Scientific Testimony against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act

My name is Matthew Facciani and I am a PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience. I oppose bill H3114 because its legislative intent rests upon a psychologically flawed interpretation of scientific data. 

I am testifying in my capacity as a neuroscientist, psychology instructor, and science educator. Recognizing good science from bad science is part of my job and I hope to explain the flawed scientific reasoning behind this bill. The main support for this bill stems from research that fetuses can react to stimuli at around 20 weeks of development. However, the scientific consensus is that such reactions to stimuli are reflexive, not a response to pain.

In other words, just because fetuses react with reflexes we associate with pain does not mean they feel pain. As Dr. Anand noted in his report in support of a similar bill, the International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience..." The current scientific evidence supports the conclusion that fetuses can have unpleasant sensory experiences. It does not, however, support the psychological claim that these experiences are emotional. In other words, fetuses do not feel pain.

Dr. Mark Rosen, pain researcher and anesthesiologist, concludes that such reactions are analogous to the reflex from a leg when tapped by a doctor’s rubber mallet. Also, any release of stress hormones during a reflex would not necessarily indicate the experience of pain, since elevations of stress hormones also occur in the bodies of brain-dead patients during organ harvesting. These findings do not reflect feeling pain; they only reflect a sufficiently intact nervous system.

Dr. Rosen also states how the pain signal must be able to travel from receptors located all over the body, to the spinal cord, up through the brain’s thalamus and finally into the cerebral cortex to be felt. He then notes how fetuses do not have nerve fibers which extend from the thalamus and have penetrated the cortex until the third trimester which is supported in a 2010 review paper of fetal development. 

An extensive review paper on fetal pain was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Lee and colleagues in 2005. It remains the best available systematic multidisciplinary review on the subject of fetal pain. These researchers concluded that "Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester." They also note how pain is an emotional and psychological experience which requires conscious recognition of a noxious stimulus. So it is highly unlikely any pain can be felt by a fetus 24 weeks or earlier in pregnancy.

Furthermore, a study by Dr. Fabrizi and colleagues in 2011 revealed that the necessary neural circuits to differentiate pain from sensation are not developed in infants until 35 weeks of age. The younger infant's neural signal indicated general tactile sensation, while the older infant's neural signal indicated actual processing of pain from the sensation.

Even if fetuses could feel pain before 24 weeks, the placenta produces biochemicals which have a sedating and even an anesthetizing effect on the fetus according to a study by Dr. Mellor and colleagues in 2005. Thus, claims of fetuses feeling pain at or before 20 weeks represent the views of a minority of researchers with no psychological scientific training, and do not have widespread acceptance in the scientific community.

Finally, a 2013 study published in the Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health journal found that around one percent of abortions occur at 20 weeks or later. According to this same study, the women who had these rare abortions often had difficulty finding a provider and raising funds for the procedure and travel costs, were young and seeking work, or were dealing with an abusive partner. Thus, by banning abortions at 20 weeks, South Carolina would be harming some of its most vulnerable citizens.

In conclusion, bill H3114 is not defended by research widely supported by the scientific community as there is not substantial evidence that fetuses feel pain. The Fabrizi study provides evidence that sensation does not equal pain and the vast majority of the scientific community agrees that if a fetus could ever feel pain, it would only be possible at 24 weeks at the absolute earliest. Furthermore, the bill is foundationally flawed: It rests on the opinions of researchers who do not understand the psychological distinctions necessary to adequately address this topic. 

Thank you very much.

*This testimony was read by Matthew Facciani during the South Carolina House General Laws Subcommittee meeting on Thursday, January 22, 2015. 

 

Scientific testimony against South Carolina House Bill 4223

My name is Matthew Facciani and I am a PhD candidate in experimental psychology with a focus on cognitive neuroscience. I oppose bill H4223 for two reasons. The first of which is moral: I think that women are more than capable to make decisions regarding their body without the state's interference. However, I oppose this bill primarily because its legislative intent rests upon a psychologically flawed interpretation of scientific data. 

 

I am testifying in my capacity as a psychologist and neuroscientist. The goal of psychology is to explicitly isolate psychological states. Isolating underlying psychological states allows us to distinguish between what happens to an individual, and how the individual feels about it. It is important to see how a psychological scientist's training differs from training undergone by medical doctors. Medical training can enable a doctor to identify sources of suffering whereas scientific training can enable a psychologist to identify the psychological states of the person suffering. This also means that psychologists fundamentally distinguish a psychological state from its biological markers. In other words, we do not equate what we measure with how we measure it.

 

This is why I oppose this bill. Just because fetuses react with reflexes we associate with pain does not mean they feel pain. As Dr. Anand noted in his report in support of a similar bill, the International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as "an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience..." The current scientific evidence supports the conclusion that fetuses can have unpleasant sensory experiences. It does not, however, support the psychological claim that these experiences are emotional. In other words, fetuses do not feel pain.

 

Support for this bill stems from a minority of researchers which suggest that fetuses can feel pain at or even before 20 weeks. They support this position by noting that some fetuses around 20 weeks react to stimuli which can lead to a release of stress hormones. 

 

However, the majority of scientists agree that such reactions to stimuli are reflexive, not a response to pain. Dr. Mark Rosen, pain researcher and anesthesiologist, concludes that such reactions are analogous to the reflex from a leg when tapped by a doctor’s rubber mallet. Furthermore, the release of stress hormones does not necessarily indicate the experience of pain, since elevations of stress hormones also occur in the bodies of brain-dead patients during organ harvesting. These findings do not reflect feeling pain; they only reflect a sufficiently intact nervous system.

 

Dr. Rosen also states how the pain signal must be able to travel from receptors located all over the body, to the spinal cord, up through the brain’s thalamus and finally into the cerebral cortex to be felt. He then notes how fetuses do not have nerve fibers which extend from the thalamus and have penetrated the cortex until the third trimester which is supported in a 2010 review paper of fetal development. 

 

An extensive review paper on fetal pain was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Lee and colleagues in 2005. It remains the best available systematic multidisciplinary review on the subject of fetal pain. These researchers concluded that "Evidence regarding the capacity for fetal pain is limited but indicates that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester." They also note how pain is an emotional and psychological experience which requires conscious recognition of a noxious stimulus. So it is highly unlikely any pain can be felt by a fetus 24 weeks or earlier in pregnancy. Furthermore, a study by Dr. Fabrizi and colleagues in 2011 revealed that the necessary neural circuits to differentiate pain from sensation are not developed in infants until 35 weeks of age. The younger infant's neural signal indicated general tactile sensation, while the older infant's neural signal indicated actual processing of pain from the sensation.

 

 

Even if fetuses could feel pain before 24 weeks, the placenta produces biochemicals which have a sedating and even an anesthetizing effect on the fetus according to a study by Dr. Mellor and colleagues in 2005. Thus, claims of fetuses feeling pain at or before 20 weeks represent the views of a minority of researchers with no psychological scientific training, and do not have widespread acceptance in the scientific community.

 

In conclusion, bill H4223 is not defended by research widely supported by the scientific community as there is not substantial evidence that fetuses feel pain. The Fabrizi study provides evidence that sensation does not equal pain and the vast majority of the scientific community agrees that even if a fetus can feel pain, it would only be possible at 24 weeks at the absolute earliest. Furthermore, the bill is foundationally flawed: It rests on the opinions of researchers who do not understand the psychological distinctions necessary to adequately address this topic. 

 

Thank you very much.

Pseudoscience and Psychopathy

I wrote a guest post for the Skeptical Raptor blog about my thoughts on neuroscientist James Fallon's psychopathy story. Here is an excerpt:

"My intention is not to claim that Dr. Fallon is lying and purposefully simplifying science to make a profit. I would need much more evidence for that. However, I am arguing that the news articles covering his story do not provide enough details to support his claims. I find it rather troubling that no one is even addressing this so I wanted to blog about it. It is also troubling that Dr. Fallon has not been more explicit about the limitations of his findings as he should surely be aware of them as an accomplished neuroscientist. America often ranks pretty poorly in scientific literacy and this is an example of the result. People should at least have a working understanding of the scientific methodand not blindly believe an authority figure with an interesting story."

Gender should never discourage dreams: Why there are not more women in science

As a child, I was told I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. I never felt like I was held back from pursuing any career that I wanted during my youth. The people who told me I could follow any dream I had neglected to mention that this was due to my privilege of being both white and male. Sadly, even in 2015, women and people of color do not always have the freedom of feeling like they can grow up to be anything. It is much more subtle now though as legally women can pursue many of the same careers as men. However, residual overt sexism of years ago still rears its ugly head in our current society in more covert ways. Even today, women are still largely underrepresented in the sciences. This is particularly concerning in the in physical sciences, math, and engineering. The statistics are alarming with women scientists often making at least 10% less than men, 75% of computer and mathematical occupations done by men, and only 3% of full professors in all sciences and engineering fields in the United States are women of color to name a few. Personal anecdotes can be even more harrowing and provide personal insight of why this under representation may occur.

A very drastic example of how women are not persuaded to go into the sciences was seen with the national story of Kiera Wilmot. Kiera was a 16 year old African American high school student who was expelled, arrested, and faced two felony charges for conducting a science experiment without teacher supervision before school one day. She combined aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a water bottle which created a puff of smoke when the top popped off. Yes, this could have been dangerous if the top of the bottle hit someone in the eye, but is arresting a young girl with a curious mind really the best way to handle it? Detention or a brief suspension would have been much more appropriate instead of a hasty arrest with felony charges. This is just one case, but reflects the undercurrent of how our society is so quick to judge minorities. African Americans students are already disciplined at much higher rates than whites with black females being most disproportionally suspended. The case of Kiera Wilmot provides a clear example of how society views women and especially women of color to not be associated with science. I can speak as being a young white boy who had his fair share of mischief during high school. I was reprimanded and given detention plenty of times for committing thoughtless antics. However, I do believe that if I engaged in such behavior as a black female instead of a white male I would have had an arrest record and be nowhere near science instead of doing neuroscience for my career.

I interviewed a few of my friends to find stories of women in science that may not have generated national news like the case of Kiera Wilmot, but are still incredibly informative of our culture. I would like to start with the story from a young woman by the name of Ania Bula from Ottawa, Ontario. Ania was passionate about going to medical school since 9th grade and took a heavy load of science courses during high school. Boys her age also took the same courses, but yet only Ania was encouraged to drop some of her courses from her guidance counselors because they might be too hard. When she expressed interest in becoming a doctor to her family and friends, Ania was told to go into nursing instead. A quote from my interview with her speaks volumes of the underlying sexism still rampant in our society.

Everyone seemed to think that the idea of a woman becoming a surgeon was ridiculous. I had one person tell me that only ugly women who never plan to get married go into surgery. I had many people tell me that if I became a doctor that my future husband would have to be a doctor as well because no man would accept a mate who was better employed than he was, or made more money, or more successful, etc.”

            When young women are exposed to such harmful “advice” while considering careers, it is easy to understand why there are not more women in the sciences. Also, stereotype threat emerges with the endorsement of these harmful falsehoods that women are not smart enough for science. Stereotype threat occurs when a group performs worse on a certain task simply because that social group is told they will not do well. Many studies have shown that making one’s race or gender more salient before a test can reduce performance. However, this effect can be reduced when participants are told that gender or race has no effect on performance. So even if young women are brave enough to take science courses like Ania was, they might actually do worse than men because of stereotype threat and not because they are not as smart as men. Fortunately, Ania took these classes anyway and did not buy into these harmful and incorrect stereotypes that were thrown at her. Sadly, other young women may internalize these harmful falsehoods.

            Zoë Toth studies biomedical engineering at the University of South Carolina and was fortunate to have a social network that supported her scientific interests. However, Zoë told me a harrowing story of girl named Sam she knew in high school. One day, Zoë, Sam, and others were having a discussion on intelligence and gender. A young boy was suggesting that men were smarter than women while Zoë was arguing for equality. Sam, though quite gifted in mathematics, remained silent during the discussion until she interjected to agree with the young boy that men are indeed smarter. Sam explained that god had made men better than women and while Zoë and she were smart, they will always be inferior. Zoë ended our interview with an inspiring quote:

“Although I am not sure what I want to do for the rest of my life, science holds a part in my future. It is something that I love that helps explain the world to me. And I know it should be held near to my heart, because there are people trying to pry it away from me. Some part of me hopes that if I go far enough perhaps I will be a reason for a young Sam somewhere one day to no longer think of herself as inferior.

It is absolutely terrible that a young woman gifted academically will always think of herself inferior to men. Religion may make this explicit for some women, but our society certainly reinforces those harmful beliefs.

Xandra Best, a math and computer science major at St. Olaf College, did notice some problematic things with her scientific pursuits as well. Though Xandra had supportive math and science teachers in high school, she told me that this was not the case for some of her female math major friends as they were discouraged from pursuing math by their high school teachers. Xandra also noticed a concerning trend when she was a math tutor.  Xandra was just as qualified as male tutors, but would get less overall work, less advanced students, and less male students compared to the male tutors. She had to lower her wages to keep competitive with her male counterparts. It was through this experience that Xandra came to a disconcerting realization:

That was when I first started wondering if a math major would be less valuable to me as a woman than it would be if I were a man. How many potential employers would also believe that I was less qualified for a position because of my gender?”

This disturbing anecdote could provide some insight as to why women in the math and sciences have significantly lower incomes than their male counterparts. Regarding computer science, Xandra noted how few women are in that field which promotes stereotype threat and less people suggesting women should be computer science majors.

“The most frustrating thing about this is that all the reasons that make it difficult for a woman to major in computer science are prevalent because there are so few women in computer science.”

Anna Butterfield is currently pursuing her master’s in biology at the University of Center Florida and took many science classes throughout high school and college. Her parents were supportive of her scientific interests and she did not report much overt trouble from her male peers; especially after she would set the curve on the first test. However, Anna did notice that there tended to be a type of savior complex with some of the young men in her science courses. Men were eager to help women in the science classes, but became colder towards them when the women did well on their own.

Also, a lot of guys kind of shut me out after I performed well on tests. I imagine it may be because they thought they could help me and when they realized that I didn't need help, I was not nearly as interesting anymore.”

This savior complex is quite problematic because it penalizes women for doing well in the sciences and also rewards them for needing help.  This creates a vicious cycle which only promotes the stereotype of women not belonging in science. Luckily, despite these cases, there are still many women who have overall positive experiences in pursuing science.

Alex Cottle is a pre-medical student at The Ohio State University. She was an excellent student all through high school and took many advanced science courses as she knew she wanted to be a doctor at an early age. Alex went to a high school where many women excelled in academics and she feels this could have played a role in reducing any potential sexism.

Actually, in my grade, the top 10 students were female. So, I think that my peers grew up seeing us 10 females excelling beyond all of my other peers, and they were just accustomed to us being interested in science.”

Additionally, Alex’s community was very supportive to women in science by having a "Women in Science Day," a "Math Awareness Day," and offers scholarships for women in science. So it seems like having visible successful women in academics as well as an environment which supports women in science and academics in general can play a large role in reducing sexism and stereotype threat. There are also many other female friends of mine who are excelling in science and also had a very supportive and open environment.

There still is work to be done, but there has been great progress made in this area over the years. As a neuroscientist, I am surrounded by many brilliant scientists in my department. I also interned at a hospital doing neuropsychology evaluations on brain injury patients and my cohort there was also exclusively female. Additionally, I attended Westminster College which is the number one college for women in science. So because of my experiences of being surrounded by so many brilliant women, I find it ridiculous that women are ever thought to be less intelligent in the sciences. However, people shouldn't need to share my experiences to know sex does not play a role in scientific intelligence. This is why we need to continue making strides in making the scientific world more accepting of women despite the progress we have had. We need more men to call out sexism and foster a more open, safer, and accepting environment for young women who want to pursue science. It pains me to think of how many brilliant women who could excel in science choose a worse fit for them because of social pressures. No one should ever be discouraged from their dreams because of their gender. 

 

*This article originally appeared in the September 2013 edition of The Feminist Observer which focused on youth issues. 

 

One hundred reasons why YOU SHOULD go to graduate school

 It is common to see articles written on why one should NOT go to grad school as seen herehere, and here. However, I largely find these to be purely opinion based and offer little practical advice despite getting lots of attention. Their reasons not to go to graduate school are often based from negative personal experiences, opinions, or because someone did not do their research on graduate school before applying. Other blogs and forums can be even worse for giving practical advice.

One popular blog post is titled “100 Reasons not to go to graduate school.” (although there are only actually 90 reasons) got my attention for its particular atrocities. These 100 (or 90) reasons are based purely on opinion and can very easily be argued in the opposite direction.  So, that is exactly what I am going to do. I’m going to use that popular list of reasons of why one SHOULD NOT go to graduate school and show you how easily it can be argued as a list as why one SHOULD go to graduate school. 



   Brief background info before I go into my counter list of reasons. I am a 3rd year Experimental Psychology PhD student at the University of South Carolina. I applied to 12 schools, was accepted into 4 of them, and USC was one of my top choices. I have a great adviser who is very supportive, yet tough and does research I find really fascinating. Even though my degree technically says psychology, all I do is neuroimaging stuff. While I do find graduate school time consuming and stressful sometimes, I generally love it. I’ve grown more as a person during my time in graduate school than I ever thought possible, have had some awesome experiences, and have made some incredible friends. My career goal is to become a professor, but my graduate training allows me flexibility to pursue careers outside academia. So without further ado, here is the list of reasons that blog had with my counter arguments to each reason. 



1.   The smart people are somewhere else.

The blogger discusses how much debt graduate students accrue and this is a good point. The problem is there are many, many funded programs (like mine) where you don’t have to pay any tuition and they actually pay you a modest salary to teach and/or do research. Of course a student should look carefully if they want to go to grad school and if it is worth the time and money if they have to pay for it. 

2. Your colleagues are your competitors.

This is purely an opinion. They are also your collaborators. The graduate students in my program are always willing to help each other and it is easy to work WITH them for a mutual publication or even just class projects.

3. Your pedigree counts.


The blogger fails to mention how much the strength of a particular graduate department plays a role instead of the name. Also, from what I’ve heard, if you are publishing in top journals, the name on your degree doesn’t mean much.

4. It takes a long time to finish.


So what? Becoming a world expert in an area takes time. You get paid to learn things for 5 years and I don’t consider that a bad thing.

5. Graduate school is not what it used to be.


The blogger talks about how graduate school does not only include the intellectual elite anymore as it’s more accessible for the ‘average’ person now. I don’t see how this is a bad thing at all and it’s a rather pretentious attitude actually. 

6. Intellectual expectations are falling.


This is purely speculative and like the rest of the list, there are no sources to back up the claim. Graduate school is still hard and just because some foreign language requirements were dropped, it doesn’t mean intellectual expectations are falling. 

7. Labor demands are increasing.

Didn’t the blogger just say that graduate school is getting too easy? Yeah, being a TA can be busy sometimes, but you get paid to do it. I don’t see the problem here.

8. There are very few jobs.

 Actually, there ARE jobs available for academics looking careers outside of academia as seen here for example:http://www.prospects.ac.uk/your_phd_what_next_non_academic_jobs.htm 


9. It is very, very hard. 

Again, didn’t the blogger just say it was getting easier? PhD’s SHOULD be hard. You are going to be a doctor and that should be a challenge!

10. There is a psychological cost.

 I do agree with this, but I see it as a positive. It is stressful. But it is also makes you grow up SO much. A good environment is important to persevere (good mentor and social circle) and I feel as though if you have a good environment, the stress is more than tolerable. And again, it’s supposed to be hard. You are learning difficult things!


11. There is a psychological cost for quitting.

I don’t see how this is different from quitting anything else. There is a stigma associated with quitting in general. And as I’ll mention multiple times, many of the ‘bad’ things regarding grad school are avoided if one were to thoroughly research grad school ahead of time. 

12. Adulthood waits.

 I totally disagree with this. I have grown up more in my first 2 years of graduate school than I ever thought possible. Every couple months I look back in awe in how much mature I have become and I look forward to the amazing trend for the remainder of my time in grad school. It’s a wonderful time for accelerating personal growth. If someone tells you that graduate school stunted their growth that is because they did not make the most out of endless opportunities. 

13. Respect for the academic profession is 
declining.
 

If you are only going to grad school so other people think you have a cool job, you are going for the wrong reasons. Anyway, I totally disagree. I have told many people from around the country I am getting a PhD in neuroscience. Nearly all of 
them think it is pretty cool. None of them have told me I am wasting my time. 

14. Adjuncthood awaits.

 Yeah, being stuck as an adjunct for a long time probably isn’t fun. But you are not forced to do this. You can find other jobs like I mentioned before.

15. Marriage and family usually wait.

 Yes, it’s hard to settle down while in grad school, but why do we have to settle down just because our non-grad school friends are? This is an exciting time to grow as a person and not be bound down by anything. 


16. Where you live will be chosen for 
you.


 Again, this is true if you are dead set on a certain job. If you want to teach at a big school, there are a limited amount of big schools and you might not have much of a choice on where you go. But again, you don’t HAVE to do this. There are other 
options where you can choose. 
17. Funding is fleeting.


This is a concern. Grants are competitive as you are competing against other very brilliant people. But hey, if graduate school lets in all these dumb kids as the blogger mentioned earlier, the intellectual elite should have no problem getting grants right? 

18. Fellowships are few and far between.


See above.

19. These are the best years of your 
life.



The blogger argues that you are wasting the best time of your life in grad school. I totally disagree. I’ve had the best 2 years of my life in graduate school. I’m in my early 20’s and having a fantastic time while learning so much. The important thing is to always make time for fun. You do have time to do fun things every now and then and anyone who thinks otherwise is lying. It’s that simple. 

20. Few ideas are exchanged.

 This is again purely anecdotal that no one talks to each other about interesting things in grad school. I love the many intellectual conversations I have with my colleagues. 

21. Graduate seminars can be 
unbearable.



I loved my graduate seminars. We had intellectual discussions about interesting journal articles in my area of interest. How is that unbearable? It wasn’t much work and it was just fun to discuss ideas as we learned. Unless you hate learning things, then this is not a negative, but a positive.

22. The liberal arts do not attract 
investment.


 As a neuroscience guy, I can’t say much about graduate school in the liberal arts. 

23. There is a pecking order.

 The blogger complains about the humanities here and I can’t say really discuss this is since it is outside of my discipline. 

24. “You are still in school?”

 I have yet to have heard this, but I still have 3 more years. Honestly, most people are pretty envious when I tell them I am getting a PhD in neuroscience. They think it’s cool, not pathetic that it takes a long time. I’m fighting the author’s anecdote with my own, I know, but I really think this isn’t a big deal. 
And who really cares what uninformed people think anyway?


25. Academe is built on pride.

 Is this a fact? I agree some people in academia do value a lot of their self-worth by how smart they can appear to be. They sometimes think better about themselves with the more papers they have published, ect. But pride is everywhere. People 
brag about things all the time. If you have enough security within yourself, other people’s pride shouldn’t bother you. 

26. Some graduate students are more equal than 
others.


 The author argues here that some grad students have it better if they are funded. Yes, that’s true. That’s why someone considering going into grad school should carefully consider if they want to be over 100k in debt for their degree. Again, 
I’m in a funded program and while I am not living a lavish lifestyle by any means, I still have enough money to do some fun things. 

27. The academic bubble may burst.

 Yes tuition is getting expensive. But I don’t think this will end academics in America anytime soon. 

28. Writing is hard.

Academic writing is hard, I agree. It’s a skill and it takes time to master. But again, isn’t that the point of grad school. To learn things? To convey ideas well? My advisor told me I wrote like a fiction writer when I sent her my first paper. 
That’s not good for writing neuroscience articles. But I’ve worked hard and am a much better scientific writer now. 

29. You may not start with plans to be a professor, 
but...


 Again, I can’t speak outside my discipline. But yes, there are places who would like someone with a PhD in science to do things like I mentioned earlier. 

30. You occupy a strange place in the world.


This will be a reoccurring theme. The strange place of grad school is actually a good thing in my opinion. It’s a unique time in your life where you can learn so much beyond the scope of your academic discipline and grow immensely as a person. The 
blogger argues that some people might think that grad school is not what an adult should be doing. Is that really a good argument though? 

31. There are biological consequences.


Yes, it is tough to have kids in graduate school and waiting until you are finished will limit how many kids you will have. However, people DO have kids in grad school and like everything else, this shouldn’t be an issue if you plan 
accordingly. If you REALLY want kids, you will find a way. 


32. The university is an economic engine.


The blogger makes a point here that universities do things other than spend money on teaching. This is very true, but I don’t see this as a reason as why one should not go to graduate school. And again, there are things on the campus you can enjoy that are not teaching/research related. You can utilize these services so that would be a good thing in my opinion. 

33. There is too much academic publishing.


‘Publish or perish’ is a very real problem, but again, this isn’t a reason NOT to go to grad school. That is a problem with academic publishing and like I have said before, this is NOT the only avenue grad students can choose. And to counter 
with my anecdotes, I find that publishing in journals can be rather rewarding and very doable if you know which journals fit your research area best. 

34. There is too little academic 
publishing.


 See above. 

35. Mumbo-jumbo abounds.


 The blogger writes about how humanities often use an arrangement of complex words as a guise  for total nonsense. Again, I'm not in the humanities so I can't speak about this. But the blogger cites this happening as an example of how Alan Sokal published an article intentionally full of nonsense and got it published. This is funny, but it was also not a well-known journal and is not peer-reviewed. And no, I cannot just 
put a bunch of big words down in a journal submission and have it accepted. That simply doesn't happen in science at least.


36. “So what are you going to do with that?”

 I haven’t had this happen to me. Again a potential science bias here, but even when I explain to someone how a current study I'm doing might not have any immediate clinical value, they still understand that learning how the brain works is important and has great implications for the future.


37. The university does not exist for your sake.

 I would argue that is most certainly does. There are tons of graduate student oriented events on my campus and there are lots of resources I can use as a student. Plus the school pays me to go there. 


38. The tyranny of the CV.


The blogger argues a CV is problematic because you have to put lots of things on it. I don't understand this at all. If you are an academic, of course you need to put all of your publications and stuff. Why is that a bad thing compared to the shorter 2 page resume? Isn't it actually nice to be able to put everything you 
have done? Personally, I always hated removing many accomplishments I had because of a page limit for a resume.


39. You are asked to do the 
impossible.


 Really, the impossible? Balancing your time is ‘impossible.’

 40. Faddishness prevails.

 The author argues there are fads in academia. Again, is this a bad thing? When a particular technique is very effective, yes lots of people will use it. Then if it is found to be obsolete, then people will stop using it. That's how scienceworks. It's a never ending process of learning and that is a good thing in my opinion. 


41. Teaching is your first priority.  
 
I haven’t found this to be the case at all. Teaching does take up time, but you get paid for it which is nice as you are getting PAID to go to school. 
 
42. Your workspace reflects your 
status.



The blogger argues here how many graduate student workspaces are less than stellar. I will admit I just moved into a much nicer office and it is a fantastic upgrade, but there are usually other nice places to study/do work on campus even 
if your office is less than desirable. (see 37)


43. Attitudes about graduate school are 
changing.


“Graduate programs hardly go out of their way to warn prospective students about the stark reality that will 
face them if and when they ever finish their degrees” if you are applying to grad schools and do not look up the attrition rate or realize that your degree often puts many people in a great deal of debt without great career prospects, you simply did not do your homework. 

44. Advisers can be tyrants.

 I am lucky to have an advisor who is very supportive, yet very tough. I do agree that bad advisors can play a huge role in one’s grad school experience though. This is why, again, doing your homework is important. Learn all you can when you 
interview with your advisor and ask other grad students about potential advisors before you agree to work with them for 5 years. 

45. Nice advisers can be worse.

 See above.

 46. You may not finish.

 You may not finish anything. 
Most people drop out because they didn’t know what they were getting into. And you can get a terminal masters as well if you do not want to do the entire PhD.

 47. It requires tremendous self-discipline.

 Another theme is that graduate is bad because there is no set schedule. This to me is a good thing. I love having a flexible schedule and choosing my own hours. The blogger also argues small classes diminish a shared experience which is simply 
an opinion that I strongly disagree with. Small classes are really nice to me. 
 

48. The two-body problem.

 The blogger assumes that a graduate student wants to marry another graduate student and they both want to go into academia. Yes, this would be tricky, but it involves many assumptions and not all grad students are going to do this. So 
because one scenario could be difficult, I don’t see that as a reason ALL people should avoid grad school. The blogger also says how there are married couples who are academics who have to live far apart, well I’ll counter that anecdotal 
evidence by saying there are academic couples who work in the same department!  

49. There are few tangible rewards.


Simply put, if you went to grad school to get tangible rewards, you went for the wrong reasons. It is all about the intangibles like obtaining knowledge and personal growth.

 50. You are surrounded by graduate students.

 I’m not sure what grad students the blogger met, but I haven’t met any which are that awful like they describe. I have met some of my best friends in grad school. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of the brightest, kindest, coolest, fun, people around. It’s also nice to be able to vent grad school 
frustrations to your fellow grad students who ‘get it.’


51. You are surrounded by undergraduates.


I’m a bit of an anomaly as I started my PhD when I was 22. Now at 24, I am starting to feel a bit more removed from the undergrads. However, I don’t see this as a bad thing. Being surrounded by young, enthusiastic, goal driven people can be 
energizing and shouldn’t be looked as depressing unless you really hate your life.

 52. Your adviser’s pedigree counts.


This is true, but again, working with an unknown and unproductive advisor is your choice. You apply to work with an advisor just as much as you apply to go to a particular school. Again, doing homework ahead of time will save much anxiety. 
 

53. Teaching assistantships.


“There is something inherently humiliating about being a teaching assistant.” No, there is not. I’ve had very rewarding experiences being a TA and I found it to be relatively easy 
and fun work. So I’ll counter the opinion with one of my own.  
It can also help you learn the material a lot better. I TA’ed statistics and my statistical knowledge improved immensely from it.

54. “What do you do for a living?”


Basically the blogger is insecure that they are still in school. I don’t get this. Being a student isn’t looked down upon in our society. I have NEVER had someone look down on me for pursuing a PhD. Like I have said previously, most of them 
actually think it is a cool thing to do and wish they were in school themselves. 
 

55. There are too many PhDs.


Again, this is humanities biased. I can get a job doing something other than teaching like I said before.

56. Grading is miserable.


It certainly doesn’t have to be. You can give multiple choice tests. You can NOT assign huge final papers for a class of 300. You can do a lot of things which still test your students without making life awful for you. I actually find it to be rewarding to see what my students have learned and find ways in how I can 
learn to teach them more effectively.

 57. Rejection is routine.

 Yes not being accepted for grants and papers is common. But grad students should be aware of this common problem and it shouldn’t be an issue unless you are a perfectionist. And again, didn’t the blogger say that so many dumb kids go to 
grad school now? Wouldn’t that make it easy to be accepted more often if you are among the ‘intellectual elite.’

 58. The one-body problem.

 The blogger argues that it’s tough to marry in grad school. Yeah it's tough, but it's doable. And again, why do you have to get married in grad school? The relocation is a real issue though for those who want teaching gigs. 


59. You pay for nothing.

 Again, the blogger argues here that paying for grad school is rough. And again, my tuition is covered. But yes, I agree paying for grad school would be not fun. But if you don't pay for it, then it is awesome!


60. The tyranny of the dissertation.


I am just starting to think about my dissertation, but from what I have heard, if you start preparing early it's not so terrible. People generally take forever on their dissertation when they decide to do something pretty unrelated to what 
they have been doing or what their lab already does. My research all builds on each other so I shouldn’t have this problem. If you plan ahead, it shouldn’t be as bad. And yes, it's supposed to be tough as you are a PhD when you are 
finished. 

61. Unstructured time.

 Again, I don’t see this as a bad thing at all. I can choose to binge drink all Wednesday, be hung over all Thursday, but then have to work really hard on Friday and Saturday. The key is to enjoy yourself and not feel guilty about not doing work in your unstructured time. Flexibility can be a wonderful thing. 

62. You have no free time.


 This might be the largest misconception about grad school. You DO have free time. Yeah, it’s not a lot, but who has a lot of free time? Personally, I am heavily involved in activism and volunteer work. I love traveling and I love goofing off 
with friends in the bars downtown. I also run/bike everyday. Grad school is a lot of work, but it is also very flexible like I have said many times. Time management skills are important, but whenever someone says they have no free time due to grad school, they are doing something wrong or lying.

 63. Your friends pass you by.

 It's a long term goal. That's what grad school is. And you will often make your best friends in grad school anyway. And again, it's not delaying adulthood. In fact I would argue that you do become so much more grown up because grad school is so 
unique. It challenges you. Doing the 9-5 thing and then getting into a routine is not stimulating and is not as conducive to personal growth.


64. Smugness.

 Smugness isn’t in other areas of life?

 65. Teaching is less and less rewarding.

 Is there a specific source for this? I think it gets more rewarding as you feel more comfortable with the subject. It’s always rewarding to help students learn. 

66. “Why are you studying that?”

 Again, why do you care so much on what other people think?
 
67. There is a star system.

The blogger argues here that those who do well get all the money and resources. Why is this a bad thing? If you want to work in a world famous lab, yes, you will have to have a good CV. Just like anything else in the world, you need to prove 
yourself to advance to the big leagues. No one should feel entitled to success. 
 
68. It is stressful.

 You are training to be a world expert in something so it better be stressful. And again, why did the blogger say it was easy before if it is so stressful?

 69. It is lonely.

 Yeah, it’s lonely doing work during the day, but that’s how I like it as it avoids distractions. I have a very solid social circle in grad school that I utilize after my work is done. 

70. It is unforgiving.


The author keeps making contradicting points about grad school being too hard and too easy. Yes, it's hard, but you get to be a doctor afterward though.

71. The tenure track is brutal.

 Yes, tenure track is tough from what I've heard. But you don't try for tenure track during grad school and again, there are other jobs you can do with a PhD.

 72. The humanities and social sciences are in 
trouble.


 As I said before, I can’t comment on this being in 
neuroscience.

73. Perceptions trump reality.


This is simply false. You cannot build a career from nonsense as the blogger suggests. Sorry. Journals are peer reviewed and your work will have to be at least adequate to be successful. I have never heard of an awful scientist do well in academia. There may be rare exceptions, but it's certainly not the norm.

 74. Academic conferences.

 Academic conferences have always been some of my favorite experiences so this is purely opinion based. You get to travel to a new part of the world, talk about your research with knowledgeable people who really care about it, and then drink or explore the city. Why is this bad?


75. You can make more money as a schoolteacher.


Maybe. You can make more money doing a lot of things. The classic money vs. happiness thing isn’t exclusive to grad school and if someone goes to grad school for tangible rewards, they went for the wrong reasons as I said before. 
 
76. There is a culture of fear.


Is not being able to freely insult your profession acceptable in any other type of job? If a fireman constantly complains about how much he hates his job or if a businessman has a popular blog saying how awful his company is, will there not 
be any repercussions? I don’t see the bloggers point that you have to be afraid to speak out about how academia has problems. I think you CAN address these issues if you do it in a diplomatic way. 

77. It attracts the socially inept.

 I do agree that most scientists tend to be more introverted than average. But also, once you get them out of their introverted shell, they can be some of the most fascinating people you will ever meet. I’m not your typical scientist in a lot of ways. I’m rather extroverted, enjoy doing lots of activism and community 
work, I was a jock in high school, and I love going out bar hopping downtown. So I don’t consider myself the least bit ‘socially inept’, but I am passionate about my work and do like working alone sometimes. The key here is balance. Work 
hard and play hard.  


78. It takes a toll on your health.

 “Your diet is more likely to consist of cheap processed foods than wholesome fare.” This is just incorrect. You CAN eat 
healthy without spending tons of money. Yes, graduate students do sit a lot, but so do SO many other jobs. There are many ways to stay active. I bike to my office every day to get exercise built in to my schedule for example.

 79. The tyranny of procrastination.

 Again, flexibility is not a bad thing if you have decent time management. Also, anecdotally, so many people procrastinate in academia so it’s almost accepted. 

80. “When will you finish?”

 Again, this can be a problem for those who do not look up their programs ahead of time. My program is VERY strict about finishing in 5 years. If I went to a program and the average time to finish was 12 years, I would not go there (which again, all these statistics are publicly available) if I was concerned about staying in school for a long time. 

81. Comprehensive exams.

 The blogger even says “It is difficult to make generalizations about comprehensive exams, because they are handled so differently from one department to the next, even within the
  same university.” And then proceeds to only mention terrible examples of comp exams. Some programs have very useful comp exams like writing a journal article or submitting a grant as their exam. 

82. Teaching is moving online.

 Yes, and who will be teaching these classes? And again, teaching is NOT the only thing a grad student can do with their degree. 

83. It narrows your options.


Again, maybe this is true in the humanities, but you CAN do other things other than teach.

 84. The politics are vicious.

 And again, purely opinion based. There are politics everywhere.

 85. It is not a ticket to the upper middle class.

 So what? Again, graduate school is not about tangible rewards. 


86. It is a state of being.

 Yes, it's a transition phase. I agree. However, it's also a wonderful time for personal growth like I keep saying. You have more responsibilities than an undergrad, but maybe not quite as many as someone with a 'real job.' So I would suggest to use that extra time to your advantage instead of complaining about 
it

 87. The financial rewards are decreasing.


Again, it's not about tangible rewards and if you are applying to some obscure PhD program and never look at the job prospects, then not finding a good job after is your fault. Do your homework! 
 
88. You are not paid for what you write.

 You are not writing to get money. It’s not like you are writing for blog hits or something. You are writing to learn the material better. THAT’s why it is important and takes so much time. You become an expert by reading material and then writing about it. That is why it is worth the time despite not getting paid 
in money. You are getting paid in knowledge. 

89. Virtually no one reads what you write. 

The only people who read academic journal articles are those who are also experts in the field which yes, is not many people. Do you want lots of people reading your work if they are not experts in it? And you could also always break down what you do to the general public.  I’m a huge advocate for science communication. 

90. Virtually no one cares about what you are doing. 

Yes, only a few people care about my work, but like I just mentioned, those are the experts who have spent years studying it and understanding it. I think the details of what I research is interesting and a few of my colleagues find it 
interesting. I think the biggest problem here is explaining to the general public academics do. If you go on some esoteric jargon filled rant to someone outside your field, they obviously will not care. However, if you can communicate your science well and concisely, they probably will and I have found this to be the case. I tell many people exactly what I do and I’m able to 
explain it to them without all the jargon. 



Now that I demonstrated how all those negatives could actually be positives, I will come up 10 reasons of my own to why you should go to graduate school to round out the 100.


91. It’s fun.
              
You are studying something you are interested in and passionate about for a career. You get paid to read and write interesting things in an air conditioned office. You will most likely have a job that you actually enjoy which sadly is quite rare. 

92. You meet amazing people. 
                 
I’ve met some of my best friends in graduate school. Generally, you will meet likeminded people in your program and people generally like people they have a lot in common with. I’ll cherish the friendships I’ve made in grad school for the rest of my life even if I don’t see many of them after we graduate.

93. People generally think it’s cool. 
                 
I totally disagree with this blogger than people look down upon grad students. When people ask me what I do and I say “I’m getting a PhD in neuroscience” it’s generally a positive reaction. People generally think it’s interesting and I don’t have to go into the specifics of my research for them to appreciate me being a scientist. Personally, I don’t care much what others 
think, but this is a legitimate concern for others and often grad students are looked upon favorably in my experiences. You actually assumed to be really smart by the public even if you are actually rather average (like me).

 94. You get to have cool experiences.
                 
Traveling to academic conferences is awesome in itself, but that was already addressed. I also mean you get to talk to your intellectual heroes and learn fascinating things about your area of interest. 

95. You do have some status. 
                 
The author made it sound like grad school students hate their lives and are just research slaves. This isn’t true. Undergrads look up to you. People think it’s admirable that you are pursuing a higher education. I think it’s a cool phase to be in. 

96. The academic environment. 
                 
You get to live in the academic environment for a few more years. It doesn’t matter if you want to stay there after; but being in academia is a really interesting place. You do kind of still feel like a student in some ways and I think this is where the blogger was getting at a stunted adulthood. But I don’t think setting more goals and being idealistic are bad things. You should 
use this time in the academic environment to learn from surrounding professors and utilize everything your university has to offer (courses, sporting events, academic events, social events, ect.). 

97. The flexibility.
                 
I do have a lot of work to do, but I can do it WHENEVER I want for the most part. If I feel like drinking beer and watching cartoons all Monday, I can do that. But I will have to make up for it on Tuesday. How many jobs let you choose your hours? When you have to TA, you have more restricted hours obviously since you have class. But you can still grade whenever you want. Right now I’m getting paid as a research assistant and I can do work whenever I want to as long as it gets done. Also, I took a break from research things today to write this blog post and it is totally fine!

98. Classes are different from undergrad and usually don’t last 
beyond 2 years. 
                 
Coursework is much lighter after your 2nd year in my PhD program and the courses themselves are much more discussion based with a whole lot less busy work than 
undergrad courses you may have had.

99. College resources are available to you. 
                 
You get access to a free gym, health services, ect, and are always surrounded by experts in their fields if you need help with something. You often still receive student discounts too!

100. It is a wonderful chapter to add to your life. 
                 
This goes into the whole growing up thing, but it’s a little different. Whatever degree you pursue will always be attached to your name. Even if you go into an entirely different field after, you will always remember your time in grad school and it will be brought up a lot. Grad school is going to be filled with lots and ups and downs, but at the end you emerge a much stronger and mature person ready to take on the world. When you look back in the largest emotional growth spurts in your life, graduate school will be among them and will likely the reason why you are happy with your life. You can apply all those lessons you have learned during grad school for the rest of your life to make you a much stronger and more grounded person. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I have grown from grad school. I want to write about it already, but my new growth always become obsolete in just a few months. It’s incredible. 
Just think about it. Growth mostly occurs when you are outside your comfort zone. Graduate school is ALL about being outside your comfort zone. You will probably move toa new area, meet all new people, be academically challenged ect. It’s awesome!

 
Concluding remarks:
  Of course graduate school is not for everyone and I am no way suggesting that everyone should start studying the GRE and apply to a bunch of grad schools after they read this. I’d only suggest going to graduate school if you really, really want a career that requires a graduate degree and you sincerely enjoy studying what you will be studying. Obviously this caveat means that many people should not go to graduate school and that’s FINE. But to say that a person should not go to grad school who otherwise totally should because ‘it’s hard’ is terrible advice. This is not to say that the blog I mentioned does not make good points. I agree, there are issues with grad school that are real concerns. HOWEVER, to make blanket statements saying how a person should not go to graduate school because of opinions is not productive. Blog posts such as the one I have addressed promote a stereotype that graduate school is awful and grad students are miserable which is simply not true. A person should always carefully consider big decisions for their future and graduate school is no different. Graduate school has been wonderful for me so far and I plan on making the most out of the few years I have left. 

Pseudoscience in the Media

 My good friend Sarah showed me a clip of the celebrity physician Dr. Oz discuss a near death experience (NDE) with some 'experts' and a patient who claimed to have had one. I'll briefly summarize the clip and address some major concerns I had with it.

    Dr. Oz brings on a lady who was hit by a truck while riding 
her bike and claimed to have a near death experience. Before that, Dr. Oz talks to a grief consoler who doesn’t say anything of value in my opinion. He mentions how people often see their mother before they die, but doesn’t bring up any statistics or research studies. Then an emotional video plays about the accident the lady had and she then comes on to speak. Basically, after she was hit by the truck, she saw a light and experienced some euphoria despite how badly damaged she was. Then they have a physician who is a near death experience expert and talk to him. 

Let's disregard the clear appeal to emotion from this and just get to the facts. The NDE expert first discusses how improbable it is that people have memories despite being so injured. However, he doesn’t mention how these memories might not be from the actual event, but could be formed afterward. Dr. Oz does actually start to explain what physiologically may happen during an NDE which actually isn’t too bad. The problem is that he doesn’t go into details of an opposing side of NDE. Sam Harris does a great job explaining the other side here after a neurosurgeon claimed his NDE was ‘Proof of Heaven’. 

Basically, the brain releases a spike of the neurotransmitter DMT when it is damaged which causes some pretty trippy psychological effects. This could account for all the types of hallucinogenic effects in the brain, yet it is never mentioned here. Even if we had NO idea of why people would have these sorts of NDE’s it doesn’t prove there is consciousness outside the brain, it just suggests we still have a lot to learn about how the brain works. The NDE expert then mentions how he has studied thousands of patients and has seen similar things to the lady on the show. This again doesn’t prove in any way that there is consciousness outside the brain. The expert tries to prove how DNE’s are medically inexplicable with how blind people have visual NDE’s. I was surprised to see there actually was a journal article written by him on this subject. However, it was written in little known “Journal of Near Death Studies”and had all sorts of issues.  

During the show, they made it seem like they interviewed these blind participants who 'saw' right after their NDE right after it happened. However, in the study they searched for blind 
people who said they had a NDE. Beyond that, they only recorded data from those who "had appropriate qualifications for our study" That’s right, they only collected data from those who confirmed their hypothesis. That is why this was published in “Journal of Near Death Studies” instead of Science. 
 
This study looked for people who confirmed their hypothesis and found them. Impressive. Again, my issue is even if this study was designed better it doesn’t say anything about supernatural. The journal article even admits that some of the blind participants admitted they did not know what the researcher meant by ‘seeing.’ How can we be sure that the blind who reported seeing just described what they might think seeing could be. Perhaps these blind people had DMT in their brain and allowed to feel like they were seeing. Blind people do have dreams and a brain injury could just alter them during their NDE. Perhaps those who they picked to respond were lead to believe they had some out of body experience due to cognitive bias. The important issue here is that just because we don't understand everything about the brain; it does not mean there is not a scientific answer for it. To say because we don’t understand something and that must mean it is unexplainable is simply willful ignorance. 

The overlying problem with all this isn’t that this episode of Dr. Oz didn’t really explain NDE’s in detail. It is that pseudoscience in the media has terrible implications. People watch these doctors say things on television and believe them simply because they are authority figures. The scientific method is never mentioned. Publishing in a good scientific journal is hard! These reviewers are really tough, I know from experience. When I submit an article for publication in a high quality science journal, I wish I could just say “hey trust me because I’m getting a PhD” or “I only recorded data from those who confirmed our hypothesis” and still get published, but that’s just not how it works. The scientific method is not understood well and having it bastardized in the media doesn’t help. Americans already do not have very good science literacyand having pseudoscience only causes further problems. We need more television shows and other media which explain the actual method of science and not just the sexy results.