"neuroscience" entries

Data-driven neuroscience

The O'Reilly Radar Podcast: Bradley Voytek on data's role in neuroscience, the brain scanner, and zombie brains in STEM.


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In this week’s Radar Podcast, O’Reilly’s Mac Slocum chats with Bradley Voytek, an assistant professor of cognitive science and neuroscience at UC San Diego. Voytek talks about using data-driven approaches in his neuroscience work, the brain scanner project, and applying cognitive neuroscience to the zombie brain.

Here are a few snippets from their chat:

In the neurosciences, we’ve got something like three million peer reviewed publications to go through. When I was working on my Ph.D., I was very interested, in particular, in two brain regions. I wanted to know how these two brain regions connect, what are the inputs to them and where do they output to. In my naivety as a Ph.D. student, I had assumed there would be some sort of nice 3D visualization, where I could click on a brain region and see all of its inputs and outputs. Such a thing did not exist — still doesn’t, really. So instead, I ended up spending three or four months of my Ph.D. combing through papers written in the 1970s … and I kept thinking to myself, this is ridiculous, and this just stewed in the back of my mind for a really long time.

Sitting at home [with my wife], I said, I think I’ve figured out how to address this problem I’m working on, which is basically very simple text mining. Lets just scrape the text of these three million papers, or at least the titles and abstracts, and see what words co-occur frequently together. It was very rudimentary text mining, with the idea that if words co-occur frequently … this might give us an index of how related things are, and she challenged me to a code-off.

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Small brains, big data

How neuroscience is benefiting from distributed computing — and how computing might learn from neuroscience.


When we think about big data, we usually think about the web: the billions of users of social media, the sensors on millions of mobile phones, the thousands of contributions to Wikipedia, and so forth. Due to recent innovations, web-scale data can now also come from a camera pointed at a small, but extremely complex object: the brain. New progress in distributed computing is changing how neuroscientists work with the resulting data — and may, in the process, change how we think about computation. Read more…

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Podcast: what makes a scientist?

How scientists become scientists, whether science is still advancing at Newton's pace, and the future of neuroscience and bioengineering.

At Sci Foo Camp last weekend, we enjoyed sitting down with several thoughtful scientists and thinkers-about-science to record a few podcast episodes. Here we speak with Tom Daniel, a professor of biology, computer science, and neurobiology at the University of Washington, and Ben Lillie, co-founder of The Story Collider and a Stanford-trained physicist. First topic: what brings people to science, and how we compare to our icons. Along the way, we mention Hans Bethe, Isaac Newton’s epitaph, and John McPhee’s trip across Interstate 80.

We’ll post the rest of the series over the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can find more episodes of our podcast and subscribe on iTunes or SoundCloud.

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The Fun Theory

Play is how our passions find us. Play is where failure isn't failure and isn't emotionally charged. Play is all about iteration and we iterate on the emerging questions that arise from within us and that we are driven to understand. With the Fun Theory Award, VW has sponsored a competition to award creative examples of changing behavior by making functional fun.

Comments: 5
Four short links: 7 Jan 2009

Four short links: 7 Jan 2009

Draw closer around the flickering firescreen, and hear four tales of brains, words, medical improvement, and the sharp ache of the wisdom teeth of the future poking through the soft gum of the 21st century as diagnosed by Dr Sterling.

  1. Mind Bites – Flickr set of findings from neuroscience on top of beautiful photos. Mind candy meets eye candy.
  2. Dr Johnson’s Dictionary – the original dictionary of the English language, reborn as a word a day blog. Love the old citations, e.g.

    A’DAGE. n.s. [adagium, Lat.] A maxim handed down from antiquity; a proverb.
    Shallow, unimproved intellects, that are confident pretenders
    to certainty; as if, contrary to the adage, science had no friend
    but ignorance. Glanville’s Scepsis Scientifica, c.2.
    Fine fruits of learning! old ambitious fool,
    Dar’st apply that adage of the school;
    As if ’tis nothing worth that lies conceal’d;
    And science is not science ’til reveal’d? Dryd. Pers. Sat. i.

  3. Peter Provonost – prevented untold infections in hospital procedures by instituting a simple checklist. This is a long article, but worth reading as it shows how to institute change. He was diligent, scientific, and worked with the teams instead of against them. For more like this, read The Best Practice: How the New Quality Movement is Transforming MedicineThe Best Practice by Charles Kenney, a fascinating look at the quality movement in healthcare.
  4. Bruce Sterling’s State of the World 2009 – I’m just skipping through reading Bruce’s responses. Some fabulous zingers that make me look forward to his presence at Webstock in February: “The Americans
    don’t have a place to offshore their money. They can offshore their
    LABOR, that’s dead easy, but their money? If the American dollar goes,
    finance as an industry gets the blue screen of death.
    . On urban reinvention: “Suppose you found some dead James Howard Kunstler strip-mall burg,
    bought it for a dollar, and turned it into “OpenSource-opolis” where
    every possible object and service was creatively commonized. Would
    that be heaven, hell — or what we’ve got now only different?”
    On netbooks + cloud slowing the upgrade cycle: “I’ve been a computer “consumer” for decades now, in the sense that I
    follow the trade press and buy computers regularly, but I dunno: if a
    $300 netbook running freeware lets me get the job done, 2009 may be the
    year when I just plain vanish off the radar.”
    . Oh forget it, as is always the way with Sterling every damn sentence is quotable—go read the whole thing yourself and enjoy.
Comment: 1

Mental Landscapes, David Brooks and the Aspen Festival of Ideas

David Brooks gave a talk last week in Aspen that inspired me and that I can't stop thinking about. Note that it comes in three parts. His book is due to come out in the fall of 2009. Brooks discusses an intellectual revolution that brings together neuroscience, sociology, psychology, behavioral economics, genetics, and a variety of other fields in an…

Comments: 18

Neuroscience and Epistemology at ETech

At ETech, I had a fascinating conversation with Marie Bjerede, VP and General Manager of Qualcomm's Portland Design Center. She was telling me how the threads we'd brought together at ETech had validated her own thinking and helped her bring together her private passions and her professional life. I asked her to write up our conversation, and she agreed. Here's…

Comments: 8