Monthly Archives: April 2010

And the point of that was….?

Statistic Exam 2010.

Well this just made NO sense what-so-ever. Yes, okay I admit this post is going to be doused in a mire of bias and bitterness based on my performance in my stats exam today, but you know what? I don’t care, because at least writing it whilst still trapped behind the heavy fog of oh bollocks means this will at least be an accurate record of my feelings towards Stats on this particular day in my life.

I’m sure there have been (and will be) days when I’ve really enjoyed stats, and would have liked nothing more than to run an ANOVA, or a Multiple Regression to see if my hard work had been ‘statistically’ worth it, but today is NOT one of those days. It’s something satisfying to find nice P values on SPSS if you’ve done lots of work, not quite as satisfying as eating cake or anything crazy but a nice accomplished feeling.
When as a researcher would anyone ever find themselves at a computer unable to deduce what statistical test would be best to use and NOT be allowed to have access to any form of book/google to check their choice for analysis?

Well the answer is never, unless I dont know, you were collecting data on peoples reactions to tornados and as you go to analyse your data the same tornado you are studying rips through your study, swoops up your internet wireless hub and all your text book but kindly spares you, your desk, your laptop and electrical connection.. and you have only 2 hours to complete your work.. or else the tornado will kill again. This seems unlikely.

So why do we have these exams? Would it not be better to give us mini assignments throughout the year, to test our skills on SPSS? I know it’s good to know the background of analysis in order to be better able to make appropriate choices for running a particular test and when you have done so better understand what you can claim from results, but why give us what is at best a memory test to demonstrate an ‘understanding’?

We had two hours fifteen minutes to answer four questions with a range of 2 or 4 subquestions in each section. Not one of these had a percentage next to them either to indicate the worth of the question like our past paper/sample paper had. I had no idea how much to write for any question?!

I attempted all the questions, I definitely knew the answers to about 5 of them out of about 15, (the part a’s usually which I guess are only worth 5% each) and I definitely made up the answer to 3 of the questions (probably the 3 questions worth 20%!) But hey ho. I ended up leaving an hour and 15 minutes early… So I stayed for a whole hour.

1/4 of that hour was spent in the ‘reading time’ and I spent 2/4 of the hour writing, and 1/4 proof reading and drawing a butterfly..

Hope others have experienced a pointless feeling in an exam before. Whilst I know all of the evidence presented above suggests I’ve done badly in this paper, I also can not find it in me to feel disappointed about this. It could be the beta blockers I’m on preventing me from feeling ‘panic’ or it might just be my sense of perspective about this whole issue, statistics are not significant to me.


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Why I Love Nina and the Neurons.. yes I know it’s aimed at 4yr olds!

For anyone who hasn’t seen this show let me give you a little background:

It’s aimed at 4-6 year olds and it’s shown on Cbeebies on channel 1 in the UK. The official website for the show can be found here.

Nina is a bubbly, ponytailed, smiley neuroscientist who works at the Glasgow Science Centre. She has all the happy Scottish joy of a person from the wonderful town of Ballamory, combined with the smarts of Stephen Fry.  What more could you want really?

And I’m not implying in this that I am a regular viewer, honest…. (shhhhh) I wish only to make the point that it’s pretty awesome that a show like this even exists, (and even Pocoyo can be informative to an adult audience!). The theme tune is a great place to start with Nina and her neurons. Right away this tells us and the kids watching that there is a definite link between the neurons in Nina’s head and her ability to senses things, whilst also outlining the 5 senses. Not only does that teach the kids watching about sensory intake but the apparent friendship between the neurons implies multisensory integration.

The neurons are my favourite bit though, they live in Nina’s brain. Bizarrely she occasionally talks to them, indicate she’s suffering from delusions and other possible symptoms of schizophrenia, but beside that they rock and usually keep themselves to themselves and are observers of what’s going on from Nina’s head. You’ve got Felix the touch neuron (get it, like ‘feel’ix), Belle the sound neuron (ring ring) Luke the sight neuron (Any ideas? My guess is that’s based on LUminance, the main measure of the visual system and V1 receptive field sensitivities), Ollie the smell neuron (OLfactory I suppose)  and Bud the taste neuron (taste buds.. of course). Clever stuff already.

The neurons rather brilliantly behave in a way that is analogous to actual neurons, sending messages to different parts of Nina’s body that control her senses. (Implying that there is a one to one relationship between individual neurons and senses, something scientists might be a bit erm.. less convinced by). Still they also interact with one another showing network capabilities of the brain and emphasising its multimodal abilities to combine sensory inputs and form a unitary output.  Also the fact that Nina’s neurons learn from her experiences implies a fair amount of bottom up learning but sometimes the neurons help Nina implying a role of top down processing, wonderful. Most of the time it’s all to do with Nina trying to explain inventions, like ‘door handles’.

If anything the reason I love this show is cause it’s at least trying to give some of the basic information to children before they go off to proper big school and start learning about these things in a less fun, and more detached manner. I love how the show relates everything they do back to the neurons in Nina’s brain, making it clear that without the brain we’d be nothing!



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Second one down, two more to go!

So had my advanced neurophysiological methods exam toady! The questions were pretty tough, but I attempted the two on the topics I’d studied. This means I had to write about how imaging studies have helped with our understanding of TMS on neural activity, luckily I read Allen et al. (2007) before heading off! And then the second question I chose was why is it possible to use MEG to localise neural activity better than EEG.. that was a toughy, more physicsy than I am comfortable with, but I tried to cover all possibilities and showed ‘wider reading’.
So now I’m sat in my room trying to get motivated to look over statistics, that’s the next one and is 2hr 15min on Friday. I’m sure I won’t need that whole time, but oh well.
Note to self for my next exam though, go to the bathroom before it begins on if you only think you need it a little bit, by the end of TWO hours you WILL be desperate! 😦
Bye ya’ll x

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Just a quick update re exams

The questions I needed came up, answered one about olfactory perception and began it with a quote from Romeo and Juliet, ‘That which we call a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet’. And it’s always a good sign if you can quote the Bard in a science exam. The other question was about optic ataxi and the structure of the motor system. Was okay. Not sure if I was able to answer them at a MSc level. I feel like I was only about as impressive as a first year but at least I got something down. I only need 50% to pass this exam and if I get the bare minimum of 50 I’ll still have a 2:1 for this unit overall. Lovely.

I’m off to revise Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, and EEG and Magnetoencephalography ready for tomorrows morning exam on methods. Might have a nap first though.

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The hand of doom is upon me

So my first exam is tomorrow! Of course this means I’m sat in my usual pre exam spot in the library, far away from everyone else, on the top most landing! Going over and over names and dates until I know them by heart. My biggest fear tomorrow is that the topics I’ve revised won’t be in the exam. I hate how half of it comes down to luck of the draw, we physically don’t have the time to revise and learn in depth everything so I sacrificed learning more topics in less detail for the other option, learning only 3 topics in great detail and praying 2 of them come up! I shall post my thoughts feelings about the exam after, unless it’s been a total disaster and I end up having a breakdown!! Wish me some kind of luck. 🙂


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Vote for science, but how?

Where do the main political parties stand on science?

Well it’s tough to tell… here’s some of what I  have ctrl C’ed ctrl V’ed from their manifestos.

Let’s start with good ol’ Labour. Their section titled ‘Investing in science and research

Begins hopefully with a sentence that might as well have been written by a five year old ‘Britain is among the best places in the world to do science’. Sorry? To “DO Science”, as in “when I am a grown up I’m want to do science”? Right. Carry on please..

We are committed to a ring-fenced science budget in the next spending review. To help us do better in turning research outputs into innovation’… Ring fenced? This can’t be positive. What ring, what are you hoping to keep fenced in, science monsters created from hybrid monkeysheepig embryos?

They go on to suggest a new ‘University Enterprise Capital Fund’.  And claim that ‘the proceeds of success will flow back into the higher education sector’. Why would proceeds need to ‘flow back’, oh yes, cause they want to cut the HE budget of course. And then there’s Brown going on about reducing the number of Visa’s for international students. Those international students pay like 3x more than UK students, we need their fee money Gordon!  Oh wait, ‘Universities will be encouraged to develop international links and research partnerships’.. is that by using the connections made by accepting international students? They go on to say they will ‘develop a new gateway for the export of NHS intellectual property and cutting-edge services’. Anybody know what that might even mean? An export of NHS intellectual property.. I hope that means export more doctors and nurses from university training into the hospitals where they are needed.


Moving on to the Conservative: who wish to ‘Make Britain the leading hi-tech exporter in Europe’ . They even got ‘Sir James Dyson’ to recommend things based on his review into how to do this. Because who better to tell you what to do than Henry the Hoover’s best friend!

So based on this “vacuous” knowledge they are going to (among other things) ‘encourage the establishment of joint university-business research and development institutes’. I don’t like this idea, business and university research, might that not lead to invested interest for results, and ultimately corruption and bias?

And ‘initiating a multi-year Science and Research Budget to provide a stable investment climate for Research Councils’. Well okay, but what is this budget, will it be smaller than the previous?

It’s not all sounding dire though, they go on to say they will ‘delay the implementation of the Research Excellence Framework so that it can be reviewed, because of doubts about whether there is a robust and acceptable way of measuring the impact of all research’. I personally am not overjoyed about the idea of this framework, and the ‘impact’ proposal, because it’s difficult to know the ‘impact’ of work before you set out.

They also mention the HE budget plans but no clear direction of their views on this are set out. Somehow they want to provide ‘10,000 extra university places this year’, and I’m not sure this is such a good thing. Universities are already oversubscribed, and the smaller town based uni’s will find it hard to accept any more students when they are already short on cash.

The final point they make about research applies to animal welfare! What a contradiction. They will ‘work to reduce the use of animals in scientific research’, whilst still wishing to maintain the UKs standard of research? Sorry folks, but that surely means rigorous and as-ethically-sound-as-possible animal research.. Okay yes, I think animal testing for cosmetics is wrong sure, but not if we’re ever going to cure cancer, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s etc, we need this work to be done.

Righty enough of the poor ickle monkeys, perhaps that can be a future post?

Let’s move on to the not least equally adorable to monkeys party, the Liberal Democrats. They want to create ‘a dynamic environment for science and innovation’.  So they say ‘Britain’s future depends on a vibrant research base and the ability of innovators to exploit the country’s intellectual capital to generate new home grown high tech industries’. Well that’s lovely. They go on to point out the current problems in the science world ‘despite Government rhetoric, overall public funding of science in real terms is no higher than it was two decades ago’. Yet Labour still maintain the UK is the best place to ‘do science’.

The Lib Dems lso rightly point out that ‘Britain’s Research and Development spend as a proportion of GDP remains near the bottom of the G8. There is no room for complacency.’ So what will they want to do about this? Let’s find out.

At least they are honest when they start with this statement, ‘in the current economic climate it is not possible to commit to growth in spending, but Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of science investment to the recoveryreshaping of the economy’. Well, thank you for not wanting to cut funds at least.

And here are some of their grounded and reasonable suggestions to keep things tickateeboo:

Respect the convention that the science budget, once allocated through the comprehensive Spending Review process, is not used for other purposes’. Can’t really ask for more, well maybe more money if it’s available! But making sure we get to keep what is allocated is a bonus.

This next proposal I really, really do agree with and like,  to ‘ensure that all state-funded research, including clinical trials, is publicly accessible and that the results are published and subject to peer review.’ Well this should be law, if you can’t google it, it isn’t science.

And for the sake of balance I will state here I do not agree fully with all they say, I am yet to be convinced this would be a good idea: ‘reform science funding to ensure that genuinely innovative scientific research is identified and supported, instead of basing funding decisions on narrow impact factors.’ What is a ‘narrow impact factor’ when it’s at home? How can you judge accurately the impact of work before tests have been run? This has potential to impair fields of research that might not seem promising but perhaps will have value later on.

So where does it get good again? Well for me it gets good here, they wish to ‘tackle the gender gap at all levels of scientific study and research to help increase the supply of scientists.’ I hope that happens, we need more men doing psychology and lots more female physicists. I’m sure Prof. Brain Cox can’t be the only pretty physicist one out there, come on girls show the world physics can be sexy in a short skirt as well!

It’s also nice to know Lib Dems would wish to ‘safeguard academic freedom and the independence of scientific advisers by amending the Ministerial Code to prevent government from bullying or mistreating advisers and distorting evidence or statistics’. Well frankly this should be happening anyway?!

So that’s that. All in all I’m left not sure, wish this election could be based on what each MP standing across the UK was like cause there are many scientifc minded MPs out there who I’d vote for in a heart beat, and it’s a shame this isn’t always full reflected by a parties complete manifesto. Luckily I’m not basing my vote purely on the science stand.

Perhaps I’ll vote for the monkey.

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Sorry for the absence..

Just a quick note to say this blog will be more active after May 4th when I can resume my normal life and be free of exams once and for all!
Topics I’m hoping to cover include:
Can kids as young as 6 really have bipolar? And is it right then to medicate them?
Why I love Nina and the Neurons.
Yes, we will make you more moral by zapping your brain!
Exams, what are they good for?
and anything else that comes to mind…
Ciao for now
O 🙂

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