Wednesday 7 August 2013

A quick wave to all my new twitter followers

Hello! I really hope you’ll enjoy our new blog over at the Guardian. It’s a privilege to be able to write about psychology for such a broad audience, and to do so alongside such talented colleagues as Pete Etchells, Thalia Gjersoe and Molly Crockett. I'll do my best not to disappoint!

NeuroChambers is my personal blog, where I write mostly about science-related things but occasionally post more personal stuff.

First, a bit about me. I’m a researcher at the Cardiff University School of Psychology. I’m originally from Australia, where I did a PhD about 10 years ago in an area called ‘psychoacoustics’ – the psychology of auditory perception. After that I got interested in the relationship between the brain and cognition, so I moved to an area called cognitive neuroscience, which bridges the gap between neurobiology and traditional experimental psychology. I now run a research group in Cardiff, where we use brain imaging and brain stimulation methods to understand human cognitive control and attention. At the moment I’m particularly interested in the psychology and neuroscience of response inhibition, impulse control, and addiction.

I started NeuroChambers in 2012 after taking part in a debate on science journalism at the Royal Institution. Following some energetic arguments in the press about the good, bad, and ugly of science reporting, we came to the conclusion that scientists and journalists need to cooperate far more constructively in the service of public understanding (you can watch the debate here and read more about it here). One area, in particular, that I feel scientists need to work on is the process of communicating science to non-scientists. And a great way to do this, of course, is through blogging.

There are four main types of article I post here on my personal blog: 

1. Research Briefings: these are (hopefully) accessible summaries of our recent research. Whenever we publish an article in a scientific journal that I think might have broader appeal, I write an overview of the work for a general audience. Here are a few I wrote about human vision, impulse control, and human brain stimulation. I’m not the only scientist to do this – Mark Stokes at Oxford University also does it over at Brain Box (and does it well!) 

2. Calls to Arms: I’m a psychologist and I think psychology is an important and fascinating discipline. But I’m actually quite critical about what passes for acceptable research practices these days, and lately I’ve been working on possible solutions. One approach I’ve been advocating is called study pre-registration. In short, what this means is that scientists should specify the predictions and statistical tests in their experiments before they conduct them. Doing so helps us stay true to the scientific method and avoid fooling ourselves into believing that we’ve discovered something real when in fact we're only staring at the reflection of our own bias. For me, study pre-registration is common sense but not everyone agrees. Psychological science is in the midst of a revolution, and revolutions are never easy. We’ll be writing more about this at Head Quarters as we gradually reform the field.

Another area that I’ve been fairly vocal about recently is the importance of evidence-based policy in government. Last year, Mark Henderson, head of Communications at the Wellcome Trust, published a very important book called the Geek Manifesto, which explains why science is so important and yet so undervalued in modern politics. Mark’s book inspired me and many other scientists to do something proactive to address this issue. Together with Tom Crick and several colleagues – as well as 60 generous donors from across the UK – I helped coordinate a campaign to send one copy of the Geek Manifesto to each elected member of the National Assembly for Wales. I’m also following up on this initiative with Natalia Lawrence at the University of Exeter. Natalia and I are aiming to establish a rapid-response ‘evidence information service’ for politicians and civil servants. 

3. Advice columns for students and junior scientists: These posts will have less general appeal as they're usually written for those already pursuing a career in science. Still, my most popular post on this blog has been a (probably overly) blunt list of do’s and don’ts for the aspiring PhD student. 

4. Whinges: I’ve lived in Britain long enough to cherish the art of a good whinge, and part of being a scientist is challenging bullshit. I occasionally write critical pieces questioning (what I see as) flawed or overegged science, or bad practice. You’ll see more of this style of piece over at Head Quarters as well.

Also, a warning. As you’ll have noted above, I’m a bit sweary at times (for which you can blame my Australian upbringing). Apologies in advance if I write or say something that offends! Don't worry, my Guardian posts will be more civilised - usually!

So that’s a quick overview of me and the things I write about at NeuroChambers. Meanwhile stay tuned for more posts at Head Quarters – we’ve got some exciting topics in the pipeline.

Finally, for no reason whatsoever, here’s a picture of our two cats...doing what cats do best.