14 September 2010

Readings, 2010.09.13

Monday's Readings

Copywrong

Mike Masnick at Techdirt reports that the 9th Circuit has wiped out the "first sale" doctrine for software, a decision Masnick refers to (rightly, to my mind) as "tragic."  Masnick writes:
This ruling is pretty depressing if you actually believe in property rights. It shows, once again, how copyright is not a property right, but often quite the opposite: restricting what people can do with their own property.
Religion

Razib Khan, writing as "David Hume" at Secular Right, has a thoughtfully critical piece on Islam, written from his perspective as a secular atheist from a Muslim background: "Islam, generalizations, barbarism, and structural conflicts."

Science

Sarah Kendrew at SarahAskew writes on "Scientific hubris, or Everything you thought you knew about straight line fits is wrong," summarizing a new article (available at Arxiv) by David Hogg, "Data analysis recipes: Fitting a model to data." 

Why does this matter?  Because pretty much any random research article in cognitive science, psychology, psychiatry, medicine, etc. etc. will at some point have a graph fitting a straight line to scattered data points.  And if they're doing it wrong..... (And if you think the average level of statistical sophistication in these fields is high, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you...)

Genetics

Eugene Raikhel at Somatosphere points to a special issue of BioSocieties devoted to "biohistory" (that is, the use of genetics to reconstruct the historical migrations and interactions of human populations). The abstracts do not inspire confidence that the writers have a good grasp of the science. 

But I could be wrong. Unfortunately, only the guest editor's introduction to the issue is free, so I'm unlikely to read the rest.

Evolution


Ed Yong at Not Exactly Rocket Science has an excellent post on a new article by James Cotton and James McInerney that provides support for a "ring" (rather than a "tree") model of the deep genealogy of life on earth.  The model in question suggests that eukaryotes (that is, organisms, like us, with complex cells that contain structures like a nucleus that are contained within a membrane) descend from an ancient fusion of an archeaon (a member of the domain Archaea) and a bacterium. 

If this all seems like Greek to you, read Yong's article, and it won't be.  He's one of the best science writers writing today.

Language


Edmund Blair Bolles at Babel's Dawn believes that language evolved over a period of roughly 2 million years. A new doctoral thesis by Susan J. Lanyon of the University of New South Wales argues that language is only around 120,000 years old and was brought about by a single "crucial mutation" (the dissertation is a free download here). Bolles takes the opportunity to summarize the evidence for the long view, including anatomical changes that allow speech.  Bolles also outlines the theory that the loss of body-hair in humans was potentially a driving factor in the evolution of language.

An alert for my Mozartean readers who generally skim over the "science stuff" in these posts: you'll want to check out Bolles's reference to the "Papageno period" in the evolution of human language.

Reviews are already beginning to appear of Guy Deutscher's book on the new linguistic relativism, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages.  See, for example, the rather prolix and dyspeptic review of Part I at The Lousy Linguist, and John McWhorter's critique at The New Republic, "Language as Thought: Watch Out for the Hype."  (McWhorter's review is the first section of a three-parter: part 2 points out that Yiddish is alive and well—there are 150,000 people in the U.S. alone who speak Yiddish at home; and part 3 points out that "Blacks Have been Using the N-Word Affectionately Forever"...in other words, it isn't something that grew up in the wake of rap.)

Mind

Daniel Lende at Neuroanthropology summarizes and comments on Benedict Carey's article in the NYT last week, "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits," which was published a week ago, and is still no. 3 on the list of "Most Popular" articles. (And indeed, all students and teachers should read it.)

Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex explains why "Attention Deficit" disorder should more accurately be called "Attention Allocation" disorder.

Neuroskeptic summarizes a new article by Charles E. Dean, "Psychopharmacology: A house divided," which claims that, paradoxically, modern psychiatry has, in its use of drugs, largely abandoned the medical model of psychiatric illness. (Dean's article is behind some kind of registration wall at Swets Information Services.)

Kalman Applbaum at Somatosphere has an excellent review of Carl Elliott, White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine, on the institutional corruption of modern medicine in its collusion with commercial interests (e.g., Big Pharma).  Elliott's book has just gone on my reading list.

Applbaum links out to Arnold Relman's piece at The New York Review of Books, "Health Care: The Disquieting Truth."  Also a must read.

Music

Michael Pilz has a bemused review at Welt Online of Thomas Freitag's imagined conversation in a London pub in early 1962 between John Lennon and composer Hanns Eisler: "Bleiben Sie dran, junger Mann!"

Victoria Williamson writes on a workshop at King's College last week on "Music and shape."

For those musical readers who skip over the "science stuff" in these blog posts, you'll want to scroll back to the reference to the "Papageno period" in the evolution of human language.

Film

Some writers in the German press are less than overwhelmingly enthusiastic about Sofia Coppola's Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for her film Somewhere. See, for example, Cristina Nord at taz.de, who also discusses some of the other prize winners.

&c.

Unusual German Headlines:

"Kurt Palm: Bad Luck in Bad Fucking" (derStandard.at)

Wortschatz

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