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    Space station detectors found the source of weird ‘blue jet’ lightning

    Scientists have finally gotten a clear view of the spark that sets off an exotic type of lightning called a blue jet.

    Blue jets zip upward from thunderclouds into the stratosphere, reaching altitudes up to about 50 kilometers in less than a second. Whereas ordinary lightning excites a medley of gases in the lower atmosphere to glow white, blue jets excite mostly stratospheric nitrogen to create their signature blue hue.

    Blue jets have been observed from the ground and aircraft for years, but it’s hard to tell how they form without getting high above the clouds. Now, instruments on the International Space Station have spotted a blue jet emerge from an extremely brief, bright burst of electricity near the top of a thundercloud, researchers report online January 20 in Nature.

    Understanding blue jets and other upper-atmosphere phenomena related to thunderstorms, such as sprites (SN: 6/14/02) and elves (SN: 12/23/95), is important because these events can affect how radio waves travel through the air — potentially impacting communication technologies, says Penn State space physicist Victor Pasko, who was not involved in the work.

    Cameras and light-sensing instruments called photometers on the space station observed the blue jet in a storm over the Pacific Ocean, near the island of Nauru, in February 2019. “The whole thing starts with what I think of as a blue bang,” says Torsten Neubert, an atmospheric physicist at the Technical University of Denmark in Kongens Lyngby. That “blue bang” was a 10-microsecond flash of bright blue light near the top of the cloud, about 16 kilometers high. From that flashpoint, a blue jet shot up into the stratosphere, climbing as high as about 52 kilometers over several hundred milliseconds.

    The spark that generated the blue jet may have been a special kind of short-range electric discharge inside the thundercloud, Neubert says. Normal lightning bolts are formed by discharges between oppositely charged regions of a cloud — or a cloud and the ground — many kilometers apart. But turbulent mixing high in a cloud may bring oppositely charged regions within about a kilometer of each other, creating very short but powerful bursts of electric current, Neubert says. Researchers have seen evidence of such high-energy, short-range discharges in pulses of radio waves from thunderstorms detected by ground-based antennas.

    in Science News on January 21, 2021 06:12 PM.

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    Sleuths scrutinize high-profile study of ultra-processed foods and weight gain

    In July 2019, Kevin Hall, of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and colleagues published a study in Cell Metabolism that found, according to its title, that “Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain.”  Not surprisingly, the paper — which nutrition researchers urged caution in interpreting in an accompanying editorial — earned media … Continue reading Sleuths scrutinize high-profile study of ultra-processed foods and weight gain

    in Retraction watch on January 21, 2021 05:00 PM.

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    PLOS and the Big Ten Academic Alliance Announce Publishing Deal

    The Big Ten Academic Alliance (BTAA) and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) today announced an agreement for BTAA members to participate in PLOS’ Community Action Publishing (CAP) program. The agreement ensures time to test and evaluate this new community-based model and allows BTAA researchers to publish in PLOS Biology and PLOS Medicine without incurring fees. The BTAA and PLOS will also collaborate on future data, metrics, and tools for institutions to evaluate Open Access publishing agreements.

    The BTAA is the largest consortium globally to participate in both CAP communities, meaning that every member has committed to the full three-year pilot. As some of the largest research institutions in the world and major contributors to both journals, the BTAA commitment ensures this new collective action-based model kicks off with a strong foundation.

    The Big Ten Academic Alliance members are: Indiana University, Michigan State University, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Purdue University, Rutgers University–New Brunswick, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Maryland–College Park, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the University of Chicago. PLOS has extended the benefits of this agreement to include most system, regional, and branch campuses of these universities.

    “The Big Ten Academic Alliance’s commitment to this community-driven model demonstrates the power of collectives to transform scholarly publishing. This collaboration has been a partnership from the beginning and BTAA’s members and administration have been vital in helping us build and execute on this new experiment in sustainable highly selective publishing.” said Sara Rouhi, Director of Strategic Partnerships for PLOS.

    Maurice York, BTAA’s Director of Library Initiatives, adds: “One of the key strategic questions in front of us is how to advance the growth of open science and open scholarship through collective and intentional action. We are actively seeking pathways to create a sustainable, scalable open knowledge ecosystem for our researchers and scholars. We are pleased to join together with PLOS to take up this pilot in common cause.”

    PLOS’ Community Action Publishing (CAP) is PLOS’ effort to sustain highly selective journal publishing without Article Processing Charges for authors. More details about the model can be found here and here.

    The BTAA publishing deal continues the momentum for PLOS in 2020, following other agreements with the University of California system, Jisc (including University College London, Imperial College London, University of Manchester) and the Canadian Research Knowledge Network among others.

    The post PLOS and the Big Ten Academic Alliance Announce Publishing Deal appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on January 21, 2021 04:58 PM.

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    Episode 23: Whose Psychology Is It Anyway? Making Psychological Research More Representative

    This is Episode 23 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest. Download here.

    In this episode, Emily Reynolds, staff writer at Research Digest, explores modern psychology’s relationship with race and representation. It’s well-known that psychology has a generalisability problem, with studies overwhelmingly using so-called “WEIRD” participants: those who are Western and educated and from industrialised, rich and democratic societies. But how does that shape the assumptions we make about participants of different racial identities or cultures? And how can top-tier psychology journals improve diversity among not only participants but also authors and editors?

    Our guests, in order of appearance, are Dr Bobby Cheon, Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, and Dr Steven O. Roberts, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Stanford University.

    Subscribe and download via iTunes.
    Subscribe and download via Stitcher.
    Subscribe and listen on Spotify.

    Episode credits: Presented and produced by Emily Reynolds. Script edits by Matthew Warren. Mixing and editing by Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music by Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work by Tim Grimshaw.

    Background reading for this episode

    Research mentioned in this episode includes:

    Other relevant posts from the Research Digest and The Psychologist archives include:

    Researchers Assume White Americans Are More Representative Of Humankind Than Other Groups, According To Analysis Of Psychology Paper Titles
    Psychology research is still fixated on a tiny fraction of humans – here’s how to fix that
    Which human experiences are universal?
    ‘We need to broaden the conversation to institutional bias’
    ‘We don’t just need warm words, we need actions’
    WEIRD science… Priya Maharaj responds to a piece from our Research Digest blog
    ‘I understood when I listened to people’s stories’
    ‘Without positive action, we risk living in a world that has potential to rob people of their dignity and sense of agency’: A collection of articles from recent years on racism in psychology and the psychology of racism

    Past PsychCrunch episodes:

    Episode one: Dating and Attraction
    Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits
    Episode three: How to Win an Argument
    Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving
    Episode five: How To Learn a New Language
    Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 
    Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
    Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?
    Episode nine: How To Get The Best From Your Team
    Episode ten: How To Stop Procrastinating
    Episode eleven: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep
    Episode twelve: How To Be Funnier
    Episode thirteen: How to Study and Learn More Effectively
    Episode fourteen: Psychological Tricks To Make Your Cooking Taste Better
    Episode fifteen: Is Mindfulness A Panacea Or Overhyped And Potentially Problematic?
    Bonus episode (sixteen): What’s It Like To Have No Mind’s Eye?
    Episode seventeen: How To Make Running Less Painful And More Fun
    Episode eighteen: How To Boost Your Creativity
    Episode nineteen: Should We Worry About Screen Time?
    Episode twenty: How to cope with pain
    Episode twenty-one: How To Stay Connected In The “New Normal”

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on January 21, 2021 03:06 PM.

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    The oldest known abrading tool was used around 350,000 years ago

    A round stone excavated at Israel’s Tabun Cave in the 1960s represents the oldest known grinding or rubbing tool, say researchers who scrutinized the 350,000-year-old find.

    The specimen marks a technological turn to manipulating objects with wide, flat stone surfaces, say Ron Shimelmitz, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel, and his colleagues. Up to that time, stone implements had featured thin points or sharp edges. Microscopic wear and polish on a worn section of the Tabun stone resulted from it having been ground or rubbed against relatively soft material, such as animal hides or plants, the scientists conclude in the January Journal of Human Evolution.

    Similar stones bearing signs of abrasion date to no more than around 200,000 years ago. Specific ways in which the Tabun stone was used remain a mystery. By around 50,000 years ago, though, human groups were using grinding stones to prepare plants and other foods, Shimelmitz says.

    The team compared microscopic damage on the Tabun stone to that produced in experiments with nine similar stones collected near the cave site. Archaeology students forcefully ran each of the nine stones back-and-forth for 20 minutes over different surfaces: hard basalt rock, wood of medium hardness or a soft deer hide. Those applied to deer hide displayed much in common with the business end of the ancient stone tool, including a wavy surface and clusters of shallow grooves.

    It’s unclear which evolutionary relatives of Homo sapiens — whose origins go back about 300,000 years (SN: 6/7/17) —made the Tabun tool, Shimelmitz says. Other innovations around the same time included regular fire use (SN: 4/2/12).

    in Science News on January 21, 2021 02:00 PM.

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    Explore every gravitational wave event spotted so far

    Throughout the universe, violent collisions of cosmic beasts such as black holes wrench the fabric of spacetime, producing ripples called gravitational waves. For most of history, humans have been oblivious to those celestial rumbles. Today, we’ve detected scores of them.

    The first came in 2015, when scientists with the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, spotted gravitational waves spawned from the merger of two black holes. That event rattled the bones of the cosmos — shaking the underlying structure of space and time. The detection also stirred up astronomy, providing a new way to observe the universe, and verified a prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity (SN: 2/11/16).

    But like a lone ripple in a vast sea, a single detection can tell scientists only so much. Now, LIGO and its partner observatory Advanced Virgo have collected 50 sets of gravitational waves. Most of these spacetime ripples resulted from two black holes spiraling inward before colliding. Some arose from collisions of dense stellar corpses called neutron stars. Two collisions involve celestial bodies that can’t be confidently identified, hinting that scientists may have spotted the first merger of a neutron star with a black hole (SN: 6/23/20).  

    Every gravitational wave event detected to date, in one chart

    Scientists have spotted 50 collisions of massive objects out in space. Explore details of these smashups below.

    This interactive illustration is best viewed in the most recent versions of all major web browsers.

    The more distant a collision is from Earth, the longer it takes the gravitational waves to arrive. Some detected ripples were born when the universe was only about half its current age of 13.8 billion years. The less massive mergers in the collection tend to have happened in the more recent past; they are closer to Earth. That’s because smaller smashups are harder for LIGO and Virgo to see.

    Some of the 50 collisions left behind surprisingly large black holes, including the biggest known merger, which created the first definitive example of a class of medium-sized black holes (SN: 9/2/20). The data also revealed that some black holes are rapidly spinning before they merge, and that mergers can occur between objects with very different masses (SN: 4/20/20). That information could help scientists understand how pairs of black holes form.

    With so much data, there are plenty of questions to explore. Sets of gravitational waves have even been converted into the analogous sound waves, allowing for an aural appreciation of these enigmatic events.

    Future detections will further illuminate the furtive movements of these mysterious objects. Welcome to a new era of astronomy in which black holes and neutron stars regularly communicate their secrets to Earth.

    Tell us what you think of this interactive illustration in a short survey.

    in Science News on January 21, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Why one biologist says it’s not too late to retract the “arsenic life” paper

    An anniversary has prompted this reconsideration of the revolution in biochemistry that wasn’t: the “arsenic bacteria.” Just over 10 years have passed since an infamous Dec. 2, 2010, NASA press conference, which promised the revelation of “an astrobiology finding that will impact the search for evidence of extraterrestrial life.”  Of course, nothing of the kind … Continue reading Why one biologist says it’s not too late to retract the “arsenic life” paper

    in Retraction watch on January 21, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Victims as perpetrators

    Smut Clyde as Detective Columbo investigates: The victims of a paper mill are actually in cahoots with the perpetrators! Stealth corrections happen faster than one can catch them!

    in For Better Science on January 21, 2021 07:45 AM.

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    Biden administration outlines its ambitious plan to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic

    Inauguration Day marks both a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic and a new chapter in the U.S. response to it.

    On January 19, the United States surpassed 400,000 coronavirus deaths. A day later, newly sworn-in President Joe Biden was poised to launch an ambitious plan to tackle the public health crisis, including distributing 100 million vaccine shots in his first 100 days, issuing a “100 Days Masking Challenge” to encourage the public to wear masks and requiring people to keep physically distant and wear masks in federal buildings and on federal lands.

    The President also intends to ask Congress to spend $400 billion to kick-start his national COVID-19 response. The plan includes:

    • $20 billion for a national vaccine program that would partner with states, localities and tribal nations to fast-track vaccine rollout. The plan calls for more vaccination sites, including mobile centers, and expanded efforts to reach underserved communities. The National Guard will also be made available to states to assist with the effort;
    • $50 billion to expand testing, including bolstering support for laboratories and purchasing rapid antigen tests;
    • Funding 100,000 public health workers to aid in contact tracing, vaccine distribution or other needs of local health departments;
    • Expanding paid leave programs to allow more workers to stay home if sick.

    Exactly how much money goes toward these, and other, efforts depends in part on Congress, and the details will likely change in the coming weeks. Science News talked with Michael Osterholm, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and an adviser to the Biden transition team’s COVID-19 advisory board, about the new administration’s plans to handle the pandemic. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

    SN: How would you describe the overall state of the pandemic, and pandemic response, that the Biden administration now faces?

    Osterholm: There are two components. The first is the overall lack of a national plan [from the previous administration] and the lack of coordination in terms of the delivery of vaccines. There hasn’t been enough investment in state and local delivery systems, there hasn’t been enough attention paid to vaccine hesitancy. Expectations have been mismanaged. They’re inheriting an incredible challenge on the vaccine side, and it’s going to take a while to right that ship. 

    The additional challenge, which is in some ways my worst nightmare, is the B.1.1.7 strain that’s impacting the U.K. and Ireland so hard right now. It could take the pandemic to a whole new level. It’s possible that by mid- to late-February we could see a period where what’s happening right now seems not so bad. And all of this is falling right into the Biden administration’s lap.

    SN: How can the Biden administration improve vaccine rollout in the United States? 

    Osterholm: First of all is just transparency. The administration just has to be honest with the American people about what’s realistic in terms of production timelines and when certain people can get vaccinated. The previous administration has sometimes overpromised how many vaccines will be available when. When you create that kind of short-term excitement about the vaccine being available when it’s just not, it creates long-term confusion, anger and lack of trust. [The Biden administration is] going to have to manage [those feelings]. 

    The next big thing is providing support to state and local health departments who are really the air traffic controllers in our communities for vaccination. All public health is local, and it varies dramatically across the country. To deliver a vaccine to a given local area, you’ve gotta know the area and how to best get the vaccine delivered there. Local public health departments know how to do that. They know what volunteer organizations to call on, what community centers they can use, whether they can get help from emergency response corps at universities or medical schools. 

    There has never been much support from the federal government. Local health departments are stretched to near-breaking points. [Biden’s] plan acknowledges the critical role health departments play, and provides support in terms of funding and also people. 

    SN: How can the Biden team ensure that people actually take the vaccines?

    Osterholm: The first thing is to understand why people are vaccine hesitant, and there is no one answer. It’s different for different groups. Health care workers may be hesitant for different reasons than essential workers; it may be different for younger Black men versus older white men. Some people may be concerned with safety, others may have heard misinformation about mRNA vaccines altering DNA. 

    The different concerns of different groups have to be ascertained, then you can figure out how to provide this kind of information to that group, figure out who are the peers you can bring together to build trust. For example, major pro sports heroes could publicly promote the vaccine. That kind of trust building is really important.

    SN: What other big pandemic challenges does the Biden team face and what can it do to best meet those?

    Osterholm: Managing the potential impact of the B.1.1.7 variant. There are going to be calls for many additional measures to reduce transmission in a country that has gone way beyond pandemic fatigue and is almost in a stage of pandemic anger. How do you respond to that? 

    You have health care workers begging people not to put themselves at risk because of what they’re experiencing in the hospitals, working 16- to 18-hour days just trying to keep people alive. At the same time, you have people saying, “My small business shut down, I’ve lost my livelihood, I’m done. And I’m angry.” And that anger and frustration often gets put on the government, and I’m sure will spill over to the Biden administration. 

    This administration sees it and is prepared to deal with it. [Biden] acknowledges that this is tough.

    in Science News on January 20, 2021 08:15 PM.

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    Here’s How Personality Changes In Young Adulthood Can Lead To Greater Career Satisfaction

    By Emily Reynolds

    Personality traits were once thought to be fairly stable. But recent research has suggested that our personality can alter over time — whether that’s due to ageing or because we decide to change our traits ourselves. And as personality is linked to our behaviour, it follows that we might see different life outcomes as our personality shifts or grows.

    In a new study in Psychological Science, Kevin A. Hoff and team look at the personality changes of teenagers as they move into adulthood. And they find that certain shifts in personality can result in real-world benefits during the early years of a career, suggesting that interventions that increase particular traits and skills could make all the difference at work.

    The team examined data from two longitudinal samples of young people from Iceland, who were followed over twelve years from their late teens to early adulthood; at several time-points, participants had rated their Big Five personality traits. The team also examined standardised test scores from the teenagers’ final year in education and noted the highest degree each participant had attained.

    The researchers also rated participants’ “occupational prestige” once in the workforce — how high or low status their work was seen to be in general society. Participants also shared how much money they earned, and indicated how satisfied they were with what they had achieved in their career thus far and in their current job. 

    As expected, the personality traits of the teens changed as they entered young adulthood. The largest increases were seen in agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness, while extraversion decreased. Personality traits at adolescence were stronger predictors of participants’ academic achievement than personality changes: those who were more conscientious, emotionally stable, and agreeable were more likely to attain a higher degree. Emotional stability and conscientiousness at school-age were also the strongest predictors of occupational prestige.

    Those personality changes, however, were also important. Participants who became more emotionally stable and those who became more extraverted were more likely to receive a higher income, while increases in emotional stability, extraversion, agreeableness and conscientiousness were the strongest predictors of career and job satisfaction across the samples.

    We already know that we can change our personality and increase how outgoing, agreeable, or open we are. And given the results of the study, it also seems possible that targeted interventions to help young people develop the skills associated with particular personalities could help them achieve certain goals. The fact that personality growth was the strongest predictor of the subjective measures of career and job satisfaction also indicates that growth is an important part of how young people think about their success.

    Though this study focused on work success, other areas of life could also be explored in future research. For some people, relationships, social skills or self-image are more important than their careers, and understanding how personality change can impact these dimensions would also be interesting. Certain personality traits are also likely to be more valued or useful in certain lines of work, so further exploration of this might also help teenagers work out which elements of their personality they would like to develop depending on their goals.

    Helping teenagers understand that their personality is not fixed, the team concludes, is one of the most important takeaways from the study: while our personalities clearly play a part in our lives, we’re by no means fated to stay the same forever.

    Personality Changes Predict Early Career Outcomes: Discovery and Replication in 12-Year Longitudinal Studies

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on January 20, 2021 02:11 PM.

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    Some bacteria are suffocating sea stars, turning the animals to goo

    The mysterious culprit behind a deadly sea star disease is not an infection, as scientists once thought.

    Instead, multiple types of bacteria living within millimeters of sea stars’ skin deplete oxygen from the water and effectively suffocate the animals, researchers report January 6 in Frontiers in Microbiology. Such microbes thrive when there are high levels of organic matter in warm water and create a low oxygen environment that can make sea stars melt in a puddle of slime.

    Sea star wasting disease — which causes lethal symptoms like decaying tissue and loss of limbs — first gained notoriety in 2013 when sea stars living off the U.S. Pacific Coast died in massive numbers. Outbreaks of the disease had also occurred before 2013, but never at such a large scale.

    Scientists suspected that a virus or bacterium might be making sea stars sick. That hypothesis was supported in a 2014 study that found unhealthy animals may have been infected by a virus (SN: 11/19/14). But the link vanished when subsequent studies found no relationship between the virus and dying sea stars, leaving researchers perplexed (SN: 5/5/16). 

    The new finding that a boom of nutrient-loving bacteria can drain oxygen from the water and cause wasting disease “challenges us to think that there might not always be a single pathogen or a smoking gun,” says Melissa Pespeni, a biologist at the University of Vermont in Burlington who was not involved in the work. Such a complex environmental scenario for killing sea stars “is a new kind of idea for [disease] transmission.”  

    There were certainly many red herrings during the hunt for why sea stars along North America’s Pacific Coast were melting into goo, says Ian Hewson, a marine biologist at Cornell University. In addition to the original hypothesis of a viral cause for sea star wasting disease — which Hewson’s team reported in 2014 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences but later disproved — he and colleagues analyzed a range of other explanations, from differences in water temperature to exposing the animals to bacteria. But nothing reliably triggered wasting.   

    Then the researchers examined the types of bacteria living with healthy sea stars compared with those living among the animals with wasting disease. “That was when we had our aha moment,” says Hewson.

    ochre sea starNot all sea stars are susceptible to sea star wasting disease. Species that have more structures on their surface, and therefore more surface area for bacteria to deplete oxygen, appear more likely to get severely sick compared with flatter sea stars. In this photo, an ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus) succumbs to the disease in Davenport, Calif., in June 2018.Ian Hewson

    Types of bacteria known as copiotrophs, which thrive in environments with lots of nutrients, were present around the sea stars at higher levels than normal either shortly before the animals developed lesions or as they did so, Hewson and colleagues found. Bacterial species that survive only in environments with little to no oxygen were also thriving. In the lab, the sea stars began wasting when the researchers added phytoplankton or a common bacterial-growth ingredient to the warm water tubs those microbes and sea stars were living in.  

    Experimentally depleting oxygen from the water had a similar effect, causing lesions in 75 percent of the animals, while none succumbed in the control group. Sea stars breathe by diffusing oxygen over small external projections called skin gills, so the lack of oxygen in the wake of flourishing copiotrophs leaves sea stars struggling for air, the data show. It’s unclear how the animals degrade in low oxygen conditions, but it could be due to massive cell death.

    Although the disease isn’t caused by a contagious pathogen, it is transmissible in the sense that dying sea stars generate more organic matter that spur bacteria to grow on healthy animals nearby. “It’s a bit of a snowball effect,” Hewson says.

    The team also analyzed tissues from sea stars that had succumbed in the 2013 mass die-off — which followed a large algal bloom on the U.S. West Coast — to see if such environmental conditions might explain that outbreak. In fast-growing appendages that help them move, the sea stars that perished had high amounts of a form of nitrogen found in low oxygen conditions — a sign that those animals may have died from a lack of oxygen.

    The problem may get worse with climate change, Hewson says. “Warmer waters can’t have as much oxygen [compared with colder water] just by physics alone.” Bacteria, including copiotrophs, also flourish in warm water.  

    But pinpointing the likely cause could help experts better treat sick sea stars in the lab, Hewson says. Some techniques include increasing the oxygen levels in a water tank to make the gas more easily available to sea stars or getting rid of extra organic matter with ultraviolet light or water exchange.

    “There’s still a lot to figure out with this disease, but I think [this new study] gets us a long way to understanding how it comes about,” Pespeni says.

    in Science News on January 20, 2021 02:00 PM.

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    Open Science at CUNI: Are we there yet? | OSSC - Charles University

    The year 2020 was like no other. The covid-19 pandemic seized the world and we all had to face challenges in both personal and professional lives. For the Open Science Support Centre at the Central Library of Charles University, it was also the first year of operation and efforts to introduce the principles of open science into the common practice of the scientific community of Charles University. How did we do?

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on January 20, 2021 01:18 PM.

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    Publisher retracting 68 articles suspected of being paper mill products

    It appears to be Paper Mill Sweeps Week here at Retraction Watch.  On Tuesday, we reported on an editor who believes one such operation was responsible for the withdrawals of at least two articles in her journal.  Now, the Royal Society of Chemistry is retracting 68 articles, across three of its titles, after an investigation … Continue reading Publisher retracting 68 articles suspected of being paper mill products

    in Retraction watch on January 20, 2021 01:00 PM.

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    Astronomers spotted a rare galaxy shutting down star formation

    A distant galaxy has been caught in the act of shutting down.

    The galaxy, called CQ 4479, is still forming plenty of new stars. But it also has an actively feeding supermassive black hole at its center that will bring star formation to a halt within a few hundred million years, astronomers reported January 11 at the virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Studying this galaxy and others like it will help astronomers figure out exactly how such shutdowns happen.

    “How galaxies precisely die is an open question,” says astrophysicist Allison Kirkpatrick of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. “This could give us a lot of insight into that process.”

    Astronomers think galaxies typically start out making new stars with a passion. The stars form from pockets of cold gas that contract under their own gravity and ignite thermonuclear fusion in their centers. But at some point, something disrupts the cold star-forming fuel and sends it toward the supermassive black hole at the galaxy’s core. That black hole gobbles the gas, heating it white-hot. An actively feeding black hole can be seen from billions of light-years away and is known as a quasar. Radiation from the hot gas pumps extra energy into the rest of the galaxy, blowing away or heating up the remaining gas until the star-forming factory closes for good (SN: 3/5/14).

    That picture fits with the types of galaxies astronomers typically see in the universe: “blue and new” star formers, and “red and dead” dormant galaxies. But while examining data from large surveys of the sky, Kirkpatrick and colleagues noticed another type. The team found about two dozen galaxies that emit energetic X-rays characteristic of an actively gobbling black hole, but also shine in low-energy infrared light, revealing that there is still cold gas somewhere in the galaxies. Kirkpatrick and colleagues dubbed these galaxies “cold quasars” in a paper in the Sept. 1 Astrophysical Journal.

    “When you see a black hole actively accreting material, you expect that star formation has already shut down,” says coauthor and astrophysicist Kevin Cooke, also of the University of Kansas, who presented the research at the meeting. “But cold quasars are in a weird time when the black hole in the center has just begun to feed.”

    To investigate individual cold quasars in more detail, Kirkpatrick and Cooke used SOFIA, an airplane outfitted with a telescope that can see in a range of infrared wavelengths that the original cold quasar observations didn’t cover. SOFIA looked at CQ 4479, a cold quasar about 5.25 billion light-years away, in September 2019.

    The observations showed that CQ 4479 has about 20 billion times the mass of the sun in stars, and it’s adding about 95 suns per year. (That’s a furious rate compared with the Milky Way; our home galaxy builds two or three solar masses of new stars per year.) CQ 4479’s central black hole is 24 million times as massive as the sun, and it’s growing at about 0.3 solar masses per year. In terms of percentage of their total mass, the stars and the black hole are growing at the same rate, Kirkpatrick says.

    cold quasar CQ 4479The cold quasar CQ 4479, the blue fuzzy dot at the center of this image, showed up in images taken by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey. The red dot nearby might be another galaxy interacting with CQ 4479, or it could be unrelated.K.C. Cooke et al/arxiv.org 2020, Sloan Digital Sky Survey

    That sort of “lockstep evolution” runs counter to theories of how galaxies wax and wane. “You should have all your stars finish growing first, and then your black hole grows,” Kirkpatrick says. “This [galaxy] shows there’s a period that they actually do grow together.”

    Cooke and colleagues estimated that in half a billion years, the galaxy will host 100 billion solar masses of stars, but its black hole will be passive and quiet. All the cold star-forming gas will have heated up or blown away.

    The observations of CQ 4479 support the broad ideas of how galaxies die, says astronomer Alexandra Pope of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who was not involved in the new work. Given that galaxies eventually switch off their star formation, it makes sense that there should be a period of transition. The findings are a “confirmation of this important phase in the evolution of galaxies,” she says. Taking a closer look at more cold quasars will help astronomers figure out just how quickly galaxies die.

    in Science News on January 20, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    The first magnetar flare detected from another galaxy was tracked to its home

    For the first time, astronomers have definitively spotted a flaring magnetar in another galaxy.

    These ultra-magnetic stellar corpses were thought to be responsible for some of the highest-energy explosions in the nearby universe. But until this burst, no one could prove it, astronomers reported January 13 at the virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society and in papers in Nature and Nature Astronomy.

    Astronomers have seen flaring magnetars in the Milky Way, but those are so bright that it’s impossible to get a good look at them. Possible glimpses of flaring magnetars in other galaxies may have been spotted before, too. But “the others were all a little circumstantial, and not as rock solid,” says astrophysicist Victoria Kaspi of the McGill Space Institute in Montreal, who was not involved in the new discovery. “Here you have something that is so incontrovertible, it’s like, okay, this is it. There’s no question anymore.”

    The first sign of the magnetar arrived as a blast of X-rays and gamma rays on April 15. Five telescopes in space, including the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope and the Mars Odyssey orbiter, observed the blast, giving scientists enough information to track down its source: the galaxy NGC 253, or the Sculptor galaxy, 11.4 million light-years away.

    At first, astronomers thought that the blast was a type of cataclysmic explosion called a short gamma-ray burst, or GRB, which are typically caused by colliding neutron stars or other destructive cosmic events.

    But the signal looked weird for a short GRB: It rose to peak brightness quickly, within two milliseconds, tailed off for another 50 milliseconds and appeared to be over by about 140 milliseconds. As the signal faded, some of the telescopes detected fluctuations in the light that changed faster than a millisecond.

    Typical short GRBs that result from a neutron star collision don’t change like that, said astrophysicist Oliver Roberts of the Universities Space Research Association in Huntsville, Ala. But flaring magnetars in our own galaxy do, when the bright spot where the flare was emitted comes in and out of view as the magnetar spins.

    Then, surprisingly, the Fermi telescope caught gamma rays with energies higher than a gigaelectronvolt arriving four minutes after the initial blast. There is no way for the known sources of short GRBs to do that.

    “We’ve discovered a masquerading magnetar in a nearby galaxy, and we’ve unmasked it,” said astrophysicist Kevin Hurley of the University of California, Berkeley at a Jan. 13 news briefing.

    A flaring magnetar sent a blast of light (magenta) and particles (cyan) zipping through space, as shown in this animation. Astronomers think the interaction between those particles and the environment around the magnetar could help explain the blast’s strange appearance.

    The researchers think that the flare was triggered by a massive starquake, one thousand trillion trillion, or 1027, times as large as the 9.5 magnitude earthquake recorded in Chile in 1960. “I’m from California, and out here we would definitely call that the Big One,” Hurley says. The quake led the magnetar to release a blob of plasma that sped away at nearly the speed of light, emitting gamma rays and X-rays as it went.

    The discovery suggests that at least some signals that look like short GRBs are in fact from magnetar flares, as astronomers have long suspected (SN: 11/3/10). It also means that three earlier events that astronomers had flagged as possible magnetar flares probably were actually from the magnetized stellar corpses, giving astronomers a population of magnetar flares to compare to each other.

    The finding could have exciting implications for fast radio bursts, another mysterious cosmic signal that has had astronomers scratching their heads for over a decade. Several lines of evidence connect fast radio bursts to magnetars, including another signal coming from within the Milky Way that coincidentally also arrived in April 2020 (SN: 6/4/20).

    “That [discovery] leant extra credence to fast radio bursts being [from] magnetars,” Kaspi says, though there are still problems with that theory.

    Kaspi has compared the apparent frequency of magnetar flares in other galaxies to the frequency of fast radio bursts and found that the rates are similar. “That argues that actually, most or all fast radio bursts could be magnetars…. I don’t think yet it’s the total solution,” but it’s a good step, she says.

    in Science News on January 19, 2021 02:30 PM.

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    How To Be A Good Negotiator, According To Psychology

    By Emma Young

    Good negotiators are more likely to secure a pay rise, get the house or job they want, and keep the peace at home. No end of psychological studies have explored which attitudes, behaviours, and settings will help a negotiation go your way. Here, we take a look at some of the key findings:

    What’s the best way to prepare for a negotiation?

    Plenty of studies have found that people in positions of low power tend to do worse in a negotiation than people with high power. A job interviewer or someone with a desirable house to sell falls into the high-power category. So if you’re about to walk into an interview, or start negotiating over a house or car, say, it would help if you first engaged in a little self-affirmation, according to a study on MBA students. Before going into a meeting in which they were acting as the would-be buyer of a biotech plant, some of the participants spent five minutes writing about their most important negotiating skill. In the subsequent negotiation, for this group, the typical high-power advantage of the “seller” was significantly reduced, and they secured lower sale prices.

    Rather than going into a negotiation with the view that a gain for one side is a loss for the other (a so-called “win-lose mindset”), it’s worth remembering that, depending on the terms of the deal, it could be win-win. That’s according to the authors of a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2019. The team found that people in a position of financial vulnerability were more likely to hold the win-lose mindset by default, and less likely to capitalise on any opportunities for both sides to gain. “By holding this win-lose mindset, financially disadvantaged people may continue to make poor deals, perpetuating their situation,” says Marko Pitesa at the Singapore Management University, who was involved in the research. But being aware of this mentality might help to stop it happening.

    How do I kick off a negotiation in the right way?

    A work-related negotiation doesn’t have to happen in the office, of course. In fact, a far better location would be a restaurant that serves food on sharing platters… This, at least, was the “shared plates, shared minds” finding of a study published in Psychological Science in 2019. Pairs of participants who’d shared a single bowl of crisps and salsa went on to require, on average, nine rounds of negotiation to resolve a theoretical wage dispute, four rounds fewer than pairs who’d eaten the same snack from their own bowls. The shared eating promoted cooperation, the team thinks. “Basically, every meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone,” says co-author Ayelet Fishbach at the University of Chicago. “And every meal that involves food sharing fully utilizes the opportunity to create that social bond.”

    A small alcoholic drink could be a helpful addition to the meal, too. When both participants in a bargaining game had one 350ml glass of beer, they became more collaborative, compared with those who’d drunk juice. “In settings in which skepticism can lead to a breakdown in negotiation, alcohol consumption can make people drop their guard for each other’s actions, thus facilitating reaching an agreement,” the team explains.

    Will anger help me get what I want? 

    The idea that you should add a bit of grrr to your negotiations has a long history. While some studies have found that it isn’t a good idea, others have suggested that pretending you are angry can be helpful, especially if the person you are negotiating with is in a pretty weak position. However, the effect of anger does depend on the cultural context: a 2010 study found that while it could help in a negotiation with someone from a European background, it backfired in negotiations with someone from an East Asian background, where traditionally such behaviour is regarded as inappropriate.

    And the effect of getting angry on the negotiation will also depend at least partly on what you expect it to be. A 2017 study published in Emotion found that participants in a negotiation task who’d been led to believe that anger would be helpful and who felt more angry during the task did make more money. But for those who had not been guided in this way, whether they felt angry or not made no difference to how much money they made. As the team wrote: “At least in some cases, what we expect emotions to do may determine what they actually do.”

    Is face-to-face negotiation always best?

    Well, that depends… If you have Dark Triad tendencies — if you’d score highly for narcissism, psychopathy or Machiavellianism — then yes, you’d be much better off negotiating in person, according to a study of 200 Canadian students. The team asked the participants to negotiate for concert tickets, as a buyer or seller, either face-to-face or via text on a computer. Those who ranked higher on the Dark Triad spectrum did better in face-to-face negotiations than negotiations via the computer, whereas those who’d ranked low in these traits did better online compared to in-person. In fact, when negotiating via computer, those who’d placed higher on the Dark Triad spectrum were significantly less successful than the others. Whatever the ability of such people to charm, manipulate or intimidate others in person, they lose this edge when negotiating online, the team concludes. This also implies, of course, that if you think your boss might have Dark Triad tendencies, it could be better to conduct a negotiation over a pay rise by email rather than face-to-face.

    When it comes to negotiations via text, there are a few other things to consider. For instance, a negotiating pair is more likely to reach mutually agreeable terms in an online discussion when they think of each other as being physically distant, rather than physically close. In this study, two people did the negotiating. But what if you used an Artificial Intelligence agent to do your negotiating — a task that AI agents, or bots, are tipped to take over? This does affect our negotiation strategies, according to a recent study in the US. Among other things, the team found that less experienced negotiators are more likely to be deceitful if they assign an AI agent to do their dirty work for them.

    What about negotiating at home?

    If you don’t like a job offer, or a bid for your house, you don’t have to take it. But if you’re in a relationship, and want to stay in it, you will have to find ways to negotiate your way through all kinds of disagreements, from the minor — such as plans for the weekend — to the major (whether to take a job in another country, say.)

    In all these situations, it would be worth bearing in mind the results of a recent analysis of data on more than 32,000 people from nine different countries:  if you feel that you would in theory be willing to make a sacrifice for your partner, there are benefits for you both. However, when one person actually makes a sacrifice (not just says that they would), it’s a different story. The data suggests that in these situations, the person actually making a sacrifice tends to feel the burden of it. Gaining a major concession from your partner could clearly, then, end up being a case not merely of win-lose, but lose-lose.

    So what if you’ve just agreed to make a significant sacrifice for your partner, or you’re weighing one up? The researchers have some advice: “Being willing to sacrifice may be valuable for individuals and couples but when people actually perform this behaviour, they maximise their wellbeing when they focus on the gains rather than the losses.”

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on January 19, 2021 11:06 AM.

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    Monitor lizards’ huge burrow systems can shelter hundreds of small animals

    Meters below the copper, sun-broiled dirt of northwestern Australia, an entire community hides in the dark. Geckos lay their eggs as centipedes and scorpions scuttle by. A snake glides deeper underground, away from the light. This subterranean menagerie is capitalizing on an old burrow, gouged into the earth by a massive lizard. 

    Now, a new study shows that two different species of Australian monitor lizard dig arrays of these burrows into the earth and that the openings have a great impact on local biodiversity, providing shelter to a surprisingly wide assortment of animal life. The findings, published December 18 in Ecology, indicate that the lizards are “ecosystem engineers,” akin to beavers that flood streams with dams or seabirds that fertilize reefs with their guano, the researchers say (SN: 7/11/18). 

    Sean Doody, an ecologist at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg, started monitoring the cat-sized lizards in northern Australia with colleagues from Australia’s University of Canberra in Bruce and the University of Newcastle. The team was tracking how invasive, poisonous cane toads were adversely impacting the reptiles.

    Until recently, it wasn’t clear where monitor lizards lay their eggs. Reaching into burrows thought to contain their eggs yielded nothing. Then Doody and his team started excavating burrows of the yellow-spotted monitor (Varanus panoptes) and found that the holes were a tight helical shape, plunging into the soil roughly four meters — deeper than any other known vertebrate nest — with eggs at the very bottom. What’s more, the nests were part of a warren consisting of dozens of twisting burrows, each made by a single monitor and arranged in the soil like dozens of fusilli noodles set vertically. 

    “We kept digging these things up, and we started finding lots of animals in most of them,” Doody says.

    nesting burrow of a sand goannaA helical nesting burrow (shown) of a sand goanna (Varanus gouldii) has been excavated, revealing six turns in the clockwise direction. The twisting tunnel has been sprayed with pink paint to distinguish it from the surrounding soil.Sean Doody

    The team found arthropods, snakes, toads and other lizards in the nests of yellow-spotted monitors and sand goanna monitors (Varanus gouldii), which dig similar burrows. At first it was a few creatures here and there, Doody says, but then the team found 418 Uperoleia frogs in a single warren. In all, the team found nearly 750 individuals of 28 different vertebrate species in a combination of 16 warrens made up of many individual nesting burrows and a handful of foraging burrows, made when the lizards dig for prey. 

    Some animals are using the burrows for overwintering, Doody says. Others use them as refuges when the creatures need to go dormant during the hot dry summer. Still others catch prey in there, while “some are probably hiding from predators. And some are even laying their eggs in the burrow.”

    Surprisingly, Doody says, he and his colleagues found very few mammals using the burrows. With the “massive smell of reptile” in there they may steer clear, he says. 

    The range of nonmammals using the burrows is “incredible,” especially given the reptiles’ broad appetite, says Sophie Cross, an ecologist at Curtin University in Perth, Australia who was not involved with the research.

    “[Monitors] will pretty much eat anything they can catch or dig out from the ground,” she says. “I am surprised that so many animals use these burrows, given a lot of them would be easy prey for a monitor lizard.”

    If the smaller residents use the burrows at a different time than the monitors, the two groups might avoid conflict. The monitors appear to lay their eggs over a few weeks and leave, letting them incubate over the eight-month dry season, Doody says. 

    Given the widespread use of the burrows by wildlife, Doody has concerns about the broader ecological effects of the ongoing cane toad invasion in Australia’s tropical north. Monitor lizards — naïve to the toads’ potent toxins — will eat the amphibians, with lethal consequences. As a result, monitors are rapidly dying, Doody says, and their warrens are filling in, leaving less refuge for other animals using the burrows. “You go from hundreds of animals using a warren system to zero.”

    Going forward, Doody wants to investigate why some animals make helical burrows in the first place. The practice is rare, with creatures like beach crabs, some extinct rodents and pocket gophers being some of the only other examples. 

    Along with the new study, that research may be crucial for changing public perceptions of reptiles, which can be maligned out of fear, Cross says. “It’s great to see research like this highlight how important [reptiles] can be in ecosystems.”

    in Science News on January 19, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    ‘Striking’: Journal editor suspects paper mills behind rash of withdrawn manuscripts

    Carol Shoshkes Reiss describes it as “especially striking.” I have been Editor-in-Chief of DNA and Cell Biology for the last decade.  It has been rare for authors to request withdrawal of a paper they have submitted.  However, in the last two weeks, six papers have been withdrawn on request. What really puzzled Reiss, a professor … Continue reading ‘Striking’: Journal editor suspects paper mills behind rash of withdrawn manuscripts

    in Retraction watch on January 19, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    What is “representation” in the human brain and AI systems?

    You know the way Google search will sometimes finish your sentences for you? Or, when you’re typing an email, there’s some ghostly predictive text that floats just in front of your cursor? Well, there’s a new kid on the block that makes these gadgets look like toy tricks out of a Christmas cracker. Give it a sentence of Jane Austen and it will finish the paragraph in the same style. Give it a philosophical conjecture and it will fill the page with near-coherent academic ruminations. GPT-3 is essentially just predicting what words should come next, following on from the prompt it’s been given. That the machine does so well is partly because it’s been trained on an unimaginably huge database of samples of English (reputedly, $13 million worth of training). A similar machine can predict, from a sequence of amino acids, how the resulting protein will fold, short-cutting months of lab work and in some cases years of human ingenuity (AlphaFold). But what is going on inside the machine? What is it keeping track of inside its huge neural network “brain”?

    We face the same question, of course, when we look at the human brain—a seemingly inscrutable organ of even greater complexity. Yet neuroscience is beginning to make sense of what’s going on inside: of patterns of activity distributed across millions of neurons, flowing into other patterns; coupling and modulating; unfolding in a way that opens the organism to the world outside, projected through its inner space of needs and drives, bathed in the wash of past experience, reaching out to control and modify that world to its own agenda. We can now see what some of these patterns of activity are, and we have an inkling of what they are doing, of how they track the environment, and subserve behaviour.

    Neuroscientists are recording these patterns with new techniques. But what do the patterns mean? How should they be understood? Neuroscience is increasingly tackling these questions by asking what the activation patterns represent. For example, “representational similarity analysis” (RSA) is used to ask whether the human brain processes images in the same way as the brain of the macaque monkey. Surprisingly, similar techniques can be used to compare the human brain to an AI computer system trained to perform the same task. These AIs are deep neural networks, cousins of the seemingly unfathomable GPT-3 and AlphaFold brains we met at the start. Astoundingly, it turns out that sometimes the deep neural network is processing images in roughly the same way as the human brain. In a general sense, both are performing the same computations en route to working out that they are looking at a picture of two cats on a sofa. In other cases, we see the brain using a hexagonal code to represent physical space—and more abstract conceptual spaces—and to reason about them.

    All of this means that representation has become something of a hot topic in cognitive neuroscience. Representation has always been around, of course, working away in the foundations ever since the “cognitive revolution” showed that we could explain behaviour in terms of internal processing without having to feel embarrassed about intelligent homunculi or ghosts in the machine. What we have now are much better ways to see those representations in the brain and to marry them up with the computational story about how the organism intelligently deals with its environment.

    “representation is the crucial link for connecting brain activity with functional, adaptive behaviour”

    What we still need is a proper understanding of what representation is—an understanding of how there come to be things in the head which stand in for, and allow creatures to deal with, things in their environment. A once-unconventional idea in contemporary philosophy (originating with Ruth Millikan, David Papineau, and Karen Neander) is that this is intimately tied up with function—biological functions based on natural selection. Although a connection to function may have always been implicit in some scientific practice, it is now being recognised explicitly (Hunt et al. 2012Richards et al. 2019). For example, in a recent manifesto for the role of representation in computational cognitive neuroscience, Kriegeskorte and Diedrichsen (2019) argue that representation is the crucial link for connecting brain activity with functional, adaptive behaviour. Meanwhile in philosophy, appealing to natural teleology to explain representation has moved into the mainstream, being embraced by researchers from diverse disciplinary starting points (David HaigRobert Williams), alongside recent landmark contributions from early advocates (Karen NeanderRuth Millikan).

    The devil is in the details, of course, but it is beginning to look as if we have the main ingredients in place: internal states that stand in useful relations to things in the environment, internal processing which relies on those relations, and the functions that serves for the organism. Just as the cognitive sciences come to lean on representation ever more heavily, it seems that we now have the resources to understand this foundational notion.

    Feature image by issaronow

    The post What is “representation” in the human brain and AI systems? appeared first on OUPblog.

    in OUPblog - Psychology and Neuroscience on January 19, 2021 10:30 AM.

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    3 ways AI is shaping the future of clinical research

    Key trends in clinical research for 2021 and how we’re using AI to support practitioners and researchers

    in Elsevier Connect on January 19, 2021 09:34 AM.

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    Szyf and Rabbani: old gels evil, new genomics cool

    Gel images are full of fraud and luckily a thing of the past. Science of today is digital, the figures are diagrams, charts and bar plots where image integrity sleuths can take a hike. Moshe Szyf and Shafat Rabbani of McGill University in Canada accomplished this transition.

    in For Better Science on January 19, 2021 06:00 AM.

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    PLOS and the Canadian Research Knowledge Network Announce Community Action Publishing Deal

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA and OTTAWA, ON — The Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) today announced an agreement for CRKN members to participate in PLOS’ Community Action Publishing (CAP) program, a new collective action publishing model from PLOS, enabling 19 participating CRKN institutions to publish fee-free in PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology. This model shifts publishing costs from authors to research institutions based on prior publishing history as affiliated with corresponding and contributing authors. The group collectively contributes to the shared cost recovery target and any surplus revenue collected by PLOS is redistributed to members.

    “We are delighted to welcome PLOS’ very first Canadian partners to our Community Action Publishing program. Despite a very difficult budget landscape, Canadian institutions’ commitment to community-driven Open Access experimentation remains as strong as ever,” said Sara Rouhi, director of strategic partnerships for PLOS. “As ever, we’re excited to partner with institutions sharing our mission to further equitable and barrier free open reading and publishing.”

    “CRKN members’ participation in this innovative publishing initiative from PLOS highlights Canada’s dedication to furthering open access,” commented Clare Appavoo, Executive Director of CRKN. “Bold ideas drive our community forward, and it is inspiring to see publishers like PLOS advancing new business models for open scholarship. We look forward to collaborating with PLOS as the model and program develop.”

    CRKN participating members include: Brock University, McMaster University, Mount Allison University, Mount Saint Vincent University, Ontario Tech University, Queen’s University, Simon Fraser University, Université Laval, University of Alberta, University of Guelph, University of Manitoba, University of New Brunswick, University of Ottawa, University of Saskatchewan, University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, Western University, Wilfrid Laurier University, and York University.

    Under the Community Action Publishing agreement, which began on January 1, 2021, authors from participating CRKN institutions will have unlimited publishing in PLOS Medicine and PLOS Biology through a collective action model. Both corresponding and contributing authors affiliated with participating CRKN institutions are eligible, and new institutions are permitted to join the agreement at any time during this initial three-year period. The model itself is predicated on cost recovery, capped margins, and redistributing revenues above target back to community members.

    CRKN, which represents 81 academic and research institutions across Canada, joins the University of California and Jisc (including University College London, Imperial College London, University of Manchester) among others in signing open access publishing agreements with PLOS in the last year.

    The post PLOS and the Canadian Research Knowledge Network Announce Community Action Publishing Deal appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on January 18, 2021 05:04 PM.

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    Revisiting The “Brain Drain” Effect: Having A Phone On The Desk Doesn’t Always Impair Our Memory

    By Emma Young

    We all know that using a smartphone interferes with our ability to focus on other things — like driving. But in 2017, a surprising result made international headlines: the mere presence of a switched off smartphone on the desk can impair working memory. Now a new study in Consciousness and Cognition, which has partially replicated and extended this investigation, has not found evidence to support the “brain drain” effect. However, the researchers, led by Matthias Hartmann at University of Bern, Switzerland, say that we shouldn’t start putting our phones back on our desks just yet.

    The 2017 study was led by Adrian Ward at the University of Texas, Austin. His team found that people who’d been instructed to put their phones in another room performed significantly better on tests designed to measure their cognitive capacity than those who had their phones on the desk. They also did slightly better than participants who’d put their phone in a pocket or bag. It didn’t matter whether their phones were off or on or face up or down; just having the phone easily accessible meant that people had to resist the impulse to use it, which used some of their available cognitive capacity, the team concluded. This meant they had less to spare on the tasks, which drew on working memory.

    Hartmann and his colleagues decided to investigate possible impacts on two other types of memory: short term memory and also prospective memory — remembering to do something in the future. They recruited 302 participants with a mean age of about 22, and asked all to put their phones into flight mode. Half were told that they could leave their phone on their desk, while the other half had their phones taken by the experimenter and placed on the opposite side of the room, so that, they were told, they would not be distracted by them. (Since it’s normal to ask study participants not to use their phones, the team didn’t expect this to alert them to the nature of the study.)

    The participants were then presented with a series of pictures of easily identifiable objects paired with unrelated words. They were told to read each word aloud and to memorise the pictures. Every so often, they were asked to say out loud as many of the pictures as they could remember from the previous block, and an experimenter wrote these down. This was the test of their short-term memory. Before embarking on a second series of word-picture presentations, they were told to inform the experimenter whenever they saw a word that belonged in the category of “musical instruments”. This tested their prospective memory.

    The team found that whether participants’ phones were in clear view or on the other side of the room made no overall difference to performance on these memory tasks. The participants had also completed questionnaires measuring their impulsiveness and their levels of smartphone dependence, and, when the team took a closer look at this data, a link — albeit an unexpected one — did pop out. Those people who ranked low for smartphone dependence did poorer on the prospective memory test when their phone was in view.

    What should we make of all this? Given the 2017 findings, “the lack of an effect of smartphone presence on short-term memory performance was surprising,” the team writes. There were some methodological differences between the two studies, they note. Further work to more perfectly replicate the initial study is now needed.

    As for the prospective memory findings, “our results seem to suggest that the benefit of smartphone absence disappears for people with higher levels of smartphone dependency,” the team writes, “as if the negative effects of missing one’s own smartphone when it is absent counteracts the positive effect of smartphone absence.” However, given the limited data so far, it’s too early to draw any firm conclusions.

    The researchers stress that there is strong evidence from a range of earlier studies that “personally relevant” stimuli — like our phones — can impair our performance on cognitive tasks. “Our results should therefore not motivate people to put their smartphones on their desks at work,” they conclude. 

    Does a smartphone on the desk drain our brain? No evidence of cognitive costs due to smartphone presence in a short-term and prospective memory task

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on January 18, 2021 03:13 PM.

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    BMC Series Highlights Blog – December

    BMC Health Services Research

    Persistent symptoms after Covid-19: qualitative study of 114 “long Covid” patients and draft quality principles for services

    Ladds et. al describes “long Covid” as fluctuating symptoms such as coughing, breathlessness, fever, sore throat, chest pain, palpitations, cognitive deficits, myalgia, neurological symptoms, skin rashes, and diarrhoea beyond 3-4 weeks after infection. Despite the great advances in COVID-19 research, there is minimal knowledge about managing “long Covid”. This is emphasized by the participant’s instrumental role in the recruitment and development of this study. This online qualitative study reports the experiences of 114 participants from the UK weeks after their acute illness to better understand COVID-19. These focus groups reveal that those who experience “long Covid” endure difficulty accessing health services despite their uncertain prognosis and occasionally severe reoccurring symptoms. This study informs a basis to improve services while highlighting the importance of patient support groups to better navigate this ambiguous illness.


    BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth

    Association between maternal cannabis use and birth outcomes: an observational study

    As cannabis consumption increases worldwide, it is crucial to investigate the effects of prenatal and maternal cannabis use on birth outcomes. Michalski et al. observe that pre-pregnancy cannabis users experience 2.0 times the odds of birthing an infant with low birth weight, small size for gestational age, or preterm birth. Here, 216 women self-reported cannabis use in their pre/early pregnancy period while disclosing low rates of concurrent substance use such as alcohol and tobacco. While many studies aim to investigate this trend among pregnant women, this Ontario-based study confirms the specific impacts of cannabis use on infant health. Although there is more research to complete in regards to other modes of cannabis consumption, this study emphasizes the need for clinical messaging to expecting mothers.


    BMC Public Health

    The global distribution of acute unintentional pesticide poisoning: estimations based on a systematic review

    Boedeker et. al performed a systematic review examining the prevalence of a widely overlooked national and international public health issue called unintentional, acute pesticide poisoning. This study identified that farm workers and farmers account for 385 million cases of unintentional acute pesticide poisoning cases and around 11,000 deaths per year due to occupational exposure. Boedecker and team conclude this only accounts for a fraction of annual poisonings as registers and hospitals may underreport non-fatal events. Unfortunately, unintentional acute pesticide poisoning can lead to chronic outcomes such as a decreased quality of life or even the inability to continue working arguing the imperative of enhancing the accuracy of national databases and improving access to medical care and education.


    BMC Psychiatry

    Experiences of psychotherapists working with refugees in Germany: a qualitative study

    This study aimed to investigate the availability of mental health care for migrant populations who continue to experience high levels of mental health issues. By conducting semi-structured interviews with 10 psychotherapists across Germany whom have experience in dealing with refugee’s mental health problems, the authors were able to identify three main challenges in this cross-cultural practice. These include, differing or unrealistic expectations of clients towards what psychotherapy may offer, challenges integrated in illness explanatory models and communication challenges. Aside from identifying the main challenges with cross-cultural psychotherapy the authors showed that psychotherapy with refugees can be extremely successful but identifies challenges that underline the importance of designing and introducing new structural approaches to training psychotherapists for the introduction of psychotherapy at scale. As the incidence of mental health problems among refugee populations continues to increase, the ability to provide appropriate mental health support to these vulnerable individuals becomes ever more important.


    BMC Medical Ethics

    Barriers in implementing the dying patient law: the Israeli experience – a qualitative study

    For Governments and health systems, dealing with end-of-life issues presents a major challenge. Despite progress in the introduction of relevant legislature, many barriers still exist to its proper implementation. By conducting 37 in-depth interviews with professionals and decision makers associated with the health care system in Israel the authors were able to identify 6 major barriers to coping with end-of-life issues. These include, Law procedures, Clinical aspects, Human aspects, Knowledge/skill, Communication and finally Resource allocation. They find that ubiquitously the relationship between the patient and their clinical care teams is important. With medical teams often in daily contact with the patient they inherit significant responsibility in implementation of end-of-life care. The authors conclude that by improving or championing accessibility to homes able to provide appropriate care for end-of-life needs, increased public and health system awareness, and support in understanding end-of-life laws, health systems and governments can aim to ensure the best care for end-of-life patients.

    The post BMC Series Highlights Blog – December appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on January 18, 2021 01:21 PM.

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    The most ancient supermassive black hole is bafflingly big

    The most ancient black hole ever discovered is so big it defies explanation.

    This active supermassive black hole, or quasar, boasts a mass of 1.6 billion suns and lies at the heart of a galaxy more than 13 billion light-years from Earth. The quasar, dubbed J0313-1806, dates back to when the universe was just 670 million years old, or about 5 percent of the universe’s current age. That makes J0313-1806 two times heavier and 20 million years older than the last record-holder for earliest known black hole (SN: 12/6/17).

    Finding such a huge supermassive black hole so early in the universe’s history challenges astronomers’ understanding of how these cosmic beasts first formed, researchers reported January 12 at a virtual meeting of the American Astronomical Society and in a paper posted at arXiv.org on January 8.

    Supermassive black holes are thought to grow from smaller seed black holes that gobble up matter. But astronomer Feige Wang of the University of Arizona and colleagues calculated that even if J0313-1806’s seed formed right after the first stars in the universe and grew as fast as possible, it would have needed a starting mass of at least 10,000 suns. The normal way seed black holes form — through the collapse of massive stars — can only make black holes up to a few thousand times as massive as the sun.

    A gargantuan seed black hole may have formed through the direct collapse of vast amounts of primordial hydrogen gas, says study coauthor Xiaohui Fan, also an astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Or perhaps J0313-1806’s seed started out small, forming through stellar collapse, and black holes can grow a lot faster than scientists think. “Both possibilities exist, but neither is proven,” Fan says. “We have to look much earlier [in the universe] and look for much less massive black holes to see how these things grow.”

    in Science News on January 18, 2021 01:00 PM.

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    Exercise science grad student at Australian university dismissed after he admitted faking data, says supervisor

    A physiology journal has retracted a pair of papers from a group in Australia after learning that the flawed work was the subject of an institutional investigation. The articles, both of which were published last year in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, came from a group at the Murdoch Applied Sports Science Laboratory, … Continue reading Exercise science grad student at Australian university dismissed after he admitted faking data, says supervisor

    in Retraction watch on January 18, 2021 05:01 AM.

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    Weekend reads: Pollution of COVID-19 research; climate papers lead to reassignment; time to publish less?

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured: “The most horrific time of my career.” What do you … Continue reading Weekend reads: Pollution of COVID-19 research; climate papers lead to reassignment; time to publish less?

    in Retraction watch on January 16, 2021 03:13 PM.

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    The more contagious coronavirus variant may soon be the U.S.’s dominant strain

    A highly contagious coronavirus variant will become the dominant version of the virus in the United States in March, emphasizing the need for more rapid vaccination, a new modeling study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests.

    The coronavirus variant was first identified in December in the United Kingdom (SN: 12/22/20). Called B.1.1.7, it has some mutations that may help the virus better spread among people, though the variant isn’t thought to cause more severe disease. It has so far been detected in 76 COVID-19 cases across 12 U.S. states. Because experts have analyzed the genetic fingerprints of only a small percentage of the millions of coronavirus infections in the United States, however, it’s unclear how widespread B.1.1.7 might be. Experts estimate that the variant currently causes less than half a percent of U.S. COVID-19 cases.

    But while B.1.1.7 might be present at low levels now, it has the potential to drive a surge in U.S. cases and outpace the most prevalent viral variants currently infecting people in two months, researchers report January 15 in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Because B.1.1.7 is likely more transmissible, people must be more rigorous about following public health guidelines such as wearing masks to curb its spread, health officials say.

    “These measures will be more effective if they are instituted sooner rather than later,” the researchers warn.

    In the study, the team simulated how the variant might spread in the country from January to April 2021. Assuming that the variant is 50 percent more transmissible than other viral versions already spreading in the United States and that around 10 to 30 percent of people have immunity against any form of the virus from a previous bout of COVID-19, B.1.1.7 could cause most coronavirus cases in the country by March, the researchers found. 

    Vaccinating 1 million people a day, however, would help substantially reduce how many COVID-19 cases — and thus hospitalizations and deaths — caused by the new variant ultimately occur, though the variant would still dominate U.S. cases in March, the modeling study suggests. Since the rollout of vaccines in December, more than 10 million people have been inoculated against the coronavirus in the United States. 

    Reducing coronavirus transmission overall, including the spread of other variants, could also further reduce how much B.1.1.7 spreads, even after it becomes the dominant variant. More rigorous efforts to limit the spread of the virus — including more compliance with following public health guidelines like wearing masks and staying away from crowds — will slow the variant’s spread and give medical experts more time to vaccinate more people and build up community immunity, the team writes. 

    in Science News on January 15, 2021 08:28 PM.

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    Increase to Funds and Anticipated Awards for BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) Scalable Technologies and Tools

    A recently issued Notice (NOT-MH-21-155) increases the available funds and anticipated number of awards for the funding opportunity announcement BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) Scalable Technologies and Tools for Brain Cell Census (RFA-MH-21-140).

    As we announced earlier, Congress recently authorized an increase in appropriated funds to the NIH BRAIN Initiative in 2021 compared to 2020. This includes $40M for The Human Brain Cell Atlas, one of the transformative projects outlined in BRAIN 2.0: From Cells to Circuits, Toward Cures. With these funds now available, NIH has released a Notice (NOT-MH-21-155) increasing the available funds and anticipated number of awards for RFA-MH-21-140 (BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) Scalable Technologies and Tools for Brain Cell Census (R01)). BRAIN intends to commit an estimated total of $12M per year to fund 6-10 awards.

    This funding opportunity announcement aims to accelerate the integration and use of scalable technologies and tools to enhance brain cell census research. Funding can support the development of technology platforms and/ or resources that will enable a quick and comprehensive survey of brain cell types and circuits. Tools and technologies of interest can fit into the following themes: molecular profiling, cell morphology, neuron connectivity/ intercellular communication, cell lineage and/ or development.

    In particular, applicants are encouraged to submit proposals aiming to set the stage and build capacity for the launch of The Human Brain Cell Atlas, in the context of creating comprehensive, anatomically informed, highly granular cell atlases of the whole human brain.

    The application receipt date is March 10, 2021.

    in BRAIN Update on January 15, 2021 05:00 PM.

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    The Parker Solar Probe will have company on its next pass by the sun

    The Parker Solar Probe is no stranger to the sun. On January 17, the NASA spacecraft will make its seventh close pass of our star, coming within 14 million kilometers of its scorching surface.

    And this time, Parker will have plenty of company. A lucky celestial lineup means that dozens of other observatories will be trained on the sun at the same time. Together, these telescopes will provide unprecedented views of the sun, helping to solve some of the most enduring mysteries of our star.

    “This next orbit is really an amazing one,” says mission project scientist Nour Raouafi of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

    Chief among the spacecraft that will join the watch party is newcomer Solar Orbiter, which the European Space Agency launched in February 2020 (SN: 2/9/20). As Parker swings by our star this month, Solar Orbiter will be watching from the other side of the sun.

    “This is partially luck,” solar physicist Timothy Horbury of Imperial College London said  December 10 at a news briefing at the virtual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. “Nobody planned to have Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter operating together; it’s just come out that way.”

    Working together, the sungazers will tackle long-standing puzzles: how the sun creates and controls the solar wind, why solar activity changes over time and how to predict powerful solar outbursts.

    “I think it genuinely is going to be a revolution,” Horbury said. “We’re all incredibly lucky to be doing this at this moment in time.”

    Working in tandem

    The Parker Solar Probe launched in 2018 and has already had six close encounters with the sun (SN: 7/5/18). During its nearly seven-year mission, the probe will eventually swing within 6 million kilometers of the sun — less than one-seventh the distance of Mercury from the sun — giving Parker’s heavily shielded instruments a better taste of the plasma and charged particles of the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona (SN: 7/31/18).

    Because Parker gets so close, its cameras cannot take direct pictures of the solar surface. Solar Orbiter, though, will get no closer than 42 million kilometers, letting it take the highest-resolution images of the sun ever. The mission’s official science phase won’t begin until November 2021, but the spacecraft has already snapped images revealing tiny “campfire” flares that might help heat the corona (SN: 7/16/20).

    During Parker’s seventh close encounter, which runs January 12–23, Solar Orbiter will observe the sun from a vantage point almost opposite to Parker’s view. Half a dozen other observers will be watching as well, such as ESA’s BepiColombo spacecraft that is on its way to Mercury and NASA’s veteran sunwatcher STEREO-A. Both will flank Parker on either side of the sun. And telescopes on Earth will be watching from a vantage point about 135 million kilometers behind Parker, making a straight line from Earth to the spacecraft to the sun.

    Sun orbit diagramWhen the Parker Solar Probe makes its next close pass of the sun (shown in the black arc in the center of this diagram), a host of other spacecraft and telescopes on Earth will be watching too. This diagram shows the relative positions during the flyby of the sun, Earth, Parker, Solar Orbiter and two other spacecraft, BepiColombo and STEREO-A.JHU-APL
    Sun orbit diagramWhen the Parker Solar Probe makes its next close pass of the sun (shown in the black arc in the center of this diagram), a host of other spacecraft and telescopes on Earth will be watching too. This diagram shows the relative positions during the flyby of the sun, Earth, Parker, Solar Orbiter and two other spacecraft, BepiColombo and STEREO-A.JHU-APL

    The situation is similar to Parker’s fourth flyby in January 2020, when nearly 50 observatories watched the sun in tandem with the probe, Raouafi says. Those observations led to a special issue of Astronomy & Astrophysics with more than 40 articles. One of the results was confirming that there is a region around the sun that is free of dust, which was predicted in 1929. “That was amazing,” Raouafi says. “We want to do a campaign that is that good or even better for this run.”

    In the wind

    At the AGU meeting, researchers presented new results from Parker’s second year of observations. The results deepen the mystery of magnetic kinks called “switchbacks” that Parker observed in the solar wind, a constant stream of charged particles flowing away from the sun (SN: 12/4/19), Raouafi says.

    Some observations support the idea that the kinks originate at the base of the corona and are carried past Parker and beyond, like a wave traveling along a jump rope. Others suggest the switchbacks are created by turbulence within the solar wind itself.

    Figuring out which idea is correct could help pinpoint how the sun produces the solar wind in the first place. “These [switchbacks] could be the key to explaining how the solar wind is heated and accelerated,” Raouafi said in a talk recorded for AGU.

    Meanwhile, Solar Orbiter’s zoomed-in images plus simultaneous measurements of the solar wind may allow scientists to trace the wind’s energetic particles back to their birthplaces on the sun’s surface. Campfire flares — the “nanoflares” spotted by Solar Orbiter — might even explain the switchbacks, Horbury says.

    “The goal is to connect tiny transient events like nanoflares to changes in the solar wind,” Horbury said in the news briefing.

    Waking up with the sun

    Parker and Solar Orbiter couldn’t have arrived at a better time. “The sun has been very quiet, in a deep solar minimum for the last several years,” Horbury said. “But the sun is just beginning to wake up now.”

    Both spacecraft have seen solar activity building over the last year. During its sleepy period, the sun displays fewer sunspots and outbursts such as flares and coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. But as it wakes up, those signs of increasing magnetic activity become more common and more energetic.

    On November 29, Parker observed the most powerful flare it had seen in the last three years, followed by a CME that ripped past the spacecraft at 1,400 kilometers per second.

    “We got so much data from that,” Raouafi says. More CMEs should pass Parker when it’s even closer to the sun, which will tell scientists about how these outbursts are launched.

    Solar Orbiter caught an outburst too. On April 19, a CME passed the spacecraft about 20 hours before its effects arrived at Earth. With existing spacecraft, observers on Earth get only about 40 minutes warning before a CME arrives.

    Coronal mass ejection diagramSolar Orbiter detected a big burst of plasma called a coronal mass ejection in April, almost a day before signs of the eruption reached Earth. Observers on Earth typically get just 40 minutes of warning before such an eruption arrives.ESA
    Coronal mass ejection diagramSolar Orbiter detected a big burst of plasma called a coronal mass ejection in April, almost a day before signs of the eruption reached Earth. Observers on Earth typically get just 40 minutes of warning before such an eruption arrives.ESA

    “We can see how that CME evolves as it travels away from the sun in a way we’ve never been able to do before,” Horbury said.

    Strong CMEs can knock out satellites and power grids, so having as much forewarning as possible is important. A future spacecraft at Solar Orbiter’s distance from the sun could help give that warning.

    Looking forward

    This orbit is the first time that Parker Solar Probe and Solar Orbiter will watch the sun in tandem, but not the last. “There will be plenty of opportunities like this one,” Raouafi says.

    He’s looking forward to one opportunity in particular: the solar eclipse of 2024. On April 8, 2024, a total eclipse will cross North America from Mexico to Newfoundland. Solar scientists plan to make observations from all along the path of totality, similar to how they watched the total eclipse of 2017.

    During the eclipse, the Parker Solar Probe will be on its second-closest orbit, between 7 million and 8 million kilometers from the sun. Parker and Solar Orbiter will be “almost on top of each other,” Raouafi says — both spacecraft will be together off to one side of the sun as seen from Earth. Whatever prominences and other shapes in the corona are visible to observers on Earth will be headed right at the spacecraft.

    “They will be flying through the structure we will see from Earth during the solar eclipse,” Raouafi says. The combined observations will tell scientists how features on the sun evolve with time.

    “I think it is a new era,” Horbury said. “The next few years is going to be a step change in the way we see the sun.”

    in Science News on January 15, 2021 03:28 PM.

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    The Core Computational Principles of a Neuron

    To spike or not to spike?

    It is well known that a neuron is the main cell of the nervous system. It generates electrical pulses as large as 0.1Volts, has sprouts — axons (as long as 1 meter) and dendrites (several millimeters), and lives more than 100 years. You will not find another more marvelous cell in the body. Still, I will not write about biological details (despite how interesting they are). Rather, I will try to define the most important computational principles, which might help with the progression to artificial intelligence (AI).

    Convergence towards principles always leads to simplification and generalization, but it can be dangerous. The brain is too diverse. You can simplify too much and lose something important. Let’s dare to try. Ultimately, it is an iterative process. We merely want to become less wrong with time.

    Principle 1. Neurons are binary

    A neuron generates and transmits electrical pulses (also called spikes). They are very similar in amplitude and duration, so they can be treated as binary events (spike=1, no spike=0). Yet, we don’t fully understand how exactly thousands and millions of neurons represent knowledge, perform basic calculations, and store casual relationships.

    Some neurons transmit information by the frequency of spikes. For example, the more a motor-neuron activates in the spinal cord, the stronger the muscle contracts. For a long time, people thought that other neurons in the cerebral cortex send information in a similar way. After the famous Hubel and Wiesel experiments, we know that a neuron in a visual area has a higher spike frequency for a particular stimulus. If the cat sees the vertical line, a particular neuron activates very fast, but if we rotate the line — the neuron slows down. This can be summarized in a tuning curve:

    For many decades, the idea of frequency coding was dominant. Even now, artificial neural networks use the same coding (real numbers). But a nasty problem ruins the frequency view: to “measure” the rate of firing you need to wait for a long time (hundreds of milliseconds) to average spikes.

    However, the brain computes much faster. Humans need around 100 ms to recognize an object. Information travels from the retina to the thalamus, then is projected to the visual cortex, where it hops across three or four areas before reaching the IT area. Here the recognition of an object occurs. Taking into account the time for spike generation (2–5 ms) and spike propagation (roughly 10–20ms), there is just enough time to send 1–2 pulses… and no way to wait longer to “send” the frequency of firing.

    Therefore, individual spikes (0 or 1) somehow should be enough to transmit information. Currently, the prevailing idea is that an individual neuron does not send a lot, but many of them can encode anything (population coding).

    Once, my friend asked me: “How does the brain encode information? Perhaps with something super complex?”. “No”, I said. “Most likely, it uses a binary code similar to computers, but the principles are very different.” Neural coding is one of the most compelling areas of research with many mysteries and open problems. Intriguingly, it relates nicely to information theory. It is not just about data representation, but about something fundamental, about the organization of matter to reflect nature.

    Though we are still far from fully understanding the neural code. There are bursting neurons that emit many spikes very fast. Can we simplify the burst of pulses as one binary event? Neuromodulators change how the neuron is excited. Possibly, different brain regions (like sensory and motor) use different coding schemes. Yet, most likely the main tasks like recognition, memory, and planning use binary codes (that can be modulated in various ways).

    Principle 2. Neurons integrate information

    A typical neuron in neocortex has around 10 000 connections and more than 100 of them are active simultaneously. Information integration means that a neuron “hears” all 10 thousand “calls” and compresses them to 0 or 1 (spike or no spike). Mathematically, 10 thousand neurons can be active in 2¹⁰⁰⁰⁰ possible ways (0 or 1 for each input). We could enumerate and put all of them into a table (two columns, 2¹⁰⁰⁰⁰ rows) but even the whole universe could not store it. Alternatively, we can write the table in a compact form as some function (y=f(x)).

    Maybe the biggest advantage of a neuron is that it can change its inner parameters (like the weights w in artificial neurons). Biologically, these parameters are realized as synapses between neurons, or as a distribution of ion channels on a membrane, or other molecules that determine the excitability of a cell. By changing the parameters, a neuron can change its function, its answers to 10 000 inputs. Parameters add new columns to this gigantic table and can be written as a parametric function y=f(x, w). The number of different functions the neuron can realize is called expressivity. The larger the expressivity, the more ways a neuron can integrate information. And it is crucial for learning, which is essentially a search for the right function.

    For the last 20 years, people showed that the expressivity of a biological neuron is much larger than previously thought. It turns out that the dendrites do not simply transmit the signal to the center of a cell but process it along the way. If a local dendritic branch gets activated too much, it can amplify the signal (an event called a dendritic spike).Thus, synapses that are active close in space and time excite the cell much larger than simultaneous but non-local signals. This is important: read it once more. Here is a helpful picture.

    On the left, three axons (in color) bring the activation from three neurons and spread their synapses randomly. On the right, synapses concentrate locally. The right neuron is excited more, and more likely generates an action potential (the figure shows three axons for simplicity, usually a neuron needs more to fire).

    Therefore, not only the strength of a connection is important but its location. Because of this, people argued for a new learning paradigm: not only the weights but their locations also store information.

    The larger the dendritic tree, the more ways to arrange synapses, thus the more ways to activate the neuron and the larger the expressivity. Interestingly, evolutionary smarter animals have a larger dendritic tree. The picture below shows the pyramidal neurons of 1.Bat, 2.Rat, 3.Cat, 4. Dolphin (source in Russian). Similarly, humans have more elaborate dendritic trees compared to chimpanzees (source). Maybe, with more powerful neurons animals get higher intelligence.

    Pyramidal neurons of 1.Bat, 2.Rat, 3.Cat, 4. Dolphin

    Old models of a neuron (like ReLU or threshold) are called “point” models. They do not include dendrites and are computationally weaker. Such models people still use in artificial neural networks and do not want to adopt new, more complex neurons. One of the reasons is that it’s not clear how to learn a new model with active dendrites. Another reason is that by collecting together many simple neurons you can achieve the same expressivity as a single complex neuron. So, more or less, a two-layer network corresponds to a biological neuron. Read a really captivating article that explains it in depth.

    Yet, even this is an overly simplistic view — a real neuron is more powerful.

    Principle 3. Neurons integrate information in time

    Spike or not to spike is the final result of all preceding computations. Still, it doesn’t simply discharge like a capacitor. The neuron remembers what happened before. Mathematically, a neuron is a complex dynamical system with time-varying parameters. Simple neuronal models can not describe all phenomena. For example, the same inputs at one time elicit activation and at another — don’t. A neuron remembers not simply a correct combination of neurons among 10 000 but when this combination occurs. As if the neuron looks over the window T back in time and makes a decision (0 or 1) based on (2¹⁰⁰⁰⁰)^T possible scenarios. It opens the way for remembering sequences by a single neuron.

    One such mechanism of integration across time is the control of neuronal excitability. Once a neuron becomes active from a stimulus “A” it can change its inner parameter (for example the concentration of the protein CREB) to make itself more easily activated in the future. Even after many hours, this neuron will be activated from another stimulus “B” with a higher probability. One neuron gets activated for two stimuli and links them together. Since the memory is stored distributed across many neurons there will be an overlapping population of cells that stored a causal relationship “A->B” . Changing neuronal excitability may be the way we form episodic memory (here is a nice review).

    Another mechanism is when a neuron stores sequential information in other neurons. Active neurons excite other cells and shape a particular network activity (called the “context”). After a certain time, the context may cause the activation of some other neuron. This neuron encodes the previous history (a sequence) that shaped that context. This is the domain of recurrent neural networks in which it is extremely hard to unravel the chain of computations.

    Yet another way how a neuron preserves memory is via its spines, the places where axons attach the dendrites. They also have inner parameters that can be changed to store information. One hypothesis (synaptic tagging) proposes that spines “remember” the previous activation by expressing some tag. Later, the activation of a synapse interferes with the tag, which makes the connection stronger. That is why sometimes people argue for learning of different time scales (like here). Some parameters can change quickly in response to rapid events. And some change very slowly, reflecting things happening over minutes, hours and more.

    The lesson is — the neurons are very variable. They can change themselves (ion channels, spines, other proteins…) to record the spatial and temporal activation of the network overall.

    Principle 4. Neurons learn … to survive

    A neuron is a living cell, and like any other it has needs. It consumes a lot of energy to fire electrical pulses. This energy must come from somewhere. Here neurons receive help from astrocytes, supportive glial cells, that live close to neurons, with around one astrocyte for three neurons.

    Astrocytes sense when the neuron becomes active and change the permeability of blood capillaries to increase the flow of oxygen and glucose. These molecules are consumed by neuronal mitochondria that stores energy in the molecule ATP. Once, I had an Aha moment: “The goal of a neuron to become active to get nutrients. It activates and learns to survive!” Subsequently, I did not find any facts that support or reject this idea (that neuronal activity is the only way to get “food”). But the idea is interesting.

    Another similar and verified idea is homeostasis: a neuron sustains a target level of firing. If the activity exceeds or falls under the target level, the neuron launches the mechanics to return to this level. For example, a neuron can strengthen or weaken its connections (synaptic scaling) or change its threshold for firing an action potential.

    An interesting idea is that to be active just enough neurons change not only themselves, but try to change other neurons. They compete and cooperate with each other. A neuron tries to become active and prevent its neighbors from firing, a process called “winner takes all”. Or neurons try to “help” other distant neurons by activating them (hoping they will return the favour sometime). Of course, it is just a story where neurons, like warriors on a battlefield, survive, fight, create alliances. Nevertheless, it helps to link many experimental facts. Neurons indeed can activate local inhibitory cells that in turn decrease activation of other local neurons (“competition”). In addition, neurons in the visual cortex create distant connections with other neurons that encode similar stimuli (“cooperation”). Still, to confirm the story many experiments need to be done. And hopefully we will answer one of the most important questions in learning — how neurons choose with whom to connect.

    I wrote that a neuron tracks the combinations among 10 000 connected neurons. Actually, it learns to recognize among 100,000 neurons. If two neurons are not connected but the axon of the first is close to the dendrite of a second, a connection may arise. It is structural plasticity — the creation and deletion of connections. A typical neuron in the neocortex has approximately 100,000 potential candidates to form the connection. What a possibility to reshape the network!

    Structural plasticity is prominent especially in children, who have a lot of excessive synapses. With aging (till around 30 years) the connections are pruned and the most valuable remain. The speed of this process varies in different brain regions: in some, like the parietal and frontal cortex, it takes longer to fully mature. But how to choose which connections to delete? One of the answers is the principle “use it or lose it”. Connections that are used rarely get eliminated. It is a highly selective procedure — one axon may climb to a particular neuron avoiding everyone else on its way.

    Many theories of synaptic plasticity explain the changing of the strength of connections. Still, it is not completely clear how precise this strength might be. In artificial neural networks, the weight is a real number, for instance, 0.63737. True, neuronal spines vary in shape and size and a neuron can change the number and effectiveness of ion channels through which the positive ions pass and excite it ( ehh, I have to skip so many fascinating details). Some estimates show that a synapse can store 4.7 bits of information, so it has 2^(4.7)=26 different states. Hence, learning is the change from one state to another. However, it is still debatable how long and how reliably the spine can remain in a given state. At least, we can treat the spine as one bit of information: are the two neurons connected? (And a couple more bits for the location of the synapse on a dendrite).

    Principle 5. Neurons make errors and it’s okay

    In reality, synapses are very unreliable and stochastic. Often, neurons fail to transmit the signal, neurotransmitters may be “stuck” inside the axon. The successful transmission happens with some probability. That is why it is hard to reason about the strength of the connection. Interestingly, it may be not the weakness of evolution that could not invent reliable wires, but the discovery of how to make learning more efficient. Some theories suggest that stochastic connections may actually help. Neurons in some animals can change the probability of synaptic release as a way of learning (see a good review). How common is this phenomenon in the human brain? How important is it computationally? We don’t know. New research is needed.

    Not just synapses, but neurons can be noisy as well. Sometimes they can even die. In some brain regions the death of neurons is very bad. Like in the brain stem where neurons control breathing, blood pressure, and sustain life. However, in most regions neurons might die and nothing terrible will happen.

    In contrast, the loss of some transistors could damage the whole chip and the computer stops working. Brain architecture is evolved to be stable to errors, to failure of neurons and synapses. Information is encoded in a large population of neurons, from multiple modalities (vision, hearing…). Thus, there is no grandmother neuron, the neuron that encodes only the grandmother. Otherwise, when that neuron dies — the memory is lost. One neuron does not encode only one stimulus but many. One memory is encoded in many neurons. If some cells make errors, no worries, the information remains. In case of massive cell death, like in a stroke, a function of the neurons might weaken, but later neuroplasticity reassigns the overload among other neurons.

    This is an important principle: if you build AI with brain-like neuronal networks, you must ask yourself “will my algorithm still work if I remove 10% of neurons? Or 20%?”

    Surely, this was not a complete list of all principles. But these five are among the most important.

    Hopefully, you will remember that a neuron is a living cell. It doesn’t care about information processing and computation, it just wants to survive. Yet, it is fascinating that, while surviving, a neuron makes computation.

    I am thankful to Mark Humphries for suggestions and saving this article from a grammatical mess :)

    Follow on: Facebook and Twitter.

    This is the fifth article in the blog series “AI Territory”. Read other articles here.

    The Core Computational Principles of a Neuron was originally published in The Spike on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

    in The Spike on January 15, 2021 02:17 PM.

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    ‘The New Climate War’ exposes tactics of climate change ‘inactivists’

    The New Climate War book cover

    The New Climate War
    Michael E. Mann
    Public Affairs, $29

    Sometime around the fifth century B.C., the Chinese general and military strategist Sun Tzu wrote in his highly quotable treatise The Art of War, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

    In The New Climate War, climate scientist Michael Mann channels Sun Tzu to demystify the myriad tactics of “the enemy” — in this case, “the fossil fuel companies, right-wing plutocrats and oil-funded governments” and other forces standing in the way of large-scale action to combat climate change. “Any plan for victory requires recognizing and defeating the tactics now being used by inactivists as they continue to wage war,” he writes.

    Mann is a veteran of the climate wars of the 1990s and early 2000s, when the scientific evidence that the climate is changing due to human emissions of greenhouse gases was under attack. Now, with the effects of climate change all around us (SN: 12/21/20), we are in a new phase of those wars, he argues. Outright denial has morphed into “deception, distraction and delay.”

    Such tactics, he says, are direct descendants of earlier public relations battles over whether producers or consumers must bear ultimate responsibility for, say, smoking-related deaths. When it comes to the climate, Mann warns, an overemphasis on individual actions could eclipse efforts to achieve the real prize: industrial-scale emissions reductions.

    He pulls no punches, calling out sources of “friendly fire” from climate advocates who he says divide the climate community and play into the “enemy’s” hands. These advocates include climate purists who lambaste scientists for flying or eating meat; science communicators who push fatalistic visions of catastrophic futures; and idealistic technocrats who advocate for risky, pie-in-the-sky geoengineering ideas. All, Mann says, distract from what we can do in the here and now: regulate emissions and invest in renewable energy.

    The New Climate War’s main focus is to combat psychological warfare, and on this front, the book is fascinating and often entertaining. It’s an engrossing mix of footnoted history, acerbic political commentary and personal anecdotes. As far as what readers can do to assist in the battle, Mann advocates four strategies: Disregard the doomsayers; get inspired by youth activists like Greta Thunberg; focus on educating the people who will listen; and don’t be fooled into thinking it’s too late to take action to change the political system.

    Buy The New Climate War from Amazon.com. Science News is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Please see our FAQ for more details.

    in Science News on January 15, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    “There can be no justification for such studies”: Paper on artificial eyes for dogs earns expression of concern

    A journal has issued an expression of concern for a 2020 paper by researchers in Korea who have used 3-D printing to create artificial eyes for dogs. The study triggered a slew of critical comments from readers, who were outraged by the ethics of the research and what they saw as inadequate protections for the … Continue reading “There can be no justification for such studies”: Paper on artificial eyes for dogs earns expression of concern

    in Retraction watch on January 15, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    2020 and 2016 tie for the hottest years on record

    2020 is in a “dead heat” with 2016 for the hottest year on record, scientists with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced January 14.

    Based on ocean temperature data from buoys, floats and ships, as well as temperatures measured over land at weather stations around the globe, the U.S. agencies conducted independent analyses and arrived at a similar conclusion.

    NASA’s analysis showed 2020 to be slightly hotter, while NOAA’s showed that 2016 was still slightly ahead. But the differences in those assessments are within margins of error, “so it’s effectively a statistical tie,” said NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City at a Jan. 14 news conference.

    NOAA climate scientist Russell Vose, who is also based in New York City, described in the news conference the extreme warmth that occurred over land last year, including a months-long heat wave in Siberia (SN: 12/21/20). Europe and Asia recorded their hottest average temperatures on record in 2020, with South America recording its second warmest.

    It’s possible that 2020’s temperatures in some areas might have been even higher if not for massive wildfires. Vose noted that smoke lofted high into the stratosphere as a result of Australia’s intense fires in early 2020 may have slightly decreased temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere, though this is not yet known (SN: 12/15/20).

    The ocean-climate pattern known as the El Niño Southern Oscillation can boost or decrease global temperatures, depending on whether it’s in an El Niño or La Niña phase, respectively, Schmidt said (SN: 5/2/16). The El Niño phase was waning at the start of 2020, and a La Niña was starting, so the overall impact of this pattern was muted for the year. 2016, on the other hand, got a large temperature boost from El Niño. Without that, “2020 would have been by far the warmest year on record,” he said.

    But placed in the bigger picture, these rankings “don’t tell the whole story,” Vose said. “The last six to seven years really stand out above the rest of the record, suggesting the kind of rapid warming we’re seeing. [And] each of the past four decades was warmer than the one preceding it.”

    in Science News on January 14, 2021 10:35 PM.

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    Could delaying a second vaccine dose lead to more dangerous coronavirus strains?

    Spiking COVID-19 cases, slow vaccine rollout and the emergence of more transmissible coronavirus variants in some countries have sparked debate among scientists over the best way to protect people with recently authorized vaccines. 

    One idea involves delaying when people receive the second of two required vaccine doses, so that more people can receive the doses that are currently available. 

    That’s happening in the United Kingdom, where researchers have raised concerns about a new coronavirus variant that appears to be more contagious than other versions. Officials there are opting to extend the time between each vaccine dose from three or four weeks to up to three months (SN: 12/22/20). 

    In the United States, on the other hand, officials strongly recommend that states stick to the regimen that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorized in December — two shots spaced three weeks apart for Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine and four weeks apart for Moderna’s. 

    On January 12, the Trump administration announced it was no longer holding back second shots of COVID-19 vaccines, several days after President-elect Joe Biden suggested he would release all the shots. While that may speed protection for more Americans, it also raises the possibility that people might not get their second doses on time, if manufacturing problems arise.  

    The possibility that second doses could be delayed has some experts concerned because it might lead to millions of people walking around with only partial immunity to the coronavirus, a condition that could be ripe for harmful mutations of the virus to arise.

    Delaying the second shot is a gamble, says Ramón Lorenzo-Redondo, a virologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, particularly without a lot of evidence suggesting how well one dose works. Officials “shouldn’t gamble [their] best tools” to fight the pandemic, he says. “We don’t want to fuel [potential viral evolution] by doing suboptimal immunization of the population.”

    How that fueling of virus evolution could happen comes down to the immune system. If people have full immunity as a result of vaccination, their immune response is likely to be robust, spawning large numbers of neutralizing antibodies, for example, that stop viruses from getting into cells and heading off harmful mutations before they arise. But if people have partial immunity, that immune response is likely to be weaker. 

    It’s like when doctors encourage patients to finish a full course of antibiotics, Lorenzo-Redondo says. In that case, eliminating susceptible bacteria with a full course could help lower the chance that stragglers build up resistance.

    For the COVID-19 vaccine, if people’s second doses are delayed long enough — akin to not finishing a full complement of antibiotics — it’s possible that low numbers of neutralizing antibodies triggered by only one dose may only partially fight an infection. That might provide more time for variants of the virus with immune-dodging mutations to arise and thrive and be transmitted to other people.

    If immune-dodging variants do arise as a result of shot delays and spread to lots of people, that could deal a blow to vaccines’ effectiveness. For example, if mutations arose that prevented vaccine-induced antibodies from binding to the virus, or caused antibodies to bind less tightly, that virus variant may be more likely to infect cells than variants without the mutation and thus cause disease, Lorenzo-Redondo says. With cases surging in many places, including the United Kingdom and the United States, the coronavirus could have even more chances to accumulate vaccine-evading mutations than it would if case numbers were lower.

    For now, it’s unclear how protected vaccinated people are after a single shot and for how long. Trial participants who received Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine had low levels of neutralizing antibodies 21 days after the first dose, researchers reported in the Dec. 17 New England Journal of Medicine. But clinical trial results from both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines suggest that protection begins around two weeks after the first dose — Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine had an efficacy of around 50 percent after the first dose and Moderna’s had around 80 percent efficacy (SN: 12/18/20). It’s unknown how durable that protection might be, says Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist and evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, but it would be weird to see it fade quickly. 

    Cobey is one of the scientists who isn’t worried about the risk of a long delay between shots.  Instead, expanding how many people get the first dose could actually help control how much the coronavirus changes, she says. That’s because even the partial protection that people may get from a single dose “will almost certainly lower the prevalence of infection,” she says. Fewer infections overall would mean fewer coronavirus variants in general circulating among people. By virtue of numbers, the coronavirus then may not accumulate as many mutations that could help it evade immune systems.

    And even if a virus accumulates mutations that help it dodge the immune response as a result of the dose delay, such changes might in turn damage essential viral functions like breaking into and hijacking a host cell. A virus that can escape immunity, for instance, might end up being less transmissible. For now, it’s unclear what might happen with the coronavirus, which in general mutates more slowly than other similar viruses thanks to a unique proofreading enzyme that acts as a spell-check for the letters that make up the coronavirus’s genetic blueprint (SN: 1/28/20).

    What’s more, the immune responses that a person makes also don’t attack just one part of a virus. Antibodies, for instance, including those induced by vaccines, hit many different parts of viral proteins, making it harder for the virus to escape. And over time antibodies can get better at their job (SN: 11/24/20). So, most mutations are unlikely to render antibodies completely ineffective. 

    “You put that all together and it’s a pretty high barrier” for virus evolution to work around, says Adam Lauring, an infectious disease physician and virologist at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor. 

    In lab experiments, for example, COVID-19 patient serum that harbors myriad coronavirus antibodies still stops the coronavirus from infecting cells in a dish, even if there are viral mutations, researchers reported in a preliminary study posted January 4 at bioRxiv.org. While a few mutations — including one present in a coronavirus variant now circulating in South Africa — made antibodies in the serum less effective at stopping viruses from infecting cells, the serum’s virus-halting activity didn’t outright disappear. 

    Still, that doesn’t mean potentially risky viral evolution as a result of delaying doses is not going to happen. “I think this is something we need to study and we need to look at for sure,” Lauring says. For now, “I’m not sure we know enough that we can really confidently say what one or other [vaccine-dosing] strategy is going to do.” 

    in Science News on January 14, 2021 09:03 PM.

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    Some electric eels coordinate attacks to zap their prey

    One Volta’s electric eel — able to subdue small fish with an 860-volt jolt — is scary enough. Now imagine over 100 eels swirling about, unleashing coordinated electric attacks.

    Such a sight was assumed to be only the stuff of nightmares, at least for prey. Researchers have long thought that these eels, a type of knifefish, are solitary, nocturnal hunters that use their electric sense to find smaller fish as they sleep (SN: 12/4/14). But in a remote region of the Amazon, groups of over 100 electric eels (Electrophorus voltai) hunt together, corralling thousands of smaller fish together to concentrate, shock and devour the prey, researchers report January 14 in Ecology and Evolution.

    “This is hugely unexpected,” says Raimundo Nonato Mendes-Júnior, a biologist at the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation in Brasilia, Brazil who wasn’t involved in the study. “It goes to show how very, very little we know about how electric eels behave in the wild.”

    group of Volta's electric eels hunting in waterVolta’s electric eels sometimes hunt as a group (pictured), using their numbers to corral shoals of smaller fish into shallow areas where they can easily be picked off.Douglas Bastos

    Group hunting is quite rare in fishes, says Carlos David de Santana, an evolutionary biologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. “I’d never even seen more than 12 electric eels together in the field,” he says. That’s why he was stunned in 2012 when his colleague Douglas Bastos, now a biologist at the National Institute of Amazonian Research in Manaus, Brazil, reported seeing more than 100 eels congregating and seemingly hunting together in a small lake in northern Brazil.

    Two years later, de Santana’s team returned to the lake to make more detailed observations. The nearly 2-meter-long eels lethargically lay in deeper waters during much of the day, the researchers found. But at dusk and dawn, these long streaks of black come together, swirling in unison to form a writhing circle over 100 strong that herds thousands of smaller fish into shallower waters. 

    Volta’s electric eels can gather in groups, working together to corral smaller fish in shallower waters, a new study finds. Then, groups of about 10 eels attack in unison, shocking the fish out of the water and into a stupor so that they can easily be eaten.

    After corralling the prey, smaller groups of about 10 eels unleash coordinated electric attacks that can send shocked fish flying from the water. The researchers haven’t yet measured the combined voltage of such attacks, but 10 Volta’s eels firing together could, in theory, power something like 100 light bulbs, de Santana says. The then helpless, floating prey make easy pickings for the mass of eels. The whole ordeal lasts about two hours.

    So far, such aggregations have been observed in only this one lake. But de Santana suspects that group hunting may be advantageous in other lakes and rivers with large shoals of small fish. Much of the eels’ range remains underexplored by scientists, so de Santana and colleagues are launching a citizen science project with Indigenous communities to identify more spots where many eels live together, he explains. “There is still so much we don’t know about these organisms.”

    in Science News on January 14, 2021 04:00 PM.

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    Drones could help create a quantum internet

    The quantum internet may be coming to you via drone.

    Scientists have now used drones to transmit particles of light, or photons, that share the quantum linkage called entanglement. The photons were sent to two locations a kilometer apart, researchers from Nanjing University in China report in a study to appear in Physical Review Letters.

    Entangled quantum particles can retain their interconnected properties even when separated by long distances. Such counterintuitive behavior can be harnessed to allow new types of communication. Eventually, scientists aim to build a global quantum internet that relies on transmitting quantum particles to enable ultrasecure communications by using the particles to create secret codes to encrypt messages. A quantum internet could also allow distant quantum computers to work together, or perform experiments that test the limits of quantum physics.

    Quantum networks made with fiber-optic cables are already beginning to be used (SN: 9/28/20). And a quantum satellite can transmit photons across China (SN: 6/15/17). Drones could serve as another technology for such networks, with the advantages of being easily movable as well as relatively quick and cheap to deploy.

    The researchers used two drones to transmit the photons. One drone created pairs of entangled particles, sending one particle to a station on the ground while relaying the other to the second drone. That machine then transmitted the particle it received to a second ground station a kilometer away from the first. In the future, fleets of drones could work together to send entangled particles to recipients in a variety of locations.

    in Science News on January 14, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Journal expresses concern over study of potential treatment for autism

    A journal has issued an expression of concern for a 2014 paper on a study of a potential treatment for autism.  The article, by a group in Slovakia, purported to show for the first time that the drug ubiquinol — a form of the compound  coenzyme Q₁₀ — could improve the ability of children with … Continue reading Journal expresses concern over study of potential treatment for autism

    in Retraction watch on January 14, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    ‘Deeply unfair’: First author of newly retracted paper on weight and honesty speaks out

    The first author of a highly controversial — and now retracted — paper linking body weight to integrity calls the journal’s decision to pull the article “a bitter surprise” and its handling of the article after publication “deeply unfair.” The article, “Dishonesty is more affected by BMI status than by short-term changes in glucose,” was … Continue reading ‘Deeply unfair’: First author of newly retracted paper on weight and honesty speaks out

    in Retraction watch on January 14, 2021 02:36 AM.

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    One of the oldest known cave paintings has been found in Indonesia

    Inside a cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, scientists have found one of the oldest known artistic depictions of a real-world object or organism. It’s a painting of a warty pig, an animal still found on Sulawesi, that was rendered on the cave’s back wall at least 45,500 years ago, researchers report January 13 in Science Advances.

    The discovery adds to evidence that “the first modern human cave art traditions did not emerge in Ice Age Europe, as long supposed, but perhaps earlier in Asia or even in Africa, where our species evolved,” says study author Adam Brumm, an archaeologist at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

    At least two, and possibly three, other partially preserved pig paintings appear on the cave wall near the newly dated figure. All of the painted pigs in the Sulawesi cave appear to be confronting each other in a scene of some sort, says archaeologist Iain Davidson of the University of New England in Armidale, Australia. Similarly positioned, painted animals dating to roughly 30,000 years ago or more appear in scenes in France’s Chauvet Cave, says Davidson, who did not participate in the new study.

    On the ceiling of a small chamber in another Sulawesi cave, the researchers found a large pig painting — like the others, executed in red or dark red and purple mineral pigments — that dates to between 32,000 and 73,400 years ago. At least two other poorly preserved paintings of unidentified animals are located on the chamber’s ceiling and wall.

    The team considers it likely that Homo sapiens, rather than a closely related species such as Homo floresiensis (SN: 6/8/16), painted on the Sulawesi cave walls.

    Like a painted hunting scene from at least 43,900 years ago previously found in a separate Sulawesi cave (SN: 12/11/19), minimum age estimates for the pig paintings are based on measures of radioactive uranium’s decay in cauliflower-like mineral growths that formed in thin layers over and underneath parts of the depictions.

    Uranium-based dating of ancient cave art has drawn criticism (SN: 10/28/19). For instance, Brumm’s group dated three mineral layers partly covering one of the pig paintings to estimate its minimum age. The layer closest to the painting was slightly younger than the two layers above it, the opposite of what would be expected if the layers had formed one after the other. Those topsy-turvy dates raise doubts about the accuracy of the painting’s minimum age, says archaeologist João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona.

    A mix of slightly older and younger age estimates can result from gaps that form in successive mineral layers, Brumm’s team says. Averaging the dates of multiple layers provides a reasonable, possibly understated minimum age estimate for the underlying art, the researchers contend.

    Ultimately, cave art such as the pigs on islands in Southeast Asia and Australia, and probably Sulawesi as well, may be shown to date to as early as around 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, says archaeologist Peter Veth of the University of Western Australia in Perth. That’s when H. sapiens first settled the region, probably bringing mainland cave art traditions with them rather than suddenly inventing the practice on isolated islands, he suggests.

    in Science News on January 13, 2021 07:00 PM.

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    Imagining a Transformed Scientific Publication Landscape

    Open Science is not a finish line, but rather a means to an end. An underlying goal behind the movement towards Open Science is to conduct and publish more reliable and thoroughly reported research. Increasing the transparency, reusability and connectivity of scientific outputs is a common desire shared among publishers and researchers, but progress can seem slow and implementation far from widespread. 

    Akin to how scientific understanding is often achieved through incremental progress, system-wide changes toward Open Science will only be achieved through earnest collaboration among funders, institutions, publishers and researchers. Looking at both pragmatic solutions and the underlying ideals, we imagine changes to scientific publishing in the context of four fundamental functions that publishers should provide: dissemination, verification, recognition and community building. 


    How can the future provide more usable, accessible and relevant dissemination? 

    The term “research article” is largely used as a catch-all for published discoveries. A research article is typically consumed as a static PDF that’s sent to publishers after results have been accrued and conclusions drawn. Readers must wait until the study is complete and the associated paper published before they can access the methodology, which may have been finalized months or years prior. 

    Breaking down the research article into more digestible and structured parts—or modules—can provide researchers with more opportunities to reuse and improve research. Incomplete reporting of methods in traditional articles can prevent research from being reused or reproduced. More opportunities to publish detailed and enhanced methods are the two article types coming soon to PLOS ONE: Lab Protocols and Study Protocols

    Lab Protocols, developed in partnership with protocols.io, share the step-by-step instructions for verified methodologies and computational techniques. Utilizing the specialised features of protocols.io’s platform in conjunction with a peer-reviewed article on PLOS ONE that contextualizes the presented methodology, Lab Protocols will provide readers with the information needed to replicate a validated method in a precise and accessible format. Study Protocols are open for planned research studies, giving readers an opportunity to see design and analysis plans and helping reduce waste and bias in research. 

    In the future, studies should be presented as a collection of interlinked research objects and associated metadata. Data, code, protocols, and other elements such as reagents can all be independently identified and verified, allowing for readers to more easily find and access the elements most relevant to them. 


    How can widespread adoption of Open Science provide more reliable and reproducible research?

    The ultimate test for the reporting and validity of a study is whether it can be fully reproduced by different researchers. The materials used, the steps of the methods and the experimental conditions must be precisely described for a study to be reproducible. Reproduction of previous research can be a jumping-off point for contemporary researchers that leads to new discoveries. In short, proper reporting helps advance the field and accelerate further discoveries. 

    On platforms such as protocols.io, researchers can verify if published protocols work for them. Alongside participating researchers, publishers are important in the verification of publications by organising peer review, which can be customised for different research outputs. For Lab Protocols, PLOS will be organizing peer review of submitted manuscripts and content hosted on protocols.io: a small step toward extending the value publishers can offer in verifying the validity of research and improving trust in new research formats. 

    Transparency enables verification. Preregistration enables interrogation of what was planned and what was carried out, and publishing peer reviews and preprints allow readers to view changes that occur during peer review. Direct links to deposited data and executable code gives an opportunity to work with the same material as the original authors. 

    Having these elements—protocols, data, code, review history—available and linked to research articles reduces dependencies on the original authors of a study, promoting efficiency. A study that can be replicated with available and easy-to-find information allows the research to be usable far in the future. 


    How can reward and incentive systems be improved to provide researchers with credit for more of their research? 

    The perceived success of a researcher has traditionally been dependent on the credit they receive through publications. Career advancement and other rewards can be determined by how research outputs are valued and recognized, and thus recognizing diverse and more granular research contributions beyond publications is essential for researchers to be rewarded for their work appropriately.

    The CRediT—required by all PLOS authors and publications—offers a more nuanced view of authorship and contributorship. By providing new opportunities for peer-reviewed publications that reward critical but sometimes overlooked contributions, such as a methods development, publishers can provide opportunities for diverse elements of the research process to be better recognized. 

    Peer-reviewed protocols give authors a formal publication that enables their methods to be cited, shared and used as a signal of accomplishment. Similar opportunities exist for sharing, describing and citing research datasets and software, which need to be more widely adopted by the wider scientific community, furthering chances for additional recognition. 

    Publishers are just part of the solution. Institutions and funders can work with publishers to recognise and reward researchers for working transparently and reproducibly. Researchers can benefit personally from presenting their research in open, reusable formats as this can drive collaboration and reuse—and can consider Open Science principles when assessing studies by their peers. 

    Community Building

    How can Open Science provide more opportunities to collaborate and connect? 

    The scientific community has made great progress in making Coronavirus research as Open as possible. With authors across disciplines depositing their articles as preprints and publishers making relevant research fully accessible, the benefits of Open Science have been made even clearer. By connecting researchers through peer review and providing structures to make relevant research shareable and accessible without barriers, journals help researchers build and maintain their communities. The role journals have in supporting these communities will continue to evolve as innovative new ways for researchers to collaborate and connect develop.

    If these sweeping changes have helped improve scientific discovery in a period of global need, they could be adopted in other areas of research. Comprehensive commitment to Open Science requires the full scientific community, as publishers alone cannot persuade such practices to be adopted. For research to be more efficiently disseminated, verified and credited, system-wide changes toward Open Access must be embraced across the scientific community.

    The post Imagining a Transformed Scientific Publication Landscape appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on January 13, 2021 05:28 PM.

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    How the Earth-shaking theory of plate tectonics was born

    Some great ideas shake up the world. For centuries, the outermost layer of Earth was thought to be static, rigid, locked in place. But the theory of plate tectonics has rocked this picture of the planet to its core. Plate tectonics reveals how Earth’s surface is constantly in motion, and how its features — volcanoes, earthquakes, ocean basins and mountains — are intrinsically linked to its hot interior. The planet’s familiar landscapes, we now know, are products of an eons-long cycle in which the planet constantly remakes itself.

    When plate tectonics emerged in the 1960s it became a unifying theory, “the first global theory ever to be generally accepted in the entire history of earth science,” writes Harvard University science historian Naomi Oreskes, in the introduction to Plate Tectonics: An Insider’s History of the Modern Theory of the Earth. In 1969, geophysicist J. Tuzo Wilson compared the impact of this intellectual revolution in earth science to Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which had produced a similar upending of thought about the nature of the universe.  

    Plate tectonics describes how Earth’s entire, 100-kilometer-thick outermost layer, called the lithosphere, is broken into a jigsaw puzzle of plates — slabs of rock bearing both continents and seafloor — that slide atop a hot, slowly swirling inner layer. Moving at rates between 2 and 10 centimeters each year, some plates collide, some diverge and some grind past one another. New seafloor is created at the center of the oceans and lost as plates sink back into the planet’s interior. This cycle gives rise to many of Earth’s geologic wonders, as well as its natural hazards.

    “It’s amazing how it tied the pieces together: seafloor spreading, magnetic stripes on the seafloor …  where earthquakes form, where mountain ranges form,” says Bradford Foley, a geodynamicist at Penn State. “Pretty much everything falls into place.”

    With so many lines of evidence now known, the theory feels obvious, almost inevitable. But the conceptual journey from fixed landmasses to a churning, restless Earth was long and circuitous, punctuated by moments of pure insight and guided by decades of dogged data collection.

    Continents adrift

    In 1912, German meteorologist Alfred Wegener proposed at a meeting of Frankfurt’s Geological Association that Earth’s landmasses might be on the move. At the time, the prevailing idea held that mountains formed like wrinkles on the planet as it slowly lost the heat of formation and its surface contracted. Instead, Wegener suggested, mountains form when continents collide as they drift across the planet’s surface. Although now far-flung, the continents were once joined together as a supercontinent Wegener dubbed Pangaea, or “all-Earth.” This would explain why rocks of the same type and age, as well as identical fossils, are found on either side of the Atlantic Ocean, for example.

    aerial photo of San Andreas FaultThe San Andreas Fault (shown) is the boundary between the Pacific and North American plates.KEVIN SCHAFER/ALAMY
    block of row houses off kilter from earthquake damageIn 1989, a slip of the San Andreas Fault triggered a magnitude 6.9 earthquake that rocked the San Francisco Bay area, causing 63 deaths and billions of dollars in damage (shown).David Weintraub/Science Source

    This idea of drifting continents intrigued some scientists. Many others, particularly geologists, were unimpressed, hostile, even horrified. Wegener’s idea, detractors thought, was too speculative, not grounded enough in prevailing geologic principles such as uniformitarianism, which holds that the same slow-moving geologic forces at work on Earth today must also have been at work in the past. The principle was thought to demand that the continents be fixed in place.

    German geologist Max Semper disdainfully wrote in 1917 that Wegener’s idea “was established with a superficial use of scientific methods, ignoring the various fields of geology,” adding that he hoped Wegener would turn his attention to other fields of science and leave geology alone.“O holy Saint Florian, protect this house but burn down the others!” he wrote sardonically.

    The debate between “mobilists” and “fixists” raged on through the 1920s, picking up steam as it percolated into English-speaking circles. In 1926, at a meeting in New York City of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, geologist Rollin T. Chamberlin dismissed Wegener’s hypothesis as a mishmash of unrelated observations. The idea, Chamberlin said, “is of the foot-loose type, in that it takes considerable liberty with our globe, and is less bound by restrictions or tied down by awkward, ugly facts than most of its rival theories.”

    One of the most persistent sticking points for Wegener’s idea, now called continental drift, was that it couldn’t explain how the continents moved. In 1928, English geologist Arthur Holmes came up with a potential explanation for that movement. He proposed that the continents might be floating like rafts atop a layer of viscous, partially molten rocks deep inside Earth. Heat from the decay of radioactive materials, he suggested, sets this layer to a slow boil, creating large circulating currents within the molten rock that in turn slowly shift the continents about.

    Holmes admitted he had no data to back up the idea, and the geology community remained largely unconvinced of continental drift. Geologists turned to other matters, such as developing a magnitude scale for earthquake strength and devising a method to precisely date organic materials using the radioactive form of carbon, carbon-14.

    Data flood in

    Rekindled interest in continental drift came in the 1950s from evidence from an unexpected source — the bottom of the oceans. World War II had brought the rapid development of submarines and sonar, and scientists soon put the new technologies to work studying the seafloor. Using sonar, which pings the seafloor with sound waves and listens for a return pulse, researchers mapped out the extent of a continuous and branching underwater mountain chain with a long crack running right down its center. This worldwide rift system snakes for over 72,000 kilometers around the globe, cutting through the centers of the world’s oceans.

    Armed with magnetometers for measuring magnetic fields, researchers also mapped out the magnetic orientation of seafloor rocks — how their iron-bearing minerals are oriented relative to Earth’s field. Teams discovered that the seafloor rocks have a peculiar “zebra stripe” pattern: Bands of normal polarity, whose magnetic orientation corresponds to Earth’s current magnetic field, alternate with bands of reversed polarity. This finding suggests that each of the bands formed at different times.

    a submersible explores an underwater structureThe Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench is the deepest known subduction zone, where a tectonic plate sinks back into Earth’s interior. Here, the Deep Discoverer explores the trench at a depth of 6,000 meters in 2016.NOAA OFFICE OF OCEAN EXPLORATION AND RESEARCH

    Meanwhile, growing support for the detection and banning of underground nuclear testing also created an opportunity for seismologists: the chance to create a global, standardized network of seismograph stations. By the end of the 1960s, about 120 different stations were installed in 60 different countries, from the mountains of Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa to the halls of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., to the frozen South Pole. Thanks to the resulting flood of high-quality seismic data, scientists discovered and mapped rumbles along the mid-ocean rift system, now called mid-ocean ridges, and beneath the trenches. The quakes near very deep ocean trenches were particularly curious: They originated much deeper underground than scientists had thought possible. And the ridges were very hot compared with the surrounding seafloor, scientists learned by using thin steel probes inserted into cores drilled from shipboard into the seafloor.

    In the early 1960s, two researchers working independently, geologist Harry Hess and geophysicist Robert S. Dietz, put the disparate clues together — and added in Holmes’ old idea of an underlying layer of circulating currents within the hot rock. The mid-ocean ridges, each asserted, might be where circulation pushes hot rock toward the surface. The powerful forces drive pieces of Earth’s lithosphere apart. Into the gap, lava burbles up — and new seafloor is born. As the pieces of lithosphere move apart, new seafloor continues to form between them, called “seafloor spreading.”  

    hot, orange lava on the edge of the seaResearch suggests that volcanic island chains form as plates move over upwellings of magma. But the origin of the Hawaiian Islands (Kilauea volcano shown) and other similar chains remains something of a geologic puzzle.ART WOLFE/GETTY IMAGES

    The momentum culminated in a two-day gathering of perhaps just 100 earth scientists in 1966, held at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “It was quite clear, at this conference in New York, that everything was going to change,” University of Cambridge geophysicist Dan McKenzie told the Geological Society of London in 2017 in a reflection on the meeting.

    But going in, “no one had any idea” that this meeting would become a pivotal moment for the earth sciences, says seismologist Lynn Sykes of Columbia University. Sykes, then a newly minted Ph.D., was one of the invitees; he had just discovered a distinct pattern in the earthquakes at mid-ocean ridges. This pattern showed that the seafloor on either side of the ridges was pulling apart, a pivotal piece of evidence for plate tectonics.

     At the meeting, talk after talk piled data on top of data to support seafloor spreading, including Sykes’ earthquake data and those symmetrical patterns of zebra stripes. It soon became clear that these findings were building toward one unified narrative: Mid-ocean ridges were the birthplaces of new seafloor, and deep ocean trenches were graves where old lithosphere was reabsorbed into the interior. This cycle of birth and death had opened and closed the oceans over and over again, bringing the continents together and then splitting them apart.

    The evidence was overwhelming, and it was during this conference “that the victory of mobilism was clearly established,” geophysicist Xavier Le Pichon, previously a skeptic of seafloor spreading, wrote in 2001 in his retrospective essay “My conversion to plate tectonics,” included in Oreskes’ book.

    Plate tectonics emerges

    The whole earth science community became aware of these findings the following spring, at the American Geophysical Union’s annual meeting. Wilson laid out the various lines of evidence for this new view of the world to a much larger audience in Washington, D.C. By then, there was remarkably little pushback from the community, Sykes says: “Right away, they accepted it, which was surprising.”

    Scientists now knew that Earth’s seafloor and continents were in motion, and that ridges and trenches marked the edges of large blocks of lithosphere. But how were these blocks moving, all in concert, around the planet? To plot out the choreography of this complex dance, two separate groups seized upon a theorem devised by mathematician Leonhard Euler way back in the 18th century. The theorem showed that a rigid body moves around a sphere as though it is rotating around an axis. McKenzie and geophysicist Robert Parker used this theorem to calculate the dance of the lithospheric blocks — the plates. Unbeknownst to them, geophysicist W. Jason Morgan independently came up with a similar solution.

    satellite photo of icebergs and landShifting landmasses — such as the opening of the Drake Passage between South America and Antarctica (icebergs around Elephant Island shown) — can alter currents, and climates.NASA IMAGE BY JEFF SCHMALTZ, LANCE/EOSDIS RAPID RESPONSE

    With this last piece, the unifying theory of plate tectonics was born. The hoary wrangling over continental drift now seemed not only antiquated, but also “a sobering antidote to human self-confidence,” physicist Egon Orowan told Science News in 1970.

    People have benefited greatly from this clearer vision of Earth’s workings, including being able to better prepare for earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. Plate tectonics has also shaped new research across the sciences, offering crucial information about how the climate changes and about the evolution of life on Earth.

    And yet there’s still so much we don’t understand, such as when and how the restless shifting of Earth’s surface began — and when it might end. Equally puzzling is why plate tectonics doesn’t appear to happen elsewhere in the solar system, says Lindy Elkins-Tanton, a planetary scientist at Arizona State University in Tempe. “How can something be a complete intellectual revolution and also inexplicable at the same time?”

    in Science News on January 13, 2021 04:00 PM.

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    Marie Tharp’s groundbreaking maps brought the seafloor to the world

    Walk the halls of an academic earth sciences department, and you’ll likely find displayed on a wall somewhere a strikingly beautiful map of the world’s ocean floors. Completed in 1977, the map represents the culmination of the unlikely, and underappreciated, career of Marie Tharp. Her three decades of work as a geologist and cartographer at Columbia University gave scientists and the public alike their first glimpse of what the seafloor looks like.

    In the middle of the 20th century, when many American scientists were in revolt against continental drift — the controversial idea that the continents are not fixed in place — Tharp’s groundbreaking maps helped tilt the scientific view toward acceptance and clear a path for the emerging theory of plate tectonics.

    Tharp was the right person in the right place at the right time to make the first detailed maps of the seafloor. Specifically, she was the right woman. Her gender meant certain professional avenues were essentially off-limits. But she was able to take advantage of doors cracked open by historical circumstances, becoming uniquely qualified to make significant contributions to both science and cartography. Without her, the maps may never have come to be.

    “It was a once-in-a-lifetime — a once-in-the-history-of-the-world — opportunity for anyone, but especially for a woman in the 1940s,” Tharp recalled in a 1999 perspective. “The nature of the times, the state of the science, and events large and small, logical and illogical, combined to make it all happen.”

    map of the worldWith funding from the U.S. Navy, Marie Tharp and Bruce Heezen produced this 1977 map with Austrian painter Heinrich Berann. It has become iconic among cartographers and earth scientists.Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division

    Tharp’s cartographic roots ran deep. She was born in Michigan in 1920 and as a young girl would accompany her father on field trips to survey land and make maps for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Soils, a job that kept the family on the move. “By the time I finished high school I had attended nearly two dozen schools and I had seen a lot of different landscapes,” Tharp recalled. “I guess I had map-making in my blood, though I hadn’t planned to follow in my father’s footsteps.”

    Tharp was a student at the University of Ohio in 1941 when the attack on Pearl Harbor emptied campuses of young men, who were joining the military in droves. This sudden scarcity of male students prompted the University of Michigan’s geology department to open its doors to women. Tharp had taken a couple of geology classes and jumped at the opportunity. “There were 10 or 12 of us that appeared from all over the United States, girls. With a sense of adventure,” she recalled in an oral history interview in 1994. Tharp earned a master’s degree in 1943, completing a summer field course in geologic mapping and working as a part-time draftsperson for the U.S. Geological Survey along the way. Upon graduating she took a job with an oil company in Oklahoma but was bored by work that involved neither fieldwork nor research. So she enrolled in night classes to earn a second master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Tulsa. 

    Looking for more excitement, she moved to New York City in 1948. When she walked into the Columbia University geology department looking for a job, her advanced degrees got her an interview, but the only position available to a woman was that of a draftsperson assisting male graduate students working toward a degree in geology that she had already earned. Still, it seemed more promising than the other job she had inquired about — studying fossils at the American Museum of Natural History — so she took it.

    The following year Tharp became one of the first women employed by Columbia’s newly founded Lamont Geological Observatory and soon was working exclusively with geologist Bruce Heezen, a newly minted Ph.D. Like many of the male scientists at Lamont, Heezen was primarily occupied with collecting ocean data, which Tharp would then analyze, plot and map — work she was more than qualified to do. 

    “These men considered it glamorous and pleasurable to go to sea, far more so than staying at home to analyze [the data],” writes science historian Naomi Oreskes of Harvard University in her forthcoming book Science on a Mission: How Military Funding Shaped What We Do and Don’t Know About the Ocean. “This is one reason data analysis was often left to women.” In fact, women often weren’t allowed on the research ships at all.

    black and white graphs of dataTo generate the seafloor maps, Marie Tharp started with two-dimensional ocean profiles (top) and then used her extensive geologic knowledge to decipher landforms and fill in the blank spaces (bottom).B.C. Heezen, M. Tharp, and M. Ewing/Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory/Geological Society of America Special Paper 1965

    Barred from ocean expeditions, Tharp poured all of her energy into mapping the seafloor starting with the North Atlantic, work that would lead to two important discoveries. To make a map, she first translated the echo soundings gathered by ships crossing the ocean into depths and then created two-dimensional vertical slices of the terrain beneath the ships’ tracks. These ocean-floor profiles showed a broad ridge running down the middle of the Atlantic. Though the feature had been roughly mapped in the 19th century, Tharp noticed a notch near the top of the ridge in each of the profiles. She believed the notches represented a continuous, deep valley running down the center of the mid-ocean ridge. If she was right, the valley might be a rift where molten material came up from below, forming new crust and pushing the ocean floor apart — evidence that could support continental drift.

    The idea that the continents were not fixed in place had gained traction in Europe, but Heezen, like most U.S. scientists at the time, “considered it to be almost a form of scientific heresy,” Tharp later wrote in Natural History magazine. It took her a year or so to convince Heezen that the rift was real, and it took the two several more years to finish their first map of the North Atlantic in 1957.

    In order to publish that first map and share their work with other scientists, Tharp and Heezen had to get around the U.S. Navy’s Cold War–inspired decision to classify detailed topographic maps that used contour lines to indicate depths. This was one of the reasons the pair chose to adapt a relatively new cartographic style known as a physiographic diagram, a sort of three-dimensional sketch of terrain as if seen from an airplane window. To do this, Tharp had to use her training as a geologist and experience with mapping on land — knowledge and skills that a typical research assistant or draftsperson wouldn’t have had.

    Physiographic maps had previously been used to represent continental landforms with standardized symbols. Each type of mountain, valley, plain and desert was sketched in a specific way. Tharp and Heezen were the first to use the technique to show what unknown, unseeable terrain might look like. Tharp first sketched a strip of seafloor along each profile, deciphering what type of landform each bump and dip was likely to be. Then she identified patterns to fill in the blank spaces between the profiles.

    detailed map of landformsBruce Heezen and Marie Tharp’s physiographic maps, this one of the North Atlantic first published in 1957 and again in 1959, gave scientists a compelling visual comparison to continental landforms they understood.Physiographic Diagram of the North Atlantic Ocean (1959) by Heezen and Tharp; reproduced by permission of Marie Tharp Maps LLC and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory

    “The amount of work involved in taking it from just from those soundings and being able to create that is just amazing,” says historian Judith Tyner, author of Women in American Cartography.

    As Tharp was creating her map, an unrelated project was taking shape on the drafting table next to hers. Heezen had hired a recent art school graduate to plot thousands of earthquake epicenters in the Atlantic Ocean to help Bell Labs find the safest places to lay transoceanic cables. The epicenters he was plotting lined up with Tharp’s rift valley. The correlation lent weight to the idea that the rift was where the crust was pulling apart, and gave Tharp a way to accurately locate the rift between the ship tracks.

    Heezen and Tharp’s 1957 diagram of the north Atlantic Ocean was by far the most exhaustive seafloor map ever produced.

    “The marvelous thing about that map is how comprehensive it looked on rather limited data,” says science historian Ronald Doel of Florida State University in Tallahassee. “But the earthquake data also helped to make clear just where the ridges are oriented and where the associated geological features are.”

    The American scientific community was initially skeptical, wary of the speculative nature of their map. But as the pair continued mapping the rest of the Atlantic and moved on to other oceans, evidence accumulated for a continuous ridge, with a rift valley at its center, stretching for some 60,000 kilometers across the globe. 

    Tharp and Heezen’s innovative use of the physiographic method gave scientists a compelling visual comparison to continental landforms they understood. This helped convince them that just as the East African Rift was splitting that continent, the submarine rift valley marked where the continents on either side of the Atlantic had pulled away from each other.

    “That’s why her map is so powerful,” says historian of geology David Spanagel of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Mass. “It allows people to see the bottom of the ocean as if it were a piece of land, and then reason about it. That’s a transformative thing that she’s able to accomplish.”

    National Geographic also took notice of the maps and invited Heezen and Tharp to collaborate on some ocean illustrations with the Austrian painter Heinrich Berann, who would become famous for his mountain panoramas. The gorgeous ocean-floor depictions were included as poster-sized supplements in issues of National Geographic magazine between 1967 and 1971. The magazine had a circulation of 6 million or 7 million at the time, giving a sizable swathe of the public a window into the ocean.

    In 1973, Heezen and Tharp received a grant from the U.S. Navy to work with Berann on a complete map of the world’s ocean floors. It took the trio four years to create their iconic cartographic masterpiece, an unparalleled, panoramic visualization that continues to shape how both scientists and the public think about the seafloor.

    The map was finished just weeks before Heezen died of a heart attack at age 53, while in a submarine exploring the mid-ocean ridge near Iceland. His death left Tharp without a source of funding and data, essentially ending her remarkable career. It would be decades before her contributions were fully recognized. But unlike many other unsung figures in the history of science, the accolades began rolling in before she died of cancer in 2006. During the last decade of her life, Tharp received prestigious awards from several institutions including Lamont — now known as the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory — and the Library of Congress, which named her one of the four greatest cartographers of the 20th century.

    “Can you imagine what heights she would have risen to in her profession,” says Tyner, “if she’d been a man?”

    Though hers was always the second name, after Heezen’s, on the maps they made, and doesn’t appear at all on many of the papers her work contributed to, Tharp never expressed any regrets about her path. “I thought I was lucky to have a job that was so interesting,” she recalled in 1999. “Establishing the rift valley and the mid-ocean ridge that went all the way around the world for 40,000 miles — that was something important… You can’t find anything bigger than that, at least on this planet.”

    in Science News on January 13, 2021 04:00 PM.

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    Springer Nature journal retracts BMI, honesty paper

    More than five months after outraged readers demanded that a Springer Nature journal retract a paper linking body mass index to honesty, the publication has been pulled.  The journal now says that a post-publication review of the article found that the data don’t support the authors’ conclusions — which is another way of saying that … Continue reading Springer Nature journal retracts BMI, honesty paper

    in Retraction watch on January 13, 2021 01:58 PM.

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    “Confrontation is an important element of physics progress:” Paper on black holes retracted

    A Springer Nature journal has retracted a 2019 article by a Slovenian physicist who claims that both Creationism and Big Bang theory are wrong, and that black holes are the engines driving the universe. The paper, in Scientific Reports, was titled “Mass-energy equivalence extension onto a superfluid quantum vacuum,” and was written by Amrit Srečko … Continue reading “Confrontation is an important element of physics progress:” Paper on black holes retracted

    in Retraction watch on January 13, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Earth’s oceans are storing record-breaking amounts of heat

    Pandemic-related shutdowns may have spared Earth’s atmosphere some greenhouse gas emissions last year, but the world continued to warm.

    Water temperature measurements from around the globe indicate that the total amount of heat stored in the upper oceans in 2020 was higher than any other year on record dating back to 1955, researchers report online January 13 in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. Tracking ocean temperature is important because warmer water melts more ice off the edges of Greenland and Antarctica, which raises sea levels (SN: 4/30/20) and supercharges tropical storms (SN: 11/11/20).

    Researchers estimated the total heat energy stored in the upper 2,000 meters of Earth’s oceans using temperature data from moored sensors, drifting probes called Argo floats, underwater robots and other instruments (SN: 5/19/10). The team found that upper ocean waters contained 234 sextillion, or 1021, joules more heat energy in 2020 than the annual average from 1981 to 2010. Heat energy storage was up about 20 sextillion joules from 2019 — suggesting that in 2020, Earth’s oceans absorbed about enough heat to boil 1.3 billion kettles of water.

    This analysis may overestimate how much the oceans warmed last year, says study coauthor Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist with the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research who is currently based in Auckland, New Zealand. So the researchers also crunched ocean temperature data using a second, more conservative method for estimating total annual ocean heat and found that the jump from 2019 to 2020 could be as low as 1 sextillion joules. That’s still 65 million kettles brought to boil.

    The three other warmest years on record for the world’s oceans were 2017, 2018 and 2019. “What we’re seeing here is a variant on the movie Groundhog Day,” says study coauthor Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State. “Groundhog Day has a happy ending. This won’t if we don’t act now to dramatically reduce carbon emissions.”

    in Science News on January 13, 2021 09:00 AM.

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    The Ballad of Claudio Hetz

    "Patients affected with ALS now need to know that we are working for them [...] We feel completely motivated and convinced to dedicate our careers to fight ALS." Claudio Hetz, Photoshop artist.

    in For Better Science on January 13, 2021 06:00 AM.

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    Next Open NeuroFedora meeting: 18 January 1500 UTC

    Photo by William White on Unsplash

    Photo by William White on Unsplash.

    Please join us at the next regular Open NeuroFedora team meeting on Monday 18 January at 1300UTC in #fedora-neuro on IRC (Freenode). The meeting is a public meeting, and open for everyone to attend. You can join us over:

    You can use this link to convert the meeting time to your local time. Or, you can also use this command in the terminal:

    $ date --date='TZ="UTC" 1300 next Monday'

    The meeting will be chaired by @ankursinha (me). The agenda for the meeting is:

    We hope to see you there!

    in NeuroFedora blog on January 12, 2021 07:56 PM.

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    Revisiting the management of term breech presentation: overcoming controversy


    Recent publications have focused excessively on the mode of delivery.

    To go beyond the sole question of the mode of delivery, an ontological approach was applied to understand the observation of perinatal morbidity. Indeed, unmeasured fetal and maternal factors can at least partly explain the breech delivery dilemma (planned cesarean section or trial of labor).

    What are the unresolved questions?

    Neither the weakness of a unique randomized trial, nor the imperfection of the older observational population based studies could clearly help explain the observed increase of perinatal morbidity with breech delivery.

    Some authors argue that planned cesarean section may decrease perinatal morbidity. However, this argument does not take into account potential complications for subsequent pregnancies and the maternal choice to avoid a cesarean section, especially in favorable cases of breech vaginal delivery.

    On the other hand, planned vaginal delivery could also be harmful and potentially unethical in unselected women.

    Therefore we identify a need for an individualized approach to the management of term breech presentation.

    Figure 1: The complex puzzle of breech presentation

    Deterministic or accidental breech presentation?

    Several recent population-based data studies reported that breech presentation was associated with prenatal factors that could also be related to maternal and/or perinatal morbidity and mortality. These include:

    • Fetal : fetal growth restriction, oligohydramnios, congenital fetal malformation, unknown breech presentation
    • Maternal : gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) and a history of CS, congenital uterine malformation

    These findings are in line with the greater risk of term antepartum stillbirth in breech presentation as compared to cephalic presentation (2-2.5‰ versus 0.5-1.5‰)

    These points highlight the importance of screening for breech presentation of pregnancy at and beyond 36 weeks of pregnancy as well as estimating fetal weight (restriction or overgrowth) and well-being in cases of persistent breech presentation.


    Strict selection for favorable attempt breech delivery

    Most national guidelines now (American, British, French, Australian and New-Zealand) propose comparable pre-established criteria for a careful selection of favorable cases for breech vaginal delivery, allowing an informed maternal choice. In contrast, without such strict selection, intrapartum cesarean section accounts for a greater proportion of maternal and perinatal morbidity and maternal morbidity than planned vaginal / cesarean delivery.

    Therefore, national guidelines and criteria for the management of term breech presentation should include: obstetric history, estimated fetal weight <3,800 g, non-hyper extended head on ultrasound, no evidence of antenatal fetal compromise and adequate mother pelvic size.

    While the use of pelvimetry remains a matter of debate, recent studies confirmed findings of an older randomized trial suggesting that adequate pelvic size measurement may improve the selection of delivery route.

    Hence register studies support this view of a selection quality for candidate to vaginal breech delivery by the low conversion rate of vaginal to CS breech delivery.

    How might we maximize patient benefit from a safe external cephalic version attempt?

    Current guidelines recommended external cephalic version (ECV) to limit the increase in elective CS rate for cases of term breech presentation. The true impact of ECV may first be limited by the timely detection of breech presentation and contraindications. Such screening should allow timely ECV at 36 weeks’ gestation and a careful evaluation of potential underlying antenatal risks, considering obstetric history, estimated fetal weight/growth and potential gestational disorders before ECV.

    Indeed, pregnancy with obstetrical factors (such as GDM) and fetal factors (such as footling breech or SGA), may particularly benefit from successful ECV at 36 weeks to avoid subsequent induction of labor with breech presentation.

    Retrospective population based studies also highlighted that successful ECV for breech presentation are at increased risk for CS delivery, as compared with spontaneous cephalic presentation. Therefore, practitioners should understand that successful ECV is not the end of breech presentation management.

    Towards an individualized approach

    The mode of delivery and breech presentation is only the tip of the iceberg (fig 2). It implies that planned cesarean section without understanding the underlying obstetrical condition cannot fully prevent increased perinatal morbidity associated with breech presentation. It also means that without strict selection, the higher perinatal morbidity after planned ECV and vaginal delivery suggested by some studies (as opposed to planned cesarean section) may become a .

    At 36 weeks of pregnancy, one must thoroughly consider obstetric history and fetal weight estimates based on clinical and ultrasound examinations, despite the large confidence interval of all available algorithms for producing such estimates, we advise that pelvic examination should be performed. Although radiologic or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in pelvimetry is not universally recommended, its contribution provides very useful criteria to rule out pathological pelvic contraction for the preselection of planned modes of delivery and the counselling of women.

    Secondly, timely ECV should be proposed in light of the eligibility and possible benefit.

    The experience of the health care team/ availability of clinical skills is important.

    Thirdly, regardless of the planned mode of delivery, adequate follow-up during the last weeks of pregnancy is needed and subject to decision-making based on the continuous evaluation of risk factors, medical history, possible underlying disorders and comorbidities.

    Figure 2: Breech presentation: not only a debate surrounding the mode of delivery

    The post Revisiting the management of term breech presentation: overcoming controversy appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on January 12, 2021 02:30 PM.

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    They took a daring approach to reteaming — see what happened

    When their team decided to restructure, Elsevier colleagues got to choose their own positions in a unique virtual event

    in Elsevier Connect on January 12, 2021 02:06 PM.

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    Resources From BRAIN Toolmakers Now on BRAIN Initiative Alliance Website

    The BRAIN Initiative Alliance (BIA) website now offers a section for Toolmakers’ Resources, including the first issue of a new Toolmakers Newsletter, which features information about BRAIN Initiative tools, tech, and theories. Talk to BRAIN Initiative Toolmakers at the BIA Social today!

    BIA resources webpage screenshotAs part of the BRAIN Initiative Allianceexternal link (BIA), we are proud to present two new additions to the BIA website! The Resources section now includes Toolmakers’ Resourcesexternal link, featuring products of BRAIN Initiative researchers. With open access resources such as the Human Neocortical Neurosolverexternal link and cytoNetexternal link, we hope that everyone finds something useful on the new page. The list of resources will continue to grow and opportunities to add your own BRAIN Initiative tool will be coming soon!

    BRAIN toolmakers newsletter_issue 1_Jan2020_cover pageIn conjunction with the launch of the new Toolmakers’ Resources webpage, we are happy to announce the inaugural issue of the BRAIN Initiative Toolmakers NewsletterPDF Icon (7.51MB). The newsletters spotlight different BRAIN Initiative Investigators with tools, technologies, and/ or theories ready for distribution to the research community to advance the field of neurotechnology. The first issue features Stephanie Jones, Philip Troyk, Talmo Pereira (a joint student in the labs of Mala Murthy and Joshua Shaevitz), Daniel Aharoni and Peyman Golshani. For instance, did you know that Ph.D. candidate Talmo Periera pioneered a new animal tracking software program called SLEAPexternal link? Check out the currentexternal link and future newsletters for topics like this and more!

    Have a question about how to use one of the tools on the website? Interested in collaborating with one of the toolmakers?

    Register to attend the BRAIN Initiative Alliance Talk to Toolmakers Social happening today, Tuesday, January 12 from 3:30 – 4:30pm (EST). This free event will offer a forum for BRAIN Initiative toolmakers to chat about the cutting-edge tools they’ve created – many of which are listed in the new Resources sectionexternal link – including new electrophysiology probes, optical imaging devices, software, and others. There will be three breakout sessions where attendees can meet toolmakers, ask questions, and identify potential opportunities to collaborate with someone new. For a list of toolmakers and tools, please view the event webpageexternal link.

    SfN 2020 conenctome toolmakers social


    in BRAIN Update on January 12, 2021 01:30 PM.

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    “The most horrific time of my career.” What do you do when you realize years of your published work is built on an error?

    In September 2019 Nicola Smith, a molecular pharmacologist in Australia, faced a brutal decision. She’d realized that she’d made a mistake — or rather, failed to catch a mistake in her group’s research before the crippling error was published — in two academic articles which were the culmination of years of work. And she could … Continue reading “The most horrific time of my career.” What do you do when you realize years of your published work is built on an error?

    in Retraction watch on January 12, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Every day is different: Life as a User Engagement Specialist at Elsevier

    In this UX job, the one constant is change

    in Elsevier Connect on January 11, 2021 01:50 PM.

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    How data sharing is accelerating railway safety research

    Civil Engineering researcher André Broekman is developing an AI-based tool to create photorealistic virtual environments in the lab

    in Elsevier Connect on January 11, 2021 11:55 AM.

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    Steven Houser and the Temple of Fraud

    "We all hype our work. We want to tell people our work is important. These patients, many of them coming to enroll in these trials, they have no other hope.” -Steven Houser, Hero of Research Ethics, Temple University

    in For Better Science on January 11, 2021 06:00 AM.

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    2-Minute Neuroscience: Tourette Syndrome

    In this video, I discuss what is hypothesized to occur in the brain to cause Tourette syndrome, a disorder characterized by recurrent involuntary movements or sounds called tics.

    in Neuroscientifically Challenged on January 10, 2021 11:29 AM.

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    Project update: Gunhild Cardigan

    The needles finally arrived, a bit after Christmas. I have finished the yoke, and am now setting up for sleeves.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on January 09, 2021 06:53 PM.

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    Weekend reads: How COVID-19 has changed publications; peer review and women; is ‘manuscript recycling’ OK?

    Before we present this week’s Weekend Reads, a question: Do you enjoy our weekly roundup? If so, we could really use your help. Would you consider a tax-deductible donation to support Weekend Reads, and our daily work? Thanks in advance. The week at Retraction Watch featured: Journal becomes “victim of an organized rogue editor network” Researcher … Continue reading Weekend reads: How COVID-19 has changed publications; peer review and women; is ‘manuscript recycling’ OK?

    in Retraction watch on January 09, 2021 03:00 PM.

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    The NIH BRAIN Initiative at SfN’s Global Connectome Virtual Event on January 11-13, 2021

    Please join us next week for a host of BRAIN Initiative activities at the Society for Neuroscience virtual event, including socials, posters, a virtual booth, and a chance to chat with BRAIN staff. 

    This year is off to a great start for the NIH BRAIN Initiative, following the announced budget increase in funding. Next week, we’re excited to participate in the SfN Global Connectome: A Virtual Eventexternal link! The brand-new, cross-cutting virtual event is designed to facilitate scientific exchange across the field, providing scientists at all career stages and disciplines with opportunities to learn, collaborate, and connect. It will take place on January 11-13th, with dedicated programming from 10:00 AM – 3:30 PM EST each day.

    Here, we highlight BRAIN-related activities scheduled for the digital event. The socials and one-on-one chats will take place on Zoomexternal link so be sure to sign up for a free account beforehand.

    Virtual Events and Socials

    Registration for the following events is free and you do not need to be registered for the SfN Global Connectome event to attend!

    COVID and the Nervous System: A Chat with NIH
    Monday, January 11 from 3:30 4:30 PM (EST)

    During this social, NIH Blueprint Institute representatives will discuss the effects of SARS-CoV-2 on the nervous system and the effects of COVID-19 and the pandemic on those with neurological, mental health, or substance use disorders. There will be a panel discussion with NIH Institute Directors and other leaders followed by a 30-minute Q&A session during which attendees can ask questions. For more details please visit the event webpage. Register here.

    NIH HEAL Initiative Investigator and Trainee Social
    Tuesday January 12 from 9:00 – 10:00 AM (EST)

    The NIH Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) Initiative is designed to stem the opioid and pain crises by promoting collaboration and building the scientific workforce in the pain and addiction research communities. Join Drs. Walter Koroshetz, NINDS Director, and Rebecca Baker, HEAL Director, for an opportunity to learn about HEAL and network with colleagues. To learn more visit the event webpage. Register here.

    BRAIN Initiative Alliance Talk to Toolmakers Social
    Tuesday, January 12 from 3:30 4:30 PM (EST)

    This social will offer a forum for BRAIN Initiative toolmakers to chat about the cutting-edge tools they’ve created, including new electrophysiology probes, optical imaging devices, software, and others. There will be three breakout sessions where attendees can meet toolmakers, ask questions, and identify potential opportunities to collaborate with someone new. For a list of toolmakers and tools view the event webpage. Register here.

    SfN 2020 conenctome toolmakers social

    NINDS OPEN Conversations About NIH Diversity Supplements
    Wednesday, January 13 from 3:30 – 4:30 PM (EST)

    Looking for more information on NIH diversity supplements? Join NINDS program staff to learn about the supplement application, the review process, and best practices in mentoring and career development plans. This social also offers an opportunity for trainees and faculty to network and learn about other NIH diversity funding opportunities. For more details please visit the event webpage. Register here.

    Poster Sessions

    Two posters will be on display in the virtual poster hall for all three days of the event. You must be registered for the SfN event to view them.

    Neuroethics: An Essential Partner to Enhance the NIH BRAIN Initiative
    Session: Ethical and Policy Issues in Neuroscience
    Poster Number: P395.04
    Chat live with presenters on Monday, January 11, 1:30 2:00 PM (EST)

    Learn about ongoing neuroethics efforts in the BRAIN Initiative, which include dedicated neuroethics funding opportunities, neuroscience-neuroethics collaborations, and strategic planning. Drs. Khara Ramos and Jay Churchill will be available during the presentation time for live chat.  

    Dissemination of Neurotechnology Through the BRAIN Initiative®
    Session: Innovative Tools For Teaching and Disseminating Neuroscience
    Poster Number: P393.15
    Chat live with presenters on Tuesday, January 12, 11:30 AM – 12:00 PM (EST)

    Learn about the current, numerous methods of BRAIN tool and technology dissemination; funding opportunities for research resource grants in cross-lab technology integration and diversity-focused training opportunities; and a few of the rapidly expanding array of cutting-edge scientific resources available to the entire research community.

    We will also have a virtual booth where attendees can chat one-on-one with BRAIN Initiative staff throughout the event. Sign up for a meeting here. Visit the booth to learn about the history of BRAIN, planning for the future of BRAIN, funding opportunities, and other resources.

    Registration for the SfN Global Connectome (#SfNConnectome21) is still open! For more information please visit the event websiteexternal link.


    in BRAIN Update on January 08, 2021 03:30 PM.

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    Holy cow: “The article as written contains misleading information and omits important details.”

    An agriculture journal has put the “retraction” brand on a 2020 study about calving cattle after the editors learned that the researchers had misrepresented aspects of their work.  “Changes in rumen fermentation, bacterial community, and predicted functional pathway in Holstein cows with and without subacute ruminal acidosis during the periparturient period,” appeared in March in … Continue reading Holy cow: “The article as written contains misleading information and omits important details.”

    in Retraction watch on January 08, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Columbia grad student faked data in study of socioeconomics and life experiences, says retraction notice

    Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin has retracted a 2018 paper because, according to a retraction notice, the first author changed data in a way that “resulted in incorrect and misleading results.” The article, “Cardiovascular and self-regulatory consequences of SES-based social identity threat,” claims to show that socioeconomic status-based “social identity threat can go from ‘in … Continue reading Columbia grad student faked data in study of socioeconomics and life experiences, says retraction notice

    in Retraction watch on January 07, 2021 04:56 PM.

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    “This retraction is one of the fastest I ever experienced after reporting a paper to a journal editor.”

    A researcher who has had more than 40 papers questioned by scientific sleuths has lost a second to retraction. On December 14, Elisabeth Bik reported problems in 39 papers coauthored by Hua Tang, of Tianjin Medical University in China, to the editors of the journals that had published the papers. PubPeer commenters found problems in … Continue reading “This retraction is one of the fastest I ever experienced after reporting a paper to a journal editor.”

    in Retraction watch on January 07, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    What does 2021 hold for nurses and the nursing profession?

    5 ways we can bolster the nursing profession for a future beyond Covid

    in Elsevier Connect on January 07, 2021 09:47 AM.

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    2021 projects, #10: GSoC

    Screenshot of https://summerofcode.withgoogle.com

    This is not a new project, by any means, rather one of my long-running favorite projects – the Google Summer of Code. INCF has partcipated each year since 2011, and I have been the main org admin on ONCF’s behalf for all but the two first years.

    I described GSoC in some detail in Swedish back in 2014 when I guest-blogged at Tidningen Curie (“En snart passerad sommar av kod”). Many of the things I named as positive then are still true today;  it is in many ways a fantastically fun project to work with. The students are smart, motivated and enthusiastic over having the possibility to contribute to projects and tools that are needed and useful. The mentors get a lot of development done for the price of regular mentoring, and the projects get new contributors – many continue to involve their students one way or another after the paid period, and some of them come back as mentors for the same project they started on. One former student, from 2018, is even my co-org-admin! (Hi, Arnab!) As mentoring organization, we get the joyous task of helping our community members help each other; many of the participating software tool projects are developed an maintained on small or no funds by the researchers themselves. We know how many small gaps there are that need to be bridged to make community tools better, faster, and smarter. And all the developed and inproved resources are openly accessible for everyone to pick up and continue working on or extend.

    January, now, is the run up period – we have a call out for project suggestions and mentors, and responses have just started trickling in. Usually the mentors/project owners come to us with specific, well-thought-out and well described ideas, and sitting at the other end reading them all is a great experience – it is a veritable fountain of scientific and technical creativity, and one of the high points of my year. Projects that are well scoped and described – nearly all the submissions – end up on our official Project Ideas List and form the most important part of our application (I think, nobody knows exactly what Google looks for). As soon as that list goes public, around the end of January/start of February, mentors start interacting with potential students, working out the students’ project proposals. But slowly. The real explosion in activity comes when Google announces the year’s accepted organizations, this year that announcement goes out on March 9 (usually pretty late in the day, since it is on US-compatible time). It is always a very nervous day.

    This year, Google has reshaped the program a bit, shortening the time spent coding and lowering the (high) threshold for participation. Which means we will get more students who are not hard core coders (yet) and need some support – which we as mentoring organization will be partly responsible for providing – and also the mentors and their community – all student projects start with an official community bonding period (genius idea). I distinctly remember being new to coding as a student, and hope that experience will help me be helpful.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on January 07, 2021 08:27 AM.

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    JAMA journal retracts its first paper, on exercise and heart disease

    The authors of a 2019 meta-analysis in a JAMA journal on exercise and heart disease have retracted the paper after discovering that a quarter of the studies they’d used in the analysis did not belong.  The retraction is the first for the journal, which had published some 2,800 articles before having to pull one, Frederick … Continue reading JAMA journal retracts its first paper, on exercise and heart disease

    in Retraction watch on January 06, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Seb Falk’s The Light Ages: book review

    This is my review of the book "The Light Ages" by Seb Falk. Turns out, there was much learning and scientific inquiry going on in the Middle Ages!

    in For Better Science on January 06, 2021 06:00 AM.

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    PLOS ONE retracts paper purporting to be about lung ultrasound for COVID-19 but that had suspicious overlap with pre-pandemic article

    PLOS ONE has retracted a paper on pneumonia in people with Covid-19 after the authors could not allay concerns about the integrity of their data.  The article, “Lung ultrasound score in establishing the timing of intubation in COVID-19 interstitial pneumonia: A preliminary retrospective observational study,” appeared in September and was written by a group from … Continue reading PLOS ONE retracts paper purporting to be about lung ultrasound for COVID-19 but that had suspicious overlap with pre-pandemic article

    in Retraction watch on January 05, 2021 03:35 PM.

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    Researcher linked to author with 52 retractions loses a paper for duplication

    An engineering researcher alleged to be part of a four-group ring of authors who have “repetitively published their own work in ways that call into serious question” the validity of hundreds of papers has had a paper retracted. As we reported in August, Mostafa Jalal, a postdoc at Texas A&M, is alleged to have “engaged … Continue reading Researcher linked to author with 52 retractions loses a paper for duplication

    in Retraction watch on January 05, 2021 11:01 AM.

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    2021 projects (9 and counting)

    nature sky sunset the mountainsThe sun setting on 2020. Pexels.com

    It seems I have a lot going on this coming year, I was a bit surprised myself when I started counting out my projects and landed at 9 long before I was done. Here is a status update:

    2021 projects, #1: social media critique
    I have the book, digital now and paper on the way, but have not started yet.

    2021 projects, #2: Veganuary
    Going well so far; veganizing breakfast was easy, quick work-from-home lunches depend mostly on what we ate the days before so they will veganize themselves in time. Dinner requires more adjustment, since I have two kids – relativley open to eating new things, but one of them is probably a supertaster. Most of my #veganuary updates will be posted on Instagram.

    2021 projects, #3: test-knit a cardigan
    Also going well, I have the yoke almost done. The only annoyance is my cable keeps unscrewing from the right hand needle, regardless of how hard I screw it stuck. Again and again.

    2021 projects, #4: learn something new
    This project hit an unanticipated rock in the road – the Swedish AI course I joined, “Elements of AI” in Swedish translation, which looked good at the start, turned out to be a disappointment. Weirdly formulated problem statements – I supposed they aimed to be inclusive give simple questions, but missed the mark – and finnicky automated-response-checkers. Translation was great, though. The only term not well translated was Data Scientist.

    2021 projects, #5: community managers & resilience
    Community managers at large have been a positive force for good, this year. In late January, there will be a Community Manager Appreciation Day, themed “resilience”. Expect some posts on that.

    2021 projects, #6: scouting & leadership
    We joined in late November, so the only scout meetings we have had so far took place on Zoom. But there are plans to be outside and DO things, which I look much forward to. And I am psyched to be a parent-leader; I have so many ideas for keeping the kids busy and entertained.

    2021 projects, #7: books
    This will be the most work, likely. All books in the apartment need to get sorted, a fair amount will be packed in boxes, and the equal amount of books will come up from the cellar storage. All books to be scanned and registered. And I need to go through, sort and tag all my 700 e-books.

    2021 projects, #8: podcasts
    This project, I think, will be a main contributor to keeping me sane. I plan to take long walks and listen to interesting things. I have already found a few new favourites to add to my listening rota (which so far is mainly EscapePod): the ORIONScience podcast, and the Svenskan i Samhället (Swedish in Society) podcast.

    2021 projects, #9: RRIDs on everything
    This is by far not my only upcoming work project. There will be Google Summer of Code, there will be INCF Working Groups, and literature search for the INCF Infrastructure Committee. And meeting new people, helping some people connect and collaborate… I will likely not have a boring moment.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on January 05, 2021 09:00 AM.

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    2021 projects, #9: RRIDs on everything

    This project is work-focused, but will surely frame my thinking and actions also beyond work. My latest work strategy meeting can pretty much be summed up in one sentence: RRIDs on everything (and if it doesn’t have an RRID yet, get one for it).

    RRID is short for Research Resource ID, and is a type of identifier to inambiguously identify, mention and cite a research resource, taken broadly. Web portals, software tools, antibodies, cell/animal lines or bacterial strains. RRIDs grew out of the Research Resource Identification Initiative, whose key members also are part of the INCF community in the US, ands was launched as a recommendation in 2014, re-emphasized by successful trial results published in 2016.

    If you have ever experienced an everyday name or identity collision – a similarly named classmate, a repeatedly mis-dialed phone number, getting emails meant for another person, having a neighbour or office colleague who gets your mail and you get theirs – you should already have a hunch about why identifiers are important, and what not having them means.

    Simply put, identifiers give us a way to be more specific and precise than mere words can offer. There are existing identifiers for research papers (DOI:s, since old, ~2000s), people (ORCID:s, even older, Oct 2012), and research institutions (ROR in 2019, GRID in 2015). And since even longer, books have identifiers. ISBN, the International Standard Book Number, was published in 1970 as international standard ISO 2108. And identifiers typically are compact strings of characters, put together after a pattern, because you want them to be easy to use AND computer-readable .

    But the existing set of identifiers did not cover all of research nearly enough: there were (and are still) problems with, for example: exactly and unambigously stating which antibod(ies) from which producer(s) you actually used. Or which breed of lab rat. Citing tools and specifying transparently which tools you use. Hence, RRIDs were conceived, and there is an ongoing campaign to get them broadly used.

    Identifiers are useful on their own, but there are broader aspects – if you want to make science FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Internoperable, Reusable), identifiers will be a part of your toolset. They also need to be machine readable, because computers deal with thousands of data points a lot better than most humans do, and it would be nice to be able to automate identification and information gathering. They need to be persistent, i.e stay the same and not start meaning something different regardless of how tech develops. They also need to be resolveable – there needs to be a service at the other end, likely a database – storing the associated info.

    The idea is, if everything has an RRID, it doesn’t matter if information is spread out like a box of dropped tooth picks all over the formal and informal scientific digital landscape in preprints, papers, posters, websites, blog posts, social media – it is still findable, as long as it is digital, attached to a PID, and available for indexing. So my mission is, simply, to find out which important-to-neuroinformatics research objects are not yet findable, and change that.

    Read more:
    RRIDs: A Simple Step toward Improving Reproducibility through Rigor and Transparency of Experimental Methods
    Using ORCID, DOI, and Other Open Identifiers in Research Evaluation
    Unique, Persistent, Resolvable: Identifiers as the
    Foundation of FAIR

    in Malin Sandström's blog on January 04, 2021 09:46 PM.

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    Highlights from the BMC Series – November

    BMC Health Services Research

    The micropolitics of implementation; a qualitative study exploring the impact of power, authority, and influence when implementing change in healthcare teams  

    How can healthcare implementation be understood through a political lens? A study by Rogers et al. explored the effect of micropolitics, the use of power, authority, and influence, on implementation processes in the healthcare context. Because of the multidisciplinary nature of healthcare teams, healthcare professionals have discipline-specific priorities and expectations. Thus, multidisciplinary teams must reach agreements in spite of their divergent organizational priorities. Rogers et al. sought to address how micropolitics influences implementation processes by utilizing a multiple case study design and a theoretical framework.

    The qualitative analysis revealed that implementing change is an inherently political process in the healthcare context. Hierarchical systems were exemplified in both case studies; however, the impact of the hierarchy differed across settings. The first theme of the micropolitics of implementation was utilizing the hierarchy to exert influence. The physicians were identified as important “role models” in implementing change. Senior managers served similarly to senior physicians, though their role was perceived to have less influence on staff engagement. Additionally, clinical nurse managers played an important role as the “middle-man” to liaise between the disciplines. In one instance, the clinical nurse manager’s rejection of the intervention led to a lack of information amongst the team, negatively impacting implementation. In each instance, the hierarchy structure impacted how team members related to the intervention.

    Teams often described a culture of “put up or shut up”. Staff articulated how the hierarchy made them feel “constrained” and “beaten down”, ultimately leading team members to fear expressing their personal opinions regarding the intervention.

    The second theme that emerged was how traditional power structures constrained implementation. Teams often described a culture of “put up or shut up”. Staff articulated how the hierarchy made them feel “constrained” and “beaten down”, ultimately leading team members to fear expressing their personal opinions regarding the intervention. Furthermore, the hierarchy of the team impacted how the staff viewed the intervention relating to their influence on the decision. While some staff felt the intervention offered them an opportunity to participate as members of the team and to “have a voice”, which led to more consistent attendance throughout implementation, other members felt the implementation was irrelevant to their role, resulting in poor adoption of the intervention. Finally, silo working, or working in isolation rather than collaboration, negatively affected the dissemination of information within the medical team, limiting engagement. Thus, the hierarchy also impacted cross-disciplinary interactions. 

    These findings ultimately apply the micropolitical concepts of power, authority and influence to the healthcare context in hopes of providing insight on how to develop more appropriate implementation strategies. The thematic analysis and knowledge of the “everyday politics” of healthcare will certainly help develop a framework for successful implementation.


    Defining culturally safe primary care for people who use substances: a participatory concept mapping study 

    In the midst of the global opioid crisis, developing safe care parameters for people who use substances is essential. Urbanoski et al. conducted focus groups with a variety of individuals who use or used substances, focusing on the patient perspective of safe primary care. 

    “I would feel safe going to the doctor if…”

    Participants were recruited from peer-run organizations that provide support and advocacy to people who use substances. Participants were an average of 42.5 years, half identified as female and one quarter as Indigenous. Following several rounds of focus groups focused around the statement “I would feel safe going to the doctor if…”, the participants produced a cluster map as a “comprehensive and meaningful” representation of the data. The clusters can be summarized as the following:

    1. Act to prevent stigma: Don’t treat me like crap! This cluster deals with the external and internal stigma associated with substance use.
    2. Hey I’m human. Treat me right! Similar to Cluster 1, this cluster reflects the importance of humane and compassionate care.
    3. Uphold professional standards. Cluster 3 primarily focuses on professional competency, particularly around pain management and how providers can recognize patients’ experience of pain as legitimate.
    4. Do you care about me? How can physicians develop trust with their patients? This cluster speaks to the importance of personalized care, continuity of care, and developing rapport.
    5. Maintain my confidentiality in a welcoming and comfortable environment. Cluster 5 articulates concerns around the waiting room environment and clinic practices. Participants described crowded waiting rooms and limited privacy in conversation as chief stressors.
    6. Be a champion for advocacy. How can primary care providers address issues of accessibility and support to improve perceived safety in accessing care? Cluster 6 states examples such as allowing the presence of advocates or friends at appointments, providing care in discrete locations, etc.
    7. Acknowledge and accommodate my needs and circumstances. Cluster 7 identifies how circumstances impact plans of care. Participants indicated the desire for increased forgiveness of missed appointments, understanding fear of being criminalized for the disclosure of drug use, and more. Each of these statements asked primary care providers to recognize the “structural conditions” that impact accessing healthcare.
    8. Don’t red flag me: Recognize addiction as a health issue. The final cluster addresses how a physician’s view of addiction as a health issue, not a criminal behavior, helps people who use substances feel safe in seeking care.

    Ultimately, these focus groups provide a starting point for improving the delivery of compassionate primary care to people who use substances. This model provides concrete, patient-centered suggestions for improving primary care processes.


    BMC Endocrine Disorders  

    Impact of malnutrition on systemic immune and metabolic profiles in type 2 diabetes 

    Nutrition has a large impact for diabetes patients and can be linked to managing the condition. Typically associated with overweight or obese patients, this condition is being tracked within malnourished populations and how it affects the individuals’ immunological and metabolic profiles.

    It was found that people with a low BMI, or those suffering from malnutrition, had decreased levels of glycemic, hormonal, and cytokine parameters and were therefore less likely to be able to manage Type 2 Diabetes.

    Malnutrition has been linked to negatively affecting the immunology of a patient and increasing their mortality from infections. It was hypothesized that a low BMI alters the pancreatic hormone, adipocytokine, and cytokines in Type 2 Diabetes patients, resulting in an increased risk for a more severe form. Covering 88 participants, this study found strong links to BMI and immune response.

    It was found that people with a low BMI, or those suffering from malnutrition, had decreased levels of glycemic, hormonal, and cytokine parameters and were therefore less likely to be able to manage Type 2 Diabetes. Consequently, BMI was also associated with the immunological parameters of patients, with normal BMIs having a significant positive correlation for immune response.


    BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies

    Do women who consult with naturopaths or herbalists have a healthy lifestyle?: a secondary analysis of the Australian longitudinal study on women’s health 

    Many Australians report that they consult naturopaths, but what does this mean for their health? Steel et al. evaluated the relationship between health behavior and consultations with naturopaths in Australian women among three age cohorts (19-25, 31-36, and 62-67).

    Through analyzing the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH), they found that women of all cohorts who had consulted with a naturopath in the last 12 months were less likely to smoke, more likely to report at least moderate levels of physical activity, and more likely to have a vegetarian diet. Additionally, women who had consulted with naturopaths were also more likely to have used marijuana or illicit drugs in the last 12 months. 

    Further research is needed to understand this relationship between naturopaths and health behaviors, but this study uncovered opportunities for naturopaths to support health behaviors and minimize risky behaviors. 


    BMC Genomics  

    Competitive mapping allows for the identification and exclusion of human DNA contamination in ancient faunal genomic datasets

    Unjumbling contaminated DNA in ancient specimens pose issues for cost-effective sequencing and interpretation. Identifying the contamination between human and faunal DNA has the benefit of being able to affect analyses when mapping the reference genomes.

    This work focuses on the most effective method to competitively map human contamination from ancient faunal DNA with reduced losses of data, thus acting as a beneficial tool within ancient DNA research. This was achieved through the sequencing of genomic data from 70 ancient and historical mammalian specimens, including an ancient favorite: the wooly mammoth.


    BMC Medical Research Methodology 

    Epistemonikos: a comprehensive database of systematic reviews for health decision-making

    Systematic reviews are arguably the most robust form of research evidence. However, as the literature becomes continually more saturated with these reviews, it is more difficult to identify relevant reviews addressing specific questions. How can the scientific community keep up?

    On behalf of the Epistemonikos project, Rada et al. developed a database called Epistemonikos of more than 300,000 systematic reviews, making it the largest database of its kind. The included reviews were selected using a machine-based approach, which were then validated by a network of over 1000 collaborators. This database is a free, multilingual, and quality-checked “one-stop shop” for systematic reviews.


    BMC Research Notes

    What is the size of Australia’s sexual minority population? 

    Australia’s sexual minority adult population (LGBTQIA+) are difficult to estimate as the Australian Bureau of Statistics does not publish or collect any data on sexual identity. Therefore, this work attempted to provide this estimate and fill the gaps in the latest census data.

    Combining data from multiple national surveys and population data, average prevalence rate produced an estimate of Australia’s sexual minority population – utilising data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and the Household, Income And Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey.  It was found that Australia’s sexual minority was higher in the younger population and steadily increased with surveys conducted in later years.

    It was found that Australia’s sexual minority was higher in the younger population and steadily increased with surveys conducted in later years.

    Proposing a potential cohort effect for this trend, it is suggested sexual identities can be influenced by social attitudes and the legal environment of the time. Younger cohorts have spent their formative years within a time of higher acceptance of sexual identity and the willingness to disclose one’s identity. This cohort effect has the potential to impact future population surveys and the percentage of Australia’s known sexual minority population.  

    The post Highlights from the BMC Series – November appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on January 04, 2021 01:42 PM.

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    David Argyle: can bullying lead to bad science?

    David Argyle was about to become President of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. But then bullying allegations emerged, which the University of Edinburgh swiftly dismissed and suppressed. Now they can do same with the data integrity concerns in Argyle's research.

    in For Better Science on January 04, 2021 12:04 PM.

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    Journal becomes “victim of an organized rogue editor network”

    We’re not accustomed to seeing journal article titles that end in exclamation points. But that’s what a title did earlier this month: “The Journal of Nanoparticle Research victim of an organized rogue editor network!” The journal, a Springer Nature title, wrote the editors, “has been attacked in a new way by a sophisticated and organized … Continue reading Journal becomes “victim of an organized rogue editor network”

    in Retraction watch on January 04, 2021 11:00 AM.

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    Project Veganuary: beginnings

    vegan gyros with vegetables Vegan gyros in pita bread, with vegetables, hummus, and vegan feta

    Today was the informal start of our Veganuary. I went shopping for core vegan staples and a few upcoming easy meals, and we made our first vegan lunch: vegan gyros in pita bread, with oat créme fraîche, vegetables, hummus, roasted onion flakes, and vegan feta. Everyone was postively surprised – the vegan gyros was tender and flavourful, the fraîche was to everyone’s liking, and the feta was eerily much like the original.

    We also discussed implementation and focus, and came to agreement: 1) major focus: sustainability and being planet friendly. No flight transports or unneccessarily long transports if local alternatives exist. 2) secondary focus: health. We might as well diversify our carbohydrates while changing things around. More beans and lentils. 3) Needs to be family compatible. The kids will sometimes get their usual fare, but will be encouraged to try alternatives.

    In addition, I aim to take a generally more planet-friendly month, focused on re-use and DIY, aiming for second hand and pre-used where available.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on January 03, 2021 08:28 PM.

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    Open Access: “Information wants to be free”?

    Earlier this year I was invited to discuss with Georgia Institute of Technology librarian Fred Rascoe my eBook “Open access: Could defeat be snatched from the jaws of victory?” for Lost in the Stacks, the research library rock and roll show he hosts. 

    Prior to the interview, Rascoe sent me a list of questions. As we did not have time to discuss them all during the interview, I decided to publish my answers on my blog. With the greater space available I also took the opportunity to expatiate at considerable length in doing so. This turned into another eBook!

    Please note that what I say in the attached document is built on an interview. It is not intended to be any kind of prediction of the future; it is more an extended reflection after 20 years reporting on the OA movement, coupled with a heavy dose of speculation. Who knows, perhaps this will be the last thing I ever write on open access. Maybe this will prove my swan song.

    I would also like to stress upfront that in the critique of the OA movement I make I don’t claim that my knowledge, or predictions, are superior to anyone else’s. This is just what I have concluded after many years observing the movement and reflects my current view on where I think we are today. It does also include a lot of factual data, as well as links and footnotes for those who like them. 

    Importantly, while I do not consider myself to be an OA advocate, I admit that I was as naïve as anyone else about what the movement might be able to achieve.

    Finally, while what I say might be slightly overweight in European developments, it may not matter if (as I believe is possible) events in Europe end up determining how open access develops globally. 

    I say this because it seems possible that European OA initiatives will reconfigure the international scholarly communication system, and in ways that OA advocates will not be comfortable with. 

    I would add that the main focus is on science publishing rather than HSS. 

    To read/download my new eBook please click this link

    The file can also be downloaded here. (Health warning: it is 163 pages long). 

    A short review of the eBook has been posted on Reddit here.

    in Open and Shut? on January 03, 2021 07:18 AM.

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    Annual report of my intuition about the brain (2020)

    How does the brain work and how can we understand it? I want to make it a habit to report some of the thoughts about the brain that marked me most during the past twelve month at the end of each year – with the hope to advance and structure the progress in the part of my understanding of the brain that is not immediately reflected in journal publications. Enjoy the read! And check out previous year-end write-ups: 2018, 2019, 2020.

    Doing experiments in neuroscience means opening Pandora’s box. On a daily basis, you’re confronted with the vexing fact that the outcome of experiments is not only slightly, but much more complex and variable than any mental model you could come up with. It is rewarding and soothing to read published stories about scientific findings, but they often become stories only because things which did not fit in were omitted or glossed over. This is understandable to some extent, since nobody wants to read 379 side-notes on anecdotal and potentially confusing observations. But it leads to a striking gap between headlines with clear messages, and the feeling of being overwhelmed by complexity when doing experiments or going through a raw dataset. It is possible to overcome this complexity by nested analysis pipelines (‘source’ extraction, unsupervised clustering, inclusion criteria, dimensionality reduction, etc.) and to restore simplicity. But the confusion often comes back when going back to the raw, unreduced data, because they contain so much more complexity.

    In this year’s write-up, I want to address this complexity of the brain from the perspective of self-organized systems, and I will try to point out lines of research that can, in my opinion, contribute to an understanding of these systems in the brain.

    Complex systems

    Two years ago, I have been writing about the limitation of the human mind to deal with the brain’s complexity, and the reasons behind this limitations (Entanglement of temporal and spatial scales in the brain but not in the mind). This year, I again have been thinking quite a bit about these issues. During summer, in the bookshelf of a friend, I noticed the novel Jurassic Park, which my friend, to my surprise, recommended to me. The book, more so than the movie, tells the story of how a complex system – the Jurassic Park – cannot be controlled because of unexpected interactions within the system that were thought to be separated by design. This perspective is represented in the book by a smart-ass physicist who had worked on chaos theory. He not only predicts that all will be going downhill from the start, but also provides lengthy rants about the hubris of men who think they can control complexity.

    This threw me back to the days when I studied physics myself, actually also with a focus on complex systems: non-linear dynamics, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, chaos control and biophysics. So, with some years in neuroscience behind me, I went back to the theory of complex systems. I started to go through a very easy-to-read book on the topic by Melanie Mitchell: Complexity: A Guided Tour. Melanie Mitchell is herself a researcher in complexity science. She did her PhD work with Douglas Hofstadter, famously known for his book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Mitchell summarizes the history and ideas of her field in a refreshingly modest and self-critical way, which I can only recommend. As another bonus point, the book was published in 2009, just before deep learning emerged as a highly dominant idea – which also suppressed and overshadowed many other interesting lines of thought.

    For example, Mitchell brings up John von Neumann’s idea of self-organization in cellular automata, Douglas Hofstadter’s work, Alan Turing’s idea of self-organization in simple reaction-diffusion systems, the cybernetics movement around Norbert Wiener, Hermann Haken’s concept of Synergetics, and Stephen Wolfram’s A New Kind of Science.

    Unfortunately, many of these ideas about complex systems were intellectually inspiring, and certainly influenced many people; but at the same time they often did not really hold their promise and did not have a similar real-work impact outside of the philosophical realm, in contrast to for example the development of semiconductors or the backpropagation in neuronal networks. On one side, ideas around self-organization like the Autopoiesis concept invented by Montana and Varela were riddled with ill-defined concepts and often connected to ideas like “emergence”, “cognition” or “consciousness” in very vague ways. On the other side of the spectrum, many very influential researchers like Douglas Hofstadter or Stephen Wolfram had a very strong mathematical background and therefore were fascinated by beauty and simplicity rather than truely high-dimensional chaos. I think it’s fascinating to proof that a cellular automaton like the Game of Life is Turing-complete (i.e., it is a universal computer), but wouldn’t a practical application of such an automaton be more convincing and useful than a theoretical proof?

    It is therefore tempting for an experimentalist and natural scientist to simply trash the entire field as verbal acrobatics that will not help to understand complex systems like the brain. However, in the next section I’d like to make the point why I think the concept of self-organized systems should still be considered as potentially central when it comes to understanding the brain.

    Self-organized systems

    Over the last years, I have become more and more convinced that complex systems cannot be easily understood by simply describing their behavior. Even for very simple complex phenomena like the Lorenz equations, where the behavior of the system can be described by strange attractors, this description can only provide a low-dimensional description which allows to predict the behavior of the system, but it does not tell much about the generative processes underlying the respective phenomena.

    Low-dimensional descriptions of brain activity are one of the most active areas of current research in neuroscience. This can range from a description of brain dynamics in terms of oscillatory regimes, to default mode networks of the human brain, or more recently to attempts to break down the population activity of thousands of neurons into a low-dimensional manifold. These are beautiful descriptions of neuronal activities, and it is certainly useful to study the brain with these approaches. But does it provide us with a real understanding? From one perspective, one could say that such a condensed description (if it exists, which is not yet clear) would be a form of deep understanding, since any way to compress a description is some sort of understanding. But I think there should be a deeper way of understanding that focuses on the underlying generative processes.

    Imagine you want to understand artificial neural networks (deep networks). One way would be to investigate information flows and how representations of the input evolve across different layers and become less similar to the input and more similar to the respective target label. This is an operative and valuable way to understand of what is going on. In my opinion, it would however allow for a deeper understanding to simply bring up the very organizing principles which underlie the generation of the network: back-propagation of errors during learning, the definition of the loss function and the deep feed-forward network architecture.

    Similarly, I think it would be equally more interesting in neuroscience to understand the generative and organizing principles which underlie the final structure of the brain, instead of studying the representations of information in neuronal activity. It is clear that a part of the organization of the brain is encoded in the genome, for example as guidance cues for axonal growth or as the program of sequential migration of cell types, and in addition also the coarse specific connectivity across different cell types. However, the more flexible, and possibly also more interesting part, is probably not organized by an external designer (like a deep network) and also not directly organized by the genome. In the absence of an external designing instance, there must be self-organization at work.

    Once we accept that this part of the generative principles underlying the brain structure and function is self-organization, it becomes immediately clear that it might be useful to get inspired by complexity science and the study of self-organized systems. This connection between neuroscience is probably evident to anybody working on complex systems, but I have the impression that this perspective is sometimes lost by systems neuroscience and in particular experimental neuroscience.

    Self-organizing principles of neuronal networks: properties of single neurons

    I believe that the most relevant building blocks of self-organization in the brain are single neurons (and not molecules, synapses or brain areas). A year ago, I have argued why I think this makes sense from an evolutionary perspective (Annual report of my intuition about the brain (2019)), and I argued why would be interesting to understand the objective function of a single cell: so-to-speak the single-cell specific generative principle that underlies the self-organization of biological neuronal networks.

    Realistically speaking, this is too abstract a way of exploring biological neurons. What would be a less condensed way to describe the self-organizing principles underlying single neurons that are analogous to back-propagation and loss functions for deep networks? I would tend to mention main ingredients: First, the principles that determine the integration of inputs in a single neuron. Second, the principles that determine the way that neurons connect and modify their mutual connections – which is basically nothing but plasticity rules between neurons. I am convinced that the integrative properties of neurons and the plasticity rules of a neuron when interacting with other cells are the main ingredients that are together the self-organizing principles of neuronal networks.

    This is a somewhat underwhelming conclusion, because both plasticity rules and integrative properties of neurons have been studied very intensely since the 1990s. The detour of this blog post about self-organization basically reframes what a certain branch of neuroscience has been studying anyway. However, in addition it makes – in my opinion – also clear why the study of population dynamics and low-dimensional descriptions of neuronal activity aims at a different level of understanding. And it makes the point that the deepest understanding of biosimilar networks can probably be achieved by studying the aspects of self-organizing agents, plasticity rules and single-cell integrative properties, and not by studying the pure behavior of animals or neuronal networks.

    Studying self-organized neuronal networks and plasticity rules

    So, how can we study these principles of self-organized agents? Unfortunately, the last 30 years have made it quite clear that there is not simply a single universal plasticity rule. Typical plasticity rules (spike-time dependent plasticity; fire-together-wire-together; NMDA-dependent potentiation) usually explain only a small fraction of the variance in the experimental data and can often be only studied in very specific experimental conditions, and in most cases only in slice work. Usually, the conditions of the experiment (number of presynaptic action potentials to induce plasticity, spike frequency, etc.) are tuned to achieve strong effects, and absence of effects in other conditions are not systematically studied and often go unreported. In addition, plasticity rules in vivo seem to be somewhat different. Neuromodulation and other state-dependent influences might affect plasticity rules in ways that make them almost impossible to study systematically. In addition, it is very likely that there is not a single plasticity rule that governs the same behavior across all all neurons, since diversity of properties has been shown in simulations to provide robustness to neuronal circuits at many different levels. And evolution has would be a fool not to make use of this property that is so easy to achieve – evolution does not care about being hard to reverse engineer. This however makes it merely impossible (although still very valuable!) to dissect these principles systematically in experiments.

    That is why I think that simulations – not experiments – could be the best starting point for understanding these self-organized networks.

    There is indeed a large body of work going into this direction. If you google for “self-organizing neuronal networks”, you will find a huge literature which goes back to the 60s and is often based on very simplistic models of neurons (still heavily inspired by condensed matter physics), but there are also some interesting more recent papers that directly combine modern plasticity rules with the idea of self-organization (e.g. Lazar et al., 2009). And there are not few computational labs that study plasticity rules and their effect on the organization of neuronal networks, which is also some kind of self-organization, e.g. the labs of Henning Sprekeler, Claudia Clopath, Tim Vogels, Friedemann Zenke, Richard Naud, all of them influenced by Wulfram Gerstner; or Sophie Deneuve; Christian Machens; Wolfgang Maass – to name just few out of many people who work on this topic. I think this is one of the most interesting fields of theoretical neuroscience. However, I would be personally very satisfied to see this field shift towards a better inclusion of the self-organizing perspective.

    To give a random example, in a study from this year, Naumann and Sprekeler show how specific non-linear properties of neurons can mitigate a well-known problem associated with purely Hebbian plasticity rules (Presynaptic inhibition rapidly stabilises recurrent excitationin the face of plasticity, 2020). They basically take an experimental finding that has been made quite some time ago (pre-synaptic inhibition of the axonal boutons via GABAB receptors) and builds a model that explains how this could make sense in the light of plasticity rules. This is a very valuable way of doing research, also because it takes biological details of neurons into account and gives the experimentalists a potential context and explanation of their findings. However, this approach seems to be the perspective of a designer or engineer, rather than the approach of somebody who aims at an understanding of a self-organized system. What would be an alternative approach?

    From engineered organization to self-organization

    I think it would be useful to take the perspective of a neuron, and in addition also an evolutionary perspective. Let’s say, a neuron with certain properties (rules on when and how to connect) joins the large pool of a recurrent network. The question which must be solved by the neuron is: How do I learn how to behave meaningfully?

    I’d like to give an analogy on how I think this neuron should ideally behave: A human person that interacts with others in a social network, be it in real life or in the virtual world, must adjust their actions according to how they are received. Shouting loud all the time will isolate them, because they are blocking the receiving channels of others, and being silent all the time will let others equally drop the connections. To adjust the level of output and to adjust the appropriate content that will be well-received, it is crucial to listen to feedback.

    This is what I think could be the central question from this self-organized perspective of neuronal circuits: How does the neuron get feedback on its own actions? And with feedback, I do not mean global error signals about the behavior of the organism via neuromodulation channels, but feedback on the neuron’s action potentials and its other actions. Where does this feedback come from?

    If we reduce the complex network to a single cell, we can immediately see the answer to this question, the feedback comes from the external world. A spike of this “neuron” has a direct impact on the world, and the world in return acts back upon the “neuron”. It is not clear how this scales up to larger networks, but I think that this inclusion of the external world, as opposed to a machine learning-style input-output task, could be the most important ingredient that makes the step from engineered network organizations to self-organized networks.

    (There are many loose connections from here to reinforcement learning using learning agents and also to predictive processing, but let’s not go into that here.)

    Conclusion and summary

    The conclusions of this write-up might sound trivial from some perspective; and again others might say that these ideas will not lead anywhere, similar to many previous suggestions in the field of complex self-organized systems.

    I’m glad to become convinced otherwise, but today I think that a very promising way to achieve a deep understanding of the brain could consist of the following ingredients, as motivated above:

    1) To regard the brain as a at least partially self-organized network,

    2) To use simulations together with evolutionary algorithms to explore the generative / self-organizing principles,

    3) To consider properties and actions on the level of single neurons as the main parameters that can be modified during this evolutionary process and

    4) To include an external world to transition from an externally organized to a self-organized system.

    in Peter Rupprecht on January 01, 2021 07:47 PM.

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    2021 projects, #8: podcasts

    Podcasts have been growing quickly in numbers during the last years, and I didn’t really clue in to that until I re-joined LinkedIn in the middle of the year for other work purposes – and suddenly, it seemed whoever I checked and followed had a podcast. Or had just started a podcast – it is apparently the Professional Thing To Do in the 2020’s.

    Currently, my life mostly lacks quiet time to sit down (or go for walks) and listen to podcasts, so I have been amassing an ever-growing long list of interesting, possible podcasts to listen to; it is very low effort to follow more podcasts now that they are available on Spotify.

    I used to listen to a lot of podcasts some years ago, when the kids were still small enough to need daily long walks in a stroller. It was mainly EscapePod and a few different Swedish Radio pods, and a very nice podcast with some of my favourite authors chatting about different things, the SFSqueecast, but it ended long ago.

    So, my project for 2021 is: take the looong list of podcasts I currently subscribe to, and trial them to see which ones are worth keeping long term. I have one nominee for the list already, the ORION Open Science podcast.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on January 01, 2021 06:54 PM.

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    2021 projects, #7: books

    I own a lot of books. Nowadays, I mostly buy Kindle books, since the bookshelves had to go when we got twins. I now own about 700 books on Kindle, of which 400+ are read at least once. This is the result of one single Twitter account (mostly), @SFSignal, that tweets sales of SF and other fantastic fiction, under the tag sff_eBookDeal. Some of the books go for as low as $1-$2, and that’s where the majority of my digital library comes from.

    I also own a lot of actual, physical SFF books. Nearly all paperbacks. We used to have a high shelf for my books along the walls of our entry hall, but when we switched apartments a few years back, that had to go. It swallowed at least 150 books, that now lying in boxes in the cellar storage.

    When we started the Matmolekyler project, we started out with buying useful books. I have a bunch of those in my bookshelves (including some I got myself, or as gifts: several books by HaroldMcGee, two priced *signed* books by Gordon Shepherd). Since then, I try to buy food-science-related books when I find them at reaonable prices. That collection is now about 50 books.

    I also went through a period where I was thinking a lot about food and cooking history, so I tried to find some of the earlier real cookbooks (and school household training books) from the early 1900s. There are typically cheap and abundant at used book stores, so by now I have quite a few. Including one I got at a museum, which is a copy of a 1800s cookbook along with a companion book written by a historian). And a set of two old ~1800s household encyclopedias in a new edition from a Swedish agricultural society (I had to order them special and pick them up in person). Let’s say, another 40 or so books.

    For 2021, I hope to rearrange all of our (mine, really) bookshelves so that I have more SFF books accessible (since I want to re-read them anyway). I hope to inventory and index all books, and maybe even get rid of some. I need to find some good book inventory software – I have Goodreads but haven’t really used it for sorting books yet.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 31, 2020 12:12 PM.

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    2021 projects, #6: scouting & leadership

    The founder of Adolf Fredrik scoutkår, Ivar Åkerfelt.

    My kids wanted to join the Scouts, so we put them in the queue for our local Scoutkår, Adolf Fredriks. Kids whose parents agree to help with (co)leading get boosted higher in the queue, and I do have earlier experience, so I indicated my willingness to help. And then we waited.

    Not for long, it took maybe a month or so. No regular meetings were held, but we tried to meet up on Zoom each week (and if you have ever wondered why Zoom etiquette is needed, try meeting with a group of eight-year-olds and try to get them to follow a program).

    There have been no outside activities yet, but that is our likely next step, so we have gone over what outdoor equipment we have and what we need. Black Friday let us buy two good sleeping bags for a good price. The kids’ great-grandmother gave them each a good outdoor backpack. I found myself hiking boots, outdoor trousers and a decent size backpack (~50 l ) on sales. Rainjackets, -trousers and boots/waterproof shoes we already have, because of Stockholm winters. We also got two pairs of skates and helmets for the kids, because one of the possible future activities is the skating ice frozen in the nearby Vasaparken, arranged every winter season by the local authorities.

    So for the next year at least, I will be the co-leader of a troop of 8-year-old scouts (who will turn 9 during the year). I have so many ideas for fun stuff to do, based on my own years in the Mjölby scoutkår at home.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 31, 2020 11:45 AM.

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    2021 projects, #5: community managers & resilience

    The CMX holiday letter states: “ I just reviewed the data with the research team and one thing is crystal clear: community has become an irreplaceable part of business. In a year where a lot of businesses struggled, and there were many layoffs, community teams actually grew. And companies of all sizes, in all industries, are going to be investing in community in a big way next year.”

    I have a standing alert for community-related position ads on LinkedIn, and see clearly a parallell increase in community positions offered in science & academia. Where ads earlier have been implicit about the community aspects, hiding it under terms such as ‘field knowledge’, nearly everyone knows and admits to some degree that in academia, it is impossible to succeed without community support. It is built into the system that your peers will (hopefully) acknowledge you and lift your work up – this mechanism is seen in such academic pillars as peer review, recommendation letters, and hiring committees, to name some examples.

    Since I did my AAAS Community Fellowship in 2017, a training program that ran twice and which has now transformed into an independent organisation called CSCCE, Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement , I have been an active member in the community that surrounds CSCCE. We have a lot of interesting activites and projects around community management – interest groups (I’m in the Open Science SIG and lurking in the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion SIG), projects (I’m in one we started in 2017, aiming to describe and pin down community manager skillsets), and Working Groups (I’m in the Community Champions WG).

    The theme for the 2021 Community Manager Advancement Day, which takes place on January 25, is resilience. A very fitting theme, after this Covid year. Resilience of self, when the world stops around you; resilience of communities to chaos and changes; resilience of organizations and society – where community has a huge part.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 31, 2020 09:32 AM.

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    2021 projects, #4: learn something new

    I have always sought out situations where I think I could learn something interesting. 2021 will not be different. Many of the tings I have learned over the past decade are by Brownian motion and absorption – spend enough time in a community, you will pick up their interests. So I thought it would be a nice thing to learn something in a more structured fashion.

    If there is one thing – something not Covid – which has popped up repeatedly in the space around me this year, it is AI and machine learning. Many papers with new neuro tools using deep learning and other ML approaches. That fantastic protein folding study. The Semantic Scholar search enginge’s new amazing TLDR:s of papers. And I attended a very interesting webinar on the possible applications of AI in music (I think it was a Stockholm AI event, but their event calendar is bugging out on me currently, so I can’t verify).

    What entices me is the amazing creativity I see in many approaches – there are obviously a wide range of AI applications that I had not been able to imagine.

    So I have signed up for two courses, one translated into Swedish – mostly to pick up the Swedish terms if they even exist yet, also because the translation is fantastic – and one in English from Coursera.

    My 2020 project was to learn Python. Since I effectively started it in September, I haven’t come that far yet (I am at the NumPy stage), so this will be a continuing project in 2021. Also, I was gifted my friend Benjamin Auffart’s new book on ML in Python, the Artificial Intelligence in Python Cookbook, so I have resources to make this another branch of the AI learning project.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 31, 2020 09:06 AM.

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    2021 projects, #3: test-knit a cardigan

    Test knit with straight 6.5 mm bamboo needles

    I have knit a ton of things over the last 15 or so years, but I have never tested someone else’s pattern, yet benefited from others testing patterns I then bought and used. This is sort of the knitting world’s equivalent to peer review – you invest your input in the system and it pays back to you (eventyally and indirectly).

    I decided to start off easy, so when my friend Helena (who designs and knits awesome and pretty complex sweaters and hats) sent out a call for testers of a new cardigan, the Gunhild cardigan, I hopped on. In thick, wooly Alafoss Lopi – a much quicker knit than what she usually designs, and much esier as a starting point.

    The test knit came out beutifully – exactly the right number of rows and stiches measured over 10 x 10 cm (the standard way; each pattern has/should have this info). But it required cable needles, and despite more than a decade of hoarding needles, I didn’t have enough of that kind in that precise size.

    Ordering stuff online just before Christmas is no fun, but I found a new-to-me Swedish company that had the right needles and order the most expedited freight option. Then an excruciating week of waiting, before they finally arrived late last night. Which puts this project sqarely into 2021!

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 31, 2020 08:44 AM.

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    Questions from 1920 Still Haunt Neuroscience

    A 100-year-old paper anticipated key issues in modern neuroscience

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on December 31, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    How the Brain Works

    Every now and then, it's refreshing to remember how little we know about “how the brain works.” I put that phrase in quotes because the search for the Holy Grail of [spike trains, network generative models, manipulated neural circuit function, My Own Private Connectome, predictive coding, the free energy principle (PDF), or a computer simulation of the human brain promised by the Blue Brain Project] that will “explain” how “The Brain” works is a quixotic quest. It's a misguided effort when the goal is framed so simplistically (or monolithically).

    First of all, whose brain are we trying to explain? Yours? Mine? The brain of a monkey, mouse, marsupial, monotreme, mosquito, or mollusk? Or C. elegans with its 306 neurons? “Yeah yeah, we get the point,” you say, “stop being so sarcastic and cynical. We're searching for core principles, first principles.”

    In response to that tweet, definitions of “core principle” included:

    • Basically: a formal account of why brains encode information and control behaviour in the way that they do.
    • Fundamental theories on the underlying mechanisms of behavior. 
      • [Maybe “first principles” would be better?]
    • Set of rules by which neurons work?


    Let's return to the problem of explanation. What are we trying to explain? Behavior, of course [a very specific behavior most of the time]: X behavior in your model organism. But we also want to explain thought, memory, perception, emotion, neurological disorders, mental illnesses, etc. Seems daunting now, eh? Can the same core principles account for all these phenomena across species? I'll step out on a limb here and say NO, then snort for asking such an unfair question. Best that your research program is broken down into tiny reductionistic chunks. More manageable that way.

    But what counts as an “explanation”? We haven't answered that yet. It depends on your goal and your preferred level of analysis (à la three levels of David Marr):

    computation – algorithm – implementation



    Again, what counts as “explanation”? A concise answer was given by Lila Davachi during a talk in 2019, when we all still met in person for conferences:

    “Explanations describe (causal) relationships between phenomena at different levels.”

    from Dr. Lila Davachi (CNS meeting, 2019)
    The Relation Between Psychology and Neuroscience
    (see video, also embedded below)

    Did I say this was a “refreshing” exercise? I meant depressing... but I'm usually a pessimist. (This has grown worse as I've gotten older and been in the field longer.)

    Are there reasons for optimism?

    You can follow the replies here, and additional replies to this question in another thread starting here.

    I'd say the Neuromatch movement (instigated by computational neuroscientists Konrad Kording and Dan Goodman) is definitely a reason for optimism!

    Further Reading

    The Big Ideas in Cognitive Neuroscience, Explained (2017)

    ... The end goal of a Marr-ian research program is to find explanations, to reach an understanding of brain-behavior relations. This requires a detailed specification of the computational problem (i.e., behavior) to uncover the algorithms. The correlational approach of cognitive neuroscience and even the causal-mechanistic circuit manipulations of optogenetic neuroscience just don't cut it anymore.

    An epidemic of "Necessary and Sufficient" neurons (2018)

    A miniaturized holy grail of neuroscience is discovering that activation or inhibition of a specific population of neurons (e.g., prefrontal parvalbumin interneurons) or neural circuit (e.g., basolateral amygdala → nucleus accumbens) is “necessary and sufficient” (N&S) to produce a given behavior.

    Big Theory, Big Data, and Big Worries in Cognitive Neuroscience (from CNS meeting, 2018)
    Dr. Eve Marder ... posed the greatest challenges to the field of cognitive neuroscience, objections that went mostly unaddressed by the other speakers.  [paraphrased below]:
    • How much ambiguity can you live with in your attempt to understand the brain? For me I get uncomfortable with anything more than 100 neurons
    • If you're looking for optimization (in [biological] neural networks), YOU ARE DELUSIONAL!
    • Degenerate mechanisms produce the same changes in behavior, even in a 5 neuron network...
    • ..so Cognitive Neuroscientists should be VERY WORRIED



    The Neuromatch Revolution (2020)

    “A conference made for the whole neuroscience community”


    An Amicable Discussion About Psychology and Neuroscience (from CNS meeting, 2019)

    • the conceptual basis of cognitive neuroscience shouldn't be correlation
    • but what if the psychological and the biological are categorically dissimilar??

    ...and more!

    The video below is set to begin with Dr. Davachi, but the entire symposium is included.

    in The Neurocritic on December 30, 2020 11:17 PM.

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    2021 projects, #2: Veganuary

    There is an international movement, started in the UK and calling themselves Veganuary, who aim to inspire people to go vegan for a month, on a try. Internationally, it is big, with more than a million people in total signed up since 2014. In Sweden, it is probably still more of a fringe movement – but still involving tens of thousands of people – supported by Djurens Rätt.

    I have signed up for the international version. I already have a general ongoing ‘project’ to eat more vegetables, both in larger amounts and more varieties, so this should fit right in. I am mostly doing this for climate reasons, so expensive imported-by-flight ingredients are out.

    I’ll be doing this in conjunction with needing to cook for and feed two kids, aged 8, omnivores. Wish me luck.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 30, 2020 08:49 AM.

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    2021 projects, #1: social media critique

    Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by [Jaron Lanier]

    My mom just asked me to read the book “Ten arguments for deleting your social media accounts right now” so that she would have someone to discuss it with. So, that will be my first project for the new year. I figure it will generate about one blog post per argument.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 30, 2020 08:14 AM.

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    The Ethics of "Human Brain Surrogates"

    The ethical questions raised by emerging neuro-technologies

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on December 30, 2020 12:00 AM.

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    Congress Passes Budget Bill: NIH BRAIN Initiative Receives $60M in Additional Funds for Fiscal Year 2021

    A message to the community from Dr. John Ngai, Director of the NIH BRAIN Initiative.

    Dear BRAIN Community,

    I am pleased to inform you that the recently authorized Omnibus Appropriations Bill for fiscal year 2021 provides $42.9 billion for NIH, an increase of $1.25 billion (or 1.5%) above fiscal year 2020. This appropriation includes $560 million for the NIH BRAIN Initiative, a $60 million increase over last year’s $500 million appropriation. We are deeply grateful for Congress’s strong and continuing support of our mission.

    The spending bill includes $404 million of appropriated funds authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act. The Cures Act, signed into law in December 2016, allocates funding to NIH each year through 2026, for a total of $4.8 billion across all projects described in the Act. The BRAIN Initiative was one of four highly innovative scientific initiatives designated to receive multi-year funding through the Innovation Fund of the Cures Act, reflecting enthusiasm for the Initiative and its goals. This funding must be appropriated each year by Congress.

    The $560 million appropriation for the NIH BRAIN Initiative includes $100 million in Cures Act funds. This legislation reflects strong bipartisan Congressional support for biomedical research, and will provide NIH with the resources needed to continue to work towards the goals in BRAIN’s strategic plan, which was initially outlined by the BRAIN 2025 report and recently updated and enhanced through the BRAIN 2.0 neuroscience and neuroethics reports. Importantly, this generous allocation for 2021 will accelerate the launch of two transformative projects outlined in those reports that “stand out in for their importance to human health and technical viability,” specifically: $40 million for the Human Brain Cell Atlas and $20 million for the Armamentarium for Brain Cell Access. Collectively, this funding will help accelerate BRAIN’s mission to develop and apply innovative tools and neurotechnologies, as well as to support researchers as they seek new ways to treat, cure, and ultimately prevent brain disorders.

    In addition to the increased funds for the BRAIN Initiative, the Omnibus Bill:

    The spending bill will fund the government until the end of the current fiscal year on September 30, 2021.

    With gratitude and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous new year,

    John Ngai, Ph.D.

    Director, NIH BRAIN Initiative

    in BRAIN Update on December 29, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    MDPI and racism

    In 2019, MDPI published a Special Issue "Beyond Thirty Years of Research on Race Differences in Cognitive Ability", one year later its owner Shu-Kun Lin expressed admiration for Trump and said "Black Lives Matter. White Lives Matter. All Lives Matter."

    in For Better Science on December 29, 2020 01:33 PM.

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    Why Indian researchers oppose efforts to have a pirate website banned

    An article on the lawsuit filed by Wiley, Elsevier, and ACS again Sci-Hub at Delhi High Court, India.

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on December 25, 2020 11:42 PM.

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    Omer Nour and Magnus Willander guilty of research misconduct

    "The Board assesses that there are no scientifically acceptable explanations for why the notified researchers have fabricated research results in the manner that has occurred in the notified articles. Raw data also does not support the reported results. [..] In summary, the Board finds therefore that the notified researchers have been guilty of misconduct in research."

    in For Better Science on December 23, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    A 2020 look at PLOS in the news!

    Trying to sum up a year like 2020 feels daunting, if not impossible. That said, this is a subjective list of PLOS papers that achieved significant public notice in some way–notable papers from a notable year.

    — Charlotte Bhaskar, PLOS Media Relations Manager 


    Image: Zhu et al, 2020 (PLOS Computational Biology CC BY4.0) An image of the setup for the moth’s navigation experiment and a grid discretizing the moth’s position.





    Image: Dry season at the Mygatt-Moore Quarry showing Ceratosaurus and Allosaurus fighting over the desiccated carcass of another theropod. Illustration by Brian Engh





    Image: Pictures of the breeds under consideration in this study. Ali et al, 2020 (PLOS Genetics, CC BY4.0)




    Image: Giant hornets repelled by feces around hive entrance; Heather Mattila

    The post A 2020 look at PLOS in the news! appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on December 22, 2020 10:51 PM.

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    Reminder: 2020 Holiday Schedule

    December 2020 Holiday Schedule:

    • No new submission announcement on 27 December 2020. Our staff will be on holiday and there will be limited user support for Friday 25 December 2020. There will also be no new submission announcement at 20:00 Eastern Sunday 27 December. Papers submitted after 14:00 Eastern on Thursday 24 December and before 14:00 Eastern on Monday 28 December will be announced at 20:00 Eastern on Monday 28 December.
      This only affects announcement of new submissions. We will still be accepting submissions and the arXiv site will continue to be available for browsing existing papers.
    • No new submission announcement on 29 and 30 December 2020. There will be no new submission announcement and limited user support for Tuesday 29 December and Wednesday 30 December 2020.
      Papers submitted after 14:00 Eastern on Monday 28 December and before 14:00 Eastern on Thursday 31 December will be announced at 20:00 Eastern on Thursday 31 December.
    • No new submission announcement on 01 January 2021. There will be no new submission announcement and limited user support for Tuesday 29 December and Wednesday 30 December 2020. Papers submitted after 14:00 Eastern on Monday 28 December and before 14:00 Eastern on Thursday 31 December will be announced at 20:00 Eastern on Thursday 31 December.

    The staff holidays only affects announcement of new submissions. We will still be accepting submissions and the arXiv site will continue to be available for browsing existing papers.

    in arXiv.org blog on December 22, 2020 07:44 PM.

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    Registration is open for the 2021 BRAIN Initiative Investigators Meeting!

    The 7th Annual BRAIN Initiative Investigators Meeting will take place virtually from June 15-17, 2021. 

    As the year comes to an end, I want to share some exciting news. Registration is now open for the 7th Annual BRAIN Initiative Investigators Meeting taking place virtually June 15-17, 2021.  We are excited to announce that our plenary speakers include: Drs. Danielle Bassettexternal link, Jennifer Doudnaexternal link, Erich Jarvisexternal link, Ed Leinexternal link, and Mala Murthyexternal link. You may learn more about the virtual meeting now by visiting www.brainmeeting2021.comexternal link where you will also be able to access the meeting environment starting June 1, 2021. To find details on past BRAIN PI Meetings, please visit www.braininitiative.org/events/pimeetingexternal link.

    Please registerexternal link for the meeting as soon as possible! Once registered, you may submit proposals for symposium sessions and/or submit abstracts to be considered for a Research Highlight Talks, Trainee Highlight Awards, and the general poster session. Instructions on the submission processes and access to submission portals may be found hereexternal link. The websiteexternal link includes updates about the programexternal link, meeting materials, symposia and abstracts, poster formats, and exhibits in the coming weeks and months. If you have any additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to the meeting organizers at BrainInitiativeConferences@mail.nih.gov.

    Please feel free to share this information with your networks, and with anyone you think may be interested in participating in BRAIN.

    With my best wishes for the holidays and a healthy and prosperous new year,

    John Ngai

    Director, NIH BRAIN Initiative


    in BRAIN Update on December 22, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    Our Ten Most Popular Posts Of 2020

    By Matthew Warren

    This year has been like no other. The coronavirus pandemic has affected pretty much all aspects of our lives — so it’s no surprise that psychological research looked a bit different in 2020. At Research Digest, we’ve examined much of this emerging work on the effects of the pandemic, from studies exploring the process of psychological recovery to those looking at how to cope with the new reality of home working.

    But we’ve also tried to continue providing the broad coverage of psychology research that our readers have come to enjoy. And as we look back at our most popular posts of the year, it’s clear these stories about the human experience continue to educate and entertain, even in the midst of this annus horribilis.

    10) Heavy Coffee Drinkers Want Coffee A Lot More Than They Actually Like It

    This study has been all over the papers this month — but we first covered it way back in June. I suspect that many people’s coffee consumption has shot through the roof during the pandemic (I know mine has), so it’s perhaps not surprising that this was one of our most read pieces of the year.

     9) Here’s How Our Personality Changes As We Age

    Personality was once believed to be stable, changing very little after the age of 30 or so. But recent work shows that our personalities actually shift throughout our lives. This study examined how the “Big Five” personality traits of tens of thousands of people changed through middle age and into older age.

    8) Cold Days Can Make Us Long For Social Contact — But Warming Up Our Bodies Eliminates This Desire

    The idea that temperature can affect our social perceptions — that being physically warm leads us to feel “warm” towards others — is contentious. In fact, this kind of social priming research is often at the centre of controversies about psychology’s replication crisis. But this year, a study suggested one possible explanation for the inconsistencies in past work: the researchers rarely take into account the ambient temperature while they’re conducting their experiments.

    7) Why Some People Find It Harder To Drag Themselves To Bed At Night

    Why do so many of us suffer from “bedtime procrastination”? Intriguingly, it might be related to the beliefs we have about our willpower. This study found that people who think that willpower is a limited resource that needs to be replenished are more likely to put off going to bed on a stressful day, perhaps because they feel they need more time to recover from their day before sleeping.

    6) These Two Revision Strategies Can Prepare You For An Exam Much Better Than Just Restudying Your Notes

    Our posts containing practical tips often attract a lot of readers, and this one was no different. Many lab-based studies have identified strategies for more effective studying — but this was a rare case of looking at these approaches in an actual educational setting.

    5) Here’s How Long-Distance Runners Are Different From The Rest Of Us

    What kind of person decides to run 50 or 100km — or even more? Well, it turns out that ultramarathon runners are actually pretty similar to everyone else. They do seem to be more resilient and better at using certain emotion regulation strategies — but whether that’s the cause or consequence of being a long-distance runner remains unclear.

    4) How Psychology Researchers Are Responding To The COVID-19 Pandemic

    The start of the first lockdown feels like a lifetime ago now. But as the world was learning to adjust to new routines, many psychologists launched projects to study the effects of the crisis and to inform our response to it. We looked at several of these projects in this story in March.

    Our follow-up feature in July didn’t receive quite the same number of readers, but to my mind was more important. This time we explored the worries voiced by many researchers that in “crisis mode”, psychologists were falling for the old methodological pitfalls that the field has long been trying to move on from.

    3) Musicians And Their Audiences Show Synchronised Patterns Of Brain Activity

    If you cast your mind back to a time when it was possible to attend a concert, you might remember experiencing a feeling of connection with the musicians as they played. That connection can happen even at the neural level, according to a study which found “inter-brain coherence” between a musician and their audience (essentially a correlation in patterns of blood flow in the brains of performer and observer). What’s more, this synchronisation was stronger during the pieces the listeners found more enjoyable. Another study this year found that parents also show patterns of synchrony with each other.

    2) Memory Complaints Are More Common Among Older Adults With Particular Personality Traits

    A second story about personality and age proved popular this year. In this post, we looked at a study on the link between personality and cognitive complaints in older adults. One factor stood out as predicting fewer cognitive complaints: openness to experience, a trait that entails a liking for intellectual and artistic pursuits and a willingness to try new things.

    1) First-Generation University Students Are At Greater Risk Of Experiencing Imposter Syndrome

    The competitive nature of STEM classes at university can lead many students to feel like they are an imposter — but first-generation students seem to be at particular risk of imposter syndrome. This, only the second story that we posted in 2020, clearly struck a chord: it was the most popular post of the year.

    That’s it from us for 2020. Thank you for reading the Digest this year, and we’ll see you back here in 2021!

    Matthew Warren (@MattBWarren) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 22, 2020 10:32 AM.

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    2020: A Moderately Bemused Review of the Year in Neuroscience

    That Was The Year That Was

    in The Spike on December 21, 2020 04:12 PM.

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    Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

    Every night, Steven spends over an hour preparing for bed. For many of us, preparing for bed involves routines like putting on pajamas, going to the bathroom, and brushing our teeth. But for Steven, his preparation doesn’t truly begin until after he has already done these things.

    Once Steven is ready to get into bed, he goes downstairs. He turns out the lights, locks the door, and checks to make sure the stove hasn’t been left on. But he does more than just look at the stove; he also gently touches the dials to confirm they are in the “off” position. Then, he stares at the dials for 30 seconds to convince himself that touching them didn’t accidentally move them into the “on” position—even though this seems like it would be impossible with such a light touch.

    Finally, he goes upstairs to get into bed. But he is stopped by the thought that maybe he forgot to make sure the door was locked.

    He thinks he remembers doing this, but the memory isn’t as clear as he would like it to be. Regardless, there’s always the chance he might not have turned the lock completely. So, he goes back to check the lock again. The short amount of time that has passed suggests maybe he should check the stove one more time, too. So he does.

    Once he gets into bed, he immediately begins to question if he turned off the lights. Or, maybe he brushed up against the dials of the stove on his way back upstairs, unintentionally turning it back on. The uncertainty is almost unbearable, and it would only take a short walk downstairs to relieve his anxiety. Thus, he goes through the whole process again. He’ll repeat these steps about 15-20 times before finally feeling like he’s able to stay in bed and go to sleep.

    OCD symptoms

    Steven has obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a surprisingly common condition that affects up to 3% of the general population. People with OCD are plagued by persistent, intrusive thoughts called obsessions. The obsessions are typically linked to compulsions, which are acts a patient feels compelled to do in order to mitigate the distress caused by obsessive thoughts. For some, compulsions involve observable behaviors (like Steven’s stove-checking), but for others they might consist of mental acts like praying, reviewing past events, counting, etc.

    OCD obsessions often follow common themes like: fears of contamination (e.g., by germs), a preoccupation with symmetry, taboo thoughts (e.g., pedophilia, incest), and concerns about harming oneself or others.

    It’s important to note that people with OCD are very unlikely to actually have taboo desires, or to intentionally hurt someone. Instead, they’re tortured by the fact that these types of thoughts can even appear in their consciousness. They go to great lengths, represented by their compulsions, to try to keep the thoughts from becoming reality.

    OCD symptoms occur on a spectrum, and the disorder can look quite different from case to case. One patient may seem to be outwardly healthy but suffer from obsessive thinking that disrupts her ability to concentrate, sleep, and maintain relationships. Another patient may be clearly debilitated by the disorder. One teenage girl, for example, was afraid that pinworms might enter her mouth. To ward off the danger, she stopped speaking for 10 months and shunned eating until she needed to be hospitalized.


    OCD and the brain

    Neuroscientists are still uncertain about what happens in the brain to cause OCD, but one popular hypothesis suggests it involves brain circuits that connect the frontal cortex with a collection of structures called the basal ganglia.

    the basal ganglia (within red square). Note that the basal ganglia are not actually seen on the surface of the brain.

    the basal ganglia (within red square). Note that the basal ganglia are not actually seen on the surface of the brain.

    According to this perspective, OCD symptoms begin with activity in a part of the frontal cortex called the orbitofrontal cortex, or OFC. The OFC sits just above the eye sockets (aka the orbits), and has diverse functions—most of which are still poorly understood. Research, however, suggests that areas of the OFC are highly active when we notice something dangerous or threatening in the environment.

    After we recognize that a threat is present, pathways that connect the OFC to the basal ganglia are activated. The basal ganglia are best known for their role in movement, but they are also involved in a variety of cognitive and emotional functions. They are especially important to: facilitation of goal-directed actions, development of habitual responses, and switching to a new behavior when it’s deemed necessary. The circuitry of the basal ganglia can be divided into two opposing pathways: the direct pathway, which facilitates action, and the indirect pathway, which inhibits it. (See this article if you want more details on how these basal ganglia circuits work.)

    Let’s look at how a simplified version of this OFC-basal ganglia circuit might work in a healthy individual. First, they notice something in the environment that could be identified as dangerous, and the OFC is involved in recognizing it as a potential threat. Let’s say they touch a door handle in a public restroom, which of course carries a risk of exposure to germs. The OFC interacts with the basal ganglia via the direct pathway to initiate an action to mitigate the threat. This leads to the person using a few squirts of hand sanitizer. At this point, the indirect pathway kicks in and inhibits further action.

    In someone with OCD, the pathway from the OFC to the basal ganglia tends to be overly excitable. OCD patients are hyper-aware of things in the environment that might pose a threat, and that level of awareness is linked to high levels of OFC activity. Thus, in the OCD patient, a threat might be detected not only when they touch the door handle in a public restroom, but also when they brush up against any surface that hasn’t recently been sanitized—even if it’s a countertop in their own home.

    This extreme vigilance is associated with over-excitation of the direct pathway. When the direct pathway is activated, the individual is prompted to clean their hands. But the high level of activity in the direct pathway drowns out the inhibitory action of the indirect pathway, and the patient has a difficult time switching to a different behavior. Additionally, each time the threat is temporarily alleviated, the individual feels a transient sense of relief—which reinforces the response. All of this leads to compulsive behavior, and the hand-washing must be repeated a number of times before the patient is satisfied.


    Not the whole story

    This model of OCD is supported by a wealth of studies. Some have found increased activity among the circuits mentioned above in OCD patients, and others have found a reduction in that activity in response to the most common treatments for OCD (which include cognitive behavioral therapy and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors).

    More recent research, however, suggests that this model is too simplistic (a common refrain in neuroscience). For example, one problem is that the OFC is not a homogenous brain area, and while some OFC regions are hyperactive in OCD, others appear to be hypoactive. Additionally, research indicates that other parts of the brain (like the amygdala, hippocampus, and other regions) also play important roles in the manifestation of OCD symptoms, suggesting the model outlined above is incomplete.

    Thus, although the OFC and basal ganglia seem to play important roles in OCD, the original model describing their interaction to produce OCD symptoms is likely only part of the story. Neuroscientists hope that further research will elucidate the neural circuitry behind OCD, and lead to better ways to help patients like Steven manage a disorder that can completely upend someone’s life.


    References (in addition to linked text above):

    Menzies L, Chamberlain SR, Laird AR, Thelen SM, Sahakian BJ, Bullmore ET. Integrating evidence from neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies of obsessive-compulsive disorder: the orbitofronto-striatal model revisited. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2008;32(3):525-49. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.09.005. Epub 2007 Oct 17. PMID: 18061263; PMCID: PMC2889493.

    Milad MR, Rauch SL. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: beyond segregated cortico-striatal pathways. Trends Cogn Sci. 2012 Jan;16(1):43-51. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2011.11.003. Epub 2011 Dec 2. PMID: 22138231; PMCID: PMC4955838.

    Pauls DL, Abramovitch A, Rauch SL, Geller DA. Obsessive-compulsive disorder: an integrative genetic and neurobiological perspective. Nat Rev Neurosci. 2014 Jun;15(6):410-24. doi: 10.1038/nrn3746. PMID: 24840803.

    Saxena S, Brody AL, Schwartz JM, Baxter LR. Neuroimaging and frontal-subcortical circuitry in obsessive-compulsive disorder. Br J Psychiatry Suppl. 1998;(35):26-37. PMID: 9829024.

    in Neuroscientifically Challenged on December 21, 2020 11:11 AM.

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    “Psychological Flexibility” May Be Key To Good Relationships Between Couples And Within Families

    By Emma Young

    What makes for a happy family? The answer — whether you’re talking about a couple or a family with kids — is psychological “flexibility”, according to a new paper in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. Based on a meta-analysis of 174 separate studies, Jennifer S. Daks and Ronald Rogge at the University of Rochester conclude that flexibility helps — and inflexibility hinders — our most important relationships.

    The pair analysed data from 203 separate samples, comprising almost 44,000 participants in total. They homed in on measures of psychological flexibility and inflexibility within these studies (which often gathered other data, too), and how they related to measures of family and relationship functioning.

    A psychologically flexible person is characterised by a set of attitudes and skills: they are generally open to and accepting of experiences, whether they are good or bad; they try to be mindfully aware of the present moment; they experience difficult thoughts without ruminating on them; they seek to maintain a broader perspective when faced with a challenge; they continue to pursue important goals despite setbacks; and they maintain contact with “deeper values”, no matter how stressful a day might be (so, for example, a parent confronted with a screaming child who holds the value of being a kind, compassionate parent is able to bear this in mind when choosing how to react to the child). Psychological inflexibility describes the opposite of these thoughts and attitudes, and also entails feeling judged or shameful for holding negative thoughts and feelings.

    The pair identified a host of specific links between aspects of flexibility or inflexibility and family functioning. For example, they found that inattention to the present moment and a tendency to respond to challenging experiences in a rigid, inflexible way were linked to weaker family bonds. These factors were also linked to lower levels of satisfaction with romantic relationships, and less “adaptive” parenting, suggesting that such an inflexible parent “might have a more difficult time responding to their children’s misbehaviour in sensitive, compassionate and responsive ways.” (In contrast, greater flexibility was strongly linked to more adaptive parenting). A lack of awareness of the present moment was also associated with more shouting and violence among couples and, along with some other measures of inflexibility, to stronger feelings of insecurity in relation to the relationship.

    It’s important to note, however, that the overwhelming majority of links were correlational, so the direction of cause-and-effect is not clear. It could be the case that consistently poor child behaviour drives parental inflexibility, for example — or that the two exacerbate each other. The researchers themselves highlight this issue, calling for longitudinal studies to explore the direction and strength of the associations that they report.

    But Daks and Rogge also point to potential practical implications of their findings. It might not seem especially surprising that psychological flexibility has emerged as being good for relationships. But in the past, research on flexibility has tended to focus on how it enhances an individual’s wellbeing, rather than the quality of romantic or familial relationships. In revealing the links between flexibility and family functioning, the work suggests a possible target for new interventions. A form of therapy called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) encourages the development of flexibility, and there is plenty of evidence that it improves an individual’s own functioning, the pair notes. Perhaps, given the new results, it could help family functioning, too — especially if a parenting-focused ACT intervention were to be developed. Since links between greater psychological flexibility in parents and in their children have been reported, such an intervention might in theory have benefits that transmit down through generations.

    Examining the correlates of psychological flexibility in romantic relationship and family dynamics: A meta-analysis

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 21, 2020 10:48 AM.

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    The forgotten Covid-19 ‘survivors’

    Photograph showing a shadowy woodland scene with autumn leaves covering the ground

    As we celebrate the significant milestone of the first person in the UK to receive an effective vaccine against Covid-19, it is easy to forget the devastation this virus has caused for so many lives. Yet, tens of thousands of people in the UK are still battling symptoms, months after their initial infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Press articles and television documentaries have revealed the daily struggles of these ‘long Covid’ sufferers, but up to now, there has been little published research on the lived experience of this illness.

    A new study by a team of Oxford University academics, who worked in collaboration with 114 people from across the UK with long Covid, has systematically explored the story of this novel disease and the challenges its sufferers face.

    In addition to the symptoms and their effect on people’s daily lives, the research reveals significant questions about the availability and consistency of NHS care. It identifies important lessons that must be learned in order to reduce the long-term impact on individuals and their families, the healthcare system, and the wider economy.

    What is long Covid?

    Long Covid is the name patients gave to COVID-19 symptoms that don’t resolve within the expected 4-week time frame. The number of people who develop it is contested, since many people who had Covid-19 were not formally tested, were not admitted to hospital (or even assessed in A&E) and their continuing suffering remains undocumented.

    Importantly, long Covid can affect anyone, even working-age individuals who were previously fit and well. Symptoms are diverse and confusing. Breathlessness, overwhelming fatigue, and muscle pains are common. Many people suffer problems with attention or memory, chest pains, persistent cough, blood clots, gastric reflux, tingling sensations, rashes, and other ‘surprising’ problems.

    Some or all of these symptoms may be due to underlying organ damage, therefore patients should be properly assessed and receive appropriate tests where needed. However, many individuals have normal basic tests e.g. blood tests and X-rays and the underlying cause for their problems remains unknown. The causes and best treatments for many are still unclear.

    Photograph showing a shadowy woodland scene with autumn leaves covering the ground
    ‘This is how I feel – a shadow of my former self’. Image attribution: Photo taken by a long Covid patient.

    What did the study team do?

    Led by Professor Trish Greenhalgh, the study team recruited 114 patients with long Covid using social media. They facilitated individual interviews and focus groups where participants shared their experiences of the illness’ invasion of their lives and their encounters with the NHS and healthcare professionals.

    What did the study find?

    Long Covid is a serious, uncertain and confusing illness with fluctuating, sometimes severe, symptoms in every part of the body

    Long Covid is a serious, uncertain and confusing illness with fluctuating, sometimes severe, symptoms in every part of the body. Many people were trapped in cycles of small improvements and crashing relapses and struggled to come to terms with the uncertainty and debilitation caused by the disease.

    One participant captured the devastating impact on his personal life and occupational prospects:

    ‘I wasn’t able to go back to work and then I got made redundant. I can’t even imagine how I’m going to find a new job yet. In the last week […] it’s feeling possible finally, after nearly six months, that I might one day find a new job. But my life is just nothing like it was and it’s not really the life I want, you know; I need to improve.’

    Long Covid sufferers found it complicated, difficult and exhausting to access NHS care

    Long Covid sufferers found it complicated, difficult and exhausting to access NHS care. They experienced confusion between the GP and 111 services, difficulty with remote or online consultations, a lack of continuity, and uninformed clinicians. Patients therefore often found themselves with no choice but to manipulate or seek out their own pathways for accessing care – often private or through personal contacts.

    Some long Covid patients reported care with concerning levels of quality and safety

    Some long Covid patients reported care with concerning levels of quality and safety. Many had experienced encounters with ignorant or disbelieving clinicians, who dismissed their concerns. For example, a near heart-breaking account recounted how the participant was so breathless he called his GP whilst lying prone on his living room floor only to be told he didn’t sound very breathless and should take medication for anxiety. However, some participants did describe empathic, warm, caring clinicians who were supportive, and helpful, listening to their stories and sharing their distress – companions in their dreadful journeys.

    Suggested quality principles for long Covid services

    Channeling the anger, frustration, fear, and hopelessness expressed by participants, the study team worked closely with a small group of sufferers to identify what would make for a high quality long Covid service: the ABCDEF of long Covid.

    ABCDEF Patient-generated quality principles for a long Covid service. Image Attribution: Prof. Trish Greenhalgh

    These include Access to appropriate care that is not overly Burdensome for patients and families, with Clinical responsibility held by one clinician. An individualized, multi-Disciplinary approach should be followed using Evidence-based standards with Further development of knowledge and services in collaboration with patients.

    As one of the authors described, ‘It’s been a humbling and emotional experience to work with such a committed group of patients with such powerful stories to tell. It’s sadly too late to change many of their experiences but hopefully, our suggestions could contribute to improvements for future long Covid patients.’

    The post The forgotten Covid-19 ‘survivors’ appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on December 21, 2020 09:03 AM.

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    Another Jewish conspiracy against Ruggiero Santilli!

    EU Commission gives €6 million to an obscure German start-up, promising to convert sewage to synthetic fuels. Internet sources suggest behind all this is "Professor" Ruggiero Santilli, the litigious "Florida Genius", eternally self-appointed Nobel Prize candidate and sock- puppeteering businessman. Exactly the kind of "fringe scientist" Smut Clyde likes to write about!

    in For Better Science on December 21, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    Monte Carlo gradient estimators

    A couple weeks ago during lab meeting we discussed parts of Monte Carlo Gradient Estimation in Machine Learning. This is a lovely survey of the topic and unfortunately we only covered a small part of it. The things we did … Continue reading

    in Pillow Lab on December 21, 2020 05:48 AM.

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    Jul 2020: att koka kola

    En av mina tidigaste julförberedelser är att koka kola. Jag vill hinna med några sorter innan jul, och det finns ingen(?) som orkar dela och slå in mer än en sats kola per helg (~100 st).

    Ingen fotobeskrivning tillgänglig.

    I år har jag hittills kokat bergamott-kola, chokladkola med lavendel, och lakritskola (ovan).

    Till bergamott-kolan använde jag Mitt Köks recept på citronsmörkola, av Michael Hoffman, fast med finrivet bergamottskal och -saft. Det viktiga att tänka på när man smaksätter med citrusskal är att ha i det absolut sist, precis innan man häller upp kolan. Annars försvinner mycket av smaken. Bäst är därför att riva skalet riktigt fint på ett zestjärn, så det inte blir märkbara bitar i kolan.

    • 4 dl vispgrädde
    • 4 dl strösocker
    • 2 dl ljus sirap
    • 150 g smör (normalsaltat eller osaltat)
    • Smaksättning alt 1 – citrus
      • 1 st ekologisk bergamott eller annan citrusfrukt, finrivet skal + saft
      • 1 krm salt (eller mer, om smöret var osaltat)
      • Saften kan blandas med övriga ingredienser i början av koket, men det rivna skalet ska blandas i allra sist.
      • Garnering: en eller ett par sorters fint strössel, gärna mindre bitar tex minipärlor + lite flingsalt
    • Smaksättning alt 2 – choklad
      • 2 rågade msk/ 0.5 dl bra kakao, t ex Monbana.
      • en halv tesked salt (eller mer, om smöret var osaltat)
      • en halv tesked malt kaffe
      • en halv tesked malt lavendelsalt
      • ett kryddmått anchopeppar
      • Garnering: en eller ett par sorters fint strössel, gärna mindre bitar tex minipärlor + lite flingsalt + finrivet limeskal

    Resultatet av receptet blev så bra att jag använde samma recept som utgångspunkt till chokladkolan, men med lite ändringar och tillsatser. Viktigaste ingrediensen i chokladkolan är riktigt bra, mörk kakao (nej, inte Ögonkakao). Jag gillar den här från Monbana som brukade vara omöjlig att få tag i förr, men som nu finns på apoteket. Jag tog två väldigt rågade matskedar. Sedan spetsade jag chokladsmaken med att förstärka åt lite olika håll med (pyttelite) lavendel, ancho, (pyttelite) kanel, lite salt, och lite vanligt malt kaffe. Limeskal och flingsalt ovanpå – och lite snöflingeströssel – när jag hällt upp kolan i formen.

    Ingen fotobeskrivning tillgänglig.

    Till lakrits-kolan fick jag experimentera lite mer. Jag utgick ifrån det första receptet jag hittade som nämnde lakritsstång, ett från 2011 på Koka ihop postat av Anneli i Örnsköldsvik (som angav Apoteket som receptkälla), men eftersom jag ville bli av med två hela 3dl paket grädde skalade jag upp allt med 20%. Och från tidigare år mindes jag att en lakritsstång inte riktigt räckte, så jag tog två. Sedan hade jag också i en cup (~2.5 dl) melass för att bredda lakritssmaken lite grann. Och en halv tesked salt. Det blev en gigantisk hög kola, nästan 120 rätt stora bitar (dvs ~20 bitar per dl grädde).

    • 5 6 dl grädde
    • 500 600 gram socker
    • 5 6 msk sirap ljus
    • 2 msk 2.25 msk (34ml) flytande glykos
    • 50 60 gram smör
    • 50 2*50 gram lakritsstång
    • 2.5 dl melass

    Det är jättelätt att starta ett kolakok, och använder man termometer rakt igenom är det inte stressigt heller. Det är efterarbetet – skära och slå in – som tar tid och ansträngning. För kokningen väntar man bara tills det är “klart”, en dryg halvtimme på 2/3 av maxvärme, och så tar man grytan av värmen. Stektermometer som kan ligga i smeten hela tiden gör det lätt som en plätt, se till bara att den inte nuddar botten på kastrullen. Det kan vara bra att röra runt lite då och då när temperaturen börjar gå över 120-125 grader, då börjar kolan vara trög och kan bränna vid i bottnen. Särskilt viktigt är det att röra om man har kakao i kolasmeten.

    Och när är “klart”? Det varierar med hur mjuk kola man vill ha. ICA har en bra och rättvisande temperatur-guide, jag citerar:

    • Vid 122-125°C är knäck- eller kolasmeten lagom kokt för mjuk kola.
    • Vid 140-145°C får man hårda kolor som är lite sega mitt i.
    • Vid 160°C är smeten karamellfast.

    Mjuk kola” är inte vad jag siktar på, precis. Jag tycker den blir flottig och obehaglig. Däremot är den klart lättast att skära.

    Hård kola” vill jag inte riktigt ha, men ganska nära. Vid 140-145 grader blir kolan dessutom nästan omöjlig att skära om man väntar för länge, då får man skära kvickt när den svalnat lagom mycket och inte för mycket (~10-minutersintervall).

    Lagom kola” – ungefär 130 grader – brukar jag sikta på. OBS att chokladkola med kakao blir hårdare än vanlig kola och behöver vara några grader mindre varm när man slutar koka den.

    Bäst blir nog resultatet när man *precis* låter kolan passera 131 grader och häller upp den genast. En stek-termometer som sitter i smeten hela tiden (men INTE nuddar botten) är som tidigare nämnts en bra hjälp. OBS också att man bör passa på att skära kolan innan den svalnat helt. Lägg de nyskurna bitarna separat med ett par millimeters mellanrum, annars flyter de ihop (om du t ex lämnar dem över natten). OBS att chokladkola med kakao blir hårdare än vanlig kola och behöver vara några grader mindre varm när man slutar koka den.

    Strategiskt glest uppskuren kola. De flesta klarade sig, men några fick jag skära isär nästa morgon.

    Det är bra att förbereda en form. Antingen smord eller fodrad med bakplåtspaper (INTE smörpaper), eller hängsle-och-bälten style: smort bakplåtspapper. Jag rekommenderar baksprej, det är jättesmidigt. Annars funkar neutral olja, t ex solrosolja, bra – fukta ett hushållspapper och sprid ut olja tunt över bakplåtspappret. Kolan blir lite fet på ytan (= fastnar inte längre) när den svalnat, men medan den är smält fastnar den obönhörligt i alla ytor som inte är smorda, och sitter som järnet när den stelnat. Vi har förlorat minst en tallrik på för hård (lakrits)kola som fastnat och inte ville lossna.

    Kola kokt som jag vill ha den blir riktigt hård och svårhanterlig när den svalnar, lite som glas men förstås inte lika hett. Kokar du till ~130 grader som jag rekommenderar jag att strategiskt skära kolan tvärs över några gånger medan den svalnar, sedan skära i de halvfyllda skårorna – eller klippa isär, jättesmidigt med bra sax – det skårade kolaflaket till ~3-4 cm breda kola-remsor, sedan skära remsorna i ca 1-1.5 cm breda bitar. De måtten blir en lagom bit för antingen
    * lyx-varianten: färdiga kolapapper, finns dyrt på Panduro (59kr/50 st). Billigare på andra ställen, leta i webbaffärer som Lyckasmedmat.se (25kr). Eller
    * budget-varianten: vik ett bakplåtspapper (INTE smörpapper) i fyra på längden, klipp i remsor, klipp remsorna i lagom stora bitar. Prova på en kolabit innan du klipper många bitar, det går åt lite mer papper än vad man tror om man ska snurra prydliga knut-rosetter i båda ändar på kolan.

    in Malin Sandström's blog on December 19, 2020 03:30 PM.

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    Christmas, Death and Surgeons' Birthdays

    Should a paper on deaths following surgery have been published as a Christmas special?

    in Discovery magazine - Neuroskeptic on December 19, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    New guide offers author tips


    Authors submitting their work to arXiv for the first time undoubtedly have questions. What file types are accepted? What licenses are available? How to format metadata properly? And what is metadata anyway?

    Now, arXiv’s new Author Guide offers researchers helpful tips and information throughout the submission process.

    Authors activate the guide by simply clicking a button from their user account page or on subsequent pages of the submission process. Once launched, the guide highlights and explains elements likely to be unfamiliar to new arXiv authors — and also provides links to more detailed information in the help section of arXiv.org.

    SCreen shot of Author Guide button on user pageThe Author Guide can be activated from the user account page or any page of the submission process.


    Initial feedback is overwhelmingly positive. Data collected regarding guide usage shows that authors who use the tool are more likely to successfully complete the submission process. In responses to a survey built into the guide, users described it as clear, helpful, user-friendly, detailed, and efficient. And, nearly three quarters of survey respondents indicated that they expected to use the Author Guide again in the future.


    “The submission process was much easier than before because of the Author Guide.”

    “I think it is a positive add-on to the submission process.”

    “It’s very useful to speed up the submission process.”

    -Anonymous survey respondents


    Some authors suggested ideas for improvements, and that feedback will be considered for future iterations of the guide.

    arXiv aims to help make authors’ lives easier, and the Author Guide is just one feature released recently to do just that.

    screenshot of author guide welcome, after launching the guide

    in arXiv.org blog on December 18, 2020 03:26 PM.

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    Funding Opportunity Announcements for Fiscal Year 2021: Human Neuroscience, Clinical Studies, and Neuroimaging

    This week, a series of daily blog posts highlight 28 BRAIN Initiative funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for 2021. This last post features six funding opportunities for researchers to develop, test, and utilize next-gen neural devices and noninvasive neuroimaging methods to advance our knowledge about the brain.

    Human Neuroscience and Clinical Studies

     RFA-NS-19-001 Research Opportunities Using Invasive Neural Recording and Stimulating Technologies in the Human Brain (Reissue of RFA-NS-18-010; U01)

    This FOA seeks applications to create diverse, integrated, multi-disciplinary teams composed of clinicians, scientists, engineers, and ethicists to pursue high-impact research questions/ hypotheses in human neuroscience. Proposed projects must employ innovative invasive devices to record and/ or stimulate neurons in vivo. Awardees are expected to join a consortium which will set standards of practice (including neuroethical guidance), collect data for follow-up studies, and disseminate data to the broader neuroscience community. The application receipt date is October 29, 2021.

    The two FOAs below encourage translational and clinical studies for innovative invasive recording and/ or stimulating devices in humans (e.g., Early Feasibility Studies). These awards are part of the Public-Private Partnership Program (BRAIN PPP), which fosters collaborative clinical studies between investigators and manufacturers of novel Class III (invasive, risky) neural devices. Researchers, institutions, or businesses developing neural devices or working with manufacturers and those interested in developing neural devices to treat pain (see NOT-NS-052) are encouraged to apply.

    RFA-NS-18-021 Next-Generation Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human CNS (Reissue of RFA-NS-17-005; UG3/UH3); RFA-NS-18-022 (Reissue of RFA-NS-17-007; SBIR U44)

    BlueSparkleBrainThese FOAs support non-clinical testing of a neural device and one small clinical trial designed to assess the function and final design of a device before full-scale clinical trials and market approval. Projects must focus on a single disorder that falls within the mission of the BRAIN Initiative. Investigators involved in small business pursuits should consider the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) FOA (RFA-NS-022). Applications for both awards are due on February 22, 2021.

    RFA-NS-18-023 Clinical Studies to Advance Next-Generation Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human CNS (Reissue of RFA-NS-17-006; UH3)

    This FOA encourages investigators to pursue a small clinical trial to obtain essential information about the function and design of a neural device. Applications are due on February 22, 2021.

    Human Neuroimaging

    RFA-EB-20-001 Proof of Concept Development of Early Stage Next Generation Human Brain Imaging (Reissue of RFA-EB-19-001; R01)

    This FOA aims to support small-scale projects for the early stage development of novel noninvasive neuroimaging methods or bold approaches that will lead to transformative advances in brain research. Proposed projects can include new noninvasive tools for studying brain function and connectivity that have not been applied to humans, new approaches that improve spatial resolution at the mesoscale level, behaviorally active human neuroimaging, and other concepts. Tool development will likely require interdisciplinary teams and academic-industrial partnerships are encouraged for this award and the FOA below. The application receipt date is September 3, 2021.

    RFA-EB-19-002 Development of Next Generation Human Brain Imaging Tools and Technologies (Reissue of RFA-EB-17-004; U01)

    This FOA supports the full-scale development of entirely new noninvasive human brain imaging tools. Applicants are expected to propose innovative methods that are ready for full-scale development and dissemination. Projects can include developing new classes of noninvasive imaging, novel approaches to improving spatiotemporal resolution, behaviorally active human neuroimaging, and other topics. This FOA builds upon earlier tool development efforts that began with RFA-MH-14-217 and RFA-MH-15-200. Applications are due on September 3, 2021.

    Many FOAs in the BRAIN Initiative are now subject to a data sharing requirement (see notice NOT-MH-19-010). Please view related notices in each FOA to see if an award falls under this policy.

    Please visit the BRAIN Initiative’s Funding Opportunities webpage for more details on these and other awards. Did you miss earlier posts this week on FY2021 FOAs? If so, check out the main BRAIN blog page here.

    in BRAIN Update on December 18, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    Elsevier named a Best Company for Women and Diversity

    2020 Comparably Awards recognize Elsevier as a “Best Company” for Women and Diversity – based on employee surveys

    in Elsevier Connect on December 17, 2020 05:32 PM.

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    Funding Opportunity Announcements for Fiscal Year 2021: Neural Recording, Modulation, and Stimulation

    This week, a series of daily blog posts highlight 28 new and reissued BRAIN Initiative funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for 2021. Today’s post summarizes four award opportunities focused on developing, improving, and advancing our understanding of neural recording, modulation, and stimulation methods in animals and humans.

    The first two FOAs aim to enhance our knowledge of the brain by funding research to develop and apply tools for neural recording, modulation, and stimulation. The awards build upon one another but fund separate projects. Proposed projects should involve invasive and/ or non-invasive in vivo technologies useable in behaving animals (vertebrates and invertebrates), and eventually in humans. Applications should include plans to develop new large-scale recording methods, develop tools for circuit manipulation, and/ or link brain activity to behavior.

    RFA-NS-18-020 New Technologies and Novel Approaches for Large-Scale Recording and Modulation in the Nervous System (Reissue of RFA-NS-17-003; R01)

    This FOA supports proof-of-concept testing and development of new technologies and approaches for large-scale neural recording and modulation. This award encourages applicants to creatively address major challenges in this area of research. Proposed projects are expected to be high-risk and can incorporate diverse types of signaling beyond neuronal electrical activity, and may use modalities such as optical, magnetic, acoustic, and genetic recording/ manipulation. Applications are due on May 4, 2021.

    RFA-NS-18-019 Optimization of Transformative Technologies for Large Scale Recording and Modulation in the Nervous System (Reissue of RFA-NS-17-004; U01)

    This FOA aims to optimize existing and emerging technologies related to recording and modulating neural activity. Funding is intended for the iterative refinement of tools that have already gone through proof-of-concept testing (see RFA-NS-18-020). Projects can utilize various modalities for neural signal recording and modulation. This award can support hardware/ software development and the broad dissemination of tools into regular neuroscience practice. Applications are due on May 4, 2021.

    Despite recent advances in neurotechnologies, we know little about how they affect the brain at a basic cellular or circuit level. The next FOA funds research to study the biological effects of novel neural perturbation technologies, or invasive and non-invasive tools that stimulate, inhibit, or modulate neural activity.

    RFA-NS-20-006 Biology and Biophysics of Neural Stimulation (Reissue of RFA-NS-18-018; R01)

    This FOA seeks to systematically characterize, model, and validate the membrane, cellular, circuit, and adaptive biological responses of neuronal and non-neuronal cells to neural perturbation. Proposed projects to advance our understanding of the biological and bioinformatic content of these signals are also encouraged. Funding can support experiments designed to characterize responses in several model systems, including in vitro, animals, and humans. Proposals to develop new technologies, therapies, and disease models are not applicable to this FOA. Application due dates are February 2, June 1, and October 1, 2021.

    BRAIN Update FOA 2020 human neuro

    BRAIN Initiative vision for tool development, optimization, and dissemination.

    Many FOAs in the BRAIN Initiative are now subject to a data sharing requirement (see notice NOT-MH-19-010). Please view related notices in each FOA to see if an award falls under this policy.

    Please visit the BRAIN Initiative’s Funding Opportunities webpage for more details on these and other awards. Did you miss earlier posts this week on FY2021 FOAs? If so, check out the main BRAIN blog page here.

    in BRAIN Update on December 17, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    Author Interview: Loes Janssen and Marie-Louise Kullberg on the Well-being of Parents and Adolescents in COVID-19

    Loes Janssen and Marie-Louise Kullberg used their ongoing Parent-Adolescent Interaction study as a baseline to investigate the well-being of Dutch adolescents and parents in April 2020, about one month after the participants were initially subject to local lockdown procedures. I spoke with the two researchers about the biggest surprise of their study, the need for diverse coping strategies, and one lesson that they hope the general public can take from their paper as lockdowns continue.

    How did you get involved in this study and why do you believe this research is important?

    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we suddenly had to work from home and pause the data collection of our PhD research project (‘RE-PAIR’). Within the RE-PAIR project, we already collected ecological momentary assessments (EMA) on mood and parenting behaviors in healthy adolescents and their parents during the past few years. Not being involved in any data collection due to the pandemic could mean having a lot of time to write papers… However, we both like to have some variation in the types of tasks we need to do. As for many researchers from all kind of disciplines—from immunologist to historians—the beginning of March also felt as an opportunity for us, psychologists, to investigate the impact of these exceptional circumstances.

    Within our research group, we decided to repeat the EMA to investigate the impact of the pandemic on mood and parenting in daily life, as we already had nice and complete baseline data of our families. By assessing mood and parenting at multiple moments per day, we were able to gain fine-grained insight into the impact of the pandemic on well-being in daily life.

    Were any of your findings particularly surprising or were the results of your study relatively in line with your expectations?

    Yes, we were partly surprised by our findings. We expected that the COVID-19 pandemic would have had a more negative impact on well-being of parents, adolescents and parenting behavior, and we only found support for this regarding negative affect of parents. We also expected that a person’s intolerance of uncertainty would predict an increase in their negative affect and a decrease in their positive affect. This was not the case in our study.

    However, we did expect and found individual differences among our participants: for some parents, negative affect increased, while for others it remained the same or even decreased. This makes sense, since spending more time together as a family could also have positive effects for some families. Moreover, our sample consisted of a fairly healthy group of parents and adolescents, living in favorable circumstances, which might make the situation more bearable as compared to families who struggle with mental or physical health problems or living in less fortunate environments.

    While the struggles that the parents and adolescents in your study face tend to differ (ex. the adolescents struggled with boredom whereas the parents did not), some of the coping mechanisms (watching tv-shows and online contact with friends and relatives) were effective for both groups. Why do you think that was the case with some but not all coping mechanisms?

    We feel it is important to acknowledge that persons from different ages/stages in life (as parents versus adolescents in our study) cope differently with negative situations and emotions: Adolescents are in a phase that they start to spend more time with friends and being away from their family, whereas parents often like to keep the family close and, for instance, cook and dine together. Nonetheless, almost everyone brightens up from some social contact (even online) or behavioral activation (e.g. cooking, walking, painting etc.), as can be seen in the image below.

    The manuscript ends with advice for policy makers regarding the “one size does not fit all” effectiveness of coping strategies. Since this study occurred in April, have you noticed any improvements to the availability and diversity of coping strategies?

    Within the Dutch policy to control Corona outbreaks, regulate hospital admissions and protect vulnerable people, the government emphasizes to remain healthy, also by doing sports, for instance. Also, even though the numbers of corona-infected cases increased during a few weeks the past months (Fall 2020), schools remained open. As we know from recent research as well, this is important as children and adolescent friendships predict resilient functioning (van Harmelen et al., 2020). Going to school enables them to easily meet their friends.

    However, we feel policy makers could inform citizens more on practical coping strategies for families to foster mental well-being. We know for instance that staying active and exercising can boost your mood, but without a regular commute to work and regular sports activities, it is good to provide some alternative strategies which fit all different levels of lockdown.

    Several potential factors that could be further studied are mentioned in the article, but do you think applying your methodology to other populations of people or during a different 2-week stretch of the pandemic would provide useful data?

    Yes, we believe that applying the methodology of EMA to other populations could provide us with useful information on which groups of people are struggling in the current situation. For instance, gaining insights in how parents or adolescents with psychological problems, such as anxiety or depression, are affected by the pandemic.

    The timing of our study is also of importance. We have collected data during the first part of the lockdown in the Netherlands, without any prospect of relaxation of the regulations. If we would study mental well-being now, during the current—less strict but still prolonging—lockdown, we might get different results.

    If the general public were to take one lesson from your study, what should that be?

    As we will still spend a lot of time at home, conflicts and irritations among household members could make it hard to keep the atmosphere at home comfortable, a piece of practical advice to families is to cherish small positive interactions with each other on a regular basis. For instance, ask each other which person you admire and why, or go for a short walk together. Even those small activities or conversations could improve the overall family atmosphere. Above all, we need to keep in mind that all families are different, so within the possibilities, find what suits your family best to remain sane together.

    I thank both Loes and Marie-Louise providing their thoughtful comments and for their hard work as researchers.


    Janssen LHC, Kullberg M-LJ, Verkuil B, van Zwieten N, Wever MCM, van Houtum LAEM, et al. (2020) Does the COVID-19 pandemic impact parents’ and adolescents’ well-being? An EMA-study on daily affect and parenting. PLoS ONE 15(10): e0240962. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0240962

    van Harmelen, AL., Blakemore, S.J., Goodyer, I.M. et al. The Interplay Between Adolescent Friendship Quality and Resilient Functioning Following Childhood and Adolescent Adversity. ADV RES SCI (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42844-020-00027-1

    The post Author Interview: Loes Janssen and Marie-Louise Kullberg on the Well-being of Parents and Adolescents in COVID-19 appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on December 17, 2020 02:23 PM.

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    Film Soundtracks Shape Our Impressions Of A Character’s Personality And Thoughts

    By Emma Young

    If you sit down to watch TV or a film these holidays, you might want to pay a little extra attention to how the soundtrack makes you feel. We all know that background music influences the tone of a scene but what, exactly, soundtracks do to our understanding of a character has not been studied in detail. In a new paper, in Frontiers in Psychology, Alessandro Ansani at Roma Tre University, Italy, and colleagues report work aimed at filling in some of the gaps.

    The team recruited 118 online participants who each watched a video clip that was just under two minutes long. It showed a man slowly walking towards tall windows in the columned corridor of an old building. The seaside was visible through the windows, in the distance. As the researchers describe it, he “walks, looks outside, stops, and moves out of the frame.”

    At the same time, some of the participants heard the ambient sound that was recorded during the filming, while some heard an extract of “The Isle of the Dead” by Sergei Rachmaninov (a “dogged and anxious” orchestral piece), and the rest heard “Like Someone in Love” by Bill Evans (a “soft, melancholic” piano jazz solo). The participants then filled in questionnaires that asked about their perceptions of the man’s emotions, thoughts and personality, and how pleasant they thought the environment was .

    Compared with the other groups, those who’d heard the jazz reported feeling more empathy for the man, and perceived him to be more introverted. The Rachmaninov group felt him to be more conscientious, however. Participants who heard either music soundtrack perceived him to be more agreeable than those who only heard ambient sounds. Those who’d heard the jazz were also more likely to feel that the man was remembering a pleasant event in the past compared with the Rachmaninov listeners, who were more inclined to think that he was planning something. The jazz group also perceived his environment to be cosier. A second study with a batch of 92 students largely replicated these findings.

    These findings highlight “the multifaceted influence of the soundtrack on the interpretation of a scene,” the researchers write. We humans have an incessant need to search for knowledge everywhere, they add, and to fill in gaps using inference and imagination. “To understand the plot of a novel or movie, we need to know the characters’ goals and personalities, and if we have no information whatsoever, we try to take advantage of any cue to guess them.” Music, it seems, can act as a complex cue, allowing us to build up a picture of a person and a scene.

    Though the original group watched the film out of the lab, the results may not extend to typical viewers of movies. While the participants did consistently report particular impressions of the man’s personality and thoughts when asked to do so, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people spontaneously form such impressions unprompted while watching a blockbuster on their sofa. However, though we would all probably expect movie soundtracks to have an impact on us, this research does help to address a previous criticism that actual research in this field has been sparse.

    How Soundtracks Shape What We See: Analyzing the Influence of Music on Visual Scenes Through Self-Assessment, Eye Tracking, and Pupillometry

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 17, 2020 12:35 PM.

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    Funding Opportunity Announcements for Fiscal Year 2021: Understanding Neural Circuits and Data Science

    This week, a series of daily blog posts highlight 28 new and reissued BRAIN Initiative funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for 2021. Today’s post features three FOAs for research teams working to develop integrative, novel methods to elucidate neural circuits and funding for data analysis, archiving, and standardization.

    Understanding Neural Circuits

    The first three awards aim to bring together interdisciplinary teams of investigators (e.g., neurobiologists, statisticians, physicists, engineers, and others) to advance our understanding of the neural circuit basis of perception, emotion, cognition, and behavior by using cutting-edge technologies. All proposed projects should use innovative tools to examine the neural circuitry of cognitive processes, such as sensation, perception, emotion, decision-making, and/ or navigation. The use of multiple species, ranging from humans to other mammals and invertebrates, is encouraged.

    RFA-NS-20-029 Exploratory Team-Research BRAIN Circuit Programs – eTeamBCP (Reissue of RFA-NS-18-029; U01)

    This FOA supports interdisciplinary research teams seeking to take an exploratory approach to elucidate how circuit activity underlies a behavioral or neural system. Applicants are encouraged to propose challenging goals that only a synergistic team can accomplish. Projects should be intended to develop experimental capabilities and theoretical frameworks in preparation for larger-scale efforts, including the multi-component Team-Research BRAIN Circuit Programs – TeamBCP (see below). Applications are due on June 15, 2021.

    RFA-NS-19-002 Team-Research BRAIN Circuit Programs – TeamBCP (Clinical trial required; U19); RFA-NS-19-003 (Clinical trial not allowed; U19) (Reissue of RFA-NS-17-018)

    This pair of FOAs support interdisciplinary research teams from prior BRAIN technology and/ or integrated approaches teams, and/ or new projects from the research community that focus on employing innovative technologies to study the neural circuitry of behavior. These FOAs solicit proposals that can greatly advance our understanding of circuit function within 5-plus years with a possibility of one renewal. Applications for both awards are due on October 29, 2021.

    For inquiries regarding the above FOAs, please contact braincircuits@nih.gov.

    Neurobiology of Pain and Endogenous Opioids

    BRAIN aims to understand how neural circuit activity translates to sensory, emotional, and cognitive functions, all of which are closely related to or controlled by pain circuits and/ or endogenous opioid systems. Pain conditions and the opioid crisis are important national public health concerns. As such, the BRAIN Initiative is now funding projects to elucidate the basic neurobiology and circuits of pain processing, analgesia, and the brain mechanisms implicated in opioid use.

    Please see notices NOT-NS-18-008 (pain) and NOT-DA-10-046 (opioids) for more details.

    Data Science and Standardization

    The BRAIN Initiative and neuroscience as a whole are generating massive amounts of data that span modalities, spatiotemporal scales, and species. Largely driven by recent innovations in high-throughput -omics profiling, optical microscopy, electrophysiological recording, and macroscale neuroimaging, brain data is rapidly growing. The FOAs below support new approaches to analyze, archive, and standardize the collection of these data. For all awards collaborations with scientists from other disciplines are encouraged. 

    RFA-MH-20-120 Secondary Analysis and Archiving of BRAIN Initiative Data (R01)

    Nanotechnology-based computing

    This new FOA supports secondary analysis or data mining of large quantities of data related to the BRAIN Initiative. Specifically, investigators can propose to enhance the value of existing data by harnessing novel data analytic methods, data science techniques, and machine learning approaches. These data do not have to be held in a BRAIN Initiative archive but must be in an archive that is easily accessible to the research community. Applications are due on February 26, 2021.

    RFA-MH-20-600 Data Archives for the BRAIN Initiative (Reissue of RFA-MH-19-145; R24)

    This FOA seeks applications to develop web-accessible data archives to capture, store, and curate data related to the BRAIN Initiative. Data teams are expected to work with researchers to incorporate tools that allow users to analyze and visualize data. The creation of tools and data description standards is not required, but the data archive must be made broadly available and accessible to the research community. Applications are due on July 14, 2021.

    RFA-MH-20-128 Standards to Define Experiments Related to the BRAIN Initiative (Reissue of RFA-MH-19-146; R01)

    This FOA solicits applications to develop data standards needed to describe the new experiments generated by the BRAIN Initiative. Proposals should include plans to gather community input at all stages of the process. Data sharing between key groups in the experimental community is encouraged to ensure that data standards encompass data collection efforts across all groups. Applicants are strongly encouraged to follow the development pathway described in the FOA. Applications are due on September 2, 2021.

    RFA-MH-19-147 Integration and Analysis of BRAIN Initiative Data (Reissue of RFA-MH-17-257; R01)

    This FOA solicits applications to develop software to analyze, visualize, and integrate data as part of the BRAIN Initiative’s effort to build an informatics infrastructure. As part of a larger infrastructure (supported by RFA-MH-19-146 and RFA-MH-19-145) awardees under this award are expected to work together to integrate data visualization and analysis tools into data repositories. The application receipt dates are March 4, 2021.

    Many FOAs in the BRAIN Initiative are now subject to a data sharing requirement (see notice NOT-MH-19-010). Please view related notices in each FOA to see if an award falls under this policy.

    Please visit the BRAIN Initiative’s Funding Opportunities webpage for more details on these and other awards. Did you miss earlier posts this week on FY2021 FOAs? If so, check out the main BRAIN blog page here.

    in BRAIN Update on December 16, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    People Take Better Care Of Public Parks If They Feel A Greater Sense Of Ownership Over Them

    By Emily Reynolds

    The “tragedy of the commons” was popularised in the 1960s as a way of explaining how public or shared resources which we’re incentivised to use can become depleted or ruined by individual self-interest. And because we have shared ownership of public resources we feel we have less responsibility for them and therefore less of an impetus to contribute time, energy or money to keeping them going.

    As we become more aware (and more concerned) about threats to the environment, the tragedy of the commons seems even more pertinent. How do we keep parks, rivers, lakes and other local resources well-maintained? According to a new study, published in the Journal of Marketing, it might come down to a sense of ownership — the more we feel a property or resource is ours, the better we’ll take care of it.

    The focus of the first study was a lake, where 135 participants had rented kayaks. The rental service largely catered to those with no experience of the lake, meaning they were unlikely to have any sense of ownership of the area before their visit. Some of the kayak renters were asked to think of and write down a nickname for the lake, while others were not; all renters were then told that they should pick up objects or trash they found floating in the lake.

    Two experimenters then watched the participants and recorded any attempts to pick up floating objects (which had been planted in the lake by the team). When the participants returned their kayaks, they indicated whether or not they had picked up any rubbish and how much ownership they felt toward the lake.

    Those who had given the lake a nickname reported significantly higher levels of psychological ownership of the lake than those who had not. They were also more likely to actually take care of the lake: 41% attempted to pick up the floating objects, compared to just 7% of those in the control condition.

    In the second study, participants imagined walking in a park, seeing a sign that said either “welcome to the park” or “welcome to your park” (emphasis added). Participants were then asked how much responsibility they felt for the park, how obligated they felt towards the park, how accountable they felt for it, and whether or not they would pick up rubbish in the park. Participants were also asked how much of $100 they would donate to the park.

    Again, boosting feelings of ownership by highlighting that it was “your” park increased participants’ perceived responsibility for the park. This led these participants to say they would be more likely to pick up rubbish, and to increase their intended donation amount by an average of $8. 

    The third study, back in the real world, looked at cross country skiers. When renting skis, participants were offered a map of the park: some were asked to plan their route on the map before they set out, while others were not. All renters were then asked whether or not they wanted to add a dollar to the rental fee to help the park, before indicating how likely they would be to volunteer for the park, donate in the future, or engage with the park on social media. Participants who planned their route again reported greater responsibility for the park, and were also more likely to say they’d donate to the park and volunteer in future.

    A final study, lab-based study found that a commonly used device — an attendance sign which highlighted that a participant was the 22,452th visitor of the week — reduced the beneficial effects of boosting feelings of psychological ownership. This suggests that when people see themselves as just one individual in a larger group, they felt less responsibility towards the environment.

    While the results do suggest clear interventions that could benefit publicly owned goods, the whole point of such resources is that they’re shared — the fact they’re collectively owned is exactly why we’re able to enjoy their many benefits. So should we be encouraging people to think of them as their individual property? Collectivism puts an emphasis on group collaboration and shared interests — factors that could play a part in preserving local resources. 

    Further research could look into interventions that seek to increase feelings of local collectivity, exploring how that, rather than individualism, might change people’s relationship with their surroundings.

    Caring for the Commons: Using Psychological Ownership to Enhance Stewardship Behavior for Public Goods

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 16, 2020 01:53 PM.

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    Speech Emotion recognition using deep neural networks using Mel Frequency Cepstral coefficients

    This week on Journal Club session Shreyah Iyer will talk about her project "Speech Emotion recognition using deep neural networks using Mel Frequency Cepstral coefficients".

    Speech is a very important context in understanding human emotions for example in psychology and criminology as the effects of emotions in voice can be recognized by all people irrespective of the language of speech. In this presentation I will talk about an ongoing KTP Project on Speech Emotion Recognition system.

    The aim of the project is to build a system which can interpret the underlying emotion from an audio/speech signal. So far, I have worked on using Deep Learning architectures, i.e CNN’s with most widely used features for emotion detection such as MFCC’s and Mel-spectrograms. I have especially investigated what the best way is to use the coefficients extracted from MFCC’s. I have worked on are two publicly available Speech Emotion Corpus i.e., TESS and RAVDESS. Results conducted on these experiments show that the MFCC’s features with an optimal stack length supersedes the other CNN architectures used.

    In this presentation I will also talk about the challenges and future work for this project.

    Date: 16/12/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on December 16, 2020 12:28 PM.

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    Advancing responsible research assessment

    Elsevier signs Declaration on Research Assessment; implementation steps will include making reference lists of all articles openly available via Crossref

    in Elsevier Connect on December 16, 2020 08:03 AM.

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    How Many Different Positive Emotions Do We Experience?

    By Emma Young

    Awe, compassion, love, gratitude… research papers and media stories about these emotions abound. Indeed, the past decade has seen an explosion in work on positive emotions — essentially, emotions that involve pleasant rather than unpleasant feelings. However, very little has been done to explore which distinct feelings, thoughts and motivations characterise each one, argue Aaron Weidman and Jessica Tracy at the University of British Columbia. In a new paper in Emotion, they report their detailed investigation into these subjective experiences — an investigation that has led them to drop some commonly accepted positive emotions from their master list.

    Weidman and Tracy began with 18 positive emotions, all of which had been studied in recent papers. These were: admiration, amusement, attachment love, awe, compassion, contentment, empathy, enthusiasm, gratitude, happiness, hope, interest, love, nurturant love, romantic love, schadenfreude, sympathy and tenderness. (Pride has been studied down to the level of its subjective elements in work previously led by Tracy, so wasn’t included in the new research.)

    The pair sorted these emotions into five thematic groups: “other-appreciation” (e.g. gratitude), caring (e.g. empathy, compassion), enjoyment (e.g. happiness, contentment) and loving. A total of 150 undergraduate students were each presented with one of the five groups and asked to report up to 10 subjective “elements” of each emotion in that group. For example, participants wrote “I felt concern for someone” as a subjective element of sympathy, and listed “I was on top the world” as an element of enthusiasm.

    By identifying elements that seemed to best capture unique aspects of each emotion, the pair whittled more than 1,000 frequently experienced subjective elements to a list of 475, covering the five thematic groups. A fresh batch of participants were then asked to reflect on how they had felt during a given emotion, and to identify elements that best matched those feelings from the relevant group list. Using their responses, Weidman and Tracy homed in on yet smaller lists of elements that best matched each individual emotion.

    However, it was not possible to create a distinct set of elements for every emotion. In one striking example, no unique element stood out to separate “compassion” from “empathy” and “tenderness” — and so compassion was dropped from their list of positive emotions. Neither could the pair clearly differentiate between the subjective elements of “happiness” and “contentment”, which went into the next round as “happiness/contentment”. “Love” also failed to make the cut, because it was not distinguishable from its sub-types, which had their own unique elements — in fact, Weidman and Tracy found clear support for a sub-type of “attachment love” (involving a close, secure bond with someone), as well as “nurturant love” (more to do with being dedicated to helping someone else to grow) and “romantic love”.

    To shrink the element lists to a number practical for use in a scale — and also in a bid to check for agreement between people from different backgrounds — the pair then recruited a fresh batch of more than 1,000 participants. This group comprised men and women who identified as White or East Asian, and who were born either in the US or Canada or in another country. As in the second study, they were asked to rate how relevant various elements were to each emotion.

    The researchers found that the six participant groups tended to agree about their subjective experiences of the now 15 emotions. They then used a statistical technique to prune their responses into the final product: 5- to 8-item self-report scales for each of these positive emotions.

    The pair argue that their work has various implications. Firstly, though they did find some overlap between elements associated with the different emotions (which will need investigating further), the work supports the relatively modern idea that we experience a range of discrete positive emotions. Also, the research supports the argument that love is not a unitary construct.

    Some of their other conclusions will be more controversial, however. For example “happiness” and “contentment” are often conceptualised as distinct emotions, but this is not what they concluded. Neither did they find support for the idea that “joy” and “elation” are independent, discrete emotions — items that reflected both these concepts fell readily under the “happiness/contentment” heading. The loss of “compassion” from the list of positive emotions will be contentious, too.

    The new scales clearly need more testing — and it’s important to note that all the participants, no matter where they were born, were living in the US or Canada, which limits generalisability. However, one of the problems with existing work on positive emotions is that different teams often use different measures, making it hard to compare results. If these scales can be accepted, they will help to make work in the field more standardised.

    The pair certainly acknowledge that there’s much still to be done, however: “We hope that this work marks a first step in the development of a taxonomy of subjectively experienced positive emotions,” they write — “a model of exactly how many positive emotions are experienced as subjectively distinct, as well as the distinguishing set of subjective elements, causal antecedents, and functional consequences that characterize each of these states.” 

    Picking up good vibrations: Uncovering the content of distinct positive emotion subjective experience.

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 15, 2020 04:02 PM.

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    Ivermectin now against COVID-19, why…

    Ivermectin is the new hydroxychloroquine. But who is its new Raoult? What if the cast of the 2021 sequel will remain otherwise the same?

    in For Better Science on December 15, 2020 02:31 PM.

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    Funding Opportunity Announcements for Fiscal Year 2021: Cell Census Research and Tools for Cells and Circuits

    This week, a series of daily blog posts highlight 28 new and reissued BRAIN Initiative funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for 2021. This post overviews five FOAs aimed to accelerate the use of brain cell census technologies and tools, and promote the development, validation, and dissemination of novel tools for studying cell types and circuits.

    Cell Census Research

    The first FOA supports projects under the BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN), which broadly aims to generate comprehensive 3D reference brain cell atlases that will integrate molecular, anatomical, functional, and lineage data for describing cell types in mouse, human, and non-human primate brains.

    BRAIN Update FOA 2020 cell census timeline

    RFA-MH-21-140 BRAIN Initiative Cell Census Network (BICCN) Scalable Technologies and Tools for Brain Cell Census (Reissue of RFA-MH-19-148; R01)

    This FOA aims to accelerate the integration and use of scalable technologies and tools to enhance brain cell census research. Funding can support the development of technology platforms and/ or resources that will enable a quick and comprehensive survey of brain cell types and circuits. Tools and technologies of interest can fit into the following themes: molecular profiling, cell morphology, neuron connectivity/ intercellular communication, cell lineage and/ or development. The application receipt date is March 10, 2021.

    Tools for Cells and Circuits

    The next four awards focus on the development and validation of tools for studying cells and neural circuits that can be widely disseminated to the neuroscience community.

    RFA-MH-20-135 Tools to Facilitate High-Throughput Microconnectivity Analysis (Reissue of RFA-MH-18-505; R01)

    This FOA supports the development and validation of tools and resources designed to analyze brain microconnectivity in detail. This award seeks out advancements in both electron microscopy (EM) and super resolution light microscopic approaches. Proposals to develop new and/ or augmented approaches that break through technical barriers to improve current capabilities are highly encouraged. Novel tools should be made broadly accessible to the research community. Applications are due on May 27, 2021.

    RFA-MH-19-135 Development of Novel Tools to Probe Cell-Specific and Circuit-Specific Processes in Human and Non-Human Primate Brain (Clinical trial optional; UG3/UH3)

    This new FOA solicits the development and validation of novel, cutting-edge tools to study and manipulate cell types and circuits in large mammal brains. Funding can support initial proof-of-principle studies aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of approaches in humans and other mammals (i.e., non-human primates, sheep, pigs). Research areas applicable to this award range from validating and refining viral gene delivery systems to tracing cell lineage. Please see the FOA for more examples. Applications are due on May 27, 2021.

    RFA-DA-21-006 Tools for Germline Gene Editing in Marmosets (Clinical trial not allowed; U01)

    The purpose of this new FOA is to develop tools and technologies to conduct scientifically rigorous, ethical, efficient, and cost-effective research,  as well as develop infrastructure, that supports germline gene editing studies in the common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus). Marmosets possess sophisticated cognitive functions and exhibit cooperative social behavior, and now that they can be made amenable to genetic engineering, are well-suited for rigorous research involving the genetic study of behavior and/ or brain disorders. Applications should propose to optimize breeding technologies, develop germline and somatic gene editing tools (e.g., CRE-driver tools, CRISPR), and/ or promote infrastructure to develop and distribute these resources. Please see the FOA for a full list of relevant research topics. The application receipt date is October 14, 2021.

    RFA-MH-20-556 Pilot Resources for Brain Cell Type-Specific Access and Manipulation Across Vertebrate Species (Clinical trial not allowed; U01)

    This new FOA is the first in a series of BRAIN 2.0 transformative projects, which were inspired by recommendations in the BRAIN 2.0 reports. These large-scale projects will build upon the early successes of BRAIN by developing and disseminating resources to the research community. This FOA is aimed to evaluate molecular or genetic technologies, as well as create pilot production and distribution resources for cell type-specific access and manipulation reagents across vertebrate species. Proposed projects should be scalable, and reagents must enable unique access to many molecularly defined cell types in a complex brain region; be easily produced, disseminated, utilized, and stored; and be catalogued for users in a reference brain cell atlas. Please see the FOA for additional details. Applications are due on February 11, 2021 and October 19, 2021.

    Many FOAs in the BRAIN Initiative are now subject to a data sharing requirement (see notice NOT-MH-19-010). Please view related notices in each FOA to see if an award falls under this policy.

    Please visit the BRAIN Initiative’s Funding Opportunities webpage for more details on these and other awards. Did you miss earlier posts this week on FY2021 FOAs? If so, check out the main BRAIN blog page here.

    in BRAIN Update on December 15, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    Here’s How Parents’ Reactions To School Performance Influence Their Children’s Wellbeing

    By Emma Young

    What do you do if your child comes home with a lower score on a test than you both expected? Do you praise their efforts and focus on what they got right? Or do you home in on the answers that they got wrong, hoping this will help them to do better in future?

    Research shows that the first, “success-oriented” response is more common in the US than in China, where parents more often opt for “failure-oriented” responses instead. Recent studies in both countries have found that success-oriented responses tend to encourage psychological wellbeing but not necessarily academic success, whereas failure-oriented responses can foster academic performance, but with a cost to the child’s wellbeing.

    Jun Wei at Tsinghua University, China, and colleagues wondered what might drive these observed relationships: do different response styles lead children to form different concepts about what their parents want for them — and is this what produces the opposing impacts on wellbeing? In a new paper, published in Developmental Psychology, the team report some intriguing answers to these questions.

    The researchers studied 447 American children from three schools in the US and 439 children from a school in southern China. The children were in the same grade of school and were, on average, 13 at the start of the study. They completed a batch of initial surveys, and then a further batch a year later.

    In one of the initial surveys, the children were asked to imagine that they had done very well and then very poorly on a school test, and indicate the extent to which they thought their parents would emphasise the successful aspects of their performance, or the negatives (e.g.  “My parents would talk about why I didn’t get an even higher score” if they had done well, or “My parents would talk about how I had not worked hard” if they had done poorly).

    Along with surveys of general wellbeing and symptoms of anxiety and depression, the children also answered questions about their perceptions of their parents’ goals for them. Responses to statements such as “How important is it to your parents for you to believe in your abilities?” were used to probe parental goals relating to self-worth, while statements such as “How important is to your parents for you to always try to overcome your weaknesses?” explored the extent to which the children thought that their parents held “self-improvement” goals for them.  

    The team found that, in both countries, children who felt that their parents were more success-oriented in their responses were more likely to feel that their parents held self-worth goals for them, and statistically speaking, this went a long way to explaining higher levels of general wellbeing in this group a year later. In the US only, stronger perceptions that parents held self-worth goals were also associated with fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression a year on. Why wasn’t this seen in the children in China, too? It might be because children in China are subject to more academic stress, because of the format of the school examination system, the team suggests — and the impact of this on symptoms of anxiety and depression overwhelms any variations relating to parental response style.

    In both the US and China, the team also found that the more parents used failure-oriented responses, the more the children felt that their parents held self-improvement goals for them — and in China only, the more they felt their parents were concerned about their self-worth too. This may be “because Chinese parents convey their belief in their children’s potential by urging them to strive to do better”, the researchers write.

    However, failure-oriented responses from the parents were also associated with decreased wellbeing among the American children, and higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms in kids from both countries.  “It could be that when parents highlight the negative aspects of their children’s performance, adolescents feel incompetent, regardless of whether they perceive their parents as wanting them to constantly strive to self-improve,” the researchers write. “The thwarted need for competence may dampen adolescents’ psychological functioning.”

    The team did home in only a few dimensions of the parent-child relationship, which is, of course, complex. For parents everywhere, it would certainly be interesting to know whether the positive academic effects of a failure-oriented response style could be gained without a cost to wellbeing — could an emphasis on praising successes with a dash of observation of any failures of effort work best, perhaps? I know that as parent, that’s what I aim for. But only future research will reveal if it’s actually a good strategy for my children.

    Parents’ Responses to Their Children’s Performance: A Process Examination in the United States and China

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 14, 2020 03:43 PM.

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    Funding Opportunity Announcements for Fiscal Year 2021: Training, Technology Dissemination, and Small Business

    This week, a series of daily blog posts will highlight 28 new and reissued BRAIN Initiative funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) for 2021. Today’s post focuses on awards for training, equity, and inclusion; technology dissemination; and small business.

    Welcome to FOA week! In recent years, BRAIN-funded scientists have developed new tools and technologies that now allow us to uncover the complexities of the brain in incredible detail. Next year’s funding will continue to accelerate neuroscience discovery by building upon the early successes of the Initiative. In this blog series, we’re excited to highlight several BRAIN 2.0 transformative project FOAs, which will support the development and dissemination of resources and data to the research community.

    This week, we will guide you through each of the 28 BRAIN Initiative FOAs for 2021. These awards support training, small business programs, and span across all seven BRAIN priority areas: from developing and validating innovative tools for studying cells and circuits, to mapping the brain across species and advancing human neuroscience.

    Training, Equity, and Inclusion

    RFA-NS-19-043 BRAIN Initiative Advanced Postdoctoral Career Transition Award to Promote Diversity (K99/R00; Clinical Trial Not Allowed) RFA-NS-19-044 (K99/R00; Clinical Trial Required)

    This FOA aims to enhance workforce diversity in neuroscience and foster a strong cohort of highly skilled, well-trained independent investigators working in BRAIN Initiative research areas. This program is intended for members of underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, individuals with disabilities, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and women. Applications are due on February 10, 2021; June 9, 2021; and October 6, 2021.

    K99/R00 applicants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible for an extension for both new and resubmitted applications. Please see the notice of eligibility extension (NOT-NS-21-004) for this award, as well as the previous blog post on this extension.

    RFA-MH-20-620 BRAIN Initiative Fellows: Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) Individual Postdoctoral Fellowship (Reissue of RFA-MH-18-510; F32)

    This FOA seeks to enhance the research training of promising postdoctoral scientists who are conducting work on BRAIN Initiative research. Applications that align with any of the BRAIN Initiative research priority areas are encouraged, including neuroethics. This program encourages individuals who have not yet completed their terminal doctoral degree and who expect to do so within 12 months of the application receipt date to apply. The application due dates are August 10, 2021; April 11, 2022; and December 9, 2022.

    Did you know that BRAIN awardees can request additional funds to train and mentor individuals from groups underrepresented in biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences? To learn more, please see the notice (NOT-MH-19-038) to encourage applications for research supplements to promote diversity in health-related research (PA-21-071).

    Technology Dissemination

    RFA-NS-19-006 Research Resource Grants for Technology Integration and Dissemination (Reissue of NS-18-005; U24)

    This FOA aims to accelerate the impact of the BRAIN Initiative by rapidly disseminating already developed and validated technologies and resources to the broader neuroscience research community. Proposed techniques and resources should be at a well-validated stage; proposals focused solely on technology development are not applicable to this FOA. Applications are due on June 27, 2021.

    Small Business

    PA-18-871 (SBIR) Development Optimization, and Validation of Novel Tools and Technologies for Neuroscience Research (Reissue of PAR-18-501; R43/R44); PA-18-870 (STTR) (Reissue of PAR-18-515; R41/R42)

    This pair of small business FOAs support the development of novel tools and technologies through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program. In addition to tool development, these FOAs encourage the commercialization of neurotechnologies. Funding can support the refinement of tools and technologies with the end-goal of escalating manufacturing and integrating them into regular neuroscience practice. Applications for both awards are due on January 5, 2021; April 5, 2021; and September 5, 2021.

    RFA-NS-18-022 Next-Gen Invasive Devices for Recording and Modulation in the Human CNS (Reissue of RFA-NS-17-007; SBIR U44)

    This FOA encourages investigators involved in small businesses to pursue translational and clinical projects focused on using recording and/or stimulating neural devices in humans via the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. Funding can support non-clinical testing and one small clinical trial designed to assess the function and final design of a device prior to more advanced clinical trials and market approval. Projects must focus on a single disorder that falls within the mission of the BRAIN Initiative. The application receipt date is February 22, 2021.

    Please visit the BRAIN Initiative’s Funding Opportunities webpage for more details on these and other awards.

    in BRAIN Update on December 14, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    Driving inclusive health and research through global partnerships

    For its 15th anniversary, the Elsevier Foundation has added Race & Ethnicity partnerships to support STEM diversity and combat health disparities

    in Elsevier Connect on December 11, 2020 03:39 PM.

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    Welcome to BMC Genomic Data

    When BMC published its first journals back in 2000, it made high quality research open to anyone who wanted to access and use it. By making open access sustainable, it changed the world of academic publishing. Amongst the first disciplines to successfully embrace open access was genetics and genomics, with BMC launching a number of journals in this important field in its first year.

    Today, BMC continues to recognize the importance of genetics and genomics with a number of our community-specific journals celebrating their 20th anniversaries, including BMC Genetics. As we reflect on our long-standing reputation as an open access pioneer, we remain passionate about promoting open science practices and responding to researcher’s needs in this vital field. One aspect that we view as central to this mission is the sharing of research data. 

    We know that research data often lie hidden until shared via a repository and/or through a research article that uses the data to support conclusions and analyses. We understand that not all valuable research is suited to traditional research articles and are committed to making visible research that would otherwise be hidden away. 

    As part of this commitment, we are delighted to announce that BMC Genetics will be renamed in 2021 as BMC Genomic Data, with the goal of promoting open science through the sharing of genomic and genetic data. 

    BMC Genomic Data, built on the firm foundations of BMC Genetics, will welcome submissions of genetic and genomic datasets, descriptions of data and manuscripts that analyse existing or new datasets. By providing a dedicated home for content that may not meet the criteria for a traditional research article, we hope to better serve the evolving needs of the genetics and genomics community. 

    As a core offering of BMC Genomic Data, we are particularly excited to introduce our new ‘data note’ article type, designed specifically for descriptions of genetic and genomic datasets. 

    Data notes in the BMC Series were pioneered by BMC Research Notes, following that journal’s relaunch in 2017. The focus of this article type is on making data publishing fast and easy for all researchers through our minimalist article structure, easy-to-follow templates and clear guidance on best practice through the expertise of our Research Data Team. To find out more, please see our guidelines.

    Furthermore, as a supporter of the FAIR Data principles, release of data in one or more public, community-recognized repositories will be a condition of publication.  Authors will be able to draw on Springer Nature’s Research Data expertise to make it easy to follow best practice in data sharing. 

    By encouraging the sharing, describing and citing of data, we hope to make BMC Genomic Data a home for genomic and genetic datasets, data-focused research, and key developments in open data in general – going forward we will welcome opinions on how this journal can lead the way in open and reproducible science.

    BMC Genomic Data is supported by an international editorial board, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge and expertise in genomic data and all published articles published will undergo rigorous peer review. 

    We look forward to working with you in advancing data sharing in this important field and offering you a home for all your research, whatever format that may take. 

    To submit to BMC Genomic Data or find out more please visit the website or read our FAQs.


    The post Welcome to BMC Genomic Data appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on December 11, 2020 02:22 PM.

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    Gloomy Evenings And Dark Traits: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    Psychology is arguably the poster child for the replication crisis, but other fields suffer from similar issues too. At Science, Cathleen O’Grady examines the efforts by ecologists to tackle their own field’s reproducibility problems, and how they are learning from the experience of psychologists.

    Researchers have created a safer version of the psychoactive drug ibogaine, and it seems to improve behaviours associated with addiction and depression in rats. Past work had suggested that ibogaine may help treat drug addictions — but it can also have fatal side-effects, reports Jon Hamilton at NPR. So in the new work, scientists tweaked the structure of the molecule to create a substance that is safer but which still has beneficial properties. It remains to be seen whether it works for humans.

    The shortest day of the year is nearly upon us but if you’ve found yourself taken aback by the dark evenings, you’re not alone. Even though we experience dark winter nights every year, there are psychological reasons why we might “forget” about them and find it unsettling when they come around again, explains Shayla Love at Vice.

    The uncertainty of 2020 has been difficult for a lot of us. But some people find it particularly challenging to deal with feelings of uncertainty, writes Jayne Morriss at The Conversation. Greater “intolerance” of uncertainty can leave people feeling distressed and make even good outcomes appear less satisfactory but, Morriss explains, there are a number of strategies which may help to reduce this “uncertainty distress”.

    Scientists have implanted an array of electrodes into the visual cortex of two macaques, which allow the monkeys to “see” shapes corresponding to the pattern of stimulation. The work holds promise for restoring some amount of sight to people who are blind and whose optic nerve is damaged. But it is harder to access the relevant brain regions in humans, explains Michael Le Page at New Scientist and fairly crude artificial vision is not necessarily desired by the blind community.

    People with “dark” personality traits are manipulative and self-centred but does that actually help them get ahead? In some lab-based tasks, perhaps, write Craig Neumann and Scott Barry Kaufman at Psyche, but when it comes to real life they actually have limited success.

    This weekend, the Cosmic Shambles Network is hosting a 24 hour online show, “Nine Lessons and Carols for Socially Distanced People“, with profits going to charity. The line-up looks fantastic, with comedians, authors, actors, musicians, and scientists all taking part — including a bunch of psychologists and neuroscientists (such as PsychCrunch podcast presenter Ginny Smith!).

    Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 11, 2020 12:00 PM.

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    Reimagine Biomedical Research for a Healthier Future: Essay Challenge

    The Health Research Alliance (HRA) and the Public Library of Science (PLOS) have partnered to launch the Reimagine Biomedical Research for a Healthier Future Essay Challenge.

    The biomedical research enterprise experienced a year of reckoning in 2020. Global cooperation to create a COVID-19 vaccine at an unprecedented pace shows the promise of research. Yet the pandemic, the resulting economic and social uncertainties, and the urgency of addressing systemic racial and regional inequities all add to longstanding concerns about the sustainability of the biomedical research enterprise. We need a new vision for a healthier future. The Reimagine Biomedical Research for a Healthier Future Essay Challenge is your opportunity to propose systemic changes that re-commit to serving society and achieving an equitable, diverse, and creative environment for all those working to advance scientific discovery and improve human well-being.

    The Challenge

    We invite you to submit a 1500-word essay following these submission guidelines. The winning essay will be published in either PLOS Biology or PLOS Medicine, and will also receive a US $5,000 prize. There will also be recognition for up to four essays receiving honorable mentions.

    We encourage you to think critically about the current state of biomedical research, globally. We hope our challenge stimulates you to confer with colleagues and consider submitting an individual or multi-authored essay that will propose and elaborate new ideas addressing the challenges for the field – for example:

    • Innovative ways to move away from contemporary and reductive metrics of success and towards efforts that measurably improve everyday lives (e.g. advances in diagnostics, therapy, drug discovery, health services, and novel solutions to reduce health inequities).
    • Bold ideas to realign incentives for behaviors that advance discovery, support healthcare decision makers, and benefit society.
    • New ways to frame transparency and rigor as Open Scholarship values, not just checklists or hurdles, to improve societal trust in science.
    • Strategies to build an equitable, open, and transparent research ecosystem that values, empowers, and nurtures diversity. 
    • Approaches that depend on creativity and innovation and not on the need for “more” (e.g.  more money, more data, more publications, etc.)

    Winner, and Honorable Mentions

    The winning essay judged to have the most potential for inspiring change will be published either in PLOS Biology or PLOS Medicine, whichever is deemed by PLOS the most appropriate venue for the essay. It will also be awarded US $5,000.

    Up to four essays will be recognized by an honorable mention, and these will be published on the PLOS Blogs Network and will each receive a US $2,500 prize.


    The authors of the winning essay, and authors from honorably mentioned essays, will be invited to present their ideas in a Reimagine Biomedical Research for a Healthier Future Symposium hosted by HRA and PLOS in September 2021. 

    Deadline: March 11, 2021

    This date is the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring COVID-19 a global pandemic. It has been chosen to honor those who have experienced so much suffering during this pandemic, and to help convey the real-world importance of this reimagining.


    We welcome essay submissions from individuals or from teams, noting that diverse perspectives are critical to solving our most pressing global challenges. Submissions will be considered from those working in academic, private sector, governmental, or non-profit institutions. Authors must commit to abiding by PLOS policies for publication which include Open Access publication under CC BY license, and editorial policies such as disclosure of competing interests. (See full submission guidelines.)

    Review Criteria and Process

    There is a 1500-word limit to keep essays succinct and to the point. 

    You should include a brief description of the problem you propose to solve, and devote the majority of the essay to the proposed solutions.

    A panel representing HRA member organizations (HRA members) will score applications based on the review criteria outlined below, to create a shortlist of up to ten essays.

    • Magnitude of the change envisioned 
    • Potential for achieving lasting impact and change
    • Novelty and timeliness 
    • Feasibility 
    • Diversity of thought and perspective 

    No single criterion outweighs another; all are important. 

    The overall winner, and honorable mentions, will then be selected from this shortlist by the panel of judges, including: 

    • Maryrose Franko, Executive Director, Health Research Alliance
    • Nonia Pariente, Editor-in-Chief, PLOS Biology
    • Lara Bethke, Chief Scientific Officer, Health Resources in Action
    • Sindy Escobar Alvarez, Senior Program Officer, Medical Research Program, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
    • Susan M. Fitzpatrick, President, James S. McDonnell Foundation 
    • Lynne Garner, President, The Donaghue Foundation
    • Marc Hurlbert, Chief Science Officer, Melanoma Research Alliance
    • Judy Keen, Director of Scientific Affairs, American Society of Hematology
    • Amy Laster, Vice President, Science and Awards Programs, Foundation Fighting Blindness 
    • Dawid Potgieter, Director, Programs in Discovery Science, Templeton World Charity Foundation

    The panel reserves the right to reach out to other reviewers, in confidence, for input into the decision. 

    Before publication, the winning essay may be edited by a PLOS editor for length and style to conform to the PLOS  journal format.

    To submit

    Please go to ProposalCentral  and create a user account (or login if you have one). Please note you will need an ORCID ID. 

    Under the “Grant Opportunities” tab search for “Health Research Alliance”. Click the Apply Now button next to the Health Research Alliance | Reimagine Biomedical Research for a Healthier Future Essay Challenge.

    Any questions, please email: info@healthra.org.

    The post Reimagine Biomedical Research for a Healthier Future: Essay Challenge appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on December 10, 2020 03:00 PM.

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    Liberal Americans’ Distress At 2016 Election Result Shouldn’t Be Labelled “Depression”, Study Argues

    Photo: Supporters of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton react during election night 2016. Kena Betancur/AFP via Getty Images

    By Emily Reynolds

    Anyone who’s been invested in an election result will understand the close relationship between politics and emotion — something that is perhaps even more affecting when that result is disappointing. After the 2016 presidential election, for example, articles appeared in the US press describing a “national nervous breakdown” and offering tips to deal with so-called “political depression”, and empirical studies indicated that the same event had caused psychological distress.

    But while it would be hard to deny that politics can have a serious impact on our mood, is it correct to call that “depression”? Almog Simchon at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and team ask this question in a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology — and while they find self-reported “Trump depression” in liberal Americans post-election, the empirical data suggests this isn’t an enduring or even clinically significant experience.

    In the first part of the study, participants indicated which political party they felt the greatest identification with, as well as which presidential candidate they had voted for in 2016; they then indicated how down, depressed and hopeless they had felt for the year before the election, the two weeks before the election, and from the election until the day of the survey, which took place in May 2018. As expected, those who identified as Democrats reported feeling more depressed after the election, with the opposite effect to be found in Republicans.

    The team then repeated the experiment with new participants — only now all references to the election were omitted, with questions instead focusing purely on the timeframes involved. This time, there was no evidence of a post-election increase in depression among Democrats. This suggests that the emotional valence of certain events can change the stories we tell about ourselves and our lives.

    The next study looked more broadly at liberal American responses to the election using real time data about people’s moods at the time of the election. To do this, the team used a machine learning algorithm originally designed to detect depression from social media users’ posts. The team analysed over 10 million tweets posted between October and November 2016, and while there was an effect on Democrats’ moods in the first few days after the election, this response was not long-lived: by November 13th, moods had returned to their pre-election baseline. A similar analysis of Google searches, looking for terms such as “depression”, “depression symptoms”, and “depression test” also found no indication that the election had caused a significant increase in depression.

    Social media may not be the best gauge for understanding the long-term impact of an event on mental health — Twitter in particular is fast-moving and responsive to ongoing events, and not necessarily so good at capturing deeper or more persistent effects. But the findings do suggest, again, that emotional responses to the election were more ephemeral than the term “depression” might suggest.

    Two final studies looked at real world attempts to seek help for depression. The first looked at state-level antidepressant consumption on Medicaid between 2016 and 2017, and the second at the number of people seeking treatment for depression before and after the election, using a data set that also contained daily information about depression and political affiliation.

    For the state-level data, the team found that the state’s political affiliation — Democratic or Republican — had no bearing on changes in antidepressant usage from before to after the election. And in the second study, there was no evidence that the depression levels of liberal Americans increased after the election.

    So it seems that reports of “Trump depression” are not quite accurate: in every study other than the first — in which participants were specifically reminded of the election — there was no evidence at all that depression had increased after the election.

    The team suggests that self-reports of post-election depression could be somewhat performative, signalling group identity and ideological beliefs. This might not tell the whole story, though — there’s no evidence here that the feelings of distress or hopelessness felt by liberals after the election were false or purely performative, just that they weren’t clinically significant or persistent enough to be considered depression per se.

    It would be interesting to look further into the traits and demographics of those reporting feelings of distress. If you’re a wealthy person with liberal politics, for example, then an election win for a pro-austerity party might be distressing but is unlikely to have as significant an impact on the material conditions of your life as that of someone on a low wage or in precarious work. Would the latter party be more likely to experience depression? And what protective factors are at play when it comes to weathering political distress?

    The team partly puts the use of the term “Trump depression” down to “concept creep”, an expanding or overgeneralisation of the terminology of mental illness or trauma. It therefore seems important to develop a way to talk about distress — political or otherwise — outside of such terms, which can often be stigmatising or lacking in nuance. Using clinical terms unnecessarily might seem validating, but only serves to diminish both the experiences of those living with serious mental illness and the range of normal emotions that we experience across our political, social and personal lives. 

    Political depression? A big-data, multimethod investigation of Americans’ emotional response to the Trump presidency.

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 10, 2020 02:53 PM.

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    Instant access to code, for any arXiv paper


    In October, arXiv released a new feature empowering arXiv authors to link their Machine Learning articles to associated code. Developed in an arXivLabs collaboration with Papers with Code, the tool was met with great enthusiasm from arXiv’s ML community.

    Now, we’re expanding the capability beyond Machine Learning to arXiv papers in every category. And, to better align with our arXiv communities, PwC is launching new sites in computer science, physics, mathematics, astronomy and statistics to help researchers explore code in these fields.

    Screenshot of abstract page with code tab highlighted

    As part of this expansion, PwC is indexing 600,000 additional papers, automatically detecting and linking to the code libraries for papers in categories beyond Machine Learning and also continuing to identify code, results, and methods within ML.

    Image of Papers with Code portal sitesAuthors can sync their code to display on arXiv abstract pages from either their arXiv user account page or the Papers with Code interface, if the code is not automatically detected.

    This expansion was driven by the broader research community’s demand. After the October release, researchers beyond ML expressed a desire for easy access to relevant code. Researchers in physics, astronomy, and other fields began adding their work to PwC. To answer the popular demand, we worked together with PwC to formally support additional fields.

    arXiv authors and readers value speed and openness, and instant access to publicly available code supports both.



    in arXiv.org blog on December 10, 2020 02:41 PM.

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    Helping authors take their books from start to finish

    “As an Editorial Project Manager, I’m privileged to work with top-class researchers and professionals from all over the world.”

    in Elsevier Connect on December 10, 2020 01:19 PM.

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    Oxford University Press joins Initiative for Open Abstracts (I4OA)

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on December 10, 2020 11:42 AM.

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    Paywalls, Newsletters, and the New Echo Chamber | WIRED

    If the paywall sites are going to attract more consumers, and provide them safe harbor from the free-news vortex, then Radcliffe says they’ll need to make a better case for why it’s worth the money. That means letting people know the actual cost of producing journalism, and what’s at risk if you don’t financially support it. Otherwise, big publications will only serve a minority of the population, small publications will struggle to survive, and people who have grown accustomed to free news will continue to seek it out, even if it ends up not really being news at all.

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on December 10, 2020 08:52 AM.

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    Fusion is a dish best served cold

    "...there are no longer any batches of the palladium used by Fleischmann and Pons (because the supplier now uses a different manufacturing process)..." -FuF wisdom

    in For Better Science on December 10, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    Hodgkin-Huxley model in current clamp and voltage clamp

    As a short modeling session for an electrophysiology course at the University of Zurich, I made a tutorial for students to play around with the Hodgkin-Huxley equations in a Colab Notebook / Python, which does not require them to install Python. You’ll find the code online on a small Github repository: https://github.com/PTRRupprecht/Hodgkin-Huxley-CC-VC

    Using the code, the students can not only play around with the Hodgkin-Huxley equations, but also replicate in silico the experiments they have done when patching cells in slices (including voltage clamp experiment).

    It is really rewarding to be able to reproduce current clamp (recording the membrane potential) and voltage clamp experiments (recording the currents while clamping the voltage to a constant value), because this also allows to replicate computationally the experiments and plots generated experimentally by Hodgkin and Huxley.

    Below, you see a part of the code, the result of a simulation of a Hodgkin-Huxley model. The top configuration was run in current clamp, with a current pulse injected between 40 and 80 ms, which triggered a single action potential. The lower configuration was run in voltage clamp, with the holding potential stepping from -70 mV to -30 mV between 40 and 80 ms. You can clearly see the active conductanves (deactivating sodium conductance in blue and non-deactivating potassium conductance in orange):

    in Peter Rupprecht on December 09, 2020 04:24 PM.

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    Why Are We Better At Remembering Vocal Melodies Than Instrumental Tunes?

    By Matthew Warren

    When it comes to memory for music, humans show an interesting quirk: we’re better at remembering melodies that are sung by voice, compared to those played on an instrument. Even a melody sung without any lyrics — just a series of la la las, for instance — becomes lodged in our memory in a way that a tune played on the piano, say, does not.

    Now a new study published in Cognition has looked into why our memory is so much better for sung melodies. Researchers have suggested that listening to a voice singing a melody leads us to perform “subvocalisations” — internal speech that involves tiny movements of the muscles involved in speaking (you’re probably doing it right now as you read this text). But we can’t mimic an instrumental piece in the same way. After all, it’s easy to repeat “la la la” in your head, but not to reproduce the sound of piano keys.

    Psychologists already know that this kind of silent rehearsal boosts memory for words — and that memory is impaired if we speak or make movements of the mouth and tongue, which interferes with these subvocalisations. So, theorised Michael Weiss and colleagues at the University of Montreal, if a similar process is responsible for our superior memory for vocal melodies, then people’s memory should be compromised if they make other mouth movements or sounds while listening.

    In the first study, the team asked 38 participants to listen to 24 melodies, which were based on British and Irish folk tunes. Half of the tunes were played on the piano, and half were sung (as “la la la”). While listening to the melodies, half of the participants chewed gum vigorously, while the others squeezed a bean bag with their hand.

    After taking a break to fill in questionnaires, the participants then completed a surprise recognition task, in which they heard the same 24 melodies as well as 24 new ones. They simply had to indicate whether or not they had heard each tune previously.

    Similar to the findings of past work, participants were better at recognising the vocal melodies than the piano ones. But this “voice advantage” was the same whether participants had been chewing gum or squeezing the bean bag while listening. That is, the chewing motion — which uses the same muscles as articulating a word— had no effect on participants’ memory, suggesting that silent rehearsal wasn’t responsible for their superior recognition of the sung tunes.

    Still, chewing gum is considerably different from actually mouthing words or making sounds, so might not be enough to interfere with any subvocalisations. So next, the team asked a new group of participants to either mouth “la” over and over again (without making any noise), or make a humming sound. In a subsequent study, participants whispered “la la la”.

    In both studies, participants still recognised the vocal melodies better than the piano ones, despite making mouth movements or sounds. This again suggested that silent rehearsal of the sung melodies wasn’t responsible for boosting participants’ memories.

    It’s worth noting that there wasn’t a control group in either of these studies, which makes it hard to completely rule out the possibility that making mouth movements or sounds could have reduced memory for vocal melodies, even if it didn’t entirely get rid of the memory advantage over instrumental tunes. However, the team did compare their results with an earlier study, in which participants listened to vocal and instrumental melodies without doing a task, and found no difference in memory performance between the two papers.

    Overall, then, the studies suggest that our superior memory for sung melodies isn’t down to internal, silent rehearsal of the tunes. So what could explain the effect? Well, perhaps it’s just that humans are more attuned to voices than other sounds, the authors say. “The best current account of the voice advantage in memory remains that the voice is special, by virtue of being a conspecific, communicative, and biological signal, which is more engaging or distinctive to listeners than instrumental sounds,” they conclude.

    The singing voice is special: Persistence of superior memory for vocal melodies despite vocal-motor distractions

    Matthew Warren (@MattBWarren) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 09, 2020 02:37 PM.

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    BRAIN Publication Roundup – December 2020

    Improving two-color calcium imaging… Surprising evolutionary changes in interneuron types… Exploring how the basal ganglia multitasks behavior… Using mathematical models to study bat echolocation…

    A new variant of the calcium indicator improves two-photon imaging

    Two-photon (2P) calcium imaging has emerged as the leading method for in vivo brain imaging. However, the light sources commonly used (titanium-sapphire lasers and parametric oscillators) are quite costly, require frequent maintenance, and lack output power. One solution is to use inexpensive and powerful industrial lasers that have wavelengths around 1,000 nm. But to use these inexpensive lasers, new biosensors that excite above this wavelength are needed. To these ends, researchers have been working on creating new genetically encoded calcium indicators by taking advantage of mutations that can occur in green fluorescent protein (GFP) that convert it to a yellow fluorescent protein (YFP). Dr. Kaspar Podgorskiexternal link and his team have created jYCaMP1 — a redshifted variant of jGCaMP7 — an optimized calcium indicator. Dr. Podgorski’s lab is a part of the Janelia Research Campus at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Their recent paper shows that jYCaMP1 outperforms jGCaMP7 in both mice and flies and enables improved two-color calcium imaging with red fluorescent protein-based indicators. When the researchers visualized activity within the mouse visual cortex, compared to jGCaMP7s, recordings from jYCaMP1s-labeled neurons were 1.8-fold as bright. Flies were also studied for a comparative analysis. When activity in the medulla of the optic lobe of flies was visualized, jYCaMP1s-labeled neurons showed 2.3-fold increases in brightness under 1,030 nm excitation compared to the jGCaMP7s-labeled neurons. One of the most exciting results of this study is that this new calcium indicator improves two-color imaging. This is because the shifted excitation spectrum of jYCaMP1 greatly improves the overlap with red genetically encoded fluorescent Ca2+ indicators, such as jRGECO1a, while still retaining well-separated emission with red sensors. This is critical because this new calcium indicator now allows for dual color 2P Ca2+ imaging with a single excitation laser. Technological advances like this are, without a doubt, the future of in vivo imaging of neural activity.

    PodgorskiNewly-developed jYCaMP1, a variant of jGCaMP7, responds more efficiently to higher wavelengths of excitation. e) Orientation tuning maps in examples of jGCaMP7s (left panel) and jYCaMP1s (right panel) expressing-neurons in the mouse visual cortex. f) Average baseline intensity of responsive pixels (top) and average change in brightness of pixels (bottom) for jGCaMP7s (blue) and jYCaMP1s (yellow) within the field of view.

    Evolution and the innovative variation of interneurons across species

    While primates and rodents had a common evolutionary ancestor approximately 90 million years ago, profound differences exist in both behavior and cognitive capacity between primates and rodents. However, the cellular basis for these differences is unknown. Moreover, rodents such as mice are frequently used to understand cell types within the brain. Until now, it has been unclear whether or not these cell types have been conserved or if they have changed across evolution. In the present study, researchers sought to systemically characterize interneuron cell-type RNA expression across a variety of species. This study was led by senior researcher and professor at Harvard University, Dr. Steven McCarrollexternal link. Dr. McCarroll and his team used single-nucleus RNA sequencing to profile RNA expression in 188,776 individual interneurons across homologous brain regions of three primate species (i.e., human, macaque, and marmoset), mice, and ferrets. This paper shows that homologous interneuron types, readily identified by their RNA-expression patterns, varied in both abundance and RNA expression among ferrets, mice, and primates. As expected, this variance was lower among primates. Researchers predicted that the primate caudal ganglionic eminence (CGE) – a subcortical progenitor zone that gives rise to interneurons during neurodevelopment – would contain greater evolutionary novelties among interneurons because the CGE produces a larger proportion of these cells in primates than in rodents. However, they found that the divergence in the cortex, hippocampus, and striatum of the primate species all involved interneurons for which RNA-expression patterns indicated they originated from the medial ganglionic eminence (MGE) domain, which is evolutionarily older than the CGE domain. Further, the team found a primate interneuron cell-type that has no homologous counterpart in mice or ferrets in the striatum, and not the cortex. Overall, this research is important because it broadens our understanding of the evolution of interneurons. Further, these findings will facilitate research for the treatment of neuropsychiatric illnesses by helping scientists identify the species that best models cell types in the human brain.

    McCarrollAnalyzing cortical interneurons in ferret, mouse, marmoset, macaque, and human. a) A schematic showing possible changes in cellular assemblies across species. b) Experimental workflow, numbers of interneurons sampled in each species, and uniform manifold approximation and projection embedding of datasets. Abbreviations: Ctx = neocortex; Hipp = hippocampus; Str = striatum

    Projections of the basal ganglia: beyond an integrative hub

    There are primarily two models to explain the function of the basal ganglia, which are important nuclei involved in decision making and motor control. One model suggests this set of nuclei is a site of integration, whereas the second model suggests that projections from the basal ganglia are divided into topographical channels, each controlling a distinct behavior. The lab of Dr. Bernardo Sabatiniexternal link investigated the latter hypothesis by using a unique experimental approach. One part of the basal ganglia, the striatum, has functionally discrete roles along the medial–lateral axis, with dorsal medial striatum and dorsal lateral striatum involved in goal-directed and habitual behaviors, respectively. Dr. Sabatini’s new paper suggests that this dichotomy might arise, at least partially, from distinct anatomical projections from the basal ganglia that allow parallel modulation of behavior. In other words, rather than integrating behavior on their own, the basal ganglia multitask through multiple feedforward projections to other regions. Researchers first used anterograde tracers to map the projection pathways of the basal ganglia. Next, using an optogenetic approach, they confirmed that specific regions within the striatum triggered a single behavior (licking or locomotion). Further, when the locomotion-inducing striatal region was stimulated while mice were licking, this did not interfere with licking. These findings support the canonical parallel model of basal ganglia activity, but also suggest that the integration and competition of information associated with specific behaviors occurs largely outside of the basal ganglia. Altogether, this work extends our understanding of the basal ganglia as a complex brain region with distinct neural projections that function independently. Understanding the functional composition of these circuits is a critical step toward a better understanding of basal ganglia-related disorders, such as Huntington’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

    SabatiniTopographic organization of projections from the basal ganglia. a) Experimental protocol for studying topography in the basal ganglia. First, AAV1-Cre is injected into dorsal medial striatum (DMS), dorsal lateral striatum (DLS), or ventral lateral striatum (VLS) of H2B-EGFP reporter mice. After 2 weeks, the Cre encoded by the virus activates H2B-EGFP expression. b) Example sections of the striatum showing the injection sites. c) Example section (left column) and average relative cell density map of H2B-EGFP-expressing cells (right column) in globus pallidus externus (GPe; left), entopeduncular nucleus (EP; middle) and substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr; right) for injections at three different striatal sites (top, DMS; middle, DLS; bottom, VLS).

    Bats use echolocation to predict their prey’s movements

    It is well established that bats use echolocation to track moving auditory objects, such as prey, within their environment. But are bats actually using predictive tracking strategies to anticipate the future? Dr. Cynthia Mossexternal link and her team at Johns Hopkins University study comparative neural systems and behavior using the big brown bat (Eptesicus fuscus) as a model organism. Dr. Moss and her “Batlab” team show in their new paper that bats integrate information across echo sequences to anticipate a target’s future position in a three-dimensional environment. To show this, the Batlab created a carefully controlled laboratory environment. They first trained bats to sit on a platform in this lab environment while the researchers manipulated the path of the insect the bats would chase. In this setting, the researchers could control the speed at which the insect moved, and high-speed cameras were used to track the movement of the bats. Then, they measured the direction of the bat’s head (i.e. sonar beam aim) and echolocation call rate as it tracked the moving target within its sonar field. The team then used four separate mathematical models to determine whether or not the bats used predictive tracking behaviors while chasing the insect target. Indeed, they found that bats use a predictive internal model to update tracking of a moving target. The results held true even when tested in a more naturalistic environment that included an object that the moving target could hide behind temporarily. By studying bats and other unique model organisms, we can better understand how humans and other animals use their own sensory information in order to make predictions about the future. Research such as this can have important implications about how individuals who are blind navigate within their environment and how we can create better devices to assist the visually impaired.

    MossResearchers compared four mathematical models in order to determine if bats use predictions to track prey. a) Depiction of the difference between the head angle for standard simple motion trials and the modeled head angle for the four models: non-predictive model (pink), fixed head angle model (green), velocity estimation model (orange), and predictive model (purple). The predictive model best fits the data gathered by observing bat behavior.

    in BRAIN Update on December 09, 2020 02:30 PM.

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    A comparison between mouse, in silico, and robot odor plume navigation reveals advantages of mouse odor-tracking

    This week on Journal Club session Michael Schmucker will talk about a paper "A comparison between mouse, in silico, and robot odor plume navigation reveals advantages of mouse odor-tracking".

    Localization of odors is essential to animal survival, and thus animals are adept at odor navigation. In natural conditions animals encounter odor sources in which odor is carried by air flow varying in complexity. We sought to identify potential minimalist strategies that can effectively be used for odor-based navigation and asses their performance in an increasingly chaotic environment. To do so, we compared mouse, in silico model, and Arduino-based robot odor-localization behavior in a standardized odor landscape. Mouse performance remains robust in the presence of increased complexity, showing a shift in strategy towards faster movement with increased environmental complexity. Implementing simple binaral and temporal models of tropotaxis and klinotaxis, an in silico model and Arduino robot, in the same environment as the mice, are equally successful in locating the odor source within a plume of low complexity. However, performance of these algorithms significantly drops when the chaotic nature of the plume is increased. Additionally, both algorithm-driven systems show more successful performance when using a strictly binaral model at a larger sensor separation distance and more successful performance when using a temporal and binaral model when using a smaller sensor separation distance. This suggests that with an increasingly chaotic odor environment, mice rely on complex strategies that allow for robust odor localization that cannot be resolved by minimal algorithms that display robust performance at low levels of complexity. Thus, highlighting that an animal's ability to modulate behavior with environmental complexity is beneficial for odor localization


    Date: 11/12/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on December 09, 2020 07:07 AM.

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    Cold Fusion by EU Commission: a Fleischmann-Pons revival

    Cold Fusion is back, and EU Commission now funds it with €10 million. One project specifically builds on Fleischmann and Pons, the other is run by Italy's most notorious Cold Fusion loon, Francesco Celani.

    in For Better Science on December 08, 2020 12:50 PM.

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    Mediation May Help Couples Resolve Conflicts Better Than One-On-One Discussion

    By Emily Reynolds

    No matter how much you love your partner, there are always going to be things about them that get on your nerves. These can be fairly superficial — not liking the way they fold the laundry, for example, or hating their favourite TV show. Other problems can be more serious — fundamental failures to communicate or disagreements on big decisions like having children. There’s also evidence that we continue to repeat these patterns in new relationships, even when we hope to see a change.

    But while all couples argue, they don’t all do it in the same way. Techniques for managing conflict have been explored by François Bogacz and team from the University of Geneva in a new study published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communication. The study’s findings suggest that mediation — negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party such as a therapist or counsellor — may be the best way for couples to resolve serious conflict.

    Participants were heterosexual romantic couples who had been in a relationship for more than one year. About a month before the experiment started, participants filled in a number of measures. The “Dyadic Adjustment Scale” was used to measure the quality of relationships, with participants indicating how often they disagree with their partner on issues ranging from religious matters, sex, and life philosophy to housework and leisure time. The scale also covered how often participants thought about separating from their partner and how often there were significant disagreements.

    The researchers also measured participants’ emotional competence (i.e. how well a person understands their own and others’ emotions) as well as dispositional mindfulness (i.e. how present someone is able to be in the moment). Finally, participants indicated how they respond before, during and after conflicts with people in their life. These answers revealed how much participants used four different styles of conflict: active-constructive (good at taking others’ perspectives), passive-constructive (delaying and considering a response to conflict), active-destructive (openly expressing anger) and passive-destructive (avoiding conflict altogether).

    Immediately before the experiment, participants also rated their mood, and indicated how close they felt to their partner at that moment. Next, they were invited to select a topic for discussion from those most commonly reported as sources of disagreements.

    Those in the control condition were then asked to discuss the controversial topic for an hour without any guidance and under the watch of a silent observer, while those in the mediation condition had their discussion facilitated by a neutral third party using a facilitative mediation model, in which partners reach a collective solution through exploring each other’s interests, feelings and outlooks.

    After the experiment, participants rated the level of disagreement at the end of their discussion, their level of satisfaction with the discussion and their level of satisfaction with the process of the discussion, and indicated whether or not they had actually achieved a resolution on the topic at hand.

    The team found that couples in the mediation condition were more likely to come to a resolution: 36 of the 38 participants in the mediation condition reported reaching an agreement compared to 26 of 38 in the control condition. Participants who had gone through the mediation process also felt closer to their partners after the discussion, while there was no change in closeness for those in the control condition.

    How participants reported dealing with conflict also related to other aspects of their personality and their feelings about their relationships. Active-constructive and passive-constructive profiles were positively associated with mindfulness, while those who were passive-destructive were less likely to be mindful and present in the moment. Participants who rated themselves as more emotionally competent also tended to report being more satisfied in their relationship. 

    Whether couples would have responded in the same way in a naturalistic setting is unclear. The presence of a silent observer may have affected how participants in the control condition dealt with the conflict — screaming at your partner about their very worst qualities is likely to be pretty uncomfortable and inhibited in front of somebody else in a way it may not be at home.

    Further research could focus on why mediation works, as well as looking at different types of facilitative relationship. There are also interesting avenues to explore around the content of conflicts. While on the surface an argument may appear to be about who does the dishes more, it’s likely that there are other factors at play, the washing up merely a stand-in for deeper issues about compatibility, personality or politics.

    What is clear from the study is that certain personality traits or skills can help resolve conflict. These aren’t impossible things to master — emotional competence is a focus in many types of individual therapeutic intervention. But for those who don’t happen to have those traits or struggle to foster them, mediation seems like a hopeful option.

    Improved conflict resolution in romantic couples in mediation compared to negotiation

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 08, 2020 11:51 AM.

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    Open Access Dashboard | Open Science Support Centre - Charles University

    Simple online dashboard based on InCites data (Web of Science) shows the openness of Charles University publications.

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on December 08, 2020 08:25 AM.

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    I work at Elsevier because diversity and inclusion are my top requirements

    “I am so proud to work for an employer that respects my contributions and allows me to be my authentic self.”

    in Elsevier Connect on December 07, 2020 05:06 PM.

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    Show your work. Peer-Reviewed Protocols

    Author: Iain Hrynaszkiewicz, Publisher, Open Research

    To support increased sharing of open research methodologies — and in an exciting extension to our partnership with protocols.io — we are announcing two new peer-reviewed article types in PLOS ONE in 2021: Lab Protocols and Study Protocols.

    Please sign-up to receive updates on launch.

    These new article types are intended to address three issues familiar to researchers: the rigor and reproducibility of research, efficiency in getting feedback, and recognition for developing and sharing diverse research contributions.

    Lab Protocols have been developed in close collaboration with researchers and the protocols.io team. They describe verified, reusable methodologies including computational techniques, and consist of two interlinked components:

    1. A step-by-step protocol posted to protocols.io, utilizing specialized tools for communicating methodological details, including reagents, measurements, formulae, video clips and dynamic flow charts–an array of features that facilitate the direct use of the protocol at the bench. 
    2. A peer-reviewed PLOS ONE article contextualizing the protocol, with sections discussing applications, limitations, expected results and sample datasets from using the protocol.

    We are also introducing Study Protocols, an established article type that allows researchers to share detailed plans and proposals for funded research projects that have not yet generated results. 

    Both Lab Protocols and Study Protocols will be open to research in all fields of study within PLOS ONE’s inclusive scope.

    Why protocols, why now?

    Many researchers share Lab Protocols informally with peers and, in our work to better understand researcher needs, we learned that a motivation for sharing protocols is to seek feedback to improve them. The importance of methods development and sharing also deserves increased recognition, via a peer-reviewed publication. Understanding the exquisite details that make methods work is also essential for reproducibility and for accelerating science. Researchers who develop methods, especially those early in their careers, deserve more recognition than a footnote in a research article.

    Study Protocols are important for improving rigor and transparency by sharing a study’s design, recruitment and analysis plans before research has been carried out. This practice is especially important — and already common — in healthcare research, including systematic reviews. Study Protocols complement our offering of Registered Reports. Researchers are not required to submit the results of their Study Protocol  to the same journal, which  provides more researchers with Open Access options to share their peer-reviewed research plans.

    These article types in PLOS ONE offer new ways to share research according to the principles of open science, bolstering transparency, reproducibility, and accelerating research. We also hope that they provide opportunities for researchers who have experienced lab closures in 2020 to remain engaged with their research, and explore more ways to demonstrate their productivity and contributions.

    Beginning a roadmap for improved methods papers

    After iterative development with researchers of a new format for Lab Protocols, which includes prominent reciprocal linking between platforms, we will be launching the article type as a pilot in 2021. By partnering with a specialist platform in protocols.io we can offer authors enhanced functionality for sharing and displaying their protocols in actionable ways alongside the features of a peer-reviewed publication. Researchers will also benefit from dynamic functionality of protocols.io, for modifying and sharing new versions of protocols in the future.

    As another unique feature, authors of Lab Protocols at PLOS ONE who are new users of the protocols.io platform can receive free support from the protocols.io editorial team to upload and format their protocols as part of the publication process in PLOS ONE.

    During 2021 we will gather more feedback to inform potential future directions for the article format and author workflow. The launch of the pilot is the first phase of exploring continuous improvement of the experience of publishing and reading protocols.

    PLOS and protocols.io are committed to developing our services and future plans based on community feedback. And we want to hear the full spectrum of feedback from different communities around the globe. If you have questions, feedback, or ideas please reach out to Iain Hrynaszkiewicz (ihrynaszkiewicz@plos.org) or Emma Ganley (emma@protocols.io), or leave a comment below.

    To hear some more about peer-reviewed protocols please listen to the this episode of the Minor Tweak Major Impact podcast from protocols.io where Veronique Kiermer, Chief Scientific Officer at PLOS, discusses this initiative, among others things.

    The post Show your work. Peer-Reviewed Protocols appeared first on The Official PLOS Blog.

    in The Official PLOS Blog on December 07, 2020 03:01 PM.

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    Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) among older people across Europe: findings from cross-sectional analysis of SCOPE H2020 project

    Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is defined as the presence of lasting functional abnormalities in the renal structure and function that can worsen over time. Kidneys are vital for the whole body to work properly. Therefore, when a person has CKD, they may also have problems with the functioning of the rest of their body.  Some of the common complications of CKD include anemia, bone disease, heart disease, high potassium, high calcium and fluid accumulation.

    CKD is an important public health problem worldwide, especially in older people, and it is associated with a huge economic burden. High income countries generally spend more than 2-3% of their annual budget on the treatment of end-stage renal disease, although people receiving such treatments represent less than 0.03% of the total population. https://www.kidney-international.org/article/S0085-2538(15)55004-7/fulltext

    Although the prevalence of CKD is increasing and the importance of early diagnosis to prevent complications such as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) is well established, screening programmes in Europe are highly heterogeneous and fragmented. Health system planning requires careful evaluation of the epidemiology of CKD, but data on morbidity and mortality of this disease are scarce or non-existent in many countries. https://www.thelancet.com/article/S0140-6736(20)30045-3/fulltext

    The SCOPE (Screening for CKD among older people across Europe) H2020 project implemented in  seven European Countries plus Israel includes an observational prospective study with a 2-year follow up, recruiting 2426 older people aged 75+, to investigate whether and to which extent currently available screening methods may identify older people at risk of worsening kidney function.

    Preliminary results from the baseline database of the SCOPE Project was made available in the BMC Geriatrics Special Issue by Dr Fabrizia Lattanzio et al.

    CKD and Quality of Life

    Quality of life (QoL) refers to the physical, psychological, social, and medical aspects of life that are influenced by health status and functions. The SCOPE team investigated the QoL among older in early stage of CKD, to identify the factors that influence this relationship. The study results showed that CKD and its severity may be significantly associated with impaired QoL among community-dwelling older people.

    Is kidney function associated with cognition and mood in late life?

    The prevalence of CKD and cognitive impairment is growing as a result of the aging population. CKD, cognitive impairment, and mood disorder share common risk factors. Whether a decreased kidney function is associated with cognitive and mood disorders in the oldest old is not completely clear. Therefore, the SCOPE team has investigated for the first time the possible association between kidney function, cognition and mood. The study results showed that the prevalence of cognitive impairment and depressive symptoms  does not increase among older people in more advanced stages of CKD.

    Is CKD a predictor of falls?

    Falls are a serious negative health outcome in older persons. In facts, the fall rate rises with increasing age. However, the impact of CKD on falls in older community-dwelling persons is not well investigated yet, especially in relation to the urinary tract symptoms (LUTS). The SCOPE team studied the impact of CKD and LUTS on falls as well as on injurious falls. The study results showed that lower urinary tract symptoms are a predictor of falls and injurious falls, while the association between CKD and falls needs to be prospectively investigated.

    CKD and sarcopenia

    Loss of muscle mass and function (sarcopenia) may be more pronounced in older adults with CKD, wherein the protein albumin is abnormally present in the urine (albuminuria). The SCOPE team investigated the prevalence of sarcopenia among community-dwelling older adults according to kidney function and albuminuria levels. The study results showed that sarcopenia is common among older adults, especially those in more advanced CKD stages, even if the estimated prevalence slightly differs depending on the equation used to assess estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR); likewise, sarcopenia seems to be widespread among older people with higher albuminuria levels.

    Association between kidney function and nutritional status

    Different mechanisms connect the nutritional status with the occurrence and the course of CKD. Existing literature shows that especially during end-stage renal disease, there are complications that lead to malnutrition (undernutrition). However, the SCOPE team has further investigated this relationship between kidney function and nutritional status. The study results showed that population of community-dwelling 75+ with CKD show general features of overweight and obesity with a small prevalence of malnutrition.

    CKD in multimorbidity patterns

    CKD is known to be associated with several co-occurring conditions. The SCOPE team has explored multimorbidity patterns, as well as the impact of physical performance and CKD severity among an older community-dwelling people. The study results showed that CKD contributes significantly to multimorbidity patterns in a population of older outpatients and it was rarely observed without any co-occurring diseases. Moreover, CKD may cluster with hypertension and sensory impairments, but its contribution to multimorbidity pattern may be affected by CKD severity.

    These scientific results prompt to further improve the screening methods for CKD in the older population and the models of assistance and care through longitudinal studies. The early diagnosis of CKD represents a priority issue to be addressed to prevent / slow its progression among older patients and, at the same time, to reduce the need for long-term care and the related cost for the healthcare system.

    The post Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) among older people across Europe: findings from cross-sectional analysis of SCOPE H2020 project appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on December 07, 2020 02:58 PM.

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    Narcissism Can Have Both A Positive And Negative Impact On New Mothers’ Wellbeing, Longitudinal Study Finds

    By Emma Young

    What happens to a narcissistic woman when she becomes a mother? Can someone with an unmet desire for attention, love and recognition — which characterises all narcissists — adapt well to having a baby to care for? The answer, according to a new study in Personality Disorders: Theory, Research and Treatment, is that it really depends what type of narcissist the mother is. And even, then, the conclusions were based on self-reports, which should probably be received with caution.

    Narcissism is generally thought to come in two types. Grandiose narcissists crave admiration, lack empathy, feel more envy than is typical, and have an inflated sense of their own self-worth and entitlement. Vulnerable narcissists share some of these traits, but, in contrast, they are fundamentally insecure, often expressing a sense of inadequacy, and more negative emotions, including shame and hostility to others.

    Anat Talmon at Stanford University and colleagues studied 385 Israeli woman, recruited via general online forums dedicated to pregnancy and the transition to motherhood. The participants completed a battery of tests while they were pregnant, and also two months after giving birth. These tests assessed both types of narcissism, along with participants’ general psychological wellbeing, how they felt about their bodies, their own evaluations of their adequacy as a mother (and their predictions of this, before the birth), perceived attachment and bonding with their babies, and also their levels of positive and negative emotion.

    The team found that the women who ranked relatively high on the grandiose narcissism scale also reported high levels of wellbeing in the transition to motherhood. Vulnerable narcissism, however, was associated with higher levels of distress.

    It’s possible that grandiose women are more inclined to view their baby as an extension of themselves, the researchers write — so feel more positively about it. This idea is perhaps supported by their finding that this group reported stronger attachment to their babies, and that it was this sense of attachment that seemed to lead to greater wellbeing among these women. The team also found that grandiose women tended to have a relatively poorer body experience during pregnancy, however (perhaps because of fatigue or weight gain, for example) but more positive attitudes to their body after giving birth. This particular effect “may be attributed to the grandiose experience of bringing a child into the world,” the researchers observe.

    The results showed that women with vulnerable narcissism clearly fared less well, however. They reported relatively more negative feelings about their own bodies, more distress, lower anticipated and actual efficacy as a mother, and greater difficulty bonding with their newborn.

    “To the best of our knowledge, our findings provide the first evidence of how the two components of narcissism respond differently to the adjustment to motherhood,” the team writes.

    There are, though, some limitations to their study. Most notably, all of the data came from the women’s own self-reports. This raises various questions, such as: did the grandiose mothers really form stronger attachments to their babies — or did they just like to think that they did? Indeed, other studies have found that narcissistic parents show lower levels of care for their children (who are then at higher risk of developing anxiety and depression) and are more likely to physically abuse their children. As the authors themselves write, “The idea that a grandiose individual might tend to be somewhat disconnected from her actual mental state could shed light on the report of increased levels of wellbeing during this challenging transitional period.”

    Still, the work certainly does contribute to research on how a woman’s personality contributes to her feelings about herself, and her baby, during and just after pregnancy. The “unique contribution made by each type of narcissism highlights the nuanced way in which we should observe individuals,” the team notes.

    “I will love you (me) forever”—A longitudinal study of narcissism and emotional adjustment during the transition to motherhood.

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 07, 2020 10:57 AM.

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    2-Minute Neuroscience: Withdrawal Reflex

    The withdrawal reflex is an automatic response that enables you to pull away from a painful stimulus (e.g., a hot stove, a tack you’ve stepped on) without having to consciously plan to do so. In this video, I explain the mechanism of the withdrawal reflex.

    in Neuroscientifically Challenged on December 05, 2020 11:46 AM.

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    MLA 2021 Session on “Towards Sustainability for Digital Archives and Projects” | SHARP

    [This is the abstract for just one of seven presentations.] Abstract:  Over the last decade, the digital humanities community has become increasingly concerned with the ongoing sustainability of digital projects. This anxiety stems in part from the realization that not all digital humanities projects have identical expectations of longevity. Several prominent works in the literature, such as Bethany Nowviskie and Dot Porter’s “Graceful Degradation Survey Findings: How Do We Manage Digital Humanities Projects through Times of Transition and Decline?” (2010) and Geoffrey Rockwell et al.’s “Burying Dead Projects: Depositing the Globalization Compendium” (2014), have been central to this intellectual exchange about the benefits of creating sustainability plans for projects that do not necessarily assume a default permanence, but that instead proactively consider each project’s most suitable longevity strategy.   With this realization has come a concomitant expectation: each digital humanities project must create its own customized sustainability plan, designed with its particular requirements in mind. And yet, few digital humanists have access to direct training on the process of creating and implementing professional-grade digital preservation and sustainability practices for their own work. To support the process of designing and implementing digital sustainability plans for this work, a team of scholars housed in the Visual Media Workshop at the University of Pittsburgh has created the Socio-Technical Sustainability Roadmap (STSR; http://sustainingdh.net). The STSR is a structured, process-oriented workshop, inspired by design thinking and collaborative learning approaches. This workshop, which may be implemented in a variety of institutional contexts, guides project stakeholders through the practice of creating effective, iterative, ongoing digital sustainability strategies that address the needs of both social and technological infrastructures. It is founded on the fundamental assumption that, for sustainability practices to be successful, project leaders must keep the changing, socially-contingent nature of both their project and their working environment(s) consistently in mind as they initiate, maintain, and support their own work. For this panel, we contextualize and describe the STSR, and provide reflections based on our experiences facilitating Sustaining DH: An NEH Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities.

    in Open Access Tracking Project: news on December 05, 2020 10:52 AM.

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    Lie Detection And Conspiracy Theories: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

    Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

    An interview technique known as “Asymmetric Information Management” provides a pretty effective way to spot liars, writes researcher Cody Porter at The Conversation. The method basically involves explaining to the interviewee that it will be easier to figure out if they are lying or telling the truth if they provide longer, more detailed statements, Porter explains. Liars will tend to withhold information to try and hide their lie, while truth-tellers will provide detailed information as requested.

    Earlier this year, a Guardian article explored why some video game players choose to invert their controls, so that pressing “up” makes their character look downwards. Now, inspired by the heated debate that followed, psychologists Jennifer Corbett and Jaap Munneke have decided to study the phenomenon in more detail, as Keith Stuart reports.

    We often think that experiencing set-backs and failures will make eventual success seem even sweeter — but that may not always be true, writes researcher Hallgeir Sjåstad at Scientific American. People who were told they performed poorly on a “practice” cognitive test predicted that they would feel less happiness or pride if they scored highly on the real test, compared to those who were told they performed well at practice. However, all participants showed equally high happiness when they actually received a top score.

    A new paper argues that both severe stress and psycheledic drugs can produce “pivotal mental states”, during which our personality and mental health are more prone to changing. These states are neither good nor bad in themselves but can lead to positive or negative outcomes depending on the context in which they occur, writes Neuroskeptic, who examines the paper with a critical eye over at Discover Magazine.

    This year has seen its fair share of conspiracy theories — but what’s the best way to respond to someone who is sharing misinformation?  At The Observer, David Robson explains five forms of faulty reasoning that often underlie conspiracy theories, and how to respond to them.

    Delirium is believed to worsen cognitive decline and increase the risk of developing dementia. But it is also a common symptom of severe Covid-19. So could the virus raise the risk of developing long-term neurocognitive problems? At Nature, Carrie Arnold talks to the researchers who are trying to find out.  

    Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 04, 2020 02:33 PM.

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    FlashSci Talks: Insights from research leaders

    Elsevier’s new video series features short interviews with research leaders on topical issues for universities

    in Elsevier Connect on December 03, 2020 05:45 PM.

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    Contrasting views: Whether to Order a CT Scan with Contrast or Not

    friendly doctor talking to patient . CT Scan in hospital

    In the era of protocol-driven care, straightforward guidelines are often desired but can result in oversimplification of the decision. That has been the case for use of iin individuals with kidney disease. Instead of weighing the risk of contrast administration on a case-by-case basis, there seems to be a default to a recommendation against the use of contrast. This has resulted in patients with kidney disease not getting the necessary studies leading to delays in diagnosis and treatment.

    Recognizing contrast nephropathy and those characteristics that contribute to risk are important to an informed decision on the use of contrast.

    Recognizing contrast nephropathy and those characteristics that contribute to risk are important to an informed decision on the use of contrast. The variable definitions for diagnosis and the previous use of high osmolar agents resulted in a high incidence of acute kidney injury. Keep in mind, this diagnosis was often based on the labs and clinical scenario without confirmatory kidney biopsy findings. Biopsies may show features of acute tubular necrosis, but there is no distinguishing feature to implicate iodinated contrast exposure.

    Review of larger administrative databases cannot reproduce the higher rates of acute kidney injury. In a larger series, using propensity scores comparing 116,694 who received contrast for CT scans with 40,446 who did not receive contrast. There was no increase in absolute risk of kidney injury. Another review of an administrative inpatient database of 5.9 million individuals with comorbidities by Wilheml-Leen et al. demonstrated the risk of acute kidney injury was nearly the same regardless of the use of IV contrast.

    The use of iso-osmolar/low molecular weight agents has resulted in lower rates of contrast-induced kidney injury. Identification of factors such as underlying CKD stage 4 or 5, use of higher osmolar agents, intra-arterial administration of the contrast, concomitant hemodynamic instability, use of a large volume of contrast, and pre-existing volume depletion would help practitioners better predict the risk of contrast use. The risk for an individual with a GFR of 50 mL/min/1.73m2 receiving iodinated contrast for a CT scan of the chest to evaluate a pulmonary nodule is not the same as the individual with a GFR of 50 mL/min/1.73m2 who presents with acute myocardial infarction and hemodynamic instability needing an emergent cardiac catheterization.

    Our recommendations for contrast use in these two cases should not be the same. Contrast-induced nephrotoxic injury can occur but the risk is not the same for all situations. Our approach should be a more thoughtful review of the individual clinical situation and an assessment of whether the benefit of the information gained from the study outweighs the risk. Additionally, there should be a dialogue with patients about the decision-making process rather than simplified guidelines.

    The post Contrasting views: Whether to Order a CT Scan with Contrast or Not appeared first on BMC Series blog.

    in BMC Series blog on December 03, 2020 01:30 PM.

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    Adults Who Experienced More Positive Emotions Had Less Memory Decline Over The Next Decade

    By Emily Reynolds

    A huge variety of factors are related to memory, from mood to personality to what substances have been consumed. One recent study, for example, found that older adults with higher openness to experience also experienced fewer cognitive complaints each day; other work has found a relationship between self-reported memory and traits including neuroticism and extraversion.

    Now, in a study published in Psychological Science, Emily F. Hittner from Northwestern University and team have looked at the relationship between memory and positive affect — the experience of pleasant emotional states like enthusiasm, pride or joy. And they found less memory decline over time in those participants with higher levels of positive affect.

    The team analysed data from 991 participants who had taken part in a longitudinal study of households in the United States. At the first time point, when participants were an average of 55 years old, they had reported  their levels of positive affect using two scales, which asked how often during the last month they had felt enthusiastic, active, peaceful, satisfied and so on. They also completed measures of depression and negative affect, as well as personality trait scales.

    Participants also took part in a memory assessment. In this test, they were read a list of 15 unrelated words and then had to recall as many as they could immediately (immediate recall) and, in a test they were not warned about, after fifteen minutes (delayed recall). Then, nine years later, participants completed this memory test again.

    The team found that, overall, people who reported more positive affect at the first time point showed less memory decline over these nine years. Particular facets of positive affect were also associated with less memory decline — greater enthusiasm, cheerfulness, pride, and feelings of calm and peace were all related to slower memory decline, while greater attentiveness or satisfaction were not. Importantly, all the analyses took into account other factors like participants’ negative affect, personality traits and age, suggesting that these weren’t responsible for the results.

    Why positive affect is related to a slower rate of memory decline, however, was less clear. The team suggests a number of pathways that could link the two: if you have a positive outlook on life, for example, you might be more inclined to engage in adaptive health behaviours or to foster beneficial social relationships. Positive affect in and of itself may not be the crucial factor, in other words, instead acting as the source of behaviours that improve or protect health.

    Memory loss can be devastating, particularly in older adults — forgetting to take vital medication, for example, has serious consequences, and the emotional and social ramifications of forgetting the names or faces of acquaintances can also be severe. Memory decline can also predict the onset of dementia. Developing ways to predict (and prevent) memory loss is an important task. Screening for positive affect as a way of predicting potential memory decline, as the team suggests, could therefore have implications for cognitive as well as mental health, helping improve wellbeing across the board.

    Positive Affect Is Associated With Less Memory Decline: Evidence From a 9-Year Longitudinal Study

    Emily Reynolds is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 03, 2020 01:09 PM.

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    Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy extends life, the telomeres, and everything

    Telomere dysfunction is a common problem in older men. Dr Shai Efrati can help: Book your appointment for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy now!

    in For Better Science on December 03, 2020 06:00 AM.

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    Cliques and cavities in human connectome

    This week on Journal Club session Emil Dmitruk will talk about a paper "Cliques and cavities in human connectome".

    Encoding brain regions and their connections as a network of nodes and edges captures many of the possible paths along which information can be transmitted as humans order relations, concepts naturally expressed in the language of algebraic topology. These tools can be used to study mesoscale network structures that arise from the arrangement of densely connected substructures called cliques in otherwise sparsely connected brain networks. We detect cliques (all-to-all connected sets of brain regions) in the average structural connectomes of 8 healthy adults scanned in triplicate and discover the presence of more large cliques than expected in null networks constructed via wiring minimization, providing architecture through which brain network can perform rapid, local processing. We then locate topological cavities of different dimensions, around which information may flow in either diverging or converging patterns. These cavities exist consistently across subjects, differ from those observed in null model networks, and - importantly - link regions of early and late evolutionary origin in long loops, underscoring their unique role in controlling brain function. These results offer a first demonstration that techniques from algebraic topology offer a novel perspective on structural connectomics, highlighting loop-like paths as crucial features in the human brain’s structural architecture.


    Date: 04/12/2020
    Time: 16:00
    Location: online

    in UH Biocomputation group on December 02, 2020 01:11 PM.

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    Coping With Remote Working During Covid-19: The Latest Research, Digested

    By Emma Young

    Covid-19 has changed our working lives, perhaps for good. Home-working is now common, and many of us have been doing it for months. With changing rules and guidelines, some of us have even gone from home-working to socially distanced office-working, to working back at home again. So what do we know about how these changes are affecting our mental health — and what can we do to make our new working lives better?

    How are we feeling?

    In January 2019 (pre-Covid-19), 35% of UK employees surveyed for the CIPD (a professional human resources body) reported that work had a positive impact on their mental health, while 27% said that work had a negative impact. By summer 2020, those figures had shifted to 34% and 26% respectively. On these measures, at least, Covid-19 had no obvious impact.

    In this second survey, employees did report high levels of anxiety about contracting the virus at work — but despite this, half of those who were working remotely were looking forward to returning to their workplace. Almost half of all of the people surveyed also reported that social connections at work had worsened. Clearly, although the impact of work itself on our mental health hadn’t changed, altered work circumstances were — and are — causing difficulties, which are being further explored…

    How bad is home-working?

    “It can be argued that the crisis has led to the most significant, intensive social experiment of digital, home-based working that has ever occurred.”

    This statement is from the website of the ongoing Working@home project, led by Abigail Marks at Stirling University, which seeks to understand the impact of this “experiment”. As the team points out, some commentators have suggested that home-based work is emancipatory, and improves work flexibility. However, the team also notes, “this new world order, where the home becomes a multi-occupational, multi-person workplace… not only challenges boundaries but also conceptions of the domestic space.” So how is it making us feel?

    Overall, not great, according to their initial survey of home workers. One in three reported sharing their home working space, 37% reported that home conflicts have increased, and almost one in four said that they were doing poorly or very poorly in terms of general health. The most commonly cited trigger for household conflict was “interrupting or being noisy while you work”.

    Keys to coping at home

    Yanmengqian Zhou at Penn State University and colleagues studied symptoms of depression and anxiety as well as coping strategies among American adults during the first few months of the pandemic. Their study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, revealed that levels of “social strain” — someone else making demands, giving criticism or just getting on your nerves — was the most consistent predictor of these symptoms of poor mental health. Anyone who’s working at home with their partner is certainly more likely to experience this kind of strain, especially if you have to share the same room.

    But the team did also identify helpful strategies for working in the time of Covid-19. They recommend keeping a consistent schedule, reminding yourself that things will get better, finding activities to distract yourself and taking care of others who need help. None of these strategies will stop you irritating each other, but they might at least ease the strain a little.

    Based on their own research, Kristen Shockley and Malissa Clark at the University of Georgia also recommend some kind of work-life/home-life boundary activity to replace the lost commute. Just a walk near your home at the start and end of the work day can make it easier to switch between roles, they say.

    Overcoming “presence privilege”

    In a recent issue of Occupational Health Science, ten experts were invited to comment on work-related issues associated with Covid-19. Larissa K. Barber at San Diego State University argues that as remote working is now common, it’s time to get rid of the “physical presence privilege”.

    Traditionally, Barber writes, “in-person meetings are preferred over web-conferencing, driving in over logging in”. Being physically present in the workplace is also conflated with work attention and productivity, she adds. Now that remote working is common, Barber thinks it’s high time that organisations shift their thinking and also devote energy and resources to making this style of working better for employees.

    One way to do this is to respect technological boundaries in the same way that we traditionally respect physical boundaries. “Barging into a coworker’s office, family dinner or even bedroom for an immediate work response is antisocial. Yet we tolerate and encourage similar behaviours in electronic communications,” Barber notes (something that anyone who’s ever had a demanding email from their boss outside work hours will appreciate). Clearly, this is not a new problem — but perhaps with a mass shift to remote working, organisations will now feel obliged to set clear technological ground rules, for the benefit of us all.

    Regaining control

    The pandemic, and the lockdowns associated with it, have profoundly challenged our autonomy — our sense of being in control of our actions and also seeing an alignment between our behaviour and our personal values and goals (an aspect of autonomy often called “authenticity”). Autonomy is widely considered to be important for wellbeing. Unsurprisingly, then, there have been a number of studies exploring how Covid-19 has affected it, and how we’ve felt as a result.

    One recent paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that while there were spikes in feelings of powerlessness and inauthenticity in the early days of the pandemic, these increases actually started to subside quite rapidly. The team concludes that because a sense of autonomy is so important to us, the participants were making changes in their lives to restore it, even in the face of ongoing stress and restrictions. All kinds of strategies, such as deciding to spend what used to be work commute time on a hobby or exercise, or even just revelling in the sudden ability to wear whatever they wanted for work (below the belt, at least, during Zoom meetings) could have helped.

    Other researchers, including Adam Butler at the University of Iowa, in that recent special issue of Occupational Health Science, point to studies finding that higher perceptions of control are associated with reduced stress among nurses. All of this suggests that whatever employers can do to enhance employee autonomy at “work”  — and home working brings its own challenges, of course — should be good for their mental health.

    Emma Young (@EmmaELYoung) is a staff writer at BPS Research Digest

    in The British Psychological Society - Research Digest on December 02, 2020 10:04 AM.

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    Employee group improves work for colleagues with disabilities

    Elsevier Enabled plans to celebrate #IDPWD, marking two years of this global employee initiative for awareness and accessibility

    in Elsevier Connect on December 02, 2020 09:20 AM.

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    7 challenges to overcome for a more inclusive research ecosystem

    At Falling Walls, key players in the science community talk about how we can advance research inclusivity — and why it’s so crucial

    in Elsevier Connect on December 01, 2020 03:33 PM.