Which of these facts are you pretty sure of?

We only use about 10 percent of our brain’s capacity. Drinking booze kills brain cells. Vaccines have been linked to autism. Playing classical music to your children can enhance their IQs.

In fact, according to the new website BrainFacts, none of these statements is true. The elaborate website — www.brainfacts.org — was launched last week with $1.5 million in funding over the next six years from the Kavli Foundation in Oxnard, Calif., and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation in London, and with the guidance of the Society for Neuroscience in Washington, D.C.

In a webinar recently to promote the site, Nicholas Spitzer, a distinguished professor of neurobiology at the University of California at San Diego, said it was set up because interest among people in brain science is increasing, but their knowledge is limited.

That’s the purpose of the “facts” cited above, all of which come from the site’s “neuromyths” section.

The site points out that we use all of our brains, despite the longstanding belief that we use only 10 percent of our capacity. “While not all of the brain is active all at once, functional magnetic resonance images (fMRI) show several brain areas are at work for any given activity, depending on what function is needed,” BrainFacts says.

The common wisdom that alcohol kills brain cells is also at least partially false. “Moderate amounts of alcohol do not kill brain cells,” the site says, and in fact, “some studies find moderate amounts of alcohol appear to be healthful. For adults, a glass or two of wine a day might protect the brain by reducing the risk of stroke.”

The idea that there is a link between childhood vaccinations and autism refuses to go away and periodically resurfaces, most recently in claims by Donald Trump. But BrainFacts says that “there has been no conclusive, scientific evidence that any part of a vaccine causes autism. A link was initially suspected by some because the first symptoms of autism emerge around the time children receive vaccinations. This link has been thoroughly reviewed, studied and rejected by scientific consensus.”

And how about the Baby Mozart effect of boosting your children’s intelligence through classical music? “In 1993, a small study showed that college students who listened to a Mozart sonata and then took an IQ test got higher scores than those who didn’t,” the website says. “But this so-called ‘Mozart effect’ wore off in less than 15 minutes and hasn’t been repeated.

BrainFacts is about far more than debunking false claims, though.

It includes “core concepts” of neuroscience, ranging from the fact that “there are a hundred billion neurons in the human brain, all of which are in use,” to the fact that “peripheral neurons [in the arms and legs, for instance] have greater ability to regrow after injury than neurons in the brain and spinal cord.”

It includes a section on “Sensing, Thinking and Behaving” with articles such as one on movement that features choreographer Mark Morris, who has long had an interest in the brain and dance. Among other things, Mr. Morris notes that the longer someone trains as a dancer, the more embedded his movements become in his brain.

“Ideally,” he says in an interview, “dancers aren’t thinking ‘five, six, seven, eight, now’s my entrance,’ they just do it. It’s the thing where a fish doesn’t know it’s in water. That’s how it is in dancing.”

BrainFacts also contains an extensive section on brain disorders and diseases, from depression to Tourette syndrome.

In a section on HIV, for instance, the site notes that nearly half of the 33 million people infected by the virus that causes AIDS have a brain disorder known as HAND — HIV-Associated Neurocognitive Disorder. People with HAND “have mental problems ranging from mild difficulty with concentration, memory, complex decision-making or coordination to progressive, fatal dementia,” the website says.

Mr. Spitzer said BrainFacts will also connect visitors to news stories on brain science, and “if there’s a hot new report on a topic, very quickly we’ll have background information up on the site and we will have links to media articles on the issue.”

In addition, he said, the site hopes to start some neuroscience blogs in the fall and set up live chats between neuroscientists or psychologists and the public.

The site also has some local involvement. Its editorial board includes Judy Cameron, a psychiatrist and noted expert on brain development at the University of Pittsburgh.

In an article on the website about suicide prevention, the National Institute of Mental Health’s Douglas Meinecke sums up that topic with a statement that could apply to much of public’s interest in the brain:

The brain is the last frontier of biology,” he says. “It’s a very complex organ. And these disorders are among the most complex, because they deal with human behavior which, of course, is very complex, and its biology and its interaction with environment. But more and more investigators and more and more people are interested in these complex issues.”

By Mark Roth

Source: Pittsburgh Post Gazette – http://goo.gl/vNVHv