Neuroscience as a new national priority

President Obama: “Now, it’s time to get to work.”

NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/science/obama-to-unveil-initiative-to-map-the-human-brain.html

 

http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/modules/wh_multimedia/EOP_OVP_player.swf

UCSB/KITP Emerging Techniques in Neuroscience videos

Friend of the blog Jacob Robinson (who himself is pioneering impressive new techniques with nanowires for neural recording) writes:

While we’re all distributing scientific resources, I thought I’d point out that the KITP has a wonderful program on Emerging Techniques in Neuroscience, currently underway at UCSB. They have a great lineup of speakers with some overlap with the Allen Institute program. Videos of the talks are being posted online here.

So many good videos from good neuroscientists (including Chuck Stevens, John Hopfield, Clay Reid, Jeff Magee, Guoqiang Bi, and many more)… it’s going to take me a while to get through these. Enjoy!

Open questions in neuroscience

The Allen Brain Institute (or is it in-situte?) has posted a nice series of video lectures from a few weeks ago with well-known scientists (George Church, Steve Smith, Christof Koch, Sydney Brenner, Catherine Dulac and others). The topic was a broad one — “What are the open questions in neuroscience?” — but one that is sure to be of interest to many who are trying to understand what the most important areas in neuroscience to work on (like those of us, for example, currently figuring out a postdoc project!) Click here for the full set of videos on YouTube.

Re-examining neurosexism

My dad brought this interesting book review to my attention: Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain (NYT)

In her book Delusions of Gender (which I have not read though am intrigued to do so), cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine places several modern studies of early differences in brain anatomy/function into a long line of sexist explanations for supposed differences in male and female behaviors.

The basic argument is that there has been no convincing connection made between any measured structural differences (which she argues might not exist) to behavioral differences. Just another case of correlation (maybe) and not causation.

Here’s a description of study that you might already be familiar with and Fine’s take on it:

Dr. Baron-Cohen’s lab conducted research on infants who averaged a day and a half old, before any unconscious parental gender priming. Jennifer Connellan, one of Dr. Baron-Cohen’s graduate students, who conducted the study, showed mobiles and then her own face to the infants. The results showed that among the newborns the boys tended to look longer at mobiles, the girls at faces.

Dr. Fine dismantles the study, citing, among other design flaws, the fact that Ms. Connellan knew the sex of some of the babies. Because it was her face they were looking at and she was holding up the mobile, Dr. Fine says, she may have “inadvertently moved the mobile more when she held it up for boys, or looked more directly, or with wider eyes, for the girls.”

Although I am unsure about the scientific merits, it is refreshing to see a new viewpoint in this debate. It provides some food for thought on this interesting topic:

Summarizing the research, she writes, “Nonexistent sex differences in language lateralization, mediated by nonexistent sex differences in corpus callosum structure, are widely believed to explain nonexistent sex differences in language skills.”

What all this adds up to, she says, is neurosexism. It’s all in the brain.

LabRigger: New blog for neuroscientist-engineers

Today one of our readers brought a new blog to my attention.

LabRigger is a how-to blog with a fresh look (kudos for the design and typography) that already has many interesting and relevant posts up for scientists who like to build. (You know who you are…) Furthermore, it seems especially geared toward neuroscientists and physiology folks. I’ve already added this one to my browser’s bookmarks.

Here are some of my favorites from quickly perusing the site: Printable bolt size charts, Tips on intrinsic optical imaging, Comparison of high NA, low mag objectives, and my favorite, Catalogs as textbooks. (I still remember a neuroscience faculty member here at MIT who told me that he brings science catalogs along on his vacations as “leisure reading” to stay up-to-date on new tools and to generate ideas for experiments.) In fact, I wanted to read just about every post on this blog and I think you will too! And if you’re the author of this blog, please introduce yourself in the comments, too.

The evolutionary psychology of war

Nothing too shocking here for students of evolutionary psychology but it’s always interesting to see real world examples of how our shared behavior. There is a new book by Sebastian Junger called War, in which he recounts how men do not fight for larger ideological goals (eg. “a safer Iraq”, “finding Bin Laden”) but instead they can overcome fears because “they’re more concerned about their brothers than what happens to themselves individually”. Here’s Junger on Good Morning America:
http://abcnews.go.com/assets/player/walt2.6/flash/SFP_Walt.swf

After the jump some more from Junger and a nice talk from Robert Sapolsky about similar behaviors in chimps.

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SfN party update

Neurodudes is out at SfN this year (well 2/3rds of us, at least!) Being from MIT, as I run into old friends on the poster floor, it seems like this year I’m getting asked more about “When and where are the MIT parties?” (which we are known to be epic) than, say, “How’s it going?” or “When is your poster?” You should be ashamed of yourselves! (And, really, don’t you want to hear about our cool images of growing axons? Come by poster B9 on Monday afternoon to see some neat stochastic modeling techniques applied to this data to find some general principles of how axons elongate.)

Then again, what is SfN without some great partying? A zoo of posters and tired feet!

Sadly, I believe the MIT Picower party has gone the way of Bernie Madoff. In fact, that’s literally the case. Happily, there are some alternatives. Almost all of them are happening on Sunday night. These include the Neuron party, a UChicago party at a local rock club, and the “unofficial” MIT party (a house party thrown by the 2nd year class). Since I’m not directly involved in any of these efforts, I’ll abstain from posting details here. But those of you who know me can check out my Facebook for details on two of them or, if you haven’t joined the social network craze, just drop me a line. Tomorrow night should be fun! And since my poster is on Monday after most of the partying is over, at least I’ll know that those of you who stop by are there for the science and not to extract party details…