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Drug advertising opposed

A Health Council Canada report called Direct-to-Consumer Advertising of Prescription Drugs in Canada: What are the Public Health Implications? details research on pharmamarketing and its impact on health care.

In Canada only two forms of advertising are permitted, through a loophole: educational or "help-seeking" ads, and simple logo branding in "reminder" ads. Even that, concludes UBC's Barbara Mintzes, should be curtailed and instead "Canadians need independent, publicly financed information and education on drugs and other treatments."

Bob Nakagawa of the Health Council says drug advertising can cause "avoidable harm by stimulating unnecessary and inappropriate medicine use while often failing to provide balanced appraisals of the medicine's value," which influenced the Council's position in their recent recommendations.

No official response yet from the new government.



Unsurprising headline of the day: "Dyslexic children exhibit a different pattern of brain activity while reading."

But the UW study the article describes did more than examine that. It tracked changes from treatment, illustrating the brain's ability to normalize over time. Also:

"Most people think dyslexia is a reading disorder, but it is also a spelling and writing problem," said Virginia Berninger. "Our results show that all dyslexics in the 9- to 12-year-old range have spelling problems and children who cannot spell cannot express their ideas in writing."

Bio-molecular computers

Israeli researchers have developed a bio-molecular computer that uses chemical reactions between two enzymes to produce binary. One potential application is control of drug delivery in the body. Read more.


Is it measured in voxels?

A Cup of Neuropsychology? is an archive by Anthony H. Risser, Ph.D spanning years of his professional life as a consulting neuropsychologist. It's a body of work encompassing articles such as Repress Yourself - Repression as a good thing (New York Times, 23 February 2003) and The effect of spam on e-mail use (Pew Foundation, 22 October 2003) alongside links to web seminars, subscriber access journal articles, radio and more. He maintains the excellent BrainBlog up to the minute, but these older files store valuable information as well. Get out a tea cup (or more appropriately a large mug) and settle back for a while to imbibe some fascinating info.



Sometimes when you're a tumbleweed blowing along the dusty streets of blog ghost towns, you roll into a saloon full of characters.

Visual enough? It's an appropriate trailer for Cinebrain, a weblog on brain sciences and cinema written by Sina Ohadinia and Ross Saunders. Although it's been fallow since 2004 there are two years worth of archives to gobble up like so much buttered popcorn.

I'm not sure where else you'd find a review of Spiderman 2 with this kind of focus: "One of the highlights of drama in this movie is his DEPERSONALISATION experience, which resembles some sort of nervous breakdown, and leads to his loss of spider powers and force him to abandon his Spiderman character for a while to play his rather ordinary, cliched character of ADD/crazy/disorganised/nice scientist (who of course, most of the time is an expert in physics or mathematics!) and is also a journalist and photographer, another two professions known for the high rate of ADD prevalency among them)."

Stay for the credits.



Hacking the Enemy, from Cyborg Democracy, highlights US military developments and goals in non-chemical weapons that affect the brains of the enemy.

Tangentially related, here are some 2D images that can cause seizures.


Neuromarketing then and now

In 2004, the New York Times published If Your Brain Has A Buy Button, What Pushes It?, on neuromarketing. In it they mention an interesting fMRI study about Coke and Pepsi - when subjects didn't know which was which, preference was expressed equally between the drinks and an area in the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex responded. When told they were drinking "the real thing," a Coke slogan, regions in the hippocampus and another part of the prefrontal cortex lit up as well, and three out of four subjects chose Coke, suggesting ad memories processed in the additional regions influenced their choice. A dramatic idea, and people were abuzz.

In 2006, many more studies have been conducted but what we've really learned is that the data may be overhyped. Martin Skov is skeptical:

Our knowledge of how the brain's preference system works is simply too rudimentary...Even if some ad actually elicits a high response in the reward system this activity may not, simply, correlate with a clear-cut preference for the ad. The reason is that the reward system is composed of several different structures which may interact and compete for the final verdict.

As well, the activation of mirror neurons may be a misleading path to follow since a connection between empathy and preference has not been established.

Nor are there behavioural links to the "Halle Berry neuron" and recognition patterns for familiar faces. In a lab you can correlate a single simple image viewed with no distraction to specific brain activity, but in real world settings it may have no bearing. If we watch a soft drink TV ad with pop star endorsement, is the activity in our brains due to memories of the image, the audio track, or related gossip from a tabloid? Or maybe it's due not to the celebrity but the drink's packaging, its flavour, a display ad in the supermarket? Or an association with a friend who offered us one the day before? Which of these factors - and many more - would influence us to buy? There are too many cognitive variables to draw a direct conclusion, as the recent debunking of the Superbowl ad study demonstrates.

Not yet, anyway. Then comes the question of how to apply that knowledge. But two years ago in the NYT article, one researcher proposed an ironic idea:

Dr. Sam McClure, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton and a co-author of the soft drink study, suggested that neuromarketing might someday even be used to protect vulnerable brains.

The prefrontal cortex, which helps mediate consumer choice, develops late in children and is impaired in older people, groups that are highly susceptible to advertising, he said. Young children are often sucked in by advertisements for sugary foods, while the elderly can fall victim to buying fake insurance policies.

"If brain imaging studies clearly showed those vulnerabilities, laws could be passed to protect people from advertising," Dr. McClure said.


Kurzweil lecture

MIT World has released a streaming 35:00 Ray Kurzweil lecture titled Innovation Everywhere—How the Acceleration of “GNR” (genetics, nanotechnology, robotics) Will Create a Flat and Equitable World.

Say goodbye to cancer and heart disease within 15 years, and hello to living way past 80. And try to survive until the year 2029, which according to Kurzweil’s mathematical models, represents “25 turns of the screw in terms of doubling the power of information technology in every aspect of our lives.” We’ll see reverse engineering of the human brain, and computers that “will combine the subtlety and pattern recognition of human intelligence with the speed, memory and knowledge sharing of machine intelligence.” The marriage of nanotechnology and AI will bring us “a killer app”-- nanobots that can keep us healthy from the inside. These will also enable “full immersion virtual reality from within nervous systems” and expand human intelligence, facilitating “brain to brain communication. As for human conflict, Kurzweil sees an end to starvation and energy concerns, but doesn’t quite complete his utopia. New technologies may be used in anti-social ways, say, by a bioterrorist. “I’m less optimistic we can avoid all painful issues; we certainly did not do that in the 20th century,” concludes Kurzweil.


Deception detection

An article by AP/Yahoo examines a few of the issues involved in using fMRI for lie detection not often addressed.

"What's really scary is if we start implementing this before we know how accurate it really is," Greely said.

No Lie MRI Inc. will provide neuroimaging lie detection in Philadelphia starting in July, but it seems premature when so many questions about its applications and effectiveness remain.

What are the implications of false memories? Implanted memories? Lost memories? Functional and structural differences in pathological liars? Drugs that affect the memory? Aging deficits and neurodegenerative diseases?

In the US judges cautioned against the use of fMRIs on the grounds that they may be more effective than juries and usurp their role. Before the legal system embraces such a grand promise of technology, perhaps it should dig deeper for the truth.

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