Saturday, January 11, 2014

Neurocrap Funded by the Masses: NeuroOn and No More Woof

Crowdfunders, get a clue! You're throwing your money away on bogus prototypes for impossible technology! Why give your hard-earned cash to the equivalent of modern-day snake oil salesman instead of funding essential projects to bring clean water and hygienic toilets to third world countries?

First we have No More Woof, which was first brought to my attention by Professor Dwayne Godwin. Writing in, a blog sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience, he considers whether an EEG-to-speech converter for dogs is plausible [HINT: of course it's not!]:
What is proposed is a gadget that on the basis of a few dry EEG electrodes will do for a creature without known speech centers what we’ve been unable to do for humans (with well-defined speech centers) using the best EEG systems yet developed.

In other words, don't you think you would have heard about a device that could translate the brain waves of a person with speech difficulties due to Broca's aphasia or ALS into fluent sentences? Gizmodo and the New York Times and even Oprah would be all over it!

Here's what the No More Woof developers have to say:
Every mammal creates and transports "thoughts" the same way, as a swarm of electrical signals through a complex neurosystem). It has long been possible to record this activity through Electroencephalogram (EEG) readings. When it comes to humans, the last decade has seen tremendous progress.

However every species uses its unique structure. You could say that all creatures speak the same language only with varying dialects. And as animal brains are less complex than humans their signal patterns are more distinct for feelings of anger, curiosity or tiredness – actually making them easier to distinguish.

There's absolutely no scientific evidence for distinguishing "anger" and "curiosity" brain signals in dogs, especially via a cheap ($65) doggie EEG headset with only one electrode.

What we really need is Professor Schwartzman's canine decoder!

The campaign has already raised $19,152 of their $10,000 goal. And there's 35 days left! So save your money!

But at least the No More Woof developers have issued a caveat. We can't say the same about our next prototype...

NeuroOn: World's first sleep mask for polyphasic sleep

Why waste any time with a trivial and unimportant activity such as sleep? The NeuroOn developers promise their device will deliver a "unique sleep schedule" that will maximizes each user's waking time... up to 22 hours a day! You'll become an efficient and brilliant productivity machine, just like Da Vinci, Tesla, Churchill and even Napoleon!
In conclusion, through great sleep efficiency, Polyphasic sleep can give you an extra 4 hours of free time every day. That’s up to 28 hours (1 day+) a week, 1460 hours a year.

That’s right - Your year now has over 420 working days!

What is polyphasic sleep? It's the division of sleep into several bouts per day, instead of the usual 8 hours or so at night. This schedule is standard in some mammals and may serve a protective purpose, according to Capellini et al. (2008):
The duration of [REM and non-REM] cycles varies extensively across mammalian species. Because the end of a sleep cycle is often followed by brief arousals to waking, a shorter sleep cycle has been proposed to function as an anti-predator strategy. Similarly, higher predation risk could explain why many species exhibit a polyphasic sleep pattern (division of sleep into several bouts per day), as having multiple sleep bouts avoids long periods of unconsciousness, potentially reducing vulnerability.

In humans, "disentrainment" protocols isolate volunteers under strict lab conditions and remove all cues to the time of day. In one study, 50 participants were allowed to eat and sleep at any desired time over a 72 hour period (Campbell & Murphy, 2007). Activity options were limited to a set playlist of recorded music, a deck of cards, and a small anthology of poetry. No strenuous exercise, TV, videos, work, study or hobbies. Why? To look at natural sleep tendencies unencumbered by that Battlestar Galactica marathon you've always wanted.

On average, the participants slept for 27.67 hrs of the 72 hour disentrainment period. That's 9.22 hrs every 24 hours, which was verified by EEG recordings (not based on self-report, as in an earlier study). There was an average of 7.6 sleep episodes per subject (instead of the standard 3 bouts each night). The mean duration of sleep episodes was 3.27 hrs but this varied wildly, with a range of 0.33-13.57 hrs. And the younger subjects (30 and under) slept longer and spent more time in REM than the middle (31-59 yrs) and older (60 and over) subjects.

What is polyphasic sleep according to the NeuroOn team?
It is a term referring to alternate sleep patterns that can reduce the required sleep time to just 2-6 hours daily. It involves breaking up your sleep into smaller parts throughout the day, which allows you to sleep less but feel as refreshed as if you slept for 8 hours or more.

Although I could be wrong, the majority of NeuroOn backers are presumably young and therefore will require more sleep than their older counterparts. Have the developers taken age differences into account?

But but,you say, these techie hipsters spend their lives on more valuable and fulfilling activities than reading poetry and playing solitaire (with an actual deck of cards)!! So of course they don't need as much sleep!

So sure, we can criticize the exaggerated claims that humans have a minimal need for sleep, with wondrous increases in productivity as a result of adopting a proprietary "unique sleep schedule". All without developing a serious psychiatric condition! While ignoring the necessity to medically screen users in the event that such a device would actually work.

The real impetus for writing this post, however, came from Justin Kiggins:

The ensuing discussion on Twitter included debunking of the entire technical premise of the device, which uses a limited number (one? three?) of ill-placed electrodes to purportedly record a wide variety of electrical signals.

Let's take a closer look at the prototype. Is that really only one electrode?? * That uses a magical "dedicated and extraordinary biological amplifier" and AI algorithms that can filter and distinguish the differing source generators and frequency bands for EEG, EMG, and EOG? Without a reference electrode connecting to the differential amplifier?

* ADDENDUM Jan 12 2014: No, that is “a part to generate physical vibration.” There are 3 electrodes, as shown in the prototype image further down.

PCB version 2.1

The developers claim:
Thanks to the use of the newest technologies we were able to create a device that will improve your effectiveness and concentration at work to the best possible levels. Measurements of EEG, EOG and EMG, coupled with the usage of artificial intelligence, allows us to create the world's first digital sleep-control system that provides accuracy close to professional polisomnographic clinics.

According to what criteria? Which published studies? Because here's a paper from a group of clinical EEG experts on how difficult it was to reach a consensus on Standardized Computer-based Organized Reporting of EEG (SCORE):
The interobserver agreement in electroencephalography (EEG) interpretation is only moderate (Van Donselaar et al., 1992; Stroink et al., 2006). The EEG signal has a high complexity. It depends on the intricate interplay between the activation of neural networks, localization and orientation (Wong, 1998) of the source (dipole), and its propagation throughout the brain (Lopes da Silva & van Rotterdam, 1993; Scherg et al., 1999; Flemming et al., 2005).

Current prototype (the backside view)

So those three gray squares sitting on your eyebrows are the recording electrodes that will distinguish eye movements like those during REM sleep (very large amplitude signals) from actual brain activity (very tiny signals)? And when the A to D output is transmitted wirelessly via bluetooth to a smartphone application, the app will wake you up precisely at the end of a REM sleep cycle? AND will induce lucid dreaming on demand, so you can literally control your dreams. Really??

No.  Dream on.

And the sad thing is that hundreds of people have pledged $250 to buy a device that will not deliver what's promised.

What is your dream?

Do you need more energy and to feel well - rested?
Do you want to pack even more into your day?
Do you want to have more control over your day?
Do you hate jet lag?
Do you just need that few extra hours every day?
Do you want to be a hero by day and a superhero by night?
Or maybe it's not so sad... people are always susceptible to snake oil and miracle cures, only now in a high tech faux-neuro guise. As of this writing, 1,901 backers have pledged $431,114, far surpassing the $100,000 goal.  Only 15 hours to go!

Don't you think it's more important to expand access to clean water and improved sanitation in poor, rural households in Vietnam? This Kiva microloan has raised 61% of its $4,750 goal, with $1,850 to go before Jan 27, 2014.

Further reading:

Dormivigilia (an actual sleep researcher) on sleep

Gaines on Brains on sleep tracking apps and why their premise is flawed

ADDENDUM #2 (Jan 12 2014): Since a commenter mentioned the Zeo headband (made by the now-defunct company Zeo, Inc.), I thought I'd say a few words about it here. The company published a paper in the Journal of Sleep Research (Shambroom et al., 2012) that examined the performance of their wireless system (WS) to professional polysomnography (PSG; see Gaines on Brains for more on sleep EEG). The Zeo agreed with the simultaneously recorded PSG sleep stages 75% of the time over the course of a night. However, the Zeo did poorly at the detecting onset of the first REM episode:
"The WS significantly and substantially underestimated REML compared to PSG. There were nine nights for which the WS scored REM within the first 6 min of sleep, possibly indicating a tendency for the technology to score REM in the early lightest stage of sleep."
The headband has 3 electrodes on the forehead like NeuroOn and used an Fp1-Fp2 bipolar recording montage (two standard left and right frontopolar sites on the forehead). EEG recorded here is particularly prone to artifacts from eye movements and muscle activity and is thus a mixture of all these signals. Analytic techniques such as independent component analysis (ICA) try to separate the sources. The Zeo group used some sort of training algorithm that used "a combination of time and frequency dependent features derived from the signal to create a best estimate of sleep stage." Interestingly, they had to filter out the very low frequencies (below 2 Hz) that comprise much of the delta wave activity seen during slow wave sleep. This was because of contamination by excessive noise in the low frequency range.

I have no idea of how any of Zeo technology relates to that used by NeuroOn, but the published paper presented some of the challenges involved in developing such a system.

ADDENDUM #3 (Jan 12 2014): While I'm at it, I should mention another neurocrap Kickstarter project -- Aurora: The Dream-Enhancing Headband, which was brought to my attention by Micah Allen. Save your money! If you want to support a worthwhile project, try OpenBCI: An Open Source Brain-Computer Interface For Makers, recommended as legit by Neurobonkers.

ADDENDUM #4 (Jan 13 2014): New post from a sleep researcher: Nonsense neurogadgets: sleep edition, at Taking a cat apart.

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At January 11, 2014 6:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you know of any GOOD neuro-related kickstarters?

At January 11, 2014 6:51 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Neurobonkers just pointed to this one:

OpenBCI: An Open Source Brain-Computer Interface For Makers

It looks sophisticated and very well-supported by actual research, including a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant.

As ‏@usethespacebar said, "Big difference is @OpenBCI has goal to make existing tech more accessible, not create impossible one."

At January 11, 2014 8:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Wanna sleep 2 hours/day ASK ME :)" -- NeuroOn t-shirt
" the event that such a device would actually work"
Neurocritic (above)
Yes, even if it worked, might less sleep have other consequences? E.g.: Commentary "Don’t Lose Sleep Over Neurodegeneration - It Helps Clear Amyloid Beta"
Based on:
"Sleep Drives Metabolite Clearance from the Adult Brain, Science 342, 373 (2013)" - see

At January 12, 2014 1:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OpenBCI looks serious. Cannot tell whether the organizers have the skills to pull it off by April 2014 though (estimated delivery date for all those boards). Also, if you look at their strap-on diagrams, it is unclear how the occipital electrodes would fit in, since that space is occupied by the board, it seems:

At January 12, 2014 4:57 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

"Let's take a closer look at the prototype. Is that really only one electrode??"

:) This is not electrode on this picture :). First, do more research, please. This is a part to generate physical vibration. NeuroOn has 3 electrodes to measure EEG like Zeo.

At January 12, 2014 7:51 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Marcin - Thanks for the correction. I have amended the text accordingly.

At January 12, 2014 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post - there was some critical coverage in the Polish media, though it was rather modest and got lost in all the hype that was generated around the device (it's quite a big deal on this side of the internet).
Sadly, it even got some coverage from websites & outlets that are otherwise pretty scientific.
I'm writing an article about NeuroOn on my Polish blog soon, will link to your post of course.

p.s. I guess it's a good time to say thank you for inspiring Neurobigos.

At January 13, 2014 1:36 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Neurobigos - Thanks so much, that's very kind. Given that the President was the "Honorable #001 User" of NeuroOn, it's not surprising they got so much press in Poland!

Anonymous of January 11, 2014 8:41 PM - Coincidentally, the New York Times just ran a long article that reviewed this exact literature on lack of sleep and neurodegeneration. Here's a choice quote from one of the researchers: “We’re really starting to realize that when we skip sleep, we may be doing irreparable damage to the brain, prematurely aging it or setting it up for heightened vulnerability to other insults.”

Anonymous of January 12, 2014 1:53 AM - Hundreds of boards have been ordered! Hopefully this won't present a problem for the April 2014 delivery date. Not sure about O1 and O2, but 10 electrodes seems quite respectable.

At January 13, 2014 3:19 PM, Anonymous Aisling G. Linn said...

Yet the biggest neuro-crap of the century isn't mentioned whatsoever in your blog post, namely the infamous Luci Advanced Lucid Dream Inducer headband project as seen on Kickstarter recently.

Seriously would you use a TDA7293 Hi-Fi amp?

At January 14, 2014 8:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The OpenBCI kickstarted may not be run by charlatans but after seeing their pitch - it's obvious they have a pretty poor grasp of neuroscience and have unrealistic expectations about EEG can and can't do - especially with such a simplistic system. Unintentionally spreading poor information isn't great either.

At January 15, 2014 6:54 AM, Anonymous Carol said...

I actually know someone who tried polyphasic sleep during HS. He said that after he got used to it, he had so much free time that he finished all this homework for the rest of the school year - in one week! Even though he felt well-rested, the sleep schedule didn't really allow him to live a normal life ...

At January 16, 2014 2:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Carol, didn't Kramer try that too? Didn't work out too well!

Actually, yes, just confirmed with wiki: "In "The Friar's Club", an episode of Seinfeld, Kramer attempts to use this form of sleep, with unintended consequences."

At January 17, 2014 5:55 AM, Blogger nairboon said...

Another noteworthy open source project is project lucidity:

At January 17, 2014 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Project Lucidity:

"Wake up as nature intended" by messing with the way nature controls its own processes.

It's like saying "GMO: Eat the way nature intended"

Just saying... :/

At January 17, 2014 6:16 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Anonymous of January 17, 2014 9:47 AM - You're right, Project Lucidity looks like actigraphic crap (it doesn't record EEG).

Aisling G. Linn - Thanks, clearly I'm not up to date on all the Kickstarter neurocrap. I hadn't heard of Luci™, billed as "the world's first lucid dream inducer that uses brainwaves for reliable REM sleep detection." AND that its Kickstarter funding was canceled - "Funding for this project was canceled by the project creator on November 11."

Is the Luci Lucid Dreaming Headband a Fake?

And these fun posts on Dropkicker:

LUCI – The lucid dream inducer

LUCI – The thrilling conclusion!

At January 10, 2017 2:03 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hello, Neurocritic! My name is Kamil Adamczyk and the CEO and Founder of the Neuroon sleep mask. Recently, we've been doing a lot of research using our device (this is one of the independent one: and eventually decided to be much more transparent and open. We would love to get in touch with you to tell you more and have you testing our new product.


At February 10, 2021 9:23 AM, Anonymous Paula said...

Carol, didn't Kramer try that too? Didn't work out too well!

Actually, yes, just confirmed with wiki: "In "The Friar's Club", an episode of Seinfeld, Kramer attempts to use this form of sleep, with unintended consequences."


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