10/30/2008 9:03:49 AM
Scientists think that human facial expressions have evolved over millions of years for better communication and empathy, Carl Zimmer writes for Discover. Babies instinctively mimic other people’s facial expressions, and some think this is helps them understand what grownups are thinking. Some go further, postulating that facial expressions actually create emotions. “When humans mimic others’ faces,” , “we don’t just go through the motions. We also go through the emotions.”
It makes sense, then, that emotional exchanges would be irrevocably altered by drugs like Botox. Plastic surgeons use Botox to make people look younger, but the drug also paralyzes facial muscles and inhibits facial expressions. Neuroscientists have tested patients using Dysport, a Botox-like drug found in Europe, by showing them images of angry faces and asking them to mimic or observe the expressions. Using brain scans, the scientists found that Dysport patients had weaker activity in the amygdala, a part of the brain that is key to experiencing emotions. This signals a change in the way that the Dysport patients experience emotions. Zimmer writes that through drugs like Botox and Dysport, “we’re tampering with the ancient lines of communication between face and brain that may change our minds in ways we don’t yet understand.”
10/29/2008 10:03:01 AM
During a speech in Pittsburgh last week, Salon.com reports that Sarah Palin took another swing at earmarked spending, giving a specific wink towards "fruit fly research in Paris, France!"
Palin was referring to money secured by California congressman Mike Thompson for the study of the olive fruit fly, according to Salon. The Alaska Governor opted not to tell the audience that the flies have been infesting olive groves for decades in Mediterranean climates (hence research in France) and more recently have started affecting crops in California. Thompson was adamant about his decision to fund studies of the pest, which he called "the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries.”
Palin may attack the program as frivolous, but fruit fly testing has proven indispensable in genetic research (it was through fruit flies that we discovered how chromosomes determine sex, for example), and it’s also helped scientists better understand autism, an issue in which Palin has repeatedly shown interest.
It's also worth noting that just a few months ago, Palin herself had pushed for earmarked money to study, among other things, the mating habits of crabs. That study seems less ridiculous when revealed that the money would be used to research "Bering Sea crab productivity and sustainability as necessary to restore crab stocks."
Attacking fruit fly and crab studies could make for a cheap political point in front of audiences, but a little more information shows that kind of research deserves respect.
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10/27/2008 3:44:39 PM
The blog techPresident used simple math to compare the presidential candidates’ presence on YouTube, and the numbers suggest that the Obama campaign has a more robust internet strategy. By multiplying the length of each Obama and McCain YouTube video by the number of views it received, the blog arrived at the candidates’ “YouTube video total watch time”:
Obama: 14,548,809.05 hours
McCain: 488,093.01 hours
If the campaigns had purchased that airtime on TV, it would’ve cost Obama an estimated $46 million, and McCain about $1.5 million (see techPresident for details on the math).
The numbers aren't perfect: The watch time and cost calculations account for only the videos generated by the campaigns, the watch times assume that videos were viewed in full, and comparing TV advertising to YouTube views is not “comparing apples to apples,” techPresident acknowledges. Still, the dramatic gap found here is likely indicative of the extent to which each campaign is capitalizing on this new frontier of internet campaign messaging.
And as the 2008 election season nears its conclusion, Obama and McCain aren't the only candidates continuing to populate the site with creative campaign gems. Take this video from Alaska Democrat Diane Benson, titled "Experience":
Well Diane, "Experience" was successful in at least one respect: It made the cut for Politico's 10 worst ads of the cycle. As for converting votes, I'm not so sure.
10/27/2008 3:14:41 PM
Scientists believe they may have figured out a way to erase specific memories from animals’ brains, Science News reports. For the experiment, researchers subjected a mouse to a series of electric shocks while in a chamber and while playing a sound. The mouse naturally created a memory associating the sound and the chamber with the shocks. Using a protein known as alpha-CaMKII, the scientists were able to disassociate specific parts of the mouse’s memory, so the subject would become scared when placed in the chamber but not when the sound was made, or vice versa. This way, researchers believe they have discovered a way to target and block certain memories, leaving others in tact.
The research may, in the future, lead to new ways to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, but Science a Go Go points out that a lot of work needs to be done before the scientists can start erasing specific memories in humans.
10/21/2008 8:13:19 AM
People don’t need alcohol to get drunk. The organizers of the “Expectancy Challenge” can prove it using groups of college students, a bar, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, Psychotherapy Networker reports. The key is that participants in the don’t know whether they’re being served the alcoholic or the non-alcoholic drinks. A few of the students inevitably end up drinking the non-alcoholic stuff, and still end up feeling drunk. Once they realize that they’ve been duped by their own brains, the program is able to teach them that you don’t need alcohol to have a good time.
10/17/2008 10:29:06 AM
Barack Obama may have a leg up on John McCain when it comes to TV advertising and video games embeds, but McCain has the advantage when it comes to robocalling, reports Wired. Shaun Dakin, who Wired describes as an “anti-robocall activist,” collected data showing that the McCain campaign ran 12 automated political telemarketing efforts in the past month and a half, compared to Obama’s four.
Recipients of the calls are greeted with automated messages like this one, sent to Talking Points Memo by a voter in North Carolina:
I'm calling on behalf of John McCain and the RNC because you need to know that Barack Obama and his Democrat allies in the Illinois Senate opposed a bill requiring doctors to care for babies born alive after surviving attempted abortions—a position at odds even with John Kerry and Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama and his liberal Democrats are too extreme for America. Please vote—vote for the candidates who share our values. This call was paid for by McCain-Palin 2008 and the Republican National Committee at 202 863 8500.
Will McCain’s army of tele-bots march him into the White House? Probably not. Wired cites a Pew Research Center survey that found that almost half of the voters in Iowa and New Hampshire who received robocalls hung up on the calls. According to Ben Smith of Politico, “Robocalls are a relatively inexpensive way to deliver a negative message, and used to be seen as an under-the-radar way to do it, though that's no longer really true.” Indeed, scripts and audio of McCain’s robocalls are popping up all over the Internet, though there's scant mention of what the Obama campaign's calls contain. And unfortunately for McCain, coverage of robocalling isn't translating into positive press.
Image by Joe Wu, licensed under Creative Commons.
10/16/2008 12:15:43 PM
Every new communication method is marked by the technology's first message sent. Colin Barras at the New Scientist rounded up the first messages broadcast with various devices, including the 8,500-year-old Chinese tortoise shells (“woman … eye … window”), Samuel Morse’s “a patient waiter is no loser” telegram in 1838, and “Merry Christmas,” the first text message in 1992.
New Scientist invites readers to submit their predictions for the next communications revolution: “What will be the next communication medium to change the world? And what would your first, historic message be?” One submission will be chosen to win a six-month subscription to the magazine.
I’ll get the ball rolling with my submissions:
1) A banner towed by an airplane bearing a message in LOL speak: “Oh hai! Im up in ur airspace, decorating ur sky!”
2) Subliminal messages embedded in presidential debates: “Attention Joe the Plumber: You are being exploited as a talking point.”
3) Hundred-mile-high lettering etched into the moon’s surface with dynamite: “I Am Writing On the Moon with Dynamite.”
Image by Bill Bradford, licensed by Creative Commons.
10/15/2008 12:04:58 PM
If you thought some quality time with your Xbox might help take your mind off the election, think again. The Obama campaign is doing everything it can to make sure you can’t escape them, including embedding their ads in video games. According to the Associated Press, Obama’s ads now appear in 18 Xbox games that are updated over the internet. A Politico reader sent Ben Smith a variety of screenshots of the ads, which tell voters that “early voting has begun.” They seem to run a fine line between brilliant and creepy, and blog comments show a mixed reaction.
“Frankly, this is smart of the Obama campaign,” Mark Kraft comments on Smiths article:
It reaches a good target audience with the right message—vote early—and will generate a lot of attention online. It makes those who are technology savvy out there think that Obama ‘gets it’, and is forward thinking. Lastly, it will help to get and keep younger voters involved towards the end of the campaign. Anything that gets them out from behind the game console is a good thing.
An anonymous commenter on the same article is troubled, however: “Kind of reminds me of communist China in the days of Mao when his likness [sic] was plastered everywhere.”
Commenting on the Huffington Post, cnobody dislikes the idea of ads in video games all together: “you pay for the game and then you pay a fee to play people online. you're paying to be advertised to. that's what i object to.” But commenter anokie sees the ads as a smart way to prime the youth vote of 2012: “this is GENIUS!!!!!!!!!!!.... talk about cultivatiing[sic] an electorate...think about all the 14 year olds that in 4 years, when Obama is up for relelection[sic], have already heard of him......GENIUS!!!!!”
10/10/2008 8:38:58 AM
Newly proposed rules for the U.S. Department of Agriculture could allow pharmaceuticals to invade the U.S. food supply, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The rules allow “pharma crops,” genetically modified plants designed to create pharmaceuticals or other industrial compounds, to be grown outdoors, instead of banning outdoor production, as the UCS recommended. The UCS released a statement saying that a rush to pass the rules before the end of the Bush administration could lead to the pharma crops contaminating other food-producing plants, and runs the possibility of putting drugs into people’s corn flakes.
10/8/2008 12:55:27 PM
Still reeling from the sting of voting irregularities in Florida in 2000 and Ohio in 2004, people are gearing up for a fight against voter suppression and disenfranchisement in the 2008 election. Technology is playing a big roll this year, getting out the word about voters’ rights and monitoring attempts to steal people’s votes.
Founded in response to the Florida debacle in 2000, the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition has stepped up its online efforts to disseminate the tools to fight voter suppression. It’s website, www.866ourvote.com, has an easy-to-use interface, allowing people to find out the specifics of how to vote in each state. A hotline (1-866-OUR-VOTE), an RSS feed, a Facebook group, a Twitter page, and a Spanish-language companion site help concerned citizens stay informed on news and receive updates about voter suppression. And according to the organization’s website, Election Protection has partnered with the Electronic Frontier Foundation to help coordinate information from some 10,000 volunteers monitoring voting irregularities around the country.
A newer effort to help protect the right to vote is the Voter Suppression Wiki, spearheaded by Baratunde Thurston of the blog JackandJillPolitics.com. Like a Wikipedia for voting irregularities, the website is designed to be a user-generated clearinghouse of information and action alerts on voter suppression around the country. There are discussion threads, an index of reported incidents, and an action center where concerned citizens can find out what to do next. A video introducing the site can be seen below.
Though raising awareness about voters' rights may be the key to a safe election, questions still remain over the security of e-voting machines around the country. One solution that’s gaining legitimacy is the idea of using open-source code in voting machines, Mark Anderson writes for IEEE Spectrum. Electronic voting machines currently in use are criticized as “buggy, easily subverted, and impossible to audit,” according to Anderson. Organizations like the Open Voting Consortium are trying to change that by opening the code to everyone, allowing ordinary citizens to test the software and look for possible vulnerabilities. Champions of the open source movement believe that sharing the code would make the voting machines more secure, and the process of voting more democratic.
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10/7/2008 4:07:06 PM
Just when you thought Google couldn’t get any more useful (or pervasive), engineers at Google Labs have launched Mail Goggles, a Gmail feature designed to prevent you from sending drunken emails you may regret in the morning. Here’s how it works: When the feature is enabled, Mail Goggles will ask you a series of basic timed math problems to see if you’re functional enough to know what you’re typing. If you pass, your message will be sent. If you fail, it’s probably best to wait until morning to write to your ex (or mother or boss).
To activate Mail Goggles in Gmail, go to the settings, click on "labs" on the right-hand side, and scroll down to find it. The default active time frame for the feature is late at night on weekends, but you can tailor it to your specific needs; say, if you tend to go overboard on the Bloody Marys during brunch, or if you plan on playing one of several drinking games designed for the presidential debates.
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10/7/2008 10:25:41 AM
John McCain and Barack Obama “represent distinct cognitive styles” and have “starkly different approaches to decision-making,” Jonah Lehrer writes for the Boston Globe. According to Lehrer, the contrast between the two candidates makes the 2008 election not just an assessment of who's right on the issues, but "a referendum on the best mode of thinking.” Lehrer cites psychological research on how good decisions are made to evaluate the strengths of McCain and Obama’s cognitive styles. Some studies imply that gut instincts, which McCain often relies on, are a great asset in complicated decision making. Others contend that good judgment is more likely to spring from active introspection, which is more Obama’s style.
Either approach, according to Lehrer, “is inherently flawed” as an absolute methodology. It’s important for decision makers to “constantly reflect on their own thought process” and to enlist advisers that will challenge their decisions. Psychologist Philip Tetlock tells Lehrer, “We should see self-awareness and even self-doubt as a sign of strength, not as a sign of weakness.” That may be true, but in a presidential campaign, self-doubt is often attacked as unpresidential.
“The ideal president,” Lehrer writes, “won't conform to the current cliches of presidential decision-making. He'll exude confidence in public, but behind the scenes he'll accept his fallibility and seek out those who disagree with him. He won't fixate on rational deliberation - or worship the power of his intuition. The brain is not a hammer, and not every problem is a nail.”
10/3/2008 2:45:46 PM
Engineers at MIT have developed a way to produce smell receptors in a lab, reports ScienceDaily. This might not seem like big news, but scientists have been trying to develop this kind of technology for years. Developing artificial smell sensors could help law enforcement officials replace drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs, which take extensive time and money to train, with artificial noses. Also, considering that diseases including diabetes, asthma, and certain types of cancer have a particular smell, the technology could be used to make early, potentially life-saving diagnoses.
Image courtesy of tuexperto_com3, license under Creative Commons.
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