Mirror meme

Mirror neuron backlash has struck! From a spark lit by Chris at Mixing Memory criticizing "massive, overblown publicity" and some iffy mirror neuron research, debate spread like brushfire (or at least, like email). Among the technical commentary and research citations, The Neurocritic was especially pithy in juxtaposing figures from Rozzalatti & Craighero (2004) with an ad from The Gap. Everyone in Mirror Neurons!

Opinions on research spread through science blogs like a Sesame Street personality quiz does on MySpace; a meme. One quite unique to neuroblogs (I read more than one baffled comment on these posts from casual readers seeking explanation), but with this much passion the issues may pick up wider attention. Wait and see. For now, keeping focus on the community it originated with, this post is the unofficial mirror neuron critic meme blog carnival. I'll add to the list as I find more entries – please comment with your links!

The instigator, Mixing Memory, writes Mirror Neurons, Language and Meaning (Oh My!).

BrainTechSci was ahead of the zeitgeist with Much Ado About Mirror Neurons (mirror neurons linked with telepathy, and more).

In Neurotopia 2.0, Everybody Post About Mirror Neurons! says there's no evidence they exist in humans.

The Neurocritic examines research in Spindle Neurons Are The Next Big Thing, and in a comment on Mixing Memory points to a study - Gridley MC, Hoff R. Do mirror neurons explain misattribution of emotions in music? Percept Mot Skills. 2006 Apr;102(2):600-2.

There is some defense, as at Small Gray Matters with Mirror Neurons Aren't Really All That Bad

Frontal Cortex asks, Are Mirror Neurons Too Cool? and follows up with Mirror Neurons Redux.

Tempest in a teapot (today's ScienceBlogs "buzz in the blogosphere") or will it continue to spread and grow? That's up to you, and your blog.

edited to add:

Vaughan at Mind Hacks responds in Reflected Glory, noting inaccuracies but asserting mirror neuron research has potential beyond its media portrayal.

The Mouse Trap posts more considerations Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most blogged of them all!



Cognitive enhancement and neurotech

Chris Chatham at Developing Intelligence posed a few thoughtful questions today on cognitive enhancement.

Are "cognitive enhancement" technologies overhyped?

If there is real potential for cognitive enhancement, what are the implications?

Would you use a mind-amplifying technology yourself, or if there were "critical periods" for their use, on your children?

Sure to elicit lots of interesting answers (mine's long) and he'd like to hear your opinions too, so scoot on over.

It brings to mind a recent feature on brain-computer interfaces at Nature. Their Web Focus offers links to current research in Nature (some free access), streaming video of experiments and discussion with researchers, links to relevant organizations, and archived research and news items.

BPS Research Blog wrote about some of that recent research as well, and mention the important distinction between implants and brain-computer interfaces that use external EEG neurofeedback (example in this video of an EEG-controlled Pong game).

Cognitive enhancement is an important transhumanist issue, along with its impact, the liberty for individuals to choose it, and related subjects. Here's Nick Bostrom speaking in a panel on cognitive enhancement at the 2006 “Forbidding Science” conference at Arizona State University. Video is provided by the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies which contributes much to enhance understanding of the subject.



Vintage pharmaceutical ads

NOTE: After composing this post yesterday I discovered Vaughan at Mind Hacks wrote about the very same thing five days before, independently. It's great that Vaughan and I share some interests and an instinct for news; he's an excellent writer and one of my fave bloggers. But – d'oh! I'm just posting this now to offer a few more perspectives. Nice post, Vaughan. :-P

Modern consumer pharmaceutical advertising is a popular and heated subject. Zoloft's blob is a cultural icon and ad parodies represent public reaction to marketing, but also surrounding mental health stigma, medical practice, and conflicting social values.

Vintage drug ads also reveal attitudes, practices and opinions (though I wonder what satirists of the times made of them). One trumpets "Mabel is unstable" and recommends barbiturates for menopause. Imagine the kerfuffle if you placed those in a modern consumer magazine! Advertising has reacted to social change and sometimes, as with the Zoloft ad, has sparked dialogue. What lessons could sociologists and marketers glean from online parodies, far beyond the official campaigns?

The Japanese Gallery of Psychiatric Art hosts print ads targeting Japanese psychiatrists in medical journals, 1956-2003. Gentle and inspiring to peculiar and surreal, my favourite are the series of haloperidol ads. Infamous first generation antipsychotic haloperidol (sold in Japan as Serenace® and Brotpon®, commonly known as Haldol®). Eerie images depict scenes such as a skulking man under a giant hand reaching from the sky to grab him while empty eye masks fly in the air, and other creative paranoia imagery.

Some ads were quite evocative and timeless, such as the diazepam (Cercine®) [Valium®] poster depicting neon numbers glowing in the dark, progressively blurrier. I really wonder about the Electric Hypnotic Machine photo, though.

Vintage Ads: Drugs displays vintage American advertising. Layouts for Thorazine® as "one of the fundamental drugs in medicine" to control the "tyrant in the house", Nembutol® for toddlers, and major tranquilizer Butibarbitol® for "'that time' in her life" seem humorous and sweetly naïve, but maybe not so innocent.

Omni Brain is scouting to form a team of neurobloggers to rule the internets. Be one of us.




NeuroBarbie says, "Welcome to the neurofuture!" Friendly and familiar, her image invites everyone she encounters to learn more about the brain while she shatters gender stereotyping as a "Barbie brain" in science. Serious, with pretty hair. GI Joe's developing neuroweapons for DARPA and Ken is out exploring his sexuality after a surprising fMRI scan, but NeuroBarbie gets the job done with efficacy and flair!

Comes with assortment of gowns for award ceremonies. Skipper the Undergrad sold separately.

Yes indeedy, I have a new image and profile.

Above, Barbie stands in front of Fig. 1 from A Brain-Based Account of the Development of Rule Use in Childhood, Bunge and Zelazo (2006), Current Directions in Psychological Science. Available on PDF in a nice archive on Zelazo's web site.



Glowing brains

Derek Lowe of the In The Pipeline pharma blog has stirred up a surprisingly polarized debate over staged lab photos that feature coloured spotlights on test tubes in darkened labs. These cliché and absurd images do a disservice to the researchers they're meant to represent, he argues. Read his two posts (with dozens of comments) on the topic: Memo to the Public Relations Department, and More Purple Radiance.

There's a counterpart to those spotlights. Brains are often represented in a dark background with light emanating from within. Glowing like the dawn of a new era. And then a subgenre of glowing brains: lightning bolts. Nobody tell them the brain only uses about 15 watts. These could jump start your car. But they're fun images too.

Best – a sparkly animated glowing brain!

This has made me realize I ought to change my profile image. There is no actual brain in the photo and the lightning in the sculpture is not meant to be internal sparks from firing neurons, but the cliche lurks. Hmm.

Here's a brain that glows (without being a transgenic pig/jellyfish).

Sadly, it has no electrical discharge.




Authors from the National Institute of Pharmaceutical Education and Research (NIPER) in India wrote an article on the Pharmabiz.com web site, Pharmacoinformatics: Expanding Horizons, a good overview of this emerging field.

It's a specialized umbrella over various informatics systems, for the purpose of drug discovery. Beyond the expected bioinformatics there's immunoinformatics, genomics, neuroinformatics, toxicoinformatics, health care informatics and more including the emerging metabolome informatics (drug metabolism, and metabolic pathways). This kind of interdisciplinary data sharing and bridging holds much potential.

The article doesn't specifically mention pharmacogenomics, but it certainly is relevant. There's a great lecture video on the subject by Russ Altman. His PharmaGKB database is a handy tool; a simple search for "depression" yields publications, phenotype and genotype data, and other info you may not otherwise see in one place.

An advantage of informatics is online integration with freely available databases and tools online. Neuroinformatics resources have ever-improving capabilities, functions, and user interfaces. One innovative site is BrainMaps (not to be confused with BrainMap, though that's a great site too, and it's definitely not the Allen Brain Atlas at brain-map.org).

I can't mention neuroinformatics without a shout-out for my fave neuroinformatics blog: BrainTechSci. News about developments in the field, of course, but delivered with insider perspectives and blog snark. It's stuff you won't learn at an educational site, but perhaps more useful.



Blood flow and art

Quinn's blood head (above image from artnet.com) is part of a collection of Lego recreations of major moments in contemporary fine art history by The Little Artists. It features Marc Quinn's sculpture Self, famous as the "blood head." Made with 4.5 litres of the artist's own blood, collected over time, it is frozen in a negative mold of his own head, and displayed in a refrigerated display case. Intense and unique conceptual art, it involves science indirectly and directly. It reminds us that our brain is mostly water, and prompts thoughts of cryogenics, and giving blood, while remaining an intimate self-portrait.

That's one instance of science and art merged, and it's a diverse area with room for innovation. Dynamic neurophysiologist/broadcaster/sci-artist Mark Lythgoe writes about ingenuity in the article Science plus Art: more than the sum of their parts?

Working with artists and scientists for the last 10 years (Lythgoe 2002, 2002a, 2000b) has demonstrated to me that great art constitutes an open investigation into the human condition: into experience, memory and love - subjects that are also common to scientific study. And that scientists and artists can collaborate with different aims and objectives, while pursuing similar kinds of questions.

Among other projects, Lythgoe created Mapping Perception in film and multimedia including 3D fMRI animations, and collaborated on 2D digital art in Chimera (slideshow online).


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