Sleep-retardant properties of my ex-girlfriend

nullhypothesis_2v7cover.jpgThe cover feature in this month’s Null Hypothesis is an empirical investigation into one researcher’s experiences of having a sleep-retardant girlfriend.

The paper is available as a pdf and was written by human computer interaction researcher Ryan Baker in an attempt to fathom why he was sleeping so poorly.

Baker selected the possible causes and put the data into a regression model to determine the effect each had on his sleep duration. The model showed the strongest effect when he slept with his girlfriend, so he presented her with the data.

I concluded by explaining that, due to her sleep-retardant properties, I could not continue to sleep with her, an act she termed “breaking up”. I should mention that Hermina suggested that my data, being from an observational study rather than an experimental study, only shows correlations rather than causation, and that it was quite possible that I had only chosen to sleep at her apartment on nights when I was less tired, or that I had actually chosen to get less sleep on nights when I had come to her apartment.

She proposed that, instead of taking hasty action, we conduct an experimental study where we flip a coin each night to determine whether I would sleep at her apartment or my own, in order to prove a causative effect. Obviously, I rejected this suggestion. Although this study is insufficient to conclusively prove Hermina’s causative role, this strong a correlation, and the importance of getting enough sleep, are sufficient together to suggest that action needs to be taken expeditiously.

Null Hypothesis is an anarchic and consistently funny UK science magazine that often contains gems like this, as well as curious news from the world of science.

pdf of Baker’s paper.
Link to Null Hypothesis website.

Kitsch movie posters from the planet brain

brain_eaters_poster.jpgI’ve just discovered that the search term ‘brain movie poster’ brings up a collection of neuroscience-themed B-movie posters on popular image search engines.

It’s interesting that the majority are from the 50s and 60s, the same time that both mass-produced psychiatric drugs and neuroscience research became widespread.

Maybe this spawned popular concern about the potential ‘brave new world’ about to occur – a worry seized upon by film makers wanting to make a quick buck in the B-movie business. Maybe recent ‘brain movies’ just have dull posters.

Either way, how could you not like a movie called Creature with the Atom Brain where an ex-Nazi mad scientist uses radio-controlled atomic-powered zombies in his quest to help an exiled American gangster return to power?

Link to ‘brain movie poster’ search on Google Images.
Link to ‘brain movie poster’ search on Yahoo! image search.

Football medication

Cipramil_packet.jpgI’ve just found an anomalous appearance of Norwich City Football Club in a commonly used prescribing manual for psychiatrists.

From the entry on p45 for the SSRI anti-depressant citalopram (trade name ‘Cipramil’) in The Psychotropic Drug Directory 2001/02 by Stephen Bazire (ISBN 1856421988):

In patients who had responded to citalopram 40mg/d for four months, halving the dose to 20mg/d for a maintenance phase (2-yrs) resulted in a 50% relapse rate, re-inforcing the view that full-dose maintenance therapy is required (n=50, Franchini et al, J Clin Psych 1999, 60, 861-65). It has a very low incidence of interactions.

The green and yellow 20mg pack in the UK has led to increased use among football supporters in the author’s home city of Norwich.

Neurochemistry hacker t-shirt

NeurochemistryHackerTShirt.jpgOnline t-shirt mongers Jinx Hackwear have a t-shirt emblazoned with the phrase ‘Neurochemistry Hacker‘ – designed by hacker website Collusion.

I presume they’re thinking of what we might knowingly call ‘amateur brain chemists’ rather than professional neuroscientists or psychopharmacologists, although the idea is broadly the same.

It reminds me of the popular 80s rave t-shirt that had ‘drug testing in progress’ across the front. Perhaps we need something more specific for the neuroscience community.

Maybe selective serotonin re-uptake inhibition or dopamine transporter modulation in progress?

Link to Neurochemistry Hacker t-shirt.

Zombie t-shirt

zombie_tshirt.jpgIs the person next to you conscious? It might be impossible to tell, and they could be a zombie – someone who acts exactly like a conscious being, but who has no conscious experience at all.

Philosophers have devised this idea, not necessarilly because they believe zombies exist, but to show that if they did, we currently don’t have the ability to tell them apart from genuinely conscious people.

This is a way of both highlighting the difficulty of defining consciousness, and of having an interesting conceptual tool for exploring the limits of the conscious mind (not everyone agrees, however).

Now, t-shirt company Sebei Industries have created a nifty zombie t-shirt remixed from the Run DMC logo, so you can advertise the fact that you’re actually an unconscious zombie, and save everyone the trouble of having to work it out.

Or maybe you just suffer from walking zombie syndrome?

Link to zombie t-shirt.

White Lies (Don’t Do It)

Research shows dopamine has the same effect on the brain as taking cocaine!

A fantastically backward scientific explanation from the transcript of a TV programme on the neuroscience of love.

If you’re not familiar with why this is so silly, it’s because cocaine has its major effect by altering the dopamine system.

The above explanation is like saying “the economy has the same effect on society as shopping”, rather than “shopping affects society via the economy”.


This page used to hold a picture and glowing recommendation for Off The Mark Cartoons. However, we received a threatening legal notice from them so we’ve withdrawn the picture.

We’ve also withdrawn our recommendation because they seem to think that sending threats for $150,000 dollars, out-of-the-blue, with not so much as an introduction, is an appropriate way to treat their fans.

We think different, so we hope you don’t mind us changing a page in our archives.

For those still desperate for some cartoon action, this XKCD cartoon is wonderful.


Sandra Kiume, founder of the Neurofuture blog has kicked off a tongue-in-cheek competition to coin a new ‘neuroword’.

Some of my favourites include the beautifully recursive “neurologism: a word created by prefixing ‘neuro’ to almost any normal word” (by Neil H) and “neuromanticism: the discipline that investigates neural correlates of love” (by Andrea Gaggioli). My own contribution is “neurosceptic: someone who doubts grand media claims made on behalf of neuroscience”.

If you want to enter, you’ll need to be quick. The competition closes shortly.

Link to neurowords competition (via Brain Waves).

Unwavering love of pharmaceutical companies

PharmAmorin_Image.jpgSatirical newspaper The Onion hits the mark with an article on PharmAmorin, “a prescription tablet developed by Pfizer to treat chronic distrust of large prescription-drug manufacturers”.

One TV ad, set to debut during next Sunday’s 60 Minutes telecast, shows a woman relaxing in her living room and reading a newspaper headlined “Newest Drug Company Scandal Undermines Public Trust.” The camera zooms into the tangled neural matter of her brain, revealing a sticky black substance and a purplish gas.

The narrator says, “She may show no symptoms, but in her brain, irrational fear and dislike of global pharmaceutical manufacturers is overwhelming her very peace of mind.”

After a brief summary of PharmAmorin’s benefits, the commercial concludes with the woman flying a kite across a sunny green meadow, the Pfizer headquarters gleaming in the background.

Link to article ‘Wonder Drug Inspires Deep, Unwavering Love Of Pharmaceutical Companies’.

More quirky neuroscience video

look_around_you.jpgWoah! While searching for more random brain clips, I’ve just found this video on the brain from BBC comedy programme ‘Look Around You‘.

The programme is designed to be a satire of BBC schools programming that any UK school child in the early 80s will recognise.

The style is impeccably reproduced, so if you never had the pleasure of being educated via the medium of 1980’s school TV, this clip captures the magic (if the magic was being captured by some slightly stoned neuroscientists with too much time on their hands).

Link to page with embedded video.

Pinky and the Brain sing neuroanatomy

pinky_brain.jpgBrainBlog discovered a video clip from the cartoon show Pinky and the Brain online, where the mousey duo sing about neuroanatomy.

They do a surprisingly good job of it. If it wasn’t for the fact that Pinky is bouncing around on a piece of elastic shouting “Brainstem! Brainstem!” it would be fine academic material.

And it’s probably the only lecture you’re ever likely to see that includes an impromptu tamborine solo.

Link to page with embedded video clip.