A List of Arbitrary Length: True Brain Facts

Arbitrary and in no particular order!

1. Left-brain, Right brain?

No. Staaaaaaaaaahp
While it is true that in most adults language is localized in the left hemisphere of the brain, (but not for 40% of left handed people! About 20% have right-side localization and another 20% have bilateral language) and it appears that the right side of the brain handles processing new situations….that’s a far cry from being “left-brained” or “right-brained”. Wanna learn actual really cool stuff about brain hemispheres? Go look at the case of split-brain patients.

2. Your brain is not mostly made up of neurons.

Neurons are really neat, and they obviously have an impact on your thoughts. But have you heard of neuroglia? They outnumber neurons 10 to 1. That’s right, for every neuron, you have ten glia. Their functions aren’t quite so earth shaking, but they’re the streetsweepers and maids and mechanics, keeping the whole system running smoothly. Wikipedia does a nice summary.

3. Hot water, cold water? Your brain is not so good at this.

Sometimes when you run your hand under very hot water, it seems almost cold for a split second. If you’re like me, you shiver when you step into a hot bath or jacuzzi. When researchers had two unlabeled pipes, one with hot water and one with cold water running through them, patients who briefly held one couldn’t say which it was. Why?

The surface area problem: hot and cold nerve receptors are located in too close proximity, and will sometimes fire incorrectly if overstimulated. Known as paradoxical cold (when a cold receptor fires at high heat) and paradoxical warmth (when a warm receptor fires at cold temperatures), your brain can override with other knowledge. For instance, I am quite sure that my bath is steaming and the rest of my body is perceiving the heat rising off of it. So, I scrap the notion that I could be stepping into an icebath and feel warmth. Here’s a good summary at Mental Floss.

4. Neurons migrate.

After they’re created, neurons have to move in the right direction and make the right connections. It’s possible that they make the journey by following radial glia (Oh, the undervalued glial cells). When incorrect migration occurs, you get all sorts of severe disorders.

A List of Arbitrary Length: True Brain Facts

Monday Miscellany

Debating race and inequality is….messy.

Chana needs a better science-religion Venn diagram. I can’t figure out which part to quote, so you should read the whole thing.

Here’s a nifty pull quote from David Silverman, interviewed at Netroots Nation:

But really when we’re talking about how we’re dealing with this, it’s hard because atheism is all about free speech, atheism is all about open communication, and some atheists are simply not nice people. And just like some Christians are not nice people, and some Jews are not nice people, some atheists are simply not nice people. And there’s a lot of people who are in that middle area, and there’s a lot of misunderstanding. So what I think has to happen is that the feminist voice in atheism has to be protected — protected may be not the right word, but I’ll use it anyways. The voice of feminist has to be protected, it has to be amplified, it has to be helped by the men in atheism and by the women as well. We have to make a stand that says, “It’s just obvious that men and women are equal and it’s also obvious that rape jokes sent to feminist speakers and sent to feminist bloggers, that’s not what good people do.”

At the crux of that, I’ve said many times that the atheism movement is the good guys. We are the good guys! We strive for equality, not advantage, that’s what makes us the good guys. Good guys don’t act like that. They don’t act like that to our enemies, and they don’t act like that to our allies. I have seen people within the atheist movement treat other atheists more poorly than I would treat the worst of our adversaries, and that shames me. That makes me ashamed of them.

And speaking of atheists, Hemant fact-checks Time’s piece on community service, and whether or not secular humanists offered help in the wake of the Oklahoma tornado.

As an addendum,  I’m all for voting with your dollars and canceling your subscription to Time in protest (as I’ve seen many advocating). But I’d argue that you can probably do more if you cancelled your subscription, were outraged, and then organized, joined, or otherwise did a community service project. 

And, for a question: what’s the best argued blog/article/op-ed you’ve read that argues for a postion you do not hold?  

Monday Miscellany

Proposed: That We’d Just Be Better Off If We Forgot About That Flying Spaghetti Monster Stuff

Move over, Noodliness.
Move over, Your Noodliness.

I floated this post idea on Twitter and everyone told me to write it, so if this goes badly, I think I can just blame it on them, right? That’s how it works?

It’s not that the original Flying Spaghetti Monster wasn’t a useful allegory–in fact, it was a hilarious allegory with enough snark to give us atheists years of rib-elbowing and behind-hand snickering. It’s just that now, it’s become part of the dialect, if you will. OMFSM. Pastafarians. Whatever this was.

And I think, as this movement focuses more on social justice, as we combine feminism with atheism…or even if you’ve just wondered how to have more women in your group…we need to take a look at things like this:
[Excerpted from The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster]

We’d like to tell you all about our Heaven, which features a Stripper Factory and a giant Beer Volcano.


Q: If there’s a Beer Volcano and a Stripper Factory in Heaven, what’s FSM Hell like?

A: We’re not entirely certain, but we imagine it’s similar to FSM Heaven, only the beer is stale and the strippers have venereal diseases. Not unlike Las Vegas.


Sorry, one of the big in-jokes in atheism has a stripper factory? A factory? Like the sort where inanimate objects are made? And simultaneously, we’re looking about for reasons women are less likely to be atheists than men?

Oh, there’s male strippers too:

Q: Are there male strippers in FSM Heaven for women?
A: Probably, but they are invisible to the non-homo guys.

Cuz it wouldn’t be heaven if straight men had to see nearly-naked dudes!

Antarctica, the cursed, is the continent that is the Pastafarian equivalent to Christianity’s Hell. The Beer Volcano froze over millennia ago, the strippers wear big bulky parkas and snow pants, and the place is covered in ice and snow.

Yeah, the real problem is when strippers cover up. That’s hell. </sarcasm>

I’d like to argue that this is not, perhaps, the face we want to put on our message. We do not want the intrepid high school google-er, sitting at her computer when her parents are out, trying to find out more about her unbelief and why there keep being pasta jokes and coming upon….Stripper Factory.

Oh, but you say, it’s just become part of what we do. It’s offhand! Most people don’t even know the whole thing about the Kansas School Board and the book and most of the people who do know about the book haven’t read it–and—–


Have you recently told a Christian they can’t just pick and choose the gay friendly parts of the bible, or giggled along as a Family Values Politician divorced–what does his bible have to say about that? Did you let them get away with pleading ignorance, or that it was the main message that was important? But you want me to ignore the strippers, because the important part is about teaching science in school?

I think not.




Proposed: That We’d Just Be Better Off If We Forgot About That Flying Spaghetti Monster Stuff

Monday Miscellany: Chronic Pain, Brains, & Beauty

My partner graduated yesterday! I was in a different state! I might be a bad girlfriend!

I use exclamation points a lot!

But it’s Monday, so I’m a little more caffeinated and a little less exclamatory…so click some links!

Can we diagnose mood disorders via brain scans?
Man, I wish we could. Luckily, it looks like my wishes could be granted.

Sidenote: I’m getting my brain scanned (structural and functional MRI’s) sometime soon and I get to keep copies of all the images. My feelings.

GUYS. What if we could tell you what treatment would work best for your depression by LOOKING AT YOUR BRAIN?

Note for people trying to figure out what meds they’re talking about: escitalopram is known by the brand name Lexapro and is an SSRI.

People think secret information is better information:

Our studies imply that, among average U.S. citizens, secret information is used as a cue to infer informational quality. This suggests that when government leaders claim, for example, that secret information indicates that enemy nations are building weapons of mass destruction—and that military intervention is therefore warranted—citizens may be more likely to endorse their government’s position even though there is no opportunity for public vetting of that information.

Welp. That’s not a great heuristic. Can anyone give me a reason this is a good thought process to have? I’m coming up short.

Two post about chronic pain: one on the awful redundancy and one about skeptics with chronic pain.

Are women their own worst beauty critics?

Many people do lack self-confidence, and there is certainly more pressure on women to be conscious of their own appearance than men, but is it really the case that women are more criticalof that appearance than everyone else?

First of all, the whole entire world is critical of the way women look. Whether you are asupermodel, a teenager or even Secretary of State, if you’re a female, there are people all around you ready to tell you how bad your body looks. Secondly, the idea that women are valuableonly for their beauty permeates nearly every facet of modern society, from the billboards we walk past to the social media we use daily. And this idea that women should be reduced to their appearance originated almost entirely in the minds and actions of men. And it is still largely perpetuated today by men – who run over 90% of our media.

So to say women are their own “worst critics” when it comes to beauty puts the blame on women for a beauty-obsessed, body-shaming and misogynistic world created and maintained largely by dudes.

School of Doubt wrote about the Secular Student Alliance. It’s pretty great.

Happy Monday, m’dears! In honor of things that begin with M, here’s a map of Mercury:



Monday Miscellany: Chronic Pain, Brains, & Beauty

How to Be the ‘Right’ Kind of Crazy

Warning: heavy sarcasm ahead. 
Prompted by some combination of bad psych journalism, tropes, and bad advice I’ve been given. 

  • Take your meds. People who go off their meds are scary and dangerous, and I heard about one of them who went on a rampage. But also, you shouldn’t need your medication to function. Everybody is overmedicated these days and it’s not the Real You ™ once those pills touch your tongue.
  • It’s really irritating to have to put up with your weird requests and boundaries and all that attention you need. But tell us what we can do to help you!
  • Think positive. Keep thinking positive. Are you thinking positive thoughts? What about now?
  • It’s really important that you get treatment, but isn’t, like, everybody mentally ill these days?
  • Definitely don’t have problems with substance abuse, because at that point it’s all a lack of willpower.
  • Make sure you have a disorder that’s commonplace enough for us to recognize it, but not too common–that’s the stuff everybody has these days, and it’s probably because the [internet/technology/schools] are causing it.

Have more? Add them in the comments.

Grouchy Kate will go on hiatus beginning tomorrow–I’ll be back to normal blogging. 

How to Be the ‘Right’ Kind of Crazy

Monday Miscellany

Hello from Ohio! I moved here on Sunday for the summer, and as I adjust my schedule to fit work, it may take me a few days to settle back to blogging. After that–well, I have these plans to write a post every day.

Until then…other people’s blogs.

Olivia writes about the new DSM, and what changes to diagnoses look like.

Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder: This is an entirely new diagnosis for this edition of the DSM. Its main characteristics are extreme temper outbursts beyond what is reasonable for the stimuli, and a continuous angry or irritable mood through 2 domains of life, at least one of which is severely disrupted. It’s similar to ODD, however it’s considered more severe, and BD, although it is more continuous in the mood rather than episodic.

Eating Disorders: This is another category that had a fair amount of controversy surrounding the changes. Binge Eating Disorder was introduced as a new categorization, characterized by extreme intakes of food and calories, often as a way to deal with emotions. Many are worried that this will turn overeating into a mental illness, however the diagnosis was introduced to illustrate the differences between the two: binge eating disorder comes with feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment, and extreme emotional disruption. There has been a change in the criteria for anorexia, namely the deletion of amenorrhea. The bulimia criteria have been adjusted so that the frequency of binge/purge episodes is fewer. Overall the changes were instituted to lower the number of EDNOS diagnoses. With these changes, men are now as likely as women to get an eating disorder diagnosis.*

How will we know when there’s gender equity in the skeptic movement? Stephanie expands on a point she made at Women in Secularism.

We’ll know we have gender equity when the evidence we provide for how we’re treated as women is evaluated the same way as the evidence atheists provide for how they’re treated as atheists. We won’t be treated by fellow atheists as though we need four witnesses for everything we report. The behaviors we mention over and over won’t be seen as individual incidents to be explained away. They won’t be seen as personal matters between two individuals. They will be recognized as a pattern to be addressed.

My favorite newly-discovered blog is Doing Good Science…and this is my favorite post. An excellent example of steelmanning; when #chemophobia isn’t irrational: listening to the public’s real worries.

The “Family Members, Friends, Neighbors” approach to Mental Illness: analysis of 2013′s National Conference on Mental Health

For all that the conference was supposed to be about mental illnesses, it turned out to focus far more on *sane* family members and friends of the mentally ill, rather than on people with mental illnesses themselves.

This tendency was  exemplified in the President’s speech, when he stated:  ”We all know somebody — a family member, a friend, a neighbor — who has struggled or will struggle with mental health issues at some point in their lives.”

Note the construction of the sentence: “We all know somebody – a family member, a friend, a neighbor – who has struggled with mental illness.” The person with mental illness here is alwayssomeone else. They are always removed from ourselves. They are the people we help, the people we are sad for, the people we want to save. The people who are sick, the people who are hurting, the people with the problems – they are categorically not us. They are other.

They are, moreover, specifically not the implied audience of the sentence. The implied audience is the people who “know somebody’ with a mental illness. Obama probably wanted to evoke sympathy for people with mental illnesses. But in doing so, he reinforced the trope of the mentally ill as the “other” – as people who aren’t worth speaking to, and about, directly. Despite the fact that one in five Americans suffer, or will suffer, from a mental illness, and thus make up a fairly sizeable portion of the audience.


Thing is, I do actually know a family member, a friend AND a neighbor who has struggled with mental health issues. You know who else has struggled with mental health issues?


Open Letter to the CFI Board of Directors

To be clear, Dr. Lindsay is entitled to his opinions about feminism and the concept of privilege. But if he had concerns about these issues that he wished for the conference organizers and speakers to address, he could have done so before the conference and in private. His decision to do so during his opening remarks was particularly inappropriate given that merely weeks before, Dr. Lindsayused his position to advocate discussing objections privately and, of all things, listening more.

As secular activists, we welcome discussion about feminism and its role in the secular movement. But a condescending lecture is not a discussion, and the opening remarks of a conference are a time to welcome and thank participants, not to air grievances against them.

*Though I know Olivia’s meaning, men are not quite as likely as women to get an eating disorder diagnosis–it seems women are both more likely to take themselves in for treatment and have a higher prevalence of eating disorders. 

Monday Miscellany

And Then, Square One

Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.
Kendell Geers, Master Mistress of My Passion VII, 2010, Jesomite and glass, Courtesy Gallery Rodolphe Janssen, Bruxelles.

This…is part weird announcement, part rant. 

I wrote this piece a few months ago, the week I terminated therapy. I didn’t really expect to keep writing full posts about the experience of mental illness. And it’s true. I’ve been managing my eating well. I haven’t been panicky at the prospect of getting dressed in the morning. Grocery aisles aren’t overwhelming. It’s summer, and I’ve worn shorts.

And then there was the other shoe.

The other shoe dropped a few weeks ago…in which I developed an entirely new set of symptoms and related behaviors, which very nearly prevented me from doing important things like working and getting out of bed. I briefly reconnected with my old therapist to attempt to get a handle, or at least someone to tell me I wasn’t as crazy as my brain said. She’s recommended I see a specialist over the next school year, a decision I’ll be following. The university, quite luckily, happens to have several. I’ve no doubt I’ll be comparing the relative coziness of their couches.

It’s entirely possible that the whole of May was an isolated occurrence. I’d like it to be.

It also might be that what happened was indicative of a larger problem underlying the patterns of eating disordered behavior I’ve had. Or those two might coexist in the three pounds of brain matter I run around with. Mostly, I can find out more by waiting to see what happens next. Which means I don’t have answers. You may have noticed that I like having answers about mental illness.

You’ll noticed too that I haven’t explained what my brain is doing… And I don’t know that I will be any time soon.

And this, right here, is the rant, and the part that’s far more important.

I wrote about anorexia under my online identity quite easily. It isn’t my real name, sure, but it’s the name you’ll find on my Twitter, my Facebook, a name my employer could probably turn up with little digging. And I don’t mind that, because talking about an eating disorder isn’t all that risky, as a college-aged woman wanting to go into social work. We’ve got, in our society, this list of mental illnesses that are considered more acceptable. Safer.

And I used to fall neatly into one of those safer disorders.

But tell somebody you have schizophrenia, a personality disorder, substance abuse issues….and suddenly people respond differently. There’s this setting apart you can almost see, like people who occasionally handle weird brain shit cannot also enjoy things like pizza and small talk.

This is not how it works, y'all
This is not how it works, y’all



And that makes me angry.

It’s not okay that some disorders sounds like an answer and some sound like a life sentence. That parents avoid seeking assessment for their children because they worry the damage a label could do–that an accurate, descriptive word could be more dangerous than targeted help for the future of their child. It makes me angry that the decision comes down to whether my resume could outweigh the results of a quick google. And it infuriates me that this is a question that people face over and over and over again.

So let’s fix that, shall we?

Edit: Ashley rightly pointed out that risk is verrrry relative. It’s fine and good for me to think that I take little to no career risk when contemplating social work as someone with an ED. Were I contemplating politics, the stakes would be different. The first iteration of this post was unnecessarily missing nuance. 

And Then, Square One

Monday Miscellany

Morning! Pour yourself some coffee and click these links.

This week in really cool science: People with anorexia move as if they’re their perceived size. While it’s obviously just one study, could a test like this be used as a screening tool? It gets at the cognitive side, rather than relying on the (mostly behavioral) side of determination we use now.
Scientific American article and podcast
Actual research article

Speaking of science, let’s talk about false positives and unreproducible results.

Also, anti-obesity campaigns and people with disordered eating. Not always a great combination.

People who need certainty are contributing to the RUIN OF SOCIETY. Basically.

Here’s a reason the world’s tumbling into ruin: if you want to be a popular pundit, it’s far better to be certain than accurate.  That’s right; more people will listen to a person who is factually wrong but confident over a guy who’s accurate but honest.

There are days I despair for the world, because our tiny monkey brains are forever seeking out shit that’s bad for them: sugar. Sex.  And certainty.  Basically, it’s a terrifying thing to think that this universe is full of so many factors that no one, literally no one, can predict what’s going to happen next with any confidence, and so we’ll happily listen to awful pundits who fill us up with the lie that yeah, someone knows, and it’s me.

Should we seculars have man-free events? My friend Robby mulls it over.
(Embarrassing fact: The first time I read this I, admittedly, scanned it before work. Which meant that I read the intro and the bolded topics. Which meant that I concluded that Robby must be anti-women’s-spaces. Which means that it was a very good thing that Chana sent me back to read it again. I’ve packed humble pie for lunch today.)

I’m updating my reader today–post below if you have a blog 🙂

Monday Miscellany

The Best of the Cochrane Collaboration

The Cochrane Collaboration is an international group of 28,000 volunteers who sit around organizing research, examining the evidence behind medicine and therapeutic techniques, writing easy to read summaries of their findings, and generally improving the state of information.

And nobody told me about it.

Guys, I’m so disappointed. There I am, at work, hunting down a specific paper and I run across this MASSIVE DATABASE OF EVIDENTIARY REVIEWS, that’s just been sitting there! Waiting for me! And nobody every told me that it was there.

So of course, I got completely sucked into it….for weeks.

Which leaves me with a series of favorite reviews.

Those ‘scared straight’ programs? They’re a horrible idea.

Exercise can have a small effect on some of the symptoms of depression…it’s better than nothing at all, but not by much.

In other frustrating news, we don’t really know how to prevent sex offenders from reoffending.

CBT for people with chronic pain or disability?

Hormonal birth control in overweight women. (BMI based, I know. Sigh.)

Go forth and investigate! (And post the interesting/relevant/surprising ones in the comments. 

The Best of the Cochrane Collaboration

How Not To Be a Jerk to the Future of Your Movement

(This post could be more accurately titled How Not To Be a Jerk To, Like, Anyone Younger Than You, but the skepto-atheist movement is actually one where we can directly see how young students and activists are making waves. Also, they’re the ones reading this.)

These guys make it possible. (And make funny faces.)
These guys make it possible. (And make funny faces.)

It’s no secret that the secular movement has grown into a movement full of students, enthusiastic young people who go and do and write and organize cool conferences. SkepTech, Skepticon, Secular Student Alliance anyone?.

And that means young people are watching what the secular movers and shakers are saying. They’re blogging about it and retweeting and memeing and quoting. These, secular leaders, are the future of your movement. They’re listening to you.

And honestly, we’re a little tired of being the punchline.

At Women in Secularism last weekend, one speaker described young activists as annoying. Of course, being annoying get things done, she clarified, over the laughter of the room. But you have to grow up to have perspective, she continued, and went on with her message. From my perspective in the fourth row, watching two-thirds of the room agree that my demographic was annoying and nearsighted didn’t exactly have me leaping to volunteer my time.

“You’re so young for an activist!” Look, this one doesn’t even make any sense at all. Students have always been integral to activist movements. If it would be weird (though more accurate) to tell you “but you’re so old to be interested in social movements!” then I’d strongly suggest avoiding the reverse. Besides, what does one say in response? Why yes, I am young! Thank you for noticing!

Watch your language. The Secular Student Alliance has all my love for getting this one consistently right. Student activists, young activists, teens….all great! Kids? Less so. For one, it’s simply less descriptive: kids doesn’t tell you what someone is doing as much as it conveys tousled hair and sneakers. Unless your subject is under say, 13, you’re picking a word that’s both inaccurate and dismissive.

Don’t qualify our achievements with our age.  This part is complicated, because sometimes, it negates part of the previous. Say someone blogs or does activisty things as a result of their studenthood, or for a student organization (Like the MU SASHA Blog!). Congratulations–you’re completely correct in calling them a student blogger. However, if someone does activism whilst simultaneously happening to be a student…not so much. Go for “blogger and student”. And ask yourself why you need to point out their studenthood in the first place. After all, both my co-blogger Ashley and #FtBully Ian Cromwell are students. Would you describe them as student bloggers? Why not? Why do you need to point out the student part for young collegiate or high school students, but not graduate students? Why is it relevant to their blogging? [CFI On Campus has been great about this.]

A word on facebook friending those same young activists:

Facebook is wonderful, and social media has been a huge asset to this movement. And, speaking from experience, it’s just exciting to friend and be followed by those people whose writing you’ve read, whose speeches you’ve followed on YouTube. And it’s horrifying to watch those people you’ve looked up to for long stop by your status to tell you that you just don’t get it yet. To wait five years–you’ll understand better.

For many of us, this was the first thing we got involved in, the first time we felt part of a movement bigger than ourselves, like we could make a difference and change the world. I bet you felt like that too. And I bet you heard it was silly, that you didn’t get it, that the world didn’t work that way.

So, if you find yourself considering telling that young whippersnapper about how you remember that time in your life, and really, they’ll know better later, I encourage you to continue to harken back to your teenagerhood. Can you recall, also, exactly how helpful it was for everyone older than you to inform you how little understood about the ways of the world?

Yeah, me either.

Shoutout to Chicago Skeptics, a group that responded wonderfully to suggestions and has been bringing in new and young speakers, noted when locations were age-restricted, supported the ventures of secular groups at universities, and generally have been my favorite way to get involved in the secular community. 

How Not To Be a Jerk to the Future of Your Movement