16 August 2010

Daily Digest, 2010.08.16

Monday: No, actually plagiarism is a big moral deal; Marc Hauser and the politics of peer review; the insanity of music licensing; why I have no money; maternal and paternal gene imprinting in brain development; the understanding of human social cues by domesticated fox pups; a series on the evolution of color categories; a series on developmental dyscalculia; the memetics of bird song; Paul Hillier arrested for failure to pay child support; a review of the exhibition "Music in Occupied Poland"; a review of Die Violine von Auschwitz; Alex Ross visits Rachmaninov's grave.


Lindsay Beyerstein at Big Think has responded ("Plagiarism is a Big Moral Deal") to Stanley Fish's suggestion in the NYT last week that plagiarism is simply an arbitrary disciplinary convention, and not a big moral deal.

Fish's piece seemed to me to be shallow, applying a favorite hammer (that conventions are arbitrary) to a job for which it isn't suited. 

(Fish had, among other things, compared attitudes toward plagiarism to the rules of golf.)

Beyerstein's piece seems to me not a particularly compelling piece of argument either, but at least some key points are made.  A couple of quotes:
Cheating is a big moral deal. How big a moral deal it is depends to some extent on what's at stake. Cheating in a friendly golf game is sleazy, but in the end it's just a game. Cheating in a golf tournament with millions of dollars on the line, including millions of dollars of other people's money, is a very big moral deal indeed.


However, the prohibition against plagiarism isn't just an arbitrary constraint like the rules for castling in chess. The plagiarism ban is rooted in moral considerations of honesty and fairness. By putting your name on a paper, you are certifying that you are the author. Knowingly handing in someone else's work is deception. A plagiarist is cheating not only the real author, but also anyone who is competing against the plagiarist for grades, honors, jobs, or other benefits.

Melody Dye at Child's Play writes on the Hauser affair and the politics (and occasional corruption) of peer review in psychology (her field, and Hauser's).

This is a must-read for any of my readers involved with the publication of peer-reviewed research, whether in the sciences, social sciences, or humanities.  A quick outline of her points:
•Journal editors have a great deal of power in promoting work that they favor and shunting aside work that they don't like. She writes:
Indeed, if an editor has a vested interest in the outcome of the review process and wants to exercise (undue) influence, she has a number of options.  She can a) send the paper to people she knows will strongly favor acceptance, b) reject it out of hand, or c) significantly hold up the publication process, by either sitting on the paper as long as possible, or by sending it to unfavorable reviewers.
Dye tells a story from her own experience of a prominent figure in her field who was the "action editor" for a piece submitted by a younger scholar based on his thesis work. Because the younger scholar's work cast doubt on some of the editor's own theoretical claims, the editor sat on the article for years, in spite of two very positive reviews, which the editor did not pass on to the author.  This delaying tactic was successful: the article was never published, and the author ended up leaving the field.

•The negative opinions of reviewers can sometimes be circumvented by behind-the-scenes horse trading—the calling in of favors, and the like.

•In some cases where a reviewer has pointed out that the statistical analyses aren't supported by the data, the data are sometimes magically changed before publication.
She has touched a nerve, and there is a very active comments thread that is also well worth reading.

Altough the disciplinary particulars differ, much of this will feel very familiar to my friends in musicology.

Creative Rights

Mike Masnick at Techdirt passes on the following graphic used at a presentation by the CEO of Pure, a company in the process of launching a new music download service called Flow Music.  The graphic is an eloquent witness to the current insane state of music licensing.

Nina Paley at Techdirt reproduces several of her Mimi & Eunice comics that touch on IP (creative rights) themes.

I felt this one in particular speaks to my current condition:


Deric Bownds points to two recent papers and a review that examines imprinting of parental and maternal genes in brain development. 

The papers, by Gregg et al., found 1300 genetic loci with a paternal or maternal allelic bias.

The articles are:
Christopher Gregg, et al. (2010), "High-Resolution Analysis of Parent-of-Origin Allelic Expression in the Mouse Brain," Science.  Behind a paywall, where it costs $15.00.

Christopher Gregg, et al. (2010), "Sex-Specific Parent-of-Origin Allelic Expression in the Mouse Brain," in the same issue of Science. Likewise behind a paywall and likewise $15.00.
Bownds also cites a review of this work:
Jessica Tollkuhn, et al. (2010), "A Custody Battle for the MInd: Evidence for Extensive Imprinting in the Brain," Neuron.  This review, which is probably the best place for a neophyte (like me) to start, is freely available for download.


Jason Goldman of The Thoughtful Animal is preparing a class on dog cognition this coming semester at USC (my doctoral alma mater), and is reposting some of his earlier dog-related posts.

Today he reposts a detailed summary (Research Blogging at its best) of a 2005 study by Brian Hare et al. on the social intelligence of the famous Russian domesticated silver foxes.  Hare and his colleagues were investigating whether domestic dogs had evolved their ability to read human social cues through selection (the "Selection for Communication" hypothesis) or whether these skills were a by-product of selection against fear and aggression toward humans (the "Correlated By-Product" hypothesis).  The population of domesticated foxes has limited interaction with its human caretakers, and Hare and colleagues reasoned that if it turned out that young fox pups could respond appropriately to human gestures like looking and pointing, this would support the "Correlated By-Product" hypothesis, since the foxes were certainly not selected for their ability to read these cues.

It turns out that the domesticated fox pups are just as good at reading human social cues as are domestic dog pups.  Goldman summarizes:
What do these experiments tell us?
(1) Domesticated foxes are as good as dog puppies at finding hidden food when offered communicative signals from humans.
(2) Domesticated foxes are more interested in playing with a toy that a human has played with, than are control foxes.
(3) Although control foxes can use human communicative gestures, the domesticated foxes do it more readily.
(4) Although domesticated foxes are no more likely to approach a novel human or a novel object than the control foxes, when they do approach, they do it much faster.
Taken together, these results appear to support the correlated by-product hypothesis, and not the selection for communication hypothesis. It suggests that the evolution of social cognitive abilities in domesticated dogs mirrors that process observed in the experimentally domesticated silver foxes, and that it was a by-product of selection against fear and aggression. To really really get at this question, a study of wolves should be conducted as well.

More broadly, the social intelligence hypothesis (which is another way of framing the selection for communication hypothesis) asserts that primate (and human) intelligence was driven by the need to predict and manipulate the behavior of others, by reading subtle cues in their behavior. These findings suggest that human intelligence may have evolved, instead, as a by-product of selection against fear of and aggression towards others.
The article that Goldman summarizes is:
Hare, B., Plyusnina, I., Ignacio, N., Schepina, O., Stepika, A., Wrangham, R., & Trut, L. (2005). "Social Cognitive Evolution in Captive Foxes Is a Correlated By-Product of Experimental Domestication," Current Biology, 15 (3), 226-230.  The article is freely available for download.

Sean Roberts at a replicated typo has begun a formidable series of posts on the evolution of color categories.  I hope I have time to read at least some of it!

Jason Goldman at Child's Play (yes, he's at two different blogs) has published the first in a series of posts on developmental dyscalculia (a "developmental defect in the acquisition of numerical abilities"). The first post surveys the current state of research on the developmental originals of numerical cognition (for you who haven't been paying attention, Piaget isn't the state of the art anymore).



Zen Faulkes at NeuroDojo summarizes a new paper that attempts to apply the notion of memetics ("memes" as units of culture analogous to genes) to a study of the changes in populations of dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) in California.  Faulkes is not convinced that memetics adds any useful or testable hypotheses to the analysis.

The article is:
G. Cardoso and J. Atwell (2010), "Directional cultural change by modification and replacement of memes," Evolution (in press).  The article is behind a paywall at Wiley, and costs $29.95.


Choral conductor Paul Hillier was arrested at Newark International Airport last week on an Oregon warrant for non-payment of child support, Maxine Bernstein reports at The Oregonian.

Hillier, who currently lives in Denmark, had not been in the United States for four years.  He was entering the country last week to conduct a performance at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.  From the story in The Oregonian:
Accused of ducking his responsibility for more than four years, Hillier suddenly had the approximately $90,000 in back child support wired overnight to an account in the Multnomah County's Support Enforcement Division.

"He's been fairly cooperative," said Multnomah County deputy district attorney Jennifer James, "once we got his attention."

Hillier faced a nationwide arrest warrant, accusing him of four counts of the felony charge criminal nonsupport for not making court-ordered payments for his two daughters living in Oregon.
Prosecutors in Multnomah County had been following Hillier's professional Web page to track his concert itinerary.

Hillier's concert went on Friday as scheduled.

Jürgen Otten at Frankfurter Rundschau reviews the exhibition "Musik im okkupierten Polen" (Music in [Nazi] occupied Poland); the exhibition runs through 29 August in the Kieler Schloss, under the auspices of the Schleswig-Holstein Musik Festival.  The exhibition is briefly described on this page at the festival site.

I was particularly struck by the following passage in the review (my translation):
Poland, as the exhibition shows, using carefully researched documents, was not only divided between Hitler and Stalin and destroyed.  Poland was humiliated. Apparently it wasn't enough for the invaders to lay waste to the land; it also amused them to obliterate cultural symbols and thereby a part of music history.  National hero Frédéric Chopin was especially hard hit. His music was forbidden, distinguished interpreters of his music like Halina Kalmanowicz, Leon Borunski, Andrzej Tokarski, and Leopold Münzer were murdered, and the bronze Chopin monument in Warsaw was blown up by the Nazis in 1940. The individual pieces were taken to Germany to be melted down in a foundry to be used for military purposes.

Likewise never to be seen again were the autographs of individual compositions, paintings and images of Chopin, as well as a considerable portion of his written correspondence, and with this, a piece of the world's cultural heritage.  Yet the falsification went further. Hans Frank, the leader of the so-called General Government of Poland, in 1943 organized a Chopin exhibition that Germanized the life and work of the musician.
I hadn't known any of this history.  Extraordinary.

Meri Disoski at Der Standard reviews (auf Deutsch) the novel Die Violine von Auschwitz by Maria Àngels Anglada (1930-1999).  The novel was originally published in Catalan in 1996, and later became well known in a Spanish translation, but has just now been translated into German. (According to Amazon, an English translation will be published on 31 August 2010.) The novel concerns a Jewish violin builder named Daniel in Dreifüsselager, a satellite camp of Auschwitz, who is (as part of a bet, it turns out) commissioned by the camp commandant to build a violin modeled on a Stradivarius.  If he is succesful, the commandant gets a case of wine; if he fails, the camp doctor can use Daniel in his experiments.

Alex Ross describes his visit to Rachmaninov's grave at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York (with photos).

One of Ross's photos shows a bottle of Russian lager and two cigarettes left at the grave by an admirer.

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