23 August 2010

Weekend Roundup, 21 to 22 August 2010

This Weekend: More on the Marc Hauser investigation; what is a doctorate? (a graphical depiction); the future of Internet search?; autistic brains; more on the evolution of color terms; psychopathology and the Theory of Mind; "Human Nature and Early Experience" (a symposium); celebrating the (sort-of) 50th anniversary of The Beatles; pianist Lise de la Salle; the world's highest-paid authors; "fact checking" in the Internet age; the history of sentence-initial "so"; Theory in a nutshell.


On Friday, Harvard Magazine reported that Michael D. Smith, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard sent a letter to the university's faculty confirming that Marc Hauser had been found "solely responsible" for eight instances of research misconduct in his lab. The Magazine reproduces Smith's letter in full.  Some quotes:
No dean wants to see a member of the faculty found responsible for scientific misconduct, for such misconduct strikes at the core of our academic values. Thus, it is with great sadness that I confirm that Professor Marc Hauser was found solely responsible, after a thorough investigation by a faculty investigating committee, for eight instances of scientific misconduct under FAS standards.


Since some of the research in the current case was supported by federal funds, the investigating committee’s report and other supplemental material were submitted to the federal offices responsible for their own review, in accordance with federal regulations and FAS procedures.


In this case, after accepting the findings of the committee, I immediately moved to have the record corrected for those papers that were called into question by the investigation. The committee’s report indicated that three publications needed to be corrected or retracted, and this is now a matter of public record. To date, the paper, “Rule learning by cotton-top tamarins,” Cognition 86, B15-B22 (2002) has been retracted because the data produced in the published experiments did not support the published findings; and a correction was published to the paper, “Rhesus monkeys correctly read the goal-relevant gestures of a human agent,” Proceedings of the Royal Society B 274, 1913-1918 (2007). The authors continue to work with the editors of the third publication, “The perception of rational, goal-directed action in nonhuman primates,” Science 317, 1402-1405 (2007). As we reported to one of these editors, the investigating committee found problems with respect to the three publications mentioned previously, and five other studies that either did not result in publications or where the problems were corrected prior to publication. While different issues were detected for the studies reviewed, overall, the experiments reported were designed and conducted, but there were problems involving data acquisition, data analysis, data retention, and the reporting of research methodologies and results.
Science Fair at USA TODAY has a thorough report, which includes both the complete text of Smith's letter and the text of an apology from Hauser:
I am deeply sorry for the problems this case has caused to my students, my colleagues, and my university..
I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes and I am deeply disappointed that this has led to a retraction and two corrections. I also feel terrible about the concerns regarding the other five cases, which involved either unpublished work or studies in which the record was corrected before submission for publication.
I hope that the scientific community will now wait for the federal investigative agencies to make their final conclusions based on the material that they have available.
I have learned a great deal from this process and have made many changes in my own approach to research and in my lab's research practices.
Research and teaching are my passion. After taking some time off, I look forward to getting back to my work, mindful of what I have learned in this case. This has been painful for me and those who have been associated with the work.
The article at USA TODAY also includes reactions from primate researcher Frans de Waal and psychologist David Premack. De Waal is quoted as saying:
But [Smith's letter] leaves open whether we in the field of animal behavior should just worry about those three articles or about many more, and then there are also publications related to language and morality that include data that are now in question. From my reading of the dean's letter, it seems that all data produced by this lab over the years are potentially in question.
Nicholas Wade in The New York Times also reports on Smith's letter and Hauser's apology, but I think goes overboard when he writes:
Harvard’s findings against [Hauser], if sustained, may cast a shadow over the broad field of scientific research that depended on the particular research technique often used in his experiments.

What exactly is a doctorate?  Matt Might provides a graphical explanation at Gizmodo. Ed Yong describes the illustration as showing that a Ph.D. is "a tiny nipple on the sphere of human knowledge." 

I think he's overstating the case.  More like a pimple.


Esther Dyson has an essay on "The Future of Internet Search" at Project Syndicate.  She writes:
[W]hen people search, they aren't just looking for nouns or information; they are looking for action. They want to book a flight, reserve a table, buy a product, cure a hangover, take a class, fix a leak, resolve an argument, or occasionally find a person, for which Facebook is very handy. They mostly want to find something in order to do something.
I, on the other hand, when I search for something on the Web, am almost always looking for old-fashioned information.

Dyson's article seems typical of the thinking of corporations and entrepreneurs who are trying to figure out every way possible (including changing the rules of the game) to use the Internet to get money out of people, rather than recognizing its function as a means of communication and a way to make information accessible.


Sandy Guatam at The Mouse Trap (which now displays properly in Firefox 3.6!) summarizes a new study that looks comprehensively at the ways in which the brains of adults with autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) differ from those of normal adults.

The open access study is:
Christine Ecker, et al. (2010), "Describing the Brain in Autism in Five Dimensions—Magentic Resonance Imaging-Assisted Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder Using a Mulitparameter Classification Approach," The Journal of Neuroscience.
Gautam summarizes:
They came [up] with five dimensions- two based on volumetric measurements (surface area and cortical thickness) and the other three on geometric features (average convexity/concavity, mean radial curvature and metric distortion ....

What they found was that cortical thickness was the strongest predictor and that predictive power was greater for Left hemisphere measures than for right hemisphere measures.

Sean Roberts at a replicated typo continues with Parts 5 and 6 of his series on the evolution of color terms: "Cultural Constraints" and "Categorisation Constraints."

Hannah Little, likewise at a replicated typo, has a good summary of recent work on what psychopathology can tell us about Theory of Mind and the evolution of language.

The Human

On 10–12 October, the University of Notre Dame will host the symposium "Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the 'Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness'."  See the summary at Neuroanthropology. From the conference description:
It is becoming increasingly clear that the ways we are rearing our children today are not the ways humans are designed to thrive. The ill effects of these missing ancestral practices are becoming evident as children’s well being in the USA is worse than 50 years ago (Heckman, 2008) and is among the worst in the industrialized world (20th in family and peer relationships and 21st in health and safety; UNICEF, 2007). We have epidemics of ADHD, anxiety and depression among the young, indeed all age groups (USDHHS, 1999). Too many children are arriving at school with poor social skills, poor emotion regulation, and habits that do not promote prosocial behaviors…


This month is being celebrated in some quarters as the 50th anniversary of The Beatles (see, for example, this page).

As Jens-Christian Rabe points out in an article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, however, this anniversary is rather arbitrary.  August 1960 was in indeed when The Beatles (still with Stuart Sutcliffe and still minus Ringo) first appeared under that name.  However, Lennon and McCartney had been working together since 1957, George Harrison had joined them in 1958, and they first appeared as a trio under the name Johnny & The Moondogs in 1959. They soon took the name The Silver Beatles, before shortening that to The Beatles. Their first concert as the classic quartet, with Ringo, took place on 18 August 1962 and their first single, "Love Me Do," was released on 5 October 1962.

But then, you can never have enough anniversaries (particularly if you're a marketer or a journalist).

Rabe also gives an interesting summary of the context of British pop music in which The Beatles came into being (referring especially to the writings of Jon Savage and Elijah Wald).

I ran across an article by Jürgen Otten at the Frankfurter Rundschau about young French pianist Lise de la Salle, of whom I had not heard.

The fact that she is blond, blue-eyed, 22, and can be made to look good in photographs does not necessarily mean she can't play the piano. (See also the gallery at her website here, where some photos make her look a bit like Diana Krall.) 

And Otten was clearly gaga over her, particularly her Mozart (the title of his article is indicative: "Wie Blumen auf der Haut").

So I decided to investigate.

Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be much of her Mozart available on the Web, at least nothing that comes up readily at YouTube or on Google.  The only thing I've found so far is this YouTube promo video plugging her new album of Mozart and Prokofiev, which includes scattered bits of the second and final variations of "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" (the "Twinkle twinkle" variations).

Nothing wrong with this (it's perhaps a bit strident), but nothing extraordinary either.

The 2 CD set (!) includes on disc 1 Mozart's A minor Rondo, K. 511; the Sonata in D major, K. 284, and the "Twinkle" variations, K. 265 (pretty thin for one disc).  Disc 2 is all Prokofiev, and includes the Toccata, op. 11; what is identified even on her website as the "Sonata N. 3 in Re Minore" ("Sonata no. 3 in D minor"; this is perhaps not a good sign—Prokofiev's third sonata, which is indeed the one on the album, is in A minor); and Six Pieces from Romeo and Juliet.  There are clips from all these here, but I can't get them to play in Firefox.

Why Mozart and Prokofiev are paired is not quite clear to me.

Two other videos suggest that she may be more a creation of marketing than a profound or exceptional pianist.  At her website you can listen to and watch her play Chopin's Nocturne in E minor on French TV in 2008.  This performance seems quite self indulgent to me, in the manner of, say, Richard Clayderman or Liberace; I don't think there are two successive equal-length beats in the entire performance.  And there is nothing "aria-like" about the way she plays it, which seems to me to miss the point entirely.

At YouTube she plays Prokofiev's Toccata (not my favorite piece, to be sure, perhaps because I was made to play it at a stage in my development when I probably shouldn't have).  This is perfectly competent, but doesn't seem to me to transcend a merely good conservatory student.  De la Salle plays the piece at about MM=100 per quarter note.

To see why there's nothing extraordinary about De la Salle's performance, it's instructive to compare it with this recording of Martha Argerich, who plays it considerably faster, beginning around MM=112, and sometimes speeding up later on.  It's cleaner and has much more of the relentlessness that is crucial to making the piece work.

And Argerich was definitely sexier at an equivalent age.

It's also instructive, after listening to these clips, to read Otten's gushing description of De la Salle's Mozart.  One has the impression that he was listening to her hair, not her piano playing.

I could use this as a jumping off place for an essay on the perils of applying the fan-culture model to the marketing of classical music. But this is only a Digest, so I won't.

(Yes, De la Salle has a Facebook page.)


Victoria Richards at The Independent writes on the new Forbes list of the world's highest-paid authors.  American author James Patterson has displaced J. K. Rowling from the top of the list, earning ₤45 million (just shy of $70 million) in book sales in the year ending 1 June 2010. (Rowling is still in the top 10, in spite of not having published a new book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 3 years ago). Richards writes:
Patterson is a contentious victor. The American is no stranger to criticism and has admitted that he doesn't even write his own books. Although his name is splashed on the covers of the eight titles, which include thrillers and children's and young adults' books, that he churns out each year, he relies on a team of five to help him bash out the plots. Not that this minor detail has dented his popularity. Forbes said one in every 17 books bought in the US is written – or co-written – by Patterson, a former advertising chief executive who outsold even Stephenie Meyer of the teen vampire series sensation, Twilight.

Virginia Heffernan writes in The Medium in the New York Times Magazine on the changing meaning of "fact-checking," from the her early days as a fact-checker at The New Yorker (where it meant checking facts) to the era of the Web and the blogosphere, where it has come to mean (as Heffernan points out) something more like literary criticism.

Mark Liberman at Language Log has a wonderful piece on the history of sentence-initial "so," which takes its departure from an essay in the NYT last May by Anand Giridharadas, "Follow My Logic? A Connective Word Takes the Lead."  Giridharadas's essay suggests (in a passage quoted by Liberman):
“So” may be the new “well,” “um,” “oh” and “like.” No longer content to lurk in the middle of sentences, it has jumped to the beginning, where it can portend many things: transition, certitude, logic, attentiveness, a major insight.
Liberman analyzes the history of sentence-initial "so" using an extraordinary online resource that I had not previously visited, the Corpus of Historical American English, which allows sophisticated searching and analysis of a 400 million word corpus of American English covering the period 1810 to 2009.  I've just begun to play with this, but anyone who is interested in the history of English and English usage should visit it.

I'm also pleased to see the Liberman uses R to analyze and graph the data, although I wish he'd given more specific details about how he did this (he probably does this so often that it seems too obvious to mention).


Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Education interviews Anthony Paul Smith and Daniel Whistler, editors of the new collection After the Postsecular and the Postmodern: New Essays in Continental Philosophy of Religion.

The statements by the editors seem to me remarkably condensed examples of much of what is wrong in the discourse of the academic humanities in the English-speaking world.  As a taste, Smith begins his answer to McLemee's first question (whether the word "postsecular" implies periodization) thus:
In the book we talk about the postsecular event, an obvious nod to the philosophy of Alain Badiou. For a long time in Europe and through its colonial activities our frame of discourse, the way we understood the relationship of politics and religion, was determined by the notion that there is a split between public politics and private religion. This frame of reference broke down. We can locate that break, for the sake of simplicity, in the anti-colonial struggles of the latter half of the 20th century. The most famous example is, of course, the initial thrust of the Iranian Revolution.
The use of ill-defined and probably vacuous terms of art like "the postsecular event" or "break"; implicit argument from authority by reference to the echo-chamber of Theory (Alain Badiou); use of universalizing "we" and "our" to form a master narrative that has at best only a tenuous relationship to what happens in the world outside Theory's echo chamber; the distortion of world events to fit the totalizing frame of that master narrative (as in calling the "inititial thrust" of the Iranian Revolution "anti-colonial," which expands and distorts the meaning of "colonial" beyond any useful bounds):  this paragraph alone is a remarkably concentrated example of the pretentious non-thought that passes for intellectual discourse in much of the humanities.

And the interview goes on in this vein.

There is, of course, no reference in the interview to any of the vast body of work on the evolution or anthropology of religion, without which one can't even begin to take the volume seriously.
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1 comment:

  1. Is there no video of yourself playing piano? It would be nice to see, instead of all those cats!