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by William Wan Last year, the National Institutes of Health announced plans to tighten its rules for all research involving humans — including new requirements for scientists studying human behavior — and touched off a panic. Some of the country’s biggest scientific associations, including the American Psychological Association and Federation of Associations in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, penned impassioned letters over the summer warning that the new policies could slow scientific progress, increase red tape and present obstacles for researchers working in smaller labs with less financial and administrative resources to deal with the added requirements. More than 3,500 scientists signed an open letter to NIH director Francis Collins. The new rules are scheduled to take effect Thursday. They will have a big impact on how research is conducted, especially in fields like psychology and neuroscience. NIH distributes more than $32 billion each year, making it the largest public funder of biomedical and health research in the world, and the rules apply to any NIH-supported work that studies human subjects and is evaluating the effects of interventions on health or behavior. In the biggest change, many studies that investigators previously considered basic research will now be considered clinical trials. That means those studies will be subject to the same stringent rules and reporting requirements demanded of traditional clinical trials, such as those that test the efficacy and dangers of a new drug or medical procedure. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 24604 - Posted: 02.02.2018

By Eli Meixler Friday’s Google Doodle celebrates the birthday of Wilder Penfield, a scientist and physician whose groundbreaking contributions to neuroscience earned him the designation “the greatest living Canadian.” Penfield would have turned 127 today. Later celebrated as a pioneering researcher and a humane clinical practitioner, Penfield pursued medicine at Princeton University, believing it to be “the best way to make the world a better place in which to live.” He was drawn to the field of brain surgery, studying neuropathy as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. In 1928, Penfield was recruited by McGill University in Montreal, where he also practiced at Royal Victoria Hospital as the city’s first neurosurgeon. Penfield founded the Montreal Neurological Institute with support from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1934, the same year he became a Canadian citizen. Penfield pioneered a treatment for epilepsy that allowed patients to remain fully conscious while a surgeon used electric probes to pinpoint areas of the brain responsible for setting off seizures. The experimental method became known as the Montreal Procedure, and was widely adopted. But Wilder Penfield’s research led him to another discovery: that physical areas of the brain were associated with different duties, such as speech or movement, and stimulating them could generate specific reactions — including, famously, conjuring a memory of the smell of burnt toast. Friday’s animated Google Doodle features an illustrated brain and burning toast. © 2017 Time Inc.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Cells and Structure of the Nervous System; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 2: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 24576 - Posted: 01.27.2018

Laurel Hamers The hardy souls who manage to push shorts season into December might feel some kinship with the thirteen-lined ground squirrel. The critter hibernates all winter, but even when awake, it’s less sensitive to cold than its nonhibernating relatives, a new study finds. That cold tolerance is linked to changes in a specific cold-sensing protein in the sensory nerve cells of the ground squirrels and another hibernator, the Syrian hamster, researchers report in the Dec. 19 Cell Reports. The altered protein may be an adaptation that helps the animals drift into hibernation. In experiments, mice, which don’t hibernate, strongly preferred to hang out on a hot plate that was 30° Celsius versus one that was cooler. Syrian hamsters (Mesocricetus auratus) and the ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus), however, didn’t seem to notice the chill until plate temperatures dipped below 10° Celsius, notes study coauthor Elena Gracheva, a neurophysiologist at Yale University. Further work revealed that a cold-sensing protein called TRPM8 wasn’t as easily activated by cold in the squirrels and hamsters as in rats. Found in the sensory nerve cells of vertebrates, TRPM8 typically sends a sensation of cold to the brain when activated by low temperatures. It’s what makes your fingertips feel chilly when you’re holding a glass of ice water. It’s also responsible for the cooling sensation in your mouth after you chew gum made with menthol. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 13: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 9: Homeostasis: Active Regulation of the Internal Environment
Link ID: 24445 - Posted: 12.20.2017

Tania Lombrozo In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce describes the mind as "a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain," engaged in a futile attempt to understand itself "with nothing but itself to know itself with." Questions about the limits of self-understanding have persisted long after Bierce's 1911 publication. One user on Quora asks: "Is the human brain intelligent enough to fully understand itself?" A satirical headline at The Onion reports that psychology has come to a halt as "weary researchers say the mind cannot possibly study itself." Despite such doubts, the science of the mind has made enormous advances over the last century. Yet many questions remain, along with the more foundational worry that motivated Bierce. Are there fundamental limits to what science can explain about the human mind? Can science truly explain consciousness and love, morality and religious belief? And why do topics like these seem especially ineffable — further beyond the scope of scientific explanation than more mundane psychological phenomena, such as forgetting a name or recognizing a face? Psychology PhD student Sara Gottlieb and I decided to find out. In a series of studies forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, we asked hundreds of participants to tell us whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love. © 2017 npr

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 24342 - Posted: 11.21.2017

Jon Hamilton The Society for Neuroscience meeting is taking place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Researchers there are focusing on how to find the biological underpinnings of mental disorders. MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: More than 30,000 brain scientists are in Washington, D.C., this week attending the Society for Neuroscience meeting. One of the hot topics this year is mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia and autism. NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton has just come from the meeting to talk about some of what he's been seeing and hearing. Hi, John. Thanks for coming. JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Hi. MARTIN: So how does this work contribute to understanding mental disorders in people? HAMILTON: Twenty years ago, I'd say it didn't contribute much, but things are really changing. And I was really surprised. I was going through the abstracts to this year's meeting, and there were nearly a thousand papers that mentioned depression. There were 500 that mentioned schizophrenia or autism. And just this morning, there was this study on how - looking at the brain tissue of people with obsessive compulsive disorder and how it's different. So the fields of brain science and mental health are converging. And I think the reason is that brain scientists are finally beginning to figure out how the biology works, the biology that underlies mental health problems. So I was talking to a scientist at the meeting. His name is Robbie Greene. He's a psychiatrist, but he's also a lab scientist at UT Southwestern in Dallas. And he was telling me that neuroscience is now at a point where it can help psychiatrists and psychologists understand all of those things that are happening in the brain that we're not conscious of. Here's what he told me. © 2017 npr

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 24324 - Posted: 11.13.2017

By Lena H. Sun Experts who work on the mosquito-borne West Nile virus have long known that it can cause serious neurological symptoms, such as memory problems and tremors, when it invades the brain and spinal cord. Now researchers have found physical evidence of brain damage in patients years after their original infection, the first such documentation using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Brain scans revealed damage or shrinkage in different parts of the cerebral cortex, the outer part of the brain that handles higher-level abilities such as memory, attention and language. “Those areas correlated exactly with what we were seeing on the neurological exams,” said Kristy Murray, an associate professor of pediatric tropical medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine and lead author of the study. “The thought is that the virus enters the brain and certain parts are more susceptible, and where those susceptibilities are is where we see the shrinkage occurring.” Results of the study, which has not yet been published, were presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The 10-year study of 262 West Nile patients is one of the largest assessments studying the long-term health problems associated with West Nile infections. Most people who are infected do not develop symptoms. About 20 percent will develop fever, and less than 1 percent have the most severe type of infection that causes inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 24309 - Posted: 11.09.2017

By Marlene Cimons In 2007, a few days after participating in a two-day sailing race, Cathy Helowicz began feeling dizzy. It was as if the floor and walls were moving. A decade later, “it’s never gone away,” she says. “Sometimes I wake up at 4 a.m. and feel like I’m in a washing machine.” Helowicz, 57, a former government computer scientist who lives in Jupiter, Fla., suffers from mal de débarquement syndrome (MdDS), a puzzling neurological disorder that leaves patients feeling as if they are rocking, swaying or bobbing when they are actually still. “I was very fortunate I didn’t have to go to a job, since you really cannot work with this,” she says of the little-understood disorder. (She left the government when she was 34 — before developing MdDS — and now writes children’s books and spy novels.) “I went through 11 doctors, 13 medications and seven months before I found a doctor who said I had classic MdDS symptoms.” Onset typically follows motion exposure — after a cruise, for example, or after flying, riding a train, even a lengthy car ride. MdDS can last for months, even years. It also can occur spontaneously, without motion exposure, although that is less common. “It’s an oscillating feeling like walking on a suspension bridge or a trampoline,” says Yoon-Hee Cha, an assistant professor at the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, who has been studying MdDS. “It can be an absolutely devastating disorder. What is difficult for people to understand is that patients can look normal but feel awful.” © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 9: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24134 - Posted: 10.02.2017

By Neuroskeptic A new paper asks why neuroscience hasn’t had more “impact on our daily lives.” The article, Neuroscience and everyday life: facing the translation problem, comes from Dutch researchers Jolien C. Francken and Marc Slors. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but it left me feeling that the authors are expecting too much from neuroscience. I don’t think insights from neuroscience are likely to change our lives any time soon. Francken and Slors describe a disconnect between neuroscience research and everyday life, which they dub the ‘translation problem’. The root of the problem, they say, is that while neuroscience uses words drawn from everyday experience – ‘lying’, ‘love’, ‘memory’, and so on – neuroscientists rarely use these terms in the usual sense. Instead, neuroscientists will study particular aspects of the phenomena in question, using particular (often highly artificial) experimental tasks. As a result, say Francken and Slors, the neuroscience of (say) ‘love’ does not directly relate to ‘love’ as the average person would use the word: We should be cautious in interpreting the outcomes of neuroscience experiments simply as, say, results about ‘lying ’, ‘free will ’, ‘love’, or any other folk-psychological category. How then can neuroscientific findings be translated in terms that speak to our practical concerns in a nonmisleading, non-naive way? They go on to discuss the nature of the translation problem in much more detail, as well as potential solutions.

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 24099 - Posted: 09.23.2017

Sara Reardon Scientists studying human behaviour and cognitive brain function are up in arms over a plan by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to classify most studies involving human participants as clinical trials. An open letter sent on 31 August to NIH director Francis Collins says that the policy could “unnecessarily increase the administrative burden on investigators,” slowing the pace of discovery in basic research. It asked the NIH to delay implementation of the policy until it consulted with the behavioural science community. As this article went to press, the letter had garnered 2,070 signatures. “Every scientist I have talked to who is doing basic research on the human mind and brain has been shocked by this policy, which makes no sense,” says Nancy Kanwisher, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who co-wrote the letter with four other researchers. The policy is part of an NIH clinical trial reform effort started in 2014 to ensure that all clinical results were publicly reported. The policy is scheduled to go into effect in January 2018. Its definition of a clinical trial included anything involving behavioural ‘interventions’, such as having participants perform a memory task or monitor their food intake. Such studies would need special evaluation by NIH review committees and institutional ethics review boards; and the experiments would need to be registered online in the clinicaltrials.gov database. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 24029 - Posted: 09.02.2017

By Kerry Grens The popular chemogenetic technique for controlling cells does not operate in vivo in the way scientists had assumed. Reporting in Science yesterday (August 3), researchers show that CNO, a drug used in the DREADDs method (designer receptors exclusively activated by designer drugs), is not actually responsible for the effects scientists observe. Rather, it’s clozapine, a metabolite of CNO with numerous cellular targets, that binds the receptors. These results make it imperative for researchers to do proper controls with clozapine, and indicate that they should change their protocols altogether. “I’m glad I don’t own stock in CNO,” says Scott Sternson, a neuroscientist at the Janelia Research Campus. “There’s no reason to use CNO anymore.” Although it may be the end of CNO in these studies, coauthor Mike Michaelides of the National Institute on Drug Abuse tells The Scientist the results don’t necessarily mean the end of DREADDs. In fact, his findings might simplify things. Rather than using CNO, researchers can just administer clozapine instead because it’s the real actuator of the technique. “If they use proper controls, then hopefully it should be fine,” he says. The idea behind DREADDs is that a receptor is introduced into cells that will only respond to a particular drug, in this case CNO. Likewise, the drug will only target that receptor. The technique allows researchers to control neural activity. Michaelides says that although it’s a commonly used method, no one had done the critical experiments to observe CNO interacting directly with DREADDs in vivo. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 23931 - Posted: 08.08.2017

Michael Viney I first saw them by night, or rather by flashlight aimed beside the dinghy as we fished a mile beyond Brighton’s pier. A whole shoal of them appeared beneath the boat, waving their arms, their button eyes glistening. We were not fishing for squid – too foreign a taste for England in those days. But this early glimpse left me fascinated with their kind, not least their giant, still greatly mysterious relative with eyes the size of hubcaps. The Brighton squids were the regular, long-fin Doryteuthis of inshore waters, not the huge, deep-water Architeuthis dux, snared this summer as trawler by-catch on the Porcupine Bank. The Cú na Mara (a nice echo) landed two separate specimens at Dingle a few weeks apart. Expiring on they way up, each was around 6m long, counting in the tentacles. They brought to seven the number landed in 350 years, including a remarkable three in 1995 alone. Two of those were trawled from the Porcupine Bank by a Marine Institute survey vessel. Dr Kevin Flannery, the Dingle marine biologist, would now like the institute to send its remote cameras for a proper look around. Meanwhile, the second squid, as dead as the first but in better shape, will soon be on display in the Dingle Oceanworld aquarium. What could seem strangest is that giant squid are soft-bodied molluscs, like limpets or winkles. Abandoning external shells to work on jet propulsion, they have developed genes and nerves of special interest to science. © 2017 THE IRISH TIMES

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 23923 - Posted: 08.07.2017

by Tom Siegfried Scientists pour a lot of brainpower into understanding how their experimental equipment works. You don’t want to be fooled into thinking you’ve made a great discovery because of some quirk in the apparatus you didn’t know about. Just the other day, a new paper published online suggested that the instruments used to detect gravitational waves exhibited such a quirk, tricking scientists into claiming the detection of waves that maybe weren’t really there. It appears that gravity wave fans can relax, though. A response to the challenge pretty much establishes that the new criticism doesn’t undermine the wave discoveries. Of course, you never know — supposedly well-established results sometimes do fade away. Often that’s because scientists have neglected to understand the most important part of the entire experimental apparatus — their own brains. It’s the brain, after all, that devises experiments and interprets their results. How the brain perceives, how it makes decisions and judgments, and how those judgments can go awry are at least as important to science as knowing the intricacies of nonbiotic experimental machinery. And as any brain scientist will tell you, there’s still a long way to go before understanding the brain will get crossed off science’s to-do list. But there has been progress. A recent special issue of the journal Neuron offers a convenient set of “perspective” papers exploring the current state of understanding of the brain’s inner workings. Those papers show that a lot is known. But at the same time they emphasize that there’s a lot we don’t know. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23878 - Posted: 07.26.2017

By Neuroskeptic A number of so-called scientific journals have accepted a Star Wars-themed spoof paper. The manuscript is an absurd mess of factual errors, plagiarism and movie quotes. I know because I wrote it. Inspired by previous publishing “stings”, I wanted to test whether ‘predatory‘ journals would publish an obviously absurd paper. So I created a spoof manuscript about “midi-chlorians” – the fictional entities which live inside cells and give Jedi their powers in Star Wars. I filled it with other references to the galaxy far, far away, and submitted it to nine journals under the names of Dr Lucas McGeorge and Dr Annette Kin. Four journals fell for the sting. The American Journal of Medical and Biological Research (SciEP) accepted the paper, but asked for a $360 fee, which I didn’t pay. Amazingly, three other journals not only accepted but actually published the spoof. Here’s the paper from the International Journal of Molecular Biology: Open Access (MedCrave), Austin Journal of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (Austin) and American Research Journal of Biosciences (ARJ) I hadn’t expected this, as all those journals charge publication fees, but I never paid them a penny. So what did they publish? A travesty, which they should have rejected within about 5 minutes – or 2 minutes if the reviewer was familiar with Star Wars. Some highlights: “Beyond supplying cellular energy, midichloria perform functions such as Force sensitivity…”

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23869 - Posted: 07.25.2017

By LISA SANDERS, M.D. The 35-year-old man lay on the bed with his eyes closed, motionless except for the regular jerking of his abdomen and chest — what is known medically as a singultus (from the Latin for ‘‘sob’’) but popularly and onomatopoeically as a hiccup. The man was exhausted. He couldn’t eat, could barely drink and hadn’t slept much since the hiccups began, nearly three weeks earlier. Unending Contractions At first it was just annoying — these spasms that interrupted his life every 10 to 12 seconds. Friends and family suggested remedies, and he tried them all: holding his breath, drinking cold water, drinking hot water, drinking out of the wrong side of the glass, drinking water while holding his nose. Sometimes they even worked for a while. He would find himself waiting for the next jerk, and when it didn’t come, he’d get this tiny sense of triumph that the ridiculous ordeal was over. But after 15 minutes, maybe 30, they would suddenly return: hiccup, hiccup, hiccup. His neck, stomach and chest muscles ached from the constant regular contractions. On this evening, the man had one of the all too rare breaks from the spasms and fell asleep. When his wife heard the regular sound start up again, she came into their bedroom to check on him. He looked awful — thin, tired and uncomfortable. And suddenly she was scared. They needed to go to the hospital, she told him. He was too weak, he told her, ‘‘and so very tired.’’ He would go, but first he’d rest. They had been to the emergency room several times already. During their first visit — nearly two weeks earlier — the doctors at the local hospital in their Queens neighborhood gave him a medication, chlorpromazine, an antipsychotic that has been shown to stop hiccups, though it’s not clear why. It was like a miracle; the rhythmic spasms stopped. But a few hours later, when the drug wore off, the hiccups returned. The couple went back a few days later because he started throwing up while hiccupping. Those doctors offered an acid reducer for his stomach and more chlorpromazine. They encouraged the man to have patience. Sometimes these things can last, they said. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23853 - Posted: 07.20.2017

Frances Perraudin A 90-tonne machine that will allow cancer patients to receive state-of-the-art high-energy proton beam therapy on the NHS for the first time is to be installed at a hospital in Manchester. The cyclotron delivers a special type of radiotherapy currently only available overseas. The NHS has been paying for patients to travel abroad for the treatment since 2008. A 90-metre (300ft) crane will be used to lower the machine into position at the Christie hospital on Thursday. It will sit in a bunker reinforced with 270 timber, steel and concrete posts. Proton beam therapy targets certain cancers very precisely, increasing success rates and reducing side-effects. It causes less damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumour and is particularly appropriate for certain cancers in children, who are more at risk of lasting damage because their organs are still growing. The treatment came to national attention in 2014 when a police search was mounted after the parents of five-year-old Ashya King took him out of hospital against doctors’ wishes and travelled to the continent. The couple hoped to secure proton beam therapy to treat their son’s brain tumour, but doctors argued that the treatment would not increase the boy’s chances of recovery. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23777 - Posted: 06.27.2017

By Kat McGowan Doctors at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital could not figure out what was wrong with the 29-year-old man sitting before them. An otherwise healthy construction worker from Nicaragua, the patient was suffering from a splitting headache, double vision and ringing in his ears. Part of his face was also numb. The cause could have been anything—from an infection to a stroke, a tumor or some kind of autoimmune disease. The Emergency Department (ED) staff took a magnetic resonance imaging scan of the man’s brain, performed a spinal tap and completed a series of other tests that did not turn up any obvious reason for the swelling in his brain—a condition that is formally known as encephalitis. Most likely, it was some kind of infection. But what kind? Nineteen standard tests are available to help clinicians try to pin down the source of encephalitis, but they test for the presence of only the most common infections; more than 60 percent of cases go unsolved each year. Physicians looked in the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid (which surrounds the brain and protects it) for evidence of Lyme disease, syphilis and valley fever, among other things. Nothing matched. So the S.F. General ED staff settled on the most likely culprit as a diagnosis: a form of tuberculosis (TB) that causes brain inflammation but cannot always be detected with typical tests. Doctors gave the man a prescription for some steroids to reduce the swelling plus some anti-TB drugs and sent him home. © 2017 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23767 - Posted: 06.23.2017

By Partha Mitra Intricate, symmetric patterns, in tiles and stucco, cover the walls and ceilings of Alhambra, the “red fort,” the dreamlike castle of the medieval Moorish kings of Andalusia. Seemingly endless in variety, the two dimensionally periodic patterns are nevertheless governed by the mathematical principles of group theory and can be classified into a finite number of types: precisely seventeen, as shown by Russian crystallographer Evgraf Federov. The artists of medieval Andalusia are unlikely to have been aware of the mathematics of space groups, and Federov was unaware of the art of Alhambra. The two worlds met in the 1943 PhD thesis of Swiss astronomer Edith Alice Muller, who counted eleven of the seventeen planar groups in the adornments of the palace (more have been counted since). All seventeen space groups can also be found in the periodic patterns of Japanese wallpaper. Without conscious intent or explicit knowledge, the creations of artists across cultures at different times nevertheless had to conform to the constraints of periodicity in two dimensional Euclidean space, and were thus subject to mathematically precise theory. Does the same apply to the “endless forms most beautiful,” created by the biological evolutionary process? Are there theoretical principles, ideally ones which may be formulated in mathematical terms, underlying the bewildering complexity of biological phenomema? Without the guidance of such principles, we are only generating ever larger digital butterfly collections with ever better tools. In a recent article, Krakauer and colleagues argue that by marginalizing ethology, the study of adaptive behaviors of animals in their natural settings, modern neuroscience has lost a key theoretical framework. The conceptual framework of ethology contains in it the seeds of a future mathematical theory that might unify neurobiological complexity as Fedorov’s theory of wallpaper groups unified the patterns of the Alhambra. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23482 - Posted: 04.12.2017

By Erik Vance The world’s smallest arachnid, the Samoan moss spider, is at a third of a millimeter nearly invisible to the human eye. The largest spider in the world is the goliath birdeater tarantula, which weighs 5 ounces and is about the size of a dinner plate. For reference, that is about the same difference in scale between that same tarantula and a bottlenose dolphin. And yet the bigger spider does not act in more complex ways than its tiny counterpart. “Insects and spiders and the like—in terms of absolute size—have among the tiniest brains we’ve come across,” says William Wcislo, a scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City. “But their behavior, as far as we can see, is as sophisticated as things that have relatively large brains. So then there’s the question: How do they do that?” No one would argue that a tarantula is as smart as a dolphin or having a really big brain is not an excellent way to perform complicated tasks. But a growing number of scientists are asking the question: Is it the only way? Do you need a big brain to hunt elusive prey, design complicated structures or produce complex social dynamics? For generations scientists have wondered how intelligent creatures developed large brains to perform complicated tasks. But Wcislo is part of a small community of scientists less interested in how brains have grown than how they have shrunk and yet shockingly still perform tasks as well or better than similar species that are much larger in size. In other words, it’s what scientists call brain miniaturization, not unlike the scaling down in size of the transistors in a computer chip. This research, in fact, may hold clues to innovative design strategies that engineers might incorporate in future generations of computers. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 23418 - Posted: 03.29.2017

Sara Reardon, Jeff Tollefson, Alexandra Witze & Erin Ross Funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather satellites, which track hurricanes, would be maintained under the Trump plan. When it comes to science, there are few winners in US President Donald Trump’s first budget proposal. The plan, released on 16 March, calls for double-digit cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). It also lays the foundation for a broad shift in the United States’ research priorities, including a retreat from environmental and climate programmes. Rumours of the White House proposal have swirled for weeks, alarming many researchers who depend on government funding — and science advocates who worry that the Trump administration’s stance will jeopardize US leadership in fields ranging from climate science to cancer biology. It is not clear, however, how much of the plan will survive negotiations in Congress over the coming months. What could Trump’s budget for science mean for you? “Cutting [research and development] funding from our budget is the same as cutting the engines off an airplane that’s too heavy for take-off,” says Jason Rao, director of international affairs at the American Society for Microbiology in Washington DC. The greatest threats to the United States, he says, are those presented by infectious diseases, climate change and energy production — none of which can be addressed effectively without scientific research. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23376 - Posted: 03.20.2017

There has been much gnashing of teeth in the science-journalism community this week, with the release of an infographic that claims to rate the best and worst sites for scientific news. According to the American Council on Science and Health, which helped to prepare the ranking, the field is in a shoddy state. “If journalism as a whole is bad (and it is),” says the council, “science journalism is even worse. Not only is it susceptible to the same sorts of biases that afflict regular journalism, but it is uniquely vulnerable to outrageous sensationalism”. News aggregator RealClearScience, which also worked on the analysis, goes further: “Much of science reporting is a morass of ideologically driven junk science, hyped research, or thick, technical jargon that almost no one can understand”. How — without bias or outrageous sensationalism, of course — do they judge the newspapers and magazines that emerge from this sludge? Simple: they rank each by how evidence-based and compelling they subjectively judge its content to be. Modesty (almost) prevents us from naming the publication graded highest on both (okay, it’s Nature), but some names are lower than they would like. Big hitters including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Guardian score relatively poorly. It’s a curious exercise, and one that fails to satisfy on any level. It is, of course, flattering to be judged as producing compelling content. But one audience’s compelling is another’s snoozefest, so it seems strikingly unfair to directly compare publications that serve readers with such different interests as, say, The Economist and Chemistry World. It is equally unfair to damn all who work on a publication because of some stories that do not meet the grade. (This is especially pertinent now that online offerings spread the brand and the content so much thinner.) © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Related chapters from BN: Chapter 1: Introduction: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 20:
Link ID: 23334 - Posted: 03.09.2017