Opium for Separation Distress in Victorian-era Infants

Infant's Delight Mother's Joy

“I haven’t heard that morphine or buprenorphine is recommended for human babies who cry persistently and excessively,” I declared in a post about Opioid Drugs for Mental Anguish on my main blog.

Silly me! In a comment on the post, Ray Davis said…

An earlier generation of field-researchers found it quite (and sometimes permanently) effective: http://www.victorianweb.org/science/health/health4.html

The article on Opium and Infant Mortality states:

Medical officers were convinced that one of the major causes of infant mortality was the widespread practice of giving children narcotics, especially opium, to quieten them. At 1d an ounce laudanum was cheap enough — about the price of a pint of beer — and its sale was totally unregulated unitl late in the century.

Indeed, the New York Times of 1879 reported a terrible opium poisoning that caused the death of a one year old child.

Opium - The Cause of a Child's Death


There were other dangerous “soothing” products of the day with quaint and reassuring ads. One can imagine that administration of these potions was not limited to teething and bowel complaints. The U.S. National Library of Medicine has a lovely collection of these.

Baby Ease


The Quack Doctor has a great post on Atkinson & Barker’s Royal Infants’ Preservative, which “has been acknowledged the best medicine in the world.” Ingredients included 1 dr. Laudanum, an old-timey tincture of opium.

Atkinson's and Barker's Royal Infants Preservative

Six drops of this fine medicine was enough to kill a six week old baby in 1886.

Lest you think that in the modern era, we know better than to poison our children with such foolish remedies, there was a recall of a dangerous product in 2009. The recall was “in response to a reported case of potassium bromide poisoning in an infant, associated with the use of a locally purchased teething product.”

The name of this product? Monell’s Teething Cordial (Cordial de Monell para la Dentición).

Monell's teething cordial 2009


Autonomy and Exploitation in “The Tribe”

I saw the brutal and breathtaking film The Tribe the other day. It was about decay and violence and sex as violence and belonging and exclusion. It was about a thuggish gang of high school students at a Ukrainian boarding school for the Deaf. Peeling paint on the walls of the ugly claustrophobic corridors and stairwells sets the tone. The landscape was filled with graffiti and burned out cars and dilapidated buildings. No future and beyond hope.

The teachers enforced no rules and looked the other way at systematic violence as a way of life. Not only that, adults helped facilitate the criminal activity (along gender lines): robbery and physical assault for the boys, and prostitution for the girls.

The film was filled with constant dialogue but none of it was spoken. The non-professional actors communicated via Ukrainian sign language.

There were no subtitles.

This was the central conceit of the film: the audience is forced to interpret the story by watching the characters gesture, decoding their facial expressions and body language. Which is not all that hard for many of us to do* (in broad strokes, at least), but the nuance is lost.

But nuance was not the point here. The ambient sounds — roaring traffic, crunching leaves, footsteps on snowy sidewalks, knocking on windows, slaps, fists hitting flesh — were all amplified, or at least it seemed that way. The nihilism was overwhelming. And the violence (including sexual violence) was…. very disturbing, to say the least.

The overall critical reception of The Tribe (along with work by lead actors Hryhoriy Fesenko and Yana Novikova, director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy, and cinematographer Valentyn Vasyanovych) has been glowing: a rating of 78% on Metacritic and 87% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Autonomy or Exploitation?

But was Slaboshpytskiy exploiting these young members of the Deaf community (with whom he could not communicate directly) by exposing them so completely (emotionally as well as physically)? Fesenko and Novikova appeared completely nude in sex scenes that were used in promotional material.





Two underage girls were shown as willing participants in the school prostitution ring, pimped out by their classmates and teachers, engaging in grubby and degrading truck stop sex. The director chose not to show us the emotional toll such sex work would have, instead justifying it as their only way out… out of the depressing institutional school, and out of the country (to Italy).

But here I should let Yana Novikova speak for herself:

“With great fear I anticipated seeing myself naked on the big screen, and this feeling of alarm didn’t leave,” Novikova says in an e-mail interview. “I was so uncomfortable. I had a desire to hide from everyone and everything under a chair. I thought if I played it badly, the audience will laugh at me.

“And then the movie ended, the credits went, and they turned on the lights. The reaction of the public dumbfounded me: Someone cried, someone was in a chair and just sat, covering their face. And then everyone rose and started applauding, turning to us. They shouted ‘Bravo!’”


Novikova said in the interview that she always wanted to be an actress. How many acting opportunities are there for young Deaf Ukrainian women? Zero, except for this one. And here “we” the hearing should consider the possibility of a wider autonomy for the members of an insular community — autonomy for both the actors and their characters in the film. The latter is a more problematic notion, since they’re underage victims of institutional neglect.

Novikova continues:

The brutality and nihilism exhibited by mere teenagers in the film is astonishing. The situation is murky: Are these students purely victims of predatory teachers or willing collaborators in their own degradation?

“I was told stories about corruption in deaf boarding schools, particularly between the years 1990-1996,” says Novikova, 22. “I think it is a bit of both. Each is feeding the other, like an addiction.”

Importantly, the characters existed outside of and apart from the world of the hearing. They’re allowed to be as bad as the rest of us. It’s the viewers who are the marginalized ones, who must figure out what’s going on. To dismiss this as a “silent” movie is to ignore the centrality of signing in the Deaf community.

…and Back to Exploitation

The director had the two lead actors watch a number of movies with explicit sex scenes, like Last Tango in Paris, 69 SongsShortbus, and Salò. And the one that raised a red flag for me, Blue is the Warmest Color, which I thought was extremely exploitative and male-gazy (but that’s another story). More from the interview:

…She grew more comfortable having to undress after seeing “Blue.”

“I understood that cinema sex is about love, about knowledge of and  discovery of sexuality, not just about erotic scenes,” Novikova says. “This rich character history, the frank work of the actors shook me. I literally fell in love with the lead actress.

“And then Miroslav told me that the movie “Blue Is the Warmest Color” received an award, the Golden Palm in Cannes,” she adds. “I asked him, ‘And what is this Cannes?’ … Miroslav promptly explained it to me. And I lit up. I imagined presenting myself on the red carpet, in a beautiful dress, under flashes of cameras. In my head, it was as if something clicked: Can it be, ‘The Tribe’ — my one and only chance to become a professional actress? It gave me internal strength, and I declared to Miroslav: ‘I will do everything, I want to receive the Golden Palm.’”

With “The Tribe,” Novikova did walk the red carpet under flashes of cameras in a beautiful dress at the Cannes Film Festival.

And another male director convinced (manipulated/exploited) another young female actress into performing nude/explicit scenes…. yet we shouldn’t deny Novikova her autonomy.

The Deaf Community Speaks Out

The most important opinions about this film aren’t mine, they’re those of the Deaf Community. And here the reviews are mixed.

Charlie Swinbourne: Has The Tribe changed what a deaf film can be?

Significantly, there are no subtitles and no voiceover. The audience is asked to understand the film by picking up on the actors’ physical expressions as they sign to each other – almost like watching a silent film. Because sign languages vary in countries across the world, British deaf people are likely to understand as little as anyone else.

At first, this is deeply unsettling. Ten minutes into the film, I wasn’t sure if I could carry on watching it. I’m a film-maker and scriptwriter, and words are important to me. As a deaf person, I also wanted to know exactly what they were signing to one another, and where the plot was going. Having spent hours painstakingly adding subtitles and voiceover to my own films and programmes, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the decision to give no access to the dialogue was a cop-out.

Then I started to pick up on the characters’ relationships, changes in mood, and began to understand what was going on. Cleverly, by removing subtitles the audience is forced to engage more with the deaf characters, to really look in order to understand. I can’t deny that there’s also something I quite like about hearing people being put into a position we deaf people often find ourselves in – having to figure out what is being said.

What’s also different about the film, from a deaf perspective, is how extreme the story is, and the world it depicts. Most deaf programmes or films face restrictions because they are made to be shown before the watershed in daytime hours where signed TV shows tend to be aired. Consequently it’s rare to see a film with deaf characters where adult themes are explored. In my view, the themes are not simply explored for effect in The Tribe – they are justified by the story that’s being told.

Raymond Luczak: NO MORE SAVAGERY, PLEASE: A Deaf person’s review of the film The Tribe

The assumptions that a hearing person, uninformed about Deaf people,  would be encouraged to make on the basis of this film would naturally be very different from the assumptions that a Deaf viewer would make. This is why, whenever hearing people make films about us, we Deaf people are naturally concerned about whether something on the screen will reflect badly on us. The Deaf community in America has been fighting against the closure of Deaf residential schools, which is an important battleground for several reasons. …  For a Deaf person, a language that’s fully accessible is generally more powerful than ties to a biological family that doesn’t make enough of an effort to include her in the family conversations around the table. It is through language, not blood, that we feel whole and connected. In this context, Sergey’s desire to be part of a group who fully understands his language is entirely understandable.

Yet I suspect that for many Deaf Americans still hurting over the closure of certain Deaf residential schools, it would indeed prove troubling to watch a group of Deaf teenagers behave so badly toward each other in this film.

. . .

In this film, almost everyone is exploited, but make no mistake: This is above all an exploitation film made by hearing filmmakers. It is useful to ponder what the term truly means, and I quote Wikipedia here: “Exploitation film is an informal label which may be applied to any film which is generally considered to be low budget, and therefore apparently attempting to gain financial success by ‘exploiting’ a current trend or a niche genre or a base desire for lurid subject matter. The term ‘exploitation’ is common in film marketing for promotion or advertising in any type of film. These films then need something to exploit, such as sex, violence, or romance…” However it may be shot at a cool distance, The Tribe has luridness in spades. It would be most interesting to learn what the Ukrainian Deaf community thinks of the film itself, beyond the thrill of seeing their friends up there on the screen.


Gratuitous Abortion Scene

Here we come to the most serious WARNING for those who wish to see The Tribe. No one will be able to convince me that the unbearably long (7 min 30 sec) and gruesome bathtub abortion scene is anything other than an affront to the audience. After an extended argument with her roommate (who we imagine is trying to dissuade her), Anya (pregnant by classmate Sergey, who steals to get the money) heads out alone to the illegal “provider.” The abortionist is a grim and expressionless woman from the Dead Ringers school of gynecological torture. The bathroom is filthy and painted with the same sloppy blue and white institutional paint seen everywhere else. I’ll spare you the full image.


Hearing Anya cry out in pain and agony was the most disturbing aspect of this savage act (and the entire film). We’ve heard no utterance from her up until this point.

I thought the abortion scene was completely unnecessary, and I’m not the only one. But it follows the Director’s gendered curriculum of boarding school violence: rape (and now gynecological butchery) for the girls, head bashing for the boys.

It took me a while to recover from this scene. But I eventually wondered, was the director trying to say something about abortion in contemporary Ukraine? Seems doubtful to me. It’s actually Russia that has the problem with high abortion rates, according to this 2012 paper:

Divergent Trends in Abortion and Birth Control Practices in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine

Since the end of the 1990s, the Russian government switched to archaic ideology in the area of reproductive health and family planning and neglects evidence-based arguments. Such an extreme turn in the governmental position is not observed in Belarus or Ukraine. This is an important factor contributing to the slowdown in the decrease of abortion rates in Russia.

In the end, I might consider how Ukrainian politics influenced The Tribe, but that would be pointless because I’m no expert. So I’ll let an article from The Ukrainian Weekly have the last word:

There is a scene where two administrators (also mute) who arranged for an Italian visa for two young girl students, ceremoniously trot out the vodka bottle – just like some real life administrators from that part of the world. As we recognize more and more tableaus that ring true, we begin to realize the full tragedy of what we are viewing – this is a film about a society that has regressed to a primitive state, it is about the desperation of people caught in a dysfunctional hell-hole. Who has not been disturbed by the crumbling buildings, the disinterested apparatchiks and other weasels, the quiet desperation of the long waiting lines, and the skinhead punks in Ukraine? – only this time they just happen to all be deaf… Our emotional response is undeniable. And with this, the director has achieved his goal.



* … no judgment meant against neurodiverse people who might find this difficult and perhaps frustrating. Which would be an interesting topic, about another community…

** First posted on my ridiculous tumblr as Complete Autonomy or Exploitation in “The Tribe”. After I realized the piece was getting longer (and more serious) than expected, I decided to post it here as well.

The Annals of Journal Spam: Industrail Control Pollution


A recent spam e-mail from a hijacked journal was one of the most ridiculous I’ve ever received. Besides the misspelling of the journal name in the subject line, the deadline for manuscript submission was before the message was sent! The completely irrelevant topic is typical, as is the cheery obsequiousness.

The spammer seems to have stolen (or hijacked) what might be the actual Journal of Industrial Pollution Control, published by EM International.

JIPC_EM International


From: Journal of Industrial Pollution Control <industrialpollutioncontrol@rroij.com>
Date: Wed, Jul 15, 2015 at 11:04 PM
Subject: Industrail Control Pollution-submission:Invitation
To: [The Neurocritic]

Journal of Industrial Pollution Control
SCOPUS – H Index – 9; NAAS Rating – 4.60

Dear [Neurocritic],

Hope you are doing well!
It gives a great pleasure to email an eminent person like you.
After the successful completion of 30years, Journal of Industrial Pollution Control with NLM(PUBMED) ID: 9012876 is stepping ahead to continue the legacy of its glance by inviting eminent researchers like you to share your views for our upcoming Volume 31, Issue 1.
Articles published will be subjected to indexing in Chemical Abstracts(U.S.A); SCOPUS; EBSCO Publishing(U.S.A); Cambridge Science Abstracts; Ecology Abstracts; Pollution Abstracts; Geological Abstracts; International Development Abstracts; Oceanographic Literature Review; Zoological Records; Indian Science Abstracts, Niscair(India).
We have chosen selective scientists who have contributed excellent work, Thus I kindly request you to contribute a Short Commentary of 1-2 pages (or) Letter to Editor of 1-2 pages (or) Mini Review (Research, Reviews are also invited) for publication in our upcoming issue.
We would truly gratify and appreciate receiving your submission before July 15th
Kindly submit manuscript at
We promise to provide you with the best visibility for your valuable submission to the scientific community.
If it is not feasible for you then please let us know your feasible time to contribute.
Anticipating your positive mail and awaiting your valuable submission.

Wish you a happy and healthy day ahead!

With warm regards
Margarita P
Editorial Assistant
Journal of Industrial Pollution Control


Contact Us_real JIPC

Contact info for the real JIPC


Contact info for the fake JIPC

Contact info for the fake JIPC

Sorry Margarita P, I won’t be contacting you…

A Banner Week in Science

Science magazine, that is…

First and foremost, there was the retraction of LaCour and Green (2014), When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality, at the behest of the second author. The retraction states:

The reasons for retracting the paper are as follows: (i) Survey incentives were misrepresented. To encourage participation in the survey, respondents were claimed to have been given cash payments to enroll, to refer family and friends, and to complete multiple surveys. In correspondence received from Michael J. LaCour’s attorney, he confirmed that no such payments were made. (ii) The statement on sponsorship was false…

In addition to these known problems, independent researchers have noted certain statistical irregularities in the responses ( 2 ). LaCour has not produced the original survey data from which someone else could independently confirm the validity of the reported findings.

Michael J. LaCour does not agree to this Retraction.

LaCour and Green - retracted May 28 2015

The “statistical irregularities” were uncovered by Broockman, Kalla, and Aronow in a 27 page critical report. And as promised, LaCour issued a 23 page rebuttal to Broockman et al. on May 29 (which is being mercilessly dissected as we speak).

You can read complete coverage of the scandal at Buzzfeed, Retraction Watch, and Science of Us (New York magazine). And of course, there’s the time sink known as poliscirumors (if you dare).

Some see L’Affair LaCour as a shining example of the self-corrective nature of science, a triumph of modern statistics and self-publishing. Others are more cynical and view it as a move to cover Don Green’s back.

Thus, the political scientists have started a narrative to defend their rank of science and have explained the fraud as a sign of their fortress, because, as science works and they are scientists, they can catch the dishonest colleagues. A narrative that necessarily has to make of Donald P. Green a hero, as we can read in the article of The New Republic. The problem is that there are a few lies in this story, a lot of incoherence and, worse, a very small triangle formed by the three main characters, the villain Michael J. Lacour, the opportunist boss, Donald P. Green, and the detective who discovered the fraud and former disciple of the opportunist boss, David Broockman. A very close triangle of three scholars who shared academic careers and who might have not be driven by, at least, the pursuing of the truth.


Sometimes, I reach a state of despair when considering the characteristics needed for a “successful” academic career.


Chocolate with high cocoa content as a weight-loss accelerator

Next, we have Science contributing correspondent reporting on The Retraction the DAY AFTER his own unethical phony study was trumpeted in io9. Will Science slap him on the wrist? Force him to retract his stunt paper on chocolate as a weight-loss accelerator 1  from International Archives of Medicine? Oops, too late, the predatory publisher already pulled the article from their site without issuing a retraction notice. Fortunately, you can still get the PDF here.

Bohannon portrayed it as another sting,2 this time of lazy journalists who don’t bother to check their sources. The ones who were really fooled, however, were public consumers of diet news. Deliberate propagation of false health information is unethical, and I wonder if Science will do anything about it.

I’ve been harping on sensationalistic media coverage and trumped up press releases for nearly ten years now (often in a funny/cynical/sarcastic way), but I’ve never disseminated false health information. Well, OK, I’ve jokingly written about Vegas casino develops technique for unobtrusive radiofrequency ablation of the amygdala and The Neurology of Twitter and Anthropomorphic Neuroscience Driven by Researchers with Large TPJs, but these were clearly parodies, not recommendations that people should change their diets (under the guise of SCIENCE).

….. time for a chocolate now …..


Science Magazine

Sleeping your way out of a bad attitude (Feld & Born, 2015).

Then there’s the cure racism and sexism while you sleep 3 paper (Hu et al., 2015), published on that fateful May 28 Retraction Day, along with the first time researchers have been able to suppress a memory and then restore it in an animal article (Ryan et al., 2015). I haven’t read either one, so no deconstruction here.

Credulous coverage of the latter prompted a Nature editor to link to this earlier paper and to say:

Some day journos will either learn to read the literature or stop using sensationalist language like “OMG 1ST TIME!!”

Neither of those scenarios will ever happen. It Feels Like The First Time in 2007, as it does today.

Time for another chocolate.



1 Total n=15 for three groups (i.e., n=5 in each of the groups):

  • Low-carb diet with daily serving of 42 grams of chocolate
  • Low-carb diet without chocolate
  • Eat at own discretion

Also, a ridiculous age range (1967) and irresponsible BMI range (19.1539.95)… who in their right mind enrolls someone at the low end of “normal” into a diet study?

2 Bohannon’s first sting, of predatory open access journals, was published (where else) in Science. The chocolate sting was underwritten by German filmmakers.

3 Another fun headline: Could SLEEP make you less racist? Gender and racial bias can be ‘erased’ during a nap, claims study.

Here Comes Optomom!

Optogenetic manipulation in a naïve female mouse induces maternal behavior in response to pup distress calls (Marlin et al. 2015).

Video 6: Pup retrieval by Oxt-IRES-Cre virgin female after optical stimulation of left primary auditory cortex (Marlin et al. 2015).

One of the really amazing things is that neural activity in response to the distress cries is left lateralized in the auditory cortex. In a mouse!

This is markedly similar to the asymmetry of speech processing in human temporal lobe43, 44, and supports earlier behavioural observations of auditory lateralization in maternal mice19.

A number of separate experiments showed that the hypothalamic hormone oxytocin was a key player in modulating neural activity and behavioral responses to the pup’s calls, with the requisite demonstrations of maternal behavior being turned on and off at the will of the investigators.

An extensive literature (dating back to the 1940s-50s) has already established that oxytocin plays a role in promoting maternal behavior, so that part did not come as a surprise (e.g., Pedersen et al., 1982). But modern optogenetic methods provide more precise control of specific neuron populations (and more dramatic videos).

Media outlets: do not extrapolate from this mouse study to potential interventions in neglectful human mothers. There are no implants for bad moms!



Marlin, B., Mitre, M., D’amour, J., Chao, M., & Froemke, R. (2015). Oxytocin enables maternal behaviour by balancing cortical inhibition. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature14402

And the finalists for the 3 Quarks Daily Science Prize are…

3QD_not a finalist

That’s a trick question!

You can still vote for one of the nominees for the 3QD Science Prize 2014 until September 1st at 11:59 pm Eastern Daylight Time!

The top 20 most-voted-for posts (out of a grand total of 85, so that makes 23.5% of the entries) will make it into the finals. Seems like pretty good odds, eh? Much higher than applying for a grant.

Imagine now that you could lobby for federal funding via popular vote:

“I deserve to be among the scientific One Percenters. Vote for my ground breaking research on Bunny Hopping as an animal model for compulsive drug taking behavior and I will cure addiction .”

The Neurocritic has two posts nominated for the 3QD Prize:


{Looks like I should not abandon my day job for a lucrative career in science blogging any time soon…}

For Your Consideration: In the event that you haven’t cast your ballot for one of the other nominees, there’s still time to end your search for meaning and VOTE FOR EXISTENTIAL NEUROSCIENCE (alphabetically filed under “The Neurocritic”).

Otherwise I will be obligated to add another Banner of Failure to the sidebar of my main blog.

Thank you, and good night.

Continue reading


Douglas Coupland, Slogans for the 21st Century (2011-2014)


Like much of life, I’m afraid…

THIS is the true meaning of Negative Psychology, my friends. Melancholia and Futility.

Don’t be fooled by false idols claiming that followers of “Negative Psychology” are all bullies out to destroy others’ reputations, with public shaming as their primary motivation.

I am here to take back the term “Negative Psychology” as an outlook (or mood or stance) in opposition to Positive Psychology, which is mainly for rich white people.

And in fact, sometimes it’s positive to be negative — as Dr. Margaret Nichols, a clinical psychologist, explains:

I acknowledge that for many endeavors, having a positive and confident attitude increases the odds of your success. But as a total life strategy – it’s got some major flaws.  For starters,  unless you’re unusually lucky, as you go through life you will encounter numerous situations where good is NOT rewarded, evil goes unpunished, and bad shit happens to you that you can’t control,  and it happens for no particular reason, let alone a good one.

And positive thinking can get you in trouble here.  For the entire ‘positive thinking’ philosophy rests on two flawed assumptions:  That most of our life is under our control, if only we approach it correctly;  and that things that we can’t control are at least governed by laws  that are fair and just.  In short, the principles of “visualize and you will attain it” and “what goes around comes around.”

…and when bad things happen, it’s all your fault!

Of course, this has nothing to do with academic psychology research or the social psychology replication movement. It’s simply that I didn’t agree with the co-opting of the term for use in the current “replication debate“.  But I’m not a psychologist, and I’m operating outside this debate. I was actively trying to avoid the acrimony, in fact, because I found it depressing.

Finally, “public shaming” has never been my goal (assuming I was included among “a handful of other blogs devoted to exposing bad science”). For the record, I think shame is corrosive, which is laid bare in The Destructive Power of Shame.

But in the end, this blog post is futile, much like everything else I write.


Coupland wall

Images: Douglas Coupland, Slogans for the 21st Century (2011-2014) at the Vancouver Art Gallery. NOTE: the artist encouraged photography and tagging of his work