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Archive for the ‘Paradigm’ Category

The Role of Amateurs in Science

Monday, November 19th, 2007

There is one field in which an extensive mutually beneficial relationship has existed between amateurs and professionals. It is in astronomy, and the phenomenon was recently taken up in Science Magazine by John Bohannon (Volume 318, 12 October 2007, pp 192-3). Significantly, this symbiosis is occurring in a science in which we have only limited ability to do experiments. Mostly the science is observational. Most of the scientific observations are specifically targeted and hypothesis-based. They are so numerous that time on the big observatories for each project is scarce and therefore precious. But there is another crucial aspect of astronomy that focuses on celestial events that are not predictable either in time or place. This is mostly where the amateurs come in. They represent a world-wide army of knowledgeable observers that is on watch every night around the globe. (more…)

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The Self in Self-Regulation

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

In working with neurofeedback we find that clinical realities quickly outrun our models. What’s worse, our changing conceptions are not always couched in new terminology that firmly ensconces the new realities and delineates the departure from the past. Sometimes we merely alter our view of words that we have used all along, and must continue to use. And it can also happen that our conceptions are changing beneath our formal awareness.

This is what may have been happening with the central term of our field, self-regulation. I was startled to read the other day a post in which Cory Hammond proposed that “self-regulation be taken out of the definition of neurofeedback.” In its place he would emphasize the processes of learning and conditioning. Traditional self-regulation he saw as connected more with peripheral biofeedback, where one is much more consciously engaged, and where the concept of “voluntary controls” (Menninger) is much more applicable. (more…)

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Bad science: Whales, breast cancer, and autism

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Science is the sacred cow of our age (if indeed there are any left), so any attack on the
output of the scientific enterprise may be taken as an affront by practitioners of the art.
Our concern, however, is not with the occasional forgivable accident or error, the
inevitable consequence of research being conducted by fallible people. Rather, bad
science is often deliberate. And in such cases it is usually allied with a non-scientific
cause, the force of which then results in bad science displacing the good. The normal
correcting and validating function of the multi-faceted scientific enterprise
cannot do its work. (more…)

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The Attack on the LENS

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Following up on the previous newsletter post by Deborah Stokes, let me add my thoughts on some of the issues. For a long time I believed that there was a natural division within the field between standard neurofeedback training and stimulation. It was to be expected that the field of medicine would balk at relinquishing control over any kind of overt stimulation technique. However, this thinking was provoked more by the awareness that such techniques as repetitive trans-cranial stimulation and deep brain stimulation were being actively researched within the medical community. This research basis made these techniques the natural domain of medicine. Is the low-level stimulation involved in the LENS really another matter entirely? I believe that it is, for two principal reasons and from two different perspectives.

The first argument proceeds from the medical perspective. What is it that makes something an invasive technique? Implicitly the argument is around the issue of whether the particular technique alters brain structure. This distinction is perhaps best illustrated by the old controversy around the hazard of high-tension power lines. The question was asked whether these caused an increase in leukemia incidence. The mere framing of the question is already a give-away that nobody was really interested in the answer. The answer was already in hand, after all: the 60-cycle signal is incapable of breaking molecular bonds within the brain, and so it must be innocuous. For political reasons people went through the motions of epidemiological studies, but no one was really worried about how such studies would actually turn out. (more…)

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Intelligent Design, Spontaneous Remission and the Placebo

Friday, September 14th, 2007

This is not going to be an article on Intelligent Design. But Intelligent Design is a member of a class of concepts that appear in scientific dialogue without ever having earned their way in the usual fashion of combining theory with evidence. Now Intelligent Design just happens to be a concept that scientists would like to banish from the discourse. But other concepts that similarly lack the particulars of a scientific theory have overcome the immune reaction and reside happily among us. Examples are the placebo effect, the idea of spontaneous remission, and the Anthropic Principle. These concepts were never intended to become true science. They serve a useful function as placeholders, even as overt “untheories.”

Just as the idea of Intelligent Design makes a place–at least in principle–for a “God of the gaps,” the placebo model and spontaneous remission serve in the role of filling gaps in our scientific models. Matters are least ambiguous with regard to the concept of spontaneous remission. No scientist who is uncomfortable with the idea of Intelligent Design is any more comfortable with the idea of spontaneous remission. The term is not meant literally. One assumes that the spontaneous remission of cancer will ultimately yield to mechanistic understanding. But we have not been prepared to deal with that issue up to now. So everyone understands that spontaneous remission is just a placeholder that allows the conversation to proceed on issues that we can handle. (more…)

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Report on the Cancer Control Conference

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Cancer Control Society LogoOne of the virtues of living in Los Angeles is that interesting conferences come to visit. I had occasion recently to attend the 35th annual meeting of the Cancer Control Society. It was illuminating to see one of these meetings from the perspective of an outsider.

Here we had yet another meeting of professionals who were largely sitting outside of the monolith of medicine—outside of the “medical monopoly” in cancer treatment of “poison, carve, or burn.” The mostly-MD speakers did not mince words. The flavor was a bit like the DAN Think Tank (Defeat Autism Now), and the American Academy of Pain Management, which are also populated by disaffected MDs. Everywhere there are rogue MDs looking for organizational frameworks where their creativity can be expressed; where they can escape the strictures of mainstream practice.

It had already been my impression that we are on the cusp of major breakthroughs in cancer treatment, and here it became clear that that has already been happening. The process has been under way, apparently, for some 35 years already. I picked up some literature dating back to the seventies just to see what current ideas can be traced back that far. (more…)

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