statistical weakness in scientific studies


Science’s Sig­nif­i­cant Stats Prob­lem by Tom Siegfried at Nau­tilus

…in almost all research fields, stud­ies often draw erro­neous con­clu­sions. Some­times the errors arise because sta­tis­ti­cal tests are mis­used, mis­in­ter­preted, or mis­un­der­stood. And some­times slop­pi­ness, out­right incom­pe­tence, or pos­si­bly fraud is to blame. But even research con­ducted strictly by the book fre­quently fails because of faulty sta­tis­ti­cal meth­ods that have been embed­ded in the sci­en­tific process.

There is increas­ing con­cern that in mod­ern research, false find­ings may be the major­ity or even the vast major­ity of pub­lished research claims,” epi­demi­ol­o­gist John P.A. Ioan­ni­dis declared in a land­mark essay pub­lished in 2005 in the jour­nal PLoS Medicine.

Even when a claimed effect does turn out to be cor­rect, its mag­ni­tude is usu­ally over­stated. Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity polit­i­cal sci­en­tist and sta­tis­ti­cian Andrew Gel­man puts it bluntly: “The sci­en­tific method that we love so much is a machine for gen­er­at­ing exaggerations.”

Scan­ning Dead Salmon in fMRI Machine High­lights Risk of Red Her­rings by Alexis Madri­gal at Wired

The Inter­net Found the Atlantic Salmon at

None of the authors intended for the Salmon to go pub­lic in such a big way, espe­cially before the com­men­tary was reviewed and pub­lished. We were actu­ally quite con­tent to pub­lish our edi­to­r­ial in a neu­roimag­ing jour­nal and be done with it. We feel that, fun­da­men­tally, this is an inter­nal debate within the field of neuroimaging.

minority youth and the effects of intolerance

la high school

Liv­ing With Intol­er­ance: What kind of psy­cho­log­i­cal impact does dis­crim­i­na­tion have on minor­ity youth? by Romeo Vitelli, PhD in Psy­chol­ogy Today

Though psy­chol­o­gists have long stud­ied the impact of dis­crim­i­na­tion on minor­ity ado­les­cents, there are still unan­swered ques­tions about what causes the dis­crim­i­na­tion to hap­pen and the how ado­les­cents can deal with it.

Iron­i­cally, racial and eth­nic ten­sion in schools and neigh­bour­hoods often rises with increased eth­nic diver­sity. As more minor­ity groups come in and the pro­por­tion of estab­lished minor­ity group pop­u­la­tions change, cul­tural clashes cre­ate a neg­a­tive racial or eth­nic cli­mate. This trig­gers greater ten­sion as well as inci­dents of ver­bal or phys­i­cal abuse. Since teach­ing staff are often unable to keep up with these changes, minor­ity group mem­bers often see them­selves as being “on their own” and not being able to rely on author­ity fig­ures to help.

As a result, ado­les­cents who expe­ri­ence racial/​ethnic dis­crim­i­na­tion fre­quently expe­ri­ence more psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress and poorer per­for­mance in school. Mea­sur­ing the impact of dis­crim­i­na­tion is often dif­fi­cult since it can be hard to detect at times. Even the source of the dis­crim­i­na­tion, whether from author­ity fig­ures, teach­ers, or peers can make a dif­fer­ence in how it affects young peo­ple. Teacher dis­crim­i­na­tion, for instance, is more likely to affect how well ado­les­cents do in school. Abuse or bul­ly­ing com­ing from a fel­low stu­dent, on the other hand, is more likely to affect self-​esteem and social development.

an interview with Sally Satel


Q&A: Sally Satel, psy­chi­a­trist, on the flaws of brain research by Christie Nichol­son at smart­planet

below is an excerpt from this interview

Smart­Planet: Frito-​Lay com­mis­sioned a study of women’s brains as they looked at their chip bags. Appar­ently the brain scans showed that the ante­rior cin­gu­late cor­tex lit up, an area often asso­ci­ated with feel­ings of guilt. Researchers con­cluded that women felt guilty when look­ing at the shiny bags con­tain­ing high-​calorie snacks. So the com­pany switched to matte bags in the hopes of reliev­ing neg­a­tive emo­tions asso­ci­ated with their brand. What is wrong with this strategy?

Sally Satel: Well first there’s no guilt cen­ter in the brain. So infer­ring that the ante­rior cin­gu­late cor­tex is telling you that you feel guilty is a leap.

This is one of the big issues with fMRI interpretations.

Right. One of the big­ger prob­lems with naive inter­pre­ta­tion is some­thing called the reverse infer­ence prob­lem. And what that means is — as they did in that Frito-​Lay study –- [researchers] look at a part of a brain that is dif­fer­en­tially acti­vated dur­ing a task, and the “task” is often hav­ing the per­son look at an image, lis­ten to a sound, or be pre­sented with a prob­lem [to think through].

Of course you’re going to see more activ­ity in cer­tain areas of the brain than in other areas. But look­ing at the brain scan image and work­ing back­wards from that to what a per­son is think­ing is very fraught.


For this rea­son: Var­i­ous regions in the brain play a role in medi­at­ing many dif­fer­ent kinds of sub­jec­tive emo­tional states.

Could you unpack that state­ment a bit?

For exam­ple, the ante­rior cin­gu­late is fre­quently cited as impor­tant in the pro­cess­ing of error detec­tion or con­flict. But that’s not quite the same as guilt. That’s one issue.

Another region of the brain that is fre­quently cited is the amyg­dala. It is most famous for being a fairly prim­i­tive area involved in the pro­cess­ing of fear. And that’s true, but it’s also rel­e­vant to the pro­cess­ing of nov­elty, sur­prise, anger and hap­pi­ness. So, to just basi­cally pick the emo­tion that suits your pur­pose is a prob­lem. In the Frito-​Lay case, I’m sure they imag­ined that women feel guilty when they eat high-​fattening foods; so that was con­sis­tent with the nar­ra­tive that the adver­tis­ers had imagined.

book: Sally Satel on the limits of brain imaging


Brain­washed: The Seduc­tive Appeal of Mind­less Neu­ro­science by Sally Satel

excerpt from book:

Brain scan images are not what they seem…or at least not how the media often depict them. Nor are brain-​scan images what they seem. They are not pho­tographs of the brain in action in real time. Sci­en­tists can’t just look “in” the brain and see what it does. Those beau­ti­ful color-​dappled images are actu­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tions of par­tic­u­lar areas in the brain that are work­ing the hard­est— as mea­sured by increased oxy­gen con­sump­tion— when a sub­ject per­forms a task such as read­ing a pas­sage or react­ing to a stim­uli, such as pic­tures of faces. The pow­er­ful com­puter located within the scan­ning machine trans­forms changes in oxy­gen lev­els into the famil­iar candy-​colored splotches indi­cat­ing the brain regions that become espe­cially active dur­ing the subject’s per­for­mance. Despite well-​informed infer­ences, the great­est chal­lenge of imag­ing is that it is very dif­fi­cult for sci­en­tists to look at a fiery spot on a brain scan and con­clude with cer­tainty what is going on in the mind of a person.

the male gaze and denial of sexual worthiness

Mark Carney Launches New U.K. Banknote
What it’s like to be an ugly fem­i­nist? by Emma Bur­nell at the New States­man

I have been told I am “too ugly to rape”, “too fat to live” that “no man would f**k that” all while walk­ing the five min­utes from my house to the bus stop.

I live with the knowl­edge (and daily expe­ri­ence) that my sex­ual worth will be com­mented on every day when I leave my house and that in the meat mar­ket of the out­side world, I have been judged unwanted, lack­ing, unwor­thy. The aware­ness that part of my expe­ri­ence of every­day life will be to have my worst inse­cu­ri­ties about my lack of looks and sex­ual attrac­tive­ness com­mented on in ways just as crude and shock­ing as those women who are being pestered for their very attrac­tive­ness affects my deci­sion mak­ing, my con­fi­dence and my outlook.

If these bril­liant cam­paigns are to truly suc­ceed, they need to ensure they run the full gamut of the ways in which men are allowed in soci­ety to abuse a woman pub­licly. This can­not mean sim­ply focus­ing on the sto­ries of those who are being sex­u­ally objec­ti­fied, but those for whom the very lack of objec­ti­fi­ca­tion is being used as a weapon to keep us in our place.

V.A. health care benefits and Obamacare

v.a. entrance shrunk for blog

Visit this V.A. web­site about V.A. healthcare:

VA, Afford­able Care Act and You

or call 1877-​222-​VETS (8387)

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first woman in space: Valentina Tereshkova


The first space­craft piloted by a woman, “Vostok-​6″ was launched in July 16th, 1963. That woman was a cit­i­zen of the Soviet Union – Valentina Tereshkova. She flew into space alone.

First Woman in Space at Only in Rus­sia (Eng­lish version)

technology and psychotic delusions


a tech­no­cul­ture of psy­chosis by Vaughan Bell at Mindhacks

A desert nomad is more likely to believe that he is being buried alive in sand by a djinn, and an urban Amer­i­can that he has been implanted with a microchip and is being mon­i­tored by the CIA.

The Real­ity Show by Mike Jay at Aeon