Weekly Roundup 5-12-13

Programming note: I’m pre-empting the usual WR format in order to focus on a sort of battle royale brewing between the fields of psychology and psychiatry at the moment. Spurred by the impending release of the DSM-5, “statements” are flying. Today I’m only posting on the controversy and discussion about DSM-5, which is coming out on May 22.

Psychology: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) issues a statement in which it withdraws its support of the DSM-5.

Psychology: The head of the DSM task force, psychiatrist David Kupfer, responds to NIMH’s statement.

Psychology: The British Psychological Society is preparing a statement challenging the biomedical model upon which psychiatry is based. (The roots of this can be found in a 2011 statement issued by The British Psychological Society in which it detailed, point by point (a.k.a. proposed disorder by proposed disorder), its objections to the overall paradigm embedded in the development of the DSM-5).

Psychology: An “array” of books slated for release this month launch an all-out assault on the DSM.

Psychology: Dr. Thomas Insel, director of NIMH, says that the DSM is “out of touch” with science. He says that the DSM’s continuing focus on symptoms rather than causes of mental disorders has created “a scientific nightmare.”

Psychology: But, none of this really matters because psychiatrists won’t read the new DSM anyway.

Weekly Roundup 5-5-13

School: A pretty convincing argument about what’s wrong with American education, with suggestions for how to start fixing it.

And…a pretty convincing argument that American education is doing quite well, thank you very much, especially when compared with the rest of the world.

Psychology: Despite the recent focus on deaths resulting from mass shootings, exponentially more people die each year from suicide. In addition, suicide rates in the U.S. have spiked in recent years. Currently more people die annually from suicide than car accidents – a shocking statistic. When you look a little more closely at the numbers, men are by far the largest group to die by suicide; look even closer and you see it’s middle-aged men. Even worse, some experts think suicide is “vastly under-reported” (for a variety of reasons).

This subject has clearly touched a nerve, there are currently 968 comments on the NY Times article about the spike in suicide rates. I’ve read through many of them, and it’s quite hard; a lot of very sad stories are shared. But someone pointed out that if women were killing themselves at the rate men are, it would be a national emergency. I think that’s an excellent point. Is it time we sounded the alarm for this growing crisis affecting men’s mental health?!

Scholarship: I recently discovered Retraction Watch – a blog that tracks scientific articles that are either flagged for concern or have been retracted for a variety of reasons. It’s a little like reading a gossip column about scientists (check out the most retracted scientist of all time! Read about the scientist being investigated for embezzlement! This scientist threatened to sue Retraction Watch!) Be warned: once you start thumbing through the posts, it’s kind of hard to stop!

The Problem with Selective Selection



Back in January, Peta Pixel shared a series of photos from Infinity Imagined that compared images of cities at night as seen from the International Space Station with neurons imaged with fluorescence microscopy. The similarities are striking and upon first blush, quite compelling.

But if you think about it, these are an excellent example of confirmation bias: finding correlation where you look for it. For every “match” between a city and a neuron, there must be many non-matches that were deliberately set aside; pictures of cities that didn’t fit the hypothesis. This kind of selective thinking occurs in many areas of life – astrologers and numerologists, for example, count on their audience remembering the “predictions” that came true while conveniently forgetting the vast majority that did not.

Lately there has been an uptick in negative press surrounding researchers in the fields of neuroscience, psychology and sociology. They are accused of regularly engaging in a form of selective thinking by bending data to reach desired conclusions. Some are even calling it a “mini crisis.” The accusations range from double-dipping data, to using too-small sample sizes, to outright fraud.

Here is a sampling of the recent bad press:

  • According to an analysis of 49 meta-analyses, the field of neuroscience produces a lot of small, low-powered studies, which leads to a lot of false and/or misleading conclusions (a.k.a. “discoveries”).
  • A scathing take-down of a study linking fist-clenching with memory. In the comments section, no less! (Another take-down was just posted on The Neurocritic).
  • A 2009 study about the practice of double-dipping (using overlapping data) in the field of neuroscience was recently making the rounds.
  • A lengthy profile in the Sunday New York Times Magazine of the eminently unlikeable Diederik Stapel, the infamous Dutch social sociologist who perpetrated perhaps the biggest academic fraud in the field of sociology (retractions to date: 53 articles and counting). (Film studies side note: Stapel’s account of going back to the sites of some his faked experiments and trying to make the actual setting fit his fabricated descriptions is strikingly similar to the sequence in Shattered Glass when Chuck Lane goes back to the locations Stephen Glass describes in his fabricated stories and tries to reconstruct the truth).

But there may be some good news. A recent editorial in The New Yorker by Gary Marcus says that this is all a tempest in a teapot. Marcus doesn’t claim that the accusations are wrong per se, but rather that the field of psychology is well prepared to address the problems. He also assures us we’ll be better off for the effort, even if we have to suffer through a “lost decade” of dubious research.

Finally, if you want to keep track of scientists keeping track of themselves, I recommend the blog Retraction Watch. It reads like a gossip column about all manner of scientific bad behavior. It’s the TMZ of science!

Weekly Roundup 4-28-13

School: There is a growing movement to view atypical modes of thinking and learning not as deficits, per se, but as variations on brain wiring that are often accompanied by “unusual skills and aptitudes.” Sociologist Judy Singer coined the term neurodiversity in the 1990s, and the concept is set to become the “rallying cry” of a new kind of civil rights movement. The field of special education in particular is taking note.

Psychology: When wrongfully convicted people are finally set free after serving lengthy prison sentences, they often face an uphill battle coping with the psychological, emotional and practical aspects of life “on the outside.” A paper published in 2008, titled “Coping With Innocence After Death Row” was recently made available to read on the blog Deafinprison.wordpress.com. It explores some of the difficult issues exonerated inmates face.

Scholarship: Thomas Jefferson once said, “As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.” What was true about untruth in 1806 remains true about untruth today. As if we needed another reminder, a recent post on Discover’s Collide-a-Scape blog calls out an uncritical media for covering pseudoscience as if it were real science.

Is it Summer Yet?


Mud Pie Kitchen.

A kid-centered local business in Wilmette, Growth Spurts, recently posted a great Pinterest board with outside play ideas for children. Growth Spurts is actually an indoor play space for kids, but it looks like they are moving a few activities outdoors in anticipation of summer. I poked around Pinterest, and found a few other boards with inspiration – some for playing outside, and some for just playing (you never know when you might go for that play therapy credential, right?). After the recent flooding and crazy weather, I think we’re all ready for a little sunshine and fun!

Links to other Pinterest boards:
Play Space Ideas
Mud Pie Kitchens
Outdoor Fun
Waldorf Preschools
Get Back Outside
Play Learn Grow

Finals Week

Picture 7

With approximately two academic papers, one or more comprehensive reports, and a poster presentation due within the next two weeks, I’m posting a few feel-good links for everyone in my cohort. Hang in there, guys! We’re almost done and soon will be embarking on some amazing internship experiences. Two weeks to go…

Research humor: “Scientists receive 12.6 million dollar grant to format references correctly.”
Good doggies: “Golden Retrievers who helped comfort Newtown families head to Boston to make bomb victims smile.”
Good deeds: “Chicago Tribune Buys Pizza for Boston Globe After Last Week’s Hell Picture 9Week; Gesture of thanks for ‘tenacious coverage.’”
A Coffee Story: We couldn’t get through finals without our trusted friend and companion, coffee. Read what it takes to get that critical beverage from the other side of the world and into your “#1 School Psychologist” mug.
Escape to Paradise: When it all becomes too much, move to an island. NASP just announced there are several job and internship openings in Hawaii.

Weekly Roundup 4-21-13

School: A follow-up editorial in The New York Times about their recent article discussing some of the problems with increased police presence in schools. The comments section to the editorial is worth a look, too. Some interesting input from teachers who share their experience (mostly positive) with police officers in their schools.

Psychology: A good overview of research and opinion regarding reading on paper vs. screens. As people discover the limitations of books-on-screens (one finding: it’s harder to navigate long, difficult texts in a digital format), research seems to confirm that comprehension is actually reduced when we read pixels instead of print.

Scholarship: Research published just this week explores the subtle cognitive effects of Tylenol. Apparently, acetaminophen blunts neurological pathways related both to physical pain and social distress. “When people feel overwhelmed with uncertainty in life or distressed by a lack of purpose, what they’re feeling may actually be painful distress … We think that Tylenol is blocking existential unease in the same way it prevents pain, because a similar neurological process is responsible for both types of distress.”

School’s First Ever “Rain Day” Closure

Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 9.58.27 AM Screen shot 2013-04-18 at 9.58.46 AMScreen shot 2013-04-18 at 9.59.03 AM

You might have read about the rainstorms and flooding all over Chicagoland this morning. In fact, the school where I’m completing my practicum closed today for its first ever “Rain Day.” The photos above were sent out by the district superintendent. He actually came to school, because where he lives the flooding wasn’t bad, saw the situation, and called off school for the day.

Chicago has been hit hard. I’ve lived here just four years, but this was the worst I’ve seen it in the northern suburbs. Wish us luck as we try to dry out and get things back in order!

Here are some local links:

Chicago Flooding: Live Blog Updates from the Chicago Tribune.
Emergency closings.
Photos from around the area.

Weekly Roundup 4-14-13

School: It’s not clear that increased police presence in schools actually makes children safer. But it is clear that more police in schools leads to more children being pulled into the legal system for minor infractions that used to handled in the principal’s office. What was once a “ding” on a school record is now a misdemeanor charge that leads to arrests, criminal citations, and court proceedings.

Psychology: Traditionally, extroverts were presumed to good salespeople, while introverts were presumed to be terrible at sales. But a new study turns such assumptions on their head, and proposes a new personality type that excels above all others when it comes to sales: the ambivert. As it turns out, being enthusiastic but also able to listen well is the best predictor of sales prowess. And, as it also turns out, most people are ambiverts. Go figure!

Scholarship: A relatively brief blog post citing lots of research on how to break a bad habit and replace it with a desirable one. Citations galore!

Illustrated Timeline of the History of Schizophrenia Through the Ages

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Scientific American just published an interactive timeline of the history of schizophrenia, from Ancient Egypt to the present. It’s very interesting, and come on the heels of important discussions taking place surrounding the release of the DSM-5. From the article:

“Less than two hundred years ago, schizophrenia emerged from a tangle of mental disorders known simply as madness. Yet its diagnosis remains shrouded in ambiguity. Only now is the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, psychiatrists’ primary guidebook, shedding the outdated, nineteenth-century descriptions that have characterized schizophrenia to this day.
“There is substantial dissatisfaction with schizophrenia treated as a disease entity, it’s symptoms are like a fever—something is wrong but we don’t know what,” says William Carpenter, a psychiatrist at the University of Maryland and chair of the manual’s Psychotic Disorder Workgroup. Psychiatrists may discover that this disorder is not a single syndrome after all but a bundle of overlapping conditions.”

Further Reading:
Vaughan Bell’s latest article, about new research on schizophrenia.