08 July 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.07.07

Wednesday: the management of ScienceBlogs suffers potentially fatal fit of insanity; smart squirrels; the Dunning-Kruger effect and its discontents; more on language universals; 800,000-year-old flint tools in Happisburgh; the science of networking; weird and beautiful critters of the deep; tarballs tarballs everywhere; a stupid "science" headline at ArtsJournal; more on Pletnev's pedophilia arrest; happy 150th birthday Gustav; happy 70th Ringo; Gershwin plays "I Got Rhythm"; brain-dead liner notes (Haydn division); why parents are unhappy; Sharron Angle uses copyright to hide extremist views.

ScienceBlogs fiasco

The big story of the day in the world of science blogging is that the management of ScienceBlogs, a large collection of science blogs hosted by what used to be Seed magazine, has made an incredible blunder, one that has already led several bloggers to sever their connection with the site and perhaps endangers the survival of the entire enterprise.

The blunder? The management decided to allow PepsiCo to "buy" a blog on ScienceBlogs, Food Frontiers, with posts written by PepsiCo staff scientists. The "profile" for that blog reads:
PepsiCo’s R&D Leadership Team discusses the science behind the food industry’s role in addressing global public health challenges. This is an extension of PepsiCo’s own Food Frontiers blog.
Not surprisingly, this decision, made without consulting or even warning the other bloggers at ScienceBlogs, went down very badly.  The bloggers there pride themselves on their intellectual and journalistic independence, and feel that they have worked hard to build an aggregate reputation as a site for high quality and reliable writing about science.  Several have already shut down their blogs at ScienceBlogs over the incident.

When I first started following blogs a couple of years ago, many if not most of the science blogs I followed were affiliated with ScienceBlogs.  Several of the blogs I currently follow were formerly hosted there (including The Loom, Evolving Thoughts, Gene Expression, and Not Exactly Rocket Science, four of the very best), but had already relocated before this incident. Three blogs I follow are still hosted at ScienceBlogs: Jonah Lehrer's Frontal Cortex (which, however, will soon be moving to Wired), Neurophilosophy, and Good Math, Bad Math, whose author, Mark Chu-Carroll, has just announced his intention of leaving ScienceBlogs over this incident.

For more on the story, see:

Two reports today by Paul Raeburn at Knight Science Journalism Tracker, here and here.

Carl Zimmer, at The Loom (now at the Discover site, along with Gene Expression and Not Exactly Rocket Science) is dumbfounded.

Skulls in the Stars is tracking which blogs have decided to leave ScienceBlogs over this issue.

Other Science News

Natalie Angier has a wonderful article in today's NYT on the intelligence of squirrels: "Nut? What Nut? The Squirrel Outwits to Survive."

Sometimes as I've idly imagined the plot for a science fiction novel set a million years or so after the extinction of Homo sapiens (a not unlikely event, in my estimation). In this novel I've thought of casting the descendants of the gray squirrel in the role of "next intelligent species," whose archaeologists try to reconstruct human culture from its scattered remains.

Or perhaps there should be two "next intelligent species," the other being a giant cockroach.

I've been thinking for some time of writing about the "Dunning-Kruger effect," the tendency of the incompetent to overrate their competence. 

Today the blog [citation needed] has an excellent introduction to Dunning-Kruger, along with a critique.

The classic article after which the effect is named is:
Justin Kruger and David Dunning (1999), "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflate Self-Assessments," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The article is available for download here.
In spite of the critiques, which seem valid, I'm still inclined to think that the concept is potentially useful in understanding much of what goes on in academia. For example, a typical hiring committee searching for, say, an expert in 17th-century music is itself usually lacking in expertise in 17th-century music (otherwise why would they need to hire an expert?). But that committee also collectively overrates its ability to judge the qualifications of someone in that field.

In fact, it's difficult to think of a competent recent hiring decision in my former field of 18th-century music.  This is, in part, sour grapes, of course.  But since my level of competence in that field is pretty high, it's also painfully obvious when hiring decisions aren't competent.

games with words continues its discussion of Evans and Levinson's critique of universal grammar.

Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has an excellent post on a new study in Nature on the discovery of the (so far) earliest traces of humans in Britain, 70 flint tools dating from around 800,000 years ago in Happisburgh, Norfolk.  The article is:
Simon A. Parfitt, et al. (2010), "Early Pleistocene human occupation at the edge of the boreal zone in northwest Europe," Nature.  The article is behind a paywall; the price is Nature's usual outrageous $32.00 (in this case, for a 5-page pdf).

orgtheory.net has a good primer on the science of social networking. Yes, there is a science of social networking. What do you mean you've never heard of it ..... ?

80beats has a beautiful gallery of "10 Bizarre New Species Spotted in the Ocean Depths."

A sea cucumber from near the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.

An update on the BP oil spill, from 80 beats. Tar balls have now been found in Texas and in Lake Pontchartrain.

ArtsJournal has an utterly irresponsible and stupid headline introducing a link to the story on the effect of classical music on the heart rates of vegetative patients:  "Could Mozart Have Helped Terry Schiavo?"

I mentioned this article, at New Scientist, reporting research by Riganello et al., over the weekend.

I find the ArtsJournal head grossly stupid and offensive. And the Riganello article doesn't, in fact, say anything even remotely like what the headline claims, so it also misrepresents the authors.

Here is the "Conclusions" line from the abstract of the Riganello article:
Although preliminary, these findings suggest that autonomic changes with possible emotional value can be induced by complex stimuli also in vegetative state, with implications on the residual responsiveness of these subjects.
 And so far as I know (based on the summary in New Scientist) the experiment didn't use any Mozart.


Another report on the Pletnev pedophilia arrest.

Alex Ross at The Rest Is Noise wishes Gustav Mahler a happy 150th birthday (he was born on 7 July 1860), and describes the program of an all-star concert that is being given in Mahler's hometown, the Bohemian village of Kaliště.

Ross illustrates his post with a photo of a "Mahler Grooves" sticker pasted over a poster of mid-60s vintage Bob Dylan.

The phrase brought back a memory. In (I think) 1968, my mother attended some kind of summer class for organists in Berkeley, and she brought home various "Summer of Love" memorabilia, including a copy of the underground newspaper "The Oracle"—which I'm guessing she hadn't read very carefully, given the typically pornographic and drug-addled content.  This was my first inkling of the "counterculture," and the style of art in that copy of "The Oracle" prompted me to enter as "psychedelic" phase in my own adolescent art at the time (fluorescent colors, Mucha-inspired women, and "psychedelic" lettering).

She also brought back some love beads and several buttons....one of which said "Mahler Grooves." 

I wonder whatever happened to that.

Just showing that the universe has a sense of humor, Wednesday was also Ringo Starr's 70th birthday.

Terry Teachout at About Last Night links to this YouTube video of the only known sound film of George Gershwin playing the piano, from 1931.  Gershwin is playing an only slightly modified version of his own published solo piano arrangement of "I Got Rhythm."

Greg Sandow on brain-dead liner notes. The offending notes in this case are from a boxed set of Haydn symphonies conducted by Marc Minkowski, in which, in the "Surprise" Symphony, at the first occurrence of the "surprise" chord, the orchestra is silent...and at the second, the orchestra members shout instead of playing.

All very wittily postmodern and playful, I'm sure.  But, as Sandow notes, there is nothing at all about this in the liner notes.  Which is simply bizarre.


An excellent article by Jennifer Senior at New York Magazine:  "All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting."  Highly recommended.

From TPM via BoingBoing: Sharron Angle's take-down notice to the Reid campaign for reposting the extremist website from her primary campaign. (The TPM link includes a link out to the text of the take-down notice, and BoingBoing to a new site by Reid's campaign that summarizes Angle's extremist views, based on that site that they had to take down.)

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