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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Study: Those Scientific Studies? Half Of 'Em Are Wrong A new study says that "problems with experimental and statistical methods mean that there is less than a 50% chance that the results of any randomly chosen scientific paper are true." It found that "small sample sizes, poor study design, researcher bias, and selective reporting and other problems combine to make most research findings false. But even large, well-designed studies are not always right, meaning that scientists and the public have to be wary of reported findings." New Scientist 08/30/05

A Statistical Analysis Of Every US Supreme Court Decision A researcher plugged in 26,000 opinions issued by the Supreme Court between the early 19th century and the present day into his computer. "He treated each of these cases as a node and each citation from one case to another as a link. The result was a complicated web resembling a map of cities linked by dozens of airlines. He found the most important opinions, at least judged by how many times they were cited, by working out which nodes were likeliest to fall on the shortest paths between two other nodes. Intriguingly, the cases mostly come from an advanced and esoteric subject... The Economist 08/30/05

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

US Cities Say: Wi-Fi For All Hundreds of US cities are working on offering wi-fi internet service as basic city service. "A number of factors have come together to create this marriage of civic activism and a hot technology. First, there's the decreased cost of key wireless hardware and software components. Jupiter Research estimates that citywide systems will cost $150,000 per square mile for five years of operation. Neff puts it lower, though, saying her costs in Philadelphia were closer to $70,000-100,000 per square mile. Second, broadband penetration in the United States rose above 50 percent in fall 2004, for the first time, which introduced the concept of broadband as a critical service." MIT Technology Review 08/05

A Placebo That Causes Physical Change The placebo effect has long fascinated researchers. A new study says that the placebo effect might not be all in your head. "The mere belief that they had received a pain killer was enough to release the brain's natural painkilling endorphins in the patients tested, scientists say." Christian Science Monitor 08/30/05

Sleep Deprived - What We Lose "Most of us now sleep less than people did a century ago, or even 50 years ago. The National Sleep Foundation’s 2005 poll showed adult Americans averaging 6.8 hours of sleep on weeknights — more than an hour less than they need. Not only how much sleep, but when people sleep has changed. In the United States, six to eight million shift workers toil regularly at night, disrupting sleep patterns in ways that are not necessarily amenable to adaptation." The question is: What are we losing by sleeping less? Harvard Magazine 08/05

Camille Paglia Unloads On Culture "We are getting worse writing, worse art. Part of the reason for the much worse writing is that young people have so many other distractions in terms of their time—so many things to do, that reading books has just shriveled. They are assigned books, but few kids read books for pleasure. Too much else is going on. Now I’m a champion of the web—I began writing for Salon in 1995 from the first issue on. But the style of the web, not only the surfing skimming style that you learn—dash, dash—you absorb information not by reading whole sentences. It’s flash, flash, flash. Email, blog, everything is going fast, fast, fast. So the quality of language has obviously degenerated. It’s obvious." The Morning News 08/05

Monday, August 29, 2005

A Law That Allows Second-Guessing Science "The five-year-old Data Quality Act is a below-the-radar legislative device that defenders of industry have increasingly relied upon to attack all range of scientific studies whose results or implications they disagree with, from government global warming reports to cancer research using animal subjects. On its face, the act merely seeks to ensure the 'quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity' of government information. In practice, as interpreted by the Bush administration, it creates an unprecedented and cumbersome process that saddles agencies with a new workload while empowering businesses to challenge not just government regulations--something they could do anyway--but scientific information that could potentially lead to regulation somewhere down the road." Boston Globe 08/28/05

Sunday, August 28, 2005

IQ And The Sexes "A major new study reports that, up to the age of 14, there was no difference between the IQs of boys and girls. But beyond that age and into adulthood there is a difference of five points, which is small but it can have important implications. As intelligence scores among the study group rose, the academics say they found a widening gap between the sexes. There were twice as many men with IQ scores of 125, for example, a level said to correspond with people getting first-class degrees. At scores of 155, associated with genius, there were 5.5 men for every woman." BBC 08/26/05

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sophistication Without Reading Students are reading less? Does it matter? "The college students who now show up in my classroom come with an informational sophistication unimaginable in my generation. They find what they want, they use what they find, and they discard immense amounts of information made available to them. Are they naïve about authority, methodology, logic and accuracy in these endless streams of information? Sure, they are. Who should teach them how to sort this stuff? We academics, sophisticated readers ourselves who all too frequently escape into trendy obscurantism rather than engage the real world information flow that constitutes the actual cultural context of our time. We, the literate part of the American population, need to reconnect with the actual cultural context, rather than fight micro-academic battles of almost no interest to people outside the elite tiers of the academy." InsideHigherEd 08/25/05

The New Communication (But What Are We Saying?) "People hardly blink, anymore, at the potency and omnipresence of technology and its attendant powers of transformation. The information stream that was not so long ago channeled by newspapers, network television and radio, has become an unrestrained torrent that surges through cable and satellite television, cell phones cellphones, Internet blogs, podcasts and chat rooms chatrooms. It's all changing faster than even the most keen-eyed futurists can predict. And so are we, in culturally pervasive ways, changing as well." San Francisco Chronicle 08/25/05

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Video Nation (Our Video Universe Transformed) There are 31 million hours of video programming produced each year. And the ways we're going to access it are changing rapidly. "Every major cable company is making investments to allow TV to be distributed over the Internet, giving you access to each one of those 31 million hours. And then there's this year's 36-fold explosion in consumer-generated video on the Internet. This onslaught is already turning the entertainment business inside out. More music videos are being watched on AOL than on MTV. Procter & Gamble is cutting down on pricey 30-second TV spots to beef up the online presence of its packaged goods. TV Guide announced in July that it would drastically cut the amount of space it devotes to listings, an acknowledgment that viewers now turn to the Internet and onscreen programming guides." Wired 08/24/05

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Asians And Americans See Things Differently? According to a new study, Asians look at things differently from Americans or Europeans. "The researchers tracked the eye movement of the Chinese and Americans as they looked at pictures. The Americans looked at the object in the foreground sooner -- a leopard in the jungle for example -- and they looked at it longer. The Chinese had more eye movement, especially on the background and back and forth between the main object and the background." Wired 08/23/05

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Will Podcasts Replace Tour Guides? "Aiming to replace the traditional tour experience of following the tour guide with the red umbrella, audio walking tours allow travelers to have an expert guide downloaded to their iPod or MP3 player. Audio tours run about 30 to 90 minutes and cost up to $15. A printed map usually comes with it, and you can preview samples to see whether they fit your style." Chicago Tribune 08/21/05

Oxford To Ban Prodigies? Oxford University is considering banning child prodigies from the school and declaring a minimum age of 17 for admittance. "Despite an almost perennial flurry of headlines on children barely in their teens being offered places, the university is considering an unprecedented blanket rule on minimum ages for undergraduates." The Observer (UK) 08/21/05

Thursday, August 18, 2005

School Ditches Books For Computers A public school in Arizona ditches textbooks and gives each of its students iBook computers instead. "Students get the materials over the school's wireless internet network. The school has a central filtering system that limits what can be downloaded on campus. The system also controls chat-room visits and instant messaging that might otherwise distract wired students. Students can turn in homework online. A web program checks against internet sources for plagiarized material and against the work of other students." Wired 08/18/05

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Music - Nature Or Nurture? Is our attraction to certain kinds of sounds and music something we get from the culture around us or is it an innate physical response, there when we're born? A new study hopes to pin down some answers. CNet News 08/17/05

Land Of The Undead "Do you want to know what depresses the American spirit? Do you want to know why it feels as if the center cannot hold and the tyranny of mediocrity has been loosed upon our world? Do you want to know what instills thoughts of suicide and creates a desperate, low-level rage the source of which we cannot quite identify but that we know is right under our noses and that we now inhale Prozac and Xanax and Paxil by the truckload to attempt to mollify? I have your answer. Here it is. Look. It is the appalling spread of big- box strip malls, tract homes like a cancer, meta-developments paving over the American landscape, all creating a bizarre sense of copious loss, empty excess, heartless glut, forcing us to ask, once again, the Great All-American Question: How can we have so damned much but still feel as if we have almost nothing at all?" San Francisco Chronicle 08/17/05

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Latest Scoop? Gossip's Cool "Gossip has long been dismissed by researchers as little more than background noise, blather with no useful function. But some investigators now say that gossip should be central to any study of group interaction. People find it irresistible for good reason: Gossip not only helps clarify and enforce the rules that keep people working well together, studies suggest, but it circulates crucial information about the behavior of others that cannot be published in an office manual." The New York Times 08/16/05

Monday, August 15, 2005

Does BS Matter? (That's The Truth) "Philosophers have a vocational bent for trying to divine the essences of things that most people never suspected had an essence, and bullshit is a case in point. Could there really be some property that all instances of bullshit possess and all non-instances lack? The question might sound ludicrous, but it is, at least in form, no different from one that philosophers ask about truth. Among the most divisive issues in philosophy today is whether there is anything important to be said about the essential nature of truth. Bullshit, by contrast, might seem to be a mere bagatelle. Yet there are parallels between the two which lead to the same perplexities." The New Yorker 08/15/05

Searching For Better Search Universities are focusing on improving search technologies. "The search problems of today are different from those of five years ago. With books, scholarly papers and television programs being digitized and put online, the technology necessary to search through the material needs to be that much better. People need a way to trust the information they find and to ask more-complex questions with search tools so they can extract knowledge or ideas." CNet News 08/15/05

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Is Gambling A Head Case? "Researchers are learning that the heads — or to be more accurate, the brains — of pathological gamblers are biologically different from those of most of the estimated 73 million Americans who are able to play bingo, pull the arm of a slot machine or flip some aces and then simply stop. Not only does the research shed light on how this addiction is both similar and distinct from other addictive disorders, it also could contribute to new treatments." Los Angeles Times 08/08/05

How Tourism Is Killing Art The crush of tourists is ruining the world's great cultural monuments. "We are just now beginning to get beyond the phase of shock-horror reports about the destruction caused by tourism. There are possible solutions, some already in place, especially in the field of eco-tourism. Because this started more recently than cultural travel and is usually run by people with a greater sensitivity to issues of exploitation, it has often developed in a constructive and thoughtful way." The Art Newspaper 08/12/05

Friday, August 12, 2005

Segregation Flourishes "Not long ago, people said that globalization and the revolution in communications technology would bring us all together. But the opposite is true. People are taking advantage of freedom and technology to create new groups and cultural zones. Old national identities and behavior patterns are proving surprisingly durable. People are moving into self-segregating communities with people like themselves, and building invisible and sometimes visible barriers to keep strangers out." The New York Times 08/11/05

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

We Knew It - Pianists Are Just Smarter A study reports that practicing the piano in early childhood boosts the brain. "Childhood is the best time in life to boost the brain's so-called white matter, according to the study, and boost the pyramidal tract, which is a major pathway of the central nervous system, transmitting signals between the brain and the pianist's fingers. The scientists, who investigated the brains of eight concert pianists in their 30s who started practicing as young children, found that the pyramidal tract is more structured in pianists than in non-musicians." Discovery 08/10/05

Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Patriot Games Why has American pro sports become so tied up with garish displays of patriotism? "In many cities, your average Sunday NFL game contains more patriotic overkill than a USO show in Kuwait. In addition to becoming a profitable form of mass entertainment, pro sports have become an effective means for the political and financial elite to package their values and ideas. This is why sports in this country reflect a distinctly US project, rooted in aspirations for greatness as well as conquest and oppression." The Nation 08/08/05

Monday, August 8, 2005

The Mind-Reading Machine Scientists say they have been able to monitor with scans what people are thinking. "Our study represents an important but very early stage step towards eventually building a machine that can track a person's consciousness on a second-by-second basis. These findings could be used to help develop or improve devices that help paralyzed people communicate through measurements of their brain activity. But we are still a long way off from developing a universal mind-reading machine." BBC 08/08/05

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Urban Design As A Video Game "Today, thanks to ever more sophisticated software, urban planning itself has increasingly come to resemble a SimCity-style public-policy game. Since the game's debut, the maturing technology known as Geographical Information Systems (GIS)--software for synthesizing database, mapping, and modeling data--has supplanted the paper blueprint roll as the urban planner's dominant tool, enabling planners to map over a geographic region everything from gas lines to transit systems to weather patterns. But it's not just professionals who have their hands on the technology." Boston Globe 08/07/05

Wireless Broadband - Just Basic Civic Infrastructure Two remote rural counties in Oregon offer free wireless broadband internet service for everyone. "Broadband is just the next step in expanding the national infrastructure, comparable to the transcontinental railroad, the national highway system and rural electrification. Indeed, we need to envision broadband Internet access as just another utility, like electricity or water. Often the best way to provide that will be to blanket a region with Wi-Fi coverage to create wireless computer networks, rather than running D.S.L., cable or fiber-optic lines to every home." The New York Times 08/06/05

Thursday, August 4, 2005

Why We Laugh? "One theory of why people laugh — the superiority theory — says that people laugh to assert that they are on a level equal to or higher than those around them. Research has shown that bosses tend to crack more jokes than do their employees. Women laugh much more in the presence of men, and men generally tell more jokes in the presence of women. Men have even been shown to laugh much more quietly around women, while laughing louder when in a group of men." The Economist 08/04/05

Patently Absurd America's patent system is broken, impeding the orderly processing of ideas. "Lawyers, companies, inventors and politicians all agree that the nation's patent system is in desperate need of reform. They cite concerns about proliferating litigation, questionable licenses and a potential decline in American competitiveness. The question is how to reform: For all the complaints, little consensus has emerged on how to fix the system." C/Net.com 08/04/05

Brain Calisthenics How to keep sharp mentally? You have to exercise. "Among people who work with older adults, the concept of "cognitive fitness" has become a buzzword to describe activities that stimulate underutilized areas of the brain and improve memory. Proponents of brain-fitness exercises say such mental conditioning can help prevent or delay memory loss and the onset of other age-related cognitive disorders." Wired 08/04/05

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Study: Male Voice Vs. Female Voice The brain processes male and female voices differently, says a new study. "The research explains why most of us hear female voices more clearly, as well as that we form mental images of people based only on the sound of their voices. The findings, published in the current journal NeuroImage, also might give insight into why many men tire of hearing women speak: the "complexity" of female voices requires a lot of brain activity." Discovery 08/02/05

Monday, August 1, 2005

Is Knowing The Cultural Reference Better Than The Culture Itself? "The traditional benefits of entertainment were the pleasures of the experience. For that, you had to see the movie, read the book or hear the CD. These were — and are — powerful pleasures, powerful enough to make entertainment a multibillion-dollar industry. But as society has grown more complex and the information we can know has grown exponentially, knowingness — the idea of being in the know and of having the expertise to navigate through the haystacks of available information to find the needles — has come to provide an arguably more satisfying form of gratification. That's why the knowingness industry, including the Internet, seems more vital than the entertainment industry. Google is the new metaphor for fulfillment." Los Angeles Times 07/31/05

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