Graduate students across disciplines agree: as your years of graduate education increase, your knowledge and skill sets become incredibly specialized. Cue Liam Neeson in Taken, “I can tell you that I do not have money, but what I do have… [is] a very particular set of skills.” So when I asked Dr. Tara Smiley, a Research Fellow at IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute, about the most unique research she has conducted, I fully sympathized with her answer: she described sitting in a museum’s collections department, nicely dressed for an elegant birthday dinner later that evening, giving rodent specimens delicate haircuts with a pair of curved nail scissors. A very specialized skill indeed!
Music is interwoven into almost every aspect of our lives. We hear it at the grocery store and in every single video we watch. We listen to it when we exercise, and we pay boatloads of money to go see our favorite artists in concert. We love all kinds of genres, from classical and ska to rap and country. Music is present in every world culture.
So why is music so important to us? Advances in the field of MRI scanning and other brain imaging methods have offered us some biological insight into how music affects our brain. (more…)
“There’s no safe amount of alcohol,” CNN reported. This year the largest ever study on the health risks of alcohol was released, attracting mass media attention and igniting a science journalism furor over its interpretation.
In the study, researchers found a significant increased in risk of death for individuals who consume even one drink a day. That is statistically significant, which misleadingly has little to do with what most people think of as “significant.” Statisticians quickly went after the media’s interpretation of the study; even though the increased risk of death was statistically significant, it represented only a tiny increase in personal risk. Although, risks do spike rapidly for binge drinkers.
The bias of industry-funded research is pervasive and well-documented. When industry funds a study, it is more likely to produce pro-industry conclusions than is a non-industry funded study. Companies regularly use this pro-industry science to cast doubt on research that hurts their bottom line. Classic cases come from the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries, challenging evidence about the harms of smoking and the human causes of climate change. Businesses have marshaled pro-industry science to defend everything from asbestos, lead, and plastics, to pharmaceutical drugs and even sugary drinks. But how exactly does industry use science to defend their products? What’s the methodology behind their political strategy?
Let’s look at a recent case involving organophosphates like chlorpyrifos, formerly used in the household pesticide Raid, and now one of the most common pesticides for agricultural use. The EPA proposed to ban chlorpyrifos in 2015, based on a series of observational studies published in 2011 documenting the neurotoxic effects of low dose exposure in children from independent teams at the University of California Berkeley, Columbia University, and Mt. Sinai Medical School. These original studies documenting neurotoxic effects were conducted by epidemiologists (scientists who study disease outbreaks among populations) who linked exposure with deficits in IQ, working memory, and perceptual reasoning. All three studies used a prospective birth-cohort design, meaning that they recruited pregnant women and their children before birth. They measured in-utero exposure and cognitive development across early childhood up to age 7. (more…)
Many of us here at ScIU have recognized that there is a shortage of classes to teach science communication at IU and in science programs in general. While not every scientist does outreach everyday, we sometimes forget that the simple act of explaining your science to a grant committee or your neighbor who likes to chat is science communication, too.
This is one of the main reasons we organized a science communication symposium last year. Everyone will have to talk about their science to people who are not working on that same project and being able to effectively communicate complex ideas is hard. By inviting people who have more experience communicating science than us, we are making sure that the scientists of the future are more prepared to go out in the world. (more…)
As fall transitions into winter, all animals, including humans, must acclimate to colder weather, shorter days, and less sunlight. In many northern latitudinal regions across the globe, winter is often characterized by overcast skies and snowy days, in which little to no sunlight reaches life on the ground. Colloquially, some people report having the “winter blues” each year once winter briskly enters the picture. However, what many people don’t know is that winter depression actually has a biological basis and is classified as a medical condition, called seasonal affective disorder (ironically, abbreviated SAD). Better yet, scientists are diligently working to tease apart the biological mechanisms underlying SAD, which will ultimately allow for the development of novel treatments.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which describes the standard criteria for classifying mental disorders, defines SAD as “depression that begins and ends during a specific season every year, in which no episodes of depression occur during the season in which you experience a normal mood.” Specifically, winter SAD is a subtype of depression that is characterized by the recurrence of major depressive episodes in the fall and/or winter months and remission of these episodes during the following spring or summer. In addition to depression, SAD is often accompanied by atypical depressive symptoms, including lethargy; increased sleep, or hypersomnia; overeating, or hyperphagia; craving for carbohydrates; weight gain; and loss of libido. Interestingly, although SAD is a relatively common condition, which affects about 5% of adults in the United States; SAD is four times more common in women than in men. Overall, SAD prevalence and severity tend to be inversely related to photoperiod, or day length, such that SAD is more common at higher (i.e., northern) latitudes. (more…)
A look inside the work of Dr. Mary Murphy in celebration of Black History Month
Picture this: you’re a Black student on a large college campus. This is your first year. One day, you are accosted by a White male slinging racial slurs and threats, as your peers (~70% of whom are White) stare, yet stand idle. This was the experience of several IU students just 1 month ago, and just days before MLK Day 2019.
Considering how this student must have felt, how it impacts the student’s engagement in the IU community, and how to improve IU’s response to and prevention of these types of incidents is a primary role served by Dr. Mary Murphy, an associate professor in IU’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and, since October of 2017, associate vice provost for diversity and inclusion.
A profile of Aaron Ellis in celebration of Black History Month
Craft brewing: chances are if you’re over 21, you’ve heard about it, drank it, or even tried to brew it yourself. For anthropologist Aaron Ellis — a brewer, a Ph.D. candidate in IU’s Department of Anthropology, and an IU academic advisor in the departments of Human Biology, Religious Studies, and History and Philosophy of Science — craft brewing has become more than a hobby. It’s the focus of his academic research, in which he traces the rise of craft beer in America from 1980 (when craft brewing started becoming more popular) to today. He also explores the barriers to diversity that exist within craft brewing and suggests that such barriers might relate to the role of science within craft brewing culture.
Have you ever wondered why humans express affection by kissing and hand holding? As with most things in life, the more you think about it, the weirder that it seems. Here’s an interesting insight from neuroscience that is fun to think about next time you decide that you want to over-analyze your love life even more than already happens.
This post is from ScIU’s archives. It was originally published by Liz Rosdeitcher in February 2018 and has been lightly edited to reflect current events.
A profile of IU professor Sharlene Newman in celebration of Black History Month
Any glance at the demographics tells us that African American women are among the least represented of any group in STEM disciplines. Such is true in the field of psychological and brain sciences, where Sharlene Newman is the only African American professor in her department. It is even rarer to find black female professors in the sub-field of cognitive neuroscience.
Yet, the path to science was in many ways etched onto Sharlene’s future. From kindergarten on, it was clear to all her teachers that Sharlene was just plain good at math and science. “You should be an engineer,” she was told, so often that it became an undisputed fact, something she “didn’t even have to think about.” Add to that the mesmerizing talents of a young uncle, who “once built a radio for class and could fix anything.” To which her response was simply, “I want to do that.”
At the same time, the issues of African American life and history, as they extend back in time and into the future, remain ever-present around her. Like a set of interwoven threads, her own history intersects with some of the most iconic people, places and events of African American history, as it unfolded in the tiny southeastern Alabama town of Abbeville, where she grew up. (more…)