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 Third Reviewer


Neuroscientists love talking about recent papers (lambasting, exalting), but currently the options for doing this online are bad. You have to log in, with your real name, at whichever journal published the paper. So you’re not going to write anything critical, lest the author be angry at you, nor are you going to go back and follow it up, because it’s such a hassle to find the paper again on the journal site. Enter The Third Reviewer.

It’s a centralized commenting location for all major neuroscience papers. Every recently published paper has a page that you can find by browsing or searching. You can leave comments anonymously, and you can request follow-up emails when others comment. ThirdReviewer currently indexes all papers from 11 major journals, including Neuron, Nature, J Neurosci, and Nature Neuroscience.

Check it out and opine: The Third Reviewer

IBM Cat Brain Simulation Scuffle: Symbolic?

You’ve probably read by now about the announcement by IBM’s Cognitive Computing group that they had created a “computer system that simulates and emulates the brain’s abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition” at the “scale of a cat cortex”.    For their work, the IBM team led by Dharmendra Modha was awarded the ACM Gordon Bell prize, which recognizes “outstanding achievement in high-performance computing”.

A few days later, Henry Markram, leader of the Blue Brain Project at EPFL, sent off an e-mail to IBM CTO Bernard Meyerson harshly criticizing the IBM press release, and cc’ed several reporters. This brought a spate of shock media into the usually placid arena of computational neuroscience reporting, with headlines such as “IBM’s cat-brain sim a ‘scam,’ says Swiss boffin: Neuroscientist hairs on end”, and “Meow! IBM cat brain simulation dissed as ‘hoax’ by rival scientist”.  One reporter chose to highlight the rivalry as cat versus rat, using the different animal model choice of the two researchers as a theme.  Since then, additional criticisms from Markram have appeared online.

Find out more after the jump.

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Frontiers in Neuroscience Journal

The journal, Frontiers in Neuroscience, edited by Idan Segev, has made it Volume 3, issue 1.  Launching last year at the Society for Neuroscience conference, its probably the newest Neuroscience-related journal.

I’m a fan of it because it is an open-access journal featuring a “tiered system” and more.  From their website:

The Frontiers Journal Series is not just another journal. It is a new approach to scientific publishing. As service to scientists, it is driven by researchers for researchers but it also serves the interests of the general public. Frontiers disseminates research in a tiered system that begins with original articles submitted to Specialty Journals. It evaluates research truly democratically and objectively based on the reading activity of the scientific communities and the public. And it drives the most outstanding and relevant research up to the next tier journals, the Field Journals.

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Society for Neuroscience goes Wiki!

Looks like the Society for Neuroscience is stepping into the 21st century with a formal call to its 38,000 members to help make neuroscience articles on Wikipedia better.

From the Neuroscience Wikipedia initiative:

SfN is calling upon members to harness the power of Wikipedia and support the Society’s mission of promoting public education about neuroscience.

Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia, has become one of the major sources of information used by the public.

SfN’s Public Education and Communication Committee (PECC) recently reviewed the main Wikipedia neuroscience overview section and entries on 10 major branches of neuroscience. Many of the entries were still under construction and incomplete.

SfN aims to improve and expand Wikipedia’s neuroscience content by encouraging members to edit and contribute.

Well done, SfN!

Nature: It's good to blog

From the department of self-affirming citations, Nature has an article this past week titled It’s good to blog on the importance of blogging as a way of conversing directly with paper authors. Perhaps most relevant is this:

Indeed, researchers would do well to blog more than they do. The experience of journals such as Cell and PLoS ONE, which allow people to comment on papers online, suggests that researchers are very reluctant to engage in such forums. But the blogosphere tends to be less inhibited, and technical discussions there seem likely to increase.

Moreover, there are societal debates that have much to gain from the uncensored voices of researchers. A good blogging website consumes much of the spare time of the one or several fully committed scientists that write and moderate it. But it can make a difference to the quality and integrity of public discussion.

PBS: Not so neuroscience-savvy

Salon has an interesting piece condemning a recent PBS show purportedly on Alzheimer’s treatment but really more of a sketchy informercial. The program concerns a neurologist with tenuous ties to UC Irvine who advocates SPECT (single photon emission computed tomograpy, a technique which, similar to PET, uses a radiotracer) and some unfounded preventative treatments for Alzheimer’s. The neurologist Bill Amen has appeared on many big-name media outlets including CNN, the Today Show, and Fox News (and the real sign of media success — Oprah) although his approach to Alzheimer’s detection and treatment is lacking in scientific credibility:

“SPECT scans are not sufficiently sensitive or specific to be useful in the diagnosis of A.D.,” neurologist Michael Greicius , who runs the Stanford University memory clinic, and has a special interest in the use of functional brain imaging in the diagnosis of A.D., tells me. “The PBS airing of Amen’s program provides a stamp of scientific validity to work which has no scientific validity.”

Continued pontification on neuroethics issues after the jump. Continue reading

Quantitative biology database

BioNumbers – The Database of Useful Biological Numbers

Here’s a neat new website. It’s a repository of quantitative information on biological things (eg. organisms, biomolecules, etc.) Some stuff I found while glancing through:

Number of mRNA/cell in E. coli: 138

Volume occupied by all RNA in E. coli: 6%

Average gene length in mammals: 16.6kb

Average gene length in nematode C. elegans:  4 kb

Mutation rate per genome per replication in humans: 0.16 mutation/genome/replication

Average time between blinks in humans: 2.8 sec

Amount of photons necessary to excite a cone in humans: 100

Citations are included for most numbers too. The database seems a little sparse on neuroscience topics, so go over and contribute some numbers!