Brain and Behavior

He's ba-ack. Remember J. B. Handley? He and his wife were the founders of the antivaccine crank group Generation Rescue (GR) back in the day. When I first started blogging, GR was new and shiny, with JB and his wife showing up all over the media blaming autism on mercury. In fact, I think it's worth reminding my readers, for the benefit of newbies (and in this case, newbies could be anyone who hasn't been reading at least five years) just what GR used to say about autism: Generation Rescue believes that childhood neurological disorders such as autism, Asperger’s, ADHD/ADD, speech delay,…
Michael Egnor, neurosurgeon, has made a bizarre post in which he reveals that he knows nothing about how the brains he cuts up work. Egnor claims that it is impossible for the brain to store memories. Yes, he knows that neural damage can cause loss of memory, that certain delicate areas of the brain, if harmed, can destroy the ability to make new memories, and he waves those awkward facts away to announce that there is simply no way memory or information of any kind can be stored in a meat-organ like a brain. He doesn't say where memories are kept, then, nor does he account for any of the…
Why, oh why, do EP's defenders rely on throwing up armies of straw men to slaughter? It's silly. Here's how he starts: There are some science-friendly folk (including atheists) who simply dismiss the entire field of evolutionary psychology in humans, saying that its theoretical foundations are weak or nonexistent. I’ve always replied that that claim is bunk, for its “theoretical foundations” are simply the claim that our brains and behaviors, like our bodies, show features reflecting evolution in our ancestors. Have you ever seen a critic of evolutionary psychology deny that we evolved, or…
Of course they do. To the extent that genes make you anything in particular, though the role of genetics in human behavior is pretty limited. You've probably heard about the newly reported research in which a genetic link was found to homosexuality in a study of gay brothers. Kelly Servick has a good writeup on it here. The study looked at 409 pairs of gay brothers, and found a region on the X chromosome that was similar across the sample. This sort of shotgun approach, comparing a trait (in this case, gayness) with a bunch of DNA (I oversimplify) is very likely to get results that look real…
Get rid of your addictions while you sleep? Weizmann Institute researcher Dr. Anat Arzi is not promising this yet, but she and Prof. Noam Sobel have shown that changing bad habits through sleep conditioning could someday be possible. After just one session in the Neurobiology Department’s sleep lab, volunteers reported smoking on average 30% fewer cigarettes over the course of a week. Volunteers given the same conditioning while awake did not reduce their nicotine consumption. Arzi and Sobel had first demonstrated true sleep learning in 2012. This is the same conditioning that Pavlov…
A City of Death and Misery Everything I’m about to tell you in this story is true.1 You might not want to read this story while you are alone or while sitting in the dark.2 Kimberley South Africa is said to be the most haunted city in the world, and it certainly is a city with a remarkable and dark history. The culture of Kimberley is constructed from the usual colonial framework on which are draped the tragic lives of representatives from almost every native culture from thousands of kilometers around, as well as the seemingly ubiquitous Europeans with their greed, their unexamined privilege…
The antivaccine movement and conspiracy theories go together like beer and Buffalo wings, except that neither are as good as, yes, beer and Buffalo wings. Maybe it’s more like manure and compost. In any case, the antivaccine movement is rife with conspiracy theories. I’ve heard and written about more than I can remember right now, and I’m under no illusion that I’ve heard anywhere near all of them. Indeed, it seems that every month I see a new one. There is, however, a granddaddy of conspiracy theories among antivaccinationists, or, as I like to call it, the central conspiracy theory of…
Things got a bit hectic the other day; so if this seems familiar, forgive me. On the other hand, I do believe that this material is probably more suited to this blog rather than other blogs, given the history here and how long I've been covering the quackery spawned by Andrew Wakefield, arguably the most famous antivaccine guru in the world. This time around, I'm talking about a report published over the weekend by Brian Deer. Deer, as you might recall, remains the one journalist who was able to crack the facade of seeming scientific legitimacy built up by antivaccine guru Andrew Wakefield…
The Ig Nobel prizes were awarded last week and as usual they are hilarious. And this time around a Canadian was included! Yay Canada! What are the Ig Nobel prizes? For the uninitiated they are a mock set of awards given out at a lavish ceremony at Harvard every year for interesting and bizarre real research and other actual "accomplishments." But with a humourous twist, of course. Here's what they have to say: The Ig Nobel Prizes honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then makes them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative — and spur people…
I heard yesterday that my friend and former advisor Irven DeVore died. He was important, amazing, charming, difficult, harsh, brilliant, fun, annoying. My relationship to him as an advisee and a friend was complex, important to me for many years, and formative. For those who don't know he was instrumental in developing several subfields of anthropology, including behavioral biology, primate behavioral studies, hunter-gatherer research, and even ethnoarchaeology. He was a cultural anthropologist who realized during his first field season that a) he was not cut out to be a cultural…
This post, although it is about an interview with a CDC scientist named William W. Thompson that resulted from the whole “CDC whistleblower” manufactroversy that’s been flogged relentlessly for the last two weeks, since antivaccine “heros” Andrew Wakefield and Brian Hooker released a despicable race-bating video flogging Hooker’s utterly incompetent reanalysis of a ten year old study that had failed to find an association between autism diagnosis and age of first vaccination, is about a more general issue as well, an issue that can apply to discussions of just about any trumped up risk,…
Ophelia has summarized a series of science questions Richard Dawkins asked on Twitter. Hey, I thought, I have answers to lots of these -- he probably does, too -- so I thought I'd address one of them. Maybe I can take a stab at some of the others another time. I like this one, anyway: Why do cells have the complete genome instead of just the part that’s needed for their function? Liver cells have muscle-making genes etc. My short answer: because excising bits of the genome has a high cost and little benefit, and because essentially all of the key exaptations for multicellularity evolved in…
Not infrequently, I’m asked why it is that I do what I do. Why do I spend so many hours of my free time, both here and at my not-so-super-secret other blog (NSSSOB), to write my detailed analyses of various forms of quackery, analyses of scientific studies, and expressions of my dismay at the infiltration of pseudoscience into medicine, particularly medical academia in a phenomenon I like to call “quackademic medicine”? One reason, of course, is because I passionately believe in what I am doing. Another reason is that I want information countering various forms of dubious medicine to be out…
Leave it to my good buddy Mark Crislip over at the Society for Science-Based Medicine to have my back when I don't have a lot of time for a detailed post. (Basically, I was being a good university and cancer center citizen last night, going out to dinner with a visiting professor, and I ended up staying out later than I thought. Fortunately, it was a bunch of people that I liked, and it was a very nice restaurant, which made being good enjoyable, particularly when we got to talk a lot of science.) He pointed me to an absolutely horrible study. The modality is perhaps not quite as bad as…
There is an old theory in psychology that characterizes humans as a bowl of Jell-O (Jelly for some of you). Life pokes at the Jell-O, the Jell-O jiggles. Eventually the jiggles begin to change the Jell-O, so certain kinds of pokes result in certain kinds of responses. The Jell-O gurgles, babbles, notices things, learns, develops, and eventually becomes self aware. That is a great oversimplification of a theory that was, in turn, a great oversimplification of human development, yet it does seem to apply in many ways to human behavior. When it comes to climate change, people seem more…
Ever since I first became aware of the antivaccine movement more than ten years ago, I’ve had little choice but to periodically pay attention to one of the godfathers of the antivaccine movement, Andrew Wakefield. Wakefield is the quack whose dubious case series that The Lancet foolishly published in 1998 launched a million antivaccine quacks. Ever since his disgrace, in which he was stripped of his U.K. medical license (or, as the lovely British phrasing goes, he was “struck off”), then later was pushed out by the board of directors at Thoughtful House and had his Lancet paper retracted…
A recent article published in the American Journal of Physiology reviewed how the brain regulates feeding behaviors. Humans are not the only species to eat food in spurts we like to call meals. Research suggests that this behavior may actually aid survival as it reduces exposure time to the environment and makes responding to fluctuations in the availability of food a bit easier to deal with. Dr. Marise Parent and colleagues at Georgia State University wanted to find out how your body determines when to initiate eating as well as how long the interval between meals should be. Factors that…
Childhood lead poisoning is one of those health risks that everyone has likely heard about, but many probably think it’s a problem of the past. However, a recent study reminds us that in just one state — Michigan — the effects of childhood lead poisoning cost about $330 million every year. And that’s a conservative estimate. But estimating the cost of childhood lead poisoning wasn’t the only goal of the study, which was released earlier this week. Study author Tracy Swinburn, a research specialist at the University of Michigan Risk Science Center, wanted to know what kind of financial return…
We all know about Mike Adams, notorious quack, conspiracy theorist, quantum dork, and raving nutball around here, right? If nothing else, you must have enjoyed Orac's regular deconstruction of his nonsense. Jon Entine has published a profile of Mike Adams in Forbes magazine that distills all the lunacy down to a relatively concise summary. For instance, it documents his recent public obsessions.Adam’s latest crusade: the world’s governments are covering up the fact that the doomed Malaysian Airlines jetliner was pirated safely to a desert hideaway by Iranian hijackers, and is now being…
Here I am, sitting on the balcony of my hotel room in sunny San Diego, as I get ready to head over to the 2014 meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). The sun is rising over the mountains, and the only sound I hear is that of running water in the swimming pool below (well, that and traffic around the convention center, the odd siren, and the noise of air conditioner fans), and I need to produce something quick for the blog. Realizing that last week, I described myself as having fallen into a "rut," not because I thought my posts were substandard but rather because I…