The Darya Rose Show
May 3, 2021

Dr. Adam Gazzaley on what science can teach us about discovering truth

Dr. Adam Gazzaley on what science can teach us about discovering truth

Dr. Adam Gazzaley discusses how academic science works as both an institution and community to make sure that only the most honest, accurate and ethical work makes it into peer-reviewed publications. Dr. Gazzaley helps to demystify the ivory tower that can feel confusing and intimidating for the lay public.


Adam Gazzaley, M.D., Ph.D. is the David Dolby Distinguished Professor of Neurology, Physiology and Psychiatry at the UCSF, and the Founder & Executive Director of Neuroscape at UCSF. Dr. Gazzaley is co-founder and Chief Science Advisor of Akili Interactive, Sensync and JAZZ Venture Partners. He has been a scientific advisor for over a dozen companies, filed multiple patents - notably his invention of the first video game cleared by the FDA, authored over 150 scientific articles, and delivered over 675 invited presentations around the world. He wrote and hosted the nationally-televised PBS special “The Distracted Mind with Dr. Adam Gazzaley”, and co-authored the 2016 MIT Press book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World”, winner of the 2017 PROSE Award. He is the recipient of the 2015 Science Educator Award and the 2020 Global Gaming Citizen Honor.

Transcript

Hello everyone and welcome to the first episode of The Darya Rose Show. How exciting! Oh my goodness. Today I have Dr. Adam Gazzaley, who is one of my earliest mentors and oldest friends. We worked together for many years at UC Berkeley, and we were colleagues at UCSF. Adam is a MD PhD, and he is a David Dolby distinguished professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry, all three at [laughs] UCSF, and the founder and executive director of the Neuroscape Lab at USCF. Dr. Gazzaley is co-founder and chief science advisor of Akili Interactive, Sensync and JAZZ Venture Partners.

He's been a scientific advisor for over a dozen companies, filed multiple patents, notably his invention of the first video game cleared by the FDA, authored over 150 scientific articles, and delivered over 675 invited presentations around the world. He wrote and hosted the nationally televised PBS special, The Distracted Mind with Dr. Adam Gazzaley, and coauthored the 2016 MIT press book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, which was the winner of the 2017 PROS Award. He is recipient of the 2015 Science Educator Award and the 2020 Global Gaming Citizen Honor. Adam's kind of a bad-ass. And the reason I invited him on the show is because I am exploring this topic today, how do we know what's true? And when I first started thinking about this subject, like many people, it was shocking to me to be watching the news or talking to people about world events and how people disbelieve things that I had always considered factual and undisputed facts.

This wasn't something that started or happened once or twice. It's happened a couple of times a few years ago, and then it just started happening more and more until, I mean, at this point, I feel like there's a complete breakdown in our society about what is true. If the people just read different news sources and have completely different views of reality. As somebody, a scientist, a trained scientist, and somebody who has been trained to learn to discover truth, I instinctively went back to my roots and started asking, what is it that I know? Why do I feel so confident in what I think is true, as opposed to these other, I don't even want to call them opinions. You can't really have an opinion [laughs] on something that's a fact. So, I wanted to address this topic on this show. So, the first angle though, I did wanna start with is science. Because science is the way that humans have always learned what is objective truth on earth.

We've learned to ask questions to specifically tease out these different scenarios so that we don't fool ourselves. We want to know the actual truth. And we were really hard on ourselves and we ask intentionally difficult questions in a way designed to disprove the thing we believe, so that we can be very confident in, in the results that we get. So, I thought who better to discuss the subject than brilliant scientist and researcher, Adam Gazzaley and him and I have had friendly, informal conversations like this many times in the past. So, I knew he would be great on the subject. And I wanted to have him on to break down the scientific method and the scientific process.

And I should also mention that it's been a little bit since I recorded the show. Le- let's just say it was before November 3rd and before, [laughs] before the election. And we were in a place that was a little bit different than it is today, but that doesn't change the relevance of anything that we talk about. So, just if, if you're curious, uh, at one point we, I mentioned something that the president of the United States said, and, uh, um, I am in that moment, I'm not referring to the current president of the United States. I'm referring to the former president of the United States. Anyway, uh, without further ado, I will let Adam explain the scientific process to you, and I hope you enjoy it and learn a lot. Welcome Dr. Adam Gazzaley.

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

It is so nice to see you [laughs].

Uh, it's been, uh, it's been a strange year. It's lovely to see you too, Darya.

You're in  a mobile home.

Yeah. I'm traveling across the country or at least started the process of learning how to travel the country in a mobile home.

Yeah. And you popped up to Portland. Here we are-

Yeah.

... on the first new episode of The Darya Rose Show.

Yeah. I'm excited to participate in this. It's really, uh, a thrilling, uh, opportunity. So, thanks for having me.

So, Adam, why don't you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do, and how we know each other [laughs].

Sure. Yeah. So, we've known each other for 20 years now, just about 20 years and you were a student at the time, and undergrad. And I was just starting the next stage of my research career as a scientist, as a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. I've had a varied career in science. I'm now 30 years, uh, 1990 is when I started graduate school. I'm trained as both a neuroscientist and a neurologist, and I've moved through three different scientific careers as I've gone through my life, starting my early training as a molecular neuroscientist, understanding the anatomy and, and the molecules involved in memory and aging and plasticity in brain.

And where did you do that?

I did that at Mount Sinai in New York City. And then I went to University of Pennsylvania. So, I did my MD and my PhD at Mount Sinai, then I went to the University of Pennsylvania where I did my clinical residency in neurology. So, I became a physician and took care of patients, mostly with cognition impairment associated with aging, most commonly Alzheimer's disease.

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

And then from there, I went to UC Berkeley, where we met where I was a postdoctoral fellow. And that's when I've entered, in my perspective, now the second stage of my scientific career, which was cognitive neuroscience. So, cognitive neuroscience, we use tools to study the human brain. The interface of psychology meets neuroscience. So, how does the brain create memories? How do we direct our attention, things of that nature using functional brain imaging. Then I was at Berkeley for three years, and then I started my faculty position at University of California in San Francisco, right across the Bay, and where you did your PhD in neuroscience-

Right.

... in the same department.

And we were workout buddies. We used to, we used to crush the gym.

Yep.

We used to do fivers. Five days a week.

Five days a week. Yeah.

And by the way, everybody, if you think you do not have time to exercise, there is nobody on earth, more busy than Adam [laughter]. You, you don't find time, you make time. And he, he's in incredibly good shape. Do like fly around the world and give talks all over the place, and run your labs and your even a really good partier, [laughter] but you still get in those workouts. And it's really impressive. You guys make time, don't find it.

Yes. Workout critical exercise.

[laughs].

Very important.

Important for your brain. Yes.

For your brain. Yes. And, and so, uh, I've been at UCF as a faculty member in the department of neurology, psychiatry and physiology for 15 years, and now a full tenure professor. And I ran a laboratory that was a cognitive neuroscience lab, and it changed over the years. Uh, now it's a research center called Neuroscape, and I would say I'm in the third phase of my neuroscience life. I'm now, I now consider myself a translational neuroscientist. So, now I, my studies are still interested in understanding the brain, but first and foremost, to help people to use the knowledge of neuroscience to create tools that help us both diagnose and improve the function of our brains. And that's what we do at Neuroscape. We essentially bridged together technology and neuroscience to create these tools.

Cool. So, I have been popping around this idea of what's going on and how I can help people doing what I do. And I've struggled to find motivation in the things I've done in the past. There's just so much chaos in the world right now that I felt like it was time to step back a little bit and take a look at the basics. And I think the thing that has bothered me the most this year, and even past several years, and you and I have talked about this before, is this idea of truth and how we know what is true.

'Cause that seems to be the biggest breakdown [laughs] right now. And it seems like it should be a pretty straightforward question, but apparently it's not. And in thinking about this question, I thought who better to talk to than a scientist who has spent his entire career deci- like trying to figure out the difference between what's true, what's not true, and what's true and what's almost true, or what's close to true and teasing apart those differences. So, I would love to hear from you and your perspective on, on the idea of truth.

Yeah. I am really delighted to talk about this topic. I, I do a lot of these type of interviews and podcasts, but normally focused on my research content, not the conceptual basis behind research and science in the first place. And I guess as a scientist, a lot of us take it for granted that truth is the foundation upon which our field rests, and upon, in my perspective, we build society, healthy society, and only when confronted with challenges, do we start looking introspectively at what, what we do and why, why it would even be questioned in the first place. And I think that to me personally, that has been the most troubling observation about what's going on in the world and, and in this country, is this, uh, sort of, you know, what people describe this post-truth society that we're-

[laughs].

... entering, which is literally the most terrifying thing I can ever imagine. And I think like many people, there's a lot to be concerned about in the world today. Not all of it's even partisan, it's just, there's troubling things. We're in the midst of a global pandemic and there are fire, fires raging around our area and there's racial tension that's thick as, you know, you could cut with a knife. But-

[laughs] And people are like, should I wear a mask? Why do I have to wear a mask? What is happening?

Yeah. And, right. Uh, and so when you look beyond the surface, which is almost not necessary to spend all your time, 'cause the surface is very thick and cloudy and troubling. But when you look beyond it, this is common questioning that seems pervasive of what is true and whether or not it matters, if it's true-

Hmm.

... and this freedom to deceive and it's really troubling. And as a scientist, I feel that everything that we do is to try to pursue truth and to enhance our knowledge foundations for the benefits of society. And now that I see it being questioned all the time, it said, it troubles me deeper than anything else that's going on in the world right now.

Totally. So, that's exactly why I brought you here. So, I wanna go back to the basics because not everybody has been trained the way you and I have, to evaluate what is actually factually true in the world. And so [laughs] I think for you and I, it's been pretty shocking to see people like question this, the thing that, that we just know about how it works. So, I would love to hear, take it back. And what is science? Like what is, like how, why is, why, for instance, why did I bring a scientist on?

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

To known what's, [laughs] what's true.

Yeah. It's, I think that anyone in any profession, that's there long enough, winds up spending enough time doing the job that they may forget about the underlying basic foundational principles behind it. And maybe I'm at the similar. And even as we were talking about this topic, I started thinking about not just the science that I've been doing for 30 years, I s- I went to a, to a graduate school for my PhD in neuroscience in 1990, as well as, uh, my medical degree. But I'd been doing science for a long time and, and training numerous people at every level, including faculty. But don't always have conversations about what science is. And so it's been fun for me, as I knew, we were gonna talk about this topic, to do a little reading and thinking, and it's actually a topic I wanna have with my fellow scientists, uh, and the students I'm training. Because we often just get right into the details-

Yeah.

... like all jobs. There's a lot of details and you forget, well, let's just talk about-

The assumptions that we make. Yeah.

So many. And I've been thinking, why do people question things that most scientists, no scientists that I know really questions, like evolution as we've come to know it and human aggravated, or if not induced climate change that we're experiencing right now? And why might people who are not scientists be susceptible to question those things when other scientists don't? And what I think is, uh, one of the challenges is really understanding what science is. And, uh, historically, it's changed over the hundreds of years that humans have been exploring the world around us. But I would say in modern times over the last several hundred years, science has really become viewed now as not an entity. It's not knowledge. Science no- is, does not equal knowledge. Science is a process. It's a methodology. It's, it's how we explore the world, how we actually pursue and generate knowledge, how we organize that knowledge and then how we disseminate it.

And because it's a process and not a thing that exists that we have to believe in, it's constantly changing. And therefore, I, I, I think that when people wrap their heads around the fact that it's a dynamic process that's constantly going to self-correct and evolve itself, they may have a little bit more confidence in trusting it, rather than thinking about it as just an entity that's fixed-

Hmm.

... and that could be a product of the past. That's the beauty of science. Is that it's constantly changing as perspectives change. And so that's the first point that I wanted to emphasize, is that the research process itself is one that is designed to always challenge itself. It's the opposite of faith-based knowledge in that respect, in that it is constantly self-correcting.

So, can you give an example in, on your work or some kind of work where to illustrate what you mean by that?

Yeah. So, for example, in neuroscience, for a very long period of time, over a hundred years, even the most respected scientists were very secure in the fact that the brain went through a process of development, which we still believe. And then after those stages was essentially fixed or hardwired. And then really just degraded as we got older [laughs]. It was a pretty sad view of the brain, but it was really commonly held view. And research over, even over the last 30, 40 years, has really showed us that the brain has this ability to modify itself at every level throughout our entire lives. This is called plasticity, it's the entire basis of learning.

And evidence started accumulating in the field that caused us to question this other view of the brain. That was the prevailing, uh, notion about how the brain worked and changed across a lifespan. And it changed everyone's view of it. And it took, it takes time for these things to change, which is good. You don't want us to just flopping, flip-flop in the wind, but with the accumulation of converging evidence from multiple aspects of investigation, some on the cellular level, some looking at behaviors and species, a different, with different tools of investigation, they all started telling us the same story. Was that the brain wasn't really just fixed, that it was constantly changing. And now that is the prevailing view. And it too can be challenged and changed over time.

And so let's talk about that a little bit more, 'cause I could imagine [laughs] arguing with somebody on Facebook saying that that past view was wrong, and the current view is right. But that's, I know that's not what you're saying.

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

So, how would you explain to someone what that past view that we no longer hold, why it came to be and why you wouldn't necessarily describe it as wrong?

Yeah. Uh, and it's a really good point. With this idea, just to s- speak in general one m- generalities one more time and then I'll talk about specific example. There's two, I think I have two points that I wanna make about truth and science. The first is that science is a process that it self-corrects, that's not just, uh, a collection of knowledge. But despite that, we shouldn't think that what happened in the past doesn't mean anything, and that nothing matters because it constantly changes. It more like morphs and evolves rather than just everything is wrong, and now everything is right, and now this right is gonna be completely wrong. Almost help as you go through your life, you're not a completely different person than you were, but you've grown, you've matured in a way. And so a lot of it, there are clearly like revolutionary moments in science where we're like, wow, we didn't really have that. That does happen. And it's, in all fairness, you have to recognize that. But for the most part, that's not really what occurs. It's a maturation of perspective that new data helps us to achieve, which is-

So, you're adding like nuance, and-

Yeah. S- so, for example, so now let's get to the specifics of that example. It's true that the most plastic part of our life, and when the brain is the most capable of rapid, really astonishing degree of change is early in life. Even the earliest years of our life. And that it declines throughout life. And without sensitive enough tools, you may not notice that it's still there-

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

... even though it's less. And so-

You mean the, the, the-

The plasticity.

Right.

Yeah, throughout development of our, of our lives. So, once you're in your fifties and sixties, it's much, much more subtle. And may be it has to be driven under more intense circumstances than when you're young and you're, nothing won't cause you to change from day-to-day.

Sure. But you can still learn when you're 50, when you're 60 or 70.

But you could still when you're 50, and they see the structural, and the chemical and the functional changes in seven year old brains all the time now. And that was just missed because it's such a different magnitude of the plasticity that was seen in younger brands.

So, tools became more sensitive?

Yeah. Tools became more sensitive, but some of it is just, you, these doctrines get formed and they could be sticky. Some really smart people did some experiments and didn't see quite what they expected. You could get these views that can last a long period of time. And, and that's the beauty of science is that with, with time, the, the truth tends to emerge and, and gets more solid, and it shifts and then reforms into this sort of ma- more mature perspective that we have now.

All right. So, one of the misconceptions then is that science is something that's fixed when it's really not. And when we e- evolve our understanding of a certain thing, it can be maybe confusing to somebody looking in from the outside about why we said something before that's no longer true. And that as scientists, we understand that doesn't discredit the work, but it does mean that there's room to grow. But it can seem sometimes from, maybe from the outside, that past work was just wrong or faulty in some way. And it can be difficult to trust the process moving forward if you don't understand the fundamental.

Yeah. It's very li- it's, I feel like it's, uh, unlikely to be wrong in that pure sense of wrong. Even if you look at physics, we, when we move from Newtonian physics into the more quantum based physics, that's a modern conceptualization, i- it's not that the other way is wrong. It's right with certain parameters and certain ways of looking at it. Um, sure, it doesn't explain the world with the depth that we've come to appreciate now, but it wasn't wrong in that sense that word is often used and we think of it differently in science. It's just, it's evolved. And therefore, I think what really important point is that even now we all know as scientists that what we're doing now is going to change and mature in some way, it doesn't mean we don't believe or feel support or strong, strongly about what we found right now.

Right.

And so that's 'cause we, else we would never have any solid base for anything. And we do a lot of good with science. The science is, it becomes the core basis of what we use in our social systems and our engineering. 'Cause how we create society, is built off of science in many ways. And so if we don't feel the confidence in what we've learned, even though we know it's going to evolve, we wouldn't start making important decisions based upon that. And although we know it's gonna change, it's not that we don't feel like we're standing on solid ground. We do. We believe where we are now is the best that we can understand. We trust our experts. That's another thing that's really important for us to talk about. And we make decisions based upon this, because that is the best we can do right now. This is our foundation. Knowing full well that as we move forward, it will continue to change and we will change with it.

So, essentially, we have some confidence in the field as a whole and all the incredibly smart, hardworking individuals working their best to get to the truth. And even though it, well, we all know it's gonna change and we're gonna understand things differently or more precisely in the future, we're still in a pretty, a pretty, pretty darn good spot, where, and, and, and that's another thing. I feel like we are very careful with the words that we use for that reason. And maybe everybody's not as versed in that language, but we get to a place where it's questioned from the outside. You know, wh- like how, how much we can believe in what we have now, but we feel very confident and even though we know it's going to change.

Mm-hmm [affirmative]. Yeah. And that confidence allows us to stand on firm ground and make important decisions. And I think that's the part of science that not all scientists participate in. Once the scientific, once they reach some consensus of understanding, then it's often other professions that do something with that to make our lives better in some ways. It might be a doctor that's using that understanding to better treat their patients. It may be an engineer that's using that understanding to build that new device that we all love. It may be a politician that's using that knowledge that science has revealed for us to then inform policy-

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

... that will help protect us from things like climate change.

[laughs] Yeah.

So, we have to at some p- at each point in time, look at, is there a consensus among the scientists who have spent their lives, learning the methodology of science to reach a conclusion, publish that conclusion in a way that's constantly going to be challenged by their peers? And when we are there and that consensus is there, then we do the amazing things that we can with that knowledge, even knowing that it will change.

It's so important. And one thing that I wanted to talk to you about too, since we've brought up the idea of these people that are doing science, and their training and peer review, let's talk a little bit about that process. Because I couldn't believe my ears the other day, it wasn't too long ago that I heard the President on national television say that scientists have an agenda. And obviously, there no such thing as a human being without bias. Like bias is just a, it's not even a, it's not a negative term necessarily. It's just, we all are influenced by our environment in one ways or another, and therefore see things differently each of us as humans.

But that's not the same to me. That's something we just factor in into human life. But to, to me, that's not the same as having an agenda. Like [laughs] to me, having an agenda is something that a politician has, something that a salesman has, something that somebody who is trying to manipulate somebody else for their own good has. And I don't think of scientists that way. And there's a very, uh, there's, [laughs] there's some concrete reasons why I don't think of scientists that way because of, of the culture. So, I'd love for you to, to talk a little bit about that community, that scientific community and how we basically police each other with peer review and, and other methods.

Yeah. By far, um, scientists are considered amongst the most trusted professionals, uh, in the world and in any domain. Um, and tha- that's been shown time and time again. And it's not just because we want to believe or because they're nice people, it's because as you said, the system that we are trained in, that ha- that we've been developing for hundreds of years now, is one that is constantly being self policed. The process by which we go about doing our jobs involves experimentation, as I'm sure everyone appreciates, scientific research, where we observe, we make hypothesis, an educated guess about what we're going to find. And then we design experiments that are really des- you know, designed to disprove what we want to find. That's how the statistics work. So, it, it holds us to a really high standard in order to say, we found something. Uh-

Like literally, like, [laughs] I think we should just pause for one second. Literally every experiment is set up to ma- like to prove it's false. Every hypothesis is set up to prove it's false. And that's, if you, you will not get your research funding unless you've done a good job showing that's what you're gonna test.

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

I'm sure there are bad people out there. Like, once in a while, it comes up that there's a bad scientist. But for the most part, all of us are trying to even start asking the question, honestly.

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

'Cause that's what you were saying. We wanna even, we don't even wanna ask the question in a way that could lead us to, uh, a misunderstanding.

Yes. And then with that premise, which is already a really high bar and unusual for most professions to start an inquiry with that basis, then when you make your findings and see that it, it survives this really very rigorous method and statistical approach, then you write up your paper and you send it to a journal. One journal at a time. You can't just send it out to 15 journals-

[laughs].

... scientific journals and hope for the best.

Go fishing [laughs].

One at a time, it goes to that journal and then gets reviewed anonymously by usually three different reviewers who are experts in your field, that the editor you sent it to. You never know who they are, so they can be as cruel and as harsh as, as the meanest person that you'd ever see on the internet, because-

And they are.

And they are. They're noto- uh, the review process is hard-

It's brutal.

... and you almost always get things rejected the first time. And then when it's rejected, you have to go to another journal and then start the process again and keep moving through. And in each step, you're taking these criticisms by your peers who are anonymous, to make your paper and your work better. Sometimes you go back to the lab and redo experiments, and it's a brutal process. It takes a lot of strength to go through the scientific publication process. But it is a good one in the sense that it really pushes the, all the, the work that's not rigorous and really well done out. And some of it will never see the light of day because of this process. And so this is part of the policing process.

And then there's this other, you know, concept that once it's out there, it really needs to be replicated. And there is a s- a problem in science right now where we're not seeing the level of replication that we hope. And even that is being policed and sa- people saying, we, you need to replicate, you need to replicate. I think it is a disservice to think about scientists as having an agenda. Uh, it is worth noting that there is occasional fraud, but it is very rare.

So rare.

These studies have done and it, it, it is rare. Most are honest and really trying to produce the, um, most authentic representation of, you know, of reality and really trying to put that out there in as clean a manner as possible.

Yeah. Well, let's talk about a little, a little bit of, 'cause yeah, there's this issue of fraud, which is super rare. It happens, but everybody's mad. [laughs] Everybody's mad about it.

And it gets retracted.

And it gets retracted.

And then the journals have retractions in this whole process and that person's career done. And it's not like-

Yeah.

... lying on a campaign trail [laughs]. It's a big deal.

Yeah.

You're done.

You're done.

One lie and you're done.

And even they can be like subtle lies and you're done. Even if your statistics are shady, like you're out. But there's this other, so more of that, that more human bias that I was talking about earlier, I think the biggest place for that to come into the scientific process is with funding. And so I'd love for you to talk about that and how that is policed. And you're actually a great example of s- somebody to talk to you because you have created translational research that has been moved into the private sector to create companies and products. And I, it's, gosh, I know how [laughs]. That's another whole thing. So, I'd love for you to talk about it.

Yeah. So, scientific funding comes through several different sources. The sort of a classic one, um, is through the government. Places like the NIH, National Institute of Health, the National Science Foundation, uh, fund a tremendous amount of the work in my domain, the life sciences. And they're really hard to get these grants, it could take years to get a grant.

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

And you might be getting $250,000, which is, you know, not a lot when you're running a large center with many people. S- salaries depends upon-

Yeah.

... that research.

How much time do you spend writing grants?

It, it's changed for me recently, but it could be 75% of the time just writing grants-

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

... to get money.

Just from the government?

Yeah. We don't go into universities and then the universities pay us to do research. That's a common misconception [laughs].

Oh, no. They're not [laughs].

It's the opposite [laughs].

Right.

We bring in money and the universities take some of that money to support the university function.

And your money, and the money you get pays for salaries, postdoc students-

Yeah.

... research materials-

... everything facility-

Everything is paid and we constant-

And then you really need millions of dollars a year, right?

Yeah,  depending on your research program.

Yeah.

My research programs need multiple millions of dollars-

Yeah.

... a year and it depends on how many heads there are to feed-

Mm-hmm [affirmative].

... salaries. And remember the salaries are lower here than a lot of other fields, but yes, it, it, it's expensive. And, uh, sometimes these grants that take so long to write only last a couple of years. And so then you're back doing it again. So, research funding through the government is a common one. It's getting lower and lower amount of support all the time, harder and harder to get that funding. Now, when I'm a professor compared to when I was a graduate student, 25, 30 years ago, it's gotten a lot, uh, more difficult. And so people look for other sources of funding like foundations is another really important area in for us to get funds.

Like nonprofits?

Yeah, nonprofits. Let's say it's an Alzheimer's disease foundation or an aging foundation, cancer. Pretty much every area has, has a foundation that helps support it as a nonprofit. And then there are individuals, wealthy folks out there that care about these things that did really well in their lives and are putting their money as gifts into lab. We, we receive a lot of support that way. And that's a really important part. It's much, much more common in the US than other countries to have that type research support.

Right. Because they don't have the government support.

Yeah. And it's just a culture of, of-

Culture.

... more philanthropy here in the US than it is other places. We really rely on that money. It's great support. And then there's support by companies, uh, which is complicated. Industry is a valuable part of the ecosystem. They deserve respect. They take ideas that in the academic domain may be conceptually interesting, intellectually stimulating, but never actually create something that's gonna help a child with cancer. It's the building blocks of that. And then industry can take those ideas and do some of the really hard work to build the prototypes, the products. Do the large scale, super expensive time-consuming clinical trials that go all the way to the FDA and become medical devices and, and drugs that are actual treatments.

So, industry plays an important part in this ecosystem and they do fund research in labs. And this is one area of concern because the bias that we're talking about could be accentuated by these type of sources of money. And so in order to allow this process to occur, because it is valuable to get money in from all of these sources, we have a very complex and demanding process of conflict of interest evaluation. And I, as a professor and a director of a research center, we have money from all the sources that I mentioned and have for many years. And so if anyone has personal returns from a company like I do, that I have started in order to move research from my lab into treatments to get them into people's lives of, as I have done, we have to exhaustedly and appropriately declare all of these conflicts.

Every time we speak, I say that, yes, I am the founder of this company. I have equity in this. I declare it on my papers when I publish, we all do that. And we have to, when we receive money, we have to fill out a report and we get researched. There are, there are entities in our universities that then look at this conflict and create a management plan that we have to sign and disseminate to all the people on our team. It is [crosstalk 00:35:22].

No joke.

... money from the source. It is no joke. It is a tremendous amount of work to maintain and disclose your... remember, these are not even conflicts of interest. These are potential conflicts-

Right.

... of interest. They're perceived conflicts of interest. It's very rare that anyone actually does anything fraudulent, but despite the fact that it's incredibly rare, we all do this process, so that the public, it feels confident that the work that we're putting out there, the research that we're presenting to the world, that we're creating all of these foundational elements to build medicine and technology, is real not being influenced by personal agenda.

Yeah. Yeah. And all this, you can go to any research paper and the conflict of interest are literally listed at the bottom of every single paper.

Yeah.

And if there's none, it'll say there are none, but it's a very common thing. But it is also common that it's been proven for instance, that even if doctors get a mug or a pen from a pharmaceutical company, they're more likely to recommend that particular pharmaceutical when they're giving prescriptions. And it's, it's not necessarily conscious bias, but it does exist. And so that's why we set up these systems. Is to-

Yeah.

... just make sure that it's just clear what we know, you know, about every, uh, everything and where it's coming from.

Yeah.

And I feel good about it.

Yeah. And maybe one last thing I'll add here, 'cause it's another area of misconception, I believe, outside of the field of science is that, when you read a paper and see a declared conflict of interest, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't believe the results in those papers. Because as we already talked about, the systems are set up to self police themselves, especially with something that goes as far as, but as soon as a phase three trial for FDA clearance, um, most of those studies are supported by industry because they're very expensive and that's just how the sa- the system evolved. The government usually doesn't take studies all the way through that level.

But in order to secure the process, there's an, a tremendously detailed series of checks and balances and data is sealed and other groups analyze it and correct it. And it's, and it's blinded meaning that the researchers don't know what's in what group, that participants don't know, that's double blinding. So, rest assured that when you see a conflict of interest being declared, it is because of the goal of maintaining transparency and helping to police ourselves. But it does not mean that those results are not believable.

Right.

Um, if anything-

It's because we're hyper honest.

Yes, we're hyper honest.

[laughs].

And sometimes that's misconstrued in, Oh, you're telling me about a conflict. Does that mean that I should question this? I would say no. If anything, those are usually the most, um, policed type of research out there.

Yeah. And, and, and another thing we do as well, it's like, it's never like one study is the end all be all of the history of mankind. There's a body of literature in every single niche. Uh, every single tiny little niche field has other lots of researchers in it, writing papers, asking these questions. And if, if one paper stands out and so it's something totally different than everything else is saying, people notice and check their work. So, it's not like any study stands in a bubble apart from everything else. And like one person can't just say, Ooh, I'm gonna pretend climate change is a thing and fake a study, [laughs] and, and, and then trick everybody. It's not that ea- it's impossible, really. [laughs] It's not that it's not easy. It, it's basically impossible.

Yeah. And when a study comes out, that may be very mind boggling and ground shaking because it's so unique, it's both respected because it's really cool to, to find something like that, but it's also questioned. I have had those studies that are both revered and like questioned at the same time. It's just part of our business. You just have to expect that, you know, the bigger you find, the more eyes on it, both skeptical and also respecting eyes. And so that's just part of the process. And then if years and years go by and no one else can show that ever again, then it just drifts into silence and doesn't become a landmark that you hope to admit.

It really needs to be replicated. And so that's another process of the system that gives us confidence in things over time. Things that were that landmark when they came out, are the landmark because they set up something that then has been supported by many other researchers. That's how the field really gets shaped, not just by these one-off studies that, that push the system, but that they push the system and then the, then it gets filled in by others and then say like wow.

Right. Like sponsor-

Yeah.

... uh, 100 new questions.

Exactly.

And, and those are all taken by different scientists and run with it. And you start putting together a new story.

Yeah. And then when that story is really established, then in retrospect, you'll look back and say, wow, that was a landmark. And that's how Nobel Prize-

Yeah, that's it. That's a Noble Prize [laughs].

... that's how Nobel Prizes get made.

Yeah.

If that landmark was like, wow, we just cured polio and things.

Because Nobel Prizes are always from work like 20 years ago.

Yeah. 'Cause It's hard to tell, right? Like at, at the time you're like, Ooh, this could be it, but no one would ever say that's a Nobel Prize winning finding, because it hasn't been replicated. It hasn't shown its true value over time.

Super cool. So, gosh, I miss science sometimes. [laughs] So, I wanted to ask you, so you study memory, you study, what do you study? Tell us about what you study a little bit.

Yeah. I study, the main area in neuroscience that I study is an aspect of how we function called cognitive control. And it's how you direct your limited resources that your brain has to things that are interesting to you, and time and place. It's how you move your attention, how you hold information in mind, the type of memory that we call working memory, how you move between tasks. And, uh, I love this type of, uh, process because it's fundamental to everything we do, especially as humans. In that we engage in the world based upon our goals, and it allows us to do all the wonderful things we've done. Create art, and music, and science and technology itself. And it is vulnerable. There are many clinical conditions that have deficits of attention, not just ADHD as we've come to know, but all of them. And, and when these abilities are impaired, you suffer, you feel the consequences in your quality of life. So, that's why I like focusing on both the mechanisms behind cognitive control as well as how we can improve it, because it really can make a difference for people.

Yeah. Um, it's a super fascinating topic, which is why I was in your lab. [laughter].

Yeah.

Um, and, but I wanted to ask you, so if I have a question about cognitive control, I call you, but you, and you probably have people in neuroscience that you know the guy and you can go talk to the guy who did all the things. But what if it's, uh, a question totally outside your field, like climate change? How do you as a scientist who knows that's not your field of expertise, how do you feel confident about research in other fields?

Yeah, it's a great question. Just because you're a scientist doesn't mean that you're capable of reading with fluidity and great insight scientific re- primary scientific research papers from other fields.

It's so hard. It [laughs] takes some training just to be able to read a study.

Every, every field has its own jargon and its own sort of foundational understanding that's not necessarily explained in every paper. And so for the most part, scientists read the primary literature. So, that's the name we give for the empirical, the experimental papers that are published in journals in our field. Those are usually the ones that you read. You don't really read across all fields. Some people do in s- maybe some of the big, important papers, but for the most part, we don't, as scientists, understand other fields, especially outside of even neuroscience. I, I have an are- area of expertise within neuroscience and I feel pretty comfortable reading across all of neuroscience.

Right.

But move over to cancer biology, or even leave biology, move over to physics, and ,you know, I'll be stretched pretty thin for some of those papers. And so it's a really great question. How do we, as scientists, understand or, or know what to, uh, think about findings from other fields? And the way I do it is I tend to believe experts [laughs]. And it, it seems silly to say out loud to me, but that's the reality. The reality is that there is no way I am going to have the time or expertise myself, to be able to go through all of the literature of a field and understand it with enough depth to make important decisions. It's just not, it's no- it's not feasible. And s- and, and I'm a scientist, and if you're not a scientist, then it, it could be even more challenging. And I feel very confident in going back to the beginning of this conversation, knowing the amount of training that each scientist goes through, the amount of rigor that the research methodology itself has built into it.

Knowing the amount of policing and bias control, and conflict of interest control, and all of those features that we've been talking about, exists in all those other fields as I know it in mind, because it's been my life for 30 years, I know that's happening in those other fields for those climate change scientists. And when I see a consensus of opinion across a field where 90% of professionals are agreeing on one thing, that's a high number. And even higher than that, for certain things like climate change and evolution, then I'm like, I'm gonna support that. Because why wouldn't I? I feel like if you're going to question the consensus of highly trained scientists that are in that field, you have to have a really good reason to do so. And I don't think I ever really have. I'm fully aware that those nuances of their understanding is gonna change over time, but what I'm hearing from them right now, and seeing that degree of consensus, that's what I'm gonna back.

Yeah. It seems straight forward.

I don't know how else you do. I really would love to hear an alternative. I think that is the way we move forward. No one has the time and expertise to become a master of every field. So, you have to rely upon the people that have devoted their lives to understanding it. That this is what they do-

Yeah.

... day in and day out. And they often give up the high paying jobs to be in those academic labs and to make those contributions.

[laughs] Right. Like we're not in it for the money [laughs] [crosstalk 00:46:10].

Yeah. No, research is constantly pass up the opportunity for large financial upside to contribute to science. And so I encourage people to do the same-

Yeah.

... just all the experts in-

And when you're thinking, when you're questioning people's motives, at some point you have to question the motives and agenda of the person that's telling you to question all the experts. Because that doesn't make sense.

Yeah. There are certain fields like politics and, you know, are, uh, all about agenda. I mean, it's not a surprise or a bad thing to say, it's just the reality of what someone says, well, no, there's a lot of politics involved. That's what they mean [laughs]. And yeah, I think that it's really important to look beyond the politics and the agendas, and really try to wrap your head around what is the consensus of scientific opinion by the experts in this field?

And you would say that the experts in the field stepping back a little bit, even further, are the people doing the primary research?

Yeah. Yeah. There are, there are some experts that make their living being reviewers and surveyors of the field. There are movie critics that don't make movies, but I like the primary contributors to the research.

Right.

Those are my favorite type of experts. The people that are in the trenches. And when they are sampled and I, they should, in my view, I've always had this idea that there should be a way that you could go and find out the expert consensus about any main question that we might have that has a scientific basis. Because that I, I would, that's where I'd put my bets. Just if it was a financial question, if 99% of financial advisors are telling you, that's a bad investment, who's gonna make that investment? [laughs].

You're putting your money on the line, right?

I'm not putting my money on the, the 1% that no financial advisors, uh, thinks it's gonna happen. And so I think it's the same thing. I don't wanna bet the future of our planet on those small percentages. I wanna go with, with the odds of where the consensus is.

Yeah. I'm just trying to figure out where the gatekeepers are, 'cause I feel like one of the issues is, uh, most people probably don't know a scientist. And, uh, so if you don't have somebody you can go and trust, there's some gatekeepers. So, for instance, there are some really excellent science journalists and people, but then you start, then it starts getting a little more, if you will. How do you know they're a good science journalist? And I'm gonna be sure to talk to some journalists on the show to, to get to the bottom of that. But, but I, I think part of the breakdown has got to be that translation. And I d- don't necessarily know the answer to that. That's what, kind of what I'm ge- I'm getting at here. But a good start is saying that the actual people doing actual research are, are to be trusted. There's a lot to trust there.

Yeah. I think there's a lot to trust there, and definitely a lot to trust with all-

The community.

Yeah.

The scientific community.

Yeah. Consensus of, of a community of experts within a field, like all the things we've been talking applies to any individual and then the old term, the strength in numbers, well, it's true here too. With all of those corrections, and checks and balances and all the things we've been talking about that give science its integrity, to realize that applies to every person. And then you bring together 100 or 1,000 that each have all those rules themselves and then put them together, and that is solid, right? It's like a really strong branch has now been United with 1,000 others, and then you have the basis of building a building. A foundation for a skyscraper.

Awesome. Thank you so much, Adam. This has been really educational and it's again, just so wonderful to see you [laughs].

Great to see you. And, and this is such an important topic. Thanks for having me on your show to talk about it. I really hope people take something away from this that allow them to look at, at truth differently.

Thank you so much for listening to The Darya Rose Show. If you'd like to learn more about Dr. Adam Gazzaley or his work, a great spot to go is gazzeley.com. or his lab's website, which is neuroscape.com. And if you enjoyed today's show, it would be awesome if you would subscribe. If you aren't subscribed, go ahead and go over to Apple iTunes, or Spotify or whatever podcasting device you use and subscribe. And if you feel like it, give us a rating. It really helps us a lot and, um, will help us get better guests and all that good stuff. It's wonderful to be back. Thank you guys for joining me and I'll see you next time.