Scientists must rise above politics — and restate their value to society

Scholars globally are feeling the heat from politicians. They should take inspiration from scientists in the 1950s who raised the alarm over nuclear weapons. Shortly before his death in 1955, Albert Einstein co-authored a report on avoiding nuclear war, which led to the Pugwash Conferences and helped create non-proliferation agreements.

The need is urgent. At the end of last week, Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro sacked the head of the National Institute for Space Research following a stand-off over the agency’s latest reports, which say that deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated during his presidency.

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Posted in Politics, Scientists | Tagged ,

Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience

This Handbook examines disparities in public health by highlighting recent theoretical and methodological advances in cultural neuroscience. It traces the interactions of cultural, biological, and environmental factors that create adverse physical and mental health conditions among populations, and investigates how the policies of cultural and governmental institutions influence such outcomes. In addition to providing an overview of the current research, chapters demonstrate how a cultural neuroscience approach to the study of the mind, brain, and behavior can help stabilize the quality of health of societies at large. The volume will appeal especially to graduate students and professional scholars working in psychology and population genetics.

The Oxford Handbook of Cultural Neuroscience represents the first collection of scholarly contributions from the International Cultural Neuroscience Consortium (ICNC), an interdisciplinary group of scholars from epidemiology, anthropology, psychology, neuroscience, genetics, and psychiatry dedicated to advancing an understanding of culture and health using theory and methods from cultural neuroscience. The Handbook is intended to introduce future generations of scholars to foundations in cultural neuroscience and to equip them to address the grand challenges in global mental health in the twenty-first century.

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Complex Systems in Medicine

Book. This unique title explores complex systems in clinical medicine and the subsequent implementation of that knowledge into practice. Written conversationally and as a reflection on the journey of learning about complex systems, the book explores how knowledge of these systems can be applied to four key roles in academic medicine: clinical practice, education, research, and administration. Further, this title emphasizes how gaining an understanding of complex systems can greatly help a physician deal with the many challenges found in academic medicine. Unlike other books on complexity in medicine, which tend to focus on only one aspect of the management of patients, Complex Systems in Medicine deals with the multifaceted roles of a physician. The approach in this book is uniquely qualitative rather than mathematical, and is written to make it not only of interest to physicians, trainees, and allied health providers, but also to make it more accessible to a non-medical audience. The inclusion of personal anecdotes by the author provides concrete examples of the application of knowledge of complex systems in academic medicine. A first-of-its-kind contribution to the literature, Complex Systems in Medicine: A Hedgehog’s Tale of Complexity in Clinical Practice, Research, Education, and Management is not only a novel reference for medical professionals, it is an accessible tool for the non-medical audience hoping to learn more about complex systems and their direct relevance to medicine, a field that deals with the infinite variety of humans and their ills. It illustrates the consequences of the interactive elements of patient care that make medicine both a science and an art.

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Posted in Complexity, Medicine, Systems | Tagged , ,

Predicting Early Emergence of Childhood Obesity in Underserved Preschoolers

Objective. To determine the magnitude of risk of factors that contribute to the emergence of childhood obesity among low-income minority children.

Study design. We conducted a prospective cohort analysis of parent-child pairs with children aged 3-5 years who were nonobese (n = 605 pairs) who participated in a 3-year randomized controlled trial of a healthy lifestyle behavioral intervention. After baseline, height and weight were measured 5 times over 3 years to calculate body mass index (BMI) percentiles and classify children as normal, overweight, or obese. Multivariable logistic regression was used to estimate the odds of obesity after 36 months. Predictors included age, sex, birth weight, gestational age, months of breastfeeding, ethnicity, baseline child BMI, energy intake, physical activity, food security, parent baseline BMI, and parental depression.

Conclusions. The combination of child age, parent BMI, and child overweight as predictors of child obesity suggest a paradigm of family-centered obesity prevention beginning in early childhood, emphasizing the relevance of child overweight as a phenotype highly predictive of child obesity.

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Posted in Children, Obesity, Poverty | Tagged , ,

Handbook of Cognitive Archaeology: Psychology in Prehistory

The remains that archaeologists uncover reveal ancient minds at work as much as ancient hands, and for decades many have sought a better way of understanding those minds. This understanding is at the forefront of cognitive archaeology, a discipline that believes that a greater application of psychological theory to archaeology will further our understanding of the evolution of the human mind.

Bringing together a diverse range of experts including archaeologists, psychologists, anthropologists, biologists, psychiatrists, neuroscientists, historians, and philosophers, in one comprehensive volume, this accessible and illuminating book is an important resource for students and researchers exploring how the application of cognitive archaeology can significantly and meaningfully deepen their knowledge of early and ancient humans. This seminal volume opens the field of cognitive archaeology to scholars across the behavioral sciences

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Posted in Ancient civilizations, Archaeology, Cognition, Cognitive Archaeology, Physiology | Tagged , , , ,

The Ancient Mind: Elements of Cognitive Archaeology

One of the most troubling problems in archaeology is to determine the manner and content of prehistoric thought. A fundamental challenge is to develop the theory, methodology and tools to understand human cognition. Cognitive archaeology as a subject is still in its infancy, and archaeologists are adopting a variety of approaches–literary, linguistic, and scientific. The contributors to The Ancient Mind develop a new direction in prehistoric cognitive research that is rooted in the scientific tradition and in an empirical methodology. Together, they begin to develop a science of cognitive archaeology.

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Information addiction: How information is like snacks, money, and drugs to your brain

“To the brain, information is its own reward, above and beyond whether it’s useful,” said Assoc. Prof. Ming Hsu, a neuroeconomist whose research employs functional magnetic imaging (fMRI), psychological theory, economic modeling, and machine learning. “And just as our brains like empty calories from junk food, they can overvalue information that makes us feel good but may not be useful–what some may call idle curiosity.”

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Genetics of Personality

In this article, the findings from behavioral genetic studies of personality are summarized, including twin and adoption studies estimating heritability as well as molecular genetic studies of candidate genes and genome-wide association studies. Studies of biological markers and other personality correlates are also reviewed, with suggestions for future directions in genetic studies of personality. An overview of personality theories and assessment instruments of personality is also provided.

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The causal influence of brain size on human intelligence

There exists a moderate correlation between MRI-measured brain size and the general factor of IQ performance (g), but the question of whether the association reflects a theoretically important causal relationship or spurious confounding remains somewhat open. Previous small studies (n 〈100) looking for the persistence of this correlation within families failed to find a tendency for the sibling with the larger brain to obtain a higher test score. We studied the within-family relationship between brain volume and intelligence in the much larger sample provided by the Human Connectome Project (n = 1022) and found a highly significant correlation (disattenuated ρ = 0.18, p<.001). We replicated this result in the Minnesota Center for Twin and Family Research (n = 2698), finding a highly significant within-family correlation between head circumference and intelligence (disattenuated ρ = 0.19, p<.001). We also employed novel methods of causal inference relying on summary statistics from genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of head size (n ≈ 10,000) and measures of cognition (257,000 <n< 767,000). Using bivariate LD Score regression, we found a genetic correlation between intracranial volume (ICV) and years of education (EduYears) of 0.41 (p<.001). Using the Latent Causal Variable method, we found a genetic causality proportion of 0.72 (p<.001); thus the genetic correlation arises from an asymmetric pattern, extending to sub-significant loci, of genetic variants associated with ICV also being associated with EduYears but many genetic variants associated with EduYears not being associated with ICV. This is the pattern of genetic results expected from a causal effect of brain size on intelligence. These findings give reason to take up the hypothesis that the dramatic increase in brain volume over the course of human evolution has been the result of natural selection favoring general intelligence.

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Posted in Brains, Intelligence | Tagged ,

The Mystery of Intelligence

Few questions have generated such passionate discussions in the scientific community than those related to intelligence and intelligence testing. To give some examples: Arthur Jensen (1969) published an article in the Harvard Educational Review (HER) titled “How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement?,” in which he argued that compensatory education in the US failed to produce lasting beneficial effects on children’s intelligence quotient (IQ) and achievement, therefore the premises on which these programs were based should be reexamined. Nine years later, he admitted that the firestorm that was ignited by his writing came as an unpleasant surprise. Less than 10% of the 123 pages long article dealt with ethnical differences suggesting that genetic factors may be the reason for the one standard deviation lower performance of Afro-Americans as compared to whites. The reaction was “swift and severe,” with regular near-riotous demonstrations by students at colleges where Jensen was invited to speak. His office was picketed and his classes were regularly disrupted or when lecturing at other universities, canceled at the last minute. Students’ newspapers were filled for weeks with fierce statements against his research, suggesting that the university should get rid of him. The violence of student activists escalated to the point to which it threatened to get out of control. At that time, the campus police assigned two bodyguards to accompany Jensen around campus (Snyderman and Rothman, 1988). Even 9 years later and, as far as Australia, there was still a need for police protection (Jensen, 1978).

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