14 June 2010

Daily Digest, 14.06.2010

Today: How to know when a mouse is in pain; does music study help middle school students learn algebra?; corporations will do whatever the law allows; why are most academics leftist but non-egalitarian?; U.S. considers deporting "illegal" Harvard student who has lived in U.S. since age of 4; Orwell self-edits.

Neuroskeptic reports on a new study demonstrating that one can tell when mice are feeling pain because of characteristic facial expressions: "narrowing of the eyes, bulging nose and cheeks, ears pulled back, and whiskers either pulled back or forwards."

The article is D. Langford et al. (2010), "Coding of facial expressions of pain in the laboratory mouse," Nature Methods. The article is behind a paywall, and costs $32.00.

Does music study in middle school help students learn algebra? Yes, according to a new study covered by Tom Jacobs at Miller-McCune Online. According to Jacobs:
While Helmrich notes the link between music instruction and algebra achievement “most likely lies in a combination of factors,” she argues the primary effect is a matter of enhanced braindevelopment. Middle-school music instruction “takes place during a time (age 10-12) in which a proliferation of new synapses occurs in the developing brain,” she writes.
This sounds entirely speculative (which of course doesn't mean it's false).

The article is Barbara H. Helmrich (2010), "Window of Opportunity? Adolescence, Music, and Algebra," in Journal of Adolescent Research. It is behind a paywall, and costs $25.00 for 24-hour access from Sage Journals Online. It would be interesting to investigate whether the experimental design and data analysis of this paper support the conclusion, but of course it is too expensive for an unaffiliated nonentity to do this.

Jeff Strabone at 3quarksdaily has published an essay on corporate behavior and the law, entitled "They will do whatever the law allows: or, Don't hate the player, change the game."

Why are academics (particularly tenured ones) so often both leftist and non-egalitarian? Nicolas Baumard, at cognition and culture explains his theory, in "Why do academics oppose capitalism?" 

He suggests that academics have been indoctrinated during their own educations to be meritocratic, and feel that they are not justly rewarded for their merits. Thus they feel that capitalism is inherently flawed. And since they're convinced that they merit their positions, they're perfectly fine with treating the non-tenured and overworked graduate students like peons and wage slaves. (This will not come as an enormous surprise to those who have been junior faculty or graduate students.)  Baumard writes:
Thus, academics oppose capitalism, but they are not egalitarian. Indeed, according to egalitarianism, à la Rawls, distribution is not based on merit. Everyone deserves an equal share of the benefit of the society and one should depart from equality only if it improves the welfare of the worst-off. Contrary to egalitarianism, academics are perfectly fine with the idea that professors should earn more and that you have to suffer to deserve a tenure position. They are meritocratic and that stance is precisely what makes them oppose market economy. To sum up, one can be leftist and be fine with inequality.
I hope to follow up on Baumard's references to writings by Megan McArdle and Robert Nozick.

Harvard sophomore Eric Balderas, who has lived in the United States "unlawfully" (that is, he is undocumented) since the age of 4.  He was just recently arrested as he tried to board a flight from San Antonio, where he had been visiting his mother, to Boston. Maria Saccheti reports the story in the Boston Globe.

Finally, a beautiful (to my underused scholar's eye) document: the first, very heavily edited page of the typescript of Orwell's 1984, in which Orwell finally settles on the first line, "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." Via OnFiction.

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