Tag Archives: Sociology of science

Wow, this is interesting

Scientists Find Vessels That Connect Immune System And Brain. June 3, 2015 | by Stephen Luntz. IFL Science.

http://www.iflscience.com/brain/vessels-found-connect-immune-system-and-brain

Structural and functional features of central nervous system lymphatic vessels

Antoine Louveau, Igor Smirnov, Timothy J. Keyes, Jacob D. Eccles, Sherin J. Rouhani, J. David Peske, Noel C. Derecki, David Castle, James W. Mandell, Kevin S. Lee, Tajie H. Harris & Jonathan Kipnis
Nature (2015) doi:10.1038/nature14432
Received 30 October 2014 Accepted 20 March 2015 Published online 01 June 2015

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature14432.html

I find this most interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, the discovery showing that the human brain has functional lymphatic vessels connecting the brain with the immune system adds to a growing collection of evidence that the immune system plays important roles within the brain, which is an apparent partial violation of the long-held concept of the “blood-brain barrier” (as was described in a dated and inadequate chapter by Dr Karl in his 2013 pop science book Game of Knowns). In 2012 I was apparently the first person in the world, at this blog, to publish the ideas that high or low levels of the “component” immune chemicals at various points in development could be the cause of conditions of the brain such as developmental synaesthesia and Benson’s syndrome or PCA. My ideas were inspired by the very exciting research in areas such as microglia, complement, synaptic pruning and MHC1 molecules.

Another reason why this new discovery linking the central nervous system with the lymphatic and immune systems by researchers from the University of Virginia is so exciting is the fact that it is an unexpected discovery, as one might have thought that human anatomy would have already been thoroughly researched and discovered through the history of medical science to date, but then again, surprising new discoveries in human anatomy have not been unknown in recent years, with discoveries of new features in the human eye, knee and clitoris, the rediscovery last year of a major white matter tract (the vertical occipital fasciculus) at the rear of the brain that could play a central role in skills such as reading, and a new shape of neuron discovered in mouse brains. These new discoveries are exciting and also rather unsettling; exciting because it appears that important new discoveries in human neuroscience and anatomy are still possible, and unsettling because genuinely surprising new discoveries in science seem to indicate that science is not a steady accumulation of knowledge and a path of upward progress, as many believe. This may or may not be surprising to you, depending on which theory in the philosophy of science you favour. I think the discoveries of the VOF and the collection of discoveries about the roles and anatomy of the immune system in the human brain could be interpreted as evidence showing how incorrect ideas in science can become widely-accepted and widely-taught and could also have delayed the progress of new discoveries in neuroscience. How much further might we have come by now in our understanding of the human brain and mind if not for the popularity of the idea that the human brain is quarantined from the immune system? Which other influential ideas about the human brain are holding us back from a clearer understanding of the brain’s workings and diseases?

FFS, the dress problem isn’t psychological or perceptual

I’ve done my best to ignore the nonsense surrounding That Dress but I’ve lost patience with the abundance of stupidity that has been bought to the discussion. ISN’T IT AS OBVIOUS AS THE NOSE ON YOUR FACE? Neither the dress nor the photo of the dress are optical illusions. The dress was simply photographed under lighting conditions that gave rise to a photograph featuring colours that markedly differ from the actual colours of the dress as seen under regular lighting conditions, THEREFORE, the dress in the photo is different colours to the dress in reality. Here’s the big news; colours can be manipulated in photography! Amazing isn’t it? This manipulation can be done on a photo in computerized format using various computer applications, or the colours can be manipulated or altered before the photo is taken, by lighting of the scene to be photographed. In effect, the dress in the photo is a tint of the dress in reality. Why the confusion then? The confusion arose because the question “What colour is the dress?” requires clarification, but no one had the smarts to figure out that the question could be and was likely to be interpreted in two different ways, and thus the requirement for a clarification of the question was not identified. Some people, like myself, interpreted the question to mean “What colour is the dress in the photograph?”, and clearly it is a cold, mauvey-blue unsaturated colour and golden brown, no black, definitely no black, as anyone could see if they held an actually black item up against their computer screen while viewing the photo of the dress on their screen. Understandably, many other people interpreted the question as an invitation to guess, reason or theorize what the colour of the dress might be in reality, based on the way it appears in the photo. These people correctly and cleverly guessed or reasoned that the dress is blue and black. I do wonder about those who saw white and gold, but the question was a trick question, so I wouldn’t judge them.

There’s nothing I love more than a good optical illusion or perceptual anomaly, especially in real life situations, but I’m very sure this dress thing is not one of them. This problem appears to be one for the philosophers, not the psychologists or the scientists, but then again, I’m tempted to wonder whether there might be some measurable psychological or neurological or behavioural difference between those who naturally give an answer based on their immediate visual perception and those who naturally give an answer based on their own interpretation of their visual perceptions. I suspect that the difference might be interesting and meaningful. I’ll bet the former are less prone to most genuine visual illusions.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn27048-what-colour-is-the-dress-heres-why-we-disagree.html#.VPVaTvmUd8

Postscript March 5th 2015

I’d like to add another point to this post. From what I’ve read this entire dress discussion had it’s origin in the non-scientific world of social media “guys please help me – is this dress white and gold, or blue and black? Me and my friends can’t agree and we are freaking the fuck out”. This young lady who does not appear to be a scientist or a psychologist discovered a very interesting perceptual anomaly phenomenon thing that has sparked huge discussion, including discussion by and among scientists, and the story has been reported in at least one international science magazine. I find it interesting that this dress meme didn’t come from the world of science. Would it have been ignored or have failed to “go viral” if a scientist had discovered The Dress? Does this say something about the sociology of this meme, or is it more the case that a non-scientist has discovered a phenomenon that is more interesting (in regard to the way it has identified puzzlingly polarized responses in large numbers of people) than anything that scientists or academics have discovered recently. Is this an example of non-scientists (not even citizen scientists) making a greater contribution to the science of colour perception than the actual scientists who are supposed to be right on top of this stuff? I know that researchers and others have identified many different types of visual illusions that are supposed to trick most or all people, but I’m not aware of a visual stimuli that polarizes viewers the way The Dress does. Am I simply ignorant? As I have written before, I believe that science is too important to leave it to the scientists.

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

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?