Posts Tagged ‘our brains work in interesting ways’
* Coffee’s good for you again. Stay buzzed, America.
* This piece on MOOCs from Jonathan Dettman is really interesting, not least of all for its observations on running the university like a business:
According to this paradigm, the years spent at a university are not intended so much as to educate the student (either in the vocational sense or the liberal-arts sense of forming citizen-scholars), but rather to turn as many recruits as possible into “active alumni.” In the meantime, as much profit as possible should be extracted from the student, through amenities, food services, business partnerships, textbook sales, tuition, etc. Image and branding are extremely important to these efforts, but so is information. Universities now build data-driven profiles of prospective students in order to identify and recruit those most likely to be attracted to the university’s own carefully constructed market profile.
As I said on Twitter yesterday: they couldn’t have found a model that sounded a bit less… pyramid-schemey?
* This piece on epigenetics in Discover is really interesting, but my god, the reporting. It’s hard to imagine a piece that sensationalized these findings more.
* Announcing the MOOC Research Institute. Can’t we scale this up? You know, crowdsource it.
* Black Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 have an unemployment rate of 21 percent, almost triple the national average.
* Simply put, 99 percent of the increase in employed persons seen in the last year was for individuals who had attended at least some college (this removes the negative change in employment for high school grads with no college to not produce a number above 100 percent). Among those who didn’t go to college, we actually lost 284,000 employed persons from May of 2012 to May of 2013. Within the college-going categories, about 60 percent of the increase went to those with a bachelor’s degree and 40 percent to those with an associate’s degree.
* The screenplay writes itself: Gustl Mollath was put in a psychiatric unit for claiming his wife was involved in money-laundering at the Bavarian bank. But seven years on evidence has emerged that could set him free.
* The headline reads, “New long distance quantum teleportation system ‘extremely reliable.’” So, the ansible is real, then?
* Because a bunch of us have been rewatching Star Trek lately: Voyager Inconsistencies. By the numbers it’s actually a little better than I thought.
* And the LEGO museum. At least there’s that.
* I saw this movie: Brains of rats connected allowing them to share information via internet.
* Beyond the MOOC: While other universities move quickly to offer courses online for free, Carnegie Mellon University is instead starting for-profit efforts designed to capture segments of the education market. I’ll promote this a bit more as the date gets closer, but I’ll be speaking at a “What’s the Matter with MOOCs?” event at UWM in mid-March.
* Justice, American style: The city’s complaint in federal court claims that if Ms. Truong is entitled to damages for the nearly three years she spent in jail awaiting trial, then Mr. Ryan is as much to blame as the city because he took too long to get the coerced confession tossed out of court by the judge.
* Will a Republican friend-of-the-court brief tip the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage? I’m pretty sure it’ll have more luck than Obama’s.
* These numbers are unprecedented: by 2014 President Obama will have deported over 2 million people – more in six years than all people deported before 1997. That “before 1997″ actually means since 1892.
“We need union jobs today, not tomorrow,” said Rich Trumka, President of the AFL-CIO. “The resolution balances our desire to protect the fragile ecosystem of the earth, while acknowledging the economic benefits of a high-road strategy to develop the doomsday technologies of the future.”
* Never forget: The entire staff of the West Wing died on Voyager.
The social events of the 1948 holiday season had to be canceled. And with good reason: Experts called the third floor of the White House “an outstanding example of a firetrap.” The result of a federally commissioned report found the mansion’s plumbing “makeshift and unsanitary,” while “the structural deterioration [was] in ‘appalling degree,’ and threatening complete collapse.” The congressional commission on the matter was considering the option of abandoning the structure altogether in favor of a built-from-scratch mansion, but President Truman lobbied for the restoration.
* And American history, Breitbart style: Journalists on the campaign trail saw Johnson drunkenly board a plane armed with nuclear weapons and then accidentally drop them on the United States. We all saw it!
* Having a monetary value tied to human incarceration and justice creates a deeply perverse incentive that should not exist in the world of commerce. When the for-profit prison industry places the iron fist of criminal justice in the invisible hands of the market and sells it as a cost-cutting measure, it is hard not to interpret as anything but the predatory capitalism of a self-perpetuating slave state.
* Just end the filibuster. This is a no-brainer.
Following the events of last week, in which a crazed western lowland gorilla ruthlessly murdered 21 people in a local shopping plaza after escaping from the San Diego Zoo, sources across the country confirmed Thursday that national gorilla sales have since skyrocketed.
“After seeing yet another deranged gorilla just burst into a public place and start killing people, I decided I need to make sure something like that never happens to me,” said 34-year-old Atlanta resident Nick Keller, shortly after purchasing a 350-pound mountain gorilla from his local gorilla store. “It just gives me peace of mind knowing that if I’m ever in that situation, I won’t have to just watch helplessly as my torso is ripped in half and my face is chewed off. I’ll be able to use my gorilla to defend myself.”
* 56 Up now playing in the US. I can’t wait.
* For the fiscal year, which for most schools ends this June, 18% of 165 private universities and 15% of 127 public universities project a decline in net tuition revenue. That is a sharp rise from the estimated declines among 10% of the 152 private schools and 4% of the 105 public schools in fiscal 2012.
* Google will now translate into Flanders. (Not really-a-doodly.)
* Horrifying: On zombie foreclosure.
* And on the science fiction beat: Joss Whedon Directing SHIELD Pilot Right Now, Already Working On Scripts For Later In The Series. Christopher Nolan’s next movie is called Interstellar. For the 50th anniversary, five Doctors and a cavalcade of Companions will reunite…on an audio special. Fan hopes science will prove tragic Firefly death never happened. And Y: The Last Man has a director: the unknown fan director of that Portal fan film.
* My media empire: I have a piece on climate change and science fiction in the new New Inquiry issue on weather, which has gone out to subscribers but isn’t online yet. I’ll let you know when you can read it, though for a mere $2 you could read it this very minute.
* “It’s one of those situations where everybody says it’s an issue but the people who have the most influence and the most ability to do something about it are not acting on it,” said Gary Rhoades, professor of higher education at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Study of Higher Education and director of the Center for the Future of Higher Education, a virtual think tank supported by faculty and labor groups. He called the adjunct issue a “widely acknowledged challenge” with deep, interwoven roots – many of which pit administrative prerogatives against labor concerns and educational outcomes.
* Game of the day: run from Michel Foucault. Do not become enamored of power.
* zunguzungu is gathering notes towards a canon of post-9/11 literature. I contributed Wells Tower’s “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned,” as well as the inevitable science fictional treatments: Battlestar Galactica, District 9, Nolan’s Batman…
* Warmest Year On Record Received Cool Climate Coverage. It’s so hot in Australia they’ve had to add a new color to the weather map.
* This paper uses annual variation in temperature and precipitation over the past 50 years to examine the impact of climatic changes on economic activity throughout the world. We find three primary results. First, higher temperatures substantially reduce economic growth in poor countries but have little effect in rich countries. Second, higher temperatures appear to reduce growth rates in poor countries, rather than just the level of output. Third, higher temperatures have wide-ranging effects in poor nations, reducing agricultural output, industrial output, and aggregate investment, and increasing political instability. Analysis of decade or longer climate shifts also shows substantial negative effects on growth in poor countries. Should future impacts of climate change mirror these historical effects, the negative impact on poor countries may be substantial.
* The American Prospect considers the legal hyperformalism the GOP has embraced in the face of longterm demographic crisis and declining real power.
What all these efforts have in common is that they are all perfectly legal, and yet they all violate the norms of how American politics had been practiced for decades or even for centuries. All of them exploit some loophole in the law or the Constitution to give Republicans some immediate advantage in the basic ground rules of how political issues are contested.
* The great moral question of our time: On heckling.
* The Superhero Delusion: How Superhero Movies created the Sad Perfect Badass Messiah, and what that says about America.
* Science catches up to what the poets always knew: Our perception of time changes with age, but it also depends on our emotional state. Research is steadily improving our understanding of the brain circuits that control this sense, opening the way for new forms of treatment, particularly for Parkinson’s disease.
* Great moments in advertising: the UC spends $4.3 million to attract a single student.
* The forever war on women: Under Obama, a Skew Toward Male Appointees.
* And Mitch Hurwitz teases the new Arrested Development. I am…optimistic?
* Seems fair: Pennsylvania State University’s ousted president Graham B. Spanier received $3.25 million in taxable compensation for 2011 – including a $1.2 million severance payment given in the wake of his forced resignation that year, the university announced on Wednesday.
* A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the lifecycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives. Miracles and wonders: Shane “Primer” Carruth is working on a new film.
* A new report from international NGO Global Witness suggests that, in the past decade, 711 individuals have been killed while defending land and forest rights. 106 of these deaths allegedly came in 2011, with the number killed almost doubling over the past three years.
* And a map of life expectancy by country. The US doesn’t crack the top 25…
* 13 little-known punctuation marks we should be using. At right: the rhetorical question mark.
* Reddit vs. Gawker: whoever wins, we lose. Snark aside, they ought to burn reddit down if it won’t take cast out jailbait and creeper subreddits. It’s 2012.
* Our brains work in interesting ways: What number is halfway between 1 and 9? Is it 5 — or 3?
* Walmart Workers Are Threatening To Strike On Black Friday. On a national holy day? How dare they.
* You love being creative for your work. You love your job. That’s why you’ve got a Mac. Precarious labor, post-Fordism, and Apple.
* LARoB considers Homeland. It’s been next in my Netflix queue forever, so I couldn’t read too much of this.
* And you know who else flubbed their closing statement after a piss-poor debate showing? No, not him. The other one. Gasp: New Polls Suggest Democratic Freakout May Be Premature.
* As I discuss in my presentation for SLSA next week, Octavia Butler predicted it: Huntington’s mutation can improve learning before symptoms arrive.
* How to fight a nuclear war: Jimmy Carter had a plan.
* Stuyvesant, Harvard, people are alike all over: the psychology of cheating.
* “In Plain View”: How molesters get away with it.
* Meta poll-of-polls analysis shows the Romney campaign is in serious trouble.
What Erikson and Wlezien did is rather remarkable: They collected pretty much every publicly available poll conducted during the last 200 days of the past 15 presidential elections and then ran test after test on the data to see what we could say about the trajectory of presidential elections. Their results make Romney’s situation look very dire.
For instance: The least-stable period of the campaign isn’t early in the year or in the fall. It’s the summer. That’s because the conventions have a real and lasting effect on a campaign.
But the most surprising of Erikson and Wlezien’s results, and the most dispiriting for the Romney campaign, is that unlike the conventions, the debates don’t tend to matter. There’s “a fairly strong degree of continuity from before to after the debates,” they write. That’s true even when the trailing candidate is judged to have “won” the debates. “Voters seem to have little difficulty proclaiming one candidate the ‘winner’ of a debate and then voting for the opponent,” Erikson and Wlezien say.
* Underselling it a bit: “Potentially unsafe” rat meat is being sold illegally in London marketplaces. Remember, it’s only potentially unsafe. Who among us can really know anything for sure?
* Also at io9: George Dvorsky takes the recent rheseus monkey brain-implant study as a hook for another ride on the what-could-possibly-go-wrong merry-go-round about uplifting animals.
* And just because it’s Monday: Ben Folds vs. the Fraggles.
* The patriarchy ain’t what it used to be: The overhand throwing gap, beginning at 4 years of age, is three times the difference of any other motor task, and it just gets bigger across age. By 18, there’s hardly any overlap in the distribution: Nearly every boy by age 15 throws better than the best girl. I consider myself living disproof of this hypothesis.
* And just this once: Inside the Romney camp’s massive self-inflicted wound. You know, some days I think I just might not like the guy.
* Last week, a hopeful prospect showed up at LSU’s July football camp. He posted an impressive 4.46 40-yard dash, and he earned a scholarship offer from the Tigers’ coaching staff for his efforts. It’s a scene that plays out on college campuses every single summer, although this offer was different for one main reason — Dylan Moses has yet to start eighth grade.
* It’s like Warhol said: In the future, every movie will star Chloë Moretz.
Vision is complex, but the calculus of color is strangely simple: Each cone confers the ability to distinguish around a hundred shades, so the total number of combinations is at least 1003, or a million. Take one cone away—go from being what scientists call a trichromat to a dichromat—and the number of possible combinations drops a factor of 100, to 10,000. Almost all other mammals, including dogs and New World monkeys, are dichromats. The richness of the world we see is rivaled only by that of birds and some insects, which also perceive the ultraviolet part of the spectrum.
Researchers suspect, though, that some people see even more. Living among us are people with four cones, who might experience a range of colors invisible to the rest. It’s possible these so-called tetrachromats see a hundred million colors, with each familiar hue fracturing into a hundred more subtle shades for which there are no names, no paint swatches. And because perceiving color is a personal experience, they would have no way of knowing they see far beyond what we consider the limits of human vision.
* The true gloomsters are scientists who look at climate through the lens of “dynamical systems,” a mathematics that describes things that tend to change suddenly and are difficult to predict. It is the mathematics of the tipping point—the moment at which a “system” that has been changing slowly and predictably will suddenly “flip.” The colloquial example is the straw that breaks that camel’s back. Or you can also think of it as a ship that is stable until it tips too far in one direction and then capsizes. In this view, Earth’s climate is, or could soon be, ready to capsize, causing sudden, perhaps catastrophic, changes. And once it capsizes, it could be next to impossible to right it again.
* But there’s an easy solution to all this! North Carolina considers outlawing accurate predictions of sea level rise. More from Raleigh’s Scott Huler at Scientific American.
* Lessig: “There is no one in the criminal justice system who believes that system works well. There is no one in housing law who believes this is what law was meant to be. In contracts, you read about disputes involving tens, maybe a hundred dollars. The disputes of ordinary people. These disputes are not for the courts any more. Or if they are, they are for courts that are an embarrassment to the ideals of justice from our tradition. The law of real people doesn’t work, even if the law of corporations does.”
* I just want to hear him deny it: Chris Christie Denies Falling Asleep at Springsteen Show.
* But the preferences of developed, aging polities — first Japan, now the United States and Europe — are obvious to a dispassionate observer. Their overwhelming priority is to protect the purchasing power of incumbent creditors. That’s it. That’s everything. All other considerations are secondary.
* I know some people who have this: Witzelsucht (the Germans just have the best words for everything, don’t they?) is a brain dysfunction that causes all sorts of compulsive silliness: bad jokes, corny puns, wacky behavior. It’s also sometimes called the “joking disease,” and as Taiwanese researchers phrased it in a 2005 report, it’s a “tendency to tell inappropriate and poor jokes.”
* Tumblr of the day: Context-Free Patent Art.
* Cheap theatrics, but okay, you got me: “President Barack Obama sits on the famed Rosa Parks bus at the Henry Ford Museum following an event in Dearborn, Mich., April 18, 2012.”
* In a 2008 study, Susanne Jaeggi and Martin Buschkuehl, now of the University of Maryland, found that young adults who practiced a stripped-down, less cartoonish version of the game also showed improvement in a fundamental cognitive ability known as “fluid” intelligence: the capacity to solve novel problems, to learn, to reason, to see connections and to get to the bottom of things. The implication was that playing the game literally makes people smarter.
* Eric Rabkin is doing an open course on fantasy and science fiction. Details at the link.
The Vatican has appointed an American bishop to rein in the largest and most influential group of Catholic nuns in the United States, saying that an investigation found that the group had “serious doctrinal problems.”
The Vatican’s assessment, issued on Wednesday, said that members of the group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, had challenged church teaching on homosexuality and the male-only priesthood, and promoted “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith.”
The sisters were also reprimanded for making public statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” During the debate over the health care overhaul in 2010, American bishops came out in opposition to the health plan, but dozens of sisters, many of whom belong to the Leadership Conference, signed a statement supporting it — support that provided crucial cover for the Obama administration in the battle over health care.
By coupling these amnesia cocktails to the memory reconsolidation process, it’s possible to get even more specific. Nader, LeDoux, and a neuroscientist named Jacek Debiec taught rats elaborate sequences of association, so that a series of sounds predicted the arrival of a painful shock to the foot. Nader calls this a “chain of memories”—the sounds lead to fear, and the animals freeze up. “We wanted to know if making you remember that painful event would also lead to the disruption of related memories,” Nader says. “Or could we alter just that one association?” The answer was clear. By injecting a protein synthesis inhibitor before the rats were exposed to only one of the sounds—and therefore before they underwent memory reconsolidation—the rats could be “trained” to forget the fear associated with that particular tone. “Only the first link was gone,” Nader says. The other associations remained perfectly intact. This is a profound result. While scientists have long wondered how to target specific memories in the brain, it turns out to be remarkably easy: All you have to do is ask people to remember them.
This isn’t Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind-style mindwiping. In some ways it’s potentially even more effective and more precise. Because of the compartmentalization of memory in the brain—the storage of different aspects of a memory in different areas—the careful application of PKMzeta synthesis inhibitors and other chemicals that interfere with reconsolidation should allow scientists to selectively delete aspects of a memory. Right now, researchers have to inject their obliviating potions directly into the rodent brain. Future treatments, however, will involve targeted inhibitors, like an advanced version of ZIP, that become active only in particular parts of the cortex and only at the precise time a memory is being recalled. The end result will be a menu of pills capable of erasing different kinds of memories—the scent of a former lover or the awful heartbreak of a failed relationship. These thoughts and feelings can be made to vanish, even as the rest of the memory remains perfectly intact. “Reconsolidation research has shown that we can get very specific about which associations we go after,” LeDoux says. “And that’s a very good thing. Nobody actually wants a totally spotless mind.”
* The headline reads, “Babies can understand what you’re saying at just 6 months old.”
* The headline reads, “Israeli scientists develop prototype of Geordi’s Star Trek VISOR.”
* Scandalous contrarianism: Josiah Bartlet Was A Mediocre President.
“We believe that workers everywhere have the right to a safe and fair work environment, which is why we’ve asked the FLA to independently assess the performance of our largest suppliers,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The inspections now underway are unprecedented in the electronics industry, both in scale and scope, and we appreciate the FLA agreeing to take the unusual step of identifying the factories in their reports.”
* And the FBI says paying cash for coffee is a sign of terrorist intent. Yeah, that checks out.