Only Human

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My Walk in the Woods

Last weekend I went for a walk in the woods. It’s not something I do often, but I was with friends who wanted to do it, so alright. We hiked for about four miles. It was not strenuous. It was warm, but not too warm, with a light breeze. The trees protected us from the […]…

Where Do New Ideas Come From?

We tend to think of inventors as another species—geniuses—who have sudden flashes of insight. But Eureka moments may be the stuff of legend. According to historians who specialize in the development of inventions and the thought processes of inventors, innovation is often a slow and iterative process…

In Defense of Brain Imaging

Brain imaging has fared pretty well in its three decades of existence, all in all. A quick search of the PubMed database for one of the most popular methods, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), yields some 22,000 studies.  In 2010 the federal government promised $40 million for the Human Connectome Project, which aims to map […]…

My DNA Made Me Do It? How Behavioral Genetics Is Influencing the Justice System…

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 20 children at a Connecticut elementary school, as well as 6 school staffers, his mother, and himself. Within two weeks, the Connecticut Medical Examiner commissioned a group of geneticists to screen Lanza’s DNA. And for what, exactly? Who knows. There are any number of genetic variants the […]…

Now THIS Is a Synapse

Every time I read about the synapse, the all-important junction between two neurons, the cartoon above pops into my head. It shows the gist of how a synapse works: An electrical pulse enters the cell on the left and activates those little blue balls, called vesicles, to release their chemical contents, called neurotransmitters. The neurotransmitters […]…

No Pain, No Aging

Age brings pain: back pain, eye strain, sore joints, and the like. And pain, too, seems to accelerate aging. Several studies have reported that people with chronic pain have shorter lives than everybody else. But is the link between pain and aging due to the co-occurance of sickness and decay, or rather to the perception […]…

The Roots of Autism Are in the…Skin?

The skin is our gateway to the physical world. Below its surface are oodles of nerve fibers relaying different types of messages to the brain. At the ends of the fingertips, for example, fat and fast Aβ nerves help you fish for keys at the bottom of a messy purse, or feel the difference between […]…

The Problems of Health Journalism (Storify-ed)

Yesterday I wrote a post pondering a perennial topic in health journalism: How do journalists capture what’s new about a study without hyping its relevance in the general scheme of things? How do we avoid the embarrassing flip-flopping of health headlines? The response from readers, both on the blog and on Twitter, has been robust […]…

Resveratrol Redux, Or: Should I Just Stop Writing About Health?…

(Update, 5/13: This post generated a lot of discussion on Twitter, which you can see Storify-ed here. I also talked about these issues on NPR’s On the Media, which you can listen to here.) The science of health is so, so confusing, I almost wonder if it wouldn’t be better for journalists to stop writing […]…

How 10 Minutes of Mild Exercise Gives Your Brain a Boost

I’m an exercise procrastinator, as I’ve admitted before on this blog. Rationally I know that daily exercise will be good for me in the long run. But it’s hard to get motivated by vague health benefits that are years or even decades away. Like any good American I like my instant gratification. I found some […]…

When Laughter Isn’t Funny

This Sunday is World Laughter Day. Before you feel too giddy, here are three medical cases in which laughing foretold sickness.

The Tragic Story of How Einstein’s Brain Was Stolen and Wasn’t Even Special…

My headline may be a bit misleading. Albert Einstein, the Nobel prize-winning physicist who gave the world the theory of relativity, E = mc2, and the law of the photoelectric effect, obviously had a special brain. So special that when he died in Princeton Hospital, on April 18, 1955, the pathologist on call, Thomas Harvey, stole it. Einstein […]…

Videos: A (Very) Close Look Inside the Zebrafish Brain

About a year ago I wrote a story about the hottest new animal model in neuroscience: baby zebrafish. The critters are not much to look at. They’re the size and shape of a curled eyelash, with big bulging eyes. But when some neuroscientists look at the fish, they see a lot of potential. The fish […]…