2021: A YEAR IN ERROR   ⏱12:21

how rocket scientists & brain surgeons are just as clever as you, how to publish anything in medical journals, how music affects the brain & 2021 has ended

episode #23, 7th January 2022 #rocket #brain #bogus #music #year #2021 #error   image source

  ⇦ listen here ⏱12:21

  ⇨ transcript here

our main brain stories this episode...


the uk media seized on a report that rocket scientists & brain surgeons are no more intelligent than the general population. only the daily mail noted the authors' pleas for more non-white non-males to enter the professions   [read more...]

this story was in episode #23. original article: Usher et al., 2021 (British Medical Journal), reported in: The Independent by Vishwam Sankaran on 14th December 2021 & The Daily Mail by Shivali Best on 13th December 2021 & The Guardian by Nicola Davis on 13th December 2021 #rocket #science #brain #surgery #christmas


the british medical journal continues its christmas season by publishing bogus guidance for reporting underwhelming studies. it's worth a read & it's only partly parody.   [read more...]

this story was in episode #23. original article: Bauer, 2021 (British Medical Journal), #guidanceguidance #howto #spoof #christmas


in a post-christmas music quiz, the bbc's counterpoint asked a contestant which neurotransmitter in particular is released by listening to music. the correct answer, of course, was dopamine. i mean, where do i even begin with this?   [read more...]

this story was in episode #23. reported in: The BBC by Paul Gambaccini on 27th December 2021 #dopamine #music #serotonin #quiz

rating: The BBC: fudge - scientific story distorted  


evolutionary & brain sciences have lost four esteemed members: henry plotkin, teuvo kohonen, edward o wilson & richard leakey.   [read more...]

this story was in episode #23. reported in: Twitter by Sophie Scott on 17th December 2021 & Twitter by BrainsOnWaves on 14th December 2021 & The BBC on 3rd January 2022 & The BBC on 27th December 2021 #plotkin #kohonen #leakey #wilson #evolution


the error bar celebrates its first year, looking back at the best story, paper, error, sexiest neural correlate & the latent story of 2021 that the media failed to publish: ai robot dogs that diagnose dementia from body odour   [read more...]

this story was in episode #23. #2021 #best #worst #sexiest #dogs

2021: a year in error

well 2021 has gone, so what did we learn?

first, i learnt a lot. about processing audio signals (though i still have much to improve), about the colour of stars, rubber hands, journals, tools & the brain. for all this learning i thank my guests. i have tried to invite relatively early-career scientists to be guests on these shows, because these guys do most of the science & because we all know what the later-career people think anyway. if you know someone who could make a good story on or for the error bar, then let me know.

second, i have learnt a lot about what brain science gets published in the news media. it has nothing to do with the quality of the science, that is clear: there were some amazing - & some terrible - studies that made it into the brain science news. it seems to help if your science is freely-available: there were a disproportionate number of stories from open access sources like Frontiers, PLoS, the Royal Society & individually open-access papers. this seems obvious - why should the news media pay for science?

i have performed a principal components analysis on all the neuroscience stories published in 2021. the result was four components with eigenvalues over 1 that give all you error bar nerds some robust guidance about what you should be researching in 2022. principal component 1 is dogs: make sure your study is about dogs. component 2 is dementia: ideally dogs with dementia, or dogs who help people with dementia. the third component is sex & body odours: anything disgusting will do. fourth is tech: robots, AI, whatever nonsense mr musk said this week. conclusion: if you want to be in the media in 2022, it's time to get your robot dog to sniff out dementia from bodily excretions.

an end-of-year show would not be complete without prizes. & here are the golden bar of error winners for 2021:


my favourite story of 2021 was Havana syndrome. it has everything - spies, mind-rays, presidents of world superpowers making statements of denial & resolve, plus super-dodgy cold-war era pseudoscience done by old men in white coats who haven't seen the sun in years. more of that in 2022 please!

my favourite paper was 'Dump the dimorphism', by Professor Eliot & colleagues. i'm no expert in the topic & i know there are some arguments about it, but this paper is a Behemoth - over six hundred studies systematically reviewed & analysed, 150 manuscript pages. it takes an hour just to download the paper. i suggest you take a look!

my favourite error of 2021 was committed by the authors of the 'Inception is a reality' paper - neuroscientists who claimed that *they* can infiltrate people's dreams, who then wrote a follow-up paper complaining that major companies are doing exactly that, then naming, promoting & linking to that company's products over & over again in a highly-publicised open letter. it was either ironic, deliberate, or impressively short-cited. well done.

finally, the neural correlate of 2021 is... frontopolar cortex, for its services to the enjoyment that some people get from watching other people pop pimples. outstanding work, well done frontopolar cortex.

that was the year that was. in 2022, the error bar will continue doing much the same thing, with some minor tweaks.

making the podcast takes a lot of time - about 8 hours per episode - & i need a bit more time to write my own papers for the daily mail to review. so there will be fewer episodes in 2022 - probably 20 - & they will come out mostly during the 30 weeks of academic term. there will still be discussion episodes, but fewer - these take 2 or 3 days each to produce.

& finally: a year ago i remember being nervous about uploading my first episode. i felt a lot like i did when making my first website about 20 years ago - why would anyone want to listen to this? i remember wondering what it would take for me to give it up & what to continue. well, dear error bar nerds, i am pleased to say that the 10 listener threshold i set in January has been maintained throughout. the first year has had three thousand down-listens, about 100 per episode. we're big in Germany & Austria - danke schön - & most popular with 18 to 35 year olds - awesome.

the error bar is now closed for refurbishment & will be open again in February 2022. Happy Christmas!