Blogging Sceptically About Neuroscience

The blog reviewed here is the Neurologica Blog by Dr Steven Novella an academic clinical Neurologist at the Yale University School of Medicine. This blog uses the WordPress platform and is hosted by the New England Sceptical Society. The simple and aesthetic design features a grey background, a central white pane for the articles and a ‘shades of blue’ title header. The articles featured in the central pane, are titled, comment enabled, category tagged, dated and also contain the author details. The articles are shown in part. At the time of writing, the reader must click on the ‘continue reading’ link at the bottom of the article. There are social media sharing options in each article. There were 14-18 comments in two articles I looked which suggests a high readership, a high motivation of readers to engage or a combination of the two. This possibly relates to a polarised approach in some articles which facilitates debate. The blog can be navigated using recent post lists, recent comments lists, categories and a chronological index. There are also links to external resources. The blog has received a number of awards.

As the blog dates back to January 2007, I chose to sample articles rather than read through the entire blog for pragmatic purposes. Looking at the first article on the blog ‘Science Controversies of 2006‘, I wasn’t clear if this was the first article on the blog or perhaps previous articles were located somewhere else. Novella elaborates on the nature of conflict in science, an issue which has been developed at length by Thomas Kuhn and other philosophers of science. Perhaps by focusing on this, Novella is honing in on the essence of science. He illustrates this briefly with the loss of Pluto as a planet and the controversy around Homo Floresiensis (whether these constitute a genuinely new species with fascinating implications or they represent an extended family with microcephaly). Proceeding through some of the subsequent articles, Novella broaches on several popular science themes including prion disease and science on television.

Then comes an article on UFO’s and here Novella reframes the phenomenon as a visual illusion immediately offering to challenge the unknown with the rational and known. Novella moves onto challenge conspiracy theories, homeopathy and stem cell studies. I didn’t note any comments and this is typical in the early stages of a blog in contrast with the obvious popularity of more recent articles. Fast forwarding to May 2007 and following an interview on a radio show about paranormal phenomenon, Novella’s article on this receives three comments. Moving onto June 2007 and there are six comments in an article on the association between mercury and autism. This is followed up in September 2007 by another article on vaccines and autism which again features a number of comments from readers. These articles are written in the context of a wider contemporary debate in this area. By the following month an article on Homeopathy is receiving 34 comments and Novella’s reputation as a sceptic taking a firm stance in many areas is being established. By this stage the other articles are receiving comments consistently and perhaps the readers are recognising that there is an interesting challenge to be met in the content of the articles – to dispel the apparently irrational.

Along the way, Novella introduces the reader to interesting findings – for instance a replication of Stanley Milgrams infamous studies on obedience or the discovery of Austrolopithecus Amanensis. In this article he covers one of my favourite topics – the question of Neanderthal intelligence and in the comments section there is a discussion of some of the research suggesting interbreeding between ancestral humans and Neanderthals. However in this article he discusses something which I had perhaps overlooked – the suggestion that there is a challenge to a ‘science-based standard of care’ emerging from multiple directions. After 4 years of blogging in this article Novella gives us an overview of his philosophy and how science blogging relates to journalism. There is enough here to keep the reader with an interest in science entertained and engaged and Novella undertakes an important role in defending science-based health care.

Appendix – Here is a list of the blogs reviewed to date by subject area 

Psychiatry: Ars Psychiatrica. Psychiatrist Dr Neil Scheurich looks at the intersection between the arts and psychiatry. There are lots of interesting articles (blog link here). Buckeye Psychiatry LLC. Blog by psychiatrist Dr Adam Brandemihl covers a variety of topics including tips on lifestyle and news updates (Blog link here). Biological Therapies in Psychiatry. Dr Alan Gelenberg writes about biological therapies in psychiatry (Blog link here). Carlat Psychiatry Blog. Blog by psychiatrist Dr Dan Carlat examining the relationship between pharmaceutical companies and medical education (blog link here). CorePsych Blog. Psychiatrist Dr Charles Parker focuses on the science of psychiatry with interesting insights into inestigations and management (blog link here). Corpus Callosum. Blog by Psychiatrist who writes on a variety of topics with interesting posts on medication  (Blog link here). Dr Dymphna’s Diliberations. Blog by psychiatrist Dr Elizabeth Courdes with a focus on pscyhotherapy and pharmacotherapy (Blog link here). Dr Shock. Blog by Assistant Professor of Psychiatry Dr Walter Van Der Broek covering a variety of psychiatry related topics including the intersection of psychiatry and the internet and developments in psychiatric treatment. (Blog link here). In Practice Blog. Blog by Dr Peter Kramer with a focus on depression. (Blog link here). Dr Jeff and Dr Tanya’s Blog. Psychiatrists Dr Jeffrey Speller and Dr Tanya Korkosz write about psychiatry and also provide useful information on common conditions and treatments (Blog link here). Mark’s Psychiatry. Blog by psychiatrists Dr Tracey Marks on a variety of psychiatry related topics (Blog link here). Minds on Film. Blog by psychiatrist Dr Almeida on the intersection between psychiatry and film (Blog link here). Movies and Mental Illness. Blog by a team of a psychiatrist, psychologist and nurse examining mental illness in the movies in preparation for a book on the subject (Blog link here). Practice What I Preach. A child psychiatrist becomes a mother and describes her experiences (Blog link here). Princeton Psychiatry Blog. Blog about psychiatry by Dr Yitzhak Shnaps (Blog link here). PsychBabel. Blog on psychiatry by Dr S Cho (Blog link here). Psychiatry Fun Blog. Blog where the author advocates a more relaxed approach to writing about psychiatry (Blog link here). Psychiatry in the Mainstream. Blog by Dr Lawrence Choy on psychiatry in popular culture (Blog link here). Shrink Rap Blog. Engaging psychiatry blog by three psychiatrists with lots of interesting articles (Blog link here). The Psychiatrist Blog. Blog by Dr Michelle Tempest looking at the intersection between psychiatry and politics (Blog link here). The Sports Psychiatrist. Blog by Dr Zaakir Yoonas about the intersection between sports and psychiatry (Blog link here)

Psychotherapy: Beck Institute Blog. Blog about CBT from the Beck Institute (Blog link here). EMDR International Association Blog. Blog about EMDR with frequent updates (Blog link here). Jung Currents. Blog about Jung by psychologist Sparky (Blog link here). Jung at Heart. Blog by psychotherapist on Jungian psychoanalysis. Cheryl Fuller (Blog link here). Modern Psychoanalysis. Blog about psychoanalysis although last article is dated 2008 (Blog link here). Sara Roizen. Fine art muralist. A creative blog by artist Sara Roizen who is training to become an art therapist (Blog link here). Spread the Word. Blog about EMDR (Blog link here).

Psychology: Advances in the History of Psychology.   (Blog link here). Clinical Psychology and Pscyhiatry. A closer look. Blog providing a critique of psychiatry and psychology research (Blog link here). CogSci Librarian Review. This is a blog by a librarian with an interest in cognitive neuroscience. Lots of useful insights into the resources librarians offer as well as cognitive neuroscience links (Blog link here). Dr Deb. A psychology blog with articles covering many different areas and which are accessible for a general audience (Blog link here). Exploring Psychology. Blog by psychologist David Webb exploring psychology (Blog link here). F.A.B.L.E – Fictional Aut0biography of Life Experience. Blog about the intersection of literature, neurobiology and psychology by Cole Bitting (Blog link here). Mind Hacks. Popular long-running blog looking at psychology and neuroscience issues (Blog link here). Positive Psychology News Daily. Blog about positive psychology news (Blog link here). PsychCentral. Heavyweight longstanding psychology blog by Dr John Grohal who also runs a forum at his website (Blog link here). Psychotherapy Brown Bag Blog. Blog with insightful analysis of psychological research by Michael and Joye Anstis (Blog link here). We’re Only Human. Blog by Wray Herbert on psychological research appearing in the journal ‘Psychological Science’ (Blog link here).

Anthropology: Linguistic Anthropology. Interesting blog about linguistic anthropology relevant to a wide variety of subjects including human evolution (Blog link here). Somatosphere. Science, medicine and Anthropology. Looking at medicine and science from an anthropological perspective (Blog link here).

Blogs about Life with an Illness: Aethelread the Unread. Insightful blog by Aethelread who has recurrent depression and writes engagingly about a number of issues (Blog link here). A Survivor’s Guide to Huntington’s Disease. Blog by Angela F who has been diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease and whose mother also has Huntington’s Disease (Blog link here). Bipolar Mo. Blog by a nurse with Bipolar Illness who is also a musician writing about aspects of his life (Blog link here). Lawyers with Depression. Blog by lawyer Daniel Lukasic about his experience of depression and related subjects (Blog link here).

Blogs about Older Adults: GeriPal: Geriatrics and Palliative Care Blog. Blog about older adult medical topics (Blog link here). Geriatric Pharmacotherapy Blog. Blog about medication treatment in older adults (Blog link here). Global Ageing Network Blog. Blog about ageing with an international slant (Blog link here). The Good Old Age Blog. Blog about healthy aging (Blog link here). The Intentional Aging Collective. Blog about ageing (Blog link here). The New Old Age Blog. Blog about ageing in the New York Times (Blog link here). The 70 Something Blog. Account of life as a septagenerian (Blog link here).

Dementia: Alzheimer’s Disease Blog. Blog about Alzheimer’s Disease (Blog link here). The Tangled Neuron. Blog by a lady, who’s father with dementia passed away, learning about and discussing dementia (Blog link here).

Evolution: Evolutionary Psychiatry. Blog by Dr Emily Deans about Evolutionary Psychiatry (Blog link here). John Hawks Weblog. Blog by Professor John Hawks, anthropologist who specialises in population genetics of human evolution (Blog link here). Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology. Blog about evolutionary aspects of endocrinology (Blog link here). Origins – A History of Beginnings. Blog featuring discussion of and essays about Charles Darwin (Blog link  here). Why Evolution is True. Blog by Dr Jerry Coynes and colleagues looking at evolution (Blog link here).

Genetics: The Genetic Genealogist. Blog by a geneticist covering genealogy and related topics in genetics  (Blog link here).

Medical Ethics: Medical Ethics Blog. Interesting blog about medical ethics issues by Canadian Journalist Stuart Laidlaw (Blog link here).

Informatics: Allan’s Library. Blog about informatics (Blog link here). Bio Data Blog. Blogging about research software (Blog link here). Health Informatics blog. Blog on health informatics by Dr Chris Paton (Blog link here). Mobile Healthcare Blog. Blog about mobile healthcare technology (Blog link here). New Media Medicine Blog. Blog with useful links to health informatics resources (Blog link here). Open Medicine. Blog about health informatics (Blog link here). Open MRS. Blog about the development of an open health database (Blog link here). Science in the Open. Blog about open science Cameron Neylon (Blog link here). Significant Science. Blog by Hope Leman about the open science movement (Blog link here). The O’Really Blog. Blog by Duncan Hull on bioinformatics written in an accessible style (Blog link here). Wolfram Alpha Blog. Blog about Wolfram Alpha search engine (Blog link here).

Miscellaneous: Beaker – A Medical Research Blog. A blog relating to medical research at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute (Blog link here) Brains on Purpose. Blog with a focus on conflict resolution and related areas in neuroscience (Blog link here). Dream Journal. Blog about submitted dream content with analysis (Blog link here). Seth Godin’s Blog. Blog by popular author about many subjects (Blog link here). Singularity Hub. Blog with a focus on emerging health technologies (Blog link here). Stu’s News and Views. Frequent news and information updates about Multiple Sclerosis (Blog link here).

Neurology: Brain Disease’s Weblog. Blog by Assistant Professor of Neurology Dr Nitin Sethi looks at the neurological literature (Blog link here). Neurology Minutiae Blog. Blog featuring details of neurological cases and insights  (Blog link here).

Neuropathology: Neuropathology Blog. Interesting blog on neuropathology by Dr Brian Moore (Blog link here).

Neuroradiology: AJNR. Blog of the American Journal of Neuroradiology (Blog link here).

Neuroscience: All in the Mind. Blog by science journalist Natasha Mitchell who also features in the radio show of the same name (Blog link here). Brain Posts. Dr Bill Yates writes about clinical neuroscience (Blog link here). Brain Stimulant. Blog looking at many interesting neuroscience articles including neural prosthetics and computational neuroscience (Blog link here). Citation Needed. Blog by neuroscientist Tal Yarkoni (Blog link here). Dharmendra S Modha’s Cognitive Computing Blog. Blog looking at IBM’s Blue Brain project and other developments in cognitive computing (Blog link here). The Frontal Cortex Blog. Blog by Jonas Lehrer about a variety of neuroscience subjects (Blog link here). The Mouse Trap. Blog by polymath Sandeep Gautam on neuroscience topics as well as interesting theories that he is developing (Blog link here). Neurocritic. Nice blog with critiques of neuroimaging studies and insights into neuroscience (Blog link here). Neuroskeptic. A neuroscientist who takes a ‘sceptical look at his own field’ (Blog link here). Nou Stuff. Blog by neuroscientist Maria Page covering lots of interesting research in neuroscience (Blog link here). On The Brain. Blog by neuroscientist Professor Michael Merzenich who focuses in particular on neural plasticity (Blog link here). Small Gray Matters. Insights into fMRI by a neuroscientist (Blog link here).

Nursing: Mental Nurse. Enjoyable blog by a group of mental health nurses with a range of perspectives on mental health issues. Sadly the blog has disappeared when the domain name lapsed. However ‘This Week in Mentalists’ a feature of the blog has found a home on another site here.

Occupational Therapy: ABC Therapeutics Weblog. Fascinating and at times poignant blog about occupational therapy with heavyweight analysis (Blog link here).

Palaeontology: Palaeoblog. Interesting blog by Dr Michael Ryan covering a wide array of material relevant to palaeontology (Blog link here).

Pharmacology: Furious Seasons. Blog by journalist Philip Dawdy who has Bipolar Illness and writes about a number of issues relating to psychiatry and pharma (Blog link here). Pharma Blog. Blog looking at pharmaceutical news giving a broad overview of developments in the field (Blog link here). Pharmacology Corner. Blog by Dr Flavio Guzman about pharmacology (Blog link here).

Primatology: Differential Biology Reader. Blog by genetics and psychology student Mark Adams comparing humans and other primates (Blog link here). Primatology.net Blog. Interesting blog about primatology (Blog link here).

Sociology: Everyday Sociology. A blog on sociology by a group of sociologists giving insights into contemporary events (Blog link here). The New Social Worker’s Blog. Insights into social work by a social worker student (Blog link here).

Statistics: Social Science Statistics Blog.  Engaging articles on social science statistics of particular relevance to those involved in social science research  (Blog link here).

An index of the site can be found here. The page contains links to all of the articles in the blog in chronological order. Twitter: You can follow ‘The Amazing World of Psychiatry’ Twitter by clicking on this link. Podcast: You can listen to this post on Odiogo by clicking on this link (there may be a small delay between publishing of the blog article and the availability of the podcast). It is available for a limited period. TAWOP Channel: You can follow the TAWOP Channel on YouTube by clicking on this link. Responses: If you have any comments, you can leave them below or alternatively e-mail justinmarley17@yahoo.co.uk. Disclaimer: The comments made here represent the opinions of the author and do not represent the profession or any body/organisation. The comments made here are not meant as a source of medical advice and those seeking medical advice are advised to consult with their own doctor. The author is not responsible for the contents of any external sites that are linked to in this blog.

3 thoughts on “Blogging Sceptically About Neuroscience

  1. Pandora

    Thanks very much for the mention of This Week in Mentalists (TWIM)! It’s just not the same without Mental Nurse, but I’m glad we managed to at least salvage something from it🙂

    Best wishes

    Pandora

    (Current Editor of TWIM, writer of serialinsomniac.com)

    Like

  2. Dr Justin Marley Post author

    Hi Pandora,

    Thanks! Hopefully the other bits will return but meanwhile they have a good home with you🙂

    Justin

    Like

  3. Arlie

    It’s really a great and useful piece of information. I am glad that you simply shared this helpful information with us. Please keep us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

    Like

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