ScienceOnline Brain Postponed to 2015

sciobrain-CAPSIn an effort to make ScienceOnline Brain (ScioBrain) the best it can be, the Board of Directors of ScienceOnline have decided to postpone the conference until the summer of 2015. This decision was made in part to allow more time for fundraising. With more preparation, we will be seeking to increase participation in the conference and will be seeking a larger venue that can accommodate up to 200 attendees, and an institutional or university host partner as we have had for previous conferences. We are exploring two or three options, but welcome suggestions from the community for host venues.

We believe the additional time spent preparing will result in an even better conference. Thank you to those of you who have suggested topic ideas for the program. We’re excited about the ideas that have been submitted, and will take them into account as we move forward, as well as opening up submissions for new ideas. We will continue to work hard to bring together a diverse set of topics and speakers about communicating ideas in psychology and neuroscience. We hope to have more details soon.

Meet the ScioBrain Team: Morton Ann Gernsbacher

Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to the ScienceOnline Brain Advisory Team by asking them to answer a set of questions. Please welcome Morton Ann Gernsbacher!

Gernsbacher_HeadshotMorton Ann Gernsbacher received her Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in 1983, and was an assistant, associate, and full professor at the University of Oregon, from 1983 to 1992, when she then joined the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is a Vilas Research Professor and the Sir Frederic C. Bartlett Professor of Psychology. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society for Experimental Psychologists, the American Psychological Association (Divisions 1, 3, and 6), the American Psychological Society, and the American Educational Research Association. Gernsbacher’s research has for over 30 years investigated the cognitive and neural mechanisms that underlie human communication. Twitter: @gernsbacherlab

Why did you decide to work with ScioBrain?

I’ve watched from afar, but with interest, as other Scio conferences have launched. When the opportunity to get involved with a Scio conference in my area of research came available, I jumped at the opportunity.

How do you feel about the current state of psychology and neuroscience communication online?

For many of us in psychology and neuroscience, the online community is the primary place where we share our research, learn about other scientists’ research, and connect with the public through online communication. The community already has vibrance, but I’d like to see it flourish even more.

What do you feel are some of the major issues facing psychology and neuroscience communication today?

I think the major issue facing psychology and neuroscience communication today is signal/noise. I’m old enough that I can remember when I only heard about a new finding by attending an annual (in person) conference or by reading through a paper journal, which arrived in my mailbox every other month. These days, there are press releases and journal alerts coming in hourly. How can we discern the signal from the noise, separate the wheat from the chaff? I believe that’s the role of good science communication. For me, a tweet by a trusted communicator is gold; I’m rarely disappointed. But with the increasing attention to psychology and neuroscience research, we need to ensure that we have the best signal boosters possible.

What do you feel are some of the major accomplishments in psychology and neuroscience communication?

I think our movements toward open access and open data are two of our best initiatives. I’m betting that scholarly publishing will look quite different in the next ten years. Although I don’t know what shape or form it will evolve to, I do know that the open access movement will play a great role. Similarly, I think the movement toward more open data is exactly the direction the field should be taking. Gone should be the days (and weeks and months) that a graduate student has to spend repeatedly emailing a researcher simply to find out the standard deviation of a study’s manipulation (for conducting a meta-analysis; true story). That’s a waste of everyone’s time, including the researcher being pestered. Our data should be as transparent as the claims we draw from them (and vice versa), and the open data movement gives us that platform.

What do you hope will come out of the ScioBrain conference?

I am looking forward to meeting in person the communicators whose blogs I read and tweets I follow.

Meet the ScioBrain team: Emily Willingham

Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to the ScienceOnline Brain Advisory Team by asking them to answer a set of questions. Please welcome Emily Willingham!

Willingham_EJEmily Willingham is a Ph.D. scientist, science writer, and educator who focuses on developmental biology as a scientist and on autism as a science writer. She earned her bachelor’s in English and her doctorate in biological sciences at the University of Texas at Austin and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. Her other pursuits include writing science-related books, including the upcoming Science of Parenting from Perigee Books/Penguin Group, and opinionating at Forbes about autism, science, and the media. Twitter: @ejwillingham

Why did you decide to work with ScioBrain?

–Because if any organ deserves its own conference for people to talk about how we communicate about the science of an organ that we use to communicate, it’s the brain. Head-spinning, yes? I’m glad to be a part of that discussion.

How do you feel about the current state of psychology and neuroscience communication online?

–It’s mixed. Some people are very, very good about presenting information clearly and in interesting ways without resorting to hype or facile interpretations and extrapolations. Others, not so much. I don’t think it does anyone–anyone with a brain-related condition, the casual reader, scientists–to engage in hand-waving when it comes to these areas of research. Given that most folks tend to go for headlines more than nuance, I appreciate most the writers who take the time to deal in the latter in ways that draw readers and build a network.

What do you feel are some of the major issues facing psychology and neuroscience communication today?

–First of all, a key is reconciling the two disciplines and focusing on where they overlap rather than treating them as separate. An example is the DSM, which is treated as a psychological manual that resolves the identity of a condition based more on a checklist than on neuroscience-based indicators. The converse of that, obviously, is that neuroscience has a lot of work to do to catch up with these conditions that we’ve classified as diagnosable and place them in the context of critical mechanisms. Psychology, in my mind, gives us a rough idea of where function derailment crosses over into pathology, a broad impression that neuroscience should ultimately make more specific and concrete.

What do you feel are some of the major accomplishments in psychology and neuroscience communication?

–I’m glad to see an explosion of this kind of communication online because when it’s done well, it serves the purpose of informing and brings together people who recognize themselves in the information or who seek to understand those whose psychology and neurology differ from theirs. I see communication about both, when well done, as one of the great levelers of society as people, I hope, learn just how much more our commonalities outweigh differences. The folks who are really good at it build trust with their readers and develop communities around this kind of trustworthy information exchange. Having the involvement of engaged experts and scientists helps in building those communities of trust.

What do you feel you bring to the ScioBrain advisory committee?

–Some expertise on both sides of the neuroscience and psychology equation, in part because of my scientific background but also because I’ve spent such a long time writing specifically about conditions that fall under the psychology umbrella, for better or for worse. I also bring the perspective in some cases of a consumer of this information, in addition to being a translator of sorts for the parts of the autism community interested in autism science.

What do you hope will come out of the ScioBrain conference?

–I hope the conference leads to a clear understanding of what communicating about the brain means–it’s not like science communication on any other subject because our brains are more than just an organ. They’re who we are, and when we write about the human brain, we’re writing about people, including ourselves. That’s something we should never forget. I’m also really looking forward to just hanging out with brain-interested folk for an intense period of time just to talk brains brains brains. As I said, if any organ deserves this attention, the brain is it.

Meet the ScioBrain Team: Dario Ringach

Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to the ScienceOnline Brain Advisory Team by asking them to answer a set of questions. Please welcome Dario Ringach!

dario-ringachDario L. Ringach received a BS in Computer Engineering (1988) and a MSc in Electrical Engineering (1991) from the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology. He also received a PhD in Neuroscience from New York University (1995). Since 1999 he has been at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is now a Professor of Neurobiology and Psychology at the David Geffen School of Medicine. Dr. Ringach was a Sloan Foundation Fellow and a Goldsmith Foundation Scholar. In 2011, he shared the AAAS Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award for his defense of the responsible use of animals in medical research and for confronting animal rights extremism. Dr. Ringach is a member of Speaking of Research and Pro-Test for Science, two groups which communicate the importance of animal research to the broad public. His scientific interests center on cortical architecture, microcircuits and function, visual neuroscience and psychophysics. Twitter: @darioringach

Why did you decide to work with ScioBrain?

It seemed to me a very exciting opportunity to play a role in improving the communication of psychology and neuroscience to the public.

How do you feel about the current state of psychology and neuroscience communication online?
I think there is wide variability in the quality of neuroscience journalism.  While scientists may be able to separate the signal from the noise the task may not be trivial for members of the general public.  There seems to be a need for help in this area.
What do you feel are some of the major issues facing psychology and neuroscience communication today?
I think it is critical for the public to have access to authoritative sources they can trust.  A good example is BrainFacts.org.
What do you feel are some of the major accomplishments in psychology and neuroscience communication?
 
I think the public tends to gravitate naturally to the topic of brain and cognition.  After all, it deals with one of the most fundamental questions of our existence — who exactly are we?  It also deals with some of the most devastating diseases known — Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementia, schizophrenia, addiction, and so on.  The NIH’s decade of the brain and the President’s BRAIN initiative are clearly successes at conveying the excitement  and promises of the research to the public and our representatives.
What do you feel you bring to the ScioBrain advisory committee?
I feel I can bring an increased commitment to explain my colleagues the need for scientists to engage more in public life.  It is our moral responsibility and scientific duty.  Science can and should inform public policy.  A good educated public, in turn, will be able to based its decisions on sound facts.
What do you hope will come out of the ScioBrain conference?
I hope to learn from those that have more experience than I do on how to engage the public on topics of interest to everyone interested Neuroscience and the brain.

Meet the ScioBrain Team: Dwayne Godwin

Over the next few weeks we’ll introduce you to the ScienceOnline Brain Advisory Team by asking them to answer a set of questions. Please welcome Dwayne Godwin!

godwin fbDwayne Godwin is Professor and Dean of Biomedical Graduate Programs at the Wake Forest School of Medicine. Dr. Godwin is a NIH funded researcher whose work focuses on synaptic and ion channel mechanisms underlying brain rhythms. The Godwin lab is a translational neuroscience laboratory, examining complex questions using approaches ranging from studying the molecular physiology of channels to studying epilepsy using human imaging methods. In collaboration with illustrator Jorge Cham (of PHD Comics fame), Dwayne co-authors a bimonthly comic strip on neuroscience for Scientific American, has appeared on the Science Channel, blogs at BrainFacts.org and tweets as @BrainyActs.

Why did you decide to work with ScioBrain?

I’ve been interested in science communication for many years, starting at the local level with Brain Awareness activities. More recently, I’ve worked with Jorge Cham to illustrate neuroscience concepts for Scientific American, and to write an occasional blog for BrainFacts.org. I consider communicating science to be the first step in gaining public support of science — and I feel it’s a special responsibility of science practitioners to show the public the results of the science they paid for with tax dollars. I really consider ScioBrain as another adventure in science communication. It’s a great opportunity to meet people who also value it and to learn from them. I’m here as a student!

How do you feel about the current state of psychology and neuroscience communication online?

I think there are wonderful bloggers and communicators out there doing great work. Perhaps the thing I struggle with is knowing my audience. The greatest challenge for me (but also the most important), are those who are ambivalent or distracted. We don’t need to convince a scientist that science is cool and worth doing. I was told recently by a very well-respected scientist that they really admired what we were doing with the comics and that it was an important mode of outreach. It really feels good to be appreciated that way by a peer, but – that’s not my audience. To me what I do isn’t another way to be clever to another academic.
A couple of years ago I think Gallup did a survey where they asked people this question: “Do you believe that dinosaurs and humans co-existed?”  The proportion that answered yes, dinosaurs and humans co-existed was about 40% – That’s 40% who basically reported that the Flintstones was a reality TV series. I’m trying to reach the person who doesn’t understand why science is important, and who doesn’t get it that the support of science contributes to the prosperity of our society, and to our ideas about who we are as thinking creatures. I’m trying to reach kids whose first encounter with brains might be something they pick up online. Those are the people we need to reach because if we don’t, support for science will continue to suffer and America will lose the prominence in science and technology we have enjoyed.

What do you feel are some of the major issues facing psychology and neuroscience communication today?

One is certainly the emergence of neurohype, the tendency to over inflate the importance of specific research findings or to imbue them with importance that extends well beyond the science. That’s a tough balance to strike but it’s really important to try to get it right. Another challenge and opportunity is diversity – we need to incubate and celebrate different perspectives. Science belongs to everyone, so its interpreters need to be representative of that rich diversity.

What do you feel are some of the major accomplishments in psychology and neuroscience communication?

I haven’t tried to uncover the numbers, but my impression is that the number of bloggers on psychological and brain themes has increased a lot in the past few years. This reflects the keen interest in the brain and mind among the general public — even among those with different ideological bents, brain science is valued. Just a few years ago finding authoritative information about the brain online was difficult. It’s much easier now, and is likely to improve with increased number of blogging communities, better use of social media and increased adherence to good journalistic practices.

What do you feel you bring to the ScioBrain advisory committee?

An open mind! I hope my interest in visual art and informational art will bring a different perspective. I’m also still a practicing academic researcher, so I’ll bring that perspective.

What do you hope will come out of the ScioBrain conference?

I hope to learn from people who are doing great work that I respect. I’m hoping that the conference will generate a lot of great ideas and new professional networks for people who are new, and that the value of it will extend for attendees well beyond the conference. I’m really excited to be involved!

 

Session Ideas for Discussion: Limits of MRI

As we gear up to organize the program for ScioBrain, we want everyone to see and discuss the ideas that have been submitted, and if you wish, to submit your own! Each idea will get a post here on the blog, with a link to the discussion forums where you can view and discuss how to make the discussion topic the best possible fit for ScioBrain.

Limits of MRI

a session on the limits of fMRI studies would be helpful. You’d likely want to go over the physics of MRI contrast, as well as the chemical contrast agents used to “enhance” images. You can do a lot of fancy signal processing with MRI, but the reality is that you can only look at one nucleus at a time and you really don’t get a lot of chemical information out of it. What are the scientists really “looking at” with those MRI images? This may also lead to useful discussion on “underpowered” studies in neuroscience.

Forum discussion here.

Session Ideas for Discussion: “Brain Log” expert online community

As we gear up to organize the program for ScioBrain, we want everyone to see and discuss the ideas that have been submitted, and if you wish, to submit your own! Each idea will get a post here on the blog, with a link to the discussion forums where you can view and discuss how to make the discussion topic the best possible fit for ScioBrain.

“Brain Log” expert online community

Neuroscience has a rich blogging community, however it is lacking an online expert community who can discuss research minutia. Technical communities like Language Log suggest such a community could work.

This discussion will focus on creating a “Brain Log” community, which could:

* Be collaborative: it wouldn’t “belong” to anyone and would allow discussion with journalists looking to fact-check;
* Minimize personal “branding” and link-bait posts: focus would be on solving problems, no outreach;
* Be technical: participants could dig into details that the general public may not find interesting, but that researchers and journalists could use as a resource.

Forum discussion here.

Session Ideas for Discussion: Social Neuroscience

As we gear up to organize the program for ScioBrain, we want everyone to see and discuss the ideas that have been submitted, and if you wish, to submit your own! Each idea will get a post here on the blog, with a link to the discussion forums where you can view and discuss how to make the discussion topic the best possible fit for ScioBrain.

Social Neuroscience

Social neuroscience tries to describe social behaviors by understanding the processes occurring on the neural and neuronal levels. What are the major questions of this field and how would social neuroscientists attempt to answer these questions? What are the current limitations of social neuroscience? What are the future directions of social neuroscience?

 

Forum Discussion here.

 

Workshop Ideas: Using illusions in teaching

As we gear up to organize the program for ScioBrain, we want everyone to see and discuss the ideas that have been submitted, and if you wish, to submit your own! Each idea will get a post here on the blog, with a link to the discussion forums where you can view and discuss how to make the discussion topic the best possible fit for ScioBrain.

Using Illusions in Teaching

Use your Illusions! A case study of integrating neuroscience and behavioral evidence in vision science. I will present a workshop (including fun experiences of illusions) on how neuroscience and psychology interact to give a complete understanding of a phenomenon. I teach a class on illusions and have a number of great case studies that are fun and teach a lot about the brain and mind.

Forum Discussion here.

Session Ideas for Discussion: Getting past phrenology

As we gear up to organize the program for ScioBrain, we want everyone to see and discuss the ideas that have been submitted, and if you wish, to submit your own! Each idea will get a post here on the blog, with a link to the discussion forums where you can view and discuss how to make the discussion topic the best possible fit for ScioBrain.

Getting Past Phrenology

One of the most frequent criticisms I have of any news article about a neuroscientific study is that they overemphasize the significance of neuroanatomy and brain regions. The flaw is in speaking about “the part of the brain associated with” some ill-defined function, which lends itself to further misrepresentation and inappropriate use by self-help authors and businesses marketing their services. I believe a session focusing on the inappropriateness of reducing different parts of cognition to a specific region would be valuable.

 

Discuss it in the forums here.