13 June 2010

Weekend Roundup, 12-13 June 2010

This Weekend: Air Canada breaks lute; psychopaths explained; John Hawks on Koobi Fora; Quick Links.

CBC News reports that Air Canada "snapped in half" the lute of Michel Cardin of the University of Moncton. Cardin was devastated:
"I don't know if you can imagine when you have an instrument like
that and it represents all your life and it's your way of expression,"
he said.
"It's as if the doctor told you [that] you can't speak anymore for
the rest of your life."
Michel, I feel your pain. Losing an instrument you love is horrible. But Michel, listen: you can buy a new lute.  It isn't even remotely like being told you can't speak for the rest of your life.

Wiring the Brain has a good piece on psychopathy (the piece is mirrored at Gene Expression, where I read it): "Bad to the bone: the genes and brains of psychopaths." A couple of quotes:
Psychopaths are characterised by an absence of empathy and poor impulse control, with a total lack of conscience .... They tend to be egocentric, callous, manipulative, deceptive, superficial, irresponsible and parasitic, even predatory. The majority of psychopaths are not violent and many do very well in jobs where their personality traits are advantageous and their social tendencies tolerated. However, some have a predisposition to calculated, “instrumental” violence; violence that is cold-blooded, planned and goal-directed.
Boy that takes me back! Finally, a good description of my ex-girlfriend. (No seriously: I think she might be a good candidate for the proposed dimensional model in the DSM-V: she meets many of the diagnostic criteria of psychopathy, with some traits of borderline-personality disorder, and....but I digress....).

WTB continues:
All of these findings are pointing to a picture of psychopathy as an innate, genetically driven difference in connectivity between parts of the brain that normally drive empathy, conscience and impulse control. Not a fault necessarily, and not something that could be classified as a disease or that is always a disadvantage. At a certain frequency in the population, the traits of psychopathy may be highly advantageous to the individual.
The piece cites an article by M. Craig et al. (2010), "Altered connections on the road to psychopathy," Molecular Psychiatry. The article is behind a paywall, and costs $32.00. Molecular Psychiatry is one of the journals of the Nature Publishing Group (aka Nonstop Price Gouging).

John Hawks has an excellent follow-up on the story about the fish, turtle, and crocodile remains at Koobi Fora, and what these imply (or don't) about our distant (1.95 mya) ancestors' diet. As usual, a clearheaded assessment, pointing out why the media excitement was overblown, but also why the story is interesting. A couple of quotes:
But....I think that the relevance of the aquatic animals has been exaggerated. According to the MNI (minimum number of individuals) table in the paper, the turtle and crocodile bones may represent one single turtle and one crocodile. The number of fish bones is also very small -- only 15 total, and the authors do not provide an MNI for fish. Compare these small numbers to a minimum of 11 hippopotamus individuals represented by in situ bone elements, and 17 bovids. One turtle. Seventeen bovids.


The site really does not provide any evidence that reptiles and fish simply made up a large fraction of the meat consumed there. From my perspective, I think that's just fine. Aquatic animals aren't important because of their sheer numbers, but because they tell us about the flexibility of foraging behavior.
And he examines the unfortunate Lamarckian sound of the original, giving his take on what the authors probably really meant (we hope).

Quick links (including some tabs that have been hanging around for several days):

•Razib Khan at Gene Expression on "Genetics & the Jews (it's still complicated)," with his take on the two papers on this topic that have appeared in the past couple of weeks.

•Tom Rees at epiphenom on "Religion and the case of the disappearing right-brain." What cases of right-brain damage can tell us about religious feelings.

•Sue Halpern at the NYR Blog on "What the iPad Can't Do."  Basically, it can't provide a usable way to write annotations in the margins. Yet.

•Did Mars once have an ocean? NatureNews reports. The article is: G. Di Achille and B. M. Hynak (2010), "Ancient ocean on Mars supported by global distribution of deltas and valleys," in Nature Geoscience. The article is behind a paywall, and the pdf (available in advance of publication) costs $18.00.

•A new online journal of Lady Gaga studies. (I haven't investigated whether it is Open or Closed Access.)

•Under the rubric "Stupid Editing Rules" (see my post of 9 June): it is widely reported (so it must be true, right?) that the New York Times has banned the use of the verb "tweet" to refer to what one does on Twitter. In spite of the fact that everyone who actually uses Twitter uses the word for this. But editors always know best.

•Stupid science headline of the day (people who prepare press releases and run press release services like ScienceDaily really ought to have studied at least a little bit of the science they write about): "Flu's Evolution Strategy Strikes a Perfect Balance." Nope, flu viruses do not have a strategy. And neither does evolution.

•"What is Art," the first in a series of videos by Lars Vilks, "PhD in History of Art."

Perhaps somewhere along the dimension (I'm not quite sure where) between profundity and The Onion.

•And much further to the right (perhaps off the scale) on that dimension: Tarvuism, the religion that believes there are two universes, octupuses are holy creatures, and that we should all be "nice."
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