Thursday, January 29, 2009

Anti-vaccine holdouts at Autism Speaks?

Alison Singer, a top executive at Autism Speaks, has resigned. Her reason? The organization is still funding studies of vaccines as possible triggers for autism. She quit in protest, saying that it's a diversion from other research avenues that have a higher chance of succeeding.

As I've written before, I am in agreement. It would be unfortunate for resources to be diverted to test a hypothesis that has been thoroughly tested - and rejected. Recent research has uncovered more productive avenues, including the discovery of gene linkages, as well as ideas about prenatal environmental hazards during the time when critical brain regions are developing.

However, there's a counter-argument. Advocacy organizations rely on the goodwill of their members. Looking at it this way, the question is how to direct their supporters' energy so that they can do the most good.

One interesting avenue is the question of whether prenatal immune reactions can hurt the developing brain. Next week I'm hosting a talk on this subject Paul Patterson from Caltech. That should be interesting!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The brains of southpaw presidents - on Good Morning America

Tomorrow I'll be on Good Morning America Weekend, talking with David Wright about the mysterious abundance of left-handed presidents. (Update: watch it here.) Barack Obama is left-handed - as were Bill Clinton, the first President Bush, [perhaps] Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Harry Truman. What's going on?

Sandra and I have written about this before [PDF] [annotated]. An unusual number of left-handers use both sides of their brain to process language, significantly more than the rest of the population. So one might expect enhanced communication skills in some left-handers (think of Obama, Clinton, and Reagan). There's also a tendency for left-handers to solve problems in creative ways. These could be useful traits in a president!

Air date is Sunday, near the end of the first half-hour of the program. The show's start time varies. It's mostly 8-9AM Eastern, 7-8AM Central, and 6-7AM or 7-8AM Pacific. Here's an old list of station affiliates. Check your local listings!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Medical legacies of World War I

Goedemorgen! Here's an interview in Quest, a Dutch science magazine for young readers. The piece is more personal than coverage of the book in the U.S. But at the same time, people don't smile for photographs there.

A box mentions that the horrors of World War I inadvertently produced significant medical knowledge. Because of the sheer number of injuries, combined with advances in ballistics, soldiers could survive after injury to a specific brain region such as the cerebellum. It was possible to observe what happened when that region was damaged - and therefore what it might be needed for. Also mentioned in the piece is another World War I-era advance, blood transfusion.

The Dutch translation of our book is Het geheim van je brein, which means The Secret of Your Brain. That's not to be confused with the anti-scientific book The Secret! We're reviewed in Hart en Ziel (Volkskrant) here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Matt Lauer, Dr. Nancy - and us

...actually, our book will be on, but we won't. Dr. Nancy's doing a segment called "Welcome To Your Brain." Tune in at 8:09am (the same in all time zones because of rebroadcast). You can also go to their website to read an excerpt and take our quiz.

Update: what a nice piece. Nancy Snyderman covered many topics from the book, and she clearly enjoyed it. To see the segment, go to one of these sites: [MSNBC] [Hulu] []

Friday, January 9, 2009

A prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and SB&F have chosen Welcome To Your Brain for a prize! The book has won the AAAS/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books award, sponsored by Subaru. The category is Young Adult books.

First prize comes with a trip to Chicago to claim the award at the 2009 AAAS Meeting. Unfortunately, Sandra can't make it since she is in New Zealand. But I'll be there.

There is a weekend kids' fair too. Maybe I'll bring this small brain that I keep on my desk. Or teach everyone some tricks they can do with their own brains.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

On the Today Show with Dr. Nancy Snyderman

We've heard that Dr. Nancy Snyderman, medical correspondent for NBC, will have a segment on The Today Show called "Welcome To Your Brain," focusing on our book. Tune in next Wednesday, January 14th, a little after 8:00am.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blood sugar, "normal" memory decline, and exercise

Last year we wrote about the benefits of physical exercise for brain function in the elderly, and how these benefits substantially outweigh those of any known "brain fitness" products. Now comes a study arguing that exercise as a means of helping memory may also apply much earlier in life.

In the New York Times is a report by Roni Caryn Rabin on an article in the December issue of Annals of Neurology. The researchers, led by Columbia neurology professor Scott Small, found that even moderate elevations in blood sugar led to decreases in blood flow in a part of the hippocampus, which is involved in memory formation. Because decreased blood flow is potentially fatal to neurons, the researchers speculate that "normal" declines in memory function may come from uncontrolled fluctuations in blood sugar. The prescription? Exercise, which helps in the control of blood sugar. Considering the rise in diabetes in the US, this is important advice for many people.

This study is quite sobering. I'm off to the exercycle!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jimi Hendrix, Glenn Gould, and Barack Obama's shared gift...

...they're all left-handed.

In today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, music critic Pierre Ruhe writes about left-handed musicians. Is there something special about how their brains interact with their craft? He focuses on pianists, who need to have an exceptional amount of left-right hand coordination. He and I talked about unusual features of the brains of lefties. Sandra and I have written on this before - check out our previous article.

We're open for questions at

Over at Cogito, an online magazine for academically talented youth, I'll be taking questions on the brain and about being a neuroscientist. The chat will go on for two weeks. Come on over and ask anything you want!