transcript of episode 6: OF CUTTLEFISH AND MEN, 26th March 2021

[🎶 INTRO: "Spring Swing" by Dee Yan-Kee 🎶]

welcome to the error bar: where exaggeration is extinguished

in this episode: are cuttlefish better at delaying rewards than crows & kids? neuroscience manipulation, bullying & failure, & the millions in prize money for migraine research

here is the brain news on the 26th March 2021:

[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

CUTTLEFISH COGITION BETTER THAN CHILD'S

in an ingenious study, psychologists at Cambridge have replicated the 'marshmallow test' in cuttlefish

the 'marshmallow test' was first described in humans - will children wait a few minutes to get two marshmallows, or take a single marshmallow now? the ability to delay gratification for a future reward may relate to the child's intelligence and success in later life

cuttlefish don't like marshmallows, but they did prefer a live shrimp over other offerings. and some cuttlefish would wait up to 2 minutes to receive a tasty shrimp rather than take the immediately available fast food option

the scientist magazine notes that the cuttlefishes' ability to delay gratification is comparable to that of crows

[🎶 INTERLUDE 🎶]

are cuttlefish as good as crows at this task?

no. the same research group reviewed data in a 2019 paper showing that some crows would wait more than 10 minutes to receive a higher-quality food reward - that's 5 times longer than cuttlefish

as for the second claim - that crows are as good at solving puzzles as 5-year old children - this is just a teasing anecdote plugging a forthcoming BBC nature programme with TV's Chris Packham, called Animal Einsteins

conclusion

while we have learnt something new and important about cuttlefish, their cognitive capacities are highly unlikely to be equivalent to corvids. as for equating cuttlefish with crows and crows with children, that transitive inference sucks

sources

the science was by Schnell et al. in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B: Biological Sciences; reported in The Scientist by @AsherGJones on 5/Mar/21, & The Independent by @HarryCockburn on 13/Mar/21


[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

BINAURAL BEATS BEATEN BACK

in a minor win for the transparency and quality of science, a paper published in 2017 was retracted after a University of Leiden investigation found that the first author of the paper had not included 48 of the original 88 participants in the published dataset. the first author disagreed with the retraction, while the other two authors agreed

the paper involved the acoustic phenomenon of binaural beats - the perception of two sounds oscillating between the two ears caused by differences in the frequencies of the sounds

this removal or selective analysis of data is a form of manipulation that researchers may sometimes get involved in. it's always bad. sometimes it's necessary if the original data quality is poor, or something didn't work, but it should always be reported fully and transparently in the paper

conclusion

the system works

sources

the science was by Colzato et al. in Experimental Brain Research, & Colzato et al. 2017: Experimental Brain Research;


and the brain in brief...

[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

OPEN SCIENCE IS CLOSING DOWN

this week's twitter storm in a news teacup involved a website and a project called Curate Science

what seems to have started as a well-regarded EU-funded 2-year fellowship project at the Katholieke Universiteit in Leuven, Belgium, has turned into a what is now widely-regarded by the twitterati as a naming-and-shaming leaderboard run by a rogue lone researcher

conclusion? open science needs to be much more open and much less crap than that

a tunnel into the twitter rabbit hole is provided on our website

conclusion

keep calm and carry on

sources

reported in Twitter by @curatescience on 16/Mar/21


[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

PHYSICAL WARMTH IS INTERPERSONAL WARMTH

a seemingly-innocuous tweet from the Quite Interesting team at the BBC raised the Replication Crisis Zombie last week

a famous study - published in Science in 2008 - claimed that people who hold a hot cup of coffee (or iced coffee) will experience interpersonal warmth (or coldness) when interacting with others

it is a Quite Interesting idea, but like many Quite Interesting ideas, if you repeat this experiment with 21 times as many participants - as Lynott and colleagues did in 2014 - then it doesn't work

sorry

conclusion

no, they're unrelated

sources

the science was by Williams & Bargh 2008: Science, & Lynott et al. 2014: Social Psychology; reported in Twitter by @qikipedia on 14/Mar/21


[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

MEGA MOOLAH FOR MIGRAINE MECHANISM

the error bar is happy to report that decades of work on the brain mechanisms of migraine - from which i occasionally suffer - have been rewarded with 10M Danish kroner. the Guardian leads with a profile of the British researcher, but the four scientists are from the US, UK, Denmark and Sweden

the four researchers will attend, Covid-permitting, a Nobel-like Royal ceremony in Copenhagen this October

conclusion

well done

sources

reported in The Guardian by @LindaGeddes on 4/Mar/21


[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

DO NOT USE SCI-HUB FOR FREE SCIENCE

the error bar can only add its substantial weight to this story and nationwide awareness-raising campaign:

to all students around the world: please do NOT use Sci-Hub, a website that collects millions of scientific articles and makes them freely available on the internet, even if lack of funding means that your educational institution can't afford to access the articles, the majority of which have been paid for by rich western education institutions

please share this warning with your colleagues and students. together we can stop Sci-Hub being necessary for the equal access to science worldwide

conclusion

really, please don't

sources

reported in The Independent by Peter Stubley on 20/Mar/21, & The BBC by @seanjcoughlan on 20/Mar/21


[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

THE BRAIN NEWS MERRY-GO-ROUND

the error bar reads and reviews brains science news, so that you don't have to

after five episodes of brain science news, i'm noticing that news journalists are, ahem, recycling each others' stories, and treading the same paths, week after week

for example, the Guardian digs its heels in with an extended - and very nice - interview on the relationships between cognitive abilities and ideological views, covered here at the error bar in episode 4

and the Daily Mail has claimed that beauty IS in the brain after all - clearly they've not listened to episode 3

the Telegraph re-hashes a variety of stories on loneliness during the pandemic, including the one about how lonely brains look different, which we covered in episode 3. but that study used data collected before the pandemic, and the Telegraph incorrectly says it was a study of Alzheimers. the New Zealand Herald reprinted the article unchanged

the New York Times reports on the use of electrical stimulation for obsessive behaviours, which we covered in episode 2

with about a thousand new neuroscience papers published every week, surely there's more actual news out there? or is science publishing a bit of a merry-go-round?

conclusion

round we go again!

sources

reported in The Guardian by @NatalieGrover on 4/Mar/21, & The Daily Mail by @RyanMorrisonJer on 8/Mar/21, & The Telegraph by @JoeShute on 23/Mar/21, & The New York Times by Kim Tingley on 24/Feb/21


[🎶 BIG BEN BONGS 🎶]

EDITORIAL CHANGES AT THE ERROR BAR

following last episode's feature-length discussion of green stars, the error bar has been running at an average of 17 minutes per episode, which is an unacceptably long time to detain each of our 30-odd listeners for. i'm aiming for 14 minutes every 2 weeks - one minute per day

to do this, i'll be sticking to 10 minute news episodes, and a 30 minute discussion every 5th episode. after a discussion episode, there's 4 weeks of brain news to catch-up on, so all the stories will be short, like in this episode

i've analysed the correlation between story duration, and the number of words and characters it contains, so that i should now produce episodes as close to 10 minutes as possible (it's about 120 words per minute)

the 20 news outlets that i check publish an average of one brain science story per day, while there are perhaps a thousand neuroscience papers published every week.

to scale this mountain of brain news, i will only cover news and scientific stories where the full articles are freely available

and my scientific reviews are now being added to the open peer review platform PubPeer

and finally, our mailbox has been overwhelmed by a tweet!

a Professor McDonald of Midlothian writes:

"long-time listener, first time tweeter. love the show, but i think you should use the hashtag #crinfobrainment, which is a contraction of 'critical information-entertainment about the brain'"

thank you Professor McDonald, the error bar agrees

please keep on tweeting us at the usual address, and now using the hashtag #errorbarcrinfobrainmentpodcast

conclusion

#crinfobrainmentpodcast

sources


[🎶 OUTRO: "Cosmopolitan - Margarita - Bellini" by Dee Yan-Kee 🎶]

it's closing time at the error bar, but do drop in next time for more brain news, fact-checking & neuro-opinions. take care.

the error bar was devised & produced by Dr Nick Holmes from the University of Nottingham. the music by Dee Yan-Kee is available from the free music archive. find us at the error bar dot com, on twitter at bar error, or email talk at the error bar dot com