The Unreliability of Memory

There is something that you are guilty of, no matter how much you might deny it. That thing is that your memory is like Lego. Many people like to think of memory as a tape recorder where everything that goes in can be accessed exactly how it was. But, as you may have guessed, this is not the case. The truth is, memories are reconstructed every time you recall them. And, like rebuilding a Lego tower, they change.

Usually this unreliability is acceptable. However, as soon as you introduce anything that relies on memory to provide the solution, credibility quickly degrades. This is seen often in witness testimonies. See, court is a tricky place. It’s where important decisions are made. People are condemned, people are set free and sometimes, the innocent lose everything. A study in 1987 by professor of criminal Justice C.R. Huff looked at 500 wrongful convictions and found that 60% of these convictions were due to faulty eyewitnesses. Yale Law Professor Edwin Borchard studied 65 wrongful convictions and also found that faulty eyewitness was a leading factorThe trouble with eyewitnesses is that they rely on memory and the trouble with memory is that it’s subjective. We can remember what was emotionally important at the time but trivial things seem to disappear. So if the witness was in a rush or if the lighting was bad then there may be flaws in what they can remember. Unreliable judgement results in an unreliable accusation. A study done at Northwestern University shows that when the brain has heightened activity, it will not play back a memory until the mind returns to the state in which that memory was first encoded.

If someone is witnessing a crime, they are undoubtedly under stress. Stress can sharpen the senses but it also allows us to focus only on what is important at the time, for example a gun and not the gunman’s face. Stress actually does a couple things when it comes to memory and neither of them deserve a medal. First, it stops the brain from encoding information. Whenever something happens, it goes straight to our short term memory. Then over time, we transfer that information into our long-term where it can stay for seemingly forever. What stress does is it gets in the way so that we can’t store that memory in our long-term and essentially, we lose it. Secondly, stress makes it awfully difficult to retrieve a memory. So, let’s say someone just got shot and the police are all around you. Chances are, you’re going to make up something that sounds good and get the heck out of there. And let’s say there are multiple perpetrators. Had trouble remembering one face? Have fun remembering several.

The second problem with memory is that a lot of it is based on assumptions. Pieces are filled in as we learn new information. And we’re always learning new information. Every single witness will be influenced; by each other, by the news. The mind fills in missing pieces and combines memories into new ones.  Memory is malleable and even word choice can change it. For example, if I ask you if you’ve seen a stop sign, you might say yes or no. But if I say did you see the stop sign, you’ll be more tempted to say yes. Why? Because the word ‘the’ implies that there was a stop sign there and that you should have seen it.A while back in 1974, memory researchers and psychologists, Elizabeth Loftus, and John Palmer got a group of people to watch a film of a traffic accident. They then asked them what they had seen using two different words, smash and hit. The word smash evoked higher estimates in speed as well as convinced people that there was broken glass in the film when there wasn’t. So low and behold, the way you phrase a question can change a memory. Loftus has also published several other studies, one of which shows that because descriptions of suspects can influence eyewitnesses, their ability to identify a suspect from a photo is not reliable.

The final major effect of faulty memory is time. Let’s take this blog post for example. Immediately after you read it, if you were paying attention of course, you could probably summarize what the post was about. However next week or next year? Most people need to wait a very long time for their trial; sometimes up to several years. By that time, they will have heard stories from other people and probably accessed the memory several hundred times. An experiment done on short term memory in 1959 by Peterson and Peterson had participants memorize a three letter sequence. They then counted backwards before trying to recall the sequence after varying lengths of time. After only six seconds, half of the original three letters were forgotten. After 18 seconds, the memory was completely gone. This shows that anything in your short term memory vanishes very quickly. In order to store it in your long term, the information must often be repeated, such as saying a license plate number to yourself over and over. However, this process is quite prone to failure if interrupted. As for long term memory, not much is known about it. Some scientists believe that memories can remain there indefinitely and that it is a matter of recalling them that can be the issue.

Recall, or ‘remembering’  is the process of re-accessing the information stored in our brains. Whenever we recall a memory, we are building it up again; remember the Lego? We take the memory out of long term, access it and then put it back. Because of this, the longer we have to go over the memory, even just in our own minds, the longer we have to reprocess it and screw up the details. Note that in court, details are very important. Memory is also almost always activated after a stimulus. Because of this, it can be quite beneficial to bring the witness back to the environment in which the crime first happened.
So, we have looked at how subjectivity, influence and time affect the reliability of witness’ memories. In many courts it is now a standard to educate the jury on the malleability of memory. Expert psychologists oversee the trial and most sentences need hard evidence to support them. However, even experts cannot gauge the credibility of a memory and the innocent may all but lose their lives. It is important to know that although Lego can be useful, you should never use it to support a trial.


Have you had experience with forgetting (don’t lie)? Have you ever been to court or heard about a trial in which someone was falsely accused? Do you think that witness testimony should be important in making decisions by the jury or are there better ways to go about sentencing people?


We’re all just Chemistry

Careers in Chemistry

It is unsettling to know that every one of our thoughts and feelings is a series of chemical reactions in our brain. The brain, as we know, is a group of over 100 billion cells that communicate with each other by sending out chemical information from neuron to neuron. This transmission of signals is the basis of all daily functions, such as movement, thought, and speech. [1]  The brain is the most complex organ in the body and is often too difficult to fix. Neuroscience is devoted to studying this vital organ. Just like the object of study, neuroscience is divided into many divisions; one of these is neurochemistry, the study of the chemistry of the brain. Because really, the brain is just a giant, beautiful ball of chemistry.

Pure chemistry, people

Pure chemistry, people

Neurochemists study the chemistry of the brain and nervous system, and the processes within them. They look at the effects of chemical reactions on thoughts and behaviour, as well as studying the function of neurons and neurochemicals. They examine the impact of drugs and addiction on the brain and the chemistry behind certain diseases and emotional disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and depression. Many of these diseases are due to imbalances of certain neurotransmitters in the brain and it is up to neurochemists to develop medications to correct these imbalances. It is important to note, however, that as a neurochemist, you are not a doctor, or a neurologist. It is primarily a research based career, generally working for universities or government agencies.

Research is a major part of neurochemistry, and so, you must be able to communicate both your findings, and the findings of others. Science is about distributing knowledge, so you need to be able to find, and interpret information constantly. Often, neuroscientists will work in teams to conduct research. They also communicate with other research facilities. [5] Having experience with working in a lab and doing research is a prerequisite, as you must be able to work with technology to collect and analyze data. Neurochemists work to develop new technologies to improve the accuracy and efficiency of neural research.

If you wish to pursue this career, you must be prepared for a lot of school. Be realistic with yourself, the average salary of a neurochemist can vary from $45,000 to $85,000, [5] and it is generally around $61,000. You must realize, though, that you will not start as a neurochemist. Generally, a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and a doctorate are all required to become a neurochemist. [5] Master’s programs in science generally take two years to complete, while doctoral programs can take up to six years. [2] Schooling combines class work with research, while in some schools; students are encouraged to work together on projects. They might be required to teach undergraduate classes, and prove a thesis based on original research. A background in math, science, psychology and engineering are recommended and a master’s degree in psychology, neuroscience, and/or biomedical engineering is required. It can be tricky to find programs that specialize in neurochemistry; often schools group it with neurobiology.

Studying the brain is important, as this organ conducts all activity in the body. Looking back, the Egyptians thought the brain was useless and didn’t even preserve it for the afterlife. Imagine life without knowing where our thoughts come from. It would be impossible to cure certain diseases. The brain is a vast landscape that is constantly changing. Who knows what you will find there and even less, what the world will do with the information.


For more information/ bibliography:

On neurochemistry the career:

1. “Brain Chemistry (Neurochemistry.) Human 2015. web. May 2015. (really good site, explains neurochemistry and reactions in the brain

2. “About the International Society for Brain Chemistry.” ISN. 2012. Web. May, 2015. international society of neurochemistry

3. “Neuroscience Degree Program Information.” 2015. web. May, 2015. (very good site, look at it. It gives a lot of information on the schooling necessary to get into neuroscience.)

4. “Master’s Program in Neurochemistry with Molecular Neurobiology.” Stockholm University, Department of Neurochemistry.2015. web. May, 2015. (Department of neurochemistry, Stockholm University, describes requirements for getting into the program)

5. Hagerty, Sarah. “Careers – Neurochemist.” 2010. Web. May, 2015. (a Prezi about neurochemistry. I think it was written by a student though, so some information might be incorrect.)

6. “Average Neurochemistry Salaries.” Simply 2015. web. May 2015. (says the average salary of a neurochemist and other related careers)

7. “Canadian Graduate Programs in Neuroscience.” Canadian Association for Neuroscience. 2014. web. May, 2015. (shows all the programs for neuroscience in Canada)

Other interesting facts about chemistry in your brain:

8. Sferios, Emanuel. “This is Your Brain on Ecstasy.” Dance 2014. web. May, 2015.  (Good site about the effects of ecstasy addiction on the brain. Also describes how neurons communicate with each other)

9. Mastin, Luke. “Neurons and Synapses.” Human Memory. 2010. web. May, 2015. (Explains neurons and synapses)

10. Glaser, Judith E, Glaser, Richard D. “The Neurochemistry of Positive Conversations.” Harvard Business Review. 2014. Web. May, 2015. this site explains the chemistry behind why negative conversations stay with you longer than positive ones

Then there’s always wikipedia, but of course, read at your own risk…  

11. “Neurochemistry.” Wikipedia. 2015. web. May, 2015. (about neurochemistry)

12. “Jordi Folch Pi.” Wikipedia. 2015. web May, 2015. (this guys is a founder of neurochemistry.)


Image credits:

A Hole Sealed with a Hole

Gases and Atmospheric Pressure

A cloud of poison. Beautiful.

We have a funny relationship with the sky. We’ve forever wanted to claim it as our own, yet are content with tearing it apart and flying through the holes.

In the early 1980’s, the invention of aerosol sprays caused the ozone layer to become very thin over the Antarctic. [4] Aerosol sprays are a gaseous suspension of fine solid or liquid particles in a can. [4] When held under pressure, they are forced out a tiny hole into a fine spray. These convenient contraptions relied heavily on the use of chlorofluorocarbons which act as the propellant for the product. [1] It was discovered, however, that these ate away at the ozone layer [2] and were quickly banned, first by Sweden in 1978, but then by the rest of the world. [5]

“A satellite view of the status of the ozone layer over the Antarctic pole on Aug. 5. The purple and blue colors represent areas where there is the least ozone, and the yellows and reds are where there is more ozone”
– Live

In response to a question about aersol sprays and the ozone, this article says that aerosol sprays have not contained chlorofluorocarbons since the late 1970’s, [11] and instead contain other propellants that do not deplete the ozone layer. “Of course,” says the article, “just because [aerosols] aren’t depleting the ozone layer doesn’t mean they’re actually good for the environment.” They emit volatile compounds and compressed gases that contribute to smog and global warming.

Aerosols are used for everything from insecticides, to cooking oil and most of them now contain hydrocarbons and compressed gases such as nitrous oxide. Whether or not you believe in global warming, these chemicals contain organic compounds that release ozone to ground-levels, creating smog. [10] I think it’s time to shift our focus from the ozone layer to the environment. There must be other ways to use whipped cream and administer sunscreen without causing smog and global warming.

When we solve a problem, should we end all research on it and its solution? And when is something dangerous enough to ban it completely? 



1. Hiskey, David. “Aerosol Sprays do not Damage the Ozone Layer.” Today I Found Out. 2011. web. May, 2015.

2. “Aerosols and the Ozone Layer.” Antiperspirants Info. web. May, 2015.

3. “Aerosol Spray.” Discoveries in Medicine. 2015. web. May, 2015.

4. Byrd, Deborah. “This Date in Science: Sweden goes first to Ban Aerosol Sprays.” 2015. web. May, 2015.

5. Harris, Tom. “How Aerosol Cans Work.” How Stuff Works. 2015. web. May, 2015.

6. “Some Consumers are Really Getting It!” Aerosol Products.  2011. web. May, 2015.

7. “Bad Hair Day: Are Aerosols still Bad for the Ozone Layer?” Scientific American. 2008. web. May, 2015. (article used)

8. Lefton, Terry. “Aerosol Cans still Battling Ozone Stigma.” 1992. web. May, 2015.

9. “Why are Aerosol Cans bad for the Environment?” 2015. web. May, 2015.

Image Credits

When Life gives you Acid, use Lime

Chemical Reactions

Acid rain is nothing new. An increase of burning fossil fuels has led to industrial by-products hanging heavy in the air. This causes decreased production in lakes, release of  toxic metals, retained phosphorous, and a change in the carbon source from carbonate to carbon dioxide. [5] Water is naturally acidic (anywhere from a pH of 6-9) [2] but is recently becoming more so.

It might look pretty but the reality is far from it.

It might look pretty but the reality is far from it.

In an effort to reverse such deleterious effects, a neutralization reaction, known as liming is being used. Calcium carbonate (calcite or limestone,) is added to acidic lakes, reducing the toxic effects of heavy metals, and increasing nutrients, alkalinity and total hardness of water. [1]

According to this article, however, the side effects might not be properly identified. Despite generally favourable results, aquatic organisms are vulnerable during a transition period before metals precipitate to the lake bottom. [4] Liming might be a cost-effective solution [1] for now but the effects of liming have not been fully explored.

Personally, I think that liming is a good starting point. However, we can’t allow this short term solution to impede on the truth that things must change. Liming can show neutralizing effects for 5 to 10 years, but it is not permanent and will have to be reapplied. [7] Lakes are not always restored.

When there is a drastic issue, should we work with it or with what’s causing it? The only sure way to solve acid rain is to reduce emissions but our world depends so heavily on it that it’s just not possible. Are the sources of acid rain too far beyond our control to mitigate? And if so, should liming be our solution?



1. Helfrich, Louis A., Neves, Richard J., Parkhurst, James. Virginia Cooperative Extension. “Liming Acidic Lakes and Ponds” 2015. Web. April. 2015 <;
2. Lazur, Andy M., Cichra, Charles E., Watson, Craig. University of Florida. “The Use of Lime in Fish Ponds.” 2015. Web. April 2015. <;
3. Wurts, William A. Univeristy of Kentucky. “Liming Ponds for Aquaculture.” Web. April 2015. <;
4. Pilstrom, Frederick. Biology Education Centre and Department of Ecology and Evolution, Limnology. “The Effects of Lime Treatment in Acidified Lakes on sediment P absorption and productivity.” 2006. Web. April 2015. <>
5. Air “Freshwater Acidification.” Web. April, 2015. <;
6. Rosencranz, Armen. The Christian Science Monitor. “Limestone: One Answer for Acid Lakes.” 1982. Web. April 2015. <;
7. Downey, Dr. Dan. St. Maty’s Wilderness Liming Project. “What is Liming?” 2011. Web. April 2015. <;
Image Credit

What Fluoride Hides

Solutions and Solubility


Do you think twice about drinking water? What if you knew you were drinking a poison more toxic than lead?

Fluoride, the negative ion of the element fluorine, [9] has long been thought to be good for our teeth due to, “overwhelming scientific evidence.” [1] Since it was added to water in 1945, our exposure to fluoride has increased significantly. [7]

Doing some research on fluoride, I came across this article that says that “Community water fluoridation is a safe and effective means of preventing dental decay.” The trouble though, is that fluoride has been the cause of a large debate. Many sources say that it is in fact dangerous and not actually that beneficial for teeth. [8]

Studies state that there is little difference between number of cavities in cities with fluorinated water and those without. Some studies even say that areas with less fluoride have less decay. Being exposed to fluoride levels above 1.5mg/L causes fluorosis, (fluoride build up on bones and teeth,) a condition that causes joint problems and, ironically, staining of teeth. [5]

Man, they could really use [less] fluoride! *Severe fluorosis*

Man, they could really use [less] fluoride!

Interestingly, the drinking water standard for public levels of fluoride in Ottawa is 0.7mg/L. [11] but one serving of toothpaste can contain anywhere from 0.75 to 1.5 mg of fluoride. [2] As one dentist, Dr. Osmunson says, “There seems to be a disconnect there. They tell me not to swallow a quarter milligram of fluoride in my toothpaste, but they are forcing me to swallow a quarter milligram in just one glass of water.” [8]

Fluoridation advocates say that fluoride occurs naturally in nature in high concentrations so it’s safe. [5, 11] If that’s the case, I’m gonna go drink the ocean because yes, there are high concentrations of salt but hey, it’s natural. The thing is, the studies scientists make on natural fluoride might be valid. But it’s not the natural fluoride we’re concerned about. A lot of the fluoride in our water are toxic waste products from China, who, by the way, won’t use fluoride themselves because it’s too dangerous, according to their studies. [8]

Fluoride is not a lifesaver, it’s a poison. It accumulates in your pineal gland and can lower IQ in children.  It is a highly toxic substance; FDA requires all fluoride toothpastes to carry a poison warning. [8]


“If you accidentally swallow more than used for brushing, get medical help or contact a Poison Control Center Immediately.”

I can’t claim to know if fluoride is safe to use. What I do know, is that there are other ways to care for our teeth than having the government (literally) force it down our throats. Those who eat healthier with less sugar will have nicer teeth. Fluoride and its effects accumulate over time but that doesn’t mean we can’t start removing it from water sources. Thing is though, how much of these studies are fact and how much is money

Question: How can can we be sure who is producing these articles? There is a lot of research “proving” that fluoride is harmless and beneficial. However, these are mostly from toothpaste companies and the Canadian Government. The research saying that fluoride is bad is, I’m assuming, from a more neutral party, but we can never be sure. There is contradictory research left and right. How does bias change the results of science and how do you determine which studies are bias free?


  1. “Community water fluoridation.” Your oral Ontario Dental Association. 2015. Web. April, 2015. <>
  2. “Sources of Fluoride.” Fluoride Fluoride action network. 2015. Web. April, 2015. <>
  3. Tom. “Is water really fluoridated with toxic waste fluoride?” Oral Answers. 2010. Web. April, 2015. <>
  4. “Toxins in our drinking water.” Global healing center. 2015. Web. April 2015. (ook at this site ‘cause it’s corrupted) <>
  5. “Fluoride in drinking water – Frequently asked questions.” Web. April, 2015. <>
  6. “Fluoride.” World Health Organization. Web. April, 2015. <>
  7. “Questions and Answers on fluoride.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2011. Web. April, 2015. <>
  8. Dr. Mercola. “Fluoride: The toxic import from China hidden in this everyday beverage.” 2011. Web. April, 2015. <>
  9. Helmenstine, Anne Marie. “What is fluoride?” About Education. 2014. Web. April, 2015. <>
  10. Fitzpatrick, Tim. “What you do and don’t know about fluorine and fluoride.” Environmental  2006. Web. April, 2015. <>
  11. “Water fluoridation and cancer risk.” American Cancer Society. 2013. Web. April, 2015. <>
  12. Milson, Shane Tyler. “The truth about fluoride: Industiral waste dentists love.” The Naked Truth. Web. April, 2015. <> (look at this one too)

Image credits:

The Danger with Numbers

Quantities in Chemical Reactions


You sleep when you are in the arms of Morpheus, the Greek God of sleep and dreams. [5] But what happens when you are in the arms of morphine?

Morphine is an opioid/narcotic, used as pain medication for moderate to severe pain. It acts on the central nervous system to numb pain and induce sleep. [3]

It is a known fact that misuse of the drug can result in severe consequences such as addiction, overdose and death. It can slow breathing and heart rate to the point of stopping. Morphine should never be taken in larger amounts or for longer than prescribed, especially in children and those without a prescription. [2,3] Accurate calculations are vital in health care situations, which is what Asher, a young infant, found out the hard way.

According to this article by CTV News, Asher’s grandmother, Vera Smith, sat down to feed him. Then, to her horror,  the baby began drooling and fell limp. After calling 9-1-1, Asher was rushed to hospital and it was confirmed that he had been given the wrong concentration of morphine – about one hundred times what he was supposed to receive. This miscalculation happened at the Dispensaries Limited pharmacy in south Edmonton. The pharmacy says a pharmacist checked the prescription, an assistant filled it, and the pharmacist checked it again. Rest assured, Asher survived but who knows what other issues might arise later on from the accident?

Mistakes in calculations happen all the time and it is impossible to eliminate them completely; this is the danger with numbers. Great care, however, can be taken to avoid such devastating incidents, such as having several doctors as well as patients, check over prescriptions. In this world, we can never take what someone says for granted. We must all be cautious about who we trust. A medic’s job is to help and save people, but sometimes an error is beyond their control. When you place yourself in the arms of morphine, you’re trusting a powerful and dangerous drug to help you. What is the most effective way to avoid mistakes and who should we blame when they happen?


1. “Prescription error: changes urged after infant takes near-fatal does.” CTV News. 2015. Web. April 14, 2015. <;

2. “Morphine.” 2014. Web. April 14 2015. <;

3. “Morphine (oral route): Description and Brand Names.” Mayo 2015. Web. April 15, 2015. <;

4. “Morphine.” English Montreal School Board. 2004. Web. April 15, 2015. <;

5. “Morpheus, the God of Dreams.” Greek Myths – Greek 2015. Web. April 15. <;

Image Credit


Formaldehyde – The Ultimate Preserver

Matter and Bonding


Formaldehyde, colourless, pungent-smelling,[8] is not a very impressive looking chemical but to embalmers, it’s gold.

According to an article by the New York Times, embalmers must keep a cadaver looking “eternal.” Formaldehyde keeps bodies looking temporarily firm and alive and is the ideal chemical for the job. It fixes cell tissues through a methylene bridge and kills bacteria like no other chemical. Other chemicals can’t preserve a body long enough to be shipped. Sound like the Holy Grail of embalming fluids? Well there’s a catch; it’s a carcinogen.

With funeral homes embalming up to 150 bodies per year with 3 gallons of embalming fluid per body (50% formaldehyde,) it’s no wonder formaldehyde poses a threat. [9] Even with gloves and proper ventilation, formaldehyde has been ranked by the IARC as a group one carcinogen [3] (a common exposure or causing specific types of cancer.)[4] Several NCI studies show that those exposed to formaldehyde are at an increased risk of leukemia and brain cancer. [7] None the less, embalmers are determined to stick it through, claiming that formaldehyde is the only true way to preserve a body. [9]

Personally, I think there are always different methods to consider. Before formaldehyde, embalmers used arsenic [9] so clearly there are always other options. Alternatives include nitrite pickling salt, [2] refrigeration, [6] and green burials.[1] These methods may not be ideal but they are much safer, especially considering all the toxic waste flushed into our water system. A dead body can’t be kept forever no matter how hard someone works to create that illusion. [6]

I suppose the real question is, is the preservation of our dead worth the health of our living?


1. “What is Green Burial?” Green Burial Council, 2013. Web. April 11, 2015. <>

2. Janczyk, P, Weigner, J, Luebke-Becker, A, Kaessmeyer, S, Plendi, J.”Nitrite pickling salt as an alternative to formaldehyde for embalming in veterinary anatomy–A study based on histo- and microbiological analyses.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine. 2011. Web. April 9, 2015. <>

3. “IARC Classifies Formaldehyde as Carcinogenic to Humans.” International Agency for Research on Cancer. 2004. Web. April 9, 2015. <;

4. Lumley, Thomas. “What’s a Group 1 Carcinogen.” Stats Chat. 2013. Web. April 10, 2015. <;

5. “Known and Probable Human Carcinogens.” The American Cancer Society. 2015. Web. April 11, 2015. <;

6. “Embalming: What You Should Know.” Funeral Consumers Alliance. 2015. Web. April 10, 2015. < >

7. “Formaldehyde and Cancer Risk.” National Cancer Institute. 2011. Web. April 11, 2015. <;

8. “Formaldehyde.” Carex Canada. 2015. Web. April 8, 2015. <;

9. Martin, Andrew. ”Despite Risk, Embalmers still Embrace Preservative.” New York Times. 2011. Web. April, 2015. <>

Image Credits:

Brain –

Danger –

Chemical Formula –