biomedical research: unreproducable


Bad research ris­ing: The 7th Olympiad of research on bio­med­ical pub­li­ca­tion by Hilda Bas­t­ian at Sci­en­tific American

Why is there so much un-​reproducible research? Ioan­ni­dis points to the many sources of bias in research. Chavalar­ias and he trawled through more than 17 mil­lion arti­cles in PubMed and found dis­cus­sion of 235 dif­fer­ent kinds of bias. There is so much bias, he said, that it makes one of his dreams – an ency­clo­pe­dia of bias – a supremely daunt­ing task.

What would help? Ioan­ni­dis said we need to go back to con­sid­er­ing what sci­ence is about: “If it is not just about hav­ing an inter­est­ing life or pub­lish­ing papers, if it is about get­ting closer to the truth, then val­i­da­tion prac­tices have to be at the core of what we do.” He sug­gested three ways for­ward: we have to get used to small gen­uine effects and not expect (and fall for) exces­sive claims. Sec­ondly, we need to have – and use – research report­ing stan­dards. The third major strat­egy he advo­cates is reg­is­ter­ing research: pro­to­cols through to datasets.

government works: Kitt Peak National Observatory


Spi­ral Galaxy IC342 at the Kitt Peak National Observatory

Spi­ral Galaxy IC342 is located roughly 11 mil­lion light-​years from Earth in the con­stel­la­tion Camelopardalis, “the giraffe.” Its face-​on appear­ance in the sky — as opposed to our tilted and edge-​on views of many other nearby galax­ies, such as the large spi­ral galaxy Androm­eda (M31) — makes IC342 a prime tar­get for stud­ies of star for­ma­tion and astrochemistry.

The image, obtained in late 2006, was taken using the 64-​megapixel Mosaic-​1 dig­i­tal imager on the May­all 4-​meter telescope.

conflict of interest: Dr. Lieberman


Anti-​Psychiatry Prej­u­dice? A response to Dr. Lieber­man
by Judy Stone at Sci­en­tific American

… the Direc­tor of the National Insti­tutes of Men­tal Health (NIMH), Dr. Thomas Insel, has rejected the DSM, stating:

The weak­ness is its lack of valid­ity. Unlike our def­i­n­i­tions of ischemic heart dis­ease, lym­phoma, or AIDS, the DSM diag­noses are based on a con­sen­sus about clus­ters of clin­i­cal symp­toms, not any objec­tive lab­o­ra­tory mea­sure. In the rest of med­i­cine, this would be equiv­a­lent to cre­at­ing diag­nos­tic sys­tems based on the nature of chest pain or the qual­ity of fever. Indeed, symptom-​based diag­no­sis, once com­mon in other areas of med­i­cine, has been largely replaced in the past half cen­tury as we have under-​stood that symp­toms alone rarely indi­cate the best choice of treat­ment. Patients with men­tal dis­or­ders deserve better…NIMH will be re-​orienting its research away from DSM categories.”…

… Dr. Frances chides, “I believe that the Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric Asso­ci­a­tion (APA)’s finan­cial con­flict of inter­est, gen­er­ated by DSM pub­lish­ing prof­its needed to fill its bud­get deficit, led to pre­ma­ture pub­li­ca­tion of an incom­pletely tested and poorly edited prod­uct. The APA refused a peti­tion for an inde­pen­dent sci­en­tific review of the DSM-​5 that was endorsed by more than 50 men­tal health asso­ci­a­tions. Pub­lish­ing prof­its trumped pub­lic inter­est. New psy­chi­atric diag­noses are now poten­tially more dan­ger­ous than new psy­chi­atric drugs, because diagnos-​tic expan­sions may lead to drug com­pany pro-​motions that dra­mat­i­cally increase the use of unnec­es­sary med­ica­tions, with high cost and poten­tially harm­ful side effects.”

new insight into immune response and autoimmune diseases


Body’s ‘safety pro­ce­dure’ could explain autoim­mune dis­ease at Med­icalX­press

Monash Uni­ver­sity researchers have found an impor­tant safety mech­a­nism in the immune sys­tem that may mal­func­tion in peo­ple with autoim­mune dis­eases, such as Mul­ti­ple Scle­ro­sis, poten­tially paving the way for inno­v­a­tive treatments.

Pub­lished today in Immu­nity, the research, led by Head of the Monash Depart­ment of Immunol­ogy Pro­fes­sor Fabi­enne Mackay, described for the first time how the body man­ages mar­ginal zone (MZ) B cells, which form a gen­eral first line of attack against germs, but are poten­tially harmful.

social life and the changing expressions of genes

social isolation

The Social Life of Genes by David Dobbs at Pacific Stan­dard

The recent explo­sion of inter­est in “epi­ge­net­ics” — a term lit­er­ally mean­ing “around the gene,” and refer­ring to any­thing that changes a gene’s effect with­out chang­ing the actual DNA sequence — has tended to focus on the long game of gene-​environment inter­ac­tions: how famine among expec­tant moth­ers in the Nether­lands dur­ing World War II, for instance, affected gene expres­sion and behav­ior in their chil­dren; or how mother rats, by lick­ing and groom­ing their pups more or less assid­u­ously, can alter the wrap­pings around their offspring’s DNA in ways that influ­ence how anx­ious the pups will be for the rest of their lives. The idea that expe­ri­ence can echo in our genes across gen­er­a­tions is cer­tainly a pow­er­ful one. But to focus only on these nar­row, long-​reaching effects is to miss much of the action where epi­ge­netic influ­ence and gene activ­ity is con­cerned. This fresh work by Robin­son, Fer­nald, Clay­ton, and oth­ers — encom­pass­ing stud­ies of mul­ti­ple organ­isms, from bees and birds to mon­keys and humans — sug­gests some­thing more excit­ing: that our social lives can change our gene expres­sion with a rapid­ity, breadth, and depth pre­vi­ously overlooked.

Why would we have evolved this way? The most prob­a­ble answer is that an organ­ism that responds quickly to fast-​changing social envi­ron­ments will more likely sur­vive them. That organ­ism won’t have to wait around, as it were, for bet­ter genes to evolve on the species level. Immu­nol­o­gists dis­cov­ered some­thing sim­i­lar 25 years ago: Adapt­ing to new pathogens the old-​fashioned way — wait­ing for nat­ural selec­tion to favor genes that cre­ate resis­tance to spe­cific pathogens — would hap­pen too slowly to counter the rapidly chang­ing pathogen envi­ron­ment. Instead, the immune sys­tem uses net­works of genes that can respond quickly and flex­i­bly to new threats.

We appear to respond in the same way to our social envi­ron­ment. Faced with an unpre­dictable, com­plex, ever-​changing pop­u­la­tion to whom we must respond suc­cess­fully, our genes behave accord­ingly — as if a fast, fluid response is a mat­ter of life or death.

poverty and its effects on cognition


Poor con­cen­tra­tion: Poverty reduces brain­power needed for nav­i­gat­ing other areas of life by Mor­gan Kelly at News from Princeton

Pre­vi­ous views of poverty have blamed poverty on per­sonal fail­ings, or an envi­ron­ment that is not con­ducive to suc­cess,” she said. “We’re argu­ing that the lack of finan­cial resources itself can lead to impaired cog­ni­tive func­tion. The very con­di­tion of not hav­ing enough can actu­ally be a cause of poverty.”

The men­tal tax that poverty can put on the brain is dis­tinct from stress, Shafir explained. Stress is a person’s response to var­i­ous out­side pres­sures that — accord­ing to stud­ies of arousal and per­for­mance — can actu­ally enhance a person’s func­tion­ing, he said. In the Sci­ence study, Shafir and his col­leagues instead describe an imme­di­ate rather than chronic pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with lim­ited resources that can be a detri­ment to unre­lated yet still impor­tant tasks.

Stress itself doesn’t pre­dict that peo­ple can’t per­form well — they may do bet­ter up to a point,” Shafir said. “A per­son in poverty might be at the high part of the per­for­mance curve when it comes to a spe­cific task and, in fact, we show that they do well on the prob­lem at hand. But they don’t have left­over band­width to devote to other tasks. The poor are often highly effec­tive at focus­ing on and deal­ing with press­ing prob­lems. It’s the other tasks where they per­form poorly.”

The fall­out of neglect­ing other areas of life may loom larger for a per­son just scrap­ing by, Shafir said. Late fees tacked on to a for­got­ten rent pay­ment, a job lost because of poor time-​management — these make a tight money sit­u­a­tion worse. And as peo­ple get poorer, they tend to make dif­fi­cult and often costly deci­sions that fur­ther per­pet­u­ate their hard­ship, Shafir said. He and Mul­lainathan were co-​authors on a 2012 Sci­ence paper that reported a higher like­li­hood of poor peo­ple to engage in behav­iors that rein­force the con­di­tions of poverty, such as exces­sive borrowing.

They can make the same mis­takes, but the out­comes of errors are more dear,” Shafir said. “So, if you live in poverty, you’re more error prone and errors cost you more dearly — it’s hard to find a way out.”

modern slavery: Signal International, LLC


More human traf­fick­ing law­suits filed against Sig­nal Inter­na­tional at the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter website

The South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter announced that five more law­suits have been filed this week against Sig­nal Inter­na­tional LLC, accus­ing the ship­builder and its net­work of recruiters and labor bro­kers of traf­fick­ing 500 Indian guest work­ers to the United States and forc­ing them to work under bar­baric conditions.

The new law­suits filed on behalf of 60 work­ers are part of an unprece­dented effort by some of the nation’s most pres­ti­gious law firms to pros­e­cute, on a pro bono basis, mul­ti­ple human traf­fick­ing law­suits against Sig­nal. In addi­tion to the law­suits filed today, three law firms filed law­suits on behalf of 83 guest work­ers in May…

… The law­suits allege that Sig­nal and its agents defrauded guest work­ers out of mil­lions of dol­lars in exor­bi­tant “recruit­ment fees” and falsely promised help in apply­ing for and obtain­ing per­ma­nent U.S. res­i­dence. The guest work­ers sold fam­ily prop­erty and heir­looms, and incurred crip­pling debt, to each pay as much as $25,000 to Signal.

Once these work­ers were lured to Signal’s ship­yards in Pascagoula, Miss., and Orange, Texas, they were forced to live in over­crowded, unsan­i­tary and racially seg­re­gated labor camps. The liv­ing con­di­tions not only endan­gered the guest work­ers’ health and psy­cho­log­i­cal well-​being, these work­ers were assigned the most dan­ger­ous and dif­fi­cult jobs due to their race, eth­nic­ity, reli­gion and national ori­gin. They also were threat­ened with finan­cial ruin and depor­ta­tion if they balked.