Neuroscience Professor Wins Prize for Promoting Scientific Rigor

June 3, 2024 • by Sowmya Sridhar

Michela Marinelli received a Rigor Champions Prize for fostering scientific transparency through her course Analytical Skepticism.

A woman with colorful highlights in her hair smiles from a circle graphic that is adjacent to waves of color with UT branding.

Michela Marinelli, an associate professor of neuroscience at The University of Texas at Austin, received a 2023 National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) Rigor Champions Prize

The institute created the new Rigor Champions Prize to recognize individuals and small teams who have helped cultivate a culture that promotes robust, high-quality neuroscience research. Marinelli received the recognition in conjunction with her elective course Analytical Skepticism.

“The course teaches students to ‘do’ and consume science well by reviewing basic principles that allow accurate interpretation of scientific data in a world full of imprecisions, irrationality and falsehoods,” she said. 

Through lessons on quantifying and communicating data, cognitive and scientific bias and assessing probabilities, Analytical Skepticism equips students with the tools necessary to create scientific studies that avoid bias and result in reliable conclusions. 

“Scientific rigor is essential for all scientific information; without it, one has ‘garbage in, garbage out,’” Marinelli said. “Wrong science is a type of misinformation, but in a way, it is more risky than misinformation from other sources because people rely on scientists to be reputable and trustworthy — so they trust what scientists say and publish.”

Outside of the course, Marinelli’s research focuses on understanding the neurobiological basis of drug addiction. Her focus includes examining age and sex differences in the ability to withstand adversity to obtain rewards, the role the lateral preoptic area of the brain plays in reward-seeking and the interplay between stress and dopamine in mediating addiction liability.

Marinelli is one of five winners of the inaugural Rigor Champions Prize, which comes with a $10,000 cash prize. She also is the recipient of a College of Natural Sciences Teaching Excellence Award and has received Texas Ten recognition, which is organized by the Texas Exes annually, singling out professors whom alumni cite as especially inspiring.