Neuroscience and Social Sciences

There is a common complaint I get from the public: scientists who know the most about a topic are often the least able to give people a straight answer.

We know this is true, but we also know science can be complex. We all want the easy narrative, the definitive response, but that is not always realistic.

However, it is almost always necessary because regulations will happen.

When the public read ambiguous answers from experts, they begin to tone them out. If they read an article about Chemical X where a scientist states, "there is no conclusive research that shows Chemical X is linked to greater adverse outcomes" and then they read an environmental lawyer who states, "Scientists agree that Chemical X may be causing these cancers", they side with environmentalists...

Dead at 53.

Another former professional athlete from the National Hockey League.

Another player subject to collisions, head trauma, on-ice fist fighting, and, of course, concussions – like the one in 1991 that rendered him unconscious on the ice and ended his brief, five-year career.

Another premature death, which followed a post-hockey life marked by disorientation and an overall inability to function.

And, now that the results of his posthumous brain examination are in, we now must add Jeff Parker to the running list of former hockey players who developed CTE during their careers.

“It’s very hard to deny a link, I think, at this point,” said Dr. Ann McKee, as quoted by the New York Times.  

But one prominent denier, continuing to...

Suicide and homicide rates show strikingly different trends in the United States.

The suicide rate has been increasing. It has been led by a rise in suicides in rural America, which are up 40% in 16 years. The homicide rate, on the other hand, has been decreasing over the same time period, though there has been a slight uptick in recent years.

Racial differences in homicide and suicide rates are particularly eye-catching. Over the past week, the CDC has released data, first on suicides:

...

Randa Jarrar, an English professor at Fresno State, is rightfully in hot water. In a Twitter tirade, she called the recently deceased Barbara Bush an "amazing racist" and said she was "happy the witch is dead." For good measure, she wished death upon the rest of the Bush Family.

Let's set aside the issues of free speech and tenure to focus on a bigger underlying concern: The psychology of pure, unadulterated hatred. How does a person become so consumed with animosity for a fellow human being?

Hatred is a toxic emotion that can be understandable, such as when a person is the victim of a crime. Likewise, hatred of historical...

A video of a woman playing the flute while undergoing brain surgery for tremors has gone viral. The notion of a person being wide awake to perform a skilled task under such conditions captivated media outlets and the internet. Though it is quite miraculous each and every time, this neurosurgical procedure named deep brain stimulation (DBS) is quite established and has been around for many years improving the quality of life for those with Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders.

In this instance, Anna Henry is a professional musician who has endured tremors since childhood. With...

Despite the macabre nature of the grim discovery of a Medieval Italian woman’s body buried with her partially delivered unborn baby, the medical findings and their implications prove quite fascinating and educational. Though my colleagues at ACSH were unanimously horrified by the gruesome details of the case when I brought it to their attention and the notion of a post-mortem “coffin birth” in general, the account just published in World Neurosurgery marries my interests in neurosurgery (the field in which I started my career), maternal-fetal physiology and forensics while informing about the dynamic strides made over time in medical thinking.

After learning about this story, you will...

We all have habits. Some are useful automatic actions that we can do without thinking about, like pressing the start button on our coffee maker while still half asleep and bleary-eyed. Habitual behavior is routine and automatic, frequently initiated by a cue or change in a situation.

Sometimes, habits don't hold up, like the morning after you buy a new coffee maker with a new button, and have to think about where it is in order to press it. Starting the new coffee maker is a goal-directed action. Goal-directed actions, which are done to seek a reward, require decision making which takes time and energy.

The ability to flexibly switch between the two is an important response strategy, critical for behavior that adapts to situations. 

The infralimbic prefrontal...

The Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) is a quick, 10-question test that attempts to objectify an inherently subjective topic: depression. You can take the test here.

Each question asks about your mental health and various behaviors over the past two weeks. Based on your response, you receive a score of 0-3 for each question. At the end of the test, the responses are tallied and a "depression score" is assigned as follows:

0-4: None or minimal
5-9: Mild
10-14: Moderate
15-19: Moderately severe
20-27: Severe

The test is far from comprehensive. It does not, for instance, ask about...

Graduate school can be extremely tough on students.

Grad students in the sciences are often expected to put in 50- or 60-hour weeks in the laboratory. (One professor boasted to me that he worked 80-hour weeks when he was in grad school.) Some professors are notoriously demanding and mercurial, expecting students to be in the lab on weekends and on holidays. Writing dissertations and other papers is an endless back-and-forth of often nit-picky edits.

It goes without saying that grad students are also poor. But, they are told that if they grind it out for six (or more) years, they will land a sweet gig somewhere in academia. Of course, that's not true. Universities produce far more PhD's than there are...

One of the key pillars of suicide prevention is identifying those at risk of suicide and getting them the counseling or treatment that they need. Typically, this responsibility falls to family, friends, and therapists.

But what about Dr. Google? The Internet is the go-to source of information on everything from stock prices to toenail fungus cures. As it turns out, people who are contemplating suicide turn to Google, as well.

Vincent Chandler, a professor at St. Mary's University, searched Google Trends for the popularity of suicide-related searches from 2006 to 2014. He included terms such as "suicide kill myself" and "suicide want to die," but excluded terms like "Suicide Squad," a popular comic that was turned into a movie in 2016. Then, he linked these search terms to...