[Photo by Tomas Fano via Flickr/Creative Commons]
Last August, a paper in Nature debuted with evidence supporting an idea that many suspected but few wanted to hear: If two teams of scientists run the same psychological experiment, the two sets of results end up mismatched. (In fact, when a network of 270 researchers retried 100 psych experiments, they found that only about 1 in 3 yielded results matching the original paper.)
Since consistent results are the hallmark of scientific truth, this is a pretty big problem for the field. But, interestingly, many psychologists and neuroscientists have embraced the “Replication Crisis” as an opportunity to change their science for the better.
Others have doubled down on the methods that have always gotten them out of scientific credibility jams in the past— re-crunching numbers, critiquing the initial paper’s findings in dense journal articles, and reminding everyone just how hard scientists work.
I couldn’t help but think of the two drastically different responses to the “Replication Crisis” when I read a paper about learning and pain in last week’s Early Online edition of PNAS. Researchers at University College London found that some people learned best by experiencing pain and remembering what-NOT-to-do in the future.
Others learned best when they managed to avoid pain in the first place; they simply kept repeating previously successful pain-preventing strategies.
The fMRIs of the study’s 19 “no-pain-no-gain” learners and 22 “playin-it-safe” learners detected slight differences in the shape of a brain structure called the striatum.
Continue reading “Some people learn from pain, others learn by avoiding it” »
Storming the Ivory Tower: Why autism interventions don’t work as they should in the community and what to do about it
In Plain English:
Autism treatments & management techniques that succeed in neuroscience labs often fail in public schools. (And we really, really need to figure out why…)
David Mandell of University of Pennsylvania
Simons Center for the Social Brain Colloquium
What it covered:
Even though there are thousands of neuroscientists working on developing management and treatment options for autism, very few of those techniques make it into real-world homes and classrooms. Despite the growing public concern about autism, there aren’t very many people focusing on translating data into things teachers can do to help their autistic students learn.
(The issue here is that the type of training you need to be able to interpret an fMRI and the type of training you need to be able to understand the social dynamics in how public school teachers interact with their students are two very, very different types of training. And since most graduate programs assume that you’re going to be spending 60-80 hours per week working on stuff related to your degree, hardly anyone has time to pursue graduate level work in both of those areas, much less decipher the intersections and implications of the two….But that makes the handful of people who do work on translating neuroscience into implementable best practices all the more valuable.)
David Mandell is one of those people. His background is in public health, so his research focuses more on the social and infrastructural issues around autistic people’s education and treatment than what’s going on in their brains. He covered a huge amount of ground in a relatively short talk, but the takehome message was the point he led with: Translational research, or research that focuses on how to implement lab scientists’ ideas in real-world clinical settings, is “the biggest gap in the autism research portfolio” and that we need to do better.
Hospitalization, special ed, and behavioral interventions are all expensive. And the costs don’t disappear once the autistic kids become adults. “We think about autism as a childhood disorder, but the life expectancy for folks with autism is not that different than the general population,” Mandell pointed out. “They spend most of their lives as adults.”
Continue reading “How do you translate neuroscience into education?” »
Part I: Why I’m Writing This Post
Last week’s post about ASAN’s statement against the Combating Autism Act shattered the record for page views on this site. I was kind of overwhelmed by how many people who had never met me, many of whom were autistic themselves, reblogged my post and thanked me for writing it.
That was really gratifying to hear because even though I identify as neuroatypical (or neurodivergent, whichever term you prefer) because of my ADHD, I do not (and cannot) claim to speak for the autistic community or the autism parent community in any way.
But I believe that everyone should have a say in what kind of medical interventions their bodies are subject to and that the biomedical establishment does not spend enough time talking to autistic people about what kinds interventions they’re comfortable with.
Continue reading “Why I Said “ASAN isn’t perfect” (aka “Building an Interdisciplinary Dialogue between Neuroscientists, Psychiatrists, Parents, and Autism Advocates is really hard work”)” »
Earlier today, I stumbled across this review of Susannah Cahalan’s Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, that was written by a neuroscience grad student. I liked the piece, but it got me thinking….
Cahalan was a healthy 24-year-old, working at The New York Post, who suddenly “went mad” and would have almost certainly died, if one of her doctors had not realized that her “madness” may have been the result of a rare auto-immune reaction. Anti-NMDA encephalitis, to be precise.
If you read my review of Molly Caldwell Crosby’s book on encephalitis lethargica (or know anything at all about chronic Lyme disease), you know that anything that causes encephalitis (swelling in the brain) is bad news.
Continue reading “Why scientists aren’t necessarily the best science-explainers” »
A Cognitive Neuroscience Approach to the Early Identification of Autism
In Plain English:
A scientist investigates the patterns of neural wiring in infants whose older siblings have autism
Charles Nelson of Boston Children’s Hospital
Simons Center for the Social Brain at MIT
What it covered:
Dr. Charles “Chuck” Nelson is one of the best known (and judging from the way he was introduced and addressed at this colloquium, he’s also one of the best-liked and most-respected) researchers in the field of neurological development. Before coming to Boston Children’s Hospital, he made a name for himself by working on face recognition in infants.
He stopped by the MIT Simons Center for the Social Brain colloquium to tell other researchers about his team’s latest findings in neurological development in autistic infants (and their siblings).
He prefaced his talk by saying that he was really torn about whether this talk should focus on the more mechanistic aspects of his work (“Which neurons are firing?” & “What neurotransmitters are making them do that?” type questions) or the more descriptive aspects (questions about overall statistical trends in “at-risk” populations) of his work. Continue reading “Investigating neural patterns in the younger siblings of autistic children – Recap of talk by Dr. Charles Nelson” »