Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Further Entries in the "Uh, Duh?" Department

Today's candidate for the Least Informative Headline Ever Read By a Neuroscientist award: Chronic Alcohol Exposure Can Affect Brain Protein Expression.

Hurricane As Common Insult

So I realize this violates our family-friendly policy (wow, we're just tearing up the old rules handbook today, aren't we?), but I was divinely inspired by Wonkette last night, and since I can't post this as a comment due to their hipsters-only commenting policy, I will subject this upon the neuroscience-interested readers of the America instead.

Special thanks to the good Flamingo of Disco, we have 15 Inches Improved: NSFW, if people you work with are both very touchy AND capable of reading very large print.

Creationists Still Stupid

I know, I know... this is theoretically a creationism-argumentation-free blog. But still.

As you can probably tell, I'm taking a bit of down time today, as my move across town is pretty much done, and my presentation of the summer's research was yesterday, so I'm getting a bit of a breather before I start learning LabVIEW and how to program the robot arm. Reading PZ's dissection of Chapter 3 of the PIG guide to ID (which, when written like that, sounds like a great idea for a book), and I came across this snippet.

…von Baer’s view “was confounded with and then transformed into” the evolutionary doctrine that the embryos of higher organisms pass through the adult forms of lower organisms in the course of their development. It was this evolutionary distortion of von Baer’s work that Darwin considered the strongest evidence for his theory.

In the 1860’s, German Darwinist Ernst Haeckel (pronounced “heckle”) made some drawings to illustrate this distorted view, and Darwin relied on the drawings in later editions of The Origin of Species and in The Descent of Man (1871).

Now, PZ is tearing Wells apart for pulling out the Haeckel canard. But I'm here on different business entirely: as an American of Germanic descent who took three years of German in high school AND who listens to German industrial music, I can assure you that "Haeckel" is not pronounced "heckle." In fact, the best pronunciation I can think of to recommend to an American audiences... is "Haeckel."

He even lies in his pronunciation suggestions! Truly, Jonathan Wells is a GREAT BIG HACK! Someone inject him with HPV and make him grow horns!

Does this work?

Paging Plant Master Flash...

Agençe France-Presse: Super-plants from outer space:

China plans to blast seeds into space in a novel way of boosting the nation's food production, reports say.

Scientists hope that exposure to cosmic radiation and microgravity will cause genetic mutations in the seeds that will improve crop yield back on Earth...

..."Exposed to special environments such as cosmic radiation and microgravity, some seeds will mutate to such an extent that they may produce much higher yields and improved quality," the paper says.

Nine categories of seeds, including grains, cash crops and forage plants will be aboard the satellite, it says.

China has been experimenting with space-bred seeds for years, with rice and wheat exposed to the universe resulting in increased yields, the paper says.

Space-bred tomato and green pepper seeds have resulted in harvests 10-20% larger than ordinary seeds, while vegetables grown from space-bred seeds have a higher vitamin content, it adds.

Flash, this is totally your area of expertise. So does this actually work the way the say it does, or has the nation of China as a collective whole read that worn-out copy of Fantastic Four #1 too many times?

On Jackalope Manufacturing Processes

Tara links to an article from yesterday's NYT on the history of the discovery that HPV causes cervical cancer. If you want to read more, read the article or her discussion of it. I just wanted to make sure that everyone who reads this blog understands that Scientists Are Bastards, and We Should Not Be Messed With:

Research that could have led them in the right direction was done in the 1930’s by Dr. Richard Shope of the Rockefeller University, who on a hunting trip heard a friend describe seeing rabbits with “horns,” which were actually large warts.

Dr. Shope asked his friend to send some of the horns. He then ground them up, filtered them through porcelain that let only tiny virus-size particles through, and injected the filtrate into other rabbits, which grew horns in turn.

You understand that, citizens of the world? You mess with our gardens, and WE WILL INJECT YOU WITH VIRUSES THAT GIVE YOU CANCER AND MAKE YOU GROW HORNS.

That guy who advertises natural cures for everything at 2 in the morning? You're next.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Sadly, Civilization Seems Rock-Steady

In reference to yesterday's link: the world has not yet come to an end. Also of note is that I just spent ten minutes actually tracking down the name of the Muslim holiday in question, which seems to be Laylat ul Isra' wa-l-Miraaj, to cut-&-paste from wiki. Why is this of note? Because the only people on the internet who seem to be talking about it are people who are proposing--so far as I can tell, out of thin air--that the day would be quite opportune for a unified Muslim attack on Israel. Why? No reason... just seems to be an opportune date. The closest I could find to an explanation was Bernard Lewis' claim at the WSJ that it was "indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22." But it's now 1:20 AM in Tehran (no, I have no idea why Iran is an extra half hour off of GMT), so I suppose this must have been the response in question:

Iran said Tuesday it was ready for "serious negotiations" on its nuclear program, but a semiofficial news agency said the government was unwilling to abandon nuclear enrichment — the key U.S. demand.

Top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani delivered a written response to ambassadors of Britain, China, Russia, France, Germany and Switzerland to a package of incentives aimed at persuading Iran to roll back on its nuclear program.

Larijani refused to disclose whether the response included an offer to suspend uranium enrichment, and no details of Iran's response were released. The state-run television quoted Larijani as telling the diplomats Iran "is prepared as of Aug. 23 to enter serious negotiations" with the countries that proposed the incentives package.

Damn those crazed Persians! What fanatical audacity to give us a diplomatic statement that they are prepared for serious negotiations--and on a holiday, too!

By the way, I think it bears noting just how significance this day is in the Muslim calendar by looking at the events it commemorates (thanks to wiki):

Laylat ul Isra' wa-l-Miraaj (The Night of the Journey and Ascension) - is on 27 of Rajab. It is the night when Muhammad was, according to Hadiths, taken to "the furthest mosque" (generally understood to be Jerusalem) on a Buraq (a beast resembling horse with wings; some people consider it a cherub) and ascended to the highest level of the heavens. It is said that he negotiated with God about the number of prayers, which started at fifty a day, but on his way down he met Moses who asked him to ask for a reduction in the number because the requirement was difficult for Muhammad's people. Muhammad returned to God and several times asked for and was granted a reduction of five prayers, until the number was reduced to five in total, with the blessing that if they were properly performed, the performers would be credited with fifty prayers instead of five.

I can clearly see how one could associate a holiday signifying the importance of haggling with launching a nuclear assault on Israel.

Oh, I'm sorry. Was I lying again? I think I may have been.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Your Daily Sign of the Apocalypse

Wonkette: ABC Reports: Fifth, Possibly Sixth Seal Opened

And in related news, you can now download Jack Van Impe in podcast form. I'm seriously hoping that at some point Jack points out that this is, in and of itself, a sign of the pending apocalypse.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Nerd Alert

Via TBogg, I have learned that a select few are attempting to redub the liberal blogosphere the "Sinestrosphere". Now as anyone who didn't fail organic chemistry knows, this is probably a reference to the early Latin meaning of , which would be "left". As such, this is probably just a desperate ploy to get left-wingers to refer to the crazy people on the far-conservative end as the "Dextrosphere", because no one remembers that the word exists. Of course, this means they're being anti-southpaw bigots because the negative connotations to the word "sinister" are due to prejudice against the "unnaturalness" of lefties. Which really just goes to demonstrate that in 1000 years, someone will start referring to us as the "Gayosphere" and everyone will laugh at them.

But anyways, TBogg points out an as to the intended reference: Sinestro, whom the hipsters among us can probably hazily recall from such classics of television as Challenge of the SuperFriends (warning: I only watched the first ten seconds of the video).

Now, Sinestro is the arch-nemesis of Green Lanterns everywhere, but this seems to be a transparent attempt by the Right to claim as being on their side. Hal Jordan, a man who spent the seventies road tripping across the country in a beat-up old truck learning about racism, misogyny, and other social ills. Now, if it comes to some sort of liberal/conservative throw-down, I've got no interest in fighting to keep Hal Jordan on our side (dude got some issues), but I think it's pretty clear that somebody's observational prowess might be slightly lacking. Anyways, when it comes to Green Lanterns, I think it's pretty clear which one the Right gets to call dibs on.

Friday Random 10 - 18 August 2006

1. Public Enemy - What You Need is Jesus
2. Zeromancer - Doctor Online
3. Atmosphere - Vampires
4. Natacha Atlas - Soliel d'Egypte
5. Murder Inc. - Mrs. Whiskey Name
6. Prodigy - Wake Up Call
7. Underworld - Juanita/Kiteless
8. Underworld - Push Upstairs
9. Sun Ra - Nuclear War
10. Tom Waits - Lowside of the Road

Okay, okay, folks.

It's officially dead. So quit already.

via Wonkette

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Moving = Not Posting

Sorry I haven't had the time to post much lately. All I can say is that I'm moving across time and hardcore data-crunching at work.

I'll try to get some light link-blogging done over the rest of the week, but that's about the most I can offer for the moment.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Oh my God, Michele Bachmann is running for Congress against Patty Wetterling and I'm just finding out now?


Now I have to decide whether I'm giving my refundable donation to Hatch or Wetterling. I'm leaning Wetterling right now, if only because I'm not worried about Pawlenty trying to nuke other countries. You know, it's the little things.

Further explorations of event and emerging timing

Further explorations of event and emerging timing, by Howard N. Zelaznik, Purdue University

He's aiming this presentation at Grad Students and other people who aren't really familiar with his research. If true, pray Jesus.

Sort of an obvious statement: we know that timing is important; accuracy and precision are important throughout the use of motor skills. But does this mean that we can be certain that time is controlled throughout the system? Not necessarilly.

A motor skill that is frequently tested is tapping: a metronome starts a rhythm, and a subject taps out that rhythm even after the metronome ends. People use this approach because everyone intuitively believes that there is some general purpose clock somewhere in the system. So the question we're looking at today is whether or not this is a good technique to examine timing.

Two tasks:
Tapping timing - 325,400,475,550 and 800 ms
Circle drawing timing - same periods
--pencil and paper, the goal is to draw a circle in rhythm with the metronome so they reach them twelve o'clock when the metronome fires.
They compare the two, testing timing precision for each after the metronome stops. So, "are individual differences in timing correlated across tasks?" NO! Similar timing missteps, but they do not correlate across subjects (if I understood right)

Circle drawing:
Timing to 12 o'clock vs. timing to 9 o'clock vs. tapping
--circle drawing and tapping seem to be using different timing systems; this is probably due to the involvement of multiple motor systems in circle drawing
--circle drawing: their velocity looks pretty much the same no matter what degree you look at
--tapping: maximum upward velocity of finger scales over time(?maybe?)
--tapping is more variable than circle drawing

Intermittent circles: draw a circle, than pause.
--continuous circles correlate (in terms of temporal discrimination) with neither tapping nor intermittent circles
--tapping, however, correlates with intermittent circles (both in terms of total time, time moving, and time paused)
--intermittent circles: only the time paused matters correlates to timing accuracy

Examining patients with unilateral cerebellar lesions perform circle drawing tasks and tapping task:
--tapping and intermittent circles: timing is much more variable in the impaired limb than the unimpaired limb. However, the continuous circle is the same in both. This seems to confirm the behavioral observation that a different system is responsible.
--examined slow vs. fast movements: seems to indicate (I'm not sure how) that smoothness of movement is responsible for accuracy in timing.

Simple framework: "a representation of time is used to time the onset of discrete events--tapping is a classic example--this is known as event timing."
--the other type of timing is "emergent timing," which is smooth rather than discrete and has no timing requirements. Yes, this sounds paradoxical: everyone in the room is having problems with this. His example is that if you're running around a track at a regular rate, you aren't producing time but rather effort: your total amount of muscular effort determines the timing. Trying to prove this, he went into some pilot data. I'm not going to relate anything about it other than that he seems to demonstrate that as little a change as smoothly tapping in the air rather than tapping in the table engages the emergent timing system. Just to make it clear: there is a continuum between the discrete and smooth actions.

And I wasn't able to park next to an outlet this morning, so the battery, it is dying. If I'm not able to post again this morning, that would probably be why.

Monday, August 07, 2006

No, Seriously?

Is this really necessary?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to purchase or to use high-strength hydrogen peroxide products, including a product marketed as "35 Percent Food Grade Hydrogen Peroxide," for medicinal purposes because they can cause serious harm or death when ingested. FDA recommends that consumers who are currently using high-strength hydrogen peroxide stop immediately and consult their health care provider.

Did I just miss the collapse of civilization over my lunch break or something?

Questions for the Peanut Gallery

I guess I really have two questions here.

The first question is fairly concrete: based on this morning's posts, is anyone interested in continuance? Do you find it useful in that format--more-or-less unadultered live note-taking--and did you find the stuff posted at all interesting or followable? Do you want more, or are you confident you'll just end up ignoring such posts in the future?

The second question is a bit more abstract and philosophical. Although I realize there are other blogs better dedicated to such ethical questions than this one, I realized that I felt a bit of a quandary as I was typing the posts up this morning. On the one hand, these are talks that are obviously intended and prepared for somewhat-public consumption. But at the same time, all of these researchers are presenting data that is in progress, unpublished, and often just throwing out ideas about what they're working on. Even today, there were a few instances where I didn't write down some sections where they started discussing their own novel hypotheses, because I didn't want to worry about accidentally scooping them to the outside world.

So I guess ultimately, the question is this: what do you think about posting detailed notes of people's presentations at conferences and summer institutes such as this? My own gut instinct is to lean towards the argument that since this is being prepared for presentation, this is probably information that people are willing to have available to the public. But at the same time, I've never been a PI, and I've certainly never been invited to present anything to anybody outside of my own classrooms, so it's possible that I'm not appropriately understanding of what goes on towards that end of things.

So what do you think: am I being too paranoid, or too inconsiderate? I'd really like to know what y'all think.

Cognitive Representations of Space in Primate Posterior Parietal Cortex

Cognitive Representations of Space in Primate Posterior Parietal Cortex by Matt Chafee, Center for Cognitive Sciences, University of Minnesota.

Two types of representations: dependent on sensorimotor information and independen of sensorimotor. "Thinking" requires ability to separate from direct input.

Most basic description of brain: sensorimotor interface. Every area of neocortex; either represents sensory information, outputs motor, or connects between them. How can cognition emerge in such an architecture?

Parietal cortex: important for spatial processing

Posterior parietal: spatial sensorimotor interface
--Key roles:
----Visual attention
----Visual spatial coordinate transformation
----Motor intention

These are "logical attributes" of a sensorimotor interface. Seems to bottleneck where vision is funnelling into motor--may be why parietal plays such a role in attention. "Transformation": visual information has to be tranformed from one reference frame to another (not sure if I got that right).

Direct projections from parietal to primary motor, superior colliculus: access to motor and visual.

Parietal neurons: particularly active when moving attention from one visual field to another. Maps very nicely to hemispheric neglect.

Two basic forms of hemineglect:
--one centered in view-centered spatial coordinates (will only copy right side of scene)
--one object-centered (will copy right side of each object)

Neural correlates of coordinate transform:
--placed object in visual field while monkey looking somewhere else --> parietal neuron most strongly stimulated when attention elsewhere.

How do you build cognition into these circuits?
1. Sensorimotor dependence: "neurons represent the location of a stimulus or the direction of a movement"
--attention == ?; working memory == buffering operation; motor intention attempt to move signal backwards; decision process == ?maximizing response?
--training monkey to remember target location: put visual stimulus in neuron's receptive field, continues firing 3 sec. after stim. disappears.

2. Sensorimotor independence: neurons represent abstract spatial information generated by a cognitive operation.

Constructional apraxia: difficulty in computing spatial relationships
--took test for apraxia, converted it into form monkeys could perform. Monkeys would focus eye on center of display, then configuration of shapes would appear ("model"). Next, "incomplete copy": shape appears but missing a piece. Important: all shapes same when missing piece. Thus, each model is an inverted T composed of squares with an extra square attached somewhere. Then they get choice between squares to add to shape to complete appropriately. Must press key at right time (when correct square is highlighted) to add it to shape. Hope is to look at cognitive functions upstream of motor output.
--some cells: activity is correlated to location of missing element. Will provide same input to retina (inverted T-shape), but will differentially fire based on which square is missing from shape.
--some cells: potentially firing when predicting that inverted T will be presented to them. So looked at them with inverted T with two extra squares, but only one would disappear. Thus confirming that cell's firing is correlating to missing area (I'm not sure if I followed this right).
--controlling to make sure not motor output signal: potentially responsible for saccades. Cells basically have no activity during saccade test; neither during delay interval nor during actual saccade.
--more than 40% of cells measured by array carrying signal involved in this: possibly training for new cognitive functions (monkeys don't do this in the while), maybe even developing new circuits during course of training.

~85% predictive accuracy on determining location of missing square based on firing rates of cells. Error trials: error in square selection correlates to error in firing rates.

Are the cells active whenever you direct attention to a specific location? No. When you just give them dots to look at in same location, little activity in same population.

Neural activity during object construction:
--tried shifting model L & R vs. shifting incomplete object L & R: is cell tied to object-relative activity, or relative to screen or visual fields? Cells consistently fire for square in relation to object, regardless of object location.

Then a bunch of stuff I didn't quite follow. Tired, need more coffee.

Due to moving of object, were able to check activity of cells when attention (missing object) in different parts of retinocentric space: changes, based on where missing square would be. So although they fire in relation to object, not visual field, there is some level at which location in visual field is effecting firing strength.

Time-resolved decoding:
--cells responding to viewer-centered side preceed cells responding to object-centered side

Conclusion: abstract representation
--encodes computed spatial information
--not spatial vision
--not motor planning
--not eye position
--context selective
--predicts spatial choice

Q: monkeys activated both object & viewer-centered reference frames, then acted on one. This implies ability to choose one over the other.
A: Discussion of future work

Q: Monkeys are very over-trained. Is it possible that you can train these monkeys in one direction or another, that you're training these monkeys to adopt one reference frame over another?
A: Totally.

Planning Uncertainty

"Planning Uncertainty" by Giuseppe Pellizzer, Brain Sciences Center, Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center & Dept. of Neuroscience, University of Minnesota

Most experiments about motor control: implemented with equiprobable targets. However, we also know that some motor responses are more likely to be required than others. But the amount of information available is dependent on the context.

[POSTSCRIPT: Sorry, but I had some major problems following this presentation so halfway through I stopped typing regularly, because what had come before was mostly gibberish.]

Hick-Hyman Law: The reaction time is a function of the number of stimuli/responses:

RT = a + b Log_2 (N)

A good description for conditions where the stimulus and response are not very compatible. But it is poorer for desccribing conditions of higher compatibility.

Topic: Effect of directional uncertainty in reaching tasks (high stimulus-response compatibility)

Instructed-delay task: after delay, moving dot to center of other dots (I really didn't quite follow the intricacies. I was distracted by my brownie).

Hypotheses for motor preparation with discrete spatial cues: the system engaged in processing multiple directional info:
1. has a limited processing capacity;
2. can process multiple alternatives simultaneously
3. spends time to initiate a motor response in relation to the amount of processing capacity attributed to the direction of the target.

Capacity-sharing model: RT = a + b(1-1/N)
--pretty good fit of data from instructed-delay task
--RT not related to spatial dispersion of cues
--but some subject populations seem to fit to Hick-Hyman law

Instructed-delay task: continuous cue
--present a range of direction in which the dot can appear, which will be moved to the center.

Instructed-delay task: MONKEYS!!!
--0 cues, 1 cue, 2 cues (45 deg from each other), 2 cues (135 degs), 4 cues (135 deg), 4 cues (270 deg)

We know: many motor cortex neurons are tuned to direction of movement, mapped in orderly fashion.

Q (his): "What determines the level of neuronal activity when there are multiple directional cues?"

4 hypotheses:
1: ? (Most powerful cue, I think)
2: Averaged direction of cues.
3: Sum of neuron's activity associated with each cue
4: Complicated: activity modulated by the average direction with motivational activity affected by dispersion of cues (no, I can't really parse that either)

#4 has highest R^2 when matching data.

Neuronal activity: not dependent solely on cue # or solely on cue range.
--reaction time is inversely correlated with level of neuronal activity (unsurprising)

--Humans: results suggests that human subjects processed differently discrete and continuous spatial uncertainty
--Monkeys: spatial distribution of cues was an important determinant of neuronal activity and behavior (i.e., reaction time)
--activity of motor & dorsal premotor neurons reflected the spatial uncertainty of the movement to be selected
--monkeys processed similarly discrete and continuous spatial uncertainty

Specialization and Breakdown of Spatial Representations

"Specialization and Breakdown of Spatial Representations: Mind, brain, and development" by Barbara Landau, John Hopkins University

Williams Syndrome: unusual cognitive profile, studied by Ursula Bellugi, article published in 1994.

Phenotypic characteristics:
--Unusual facial morphology
--Small stature
--Defects of organs, esp. viscera & heart
--Commonly mild to moderate retardation (ave. IQ ~65)

Brain characteristics:
--Reduced overall volume
--Substantial abnormalities of sulcal folding (van Essen, 2006)
--Structural abnormalities at occipital-parietal juncture and in hippocampus

Genetics of Williams syndrome:
(from Meyer-Lindenberg et al, 20?? review)
Region of deletion: key genes include LimK1 (most strongly implicated in spatial deficits), Elastin, GTF2IRD1 (implicated in retardation), CYLN2.

Cognitive profile: severe impairment in "visuoconstructive" spatial tasks.
--comparison of children copying images. Original pictures are just circles broken up into 2-4 colors. Control children successfully duplicate general gist (although not particularly well), drawings by Williams syndrome children present at most vague similarity to an aspect of the image (realizing that the image requires different colors, for instance, and therefore just drawing a series of lines of different colors).
--assembly of puzzles: simple block puzzle, ~8 blocks (all yellow except for 2 black), subject can't assemble to match original.
----Where are subjects looking when they do the block puzzle? Simple two-block puzzle: Assembling puzzle inverted over and over again: successfully checking vs. real puzzle to realize blocks are wrong, but continually still assemble pieces that way. Even patients with normal IQs have this problem: the puzzle problem is the definitive trait of Williams syndrome.

Puzzle: How do genes influence cognitive structure?

Interactionist view: missing genes -> abnormal brain -> abnormal cognitive structures (almost by definition) -> Behavior.

Dr. Landau's question: do you have normal cognitive structures? If so, how else could behavior be occurring?

General Research Plan:
1. Look for breakdown in spatial functions.

2. Determine whether breakdown reflects abnormal cognitive structures.

3. Something something (uh... Profit?)

Object recognition: show someone varying perspectives on an object, they identify it
--Ventral stream
--multiple viewpoint function.
--four versions of object presented: "canonical" view (orientation) vs. "unusual" view, clear vs. blurred image.
----images all seem very identifiable
--minimal difference with clear canonical view, alternate orientation creates a spread with Williams Syndrome on bottom--roughly matched with mental age matches. But when blurred, Williams Syndrome beat mental age matches and match chronological age matches.
----Compare this to puzzle assemly and drawing copying, where they perform at ~a 4-year-old level.
(Population of Williams Syndrome subjects: 8-16 years old; control: children matched to mental age, sometimes normal adults.)

Question: can they perceive biological motion?
--requires ability to integrate global motion.

Showed us image of assemblage of dots "walking" in dot field. 1:1 Signal to Noise Ratio: still noise, very easy to identify. Random noise, harder but still easily doable. 1:3 Signal to Noise Ratio/Yoked Noise: 3 noise dots for every signal dot, movement of noise dots yoked to movement of signal dots: Really, really hard. Only a couple of us got this last one when presented for ~5 sec.
--WS subjects performed as well as adults on 1:1 tests, beating mental age matches. WS somewhat worse than adults on 1:3, but still slightly outperforming mental age matches.

Other domains of sparing examined: face perception, spatial language, motion coherence.

Next question: So what's wrong?
Return to the block construction task. Components:
"--segment overall design into blocks
--match individual blocks
--place blocks in adjacent copy space"

People with Williams syndrome have problems with all three of these components separately.

Matching individual blocks: problem with selecting mirror images. "Handedness" presents problems. Placing blocks in copy space: given single block, asked to place in space correlating to spot in competing puzzle. Issues with swapping left-right axis.

Realization: areas causing problems may be in dorsal stream and parietal lobe. Examined as series of parietal roles.

Vision for action. First task: take a dollar bill and stick it in a piggy bank. Second task is perceptual match: researcher turns a dial that moves a mannequin hand up to the piggy bank slot, subject has to tell them when to stop. Second task: Williams syndrome subjects do worse (not too horribly bad, but ~equivalent to 3-4 year olds). First task: quite poorly, also on part with 3-4 year olds. Also, once delay is introduced, ability breaks down entirely for both tasks.

Coordination of reference frames: last example, very new so only a little bit fo sample data.
Work by Laura Carlson: looking at activation of reference frames during attention tasks; normal adults activate multiple reference frames at once then either promote one or inhibit the others.
Task: place a dot in the same place relative to a square. Can't use body reference system. When box in same place in both target and test (can use screen reference system), do fairly well. When square in different place--can only use object reference frame--ability starts to deteriorate.
--introduced possibility of rotation by placing profile in square. With 0 rotation, subjects do quite well--some distance scatter, but on right axis. 135 degree rotation: have to dissociate object and screen reference systems. Havok induced, even when dot is near enough to be directly on top of profile's head. Scatters seem to be centered either around object or screen reference system. No consistency at all. When dot is further away, results scattered widely around screen reference, little around object reference point.


Domains of breakdown (worse than MA; same as 3-4 yo)
--Vision for action (reaching, eye movements)
--use and coordination of reference frames

Q: Is there any relation between this syndrome and hemispheric neglect?
--A: They do fine on neglect tests. Nonetheless, there is clearly some relationship going on but it isn't clear what yet.

Side note:

There were a half dozen anti-primate-testing protestors on the street in front of the hotel on the street as I walked in. However, the hotel is recessed so that if you're walking--or even driving--in, you would be approaching the hotel from either side of the block, and thus from behind them. I only saw them because I bussed in this morning, which took me past them. However, I'm assuming they're here for the conference today because A: there's someone presenting primate-based research today, and B: why else would they be in front of the hotel?

So considering that attendees of the conference are unlikely to notice them, and no one else even knows that this thing is going on, whose attention exactly are they attempting to grab?

MC&CN: Opening Remarks

Opening Remarks by Apostolos Georgopoulos, University of Minnesota

8:50: opening remarks were supposed to start at 8:30 and, uh, they haven't. The first slide for the first speaker's presentation has been up on the screen since I got here at 8:20, though.

8:53: There we go.

This field brings together a lot of disciplines on "both sides of Washington St."--Psychology, Neuroscience, Child Development, Evolution, etc.

The purpose of this meeting is to serve as a somewhat intense survey summer school. Primarily designed for students at all levels; as such, this is the first one (he hopes) in an annual series, with differenct focuses each year.

Motor Control and Cognitive Neuroscience

Today's the first day of the Motor Control & Cognitive Neuroscience conference. I'm going to attempt to live-blog or pseudo-live-blog it, which really just means I'll be typing instead of writing down my notes and then hitting "Publish Post" when I'm done taking them. If it goes well, I'll try doing it all week. If it doesn't, I'll just switch over to my notebook and give you highlights later on.

Friday, August 04, 2006

I've gotta say. Right now, I totally wish I lived in Nevada, because those are some perversions of the dignity of the electoral process that I could totally get behind.

Well, I'm Not Surprised

Reuters: Plan B decision made before data review

Friday Random 10 - 4 August 2006

1. Atmosphere - Apple
2. Bad Religion - 21st Century Digital Boy
3. Miles Davis - Bags' Groove (Take 1)
4. Thelonious Monk - I Let A Song Go Out of My Head
5. Mylene Pires - Clareou
6. Gorillaz - Fire Coming Out of the Monkey's Head
7. Analog Brothers - Analog Anilalator vrs. Silver Surfer
8. Amon Tobin - Sultan Drops
9. Tito Puente - Obsession
10. Tom Waits - House Where Nobody Lives

Americans Still Weird. Like, In The Head.


Readers of a US parenting magazine are crying foul over the publication's latest cover depicting a woman breastfeeding, with some calling the photo offensive and disgusting

"I was SHOCKED to see a giant breast on the cover of your magazine," one woman from Kansas wrote in reaction to the picture in Babytalk, a free magazine that caters to young mothers. "I was offended and it made my husband very uncomfortable when I left the magazine on the coffee table."...

..."Gross, I am sick of seeing a baby attached to a boob," the mother of a four-month-old said...

..."I had to rip off the cover since I didn't want it laying around the house," she said...

...The picture in Babytalk was aimed at illustrating the controversy surrounding breastfeeding in the United States, where a national survey by the American Dietetic Association found that 57 percent of those polled are opposed to women breastfeeding in public and 72 percent think it is inappropriate to show a woman breastfeeding on television programs.

Babytalk executive editor Lisa Moran said though most of those who responded to the poll about the cover photo gave the magazine a thumbs up, she was surprised that some 25 percent expressed outrage.
(emphasis mine)

'nuff said.

Winning the Vietnam War Hollywood Style

Kudos to Wonkette for providing the most beautiful imagery I've encountered this week... and I've seen both Once Upoon a Time in America and Miami Vice! Commentary on the Vietnam Wall Visitor Center:

And a 3D “battle scene” — that’ll be a blast For a quarter, you can put on “Ride of the Valkyries” and napalm a miniature village — animatronic Robert McNamera will show you how!

Doesn't that sound like the sort of thing YOU wished you could've done on family vacations as a kid?

Paper Watch

Latest issue of Neuron went up this morning.

Check out #1: Neural Differentiation of Expected Reward and Risk in Human Subcortical Structures by Kerstin Preuschoff, Peter Bossaerts, and Steven R. Quartz. Abstract:

In decision-making under uncertainty, economic studies emphasize the importance of risk in addition to expected reward. Studies in neuroscience focus on expected reward and learning rather than risk. We combined functional imaging with a simple gambling task to vary expected reward and risk simultaneously and in an uncorrelated manner. Drawing on financial decision theory, we modeled expected reward as mathematical expectation of reward, and risk as reward variance. Activations in dopaminoceptive structures correlated with both mathematical parameters. These activations differentiated spatially and temporally. Temporally, the activation related to expected reward was immediate, while the activation related to risk was delayed. Analyses confirmed that our paradigm minimized confounds from learning, motivation, and salience. These results suggest that the primary task of the dopaminergic system is to convey signals of upcoming stochastic rewards, such as expected reward and risk, beyond its role in learning, motivation, and salience.

Check out #2: Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA by Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düze. Abstract:

Novelty exploration can enhance hippocampal plasticity in animals through dopaminergic neuromodulation arising in the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA). This enhancement can outlast the exploration phase by several minutes. Currently, little is known about dopaminergic novelty processing and its relationship to hippocampal function in humans. In two functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies, SN/VTA activations in humans were indeed driven by stimulus novelty rather than other forms of stimulus salience such as rareness, negative emotional valence, or targetness of familiar stimuli, whereas hippocampal responses were less selective. SN/VTA novelty responses were scaled according to absolute rather than relative novelty in a given context, unlike adaptive SN/VTA responses recently reported for reward outcome in animal studies. Finally, novelty enhanced learning and perirhinal/parahippocampal processing of familiar items presented in the same context. Thus, the human SN/VTA can code absolute stimulus novelty and might contribute to enhancing learning in the context of novelty.

I'm tempted to follow up with a Metal version


The technologically advanced leading the blind, part XXVI

LiveScience: Vision Gear Bypasses the Eye

The Forehead Retina System (FRS) uses a special headband to selectively stimulate different mechanoreceptors in forehead skin to allow visually impaired people to "see" a picture of what lies in front of them.

Read the rest. This looks truly bizarre.

Thursday, August 03, 2006


Congrats to Seimone:

The Minnesota Lynx and the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee today announced that Lynx rookie guard Seimone Augustus has been named to the 2006 USA Basketball Women's World Championship Team. The 15th FIBA World Championship is scheduled to be played Sept. 12-23 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Also named to the team on Tuesday were Yolanda Griffith (Sacramento Monarchs) and Alana Beard (Washington Mystics). The selections were made by the USA Basketball Women's Senior National Team Committee.

Bad Neuroscience Fiction

Jason Ironheart, from the Babylon 5 episode Mind War
Anyway, the experiments went on for months. Genetic manipulation; mutated strains of serotonin and acetylcholine to increase neural processing. Five, ten, sometimes fifteen injections a day. The pain was...

I was watching this with some friends the other night and started smacking my head in mental agony. B5 is usually a show that either gets the science right or implicitly acknowledges that you can't explain something with real science and ignores it. But here we have a character tryig to explain a series of experiments he was subjected to in order to increase his telepathic abilities, so they're sort of screwed from the moment they decided to write dialogue describing it.

But this is even worse than that. Let's make this simple: a is an alteration of some sort of genetic material. The phrase "mutated strain" implies a genetically altered bacterium or virus. "Strain" can also be used to describe genetic lines of lab animals or of plants; but as far as I know, it's use is limited to describing a subset of a species. So what, you ask, are and ?

They're neurotransmitters: so at least the writers correctly identified them as having something to do with the brain. Let's take a look, shall we?



So let's just make this clear: chemicals are not particularly open to mutation. You could mutate genes for the enzymes that produce these transmitters; you could mutate the genes for receptor sub-types, transporters, any other number of proteins involved in serotonergic or cholinergic activities. But talking about mutating the substances themselves is like talking about mutating water or glucose.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

"...YOUR MOM'S a hyperbolic curve!"*

Ever wonder if pop. sci. writers just look at papers and think about how they can best go about overstating and misrepresenting the results?

Reuters: Scientists take step toward obesity vaccine

*Stupid in-joke. You don't have a chance, give up now.

Also? Sky still above ground.

Only 25x?

Eyes Induce Honesty

So if you want to promote honest social behavior, maybe you don't need to install closed-circuit cameras everywhere, spy on your populace, and generally turn into a police state. Maybe you could just paint eyes on everything:

A team from Newcastle University found people put nearly three times as much money into an 'honesty box' when they were being watched by a pair of eyes on a poster, compared with a poster that featured an image of flowers...

...For this experiment, lead researcher Dr Melissa Bateson and her colleagues Drs Daniel Nettle and Gilbert Roberts, of the Evolution and Behaviour Research Group in the School of Biology and Psychology at Newcastle University, made use of a long-running 'honesty box' arrangement.

This had been operating as a way of paying for hot drinks in a common room used by around 48 staff for many years, so users had no reason to suspect an experiment was taking place.

An A5 poster was placed above the honesty box, listing prices of tea, coffee and milk. The poster also featured an image banner across the top, and this alternated each week between different pictures of flowers and images of eyes.

The eye pictures varied in the sex and head orientation but were all chosen so that the eyes were looking directly at the observer.

Each week the research team recorded the total amount of money collected and the volume of milk consumed as this was considered to be the best index available of total drink consumption.

The team then calculated the ratio of money collected to the volume of milk consumed in each week. On average, people paid 2.76 as much for their drinks on the weeks when the poster featured pictures of eyes.

I think there are clear ways to implement this knowledge, starting by painting giant faces on every wall of the White House & the Capitol building.

Trying to build a creepier society since 1978.

Academics Blog Top Sites