7/29/2009 5:26:18 PM
At a recent concert, Van Morrison uttered the vulgar phrase, “Fucking shut the fuck up.” The sentence presents a challenge to the linguistic minds at Language Log. The different uses of the word “fuck” don’t affect the meaning of the sentence, since the sentiment could be conveyed simply as “shut up.” According to the blog, “The main syntactic problem is to determine whether the fuck is being used as an pleonastic (semantically empty) direct object of shut or as a pre-head modifier of the preposition phrase (PP) headed by up.” The author concludes the latter.
7/28/2009 7:29:27 PM
Creativity is not a trait that people either have or they don’t. It’s surprisingly orderly, it can be learned. Robert Epstein told the Scientific American, “I think that the fact that creativity is orderly is good news, because it means we can all tap into this rich potential we all have.”
One way to boost creativity is by thinking about problems as abstract. Studies cited by the Scientific American found that picturing problems as more distant in time or space can lead to more creative solutions. In one study, researchers asked people to devise transportation solutions for different cities. The participants who were asked about distant cities came up with more creative solutions than the people who were asked about cities that were close to them.
The Scientific American reports: “Although the geographical origin of the various tasks was completely irrelevant – it shouldn’t have mattered where the questions came from – simply telling subjects that they came from somewhere far away led to more creative thoughts.”
This research suggests that problems may be solved simply by thinking about them as further away. It also suggests, according to the article, “traveling to faraway places (or even just thinking about such places), thinking about the distant future, communicating with people who are dissimilar to us, and considering unlikely alternatives to reality” would likely make people more creative.
Image by estoril, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/27/2009 5:16:07 PM
A vacationer gazes at a serene sunset over the Mediterranean Sea and whips out his cell phones to compose the perfect Twitter message. Call it an addiction, but according to danah boyd, this need to obsessively update social networking sites is simply the latest embodiment of the human need to share—and sometimes over-share. She writes, “I really wouldn't be surprised if we found a cave painting that outlined what the dwellers ate for breakfast. So why are we so offended when people use the internet to do this?” The issue for boyd is one of moderation:
We like when people share their records. Until we don't. Cuz we also know that there is the notion of Too Much. There are only so many baby photos you can take of a baby that's not related to you before you scream Too Much. There are only so many home videos that you can take until you scream Too Much. And there are only so many vacation photos you can take until you scream Too Much.
7/23/2009 4:59:20 PM
The American Civil Liberties Union and the Public Patent Foundation are challenging the constitutionality of gene patents, reports Censorship News, the newsletter of the National Coalition Against Censorship. The groups recently filed a case, “Association for Molecular Pathology, et al. v. United States Patent and Trademark Office, et al.,” which concerns two patents held on mutations of the BRCA gene.
Mutations of this gene are linked to increased risk for breast and ovarian cancer, and the patents have been used to prevent other researchers from doing work involving the gene. “Like the ACLU, we think this violates the First Amendment,” Censorship News asserts, and promises to keep its readers updated on developments in the case.
Source: Censorship News
Image by mira66, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/23/2009 4:22:28 PM
“Sometimes the only thing worse than homeopathic products that have no effect are the ones that do,” Terry J. Allen writes for In These Times. Allen is referring to certain Zicam products, popular homeopathic cold remedies that contain “pharmaceutically significant” amounts of zinc. Zinc can cause anosmia—loss of the ability to smell—when taken intranasally, which is the case with Zicam.
Back in June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning for consumers to stop using the Zicam products in question. Allen says that the incident shines a bright light on “the giant regulatory loophole that is homeopathy.” While the FDA requires conventional prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines go through testing to be proven safe and effective, these regulations do not apply to homeopathic solutions.
The FDA reserves the right to step in when necessary, which is what happened in June. Up until then, however, this loophole allowed Zicam-maker Matrixx “to slap on the label ‘homeopathic,’ slip under the regulatory wire, and sell 1 billion doses of untested Zicam,” Allen writes.
Source: In These Times
7/23/2009 3:27:44 PM
Most phones can take photos and send texts. Now, researchers have developed one that can diagnose disease. Technology Review reports that the new “Cellscope” works like a microscope that straps onto cell phones to analyze spit or blood samples on slides. The contraption can use specialized software to diagnose the samples on the spot, or it can send the images off to specialized centers for further study. Experts believe the technology could prove helpful in remote parts of the world—where health infrastructure is lacking but cell phone coverage is improving—in helping to treat common diseases like tuberculosis and malaria.
Source: Technology Review
David N. Breslauer et al.
, from PLOS1.
7/23/2009 3:20:03 PM
With binge drinking and alcohol-related hospital visits ever on the rise in young people, perhaps it’s time to come up with a plan B. As professor John McCardell puts it, “Clearly state laws mandating a minimum drinking age of 21 haven’t eliminated drinking by young adults—they’ve simply driven it underground, where life and health are at greater risk.”
As part of The Atlantic’s annual ideas issue, McCardell offers up his solution to curb the prominence of underage imbibing. His first recommendation is to do away with the yanking of highways funds from states who would dare lower the legal age so we make some “adult” adjustments. With that change, he has a few suggestions for states:
They might license 18-year-olds—adults in the eyes of the law—to drink, provided they’ve completed high school, attended an alcohol education course (that consists of more than temperance lectures and scare tactics), and kept a clean record. They might even mandate alcohol education at a young age. And they might also adopt zero-tolerance laws for drunk drivers of all ages, and require ignition interlocks on their cars.
What do you think? Could initiatives like these actually make a difference?
Source: The Atlantic
7/22/2009 12:58:37 PM
Married men with Asperger’s Syndrome, a socially alienating form of autism, often make extremely loyal and hardworking spouses, writes Richard Howlin for Psychotherapy Networker. “Their single-minded focus appears to filter out the distracting social world and they often show immense dedication to their families,” he adds.
But in some cases, Howlin, a clinical developmental psychologist, has found women want their husbands with Asperger's to become more relational, which leads to confusion and avoidance when interpersonal conflicts arise. He writes about one of his clients:
I've always been taken by the idea that there are conventional and unconventional ways of expressing love in any given situation. As relational beings, we have to be clear about what kind of expression we need or desire. Like most high-functioning men with AS, Mark understood the core of love to be loyalty, dependability, and hard work. Cathy will need to come to terms with the possibility that this may not be enough for her. The decision about whether Mark ultimately offers her the kind of affection and growth she's looking for in a relationship can only be made by her.
Source: Psychotherapy Networker
Image by Joe in DC, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/20/2009 2:40:30 PM
It’s time to limit the love and attention lavished on iPhones, Lisa Katayama argues on Boing Boing Gadgets. At first, “I pretended not to care while [my boyfriend] lay in bed smoothing his finger across the unlock bar, and sat stoically at the other end of the dinner table as he and the iPhone whispered sweet nothings to each other,” Katayama writes. “I get it. It’s exciting to be in love with something new.”
“But after several months of this, I started to question whether something was being lost because of my boyfriend’s intense iPhone infatuation. Did we still have stuff to talk about other than new apps and ATT’s shitty cell phone signal in our neighborhood? Was I just hating because I subconsciously want an iPhone, too?”
Their solution: ground rules. No iPhones in bed. No iPhones at the dinner table. On that second count, though—because a little understanding never hurt anyone—“I usually let a short half-minute peek slide every now and then, so he can scratch what itches,” Katayama admits.
Source: Boing Boing Gadgets
7/20/2009 1:52:54 PM
The August issue of Ode magazine is all about laughing—from laughter yoga to the scientific benefits of giggling to an especially interesting article written by Blaine Greteman that delves into the evolution of laughter:
Today, we tend to focus on “he who laughs last.” But he who first burst forth with our characteristic “ha-ha-ha” took a major evolutionary leap toward humanity as we know it. Laughter is ancient, predating the development of language. It’s ubiquitous; all mammals do it, panting with delight in response to tickling or pratfalls, as noted by none other than Charles Darwin. It’s also one of the first things babies learn. Now, though, scientists are asking two dead serious questions: Where does laughter come from? And why do we do it?
Greteman begins to answer these questions with the research of scientist Robert Provine:
If you digitally remove the “ha” sound from a human laugh the way Provine has in a recording studio, you hear a long exhalation or sigh. This extended sigh may be our most primal existential defense mechanism, controlling our breathing in ways known to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Decoupling the laugh from respiration—so that we can giggle instead of pant—was a crucial evolutionary moment, Provine postulates, because it enabled the vocal control that allowed us to make all kinds of other “fancy sounds” needed for speech.
Source: Ode (article not available online)
Image by Jimbowen0306, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/17/2009 12:18:20 PM
Wow, if this continental drift animation is at all accurate, you're totally going to be able to see Africa from your house.
7/15/2009 3:10:11 PM
If a person truly believes that a sugar pill can ease pain, it probably will. If you believe that expensive, name-brand drugs will work better than cheap generics with the same ingredients, they probably will—for you. Scientists call this the placebo effect. According to Utne Reader’s September-October issue, “sincere belief triggers bona fide reactions in the brain.”
The same power can also be harnessed to hurt people. If a person believes something will harm them, rational or not, the belief can destroy a person’s health, according to Brain Blogger. This phenomenon, called “nocebo” effect, has been little studied, in part because of ethical concerns for patients. Brain Blogger reports that there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to prove the nocebo effect’s existence: People have died after receiving a terminal diagnosis, when a post mortem examination revealed that the diagnosis was wrong. The effect could also explain the power of hexes and voodoo curses.
, licensed under
7/15/2009 12:40:07 PM
The American public loves science, but scientists don’t love the American public back. The Pew Center for People & the Press reports that Americans hold scientists in high esteem, while “many scientists offer unfavorable, if not critical, assessments of the public’s knowledge and expectations.” (The Pew Center offers a test to see how you well your knowledge stacks up to the rest of the American public.)
The admiration given to scientists is also mixed with fear, Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum write for Salon. Americans tend to view scientists “as idiosyncratic nerds or actively the villains,” in the words of Hollywood director James Cameron. That’s an unhealthy place for science in American culture. Kirshenbaum and Mooney write that the wide canon of movies depicting mad scientists hell-bent on destroying the world has fostered a deep mistrust of scientists in real life.
Many scientists blame the media for the science’s image problems. Almost half of scientists polled by the Pew Center believe that media oversimplification is a “major problem.” The flaw in that view, according to Kirshenbaum and Mooney, is that real science would make for really boring movies. Scientists need to “connect with Hollywood on its own terms,” Kirshenbaum and Mooney write, and help them see that science doesn’t need to be the enemy to make a good film. Then, perhaps, science in the public could live happily ever after.
Sources: Pew Center, Salon
Image adapted from a photo by
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7/15/2009 12:33:27 PM
Once upon a time, Charles Darwin found himself in a pickle called sexual selection. While contemplating natural selection, Darwin wondered why male peacocks, for instance, waste energy growing elaborate tails that don’t always influence productive mating habits. As it turns out, “There may be survival of the fittest, but there’s also survival of the sexiest.”
Susan Milius, for Science News, highlights a few recent explanations for this confusing process. Some scientists pose the handicap principle, in which a tail “stays reliable as a badge of quality across generations only if good tails present a handicap that not all individuals can overcome.” Others say male beetles’ harmful genitalia, which “look more like instruments of war,” may be products of “an ongoing arms race between the sexes.” However, “one of the biggest developments in the theory of sexual selection has been the recognition that females in many species aren’t monogamous.” Yes, ladies can (and do) see past a pretty face.
Source: Science News.
Image by ToastyKen, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/13/2009 3:23:17 PM
People named Aaron or Betty are more likely to get better grades in school than people named Chris or Dave, according to research cited by PsyBlog. The study, which focused on MBA applicants over 15 years, found that people with the initials A or B had higher grade point averages than people with the initials C or D. The study also found that professional baseball players whose first or last names began with K (the baseball shorthand for a strikeout) were more likely to strikeout than any other players.
An “implicit egotism” may explain the statistical differences, according to the blog. People are unconsciously drawn toward outcomes that resemble their own names, because of an innate preference that people have for their names.
Image by TheeErin, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/10/2009 3:52:01 PM
People assume that war is inevitable, and that war always has been and always will be a part of the human experience. Science is now proving that is wrong. “A growing number of experts are now arguing that the urge to wage war is not innate,” John Horgan writes for the New Scientist, “and that humanity is already moving in a direction that could make war a thing of the past.”
War is an effect of lifestyle more than any innate warring tendencies, according to some anthropologists. Brian Ferguson of Rutgers University thinks that war first seeped into human culture when we stopped our nomadic lifestyle and shifted to a more settled, agrarian way of life. Individual aggression has always existed, but group warfare is more of a response to environmental conditions, like scarcity, rather than any innate biological need.
Atomic bombs, high-tech weaponry, and the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan could lead people to think that society is getting more war-like, but experts believe that humans are actually moving toward a more peaceful world. Violent deaths were far more likely when people fought with clubs and spears than they are today. “Most conflicts now consist of guerilla wars, insurgencies and terrorism,” Horgan writes. Experts have called these more recent conflicts, “the remnants of war.”
Source: The New Scientist
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7/7/2009 1:52:01 PM
The only thing more unsettling than reading about “neural avalanches” in your brain is watching them. Ah, brain science. Enjoy!
Source: New Scientist
7/6/2009 3:31:48 PM
Memory is not a fixed, static impression left on a person’s brain. Researchers have found that “the very act of remembering could change the memory,” Joseph LeDoux writes for the Scientist. Using that knowledge, his colleagues are working on ways that specific memories could be simply erased from people’s brains. LeDoux asks, “Could traumatic memories be dampened or erased simply by remembering?”
The research is already leading to experiments in lessening post traumatic stress disorder using drugs, as reported on Utne.com. Many have worry about the ethical implications of messing with people’s memories, but according to LeDoux, patients who suffer from reactions to memories they can’t control have said that they would rather risk losing a memory or two if it meant being able to remove the debilitating ones.”
People wouldn’t need to stop at bad memories, Greg Beato writes for Reason. Erasing the good memories from people’s brains could make life a lot more enjoyable. “Imagine falling in love for the first time, again and again and again,” Beato writes, “hearing your all-time favorite album with completely fresh ears; rediscovering the virtues of martinis.” People would no longer get bored with their jobs, their spouses, their music collections, and could continue to experience life as if for the first time.
Sources: The Scientist (subscription required), Reason
Image by Sergio Tudela, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/6/2009 12:00:45 PM
The Pope wants his flock to get online and start blogging. In a recent announcement, Pope Benedict XVI extolled the virtues of the world wide web saying, “Young people in particular, I appeal to you: bear witness to your faith through the digital world!” A recent article in the Smart Set points out that religion’s embrace of emerging technologies extends back further than the current, blog-loving pontiff. The Gutenberg bible was cutting-edge media for its time, and the clothespin, the wheel-driven washing machine, and the circular saw were all invented by the industrious Shaker Christians. (Though their sex-adverse beliefs, rather than their ingenious inventions, were likely what doomed the sect.) Golberg also shows how the story of Noah’s ark could be considered a parable for the benefits of embracing technology, before it’s too late.
Source: The Smart Set
7/1/2009 10:32:22 AM
Two brothers named Jim, dubbed the “Jim twins,” were separated when they were just four weeks old and didn’t meet again for some 38 years. In spite of their distance, the “Jim twins” both married women named Linda, divorced and married women named Betty, named their sons James (one James Allen and the other James Alan), worked as firemen and sheriffs, smoked Salem cigarettes, drove light-blue Chevrolets, vacationed in Pass-a-Grille Beach, Florida, and had practically identical facial expressions, IQs, habits, brain waves, and handwriting. They died on the same day after suffering from the same illness.
There may be genetic explanations for these bizarre similarities and similar cases of separated identical twins, Diane H. Powell writes for Shift magazine. The article still leaves room for the possibility that science cannot explain the mysteries of telepathy. The newest research, according to Powell, suggests that the most alike twins are those whose embryos separate only one day before becoming physically conjoined twins. Twins are least alike when the eggs separate during the first four days of pregnancy.
Even those who do not share a biological connection sometimes have telepathic experiences, according to Powell, which leads to more unanswerable questions. The bottom line seems to be that perhaps telepathy cannot be completely explained by science.
Source: Shift (article not available online)
Image by Zabowski, licensed under Creative Commons.
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