Omni Brain

I'm pleased to announce I'm now blogging for Omni Brain. It's a great blog about fun and funny brain science news. Mind Hacks calls it "wonderfully anarchic."

Neurofuture remains my baby, and I also write for Psych Central, a terrific web resource. Huge archives and up to the minute info.

There are a few other sites on my personal blogroll as well but you don't want to read about my new shoes, do you?



Neurofuturistic art

This doesn't quite fit as an item for Neurofuture, and yet it completely does. See why.

Art Metropole presents a Candy Factory Project: watch I'm Getting Married August 30th. Takuji Kogo collaborating with Mike Bode to create very new media art.



Online neurological diagnosis

The Trigeminal Neuralgia Diagnostic Questionnaire uses a neural net to diagnose forms of the "suicide disease," a neurological disorder characterized by facial pain so severe patients beg to be killed.

An accurate diagnosis means patients can more quickly seek appropriate treatment, he said. "A patient comes in and says, 'I'm having pain,' so a dentist might give him a root canal. The pain comes back, so the tooth is pulled out. People have all kinds of unbelievable things done before somebody finally says, 'You know what? Maybe this isn't your tooth.' To prevent unnecessary procedures, people need to be told early on what they have."


"We hope that as people use this system, they become more and more informed, because they should be able to make informed choices before they actually get into treatment," Burchiel said.

One treatment Burchiel offers, and which Hill has received, is a surgical therapy called microvascular decompression. The procedure involves entering the brain through a small incision behind the ear, finding and exposing the trigeminal nerve with a powerful surgical microscope, and positioning a piece of Teflon between the nerve and the artery that's touching it and causing the pain. [Videos available.]

In most cases, the procedure offers longer-term relief from facial pain than many, less-effective or inappropriate treatments people seek when they haven't been accurately diagnosed.

"People who have this condition are desperate for answers for what they have, so now, anywhere in world, somebody can log onto our Web site and basically diagnose themselves and go to the right resources," Burchiel said. "And we put the resources right there on the Web site."

The educational web site also offers neurosurgery videos, MRI protocol, and more.

Read more.



Information wants to be free

Scientists find brain cells linked to choice, says a Reuters article in The Scotsman.

"The neurons we have identified encode the value individuals assign to the available items when they make choices based on subjective preferences, a behaviour called economic choice," Padoa-Schioppa said in a statement.

I was left with questions like, "Which neurons? Where? How? Why?" so I looked for the statement at Harvard, found nothing, then checked Nature (the article said findings were published there) and found nothing recent from Dr. Padoa-Schioppa. Turned up an abstract from a Society for Neuroeconomics conference, which revealed it involved the orbitofrontal cortex. Brainmaps.org then underwhelmed me with zero results.

This is the information age? Feh.

I do know how to find stuff, this is just a good example of the bioinformatics infrastructure making it ridiculously difficult. The statement only went to select journalists, Nature wants you to pay lots to read, the Society of Neuroeconomics wants you to travel to a conference, and Brainmaps is a nice initiative but doesn't have access to enough data and has an unintuitive search engine ("hippocampal formation" is in there, but not "hippocampus").

Best results from my brief search: related article by Dr. Padoa-Schioppa in the Journal of Neurophysiology, and Decision Blog on the role of regret in choice.

What I'm wondering about is the overlap between various choice theories and neuropsychological studies. Where do neuroeconomics and neuromarketing (and media theory and sociology) intersect?


Religion on the brain

Via Omni Brain: The right and left brain according to the Bible, a bizarre sample from a site that makes up metaphors from the Bible to explain hemispheric brain functioning (plus AI from the Bible). Need I comment?

There's also Christian content in this podcast (yes, another podcast, I ought to start another blog just for them) about neuroethics in neuromarketing, but it's a light touch of moralizing with a distinction between Christians and non-, and Dr. Cranston has megacredentials - there's logic. Listen to "Neuromarketing": Unethical Advertising?

To those who call the resultant advertising "coercion," I respond by pointing out that to hold this is to assume that the consumer is a bungling, mindless individual, who will be swayed by whatever new and sophisticated advertisement comes along. This is insulting. People aren't, and won't be, this vulnerable to the power of suggestion.

...Since there is no convincing evidence that it is ethically wrong and further research in this area may prove very helpful to many hurting people, the argument could be made that we actually have an obligation to pursue this technology.



The Neurocritic in fine form

The Neurocritic started the day annoyed by a New Scientist story so bad it's a candidate for BAD Neuro-Journalism. Highly amusing.

Hours later that grain of sand produced a pearl: a detailed deconstruction of some cogsci neuroimaging research on self-awareness. It's a must-read for the learning experience as well as the humour. Comes complete with Eminem quote and link to Neuron.



The blogularity

Technorati released a blogosphere status report and after reading that it's "60 times bigger than it was only 3 years ago" and other factoids I looked at an accompanying chart and it struck me - there's surely going be a blog singularity.

See for yourself:

New blogs include unknown numbers directories don't try to track because they're not human-tended (raising the question "what is a real blog?"). Technorati refers to them as noise. Splogs and splings as well as blogjects and spimes. They're getting smarter, and expanding rapidly, while at the same time there's more and better analysis about what constitutes a good blog, content trends, information sources, market data, blogger profiles, etc.

Yada yada yada then the question arises - how will I as a human blogger fare with strong AI sentient blogs?

Blogu. The best blog there could ever be. Unimaginably witty and informative. Cool and cute and credible. Will the ultimate blog end all blogs?

A blogu would provide *links* for all those words like spime and splog but I as a quirky lazy humanoid now just say look them up. Ha! Does that make me charmingly irreplacable? No?

Would I matter as a blogger? Would a blogu even blogroll me?

How will the blogularity affect my blogularity?

Ah, modern anxieties.



Gerhard Werner

Dr. Gerhard Werner is a neuroscientist who began his career in the 1940s and is still teaching and publishing provocative material at eighty-five years of age. From his paper, Perspectives on the Neuroscience of Cognition and Consciousness:

Dare I ask an impertinent question: "What is consciousness without the world?" Could it be contingent on levels of interactivity, rather than exclusively the capacity of a brain in isolation?

Werner surveys the development of the fields of Computational, Cognitive and Theoretical Neuroscience with a critical view. He offers breadth and insight from an interdisciplinary career and suggests historical directions in cybernetics left some promising alternative theories undeveloped.

Also available on PDF is The Siren Call of Metaphor: Subverting the Proper Task of System Neuroscience, published in the Journal of Integrative Neuroscience.

Like many writers, he's interested in comments and discussion - discuss AI with one of the developers of the "Digital Brain." If only he kept a blog, too.



Hard Science, Hard Choices podcasts

More Science and the City neuroethics podcasts - these are collected as A Slippery Slope: Facts, Ethics and Policy Guiding Neuroscience Today from Library of Congress videos.

On May 10-11, 2005, Columbia University medical ethicist Ruth Fischbach and neuroscientist Gerald Fischbach brought together 28 experts in brain research, treatment, and ethics to discuss the latest findings and potential pitfalls in the fields of neuroimaging, neurotechnology, and neuropharmacology. Sponsored by the Dana Foundation, Columbia University, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the Library of Congress, the symposium "Hard Science, Hard Choices" was held at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Topics include neuroimaging, neuroscience and the law, neurotechnologies (including the DBS "brain pacemaker" recently making headlines), genetics, and the transhumanist issue of cognitive enhancement.

Podcasts and more info at NYAS, or browse through all the Library of Congress webcasts.


Neuro wardrobe

"Add to your neuro wardrobe ensemble with both the Brain Cap (above) and the Nervous System T-Shirt (shown at left). Only available in X-Large. Flip up the brim and expose the words, 'Think, think, think...'"

I wrote a paragraph about an imaginary neuroscience beach barbeque but am trying to cut down on snarkiness, so deleted it. Keyword: neuronerdliness.

Brain Mart may not be Chanel but they do have an extensive array of brain related products, including novelties. Much potential fun with the brain mold. Neuronerdliness is good!


Neuroscience podcasts from Science and the City

Tom Wolfe (The Bonfire of the Vanities) interviews Michael Gazzaniga (The Ethical Brain) in a podcast titled Ethics in the Age of Neuroscience.

Produced by the Dana Foundation and the New York Academy of Science, it's the first in a series of podcasts from Science and the City. But more than MP3, it's also available indexed into a 37 part series of video clips/slides and thumbnails, and the titles and notes are searchable (though it isn't fully transcribed). There are four web pages of accompanying information about Wolfe, Gazzaniga and the issues they discuss. Nicely done.

Science and the City also offers an enhanced podcast about neuroaesthetics titled Synesthesia and the Universal Principles of Art:

V.S. Ramachandran discusses the neurological underpinnings of why we enjoy creating and looking at art, and the phenomenon of synesthesia, a blending of the senses that he believes might result from a sort of neurological cross-wiring between sections of the brain.

And among their regular podcasts there's In Search of Memory:

The new memoir of Nobel-prize winning neurobiologist Eric Kandel is an expansive history of neuroscience, as well as the tale of a great intellectual life that survived the Nazi occupation of Vienna, and McCarthy era restrictions on science in the US.

All podcasts here; keep current with RSS. (Got a blog? Get a feed. It's a must.)


Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience symposium videos

The Redwood Center for Theoretical Neuroscience at the University of California Berkeley held its inaugural symposium on October 7, 2005. It's now available on video. Buy a DVD for just $5 or watch individual talks online (MPEG or Real Video) free. They include:

  • Horace Barlow, Cambridge University: The Roles of Theory, Commonsense, and Guesswork in Neuroscience
  • Dan Kersten, University of Minnesota: Human Object Perception: Theory, Psychophysics & Imaging
  • Sue Becker, McMaster University: The role of the hippocampus in memory, contextual gating, stress and depression
  • Florentin Worgotter, University of Goettingen: Learning in Neurons and Robots
  • Panel Discussion: The Role and Future Prospects for Math/Computational Theories in Neuroscience
  • David Heeger, New York University: What fMRI Can Tell Us about How Visual Cortex Works
  • Kevan Martin, ETH/UNI Zurich: Canonical Circuits for Neocortex
  • Terry Sejnowski, Salk Institute: Dendritic Darwinism
  • Jeff Hawkins, Numenta: Prospects and Problems of Cortical Theory

The new centre's mission and research is described as:

Theoretical neuroscience: a sub-discipline within neuroscience which attempts to use mathematical and physical principles to understand the nature of coding, dynamics, circuitry and plasticity in nervous systems.

It is often said that "neuroscience is data-rich yet theory-poor." Our aim is to supply useful algorithms and theoretical ideas to neuroscience in order

  • to provide new forms of analysis for neural data (spike trains, EEG, MRI),
  • to provide theories and specific models which integrate diverse observations and suggest new experimental approaches.

Specific issues and phenomena we are interested in include hierarchical organization and feedback, plasticity, mechanisms of memory, the roles of spike-timing and oscillations, sparse coding, the computation of the thalamo-cortical system and the cortical microcircuit, and the connection between systems-, cellular- and molecular-level neuroscience.

Methodologically, we use ideas from coding theory and probabilistic machine learning insofar as they relate to known neural phenomena and mechanisms in networks, cells and molecules.

I'm sure we'll see some interesting research emerge.


Seed science writing contest

Via Cyberspace Rendezvous:

Seed is pleased to announce the First Annual Seed Science Writing Contest. This call to action is intended to inspire writers to think critically about the state of science in America.

Amidst emerging competitive threats from abroad (China and India in particular) and heated debates over intelligent design, stem cells and climate change: What is the future of science in America? What should the US do to preserve and build upon its role as a leader in scientific innovation?

Deadline is June 30, 2006, maximum word count 2,000. No entry fee. Grand prize is publication of winning essay in Seed magazine (who also publish ScienceBlogs including the estimable Cognitive Daily), and $1,000 cash.

Open to US citizens 18 and older.

Canadians, of course, are also welcome to ponder "the future of science in America" then write in their blogs. Or, apply for the CSWA science writing scholarship for the Banff Centre, who assure us that understanding science "requires expertise no greater than that required for understanding hockey strategy." What about figure skating physics? Skating science whiz Mira Leung is the future.


"Brain fingerprinting" smudged

Best animated GIF ever! Comes with the caption "How it works" from an article about brain fingerprinting a.k.a. brain mapping in India. Because obviously investigators can reach down from the sky into the brain, smush a hand around, and emerge with a criminal memory. It's just like that. (I love how bouncy the brain is, too.)

It makes as much sense as calling such a process brain "fingerprinting" (which has nothing to do with memories, it's about identifying individual biometrics, which is why there's also DNA fingerprinting) when you're doing nothing of the kind. Perhaps in another form there are biometrics involving the concept of fingerprinting brains (no doubt there are, and retina scanning is close) but EEG to test for memories isn't that.

Brain fingerprinting involves measuring the MERMER paradigm EEG response during interrogation and although it has been used in some criminal cases in the US (without much success; Jimmy Ray Slaughter's capital execution appeal based on brain fingerprinting was denied), it has been soundly criticized.

"Note the repeated use of the adverb 'scientifically' -- a mannerism much in evidence among marketing copywriters, and charlatans," was one reaction to Dr. Farwell's claims. Methodology was another issue.

Brain fingerprinting was developed with the FBI and made its way to India's justice system for a terrorism trial. The fact it's now being used in sexual assault cases is alarming considering that the developer's own web site warns:

In what kinds of cases does Brain Fingerprinting testing not apply?

There are several types of cases where this technology does not apply. For example, in a disappearance, all the authorities may know is that someone disappeared. They may not know if any crime has been committed. Another situation where Brain Fingerprinting testing is not applicable is when everyone agrees on what happened, but there is disagreement as to the intent of the parties. For example, in a sexual assault case the alleged victim and the alleged perpetrator may agree exactly on what happened, but disagree on whether or not it was consensual.

The Forensic Science Laboratories in Mumbai have apparently not visited the web site (or their in-box to write me back). Perhaps their system came from another supplier; you can even build your own from open source. However, India signed a contract with Brain Fingerprinting in 2004. [This was alleged by a few web sites, not good sources, and the manufacturer denies sales in India, and informs me that a competitor in India is the source.] I wonder if they know the name was changed to brain mapping? At least in popular usage in India.

PBS produced a special on brain fingerprinting; (take a test and watch a video clip). But nobody seems to be looking at its use in India since the US introduced the technology. It's being misused, applied to the wrong cases, even though the source of the technology publicly warns against its use in sexual assault trials.

Even in appropriate cases: "The technique, however, can't be used on the mentally ill, heavy alcoholics and 'might fail on a habitual criminal.'"

That sure rules out a lot of cases, doesn't it?

And here in Psychophysiology: "...tests of deception detection based on P300 amplitude as a recognition index may be readily defeated with simple countermeasures that can be easily learned."

Lots more disputes, academic discussion on Farwell's article Using brain MERMER testing to detect knowledge despite efforts to conceal in the Journal of Forensic Sciences, listed here. Also, an article from the BBC on its use in the legal system in the UK. All very negative.

Then why is India using it? (And why is someone soliciting for donations to train 5000 brain fingerprinting technicians in Colorado?) There's also a procedure using sodium pentathol in interrogations, as mentioned in Deception Blog. Both of these techniques were developed - and debunked - in the US.

Clearly India's methods of investigation need as much re-examination as their rape laws. Are they benefitting from modernizations, or have they been deceived?


"Brain-mapping" criminals in India

Thank you for your query. We will get back to you as soon as possible.

Mumbai Police

With that, then, I pause my search. Since finding the news via OmniBrain I've been reading more about the rape conviction of Abhishek Kasliwal in India due in part to "brain-mapping" lie detection purported by the government to have 99.99% efficiency. In North America, the UK and elsewhere neuroscience has been applying fMRI neuroimaging to lie detection in experiments but it hasn't faced the courts yet, and controversy abounds.

In India EEG is being applied to a range of high profile criminal cases. It was given to a Bollywood starlet accused of murdering a man who attacked her after offering a major film role and marriage. It's now been used to convict a rapist; Khaliwal apparently failed the test, though I have no test to point at, just a few sentences repeated in English-language Indian newsmedia about how the "brain-mapping" helped convict him.

The case: a 52-year-old woman picked up on the street by a man in a Mercedes and raped in the parking lot of a major carpet business owned by the accused's family - he's a somewhat famous rich kid, a powerful figure in a caste society while she's (possibly) a prostitute - witnessed by five people including his family's own security guard. One witness described bruises on the woman's neck, a broken hand, scratches, difficulty walking. The hospital medical report confirms she was forcibly raped. Whether or not he gave her money at some point is irrelevant. Prostitutes are victimized too. They're a favourite target of serial killers. In this case, the media can't say she's a prostitute, just that she was picked up in a red light district and offered alcohol and she "accepted a ride" but the prosecution is careful not to say she was working. If they did, they'd probably lose the case, looking at public sentiment around the question of whether or not she was a prostitute, so forensics must be strong. They found physical evidence in his car, they had her medical report, and his, which turned up scratches on his arms and hands. They don't mention DNA fingerprinting.

However, with all that plus a positive ID in a police lineup they also conducted EEG and polygraph tests. "Brain-mapping."

Brain mapping more often refers to neuroanatomical studies. In the sense they're using the term in India, it began as an investigative aid using neuroimaging in connection with a terrorist attack some years back and now the Forensic Sciences Laboratories use it often. Unfortunately I haven't found out exactly how, what questions they're using in the interrogations, etc., and P300, EEG and ERP were the only technical terms I found. This article from 2004 is vague. This is the most specific info I found: "[Kasliwal] was attached to 32 electrodes and shown pictures and words associated with the crime. His brain responses were noted down during this brain mapping test."

I do predict that now it's hit the blogosphere, some may be alarmed at this judicious use of a primitive technology (dates back to 1965, which in neuroscience terms is prehistoric) while they're debating much more refined applications. That's really another issue. What I would like to point out here is that the police have compiled a massive amount of evidence against a rapist and used the scan as just one more factor - it wasn't the determinant, and the case shouldn't fall if the technology should fail. Let's not call for the Kasliwal's release when so much points to jail. Should it be used in general? Human rights in India are what's really at stake in this case. If neuroscience helps convinct a criminal in a case in which dozens of people are attacking the victim instead (she deserved it for multiple reasons, according to many of the all-male voices in the Indian media) of the criminal, I'm glad. This is a political battle and if science works in favour of the victim, doubly victimized in a misogynist society, that's positive.

But - what of the rights of the accused? Is there an infringement?

I share what I've found; visit what I've linked in del.icio.us and add your own tagged "kasliwal_case" - I'm looking to find more about EEG in lie detection. Not more comments about how it wasn't really rape because she was a prostitute. If the EEG helps prove it was, as one more piece in a solid array of evidence in an strong case fighting a very biased scenario, then great.

But would I rest a capital case on EEG lie detection? I doubt it, but bring on the evidence. There's data mining to do in India. I look forward to what is found tomorrow.

AI technical talks

Some of the available videos produced for the Tech Talks collection at Google Video, from hour long presentations to Google research and development staff (including Q&As):

  • Opportunities For Pharmacogenomics and Personalized Medicine by Prof. Russ Altman, director of the Center for Biomedical Computation at Stanford University, and the PharmGKB online pharmacogenomics database

  • Scalable Learning and Inference in Hierarchical Models of the Neocortex - computational neuroscience
  • Hacking the brain by predicting the future and inverting the un-invertible by Bill Softky
  • Knowledge Representation and the Semantic Web, High End Computing and Scientific Visualization at NASA
  • Glimpse Inside a Metaverse: The Virtual World of Second Life
  • weRobot: Robotics and Community for Learning and Exploration

And more. It's Web 3.0.

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