Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday soundbites

I've heard of charter schools, but here is a call for "charter universities".

The link between creativity and temporal lobe epilepsy.

Bgoodscience has a great review of studies on a man with "total recall".

Prediction of future criminality in toddlers. Troubling.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sunday soundbites

I highly recommend this post in the Guardian about over-selling the impact of neuroscience studies.

[citation needed] reminds us "you are unique, just like everyone else".

Meaning in the age of information.

Ken Jennings tells us what it was like to be schooled by Watson on Jeopardy.

Speaking of AI, The Atlantic has a nice history.

Andrew Gelman addresses the "halo effect" for super-elite schools.

Runner's high - it's not the endorphins, it's the endocannabinoids!

NPR asks some important questions about educational standards.

But Prospect asks whether we are over-selling the promise of education.

The last word goes to this brilliant article, clearly articulating the result of many "brain scan" studies.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday soundbites

No, I don't go all in with the flower-chocolate-pink-industrial complex for tomorrow's holiday, but here is a cool visual illusion with a Valentine's theme.

Also related to, ahem, romance... Mind Hacks describes a study with a very different view on what it means when your girl is loud in bed. Sorry, guys.

Going on a first date? The ever-amazing OK Cupid Blog gives you some questions you can ask on your first date that give you some good information about things you'd really like to know.  

Barking up the Wrong Tree shows that altruism does get paid forward.

Jonah Lehrer asks whether science is getting harder over time.

Science describes a cool study asking what George Washington (and others living before cameras) really looked like.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunday soundbites: CA dreaming edition

Excellent post over at Oscillatory Thoughts on the dangers of "neuro-nonsense".

Speaking on nonsense, The Neurocritic has a great post on the absurdity of neuromarketing.

Last, in nonsense, Neuroskeptic describes a court case blaming a "to be discovered gene" in pedophilia.

Why does the public tend to doubt science? From the New York Times.

20 TED talks about the brain. You're welcome, and I'm sorry for your loss of productivity!

NIH considers using "graduate student training" (loosely defined) as part of research grant evaluation.

I guess Jonah Lehrer feels lucky this week: two pieces on the lottery. The first introduces a statistician who can predict winning tickets without scratching them. The second asks why low income people spend more of their incomes on lottery tickets.

A nice mini-review in Science looks at happiness and longevity.

Mind Hacks asks how long a severed head remains conscious.  In other decapitation news, PLoS has a study on the consciousness of severed rat heads here.

It turns out you can predict senate votes from their seating chart.

Gasp! A non-sensationalized take on fMRI "mind reading".

Friday, February 4, 2011

Psychology does not equal alchemy

The other night I was watching this show on PBS. It's a decent episode, showcasing some sexy new results in neuroscience, and is accessible to a general audience. But then it had to end on this note:

"Our best hope [for understanding the brain] lies within neuroscientists. What are thoughts but electrical impulses among brain cells? What are ideas but novel firings of those cells? What are mental problems if not impulses that have misfired? In the same way that chemistry grows from the ashes of alchemy, neuroscience, a field still in its infancy, may one day subsume psychology"

Deep breath in, deep breath out.


This is like saying "one day physics will subsume chemistry". They are two different levels of analysis designed to answer questions at different levels of analysis. In the big picture of science, yes neuroscience will subsume psychology, but neuroscience will be subsumed by biology, chemistry, physics and then pure math. In the meantime, it's rather useful to have separate fields.

But the bigger problem is the assumption that a picture with a glowing piece of brain real-estate tells you more about how we function than does behavior. Although the pictures are hugely compelling, knowing where a process is taking place in the brain is not the same as knowing how it is taking place. Honestly, I think we're going to look back at the last 15 years of cognitive neuroscience and see them as lost years where we got distracted by brain porn. As a thought exercise, I've tried to think of any finding from fMRI that is a unique contribution to what we know about the brain that wasn't already known with cellular recording, behavior and/or patient studies. I'm having a hard time coming up with one, but please send me your examples if you have them!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Is higher education the next bubble?

Here is a thought-provoking interview with Peter Thiel. Thiel is now offering a fellowship to entrepreneurial youth to NOT go to college.

"Education is a bubble in a classic sense. To call something a bubble, it must be overpriced and there must be an intense belief in it...Probably the only candidate left for a education. It’s basically extremely overpriced. People are not getting their money’s worth, objectively, when you do the math. And at the same time it is something that is incredibly intensively believed; there’s this sort of psycho-social component to people taking on these enormous debts when they go to college simply because that’s what everybody’s doing."

"There are a few things that make it worse. One is that when people make a mistake in taking on an education loan, they’re legally much more difficult to get out of than housing loans. With housing, typically they’re non-recourse — you can just walk out of the house. With education, they’re recourse, and they typically survive bankruptcy. If you borrowed money and went to a college where the education didn’t create any value, that is potentially a really big mistake."

 "You know, we’ve looked at the math on this, and I estimate that 70 to 80 percent of the colleges in the U.S. are not generating a positive return on investment. Even at the top universities, it may be positive in some sense — but the counterfactual question is, how well would their students have done had they not gone to college? Are they really just selecting for talented people who would have done well anyway?"

My own take is that the return on investment for college varies widely with what one studies in college. Yes, the skills gained from obtaining an English BA translate less directly into private sector skills than say, a computer science or engineering degree. But ultimately, we need to sit down and have a real conversation about how educated we want our country to be, both how broadly educated and how specialized. We also need to talk about how we want to scale the educational system and how we want to pay for it.