31 May 2010

Daily Digest, 31.05.2010

ABC News (that's the Australian Broadcasting Corporation for you parochial Americans) reports on the discovery of what may be the oldest known rock painting in Australia, which appears to represent Genyornis, a giant (2–2.5 m tall) emu-like bird that that has been extinct for more than 40,000 years.

Wiring the Brain reviews recent studies on the genetic component of homosexuality.
"The broad conclusions are that sexual orientation is an
innate disposition – no different from whether you are left or
right-handed – that it is affected by genetic influences and that it
reflects differences in brain structure and function."
No surprise there, but quite a lot of people seem to need constant reminding.

And lest you think there aren't people who need reminding, The Economist, following the brutal sentence imposed on the gay couple Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga in Malawi last week, reports on the generally sorry state of gay rights in developing countries:
"Some 80 countries criminalise consensual homosexual sex. Over half rely
on “sodomy” laws left over from British colonialism. But many are trying
to make their laws even more repressive."

A lovely and profound essay by Angus McCullough at 3quarksdaily on the connection between Tetris and Confucianism, touching along the way on Tetris as ritual, the scientific research on Tetris, and Csikszentmihalyi's notion of "flow." I went through an extended Tetris phase (or perhaps two) a few years ago, and have often experienced the "Tetris Effect" (a similar effect appeared, more mundanely and recently, after bouts of Bejeweled Blitz). My current gaming ritual is, after breakfast, to play my favorite solitaire game, La Belle Lucie, until I win.

A spectacular, beautiful, and downloadable image from the Chandra X-ray Observatory of the remnants of N49, a supernova in the Large Magellanic Cloud (by way of io9).

Spiegel Online International reports (in English) on the Foxconn manufacturing complexes in China, which are the source of our iPhones, iPads, and many other consumer tech gewgaws (and I lust after an iPhone just as much or more than the next person).  At least 13 workers have attempted suicide (and 10 were successful) at the Foxconn complexes since the beginning of the year.  Spiegel investigates the conditions that may drive them to it.

Vaughan at Mind Hacks writes on unusual objects that have penetrated human brains.

Vaughan also summarizes a discussion (at the forensic psychology blog In the news) of psychologist Robert Hare's threatened suit against the journal Psychological Assessment and researchers Jennifer Skeem and David Cooke. Hare developed the "Hare Psychopathy Checklist" (PCL-R), a standard diagnostic took often used in court cases, and (as Vaughan writes) a "big business." Hare threatened to sue Psychological Assessment if it published Skeem and Cooke's critical analysis of the methodology of the checklist, after the article had been peer-reviewed and accepted for publication.  The article has not appeared.  Can you say "bad precedent"?

Blair Bolles at Babel's Dawn discusses Elliott D. Ross's notion of cognitive functions as emergent properties, the "efficient brain," and the possible implications of that idea for brain evolution. 

Ross's paper, "Cerebral Localization of Functions and the Neurology of Language: Fact versus Fiction or Is It Something Else?," in The Neuroscientist, sounds well worth reading. Unfortunately it is behind a pay-wall at Sage Journals, and costs $32.00 for 24-hour access from a single computer to 21-page pdf. My friends look astonished when I give examples of the pricing of scientific articles, and the insulting conditions under which they are offered. They assume that cases like this must be flukes. But this has become the norm.

You'd think people would be marching in the streets over this by now, but we've all become terribly complacent.

"Mozart effect-Schmozart effect: A meta-analysis," in the journal Intelligence, by way of Dienekes (you can read the abstract at either link). The article is behind a pay-wall at ScienceDirect, and costs a laughable $31.50 for a 9-page pdf. But hey, you didn't believe in the Mozart effect, anyway, right?  Right?

On the topic of open access, Stephen Ramsay has posted a must-read response to Dan Cohen's must-read "Open Access Publishing and Scholarly Values," which I linked to a few days ago. Ramsay points out that scholars rarely if ever read the published work of their colleagues when considering tenure and promotion (and, one might add, when conducting job searches). Thus elite journals and academic publishers become places to outsource judgments of academic value: we don't have to read your work because it has the imprimatur of a prestigious journal name and its anonymous peer reviewers. Exactly.

Most eye-catching blog-post title of the day: "Did fornicating Farm Girls boost the rise of atheism in Britain" over at Epiphenom.

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