Oxytocin me baby!

These people are getting stock-photo freaky on oxytocin.

Oxytocin is widely known as the “love hormone” released during birth and breastfeeding to bond a mother and child, but it’s released other times, too. Oxytocin supposedly overflows us with positive feelings about one another.

Or does it?  

The truth will be revealed by Dr. Jennifer A. Bartz (Psychology, McGill) at McGill’s Redpath Museum on February 10 at 5pm, as part of its ongoing “Freaky Friday” series. Her presentation will be followed by the film The Notebook

Redpath Museum Auditorium                          

859 Sherbrooke Street West      

Metro: McGill  Bus: 24      


Everyone welcome 

No reservation necessary        

INFO: 514-398-4094

Feeding the world without destroying the planet: What we can learn from the agricultural areas around Montreal

Agricultural landscapes can provide many different ecosystem services, including food, high quality freshwater, opportunities for recreation, and flood control. Yet we often focus narrowly on the production of food, which can unintentionally undermine provision of other key services. The idea of managing for ecosystem services compels us to consider more than one service and obliges us to consider the interactions and relationships among ecosystem services on the landscape. Yet we don’t know very much about these interactions. Thus, a key goal for science in the coming decade is to improve our understanding of how multiple services are provided across agricultural landscapes. What affects the relative proportions of services? Can trade-offs be reduced or synergies strengthened?

"We are working with local communities in the Vallée-du-Richelieu Municipalité Régionale de Comté, a 750 km2 regional governance body involving 13 towns southeast of Montréal to build models that they can use to objectively quantify the effect of today’s resource and land management decisions on the current and future provision of multiple ecosystem services," says Elena Bennett of McGill’s School of Environment.

She’ll be discussing her research with the public at McGill’s Redpath Museum on December 8 at 6pm. Admission is free.

McGill takes on horseshit

I received the following invitation from the AWESOME Redpath Museum at McGill today - you should rock on down and check this out.

“Alternative medicine” indeed is a perplexing term.  What does it mean?  What is it an alternative to?  Medicine either works, or it doesn’t.  If it works, it isn’t “alternative.”  If it doesn’t work, it isn’t medicine.  So what then is “alternative medicine?”  The best definition seems to be “those practices which are not taught in conventional medical schools.”  Why not?  Because medical schools are sticklers for a little detail called “evidence.”  After all, patients have a right to expect that a course of action recommended by a physician has a reasonable chance of working.  In science, evidence means statistically significant results from properly controlled experiments, as evaluated by experts in the field.  Lack of evidence of course does not mean that a particular treatment cannot work.  Only that it has not been demonstrated to work.  And that is when it can be termed “alternative.”  If sufficient proof is mustered, “alternative” transforms into “conventional.” 

The timing of the symposium comes well because I happened to be at a pharmacy in Montreal, and I noticed that in the “pain area” they have started selling products labelled as "homeopathic" on the same shelf as regular medicine. How are you supposed to work out the difference between what is medicine and what is not when even your trusted pharmacist is toying with semantics? Aren’t they embarrassed? Unfortunately, this practice isn’t rare, either in Quebec or elsewhere in Canada.

I did a little more research, and as it turns out, some ”homeopathic” medicines actually are medical strength to the point that they are regulated by the FDA. So the hideously vile and wicked marketing strategy is this - place medical strength homeopathy on the shelves of regular pharmacies for things like sprained ankles, so that when Aunt Betty has an incurable cancer, poor Joe Anybody will think to himself “well, that homeopathy worked on my foot, maybe it will work on her uterus!” How could anyone participate in something so wicked?

The symposium is taking place Nov. 7 at 7.00 pm at the Mont-Royal Centre (1000 Sherbrooke W) and November 8 at 6.00 pm in Room 132 of McGill’s Leacock Building. For further information, please contact, Emily Shore, the Trottier Symposium Coordinator, at trottiersymposium.science@mcgill.ca 


If you care to get a glimpse, this is what the life of a second-year Anatomy & Cell Biology student at McGill looks like on a good day.  On a side note, how attractive is my TATA-Box? (Of course, this is just from 3 lectures in 1 course. No need to tell me I have no life; that’s already been established.)


If you care to get a glimpse, this is what the life of a second-year Anatomy & Cell Biology student at McGill looks like on a good day.
On a side note, how attractive is my TATA-Box?
(Of course, this is just from 3 lectures in 1 course. No need to tell me I have no life; that’s already been established.)

Fun, disgust and sex all taste the same to your brain

New research from Université de Montréal and McGill University’s Montreal Neurological Institute and Douglas Mental Health Hospitals show that the brain initially reacts to different emotional stimuli in much the same way, with disgust, amusement and sexual arousal provoking the same areas. 

Ten male subjects aged between 21 and 30 years were treated to a series of more than 120 short film excerpts selected by the researchers for their lack of potential to induce any significant emotional reaction. These excerpts, which were extracted from movies or documentaries, depicted various scenes of social interactions (e.g. gardening, renovation, etc…). By comparison, the males were then shown a series of 30 second long excerpts depicted scenes shown to elicit amusement (comedy), disgust (scenes of mutilation), or sexual arousal (explicit male-female interactions). The clips that were the most useful in arousing a reaction, as rated by the group, were then used in the experiment.

A different group of twenty young men watched the clips through googles while having their brain scanned by an MRI machine. The brain activity that the researchers were able to observe is shown below.

Authors Sherif Karama, Jorge Armony, and Mario Beauregard write that ”given that this network includes brain regions known from previous work to be intimately involved in homeostasis, arousal, appraisal, and attention, results could be speculated to suggest the existence of a set of areas meant to improve the way we deal with activating emotional stimuli as these are arguably the ones with the greatest potential of having an immediate impact on our lives.”

Study: Film Excerpts Shown to Specifically Elicit Various Affects Lead to Overlapping Activation Foci in a Large Set of Symmetrical Brain Regions in Males

Image: Plos One. “All contrasts clearly show involvement of the frontal operculum, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, premotor and motor cortices, temporo-occipital regions, and cerebellum.” doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022343.g002

Why is the taxpayer funding this study?

Maggie Koerth-Baker vient de publier le texte suivant… Il m’a beaucoup touché. J’espère qu’il vous inspirera la prochaine fois qu’on vous demande de justifier une subvention à la recherche.

Senator John Pastore: “Is there anything connected with the hopes of this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?”

Physicist Robert Rathburn Wilson: “No sir, I don’t believe so.”

Pastore: “Nothing at all?”

Wilson: “Nothing at all.”

Pastore: “It has no value in that respect?”

Wilson: “It has only to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of man, our love of culture. It has to do with: Are we good painters, good sculptors, great poets? I mean all the things we really venerate in our country and are patriotic about. It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to make it worth defending.”

— From the testimony of Robert Rathburn Wilson before the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, 1969. As quoted in a lovely memorial to Wilson and the Fermi National Laboratory’s Tevatron by science blogger Jennifer Ouellette