Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Junk science, with a purpose

I spit my coffee:

Disputed signs of consciousness seen in babies’ brains 

Infants display neural responses linked to visual awareness by 5 months of age

By Bruce Bower
Web edition: April 18, 2013

Babies’ brains emit electrical bursts that signal a budding awareness of the visual world by the time they are 5 months old, a new study concludes. But some researchers are skeptical that these neural surges correspond to conscious experience. 
From age 5 months to 15 months, the brain begins to develop the ability to register and remember sights, according to the research by cognitive neuroscientist Sid Kouider of École Normale Supérieure in Paris and his colleagues. The researchers showed babies images that included faces flashed increasingly slowly on a screen. They started at a speed so fast that even adults wouldn’t consciously notice the images, and then the researchers increased the amount of time each image appeared. Infants displayed a sequence of rapid brain responses that first signaled unconscious and then conscious perception of faces, Kouider’s team reports April 18 in Science. 
“We weren’t expecting to see any evidence of a neural marker for consciousness in 5-month-olds,” Kouider says. Babies at that age exhibited a weak, delayed version of a brain response that occurs when adults report seeing a face flashed just long enough to be consciously perceived, Kouider asserts. 
Stronger and faster brain responses corresponding to visual awareness emerged in 12- and 15-month-olds, Kouider found, although older infants still fell well short of the adult pattern. 
If further research confirms the existence of a neural marker of consciousness in babies, scientists could adapt their visual task to evaluate whether infants show brain indications of feeling pain during medical procedures or after receiving numbing drugs, he suggests.
But cognitive neuroscientist Charles Nelson of Harvard Medical School sees no clear connection between the findings in infants and the electrical responses in adults’ brains. “I would be reluctant to attribute the same mental operation, such as consciousness, to infants and adults simply because of similar patterns of brain activity,” Nelson cautions. 
Electrical responses in the brain linked to sensations, thoughts and behaviors change dramatically over the first few years of life, Nelson says. The brain responses proposed by Kouider’s group as underlying infant consciousness don’t clearly correspond to those linked to visual awareness in adults, Nelson holds. 
In the new study, 5-month-olds, 12-month-olds and 15-month-olds sat on their mothers’ laps while wearing an electrode-studded cap that measured electrical activity on the brain’s surface. The babies saw three scrambled images and a woman’s face, flashed on a computer screen for various amounts of time, accompanied by bell sounds for each image that created a simple melody to attract the infants’ attention. 
In the same setup, adults don’t report seeing a face and don’t display a neural marker of consciousness until each image appears for nearly one-third of a second. For 12- and 15-month-olds, each image had to be presented for about three-quarters of a second — and for almost one second for 5-month-olds — for the children to indicate conscious perception by looking toward the faces and generating the proposed brain signature of visual awareness. 
No one has yet confirmed that a string of electrical responses in the brains of either adults or children reflects a transition from unconscious to conscious perception, remarks cognitive neuroscientist Teodora Gliga of the University of London’s Birkbeck College. But Kouider’s team has designed a way to investigate conditions under which infants, and possibly nonhuman animals, respond to and learn from their environments, an important achievement in itself, Gliga holds. 
That’s not to say that babies can’t be aware of their surroundings, as some researchers have argued. “Five-month-olds and even younger infants probably have many real-life opportunities to consciously process information,” Gliga says.

Disputed signs of consciousness? Disputed? What malicious crap. 

Of course babies are conscious. Fetuses are conscious, at least at a certain age. They do purposeful things, they learn (even in the womb), they respond to pain and pleasure. Babies-- even premature babies-- are obviously conscious. Such consciousness is part of the routine neuro exam that I do on young children, even on premature infants at 25 weeks of gestation. I evaluate consciousness in children professionally. Babies are conscious. 

You don't need to be a brain surgeon to know that babies are conscious. No parent denies that babies are conscious. Obviously babies are cognitively immature, but they are obviously conscious. 

Why would crap like this-- disputed signs of consciousness in babies-- make it into the scientific literature? What editor in his right mind would accept a paper like this for publication?

The reason for this garbage is obvious. It is making straight the path for "post-natal abortions". Expect to see a lot more of this evil. Peter Singer has famously said that it should be legal to kill babies up to three months or even a year of age if parents don't want them. 

But first we have to dehumanize them. That's where the junk science comes in. "Research" that denies consciousness in infants is an effort to provide a scientific basis for "post-natal abortions"-- our next holocaust. 


  1. Always pushing it just a little further...

    Now, if we oppose killing infants, we'll be "anti-science."


    1. Ben,

      That 'anti-science' bit has always struck me as lame.
      A false dichotomy. Science is a tool. Why would anyone be pro or anti hammer, for example? I am pro hammer if it is helping me drive nails into my deck repairs? I am anti hammer if a madman rushes at my wife or child with a hammer to hurt them?
      It seems to me that the motive for the use/misuse of tool is what counts. If science is used to justify the killing of infants.

  2. Michael,

    What are you objecting to? An online comment on a paper published in 'Science' on April 19, 2013. There's no problems with the published paper, which will form part of the published literature on the topic, and which indicates that infants as young as 5 months can be regarded as being conscious.

    I'd personally argue that a foetus of 24 weeks gestation can be regarded as being conscious too, so I don't think that the paper is controversial at all.

    An online comment isn't the same as a peer reviewed paper. It doesn't have the same standards, and as a result, doesn't have any credibility. Rather similar to most of your threads.

  3. This supports what I’ve been saying for some time. All the things that make us uniquely human are lacking in newborns, never mind embryos. The brain of a human newborn is so underdeveloped that they don’t form memories, have no capacity for language, and can’t conceivably have a thought in the way you and I do. Even their emotional development is far behind than of an adult dog.


    1. KW,

      Sorry, I disagree with you. Late term foetuses are capable of forming 'memories'. Perhaps not memories which can later be consciously recalled (but that also applies to adults too), but they're still memories (I'm referring to the evidence that a newborn responds more to the language he or she hears in utero than to other languages).

      As a result, I oppose late term abortion, unless there's a very good reason. Such as to save the life of the mother (a rare indication) or severe irremedial abnormalities of the foetus.

    2. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJune 11, 2013 at 7:52 AM

      So, Popeye, if somebody bombs a neonatal ward while the adult minders are momentarily absent, nobody was murdered and nothing but property damage occurred. Is that what you're saying?

      When, in your opinion, does an infant transition from being a piece of property, or a pet, to being a child with rights? Please explain what objective evidence you recommend that would establish that transition point for, say, a jury of 12 adults.

    3. "All the things that make us uniquely human are lacking in newborns, never mind embryos."

      So if it's okay to kill embryos due to lack of basic human characteristics, it's also okay to kill newborn due to lack of human characteristics? I can't draw any other conclusion.

      I would object to your assertion that all the things that make us uniquely human are absent. Forming memories isn't what makes us human. Babies are no less human than you are.

      We're constantly pushing the boundaries of where humanity begins. I think if "liberals" were to be honest with themselves they would admit that what they really want is to reclassify life so that children who are unwanted aren't really children at all. We decide that a being achieves personhood when her parents claim her. If her parents don't want to claim her, she can be flushed and everyone has to pretend that the child never existed in the first place.


    4. Adm.
      More like brain damaged version of Bluto. But actually I think that is slander against the cartoon character. He is far more realistic, quite buff, and usually quite kind to Sweat Pea.

      Again, I am glad you have some lines drawn in the sand. Hopefully, that line will move one day. But, at least you know total bullshit when you see it.

      What makes us human is that we are human. Start to end. Human beings are human beings.
      You're 'progressive' legal definitions are agenda driven, bloodthirsty, pathetic drivel. The fact that this inane, pseudo scientific article 'supports' your 'argument' speaks volumes about your position: It relies on garbage for support.
      Humanity is measured in many ways by many people. In most common measures your lack of compassion for the unborn and newly born (and unconscious, mentally ill, senile etc) excludes yourself as 'human' in all matters but biology.

    5. @KW:

      [The brain of a human newborn is so underdeveloped that they don’t form memories, have no capacity for language, and can’t conceivably have a thought in the way you and I do.]

      Their innocence and vulnerability increases, rather than decreases, our obligation to protect them.

      The least of our brothers.

      Your ideology is sick, KW.

    6. “When, in your opinion, does an infant transition from being a piece of property, or a pet, to being a child with rights?”

      At birth.

      I would be willing to make a grand compromise with the anti-abortion folks at 24 weeks, or maybe even 20 weeks, if they would agree to not trying to hinder abortions before that point, and not to take action that makes contraception more difficult to obtain. Any takers? No, of course not. Compromise is impossible with religious zealots.


    7. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJune 11, 2013 at 1:02 PM

      At birth? I'm surprised to hear you say that, following hard on the heels of "All the things that make us uniquely human are lacking in newborns..."

      Seriously, KW... Can you understand my confusion? If a newborn lacks the qualities and/or capacities of a human, how can it have "rights".

      Truly my friend, there's no compromise to make. You won. The next battleground is not inside the womb, it's outside. Yes, some restrictions are FINALLY being enacted. In MS, abortionists must be ob/gyn board certified with admitting privileges, but surely you aren't suggesting podiatrists or acupuncturists should be able to perform abortions. Isn't that a return to "back-alley" abortions?

      And contraception could not possibly be less difficult to obtain unless the government mailed everyone a monthly supply. Even girls too young to drive can buy Plan B over-the-counter. What "difficulty" are you referring to?

    8. “If a newborn lacks the qualities and/or capacities of a human, how can it have "rights”?”

      Natural birth is a convenient bright line that everyone can see and is indisputable.


    9. @KW:

      Conception is a much brighter line. It reflects the biological fact that human life begins at conception.

      The right of life of a fetus is disputed, but the view that rights begin at birth is disputed.

      Why not cede to the fact that human life begins at conception, and the obvious moral truth that all human beings have the right to life?

    10. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJune 11, 2013 at 2:53 PM

      GB: “If a newborn lacks the qualities and/or capacities of a human, how can it have "rights”?”

      KW: "Natural birth is a convenient bright line that everyone can see and is indisputable."

      I wasn't asking about bright lines, I was asking about rights. If a newborn lacks human qualities and capacities, how can it have rights?

      And, as long as we're at it, how about Caesarean birth? That's not "natural".

    11. Funny. Last time KW claimed that fetuses and newborns don't have the ability to form memories or capacity for language, I pointed to one (and there are others) scientifically demonstrated example of them forming memories and having capacity for language: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/11/091105092607.htm

      Apparently, he just ignored that because it didn't fit his predetermined position.

      In other words, KW has started with a desire - namely the desire to justify murdering infants - without any rational justification whatsoever, and he then proceeds to discard or accept data depending on whether or not it conflicts with his desire.

      A just society wouldn't have the murder of infants. It would, however, have KW either committed to a loony bin or sent to the gallows for his sociopathic incitement to mass murder.

    12. The Deuce,

      The mechanism is called 'motivated reasoning'. Something that Egnor shows in spades. He makes a bogus argument, such as the current 15 year 'pause' in global temperatures - due to a timing issue with starting with a strong El Niño year in 1998 causing a warmer than average year and finishing in a moderate La Niña year in 2012 causing a cooler year - as disproving all the models of climate and hence disproving AGW - has it pointed out to him many times. And then proceeds to make the same argument. Again and again.

      Infanticide is one of those issues in which science has nothing to say. It's one for society. I wonder if that study you refer to is the same that I did too - that foetuses are capable of hearing spoken language in utero and forming memories of it.

      Anyway. If there was no scientific evidence that neonates were conscious and able to feel pain, could you be opposed to infanticide of unwanted infants in our society? I'd argue that you could and should.

  4. Here's a very honest article from Mary Elizabeth Williams entitled "So What if Abortion Ends Life?" It's rather sickening, but also very honest. She dispenses with all of the bullcrap and just says what most "pro-choicers" really mean--who cares if we're killing?


    A few quotes:

    "Of all the diabolically clever moves the anti-choice lobby has ever pulled, surely one of the greatest has been its consistent co-opting of the word “life.” Life! Who wants to argue with that? Who wants be on the side of … not-life?"

    Oh, how fiendish of us to "co-opt" that word! She then proceeds to spend the rest of the article explaining how her side is, in fact, pretty jazzed about ending life, AND THAT'S OKAY. I wonder what dictionary she's using, because in mine "co-opt" does not mean to use in an accurate and appropriate manner.

    "Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers."

    Sure. Some people are Untermenschen and we can kill them. Most of history's bad guys, I think, are known for believing that the lives of some other group of people is not equal to the lives of their own people. Slaveholder, for example. Genocidal maniacs.

    "When we on the pro-choice side get cagey around the life question, it makes us illogically contradictory."

    No kiddin'.

    "I have friends who have referred to their abortions in terms of “scraping out a bunch of cells” and then a few years later were exultant over the pregnancies that they unhesitatingly described in terms of “the baby” and “this kid.” I know women who have been relieved at their abortions and grieved over their miscarriages. Why can’t we agree that how they felt about their pregnancies was vastly different, but that it’s pretty silly to pretend that what was growing inside of them wasn’t the same? Fetuses aren’t selective like that. They don’t qualify as human life only if they’re intended to be born."

    Bingo! When a woman is pregnant and happy to be so, everyone talks about the baby growing inside of her. Everyone knows that there's a life in there. And yet when a woman doesn't want too have the child she can hire a hitman to take care of the situation and half of America will say that a life never existed in the first place.


  5. Adm. G Boggs, Glenbeckistan NavyJune 11, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    In defense of backfire, I think it's a paper with some interesting results. It's not Hubel and Weisel, but not many are.

    But the trouble with papers like this is the dragging in of gratuitous theoretical constructs one can't even define. There was no need to drag consciousness into it. At best, they are pre-trolling for grant money. We neither know what consciousness is nor how it arises. To suggest that one might have identified "neural markers" of a construct one can't even adequately define is absurd.

    But there's another dimension here as well. In agreement with Egnor, I have no doubt that the Progressive Death Cult will take this and run with it. As noted, Singer has did so with no data and merely on the basis of maximizing "happiness" (apparently, he's appointed himself Happiness Czar). And empirically we know Egnor is right because Popeye - always anxious to please - was eager to jump on the meatwagon to affirm and justify the killing of babies.

    1. Admiral:

      I agree that some of the results in the paper are interesting and have scientific value. It is context into which the work is inserted-- the fake debate as to whether babies are "conscious" that is an outrage.

      There is a constant effort among those who make distinctions as the the value of human lives to spin tangential scientific findings to make it appear as if there is a genuine question about the consciousness/humanity/personhood of babies, people with brain damage, etc.

      It is as if we had a headline "Disputed signs of humanity seen in Jews' biology", which we did see, in Europe, back in the 1930's.

    2. Michael,

      You fell into your knee jerk relex of labelling anything you disagree with as 'junk science' when it's just junk commentary. The actual paper was interesting. A useful method of research. Hardly a surprising result. You can argue what it means, but it shouldn't change how we deal with infants (to my shock, I think it was in Frans de Waal's 'the Atheist and the Bonobo', I recently read that it wasn't too long ago that newborns were assumed not to be able to feel pain, and hence were given major surgery without GA).

    3. You are right about operating on newborns without anesthesia. My neurosurgery textbook that I used in training described operating on newborns with spina bifida without using anesthesia.

      I never operated without anesthesia, and I never saw it done. But it was done. And I suspect it will be done again, if you get your way.

    4. I point out that abortions, including very late term abortions, are nearly always done without anesthesia for the baby. These procedures involve dismembering the child.

    5. Michael,

      Your reading skills still aren't up to par. You need to do something about your attention deficit disorder. I stated that I was shocked to read that major surgery had been performed on neonates 'because they can't feel pain' (they obviously can), and I have stated - on many occasions - that I'm opposed to late term abortions (accelerated deliveries, OK, if medically necessary, as in eclampsia).

      If 'I get my way', GA will remain compulsory for neonates undergoing surgery and late term abortions will be effectively banned.

  6. Having raised several kids over the years, including my own, I cannot help but see this article as total bull. Children develop at varying rates.
    My current little guy has been extremely fast. He was forming sentences just prior 12 months/ They were simple and in his own little dialect/accent, but it's now clear as a bell at 18 months. 'Daddy, I want get ball. PLEASE!'. He now also able to count to ten and even add some (small) numbers. He knows two and one make three, and two and two equal four (both visually with his blocks, fingers etc, and when asked in the abstract) at 18 months. We have cared for other (now very bright) kids that have taken 24 months and longer to get to the same point. My first son was very quick too, but in a different way. He is STILL lousy at maths, but was drawing very well (like a 5th grader) when he was two years old.
    The above kind of 'science' is political, agenda driven BS. Now that 'life' has been clearly proven from conception, the barbarians in lab coats seek pseudo-scientific legalisms to 'support' killing. Killing whom and for what?
    The most innocent of all people for their hedonistic convenience.
    We may well be at the Nuremberg rally phase of this bloodthirsty madness currently, but personally I cannot wait for the Nuremberg TRIAL phase, myself.
    It will come, and I will be glad to see it when it does.
    I agree with the Doctor, this kind of crap is done for a purpose and that purpose is deeply anti-human.