This week I am trying to streamline things behind the scenes, so you still get your links and I keep a little more sanity in terms of time and other things to do. The most obvious transformation here is that this week there are no categories, except the top of the list.
I’ve also put little dashes in front of the write-ups at top. Things look a little different here on PLoS, and I think that might enhance readability. I tried to look for an easy way to indent, didn’t see it, so that’s what I did at the top. So comments on how to indent, on dashes vs. indent, or anything else most welcome!
The cartoon comes from XKCD, a great webcomic of “romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” and is entitled Raptor Fences. Ah, the power of epigenetics… Click on it to go to that comic, or here is the general link to XKCD.
Top of the List
Gretchen Reynolds, Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?
-YES!! Great experimental research, with controls, tests, and even fMRIs. And then larger studies that establish good effect at the population level.
Denise Park & Chih-Mao Huang, Culture Wires the Brain: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective
-Abstract for a new paper:
We review evidence that the collectivistic and individualistic biases of East Asian and Western cultures, respectively, affect neural structure and function. We conclude that there is limited evidence that cultural experiences affect brain structure and considerably more evidence that neural function is affected by culture, particularly activations in ventral visual cortex—areas associated with perceptual processing.
Mick Morrison, Blogging and University Based Learning
-A great overview and set of ideas of how engaging the Internet can enhance student learning, with a focus on blogging and how to get distance-learning to be a richer experience. In a comment, John Tierney recommended that people should check out Bernie Goldbach’s Inside View.
Patrick Haggard & Matthew Longo, You Are What You Touch: How Tool Use Changes the Brain’s Representations of the Body
-“A common illustration of just how flexible the sense of our body is comes from changes in the brain’s representation of the body due to tool use.”
Foundation for Psychocultural Research, Cultural and Biological Contexts of Psychiatric Disorders – Opening Session
-The Foundation for Psychocultural Research presents the first of its retrospective overviews of its interdisciplinary conference “Cultural and Biological Contexts of Psychiatric Disorder” – the opening session included several of the heavy hitters that presented at the conference.
Dirk Hanson, Why Drug Stigma Still Matters: More Sinned Against than Sinning
-The stigmatization of drug users, and how that hampers our efforts to deal with drug abuse
All the Rest
Walter Jessen, Hair Cortisol as a Predictive Biomarker for Heart Attack
Could be a cool new biomarker, easier to access than cortisol in blood or saliva. “Hair analysis provides a long-term measurement of cortisol production; cortisol can be incorporated into hair and remain stable for at least a 6 month period.”
Reuters, Australian Scientists Find Bats Have Regional Accents
They prefer saying “throw it on the barbie” than “grill”
John Rennie, Creationist Blarney
Now we have science ministers promoting creationism. Damn. John does the good and necessary service, and with style too:
We can all find a favorite reason on that list [of reasons to reject evolution], but mine is definitely #5, because it opened my eyes to the fact that evolution is both toxic and poisonous, and that in its evil capacity as a mind virus it attacks the heart’s immune system, which protects us against hope and common sense, although I think he means that hope and common sense are good things. In any case: enlightening!
C. Shawn Green et al., Improved Probabilistic Inference as a General Learning Mechanism with Action Video Games
Not only vision, but hearing perception task performance improved in this experiment. Here is a nice snippet from the abstract, but you can also read a more general report on the research over at Eureka.
“A neural model of this task  establishes how changing a single parameter, namely the strength of the connections between the neural layer providing the momentary evidence and the layer integrating the evidence over time, captures improvements in action-gamers behavior.”
Steve Silberman, Power Duos: Josh Shenk on the Genius of Creative Alliances
You mean I’m not a lone wolf genius? On the chemistry of collaboration, delightfully illustrated through an interview between Steve and Josh
Science Codex, Cognitive Skills in Children with Autism Vary and Improve, Study Finds
But I want the essentialist disease category back…
Melinda Wenner Moyer, Breastfeeding May Prevent Disease by Changing Gene Expression in the Gut Flora
Absolutely astounding research. “Breast milk shapes the expression of bacterial genes in the infant gut, potentially boosting antioxidant activity and protecting against at least one rare debilitating disease.”
Jason Goldman, Origins of Mind 101
Rene Descartes vs. George Berkeley, or the philosophical roots of psychology in the debate over the role of innate factors versus experience in the formation of the mind
Deborah Blum, The Man Who Wouldn’t Die
The saga of the almost invincible Mike, the improbably cursed murder syndicate, and the investigation that sent all four of those card players to the electric chair, is probably my favorite true crime story from The Poisoner’s Handbook. It’s Alfred Hitchcock material, a dark comedy of errors, or the stuff of Greek tragedy, with Nemesis hovering nearby. It’s a classic example of that familiar saying: you couldn’t make it up.
Read to the finish! It is worth it, in its own electric way.
Nicholas Wade, Tug of War Pits Genes of Parents in the Fetus
Fascinating research on how imprinting by father or mother’s genes can affect body size and brain size in mice – plus the growing recognition that there is much more imprinting than previously thought
Peter Janiszewski, Metabolically-Healthy Obesity: An Oxymoron? (Series Pt 1/5)
What a way to kick it off – a serious look at the research on being fat and healthy!
Science and the City Podcasts
The NY Academy of Sciences has some good podcasts of late, including science journalist Stephen Hall and neuroscientist Andre Fenton discussing what makes us wise and Richard Restak on exercise and the brain
YouTube – Experimental Psychology and Change Blindness
Nice clip on some actual research by Harvard psychologist Dan Simons on attention
Jonah Lehrer, The Attention-Allocation Deficit
What is the problem with ADHD? It is the allocation of attention, not a lack of attention.
Jeffrey Kluger, Genetic Scars of the Holocaust: Children Suffer Too
Intergenerational PTSD – in mice. A model for children of Holocaust survivors.
David Wilson, Take the Evolution Challenge
Drink from the cup of evolutionary theory – it brings insight!
Sabrina Golonka, A Brief Rant About Waist to Hip Ratio
Not so brief, and even better, well-informed in articulating doubts I’ve also had about this line of research
H-Madness, Syllabus: Kushner, “Mental Health and Public Health” and “Madness, the Brain, and Culture in Interdisciplinary Perspective”
Get the syllabus for a stand-out course that provides “an interdisciplinary exploration of mental disorders in psychological, neurobiological, historical and cultural perspective”, and also includes the public health side as well!
Sarah Curtis, Space, Place and Mental Health
Starting from health psychology, “which conceptualises space and place in ways that provide a distinctive focus on the interactions between people and their social and physical environment,” the book presents an interdisciplinary theoretical approach and then examines:
how our mental health is associated with material, or physical, aspects of our environment (such as ‘natural’ and built landscapes), with social environments (involving social relationships in communities), and with symbolic and imagined spaces (representing the personal, cultural and spiritual meanings of places).
Michael Powell, From Consumers, To Shoppers
We’re not consumers anymore, finding what we want through advertising. Most of us are discovering things in ACTUAL STORES. And that leaves a wide-open door for ethnography, both theoretically and for business
Deric Bownds, Religion and Spatial Cognition
Does your religion shape how you think? A new study on just that.
John Hawks, Why Don’t Universities Cut Out the Middleman?
Good links to the discussion on costs and closed versus open models for publishing, and then a strong argument for the open model
Joe Palka, Evolving Culture: Where Do We Go From Here?
The torrent of cultural knowledge, and our own evolution
Casey Rantz, The Science Blogging Square Dance
If you’re looking for a guide to all the shake-up and innovation going on in science blogging, this post provides an efficient overview of the last few months. Just also add Wired Science Blogs too!
Neurocritic, Limbaugh/Palin “Death Panels” Extend the Life of Terminally Ill Patients
Really solid piece on how the feared “death panels” that promote palliative care would actually extend lifespan – palliative care can make a difference in the quality and length of our life when we are facing terminal illness
Scicurious, Cocaine and Rats: Escalation and Addiction
Self-administration in rats – or how animals get hooked
Drug Monkey, Is Exercise Addictive?
Review of some seminal works that modeled this question using wheel running in rats, and provided some modest evidence towards yes
David Dobbs, A Rush to Moral Judgment
“What went wrong with Marc Hauser’s search for moral foundations.”
Nick Chater and Morten Christiansen, Language Evolution as Cultural Evolution: How Language is Shaped by the Brain
Abstract for a 2010 paper:
The close fit between languages and language learners, which make language acquisition possible, arises not because humans possess a specialized biological adaptation for language, but because language has been shaped to fit the brain, a process of cultural evolution.
Mike Fahey, Researchers Teach Robots To Be Decepticons
Decepticons unite! Research on teaching robots how to deceive
Michael Marshall, Thank the Ur-worm for Shakespeare’s Brain
Cool video of 3D worm brain. Plus the roots of our cortex are reflected in that brain.
Dorothy Bishop, Where Does the Myth of a Gene for Things Like Intelligence Come From?
Myths of genetic determinism meets the reality of complex effects
Russ Jiskalian, Rethinking Alcohol
A broad range of therapies can work, and abstinence is not the only answer
Alex Carp, Robin Nagle: Anthropologist
The anthropology of trash