3×5: Culture, Neuroscience, and Psychiatry Weekly Roundup (July 17)


1. New book: Medical Anthropology at the Intersections: Histories, Activisms, and Futures, ed. by Marcia Inhorn and Emily Wentzell (2012, Duke University Press). TOC available here. This collection, which seems to have emerged from the SMA meeting at Yale a few years ago, includes a chapter by Didier Fassin on “The Obscure Object of Global Health.”

2. Tanya Lurhmann’s new paper in the latest issue of Current Anthropology,A hyperreal god and modern belief: Toward an anthroplogy of the mind.”

3. Tom Stafford’s “Berlin cognitive science safari: Report” on Mind Hacks, includes video of a fresh change blindness “door” experiment on unwitting Berliners.

4. I think I mentioned Daniel Lende’s post on Boas last week. Here’s a followup: “Hybridity, race, and science: The voyage of the Zaca, 1934–1935 by Warwick Anderson in the latest issue of the history of science journal Isis.

5. Thanks to Daniel Lende, monkeys doing cannonballs into a pool.


1. I hesitated about putting this in, but – as recapped on Storify – Ed Yong attacks TED talks AND oxytocin (‘the moral molecule’ according to Paul Zak). Sometimes it’s refreshing to read someone on Twitter who is very annoyed (or just watch a bunch of monkeys doing cannonballs). Also, serves as a useful reminder to read Meyer-Linderberg et al’s 2011 Nature Rev Neurosci (“Oxytocin and vasopressin in the human brain: Social neuropeptides for translational medicine“).

2. And Micah Allen critiques Shaun Gallagher (“The brain as an enactive system,” Gallagher, Daniel Hutto, Jan Slaby, & Jonathan Cole, n.d.) in his wordpress blog Neuroconscience. Here’s a brief excerpt on the changing paradigm (toward individual differences, functional connectivity), but best to read the Gallagher et al. paper and Micah Allen’s response. Their cordial relationship (Shaun Gallagher was Micah Allen’s “first mentor”) makes this an unusually thoughtful engagement between philosopher and neuroscientist.  Pace Gallagher,

[M]ost neuroscientists today would agree that [functional] segregation is far from the whole story of the brain. Which is precisely why the field is undeniably and swiftly moving towards connectivity and functional integration, rather than segregation. I’d wager that for a few years now the majority of published cogneuro papers focus on connectivity rather than blobology.

3. More productive critique from Jonathan Eisen of UC Davis on “Badomics words and the power and peril of the ome-meme.” One of his concerns is making everything sound “genomic-y”:

[T]he spread of the ome-meme, to me, is attaching too much importance to genomics. Mind you, I love genomics. I have been doing it for almost 20 years and never imagine stopping. I think it is a wonderful thing. But it still can be oversold and that can be dangerous.”

4. Nature brief on Takao Hensch’s work on plasticity: “Neurodevelopment: Unlocking the brain.”

5. Olaf Sporns’ talk at first annual meeting of One Mind for Research (May 2012) is now available: “Wiring the Mind – Brain Networks.”


1. The blog Ruminations of Madness has posted a co-authored chapter on user/survivor led research. Here’s a brief excerpt from their concluding remarks:

User/survivors can only speak with authority if traditional researchers, policy makers and members of the general public come to agree that systems change must be guided both by the lived experience of disability and recovery and through the ongoing critical questioning of often unspoken assumptions about power, truth, and science.

Challenging hierarchies is something that resonates very deeply, also “critically engaging with the complexity of [and meaning ascribed to] user/survivors’ experiences, as well as ideological tensions and contradictions within the user/survivor movement.”

2.The DSM-5 Personality Work Group resignations are a worrisome sign that one of the major innovations, cross-cutting dimensionality of most disorders, has utterly failed (except in the most superficial way).

As we see it, there are two major problems with the proposal. First, the proposed classification is unnecessarily complex, incoherent, and inconsistent. The obvious complexity and incoherence seriously interfere with clinical utility. Although the proposal is touted as an innovative and integrative hybrid system, this claim is spurious. In fact, it consists of thejuxtaposition of two distinct classifications (typal and dimensional) based on incompatible models without any attempt to reconcile or integrate them into a coherent structure. This structure also creates confusion since it is not clear whether the clinician should use one or both systems in routine clinical practice.

Second, the proposal displays a truly stunning disregard for evidence. Important aspects of the proposal lack any reasonable evidential support of reliability and validity. For example, there is little evidence to justify which disorders to retain and which to eliminate. Even more concerning is the fact that a major component of proposal is inconsistent with extensive evidence. The latter point is especially troublesome because it was noted in publication from the Work Group that the evidence did not support the use of typal constructs of the kind recommended by the current proposal. This creates the untenable situation of the Work Group advancing a taxonomic model that it has acknowledged in a published article to be inconsistent with the evidence.

3. From the Daily Beast, “Why Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. Has Remained Mum About His ‘Mood Disorder‘: As the congressman’s staff reveals the nature of his condition, Allison Samuels looks at why mental illness remains taboo in the African-American Community.”

4. Claire Weaver’s interview with Vikram Patel, a guest co-editor of the PLoS Medicine Global Mental Health Practice series. See also the Didier Fassin paper I mentioned above.

5. Anything else by Ruminations on Madness. See, e..g., “Labeling, diagnosis and the politics of reading first-person accounts http://wp.me/p10aTj-8b and “An intergenerational narrative of psychosis” http://wp.me/p10aTj-8d .

This entry was posted in challenges of interdisciplinary research by Constance A. Cummings. Bookmark the permalink.

About Constance A. Cummings

Constance A. Cummings, PhD, is Project Director of the non-profit Foundation for Psychocultural Research, which supports and advances interdisciplinary research and scholarship at the intersection of brain, mind, culture, and mental health and illness. She is co-editor (with Carol Worthman, Paul Plotsky, and Dan Schechter) of Formative Experiences: The Interaction of Caregiving, Culture, and Developmental Psychobiology (Cambridge University Press, 2010) and (with Laurence Kirmayer and Rob Lemelson) the forthcoming Re-Visioning Psychiatry: Cultural Phenomenology, Critical Neuroscience, and Global Mental Health (Cambridge, 2015). She received her doctorate in theoretical linguistics from New York University.

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