09 June 2010

Daily Digest, 09.06.2010

Lots of excellent links and interesting happenings today:

Is the World Cup bad for your health?; European anti-Semitism on the rise; does citation count depend on journal prestige?; the "flash lag illusion" and the blown Galarraga call; lady humpback whale meet-ups; more on the snake shortage; more on SSRIs and suicide; a new study of the genetics of autism; a new study of Jewish genetics (the second in as many weeks); University of California system proposes boycott of Nature Publishing Group over price hikes; direct recordings of pitch responses from the human auditory cortex; the week in UK science journalism (with great links); Giuseppe Taddei dies; does opera have a future?

"Is the World Cup Bad for your Health?" Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune cites recent research suggesting that it might well be. At least if your team loses. (I didn't click on any of the links to the research articles because I just know I'm going to run into paywalls, and my head already hurts; see below.)

Why is anti-Semitism apparently on the rise in Europe? Michael Scott Moore at Miller-McCune investigates.

Philip Davis at The Scholarly Kitchen critiques a recent paper suggesting that citation count for a research article varies linearly with the prestige (the "impact factor") of the journal in which the article is published.

Why do we care? Because the issues of citation count, impact factor, and journal prestige are linchpins of the academic "certification system" (see the end of my post yesterday on the Khan academy). And the impact factor of a journal seems to be one of the principal rationales for the absurd prices charged for subscriptions and single pdfs (see my posts on "Closed Access"); at any rate, the costs of production alone don't even come close to accounting for the prices. This rationale seems to be an example of the kind of thinking that keeps prices for, say, Apple products high: if it's expensive, it must be good....and not coincidentally, it may lend "distinction" (in Bourdieu's sense).

But for the cost of the ten research articles I didn't buy last week, I could have covered half the cost of an iPad, or the complete cost of an iPod Touch.  Or had my car fixed....

And that doesn't even take into to account the total cost of the articles mentioned into today's digest, which I've been too discouraged even to add up—although you can rest assured they will all appear in my weekly summary table this weekend.

A fascinating, clear, and detailed post by Brad Walters at Cortical Hemming and Hawing explaining how the "flash lag" illusion may explain umpire Jim Joyce's blown call at first base last week that robbed Armando Galarraga of the Detroit Tigers of what would have been only the 21st perfect game in MLB history.

80beats reports on a new study showing that female humpback whales sometimes form "friendships" that persist over several years, even though the friends meet only during the summers in the open ocean. The article is Christian Ramp et al. (2010), "Age-related multi-year associations in female humpback whales (Megaptera novaeanglieae), Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. The abstract is here. The article is behind a paywall, and access to the pdf costs $34.00 from Springer Verlag.

also follows up on the new article about the snake shortage. The article in question, published online in advance of print at Biology Letters, is:  C. J. Reading et al., "Are snake populations in widespread decline?" The abstract is here. 30-day access to the article online costs $33.00, through Royal Society Publishing.

Jennifer Gibson at Brain Blogger has contributed a helpful summary (with bibliography) of recent research on SSRIs and their possible role in the increase of suicidal ideation, particularly in children and adolescents. Her summary is in the context of her discussion of a new study in the journal Pediatrics that finds no difference in the prevalence of suicidal thoughts or behavior across 21,000 patients aged 10 to 18, regardless of the type of antidepressant medication they were taking, SSRI or otherwise. Gibson makes no mention of a control group in the study.

The article is S. Schneeweiss et al. (2010), "Comparative safety of antidepressant agents for children and adolescents regarding suicidal acts," Pediatrics. The article costs $12.00 for 48-hour access from a single computer. The research was supported in part by a grant from the N.I.H., which, thanks to PubMed, I don't have to buy the article to find out.  

BBC News reports on a new study in Nature on the genetics of autism (found via io9). However, I'd suggest reading instead the story by Tina Hesman Saey at ScienceNews, which is more detailed and more accurate. Researchers studied copy number variations (missing or duplicated sections of DNA) in 996 people with autism and 1,287 people without the condition. The study "identified 25 places in the genome that may help in diagnosing autism," according to Saey. The bottom line is that (as Saey writes) "Each person with autism may have their own genetic version of the developmental disorder."

It's interesting to compare Seay's report with the BBC's, which conflicts with Seay's in many details. It seems very likely that Seay's is the (much) more accurate report in this case.

The study is Dalila Pinto, et al. (2010), "Functional impact of global rare copy number variation in autism spectrum disorders." I just successfully downloaded the pdf, so it appears to be free, for now.  

Nature has also just published a new study of the genetics of Jewish populations, following hot on the heels of the one that appeared just a few days ago. For a quick summary, see Dienekes. The article is Doron M. Behar et al. (2010), "The genome-wide structure of the Jewish people." This one is, unfortunately, not free; it costs $32.00 for a pdf in advance of print publication.

Speaking of high prices at Nature: the University of California system is considering a boycott of the Nature Publishing Group. A letter dated 4 June 2010 from Laine Farley, Executive Director of the California Digital Library to all UC division chairs and faculty states "NPG has insisted on increasing the price of our license for Nature and its affiliated journals by 400 percent beginning in 2011, which would raise our cost for their 67 journals by well over $1 million dollars per year." Farley's letter can be downloaded through a link here.

Current Biology has just published "Direct Recordings of Pitch Responses from Human Auditory Cortex." The summary is here. A pdf of the article costs $31.50 from ScienceDirect. Pity. I'd definitely read that one.

Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has just published a great roundup of the week in UK science journalism, with several links that I hope to have time to pursue.  The new Story Trackers at the Guardian sound particularly cool. The Story Tracker to which Ed links covers the new paper on the genetics of autism.

The great Italian baritone Giuseppe Taddei died today in Rome at the age of 93. Although he made his debut in 1936, his debut at the Met came only in 1985, at the age of 69. The obituary in the NYT explains why.

Normally I don't pay much attention to Norman Lebrecht, but his post today on his blog Slipped disc at ArtsJournal, "Does opera have a future?," is worth reading, if only for some choice examples of recent excesses in Regietheater.

And now I'd better post this before even more interesting things turn up.

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