reason to suspect bias in much of the research into "mindfulness" and "mind-body" interventions. Most recently, Tim Caulfield pointed me to an interesting paper:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr" xml:lang="en">Yes, and much bias in the reporting of <a href="">#mindfulness</a> research. See, for example, <a href=""></a></p> <p>— Timothy Caulfield (@CaulfieldTim) <a href="">May 31, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <script async="" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p> The study looked at publication bias in mindfulness research and noted as a rationale for undertaking an investigation:</p> <blockquote><p> MBSR [mindfulness-based stress reduction] and MBCT [mindfulness-based cognitive therapy] have been reported to improve mental health outcomes among patients with psychiatric conditions (e.g., depression [1, 10], anxiety [11, 12], posttraumatic stress disorder [13], eating disorders [14], substance use disorders [15]), and other medical conditions (e.g., diabetes [16], hypertension [17], cancer [18], arthritis [19], obesity [20], heart disease [21], stroke [22]). In the United Kingdom, MBCT has been recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to prevent depression relapse [23].</p> <p>A concern, however, is that the overwhelmingly statistically significant results in favor of MBSR and MBCT interventions that can be seen in the published literature, despite very low power in many studies, may be influenced by reporting biases. Reporting biases are said to occur when statistically significant or “positive” outcomes have been preferentially published compared to non-significant or “negative” outcomes [24–26]. Reporting biases include (1) study publication bias, in which positive studies tend to be published, whereas negative studies are not; (2) selective outcome reporting bias, in which outcomes published are chosen based on statistical significance with non-significant outcomes not published; (3) selective analysis reporting bias, in which data are analyzed with multiple methods but are reported only for those that produce positive results; and (4) other biases, such as relegation of non-significant primary outcomes to secondary status when results are published [24–28]. </p></blockquote> <p>In other words, there are way more positive studies of mindfulness therapies out there than the statistical power of the studies as reported would predict. The authors, Coronado-Montoya et al, from the Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research, Jewish General Hospital, Montréal, Québec and the Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health &amp; Science University, note that previous meta-analyses of the topic have not done an adequate job assessing the literature summarized for bias. They note that the methods generally used are not likely to detect reporting biases when there are fewer than 10-20 included trials and might require large numbers of trials in some circumstances. They also note that such methods "are also not appropriate when most studies have limited sample sizes, or when there is relatively little variance in sample sizes [45, 46], all of which are common in MBT [mindfulness-based therapy] trials" and observe drolly that they have "observed anecdotally that there seem to be few examples of published MBT trials without statistically significant results, even though many existing trials appear to have been conducted with very low statistical power."</p> <p>So Coronado-Montoya et al did their own systematic review and also assessed recent systematic reviews and meta-analyses to determine whether reporting biases were identified. They began by searching the CINAHL, Cochrane CENTRAL, EMBASE, ISI, MEDLINE, PsycInfo, and SCOPUS databases for randomized controlled trials of MBTs. What they did next was simple in concept, but difficult in execution. They counted the number of positive trials and compared that number to the number of positive trials that that might be expected if mindfulness-based therapy were similarly effective compared to individual therapy for depression. They also searched trial registries like for mindfulness-based therapy registrations.</p> <p>Guess what they found:</p> <blockquote><p> 108 (87%) of 124 published trials reported ≥1 positive outcome in the abstract, and 109 (88%) concluded that mindfulness-based therapy was effective, 1.6 times greater than the expected number of positive trials based on effect size d = 0.55 (expected number positive trials = 65.7). Of 21 trial registrations, 13 (62%) remained unpublished 30 months post-trial completion. No trial registrations adequately specified a single primary outcome measure with time of assessment. None of 36 systematic reviews and meta-analyses concluded that effect estimates were overestimated due to reporting biases. </p></blockquote> <p>Only three were presented unequivocally as negative trials "without alternative interpretations or caveats to mitigate the negative results and suggest that the treatment might still be an effective treatment."</p> <p>The authors also point out:</p> <blockquote><p> Our review of trial registration records also suggest the possibility that reporting biases may have been an important factor. Of the 124 RCTs reviewed, only 21 (17%) were registered prior to data collection, even though 80 of the eligible RCTs were published recently (since 2010). When we examined trial registries, we identified 21 registrations of MBT trials listed as completed by 2010 and found that 13 (62%) remained unpublished 30 months after completion; of the published trials, all conveyed a positive conclusion. None of the 21 registrations, however, adequately specified a single primary outcome (or multiple primary outcomes with an appropriate plan for statistical adjustment) and specified the outcome measure, the time of assessment, and the metric (e.g., continuous, dichotomous). When we removed the metric requirement, only 2 (10%) registrations were classified as adequate. We evaluated more than 30 published systematic reviews and meta-analyses of MBTs, and none concluded that reporting biases likely exaggerated estimates of effect (see S6 Appendix). </p></blockquote> <p>The authors concede that they could not definitively determine whether there was significant reporting bias. One reason is that they could not conduct a statistical test to determine if there was excess significance bias and had to choose a reference point of a known effective therapy to compare to the MBT trials. However, from my perspective, something sure does smell bad here, particularly given that almost none of the MBT trial registrations defined outcome variables with sufficient precision to compare to subsequently published trial results, which would reduce the likelihood of selective outcome reporting. The authors themselves suggest that reporting biases are likely to be the "driving force" causing the disconnect between the expected number of positive trials versus the observed number.</p> <p>As Tim Caulfield put it:</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr" xml:lang="en">Not sure emperor totally naked, perhaps a Speedo (mindfulness might be an additional tool for some conditions?). But so much hype!</p> <p>— Timothy Caulfield (@CaulfieldTim) <a href="">June 25, 2017</a></p></blockquote> <script async="" src="//" charset="utf-8"></script><p> Indeed. Perhaps a Speedo on an obese old man.</p> <h2>Mind-body: Fantasy versus reality</h2> <p>Mind-body therapies, such as mindfulness-based therapies, are very attractive because they are low cost, don't involve pharmaceuticals, and, above all, provide a sense of control to the patient. Indeed, as ever more rigorous clinical trials find that most of the "unconventional" therapies (i.e., quackery) that "integrative medicine" integrates with conventional medicine are elaborate placebos, proponents of integrative medicine increasingly fall back to pointing to modalities like yoga, tai chi, and the like and "mindfulness." Unfortunately, they increasingly oversell both. After all, yoga, tai chi, and qigong are basically forms of exercise. Of course it's expected that they would be likely to have health benefits, but so do more conventional aerobic exercise and even <a href="">moderate housework</a>. It's also not implausible that "mindfulness" or other so-called "mind-body" interventions could also have health benefits.</p> <p>However, we have to be very careful here. I once said that <a href="">the "central dogma" of alternative medicine</a> is that wishing makes it so; that is, if you think about or wish for something hard enough, the universe will provide it. That's why placebo effects are so seductive and attractive to integrative medicine proponents; they can be misrepresented as the "<a href="">power of the mind over the body</a>." You can see how mindfulness and other mind-body interactions are just as attractive, because many of them involves actual thinking and meditating. Unfortunately, the science does not (as yet) support many of the overblown claims made for these practices. It's not clear whether it ever will. Certainly it's unlikely that they "reprogram" our DNA.</p> </div> <span><a title="View user profile." href="/oracknows" lang="" about="/oracknows" typeof="schema:Person" property="schema:name" datatype="">oracknows</a></span> <span>Mon, 07/03/2017 - 01:10</span> <div class="field field--name-field-blog-categories field--type-entity-reference field--label-inline"> <div class="field--label">Categories</div> <div class="field--items"> <div class="field--item"><a href="/channel/brain-and-behavior" hreflang="en">Brain and Behavior</a></div> </div> </div> Mon, 03 Jul 2017 05:10:11 +0000 oracknows 22578 at