Our remarkable oculomotor system

Ryan McDonald and Andy Poulos (hidden) provide “oculomotor” control for two cameras. I wrote in a previous post about being confined to a tiny space as we film Understanding the Brain: The Neurobiology of Everyday Life. Now I am told that my confinement has been imposed upon me because I pace too much. Why would pacing be a problem? Well, […]

Read More →

Filming a MOOC

My view from where I stand at the front of the set. From left to right: Ryan McDonald, Emily Bembeneck, Marlon Aguilar. Not pictured: Andy Poulos, me. Organizing, designing and filming “my” MOOC, Understanding the Brain, has been an amazing experience. I put my in quotations because the MOOC is definitely a team effort. Not only are others entirely responsible […]

Read More →

The latest CTE news

I read with dismay the latest news that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been identified in a young man who played mostly amateur soccer. Patrick Grange played soccer throughout his childhood and in college and even in semi-pro leagues. He developed amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in his mid-20s and died at age 29. His brain was studied and the pathology reported is a grade 2 case (out of a 4-point scale) of CTE. Here I want to make two points. First, this news further deepens parents’ and young people’s dilemmas regarding sports. The most commonly played organized sport among youth in the world, even in the latecomer U.S., is soccer (or football in the parlance of the world outside of the U.S.). Much was made of Patrick Grange’s penchant for head-butting the ball. However, it is not clear at all that Mr Grange’s CTE was a result of his head-butting proclivities. His parents report that he suffered from at least 3 serious concussions. Regardless of which injuries were in the straw-pile that broke the camel’s back, I think that most parents recognize that soccer can be a dangerous sport. Weighing the positive physical and social benefits of team sports against the potential for future disability is a personal judgment call. The influence of future harm upon the final decision is greatly impacted by discounting as discussed in a previous post. The second point to be made here is the connection between […]

Read More →

Mammograms and a “history of breast cancer”

I was talking about my previous post (http://wp.me/p4e7xm-1H) with a colleague. We were discussing how the cautions against regular mammograms probably do not hold for individuals with a family history of breast cancer. My colleague then pointed out that in fact women’s histories have been contaminated by the high number of women “successfully” treated for tumors that would likely have […]

Read More →

Our brain and mammograms

The utility of mammograms in improving survival from breast cancer suffered another blow. From a rational point of view, the idea that women without any risk factors will benefit from regular mammograms is dead and buried, 6 feet under with the coffin nailed shut. And yet, many women feel a strong pull to get a mammogram. I think there are generally two reasons. First, we humans are spectacularly irrational, emotionally driven animals. I can not do any better than Chris Mooney did in a Mother Jones article in explaining this. So I strongly recommend that you check out Chris’ article: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney. In brief, put an emotional viewpoint in the ring with a logical laying out of the facts, and the emotional viewpoint will score a knock-out in no time flat. Regardless of their content or source, facts and reason don’t stand a chance against emotionally held beliefs. The second reason that women still want mammograms despite a complete lack of evidence for their efficacy in improving survival is that most women have no way to make sense of mammograms’ lack of efficacy. This essentially puts emotion in an uncontested fight. There is no logical framework within which to understand the evidence regarding mammograms. So here is a framework. Cancer cells have a natural history. They are in a competition with other cells for the body’s resources. Some cancer cells are successful and consequently wreak havoc. But many other cancer cells […]

Read More →