Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Have scanner, will travel

Recently, our reader Dan B. from Google sent a link to an article about Prof. Kent A. Kiehl he read in Science magazine Vol. 321 pp. 1284-1286 (also available here). Prof. Kiehl did his graduate work with Prof. Robert Hare at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, whom you know from his book Snakes in Suits I reviewed over a year ago.

Actually, in that post I displayed this image, which is from Prof. Kiehl's work.

Limbic abnormalities in affective processing by criminal psychopaths as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging

In that post I wrote jokingly that we color scientists have an advantage over the general population because in case of a suspicious colleague we could use a modified version of the color naming experiment to unmask them, or we could walk down the hall to a colleague with an fMRI machine and collaborate on an experiment.

The Science magazine article describes how Prof. Kiehl is actually doing just that. With a custom-built mobile functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner — roughly $2.3 million of equipment packed into a 15-meter-long trailer — and permission from the New Mexico governor to work in all 12 state prisons, Kiehl aims to scan 1000 inmates a year.

Kiehl's research is funded by four R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health, which pay about $900,000 a year in direct costs; the Mind Research Network (MRN) at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque paid for the scanner.

The reason for recruiting the subjects in the state prisons is that these are places where it is easy to find them. However, if Prof. Kiehl would start his research project today, he might have chosen a different venue and population. In fact, In Snakes in Suits Prof. Hare and Dr. Bobiak describe in detail the evolution to the transitioning organization and present the concept of entrepreneurial pretenders.

The book cited several instances of such entrepreneurial pretenders in the saving & loans crisis and Enron. If one follows the news, one might suspect Manhattan is a biotope where Prof. Kiehl might find an abundance of subjects to study.

Speaking about the news from Manhattan, in an earlier post I blogged about how the end of communism and the cold war made the concept of outbraining the communists obsolete and started the demise of scientific think tanks. If one believes the news, one might think we are currently witnessing the end of capitalism, with the widespread nationalization of financial institutions.

This might bring a new era where it is no longer about being number one, but just about working and making a contribution to society. And this might not require think tanks, in the view of our leaders. In fact, the latest issue of Science magazine has a news item by Laura Margottini on Italy Restricts Academic Hires, in which it is reported that academic hiring is being severely cut back and institutions should look for private sponsors. Apparently it will not be the western hemisphere who will dig world economics out of the current hole with new science and technology. We will have to look elsewhere.