Post Of The Week – Thursday 24th April 2014

Originally posted on DHSG Psychology Research Digest:

1) Professor John Aggleton On Memory

This podcast features John Aggleton of Cardiff University. His research is in how memory works inside the brain. He talks about HM, about the complexity of the systems for laying down a memory and the connection to dementia. This talk reminds us of the connection between being able to explain something and being able to treat a related pathology. John Aggleton has something interesting at the end to say about what really motivates him as a scientist.

2) In Search Of Ourselves

The BBC is running a series of short programmes about the history of Psychology. I just listened to the one about Freud. I did my Psychology degree in the early nineties when Freud’s theories were seen as unscientific and therefore neglected. I didn’t learn much about him. I’m acutely aware that when I summarise the psychodynamic explanation of abnormality in…

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How the immune system works: Contrasting perspectives from science and alternative medicine

Originally posted on Violent metaphors:

One of the biggest issues I’ve seen again and again in the comments sections of every vaccination article is a fundamental lack of understanding of how the immune system works. Many people talk vaguely of “toxins”, “pathogens” and “immunity”, but it’s clear that they have no idea exactly how this works. So I thought that I’d invite a regular commenter, Dr. Scott Nelson, to write an explanation. I think that Dr. Nelson, who teaches this subject in university courses, has done an excellent job of making a complex topic accessible to people who are not scientists or physicians.  (Note that we have provided hyperlinked definitions of many of these terms from Wikipedia for convenience. Dr. Nelson and I have both reviewed them and agree that they’re accurate. If you would like additional information beyond what is provided here, we recommend consulting any basic major textbook).

If you are “doing your…

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PhD Studentship

Originally posted on Reasoning and Imagination Lab:

PhD Studentship in Moral Reasoning

A PhD studentship is available to carry out research on cognitive processes in moral judgments supervised by Ruth Byrne. The PhD studentship is funded from a grant awarded by the John Templeton Foundation. It will provide the successful candidate with €16,000 per annum for three years plus annual University tuition fees commencing in September 2014. It is part of the research conducted at the Reasoning and Imagination lab at Trinity College, University of Dublin, Ireland.

The PhD studentship would suit candidates who are carrying out or have completed a dissertation for an undergraduate or master’s degree examining cognitive processes using experimental methods. Interested applicants should send a short CV, including a one-page summary of their dissertation, to Ruth Byrne at   The closing date for applications is May 16th 2014.

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What use are PhD’s? What future do they have?

 A picture attached to a tweet I received from

@mocost (and others) is profoundly depressing. It plots the number of biology PhD students in the US (86,000) against the average time to completion (7 years) against the current number of postdocs (estimated at between 37,000 and 68,000) against the numbers that will end up in tenure track positions. The numbers are horrific. A vanishingly small portion will stay in academia.

It reminded me of a report which was widely circulated a couple of years ago by the Royal Society (The Scientific Century). This report contains this figure


(Careers in and Outside of Science) which shows that, of the numbers of students who enter science at PhD, 53% leave after their PhD to pursue a career outside of science, 47% continue on for a number of years, and of that 26.5% leave science and over time, 0.45% attain the permanent position of professor.


A third analysis on a prospective cohort is discussed by Curt Rice of male and female chemistry students. This analysis shows that by the third year of the PhD, in a sample of  chemistry PhD students from the UK, only 20% of males and 10% of females wish to continue with an academic career. Now, chemistry may be a special case because a PhD may in fact be required as an entry-level qualification for individuals who wish to work in the pharmaceutical, fine chemical and related industries. But nonetheless, the key point here is that there are few academic posts, and an academic path is very difficult for PhD students.

The austerity regime of the past years has also meant that less than one in three academic posts are being replaced here in Trinity College. In the US, the recent fight regarding budgets at a federal level has resulted in the loss of more than 1000 PIs who were formally (and now formerly) supported by the NIH.

We must, therefore, confront the difficult question of what it is that a PhD is now for. In particular, the old apprenticeship model which served so well for close on a century, can no longer be regarded as tenable. New ways of thinking through the training of PhD students are required, and students may find that there are ample opportunities outside of academia. One report suggests, for example, that in the US humanities PhD students who self-consciously elect not to follow an academic track end up with good career prospects in a whole variety of other fields.

The implications here are straightforward: there is an onus on academics and PhD students to think much more expansively and creatively about what they are hoping to get from their period of training as a PhD student. And institutions need to think more deeply about what they are doing and why. Funding agencies likewise.

And we need to also address where the knowledge needed to power tomorrow is to come from too.

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This is how stigma works

Originally posted on Mind Hacks:

Sussex Police issue a statement about ‘Concern for missing Chichester man’, ITN News report it as ‘Police warn public over missing mental health patient’.

Sussex police:

Police are appealing for information about missing 43-year old Jason Merriman, who left The Oaklands Centre for Acute Care in Chichester on unescorted leave at 12.45pm on Friday 11 April. He was due back the same afternoon but has so far failed to return.
There are concerns for Jason’s welfare as he has mental health problems, and police advise that he is not approached by members of the public.

ITN News:

A mental health patient who has been missing from a care unit in Chichester for more than a day should not be approached by the public, police have warned.

Amazing really – (via @Sectioned_)

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Botanic Garden, Glasnevin, Dublin


Astonishing place.

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John Waters (not the other one) on depression: ‘Not even wrong’

John Waters (the columnist, not the other one - don’t confuse them!) is quoted in

Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year...

Age-standardised disability-adjusted life year (DALY) rates from Unipolar depressive disorders by country (per 100,000 inhabitants). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

today’s Sunday Independent as follows:

“I don’t believe in depression. There’s no such thing. It’s an invention. It’s bullshit,” he said, “it’s a cop out.”

To which I can only say ‘wow’! There are at least two possibilities here. The first is that he has been misquoted, or that there are substantive elisions around the quote which provide some form of moderation (like he is speaking about the universe of possibilities for himself, as in ‘I don’t do depression, personally’).

The other possibility is much more straightforward: John has been accurately quoted and he truly believes this about depression. In which case, this statement brings to mind Wolfgang Pauli’s remark: ‘It is not even wrong’.

Then I wondered where to start.

I could have started by citing the DSM-IV definition:

‘a person who suffers from major depressive disorder must either have a depressed mood or a loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities consistently for at least a two week period. This mood must represent a change from the person’s normal mood; social, occupational, educational or other important functioning must also be negatively impaired by the change in mood. A depressed mood caused by substances (such as drugs, alcohol, medications) or which is part of a general medical condition is not considered to be major depressive disorder.’

had thought about providing a whole bunch of references to actual clinical evidence (maybe even citing some some individual personal testimony, or perhaps even thoughts from a famous person).  Or some evidence on treatment; or even some material from a textbook.

Of course, I might be wrong, and what I’ve been teaching students is all wrong:

(Depression, the common psychological disorder, affects about 121 million people worldwide. World Health Organization (WHO) states that depression is the leading cause of disability as measured by Years Lived with Disability (YLDs) and the fourth leading contributor to the global burden of disease. By the year 2020, depression is projected to reach second place in the ranking of Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY) calculated for all ages. Today, depression already is the second cause of DALYs in the age category 15-44 years.) .

And I wondered if I should cite this major study:


Depressive disorders were a leading cause of burden in the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 1990 and 2000 studies. Here, we analyze the burden of depressive disorders in GBD 2010 and present severity proportions, burden by country, region, age, sex, and year, as well as burden of depressive disorders as a risk factor for suicide and ischemic heart disease.

Methods and Findings

Burden was calculated for major depressive disorder (MDD) and dysthymia. A systematic review of epidemiological data was conducted. The data were pooled using a Bayesian meta-regression. Disability weights from population survey data quantified the severity of health loss from depressive disorders. These weights were used to calculate years lived with disability (YLDs) and disability adjusted life years (DALYs). Separate DALYs were estimated for suicide and ischemic heart disease attributable to depressive disorders.

Depressive disorders were the second leading cause of YLDs in 2010. MDD accounted for 8.2% (5.9%–10.8%) of global YLDs and dysthymia for 1.4% (0.9%–2.0%). Depressive disorders were a leading cause of DALYs even though no mortality was attributed to them as the underlying cause. MDD accounted for 2.5% (1.9%–3.2%) of global DALYs and dysthymia for 0.5% (0.3%–0.6%). There was more regional variation in burden for MDD than for dysthymia; with higher estimates in females, and adults of working age. Whilst burden increased by 37.5% between 1990 and 2010, this was due to population growth and ageing. MDD explained 16 million suicide DALYs and almost 4 million ischemic heart disease DALYs. This attributable burden would increase the overall burden of depressive disorders from 3.0% (2.2%–3.8%) to 3.8% (3.0%–4.7%) of global DALYs.


GBD 2010 identified depressive disorders as a leading cause of burden. MDD was also a contributor of burden allocated to suicide and ischemic heart disease. These findings emphasize the importance of including depressive disorders as a public-health priority and implementing cost-effective interventions to reduce its burden.

But then I wondered if I should bother…

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