Aussie Nobel Prize winner mentions citizen scientists on ABC’s Lateline

I very much enjoyed watching Professor Peter Doherty AC FRS, Australian immunologist and Nobel laureate being interviewed on Lateline tonight about cuts to science funding and the CSIRO. Professor Doherty did some very important research involving the MHC proteins, which I believe have also been the focus of researchers interested in the development of the mammalian and human brain.  I particularly liked Professor Doherty’s acknowledgement of the roles of citizen scientists in the science community, but I take issue a bit with his characterization of citizen scientists as generally people who have no training in science. There are plenty of people in the community who have academic achievements of various kinds in science or applied science who do not have paid jobs in science, for whatever reason. This doesn’t mean we aren’t educated or qualified or knowledgeable. Some voluntary roles in the community have more stringent training and screening processes than paid jobs, so the relationship between training and having a real job is also not absolute.

http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/content/2014/s3985479.htm

The value of CCTV questioned in Queensland

The value of CCTV in preventing crime has been questioned in Queensland following another tragic murder of a young person, which resonates with concerns about CCTV that I’ve aired at this blog in the past. CCTV might be a valuable tool in solving crimes, but everyone would much prefer that crimes be prevented or at least intercepted in a timely manner by police. The full video of this story will probably appear in a day or two at the 7.30 website.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-10/this-week-on-730-queensland/5382066?section=qld

Nothing simple about dyspraxia

A case of dyspraxia with possible prosopagnosia and significant issues with fine motor skills such as using zips and buttons and handwriting, but Victoria Biggs was also a precocious reader and an academically very high achiever as an adult. Fascinating! This case is evidence against my idea that reading, face memory and fine motor skills should cluster at similar levels of ability; high in my case and low in people who have Benson’s syndrome. But I think it is interesting that in Ms Biggs’ case she is at the extremes of levels of ability in all three. In the radio show other issues mentioned include finding one’s way through streets (suggestive of topographical disorientation or DTD), poor ability to plan including planning motor tasks, difficulty reading facial expressions and as a result difficulty reading social situations, and also displaying odd facial expressions. I’m amazed that the term “autism” didn’t come up once in this story, because there seems to be so much in Ms Biggs’ story that overlaps with countless accounts of autism or Asperger syndrome, not that I think autism would be an appropriate label. I don’t. I’d love to know whether Ms Biggs is a left-hander.

Victoria Biggs is the author of Caged in Chaos—A Dyspraxic’s Guide to Breaking Free.

Living with dyspraxia. presenter Amanda Smith

The Body Sphere. ABC Radio National.

Thursday 27 March 2014

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bodysphere/clumsiness/5348588

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bodysphere/caged-in-chaos/5326564

Thank you PubPeer

Thank you PubPeer for (after some fussing about) giving me a place on the internet that is recognized by scientists to publish my objection to some researchers publishing a highly original idea that I had thought of independently and had published at this blog over a year before their draft paper was received by their publisher. I’m certain that this is a case of plagiarism, but other people object to my use of that word, so the only place you will see the word plagiarism used in relation to that matter is here at this blog.

I have already published a very full account of my side of the story at this blog, but unfortunately this blog isn’t recognized as a part of the ecosystem of commentators attached to the world of science, the people and organizations in the league of science journalists, science magazine bloggers and internet services that are supposed to review the science literature but actually appear to be automatically-generated content. PubPeer isn’t like that; it appears to be run by people, but who they are is a mystery. I can completely understand why they wish to remain anonymous. Exposing the many ways in which peer review in science publishing is broken is a pastime that I am sure could be harmful to one’s career in science.

I believe that I can make a greater contribution to science as a blogger who has no job that is in any way connected to any university or any research institution, because I don’t have to deal with career-building and politics that goes with having that kind of career, and as a result I have more “mental bandwidth” free to devote to thinking about actual science. I am not expected to teach half-interested university students or organize conferences or write full-sized published papers or book chapters, and I’m not expected to know my proper place in the scheme of things. Very ordinary physical activities that I do in my everyday domesticated life automatically activate regions of my brain that deal with conceptual thinking and memory, and as a result I am often bombarded by novel ideas resulting from a boundless miscellany of concepts flashing onto the centre stage of my mind and colliding in a quite haphazard manner. I guarantee this kind of involuntary mental activity wouldn’t happen if I spent my days comfortably sedentary inside an airless office, staring at a wall or a dusty old painting. I’ve had jobs like that in the past, and years of study at an austere and ugly university which was also pretty much the staring at a wall lifestyle. I find it ironic that study at a university can offer an environment that has an effect on thought that must surely compare with a lobotomy.

Being a nobody to the world of science has many up-sides. I don’t feel a lot of need to consciously or unconsciously self-censor my ideas and publications to fit in with the beliefs and fashions of researcher peers (whether they make sense or not), and I don’t limit my thoughts to my job description, because I have no job description (and I also unfortunately have no salary, pay or financial benefit of any kind). Having no identity in the world of science means I also have no specialization or niche, leaving me free to see and write about a completely obvious connection between synaesthesia, an area of science typically researched by research psychologists and non-clinical neuroscience/psychiatry researchers, and the human immune system, an area of science that has I guess typically been researched by practicing medical doctors in the specialties of immunology or rheumatology. For sure there have been in the last ten years or so a group of pioneering and original researchers who have researched the incredibly complex ways in which the human immune system impacts on brain development, but I don’t think any of them have linked their work with synaesthesia or any particular type of dementia, as I have.  I’m guessing that they haven’t written about synaesthesia because they feel that it is too trivial a matter for them to bother with, which is probably a defensible point of view, as synaesthesia isn’t a disorder and I’ve never heard of a synaesthete who is looking for a cure. I feel free to write about concepts such as dementia, the complement immune chemicals and synaesthesia that are areas that are beyond my expertise, because I have no recognized area of scientific expertise or any recognized career in science. A lot of words have been written about the concept of intellectual freedom in academia, but I have found that being a non-entity outside of all that is a state that offers the most intellectual freedom. It’s a bit like being the invisible man; you can get up to all kinds of stuff but you can’t hope for recognition, because you have no face and no identity.

Being nobody is a state of freedom but it certainly has it’s frustrations, like having no income as reward for any of the work I put into this blog and the ideas published in it, and having no recognition, not even on the internet, but the most frustrating thing is the way that my most important idea has had no apparent impact in science. I’m not referring to my idea linking the immune system with synaesthesia, which was just an amusing step in my journey to the much more important idea that one particular type of dementia, known by the names Benson’s syndrome or posterior cortical atrophy or PCA, could be caused by an excess of one or more of the complement immune chemicals. Surely this is an idea that could be researched. Surely this is an idea that could lead to a number of different ideas for therapies if it turns out to have some value. Surely this is an idea worth at least checking, for if it reflects reality it surely has the potential to save minds and brains and lives. HELLO! Is anybody listening?

P.S. Late last month an Australian biotechnology company plunged on the stock market following the announcement of the failure of their drug aimed at treating Alzheimer’s dementia during a stage of a study. After years of hoopla and hype about drug companies finding a cure for Alzheimer’s or dementia, and anyone’s guess how much money spent on studies, all they can offer is symptomatic treatments. The story has been one failure after another. Benson’s syndrome is considered by some to be a variant of Alzheimer’s disease. Whether it is or not, maybe it is high time for researchers to stop obsessing about plaques in the brain and look at the immune system and the brain. My money is on C3 and C4 as concepts to focus on in a search for an understanding and cure for dementia. Would it kill you dementia researchers to accept some advice from a Perth blogger who is nobody in particular, and put my name on your research paper if my idea works out?

If this is some kind of test…..

…I honestly don’t see how anyone could fail it. Seriously?

http://www.newscientist.com/gallery/image-detail

Facebook almost as good as humans at recognizing faces, but how would it compare with super-recognizers?

The thing that you’ve got to remember when reading headlines like this is that human super-recognizers can recognize (recently and non-recently) familiar faces at a level of performance that is very much higher than the human norm in face recognition or face memory performance. So the technology might be closing in on human face recognition ability, but how far is it from outperforming the best humans, the super-recognizers who have been estimated as one in a hundred people? My guess is that the technology isn’t even in the same postcode as supers.

Facebook almost as good as humans at recognising faces.
by Hal Hodson
New Scientist. 18 March 2014 Issue 2961.
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn25245-facebook-almost-as-good-as-humans-at-recognising-faces.html#.Uyhag_mSx8E

Embodied within sculptures made of metal

I’m regretting that I never found the time to write about the works displayed at Sculpture by the Sea 2012 at Cottesloe because I know I had in mind to try to explain why Highness by the Iraqi Australian sculptor Ayad Alqaragholli had such an immediate impact on the viewer and appeal. The sculpture reached high into the clear blue summer sky and sea air, depicting a scene of human acrobatic performance with a joyful mood. I noticed that our young child felt compelled to perform handstands on the grass near the sculpture after viewing the piece of art, and I wondered whether there was something deeply psychological about the way it is typically received by people, perhaps evoking some kind of mirror-neuron activity. I was also fascinated by the way in which the emotion of joy had been depicted in the piece using body-related metaphors of reaching, expansion and elevation. The emotion of joy had been embodied in the sculpture, so was this sculpture something to do with embodied cognition? I felt that it must have. Regardless of the theory that might be read into the scuplture, it was my personal favourite for that year. I just liked it. We enjoyed it.

http://www.sculpturebythesea.com/image-gallery/cottesloe.aspx?Year=2012&Location=Outdoor

Not long ago I spotted this local newspaper article by Tanya MacNaughton about Ayad Alqaragholli and another one of his works, Embrace, which is exhibited in this year’s Cottesloe outdoor exhibition:

http://www.inmycommunity.com.au/going-out/theatre-and-the-arts/Sculpture-by-the-Seas-new-season/7657457/

and his new sculpture seems to have a similar theme, and once again I thought it was clear that there is some kind of metaphorical thinking in his work which I feel is similar to embodied cognition:

“There’s so much freedom for young people even when they’re just walking down the street; I like to have people flying in my artwork to show how happy they are.”

Flying = happy

up = happy

down = sad

freedom = flying

repression = trapped

imprisonment = held down

This is a scheme connecting emotional states with spatial locations, and social situations and feelings with physical situations. It seems to be one or two kinds of synaesthesia, but could also be interpreted as embodied cognition because after all, it is human bodies that are depicted in Mr Alqaragholli’s sculptures.

I can’t wait to get to Cott Main Beach to see the exhibition. Can’t wait to see all the sculptures! Can’t wait to have a dip too and take some photos and see the sunset over the sea and hear the noise of the feral rainbow lorikeets roosting in the tall pine trees. I love summer in Perth!

 

Embrace by Ayad Alqaragholli

Embrace by Ayad Alqaragholli

Super-recognizers? Why bother?

The world must be amazed and horrified by the recent disappearance of a jet plane full of passengers in Asia, with no trace of evidence to confirm what has happened to the flight. At least two things are remarkable about the disappearance of MH370; the lack of evidence of the whereabouts of the plane or wreckage, and the revelation of the lack of care commonly practiced in many countries in checking passports.

I don’t travel much, but it is my understanding that passports have photos in them that border-control staff are supposed to check against the appearance of the person presenting the passport as theirs, to see if the person in the photo is the same person claiming to own the passport. Clearly, it would be a good idea to hire super-recognizers to work in this role. But this idea seems almost comical when one considers that there is such a lax degree of border control practiced at many airports that it is reportedly a common thing for people to travel on passports that have been reported as stolen and are entered on an international database of suspect passports. The fact that two of the people on the missing place were travelling on stolen passports is therefore now seen as not such a big deal, and is not considered to be solid evidence of terrorist activity. While border control and security is such a low priority and so poorly done, we can hardly expect that organizations responsible for these functions will show much interest in recruiting super-recognizers.

Visual memory of chore – concept of true story synaesthesia

As I opened the lid of the clear plastic seed-sprouter at my kitchen sink and saw the just-sprouting greenish mung beans, the unpleasant memory of the facts of the story covered by last night’s Four Corners current affairs television show jumped into my mind unbidden. Last night I had been picking out dead brown non-sprouting mung beans from the healthy beans after they had been soaking for hours to start the sprouting process, the kind of dull and repetitive chore that I often try to make less boring by listening to the television or radio while I’m working. In the process of performing this chore last night the content of the television show that I had listened to had become wedded with the visual image of the sprouting beans laying on the tray of the seed sprouter. I think the neuroscience term for this might be “binding”. The fact that these two logically unrelated experiences had become permanently connected in my brain and my mind was unknown to me until the sight of the beans in the sprouter was seen again this afternoon, involuntarily and instantly triggering a complex concept in my mind that has nothing to do with beans or sprouting. The way this variety of synaesthesia operates has similarities with the operation of a number of other varieties of synaesthesia that I have previously written about at this blog: the Proust Phenomenon, fine motor task – visual place memory synaesthesia, concepts associated with visual memories of scenes, involuntary method of loci memorization (IMLM) and arguably The Strange Phenomenon. This type or a similar type of synaesthesia has been experienced by me many times in the past after the synaesthesia associations have been formed while I was doing handcrafts while listening to television shows or radio. An example would be my remembering one year’s winner of the Eurovision Song Contest when I look at the hand-made quilt on our child’s bed which I worked on while we were tuned into the song contest finals on TV. Turkey should win more often – they always make interesting music with a great beat.

Personification everywhere

I’ve been watching a repeat of the series Secrets of the Superbrands, a TV series about marketing of global mega-brands, and the host of the series was visiting a laboratory that creates flavourings and fragrances for super-brands. They spoke about creating flavourings that match the “personality” of the brand, citing a list of emotional attributes that can be embodied “serious”, “playful” etc. How is the different to the varieties of synaesthesia that personify concepts such as numbers and letters, or the varieties of synaesthesia that personify objects such as house plants, fruits and cutlery?

Later a researcher in South London, Prof. Gemma Calvert of the Neurosense Group, at the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, was shown doing a study with an MRI brain scanner, putting people into the scanner while they were shown photos of the faces of people in their immediate family, and also shown photos of the products, featuring familiar product logos and labelling and packaging design, that they are personally familiar with. Apparently the photos of faces and products triggered similar patterns of brain activation, activiating a “reward centre”, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and also the face recognition areas at the back of the brain. This could be interpreted as evidence that advertising and marketing and brand packaging design produces the effect of personifiying products in ordinary people, so I think it follows that one does not need to be a personifying synaesthete to perceive objects as though they are faces or people. Perhaps personifying synaesthetes are more consciously aware of this effect, or perhaps we are more open to being manipulated in this way, but it shows that we aren’t really that special or different.

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