Harnessing collective intelligence is a central feature of the original definition of Web 2.0 (see review here and also the Appendix). This harnessing of collective intelligence included the use of hypertext links to navigate the web. The web consists of billions of pages many of which are easily accessible while other pages are restricted to subscribers including specialist libraries (‘the Deep Web’). In terms of Science, the former category would include Wikipedia which includes in its vast repository an extensive science related knowledge base. In the latter category the specialist Science journals would restrict access to subscribers to those journals. As a reader searching for information on the web the question of how to understand the information that is out there is a difficult one to answer satisfactorily. The most successful answer is to use search engines to return items. Indeed search engines such as Google have been incredibly good at doing this and have played an essential role in being able to access relevant information quickly and effectively. Another approach has also been increasingly popular which is to use people curated summaries of the web. One of the early adopters of this approach was Yahoo. However this has also been used by social media movements through methods of sharing. For instance at the end of this article, the reader has the option of sharing this piece by using one or more social media sharing methods. Nevertheless I would argue that these approaches do not let the reader easily grasp the structure that is inherent in the web sites or blogs. A search for Science for instance returns the address for websites or pages on websites and the reader can click on the next page in the search results. However a more intuitive way to do this would be to see a nested structure. For instance if several pages are returned from the same site then the nested structure would highlight this. If two websites are related to each other (e.g. with lots of cross-links) then the search results display could indicate this visually. The human brain is very good at discerning patterns in data and is able to make sense of lots of data using this approach. The visual cortex is a very good example of this.
One approach to identifying a structure is to look at the Blogosphere. Throughout this blog, I have reviewed numerous other blogs and in so doing have curated a very small part of the web. The reviews have been my opinions and interpretations of the blogs and have included links to pages I thought were of interest in these blogs. In a sense this is my interpretation of this part of the web. However because I am interpreting other people’s blogs, I am in a sense interpreting other people’s interpretations of the web. In so doing, this is the harnessing of collective intelligence. Can this be used to generate a structure for part of the web. I would argue that it could. I have included all of the reviews of other blogs below. In so doing I am enabling the interested reader to see at a glance all of the links I thought to be of interest in all of the blogs I reviewed by simply scrolling down the page. This is a preliminary approach to improving the organisation of material. There are many inaccuracies – some of the links will be broken, some blogs have now disappeared altogether, other interesting but more recent links or articles will have appeared in the blogs subsequent to my review. However this is my curation of this part of the web, limited by the time I have available, by my understanding of the subject matter and by my judgement. If enough reviewers were able to assemble their material (in a similar format to Blog Carnivals) with appropriate processes for integrating the results this would produce a sophisticated organisation of material that would be more intuitive for readers.
Such an approach would require a large amount of people hours to be put into the effort. A systematic networked approach with University Departments at the centre would be needed to produce a structured index of the web. Although there are technical solutions which may provide part of the solution (e.g XML) it is the human curating that would be a core feature of this approach. Perhaps the best placed people to summarise the blogs or websites are the authors themselves and the possibility that blog authors could submit to a central repository a summary of their blog ordered according to the nested structure of topics of interest as well as identifying their most important works within the blog. This idea was suggested to me when reviewing ‘Blog Around the Clock’ (see below) given the large number of articles contained within this blog. Social networks such as Digg and Stumbleupon could add a third layer to this structure by contributing their communities rating of individual articles within the Blogs or Websites thus producing another structured view of the material. Thus the cumulative total of ratings for an individual article within a Blog across all the communities could be included in a nested structure relating to that blog. Take this blog for instance. TAWOP would feature at the root of the structure. There would be several branches. Blog reviews would be one of these branches. Expanding the structures – the reader would have the option of seeing all of the article titles (with links) to every review. Another subbranch would be according to top rated reviews (from the sum total of all social networking communities). Another sub-branch would identify top rated reviews according to specific communities.
Once this type of structure is in place, it simplifies the task of securing important parts of the web. For instance the Way Back machine stores web pages for posterity. If a Science 4.0 movement identifies importance science material on the Web through the structured approach described above then the next stage would be to link this to a distributed method for storing this material in accordance with the initial premise of the internet. This original premise was to provide a resilient distributed structure with hardware redundancy.
Below are the reviews of the blogs with links to pages of interest so that the reader can further their enquiries into the subject matter of interest.
Dr Shock MD PhD
The featured blog is ‘Dr Shock MD PhD‘ by Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Dr Walter van der Broek alias Dr Shock. Dr Shock covers a lot of material, writing very frequently, sometimes with short articles or links to other sites of interest, and at other times with more detailed analyses. Dr Shock is very generous in his posts, continually providing the reader with valuable resources for further study as well as various tips. His choice of subject matter is always interesting. On reading through the blog, I focused on three main areas – general medical articles, ECT and internet technology.
Dr Shock has an interest in ECT and that is shown clearly in a number of educational blog posts. Thus interesting posts or links in this area including the following: In this post, he mentions and links to an ECT study by his group; the topic of ECT accreditation and some UK surveys; a link to the priory online ECT site; There is a link to a video about depression featuring Professor Fink who specialises in ECT; An article on Beta-Blockers and ECT; There is a brief article about ECT portrayal in the movies; Predictors of response to ECT treatment; Book review about ECT; Link to an article about myths and stigma of ECT; Medical conditions and medications and ECT; Lecture on ECT; Regaining vocabulary after ECT in the young and elderly; Brain perfusion and ECT; Case report of ECT and pregnancy; Professor Fink’s opinions on ECT and 2 trials; Websites and blog posts on ECT; Is ECT the right choice?;VGF derived peptide in ECT and exercise; Treatment resistant depression and response to ECT; Blog about ECT; ECT and cognitive side effects; Minimising cognitive side effects of ECT; Use of ECT in different countries; Continuation ECT in the elderly.
Dr Shock examines medical resources on the internet as well medical articles of relevance; Here he identifies a useful resource for depression on the internet; The limits of fMRI; A review of a paper on surgical complications in people with mental illness; A brief article on Forest Plots, useful for writing systematic reviews; An article on Free Medical Journals; An Online PredictD tool; The STAR*D trial; Deep Brain Stimulation for OCD; An article on a systematic review of antidepressants in bipolar depression.
Dr Shock also covers developments in internet technology; Here is one of many book reviews, this one being about research on the web; A link to Brain info; a link to Medical Animation; Medical 2.0; Medblogs for patients.
Dr Shock’s blog is recommended for those with an interest in the intersection between psychiatry and internet technology as well as depression and its treatment particularly with ECT. There are also a number of interesting articles covering other areas.
The CorePsych Blog
The featured blog is the ‘CorePsych Blog‘ by psychiatrist Dr Charles Parker. Parker focuses on the relationship between mental illnesses and biology, whether this is through environmental pathogens, nutritional deficiencies or metabolic changes in the brain. Parker uses SPECT scanning in his routine clinical practice and has thus accumulated lots of experience in this area. However with regards to his mentor in this area, Parker describes the remarkable Dr Amen thus:-
‘In everyday clinical practice, he has now matched over 30,000 scan results with clinical observations in his offices’
He also links to Dr Amen’s website here. The use of SPECT imaging gives in clinical practice gives Dr Parker insights into common psychiatric disorders. He also writes about other investigations used in the physical work-up of a patient. From his experience, Dr Parker writes that Attention Deficit Disorder is underdiagnosed and notes that the SSRI’s can dysregulate dopamine levels with potential clinical implications. He discusses his views on the words codependency and recovery in this amusing article. The effect of environmental pathogens is discussed here. The relationship between Iodine deficiency and mental health is examined here (also here, here and here). A discussion of Vitamin D is given here. Parker’s blog is interesting, distinctive and I think representative of ‘biological psychiatry’ although psychiatry is inseparable from biology. Parker’s blog provides unique insights into the potential role of detailed and varied (sometimes esoteric) investigations.
Practice What I Preach
The blog reviewed here is ‘Practice what I Preach – A Child Psychiatrist Becomes a Parent‘. After receiving a comment on this blog from the author, an Australian Child Psychiatrist, recently, I became curious and had a look at the blog. I thought the premise for the blog was extremely interesting – what happens when a child psychiatrist becomes a parent and writes about the experience?
Appearance and Design
At the time of writing the blog has a grey background, blue title pane and white background for the articles. The articles consist of black text on a white background. On the right hand panel there are links to an About section, categories, a calendar as well as recent posts, blog statistics and a blogroll. The reader can also subscribe to the blog. There are also pictures in some of the articles which add to the presentation.
The author who I will refer to as Dr D, an Australian Child Psychiatrist starts with this post explaining the motivations behind the blog. In this next article, Dr D describes the experience of being a patient and the thoughts she has about her interactions with the staff in this situation as a doctor patient. I thought this article was very interesting and reminded me of theme in the film ‘The Doctor‘. I think this will always be an interesting subject and can be very important for the introspection that contributes to the development of a speciality. In discussing this Dr D generated comments and this shared introspection was very interesting. In this post, Dr D discusses the issue of not getting enough sleep while in this article, Dr D talks about emotional attunement with the baby and mentions briefly theory in this area, an area which Winnicott wrote about (see review here). In this post, Dr D tells us about the sounds that her baby is beginning to make. What I found particularly interesting was when Dr D reviews the evidence base for when to use solid foods for feeding in coming to her own decision.
I found the premise behind Dr D’s blog extremely interesting and enjoyed reading through the articles which were filled with insights about the parenting process and also areas where the research or literature had something helpful to say. Dr D writes candidly on the experience of parenting and I look forward to future posts.
Biological Therapies in Psychiatry
Dr Alan Gelenberg writes the ‘Biological Therapies in Psychiatry‘ newsletter which has been running for 30 years. He also has a blog which can be found here. The blog appears to be self-hosted and uses the wordpress platform. At the time of writing the blog uses the Green Park 2 theme which features a light blue background with a white central pane. On the right side of the central pane, the reader can navigate using categories, recent posts as well as a calendar with hypertext links to the articles. Articles are dated, titled and feature category tags as well as being comment enabled.
The first post details Dr Gelenberg’s move to Penn State Hershey Medical College and dates back to May 2010. My impression of the articles are that they would appeal to those with a background in psychiatry. A number of themes emerge including a discussion of services and guidelines around medication. For instance in this article Gelenberg writes about the development of guideliness on treatment of depression. In this article, Gelenberg writes about some of the difficulties in DSM-III as well as the risks inherent in a checklist approach to diagnosis. By ignoring features such as body language and intonation he suggests that there are ‘lyrics no music’. Indeed the importance of these features are frequently written about (e.g see here). Elsewhere Gelenberg writes about the importance of negative trials. There is a very interesting post on working within the limits of temperament here.
In his blog, Gelenberg shares his insights into psychiatry with a relaxed style that engages the reader.
I’ve been checking out the Shrink Rap blog which I would highly recommend. The blog is written by three psychiatrists who write under the names Dinah, Clinkshrink and Roy. The blogs vary from serious topics in psychiatry topics through to light-hearted articles on a variety of psychiatry topics (although occasionally there are posts about other things such as the new iPhone!). The Shrink Rap crew have even set up their own podcasts. Their prolific efforts can be easily judged when you see that they have already passed their 800th post! Some of the more interesting posts include Darth Vader having Borderline Personality Disorder, the science of solitary confinement, ‘walk like a psychiatrist’ and ‘if your doctor is an alien’. A post on ‘why we blog’ was thought provoking and reasons included the feedback from people including patients, reaching out to the public and also looking at journals and other educational resources in a new light. Like many bloggers, I like the ease of self-expression. Part of the fun of blogging is self-discovery. Not seeing the visitors to the site is a bit of a strange experience – not knowing if people are interested in what i’m writing (but hoping!). However, the greatest reason is the privilege of being able to write about this amazing subject – psychiatry.
Movies and Mental Illness
The blog reviewed here is ‘Movies and Mental Illness’. The blog is described as
‘A blog that Danny Wedding, Mary Ann Boyd and Ryan Niemiec will use in preparing the 4th Edition of movies and mental illness‘
While I wasn’t able to find many details in the contributors section about the authors at the time of writing, a quick google search reveals that Danny Wedding is a Professor of Psychiatry and that Ryan Niemiec has authored another book on positive psychology at the cinema. If my search results for Mary Ann Boyd are correct (I may have misattributed) then she is a prolific author of nursing books including textbooks. It thus appears that the group have produced a large and impressive body of work between them.
Appearance and Design
There is a white background with a white rectangular title section. The articles have a white background with orange text in the article title section. The main text in the article uses a black font. Articles also detail the author, comments and tags. On the right hand panel there are links to other sites of interest, previous posts and archives. I found it very easy to navigate through the archives section – the results are displayed on a single page. Further, the articles are displayed in full rather than needing the reader to click on a tab to reveal the full article (which would take up more time).
The first article in the database is a brief commentary on the 1948 film ‘The Snake Pit’. There are links within the articles to the relevant film details in the Internet Movie Database. What is interesting here as with other blogs is that the readers can contribute to the articles in the commentaries section adding different perspectives as in this post about the film ‘Off the Map‘ which explores clinical depression. I found this review of ‘Night Watch‘ to be quite interesting because Wedding writes that he is left puzzled after watching the film which seems to have no purpose. This in itself is useful as by showing us what a film shouldn’t be according to Wedding, we can work out what a film should be and this in turn gives a value to that same film. There were a number of reviews that draw attention to films with interesting subject matter and these include reviews of Mozart and the Whale on Asperger syndrome, Das Experiment which is apparently analogous to the famous Stanford prison experiment from 1971 and Grey Gardens exploring folie a deux.
This is an interesting blog which publishes a few articles in a month and at the time of writing there were four archived months in 2009. The articles are brief and focus on films that the author has found interesting. Some of the reviews are longer and focus on issues related to the films. This blog should appeal to those in particular who have an interest in the representation of mental illness in films.
The blog reviewed here is titled the Princeton Psychiatrist blog. The author is Dr Yitzhak Shnaps, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry based in Princeton, New Jersey who also includes a biography on the homepage.
Appearance and Design
The blog is part of a website relating to a practice and there is built-in-navigation to the other parts of the website in the homepage. The blog features a green background, title header with a rural theme and a central beige pane for the articles. Articles are dated, comment enabled and category tagged. The blog posts can be accessed using several features on the right side of the central pane – a search box, category labels and recent posts. Recent comments are also listed. Article tend to contain useful links to external resources for further reading.
There were six articles at the time of writing. The first that I could identify is this piece reviewing a model of autism that has been developed by Dr Dorit Shalom which is based on Damasio’s model of emotional processing (see review of Damasio’s book Descartes Error here as well as this interview with Cole Biting who has developed an understanding of literature based on Damasio as well as Craig’s development of a model of the insular cortex which draws on Damasio’s work and is reviewed here, here and here) but has four components including theory of mind and motor skills and suggesting a relationship with the medial prefrontal cortex. In this article, Shnaps writes about integrated care in the context of psychopharmacology with reference to a recent piece by Dr Carlat.
This is a recent and useful addition to the psychiatry blogosphere featuring a concise and accessible account of recent research that also demonstrates the author’s breadth of knowledge in the field.
The featured blog is ‘Ars Psychiatrica‘ by Dr Neil Scheurich who has an extensive list of publications including articles on the interface between the arts and psychiatry. In his introductory article, Scheurich explains some of his motives for writing and his emphasis on resisting the move towards overmedicalisation of psychiatry, a debate that continues on both sides of the Atlantic and perhaps representing a deeper question about the identity of psychiatry. Scheurich’s review of some of Checkov’s works is a pointer to some valuable material for studying the intersection between psychiatry and literature. There is also a consideration of some of the limits of psychiatry as this article illustrates in which the difficulties inherent in diagnosis are discussed. Scheurich also offers us some of his thoughts on his blogging experience. There is a discussion of lumpers and splitters in terms of psychiatric diagnosis and Scheuerich’s comment that he is a splitter who considers the individual attributes of the patient with a separate diagnosis for each patient is reminiscent of Jung’s statements on the matter. There is much more to ‘Ars Psychiatrica’ which is filled with poetry, quotes, art work and classic literature reviews in an enjoyable celebration of the arts and their intersection with psychiatry.
Buckeye Psychiatry LLC
The featured blog is ‘Buckeye Psychiatry, LLC‘ by Dr Adam Brandemihl, a psychiatrist based in Dublin, Ohio and which began in August 2008. Brandemihl’s interests include ADHD which is reflected in a number of the postings. The postings are broadly speaking of two types. The first type predominates and is a report on news stories. These are about developments in psychiatry. Thus there are a number of articles on drug trials or new applications of medications as well as a diverse range of other articles on psychological and social issues relevant to psychiatry. In the latter group Brandemihl covers the USA healthcare system. I found that Brandemihl selects very interesting articles particularly those relating to cognition which is relevant not only to ADHD but a number of other psychiatric conditions. The other type of article is aimed at the lay audience and consists for instance of tips about lifestyle although these are much less frequent. Brandemihl uses many sources for his articles and keeps a finger on the pulse of developments in psychiatry and I would recommend this blog to those with an interest in this area
Dr Jeff’s and Dr Tanya’s Blog
The featured blog is ‘Dr Jeff’s and Dr Tanya’s Blog‘. The authors are psychiatrists Dr Jeffrey Speller and Dr Tanya Korkosz who write on a variety of psychiatry related issues and include news items and educational material in their blog. They have very generously included their material under a creative commons license at the time of writing. The home page contains articles displayed in the main pane in black text on a white background. The reader is able to subscribe to an RSS feed, complete a poll on the left hand pane, rate the blog and select articles from the blog according to the category of the article. There are also medical feeds from other sources displayed on the left hand pane.A new feature is that the posts are read aloud and converted into audio files which can be downloaded and listened to on an i-pod. I was initially impressed by this. Then on listening to the posts I realised that they were synthetic voices. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the synthesised voice which pronounced most of the words clearly and with what I found to be an almost authentic sounding use of intonation.
Their blog begins in May 2008. They have a number of articles covering research studies. These articles are broad in their range and a number of the studies covered are quite interesting. Indeed some of the articles I found interesting included the use of Omega-3 fatty acids in depression, a study looking at prophylactic use of antidepressants in stroke, personality types and long life, exercise and depression, benefits of relaxation training in anxiety disorders, the influence of genes on metabolism of escitalopram, acute physical trauma and PTSD, personality traits associated with improved outcome in depression, glucose usage and family history of Alzheimer’s Disease, prevention of antisocial behaviours with childhood programs, self-help techniques in depression, the Mediterranean diet and risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, muscarinic therapies in Schizophrenia, gender and response to an antidepressant, long term alcohol consumption and brain volume, the brain’s transcriptome, improving cognitive health in older americans, cortisol’s effect on memory and learning in diabetes, effects of cognitive training on memory impairment, epidemiology of dementia, MCI and health-related decision making, social isolation and brain structure. The authors produce a helpful summary at the end of the articles reporting research. They also create a number of factsheets and similar articles for the lay audience. In September 2008 we see that Speller and Korkosz have been highly productive from the large number of factsheets and other resources they have assembled.
The authors have produced a very useful resource and have been highly productive within the relatively short span of time in which the blog has been active. There are a number of patient resources highlighting useful additional information. Additionally the blog is highly structured and creates articles that are accessible to the general public.
The blog reviewed here is ‘Psych Babel’ which is described as a ‘Psychiatry Blog, Discussions, Ramblings, News’. There is a black title pane, while the posts are on a white background with grey text. Side panel indexes the site according to the month and category of article. The blog is written by S Cho, MD although I was unable to find an About section at the time of writing. The blog begins with a disclaimer followed by a ‘Question of the Moment’ or QotM. These occur throughout the blog and are questions about specialised topics e.g. paroxysmal hemicrania which may be relevant for exam purposes. At the time of writing there are typically a few posts every month, which focus on a specific area (e.g. psychopharmacology) providing useful information. For instance in this article on Mirtazapine for instance Cho provides a rationale for the possible interactions of Mirtazapine with SSRI’s. In this article, Cho describes an implantable device for the treatment of OCD that has recently received FDA approval. While in this article he recommends a book about Psychopharmacology. Cho also links to an interesting article on the origins of the Mini-Mental State Examination (which I wasn’t aware of). Although there were relatively few posts in the blog, the posts were interesting and provided useful insights into different areas within psychiatry particularly psychopharmacology.
The featured blog is ‘Marks Psychiatry‘. This is a blog by Dr Tracey Marks, a psychiatrist who specialises in general adult and forensic psychiatry.
The blog is well presented with a simple and effective outlay. There is a scroll-down archive box on the right hand side which makes navigating the site much easier. The first post in the archive is dated May 2007 and looks at the duration of medication treatment for depression. This post gives a flavour of other posts on the blog with an easy to understand style aimed at the lay reader. A number of posts address psychological issues through an explanation of the underlying theory sometimes with fictional case studies and also by looking at some of the research literature. A number of articles are linked in a series. For instance Marks also covers the controversial topic of ‘internet addiction’ in these articles (here and here) by looking at a 1998 article by Young together with further reflection on the subject. In another post, Marks looks at some research on the relationship between the economic climate and sleep as well as the health benefits of sleep and follows this up with another post on sleep hygiene as well as the benefits of sleep for ADHD symptoms. There are a number of interesting and topical subjects. For instance this article looks at the emerging area of online pharmacies and links to relevant FDA guidelines.
In summary, I found this to be a well presented blog covering psychiatric topics in an easy to understand manner aimed at the lay audience but a number of the posts would also be of interest to the professional.
Doctor Dymphna’s Diliberations
The blog reviewed here is ‘Doctor Dymphna’s Diliberations‘.
Appearance and Design
The blog has a black background and a slightly off-black background in the central pane on which the white text of the articles is overlaid. The title pane consists of the blog name together with a colourful photo-like design. At the time of writing on the right hand pane there is an ‘About’ section for the blog, links to the associated twitters, blogroll, category cloud, recent posts and links to other websites. The blog can be navigated via an archived index also on the right hand pane. The blog is hosted at WordPress.
In the first post, there is an explanation of why the blog was started as well. Although there is a suggestion of abandoning anonymity, I couldn’t find a reference to the author’s name although this is apparently identifiable from the related twitter. As I couldn’t find a reference to the same name in the blog, I have refrained from using it in case they’re not equivalent. What I found interesting was that the author uses a combination of mindfulness-based therapy, cognitive-based therapy and pharmacotherapy. Some of the posts broached broader issues which could be argued by some to cross over into other distinct and separate domains. There are also interesting articles such as this on lifestyle approaches based on the research literature. The author also writes about her son’s condition and how this affects her. This article looks at some of the authors reasons for tweeting and indeed it is through the twitter account that I first came across this blog. There are also a number of book and film reviews.
This is a relatively young blog which usually has a few posts every month. The articles are sufficiently long to explore the topic of interest and to present these from the author’s perspective. I found some of the psychotherapeutic posts to be particularly interesting.
The About section has subsequently been updated – the author of the blog is indeed Dr Elizabeth Cordes
The featured blog which dates back to February 2006 is ‘Corpus Callosum‘ which is by ‘a psychiatrist, at a small community hospital somewhere in the USA’. I will refer to him here as Joseph as per the pseudonym at the end of his posts. In this article he gives some neat ripostes to criticisms of the DSM-V proposal for intermittent explosive disorder and his arguments can easily be used against certain criticisms of other psychiatric diagnoses. Joseph gives his incisive interpretation of what constitutes a blog conversation in this article although it is also possible that the bloggers could be writing independently of each other. Along similar lines about blogging, Joseph writes about why he started blogging – during a period of convalescence and how he views the contributions he makes. A number of the posts suggest that Joseph has a keen interest in psychopharmacology such as this post on Gaboxadol for Insomnia, Oxytocin in shyness, LY2140023 – a novel antipsychotic. Joseph also has an interesting set of articles on choosing antidepressants (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) as well as articles on individual antidepressants such as Amoxapine, Bupropion, Agomelatine trials in depression, Desvenlafaxine, and Amitriptyline.
There are naturally other topics of medical interest such as this one on pathological laughing and crying or this one on CREB in the Nucleus Accumbens and anhedonia. Here Joseph shows a study which influenced his views on neuroscience – using neuroimaging to look at psychotherapy. Joseph writes on a variety of interesting topics including evolution – for instance in this article there is an examination of the interaction between music and speciation and another one on infrared signalling in squirrels. There are plenty of other articles on politics and technology as well and the eclectic mix of subjects keeps the reader interested.
The featured blog is ‘In Practice‘ by psychiatrist Dr Peter Kramer who is an established writer with a number of published books including fiction as well as books on depression and Sigmund Freud. His posts are interesting and varied ranging from lighthearted considerations of what makes a blog to the more in-depth analyses of recently published studies.
As Kramer has particular expertise with depression and antidepressants we are able to gain very useful insights such as can be found in this article where he tells us of correspondence suggesting that the social network that arises on entry to an antidepressnt trial may in practice have effects similar to that of psychotherapy. In this post, Kramer looks at the 2008 study by Kirsch and colleagues about antidepressants and puts the results in context. Here is a neat defence of the diagnosis of depression in response to criticisms that it overlaps with ‘normal’ (i.e. non-pathological) sadness.
Kramer writes on a wide range of other topics. For instance, in this article he discusses his coinage of the term ‘cosmetic psychopharmacology‘ before the term was used elsewhere. In this article, Kramer writes about ‘imitative empathy‘ seeing it recur periodically. What is particularly interesting is when he brings his experience of psychiatry into the articles. For instance, here he writes of his three decades experience of attending the American Psychiatric Association Meetings and the many aspects to his experience of the conferences. In this post he comments on his perspective on changes in psychotherapy and he also writes about the Kindle and what it means for authors (himself included).
Kramer is an accomplished writer who brings literary flair to his blog. Given his deep theoretical understanding of depression and the treatment of depression, his posts on these topics are particularly instructive.
Carlat Psychiatry Blog
I’ve been looking at the Carlat Psychiatry Blog which makes for a very refreshing read. Dr Daniel Carlat is a psychiatrist with a special interest in psychopharmacology and is an assistant clinical professor at Tufts University. Carlat was disillusioned with the world of pharmaceutical sponsored talks and medical education and decided to break away from this scene. He started up his own industry-free continuing education newsletter – the Carlat Psychiatry Report. Last year he started up the Carlat Psychiatry Blog, a blog in which he voices strong opinions on the influence of Big Pharma in psychiatry. In his blog recently, Carlat comments on the investigation into APA funding by congress. It turns out that Carlat was already recruited by the APA to investigate this internally and obviously isn’t allowed to comment on the contents of the internal investigation.
Why is Carlat’s blog refreshing? I think that its healthy for psychiatry to have a critical voice. After all, isn’t this what science is about? Isn’t science about the search for a deeper truth which means trying to knock down hypotheses if they don’t hold up in the light of evidence. Carlat’s blog is in my opinion about questioning those parts of practice in the real world which might obscure this process of reaching this truth. Furthermore this occurs because of a conflict between the culture of science and the culture of business.
The essence of the conflict between the science culture and the ‘commercial culture’ is as follows. Let’s suppose that a talk is being given on depression. The talk is given by Doctor A, and is sponsored by Pharmaceutical Company B which produces antidepressant C. During the talk Doctor A presents evidence on drug C’s effect, using papers (provided by Pharmaceutical Company B) to a group of doctors. Suppose there are 20 studies that have been performed on drug C. Many arguments would run along the lines that not all of the study data will be presented to the doctors and that it would be biased. I would argue that this is an inherent assumption and it occurs for a very simple reason – the attribution of intentionality.
If a company has data on 20 studies for the drug, why not just present this all, so that people can judge the data for themselves. This is where an implicit assumption about the actions of companies existing in a commercial environment enters the picture. Pharmaceutical company B will have shareholders, and indeed has responsibility to these shareholders. The assumption is that the shareholders will be looking solely for return on investments – dividends or an increase in share price – which in turn would be brought about by amongst other things an increase in the company’s profitability. So then the argument runs that the company would be looking to make more money.
Now if we return to the presentation, it can be argued that the company would be interested in sponsoring the event to increase the number of doctors prescribing, thereby increasing sales, profitability and ultimately making more money for the company. (There are many other reasons that a company may sponsor the presentation however). If the company wants more doctors to prescribe, then it can be further argued that they would want to provide the best possible image for the drug – one of the basic principles of branding.
Returning to the 20 trials. Suppose that 10 showed good results and 10 showed bad results. If we applied simple marketing principles – showing the 10 good trials and ignoring the 10 bad trials would be expected to show a better image for the drug. However, missing the 10 drug trials with negative results means that not all of the available evidence is being weighed up. In effect, the ability to challenge the hypothesis of the drug’s efficacy is being suppressed as a result of marketing principles. A nice image which should be more profitable is coming at the cost of science’s ‘warts and all’ image.
The same argument can be applied whenever there is a conflict of interest. Suppose that a research group has spent 20 years pushing a certain theory. Its entirely possible that this group might not want to publish a study with negative results or may choose to write a review of favourable papers. They are usually balanced by other groups pushing competing theories. In this sense, the pharmaceutical companies also compete with each other for market share and head-to-head studies of drugs provide an equivalent arena for testing competing theories of drug efficacy.
However compared to the academic research group, the commercial interests of pharmaceutical companies produce an immediate set of additional assumptions (outlined above) which must be countered in research studies or presentations. This in turn relates to the cultural context of business activities.
The above are arguments. The specifics must be analysed in each situation – for each company, drug and location. This is why Carlat’s blog is so necessary. It gives another opportunity for debate and although this isn’t good for branding, it is good for science.
However, there are two further considerations. Firstly, the debate should be brought with caution. The caution is that less informed readers may mistake a strong viewpoint for a debunking of a medication and this may cause them to stop this medication. Secondly, the objectives in the debate must be clear. For instance, suppose all spin was removed. Does the spin on a drug affect a patient’s perceptions and partially their psychological response to the medication? Would the inability to engage in marketing practices for a drug lead to the demise of a company which has further potentially life-saving treatments in the pipeline?
Carlat’s blog provides a view which challenges others. This is invaluable. In the Hegelian Dialect it is suggested that society moves forwards by a synthesis resulting from the conflict between thesis and antithesis and so we can see how Carlat’s challenges may help to move society forwards.
Psychiatry in the Mainstream
The blog reviewed here is ‘Psychiatry in the Mainstream‘. This is a young blog which I first noticed on reviewing the Sport Psychiatrist blog (see review here) and I note that the author Dr Lawrence Choy has very kindly included this blog on the blogroll. On the home page, we learn that Dr Choy is from San Francisco, has a B.A in Molecular and Cellular Biology, an M.D and is currently a psychiatry resident at Stanford University Hospital.
Appearance and Design
The blog uses an effective white background throughout with black font for the text. The title pane features a picture of an inviting red sofa. At the time of writing, there are three posts on the main page. Two of the posts contain pictures complementing the articles. The articles are tagged and comments are enabled. Indeed the first article has 6 comments already. On the right hand pane, there is a chronological index and a particularly neat feature is the ability to navigate to articles using hypertext links within the calendar. There is a blogroll and the reader can subscribe to the blog posts.
In the first article, Choy looks at ECT in popular culture with the now infamous misrepresentation of ECT in ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and addresses some of the common associated misconceptions. In the second article, Choy cites characters with borderline personality disorder in films including ‘Girls Interrupted’. Film characters have been the focus of numerous articles by psychiatrists (see here, here, here and here) as they offer amongst other things a very useful opportunity for psychiatrists to demonstrate how illnesses can affect people’s lives and to be able to do this sensitively. In the third article, Choy discusses a new film (at the time of writing) ‘Shutter Island’ and uses this to discuss the subject of the leucotomy developed by Dr Walter Freeman and which has a very controversial history. There are indications for functional neurosurgery at the present time but the nature of both these indications as well as the surgical procedures has changed considerably.
Although this is a young blog, Choy has written some interesting articles and is using popular culture to highlight mental illnesses and their treatment and it will be interesting to follow this blog as it develops further.
The Sports Psychiatrist
The blog reviewed here is ‘The Sports Psychiatrist‘ by Dr Zaakir Yoonas. I had become aware of this blog after Dr Yoonas had very kindly commented on one of my earlier posts and I was interested to learn more about this blog. Other psychiatrists have played an important role in sports. For instance psychiatrist Dr Steve Peters has been involved in the preparation of the extremely successful British cycling team at the last olympics (for further details see here).
Appearance and Design
The blog is hosted at blogspot and uses a white background throughout. The articles lie in the central pane, are single columned with black font, orange headers with dates and generous use of high quality illustrative photographs. The title pane contains a photograph of a suited man in a running pose with the caption ‘Thoughts on the mental aspects of athletes and competition’. Immediately below the title pane is a disclaimer while to the right an About section informs us that Dr Yoonas is a psychiatry resident at Stanford. The right hand pane contains useful links to Dr Yoonas’s twitter account, links to external blogs and a navigatable chronological index of the site. The latter index is extremely convenient for rapidly accessing articles.
The blog is relatively young. The first article is dated August 2009 and there are 22 articles in total at the time of writing. The articles are several paragraphs long and focus on various aspects of the intersection between psychiatry and sports. A number of articles examine news stories about sports people and expand on psychiatric aspects of these stories. So for instance there are articles on angry outbursts and how these can be managed, the effects of chronic stress, as well as a piece on traumatic brain injuries. Dr Yoonas also covers a number of interesting research studies such as this one on an association between depression and injuries in athletes. I also found an article on ‘where do winners go next?’ quite interesting. Dr Yoonas cites research which suggests that maintaining success is associated with a focus on process rather than the expectations of others. This perhaps is not just applicable to sports but to other areas of human endeavour.
This is a relatively young blog with some very interesting articles on the intersection between sports and psychiatry. I thought that Dr Yoonas is able to effectively bring an emotional element into the articles which helps him to connect with his readership and highlight common and treatable mental illnesses. There are other articles on improving human performance which are important for the emerging area of mental well-being and so this blog will have a broad appeal.
Psychiatry Fun Blog
The blog reviewed here is the ‘Psychiatry Fun Blog‘ by an anonymous psychiatry resident on the West Coast of the USA. I checked out the blog after receiving an e-mail from the author.
Appearance and Design
The blog uses the google blogging platform with a white background throughout. There are several articles per page featuring black font with blue hypertext links. Posts are dated with comments enabled and category tags. The colourful title pane features some artistically rendered emoticons and sets the tone for the blog which is slightly tongue-in-cheek in parts while retaining sensitivity where appropriate.
This is a very young blog which begins in March 2010. The author is quite provocative and identifies important themes and then takes a deliberately polarised stance to foster debate. He does this through commentary on other articles and chooses articles which are rich sources for debate. In an article on the suggested DSM-V criteria for Schizoaffective Disorder, he comments experientially on some of the practical aspects of diagnosis. Essentially I would argue that polarisation can often lead to inaccuracy but at the same time can facilitate debate and narrative. In the comments sections on the blog, commentators sometimes use pejorative terms or some rather blunt language but the dialogue in blogs can often change rapidly during the initial formative period as a stable audience is established. There is an interesting premise in this blog. How can psychiatry be fun? After all, the psychiatrist must deal with some very serious and distressing problems. This is why this blog has an interesting journey ahead. Obviously these very serious problems are just that – very serious. But psychiatrists are human beings and this is essential given the importance of the therapeutic alliance which as with any relationship is the most human of activities. Thus there should be a forum in which the participants are able to develop their skills in psychiatry, to learn about their subject while also recognising their human reality. This learning – in the theoretical arena and away from the clinical setting – can be playful which is what this blog sets out to be.
Other bloggers such as the Neurocritic often integrate song clips into their articles to both illustrate issues under discussion and to provide some entertainment at the same time. This is just one approach. While superficially this area might seem trivial I would argue that there is more to it than this. If learning about psychiatry can be made fun then maybe this will help with learning and also will help to sustain a pattern of lifelong learning. This is speculation but too me seems intuitively obvious. If the learning always takes place in a serious context then it seems likely that the act of learning would be compartmentalised and classical conditioning principles might then apply. However such an approach is not possible without the development of an appropriate infrastructure, a culture, a language that facilitates this particular approach to learning and perhaps that is where this blog and others like it will play an emerging role.
This is a young blog with a nice design layout and some provocative articles on current topics with the author giving some straight-talking views. The premise of the blog is an important one and I will follow this with interest.
The Psychiatrist Blog
The featured blog is Dr Michelle Tempest’s ‘The Psychiatrist Blog’ which explores the interface between psychiatry and politics. Without a doubt this is a complex interface and such explorations are invaluable for the development of psychiatry. During the early days of the blog, Dr Tempest summarised the chapters of her book ‘The Future of the NHS’ which brings together doctors, nurses, patients and politicians from all political parties to discuss the future of the NHS. In the UK, for the most part psychiatry is practised within the NHS which results in a distinct practice which is influenced by government. The NHS is one of the largest employers in the world and understanding the subtleties of this organisation, which is always evolving, is as difficult as understanding politics itself. Dr Tempest’s solution is to focus on turning points both within the NHS (e.g. the MTAS difficulties) and in the political arena and in a way which holds the reader’s attention. Here are some of the articles I liked the most:-
The featured blog is ‘Mind Hacks’. This blog is authored by a group of people who are interested in how the mind/brain works and includes a medic, psychologist and neuroscientist amongst others. The group have also authored a book – ‘Mind Hacks’ again about the intricacies of the mind/brain. The authors have a knack of finding interesting topics which also have a wide appeal. The blog has been predominantly authored by Vaughan who has been producing high quality articles at a tremendous rate and over a relatively long period of time. An article on the neuropsychology of religion by Vaughan examines an essay by Boyer on the neuropsychology of religion looking at how evolutionary cognitive mechanisms could have given rise to ritual and so on. An interesting thought here is whether the reverse is true (although 30,000 years (‘Lion Man’) is a relatively short period for evolutionary mechanisms to act) which is subtly hinted at in this article. Continuing on the same theme Vaughan also examines a question by George Beard and Silas Mitchell – ‘Is the cinematograph making us stupid?’ and looks at the parallels with the modern spin on this question. Indeed in an earlier review of a podcast on this blog – the question being asked was whether ‘Google was rewiring our brains’. What’s interesting is that George Beard using that same question developed the concept of neurasthenia which in turn has influenced the course of psychiatry in china with its vast population as covered in an excellent article in the American Journal of Psychiatry covered here. Perhaps questions about the relationship between evolution and culture are profoundly important.
Here Vaughan looks at Freud’s concept of symptom substitution, the idea that if the underlying cause is not addressed symptoms might disappear only to be replaced by other symptoms. Psychologist Warren Tyron has proposed a methodology for testing this theory. Perhaps a revival of this theory could be helpful with medically unexplained symptoms in which case it would be useful to draw analogies with CBT approaches for a deeper theoretical understanding of the phenomenon. In the ‘Arch of Hysteria’, Vaughan reviews a book about Charcot and in the process highlights some fascinating insights into this polymath who as well as being the ‘founder of modern neurology’, refined hypnosis and used photography to disseminate the concept of hysteria more effectively. Indeed this also appeared to have inspired sculpture thereby crossing many disciplines.
In ‘mental illness following the exorcist’ Vaughan delves all the way back to an article in a 1975 edition of the ‘Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases’ when a series of people developed mental illnesses after watching the film ‘The Exorcist’ at the cinema. One of the people ‘felt that certain people “looked strange”‘ an intriguing complaint that is found in the delusional misidentification syndromes (amongst others) and more of a tantalising possibility when it is mentioned that ‘he could not look people directly in the eye for fear he might imagine them to be devils’. There are various interpretations here – for instance the delusion of intermetamorphosis or fregoli syndrome which are dependent upon the semantics of what is meant by ‘he might imagine them to be devils’. Of course, we have no grounds for such diagnoses on the basis of such sparse information and a more rigorous formal process of analysis is required. Nevertheless such differentials offer new perspectives on the presentation. Such case series also allow for some insights into the effects of cinema on behaviours which comes up in the media from time to time although such relationships are far from simple.
In the ‘social yawn‘, Tom looks at the characteristics of the yawn in different species and particularly at the contagion of yawning. Chimpanzees will yawn when they see videos of other chimpanzees yawning. [On reading this I had a thought – can we really tell about our evolution by looking at Chimpanzees and other primates? What if they have evolved since our divergence through for example the mechanism of genetic drift which could manifest in changes in cognition]. Tom then goes on to show how we are influenced by others when yawning and by the end of the article are persuaded to look at yawning altogether differently.
Christian picks up on the a special theme edition of Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica in ‘Childhood trauma and schizophrenia‘. There is more research emerging in this area and Christian writes ‘The new findings support the argument for a bio-psycho-social approach to psychosis’ which I would tend to agree with although the exact meaning of ‘bio-psycho-social’ is up for debate. Vaughan covers the advent of a child brain image database derived from various types of brain images in ‘revolutionary child brain database launches’. Vaughan points out that this might be helpful in defining normal development. This should therefore be of interest in psychiatry when trying to delineate the aetiology of illnesses although the debate of genes v environment will doubtless continue but in a slightly different format with the anticipated findings.
If having fun at the same time as learning neuroscience is your aim then the Mind Hacks is definitely worth a look.
Psych Central Blog
The PsychCentral Blog is an outstanding and mammoth labour of love by psychologist Dr John Grohol. The blog has been running since 1999 and there are now 2000+ posts mainly by Dr Grohol but with additional contributors. Dr Grohol has not only created this blog but also a psychcentral user forum with over 1400 user groups! Psychcentral was also voted into the top 50 of TIME’s websites in 2008. The blog is updated very regularly – mostly daily and focuses on mental health issues with a stronger emphasis on psychological approaches as well as having articles on healthy living and drug research/policies. Here are a few of my highlights from the blog
– an article on a my-space like forum for patients known as ‘patients like me’
– Top 10 Psychology websites including the Stanford Prison Experiment and an interview with Kay Redfield Jamison
– Top 10 Depression Blogs
– Top 5 thinking (psychiatry related) blogs
– An article on a text-messaging service for patients with Bipolar Disorder
– There is also a related blog that has just started up – Bipolar Beat by Candida Fink
Positive Psychology News Daily
Positive psychology (see here, here, here and here) is an expanding movement within psychology that focuses on improving health (as distinct from treating illness). There’s a blog called ‘Positive Psychology News Daily’ here. In terms of the design, the blog has a dark grey background while the central section has a white and grey background. There are lots of useful design features on the blog. Thus the reader can subscribe to daily e-mails, an RSS feed, translate the blog into Chinese or Spanish, click through to associated books on Amazon or see a list of recent comments. In order to navigate the blog, the reader can either select ‘random’ posts or else navigate backwards chronologically by clicking on the ‘earlier articles’ link at the bottom of the page. In terms of the content, the blog has been going since 2006. The first article in fact is hereand is a simple biography of one of the blog authors. The articles are titled, dated and comment enabled featuring photographs, text as well as hypertext links of relevance. In reviewing the blog, i’ve moved through the pages of article summaries selecting articles with titles I found interesting. Thus my approach has not been comprehensive and is susceptible to selection bias.
Successful movements are often grounded in sound philosophy. The positive psychology movement can look to some of the greatest philosophers to have ever lived to inform the basis of their movement. There is a brief look at some of the underlying philosophy in an article by philosophy graduate Rosie Milner in this post. An overview of key concepts in positive psychology is provided in the positive psychology pyramid which is discussed in this article by Dave Shearon. An inspection of the pyramid figure reveals a flow from resilience/optimism through to values, purpose and goals. So central are these concepts that throughout the blog they are revisited in numerous articles. For instance there are articles on resilience here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here while character building is further covered in articles here, here, here, here and here.
A neat feature of this blog is the number of different perspectives on positive psychology. For instance in a post on ‘The Power of Stories‘, Kathyrn Britton writes that
‘Positive psychology is the science of what goes right with people‘
Another author, Doug Turner, offers the following insight
‘There is a “golden moment” when the principles of Positive Psychology come together to create deep meaning – FLOW, perhaps‘
while Dana Arakawa (a psychology graduate) writes that
‘True balance—dynamic, powerful balance—is sustained by determined and diligent effort to elevate the quality of our lives no matter where our time is being spent‘
In another article Arakawa writes about her experiences with positive psychology
‘I resonated with the concept of the three states of life—pleasant, engaged, and meaningful‘
A number of posts on the blog discuss the applications of positive psychology at the individual level. Laura Johnson argues that there is a place for humour in psychotherapy in this article. In another article psychologist Elizabeth Peterson writes about the effects of positive priming – creating environmental changes or using certain words to facilitate positively valued emotions or actions. The research evidence behind ‘mental time travel‘ is discussed in another post. The psychology of making choices has implications for happiness and is discussed in this article by Nicholas Hall. Senia Maymin writes about the APE solution to getting out of a ‘bad mood’ – using alternatives, perspective and evidence to challenge unhelpful thoughts and associated feelings and suggested by the author of a book on resilience. A number of theoretical issues are also raised. In this post for instance, Nicholas Hall writes about the overlap between emotional intelligence and positive psychology.
There are numerous applications of positive psychology in society and these are also explored in a large number of posts throughout the blog. As people spend a significant proportion of their lives at the workplace, it is useful to know something about positive psychology applications in the workplace. The bloggers write a number of posts in this area including here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. In a similar vein, there are articles on leadership here, here and here. There’s also an interesting post here on factors influencing the dissemination of positive news. Creativity, visualisation and productivity are covered in articles here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here. In another post Britton goes on to explore research on influencing changes in society. Influencing culture or society is further discussed in posts here, here and here. There are many other applications that are being explored. Positive psychology is impacting on education, neuroscience (and here), aging, blogging and there is even discussion of positive psychology in relation to music. The intersection between positive psychology and economic issues is discussed in articles here and here.
This is a fascinating resource for those with an interest in positive psychology or who are simply trying to improve their lives using an evidence based approach.
The blog reviewed here is ‘Exploring Psychology’. In the About section, the author David Webb tells us that he has a Masters degree in Occupational Psychology and that he resides in Spain where he is a ‘distance learning tutor and research dissertation supervisor’. The aim of the blog is described thus
‘The exploring psychology blog is the place where I highlight and explore the most fascinating and compelling psychology related news and research‘
Appearance and Design
This is a blogspot blog, with a simple white background throughout. Posts occupy the central pane and there are several to each page. They are demarcated, dated and comment enabled. The title pane includes a description of the aims of the blog and includes the above quote. Posts are generously illustrated with enticing pictures. There are adverts above the first post and to the right, there is a link to the Psych 101 twitter account, external links, videos of interest as well as a chronological index.
There were lots of interesting posts in keeping with the aims outlined above. I rather liked this idea of a ‘gratitude journal‘ from the ever creative positive psychology movement. Webb had found TED back in 2007 rather more quickly than I have (although pleased to be now be up to speed on this valuable resource!). Linking to slideshare was also quite helpful – a place for sharing presentations online. There is a very neat illustration of inattentive blindness in the video linked to in this post and I completely missed the giant mouse walking through the group of people. There is very good coverage of the ‘Little Albert’ study here. I was suprised to learn of the memory enhancing associations of doodling in this post.
This is an easily accessible blog with ‘bite-sized’ posts explaining useful psychological research. There are also a number of book reviews and links to useful learning material and I enjoyed reading this blog.
Psychotherapy Brown Bag
The blog reviewed here is ‘Psychotherapy Brown Bag. Discussing the Science of Clinical Psychology‘.
Appearance and Design
The background is white including in the title pane. The title pane features what looked to me like a series of progressively fading blue trees. However this might be a concrete interpretation. So they could also be letters (o, p and q) which is consistent with the image of a blog (words) or people with the tear drop shapes representing heads (so looking from above it would be a group of people huddled together) which would fit with psychology (maybe this is a variant of the Rorschach test!). Just below the title pane is an index – here the reader can navigate using the archives menu while there is also an ‘About Us’ and ‘Links’ section (amongst others) that can be accessed. The articles occupy the left two-thirds of the screen. On the right hand one-third of the screen there are a large number of features – a search bar, twitter, options, RSS feed icon, subscribe option, recent comments, recent posts and categories as well as adverts. At the end of the articles themselves there are a number of options including the ability to disseminate the articles using social media tools as well as a rating system.
The first article in the archives is from February 2009. A number of articles contain a number of references to the research literature, suporting the main arguments in the articles themselves. Many of the articles give an overview of a topic (e.g. Distress Tolerance in Problematic Behaviours). In an article on binge eating, Anestis explains the diagnosis in more detail and also includes links to a number of books on the subject. In this article, he explores impulsivity in detail. The authors cover current research, discussing studies in detail. For instance in this article, there is a discussion of a study looking at an interesting (almost abstract) computerised therapy for social anxiety which showed promising results. Indeed there is a series of articles on online treatment approaches for different conditions (e.g. insomnia). Michael Anestis, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology, writes two interesting articles on dialectical behavioural therapy and explains how this can be used with a mindfulness-based approach (see here and here). The authors also look at the use of approaches to specific contexts (e.g. see this article). A number of the articles address commonly posed questions such as this article on why group data is useful for informing individual therapeutic approaches. In an article about a related topic, Anestis addresses the role of clinical intuition versus actuarial approaches to decision making. A number of articles such as this one on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder look at changes that might take place in DSM-V.
The ‘Psychotherapy Brown Bag’ blog is in my opinion an excellent resource for those wanting to learn more about different forms of psychotherapy both from an experiential and more prominently an evidence-based perspective. The authors have written a number of very interesting and useful articles on pragmatic issues and have utilised a systematic approach in doing so. They also intersperse these articles with commentaries on contemporary issues for instance news stories reported in the media.
Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look
The featured blog ‘Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry: A Closer Look’ has been running since 2006. The author provides a critique of research carried out in the field of psychology and psychiatry and issues which impact on practice. There are some incisive analyses of papers. A few of the most interesting articles for me include switching from first generation antipsychotics to second generation antipsychotics (with analysis), pharma funding of patient groups, preventive psychopharmacology, the role of the doctor in the therapeutic effect, lack of efficacy of alpha-2 agonists in PTSD, occupational therapy fordementia, shadow statisticians, and a discussion of subthreshold bipolar disorder. There is some overlap with the previously featured blogs Furious Seasons and the Carlat Psychiatry Blog. As with my discussion of the Carlat Psychiatry Blog, a polarised view helps to identify the important issues much more easily. This works best in the context of a discussion or argument between proponents of opposite polarised viewpoints.
Advances in the History of Psychology
The featured blog is ‘Advances in the History of Psychology‘. This area of study offers very useful insights not least of which is learning from the lessons of the past. Many articles contain links to other sites or excerpts from papers and the articles are very interesting and distinct from other blogs reviewed here even when the subject matter is similar. In this article there is a comment on the effect of the internet on peer review in scientific journals but it is also apparent that scientists are already taking their papers straight to the internet audience. Freud comes up for discussion in a number of articles. Here is a very brief discussion which does however raise the issues of empiricism and the humanities in interpreting Freud’s works and their influence. Thus here is a discussion of a misinterpretation of Freud’s concept of repression, while this article refers to a book covering the last year of Freud’s life and here is a brief link to a review of a book on Freud’s works assessed in a wider context. There is a very interesting link to an article on the similarities of Freud and Skinner.
There are a number of posts on classic scientists or papers including replication. Thus a challenge for bloggers to review classic science papers was made one blog. There was also an article focusing on the giant of neuroanatomy – Cajal publishing on hypnosis before his other pioneering works and the recent translation into english of this early work. A book about the history of sleep research is briefly reviewed here. In this article there is a brief discussion of the mistakes made in psychology textbooks while replication of classic studies is referenced here. Replication studies must surely be as important as the original studies.
As the history of psychology covers a vast subject area there are a number of other interesting articles which are difficult to group together and so I will just list here some of those articles I found most interesting: The historical practice of altering brain chemistry, reconciling two disparate cultures, agnotology – the study of ignorance, the creation of a new research post to study the history of the development of Asperger syndrome, debunking and counter-debunking(!) psychological myths here, digitising the history of psychology, another perspective on brain imaging and the history of neuroscience. There are also some links to a documentary on the rise of functional psychology (Part 1 and Part 2).
This is a very nice blog which gives a broad perspective on the field of psychology and a number of areas in psychiatry.
There is a blog about Sigmund Freud which also has articles focusing on mental illnesses and treatments. The blog has a dark grey background with a central white pane featuring the blog articles. The title pane contains navigational links to pages including the About section and Sitemap. The blog can be navigated by means of the category index on the right-hand side of the central pane. However there is no chronological index although the reader can navigate backwards through the blog by clicking on the older entries link at the bottom of the page. The articles are titled, dated and comment enabled. At the time of writing articles had two broad styles. The first was an encyclopedia like entry on many common mental illnesses. The second contained a variety of styles and implied various authors had contributed (this was implied through links back to other works by the article’s author in some posts). Freud however features prominently in the blog. Various parts of Freud’s biography and works are covered in posts including this brief biography, photographs of Freud’s friends and colleagues and more on Freud’s theories. This is an eclectic mental health blog which also reminds us of the important role that Sigmund Freud has played in the development of psychiatry and related disciplines.
Jung at Heart
The featured blog is ‘Jung At Heart‘ by Cheryl Fuller, a Jungian therapist with over 35 years experience in therapy.This blog has been going since 2007 and as the name suggests focuses on Jungian analysis and does so in both practical and theoretical terms.
Fuller gives insights into the everyday practice of psychotherapy. Thus for instance she discusses the qualifications needed for becoming a Jungian Analyst. In this article, she writes about the length of therapy – the first and last sessions as well as expectations of how long therapy has lasted. Fuller explains to the reader the benefits that she has experienced from undergoing analysis and also writes an interesting article on diagnosis from the perspective of a therapist, commenting on the problems created by a dualistic approach.
Fuller also covers theoretical aspects of Jungian Anaysis. For instance, Jungian psychoanalysis meets cognitive behavioural therapy in this article while research on psychodynamic psychotherapy is covered here. In this article Fuller writes about the intriguing idea of therapeutic blogging, where the therapist and patient blog about the therapy sessions together either through a private or a public blog. If there was a public blog, then Fuller writes that the therapeutic space would be expanded with potential benefits (and do doubt disadvantages as well). In this article, Fuller argues that psychiatry and psychology have increasingly focused on evidence based outcome measures. Fuller can sometimes write sceptically about the medical model, in the process causing the reader to reflect on a priori assumptions as in the possible relationship between medication non-responders and remission is discussed in this article.
There are a number of other areas covered including internet resources for Jung, the most influential psychotherapists of the last 25 years, an intriguing article about secrets bringing people into therapy and in this article, Fuller talks about how personality interacts with geography and links to some relevant maps. There are also some really nice quotes from different people or reflections on art – here is a great quote on memory by Amos Oz, reflections on the painting ‘La Memoir’ by Magritte, a quote from Jolande Jacobi on individuation and reflections on a quote by Orfan Pamuk.
‘Jung At Heart’ offers the reader an insight into Jungian psychotherapy and the perspectives of a highly experienced psychotherapist on a range of important issues. Here is a final quote from Jung himself:-
The principle aim of psychotherapy is not to transport one to an impossible state of happiness, but to help (the client) acquire steadfastness and patience in the face of suffering’
Beck Institute Blog
The featured blog is the ‘Beck Institute Blog‘ by the staff at the Beck Institute. In the blog which started in October 2006, we are told that there will be occasional posts from Judith Beck and Aaron Beck himself! There are also some very useful resources such as links to videos of Beck onthis page. The blog is updated regularly with reports on research studies. For instance there are references to CT’s effect on remission in depression being treated with ECT, effectiveness in treating ‘work-related stress‘, treatment of hypochondriasis, a study finding that CBT was effective in helping unemployed people return to work, a study showing reduction in admissions to hospital in people with angina, CBT for adolescents with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and a study in which an increase in grey matter volume was found in people with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome after CBT. There’s quite an interesting discussion around therapists falling asleep in sessions (follow the debate in the comments section). There is another interesting discussion on homework with a number of tips. The authors also inform the readers of conferences, relevant news items and awards. I found the blog particularly useful for the reports on research and this looks like a helpful supplementary resource for people wanting to keep up to date with developments in the field. At the time of writing there hasn’t been a blog post since December 2008 but hopefully there will be some more interesting posts to come!
Sara Roizen – Fine Art Muralist
The featured blog is ‘Sara Roizen – Fine Art Muralist‘. Sara Roizen is an artist and art teacher who has just started a Masters Degree in art therapy. Art therapy which is a relatively young discipline is discussed in the more recent sections of the blog after Roizen has started the Master’s course and she gives a helpful overview of the subject here. Mental health services, depending on local resources may have art therapists who can undertake detailed individual psychotherapeutic work with people or group work as just a few examples of their work.
At the beginning of the blog, Roizen talks about the process of creating artwork and a gallery of her work can be seen here. There are a lot of beautiful works here and I particularly liked ‘creation‘, while ‘Rope Dancer 1′ and ‘Rope Dancer 2′ in the abstracts section I thought were very playful. There is a rich cultural exploration in the Japanese Gardens series, a beautiful exposition of nature in the ‘Sandstone series’ and a reflective ‘Earth Windows’ series. Roizin also borrows some really insightful quotes about art and I got a sense of an ability to create a peaceful, healing environment.
What I find exciting about the idea of art therapy is that the creative resources and inspiration of the world of art can be used to alleviate suffering and distress and facilitate the healing process.
This is a very nice blog, with Roizin guiding the reader through her experience of art and relating this to art therapy.
The blog reviewed here is ‘Jung Currents‘. At the time of writing, the blog is coloufully presented with an artistic title pane with a subtitle of ‘What’s up with Carl Jung’. The blog is written by Sparky, a psychologist who experienced a heart attack in 2005, which was a life changing experience. At the time of writing he has 27 other blogs which cover various topics and show the breadth of knowledge and interests of the author as well a focus on providing others with useful information (e.g. health). On the right hand panel there are two icons. The first is a link to people’s dreams and their interpretations on a separate page. The second links is very interesting and directs the reader to a separate site containing 40 images. The 40 images were created by Sparky following a heart attack and are linked to powerful quotations from different sources. The blog starts with this post, quoting from an article, in which psychoanalyst Dr Schenk reinterprets the act of dressing up for Halloween in Jungian terms with reference to archetypes. I found this article quite useful as it provided clear examples of how Jung’s concept of the archetype can be seen in popular settings. This helps the reader to understand the concept much more clearly and to appraise this critically. For example the simple act of a musician dressing up as a character from ‘undercover agent’ is interpreted in terms of the hero archetype and this is particularly appropriate when the musician describes how the effects that this action has on his thoughts and feelings. The implication seems to be that if the imagination incorporates elements of the archetypes that it resonates with the person’s psyche. The sceptic might argue that the act of choosing the hero costume has nothing to do with the archetype but that the costume has been chosen for idiosyncratic reasons or that one of the costumes was bound to be interpreted in terms of archetypes (i.e. selection bias) or that the concept of the archetype overlaps with although being distinct from popular cultural icons (which might arise for different reasons). Perhaps a biologically validated explanation for the archetype would be particularly convincing (whether that results from nature or nurture). In this post, Sparky introduces the reader to Peter Birkhauser, an artist who spent many decades interpreting his dreams, undergoing analysis and creating paintings based from his dream material. In this post, there is an interpretation of a 4600 year-old dream of Gilgamesh, a figure from the Babylonian literature. There is apparently some controversy over whether Gilgamesh was an actual historical figure and this in addition to the drawbacks of interpretations based on historical records should be borne in mind (see here for information on the above (at the time of writing)). There is also a link to this site which contains references to Jung’s quotations. Here is an example.
‘All the most powerful ideas in history go back to archetypes. This is particularly true of religious ideas, but the central concepts of science, philosophy, and ethics are no exception to this rule. In their present form they are variants of archetypal ideas, created by consciously applying and adapting these ideas to reality. For it is the function of consciousness not only to recognise and assimilate the external world through the gateway of the senses, but to translate into visible reality the world within us‘
In this article, I was amused to find out that Jung has several profiles on MySpace. Apparently Freud has more profiles at the time of writing!
Although having relatively few articles at the time of writing, I found this blog (together with the linked references) to be very ‘deep’ and having many aspects – the personal narrative of a life-changing experience, the expression of Jung’s concepts and people’s experiences in art and the expression of Jung in the collective ‘internet’ conscious (or unconscious?)*.
* Indeed through this medium is it possible that Jung could himself become an archetype?).
The blog reviewed here is ‘Modern Psychoanalysis‘. The blog reads ‘Join us to learn more or post your own thoughts’ in a similarly way to another blog reviewed here (Linguistic Anthropology). In terms of structure, the blog has a green title pane, a green background with articles containing black text on a white background. In the right hand panel, there are options to translate the blog into several languages, links to psychoanalysis sites of relevance, last 10 posts, archives and blog links. Additionally there is an ‘About Me’ section, a search engine box, Bloglines subscriber, stat counter and a cluster map. In the ‘About Me’ section, there is a link to the profile of the author who goes by the name Jim and states a location in New Jersey, United States. In the initial post by James G Fennessy (presumably Jim), there is an introduction to Modern Psychoanalysis with a mention of the ‘founder, Dr Human Spotniz’ and an emphasis on interventions which include
‘a wide range of interventions including ego reinforcement, emotional communication and resistance resolution‘
The next article looks at practical aspects of psychoanalysis including the length and costs of therapy, the use of the illness model and the levels at which a psychotherapist will work with the analysand. Here Fennessy considers the education in psychoanalysis and there are a few interesting quotes from Freud who made it clear that it was not just doctors who could receive training in psychoanalysis. In this article he considers a hierarchical approach to treatment resistance in modern psychoanalysis.
In ‘The Narcissistic Defense‘, Fennessy looks at some of Spotniz’s writings and I noted some similarity to the writings of Winnicott that have been reviewed here although in a later post it is mentioned that Spotniz (1985) stated
‘Freud and his contemporaries did not recognise the presence of narcissistic transference as such and they did not know how to utilise it for therapeutic purposes’‘
Given the similarity of some of the above points to Winnicott it is interesting to see that Fennessy goes on to consider a late paper of Winnicott on ‘The False Self‘ from 1960. Fennessy then elaborates on Spotniz’s views on the narcissistic transference. Again Spotnitz’s views on id impulses are discussed as are those of Freud and Margolis on the ‘primary process’. Spotniz’s views on silence are considered here and the suggestion is made that this can be used as a holding environment (as described by Winnicott) or psychotherapeutic space.
Fennessy’s Blog on ‘Modern Psychoanalysis’ provides a useful interpretation of the subject and a look at many complex topics in an accessible way. There have been no new articles that I could find after July 2008 and so this is an inactive blog which however goes onto attract new readers in much the same way as a book in a library although the dynamic elements still remain (e.g. comments section).
Spread the Word. EMDR Transforms Trauma
The blog reviewed here is ‘Spread the Word. EMDR transforms trauma‘. In the about section, the philosophy underlying the blog is explained. The blog draws on the contributions of the wider EMDR community to highlight aspects of EMDR ranging from successful application through to practical tips.
Appearance and Design
The background for the blog is dark blue with a central white pane. The title pane features a blue flower design with the title of the blog. Immediately beneath the title pane there are links to the home page and the about section. On the right hand side of the central pane lie the categories index, a search bar and links to external EMDR sites. The categories index features a limited number of categories and communicates the simple and effective organisation of the blog. Posts are comment enabled, dated and include category tags. They are typically text-based and a paragraph or several paragraphs in length.
At the time of writing there are 13 posts in total. The introductory post stipulates that contributions should be a minimum of 200 words in length. This post by Dana Terrell sheds light on the origins of the blog and how she was introduced to EMDR. Several posts detail people’s experience of EMDR. For instance this post is about the use of EMDR for improving success at job interviews while this one describes an application in pain management.
This recent blog about EMDR contains 13 posts but already effectively conveys a lot of the enthusiasm of the posting EMDR practitioners. The posts are generally fairly brief but effectively convey useful information such as the application of EMDR in specific situations. This will be a useful blog to follow for EMDR practitioners or those with an interest in this area
Conflict of Interest
The author has undergone training in EMDR.
The EMDRIA Blog
The featured blog is the EMDRIA Blog (located here). EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing. EMDR is a form of therapy developed by Francine Shapiro which involves the use of eye movements (although not always) to desensitise people to the distressing emotions associated with traumatic memories and followed by a ‘reprocessing’ phase which aims to reframe the memories adaptively. This is quite a new blog with the introductory article posted on January 2nd 2009. Within this short time two themes emerge – EMDR itself (including announcements on relevant organisations and aspects of practice) and information on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In this article there is a discussion of the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS) and their recommendation for using EMDR which received a Level A Rating (based on the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research Guidelines). In this article there is a look at research identifying an association between childhood physical abuse and impaired immune functioning. This blog will be relevant to EMDR Practitioners and those with an interest in EMDR
Conflict of Interest
The author has undergone training in EMDR.
Mental Health Nursing
Mental Nurse is the blog reviewed today. The blog was started by Mental Nurse, who appears to have been ‘discharged’ and is therefore no longer writing. However, there is now a rota for the writing team who produce a stream of lighthearted, entertaining articles interspersed with serious and topical issues. Reading the blog, I felt I was listening in on the typical friendly nurse banter on the ward. There are lots of writing styles and the team have a variety of interests. Here are some of the articles I liked
Writing with a black biro: Writing in a Black Biro. Why do we write in medical notes with a black biro – i’ve often wondered that myself!
In the nursing standard – article about responses to blogging
More on History of Mental Health – Reference to David Clark’s book about managing a psychiatric hospital
Lithium – Speculation on Lithium via Bill Bryson
Changing Your Mind – Evolutionary support for not skipping your meals!
Smoking and Mental Health – nice article on some consequences of stopping smoking
Confessions of a Former Anti-Psychiatrist – Zarathustra on philosophy, coffee houses and anti-anti-psychiatry
How do you solve a problem like Maria – Touching and important story about systems and individuals
Notes from the Royal Colleg of Nursing Congress – What happens at the Congress?
News Update from Psychminded – Personality disorder label news
Nurse-Patient ratios – why they matter – Insight into importance of nurse-patient ratios
Is Behaviourism Scientifically Respectable – detailed discussion of behaviourism
Cut the Paperwork – On bureaucracy
The featured blog is ‘Neurology Minutiae‘ written by a neurologist who keeps a number of other blogs on different neurologically related topics. There are many overlaps between neurology and psychiatry and this is particularly evident in neuropsychiatry. The articles are mainly brief, almost notelike and mostly reference a current paper in the field of neurology but provide some commentary or personal interpretation on the paper. There are also a few articles which cover a topic in more depth. Some of the articles I found particularly interesting included a discussion of dorsal midbrain syndrome and shunt dysfunction in this article, some relevant side-effects of the newer anticonvulsants described here, a differential diagnosis of unilateral hearing loss, idiopathic intracranial hypertension, neuro-opthalmology testing, functional visual loss, multisystem atrophy, eye closure in pseudoseizures, a link to the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, an unusual case of anxiety and epilepsy secondary to an insuloma, characterising PSP, impulsivity and Parkinson’s Disease, discriminating Parkinson’s Disease and PSP, ictal heart rate in pseudoseizures and seizures, drugs causing myoclonus, the serotonin syndrome, miscellaneous drug side-effects, pusher syndrome, paraneoplastic syndrome, rheumatoid pachymeningitis, aggressive behaviours in REM sleep behaviour disorder and the UPDRS criteria for staging of Parkinson’s Disease. This blog is particulary useful for those with an interest in neurology but also has a number of articles relevant to psychiatry including coverage of dementia.
The featured blog is ‘Braindisease’s Weblog‘ by Assistant Profession of Neurology Dr Nitin Sethi in New York. In this first post dated December 2007, NS explains the rationale behind the blog – to make some of the research literature in neurology accessible to the general public. Sethi accomplishes this through an engaging style, keeping the articles brief and too the point all in language that is accessible to a lay audience as well as to professionals. As there are significant areas of overlap between neurology and psychiatry there are numerous areas of potential interest to mental health professionals. For instance in this article he covers the issue of falls in neurodegenerative conditions and includes causes and management. He also writes an article on Vit B12 status and an association of deficiency with brain atrophy together with some further insights. There are a large number of posts on general neurological topics . Here for instance Sethi gives advice on reducing risk of stroke while the post on Persistent Vegetative State provoked a lot of discussion in the commentary section. Sethi also has a website braindiseases.info and is also featured in an interview with ‘Merely Me’ over at Multiple Sclerosis Central.
I found Sethi writes in an engaging style and covers a broad range of issues in neurology making the subject accessible to a lay audience while the articles also retain value for the professional.
The American Journal of Neuroradiology
The blog reviewed here is ‘The American Journal of Neuroradiology‘ Blog. The outlay is simple with articles displayed in the central pane with black text on white background. The left hand pane contains links to the blog’s archives as well as categories of articles helping the reader to navigate. The right hand pane shows links to recent and most viewed posts. Here the editor-in-chief of the journal introduces the blog and explains some of the aims and suggests that the readers can engage in a more informal virtual space. There are also references to articles of interest in other journals such as this post which includes a link to an article about visualising the collateral arterial blood circulation or this post which includes links to an article on the possible significance of T2 weighted white matter lesions (an association with reduced cerebral blood flow was identified) or this post linking to an article published on MR findings in Wernicke’s encepalopathy and finding differences between those with and without alcohol abuse. What I found fascinating was that the fMRI topic discussed by Vul and colleagues (analysed here) reappears in a slightly different format in this discussion of Multiple Sclerosis imaging studies perhaps suggesting that there a much broader discussion of the use of phenemonological/physiological correlates and statistical analysis of imaging studies might have profound ramifications. Here we see that the blog is doing something else very interesting – engaging with the readership resulting in the assembly of clinical useful material and demonstrating a Web 2.0 phenomenon. This is an interesting blog which is meant to be read in conjunction with ‘The American Journal of Neuroradiology’. There is lots of interesting material which is of particular relevance to neuropsychiatry and there are interesting discussions by the editor-in-chief on a range of topics including open access.
While looking through this blog I found a link to another useful site which contains neuroradiology cases of the day – ACR Case in Point.
Neurocritic’s blog has been going since 2006 and its is a lot of fun!
Neurocritic is interested in neuorimaging studies and he reviews these in depth and with the eye of an expert. There are a number of tongue-in-cheek articles and references to films and songs to distract from the otherwise incisive and heavyweight analysis that is going on, not just of the specific articles but of general trends in the neuroimaging world/neurosciences. Many of neurocritic’s articles are mini-review articles in their own right, containing numerous references to relevant studies backing up his arguments. Neurocritic’s blog is highly recommended particularly to those with an interest in the neurosciences. I had a lot of fun reading through these articles and there are too many good ones to choose from – so forgive my rather excessive list below.
Is the MTL one big happy region – Identifying an anatomical mistake in an MRI publication
Dialogue and Dilbert on Prediction Errors – Explanation of analytical technique used in MRI studies
Encephalon – Round up of other neuroblogs
I Look Terrible…. – Localising embarassment at seeing an unflattering image of yourself!
NeuroPsychoEconomics – ?!?!?!?!
NAcc Localisation for DBS – Placing electrodes in Deep Brain Stimulation
The blog reviewed here is the ‘Neuroskeptic‘ blog. In the About section, we learn that the Neuroskeptic is a male neuroscientist in the Uk who describes the blog thus:-
‘A neuroscientist takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond‘
Appearance and Design
There is a dark/light blue striped background with a central white pane featuring the articles. The title pane lists the blog title in white font on a dark blue background. The articles are titled, dated, comment enabled, tagged and featuring an e-mail option as well as a research blogging icon. The blog can be navigated using the options on the right side of the central pane – chronological archived links and label links. There is an RSS subscription option and external links. Articles are generously and aesthetically illustrated and the overall site design is simple and effective.
There are 250 articles at the time of writing. The Neuroskeptic typically reports on studies in an accessible and engaging style. Here are some of my favourites
Serotonin: Interesting evidence about the effects of a presumed absence of Serotonin from a Plos One paper.
Critiquing Neuroscience explanations: Looking at a study investigating perceptions of psychological and neuroscience explanations.
Voodoo Correlations: I’ve covered this elsewhere but this is part of a classic neuroscience blogosphere episode. I’ve missed of the updates but they’re well worth a look as well.
Ephebiphobia: Worth reading for the 6000 year old comment alone.
The Neuroscience of Niceness: Positive neuroscience.
Salmon fMRI: Reviewing a recent study by Bennett who reports on the fMRI findings in a dead salmon.
Placebo coffee: Self-explanatory.
No more interesting: Umm interesting to note that haven’t been as successful!
Armchair Neuropathologists: Sharing neuropathology data
How I Write. Tips on blogging.
New approach to analysing fMRI: New approach using overlapping areas of functional activation in groups of subjects.
The Neuroskeptic is a well established neuroscience blogger who as the title suggests, takes a skeptical view of the neuroscience research for the purposes of the blog and produces some very interesting engaging posts. The posts above are the ones I found interesting but there are a number of other categories which look at more controversial areas within (clinical) neuroscience and which initiate a lot of discussion. Well worth a look.
The blog reviewed here is ‘Nou Stuff‘ by neuroscientist Maria Page. Page has an account on Twitter where she has already posted over 4700 tweets. These are mostly high quality links to articles on neuroscience and in this medium she is one to follow for those with an interest in neuroscience. Page also has this blog where she includes posts in which amongst other themes she has expanded on some of the material from Twitter.
Appearance and Design
The background and title pane feature a graded white-cyan space which evolves into angled and evenly-spaced lines with a plant motif. There are several articles on each page. Each article features a white background with black text and a blue heading and comments are enabled. The blog can be navigated using features in the right hand pane. Thus the reader can use the search facility, the categories box and access top posts. There are also links to external sites as well as updates from the twitter account, delicious and the blog stats for the site. To move backwards chronologically the reader must click on the next page link at the bottom of each page sequentially.
The first listed article was dated 20.7.09 and is a look which components of music are thought to convey emotion including the key and tempo. This is particularly interesting in view of emerging evidence of a close link between music and language. A neat feature of the articles is the inclusion of links to a series of relevant references providing the reader with additional and useful reading material. Page focuses in detail on some key areas. For instance in this post she looks at some of the possible neurobiological underpinnings of laughter. I found this material interesting in view of an evolutionary theory of laughter (see review here) although it should be noted that in our nearest relatives chimpanzees, smiling is seen as a threatening behaviour. Page also covers case studies of interest. For instance in this post, Page looks at patient H.M (who suffered a profound anterograde amnesia following a bilateral hippocampectomy for intractable epilepsy) and the post-mortem project to produce a virtual dissection. The posts contain a wide variety of material across neuroscience and are complemented by pictures or embedded videos.
This is a good neuroscience blog with articles varying from brief descriptions of new studies with links to detailed articles with useful references. This blog also complements the twitter posts by Page which provide the audience with current and interesting neuroscience posts. Gladwell has written about the number of hours it takes to develop expertise in an area and the evidence seems to point out that it is about 10,000 hours (see review here). Obviously the definition of expertise will vary from one subject to another but it will be interesting to follow Page’s combined blog and twitter postings. Assuming that an average of 5 twitter posts can be produced per hour (after scanning the articles) that would be roughly equivalent to 50,000 twitter posts (assuming all were about neuroscience). We are at the forefront of new social media technologies. What does a person become by posting 50,000 twitter posts about neuroscience? Obviously doing science is the core of being a scientist. Nevertheless the use of twitter involves finding material, reading and filtering material, communicating this and producing an index for this material for future reference. I would speculate that this process contributes meaningfully to the core abilities of a scientist not only in communicating and popularising science but also in receiving continuous feedback from peers. For instance with twitter, I’ve found it useful in quickly tapping into the ‘narrative’ of current events relating to psychiatry and allied disciplines. Thus I would say that the results of a using twitter are complex with many potential benefits. The use of blogging seems to complement this well. Will Page become one of the leading neuroscientists of the 21st century? Time will tell but the skills displayed here could be argued to be integral to the neuroscience team of the 21st century.
The Singularity Hub
The blog reviewed here is ‘Singularity Hub‘. The blog is described as ‘A Blog About the Singularity Longevity, Nanotech, Robotics, Genetics, AI, The Brain…’ and so covers quite a lot of areas although I was particularly interested in the coverage of the brain. The About section details the authors of the blog who have a variety of backgrounds including neuropsychology, physics and computing. The title pane has a wide background with a black text title and some adjacent adverts. Individual posts have black text on a white background and readers have the option of following the blog using an RSS feed, Twitter, e-mail or following the authors on facebook. On the right hand pane, the reader can navigate through the blog using archives, categories or popular posts.
The theme that I perceived on reading through the blog was one of augmenting biology with technology. There are various references to prosthetic devices, life extension and articles on how science might shape the future. The use of prosthetic devices almost seems to be the symbol of an emerging subculture paralleling that of cosmetic surgery although many of the discussion in this area are in principle alone. In this post, the movement is given a name – the transhumanist movement although it remains to see how this will develop. However one aspect of this philosophy is the emergence of continuous body monitoring which could have a number of applications in medicine. The arguments about augmenting the body with technology are countered by those in which it is argued that evolution has produced organic machinery of sorts which is so subtle, so refined that we will never perhaps come to understand how we came to be, nor indeed how we are but will rather have some approximation to these questions. The authors also comment on developments in other technologies. In terms of cloud computing (Wolfram Alpha is the most notable recent example of a cloud computing project – reviewed here) there are a number of references to this in posts including an announcement by three large companies reported on here. Some of the innovative devices I found interesting such as the ‘world’s fastest DNA sequencer‘ which processes a single strand of DNA in an hour. Another very useful resource in this post was OpenCog which makes available open access artificial intelligence software or else 3-d Lithography. This blog will appeal to those with an interest in developments in technology and some of those covered here have applications in medicine.
Brains on Purpose
The featured blog is ‘Brains on Purpose‘ by Stephanie West Allen (in collaboration with Jeffrey M. Schwartz). In the about sectionAllen describes herself as a lawyer, counselor and author and has developed a Brains on Purpose(TM) program in which she ‘shows people how to use their minds to change their brains in order to break and create habits, increase focus and awareness and achieve goals’. She has also developed a ‘mediation model’ to resolve conflicts by using the ‘latest findings in neurosciences’. Thus when reading this blog, I thought there might be a focus on conflict resolution and habit forming/productivity which has the potential to have application in various areas.
The title pane is in red, the most recent posts are displayed in the central pane, with black text on white background, red HTML links and red titles. The text within articles is broken up with short paragraphs and the red HTML effectively acting to break up the text. Within the archives, some of the articles require the reader to click on a link to reveal the remainder of the article. While a seemingly trivial point, this means it is much quicker slower to access the articles compared to blogs articles in which a HTML link must does not need to be clicked to reveal the rest of the article which may result in a server delay as well as the additional time required to locate and click on the link. On the right hand pane there are a number of resources. There is the author’s picture. In keeping with the about section, Allen lists her recommended brain and conflict resolution books. There is an about section about collaborator Dr Jeffrey Schwartz, a research psychiatrist based in Los Angeles who has developed expertise in the area of brain plasticity. Articles are indexed according to month and category although the archives extend further back than displayed on the home page. The blog is syndicated with an RSS feed link displayed on the far right pane.
The blog begins with this introductory post from August 2007. In this article Allen comments on the a widely publicised study showing the benefits of labelling feelings and draws on some of Schwartz’s work suggesting the benefits of learning to label feelings through the day to facilitate conflict resolution when it does arise. This post begins with a neat quote from Proust and Allen gives the reader this thought provoking view on habit
‘When we are only relying on habit, we are reduced to our “bare minimum” – and we are not in charge of our own brain‘
As the blog continues and the profile rises ‘Brains on Purpose’ is referred to on a site referencing mediation links. The importance of self-awareness in conflict-resolution is discussed in this article and there is a brief look at the possible role of the Insular cortex, an area of the brain covered previously on this blog. Drawing a possible link between the Insular Cortex and resolution of conflict is interesting and it is tempting to speculate about factors such as environmental temperature (temperature and other sensory information is integrated in maps in the Insular Cortex according to A.Craig who has done a lot of work on this area and his papers are reviewed here, here and here) on conflicts (for instance in a study from last year people experienced more positive associations with a stranger when they were holding a hot rather than cold drink – could such observations be useful for conflict resolution – breaking up a confrontation by sitting round the table with a hot drink! – perhaps there is a case-control study in the making!). In this article there is a discussion of the gender similarity hypothesis which asserts that men and women have more similarities than differences. Allen also writes about a group called the Amygdaloids comprised of neuroscientists singing about….the brain (see video linked to below).
There is also this very useful Mind Papers resource which contains thousands of papers on the philosophy of mind. Allen talks about ‘Brain Overclaim Syndrome’ in which effectively exaggerated claims are made about neuroscience findings and in this article she looks at fMRI studies commenting on an impending challenge to current thinking about fMRI (prescience?). In this post, Allen discusses a model of emotional regulation and how mediation can act at each of these points in the model. There are lots of links to relevant conferences and this one on neuroleadership at which Schwartz was speaking is quite intriguing.
The incorporation of neuroscience findings in conflict neuroscience is encouraging and to do so necessitates consideration of the mind and brain. Indeed in adopting a ‘holistic’ approach it is necessary to understand how the biology impacts on the mind by various means. The work which has most impressed me recently in this regards is that by Niall McLaren who writes that that descriptively there is a biologically ‘hardwired’ fast-acting brain with a ‘slower’ reflective mind (although of course the mind does originate from the brain) and that they require different descriptive languages (McLaren’s book is reviewed here). These are subtle points but crucial to addressing the needs of the individual in crisis resolution. It would be interesting to see in this regards how some of the work on the physiological stress response can be incorporated into conflict resolution work. There is a significant body of work in this area that has accumulated over more than a hundred years drawing not just from the neurosciences but also endocrinology and other areas of medicine. Such research offers a rich source of additional information on modifiable factors that can optimise the conflict-resolution environment and can often be overlooked. Such responses have a profound impact on phenomena ranging from the brain’s neural plasticity through to long-term cardiovascular health risks in the workplace.
Allen’s blog is an interesting one which addresses the very important issue of conflict resolution and provides the reader with a lot of enjoyable and engaging material along the way.
Small Gray Matters
The blog reviewed here is ‘Small Gray Matters‘. The blog has a simple but effective design with a blue title pane and for the articles, black text on a cream background with hypertext links appearing as a pale green (or at least it looked like a pale green). On the right hand pane, articles are indexed in the monthly archives and also in categories. There is also a summary of recent posts, links and an RSS feed. I couldn’t find an About section but reading through the articles, the author works (or has worked) in fMRI research, is most likely American judging from the title and conference attendance, has graduated in the not too distant past, with a background in statistics and experience in several programming languages. The impression I got from reading this blog, is that the author is exceptionally intelligent and is able to bring this intellect to bear on many different domains within the neurosciences, hardly ever deviating from making a serious analysis of the topic to hand and always seeming to have a very deep, highly structured understanding of the subject matter. My guess is that this approach allows for the rapid acquisition of domain expertise and with continued application within the field of interest – fMRI – would all other things assumed, at some point result in the author becoming one of the leading figures in this field. Of course, this is all rather speculative but is the impression I got on reading through the blog. Another interesting feature of the blog is that the posts are very infrequent (indeed with a one year hiatus at one point) but of very high quality.
The first archived article dates back to June 2006 and is a defence of neuroimaging in response to a Seed article. This is followed by a really excellent article on ‘Neurons, blood flow, and their intimate relationship‘ and I would recommend this to people with an interest in fMRI as the author covers some of the reasoning behind the fMRI methodology starting with an analysis of an important paper in Nature by Logothetis. The author goes on to say
‘The reason most people like fMRI is because it optimizes a bunch of trade-offs in a way that previous methods haven’t been able to do‘
The author follows this up with another post ‘How Much Should Scientists Worry?’ which contains another great quote
‘We don’t do experiments thinking we’ve got all the assumptions covered; we do them in spite of the fact that we know we’ll be wrong a good deal of the time. Because that’s the only way science can work‘
In a 2006 article titled ‘More on fMRI‘, the author makes some comments that preempt the debate that was started with Vul et al’s Voodoo paper (reviewed here) after looking at the problems posed by the size of the datasets produced in fMRI studies
‘Given that level of complexity, it’s not surprising that people have generally stuck with familiar methods imported from other areas of behavioral research. T-tests on subtractive contrasts aren’t necessarily the most natural way to explore brain activity, but they’re what’s closest to standard analyses of experimental treatments in other fields‘
In this article ‘trendsetting the fMRI literature‘ the author looks at using PubMed to identify trends in fMRI research (covering an area of research examined in a study reviewed here). The author is able to add an original slant to this subject as is the case with other topics examined.
I would recommend this blog to those with an interest in neuroscience for insights into important developments in the field.
The Frontal Cortex
The featured blog is ‘The Frontal Cortex‘ by Jonah Lehrer who is a science writer at Seed Magazine. Lehrer pitches his articles at an audience with a background in the biological sciences. Lehrer started his blog after beginning work as a writer for the magazine and having written a book ‘Proust was a Neuroscientist’ (which was later named as one of the 25 best non-fiction books of the year in the LA Times). Lehrer develops his concept of a fourth culture in the blog.
Lehrer’s interest in the intersection between the humanities and neuroscience is evident with an article about E.Wilson’s discussion about science and the humanities in consilience, a report on a study showing an association between empathy measures and novel reading, the fascinating story of Goethe on colour, Borges on forgetting to remember, the importance of the humanities and scientific virtue. Similarly Lehrer also writes about a number of philosophers including a brief discussion of David Hume, Richard Rorty and philsophy, philosophy and experiments and a discussion of Popper.
Lehrer also writes about neuroimaging studies. Here he discusses some of the difficulties around interpreting neuroimaging and the comments promote a further interesting discussion. There is also his response to a blog response to his article here. Lehrer covers neuroimaging in other articles, MRI images biasing the brain and some links to a debate about difficulties with fMRI. Lehrer also looks at the recent paper by Vul and colleagues here and here.
There are a number of articles about doing and publishing science including a journal that publishes negative results, an article on science journalism in which Lehrer argues that journals have control over the relationship authors have with the media, his experience of writing an article in Nature magazine, bias in publications and the availability of online journals and their impact on science.
Other related themes that Lehrer covers is that of productivity as well as the role of the free will and decision making (of which he is also a published author). A brief report on a study showing that peer relationships increase achievements and here is a similar article commenting on a study in which worker productivity was increased by the presence of hard working peers. An article about practice – estimate of 10,000 hours of practice needed for expertise together with an interesting clip of Ira Glass talking about this subject. There is also a discussion of a science of medical performance and another article on medical performance here. Lehrer also discusses an argument that modern neuroscience is eroding the concept of the free will and there is a follow-up article here. Here he writes about research showing that people are happier with their choices if there are less choices available and this can be achieved through creation of arbitrary categories.
Lehrer writes about a variety of other interesting areas including the first artificial gut, an article about popularising science, praise, criticism and the statistical average, YouTube science, comments on a study about temperature and decision making (which I’ve discussed elsewhere), the evolution of lactose intolerance, a William James biography, aging professors, a report on an intriguing study on the hippocampus and structuring memories, embracing skeletons, a brief discussion of spindle cells, another article on mirror neurons, Exercise and IGF-1, diagnosis of depression, speculation on the relationship between autobiographical memory and the fundamental attribution error, the formation of relational memories during sleep, Simon Baron-Cohen on the biology of imagination, a study on family relationships and depression, sources of inequality, dopamine and gambling, the evolution of affluence, a look at Lesch-Nyhan syndrome, a discussion of Gary Lynch and LTP and a related article on peer review, FoxP2 in birds, Clifford Geertz quotes, an article discussing birth order and a piece on creating a model of connections in the brain – the connectome and the evolution of artificial languages. In this article he discusses Freud’s legacy and compares it with that of Samuel Coleridge Taylor although Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ (discussed here) was integral to the development of his psychoanalytic theory and challenged the view that dreams served as a mere recapitulation of the day’s events. Here Lehler argues that evolutionary psychology should incorporate the effects of culture. Here he looks at some research on soldiers returning from conflict who show reduced hippocampal volumes.
This is an interesting blog covering neuroscience including the intersection with the humanities.
On the Brain
The featured blog is ‘On the Brain‘ by Professor Michael Merzenich who’s work has included sensory mapping in the cortex and the development of cochlear implants.The blog began in February 2007 and is focused on brain plasticity although covering a number of other neuroscience related issues also. Here for instance he looks at evidence pointing towards a cognitive benefit of certain types of physical exercise.He argues that immersive gaming environments are not sufficient in themselves but need to be paired with movements as this is consistent with our evolutionary heritage.
He also asks the question of training programs need to address the different types of injuries that can produce cognitive losses with reference to sensory processing and signal-to-noise ratios. Here he discusses the potential benefits of intensive computerised training in children and it would be interesting to see the results of trials in this area. Here he considers the possible medicalisation of excessive computer game playing. In this article, Merzenich considers preventing cognitive decline by building up cognitive reserve. The issues surrounding cognitive reserve are complex with many confounders including the effects of physical exercise and also the larger decline that has been noted in one study in those with higher educational reserve when it does occur (albeit delayed). However there is a lot of support for the cognitive reserve hypothesis.
Merzenich also writes about some interesting misconceptions about the neurobiological basis of age related cognitive decline and formulates age related cognitive decline as a longitudinal adaptation to age related changes in brain structure….and more importantly ‘there are a…lot of processes to fix‘. Here he interviews the author of a book on the effects of plasticity on culture – Dr Bruce Wexler.
Merzenich’s blog is recommended for those with an interest in plasticity in the brain (which is important for neurodegenerative conditions amongst others) and who would look forward to reading an established neuroscientist with an impressive track record.
The Mouse Trap Blog
The featured blog is the Mouse Trap Blog by Sandeep Gautam. The blog started in May 2006 and Gautam shows great versatility in covering a range of topics including evolution, social psychology, cognitive psychology and neurobiology. Guaram’s analysis of white water rafting is very entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. Other highlights for me included a ‘ghost’ spot discovered in electrical stimulation, a series of articles on causal learning, a series on moral development, a hypothesis about adaptive solutions combining to push evolution in a certain direction and an update on this, reporting on the biology of imagination, and stages of ego development. Sandy also identifies his own eight stage theory of evolution and it’s great to see a blog acting as the springboard for a theory. This is a great blog with lots of thought provoking articles.
(My) Conflict of Interest
There was an earlier commentary on the Mousetrap Blog about my book review of Evolutionary Psychology.
Neuroscientifically Challenged is a blog about neuroscience which started in January 2008 although at the time of writing the last article was in September 2008. Marc Dingman the author writes that he is a neuroscientist and is working in a genetics lab, explaining the versatility with which he writes about topics ranging from the function of junk DNA to evolutionary fear and the neuroimaging revolution. The articles are easy to understand and geared towards introducing neuroscience to a wider audience. Some of the articles I found particularly interesting were a post about deep brain stimulation of the fornix resulting in feelings of deja vu as well as an article on a condition referred to as Body Integrity Identity Disorder. In this article Dingman takes another look at some of the possible functions of dopamine. Dingman explains that there is a temporary hiatus due to other commitments but hopefully he will return with some interesting articles in the process of doing the good work of increasing the accessibility of neuroscience.
The blog reviewed here is ‘Citation Needed‘. The author is a neuroscientist who describes himself in the about section in more detail. Incidentally Yarkoni was one of the authors who published a response to Vul et al’s noted paper on fMRI (see review here).
Appearance and Design
The blog has a very simple but effective design with a white background throughout (i.e including the articles themselves). The headers and links in the articles are a light green. At the time of writing there were 10 articles on the front page. Having a lot of articles on each screen page is useful in some senses because it means that the reader can quickly and easily scan through multiple articles compared to blogs that display 1 or 2 articles per screen page. On the right hand side of the screen there are category clouds, a blogroll, RSS feeds, archives by month, a calendar and recent comments. There are also aesthetic images in a number of posts which complement the articles.
The blog is relatively young having started out with this post in October 2009. Yarkoni’s take on a Nature paper about peer reviewers quality of review declining with increasing age raises a number of interesting points. Firstly although I haven’t seen the methodology of the paper it seems counterintuitive that a reviewer’s reviews would get worse with increasing age. The assumption raised here was that with increasing age come more responsibilities and less time (and enthusiasm is hinted at) can be allocated to the reviewing process. These hypotheses thus suggest that the quality of a review is a function of motivation and time with the role of experience being unclear. The second point was that of qualitative versus quantitative methodology a debate which could extend into an entire book! Yarkoni writes this post on his research using Blogger and Twitter interfaces to acquire large datasets for use in research and this is certainly a very interesting idea. This is a very nice post and appeals to me because i’ve spent a bit of time looking into the original article and the discussion that took place. Essentially Yarkoni reexamines a response he wrote to Vul et al’s paper and discusses effect sizes. He explains this from the beginning and using depression in Clown’s as the focus for his argument helps the reader to the conclusion that effect sizes play a significant role in medical/psychological/social research. I think this is a very useful post for people who are new to this type of research or even those experienced in this. In this post, Yarkoni discusses the issue of publication of negative results and he has set up a website to publish negative studies in psychology. I think this is a great idea and could not only be extended to other areas such as medicine (where journals of negative trials are published) but could also be undertaken as a blog (i.e a blog of negative studies) and one can imagine how a series of such blogs might form a ‘conglomerate’. The file drawer number is a neat concept although as Yarkoni points out it becomes less useful when the findings in the published studies are less robust. This issue of negative studies is a tricky one to deal with but hopefully ideas such as Yarkoni’s can help to raise the standards of ‘shared’ scientific knowledge.
This blog by Yarkoni is relatively young but already has a number of very interesting articles and Yarkoni tackles important research issues. His writing is often humorous and his personality comes through very strongly in the writing which brings a human face to the very abstract theoretical subjects that are being dealt with. From these posts, Yarkoni appears to be a very accomplished communicator of science and I look forward to following his progress on the many interesting projects he has underway a number of which have benefits for wider communities.
Appearance and Design
The blog features a dark blue background (although slightly difficult to tell for sure if there is a hint of blue in there), with the post located on a circumscribed white panel with slight cyan borders. Articles feature black font, are date and comment enabled as well as tagged with appropriate categories. The posts are generously illustrated with colourful photographs featuring lots of pleasant wildlife shots. The blog can be navigated using a chronological archive located on the right panel which also presents a linked twitter feed although I couldn’t locate a tag archive. This panel also features a disclaimer, about section and a blogroll.
The posts are well written and broadly speaking are divided into reviews of clinical studies with a particular focus on psychiatry and neurology and posts which link to valuable internet resources including TED talks or RSS feeds for example. Here are a few of the posts I thought were very interesting
- In the introductory post, Yates includes a link to a Google Reader feed for a number of high profile clinical news sources and journals and follows this up with a discussion of the Alltop neuroscience page. Here are a number of other posts I thought interesting
- Review of a study investigating the relationship between testosterone and depression
- An explanation of the Mediterranean Diet – particularly useful because of the important associations of this diet
- Review of a study investigating aging, physical activity and cardiovascular health
- A look at some iPhone Brain apps
- A look at medical iPhone applications
- A discussion of and link to a TED talk in which a primatologist explains the unique features of humans
- A discussion of and link to a TED talk on motivation in the workplace
- A discussion of a study investigating the relationship between depression treatment and diabetic control
- Review of a study examining Mirtazapine augmentation
- Review of a study looking at Quetiapine use in delirium in ICU
- A look at a paper on driving in dementia
- A guest article looking at the relationship between sleep and depression
This is a well written blog which focuses on clinical neuroscience and in particular on psychiatric and neurological subject areas. This is particularly useful for those wanting a more in-depth review of clinical papers in these areas.
The Neurological Blog
At the time of writing there are ten articles on the home page. The advantage of this is that the reader can quickly access several recent articles but it comes at the slight cost of an increased loading time for the page. There are a number of features that enable the reader to easily navigate the blog. On the right-side of the screen the blog can be navigated using category tags, recent posts, ‘pages’ (e.g About) as well as a chronological index. There are links to a number of other blogs and associated sites. The blog has also received a number of awards which can be viewed on the home page.
There is a subtle grey background behind the central pane which is white with a ‘blue neuron design’ title pane. The articles are titled, dated, comment and category enabled. For the purposes of this review i’ve sampled articles. The sampling method involved looking at a selection of the earliest articles and contrasting them with more recent articles. I’ve also selected articles from the autism, evolution, general science, science and medicine and neuroscience categories. A small point is that the articles are shown initially in part and the reader must click on the ‘read more’ link to get to the full article. Although relatively little time is needed for this maneouvre, it did cost time for the larger number of articles in this review.
In this article on the Genetics of Autism, Novella reviews a paper from the Journal Neuron with an accessible style taking care to explain the nuances of the study for those with a general science background. The study in question produces a ‘neat’ finding in which a duplication in the gene region is associated with autism. Novella emphasises the decreased sociability in autism and contrasts this with the ‘increased’ sociability of Williams Syndrome which results from a deletion in the same region. However these results are I think oversimplifies as there is research which suggests that Williams Syndrome isn’t always associated with increased sociability. Given the complexity of social interactions, I suspect that the genetic basis of sociability will be mediated through a number of more fundamental phenomenon such as emotional regulation. However Novella notes in another article that he is particularly interested in the Autism-Vaccine debate and he covers this is a number of other posts (e.g here).
The articles on evolution I thought were fairly interesting. In ‘The Animal Connection‘ Novella discusses the relationship between humans and other animals for instance in the form of domestication. The oldest multicellular life at 2.1 billion years old is a fascinating research finding that is covered in this post. In this post, Novella looks at Human Echolocation and I suspect there will be some interesting developments in this area. Here Novella looks at lesion studies elucidating visuo-spatial processing. In this post Novella critically examines the B-Vitamin – Dementia relationship in light of a paper suggesting reduced cerebral atrophy with vitamin B supplementation (which I have argued needed a large replication over a longer time period particularly as the effect size was relatively small).
I thought the Neurologica Blog has a broad remit covering science, medicine and neuroscience as well as a number of other subject areas. The sceptical approach used by Novella is quite compelling and has been successfully used in other blogs. This is an approach that generates a lot of reader interest and is reflected in the large number of comments that the articles receive.
The blog reviewed here is ‘FABLE‘ an acronym for ‘Fictional Autobiography of Life Experience’. I first came across the blog via the author Cole Bitting’s Twitter profile after exchanging a few messages with him on Twitter. So here are the results of my look at the blog….
Appearance and Design
The title pane consists of the blog title with an effective shadow effect on a woody background. The main background is a slightly off-black colour (i’m not particularly good at naming some of these subtle shades of colouring!) with white text. Individual articles are demarcated by a white dotted line at the end of each post. The reader can navigate by selecting the page numbers at the very bottom of the page. On the left hand side there is a link to a descriptions of songs that Bitting refers to in the text. There is an About section in the title pane and on the left hand pane there are links to an RSS feed as well as links to Web 2.0 resources such as Twitter. There are also occasional images that complement the text.
The first article is dated 28th September 2009. In this first article, Bitting tells us about fables and our relationship with them. Within this first article Bitting also tells us of the high regard in which he holds Damasio’s work ‘The feeling of what happens. Body, emotion and the making of consciousness’. I, like many people have found Damasio’s writing accessible and extremely interesting and used this in the foundations for the building of a model of the role of the Insular Cortex in emotional regulation as Damasio’s work has influenced people such as Craig in his development of a model of the Insular cortex (see here). In the second article, which is philosophical in nature, Bitting produces one of the statements which will feature again in the blog – the distinction between what is useful and what is truthful. As I understand it, Bitting is arguing that when a narrative is formed does not necessarily represent an underlying truth but instead relates to utility. In this ‘Perspective: Objectify Yourself, Witness Life’ article, Bitting discusses some foundations for the neurobiology of first person perspective and what I found really interesting here was his use of triangle and inverted triangle symbols for concepts creating an effective symbolic shorthand. In ‘Open Up, Confront the Fury’, parts 1 and 2 (of a 3-part essay – with the final part not published at the time of writing) Bitting looks at how writing can be an effective means for confronting and managing disturbing emotions (in psychodynamic terms this is equivalent to sublimation). However this is quite thematic in Bitting’s writing.
If I were to summarise Bitting’s writing, I would characterise an underlying theme of exploring the neurobiology of narrative therapy using Damasio’s works as a foundation for this process. However, Bitting himself has an elegant style of writing with emotional depth and so the reader is able to enjoy his writing on another level while exploring what is a fascinating area of inquiry.
The featured blog is ‘Brain Stimulant’ which is quite different from a number of the blogs that have been reviewed previously. This blog has been running since May 2008 and contains many interesting articles focusing on innovative neuroscience technology (with a subtle subtext of enhancement through technology). Some of the posts focus on technology even when it crosses into ethically dubious territory. I’m thinking specifically of some articles on developments in warfare technologies, technologies which I would have to disagree with.
However there are also other very interesting articles, a number of which are relevant to psychiatry. A discussion of gene therapy in psychiatry is followed by further insights in a comment by a reader. There is discussion of a high resolution model of the brain. The experiences of a person with Asperger Syndrome following repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation were described although i’m sure there will need to be more research in this area before any firm conclusions are drawn. Blue Brain, an attempt to simulate a brain in a supercomputer raises age-old questions about the nature of consciousness which have also been considered in the realms of science fiction. Curiously the blog starts off with posts about lawyers dealing in brain injury in different parts of the United States.
In summary, Brain Stimulant is a colourful blog dealing with neuroscience technology, sometimes crossing into controversial areas, but also containing very interesting and informative articles.
The blog reviewed here is ‘Brain Windows‘ by Dr Andrew Hines.
Appearance and Design
There is an outer grey background with a central white background. The black title pane features brain-related photos and micrographs. The articles are typically several paragraphs long, referenced and feature illustrative photos or micrographs. Comments are enabled and articles also use category tags. In the right hand pane, there are links to other blogs, labs, recent posts, comments. Articles are indexed according to categories but I wasn’t able to identify a chronological index at the time of writing.
The blog is described in the about section thus:-
‘Brain Windows is a blog devoted to reporting, analyzing and interpreting the latest results in the field of brain imaging technologies, particularly at the levels of systems, circuits, single cells and below‘
In this post for instance, a new experimental technique is described which is quite esoteric and was undertaken in hippocampal neurons. The hippocampus is an area that plays an important role in the pathology of Alzheimer’s Disease and therefore this area of research may directly or indirectly have applications in this area. A number of the articles are highly specialised and will probably appeal to a highly selective audience. However there are other articles such as this which features notes taken at meetings giving a broad overview of some of the research that has been presented. Hines explains the methodology in this PNAS paper and I was able to understand most of it, which is testimony to his skills given that my unfamiliarity with this specialised area of complex and highly technical research. Hines looks at another PNAS paper in this article which in contrast is a top-down computational model by Edelman and colleagues. There are links to a number of movies on cellular biology here.and also in this post (this one worked in my browser without the need for further plug-ins). An interesting philosophical concept is discussed in this article – can a biologist reverse engineer a radio. This was a particularly useful post and the issue of how to rapidly get up to speed in a very specialised area is an important one.
I thought this was well written and that many of the posts are highly specialised. I particularly liked the posts which explained tricky experiments in detail as well as the links to resources that are useful to readers such as myself with a limited knowledge of this area of research i.e videos and review articles.
ABC Therapeutics Occupational Therapy
The featured blog is ABC Therapeutics Occupational Therapy Weblog by Chris Alterio (who works in New York) and is in my opinion outstanding. Alterio’s writing is clear, intelligent and engaging crossing over from the nuances of clinical practice through theoretical discussions around diagnosis to the intricacies of neuroanatomy of clinical conditions. In this scholarly article on foster care, Alterior discusses its implications for occupational therapy and includes a comprehensive set of references (he adopts the same rigorous approach to a number of other articles). Alterior ponders the impact of events that are yet to happen, writes this terribly sad article about the death of a child (in the about section of the blog however Alterior writes that people in the blog are not meant to represent people in real life), or writes about his role as an expert witness on animal-assisted therapy, the role of physical modalities in OT, sensory processing disorder in DSM-V (which is followed up by further articles on this topic), the potential effects of social class on education, a fascinating article on Horner’s Syndrome and phenomenology and OT. There are many more interesting and varied articles and this blog gives helpful insights into occupational therapy which plays an important role in mental health services.
This blog was started in February 2007 and as it’s name suggests is about the intersection between genealogy and genetics (with some genome mapping updates as well). The genealogist regularly writes reviews about genetic testing companies. In one article for instance he writes about a company that offer genetic testing and lifestyle advice. Or in another article he writes about how you can get your genome sequenced – but you won’t have any change left from $350,000 (£194,000 at the time of writing). This is an important emerging area and I wonder how long it is before people turn up to see their doctors with this type of information. The medical profession will need to know how to respond in these circumstances.
There are other articles on the use of gene studies in archaeology – for instance the genealogist looks at some of the evidence for the origins of native american indians. The regulation of gene testing in the USA looks to be another important area covered in this article – apparently there have been tests carried out using unnapproved facilities. Considering the seriousness of the conditions that are being diagnosed, regulation seems to be a step in the right direction. The genetic discrimination act is also discussed. Other interesting articles include one on the findings from a Finnish study of genealogy, a starter’s guide to genetic genealogy and a links to Roots TV – a program dedicated to genealogy. Here’s a nice explanation of the recent mtDNA analysis suggesting a bottleneck of just 2000 people being responsible for giving rise to the human race and an area I have a soft spot for – sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. There is also a series of interviews with scientists in the field.
This is an easily accessible blog on genetics (and genealogy) with lots of interesting articles. Reading this blog is a useful way of keeping an eye on this extremely important area which will no doubt reshape the field of medicine over the coming decades.
Everyday Sociology Blog
The featured blog is the ‘Everyday Sociology Blog‘ which the authors describe as a blog by sociologists about events in the world in an accessible language. This is a great blog for sociology with expert authors providing incisive analysis of current events using detailed knowledge of various aspects of sociological theory. The articles require a lot of focus but are rewarding in terms of the insights they offer.
Bradley Wright’s article about qualitative research discusses the distinction between inductive and deductive reasoning in research – which has been an area of debate in the philosophy of science. There’s an interesting film analysis by Sally Raskoff looking at the film ‘Be Kind Rewind’ in terms of self-fulfilling prophecy and social construction of reality. The bloggers have also moved over to video and are seen here discussing political wives. Karen Sternheimer suggests that Pop Idol might contribute to social cohesion in an interesting discussion which includes Durkheim. Here is an interesting look at the difference between sex and gender using films as a focus for discussion. In this article, Janis Inniss discusses the issue of ethnicity in blacks in America, whilst there is a discussion of passing ‘urban legends’ through e-mail in this article. There’s a very neat term ‘double minority status’ discussed in this article, while here Wright discusses types of causality disgtinguishing between normothetic causality which applies to a number of cases and idiographic causality which occurs in a single case, which presumably is an important component of the demarcation between sociology and individual psychology. Continuing evidence of the very unique perspectives that sociology affords is given in this article on the role that social comparison theory plays in understanding the Facebook phenomenon. This article on the sociology of rumours is interesting in the context of recent research that rumours actually facilitate trusting within a group. Here is an article discussing the possible implications that the election of Barack Obama might have for racism in the USA.
This is an interesting, frequently updated blog which should appeal to those particularly interested in sociology or else wanting a different perspective on contemporary events.
Social Science Statistics Blog
The featured blog is the social science statistics blog. An introduction to the blog is followed by a further article ‘cognitive science’ which discusses the aim of the blog as identifying common themes in statistical analysis amongst different branches of the social sciences. Authors (from Harvard University) include those studying for PhD’s in the social sciences including law and cognitive science and each focuses on a specific area. The blog unsurprisingly covers a wide variety of material with a central theme of social science statistical methods or related material. As the blog has progressed, the articles contain more graphical information illustrating the points being made and even embedded videos. The articles range from easy to understand articles for the statistics novice to more esoteric articles covering statistical niches. At the more generic level there are a number of articles including an intriguing discussion of Occam’s Razor and Evolution, an article on ‘Who Makes A Good Peer Reviewer?’, a review of a study on ‘Running and Aging‘ and how the 0.05 value in significance testing came into being in ‘How 0.05 comes into rule? and Placebo effects and the probability of assignment to active treatment.
A theme that is developed through the blog is that of data sharing and visualisation. The possibility of universal data availability is discussed in data availability and an article on data (non) sharing looks at difficulties that need to be overcome. There are a number of websites that make data available for analysis and these are covered in the blog including a link to datamob which puts up data for analysis, a link to Many Eyes – an IBM website which allows people to upload their data for analysis and a link to Gap Minder which aims to make complex data accessible to the general public. There are a number of methods for representing data including a link to an animations package for representing data, an article on Missingness Maps and Cross Country Data – visualising missing data, an article visualisation for data cleaning, and a link to processing, a programming language for visualising data.
The more specific articles including the ‘Don’t Use Hypothesis Tests for Balance‘ post discusses the disadvantages of hypothesis tests for matching samples, an article on Rosenbaum-Type sensitivity Tests in examining hidden bias and a further continuation of the discussion in ‘Misunderstandings among Experimentalists and Observationalists‘. There are also helpful articles on relevant programming languages or online resources including the BLOG inference engine – a programming language that is used to produced structures and objects and allows probabilistic inferences from the generated models (this sounds like a very intuitive way of creating certain types of mathematical models), Tools for Research (A Biased Review) (which is a useful review of open source and other types of programs for research), an inauthentic paper detector and the Google Trends function is examined in A Bit of Google Frivolity.
This blog is regularly updated and contains a variety of interesting articles on social sciences statistics. While this topic sounds a little dry superficially, the articles are engaging and the material is relevant to the social sciences. The blog is particularly suited to those who are interested in or already carrying out research in the social sciences.
The New Social Workers Blog
The blog reviewed here is ‘The New Social Workers Blog‘ which is a companion to a free American online quarterly magazine ‘The New Social Worker‘ a magazine written for social worker students and recent graduates.
In terms of the presentation, the title pane is a white on blue background. The general background is a light green colour while the posts contain black text on a white background. At the bottom of the main pane, there is a Blog Archive which indexes articles according to the month they were posted. At the time of writing there are two right-hand panes. The first has a green background and contains links to sites related to the blog and magazine. The second, lower pane has a white background and links to the twitter account for the New Social Workers, as well as containing links to the blog authors, followers, a blog-roll and the RSS feed. The blog archive dates back to 2008.
The first post is written by Ms T.J who has written almost all the blog articles and here explains that she is doing a full-time Masters in social work. Ms T.J writes about her experiences both on the social work course and in her own life. We hear about the sad deaths of a number of her close friends, the completion of course work assignments, Ms T.J’s other role as a writer for a magazine amongst many other postings.
Here are just a few of the posts (and links) I liked
A post about National Social Work Month. This got me thinking. Maybe there’s a place for a National Psychiatry Day!
A post about the use of technology in social work with some comments about how web technology is already making an impact.
How the Homeless stay connected online. A post about a homeless man who runs an online forum as well as maintaining a significant online presence while sleeping under a bridge!
A link to this article on some ways in which technology is impacting on social work.
The ‘New Social Workers Blog’ gives the reader an insight into the experiences of an American social work student and it will be interesting to see how the blog progresses with the course that Ms T.J is undertaking.
The featured blog is “Neuropathology Blog” by Dr. Brian Moore M.D. In the ‘About Me’ section, Dr. Moore describes himself as an assistant professor at Southern Illinois university school of medicine in the department of pathology and at neurology. On the right side of the panel, Moore provides Twitter updates and there is also a ‘Neo Counter’ which shows the great variety of countries from which his readers originate. The blog archive begins in October and Moore emphasises how his focus will be on the practice of neuropathology. The indexing means that it is easy to navigate and the articles are shown in their entirety without needing to click on ‘more’ which also increases accessibility. At the very bottom of the page there is a useful set of the links to other useful internet resources for neuropathologists.
Moore’s postings are invariably technical but I found them quite useful in gaining insights into how the neuropathologist might look at familiar topics (particularly dementia) from a slightly different perspective. Here for instance is the culmination of a series of postings about some research on dementia published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. There are useful links to relevant websites such as this one containing a neuropathology course complete with Multiple Choice Questions. Moore also makes it easier to learn intricate technical details by selecting material that helps the student. For instance in this posting there is an amusing metaphor for remembering the sensory mapping that occurs in the Medial Lemniscus as it traverses the medulla, pons and midbrain.
In this article Moore looks at the fascinating spindle neurons (also known as the von economo neurons) which are found in animals with large brains mainly the greater apes also whales and dolphins and being found also in the insular cortex and anterior cingulate cortex. Moore writes the speculative suggestion that the spindle neurons may in some way be related to the development of social disinhibition. What is particularly interesting about Moore is that his thoughts and discussions in the articles are quickly translated into practice and he is then able to feedback his experiences. For instance in this article he follows up on the previous article on the Von Economo neurons by visualising the neurons in a case series of three and illustrates this with a photomicrograph.
Through his blog, Moore provides us with a fascinating insight into the practice of neuropathology and also provides the reader with valuable learning resources for further reading. Moore also tells us about some of the practitioners through interviews or commentaries which makes this quite engaging.
The blog reviewd her is ‘Linguistic Anthropology‘. As the name suggests this is a blog about anthropology focusing on language. There is a welcome post on November 30th 2006 with a generous invite for readers to leave their comments including the possibility of becoming a permanent member with the ability to write posts on the blog. Interestingly on the left hand pane, at the time of writing there were 23 contributors. The blog is one of the easiest to navigate that I have come across as links to all of the posts are provided on the left hand pane. The authors have varied and engaging styles of writing and the material is varied and interesting. Here are a few of the posts that I found particularly interesting:-
In this post, there is a list of suggestions for topics and in this post there is as I interpreted it, a response with a post on sign language and deaf culture. In this post there is an interesting discussion of the relationship between technology and vocabulary with some fascinating insights into how some of the words within a language are used. The author of this post discussed the Amazon piraha tribe that communicate with whistles, singing or humming and apparently do not have vowels or consonants. The concept of framing in which language is used to create a ‘conceptual structure used in thinking’ is discussed in this post. In this article , quantifying the rate of change of words in a language is discussed and can lead to valuable insights into the origins and developmnts of languages. This article looks at some evidence which suggests that there are periods of punctuated evolution of languages. In other words, languages may develop suddenly. The argument is based on some assumptions about how languages develop along with some evidence about the lexicons (or vocabulary).
There are also posts on conferences and awards. While linguistic anthropology isn’t directly related to psychiatry it does give valuable insights into culture and language which themselves are related to illnesses in various ways. The blog is updated frequently, is easy to navigate and contains lots of interesting material.
Somatosphere. Science, Medicine and Anthropology
The featured blog is ‘Somatosphere. Science, medicine and anthropology’ which began earlier this year (the second post is dated July 14th). The authors, anthropologists, write that their blog is about anthropology and its intersection with a number of areas including psychiatry. Here is an article by Eugene Raikhel examining Ritalin with reference to other articles on the subject and finding a narrative for this development. Ann Kelly writes a fascinating article on experimental huts for combatting mosquitos in the Gambia where there is tremendous attention to detail to test various hypotheses about the optimal design of huts for this purpose. In an article on placebo, Raikhel discusses this topic thoughtfully examining the issue from several angles and asking the really difficult questions such as why do physicians prescribe placebos and why don’t they. The answers to such questions have lots of potential for not only allowing reflection on practice but even for influencing practice although this is an area with many ethical issues. Stephanie Lloyd examines the phenomenon of social phobia in France in another interesting article. This is a relative newcomer to the blog scene, which already has a number of very interesting and thought provoking articles which can facilitate introspection within psychiatry.
John Hawks Weblog
John Hawks is an associate professor of Anthropology and has an interesting blog titled ‘John Hawks Weblog. Paleoanthropology, Genetics and Evolution’ here. I’ve been following the blog for a while. Hawks has an encyclopedic knowledge of human evolution in all its complexity. Evolutionary theory forms the basis for an emerging model of psychiatric illness known as evolutionary psychiatry (see review here) which has an overlap with evolutionary psychology (see review here). There is a mission statement for the site here and an About section which explains Hawks approach to this area. Hawks has a perspective which involves dynamic changes in the genetics of populations. Indeed the statistical basis of this type of analysis is further discussed in posts such as this, or the mathematics of selection or this post which focuse on genetic drift maps displayed using Mathematica. However although Hawks has a deep understanding of evolution which is primarily informed by mathematics he avoids risking disengaging his readers by presenting them with the end results of this type of analysis in an accessible style.
In terms of the design of the blog, there are links to books on evolution on the right hand side of the screen. On the left there are links to FAQ’s, recent post, tags and a blogroll amongst other items. The central panel contains the articles which are dated, titled, referenced and tagged although comment disabled. In favour of a chronological index Hawks is able to draw the reader’s attention to posts focusing on specific themes. There is a subtext within the blog of how science is done and as well as discussing some of the politics in science Hawks also develops technical innovations such as this bibliographic database on his blog which makes use of LaTeX.
Hawks has a special interest in Neanderthals (or Neandertals as he prefers in this spelling debate) and he talks about them in this interview as well as in a number of other posts. Indeed the posts in which he discusses Neanderthals are extensive and this list is by no means exhaustive although it will become apparent that there are certain themes. An understanding of Neanderthals has come about through two broad approaches – the study of Neanderthal fossils (with associated tools and fauna) and the study of DNA (including mitochondrial DNA). There are an abundance of interesting posts about the genetic analysis of Neanderthals including the methylation of Neanderthal DNA, the El Sidron specimen mitochondrial DNA extraction , , the Mitochondria Neanderthal story parts 1 and 2 , commentary on Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA here and here, mitochondrial DNA adaptations in modern humans, the Neanderthal genome FAQ 2009, Neanderthal genome FAQs, . There are also numerous posts examining the many aspects of analysis of fossilised Neanderthal speciments: A discussion of a recent understanding of the structure of the Neanderthal ribcage, forensic analysis of a Shanidar specimen, dredging of a Neanderthal specimen from the North Sea, discussion of a Neanderthal mandible at an Aurignacian site with the implications, the Lakonis Greek individual, the Neanderthal vocal tract , protein content of Neanderthal bones, muscle differences between humans, chimpanzees and Neanderthals, the El Sidron Neanderthal’s O group blood type, pigment use and symbolic behaviour, differences between Neanderthal populations, body mass, CBLM volume, the marine diet of Neanderthals, more on Neanderthal mobility, elephant hunting Neanderthals, Gorham’s cave, shellfish, nitrous oxide in Neanderthal sinuses, dental analysis of Croatian specimens and inference of lifespan, Neanderthals and red hair, a 120,000 year old Neanderthal hut, a discussion of the crossing of the Gibraltar strait, dating the Croatian specimens , comparison of human, Neanderthal and other hominid teeth , further discussion of Neanderthal teeth including the development of the Neanderthal teeth , nitrogen isotope dating and Neanderthals , hunting 12 foot camels , the mandibular ramus of Neanderthals, radiocarbon dating of Chatelperron, nitrogen isotope dating and fish consumption (which can confound dating analysis), neanderthals and mammoths and dating the Mladec site.
There are a number of posts discussing high level concepts which move further from the data but which provide a richer perspective on Neanderthals in terms of behaviour or longer term population effects: Evidence of reduced Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA diversity over time, a discussion of genetic introgression, the 17q21.31 inversion and a discussion of introgression in relation to the Neanderthal genome, a number of other posts on introgression focusing on FOXP2, microcephalin FAQ’s and general issues on Neanderthal introgression (and here), ethical issues, interpretations of Neanderthals on the basis of multiple studies, genetic drift versus natural selection, myths of Neanderthals, Neanderthals and Kuru, Neanderthals and heat loss, gender and Neanderthal hunting and here and here, reconstruction of possible Neanderthal music, more on talking Neanderthals here, discussion of Neanderthal language here, comparing brown bear and Neanderthal colonisation, colonisation of arctic Europe (argument that this was humans), Pleistocene Europe as a population sink, New World founders, the Toba bottleneck, review of bottleneck studies, one interpretation of human and Neanderthal encounters, dental analysis of Qafzeh specimens (possibly not Neanderthal), 50,000 year old bedding material in a Georgian cave discussed here. Neanderthal extinction by competitive exclusion, coexistence with humans, the human revolution, an epic post on human expansion, report on a conference, the opening of the Krapina Neanderthal museum, analogies with Baboons and more on Neanderthal mobility are discussed in these posts.
However Hawks scope in both his work and this blog is much broader and the reader will find a wealth of very interesting material which has a wider expanse than some of the impressive blogs previously reviewed (e.g see here and here). Hawks discusses various aspects of the human genome (as well as genetic associations) and posts include recent selection in the human genome, an inversion on chromosome 17 (see also above), a brief article looks at political developments in personal genomics and a further article here (see also this blog), Viking surnames and Y Chromosomes, he gives an insight into how the number of genes in the human genome have been estimated in this post, Bronze age german human DNA surviving to present day are discussed here while there is more on introgression here (see above also), vocal productions in a FOXP2 transgenic murine model, HACSN1 gene conservation here, 13,000 people on the volunteer waiting list for the Personal Genome Project, the international HAP map, genetic differentiation here, estimation of mutation rates and evolutionary theory while in this post Hawks has some interesting comments about genomes and medicine.
The blog reviewed here is the Evolutionary Psychiatry blog by Dr Emily Deans MD. This is a blogspot blog. The articles feature on the central pane which is light brown on a beige ‘faded world map’ background. Articles are titled, dated, tagged and identify backlinks. The articles feature text with hypertext links where appropriate. On the right side of the screen are links to the About section, similar blogs, followers and a chronological index of posts. At the time of writing there are 88 posts. In the About section, Deans writes that
‘I’m a psychiatrist in Massachusetts searching for evolutionary solutions to the general and mental health problems of the 21st century’
She writes further in the introductory post about the paleolithic period as one in which she will find these solutions. This is a period spanning some 2.5 million years which utilised stone tool technology and which has given rise to the so-called paleolithic diet. The basic premise is expanded on in this post in which Deans writes that
‘Ancient humans ate wild game (including marrow and organ meats), shellfish, fish, tubers, green leafy vegetables, eggs, fruits, and nuts’
‘Anthropological evidence and epidemiological studies of modern and past hunter gatherers, as well as agrarian societies of the last 10,000 years, show us that the physical health of hunter gatherers far surpasses the health of grain-based societies‘
However this can be contested on multiple grounds. Fauna has changed considerably over terrain and time periods. Agriculture was a feature of Ancient Egypt and yet a recent study provided evidence of reduced risk of cancer in this civilisation although longevity may have been diminished relative to life expectancy in many countries today (I think there was almost certainly a selection bias in the sample set in terms of representation of the society). Additionally Homo Neanderthalensis specimens are found with evidence of multiple pathology and diminished lifespan compared to modern life expectancy. Thus the term ‘physical health’ is rather broad and could be more usefully tightly defined. However the choice of the paleolithic period both here and in the wider background literature is one in which I don’t think simple assumptions can be derived. If we talk about stone tool technology then there are many primates today that have been found to use such technology including chimpanzees (that can properly be considered as omnivores). If our common ancestors were also capable of using such tools then the paleolithic period could be extended by some several million years. Even here the tool use of Capuchin monkeys in South America could extend this even further by tens of millions of years (although a critic may counter that such tool use may represent the very gradual development of a culture over this time period and that this might not therefore be relevant to our concestors). More recent debates have focused not on the importance of grain or tool use but instead on cooking as a key turning point in the evolution of the hominid brain because of the high energy use of the brain and the energy/efficiency advantages that cooking confers.
Even though the above suggests that the central assumptions are far from straightforward, Deans goes on to provide the reader with fascinating anthropological insights into diet. In this post for instance Deans draws attention to the diet of the Kitavans in Papua New Guinea and a reduction in prevalence in various diseases. There’s also this post examining links between depression and diabetes which I suspect is a very useful way to be able to make evolutionary links. The posts are quite detailed and Deans looks at the research, carefully explaining the background for readers unfamiliar with the nuances of the subjects under discussion. In some posts, Deans polarises the issues which I think makes them more accessible to the general reader. One example is this post on the benefits of zinc supplementation in depression. However I think that these matters are never straightforward (my dysfunctional assumption perhaps!). This paper for instance summarises research in this area. Although there is an impressive amount of data supporting the hypothesis, the authors write that
‘However, another study in an aging European sample found no association between mood and zinc status; zinc status was within the normal range, which suggests that the potential influence of zinc on mood may be small and undetectable when zinc status is within normal limits‘
There are also a few posts discussing the possible relationship between diet and Alzheimer’s Disease such as this one. Deans has a very good grasp of biochemistry and is versatile in interpreting the research literature. She also uses a simple hypothesis – that dietary grain is bad for health. A simple hypothesis can also be a prejudice and this is both an advantage and disadvantage. The advantage of this approach is that Deans can refine her understanding of this relationship with time and work on assumptions further downstream – in effect developing a theory as a collection of hypotheses. However, the disadvantage is that this assumption may prove incorrect which would have implications for the subsequent ‘downstream’ work and as discussed above the validity of this hypothesis is far from clear cut. There is another element to Dean’s writing however and that is the biocchemical approach to mental illness. I don’t think this is by itself the right level of analysis to provide a complete answer to the questions posed but the specialised knowledge that is demonstrated here can give very valuable insights into mental illness. The quote above (regarding zinc) illustrates the point that biochemical effects are likely to be small in terms of phenomenon as complex as mental illnesses and broader explanatory models are required on a theoretical basis. However this approach is very well suited in informing hypotheses for empirical testing where there may be a practical clinical benefit once the research has been conducted. Evolutionary psychiatry is developing significantly as is the understanding of human evolution and it will be interesting to follow developments on this blog.
Why Evolution is True
The blog reviewed here is ‘Why Evolution is True‘ by Dr Jerry Coyne and colleagues. 2009 is the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, a work which has had a profound impact on biology and related disciplines such as medicine and well beyond. The authors of this blog focus on evolution using examples from the natural world as well as covering debates in the field.
Appearance and Design
The background on the left one-third of the screen is a graded red and is demarcated from the beige two-thirds of the screen on the right-hand side by a grey line. The colours might be playing tricks on my eyes but the text appears to me to light brown in colour. The rich array of colours are joined by orange category tags, calendar highlights and miscellaneous other text throughout. I thought the colour scheme worked. There are several articles per page and at the time of reading this amounted to 10 on the home page. The blog is navigable through the calendar whereby the reader can locate archived articles, through hypertext links to popular posts and through category clouds. Articles are displayed in part and the reader must click on those of interest to reveal the full article.
The archive extends back to January 2009. Here is a selection of some of the articles I found interesting
- The first post tells the reader that the book ‘Why Evolution is True’ by the author of the blog is available.
In this post, Coyne discusses evidence from a study of human directed selection in other species
- Evolutionary biology and medicine
- The Great Oxidation Event
- Human emergence from Africa
- Natural selection in human populations
- Mention of an annotated ‘On the Origin of Species’
- A review of a book on evolution – ‘what the fossils say’ which Coyne recommends
- In this post, Coyne links to a fantastic resource which shows a model of history running from the big bang through to evolutionary events on earth
- In this post, Coyne discusses various aspects of cat purring including an ‘endogenous neurological oscillator’ which vibrates the larynx
- The possible role of neuroporins in speciation in drosophilia is discussed in this post
- Speculation about morality in animals and here and here
- Discussion of the origins of morality
- Chimps throwing stones at the zoo
- 1% not Chimpanzee
- Dolphins blowing bubbles
- Dolphins and jellyfish
- Dogs and dreaming
- The evolution of house cats
- Natural selection in guppies
The poisonous primate – the Slow Loris
- Controversial theory on cooking and human evolution
- Dancing cockatoos and parrots
- The genetic history of populations in Africa (also covered elsewhere)
- Darwinius fossil here, here and here
- Evolution of laughter
- Grasp reflex in infants
- Is Depression an Evolutionary Adaptation. Parts 1 and 2
- Ardipithecus Ramidus
- Octupus with a mobile home
- Otters holding hands
The authors are prolific and cover a vast range of interesting material from nature to support evolution and to show the reader the many wonders that exist in the natural world. The articles are typically several hundred words in length and use various approaches. For example they may include debates on controversial topics, reports on recent news stories or discussion of certain notable topics in evolutionary theory. This blog will appeal to those with an interest in the natural world, those in the related life sciences or people with an interest in evolution.
Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology
The blog reviewed here is ‘Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology‘. There is a related laboratory website hosted at the university. The blog is written by Dr Kathyrn Clancy, an assistant Professor in Anthropology.
Appearance and Design
The blog is hosted at blogspot. There are several posts per page. The background is grey with an orange title bar. Articles are dated, category tagged (referred to here as labels) and comment enabled. The blog is chronologically indexed through an archive link on the left hand side and can also be navigated according to blog labels. Also on the left hand side there are publication, research and other related links.
There are relatively few posts at the time of writing. However a post on a day in the life of an academic is of interest to those who want to pursue an academic career in this area. There are a number of posts on fertility and this one on Premenstrual Syndrome is interesting and effectively illustrated. In this post, Clancy discusses the relationship between PMS, progesterone levels and Allopregnalonone levels. Clancy uses these relationships to suggest why some people might respond to Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors while others don’t. The following hypothesis was mentioned during the discussion
‘it may not be total levels of progesterone/ALLO triggering PMS symptoms but rather something about the rapidity of decline‘
which is of interest as the change in levels of thyroid hormone has been linked to mood changes. Thus the change in levels of a hormone may be a useful focus of investigation in relation to mental state.
This is a very recent blog which tends to have a few updates every one or two months. Clancy shows her enthusiasm for her subject and writes openly, giving readers an insight into the life of an academic which is quite useful for those considering a career in this area. Endocrinology is quite closely tied to psychiatry because of the consequences of a number of endocrine disorders as well as the potential for mental illnesses to influence management of endocrine disorders. Evolutionary psychiatry is an emerging area and there will be probably be useful lessons to be drawn from a comparison with evolutionary endocrinology which is the focus of this blog.
The Primatology Blog
The featured blog is the ‘The Primatology Blog‘. This is a blog by a group of volunteers who write about primate related news and features and have an interest in the conservation and preservation of non-human primates. While the study of primates is interesting in itself it is also useful in learning about ourselves through our nearest relatives. For instance, primate species may show complex social behaviours that resemble those in humans and they can also tell us more about our own origins. The team come up with endlessly interesting articles. There is a short article here on Kanzi, the Bonobo with a clip of him successfully playing a game of Pacman. Kanzi is remarkable for demonstrating the use of a language symbol board which he did by apparently observing his adopted mother who herself was not able to use the system. Kanzi has also mastered the rudiments of stone tool making.
In this article, there is a discussion of the gait of the gibbon which was examined in a study and a clip. The Gibbon’s long arms are specifically geared towards swinging through the trees although as they showthat the Gibbon is still able to walk. We see an interesting comparison of neonates, infants and great apes. The infants differed from the other two groups in recalling objects dependent on their spatial location rather than just on their features and this is related to a divergence of our species some 15 million years ago. Here is a discussion of Gibbon song which is apparently quite complex. The Gibbons are capable of using it to ward off predators and other gibbons are apparently able to understand these calls. They also comment on this incredible story of chimps using wooden spears that they have fashioned themselves to hunt with. There is some evidence for the diversion of bonobos and chimpanzees 0.9 million years ago mentioned briefly in this post before a discussion of three subspecies of chimpanzee that have been proposed. There are a number of other interesting articles along the way:-
- Here are some photos of a young Orang-Utan getting along with a tiger cub!
- The authors identify a very useful database of digitised images of many primates here.
- A study supporting the evolution of intelligence in humans for the purposes of social interaction is discussed here.
- Here for instance they report on the discovery of 3 new species of Lemurs in Madagascar, the size of a mouse!
- Here we can see a young macaque imitating facial movements (with remarkably quick visual development as the macaque was only three days old!).
- A baby macaque hugging a pigeon!
- A link to an article on similarities between chimpanzees and humans.
- A report on a study on chimpanzee rationality.
- A link to an article on Bonobos using handtools.
- In another post, the decision of the National Human Genome Research Institute to sequence the genome of the Gibbon is discussed.
- The discovery of a fossilised Miocene ape and the implications of this. Differences between humans and chimpanzees in the way genes are spliced.
- Genetic diversification of the gorillas in the Ice Age.
- A study in which Gorillas begin to use branches to throw at humans is examined in terms of mirror neurons.
- A remarkable picture of an Orang Utan using a spear to hunt for fish.
- Evidence that primate brains evolved twice is discussed in this article.
- Anjana the chimpanzee bonding with two white tigers.
- An article discussing evidence that Bonobos hunting other primates including Wolf’s Mona monkeys.
- There is a three part series on gorillas in the Congo which also touches on the disturbing loss of gorillas due to hunting.
- A database of non-human primate SNP’s.
Here is an unbelievable video of a chimpanzee Ayumu performing a memory task and the chimps have even beat college students on a memory task!
There is also a mention of a book ‘Baboon Metaphysics’ which provides an opportunity for a great quote from Darwin
‘He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke’
This is endlessly fascinating blog about our nearest evolutionary relatives which also provides a glimpse into ourselves.
The featured blog is ‘Palaeoblog‘ by Michael Ryan, PhD. This is a fascinating blog about Palaeontology which covers a vast number of areas. I was interested to look into this area after reading Neil Shubin’s ‘The Inner Fish’ as there are numerous lessons that we can learn about humans from (indirect) evidence in Palaeontology. Ryan tells us about influential figures in the field such as Mayr at 100 years old or the renowned fossil hunter Mary Anning as well as reviewing relevant books such as this on the reconstructive illustrator Zdenek Burian.
Ryan looks at human evolution. For instance he covers estimates of the earliest Homo Sapiens in Africa dated at 195,000 years ago, the earliest footprint evidence of walking hominids – just under 4 million years old, facial reconstruction of the oldest human, 1.3 million year old ‘human‘ footprints, support for the Out-of-Africa theory from Hofmeyr skull, human and chimp cross-speciation in the early period after divergence, the oldest Austrolopithecus found in Ethiopia, the discovery of 260,000 year old ancestor adapted to the cold, behavioural inferences in neolithic Britons, a controversial ruling on Austropolithecus in human evolution, evidence of modern humans in Europe 45,000 years ago, evolution of oral bacteria with humans, evidence that populations of humans were separated from each other for tens of thousands of years, evidence for lactose intolerance in Europeans from 5000 BC, reconstruction of Homo Rudolfensis face, origins of hominid upright posture, an Austrolopithecus mandible that has features in common with the Gorilla, an estimate of the first hominin in Europe 1.1 million years ago, the origin of blue eyes 6-10,000 years ago, stress models used to examine the diet of Austrolopithecus, gene hotspots in humans, the development of the Home Erectus pelvis and the advent of anatomically modern feet 1.5 million years ago. There is also an intriguing look at Homo Florensis, which may or may not be a separate species and which is 18,000 years old. Here for instance is an argument against Homo Florensis being a new species and a counterargument that H.Florensis is not an example of microcephaly by looking at endocasts.
There are a number of articles on Neanderthals including the construction of the first fully jointed Neanderthal specimen, sequencing of Neanderthal protein sequences – Osteocalcin, the mobility of Neanderthals argued using bone shape and mitochondrial DNA, features of human behaviour that may have given rise to Neanderthal extinction, revised estimate of how quickly Neanderthals disappeared with the advent of humans, the Neanderthal human split 400,000 years ago, evidence of Neanderthals with red hair, findings from the Neanderthal Genome (and here), evidence of Neanderthal cannabalism, evidence for Neanderthal extinction due to competition with Cro-Magnon man, evidence of Neanderthals with red hair and genetic drift as an explanation of differences between Neanderthals and modern humans.
Ryan covers the evolution of life in all its splendour including the discovery of a member of the rabbit species 55 million years ago which is significant for placental mammals, a 450 million-year-old fossil fish discovered in South Africa, a review of a book on the origin of Phyla, three-dimensional vision in the Trilobite which appeared 1/2 a billion years ago(!), simple genetic changes resulting in evolution in sticklebacks, a 425-million year old shellfish with soft tissue preservation, a 37 million-year-old monkey-like creature discovery, the reign of mammals and high oxygen levels in the atmosphere, insights into mammalian evolution from the mammalian genome, ears evolved from gills, the importance of Lampreys to vertebrate evolution, the evolution of shark electrosensory organs, evidence for evolution of polyphenisms, the rise of modern mammals in relation to the dinosaurs, the first use of oxygen by life, the fish tetrapod transition, the potential importance of Retroposons in evolution, the Pleistocene horse extinction, the evidence of microbes from 3.43 billion years ago producing the Stromatolite reef, 600 million-year-old embryos, the evolution of Tetrapod limbs, the origin of placental mammals, 500 million-year-old jellyfish, 445 million-year-old Horseshoe crabs, reptiles and birds sharing hair genes, the genetic origin of teeth, Tuatara as the most rapidly evolving species, a 9,550 year-old tree in Sweden, the genome of the unusual duck-billed platypus, replication of genes critical for evolution in the Lancelet, evidence that Whale ancestors gave birth on land, aggression in bluebirds influencing evolution, dinosaurs and nesting behaviours, evolutionary bursts occurring in short periods, the evolution of ants, an estimate of the number of joules it takes to generate a new species of plankton and how the whales lost their legs
Ryan covers non-human primate evolution including a 10-foot tall ape that lived alongside humans for 1 million years, a look at the brain of the anthropoid Aegyptopithecus Zeuxis, genetic hotspots in chimpanzees, the discovery of the Gawis hominid cranium which may be up to 500,000 years old, a 56 million-year-old primate fossil, a 42 million-year-old primate, evidence that chimpanzees can use caves, an examination of bipedalism in Orangutans, flying lemurs as the closest living relatives to primates, Orrorin tugenensis and the origins of hominin bipedalism and 55 million-year-old primates in the Americas.
Ryan looks at extinctions that have occurred throughout history and related material including a site which lets you run simulations of meteor impacts, 62 million-year cycle to extinctions, evidence of a 1.85 billion year old impact event, a gamma ray burst linked to Ordovician extinction, a superpredator theory of extinctions, a possible Permian gas extinction, surviving the Permian-Triassic extinction, impact crater in Antarctica and recovery from the Permian extinction.
As evolution occurs in the context of the environment, Ryan covers some of the astonishing changes that have occurred on the Earth as well as evidence for the origins of some important features on Earth. Examples include the Earth’s tilt controlling glaciation cycles, early Earth conditions suitable for life, evidence for liquid water on the surface of Earth 4 billion years ago, early Earth most likely had continents and estimates of the end of the last ice age. He also covers evidence of continental movement in Ethiopian desert, a 300 million-year-old forest, a 3.2 billion-year-old Earth which had magnetic fields, low levels of oxygen and Molybdenum in the oceans may have delayed evolution of animals by up to 2 billion years and evidence that the tectonic plates are 4 billion-years-old.
There are a number of interesting miscellaneous articles including soft tissue preservation in T.Rex specimens – (however check this out), a proposed model to explain the limited number of species that have evolved, constructal theory for explaining animal movements, fossil collecting in China in 449 BC, confocal microscopy used to produce 3-d representations of fossils, a new theory by Shapiro on the origins of life, a method for dating fossils directly without reference to surrounding rock layers, a link to another article discussing evidence that overall brain size rather than relative brain size or neocortical size is correlated with intelligence and Phlyogenomic sampling increasing resolution of the tree of life.
This is a fascinating blog which covers a vast amount of material showing at once the rich tapestry of life on Earth both in the present and in the past as well as the connection we have with this life.
The Differential Biology Reader
The blog reviewed here is ‘The Differential Biology Reader‘ by Mark James Adams. At the time of writing, I thought that visually the blog was very well presented. The background is white throughout which gave a feeling of space and simplicity. A number of blogs have different colour backgrounds for the title pane, articles and side panes. These ‘frames’ within the page still exist but the design demonstrates that they do not necessarily need a clear visual boundary (e.g. colour change) for the separate spaces to be registered by the reader. Another feature of the blog is the use of interesting photographs of monkeys (the subjects of Adams research) with a standardised size which complement the overall design. The blog is effectively indexed with links at the bottom of the page – there were 8 ‘pages’ at the time of writing.
Adams describes himself thus
‘I am a student of quantitative genetics and a temperamental psychologist. Investigate personality in wild animals. A question I am trying to answer is Why do our personalities differ‘
Elsewhere, Adams informs the reader that he is studying Japanese Rhesus Macaques (see here for my recent trip to Maharashtra District, India to observe the Rhesus Macaque here, here, here, here and here). Personality is in my opinion, a very difficult construct to define as it encompasses (but is not limited to) identity, behaviour, cognition, emotions, social roles, relationships, values as well as debates on the roles of genetics and the environment. I would argue therefore that the study of primates can give us valuable insights into ourselves, on the basis of our close evolutionary relatedness together with an ability to study behaviours in the absence of either a spoken language or the symbolic tools of human civilisation. The chimpanzee and Bonobo would be expected to offer us the greatest insight into ourselves on the basis of evolutionary proximity.
The blog appears to start with this article (which is the earliest I was able to identify) which is dated July 5th 2008. Marks refers in a later post to open access and links to this article at PLOS one in which the researchers examine the relationship between brain activity and anxious temperament in primates. In another article, Marks looks at Imanishi Kanji who apparently developed the field of primatology. Marks notes that some of the articles he examines are not open access which I think is the case with the cited article in this post in which he reports findings that show that ‘Mellow Monkeys have Fewer Friends’. Why do macaques throw stones? – Maybe it’s just spontaneous as suggested in this post.
In this article, Marks discusses the five factor model and the reader can try this out on themselves by following the link to the online questionnaire. The first question in studying personality in primates to gain a better understanding of human personality is whether the concept of a primate personality is valid? This was actually the subject of a symposium described in this article. Along the way Marks makes some interesting comments on science research as in this post in which the statistical analysis of some studies is called into question. What I also found of potential interest is Mark’s reference to tools for creating life charts (as I wondered about the possible applications). He also considers traits in other species as well as cultural differences in personality. Here he reports on a Genome Wide Association Study looking at markers for 5 personality dimensions while also noting that only approximately 1% of variance is accounted for. Here he looks at how paleobiologists and archaeologist graphs of cultural evolution could be misinterpreted. A tool for assessing the personality of a blog was another useful resource.
In the Differential Biology Reader Blog, Marks focuses on personality in humans and personality in primates (and other species). The blog is well presented, the material interesting and I found lots of useful resources for the study and understanding of personality.
Origins – A History of Beginnings
The featured blog is ‘Origins – A History of Beginnings‘. The blog is located on the website of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, begins in January 2009 and allows the reader to navigate the articles according to the month of publication as well as the category. Evolutionary theory is relevant to the emerging field of evolutionary psychiatry. The blog begins with this article and we see that the blog has been written to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Tongue-in-cheek perhaps they suggest the following:-
‘Had Charles Robert Darwin had access to the Internet, he would have been a blogger‘
Throughout the blog there are summaries of and links to science essays on different aspects of evolution as well as articles by guest bloggers who are able to give insights into specialised areas of relevance. Irene Chen for instance explains a theory of how the size of the genome is linked to the mutation rate while Janet Iwasa describes her work in a lab creating 3D animations of the possible origins of life and links to some of her works. Evolutionary theory offers us insights into many aspects of life and this is reflected in the breadth of topics covered within the blog. The early origins of life is an important part of the evolutionary story and the author of this article looks at the results of a simulation which suggests that life may have been able to survive the comet impacts of the Hadean era over 4 billion years ago. There is a brief discussion of and link to an article on the possible reasons for why Mendel rather than Darwin published the Laws of Inheritance. There is also a look at how evolutionary researchers are adapting to their relatively small numbers compared to other areas of biological sciences. The behaviour our early ancestors is covered in this article in which there is a discussion of indirect evidence that early humans cared for those who were experiencing diseases that had the potential to impact on their survival. There is also a look at the field of population genomics which focuses on genetics at the population level and allows a closer look at selection in action. Many areas of Darwin’s life are covered including his letter writing as well as views on a number of subjects. What I found interesting was the sheer scope of the celebrations with conferences around the world dedicated to the anniversary of Charles Darwin. Such celebrations are reminders of the more pervasive influence Darwin has had on society (as in this recent play). This blog gives readers a useful overview of how Darwin’s life is being celebrated as well as looking at a number of developments in evolutionary biology.
Science 2.0/Web 2.0
A Blog Around the Clock
The blog reviewed here is ‘Blog Around the Clock‘ by Bora Zivkovic (who also goes under the name Coturnix), a chronobiologist with an interest and expertise in science online and is an online community manager at PLOS one. The Aboutsection gives a comprehensive biography.
Appearance and Design
The blog features a white background throughout with articles located in the central pane with black text and blue hypertext links. Articles are dated, tagged and comment enabled. The title pane features a playful natural landscape and the title of the blog is related to the theme of chronobiology. The blog is part of a wider group of science blogs which can be accessed through links at the top of the page. The blog also features links to charitable causes on the left hand panel and discrete adverts on the right hand panel and above the title pane. The blog is navigatable through a chronological index on the left hand panel. Recent comments and posts are also highlighted on the left hand panel. At the time of writing the site meter indicates the blog has received more than 2.5 million hits. Post Rank is used to identify top-ranked posts on the blog. Zivkovic also has a presence on other social media forums and links are located on the left hand panel.
Content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike Unported License. As the blog extends back to 2006, I have not read all of the articles in the blog but instead have sampled a subset. The sampling method involved reading one article from each month. This allowed me to examine a limited amount of content in more detail. However since archive retrieval brings up the last articles in the month first, there is a selection bias in my sampling method towards those articles at the end of the month. I also tended to select those articles with the word science in the title as well as looking at some of the top ranked articles. The blog architecture (common to many blogs) made it slightly more difficult to scan through articles. Thus to read the full article, the reader must click on the ‘more’ ‘read on’ link on the ‘abstract’ of the article that is initially displayed. When reading one article this isn’t too important but on scanning several articles a lot of time is used waiting for the page to load and then navigating back to read the next article. I would like to see a feature on blogs whereby looking at the archives results in all articles being displayed in full on a single (obviously very long) page – this would save a tremendous amount of time in getting up to speed with a blog.
Zivkovic examines different flavours of pseudoscience according to political leanings in this piece. I found a piece titled ‘More than Resistance to Science‘ very interesting particularly as Zivkovic introduces the concept of phatic language, that is language that is used for the purposes of facilitating social relationships rather than imparting information. Zivkovic’s writing on chronobiology is very interesting as in the case of this piece in which he reviews a study providing evidence of peripheral circadian rhythm generators (in the liver) in a murine model. This is a great piece on science journalism and the following quote gives a flavour of the article
‘Journalism is EVERYTHING that appears in the media. And in this sense, we are all journalists. Even if we never break news or do investigative reporting, if we write poetry on our blogs, we are journalists. And the world is our editor‘
Here is another thoughtful piece on blogging. From those articles that I sampled I would group Zivkovic’s writing into three categories. Firstly there are very short pieces of a varied nature which may include comments or references to the literature with excerpts included. The second category would be analyses of chronobiology research. The third category would be commentary on communication of science using social media or what would be referred to as Science 2.0. The process of writing on topics across the breadth of science and reflecting on this means that Zivkovic is a philosopher (as well as a scientist) who is developing a body of work on Science 2.0 which is the focus of some of what I thought were his most interesting pieces.
Zivkovic is a prolific blogger who is focused on Science 2.0 and is quite influential in this area. The blog also features interviews with scientists and would be of particular relevance to those with an interest in communicating science.
Addendum (April 5th 2010)
Bora Zivkovic kindly took the time to discuss aspects of the blog and pointed me to some additional posts which are helpful in navigating the site as well as suggesting a bias towards more recent articles to encapsulate the evolving nature of a blogger’s thoughts on subjects. This post links to a number of interesting articles and is described thus
‘So, I put together a collection of posts that I think are decent under the fold. Different lengths, styles, topics, reading-levels – hopefully something for everyone‘
In this post, Zivkovic notes that there are over 10,000 posts. My sampling method of roughly 1 article per month will result in approximately 47 articles but slightly more as I scanned through a number of additional posts. Let’s say it’s 80. That means that I will have looked at roughly 0.8% of the total number of articles. Zivkovic’s suggestion is to ask the blogger for their favourite articles. The two methods of biased sampling and approaching the blogger offer a potentially more powerful way to understand the ‘essence’ of a blog more efficiently although it may influence the independence of the review unless carried out as a multi-step process. Zivkovic also pointed out a ‘best of March’ post. From these two additional articles I have identified a number of further articles that I found interesting as detailed below.
The ethics of linking to science papers: In his work for PLOS one, Zivkovic is able to see some of the subtler nuances surrounding the decision to link to a source article.
Chossat’s effect: A look at research data on the fluctuation of temperature with time in various species
Darwinian Method: A profound piece on natural selection interspersed with insights from Robert Heinlein such as this
‘The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with its credibility. And vice versa‘ (Heinlein 1973)
Beyond the Gene: Zivkovic links to a PLOS one paper reconceptualising the meaning of a gene
Lithium and Circadian Rhythms: An excellent piece on the influence of Lithium on ciracadian rhythms including a look at some data on people with Bipolar disorder
Cortisol and Circadian Rhythms: A look at a paper on cortisol secretion and circadian rhythm with some interesting insights
‘One of the three major hypotheses for the origin of circadian clocks is the need to shield sensitive cellular processes – including cell division – from the effects of UV radiation by the sun, thus relegating it to night-time only’
A Possible Relationship between Malaria and Jet Lag: In this excellent piece, Zivkovic responds to a hypothesis about the relationship between Malaria and jetlag in a tour de force of circadian rhythms resulting in an elegant model and further testable hypotheses. Zivkovic uses a structured method for hypothesis generation which I think should feature more centrally in science (as opposed to an intuitive approach (see also my post In Support of Method).
Melatonin and Immunity: A look at Melatonin and immunity with some comparisons between Serotonin and Melatonin for good measure.
Most Popular Post: …. on sleep
Many of the posts, in the spirit of science, feature a headlining question with a data-based exploration giving the reader a feeling of what science is about. I also got an overwhelming sense from reading the chronobiology posts of just how subtle the biological clocks are across species. The posts above also illustrate just how important the question of circadian rhythms can be in understanding aspects of mental illness. Zivkovic has also received a Research Blogger award for his writing.
The featured blog is ‘CogSci Librarian‘ by Stephanie Wilson Brown an electronic resource librarian at the University of Connecticut. Brown has an interest in the cognitive neurosciences which is reflected in her posts. As a librarian, unsurprisingly, Brown highlights many useful and sometimes esoteric resources on the internet including as examples a list of the 100 most influential works in Cognitive Science, Philosophy resources (including ‘cognitive philosophy’), an article on PrimateLit and psychology books online. There are a number of interesting posts on comparative neurobiology including the Avian Theory of Mind, Gorillas use of Tools, the influence of snakes on primate visual evolution and why elephants are like humans. Brown tells us why she blogs in Another reason I blog which includes highlighting local resources for her place of work as well as letting people know more about library services. Another article about blogging – science blogging – covers briefly some ways in which ‘scientese’ is translated into plain english and includes mention of a chemistry blog which brings open collaboration online (an alternative to the open collaboration internet model being developed on this blog). Brown also covers a number of other topics of interest in cognitive neurosciences identifying resources and examples include studying the placebo effect with neuroimaging, a Lecture on consciousness, Gratitude is good for you, Managing complexity, reading fiction and the effect on empathy and the Perception of magic. This is a blog with lots of useful links to Cognitive Neuroscience posts which also gives the reader insights into the work of librarians and the resources that they bring.
‘OpenMRS is a community-developed, open-source, enterprise electronic medical record system platform. We’ve come together to specifically respond to those actively building and managing health systems in the developing world, where AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria afflict the lives of millions. Our mission is to foster self-sustaining health information technology implementations in these environments through peer mentorship, proactive collaboration, and a code base that equals or surpasses proprietary equivalents‘
The invitation is made to the reader to contribute to this collaborative effort.
Appearance and Design
There is a white background which takes on a graded beige colour towards the title pane region of the page. The articles appear on the left 4/5′s of the page and articles are demarcated by thick blue lines. On the right hand side of the page, the reader can navigate through the site according to categories (‘what people talk about’), RSS feeds for the site, as well as a list of contributors. Previous articles can be accessed at the foot of the page by clicking on the arrow icon which takes the reader to the next page of articles. These have to be clicked through page by page.
The Health Informatics Blog
The featured blog is the ‘Health Informatics‘ blog. In the first post Chris Paton, a medical doctor who lectures in health informatics in New Zealand introduces the blog. His blog covers a number of Mental Health Informatics topics and is both well presented and highly organised. On the right side of the panel there are a number of features which increase the accessibility of the blog. Thus the reader can subscribe to an RSS feed or subscribe using e-mail or else Twitter and Del.icio.us which are currently quite popular. He has also placed his profile on Linked In which effectively provides a webpage to place the profile on, complete with links to other sites. Then there also a number of the more standard options that tend to be used frequently in other blogs including archives, blogroll and recent posts.
One feature that I found particularly useful was the referencing of videos on YouTube and other video sites which provide information relevant to topics under discussion. For instance here is a discussion of the Electronic Health Records at Stanford. This theme of electronic records is followed closely through the blog and there are many references to the NHS Connecting for Health services as well as the Health IT Stimulus over in the United States. There are updates to conferences including the Web 2.0 conference and as Paton is keeping his finger on the pulse this is a useful way of keeping up-to-date with health informatics developments.
Paton’s blog is focused on health informatics and contains links to other sites with interesting and relevant information. As Paton is very effective at tracking down health informatics videos, this is particularly useful for people who learn more quickly by accessing multimedia educational material. There are a number of recurrent themes such as electronic patient records which are relevant to Mental Health Informatics also.
New Media Medicine Blog
The blog reviewed here is the ‘New Media Medicine‘ blog.
Appearance and Functionality
The blog has a professional look, with photographs used in the title pane and articles at the time of writing. The articles are written on a white background and the articles themselves appear over a grey background. There are tabs underneath the title pane – home, e-Learning, web design, forum, blogs and videos. At the time of writing, I found a number of videos under the video heading. Those listed included lectures on integrated biology. The articles in this blog are indexed according to time period and category and these links are found on the right hand pane.
The about section is here and describes the founders of the site. Dr Paton has another blog on health informatics (reviewed here). There are also a number of colloborators. The blog is associated with an online medical community.
The blog begins with this introductory article which explains that it will update the reader on new media medicine. Articles I thought interesting
This article links to medical Podcasts
This article links to a video of one of the originators of ARPANET, the precursor to the modern internet
This article links to free health software for mobile devices
This article looks at a text-messaging service for making appointments
This article links to a site about Doctors Gadgets
The posts are very brief but usually contain links to valuable resources on the internet. I found these links very useful and some were not only working 2 or 3 years after they were included there, but the sites themselves had developed. The reason I mention this is because links can become broken reasonably quickly depending on the sites that are pointed to which gives blogs a transient edge to them. I’ll probably be making use of some of these resources myself. It’s a pity there are currently no posts after 2007. Maybe it will be updated in the future with more valuable links.
The featured blog is ‘Allan’s Library‘ which began in 2006. The blog focuses on ‘the science and evolution of Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web’ by Allan Cho, a programing services librarian at the University of British Columbia. What’s obvious from reading this blog is just how quickly the librarian’s role is evolving and how information is being managed in ever more different ways. This has numerous implications in the health (and other) sciences. As suggested above, Allan focuses on Web 2.0 and the semantic web and tells us in various posts that it is librarians who are at the cutting edge of defining the Web 2.0 and the semantic web. This is in part because the librarian has the role of being an information manager. On reading through Cho’s blog we can see the complexity of classifying information on the web and retrieving this in a useful way. There are various discussions around the definition of Web 2.0 including this article in which he discusses O’Reilly’s insights into Web 2.0 technology and links to a website which has lots of useful additional material. There is also coverage of more advanced academic material such as this academic library web 2.0 thesis.
Given the role that librarians are playing in defining the semantic web and web 2.0, Allan’s provides useful links to other librarian blogs that he follows, a discussion of the concept of the Librarian 2.0 and an article on the postmodern librarian. He also gives invaluable tips on search tools and search strategies. For instance in this article he discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of Google Scholar. In this article he discusses the invisible web and and makes the interesting suggestion that standalone pages without links as well as more recent pages might form part of the invisible web as well as the more usually recognised databases. In this article, Allan takes us through the process of conducting a search on a number of databases while here he give us some useful tips on searching the invisible web. Having such a large amount of information to deal with means making choices and in this article Allan outlines some of the recommendations of Barry Schwartz, a Professor of Sociology, in this regards.
A good majority of the articles introduce topics on Web 2.0 with a clear and simple presentation. He does in a small number of posts go into more advanced coverage of issues such as programming languages that are being used as the foundation for the semantic web. The articles are also interspersed with more lighthearted posts and supplemented with links to videos and presentations. ‘Allan’s Library’ is a blog which is regularly updated and which covers Web 2.0 and Semantic Web technology – keeping a finger on the pulse of this ever more important area.
Science in the Open
The blog reviewed here is ‘Science in the Open’ which can be found here.
Appearance and Design
There is a striped cyan background with a central white background for the articles and the side-pane. The title pane consists of a background of interlocked green and blue arms – most likely an analogy to the nature of the open science. On the right-hand pane, there are links to recent posts and recent comments as well as an RSS feed, an About section. The blog content is also marked as Creative Commons, which is in keeping with the spirit of an open science collaborative. The blog must be navigated by moving to the foot of the page and clicking back on older entries on each successive page.
Here are a few of the articles I found interesting. The first article is dated August 13th 2007 and looks at what terms such as Open Access means:-
‘Open Access (of journals, data, or anything else really): Means freely available and accesible to use, re-use, re-distribute, re-mix subject only to a requirement to attribute the work. Essentially as described in the Berlin and Bethesda declarations’
Some current policies on open science are covered in this post.and further developments are discussed in this post. In this post, there is a call for open science collaboration on a chemistry experiment and I thought there was an interesting comment here about the concerns of valuable data being released in an open source environment. Concerns such as these will have to be addressed in making open science a successful reality. There is an interesting post here on open science in the developing countries. New ways of doing science are discussed in this post and the dangers of communities reinforcing their prejudices and thus interfering with a progress towards an open science are discussed here. Notes from a conference – Scifoo on open science were interesting. New technologies are covered including Google Wave and a focus on the Wave Robot here.
This blog about open-science is filled with insights and the posts are intelligently written and original. A number of the posts are very technical involving chemistry, specific software or some knowledge of computer programming. However these are balanced with the other articles giving a broader perspective on Open Science. The reader with an interest in the future of science in the 21st century would benefit from paying close attention to this blog and it compliments other blogs reviewed here (e.g see this review).
The blog reviewed here is ‘Significant Science‘. In the About section, we learn that the author is Hope Leman and is intending to cover topics such as Health 2.0, Medicine 2.0 and Science 2.0 in the blog.
Appearance and Design
There is a white background and a central pane containing the articles. The articles consist of black text on a white background with light blue headings. At the time of writing, each page consists of several articles and the reader must scroll down to reach the index. The index allows the reader to navigate the blog by month or category.
The first article dated October 14th 2009 is a look at how social media such as twitter can be used to recruit subjects for research and Leman looks at a case study. A tremendous strength of Leman’s blog is that she takes the time to approach and interview people relevant to her main themes. So for instance, this post features an interview with Chris Tryzna from the MyClinicalTrials who explains how social media are being used in the recruitment of research subjects as well as discussing some of the broader aims of the website. There is another interesting interview here, this time with Jon Brassey about the trip database. There is a very interesting interview with e-patient Dave which includes a look at participatory medicine, the concept of involving patient communities in the process and this will undoubtedly be a very interesting area to follow. The subject of Open Science is the topic of discussion in this post which features an interview with Anthony Williams from ChemSpider, which is an open science project focusing on chemistry. I thought the methods used to overcome ‘linkrot’ were extremely interesting. So for instance, how do you deal with blog posts that have disappeared from the web but which you have linked to? Williams has an interesting solution. There is also another interesting interview here, this time with Cameron Neylon about open science and particularly open access. Incidentally there is a short video interview with Hope Leman here.
In conclusion, this is a young blog which contains relatively few articles. However the articles are of a very high quality and usually involve interviews with influential figures in the open science/health movement. There is a lot of very useful information geared to those with an interest in open science. Leman has a good sense of who the key players are in this emerging area and if past articles are anything to go by this is the blog to follow to keep a finger on the pulse of the open science movement.
The O’Really Blog
The blog reviewed here is the ‘O’Really’ blog. I was first directed to this blog by Hope Leman author of the Significant Science blog (see review here). The blog is by Duncan Hull, a software engineer at the European Bioinformatics Institute.
Appearance and Design
In order to move through the blog, the reader must move to the bottom of the page and click on ‘next page’. This is a very quick method for getting to recent articles but is slightly trickier for much older articles. There is an outer gray-white graded background and the articles lie on a white background with black font in the main body of the text and blue title font and blue hypertext links. The articles are accompanied by small pictures. Top posts and recent comments are visible on the right hand side of the screen.
The first post I could identify is from May 2006 and which informs the reader of an impressive programme catalogue built up by the BBC in relation to it’s archive of radio and television programmes. The details of the creative commons license used for this blog are also outlined in this initial page. There’s a great question in this article which is can there be too many databases. I thought that Hull’s concept in this article is very creative – the visual representation of bionformatics using familiar solutions (but familiar in another context). This post ‘Who owns science?’ is neat and reflects on the nature of science in terms of various interested groups. There were a few useful links such as this one to chemical entities of biological interest and also a description of the open biomedical ontologies.
This is an accessible blog which covers some tricky bioinformatics topics in a relatively non-technical style enabling Hull to reach a wider audience. There are a variety of article categories ranging from reports on conferences through to a discussion of databases. I found a number of the articles to be highly original, exploring topics in detail and presenting a different spin on familiar subjects.
Bio Data Blogs
The blog reviewed here is ‘Bio Data Blogs‘ which is by the company BioData and focuses in particular on their research management software product BioKM. I thought this blog might be interesting to look at the blog contains various reference to web 2.0.
Appearance and Design
The blog features a grey-striped background with a central graded beige lined background for the articles. The title pane is not demarcated but features a number of social media subscription options. There is a rectangular graded brown pane beneath the title containing a search box. The reader is able to navigate the blog using links on the right side of the central pane. The links are to recent posts as well as posts archived by month. There are also external blog links. The posts are dated, comment enabled with author details and tweet enabled with tweet counts. Posts are generously illustrated.
The welcome post gives a background to the blog. I found a number of the insights in this post quite interesting – researchers apparently hanging onto 15 year old samples. There are a number of news round-ups which are quite useful including this one which looks at research on how the structure of mitochondria is attained or this one which looks at evolutionary research on guppies showing that they can adapt to their new environment in just 10 years. The blog also features interviews with scientists. There is also a link to the BioKM YouTube Channel which gives insights into the research software. There are also a number of posts of general scientific interest. This one for instance is a very impressive post linking to video sites that share research protocols – something that I’ve suggested after finding difficulty in understanding the methodologies of specific papers. Following on from this is an interview with the founder of one such site here. There’s a look at an article on how to organise a motivated research group here. A number of the posts feature links to interesting videos (including the above). This one for instance is a solution for the financing of research groups.
I found this to be an informative blog. While there is a focus on educating the reader about the company’s software product, there are a number of instructive articles of general scientific interest also.
Illness Related Blogs
Lawyers with Depression
There’s an interest blog about depression – ‘Lawyers with Depression‘. Although there’s no About page, the articles are posted by Daniel Lukasic – a lawyer who writes and talks about depression and whose work can be found at other sites also. The blog uses the wordpress platform and begins in May 2009. The articles are dated, titled, comment enabled and identify the author of the post. The text is complemented with photographs. The articles can be navigated either by clicking on the next/previous entries link at the bottom of the page or else through the use of a boxed chronological drop-down index on the right-hand side of the page. There is a blog roll on the right side of the page.
Lukasic’s posts tend to be several paragraphs in length and he is able to talk about his own experiences often sharing his own coping mechanisms and insights with readers. In this post, Lukasic writes a little about his own personal experience with depression and focuses on the strong link between stressors, anxiety and depression with a few useful references for the interested reader. In various posts, Lukasic writes about important topics such as the benefits of gratitude, managing anger, and the importance of communities.. In this post, Lukasic talks about the use of time contrasting between the use of time as a ‘commodity’ and spending time ‘living’. Similar themes are developed through the blog and here Lukasic writes a searching article about the ‘Rat Race’ and he suggests that successful completion of a journey is rewarded rather than enjoying the experience of that journey. In this post, Lukasic writes briefly about having the right chemistry with a therapist during treatment. There’s a well-resourced post on Seasonal Affective Disorder here. In these posts, Lukasic writes a moving account of depression in the legal profession (although this is a theme throughout the blog as the title suggests) including depression in law students and judges and the difficulties they experience.
Lukasic offers a well-rounded perspective on depression in the legal profession, offers readers useful resources, brings his own personal experience into the subject and highlights a problem that is being increasingly clarified and addressed. Lukasic writes courageously and in so doing offers a voice for others in a similar position who have experienced depression.
The featured blog is ‘Bipolar Mo‘ which started in October 2006. Bipolar Mo is a man with bipolar affective disorder who has retired from working as a nurse due to his illness. Mo writes with wit and creativity. He often fills his posts with photos which clearly convey the points he is making and in a humorous way. As with some of the other blogs reviewed previously, Bipolar Mo offers insights into the doctor-patient relationship from the patient’s perspective. In the March 11th post, Bipolar Mo features a music track which he has produced. I listened to it and was quite impressed. In other posts, Mo describes his experiences of illness in detail and it is easy to become caught up in the unfolding events. As well as being very creative, Mo also shows a great deal of empathy with others and this is evident from his observations (and perhaps also shows in the photos he chooses). Bipolar Mo’s blog is appealing on a number of levels from gaining insights into how someone’s life can be affected by bipolar illness, through to posts which are light-hearted and entertaining with the common thread of engaging with the reader.
Furious Seasons writes a very interesting blog. He is an award winning journalist who was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and stopped taking his medication a year ago (although he doesn’t advocate the same for others with Bipolar Disorder). F.S is very smart and articulates his views eloquently. For me, the strength of his blog comes across when he discusses what the illness means to him and also when he examines research papers very closely!. F.S is cautiously sceptical about certain psychiatric diagnoses and some of the headlines in his articles can be provocative. F.S shows courage in broaching subjects where he runs against the weight of the establishment or large organisations, but does so in an open-minded manner rather than being a polarised critic of the medical model. This flexibility means that F.S cannot easily be pigeon-holed in his views and I think relates to him being an intelligent and independent thinker as well as the values he identifies with. Here are some of the highlights for me
Lithium Increases Lifespans?
The Tangled Neuron
The featured blog is ‘The Tangled Neuron‘. This is a blog about a ‘layperson’ who’s father developed dementia and sadly passed away. It was a little difficult to know who the author is as there is no ‘about’ section other than that on the home page. This sits beneath a photograph of a lady comforting an elderly man which I am confident in saying is the author as she later appears in a photograph in the blog. The blog begins in November 2005 and we hear the harrowing tale of how her father has already passed away and the family are looking into the possibility of an autopsy. This is a very sensitive time and a narrative quickly develops when the author receives the results of the autopsy and queries the absence of comments on plaques and tangles in the report. Her father’s case is due to be presented at the case conference and she is invited to attend. In the interim, the neurologist requests some information on the grandmother’s medical history which prompts the author to obtain some further details and to include a photograph of her grandmother. We learn that the father had cerebral amyloid angiopathy and although there is a false start with the possibility of haemochromatosis this is later excluded.The author is conversant with the medical literature and selects a number of articles from medical journals, appraising them and putting them into the context of her father’s illness. The author also contacts and interviews a number of the authors of these papers and in the process takes on the role of an investigative journalist who is both extremely comfortable with and competent at understanding recent medical advances in the field of dementia. Along the way, the author does an excellent job of summarising many of the main areas in Alzheimer’s Research from the role of insulin and diabetes through to putative role of infectious agents and cholesterol in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease. There are helpful posts about the difficulties caregivers face such as this one on the illness burden in caregivers. The author also registers with a study for children of people with Alzheimer’s Disease and gives us an account of this process. There are various other topics which are all extremely relevant to dementia. Here for instance the author looks at a theory that amyloid may have a protective role while in this article she considers the role of cognitive rehabilitation. The ‘Tangled Neuron’ is an excellent blog resource for Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia while also showing us the way in which this affects people’s lives through the authors own at times poignant experiences.
A Survivor’s Guide to Huntington’s Disease
The featured blog is ‘A Survivors Guide to Huntington’s Disease‘. This is a blog written by Angela F whose mother was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease. Angela wanted to learn to cope with the difficulties she was experiencing by expressing herself through the blog and later writes that it has been very helpful in this way. Angela is very good at expressing herself and communicating the really important decisions she has to make and what living with her mother’s illness means to her. In this post she writes poignantly about her fond memories of her mother and how these helped her to cope. Angela is concerned that she might be a carrier and undergoes genetic counselling learning that unfortunately she also carries the mutated gene. She deals with this courageously and along with her partner looks into the possibility of IVF treatment so that she can have children. This latter part of her story has lasted a number of years and at the time of writing Angela is ‘in hibernation’ in terms of the blog. Angela’s candid and courageous writing about both her own and her mother’s illness make this a valuable resource for people with Huntington’s Disease and their families as well as those involved in the care of people with Huntington’s Disease.
Stu’s Views and M.S News
The featured blog is ‘Stu’s Views & M.S. News‘ by Stuart Schlossman who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1998 and has put considerable effort into sharing news about multiple sclerosis with others through his blog. The homepage contains a series of links to YouTube videos on different aspects of Multiple Sclerosis located at the very bottom of the screen. The right hand panel contains links to medical sites as well as the blog archive. The first post is listed as April 2, 2007 and tells the reader about a subscription news service that is available. In this post, Stuart tells us more about his aims – to empower other people with M.S through sharing of knowledge
A particular strength of this blog is the incredible rate at which it is updated and links are made to the latest news stories. Topics covered in the news updates range from how the blood-brain barrier affects illness severity, collagenase-2 as a therapeutic target for maintaining blood-brain barrier integrity, new delivery systems for baclofen, a nationwide program in Ireland for people with MS, parallels between a benign condition – Balo’s disease and MS, and a link to an article by the National MS Society listing clinical trials in 2009. There are links to M.S organisations such as MS News, links to websites on MS, the myelin repair foundation and MS Blogger sites. There is also a series of diary-like posts ‘Merely Me‘.
There are frequent updates on therapeutic approaches that are being trialled including an AMPA-type glutamate receptor antagonist, a trial of Maestro-o3, FTY720, BHT-3009 a DNA vaccine, SF-1019, fluoxetine, naltrexone, frampridine, teraflunomide, laquinimod, functional electrical stimulation, methylphenidate, PI2301, cladribine, pioglitazone and Symadex. Stuart also shares with us his own experiences in managing his illness and engages in dialogue with the readers for instance when he takes a brief hiatus from his medication. As the blog is written for people with M.S, there are a number of articles which inform the reader about the basics – what is myelin?, various hints and tips about injections, facial pain, vertigo, common questions about MS, assistive devices and types of MS. Along the way, Stuart includes humorous clips to entertain and complement the other posts.
Aethelread the Unread
Aethelread the Unread introduces himself as a man in his thirties with recurrent depression. Aethelread’s description of his depression and his childhood experiences in his early articles is poignant. I thought Aethelread’s description of his experience of psychotherapy was very funny and gave some useful insights into the ‘other side’ of the therapeutic relationship. After this Aethelread describes how blogging has helped him to achieve insights into his illness. Aethelread has many posts on the benefits system and he’s no doubt helped many readers who need to learn more about benefits with useful explanatory posts. When I was reading one of these posts, his comments about vulnerable people falling through the ‘safety net’ really got me thinking. Here was an unmet need – although I must confess I don’t know what the scale of the problem is. Aethelread also gives his five top blog awards and develops a meme idea suggested by the experimental chimp. Aethelread’s strength lies in the courage he has to write about very personal matters that sometimes are so sensitive that he isn’t able to discuss them with his doctor. Aethelread also discusses his sexuality and looks intelligently at issues of discrimination against homosexuals. For me the greatest insights were Aethelread’s description of his clinic appointments and how he felt he needed to act to receive optimum treatment. It’s hard and not necessary to summarise Aethelread’s blog but I would say that he writes in an intelligent and multifaceted way and has a talent for communicating his inner world in a way that helps others to relate and share their own experiences. Long may his blog continue!
This is an excellent blog by Stuart Schlossman which contains a vast amount of information on MS including links to organisations, basic information about MS as well as recent research developments.
Conflict of Interest
One of my articles was linked to in this blog.
The Alzheimer’s Disease Blog
There is an Alzheimer’s Disease Blog by Dr Andrew Rosenzweig at the About.com website. As this is part of a larger website, there is a standardised format to the blog. Thus there is a light grey background. The articles lie in the central pane which has a white background and there are adverts above the title pane. The author’s photograph features in the title pane. The articles are titled, dated and comment enabled with social media sharing capabilities. The articles contain hypertext links and typically run to a few paragraphs in length. In order to navigate the blog the reader must click on the ‘archives’ link and then the ‘next’ hypertext link at the bottom of the page. This presents the reader with a summary list of several chronologically ordered articles and the reader must click on one of these to expand the article or else navigate further back to the next ‘older’ set of chronologically indexed articles. The reader thus needs to click on a large number of links to get back to the first page which is dated November 8th 2007. These early posts are by psychologist Carrie Hill. Now if we look at the first post its only 2 paragraphs long but what is interesting is that within those two paragraphs there are three hypertext links. There is a subtle point here which is that the hypertext links quickly take the reader to other articles and so like a number of other internet resources, the website acts as a hypertext linked encyclopedia.
In order to review the blog, I’ve selected a single post from each summary page of chronologically ordered articles and in so doing I may have missed some of the interesting posts. Additionally my sample set is influenced by selection bias as I tended to examine the articles with the most interesting titles. A lot of the sampled posts tend to focus on summarising research findings relevant to Alzheimer’s Disease. For instance there are posts on diabetes and cognition, an overview of the possible sirtuin link, research into the efficacy of AL-108, Luteolin, Flurizan and Caprospinol as well as the relationship between central auditory processing dysfunction and memory impairment. The articles are very brief and the style is clear and simple. As a result, even with sophisticated concepts and terminology the posts are very accessible for a general audience and so there is at once both a popular appeal to the articles and consequently a valuable role for the blog in public health through education.
Blogs About Older Adults
GeriPal – Geriatrics and Palliative Care Blog
The Blog reviewed here is ‘GeriPal – Geriatrics and Palliative Care Blog‘. A slightly tongue-in-cheek (at times) About sectionexplains some of the ideas behind the blog although the essence is contained within the title.
The blog was created using blogspot. There is a menu box just underneath the title linking to videos, external links (mainly american sites), tweets as well as the About section. Article links/previews are contained on the left hand of the page. On the right hand side there are various features including a search box for the blog, recent comments, sign-up for e-mail updates, top posts, links to favourite blogs and feed updates. At the bottom of the page there is a chronological index for the articles.
The first articles appear in June 2009. Many articles are lengthy enough to include interesting discussions of topics. As an example, this article includes a discussion of the very interesting notion of an older adult A&E department with necessary adaptations for this population. Other topics discussed include a look at research into CPR survival rates in older adults, a wider perspective on the role of caregivers, monitoring adverse events in older adults, an award for work on preventing falls in the elderly, palliative dementia care, Nelson Mandela and the imagery of aging, post-traumatic stress disorder in older adults and a discussion of issues around dementia and driving.
This blog started last year and regularly features articles in which the authors reflect on very complex issues related to the care of older adults, palliative care and the intersection of these subjects. The blog has an american focus although the discussions are sufficiently broad to be of relevance to readers from other countries which is reflected in the readership.
The Geriatric Pharmacotherapy Blog
The Geriatric Pharmacotherapy Blog was created in April of this year and at the time of writing there are four posts. The blog is written by Thomas R Clark, Director of Clinical Affairs at the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists Foundation. The blog was created on a Mac as indicated at the bottom of the page. The home page is simply structured with abstracts of the four posts located in the central panel. The reader must click at the bottom of each abstract to read the full article and is able to make comments on the posts. Clark summarises two studies on adverse drug events in this post. Although the blog has only a few posts, the reader can easily get to further useful material by following the links. For instance if you follow the links in this post, there are various useful resources including the ASCP foundation website which features amongst other things an electronic newsletter. In conclusions this is a fairly recent blog with only a few posts but which links to other useful resources and is relevant to those with an interest in pharmacotherapy in older adults.
For those interested in pharmacology there’s a interesting blog on the subject over at ‘Pharmacology Corner‘. The ‘About‘ section tells us that the blog is by Flavio Guzmán, an Argentinian physician lecturing in pharmacology. The blog is self-hosted and in my experience of navigating the blog, it was for me slightly slow in moving between pages. There are also frequent pop-ups asking the reader to subscribe to the blog which further slowed down the navigation. These things aside however, the blog has a nice design. The design is simple and aesthetic with a central white pane containing the articles and the surrounding background in yellowish grey contrasting distinctively with the eyes being particularly drawn to the central diagram of a synapse with alpha receptors highlighted. There are also some very colourful diagrams in the articles which contribute effectively to the overall design. There are links to exam topics and animations in the header section. On the right hand side of the central pane there is also a pharmacology blogroll. Articles are indexed according to categories including pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics on the right side of the central pane facilitating navigation. If those categories don’t appeal to the reader, then they must navigate backwards through the blog. While I may have overlooked something, the only means of navigating backwards I could see was to click on the links to articles sited beneath the older posts heading at the bottom of the screen. Indeed at the time of writing four such articles were linked to in this manner. Clicking on the bottom link led to an article on aspirin pharmacokinetics. However I couldn’t see an obvious way to move backwards from this article and needed therefore to depend on the category index to reach other articles. This seemed to indicate that there were only a few articles. Nevertheless by clicking on one of the categories – in this case antihypertensives – a group of articles were displayed some of which dated back as far as 2009. This meant in effect that the backwards navigation (at the bottom of the screen) wasn’t revealing all of the articles – in my attempts I could only reach back as far as 2010. For this reason, the category index looked to me to be the best way to navigate the blog.
Turning to the content the articles were I thought well presented. Take as an example an article on differences between tricyclic and SNRI mechanism of action. As well as a detailed description of the mechanisms of action of both classes of drugs there are lists of drugs and also a memory aid in the form of a mind-map. The exam sections of the blog reveal that it is exam orientated and these features make sense in that context. There are also references for further reading and links to related articles which make these posts a useful starting point for further study. There is also a link to a facebook page at the bottom of the screen. Returning to the results in the antidepressants section, there are also links to videos and powerpoint presentations providing additional multimedia options for study. For me, the blog had more of a feel of being an encyclopedia with presentation of predominantly factual information which can be accessed using multiple approaches. Maybe this is a bloglopedia for want of a better neologism. The site is well presented and there is enough material and references to other sources for this to be a useful resource for those with an interest in pharmacology.
Pharma Blog Review
After having reviewed a number of blogs which look explicitly at the pharmaceutical industry’s relationship with psychiatry or medical education, I thought it would be interesting to look at a blog that focuses on the more generic aspects of the pharmaceutical industry. The featured blog is the Pharma Blog Review at PharmaLive. This has been going since June 2008, only a little longer than this blog. The emphasis is on looking at developments in the pharmaceutical industry particularly by reviewing other blogs. In one article there is an interesting review of videos posted on YouTube by pharmaceutical companies. For instance, here is a neat video showing the pathophysiology of atherosclerosis. Various articles that are pointed to in the blog include an article about e-prescribing, antidepressants being the most widely sought prescription medications online, a video of Dan Carlat in debate with Tom Stossel, the Flurizan trials in Alzheimer’s Disease, limitations in understanding of G-coupled receptors, the difficulties of establishing an organisation like NICE in the USA and RNAI Therapeutics.
The strength of this blog is that it covers lots of different viewpoints of the pharmaceutical industry and includes for instance coverage of some of the previously featured blogs reviewed in this section. Essentially the reader will be able to get more of an eagle’s eye perspective of events in the world of Pharma and will have a better choice of what issues they want to examine more closely. Reading the pharma blog review can thus be an effective supplementary means of keeping up to date with news in this area.
Good Old Age Blog
The ‘Good Old Age Blog‘ is produced by Purdue university which has a centre for aging. The blog has a simple and effective design with many of the links located on the right hand of the screen. There is also a chronological index for the site from which it appears that the blog was created in May 2010. The posts tend to be of moderate length (for a blog), are well written and typically contain several references to the literature. There is an introductory post ‘The Good Old Age‘ which informs the reader about the purpose of the blog while also giving an overview of the author’s interpretation of the changes in the field of gerontology. This article on loneliness in older adults is also very good and discusses health associations, risk factors and management. Although there are relatively few posts, they are of high quality with multiple contributors and they contain multiple references for further reading.
The Global Ageing Network Blog
The Global Ageing Network, the IAHSA, has a blog here. There is a simple white background through and the articles feature in the central pane. Articles are titled, category tagged, dated and comment enabled with author details included also. The articles feature photographs and video inserts which help to break up the text and add interest. The chronological index is represented in the form of a scroll down box on the left hand side of the central pane. Articles are authored by Victoria Nuessle and Majd Alwan. The first post dates back to July 2007. The posts include brief overviews of useful resources including blogs, movies and research summaries. There were a number of articles I thought interesting including one on organisations which build retirement communities in other countries, a link to a TED video on blue zones with long-lived peoples, a post on generational profiles and creating a UN Convention for older people. The blog now several years old is updated frequently and offers a valuable resource for those with an interest in gerontology.
The New Old Age Blog
There is a New York Times blog about ageing called ‘The New Old Age Blog‘. In the about section, the author notes that parents over the age of 80 (in the USA) are the fastest growing age group and they are increasingly relying on their ‘baby boomer children’. The blog begins in July 2008 and already on the first day has received ‘400 plus‘ comments. The blog was founded by Jane Gross who has worked as a journalist at the New York Times for several decades before starting the blog. Gross writes most of the posts on the blog. The posts address really key issues about ageing. The ‘Car Keys Conversation‘ is an example as well as this one on an aspect of the end of life. There are some really useful catchphrases which summarise the situations faced by segments of the population – ‘The Sandwich Generation‘ being a case in point. In this post there is a link to a Geriatrician’s story of how he looked after his own father while in this one there is a list of films about ageing. The very serious issue of people with Alzheimer’s Disease who go missing is covered in this post while falls prevention is examined in this post, advanced directives here, sarcopenia here, hoarding here and safer homes here and here. Gross as one would expect is able to capture the human element of stories in her posts in a compelling way and to relate the issues for older adults to the readership.
The blog reviewed here is ‘The Intentional Aging Collective‘ blog by Jenny Sasser and David Rozell. The blog is produced using blogspot. There is a simple white background with articles located in the central pane. The articles are dated, titled and comment enabled. At the time of writing, the blog has a creative commons license detailed at the bottom of the page. The first post outlines the aims of the authors who have a depth psychology background. Throughout I was reminded of Carl Jung who worked on the process of individuation throughout his life. The authors explore the many aspects of aging particularly from an experiential perspective by adding insights from their own experiences. Along the way they give us many profound insights into aging. For instance there’s a neat quote in this postwhich challenges certain assumptions:-
‘Aging is a lived experience, a life-long journey that we are all embarked upon, though we are at different stages in the process depending on our chronological age and life-course stage‘
In ‘No Map‘ David Rozell writes about there being no ‘guide’ to positive aging
‘There has never been a collective age group of world citizens who will venture in to the uncharted waters of an extended second half of life. Indeed this is a revolution and there are tens of millions of people who are going through this process‘
A particular strength of this blog is showing the reader how to reflect on their own experiences in order to learn about themselves during the journey.
The blog reviewed here is Medgadget. As the name suggests, the Medgadget blog focuses on medical technology. The blog reports on a diverse range of technology which covers the full spectrum of medical specialities. In the About section the bloggers explain that ‘Medgadget’ is written by a group of doctors and bioengineers. The blog design features a white background with a central white panel containing the posts. There are multiple subscribing options available in the top right hand corner. The blog is indexed according to speciality and also at the bottom of the screen posts can be accessed according to page number of which there were over 1000 at the time of writing. There are a number of social media options for sharing the posts. The posts themselves are generously illustrated and provide title, author and date as well as being comment enabled. The bloggers posts at a prodigious rate and I have sampled only 50 of the pages when reviewing the blog although even within this sample I found a large number of articles of interest.
Diagnostic kits and related technology being developed for Alzheimer’s Disease are covered in posts here and here. Virtual reality and MRI are combined to investigate Parkinson’s Disease with technology discussed in this post. The authors also cover innovations in neuroimaging including this post on imaging myelin and a dedicated head MRI. Head temperature and sleep is covered in this post while in another post there is coverage of a sleep shirt and a sensor based alarm clock in another post. Genetic analysis is facilitated with a number of devices including this microRNA analysis-ipod linked device, low cost DNA amplification technology, an open source PCR kit, a chip for analysing cellular genetics as well as a ‘personal genome machine‘. A range of microscope technologies were reviewed including a low cost holographic microscope covered in this post, Stimulated Emission Depletion (STED) – an optical microscopy approach which enables visualisation of cellular functioning as well as Spatial Light Interference Microscopy (SLIM) again useful at looking at cellular functioning. There are also software solutions to problems including the use of Facebook and Twitter in a public health campaign against Dengue Fever or using Google search patterns to track Dengue Fever, digital reference works including UpToDate, visualising large numbers of health records, connecting lonely older adults, digital textbook rentals, digital pathology, multilingual drug information software, designing workouts for specific muscle groups is the aim of this program, matching patients with clinical trials, Health Vault on the mobile, a map of brain interconnectivity and new medical tools in Wolfram Alpha. IBM’s Watson taking on a diagnostic challenge is covered in this post.
Other medical technology applications include telepresence which is covered in this post. There are other innovations such as this science exchange for outsourcing lab work, regenerating enamel, wireless monitoring of heart rate, bullet-proof skin (I had to double check this! It involves a combination of human skin cells and spider silk), a 3d surface imaging system, an 80-lead 3D ECG, a journal for health gaming, a mobile SPECT scanner, a bite counter for monitoring food intake, a social network for doctors, an EEG based device that facilitates movements, molecular analysis devices, steering wheel integrated EEG for driving, an open source pulse sensor, a hospital mattress that turns patients, the world’s largest cell biobank, a robot to help people at home, a polymer with properties similar to human vocal cords, antimicrobial fabrics, neurostimulation and migraines, hardware to enable iPad ECG’s and equipment for imaging intracranial blood flow. Genetically altered bacteria used to eradicate infections by other bacteria is an interesting approach covered in this post. iPad apps are very popular as in this check-in app for receptions, the Visible Body 3D Human Anatomy Atlas , visual monitoring software and diagnostic imaging pathways. In this post the author looks at the FDA’s plans to regulate the mobile medical applications market. Devices for sensory impairment or devicess that simulate the functions of sensory organs include these sonic gloves, a retinal prosthesis, vibrating gloves, an electronic tongue. Monitoring brain activity using EEG is covered in this post, while other medical innovations are covered as in this post on the Baroreflex stimulation and hypertension. There are posts on other interesting topics such as neuronal art. Along the way there are miscellaneous gems of information. For instance in this post we learn that the parathyroid glands autofluoresce allowing them to be visualised in vivo.
This is a very interesting blog which is updated very frequently and the authors succeed in finding current material to inspire and to illustrate just how quickly the medical field is changing and how many solutions to complex problems have been found and developed.
Fierce Mobile Healthcare
The blog reviewed here is ‘Fierce Mobile Healthcare‘. I call it a blog, although it could also be considered as a series of news articles on mobile healthcare technology. This blog is linked in with a number of other IT healthcare blogs and this is a fast emerging area of importance.
The blog contains a white background with articles written in black text on a white background. There is a white and blue title pane which links to other blogs in the series. There are links on the right hand pane to a free newsletter, white papers and events. The left hand pane contains references to press releases, popular topics and recent comments. At the time of writing there are also a number of adverts displayed. There is also a search bar and the reader can see the most e-mailed comments. In order to identify the archived news stories, the reader must click on the more button which brings up a longer list of news items as well as an index at the bottom of the page which orders the articles into pages.
The articles date back to April 28th 2009. The immediately displayed post is a summary of the article. The reader needs to click on a link at the bottom of the page to get to the main article or associated press release. Indeed this first article is about an award for a very useful piece of mobile healthcare software. I was quite surprised to read that in large scale disease surveillance studies that
‘health workers carried hundreds of thousands of sheets of paper to the field, a process that was inconvenient, expensive and environmentally unsound‘
The software in question, esurveyor, is an open source design (meaning the code is transparent, freely available and developed by a collaborative community) and has improved the efficiency of the data collection process as well as being the most widely used healthcare software for mobile devices. This technology when used in combination with the relevant hardware has enabled a number of organisations in sub-saharan countries in Africa to collect public health data which is then used to inform policy. Articles that I found interesting included the following
Use of a mobile communication system in an Accident Emergency system including devices which could be disinfected
New mobile healthcare technologies including software that analyses text messages to assess the owner’s mood
Using RFID to track hospital equipment covered in this article
An article on technology for older adults nicknamed nana technology (see also this article)
Appointment of an executive director at the UCLA Wireless Health Institute
A Florida trial of patient mobile touchscreen devices with multiple functions
The potential of mobile technology to change nursing practice
GPS Shoes to track people with Alzheimer’s Disease
Through several links – this article on 140 potential uses of Twitter in healthcare
Link to an interview with Jay Parkinson on the impact of internet technologies on health
Wireless Body Area Networks for detecting falls in older adults in the home
Article about a mobile screening tool for depression
Healthwear facilitating early hospital discharge
Article about a US insurance company backing telehealth care
Article on medical students use of mobile technology
This is a fairly specialised ‘blog’ with detailed news updates on emerging mobile healthcare technologies and trends.
Beaker – A Medical Research Blog
Appearance and Design
The blog features a grey background with a diagonal white lined design. The central pane containing the text has a white background. The title pane features a photograph of two scientists focusing on a task next to the title of the blog. The articles are of a good length, informative, titled with author details, comment enabled , tagged and posted in specific categories. The articles are generously illustrated with high quality and relevant photographs including micrographs. There is one caveat however. In many of the articles, the reader must click on the ‘read the rest of the entry’ link at the bottom of the summary for each post in order to read the full post. The blog can be navigated using functions in the right hand panel – according to tags, categories and recent posts. There is also a search box. There are external links as well as a link to donate to the Sanford Burnham Institute.
As would be expected from a large institution, there are frequent events (e.g visits by influential figures to the institute) and reports on research studies that are being undertaken. In this post for instance, the author succinctly describes an approach to designing new molecules that is being pursued at the institute by one researcher. This post explains the role of messenger RNA and refers to a symposia on mRNA being held at the Institute. As the blog is relatively young there are 15 posts at the time of writing.
This is a young blog which demonstrates how an institution can effectively represent itself through the use of social media. Indeed with a large number of employees and students, an Institution has a marked advantage if it is able to efficiently leverage its resources through the medium of social media. For the reader, the posts are well written and offer insights into the interesting research that is being undertaken at the Institute. This blog would particularly appeal to those interested in working or studying at the institute, readers with an interest in research or those interested in representing their institute through social media.
The National Institute of Mental Health
The National Institute of Mental Health has a website here which features a blog by the director of the NIMH Dr Thomas Insel (see biography here). The blog features a light blue background and a central white pane containing the posts. There is a blue title pane with links to other parts of the website. The posts are titled, dated and category enabled with social media features enabled for sharing. Post contain references to the articles in the scientific literature as well as relevant pictures. On the right side of the screen the reader can find site indices. One is organised according to the category of the posts while the other is a chronological index extending back to September 2009. On the website, the NIMH’s stated mission is described thus:-
‘The mission of NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery, and cure‘
Dr Insel covers a broad range of mental health topics in keeping with the remit of the NIMH. The NIMH plays an important role in funding research and in this post he discusses the NIMH’s role in developing drugs. Other posts cover topics such as estimating the prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders here, developments in the NIMH here and the research domain criteria discussed here. These criteria are particularly interesting as they form the basis for a diagnostic system which is independent of the current diagnostic categories. There is also a lot of inspiration for the future of research in this area. For instance in a post ‘Taking Research to the Next Level‘, Insel writes that
‘Going forward, NIMH will be looking for clinical trials that are personalized (using predictive biomarkers) or preemptive (focused on early intervention) to maximize public health impact‘
Dr Insel’s NIMH blog gives an overview of some of the important developments in mental health research and is written in an accessible style with useful resources for the interested reader to further explore the subject material.
Seth Godin’s Blog
The blog reviewed here is Seth Godin’s Blog. Looking at a TIME 2009 list of the top 25 blogs here I saw Seth Godin’s blog mentioned and was intrigued. I had listen to one of Seth Godin’s audiobooks and so this had already raised my level of awareness. Some of his work relates to the changes that technology is bringing to culture and such changes have the potential to influence not just health but also illness. So I anticipated that there were a few lessons which might be usefully brought over to the psychiatry blogosphere. I didn’t have the time to read the entire blog which dates back to 2002 so I’ve based my review on a relatively small sample of articles from each year which might bias the review towards the articles first retrieved on clicking on an archived month link.
Appearance and Design
The blog has a very simple design. There is a white background and a central pane featuring the articles on the right and navigation elements on the left. The articles are dated but not comment enabled or category tagged (that I could see). There is a retweet option at the end of an article with a rather impressive number of retweets in the articles that I saw on the hompage (1086 in one article) at the time of writing. There is also a facebook ‘like’ option with a similar volume of people who have indicated that they like the articles. There are also e-mail and feed options. The articles on the homepage tended to be mainly text although there is an occasional colour picture to support the text. On the right side there are some neat features. All of Godin’s books are colourfully illustrated and clicking on them will take the reader to another page which links to booksellers. Recent posts, other webpages and articles archived by month are accessible through the sidebar as well as a google search option for the blog. Clicking on Godin’s head at the top of the page will take the reader through to some link options!
On looking at some of the early posts in January 2002, Godin has already published at least one of his books and refers to another. Indeed on checking the wikipedia page on Godin he had already published his first book in 1995 and had success with the website Squidoo meaning that he has mastered several media formats by the time of the first archived article on the blog. The articles cover a wide variety of material and some of Godin’s spontaneity is exemplified in the following extract from this post
‘Sorry I haven’t blogged in a while. I’ve been traveling. Which is the inspiration for this piece’
This further supports the suggestion that in Godin’s blog we are just getting a very small glimpse of Godin’s much ‘larger world’. Godin’s uses language in a very accessible way and is not afraid to tackle politics, marketing, spam or discuss other blogs (even in a few lines), inviting people to be in his book, interesting websites, tracking blog talk, and rules for generating ideas worth spreading. Godin engages in an almost informal dialogue with his readers in which he gives his opinions. The articles tend to focus on technology and marketing but along the way we are able to learn how people manage in this fast-changing world.
This is a light-hearted and at times serious blog in which Godin keeps his finger on the pulse on one aspect of modern american culture which through the internet is relevant to other parts of the world. One impression I had on reviewing this blog, is that I think there has been a lot of benefit from the crossover into books. Both Dan Carlat and Shrinkrap have been doing this while Godin is able to make effective use of these other media formats on his blog. However Godin himself has developed sophisticated approaches to his ‘projects’ for want of a better word in which books are launched with entire website or marketing novelties which make them ‘events’. I got the impression that Godin’s blog is not as much about the material being considered as it is about the ‘world’ that Godin has created. Perhaps there is another lesson to be had here.
The mental health charity Mind has a blog here. The blog is located within the main website for Mind which features a grey background with a white central pane. There is a site index in the header pane along with the contact details for Mind. Although the idea of a telephone number on the homepage is simple it is very effective and sends the reader a signal that this is a website which is making an impact offline as well as online. The site has sections for Mind campaigns, how to get involved, services provided as well as a shop and an option to donate. There is an A-Z of mental healthas well as a blogroll and the blog articles are indexed according to category. Scrolling to the bottom of the screen, the reader can navigate through the pages. There were 14 pages in total and 15 articles on the first page at the time of writing. Articles are dated and titled with author details and are also comment enabled. With some of the articles they are presented in part and the reader must click on the ‘read more’ link at the bottom of the article. The articles on the front page had up to 31 comments at the time of writing suggesting that this is a busy blog. There is a disclaimer noting that some of the blog articles may not reflect Mind policy.
The first article on the blog dates back to August 2009. The articles are typically 250-400 words long and often pick up on mental health news, services or experiences of people with mental illness. Articles about services include this one about services for older adults in which there is a link to Help the Aged, while Peter takes us through a day on the Mind information phoneline. Writing about personal experience can help people relate more easily to the subject matter and there are a number of such articles throughout the blog. A personal experience of the benefits of day centres is seen in this article, John Binns writes about his experiences in the workplace with depression and Kayla Kavanagh writes about her experience with Borderline Personality Disorder in this post. Articles also highlight the campaign work of Mind or other campaigns. For instance this article focuses on some of the good work that Mind has done in campaigning to raise awareness of the relationship between debt and mental health while a campaign to address mental illness in professional footballers is discussed in this article. There are articles on a variety of other subjects. Professor Baron-Cohen’s book ‘Zero Degrees of Empathy’ provokes debate in this article. A replacement for Disability Living Allowance is discussed in this article and Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind writes an interesting article about a memorial to an asylum.
Featured here is not a review of a single blog but rather a collection of blogs, dream blogs (also known as dream logs) at a site named Dream Journal. I thought it would be interesting to cover this as dreams figure in the works of Freud and Jung where interpretation of the dreams play an important role. Firstly what is interesting here and must surely be a little anxiety provoking is that the person’s dreams are displayed online, for others to see. However people willingly put their dreams on the site. Once this is done however, things start to get interesting. The dreams are stored in a database and are categorised in a number of ways such that the visitor to the site may access the dreams according to a number of themes. Indeed I was somewhat bemused by the sheer breadth of themes that were available – music, fun, science fiction, tooth loss (mentioned by Freud in the Interpretation of Dreams on several occasions), location, emotions, the elements (including categories for rainbows, tornadoes and earthquakes!), problem solving, flying and so on. The dreams are even rated according to lucidity (for instance ‘no clue they were dreaming’) and cohesiveness. I was particularly interested in tooth loss as it featured prominently in ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. This search term retrieved 628 results! I looked at one of the dreams that was described. The number of times that the dream had been seen by visitors was indicated immediately above the title of the dream as were a number of other measures mentioned above including lucidity and cohesiveness. There was even an overall rating for the dream! This particular dream was interesting to read, with gaps missing in the narrative representing the difficulty that a person might have in remembering the entire dream on waking. Navigation through the site to other types of dream was simple enough.
Readers are able to leave either comments or interpretations about the person’s dream. Here one obvious problem is that the interpretations may impact on the individual and those interpreting may not have the training nor any knowledge of the person who is dreaming. Indeed Jung maintained that it was the person themselves who was best able to interpret the meaning of their dream symbols! There are also dreams in which the dreamer themselves has provided a tentative interpretation.
There is another section on dream symbols which seems to be an extension of the themes above. What is interesting here is that a quantitative breakdown of the frequency of different themes in the dreams is provided. Indeed as of 6.2.9 ‘friends’ was the most frequent theme in the activity of the day, week, month and year.
This is a novel site which effectively contains an aggregate of dream blogs and a ‘dream community’ for those with an interest in this area.
Dharmendra S Modha’s Cognitive Computing Blog
The featured blog is Dharmendra S Modha’s Cognitive Computing Blog. Modha focuses on cognitive computing which can also be described as cognitive neuroscience and is a move towards reconciling the various cognitive neurosciences through computer modelling. In effect, this is about constructing a model of the human brain which can be represented within a computer which in turn has further implications and could be of tremendous benefit in psychiatry. Modha works for IBM within the cognitive computing department and he links to his official page as well as a number of other IBM links on the right hand pane of the blog home page although stating that his posts on the blog are his own ‘and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinion’. His material is published under a creative commons license and the reader can search through his blog using the search box again on the right hand side of the screen. There are also links to archive articles and recent posts.
The blog starts in 2006 with this post about the Almanden Institute followed by this post looking at some of the media responses. Through his blog Modha gives us fascinating insights into cognitive computing developments. For instance he points us to a software company Numenta that is developing technology based on the architecture of the Cerebral Cortex. A preliminary inspection of the Numenta homepage reveals a link to a downloadable software demo which is able to recognise objects within a photograph. There is also an intriguing reference to the Numenta platform being suitable for developers to work on freely under license from the Numenta team. Modha gets to meet many leading neuroscientists and computing scientists which he discusses within the blog and along the way we get a feel for some of the computing advances that are coming through in this area.
Here is some media coverage of the simulation of the mouse brain and here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about the simulations. Here is Modha giving a talk on how to reverse engineer the brain! Along the way I found some of the following posts extremely interesting. There is this discussion of a piece of software Neurovigil that allows remote analysis EEG’s during sleep which might be very useful in the assessment of sleep disorders although the specifics would of course depend on the configuration of the relevant service. The application of electronic noses in medicine is very interesting also! Cognitive animation is yet another intriguing link which looks at how ‘intelligence’ can be incorporated into simulations of movements and there are many variations on how to make avatars (virtual people) more realistic. Perhaps this research could also have clinical applications. In this post, we hear about IBM’s petaflop machine – the fastest computer on the planet being put to work simulating the human visual cortex.
This is a very interesting blog by Modha who keeps a finger on the pulse of compuational neuroscience and some of the exciting developments within IBM’s cognitive computing department.
Wolfram Alpha Blog
The blog reviewed here is the ‘Wolfram Alpha Blog‘. I’ve chosen this blog because if Wolfram Alpha fulfills it’s potential, then it will have an impact on many different areas including psychiatry both directly and indirectly. I’ve already taken a closer look at Wolfram Alpha (see first part of review here) and the approach taken here is one which can influence our relationship with information. This blog gives the reader an insight into the many applications of Wolfram Alpha. The blog started in April 2009 with this post just prior to the launch of Wolfram Alpha. Wolfram Alpha is described as a ‘computational knowledge engine’ which responds to a person’s request by referencing a database or relevant information and transforming this data so as to best answer the question. The aim of the project is described thus
‘to make all computable, factual knowledge available to everyone. What Wolfram|Alpha does is compute on top of those facts – answering questions, solving equations, providing insights, projecting future behaviors and more‘
Steve Wolfram himself explains the idea behind Wolfram|Alpha in this post. Leibniz co-creator of calculus (independently of Newton) had suggested that ‘human discourse’ could be represented ‘using logic and mathematics’ and that ‘somehow there must be a way to mechani(s)e the resolution of all human arguments’. This is a very difficult suggestion to comment on, other than there is possibly an implicit assumption that human brain activity is ultimately based on a mathematical logic in whatever form that is manifest*.
Returning to the blog, here some of the developers talk about how Wolfram Alpha is being developed – a reminder that the project is ongoing with new data being added and feedback being received. It will be interesting to see how the searches change through time as a result. Here is a description of how Wolfram Alpha can be used in the calculation of calorific requirements although this might be complicated by other factors. These are early days for Wolfram Alpha but it will be interesting to see how this develops.
*I will speculate a little here and much of this may clearly be wrong but much can be learnt from making such mistakes also. As the brain responds to the environment it is not an entirely closed system from an information perspective but an implication of this would be that it takes information in whatever format it is in and transforms it through a series of mathematical operations at whatever level this takes place. This in turn would suggest that Chomsky’s deeper language structure is mathematical in nature. To take this further, if grammar was a mathematical structure then language is a means of transforming information from the world into a shared ‘mathematical’ representation. Part of this mathematical language would be intonation and would explain the highly structured pattern of some forms of music, music being analagous in some senses to vocal production. The type of language in certain situations – hunting for instance would represent visuospatial and other relevant data in contrast with other situations where another type of interpretation of state of mind would generate metamathematical languages. Furthermore a noted observation that children raised using Pidgin English are able to develop correct grammatical structures without the type of supervision that might be expected to result in the development of such skills. The use of a highly structured mathematical interpretation of the world would also predict that some information might be misinterpreted due to such transformations. Of course as this is speculation there may be many holes in all of this. There needs to be convincing evidence and so these conjectures must be tested and since many are contained above there is a lot of work that would need to be done in order to separate this from the realms of opinion where it currently rests. Finally it is not sufficient to use the term ‘mathematical so vaguely. Even if parts of the above were correct at some level without a more precise specification it is without evident utility.
Medical Ethics Blog
The blog reviewed here is the ‘Medical Ethics Blog‘. The blog is about medical ethics as the name suggests and is written by Stuart Laidlaw, a journalist at the Toronto Star (to which the blog is affiliated) and book author.
Appearance and Design
The title pane contains references to the Star and links to other sites on the Star’s website. The blog has a central white pane with cyan panes on the left and right hand side. The articles are written on the right-hand 2/3′s of the central pane and are displayed with black text on a white background. On the left hand side of the central pane, there are numerous links including articles archived by month, links to other relevant sites and article categories.
The blog starts with the first article listed under May 6th 2008. In this article, he looks at Medical Tourism, a theme which is developed through the blog. In this article, he looks at Wal-Mart’s move into healthcare. This article looks at medical blogs and this one at reporting on drug trials. The interaction between religious beliefs and refusal of treatment is discussed in this article. This article looks at a considered amendment to a UK government bill to enable tissue to be removed from people lacking capacity to be used in research and the story continues to covered in this article, this article and this article. The ethics of genetic testing for children are covered in an article in which a company makes claims about prediction. This article looks at american Senator Charles Grassley’s investigation into Pharma ghostwriting and states that company executives thought up titles for articles and then employed ghostwriters to draft the articles. I found this article on a fake submission to an online journal quite interesting as the issue of trust between authors and editors appears. This very issue of trust is surely interesting from a sociological perspective as it shows the type of ’relationship’ issues that influence science away from the theory and must be factored into a ‘comprehensive’ model of science. I was also quite interested to see a debate generated across the newspapers (?news sphere) in Canada about these issues in a similar way to the debates that are generated across the blogosphere. There is a discussion here of whether academic fraud should be criminalised. Laidlaw also looks at the Canadian Journal of Medicine’s decision to make reporting of conflicts of interest for authors more stringent.
I was impressed by Laidlaw’s willingness to tackle very controversial areas. Laidlaw presents difficult issues that are in need of wider debate and I sensed that the blog has gathered momentum in terms of the rate at which articles are produced as well as the nature of the issues that are discussed. There are also a number of articles discussing issues relevant to psychiatry.
The featured blog is a new one – ‘Science Insider‘ which is related to the journal Science. The blog started in November 2008 and is updated regularly with articles about policy in Science with articles that cover US and UK policies in particular. There is coverage for instance of USA presidential selection of science advisers here and here. The recent Madoff scandal has not just affected the financial sector but also charities that fund biomedical research as discussed in this article. The research assessment exercise which influences science funding is covered in this article. There is another article on discussion of global health policies while here is a discussion of Obama’s choice of potential new successors at the FDA.Whilst it is relatively new, the blog is updated regularly, sometimes several times a day with infomative articles about science policy and sometimes in controversial areas. This is a useful blog for keeping up to date with science policy.
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