brynndragon: (scientist)
I mentioned acetylcholine (ACh) is the star of one of my favorite neuroscience stories. So here it is:

Once upon a time, scientists were arguing whether neurological messages were transmitted chemically or electrically. Otto Loewi was in the chemical camp, and endeavored to come up with an experiment that would support his theory. One Easter night, he woke up in the middle of the night having dreamt of an elegant experiment. Immediately he wrote it down and went back to sleep. However, when he woke up he could not decipher his nighttime writing.

Thankfully, the next night he had the exact same dream. Not about to let it slip through his grasp again, he got up and went through the freezing German winter to his laboratory and conducted his experiment. You see, it was known that a frog's heart, still beating in a shallow dish despite being separated from its owner, will slow down when an electrical impulse is applied to it. If the neurological information controlling the speed of a frog's heart is transmitted chemically, then the dish should contain the chemicals released by the heart that caused it to slow down. So if you remove the shocked heart from the dish and replace it with a fresh heart, it will also slow down as if an electrical impulse had been applied to it. That was exactly what happened when Loewi did his experiment.

This is not news; all of that you can find on his Wikipedia entry. But that's not the best part.

You see, it was key that he ran his experiment at night when the labs were not heated against a still-cold German spring. As you presumably have guessed, the chemical that causes the frog's heart to slow down is acetylcholine. However, when ACh is released by neurons, an enzyme is also released to ensure the message dissipates once it has been transmitted - acetylcholinesterase. This renders the acetylcholine inert, no longer capable of changing neuronal firing patterns (i.e. transmitting information). But like many enzymes it works much more slowly when chilled. Had he done his experiment in a nice warm lab, the ACh would have been degraded by the time he placed the fresh frog's heart in the dish, and he would not have observed the results of neurochemical transmission. While it certain engendered much agony within him when he forgot his initial dream, it turned out for the best!

That is not the best part either.

Acetylcholine does not only exist in a frog's heart. It also is used by our brains. Specifically, it becomes far, far more common in our brains when we are in REM sleep (as far as the brain is concerned, its increase is one of two main differences between being awake and being in REM). We're not entirely sure what function it serves there (at least, not last I checked, although hypotheses involving memory formation are/were popular), but it is clearly very important for the dreaming phase of sleep. So the very neurochemical whose existence he demonstrated with this experiment (and later won a Novel prize for discovering) was the one that gave him the experiment in the first place.

You see why I majored in neuroscience? ;)
brynndragon: (scientist)
I've spent a bunch of time thinking about placebos. At one point I gathered a lot of it into a single long and rambling LJ post almost a year ago (I've posted about it in my problog since then, but I don't want to directly link that blog to this LJ; it was about placebo only in the context of clinical acupuncture research, and thus less applicable here). So when a friend pointed me at this article on IBS and the high efficacy of known placebos I felt the need to think aloud yet again.

One thing is, that long and rambling LJ post was prompted by a class taught by the second guy quoted in the article, Ted Kaptchuk. I'm utterly unsurprised to find his name there - he's one of the leading authorities on placebo, as well as one of the first American acupuncturists. I also kinda knew that he'd been working with IBS recently, but had no idea what he was working on. I strongly suspect the study was his idea - it's his kind of clever (and the first guy was way too dubious of the notion to have thought to try it in the first place).

That dubiousness makes me giggle. The sheer misunderstanding of placebo it indicates! So many people think placebo is all about a mental state, specifically a state of ignorance. People who are treatable via placebo must be stupid and/or naive, believing in voodoo medicine, dancing to the piper's tune like a fool. What a terrible thought, that we could be preying on these weak-minded individuals with false medicine! This is how a doctor who watched a wounded soldier find real relief from suffering via a bag of saline labeled "morphine" decided that the proper use of this knowledge was to make sure no one was given a bag a saline labeled "morphine" ever again. How sad it is that we fear the stereotypes so strongly we would rather suffer, and watch others suffer, than suggest we, or they, might be susceptible to placebo. But now, now that we can see the placebo effect doesn't require conscious belief in the efficacy of the placebo, maybe we can start to leave such stereotyping behind. Maybe we can start to think about the benefits of placebo, rather than just treating it as damage within the human being to route around. Also, the panic I expressed in that previous post is greatly relieved - knowledge is no more the route to suffering than ignorance is the route to simple cures.

I have a lot of other thoughts, about what healing really is and what our roles as healthcare practitioners are in that process, but they're not fleshed out enough to throw into the wild.
brynndragon: (scientist)
I've spent a bunch of time thinking about placebos. At one point I gathered a lot of it into a single long and rambling LJ post almost a year ago (I've posted about it in my problog since then, but I don't want to directly link that blog to this LJ; it was about placebo only in the context of clinical acupuncture research, and thus less applicable here). So when a friend pointed me at this article on IBS and the high efficacy of known placebos I felt the need to think aloud yet again.

One thing is, that long and rambling LJ post was prompted by a class taught by the second guy quoted in the article, Ted Kaptchuk. I'm utterly unsurprised to find his name there - he's one of the leading authorities on placebo, as well as one of the first American acupuncturists. I also kinda knew that he'd been working with IBS recently, but had no idea what he was working on. I strongly suspect the study was his idea - it's his kind of clever (and the first guy was way too dubious of the notion to have thought to try it in the first place).

That dubiousness makes me giggle. The sheer misunderstanding of placebo it indicates! So many people think placebo is all about a mental state, specifically a state of ignorance. People who are treatable via placebo must be stupid and/or naive, believing in voodoo medicine, dancing to the piper's tune like a fool. What a terrible thought, that we could be preying on these weak-minded individuals with false medicine! This is how a doctor who watched a wounded soldier find real relief from suffering via a bag of saline labeled "morphine" decided that the proper use of this knowledge was to make sure no one was given a bag a saline labeled "morphine" ever again. How sad it is that we fear the stereotypes so strongly we would rather suffer, and watch others suffer, than suggest we, or they, might be susceptible to placebo. But now, now that we can see the placebo effect doesn't require conscious belief in the efficacy of the placebo, maybe we can start to leave such stereotyping behind. Maybe we can start to think about the benefits of placebo, rather than just treating it as damage within the human being to route around. Also, the panic I expressed in that previous post is greatly relieved - knowledge is no more the route to suffering than ignorance is the route to simple cures.

I have a lot of other thoughts, about what healing really is and what our roles as healthcare practitioners are in that process, but they're not fleshed out enough to throw into the wild.
brynndragon: (acupuncture)
This is my terribly informal non-IRB-approved internet poll. I might use the results in a future blog post as information about how (some) people think they'd use scientific studies in their decision process to try or not try acupuncture; no names or handles or other identifying information would be included (but if you're worried, just answer the poll anonymously).

[Poll #1613614]
brynndragon: (acupuncture)
This is my terribly informal non-IRB-approved internet poll. I might use the results in a future blog post as information about how (some) people think they'd use scientific studies in their decision process to try or not try acupuncture; no names or handles or other identifying information would be included (but if you're worried, just answer the poll anonymously).

[Poll #1613614]
brynndragon: (scientist)
I referred to a survey the other day that appeared in various polyamory-related communities on Livejournal (example, another example, a third example). It's actually even worse that is seems: the survey hasn't been reviewed by either of the groups mentioned in the survey (which was said repeatedly in the comments on the links above).

From The Kinsey Institute's communications director: "Just to clarify, this is not a project that is sanctioned or affiliated with The Kinsey Institute. Our researchers were not consulted regarding this study.
The Kinsey Institute library accepts donations of materials from the public that will help to shed light on sexual behavior and the human experience. We do have a collection of materials on polyamory, and welcome contributions to that collection. We do not, however, collaborate or support research that is conducted without the protection of a human subjects committee or institutional review board."

From the coordinator of The Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities Research Support Program: "CARAS has no involvement in this project. It was not submitted for review by the CARAS Research Advisory Committee, a process that is described on the CARAS website: https://www.caras.ws/index.php/researchsupport/index/"

(The link in that last quote? Includes a process by which someone with no academic affiliations can find mentors and reviewers for doing exactly this work in an ethical and scientifically valid manner. Which makes the whole thing doubly upsetting - it's like the surveyor found the organization through which they could do this properly but for whatever reason didn't actually do so.)

I advise any and all people who consider taking the survey to not do so, and any who did take the survey to request that any information on you (including your answers and IP address) that was recorded by Surveymonkey be permanently deleted immediately. This is bad science masquerading as useful research that's pretending it's merely community outreach. I have no idea what [livejournal.com profile] joreth thinks they're doing, but it's certainly not to the benefit of the poly community.

As for the moral of the story: if you want to do amateur science, go with the hard sciences. That way you'll probably just blow yourself up.
brynndragon: (scientist)
I referred to a survey the other day that appeared in various polyamory-related communities on Livejournal (example, another example, a third example). It's actually even worse that is seems: the survey hasn't been reviewed by either of the groups mentioned in the survey (which was said repeatedly in the comments on the links above).

From The Kinsey Institute's communications director: "Just to clarify, this is not a project that is sanctioned or affiliated with The Kinsey Institute. Our researchers were not consulted regarding this study.
The Kinsey Institute library accepts donations of materials from the public that will help to shed light on sexual behavior and the human experience. We do have a collection of materials on polyamory, and welcome contributions to that collection. We do not, however, collaborate or support research that is conducted without the protection of a human subjects committee or institutional review board."

From the coordinator of The Community-Academic Consortium for Research on Alternative Sexualities Research Support Program: "CARAS has no involvement in this project. It was not submitted for review by the CARAS Research Advisory Committee, a process that is described on the CARAS website: https://www.caras.ws/index.php/researchsupport/index/"

(The link in that last quote? Includes a process by which someone with no academic affiliations can find mentors and reviewers for doing exactly this work in an ethical and scientifically valid manner. Which makes the whole thing doubly upsetting - it's like the surveyor found the organization through which they could do this properly but for whatever reason didn't actually do so.)

I advise any and all people who consider taking the survey to not do so, and any who did take the survey to request that any information on you (including your answers and IP address) that was recorded by Surveymonkey be permanently deleted immediately. This is bad science masquerading as useful research that's pretending it's merely community outreach. I have no idea what [livejournal.com profile] joreth thinks they're doing, but it's certainly not to the benefit of the poly community.

As for the moral of the story: if you want to do amateur science, go with the hard sciences. That way you'll probably just blow yourself up.
brynndragon: (scientist)
Scientists and Engineers for America
Please join us on March 9 at 8:00 PM EST (ed note: that's tomorrow) for

Re-Powering American Innovation:
Strategies for Winning the Clean Energy Race

a LIVE presentation featuring
Teryn Norris
Executive Director
Americans for Energy Leadership

This is a FREE event.
To attend this Seminar, please RSVP to brielle.welzer@sefora.org
We welcome all SEA members to attend our seminars.
If you are not already a member, sign up here.

Suggested Readings:

"A Historic Commitment to Research and Education," White House Press Release, April 2009.
http://www.energy.gov/news2009/7347.htm

A Letter to Senator Harry Reid, Association of American Universities (AAU)
http://bit.ly/aMdSnu

"Winning the Clean Energy Race: A New Strategy for American Leadership"
http://stanfordreview.org/article/winning-the-clean-energy-race

"To Make Clean Energy Cheaper, U.S. Needs Bold Research Push"
http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2146


2010 Weekly Seminar Schedule
March 16: Dr. Sherri Bale of GeneDx, discussing genetic privacy.
March 23: Sarah Chu of the NY Innocence Project, discussing forensic science and public policy.
March 30: George Annas of Boston University discussing genetic privacy and public policy.
April 6: To be announced. Focus: Biofuels and Energy Policy.
brynndragon: (scientist)
Scientists and Engineers for America
Please join us on March 9 at 8:00 PM EST (ed note: that's tomorrow) for

Re-Powering American Innovation:
Strategies for Winning the Clean Energy Race

a LIVE presentation featuring
Teryn Norris
Executive Director
Americans for Energy Leadership

This is a FREE event.
To attend this Seminar, please RSVP to brielle.welzer@sefora.org
We welcome all SEA members to attend our seminars.
If you are not already a member, sign up here.

Suggested Readings:

"A Historic Commitment to Research and Education," White House Press Release, April 2009.
http://www.energy.gov/news2009/7347.htm

A Letter to Senator Harry Reid, Association of American Universities (AAU)
http://bit.ly/aMdSnu

"Winning the Clean Energy Race: A New Strategy for American Leadership"
http://stanfordreview.org/article/winning-the-clean-energy-race

"To Make Clean Energy Cheaper, U.S. Needs Bold Research Push"
http://e360.yale.edu/content/feature.msp?id=2146


2010 Weekly Seminar Schedule
March 16: Dr. Sherri Bale of GeneDx, discussing genetic privacy.
March 23: Sarah Chu of the NY Innocence Project, discussing forensic science and public policy.
March 30: George Annas of Boston University discussing genetic privacy and public policy.
April 6: To be announced. Focus: Biofuels and Energy Policy.
brynndragon: (scientist)
Leave it to the last hour of the final meeting of a class to uncover a massive complicated ethical problem that impacts all of medicine. Let me see if I can explain it, since I don't have all the study references at hand and the nature of the problem makes talking about it potentially a violation of ethics (to the point where if I had already sworn the Chinese medical equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath I don't think I could make this post at all).

long explanation is long )

Hopefully now the problem is clear: placebo is not misinformation, it is real information - what you think you know (or don't know) makes a huge difference in healthcare outcome (where you is the patient and the practitioner). Questions that come up from this include: Should we not tell patients about potential side effects so they are less likely to experience those side effects? Are those drug ads where side effects must be reported actually increasing the incidence of side effects? (I admit, I'd rather there were never any drug ads, given that pharmas are using everything I've told you to convince people they're sick and need to spend money on their drugs.) Should we keep doing RCTs, particularly of treatments that we currently believe are effective and have no alternatives, knowing that they might literally lose efficacy? Should we purposefully train doctors to be over-confident so their treatments are more effective (is this already happening unconsciously by those who train doctors)? Should practitioners be told a treatment is more effective/has fewer side effects than it really is/does if that would lead to a more positive outcome for their patients? Is it ethical to use the placebo effect for improved health? How can we be honest with our patients without breaking our oath to do no harm?

(I hope you can see why even talking about this is a problem, since what you know changes how well you can be treated for health problems - it's almost a form of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.)
brynndragon: (scientist)
Leave it to the last hour of the final meeting of a class to uncover a massive complicated ethical problem that impacts all of medicine. Let me see if I can explain it, since I don't have all the study references at hand and the nature of the problem makes talking about it potentially a violation of ethics (to the point where if I had already sworn the Chinese medical equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath I don't think I could make this post at all).

long explanation is long )

Hopefully now the problem is clear: placebo is not misinformation, it is real information - what you think you know (or don't know) makes a huge difference in healthcare outcome (where you is the patient and the practitioner). Questions that come up from this include: Should we not tell patients about potential side effects so they are less likely to experience those side effects? Are those drug ads where side effects must be reported actually increasing the incidence of side effects? (I admit, I'd rather there were never any drug ads, given that pharmas are using everything I've told you to convince people they're sick and need to spend money on their drugs.) Should we keep doing RCTs, particularly of treatments that we currently believe are effective and have no alternatives, knowing that they might literally lose efficacy? Should we purposefully train doctors to be over-confident so their treatments are more effective (is this already happening unconsciously by those who train doctors)? Should practitioners be told a treatment is more effective/has fewer side effects than it really is/does if that would lead to a more positive outcome for their patients? Is it ethical to use the placebo effect for improved health? How can we be honest with our patients without breaking our oath to do no harm?

(I hope you can see why even talking about this is a problem, since what you know changes how well you can be treated for health problems - it's almost a form of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.)
brynndragon: (Default)
As a former biologist, I'm pretty comfortable calling bullshit on this:

Thermahelm Motorcycle Helmet Helps Prevent Injury by Inducing Brain Freeze: Traditional helmets are lined with a thick layer of polystyrene foam, exacerbating brain injuries by acting as an insulating layer and allowing the brain to reach its fatal threshold temperature. The Thermahelm is a clever invention that combines the insulating properties of traditional helmets and the medical advantages of therapeutic hypothermia to create a helmet that may prevent fatalities in motorcycle crashes induced by brain damage.

There's a kernel of truth in there, in that cooling the brain well below body temp via cold saline injection into the jugular vein could indeed reduce brain injury, but cooling down the outside of your head will two things: jack and shit. He should have come up with a liner that keeps biker's heads cool on a hot summer's day without futzing with ice-water, *that* would rightly sell like hotcakes ;P.
brynndragon: (Default)
As a former biologist, I'm pretty comfortable calling bullshit on this:

Thermahelm Motorcycle Helmet Helps Prevent Injury by Inducing Brain Freeze: Traditional helmets are lined with a thick layer of polystyrene foam, exacerbating brain injuries by acting as an insulating layer and allowing the brain to reach its fatal threshold temperature. The Thermahelm is a clever invention that combines the insulating properties of traditional helmets and the medical advantages of therapeutic hypothermia to create a helmet that may prevent fatalities in motorcycle crashes induced by brain damage.

There's a kernel of truth in there, in that cooling the brain well below body temp via cold saline injection into the jugular vein could indeed reduce brain injury, but cooling down the outside of your head will two things: jack and shit. He should have come up with a liner that keeps biker's heads cool on a hot summer's day without futzing with ice-water, *that* would rightly sell like hotcakes ;P.
brynndragon: (In Vitro)
My Tuesday morning class, _Experience, Experiments, and the Soul_ taught by Ted Kaptchuk, is just as awesome as I'd hoped. Let me share a little bit of what I learned during today's lecture on the history of medicine and healing, on the birth of modern Western medicine.

Sometime during the early 1600s, in one of the first cafes in Pisa (coffee being rather new to Europe), the head of the medicine department at the local university was having a cuppa with a professor from a different department. During their conversation the head of medicine bemoaned the inability of his students to distinguish between people who are hot types and people who are cold types (Hippocratic medicine being the only medicine in Europe at the time). The professor responded, "Ah! I have just the device to help you and your students!" He lent the esteemed department head a strange contraption, a wide glass tube filled with water containing small containers filled with strange fluids, and told the head of medicine that if someone blew on the device it would declare how hot or cold they were. Elated, the head of medicine brought it to class the very next day. He chose a student who was known for wearing wool in the summer, a wan gentleman who was soft-spoken with a tendency to daydream - someone very Yin, very Cold. Then he chose a second student who was known for walking barefoot in the snow, a red-faced bear of a man who partied all night and loudly confronted professors with questions difficult and absurd every day - someone very Yang, very Hot. He had each of them come up and blow on the glass tube. Then the strangest thing happened: this contraption given to him by professor Galileo showed that both students had the exact same internal temperature. The cry of the department head was the first gasp of air of newborn modern Western medicine.

This is my favorite story from today's lecture (although there were better insights gained from other parts of the lecture). It totally goes up there with my favorite neuroscience story, which I will tell another time. I am entirely too happy to be in this class ;).
brynndragon: (In Vitro)
My Tuesday morning class, _Experience, Experiments, and the Soul_ taught by Ted Kaptchuk, is just as awesome as I'd hoped. Let me share a little bit of what I learned during today's lecture on the history of medicine and healing, on the birth of modern Western medicine.

Sometime during the early 1600s, in one of the first cafes in Pisa (coffee being rather new to Europe), the head of the medicine department at the local university was having a cuppa with a professor from a different department. During their conversation the head of medicine bemoaned the inability of his students to distinguish between people who are hot types and people who are cold types (Hippocratic medicine being the only medicine in Europe at the time). The professor responded, "Ah! I have just the device to help you and your students!" He lent the esteemed department head a strange contraption, a wide glass tube filled with water containing small containers filled with strange fluids, and told the head of medicine that if someone blew on the device it would declare how hot or cold they were. Elated, the head of medicine brought it to class the very next day. He chose a student who was known for wearing wool in the summer, a wan gentleman who was soft-spoken with a tendency to daydream - someone very Yin, very Cold. Then he chose a second student who was known for walking barefoot in the snow, a red-faced bear of a man who partied all night and loudly confronted professors with questions difficult and absurd every day - someone very Yang, very Hot. He had each of them come up and blow on the glass tube. Then the strangest thing happened: this contraption given to him by professor Galileo showed that both students had the exact same internal temperature. The cry of the department head was the first gasp of air of newborn modern Western medicine.

This is my favorite story from today's lecture (although there were better insights gained from other parts of the lecture). It totally goes up there with my favorite neuroscience story, which I will tell another time. I am entirely too happy to be in this class ;).
brynndragon: (scientist)
There have actually been some things to come out of Surveyfail that would be interesting to people who couldn't care less that some asshole "researchers" were poking fandom with a stick (again). At the very least, as someone whose BA is in Psych and Neuroscience, I find this examination of cognitive neuroscience (here's more of that examination with more foundational work) and this examination of psychology pretty fab.

EDIT: changed "surveyfail" link to point at a fandom-wiki entry rather than linkspam in case people are curious enough to read a summary

ETA: Even better, a non-fen explains this is why we have IRBs (institutional review boards, aka the people who tell you when you're Doin It Rong re:human subjects). I'm about at the point of thinking that anyone who engages in research of any flavor should be given the "IRBs and Why We Need Them Even Thought They're Annoying" talk.
brynndragon: (scientist)
There have actually been some things to come out of Surveyfail that would be interesting to people who couldn't care less that some asshole "researchers" were poking fandom with a stick (again). At the very least, as someone whose BA is in Psych and Neuroscience, I find this examination of cognitive neuroscience (here's more of that examination with more foundational work) and this examination of psychology pretty fab.

EDIT: changed "surveyfail" link to point at a fandom-wiki entry rather than linkspam in case people are curious enough to read a summary

ETA: Even better, a non-fen explains this is why we have IRBs (institutional review boards, aka the people who tell you when you're Doin It Rong re:human subjects). I'm about at the point of thinking that anyone who engages in research of any flavor should be given the "IRBs and Why We Need Them Even Thought They're Annoying" talk.
brynndragon: (Default)
(via [livejournal.com profile] simplydorei)
So, it turns out that a well-known publisher of scientific journals (Elsevier) was paid by a well-known pharmaceutical company (Merck) to publish a bunch of fake journal issues (you can do a free click-thru thingie or just wait for it).

Some notes on the article linked above: The significance of "The issues contained little in the way of advertisements apart from ads for Fosamax, a Merck drug for osteoporosis, and Vioxx" is normally scientific journals have ads for things like Qiagen's newest assay or Applied Biosystem's latest PCR machine - things that scientists would want to buy for doing their own research from companies that people outside the field have probably never heard of. That's on top of the part where all the ads were from a single company, which is also rather fishy. Another big red flag is "the journal did not accept original manuscripts for review" - that's like not even bothering to look at letters from the public for the letters-to-the-editor section of a newspaper.

Also, Elsevier is known to me as the folks who bought up a bunch of scientific journals that previously had free web content (usually in the form of older journals, keeping the newer ones either offline or restricted access to subscribers) and restricting their content entirely such that only institutions could afford their fees. It's funny how the NIH went from requesting that NIH-funded research be made publicly available to requiring it - I suspect Elsevier's actions had something to do with that change in policy. So I can't say I'm surprised they'd think it was a good idea to take money from a corporation and give them "scientific" journals in return - I tend to think of them as putting their bottom line before what's good for science anyway. (Of course I'm not surprised that Merck would do this, they're a big pharma and big pharmas are assholes when it comes to science - science is nothing more than a means to an end to them and they're perfectly willing to twist the means to get that end)

ETA: Actually Elsevier made 6 fake journals. One was not enough for an internal review, but apparently 6 is. Pfeh.

Profile

brynndragon: (Default)
benndragon

August 2016

S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
1415 1617181920
21222324252627
28293031   

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Sep. 21st, 2017 10:39 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios