Science, patrimony & hors d’oeuvres on the other side of the Atlantic…

It is a bit strange being in Paris again – back seeing colleagues, back in my old apartment… déjà vu to be sure, but things feel different – an indication that our minds are in constant forward motion, our brains are continually changing & that we are not the person we used to be. I arrived here Wednesday morning last week & in that relatively short period that ended last week moved back into my apartment, went back to the research institute, got my login privileges & ID back, had internet meetings with colleagues across the Atlantic & was in the institute working on manuscripts. Friday afternoon I had the privilege of being the guest of a colleague at a scientific function at the Collège de France. No wonder I felt tired at the end of last week…

The Collège de France is an amazing institution in so many ways – it was founded by Francis I for the specific purposes of providing teaching in disciplines that were not yet available at university level. In 1530, he appointed a set of ‘Lecteurs royaux’ who were charged with this task [for more background, see https://www.college-de-france.fr/site/en-college/index.htm]. I have copied the text below from their website which talks about its raison d’être: ‘Collège de France is a public higher education institution, which is unique in France and has no equivalent abroad. Since the 16th century, Collège de France has had a two-fold mission: to be a forum for cutting-edge research and teaching. Collège de France is committed to fundamental research, in partnership with the CNRS, INSERM and several other major institutions, but what differentiates it is that it teaches “knowledge in the making in every field of literature, science and the arts“.’

The French citizen benefits tremendously from this institution in that it has a wealth of free-public lectures in a wonderful auditorium/building – lectures that not only are given by high-profile French researchers/academics, but also by internationally renowned foreign scientists also. For example, this month György Buzsáki from New York University [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gy%C3%B6rgy_Buzs%C3%A1ki] was giving a set of lectures – I just missed him unfortunately. Indeed, coupled with the freely available podcasts on French Public Radio, the average French citizen has access to a wonderful knowledge base of the sciences, the arts & philosophy. On the other hand, prominent French researchers/academics who are doing truly ground-breaking work enjoy patronage from this institution – with professorial appointments in 1 and 5-year terms being available across 8 different disciplines or ‘institutes’. [For example, in our discipline, NeuroSpin Director, Stan Dehaene has a 5 year appointment as a Professor – & rightly so! It was nice to chat to him at the Friday event – albeit briefly.] The Collège also has a collection of rare manuscripts & books that are amazing research tools for professors/researchers attached to Collège de France, as well as potentially being available to specialist researchers from outside.

The building of the Collège de France is, as one would expect is old & beautiful in the classic French sense, as some of these images below indicate:

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Last Friday afternoon, the Fondation Fyssen had a 40th anniversary function at the Collège de France, where a set of academic ‘fireside chats’ with scientists had been organized. This Foundation is a private entity, with an endowment that facilitates & funds researchers – particularly post-doctoral fellows.

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The MC for the event was Mathieu Vidard, a science journalist who has quite a following for his weekday program on French Public Radio. He very capably wended his way through the disciplines, being able to draw out something interesting from each of the researchers who were discussing their findings with him. Very impressive – he was at it for about 4 hours or so… Here is his picture & link on France Inter – the app for French Public Radio.

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There was something for everyone on Friday afternoon – from archaeology & anthropology, animal behavior to human neuroscience, as the program below indicates:

As seen in the images above, there was pomp & ceremony with an initial opening address by the President of the Collège de France, Alain Prochiantz, followed by an address by Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz, an internationally renowned pediatric neuroscience researcher [who herself does really cool MRI-based work on how the infant brain develops], who is currently the Vice-President of the scientific teaching part of the Fondation Fyssen.

What was the coolest part of the afternoon for me? Probably the archaeology discussion.

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The above image shows Mathieu Vidard chatting with Dominique Grimaud Hervé, a paleo-anthropologist at the National Museum of Natural History, & Marie Soressi, an archaeologist at the University of Leiden. They discussed subjects such as endocasts across different hominins [Hervé] & the potential exchange of artifacts & culture between Neanderthals & Homo Sapiens [Soressi]. What really blew my mind was the latter topic: 200K years ago the extraction of birch resin occurred – being the 1st synthetic material ever made! Then, 50K years ago a fire-starter – MnO2 [manganese dioxide] was first used! But the thing that was most astonishing to me was the fact that the tool that is used to smooth leather today [in artisanal settings] comes to us courtesy of the Neanderthal culture! The idea of ‘cultural exchange’ between hominins has been advanced as Homo Sapiens & their Neanderthal cousins lived in certain common geographic regions & it is in these regions that early humans began to use these leather smoothing tools…

Overall, the afternoon was intellectually very stimulating, but very draining for me – since I had to concentrate extremely hard because when the scientists got excited about their work they spoke very fast & my French comprehension is not yet that good…

After the scientific program was completed everyone retired to the Collège de Bernardins, just up the road in the Latin Quarter, for a cocktail reception. This is an amazing building whose construction began in 1248 & its purpose was to provide a venue for the study of theology, philosophy & literature. It has had a checkered history, but in 2011 was repurchased by the Diocese of Paris from the City of Paris, with the idea of creating a cultural project devoted to the service of ‘mankind and his future’. In 2008 it opened to the public for the very first time & guided tours are available. Our reception was in the Large Nave – an amazing 70 meter long X 14 meter wide structure – which these days hosts receptions, concerts & exhibitions. Some images of this magnificent building appear below:

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The statue of Christ in the image above left, dates back from the 14th century…

Overall, we spent a delightful evening in the Collège de Bernardins – the champagne flowed & the hors d’oeuvres were absolutely delightful. I got back to my apartment that night & slept like a baby.  What a lovely cure for jet-lag!

Back on the regular work side, it was funny walking back into the ICM – lots of familiar faces – felt like I had never left it in some ways…

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Back in the lab with Nathalie George & Mariana Babo Rebelo at the ICM, Salpetriere in Paris.

When I walked back into the ICM the other day, I ran into a friend/colleague who had left the institute recently – what good fortune it was that we were both in the same place at the same time. What he did not mention to me is that he is now [in]famous – in an advertising sense! Another friend noted that she was standing at one of the main stations in London waiting to get a train to Paris. She did a double take because she thought she saw his face splashed across all of the TV monitors in the station… The ads were cycling through & sure enough – it was definitely him when she looked again. He is advertised as being a frenchman called Julien [he is Italian & has a completely different name]. The ad is for a bank whose pitch is that it’s customers live & work across Europe. I now call him ‘Julien’ when I see him! Mmm, I wonder what the bank is going to do with their advertising strategies with Brexit looming large…

Thinking about Paris…

… and Notre Dame, which will never be the same. I have thought a lot about it & the good fortune I have had on past trips to France to see this amazing building on multiple occasions. This post is devoted to sharing some recent images of this magnificent structure while it was still intact, with a lot of sadness on my part. I will be heading back there in a couple of days & in some ways dread the idea of going to the Île de la Cité & looking at what is left of this piece of history.

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The above image was taken about a year ago from the 25th floor of the Zamansky Tower at Université Pierre et Marie Curie [UPMC], which is now part of Université Sorbonne. Seeing the building from this height really shows off the scale & perspective of this magnificent structure. The image below is taken from the same view, but shows the huge scale of Notre Dame better relative to the surrounding architecture. B&W_UPMC_Zamansky_02

One thinks about all of the environmental challenges this building has experienced over the centuries – the regular flooding of the Seine over the years, for instance. The last big flood was in winter 2018 – here are a couple of images of the extensive flooding on the Seine – quite a remarkable sight. No river traffic possible – no vessel could actually fit under any of the bridges because the water level was so high. Nor could anyone actually get to the boats that were moored on the quays by the river, because the walkways &  quays themselves were all under water as well…

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It actually took a couple of months before the level of the river looked like anything normal.

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Here is a shot a couple of months later.

I have always enjoyed the many architectural features of Notre Dame – features that are often best appreciated from behind the zoom lens of a camera…

Every time I go & look at it I notice something that I have not seen previously.

I share with you one more shot of Notre Dame & its spire on a beautiful summer evening that was spent on a barge on the Seine last summer…

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The next pics of Notre Dame you will see on this blog will be in its current state, after the devastating fire…

Looking ahead to the 25th anniversary human brain mapping meeting in Rome in June 2019

This is a slightly different post from my other ones – a post that I have written with lots of input from others. On the OHBM Program Committee we are excited to be able to plan the meeting in Rome this June. As part of those activities, I volunteered to write a ‘blurb’ that we could disseminate in the neuroimaging & neuroscience fields to celebrate & acknowledge the history of our discipline. I am sharing this material here so that we can maximize exposure about this exciting milestone for our field! I started out doing this with input from Bernard Mazoyer [U of Bordeaux/ Institut des maladies neurodégénératives] – who is also on the OHBM Program Committee right now. I quickly found that two heads are better than one: I could not remember all the details about that 1st Human Brain Mapping Conference in Paris in 1995. Indeed, who better to ask than Bernard – who was the organizer of that 1st meeting? So to fill in all the details of the lead up & birth of the idea of  that meeting, I also sought input from Alan Evans [McGill U/Montreal Neurological Institute], Peter Fox [U of Texas Health Sciences Center San Antonio/Research Imaging Institute] & Peter Bandettini [National Institute of Mental Health/Section on Functional Imaging Methods]. I have to say that I enjoyed our email exchanges between us all & I look forward to catching up with them all in Rome in June. So before I share the ‘blurb’ with you, here is a preview of the type of material that might be appear in Rome. I thought I would get this in here so that you can have a laugh at my expense before Alan Evans, who also has this image, does so… :)))

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Photo of portable PET detector array – courtesy of Dr Julie Brefczynski-Lewis at West Virginia University [Morgantown].

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25 years of scientific meetings in neuroimaging being celebrated by The Organization for Human Brain Mapping [OHBM] in 2019!

In the late 1980’s, neuroimagers were a ragged band of multi-disciplinary researchers with no real home. In search of their scientific interests, they attended meetings covering radiology, nuclear medicine, neurophysiology, engineering, image processing and computer science. Starting in 1992, a small group of internationally well-known neuroimagers had attended a series of 8 annual BrainMap Workshops in San Antonio devoted to promoting the development of standard space as an analysis and reporting standard, with discussions also related to development of open-access neuroimaging archives. These meetings were organized by Peter Fox [USA] and funded by NIH [USA] R13 awards. After one such meeting in 1994, the crying need for a home of their own was the central issue discussed around a table of 25 scientists who became the driving force behind what would become OHBM. At the meeting, Dr. Bernard Mazoyer [France] volunteered to host a first launch of such an international conference. Mazoyer and colleagues Per Roland [Sweden] and Rudiger Seitz [Germany] hosted the meeting in Paris, France in June 1995. Incredibly 820 attendees came to the first meeting – greatly exceeding the organizers’ expectations! The second meeting was held in Boston, USA and organized by Jack Belliveau and Bruce Rosen. The rest is history.

The overwhelming success of the Paris meeting prompted calls for the creation of a new Society for neuroimagers. Opinion was divided on this topic, with some influential senior figures in the movement arguing strongly that this would be unnecessary and compete with established Societies. Quite a contentious debate ensued. In retrospect, it is hard to believe that such an esoteric and minor issue generated such strong sentiment. Indeed, the following year, at the 2nd Human Brain Mapping Conference in Boston, the issue was hotly debated at a ‘Town Hall’ meeting of the 1000-1500 attendees. Alan Evans [Canada] as a moderator, actually donned a combat helmet for the occasion! The meeting’s outcome was that an ‘Organization’ would be established to run annual meetings, but it would not be deemed a ‘Society’. OHBM officially became an Organization in 1997 with ratified by-laws and the potential to elect office bearers [OHBM Council, OHBM Program Committee]. Indeed, many of the first OHBM Council Chairs were scientists who had participated in the original BrainMap Workshops. Over the past 25 years, the OHBM has taken on multiple new responsibilities, effectively functioning as a Society while retaining its original name. Therefore, it finally became a Society in 2018 – ratified by the OHBM membership at the annual meeting in Singapore – allowing the official sanctioning of year-round activities of ‘Chapters’ in different international communities.

In the mid-1990s, the neuroimaging zeitgeist was such that Positron Emission Tomography [PET] was an established neuroimaging modality, with activation studies of cerebral blood flow and glucose metabolism being performed in both humans and animals. The requirement of a nearby cyclotron meant that PET was largely confined to the largest institutions with clinical and/or research imaging centers. The 1995 Paris neuroimaging meeting was actually a satellite meeting for the Brain PET meeting in Cologne. At the time, only a few groups were performing functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI] studies. Analysis software was vestigial – the first generation of Statistical Parametric Mapping [SPM] software for PET data analysis was available – with the first methods papers being published by Karl Friston in 1990/1991 [see https://www.fil.ion.ucl.ac.uk/spm/doc/history.html]. Software packages for fMRI were being developed e.g. Analysis of Functional Images [AFNI] by Bob Cox at the Medical College of Wisconsin began in 1994 [see https://afni.nimh.nih.gov/afni_history], and SPM for fMRI came about from a number of attempts at implementing data analysis from Friston’s group in 1995. Magnetoencephalography [MEG] and electroencephalography [EEG] were already established neurophysiological methods in the mid-1990s, with their own specialized smaller scientific meetings. High-density MEG/EEG recordings were still not that common. Most of the book of 404 abstracts for the Paris meeting was devoted to brain activation studies, with 27% devoted to fMRI methods, 6% to the nature of the BOLD response, and 9% to MEG-EEG.

The OHBM has been a hub for the neuroimaging community, gradually incorporating additional MRI-based methods such as quantification of grey matter and white matter, formulation of anatomical atlases. Efforts to encourage the involvement of more basic and clinical researchers performing MEG and EEG studies are also being made. Right from the outset, OHBM has recognized the importance of having an educational program [initially organized by Peter Bandettini from 1998-2000], with weekend education sessions being added as early as 1998, and morning education sessions commencing in 2000 for OHBM in San Antonio. In 2000, Peter Fox, obtained a 5-year NIH R13 grant whose $25,000/year proceeds were devoted to 25 travel awards for OHBM trainees, based on abstracts with the highest peer-reviews. This grant was extremely helpful in kickstarting engagement from new scientists just starting out in functional neuroimaging and launched the OHBM Trainee Travel Award Program. In 2005, Peter Fox succeeded in obtaining a renewal for this 5-year grant with an increased budget of $50,000/year. After 10 years of NIH travel awards to the tune of $750,000 and increasing attendances at OHBM meetings, OHBM had enough financial reserve to continue the travel award program and the NIH-grant was allowed to lapse. Additionally, the neuroimaging journals NeuroImage and Human Brain Mapping were spawned for this community. NeuroImage was an existing Elsevier journal that was transformed to be a forum for [mainly human] PET and fMRI studies by Editors Art Toga, Richard Frackowiak, and John Mazziotta [1995], whereas Human Brain Mapping was started de novo by Peter Fox for Wiley [1993]. Both Human Brain Mapping and NeuroImage were the source of OHBM abstract books for the first few years. Additional journals for neuroimaging and related disciplines have been added since those times e.g. Brain Connectivity [Christopher Pawela & Bharat Biswal] and Brain Structure and Function [Laszlo Zaborszky & Karl Zilles]. All of these senior scientists have been active in the OHBM community. Indeed, Editors for all of these journals continue to come largely from the OHBM community. In addition to journal-based activity, early efforts to standardize data formats and data sharing were occurring at the time. For example, in the early ‘90s, workshops for the International Consortium on Brain Mapping [beginning in 1992 and co-ordinated by John Mazziotta] and for the European Computerized Human Brain Database [beginning in 1994 and co-ordinated by Per Roland] were run in addition to the San Antonio BrainMap Workshops.

A set of awards recognize the achievements of OHBM Members. An award devoted to recognizing excellence in early career neuroimagers began as the Wiley Young Investigator Award [first awarded to Karl Friston in 1996]. In 2016, it became the OHBM Early Career Investigator Award. Other OHBM awards include the Education in Neuroimaging Award [first awarded to JB Poline in 2013], the Replication Award [first awarded to Wouter Boekel in 2017]. In 2014 OHBM awarded the Glass Brain Award to Karl Zilles – created to recognize the lifetime achievements of scientists in the field of human neuroimaging. From 2005, OHBM has also been very fortunate to have the Editors-in-Chief of the journals Human Brain Mapping and NeuroImage also announce their Editor’s Choice Award for the best paper in their respective journals at the opening ceremony of each OHBM meeting.

OHBM is a Society that is known to be inclusive and to change with the times. Its Council and Scientific Program Committee have existed from the early years [1997]. In response to current issues, committees such as a Diversity & Gender Committee, a Communications Committee, and the OHBM Publishing Initiatives Committee, among others, have been more recently constituted. The Communication committee has its hands full improving the OHBM website – providing ‘on demand’ education program [2014] consisting of resources such as videoed lectures from previous meetings and educational materials, running a blog [2015], among other things. OHBM also is an inclusive Society as indicated by its Code of Conduct Statement [see https://www.humanbrainmapping.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3912]. Three special interest groups [SIGs] devoted to Students & Post-docs, Open Science and Brain-Art are also now part of OHBM. As OHBM has grown, a professional secretariat soon become necessary, which has helped to preserve institutional knowledge and to increase professionalism. Initially, in the early 2000s Lori Anderson and her team [from a US-based company called L&L] fulfilled that role. Nowadays these greatly expanded functions are fulfilled by the OHBM Executive Office, based in Minneapolis, USA.

Over the years the OHBM Annual Scientific Meeting has alternated between the European, Asian and North American continents, with occasional detours to places such as Australia. Attendee numbers have steadily grown over the years – first surpassing 3000 in 2005 when the meeting was held in Florence, Italy. Indeed, the 25th anniversary of scientific neuroimaging meeting in Rome, Italy promises to be a bumper year – with over 3700 abstract submissions and attendee numbers expected to be around 4000! This year’s meeting will be an exciting one – not only for the new science being presented, but also for the nostalgic look back at the previous 25 years of meetings being prepared by members of OHBMs Scientific Advisory Board – individuals who have been part of the history of OHBM.

We look forward to seeing you at OHBM in Rome on June 9-13 [see https://www.humanbrainmapping.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageID=3882&activateFull=true] !

Aina Puce & Bernard Mazoyer,
OHBM Program Committee

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On civility & criticism in science

A good friend who points out mistakes and rebukes evil is to be respected as if he reveals the secret of some hidden treasure.’    — the Dalai Lama

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Over the last month or so there has been a lot of discussion on Science Twitter about giving feedback to others about serious issues or flaws that are identified in the scientific studies of others. This includes things such as talks/posters at conferences, preprints of manuscripts, as well as published works. The feedback being discussed seemed to relate mostly to on-line discussions in forums & blogs, but could also include asking questions/participating in discussions at conferences. Reading some of this discussion has been really quite surprising to me: there seems to be a huge divide between ‘being nice‘ versus ‘being honest‘ – & that perhaps never the twain shall meet. So why should this be so? I want to try to unpack this tricky issue with some personal observations in the hope that this will stimulate people to discuss these issues further.

Perhaps it might be good to start by thinking about a particular situation where ‘being honest’ & ‘being nice’ is paramount to another scientist’s development. Think about the time(s) where you, as a graduate advisor, are providing counsel for a graduate student who has attempted to either write a first draft of a paper or a thesis chapter, or who has tried to do a dry run of doing a talk that they are preparing for a conference. Or if that is not meaningful, think about yourself in the shoes of a graduate trainee. What is the advisor’s main role/objective here? As I see it, it is to help the trainee improve whatever they are doing – whether it be in printed output or in an oral presentation. To that end, this feedback process requires the use of emotional intelligence, that would typically consider personal style & ability to respond to receiving feedback at the very least. Why not start by telling them what they did well? – there is always something positive one can find to say like that. Then turn the feedback around to the things that they did not do so well on. How to do this? One needs to strike a balance between honesty & compassion [a word that seems to evoke considerable derision in many people on social media]. How to be ‘nice’ & ‘honest’ at the same time? At the core of this tricky issue, in my opinion, should lie a genuine desire to communicate what needs to be improved/changed while respecting the emotional wellbeing of the person the feedback is being directed to. So often the latter seems to be forgotten even in our [well-meaning] communications with others… [In my lab, I have always tried to cultivate a culture of mutual respect, so that people can feel that others are in their corner as they give feedback to their labmates. What I really like is when I am trying to get a talk ready for a meeting/colloquium & I ‘dry run’ it in the lab & get feedback from my trainees. Not only is it helpful to me, but I think that it is empowering to students to be able to ‘return the favor’ & provide feedback to their advisor as well – it helps to consolidate a relationship of trust between them.

Let’s now turn to another common situation in science: where we give close & dear colleagues feedback about their work. Again, this might be a draft of a manuscript, grant or perhaps it is a dry run for a talk that they are preparing for. When I am in this situation, I would do exactly what I do with the trainee. Let them know what was good! We all need to hear this from time-to-time, because doing science involves a lot of negatives. Then tell your colleague what needs to be improved. In the same way that you discuss these issues with your trainee, you might give your colleague some alternative ways for changing some aspects of the material you have evaluated – by giving them choices & explaining the advantages of taking a particular approach you have provided them. In this way they can take your feedback & adjust to suit their personal style. Because you already have a trust relationship with your close colleague, they know that you are in their corner. Indeed, because you know them so well, your feedback will likely be respectful as you tell feedback to their face or via an email.

What about other situations in science where we do not personally know the person we are providing the feedback to? [e.g. asking questions at a conference presentation/poster, writing peer-reviews for a manuscript, making comments on someone’s blog or on social media.] In my opinion, there are two important distinctions here: the situation where there is a direct face-to-face interaction [e.g. at a conference] versus that where the feedback is remotely, & sometimes anonymously, provided.

Let’s consider the face-to-face situation first. One would imagine that in this case, people would know how to behave appropriately when interacting with peers at conferences. Yet, the fact that it is becoming an increasing practice to provide guidelines for a ‘code of conduct’ at scientific meetings that encompass civil behavior suggests otherwise. Guidelines can include tips for giving scientific criticism appropriately & also extend to how to interact with others in a manner where issues of racial prejudice & sexual harassment are avoided. The fact that these sorts of guidelines need to be constructed & circulated for conferences today is a clear enough indicator to me that there appears to be a very real lack of mindfulness about the impact on one’s behavior on others. Why should this be so? Why do people seem to forget about the emotional wellbeing of others, just because these people are not personally known to them? Doesn’t this fall under the rubric of ‘professional behavior’? What are we missing in today’s training programs for scientists?

Now what about the situation where feedback is given anonymously, such as in a scientific review process, or in an online commentary such as a blog? It seems to be that in these cases there is often the most acrimony. I would have thought that your own scientific credibility & gravitas depended on your ability to behave respectfully towards others, while discussing scientific work critically & carefully explaining the issues [without resorting to affect-laden language & personal attacks on the individual concerned]. The idea of ‘anonymous’ feedback is in many ways a bit of a misnomer methinks… Pretty soon, journal editors get to know who are the reasonable reviewers & who are the unreasonable ones. Same applies for grant review panel members. People know & it is more people than you would think… On blogs etc. it soon becomes very clear who the jerks are.

If we do not behave respectfully to others, how can we expect respect from others? At some deep level, it comes down to how we ourselves expect to be treated by others, I think. So it behooves us all to do some deep, dark & honest navel-gazing about what really motivates us, drives us forward when we practice our science. We also need to [regularly] look deeply into our motivation when giving feedback in particular situations i.e. being mindful of what effect our behavior has on others. [Indeed, ‘mindful’ is another word that seems to attract a lot of parody & derision]. If the feedback is given in a way to cause harm [e.g. make yourself feel/look good at the expense of another; is given without thought to the emotional wellbeing of the other] then I would question it’s motives & potential quality. Indeed, this would probably fit in the ‘not nice’ situation. Technically, I suppose you could still be ‘honest’. Yes, you have pointed out the flaws in their science, but you have also displayed your own deep personal flaws to the world – you have clearly shown that you cannot interact with others in a professional manner. People may even begin to question your motivation for doing so, which will not really do your credibility any good for the future…

Even if our intentions are good, do we get it right all the time? Certainly not. Consider the situation of cross-cultural interactions. Science, by its nature, is an international activity. Sometimes acceptable behavioral norms might vary across different cultures & genuine mistakes are made out of ignorance. As human beings we are fallible, more fallible than we are comfortable admitting. If this means eating crow & occasionally apologizing for one’s actions, then that is the honorable [& also professional] thing to do. [The honorable & professional thing would also be to educate oneself about what is appropriate when interacting with individuals from other cultures, so that you do not make these mistakes.] From what I can see, there also seems to be an association with ‘being weak’ & apologizing for something, for attempting to right a wrong. Actually, apologizing & admitting that you are wrong is far more difficult to do than denying your wrongdoing. I admire those who can admit their mistakes & right their wrongs: it takes inner strength [& I would argue professionalism] to do that. Inner strength comes about from having a healthy & well-adjusted sense of self. I would argue that as scientists this is all something we should be personally working on. Why? It will make our personal & professional interactions so much more meaningful & pleasant

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We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.’                — the Dalai Lama

Interacting with pint-sized scientists

Over social media a number of us have been discussing our Skype-based interactions with schoolchildren either via the mainly USA-based ‘Skype a Scientist’ program [https://www.skypeascientist.com/ & see @SkypeScientist on Twitter] or via a new program in Finland [#ScientistsInSchool & see tweets by @aivoAALTO @AnnikaHulten & @eglerean at Aalto University]. Spending an hour with a bunch of schoolchildren [for me it has been 5th graders] is really a tremendous amount of fun. They ask lots of penetrating questions about your career & motivation, as well as doing science.

Last year when I Skyped for the first time with a science class, here were some of questions that I got:

  1. How long have you been a neuroscientist?
  2. What made you want to study neuroscience?
  3. What types of degrees/educational programs did you have to earn to become a neuroscientist?
  4. Do you think it was more difficult to become a scientist as a female than it would have been if you were a male? Were there many other females in your classes?
  5. I read that you are a photographer. Can you tell me more about your photography?
  6. Who is your favorite famous Scientist? why?
  7. What was your favorite book as a child? Why?
  8. Which emoji is your favorite? Why?
  9. Did you see the movie “Inside Out”? If yes, do you feel it was an accurate representation of emotions/expressions/micro expressions?

Pretty cool huh? A lot of questions were centered around my scientific background & education. This year there were similar questions in addition to those asking about specific aspects of science. This year I did not get the questions ahead of time & had to do it ‘cold turkey’ & it was a lot of fun!

Given that a lot of people are trying to do this & are doing this by themselves, I thought that it might be nice to share some resources [e.g. you tube videos, popular science articles in magazines & newspapers etc. that have been written in language that those who are not trained in science can understand]. So, I thought that I would start the ball rolling by sharing some things that I have shared that have worked well. Here are some resources I have found that have been useful to share:

A. Here is a great teaching tool from brainfacts.org on brain anatomy. It has pull down menus that allow you to select different anatomical features in the brain – you can start at the lobes & go more detailed… have a play & see what you think. This is a new tool – have not seen this one previously.

You can spin the brain around to the view you want. Start by looking at the pull down button in the top left corner of the website ‘Choose a Structure’….

B. Materials on brain injuries:
B1. Patient HM – the man who cannot learn or remember new information, things or people. Here is a video & a New York Times article on him. After HM died in 2008  & his brain was taken out of his body & flown to San Diego, it was sliced in frozen sections as this article & video cam footage shows.[Finally the paper of the work was published in 2014 in Nature Communications by Annese et al…]

At the time of writing, one of the scientists who was the first to test his memory function in the late 1950s, Brenda Milner  [from the Montreal Neurological Institute] is still alive & just celebrated her 100th birthday. Incredibly, she still works at the Institute & teaches(!) & there was just recently a huge celebration for her birthday! See this video with her being interviewed.

B2. Patient SM – the lady who cannot recognize or feel fear [first described by Adolphs et al in a paper in Nature in 2005]. Here is a Discover magazine article on her.

B3. Phineas Gage – the railway foreman working in Vermont in the 19th century with a workplace accident with gunpowder with an iron rod passing through his brain… here is a video on his case. [There is also the 2012 paper by Van Horn et al in PLoS One where they looked at his skull & attempted to reconstruct the likely brain damage to grey & white matter pathways that Gage sustained.]

B4. Language & the brain. Patient ‘Tan’ of French neurologist called Paul Broca in 19th century. This patient could only utter one syllable ‘tan’ after a stroke. See this article.

In the mid-20th century language lateralization was studied in patients – people with epilepsy etc. These people were tested ahead of their seizure surgery [to ensure that they did not create another patient HM…]. So here is a classic video of Dr Wada, the neurosurgeon who pioneered the test that still bears his name.

Additionally, if people want to leave comments with link to other resources that would be great – it would be convenient to access… I will continue to add other resources to this blogpost as I find them.

Some thoughts on conferencing in our current times

 

This is a very different of post to my previous ones – although the focus is still on traveling for science. Today I want to talk about what priorities we should set for improving the lot of younger scientists in our field.

Having returned from the annual neuroscience nerdfest attended by about ~ 29K attendees this year in San Diego, I got to thinking about what makes an excellent conference & what I personally find desirable about a scientific meeting. I typically only regularly go to 2 annual scientific meetings/year [but will, of course, go to additional ones if I get invited to speak at them]. The annual meetings that I have regularly attended for ~25 years or so are: 1. Organization for Human Mapping [which was held in Singapore this last June] & that typically has ~3K attendees; 2. Society for Neuroscience [SfN] [which just occurred in San Diego] & that typically has ~30K attendees. This year in San Diego the number was smaller – perhaps a consequence of the non-attendance of many foreign neuroscientists who were not issued visas by the American Government. This was very problematic – there were many empty poster boards – because the presenters were preventing from attending the meeting. There is currently a grass-roots push to lobby SfN to create a vehicle for these people to show & discuss their work. The science community is also petitioning SfN to give a complete refund for conference registration etc. for those people [usually trainees] who could not travel to SfN because of these issues. Flights & hotel room booking left many of those out of pocket – despite the fact that they could not attend the meeting. Incredibly, despite the SfN President publicly talking about inclusion & international participation in the meeting the entire week while we were in San Diego, the SfN has stayed silent & completely inactive on this issue [at least until the time of writing this post]. Is this because SfN is so large that the implementation of initiatives is stifled because of a large administration, or is it because the organization is just parochial? Not sure which alternative is more likely at this stage, but I have my suspicions.

So what, in my opinion, makes for a great conference – a meeting that will keep people coming back for more?

First, the most important thing is to provide a welcoming atmosphere that stresses inclusivity & safety for all delegates [an environment that is free of old white male dinosaurs inflicting their will [& themselves in some cases] on everyone…].

Achieving an environment like that requires that the society/organization that runs the meeting do more than just pay lip-service to these issues. There needs to be visible evidence of concrete initiatives to attempt to level the playing field for all & to push diversity. There should also be a very public declaration of what constitutes acceptable behavior at the meeting & associated social activities. Many societies are doing this now – including SfN & OHBM. We are generally pretty fortunate in science – scientists of all persuasions typically do come together & discuss science in a collegial way. Let’s tear down any remaining barriers that a minority of senior white male scientists put in the way to stop this from occurring. If need be, we might need to drown out those voices & also call out unacceptable behavior when we see it – this means dealing immediately with observed instances of racial prejudice or sexual harassment, or of senior scientists just taking up air time from younger ones whose views deserve to be heard… I am fortunate to say that this has never happened to me at a conference, but that does not mean that I am not aware that this is a problem. I had a pleasure of attending the Neural Oscillations Social at SfN – a wonderful evening hosted by Jonas Obleser & Saskia Haegens. At the same time as our social there was also a social on Neuroethics & the scuttlebutt I heard about this one was that this latter problem [hogging air time] had surfaced. Ironic isn’t it? Neuroethics of all things! I wish I had been a fly on that wall to know exactly what happened there – the ‘feel good’ vibe at the Neural Oscillations social was too good to leave.

OHBM has been good in setting up initiatives, such as a committee for diversity, as well as having discussions on the Program Committee that make sure that we have diversity in our Keynote speakers and so on. I know that SfN also tries to do this. What I would like to see more of in both societies, particularly SfN, is the recognition of scientific excellence that transcends gender. That was very apparent to me in San Diego as SfN awards were given out – the idea that scientific excellence can exist only in ivy-league institutions from work by scientists who have impeccable scientific pedigrees is very dated, methinks… As someone who grew up in another part of the world where funding for science was not as abundant, I learned that scientific excellence [e.g. good ideas, painstaking methods] are not reserved for elite institutions of learning – even though people over the years have tried to tell me so. [Seriously, this is what I heard a lot while I was at Yale – thankfully not from my mentors or the folks who worked in our laboratory].

Second, if inclusivity exists at a scientific meeting, this automatically sets up an open & free environment to discuss important, controversial & unresolved scientific issues – this is what pushes the field forward & everyone benefits from that! This has become a highly visible & positive component of the OHBM meeting. Why is this so you might ask? Because it comes down to the attitudes of the leadership of the society – if the leadership values these goals, then the meeting will get that overall feel. What has been good about the leadership of OHBM over the years is that it has tried to change with the times. OHBM Council has had both older & younger scientists as members & the older scientists have known what to do to remain current with the times. Unfortunately, I cannot see that SfN has changed in that way. I have been a member of SfN for 25 years & it seems to me that the leadership i.e. elected officers etc. has not reflected the diversity we have in the regular SfN membership. SfN will be 50 years old next year. This is an incredible achievement & something that really needs to be celebrated. What better way to do that by turning over a new leaf in the annals of the SfN & embracing diversity in all it’s forms? This means championing it, not only from the podium, but from concrete initiatives that are clearly visible to the membership, as well as using its considerable lobbying power to influence public opinion & politicians about science & making the world a much better place than it is today. I see this happening at the OHBM meeting yearly & I always come back from this meeting with a real buzz… If we cannot make the world a better place for others in the present, as well as for the future, then why are we practicing science in the first place?

So as not to end on a negative note here: let me share with you my highlights of SfN. First, the session on the first day of the meeting, entitled Dialogues between Science & Society featured the very talented jazz musician & composer Pat Metheny. He was an absolute delight to listen to – he was able to clearly articulate about his very high goals that he sets himself for every performance, as well as giving the audience an idea of what goes through his mind as he improvises during a jazz solo & how he composes music.

SfN2018_2

Needless to say also, the special & keynote lectures were all excellent – with engaging & diverse speakers delivering accessible talks of a very high-standard to interested large audiences.

I did have a second highlight – a very personal one – almost embarrassed to admit it. But here goes anyway… as always I enjoy going around the commercial exhibits & looking for new equipment/software,& of course books. Nice to see our ‘MEG-EEG Primer‘ with Riitta Hari on sale at the Oxford University Press stand! So if you are new to MEG or EEG, check it out – it is targeted to you, & you might find it helpful… [see https://global.oup.com/academic/product/meg-eeg-primer-9780190497774?cc=us&lang=en& it is available on Amazon & Google Play]

SfN2018_4.JPG

OK. I admit it. That was a shameless promotion…

So at every scientific meeting you go to there is always an iconic image that remains with you after you have left the meeting. So what image will stay in mind from San Diego this SfN for me?

SfN2018_5

Back stateside…

Have been back here in Indiana now for about 3 months or so… my wonderful sojourn in Paris seems like a dream now. That said, it is terrific to catch up with spouse, colleagues & good friends again – I missed everyone a lot. The creatures have also been cuddled many times over – missed them immensely also while I was away…

It is time to give thanks for the wonderful connections & interactions one makes as a scientist. I was also fortunate to catch up with old colleagues & friends while I was in Europe. Also, I have got to know so many young scientists as well in my travels over the last 6 months. Many of them I had already made contact with on science Twitter, but now was a chance to meet them in person! That was a lot of fun – whether visiting them in their home cities [Helsinki, Paris, Ghent or Singapore] or meeting them face-to-face at a conference. I look forward to doing more of this in future as I expand my contacts on science Twitter. I am enjoying regular Skype meetings with colleagues across the pond, as we continue to discuss ongoing projects.

As to what I have actually come back to, that is an interesting question. I left at the start of January 2018 & returned mid-July 2018. I had originally decided to do a post on what was different between 2 cultures on my return, but I have contemplated that for about 3 months now & have come to the conclusion that that no longer is viable. Why? Because it no longer feels like it is the same country here. I am not really sure what the culture really is about now, so I guess I will have to do a lot of navel gazing so I can figure that one out.

What to do? Instead I will share with you a couple of photos – the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of Paris, if you will. I went back to a couple of spots that I had taken some pics that I liked years earlier – in one case almost 20 years ago. I tried to take the same shot – same perspective etc. But there are different seasons, different times of day… The camera is different: the ‘then’ was an SLR, either digital or film, and the ‘now’ was my iPhone 8 with its 2 excellent little cameras. I also wonder how much my eye has changed over the years?

What you think of the images – do you like the old or the new best? [The ‘old’ is on the left & the ‘new is on the ‘right’.]

And for those of you who need data, here are the two original [& uncropped] new shots straight out of the iPhone. The old shots were taken with the explicit purpose of shooting in black & white – a medium that I absolutely adore. The new shots were taken with the aim of converting them to black & white.