Amedeo puts bounty on free medical textbooks

bsk_logo.gifOpen-access medicine promoter Bernd Sebastian Kamps, has launched Amedeo Challenge – a project that offers bounties for authors to write high-quality medical textbooks that will be freely distributed over the internet.

Amedeo has already released free medical textbooks books on HIV and influenza, and now 12,500 euros are being offered for the authors of a book on tuberculosis.

Kamps has put this money up himself, but he’s also asking for sponsors to donate bounties for textbooks on a range of other medical conditons and specialities.

Of interest to readers here will be proposed books on Alzheimer’s Disease, Anaesthesiology, Genetics, Multiple Sclerosis, Neurology, Pain Medicine, Parkinson’s Disease and Psychiatry.

Unfortunately, it seems like only large sponsors are being gathered, but I’ve emailed Kamps to suggest a small donations system for individuals to donate towards a ‘running bounty’ for any book of their choice.

I’d happily donate 50 euros knowing that it would contribute towards the development of a high-quality, open-access psychiatry, neurology or neuropsychology textbook.

If you’d like the opportunity to do something similar, contact the project and suggest the same. It seems like many small donations could create large bounties in a relatively small amount of time.

UPDATE: Good news! I just got the following back from Bernd Sebastian Kamps:

Thank you for your suggestion: Your idea is brilliant (I had never thought of asking for small contributions).

We’ll open the PayPal account next week and by the end of the month, everything should be in place. I’ll keep you informed.

My ideas are rarely described as brilliant (my mum will be proud at least), but more importantly, we’ll post here when the Amedeo Challenge small donations system is in place.

Link to Amedeo Challenge.

2006-03-03 Spike activity

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


Measure of serotonin receptors in hippocampus found to be an early predictor of Alzheimer’s in some people.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers magazine Spectrum discusses the use of magnetic stimulation in the treatment of psychiatric disorder.

An explanation of a curious touch illusion called the “cutaneous rabbit” is offered after a recent brain-imaging study on the effect.

Electrical activity in the brain can predict which items will be remembered before they are encountered.

Babies as young as 18 months show willingness to help others, reports USA Today.

PsyBlog looks at the psychology of attributions in depressive thinking.

Cognitive Daily discusses an ingenious experiment that suggests that young babies have an understanding of others people’s goals.

Does advertising erode free will

Ah…now here’s the nub of the argument: advertisements erode free will, they are manipulations designed to subvert conscious judgement (I paraphrase Clay Shirky at Shirky mentions one particular judgement bias, that of super-sizing, but the general form of bias should be familiar to anyone who has been reading Mind Hacks, and/or my recent posts about advertising (like this one). Quoting Shirky

Consider the phenomenon of ‘super-sizing’, where a restaurant patron is offered the chance to increase the portion size of their meal for some small amount of money. This presents a curious problem for the concept of free will ‚Äî the patron has already made a calculation about the amount of money they are willing to pay in return for a particular amount of food. However, when the question is re-asked, ‚Äî not “Would you pay $5.79 for this total amount of food?” but “Would you pay an additional 30 cents for more french fries?” ‚Äî patrons often say yes, despite having answered “No” moments before to an economically identical question. Super-sizing is expressly designed to subvert conscious judgment, and it works.

Shirky believes this is much more serious than just unfair advertising.

Our legal, political, and economic systems, the mechanisms that run modern society, all assume that people are uniformly capable of consciously modulating their behaviors…[These] days are now ending, and everyone from advertisers to political consultants increasingly understands, in voluminous biological detail, how to manipulate consciousness in ways that weaken our notion of free will.

In the coming decades, our concept of free will, based as it is on ignorance of its actual mechanisms, will be destroyed by what we learn about the actual workings of the brain

Previously I argued that creating changes in people’s behaviour didn’t necessarily mean that people were being coerced, or that their will was being taken away from them. The demonstration of influences on behaviour doesn’t knock down any strong version of free will – the kind of free will which is entirely unaffected by anything else doesn’t seem like a variety of free will worth wanting.

People faced a similar dilemma in the nineteenth century when statistics were first compiled of suicides. If we can predict from census records that the number of suicides in a parish in a year will be around seven, where does that leave the free will of those who ‘choose’ to kill themselves that year? Are you taking away the freedom of the seven people who now have to die to fulfil your prediction? (Philip Ball discusses the science and philosophy of this in his book, Critical Mass). Most people, now, would probably be happy to say that just calculating the statistic doesn’t effect anything. But with the case of interventions – either marketing strategies or psychology experiments – which have the explicit purpose of changing behaviour, it isn’t so clear that we can happily say that individual freedom isn’t being unfairly manipulated. Cialdini’s point about suicide contagion makes me worry that there is no clear line between persuasion and coercion, between biasing people’s judgements in small ways, over unimportant decisions, and fundamentally changing the way people make decisions about some of the most important things in life.

I’m happy to throw my hands up at this point and say I’ve no idea what the right way to resolve this is. Free will seems to dissolve as you draw away from it – as an individual I don’t feel manipulated, but when i look at other people – especially groups of other people, it seems like I can see manipulation going on. Has anyone got any useful conceptual structures I can borrow to see me through this?

Neuroscience books reviewed by Washington Post

white_book.jpgThe Washington Post has a brief review of three recently released neuroscience books: ‘The Three Pound Enigma’ by Shannon Moffett, ‘The Creating Brain’ by Nancy Andreasen and ‘The Mature Mind’ by Gene Cohen.

Consider the issue of creativity, which is central to Andreasen’s book and rates a chapter in Cohen’s. No one would doubt that the brain processes the thoughts and actions that later will be called “creative.” But how do creative thoughts differ from ordinary ones? The coincidence between what we label “mental disease” and “creativity” that so puzzled the Italian criminologist Cesare Lombroso more than a century ago is still a rather embarrassing finding. How can mental processes that we hold to be among the highest achievements of humankind be so uncomfortably close to those we consider defective or aberrant? And how come Einstein had such poor grooming habits, as Andreasen notes?

Link to review from Washington Post (via BrainBlog).

The science of genius at Dana

One more Dana event we forgot to feature yesterday was ‘Creating Brains: the science of genius‘ (thanks Christian!).

How does exceptional creativity develop in the human brain? How does a person’s brain move through a creative process to produce a sonnet or a song or an equation? The answer lies in understanding how we human beings, beginning with our prehistoric ancestors, have managed to wrestle ourselves out of dark caves and into a world ablaze with the brilliant fire and light of creative genius.

It is being held on 6th March, is free to book, and for those not resident in London, is being webcast live.

Link to ‘Creating Brains: the science of genius’.

Sex 400% better with partner?

couple_kiss.jpgAs recently noted by Christian, news broke last week of a study claiming that orgasm is “400% better” with a partner than with masturbation, based on measures of the neurohormone prolactin.

A couple of critiques have now appeared on the web that examine the experiment, its conclusions and the media handling of the story.

Petra Boyton tackles many of the unmentioned details of the study while Cory Silverberg notes that the study’s conclusions might be overgeneralised given the relatively limited activites that were recorded.

Just like in any other area of science, knowing the details of a sex study is crucially important for understanding its implications.

Unlike other areas of science, however, the details in these studies are, by their very nature, sexually explicit. This can mean that the popular media shys away from giving the crucial information and prefers to focus on the unqualified general conclusions, leaving the public misled both about sexual chemistry and sex research.

Perhaps with sex research, more than for other areas of science, tracking down the original research reports allows for a more critical insight into the researchers’ (or anyone else’s) conclusions.

Link to study abstract in the journal Biological Psychology.
Link to study summary from New Scientist.
Link to ‘Is sex with a partner truly 400% better?’ by Petra Boyton.
Link to ‘Orgasm Study Offers Status Quo and Universal Generalizations’ from Cory Silverberg.

Mind, brain, Dana and dinner

dana_centre_image.jpgLondon’s public-access science mecca the Dana Centre has just released its March schedule and it includes a number of intriguing mind and brain events.

The 9th March hosts ‘Tricks of the Psych Trade‘ which promises to open up some of the skills and techniques used in contemporary psychology to a live audience. The event is hosted both by professional psychologists and artists. The tickets are free but must be booked in advance.

An evening on 15th March discusses ‘Deep Brain Stimulation‘ – the practice of implanting permanent electrodes into the brain to treat neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease. The panel includes a consultant neurosurgeon, a neurologist and a patient who has had the operation. This event is also free to book, and will be broadcast live over the web.

Finally, for those wanting dinner with their neuroscience, this month’s Dinner@Dana event on 22nd March aims to combine fine food with a discussion on ‘Decoding the mind’.

Link to ‘Tricks of the Psych Trade’ on 9th March.
Link to ‘Deep Brain Stimulation’ on 15th March.
Link to ‘Dinner@Dana: Decoding the mind’ on 22nd March.