If you’ve ever thought about the life of a graduate student in psychology, you might have pictured someone who is asking research participants probing questions about their hidden thoughts, or perhaps someone who is discreetly observing human subjects completing some tasks while taking quick note of their behavior. In reality, we psychology students spend most of our time learning advanced statistical methods and grappling with quantitative analyses of noisy behavioral data that are difficult to interpret….
Scientific Methods and Techniques
Racial biases in neuroscience research methods: Electroencephalography (EEG) & black hair
The lyrics “Don’t touch my hair, when it’s the feelings I wear,” sung by the widely acclaimed musician Solange, express how hair can be an extension of one’s identity for many in the Black community. However important hair is to many Black individuals, cultural sensitivity in working with Black clients and research participants is often absent from basic neuroscience research training…
How rat behavior may inform our understanding of racism
Imagine that you wake up in a small room with no doors. You quickly realize that there is no way out. Oh, shoot. Further, you see that there is another individual trapped in a small cylindrical Plexiglas container in the middle of this arena, with barely any room to move. You are not sure what the consequences could be if you go investigate—something could hurt you. Someone may grab you and trap you in a claustrophobia-inducing container as well. The first thought that comes to mind may be the Saw movie series, so you would likely be reluctant. The question is: would you attempt to free this individual in the face of these risks…
Neuroimaging: Three important brain imaging techniques
At the birth of neuroscience, it was difficult to understand how the brain worked because, at the time, those studying it did not have the technology to analyze and measure brain activity in real time. Thankfully, we have come a long way since the first dissections of the human brain, and we can use a multitude of wonderful pieces of technology that enable the study of the brain and its inner workings. Three different neuroimaging techniques, EEG, MRI, and PET, allow us to explore and measure the insane amounts of activity going on in our brain; however, each comes with its own strengths and limitations, making the motivations behind using them very important…
Field scientists often work in isolated, unsupervised, or otherwise dangerous locations. For instance, I used to work along remote streams with limited access and communication with my institution. These secluded environments can create conditions that exacerbate sexual harassment and bullying, from fellow field scientists or other people encountered in the field. This can lead to unsafe situations, particularly for non-male students and those belonging to marginalized groups. As a striking example of these hostilities, approximately 70% of women scientists have experienced harassment while doing fieldwork and one in four have been assaulted. Scientists at remote field sites can also experience hate symbols, threats of violence, or verbal abuse about a disability from people they encounter…
Collecting drinking data: There’s an app for that
Why do college students really drink alcohol in excess, even if they probably shouldn’t? Addiction researchers have been studying this topic for decades. They’re interested in learning more about alcohol use, the reasons for drinking, and the consequences of heavy drinking. Typically, addiction is studied by having people come into a psychology lab, fill out questionnaires, or maybe do some computerized tasks. More recently, however, scientists wanted to step out of their offices and understand real-world drinking behavior. But, how do they do that? Picture these scenarios…
What does it mean for science to be falsifiable?
Science is falsifiable. Or at least, this is what I (like many Americans) learned in many of my high school and college science classes. Clearly, the idea has appeal among scientists and non-scientists alike. But what exactly does “falsifiable” mean? And why is it valued by some scientists, but dismissed or even considered actively harmful by others?
Seeing science in a different light
The first time I remember my malfunctioning eyes affecting my life was when I was younger than 5 years old. I was riding in my grandfather’s truck. We had reached a stop light, and my grandfather said we could go when the light turned green. I remember thinking “Green? That light is white.” This problem persisted all through K12 school, when a sea of classmates flashed colored pencils at me and asked, “What color is this?” I tried to explain that the issue isn’t interpreting a singular pencil of stark shade, but that it is distinguishing combinations like reds vs. greens that are close together, or greens vs. browns, or purples vs. pinks. This explanation often fell on deaf ears…
Against “the study”
Science journalists are always announcing the results of the latest study. The more bizarre and controversial, the better. A recent study is, almost by definition, cutting-edge research — what better way to tap into the pulse of science? Except, the latest and greatest research is just as often wrong. The concern is not simply with hype. Rather, the problem is the “study.” As a unit of scientific research, it leaves much to be desired, and for those who are unfamiliar with the practices of the scientific community, how to interpret a lone study can be deeply confusing.
A 70% chance to win? The tricky math of election forecasting
The election is almost here and the election forecasters are in full swing. As of October 23rd, the Economist gives Biden a 92% chance of winning, and FiveThirtyEight has him winning 88 out of 100 “simulated” elections. How should we interpret these claims? If you have a coin and you flip it a thousand times, and it lands on heads 500 times and tails 500 times then you may infer it has a 50% probability of landing on heads and a 50% probability tails. Sounds simple, except, we’re not going to run this election thousands of times, we’re only going to run it once.