So a few weeks ago I posted this report on the state of pharmaceutical counterfeiting globally This week we’ll look at the dire state of the genuine pharmaceuticals industry.

thief running Big Pharma Leaves Neuroscience In The Dust

Since the beginning of this year two leading drugs companies GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZenca have all but completely pulled funding for research and development of meds for neurological disorders. Before I go in to detail it’s worth noting the annual marketing budget of the industry is $57.5 billion. To put that in to context, the gulf sea oil disaster this summer only cost $8 Billion. That’s even more money spent on advertising than the highest value note in Zimbabwe could buy, well perhaps thats not saying much. One single company, Forest, spent $36 million on lunches for doctors to create “an extended amount of selling time for representatives”, in one year, for one single drug, the anti-depressant Leraxo.

a photo of a fifty billion zimbabwean dollar banknote 300x166 Big Pharma Leaves Neuroscience In The Dust

Formerly the highest value Zimbabwean dollar bill, coincidentally also the annual marketing expenditure of Big Pharma

On 4th February GSK announced it was pulling out of research in to pain, Depression and Anxiety Disorders. Since then AstraZeneca has announced it has followed suit also adding Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder to the list of neurological conditions being abandoned. The justification for this was primarily economic, despite this, the companies continue to spend billions in advertising the high priced, often addictive and sometimes deadly products already on the market that have been proven to barely provide any benefits at all in many cases. This will come as a shock to anyone who has studied psychology as you’ll know that depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia take up almost the whole of any introductory psychology text book, and as those textbooks would tell you the current meds are generally not very effective and involve substantial side effects. Worse still for dozens of neurological conditions current meds don’t yet exist that provide real benefits (e.g. for conditions such as Alzheimers and ALS). Research in to more promising compounds just isn’t as profitable as selling the ones developed decades ago.

unhappy 199x300 Big Pharma Leaves Neuroscience In The Dust

As a result of these announcements the Institute of Medicine has called a meeting with government leaders and academics globally to assess the problem, it stated that…

“the biggest problem… is that when you look at what companies are doing for psychiatric drug treatment … there are very few new molecular entities, very few novel ideas and almost nothing that gives hope for a transformation in the treatment of mental illness”.

So the facts:

  • As of July there are 313 drugs for mental disorders in the pipeline
  • Most of these are slightly tweaked versions of old compounds, much in the same way that underground pharma tweaks newly banned chemicals to make legal variants. Interestingly the government has responded to the work done by underground pharma by making whole classes of compounds such as Cathinones actually illegal.)
  • A large proportion of of these compounds are actually already approved and are just being resubmitted for more uses (as off label use is banned by the FDA)
  • Lots of these are first generation a-typical antipsychotics being resubmitted for anxiety and depression even though they are well known for their extensive side effects, far from ideal for the depressed.

So whats the value of spending millions on resubmissions for off-label uses? This would allow the companies to extend the patents that are about to expire and get another 10 years of sales for the same old compounds, except in a shiny new packet with a slightly different name. They will then proceed to spend the billions they could have spent on discovery on advertising *insert neuro-funking-catchy-sounding-name-here* to consumers in America (as this is illegal in the Europe) and wining and dining the buyers of surgeries and hospitals globally. This is all simply because it’s a lot less financially risky than doing real R&D.

 Big Pharma Leaves Neuroscience In The Dust

In reality only 8% of CNS drugs make it to market and most that crash do so in the final stages of R&D, making it a very high risk to start with. Big Pharma seems to have decided that the odds on discovering new meds in the CNS area just isn’t worth the risk. The worst bit? The government has just decided to cut science funding by 25%, great job Dave. On the plus side, this is great news for psychologists.. your patients won’t be deserting you any time soon.

THUMBS UP MAN small 300x200 Big Pharma Leaves Neuroscience In The Dust

Thanks to @mindhacks for putting this out there.. Big thumbs down to @science for locking such info behind a paywall so high it would make Hadrian cower.

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.
Tagged with:

Ever spent an entire day in bed and got up in the evening feeling no better off?

295e11bb 44ee 4ae4 a85c f30aa35ac182 Why Airports Suck So Much and Doing Nothing Can Be So Damn Tiring

The evolutionary explanation for our choice of behavior is obvious, to conserve energy. A study published in July has proposed that when given the choice between doing something or not doing something we will take the lazy option near on every time. The paper published in psychological science proposes that we’d be happier if we spent the time actively than standing around, even if that activity was walking round in circles.

So far so good, yada yada. Heres where it gets fishy…. The study (ironicly conducted in a business school) reviewed a stack of research confirming the above and suggesting we live in a paradox in which:

1. We dread Idleness and crave activity

2. We need reason for activity and won’t enter in to it voluntarily

This led the authors to consider a rather startling hypothesis:

“busy people are happier than idle people, regardless of whether they choose to be busy or are forced to be busy” (Hsee et al 2010)
stalin Why Airports Suck So Much and Doing Nothing Can Be So Damn Tiring
The researchers proceed to perform a strangely elaborate test on the participants. The experimenter gave the participants a chocolate bar in return for them completing an inconsequential questionairre and then gave them the choice to hand back the questionnaire or walk back to the experimenter’s office and return it to a pigeon-hole. They were then asked to rate the chocolate on how good it tasted. The participants that walked thought the chocolate tasted nicer.
wonka bar Why Airports Suck So Much and Doing Nothing Can Be So Damn Tiring
Sorry, rewind! Never mind the possible spurious variables… like the effect of exercise on us wanting chocolate, or the limitations in application (or “ecological validity” as us Psych buffs call it), or happiness being a far more complex an emotion than taste, or that taste is not really even an emotion at all. Or the possibility that it might have just been a friendly act to walk the paper back and these friendly people also surprise surprise were less likely to say “your free chocolate tasted like arse, thankyou very much”. Or the fact that this entire experiment is about bloody chocolate bars. Despite all of this, this somehow led the researchers to the conclusion:
“people are happier when busy than when idle, even if busyness is forced upon them”
Pardon me but that sounds awfully like the Scientific equivalent of discerning the meaning of life from Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. In fact scratch that, that sounds like a much better idea all together.
charlie and the chocolate factory 9 Why Airports Suck So Much and Doing Nothing Can Be So Damn TiringNow I’m just going to go ahead and be lazy and quote directly from the “Implications” section of this thesis, because to sumarise just wouldn’t do it justice:
“We advocate a third kind of busyness: futile busyness, namely, busyness serving no purpose other than to prevent idleness. Such activity is more realistic than constructive busyness and less evil than destructive busyness.”
It gets better…
wow bridge Why Airports Suck So Much and Doing Nothing Can Be So Damn Tiring
“This is where paternalism can play a role (Thaler & Sunstein, 2008). For example, homeowners may increase the happiness of their idle housekeepers by letting in some mice and prompting the housekeepers to clean up. Governments mayincrease the happiness of idle citizens by having them build bridges that are actually useless.”
big brother Why Airports Suck So Much and Doing Nothing Can Be So Damn Tiring
Get ready, Big Brothers coming… and this time he’s bringing his whip!
NB: Believe it or not this is not a new idea, it’s being going on for ages. Larson (1987) proposed that airport customers would be happier aimlessly trekking it round the air port in circles than causing trouble  by baggage reclaim or heaven forbid perhaps reading a book.

airportmaze2 Why Airports Suck So Much and Doing Nothing Can Be So Damn Tiring

Well, if it fails to make people happy it’s one way to solve an unemployment problem at least… sigh

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.

So, theres been a lot of chatter over recent weeks about Brain Computer Interfacing since Tan Le’s TED talk on the Emotiv which resulted in the emotiv site being overloaded with hits and the letters “B, C and I” becoming familiar to fellow geeks the world over. The talk is mostly a marketing pitch so as I’m currently (amateur that I may be) involved in some BCI research myself I figured I’d give a little explanation of whats going on here… 


Brain Computer Interfacing is not a new discovery but is currently emerging as a practical option for clinical treatment of “locked in syndrome”. The claims made by Emotiv however that the company has made a discovery that allows BCI to be released on the consumer market for gaming purposes are therefore intriguing. A major problem for decoding the EEG signals that the  BCI relies upon is that the electrical signal the brain gives off is very weak and must travel through both skull and tissue. Emotiv claims it’s “breakthrough was to create an algorithm that unfolds the cortex so that we can map the signals closer to it’s source and therefore making it capable of working across a mass population“. 

mans brain The Emotiv Empoc... Bursting the BCI Bubble?

The surface of the brain is folded, and the signals it gives off are complex and extremely distorted (teehee)

This currently hasn’t really been achieved by the army of BCI researchers working in institutions around the world so if true it is a genuine breakthrough that could have positive implications for sufferers of many degenerate brain disease patients and paralysis patients as well of course as the shock and awe of gamers everywhere. This finding however hasn’t been published in any journals to date, this should ring a number of alarm bells. 

The second eye brow raiser is that even relatively old EEG equipment costs tens of thousands of dollars and requires close contact between fine metal electrodes which must be carefully placed exactly on top of very precise areas of the scalp and the signal to be conducted with conductive gel in an intricate and time consuming process. Emotiv claim that their system is able to perform what appear to be better results than the state of the art in BCI with only dry electrodes and without any real care in the electrode placement. 

Another problem with the portrayal of the emotive device is that it seems to operate very differently from traditional cursor control BCI systems. Cursor control generally requires motor imagery. This means imagining a movement in a part of your body which “lights up” a part of your brain and programming a computer to recognise when you are imagining this movement. This requires pinpointing signals from a part of the brain called the motor cortex… 

motorcortex1 The Emotiv Empoc... Bursting the BCI Bubble?Besides being relatively small, this problem is made worse by the fact that the nerves that send and receive motor information around the body are not evenly distributed. This if you have not seen it before is called a homunculus and is the widely regarded and long held model of how psychologists believe the motor system is distrbuted proportionally around the body (this is why contemporary BCIs revolve around imagined hand movement)… 

3d homunculus The Emotiv Empoc... Bursting the BCI Bubble? 

if this were to be mapped over the surface of the brain it would to the best of our knowledge resemble something like this…homunculus The Emotiv Empoc... Bursting the BCI Bubble? 

And just for fun recent research has even suggested that a sensory homunculus may even look a bit more like this… 

penile homunculus The Emotiv Empoc... Bursting the BCI Bubble? 

My sincere apologies for inflicting that last image on you. No comment on the implications of that with regard to BCI though, just no, final answer. 

My point is that BCI systems as they are known today require us to imagine things that can  be very hard to identify alone let alone program a computer to decode so the process as it stands is considerably more complicated than imagining a computer doing something and “poof” it happening. Unfortunately the signals given off when we think are far more complex than any TV or radio signal and can’t be decoded in the same way. I’m not saying it will forever be impossible just that development will take time, progress will be made in baby steps and we may well be far further behind the point in the developmental process than this video suggests we are. It would be a great shame for the importance of future research to be diminished by a popular perception that “someone else did all that years ago”. I really don’t want to throw sand on anyones bonfire I just believe you have the right to be well informed. 

These three factors that I mentioned, in combination with a lack of any published work make myself and all of the experts I have spoken to, very reluctant to believe that this device will prove as effective as it is billed. The main concern of the critics to date is that the emotiv may actually use facial muscle movements rather than brain waves to provide the minimal control it allows. This would make the headset a rather obscure and ineffective way of picking up these signals (which would be EMG signals). One professor of Engineering working within the BCI field who I won’t name has described such devices as “Head Computer Interfaces rather than Brain Computer Interfaces”. We won’t know either way until someone does a controlled study and makes the results public. If the critics are wrong however this will come to be seen as a commercial breakthrough of epic proportions. 

eureka The Emotiv Empoc... Bursting the BCI Bubble?Regardless of whether the discoveries made by Emotiv are as grand as they sound or not the team at Emotiv certainly deserve credit for their work so far, their product is a step towards the hopes and dreams of all that have stepped foot in the field and we are all looking forward to seeing some published results by the company and hearing how this research develops. 

Until then however, I won’t be splashing out the the $500 (just slashed from $2500) for the research edition of the product and nor will I be buying the somewhat cheaper consumer model just yet. I will however be keeping a close eye on the progress of this product as it does seem to be the most advanced product in a field just gagging for it’s bubble to burst. 

For the record, I am only just beginning to dip my toe in to the deep dark lake that is this field so BIG respect to Emotiv for what they have achieved and all the other people working on mind bending projects like this. If I have learned one thing from seeing inside this field of research it is that it is going to be a very hard nut to crack. 

If you are interested in this product this is their site and there is an interesting though now somewhat dead public google wave for users and developers of the emotiv product here.

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.
Tagged with:

I came across this a little while ago and thought it was worth reposting now that I’m geek enough to have my own blog. It is a piece of code that takes an MP3 file and for each beat it stretches the duration of the first half while shrinking the duration of the second half giving an awesome “swing” like effect. The genius is in it’s simplicity.

sw DJing in to the future…

Here’s one I prepared earlier…
Teenage Kicks (Neurobonkers Swing Mix) by neurobonkers
and here’s a couple of my favourites…

Every Breath You Take (swing version) by TeeJay

Sweet Child O’ Mine (Swing Version) by plamere

For more “swingified” mixes, the source code and instructions for how to do it yourself check out this post at

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.
Tagged with:

Warning: This post contains satire. Satire may me harmful to your health.

Today for the first time in human history, hits from every drug ranging from ecstacy to crack cocaine can be downloaded and “I-Dosed” straight in to your brain with only a few taps of the keyboard and the click of a mouse. The only paraphenalia that is needed is a pair of headphones and a will for self destruction. Welcome to the brave new world of I-dosing.


I-dosing, Binaural Beats or Digital Drug-taking is a new scourge currently sweeping the internet by storm, it is is a grave and dangerous threat to the people of America, online dealers have sprung up everywhere to sell drugs to you and your children in the form of MP3 files.

rushing baby Who wants to score some Digital Drugs!

A new born baby gurning his cheeky little chops off on digital drugs

Digital drugs can have the effects of ecstasy, heroin, crack cocaine and LSD but dealers claim they can also be used to treat insomnia, headaches, exhaustion, PMS and relieve pain. Either way, all your children have to do to obtain these drugs is type a few words in to google and hey presto they’ll be rolling around on the floor like this….

These shocking sites are even offering opportunities for your kids to work as runners, selling the drugs in a play ground near you….

deal digital Who wants to score some Digital Drugs!

I am in no way affiliated with these jokers

So what action needs to be taken?

Due to the sudden onset and unknown effects of digital drugs we must immediately ban MP3 files containing i-doses, this action is currently being rushed through congress.  This however is insufficient, due to the freedom the internet provides, idoses will remain in cirulation on file sharing networks. Further there is currently no way of telling innocent MP3 files from idoses, the only option available to the goverment is therefore to ban MP3 files. This raises the further issue that MP3 files can be converted to MP4 files or the larger WAV files, these file types must therefore also be made illegal.

Forecasters are predicting that no sooner than MP3 files, MP4 files and WAV files are, banned children will begin “zipping” idoses and sending them to each other via the internet and their mobile phones. This presents the gravest security threat to America since it was discovered that marijuana was not just a humble weed. The only solution to the problem of digital drugs is therefore to take the internet offline immediately and ban the distribution, production and appreciation of all forms of music as well as mobile phones and devices that can be used to listen to music.

…Okay okay, I’ll stop insulting your intelligence, though I hope you can see how this entire case is a fantastic metaphore for the futility of the “war on drugs”. Amazingly however, this week the media and even the authorities in parts of America are still taking this prank very seriously indeed. Schools have actually banned devices that can be used to listen to music as well as websites including youtube in response to this. Worse still, schools have used this as an excuse to enforce drugs tests on students and have written to children’s parents encouraging them to prevent children from having these devices and access to the internet.

You may wish to refrain from watching the following video from News Central, it’s pretty tedious, the droning stupidity of the correspondent and her epic failure to find anyone who has the faintest clue what they’re talking about is the stuff of legends…

Update 18/7/10 – And this story hits the big time, TIME magazine just covered the story with no analysis what so ever. Nothing can stop the crazy “soccer mums” banning their poor squealing kids from the internet now. Prepare for screaming scenes in super markets across America…. “mammmmmmmmmy I promise I won’t idose I promisseeeeeeeeeeeeee”

20/7/10 – The story reaches the Daily Mail.

Ok  so what is it and how does it work?

“Binuaral beats” essentially work by playing two slightly different frequencies in each ear. The brain judges where a sound is coming from by analysing the difference betweenthe sounds in both ears. Upon hearing a binuaral beat through stereo headphones the brain is forced to conclude that the sound is emmitted from inside your own head. In theory this should be mildly confusing, in practice it sounds a bit like a vacum cleaner or a static ring depending on the variance in frequencies. FYI the first three praragraphs of the wikipedia page are generally accurate up until the word “hypothetical” at which part the bullshit meter starts to go haywire.)

bullshit Who wants to score some Digital Drugs!

So what?

What I find even more interesting however than the effect itself is that this is probably one of the most spectacular demonstrations of the placebo effect and mass hysteria ever recorded in such extraordinary detail. Binaural beats are very well understood and have been demonstrated to cause very small changes in brain activity which result in relatively negligible changes in the way we feel. However tell some kids that “this choon gonna make you trip balls” and a few of them will have the time of their lives rolling around the floor laughing their ass off.

Mass hysteria, though there have been many examples over the course of history (article coming soon) we know very little about the type of people that are affected and the mechanisms behind it. I for one would be fascinated to find out whether any of the videos on youtube are genuine hysteria or whether they are all intelligent kids ripping the piss out of their own Beaurau of Narcotics. If so this may go down as the greatest hoax since the US army fended of German troops with inflatable tanks.

ghost army1 Who wants to score some Digital Drugs!

If you have ever experienced binuaral beats in any way or have tricked anyone in to believeing they are high on binaural beats (with or without effect, prank or genuine, whether or not you believe this to be hysteria, placebo or the real thing) please email me a brief report  in confidence at with the subject “digital drugs”.  (Any material recieved may be used for academic published works but your names and contact details will be removed)

For those of you who were pretty heart broken to discover this was all a hoax here’s a little gems especially for you. It is not a binaural beat, but whatever you do, don’t tell FRANK!

Continue reading »

Follow Simon on TwitterFacebookGoogle+RSS, or join the mailing list.

Looking for something?

Use the form below to search the site:

Still not finding what you're looking for? Drop a comment on a post or contact us so we can take care of it!

Visit our friends!

A few highly recommended friends...