Undiscovered Photos / Asperger Engineer Dad

That box of family photos that one has gone through again and again? Today I found college photos of my Dad: University of Dayton, Ohio.




Aspergers / Below Robots on the Social Pyramid

Paper: Emotion Attribution to a Non-Humanoid Robot in Different Social Situations


Above: The robot used in this research. I don’t know how other Asperger types view robots, but I’ve never seen one that could be mistaken for being a living object. 

In fact, I find the dedication (obsession with) designing robots to be ‘humanlike” a real obstacle to creating FUNCTIONAL robots, and yet millions are being invested in research to “duplicate” human form and functions – when humans already are “human” and vastly superior products of evolution –


Gabriella Lakatos, Márta Gácsi, Veronika Konok, Ildikó Brúder, Boróka Bereczky, Péter Korondi, Ádám Miklósi


Published: December 31, 2014 Full Article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0114207
Note how robots possess Attributes that Aspergers lack, according to you-know-who.

In the last few years there was an increasing interest in building companion robots that interact in a socially acceptable way with humans. In order to interact in a meaningful way a robot has to convey intentionality and emotions of some sort in order to increase believability. We suggest that human-robot interaction should be considered as a specific form of inter-specific interaction and that human–animal interaction can provide a useful biological model for designing social robots. Dogs can provide a promising biological model since during the domestication process dogs were able to adapt to the human environment and to participate in complex social interactions. In this observational study we propose to design emotionally expressive behaviour of robots using the behaviour of dogs as inspiration and to test these dog-inspired robots with humans in inter-specific context. In two experiments (wizard-of-oz scenarios) we examined humans’ ability to recognize two basic and a secondary emotion expressed by a robot. In Experiment 1 we provided our companion robot with two kinds of emotional behaviour (“happiness” and “fear”), and studied whether people attribute the appropriate emotion to the robot, and interact with it accordingly. In Experiment 2 we investigated whether participants tend to attribute guilty behaviour to a robot in a relevant context by examining whether relying on the robot’s greeting behaviour human participants can detect if the robot transgressed a predetermined rule. Results of Experiment 1 showed that people readily attribute emotions to a social robot and interact with it in accordance with the expressed emotional behaviour. Results of Experiment 2 showed that people are able to recognize if the robot transgressed on the basis of its greeting behaviour. In summary, our findings showed that dog-inspired behaviour is a suitable medium for making people attribute emotional states to a non-humanoid robot. (Does this mean that if Asperger types imitate dog behavior, we too, will be granted “emotional” status?)


A general requirement for social robots is that they should be able to participate in different interactions with humans. In order to interact socially with humans the robot has to convey intentionality, that is, the human has to think that the robot has goals, beliefs and desires [1]. There is evidence that humans are willing to interpret lifeless objects as social beings, attributing aims, desires, inner states and even personality to them (e.g. [2], [3], [4]). Designers of artificial agents try to exploit this anthropomorphizing tendency and supply social robots with social cues that induce the concepts of intentions in people.

Many scientists in social robotics agree that the main requirements of a complex social interaction include communication, the recognition and expression of emotions, and some rudimentary form of personality (Does this describe a neurotypical human?) [5], [6], [7]. These features are widely thought to increase the believability of artificial agents (e.g. [6], [7], [8], [9]) and enhance the long-term engagement of people toward artificial companions.

The importance of the representation of emotions in artificial agents (or virtual characters) has been recognized long ago in art. According to Thomas and Johnston [10], two of the core animators of the Disney’s productions, “it has been the portrayal of emotions that has given the Disney characters the illusion of life”. Many robots and virtual agents (e.g. Kismet, Yuppy, Max, Greta, Probo, EDDIE, Feelix [9], [11], [12], [13], [14], [15], [16], [17]) have been supplied with affective expressions so far in order to examine the contribution of emotions to livingness or to observe humans’ perception of the expressive behaviours of robots. Although, it is important to note that most of these studies used only facial expressions to express robotic emotions and questionnaires to analyse the recognition rate of the different emotions. Direct human-robot interactions analysing humans’ reactions also on the behavioural level are relatively rare. For example, one of these studies showed that subjects tended to feel less lonely and found the agent (Max) more life-like if it expressed empathy toward them compared to situations, in which the robot did not show emotions or tended to be self-centred [5]. (Once again, cartoon characters and robots are granted the attribute of empathy, but not Asperger humans. It could be that NTs are so childlike that they can’t escape an anthropomorphic interpretation of everything they encounter, and that every object in the environment must pay attention to them.)  Additionally, the electromyography showed that subjects had higher activity of the masseter muscle (which is one of the muscles of mastication and an indicator of negative valence) when the agent expressed negative empathy (“Schadenfreude”) compared to positive empathy [5]. (So now we learn that positive or negative empathy is displayed by a chewing muscle.)

Many of the present day social robots are built to have humanoid embodiments and their behaviour is designed on the basis of human psychological models. Designers of such humanoid social robots aim to implement human-like behavioural and cognitive features in the robots along with human-like social competencies using human-human interactions as a model (e.g. developing social relationship with humans, gesturing, using speech-based communication etc.) [6], [18]. In the last few years impressive improvements have been achieved in this field and it has been proved by separate studies that humans can successfully recognize emotions displayed by a humanoid face of robots or virtual agents. (Neurotypicals are easily fooled) (see also the above mentioned studies and for other examples e.g. [19], [20]; or for a review see [21]). Moreover, some studies provided evidence suggesting that emotions expressed by a humanoid robot face evoke similar emotions in humans as well (e.g. [22], for a review see [21]). Although, a recent study of Chaminade et al. [23] showed that on the level of neural responses humans react differently to the emotional expressions of a humanoid robot and of a human. Besides, again, we have to note that most of these studies have been restricted to the use of facial expressions (instead of using multimodal emotional expressions), which on the other hand requires complex technology both considering the perception and the signalling [24].

In fact, human-human interactions are very complex since they are generally symmetric, develop since birth and are based on the use of language. Hereby, it is extremely hard for robot designers to mimic human behaviour successfully and the robots mimicking human behaviour will never be perfect “humans”. This can lead to mismatches between the appearance and the behaviour, which means that the users’ prior – often unrealistic – expectations, mostly based on the appearance, will be violated resulting in a feeling of unease. (Is this how neurotypicals “see” non-conforming people? ) [21], [24], [25]. This is the well-known phenomenon of the “uncanny valley” [26], that is, agents which are very but not totally similar to humans, induce aversion in people.

Other companion robots are designed to have rather pet-like appearance (e.g. PLEO, AIBO, PARO [27], [28], [29]) and have also been used as alternatives to animal assisted therapy [29], [30]. However, the behavioural repertoire of these pet-like social robots is very limited and for this reason, compared to animal pets they proved to be less successful in maintaining humans’ interest in long term [31], [32].

cont., at link above

Synchronizing Circadian and other Body Rhythms / Re-Post


Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon - Qagychl

Winter Solstice 2017, Thursday December 21 

We’re creeping up on the Winter Solstice, when daylight will increase by about 1 minute per day, a seemingly negligible difference, but by the end of January, that progression means that I won’t wake up to a dark world, but to a bright morning.  I’ve written often about what a creature of the seasons I am, and how daylight affects my mood and sense of wellbeing.

I remembered this old post after hearing an announcement about a “Solstice Festival” that will be celebrated on December 16th. My reaction was this: What? Neurotypicals strike again! The Solstice is not “arbitrary” – it’s a specific astronomical event; you can’t just “reschedule it” for a convenient day and time adjusted to people’s schedules… which I suspect is what is going on, since this is a university event. I can imagine emails and texts flying across campus about “excuses” for why individuals can’t be present on the 21st, citing prior commitments of any and all sort, mostly trivial social obligations and logistics. A “date” was settled on by negotiation, most likely to fit the schedules of “higher status” individuals. 

Neurotypical narcissism is astounding: The universe (or at least our solar system) DOES REVOLVE around the social schedule of Homo sapiens. 

Can you imagine an upcoming Solstice festival in Stone Age Britain, in which messages must be conveyed “hither and yon” by bonfires, runners or flights of Ravens, as to when scattered peoples can arrive for the “big event”, the timing of which must be negotiated between these far flung guests? The Solstice would have had no meaning at all!  


From the old post:

One evening while watching a “drama” about the function of megalithic sites like Stonehenge, and under the influence of reading about the essential importance of sun, moon and seasonal rhythms for all life, it occurred to me that perhaps what people were doing was synchronizing their biological clocks. Indeed, that ritual practices,   especially dances as group activities, began as physiological sources of group cohesion and cooperation.

As we know, over time stories of “why we do this” become part of culture and pass into a social explanation of behavior. But, if we look at human behavior throughout history, we can see the persistence and proliferation of mass rituals (political, religious and even in consumer capitalism) for which we have forgotten the original biological function.

In fact, much of the lack of health and happiness in modern societies may be due to the breakdown of biological connection to natural cycles. The accounting of time and activity, measured by the heartbeat of an atom, has become a huge disruption to human harmony, both within nature, and between individuals and within groups. 


Psychologist says that Neurotypicals are Irrational / This is News?



By Daniel Kahneman, 499 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Review clipped a bit for length and blah, blah, blah. 


NEW YORK TIMES Sunday Book Review 

By Jim Holt, NOV. 25, 2011

In 2002, Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel in economic science. What made this unusual is that Kahneman is a psychologist. Specifically, he is one-half of a pair of psychologists who, beginning in the early 1970s, set out to dismantle an entity long dear to economic theorists: that arch-rational decision maker known as Homo economicus. The other half of the dismantling duo, Amos Tversky, died in 1996 at the age of 59.

Human irrationality is Kahneman’s great theme.

There are essentially three phases to his career. In the first, he and Tversky did a series of ingenious experiments that revealed twenty or so “cognitive biases” — unconscious errors of reasoning that distort our (neurotypical) judgment of the world. Typical of these is the “anchoring effect”: our tendency to be influenced by irrelevant numbers that we happen to be exposed to. In the second phase, Kahneman and Tversky showed that people making decisions under uncertain conditions do not behave in the way that economic models have traditionally assumed; they do not “maximize utility.” The two then developed an alternative account of decision making, one more faithful to human psychology, which they called “prospect theory.” In the third phase of his career, mainly after the death of Tversky, Kahneman has delved into “hedonic psychology”: the science of happiness, its nature and its causes.

“Thinking, Fast and Slow” spans all three of these phases. It is an astonishingly rich book: lucid, profound, full of intellectual surprises and self-help value.  So impressive is its vision of flawed human reason that the New York Times columnist David Brooks recently declared that Kahneman and Tversky’s work “will be remembered hundreds of years from now,” and that it is “a crucial pivot point in the way we see ourselves.” They are, Brooks said, “like the Lewis and Clark of the mind.” (Not really; NTs will reject the notion that they aren’t rational, because they truly are irrational.)

A leitmotif of this book is overconfidence. All of us, and especially experts, are prone to an exaggerated sense of how well we understand the world — so Kahneman reminds us. Despite all the cognitive biases, fallacies and illusions that he and Tversky (along with other researchers) purport to have discovered in the last few decades, he fights shy of the bold claim that humans are fundamentally irrational. (NT denial.)

Or does he? “Most of us are healthy most of the time, and most of our judgments and actions are appropriate most of the time,” Kahneman writes in his introduction. Yet, just a few pages later, he observes that the work he did with Tversky

“challenged” the idea, orthodox among social scientists in the 1970s, that “people are generally rational.”

(They could have saved a lot of time and effort, if they had simply asked an Asperger or two, “Are ‘normal’ humans rational?”)

The two psychologists discovered “systematic errors in the thinking of normal people”: errors arising not from the corrupting effects of emotion, but built into our evolved cognitive machinery. (Neoteny?)

… frowning — activates the skeptic within us: what Kahneman calls “System 2.” Just putting on a frown, experiments show, works to reduce overconfidence; it causes us to be more analytical, more vigilant in our thinking; to question stories that we would otherwise unreflectively accept as true because they are facile and coherent. (A clue to Aspie “non-conforming” facial expressions..?)

System 2, in Kahneman’s scheme, is our slow, deliberate, analytical and consciously effortful mode of reasoning about the world. System 1, by contrast, is our fast, automatic, intuitive and largely unconscious mode. 

Warning: gobbledygook ahead: More generally, System 1 (neurotypicals) uses association and metaphor to produce a quick and dirty draft of reality, which System 2 draws on to arrive at explicit beliefs and reasoned choices. (This assumes that “normal” people have an active “system 2”) So System 2 would seem to be the boss, right? (Hierarchical thinking again!) But System 2, in addition to being more deliberate and rational, is also lazy. And it tires easily. (The vogue term for this is “ego depletion.”) Too often, instead of slowing things down and analyzing them, System 2 is content to accept the easy but unreliable story about the world that System 1 feeds to it. (Which might indicate that rational analyses is a skill that is simply missing or under-developed in NTs)

“Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is,” Kahneman writes, “the automatic System 1 is the hero of this book.” System 2 is especially quiescent, it seems, when your mood is a happy one. (So make people happy before you lie to them.)

At this point, the skeptical reader might wonder how seriously to take all this talk of System 1 and System 2. Are they actually a pair of little agents in our head, each with its distinctive personality? Not really, says Kahneman. Rather, they are “useful fictions” — useful (for NTs) because they help explain the quirks of the human mind.

To see how, consider what Kahneman calls the “best-known and most controversial” of the experiments he and Tversky did together: “the Linda problem.” Participants in the experiment were told about an imaginary young woman named Linda, who is single, outspoken and very bright, and who, as a student, was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice. The participants were then asked which was more probable: (1) Linda is a bank teller. Or (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement. The overwhelming response was that (2) was more probable; in other words, that given the background information furnished, “feminist bank teller” was more likely than “bank teller.” This is, of course, a blatant violation of the laws of probability. (Every feminist bank teller is a bank teller; adding a detail can only lower the probability.) Yet even among students in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, who had extensive training in probability, 85 percent flunked the Linda problem. One student, informed that she had committed an elementary logical blunder, responded, “I thought you just asked for my opinion.”

Kahneman describes dozens of such experimentally demonstrated breakdowns in rationality — “base-rate neglect,” “availability cascade,” “the illusion of validity” and so on. The cumulative effect is to make the reader despair for human reason.

(Blah, blah, blah excuses inserted here, in order to prop up the irrational belief that NTs are rational.) Are we really so hopeless? (An Asperger says YES!) Think again of the Linda problem. Even the great evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould was troubled by it. As an expert in probability he knew the right answer, yet he wrote that “a little homunculus in my head continues to jump up and down, shouting at me — ‘But she can’t just be a bank teller; read the description.’ ” It was Gould’s System 1, Kahneman assures us, that kept shouting the wrong answer at him. But perhaps something more subtle is going on. Our everyday conversation takes place against a rich background of unstated expectations (ie, social nonsense) — what linguists call “implicatures.” Such implicatures can seep into psychological experiments. Given the expectations that facilitate our conversation, it may have been quite reasonable for the participants in the experiment to take “Linda is a bank clerk” to imply that she was not in addition a feminist. If so, their answers weren’t really fallacious.

Note: It is possible that NTs, when in hyper-social environments, loose whatever “rational” processes they have; in “private” they may be more reason-based.

(Blah, blah, blah excuses inserted here, in order to prop up the irrational belief that NTs are rational.) This might seem a minor point. But it applies to several of the biases that Kahneman and Tversky, along with other investigators, purport to have discovered in formal experiments. In more natural settings — when we are detecting cheaters rather than solving logic puzzles; when we are reasoning about things rather than symbols; when we are assessing raw numbers rather than percentages — people are far less likely to make the same errors. So, at least, much subsequent research suggests. Maybe we are not so irrational after all.

Some cognitive biases, of course, are flagrantly exhibited even in the most natural of settings. Take what Kahneman calls the “planning fallacy”: our tendency to overestimate benefits and underestimate costs, and hence foolishly to take on risky projects. In 2002, Americans remodeling their kitchens, for example, expected the job to cost $18,658 on average, but they ended up paying $38,769.

The planning fallacy is “only one of the manifestations of a pervasive optimistic bias,” Kahneman writes, which “may well be the most significant of the cognitive biases.” Now, in one sense, a bias toward optimism is obviously bad, since it generates false beliefs — like the belief that we are in control, and not the playthings of luck. But without this “illusion of control,” would we even be able to get out of bed in the morning? Optimists are more psychologically resilient, have stronger immune systems, and live longer on average than their more reality-based counterparts. (not a scientifically provable claim) Moreover, as Kahneman notes, exaggerated optimism serves to protect both individuals and organizations from the paralyzing effects of another bias, “loss aversion”: our tendency to fear losses more than we value gains. (How social; how irrational!!!)

“OPTIMISTS are COWARDS” Oswald Spengler

Even if we could rid ourselves of the biases and illusions identified in this book — and Kahneman, citing his own lack of progress in overcoming them, doubts that we can — it is by no means clear that this would make our lives go better. And that raises a fundamental question:

What is the point of rationality? (Only an irrational neurotypical would ask this question!) 

We are, after all, Darwinian survivors. (Really? Blah, blah, blah.) Our everyday reasoning abilities have evolved to cope efficiently with a complex and dynamic environment. They are thus likely to be adaptive in this environment, even if they can be tripped up in the psychologist’s somewhat artificial experiments. (Nothing like trashing the field of psychology in order to prop up some faint hope that NTs are rational!)Where do the norms of rationality come from, if they are not an idealization of the way humans actually reason in their ordinary lives? As a species, we can no more be pervasively biased in our judgments than we can be pervasively ungrammatical in our use of language — or so critics of research like Kahneman and Tversky’s contend. (Aye, yai, yai!) 

Note: Rationalizing should never be mistaken for “being rational.” 

Kahneman never grapples philosophically with the nature of rationality. He does, however, supply a fascinating account of what might be taken to be its goal: happiness. What does it mean to be happy? When Kahneman first took up this question, in the mid 1990s, most happiness research relied on asking people how satisfied they were with their life on the whole. But such retrospective assessments depend on memory, which is notoriously unreliable. What if, instead, a person’s actual experience of pleasure or pain could be sampled from moment to moment, and then summed up over time? Kahneman calls this “experienced” well-being, as opposed to the “remembered” well-being that researchers had relied upon. And he found that these two measures of happiness diverge in surprising ways. What makes the “experiencing self” happy is not the same as what makes the “remembering self” happy. In particular, the remembering self does not care about duration — how long a pleasant or unpleasant experience lasts. Rather, it retrospectively rates an experience by the peak level of pain or pleasure in the course of the experience, and by the way the experience ends.

(Colonoscopy “experiment” inserted here.) Two groups of patients were to undergo painful colonoscopies. The patients in Group A got the normal procedure. So did the patients in Group B, except — without their being told — a few extra minutes of mild discomfort were added after the end of the examination. Which group suffered more? Well, Group B endured all the pain that Group A did, and then some. But since the prolonging of Group B’s colonoscopies meant that the procedure ended less painfully, the patients in this group retrospectively minded it less. (In an earlier research paper though not in this book, Kahneman suggested that the extra discomfort Group B was subjected to in the experiment might be ethically justified if it increased their willingness to come back for a follow-up!)

As with colonoscopies, so too with life. (Yikes!) It is the remembering self that calls the shots, not the experiencing self. Kahneman cites research showing, for example, that a college student’s decision whether or not to repeat a spring-break vacation is determined by the peak-end rule applied to the previous vacation, not by how fun (or miserable) it actually was moment by moment. The remembering self exercises a sort of “tyranny” over the voiceless experiencing self. “Odd as it may seem,” Kahneman writes, “I am my remembering self, and the experiencing self, who does my living, is like a stranger to me.”

(The opposite may be true of Asperger people. Experience “now” is my default mode. See posts related to time.)

Clearly, much remains to be done in hedonic psychology. But Kahneman’s conceptual innovations have laid the foundation for many of the empirical (anecdotal) findings he reports in this book: that while French mothers spend less time with their children than American mothers, they enjoy it more; that headaches are hedonically harder on the poor; that women who live alone seem to enjoy the same level of well-being as women who live with a mate; and that a household income of about $75,000 in high-cost areas of the country is sufficient to maximize happiness. Policy makers interested in lowering the misery index of society will find much to ponder here. (As if policy makers with this intent actually exist!)

(Social blah, blah, blah here)

And just to make sure that all this blah, blah, blah is perfectly understandable to Neurotypicals, convert it into a Black / White system of polar opposites that is totally irrational. Be sure to pile on irrelevant anecdotal fragments with no correlation to each other, or to the concept.




Year-End Statement / Which Asperger am I writing about?

I assume that each “Asperger” is an individual and is capable of objecting to, or agreeing with, any statement that I make about Asperger’s the “thing”.  

It’s time once again to point out that when I write, “Asperger(s) do this or that” I’m primarily speaking from my own experience, but also referencing “symptoms” often associated with our personality type; specifically those symptoms often repeated by Aspergers I have known, or whose statements I read in articles, blogs, chat forums, etc., and related in NT websites. 

Such as this typical snippet from a do-it-yourself “how to spot an Asperger” website. (There are now thousands of these on the Internet. It seems NTs are obsessed with ID-ing any and all Asperger types who might threaten their precious “normal” social environments and have taken up the hobby of Weirdo Watching.)

“A significant and encompassing preoccupation or obsession with one or two restricted topics, that is abnormal either in intensity, subject or focus (such as baseball statistics or the weather)” (And even worse – trying to “share” these obsessions with normal people.) 

I’ll skip a long and reasoned objection to the labeling of one’s interests as de facto pathological, by using one scenario: A neurotypical is in immediate danger of freezing to death, having gotten lost in the wilderness, 20 feet from the car, which accidently got stuck along a lonely road, which he or she mistook for an entry ramp onto the highway to Grandma’s house. But! The family Christmas is saved by a cell phone call to 911 made possible by the obsessive nature of (Asperger type) engineers, technicians, and fabricators -builders, satellite designers and flyers, and the entire history of Aspie contributions to scientific revelations, innovative products and the communications industry.

Will the NT stop to think:

Gee whiz; I coulda DIED out here, but tonight, but instead of my ass being frozen to a tree stump, (and thanks to obsessive Asperger types), my ass will be in one of Grandma’s comfy chairs, feasting on mini marshmallow-sweet potato pie – zapped in the microwave.” No. He or she will probably spend some part of dinner complaining about the next-door neighbor’s creepy and dangerous Asperger kid who is obsessed with building robots that look like insects, which scare her cats. Something needs to be done about those types of kids…

My intro above is in lieu of (typical neurotypical) obsessive apologies, clarifications (which actually serve to muddle and obscure simple content, rather than to make the message clear) and ad nauseum lists of dependent conditions and combinations such as:

….The Family – that can be a normal/abnormal traditional family of Mom, Dad and a couple of biological kids; a gay couple, or a transgender female and a typical male, or a transgender male and a typical female with / without adopted children, or a family involved in foster care, or people who just consider themselves to be part of the family, or everyone in the community, the state, the nation or the world; or anyone who contributes can goods to the food bank – Well!  They are ALL our family, aren’t they? And don’t forget your pets! Whether that’s a dog, a cat, two dogs, a pack of dogs; twenty cats; a ferret, hamster, pygmy pig, a collection of snakes, a rescue dog, a therapy dog. Have we left any animals out? Oh – a lizard, frog, tropical fish, octopus…. “

Oy vey! Or is it, Aye, yai, yai!, or Bat Crap Crazy, or Nutty Neurotypical Nonsense, or….. please shut up?


40,000 Papers Based on fMIR Down the Drain? / HUGE!


Still valid: Brain scans of fruit.

You can’t call it “SCIENCE” if it’s NOT.


A bug in fMRI software could invalidate 15 years of brain research / This is huge.


There could be a very serious problem with the past 15 years of research into human brain activity, with a new study suggesting that a bug in fMRI software could invalidate the results of some 40,000 papers.

That’s massive, because functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is one of the best tools we have to measure brain activity, and if it’s flawed, it means all those conclusions about what our brains look like during things like exercise, gaming, love, and drug addiction are wrong. “Despite the popularity of fMRI as a tool for studying brain function, the statistical methods used have rarely been validated using real data,” researchers led by Anders Eklund from Linköping University in Sweden assert.

The main problem here is in how scientists use fMRI scans to find sparks of activity in certain regions of the brain. During an experiment, a participant will be asked to perform a certain task, while a massive magnetic field pulsates through their body, picking up tiny changes in the blood flow of the brain.

These tiny changes can signal to scientists that certain regions of the brain have suddenly kicked into gear, such as the insular cortex region during gaming, which has been linked to ‘higher’ cognitive functions such as language processing, empathy, and compassion.

Getting high on mushrooms while connected to an fMRI machine has shown evidence of cross-brain activity – new and heightened connections across sections that wouldn’t normally communicate with each other.

It’s fascinating stuff, but the fact is that when scientists are interpreting data from an fMRI machine, they’re not looking at the actual brain. As Richard Chirgwin reports for The Register, what they’re looking at is an image of the brain divided into tiny ‘voxels’, then interpreted by a computer program.

“Software, rather than humans … scans the voxels looking for clusters,” says Chirgwin. “When you see a claim that ‘Scientists know when you’re about to move an arm: these images prove it,’ they’re interpreting what they’re told by the statistical software.”

To test how good this software actually is, Eklund and his team gathered resting-state fMRI data from 499 healthy people sourced from databases around the world, split them up into groups of 20, and measured them against each other to get 3 million random comparisons.

They tested the three most popular fMRI software packages for fMRI analysis – SPM, FSL, and AFNI – and while they shouldn’t have found much difference across the groups, the software resulted in false-positive rates of up to 70 percent.

And that’s a problem, because as Kate Lunau at Motherboard points out, not only did the team expect to see an average false positive rate of just 5 percent, it also suggests that some results were so inaccurate, they could be indicating brain activity where there was none.

“These results question the validity of some 40,000 fMRI studies and may have a large impact on the interpretation of neuroimaging results,” the team writes in PNAS.

The bad news here is that one of the bugs the team identified has been in the system for the past 15 years, which explains why so many papers could now be affected.

The bug was corrected in May 2015, at the time the researchers started writing up their paper, but the fact that it remained undetected for over a decade shows just how easy it was for something like this to happen, because researchers just haven’t had reliable methods for validating fMRI results.

Since fMRI machines became available in the early ’90s, neuroscientists and psychologists have been faced with a whole lot of challenges when it comes to validating their results.

One of the biggest obstacles has been the astronomical cost of using these machines – around US$600 per hour – which means studies have been limited to very small sample sizes of up to 30 or so participants, and very few organisations have the funds to run repeat experiments to see if they can replicate the results.

The other issue is that because software is the thing that’s actually interpreting the data from the fMRI scans, your results are only as good as your computer, and programs used to validate the results have been prohibitively slow.

But the good news is we’ve come a long way, and Eklund points to the fact that fMRI results are now being made freely available online for researchers to use, so they don’t have to keep paying for fMRI time to record new results, and our validation technology is finally up to snuff.

“It could have taken a single computer maybe 10 or 15 years to run this analysis,” Eklund told Motherboard. “But today, it’s possible to use a graphics card”, to lower the processing time “from 10 years to 20 days”.

So going forward, things are looking much more positive, but what of those 40,000 papers that could now be in question?

Just as we found out last year that when researchers tried to replicate the results of 100 psychology studies, more than half of them failed, we’re seeing more and more evidence that science is going through a bit of a ‘replication crisis’ right now, and it’s time we addressed it.

Unfortunately, running someone else’s experiment for the second, third, or fourth time isn’t nearly as exciting as running your own experiment for the first time, but studies like this are showing us why we can no longer avoid it.


Original Paper: > Current Issue > vol. 113 no. 28 > Anders Eklund,  7900–7905, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1602413113

Cluster failure: Why fMRI inferences for spatial extent have inflated false-positive rates

  1. Anders Eklunda,b,c,1,
  2. Thomas E. Nicholsd,e, and
  3. Hans Knutssona,c
  1. Edited by Emery N. Brown, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, and approved May 17, 2016 (received for review February 12, 2016)

Favorite Photos of Favorite Places / Deadly Waters

Strange desert streams carry as much mud and sand as water; water that is tinted by  the many colors of alkali earth and brief blooms of algae and bacteria. Sand bars are re-cut, reshaped, eroded, with sand and mud laid down again, producing fantastic graphic patterns.

Two Articles Phys.org / Pontic Steppe Migration of Males

The steppe extends roughly from the Dniepr to the Ural or 30° to 55° east longitude, and from the Black Sea and the Caucasus in the south to the temperate forest and taiga in the north, or 45° to 55° north latitude.

Steppe migrant thugs pacified by Stone Age farming women

(a rather sensationalist title!) 

April 4, 2017 / Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-04-steppe-migrant-thugs-pacified-stone.html#jCp

When present day European genetics was formed during the beginning of the Bronze Age 5,000 years ago it was a result of migrating Yamnaya pastoralists from the Caspian steppe encountering Stone Age farmers in northern and eastern Europe. A grand synthesis article published in the journal Antiquity argues that young Yamnaya warriors belonging to raiding parties married local Stone Age women, settling and adopting a more agrarian lifestyle. During this process, where the Corded Ware Culture was formed, a new Proto-Germanic dialect appeared.



Genetic data show mainly men migrated from the Pontic steppe to Europe 5,000 years ago

February 21, 2017 / Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-02-genetic-men-migrated-pontic-steppe.html#jCp

A new study, looking at the sex-specifically inherited X chromosome of prehistoric human remains, shows that hardly any women took part in the extensive migration from the Pontic-Caspian Steppe approximately 5,000 years ago. The great migration that brought farming practices to Europe 4,000 years earlier, on the other hand, consisted of both women and men. The difference in sex bias suggests that different social and cultural processes drove the two migrations.





Neolithic and Bronze Age migration to Ireland and establishment of the insular Atlantic genome

Lara M. Cassidya,1, et al.

Smurfit Institute of Genetics, Trinity College, Dublin 2, Ireland; School of Geography, Archaeology and Palaeoecology, Queen’s University Belfast, Belfast.

English Words from Old Norse / Video Dr. Jackson Crawford

One of a boatload of videos by Dr. Jackson Crawford. My question? Why is the Wyoming Cowboy Bucking Bronc on his whiteboard?