Sleep Disorders as Prologue to Disease: From the Archives

What a (incremental) difference seven years make. In 2009, when we wrote about Dana Alliance member David Holtzman’s work, the headline was “Could Sleep Disorders Contribute to Alzheimer’s?” This month, Scientific American describes the work he and colleagues at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis are doing using the headline “Why Sleep Disorders May Precede Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.” We’ve gone from “maybe take a look” to “what’s the mechanism” on evidence for a link between sleep troubles and risk for neurodegenerative disorders has come.

Scientific American’s Simon Makin calls the Holtzman lab’s 2009 discovery the “best evidence for a causal relationship” From our story:

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Advice for Scientists on Engaging the Public: From the Archives

Researchers Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik and journalist Devin Powell recently ran an informal survey of scientists who had made an effort to popularize their research. You can guess the tenor of their results by the headline they ran under in Scientific American: “Scientists Should Speak Out More.” That story is behind a paywall, but an anecdotal list that goes with it, “How Scientists Can Engage the Public without Risking Their Careers,” is free to read.

We interviewed Martinez-Conde in 2014 on her outreach, including her talks featuring magicians and illusions and starting the annual “Best Illusion of the Year” contest. On the question of why do outreach now, she said:

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Are neuroscientists risking scientific integrity for funding?

    Are neuroscientists who finance their research through military grants
and the sales of brain-fitness software selling their souls? In a guest blog for Scientific American, John Horgan discusses his concerns over these latest funding trends in the neuroscience field.

    Horgan
notes that just a few years ago, neuroscientists were reluctant to
discuss their involvement in neuroweapons research, yet last year the
National Academy of Sciences published a report
highlighting the many opportunities for neuroscience to be used in army
applications. “Will the militarization of neuroscience really make the
world safer, or just trigger a new arms race?” Horgan asks.

    Disturbing
on another level is the growing prevalence of brain-fitness software
aimed at baby-boomers and touting benefits in learning and memory.
According to Horgan, the “neurobics” industry earned $265 million in
2008, despite the fact that the benefits derived from the software have
not been proven to be more powerful than simply playing cards with friends or taking a walk.

    Horgan
concludes with the question, “should [neuroscientists] adhere to higher
ethical standards than defense contractors and infomercial pitchmen?”

    –Ann L. Whitman

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