Archive for the ‘Professional Issues’ Category

Women in Science

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Ever since Larry Summers broached the issue in 2005 of whether intrinsic biological
factors might have something to do with the low entry rate of women into certain science
disciplines I have been accumulating a file of clippings on this general issue. Just recently
the controversy has come up again in two forms. First of all, Larry Summers just had his
speaker’s invitation canceled by the University of California Board of Regents. So the
man is still being punished for his supposed indiscretions some two years later. Losing
the Presidency of Harvard was not enough. Secondly, the issue is being revisited in
Science News because the underlying scientific issues are still not resolved. (more…)

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…)

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…)

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…)

A Report from the ISNR Meeting on the LENS Attack

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I thought I would update everyone on some recent developments that were discussed at ISNR, which may be of interest/concern to many. There was an impromptu meeting held the first night, which was very enlightening for those of us who know little about FDA and State regulations concerning neurofeedback and the devices we use. As some of you may have heard, there is a FNS or FLEXYX (which is an earlier version of the LENS) practitioner in Maryland, Mary Lee Esty, PhD, who was given a Cease and Desist order by the State Medical Board in Maryland. This is an experienced and respected practitioner who has conducted impressive research on head injury and fibromyalgia using this method. She brought her attorney, Rick Jaffe, who specializes in defending Alternative Medicine practitioners, to the meeting to address the 40 or so of us who attended this unscheduled meeting.I will attempt to recap what he said using direct quotations whenever possible. I had Mary Lee look this over and make changes and she sent it to Rick Jaffe who edited it also. So this is as close to “the horse’s mouth” as we can get. I know it is long but we think it is important for all of us to hear. Feel free to circulate widely among any other list serve. (more…)

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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