Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nature gives a nod to the TED talks

This week's Nature suggests that scientists take a lesson from the TED talks (many of which are posted freely on youtube) on how to give engaging talks to a more general audience. The article also gives a nod to developmental and cognitive neuroscientist Rebecca Saxe for her recent engaging presentation. Check it out:

Monday, May 4, 2009

So you want to be famous?

Scientists, increasingly caught up in some high profile publicity, are now suffering from some of the downsides of notoriety. Apparently the identities of some stem cell researchers are being pilfered to generate bogus Facebook profiles. These "friends" send out invites to colleagues, and so the network grows from this single fake seed. Except it doesn't appear to be happening to one person, but to many. See the article here: . Now if we could just get rid of that damn paparazzi at our conferences...

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Scrutiny for Stimulus Package

In case you were wondering why NIH (and the other federal agencies) chose to spend their stimulus package money the way they have, look no further than Congress who is already implementing strict oversight as to how the money has been spent, by whom, and to what extent this "stimulated" the economy.

Has anyone actually seen a dollar of this money yet? It's only April 1!

There are good and bad sides to this. It's good to see increased scrutiny for government debt that is going to keep our grandchildren's grandchildren in hock (to China, I believe). On the other hand, this forces the funding agencies into very restricted avenues for allocating the money (read: keeping the status quo).

Read more on this in today's Nature:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ever wonder how all the sciences fit together?

Did you ever wonder the the relationship between psychology and microbiology? Or ecology and architecture?

Researchers from Los Alamos have constructed a map of the relationships between different domains of science, based on the chain of clicks that people make as they navigate through academic journals. The maps splits science into different disciplines and shows the connections between them.

See the article here:

My favorite is Figure 5, the "Map of science...". That figure puts Psychology and the social sciences pretty square in the middle of things and highly interconnected with most other domains. Does this reflect some bias of the researchers, the accessibility of some disciplines on the web over others, or the actual relationships in how people do research?

I also noticed that "Brain research" is a little tiny cluster down at the bottom, and "Brain studies" is another little cluster far to the left. Hmm... odd. It leaves me wondering a bit how these disciplines were determined.

Still, very interesting.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Inflow of money for biomedical research

The 'stimulus package' has been signed into law, and NIH has decided how to dole out the money. Information can be found here:

In short, those research grants already in line have a much better chance at actually being funded than they would have just a few weeks ago. Existing grants seem to be in even better shape -- they will have the opportunity to be expanded in scope. Both of these mechanisms allow NIH to get the money out fast.

There is also a mechanism being put into place called "Challenge Grants". Currently the main NIH page for info on these grants states "Information Coming Soon" ( I guess we'll have to wait and see what those are about.

From my perspective, this stimulus package bodes very well for investigators already funded or on the verge of being funded. Anyone not already in the mix isn't likely to benefit.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Eight Problems for the Mirror Neuron Theory of Action Understanding in Monkeys and Humans

A critical review of the mirror neuron theory of action understanding is now available in the early access section of the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience website. The basic conclusion is that there is little or no evidence to support the mirror neuron=action understanding hypothesis and instead there is substantial evidence against it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

More $$ for science?

The science community is abuzz with reports on the upcoming "stimulus package" (isn't that a dirty word?) providing a shot in the arm for NIH, NSF and other scientific agencies. Everyone is excited.. except, apparently, Nature. There's an article out this week warning scientists against the dangers of too much money, too soon, and without more to back it up.

Worthy concerns, but is it enough to turn down $10 billion dollars? I don't think so.

See the nay-sayer's article here:

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lip reading involves two cortical mechanisms

It is well known that visual speech (lip reading) affects auditory perception of speech. But how? There seem to be two ideas. One idea, dominant among sensory neuroscientists, is that visual speech accesses auditory speech systems via cross sensory integration. The STS is a favorite location in this respect. The other, dominant among speech scientists, particularly those with a motor theory bent, is that visual speech accesses motor representations of the perceived gestures which then influences perception.

A hot-off-the-press (well actually still in press) paper in Neuroscience Letters by Kai Okada and yours truly proposes that both ideas are correct. Specifically, that there are two routes by which visual speech can influence auditory speech, a "direct" and dominant cross sensory route involving the STS, and an "indirect" and less dominant sensory-motor route involving sensory-motor circuits. The goal of our paper was to outline existing evidence in favor of a two mechanism model, and to test one prediction of the model, namely that perceiving visual speech should activate speech related sensory-motor networks, including our favorite area, Spt.

Short version of our findings: as predicted, viewing speech gestures (baseline = non-speech gestures) activates speech-related sensory-motor areas including Spt as defined by a typical sensory-motor task (listen and reproduce speech). We interpret this as evidence for a sensory-motor route through which visual speech can influence heard speech, possibly via some sort of motor-to-sensory prediction mechanism. Viewing speech also activated a much broader set of regions along the STS, which may reflect the more direct cross sensory route.

Have a look and let me know what you think!

K OKADA, G HICKOK (2009). Two cortical mechanisms support the integration of visual and auditory speech: A hypothesis and preliminary data Neuroscience Letters DOI: 10.1016/j.neulet.2009.01.060

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mirror neurons go mainstream (sort of)

For better or for worse, mirror neurons are getting some (somewhat) mainstream press: