The wrong sort of discussion

The Times Higher Education has an article on post-publication peer review, and whether it will survive legal challenges

The legal action launched by a US scientist who claims that anonymous comments questioning his science cost him a lucrative job offer has raised further questions about the potential for post-publication peer review to replace pre-publication review.

The article chimes with comments made by several prominent Psychologists who have been at the centre of controversies and decried the way their work has been discussed outside of the normal channels of the academic journals.

Earlier this year the head of a clinical trial of Tamiflu wrote to the British Medical Journal to protest that a BMJ journalist had solicited independent critique of the stats used in his work – “going beyond the reasonable response to a press release”.

John Bargh (Yale University) in his now infamous ‘nothing in their heads’ blogpost accused the open access journal PLoS of lacking “the usual high scientific journal standards of peer-review scrutiny”, and accussed Ed Yong – laughably – of “superficial online science journalism”. He concluded:

“I am not so much worried about the impact on science of essentially self-published failures to replicate as much as I’m worried about your ability to trust supposedly reputable online media sources for accurate information on psychological science.”

Simone Schnall (University of Cambridge) is a social psychologist whose work has also been at the centre of the discussion about replication (backstory, independent replication of her work recently reported). She has recently written that ‘no critical discussion is possible’ on social media, where ‘judgments are made quickly nowadays in social psychology and definitively’.

See also this comment from a scientist when a controversial paper which suggested that many correlations in fMRI studies of social psychological constructs were impossibly high was widely discussed before publication: . “I was shocked, this is not the way that scientific discourse should take place.”

The common theme is a lack of faith in the uncontrolled scientific discussion that now happens in public, before and after publication in the journal-sanctioned official record. Coupled, perhaps, with a lack of faith in other people to understand – let alone run – psychological research. Scientific discussion has always been uncontrolled, of course, the differences now are in how open the discussion is, and who takes part. Pre social media, ‘insider’ discussions of specialist topics took place inside psychology departments, and at conference dinners and other social gatherings of researchers. My optimistic take is that social media allows access to people who would not normally have it due to constraints on geography, finance or privilege. Social media means that if you’re in the wrong institution, aren’t funded, or if you have someone to look after at home that means you can’t fly to the conference, you can still experience and contribute to specialist discussions – that’s a massive and positive change and one we should protect as we work out how scientific discussion should take place in the 21st century.

Link: Simone Schnall’s comments in full: blog, video

Previously: Stafford, T., & Bell, V. (2012). Brain network: social media and the cognitive scientist. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 16(10), 489–490. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2012.08.001

Previously What Jason Mitchell’s ‘On the emptiness of failed replications’ gets right, which includes some less optimistic notes on the current digital disruption of scholarly ways of working

Distraction effects

I’ve been puzzling over this tweet from Jeff Rouder:

jeffrouder

Surely, I thought, psychology is built out of effects. What could be wrong with focussing on testing which ones are reliable?

But I think I’ve got it now. The thing about effects is that they show you – an experimental psychologist – can construct a situation where some factor you are interested in is important, relative to all the other factors (which you have managed to hold constant).

To see why this might be a problem, consider this paper by Tsay (2013): “Sight over sound in the judgment of music performance”. This was a study which asked people to select the winners of a classical music competition from 6 second clips of them performing. Some participants got the audio, so they could only hear the performance; others got the video, so they could only see the performance; and some got both audio and video. Only those participants who watched the video, without sound, could select the actual competition winners at above chance level. This demonstrates a significant bias effect of sight in judgements of music performance.

To understand the limited importance of this effect, contrast with the overclaims made by the paper: “people actually depend primarily on visual information when making judgments about music performance” (in the abstract) and “[Musicians] relegate the sound of music to the role of noise” (the concluding line). Contrary to these claims the study doesn’t show that looks dominate sound in how we assess music. It isn’t the case that our musical taste is mostly determined by how musicians look.

The Tsay studies took the 3 finalists from classical music competitions – the best of the best of expert musicians – and used brief clips of their performances as stimuli. By my reckoning, this scenario removes almost all differences in quality of the musical performance. Evidence in support for this is that Tsay didn’t find any difference in performance between non-expert participants and professional musicians. This fact strongly suggests that she has designed a task in which it is impossible to bring any musical knowledge to bear. musical knowledge isn’t an important factor.

This is why it isn’t reasonable to conclude that people are making judgments about musical performance in general. The clips don’t let you judge relative musical quality, but – for these equally almost equally matched performances – they do let you reflect the same biases as the judges, biases which include an influence of appearance as well as sound. The bias matters, not least because it obviously affects who won, but proving it exists is completely separate from the matter of whether the overall judgements of music, is affected more by sight or sound.

Further, there’s every reason to think that the conclusion from the study of the bias effect gives the opposite conclusion to the study of overall importance. In these experiments sight dominates sound, because differences due to sound have been controlled out. In most situations where we decide our music preferences, sounds is obviously massively more important.

Many psychological effects are impressive tribute to the skill of experimenters in designing situations where most factors are held equal, allowing us to highlight the role of subtle psychological factors. But we shouldn’t let this blind us to the fact that the existence of an effect due to a psychological factor isn’t the same as showing how important this factor is relative to all others, nor is it the same as showing that our effect will hold when all these other factors start varying.

Link: Are classical music competitions judged on looks? – critique of Tsay (2013) written for The Conversation

Link: A good twitter thread on the related issue of effect size – and yah-boo to anyone who says you can’t have a substantive discussion on social media

UPDATE: The paper does give evidence that the sound stimuli used do influence people’s judgements systemmatically – it was incorrect of me to say that differences due to sound have been removed. I have corrected the post to reflect what I believe the study shows: that differences due to sound have been minimised, so that differences in looks are emphasised.

Wankers and prankers on the suicide hotline

CC Licensed Photo by Flickr user kev-shine. Click for source.The New York Magazine‘s new Science of Us section has an interesting review of a new documentary on hotlines – whether they be for suicide support or phone sex.

I was initially annoyed at the fact that the documentary puts both of these in the same category but it’s based on the interesting premise that hotlines – whether for mental health, sex or supporting members of a particular marginalised community – often involve the common component of lonely people reaching out to connect with a stranger, briefly, through conversation.

I don’t know how good the documentary is, I haven’t seen it, but interestingly the review was by an writer who himself had worked on a mental health support lines.

As a result the piece has some wonderfully insightful points about the emotional experience of working as a telephone support counsellor. I was really struck by this section:

Hotline mentions the masturbators, at least — cretins who call up and simply breathe heavily into their phones as they do their thing (at Samaritans, I never had to deal with them because they’d hang up and call back until a female picked up the phone). But the film doesn’t delve into other common experiences volunteers go through, such as how it feels to listen to and empathize with a desperate-sounding 12-year-old girl for seven devastating minutes, only to hear her — and the friends who have apparently been in the room with her the whole time — crack up with laughter, revealing her whole soul-crushing story of sexual abuse to have been a prank.

The problem is, after you’ve hung up angrily on the masturbator or the slumber-party pranksters, your phone is inevitably going to ring in another minute or five, and you have to somehow return to that place of empathy and openness, because the next person who calls may really need your help. It’s a strange sort of emotional bombardment, and Hotline missed an opportunity to unpack it a bit.

In the support hotline world, these callers are known as ‘wankers and prankers’ and they are surprisingly common. You probably wouldn’t imagine that people phone up suicide hotlines to whack off or wind people up, but it is common enough that most services have specific procedures to deal with these nuisance callers.

Many of these lines have a policy where the hotline attender doesn’t hang up on the caller, because people with the most disordered ways of accessing the services might be the ones who need it most.

To deal with this, some services have a specific person each shift whose job it is to listen to persistent masturbators. When they call they can just ask for ‘Julie’, or some other code name, and be passed on to the designated nuisance call monitor, who listens out for any signs that the person has something relevant they want to discuss.

This reduces the number of times people in the front line have the emotionally jarring experience of going from distressed suicidal people to ‘wankers and prankers’, meaning they’re better able to be open and empathetic for people who need it, and are less emotionally drained themselves.

It’s a strange corner of the mental health support world which has to overcome the foibles and dysfunction of social behaviour for which it was never designed to address.
 

Link to review of Hotline documentary.

Explore our back pages

At our birthday party on Thursday I told people how I’d crunched the stats for the 10 years of mindhacks.com posts. Nearly 5000 posts, and over 2 million words – an incredible achievement (for which 96% of the credit should go to Vaughan).

In 2010 we had an overhaul (thanks JD for this, and Matt for his continued support of the tech side of the site). I had a look at the stats, which only date back till then, and pulled out our all time most popular posts. Here they are:

topten

Something about the enthusiasm of last Thursday inspired me to put the links the top ten posts on a wiki. Since it is a wiki anyone can jump in and edit, so if there are any bits of the mindhacks.com back catalogue that you think are worth leaving a placeholder to, feel free to add it. Vaughan and I will add links to a few of our favourite posts, so check back and see how it is coming along.

Link: Mind Hacks wiki

Spike activity 21-11-2014

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

Wall Street Journal on The Future of AI: An Ubiquitous, Invisible, Smart Utility.

A list of the 100 most followed psychologists and neuroscientists on Twitter compiled by the BPS Research Digest. And a mixed bag it is too.

Student Science has a fantastic how-to on how to build a sensory homunculus based on data from your own body.

Is There a Link Between Mental Health and Gun Violence? asks The New Yorker. Next to bugger all, says the research.

Neuroskeptic has an interesting post on how brain structure – behaviour findings might not replicate in brain scanning. Lots of good comments.

Pavlov. What an asshole. The New Yorker covers the little known story behind a psychology legend.

When Bad Things Happen in Slow Motion. Is there more to our experience of time than the foibles of memory? asks Nautilus magazine.

Science reports on a new finding of a genetic link to male homosexuality.

Interesting New Scientist piece on how altering the auditory feedback from our contact with the environment can shape perception of ourselves.

Vogue magazine continues neglect of cognitive science

Mind Hacks has been awarded the 2014 British Psychological Society’s Public Engagement and Media Award for its services to obsessive coverage of psychology and neuroscience.

I think I can speak for both Tom and I when I say we were actually aiming for recognition by Vogue magazine but it’s better than a poke in the eye so we’ll take it.

However, this is a chance to say if you’ve ever written anything for us, built or run the tech, sent us stuff, commented, linked to us, read something you liked, or marvelled with us at our growing knowledge of human nature, thank you.

Cushing’s abandoned brains

I’ve just found a great short documentary about the abandoned brain collection of pioneering neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing.

The video describes how Cushing’s archives, which genuinely involved hundreds of brains in jars, as well as rare slides and photos of the early days of brain surgery, were rediscovered in the basement of Yale University and restored to public view.

Cushing is often called the ‘father of modern neurosurgery’ and spent a lot of time studying brain pathology by archiving and classifying tumours, bleeds and post-mortem brains in jars for others to learn from, as well as creating amazing medical illustrations – including the one below.
 


This archive became less necessary as technology moved on and the brain collection was moved into the basement below the medical school dormitories at Yale University and forgotten about.

The archives were eventually found again and restored as the Cushing Center which is now open to the public.

While the video focuses on the brains, Morbid Anatomy put some of the photos of patients from the archive online which are quite striking in themselves.
 

Link to Cushing’s Brains documentary on YouTube.
Link to Morbid Anatomy gallery of Cushing’s photos.

Evidence based debunking

Fed up with futile internet arguments, a bunch of psychologists investigated how best to correct false ideas. Tom Stafford discovers how to debunk properly.

We all resist changing our beliefs about the world, but what happens when some of those beliefs are based on misinformation? Is there a right way to correct someone when they believe something that’s wrong?

Stephen Lewandowsky and John Cook set out to review the science on this topic, and even carried out a few experiments of their own. This effort led to their “Debunker’s Handbook“, which gives practical, evidence-based techniques for correcting misinformation about, say, climate change or evolution. Yet the findings apply to any situation where you find the facts are falling on deaf ears.

The first thing their review turned up is the importance of “backfire effects” – when telling people that they are wrong only strengthens their belief. In one experiment, for example, researchers gave people newspaper corrections that contradicted their views and politics, on topics ranging from tax reform to the existence of weapons of mass destruction. The corrections were not only ignored – they entrenched people’s pre-existing positions.

Backfire effects pick up strength when you have no particular reason to trust the person you are talking to. This perhaps explains why climate sceptics with more scientific education tend to be the most sceptical that humans are causing global warming.

The irony is that understanding backfire effects requires that we debunk a false understanding of our own. Too often, argue Lewandowsky and Cook, communicators assume a ‘deficit model’ in their interactions with the misinformed. This is the idea that we have the right information, and all we need to do to make people believe is to somehow “fill in” the deficit in other people’s understanding. Just telling people the evidence for the truth will be enough to replace their false beliefs. Beliefs don’t work like that.

Psychological factors affect how we process information – such as what we already believe, who we trust and how we remember. Debunkers need to work with this, rather than against if they want the best chance of being believed.

The most important thing is to provide an alternative explanation. An experiment by Hollryn Johnson and Colleen Seifert, shows how to persuade people better. These two psychologists recruited participants to listen to news reports about a fictional warehouse fire, and then answer some comprehension questions.

Some of the participants were told that the fire was started by a short circuit in a closet near some cylinders containing potentially explosive gas. Yet when this information was corrected – by saying the closet was empty – they still clung to the belief.

A follow-up experiment showed the best way to effectively correct such misinformation. The follow-up was similar to the first experiment, except that it involved participants who were given a plausible alternative explanation: that evidence was found that arson caused the fire. It was only those who were given a plausible alternative that were able to let go of the misinformation about the gas cylinders.

Lewandowsky and Cook argue that experiments like these show the dangers of arguing against a misinformed position. If you try and debunk a myth, you may end up reinforcing that belief, strengthening the misinformation in people’s mind without making the correct information take hold.

What you must do, they argue, is to start with the plausible alternative (that obviously you believe is correct). If you must mention a myth, you should mention this second, and only after clearly warning people that you’re about to discuss something that isn’t true.

This debunking advice is also worth bearing in mind if you find yourself clinging to your own beliefs in the face of contradictory facts. You can’t be right all of the time, after all.

Read more about the best way to win an argument.

If you have an everyday psychological phenomenon you’d like to see written about in these columns please get in touch @tomstafford or ideas@idiolect.org.uk. Thanks to Ullrich Ecker for advice on this topic.

This is my BBC Future column from last week, original here

An earlier illusory death

For such an obscure corner of the medical literature, Cotard’s delusion is remarkably well known as the delusion that you’re dead. This was supposedly first described by Jules Cotard in 1880 but I seem to have found a description from 1576.

It’s worth noting that although Cotard’s delusion has come to represent ‘the delusion that you’re dead’, Jules Cotard’s original description was not actually that – it was a delusion of negation where the patient believed, as noted by Berrios and Luque, that she had “no brain, nerves, chest, or entrails, and was just skin and bone”, that “neither God or the devil existed”, and that she did not need food for “she was eternal and would live forever”.

In its modern use, Cotard’s delusion typically refer to the belief that you’re dead, you don’t exist, or that your body is rotting or absent. It is rare but can occur in severe psychosis.

While spending my weekend reading Basil Clarke’s book Mental Disorder in Earlier Britain (yes kids, I’m like Snoop Dogg but for out of print history of psychiatry books), I found a mention of not one but possibly two cases of Cotard delusion.

They were apparently described Levinus Lemnius’s 1576 book The Touchstone of Complexions, as Clarke recounts:

A ‘Hypochondriake person’ was unshakeably convinced that frogs and toads were eating his entrails. This was accepted, and he was given purges and enemas, the doctor slipping ‘crawlynge vermyne’ into the pot to satisfy him. A case of a man who thought his buttocks were made of glass was incomplete. Another patient had fallen into ‘such an agonie, & fooles paradise’ that he thought he was dead and gave up eating. After a week, friends came into the dark parlour in shrouds and settled down for a meal. The ‘Passioned Party’, on asking, was told that they were dead and that dead men ate and drank. ‘Straightwayes skipped this Pacient out of his Bedde and joined them.’ After supper he was given a sleeping draught.

The mention of the man who believed he had glass buttocks is also interesting as this is the glass delusion, the belief that you are made of glass and might shatter.

This was apparently common in cases of madness during the Late Middle Ages but is now virtually non-existent. Famously, it affected Charles VI of France.

More on the enigma of blindness and psychosis

A long-standing enigma in psychiatry has been why no-one has been able to find someone who has both congenital blindness and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. The newest and most comprehensive archive study to date has just been published on exactly this issue although it raises more questions than it answers.

Evelina Leivada and Cedric Boeckx from the University of Barcelona in Spain conducted an extensive medical literature search and did come up with some cases of congenital blindness and schizophrenia – 13 in total, although only two case studies (outlining a total of four cases) were found which were convincing enough to be unaffected by other serious problems, like severe genetic disorders.

And these remaining four were hardly straightforward and as one report was from 1943 and the other from 1967 where standards of both vision and psychiatric assessment were significantly short of modern standards.

Notably, all cases of co-occurrence were from blindness due to eye problems or where blindness happened relatively late (after 6 years of age). No cases were found were people had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and were congenitally cortically blind – where blindness was caused by problems with the brain’s visual system.

What this new study provides is weak evidence for the possibility of certain sorts of blindness coexisting with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and more comprehensive support for the curious finding that blindness seems to reduce the risk of developing psychosis.

It’s worth noting that what is really needed is a prospective epidemiological study of psychosis in blind people. However, researchers have been searching for congenitally blind people with psychosis since the issue of non-co-occurrence was first seriously raised in the 1980s and none have been found. Based on the rates of occurrence for each condition, the combination should be fairly common. This suggests that hypothesis of protective effects of congenital blindness needs to taken seriously.

The Leivada and Boeckx paper goes on to speculate about neuropsychological reasons why congenital blindness might protect against schizophrenia (essentially, changes in the interaction between key visual system components and the language system) and, somewhat less convincingly, genetic reasons – as just extrapolating likely genes from case studies is very speculative and both the eye and brain develop from the same cells during embryo development so it’s not clear shared genes won’t just reflect generally impaired neurodevelopment.

I have to say, I find the concept of schizophrenia to be a fairly useless, but if the increasingly plausible hypothesis that congenital blindness protects against psychosis is confirmed, it has interesting implications for those that argue that psychosis is nothing but the result of marginalisation, stigma or difficult life circumstances where biological explanations are irrelevant.

Blindness, clearly would increase your chances of all of these, and so on this theory, we would expect an increased rate of psychosis, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

It’s not that marginalisation, stigma or difficult life circumstances aren’t causal factors in developing psychosis, they clearly are, but ignoring neuro-level explanations outside these effects is equally as narrow as suggesting that they are the only relevant influences.
 

Link to ‘Schizophrenia and cortical blindness’ in Frontiers.

Spike activity 14-11-2014

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent piece arguing for more focus on developing good theories of the brain amid the cascade of cash for neuroscience methods.

Moving Beyond Left Brain, Right Brain, Neuroskeptic goes in-depth with Michael Corballis. More neuronerd goodness from PLOS Neuro.

Nature magazine has a special open-access special on depression.

The Air Loom is short film based on the madness of James Tilly Matthews.

Neuroskeptic has some more wonderful etymological maps of the brain.

When we lie to children, are we teaching them to be dishonest? Interesting piece from the BPS Research Digest.

BBC News reports on a colour blind artist who had a camera implanted in his skull to allow him to hear colours.

There’s a good post on Providentia on Barnum statements and the psychology of vague complements.

Trifles make the sum of life

I’ve just found a curious scientific paper that looks at whether computational models of neural function are of relevance to clinical psychiatry. Oddly, it is written as a debate between two Charles Dickens characters.

The paper was published in the journal Neural Networks and is entitled “Are computational models of any use to psychiatry?”.

It starts entirely normally and then suddenly introduces two characters from the novel David Copperfield who begin to discuss the cognitive science of computational psychiatry.

Wise old Dr. Strong (Dickens, 1850) will now put the case against CMs [computational models] from the point of view of a psychiatrist. Our optimistic – or maybe unrealistic – friend Mr. Micawber will try to enthuse him about their cause. He is also a fan of reinforcement learning models.

It’s worth noting that in the original version of David Copperfield, Mr. Micawber barely mentions his admiration of computational reinforcement learning models (reading between the lines, he always seemed more of learning mechanism agnostic autoassociative memory man to me – but hey, I’m no English literature scholar).

Dr. Strong: First and foremost, CMs have failed to influence clinical practice.

Mr. Micawber: I would agree, Dr. Strong, that CMs have not influenced clinical practice to date; but neither have most advances in neurosciences. In fact, we believe that CMs will be instrumental in helping to bridge the gap between neurobiology and psychiatry because CMs are able to link levels of descriptions and make well-founded predictions at one level based on information at another level.

Dr. Strong: I disagree. The question is: are they clinically relevant, not will they be at some point in the future. All the models omit the very centre of psychiatry: subjective experiences. No one I have met believes that computers feel duty, personal bonds, or sexual titillation.

Weirdly, this is not the first cognitive science paper to be presented as a debate between two rather unexpected people.

Jerry Fodor’s paper “Fodor’s Guide to Mental Representation: The Intelligent Auntie’s Vade-Mecum” involves a discussion between him and his aunty about the finer points of mental representation.

Sadly, the paper is behind a pay-wall because Elsevier know that the cognitive science / Dickens combination can be deadly in the wrong hands.
 

Link to locked article “Are computational models of any use to psychiatry?”

Hearing WiFi

New Scientist has a fascinating article on Frank Swain who has hacked his hearing aid to allow him to hear WiFi.

It’s a great idea and riffs on various attempts to ‘extend’ perception into the realm of being able to sense the usually unnoticed electromagnetic environment.

I am walking through my north London neighbourhood on an unseasonably warm day in late autumn. I can hear birds tweeting in the trees, traffic prowling the back roads, children playing in gardens and Wi-Fi leaching from their homes. Against the familiar sounds of suburban life, it is somehow incongruous and appropriate at the same time.

As I approach Turnpike Lane tube station and descend to the underground platform, I catch the now familiar gurgle of the public Wi-Fi hub, as well as the staff network beside it. On board the train, these sounds fade into silence as we burrow into the tunnels leading to central London.

I have been able to hear these fields since last week. This wasn’t the result of a sudden mutation or years of transcendental meditation, but an upgrade to my hearing aids. With a grant from Nesta, the UK innovation charity, sound artist Daniel Jones and I built Phantom Terrains, an experimental tool for making Wi-Fi fields audible.

Do also check out a fantastic radio documentary by Swain we featured earlier this year which is a brilliant auditory journey into the physics and hacking of hearing and hearing loss.
 

Link to NewSci article ‘From under-hearing to ultra-hearing’

Spike activity 07-11-2014

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The odd beauty of 60-Year-old preserved brains from the Texas State Mental Hospital. Photo series from the Washington Post.

The Concourse has an interesting piece by an ex-con who discusses violence as a social currency in the US prison system. Interesting contrast between forensic treatment and inmate views of how violence works.

The latest series of BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind has just started and has hit the wires.

‘Taboo’ sexual fantasies are surprisingly common according to a study covered by Pacific Standard – see also the epidemiology of internet pornography.

The Scientist has an interesting and extensive piece on advances in face perception research.

Robots for the brain and neuroprosethics for the mind. Interesting Olaf Blanke talk.

Excellent retrospective of 50 years of methadone in Washington Monthly.

We’re Sexist Toward Robots. Sounds trivial but stay with it, actually quite an interesting piece in Motherboard.

Reddit AMA with Vanessa Tolosa – neuroscientist who develops implantable neural devices.

Fascinating BBC News article on the prehistoric population of Europe and the mystery group who brought farming with them.

Beautiful online neuroscience learning

The Fundamentals of Neuroscience is a free online course from Harvard and it looks wonderful – thanks to them employing animators, digital artists and scientists to lift the course above the usual read and repeat learning.

The course is already underway but you can register and start learning until mid-December and you can watch any of the previews to get a feel for what’s being taught.

As you can see from the syllabus it focuses on the fairly low-level operation of the biology of brain but it’s all essential knowledge that will undoubtedly be a joy to encounter or re-acquaint yourself with.

You need to register to access the full content but there’s plenty of trailers online. Great stuff.
 

Link to ‘Fundamentals of Neuroscience’ course.

Hallucinogenic bullets

An article in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine & Pathology discusses the history of ‘modern toxic antipersonnel projectiles’ and it has a short history of ammunition designed to introduce incapacitating hallucinogenic substances into the body.

As you might expect for such an unpleasant idea (chemical weapon hand guns!) they were wielded by some fairly unpleasant people

The Nazi Institute of Criminology then ordered a batch of more powerful 9-mm Parabellum cartridges that could be used with the Walther P38. This time the bullets contained Ditran, a mixture of 2 structural isomers comprising approximately 70% 1-ethyl-2-pyrrolidinylmethyl-alpha-phenylcyclopentylglycolate and 30% 1-ethyl-3-piperidyl-alpha-phenylcyclopentylglycolate (also known as Ditran B). Ditran B is the more active of the 2 isomers, both of which are strong anticholinergic drugs with hallucinogenic properties similar to those of scopolamine. Victims are thrown into such a state of mental confusion that they are incapable of reacting appropriately to the situations they find themselves in…

3-Quinuclidinyl benzilate, also known as QNB and coded BZ by NATO, is a military incapacitating agent. Like Ditran, it is an anticholinergic causing such intense mental confusion as to prevent any effective reaction against an enemy. These bullets were featured in the arsenal of the Serbian forces invading Bosnia-Herzegovina, particularly in Srebrenica in the 1990s.

 

Link to locked article ‘Modern Toxic Antipersonnel Projectiles’

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