Monday, May 23, 2005

Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis

How have I not heard of this yet?
Sapir-Whorf hypothesis

Future Implications for the Customizable Google:

With Its Home Page, Google Could Get a Bit Closer to Its Users

WILL Internet users get personal with Google?

The company began testing a service last week that lets users build a customized Google home page filled with news, stock quotes and other features that crowd similar pages on popular portals like Yahoo and MSN.

As part of this effort, Google is offering headline feeds from a narrow selection of information sites like BBC News and, in the future, it will allow users to add feeds from their favorite sites. The customized pages can also list local movies and weather, stock market quotes and driving directions, and can display a preview of a user's in-box from Google's Gmail service.

The service gives Google another potential entry point in the battle to deliver ads tailored to a user's stated or implied tastes or product searches - ads that marketers have been willing to pay far more for than they do for standard banners displayed to everyone who visits a site.

Google says it has no immediate plans to display advertisements based on, say, the user's location or clicking habits while using the service, but analysts say that such a move is not necessary, at least in the near future, for the company to capitalize on it.

"This is all about getting better search results, to keep people coming back to the site," said Charlene Li, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Right now, Google knows nothing about their users. But if they can get the user's permission for this, and give them better search results based on what stories they've read or e-mails they've gotten on the site in the past, that's where it pays off." In that respect, Ms. Li said, the personalized pages are closely aligned with another recent Google initiative, My Search History, which, with the user's permission, keeps a record of previous Google queries in an effort to deliver better search results.

Web search ads from Google, Yahoo and others represented baby steps in the direction of personalized advertising, giving marketers the means to reach prospective customers when they searched for words related to the company's products. But those ads only go so far, because Internet users who type in "Ford trucks," for instance, could be history buffs, not prospective buyers.

Google's new approach could help marketers solve that problem, by following the logic of both users' reading habits and searches on the site. If users add a feed of car reviews to their home page, and swap e-mail messages with friends about buying a new truck, for instance, Google's search results could be customized to focus on that activity. Car manufacturers, meanwhile, would be far more interested in reaching those searchers, and would likely bid higher for the right to show them ads.

The idea that Google would be analyzing the content of e-mail messages to place relevant ads next to them sparked controversy when the Gmail service was introduced. The service's privacy policy indicates that the ads are chosen based on keywords found in the currently displayed message, not on past messages. The home page effort follows closely on the heels of another Google project, the Web Accelerator, which could help it deliver highly personalized ads in the future. With that service, which the company began testing earlier this month, users download software that stores copies of popular Web pages, or pages the user repeatedly visits, on their own computers.

When users type in the address of one of those pages, it loads instantly, because it does not have to travel over the Internet to get to the computer. Because Accelerator tracks the user's surfing activity, it could be used to discern potential commercial interests and display relevant ads, perhaps in tandem with the home page service. Marissa Mayer, Google's director of consumer Web products, said the company had no immediate plans to commercialize the Accelerator service, or any of the other services that track a user's behavior.

"Thinking long term, my gut sense is that, yes, there will be a search engine that knows more about me and as a result does a better job than Google does today," Ms. Mayer said. "It's my hope that that search engine is us, but it's a further-reaching thing." But trends in the marketplace suggest that advertisers could put increasing pressure on the company to offer such services sooner. Claria, formerly known as the Gator Corporation, earlier this month said that it was developing a service that would allow any site to offer personalized Web pages, using their own content or that of other publishers.

With that service, called PersonalWeb, a site like Yahoo could allow its visitors to receive material from various online publishers or from within a publisher's site, without forcing them to be specific about which articles and sources they want to see. Instead, the service would track the users' surfing habits and automatically generate pages that reflected what they typically read. Ads, based on the user's overall surfing activity, would be shown on the user's home page, and revenues would be split between Claria and the Web site.

According to comScore MediaMetrix, an Internet statistics firm, 26 million people, or 23 percent of Yahoo's visitors in April, used its customized page service, known as My Yahoo. The service's users spent more than twice as much time at the portal as the average Yahoo visitor does, and viewed more than twice as many pages. Put another way, comScore said, My Yahoo users account for 23 percent of all Yahoo visitors, but they represent 49 percent of total time spent and 51 percent of pages viewed. Yahoo would not disclose how much advertising revenue My Yahoo brings in.

Claria said "tens of millions" of Internet users allow it to track their Web surfing - or, at least, the surfing of whoever uses their computer. The privacy policy for Claria's advertising products promises that it will never associate a user's name with surfing activity, and because the company only tracks the clicks on a computer, it cannot necessarily know who is visiting different sites from one hour to the next.

Claria's users agree to the tracking in exchange for free software that helps them fill out forms automatically or gives weather information, among other things. Assuming Claria attracts publishers willing to offer its PersonalWeb service, the incentive for users will merely be a more customized Web experience.

The same goes for Google's home page service. But some privacy advocates say they believe that as Google entices users to agree to surveillance of their online activities, it must do more to prove it deserves their trust. Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a research firm, said it gives Google a pretty good picture of what people are doing online.

Mr. Schwartz said that the company had been "above the board" when disclosing privacy issues raised by some of its products. Ms. Mayer of Google pointed out that when the company released its desktop search product last year, it asked administrators of computers with multiple users - like those in cybercafes - not to download it lest they inadvertently gather their users' surfing activity. But, Mr. Schwartz added: "They need to do a better job at educating people about how this could impact their privacy."

By BOB TEDESCHI from The New York Times

Sunday, May 22, 2005


Kind of like Found Magazine, but people send in their own secrets on a postcard. These are two that I like:


The DarkNet

The Darknet and the Future of Content Distribution

Peter Biddle, Paul England, Marcus Peinado, and Bryan Willman

We investigate the darknet – a collection of networks and technologies used to share digital content. The darknet is not a separate physical network but an application and protocol layer riding on existing networks. Examples of darknets are peer-to-peer file sharing, CD and DVD copying, and key or password sharing on email and newsgroups. The last few years have seen vast increases in the darknet’s aggregate bandwidth, reliability, usability, size of shared library, and availability of search engines. In this paper we categorize and analyze existing and future darknets, from both the technical and legal perspectives. We speculate that there will be short-term impediments to the effectiveness of the darknet as a distribution mechanism, but ultimately the darknet-genie will not be put back into the bottle. In view of this hypothesis, we examine the relevance of content protection and content distribution architectures.

*Statements in this paper represent the opinions of the authors and not necessarily the position of Microsoft Corporation.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Das Keyboard

Jorge Cortell Censored for Giving Lecture on P2P

Bowing to pressure from (yes) the MPAA, Cortell has been fired from his university position for giving a lecutre on P2P filesharing.



Lake Disappears, Baffling Villagers

A Russian village was left baffled Thursday after its lake disappeared overnight.

Story (Yahoo News)

Thursday, May 19, 2005

My Google

From this am: Apparently some screenshots got leaked and some rumors got started during the Tour Webcast. Google is rumored to be unveilling a new Google-style, customizable portal app later on today.

And they have. There's no RSS feeder yet, but you can link to your GMail account (once everyone has "webclips" I predict, is when the RSS will be built into iGoogle as well.) and display all sorts of customizable stuff.

Google has registered the domain name iGoogle, but as of now it just displays the regular homepage. The customizable page is here.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Boxed thoughts

I know i wrote about this already but I think it's really neat and it's also taken off quite a bit:

Boxed Thoughts
Boxedthoughts is a collective snippet of human thought; a thoughtstream. All thoughts are anonymous.

A lot of them are kind of trite ("Why do i love him/her so much" etc. Strangely, there are no "why am i so concerned with sexual reproduction?") but it's a nifty idea, in my opinion.

PNAS Classic Papers

I think the full text is available to all - this includes Nash's paper on game theory and Hubble's on the Expansion of the Universe.

PNAS Classic Papers

Dave Matthews's new CD DRM crashes PCs

Dave Matthews has released a new CD with Windows DRM that crashes your PC when you put it into your drive.

Ha ha ha!

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Stranger Found Soaked at Sea

Do you know this man? Mystery of the silent, talented piano player who lives for his music

His rendition of Swan Lake only clue to identity of stranger found soaked by the sea
Steven Morris
Monday May 16 2005
The Guardian

Dripping wet and deeply disturbed, the smartly-dressed man was discovered walking along a windswept road beside the sea. Over the next few days he steadfastly refused, or was unable, to answer the most simple questions about who he was or where he had come from.It was only when someone in hospital had the bright idea of leaving him with a piece of paper and pencils that the first intriguing clue about the stranger's past emerged. He drew a detailed sketch of a grand piano. Excited, hospital staff showed him into a room with a piano and he began to skilfully perform meandering, melancholy airs. Several weeks later he has still not spoken a word, expressing himself only through his music.

Some who have heard the "piano man", as he has been nicknamed, believe he may be a professional musician. One theory is that he has suffered a trauma which has caused amnesia, one of the methods the mind uses to retreat from a shock. Personal memories can be lost while the ability to communicate - or, for instance, play the piano - is not.The man's carers have become so desperate to find out who he is and what has happened to him that they have allowed his photograph to be taken in the hope that someone will solve the mystery.

The "piano man" was found on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, last month. He wore a black jacket, smart trousers and a tie, all dripping wet. Police officers tried to find out who he was and if he had fallen into the sea, been pushed or even swum ashore from a boat - but the man remained silent. They dried him off as best they could and took him to accident and emergency at the Medway Maritime hospital in Gillingham. Doctors examined the man, who appeared to be in his 20s or 30s, and found nothing wrong with him, but still he failed to respond to questions. He was difficult to assess as he appeared terrified of any new face, sometimes rolling himself into a ball and edging into a corner.

After hours of trying to elicit any scrap of detail about his life, someone had the idea of leaving him with a drawing pad and pencils. When they returned an hour later they found he had produced an excellent and detailed sketch of a grand piano. Realising that music might be the key to unlock the mystery, he was taken to the hospital's chapel, which contains a piano. The man sat down at the instrument and began to play. The doctors were amazed at the transformation. For the first time since he had been found on Sheppey he appeared calm and relaxed. He was also a good player - some say exceptional.

In the following weeks the "piano man" returned regularly to the chapel. He played sections from Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky but most often seemed to prefer to perform what appear to be his own compositions, which have been compared to the work of the Italian composer Ludovico Einaudi. Some hospital staff are convinced he is a professional musician and may even have been performing not long before he was found - hence his smart black clothes.Canon Alan Amos, the hospital chaplain, said: "He likes to play what I would call mood music - quite circular in nature without defined beginnings or endings." Mr Amos suggested he was using music as an anaesthetic. "Playing the piano seems to be the only way he can control his nerves and his tension and relax. When he is playing he blanks everything else out. He pays attention to nothing but the music."If allowed to he would play the piano for three or four hours at a stretch and at times has had to be physically removed from it because he refused to stop.

When he is away from the piano he almost always carried a plastic folder with sheet music inside. Mr Amos said he did not believe the man was a professional musician, but someone who played well for his own pleasure. He suggested that he might have been wearing dark clothes on the day he was found because he had been to a funeral. He said: "It's a very sad case. Clearly there must have been some sort of trauma and it is important to find out what it was."

The "piano man" was eventually transferred to a psychiatric unit in Dartford, where he was given access to a piano. Manager Ramanah Venkiah said: "He has been playing the piano to a very high quality and staff say it is a real pleasure to hear it. But we don't know what his position is because he is not cooperating at all."Research has suggested that exposure to familiar music can help people suffering post-traumatic amnesia. Some therapists offer music to help such patients recover lost memories and face the traumatic event which led to their state. Meanwhile social workers have issued a missing persons' bulletin on him. Until he is identified he will no doubt continue to play his sad but soothing music to the pleasure of those caring for him and his fellow patients.

Anyone who has information that might help to identify the "piano man" should email

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

See also: Hollywood considers film on lost identity 'piano man'

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Google will eat itself

These guys, I think, have a grand but unrealizable plan: set up an AdSense account, then use the revenue to buy google shares, causing google to "eat itself". I'm not even close to being an economist, but this does not seem like it's going to work.

I suspected as much...

You are 71% Rational, 14% Extroverted, 42% Brutal, and 28% Arrogant.

You are the Robot! You are characterized by your rationality. In fact,
this is really ALL you are characterized by. Like a cold, heartless
machine, you are so logical and unemotional that you scarcely seem
human. For instance, you are very humble and don't bother thinking of
your own interests, you are very gentle and lack emotion, and you are
also very introverted and introspective. You may have noticed that
these traits are just as applicable to your laptop as they are to a
human being. In short, your personality defect is that you don't really
HAVE a personality. You are one of those annoying, super-logical people
that never gets upset or flustered. Unless, of course, you short

To put it less negatively:

1. You are more RATIONAL than intuitive.

2. You are more INTROVERTED than extroverted.

3. You are more GENTLE than brutal.

4. You are more HUMBLE than arrogant.


Your exact opposite is the Class Clown.

Other personalities you would probably get along with are the Hand-Raiser, the Emo Kid, and the Haughty Intellectual.

My test tracked 4 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 56% on Rationality
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 12% on Extroversion
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 48% on Brutality
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 21% on Arrogance
Link: The Personality Defect Test written by saint_gasoline on Ok Cupid

file this under awesome:

From New Scientist

IN A DORM ROOM dimly lit by a lava lamp, a freshman awaits the beginning of his first LSD trip. Slowly, the walls come alive and begin to dance with colour. And then he sees whirling spirals of stars that disappear into the distance. A network of cobwebs that grows across the room. An infinite subway tube, surrounded by fluorescent lights...

Across campus, his science teachers experience their own psychedelic visions—but without resorting to illegal mind-altering substances. Jack Cowan, a mathematician and neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, has built a neural network so powerful it can trip out. His computer's hallucinations match with almost spooky accuracy the visions of acid trippers, shamans and seers—visions that have always been interpreted as revelations from a transcendental consciousness.

Now, after more than two decades, Cowan and his team think they have found where hallucinations really come from. And there's nothing transcendental about it. An LSD trip is really a journey into the brain, says Cowan. "It's just the innate tendency of the brain to make patterns when it goes unstable."

Cowan's goal is to find out how the brain makes sense of the visible world—not when we're tripping, but under ordinary circumstances. In the process, he may learn how it breaks down in other extraordinary conditions, such as migraine headaches. Hallucinations could even offer a route to the more profound depths of the mind, to emotions and conscious thought.

Hallucinations seem to come in an endless variety, as individual as dreams. So it seems improbable that they can even be categorised, never mind calculated by a computer. But in the 1920s, Heinrich Klüver, a neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, discovered they did indeed fall into a number of distinct categories. Klüver interviewed dozens of people who had taken the drug mescaline, and even took it himself. Keeping a commendably straight head, Klüver eventually saw patterns in the patterns.

In the earliest stages of a trip, most subjects reported seeing abstract, geometrical images. Other writers have noted the same thing. "The typical mescaline or lysergic acid experiment begins with perceptions of coloured, moving, living geometrical forms," wrote Aldous Huxley in 1954 in Heaven and hell. "In time, the pure geometry becomes concrete, and the visionary perceives, not patterns, but patterned things, such as carpets, coverings, mosaics." Klüver classified these patterns into four types or "form-constants": tunnels, spirals, cobwebs and honeycombs.

Unlike Huxley and Klüver, Cowan has never sampled the drugs he studies. "I feel bad about it," he says. "I have to rely on all these reports in the literature." He also hears plenty of personal accounts from students and others who attend his lectures. "Some people see these illusions when they're going to sleep or waking up," Cowan says. "People have seen them after taking anaesthetics. People claim to see them when they meditate, or have so-called near-death experiences." Cowan believes that the "tunnel of light" illusion commonly reported in near-death experiences is simply the first of Klüver's four form-constants.

Cowan was turned on to the study of hallucinations from an unexpected direction. In 1977 he was working on pattern formation with graduate student Bard Ermentrout when he stumbled across illustrations of Klüver's patterns. "We saw immediately that the hallucination patterns were similar to convection patterns," says Cowan.

The convection of hot water involves a delicate interplay of forces. When a pan of water is heated from below, the hot water at the bottom is more buoyant than the water above, and tries to rise. If the temperature difference is not too great, the lower layer sheds its heat by diffusion before it can rise very far, so the water remains stable. But at a certain critical temperature, diffusion is not enough to cool off the lower layer, so plumes of hot water start to rise. Between each pair of rising plumes, cold water descends, so a pattern spontaneously emerges: rolling tubes of water that form parallel stripes, or square or hexagonal cells. Cowan guessed that hallucinations must also be spontaneous patterns of activity produced by two competing forces—this time in the brain. One, like the water's buoyancy, tends to excite neurons while the other, like the diffusion of heat, tends to calm them down. He speculated that this could happen in the primary visual cortex, sometimes called V1. This is a layer of tissue two to three millimetres thick at the back of the brain which serves as the first layer of processing for images gathered by the retina.

To test their idea, Ermentrout and Cowan developed a mathematical model of V1 and gave it a dose of virtual LSD. Their model reflects the fact that each neuron tends to excite its neighbours and inhibit those a little farther away. Then when the eye sees a large, featureless object, like a big red blob of paint, every neuron in the middle of the image will be excited by nearby neurons and inhibited by those farther away. So it receives no net input from other neurons. It's the brain's way of saying, "There's nothing interesting happening here."

LSD upsets this balance. One of the effects of the drug is to allow neurons to fire when there is nothing in the visual field. Ordinarily, a neuron won't start firing unless the input from the retina and from neighbours exceeds a critical threshold. This ensures that if a neuron fires by mistake, it won't convince its neighbours to fire and the activity dies out. But drugs can lower the threshold—LSD does it by making the brainstem secrete less of the inhibitory chemical serotonin. If the threshold is lowered far enough, then excitation starts to beat inhibition, and spontaneous waves of activity form in the brain. It's like turning up the heat under the pan of water. The first patterns that form will be the same ones that are seen in the water: parallel stripes, checkerboards and hexagons.

So why don't LSD users see parallel stripes across their visual field? Because these patterns are in the cortex, not the retina, Cowan reasoned. A lot of cortical real estate is devoted to objects close to the centre of the field of vision, where our sight is sharp, while relatively little is used for peripheral vision. Mapped onto the cortex, an ordinary scene is grossly distorted: objects near the centre loom large, taking up most of the brain area. When you run this distortion backwards, evenly spaced parallel lines in the cortex appear sucked together into the centre of the visual field, creating the visual impression of either a spiral or a tunnel. The regular checkerboard and hexagon patterns turn into spiralling squares or hexagons.

So more than half a century after Klüver set out his form-constants, two of them were finally explained. LSD users see spirals and tunnels because those are the real-world objects that fit the patterns of neural firing in their cortex. Timothy Leary, the guru of "tune in, turn on, drop out" fame, speculated in The Psychedelic Experience, "These visions might be described as pure sensations of cellular and sub-cellular processes." So just as Leary guessed, the spaced-out brain is tuning into its own architecture.

But what about the other two form-constants, the cobweb and honeycomb illusions? These are both lacy, filigree patterns, while water boils in fat rolls, so it's obvious the convection analogy won't work here. Cowan was confidant that his theory would provide the framework to understand these hallucinations, too.

In the 1980s, it became clear that the neurons in V1 are not sensitive simply to the position of an image on the retina. Most of them are sensitive to edges, firing if they sense an edge passing through a particular point in the visual field but remain silent if that point is similar to its surroundings. These cells are arrayed in little patches called hypercolumns that represent a particular part of space (see Diagram). Within the hypercolumn, each neuron responds to an edge at a slightly different orientation.

Edge-detecting neurons in the brain

Instead of signalling to their neighbours in the same hypercolumn, these neurons contact their counterparts in different columns, which represent similar orientations in slightly different parts of space. Then, if there really is an edge, neurons with the right orientation excite each other, so the brain is more likely to detect it.

These long-range connections seemed essential to understanding the last two hallucination types, but they added a new level of complexity to Cowan's mathematical model of the cortex. Hot water was no longer a good analogy, because the forces at work there—buoyancy and viscosity—are all short range. Now equations were needed to describe something long range and direction-sensitive. The maths turned out to be like those of a hot gas in a magnetic field.

Cowan and his graduate student Matthew Wiener programmed in these equations, and found many possible waveforms could result. But they couldn't tell which of these patterns would be the first to appear spontaneously. They needed someone who could combine an expert's understanding of quantum mechanics and neuroscience, and in 1998, Cowan found just the person. Paul Bressloff of Loughborough University in Leicestershire had trained as a specialist in quantum gravity, then taken a detour into neural networks. In a few months of intense work at Chicago, he helped Cowan and Marty Golubitsky of the University of Houston work out the waves of activity that should emerge spontaneously among orientation-sensitive cells. The results appeared earlier this year in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (vol 356, p 1).

The winning patterns were those in which the edges naturally close up into small square or hexagonal cells. Cowan's theory precisely reproduces Klüver's two missing form-constants. When the fine-edged squares and hexagons on the cortex are filtered back through the retinal map, they look like lacy cobwebs and honeycombs.

So far so good. But has Cowan done any more than confirm a wiring pattern for the brain that neuroscientists had already worked out? He points out that to understand how the brain works, we need more than wiring: we have to know how these circuits actually behave.

In fact, Cowan's model does hint at this. One unexpected outcome is that subtle changes in the wiring of the model brain can cause significant changes to its preferred hallucination patterns. For example, if the long-range connections in the model always run between edge neurons that represent identical orientations, would generate hallucinations resembling herringbone twill. Clearly our brains are not wired this way; if they were, who knows what effect psychedelic visions of tweed blazers might have had on 1960s fashion. To produce cobwebs and hexagons, we actually need the connections to be a little more slapdash. Perhaps the human edge-detection system is wired this way because it helps us spot small, closed contours.

On the other hand, the herringbone patterns may emerge if the chemical stimulation is changed. Perhaps the theory can explain other kinds of visual disturbances that were thought to be unrelated to LSD hallucinations, such as the auras and zigzag patterns seen by people suffering a migraine attack. If so, it could tell us what changes in the brain cause migraines, and perhaps set us on course for a cure.

Lurking in the background is the much bigger issue of where the mind comes from. To what extent is the mind, and all the rich variety of inner experiences that gives us a sense of self, simply a product of physiological processes in the brain? Hallucinations could be a perfect place to start answering this question.

The apostles of the psychedelic sixties scorned the scientific approach to understanding an LSD trip. "Bobbing around in this brilliant, symphonic sea of imagery is the remnant of the conceptual mind," Leary wrote. "On the endless watery turbulence of the Pacific Ocean bobs a tiny open mouth, shouting (between saline mouthfuls), 'Order! System! Explain all this!'" To appreciate a hallucination, Leary said, you have to let go of the urge to rationalise it.

Tom Wolfe pitched in with The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. "The White Smocks liked to put it into words, like hallucination and dissociative phenomena. They could understand the visual skyrockets. Give them a good case of an ashtray turning into a Venus flytrap or eyelid movies of crystal cathedrals, and they could groove on that... That was swell. But don't you see?—the visual stuff was just the décor with LSD... The whole thing was ... the experience ... this certain indescribable feeling ... The experience of the barrier between the subjective and the objective, the personal and the impersonal, the Iand the not-I disappearing ... that feeling!"

Cowan makes no apologies for being one of the White Smocks. He thinks that the "visual skyrockets" and that "certain indescribable feeling" are part and parcel of the same experience. As the drug penetrates to deeper and deeper areas of the brain—visual layers, cognitive layers, emotional layers and, finally, whatever part of the brain gives us our sense of self-awareness—our subjective experience becomes enormously more complicated and richer. And yet what's going on at the cellular level may not be so different at each layer.

"Does that mean that everything can be observed and described?" Cowan asks. "I happen to believe the answer is yes. I don't think there's anything in the brain that science can't ultimately deal with." But the answers aren't going to come along tomorrow. "There are a hundred vision chips, a hundred sound chips. We now understand a bit more about one of the vision chips," he says. Cowan is already planning to look at other aspects of visual hallucinations, such as texture and size perception.

Journeying deeper still into the mind might not be much harder. The neocortex, the layer of the brain that includes V1, is the part that evolved most recently. It is also the part that supposedly makes humans so intelligent. Because it hasn't been around long, its cells are all structurally quite similar, even if their functions are quite different. "The reason this is a note for optimism," says Gary Blasdel of Harvard University, "is that when you really understand the operations that go on in a particular cortical area, it will generalise to other areas." Cowan's computerised visions might just be the beginning of a really cool trip.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

The Science of Gender and Science: Pinker vs Spelke


On April 22, 2005, Harvard University's Mind/Brain/Behavior Initiative (MBB) held a defining debate on the public discussion that began on January 16th with the public comments by Lawrence Summers, president of Harvard, on sex differences between men and women and how they may relate to the careers of women in science. The debate at MBB, "The Gender of Gender and Science" was "on the research on mind, brain, and behavior that may be relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes".

It's interesting to note that since the controversy surrounding Summers' remarks began, there has been an astonishing absence of discussion of the relevant won't find it in the hundreds and hundreds of articles in major newspapers; nor will find it in the Harvard faculty meetings where the president of the leading University in America was indicted for presenting controversial ideas.

Scientists debate continually, and reality is the check. They may have egos as large as those possessed by the iconic figures of the academic humanities, but they handle their hubris in a very different way. They can be moved by arguments, because they work in an empirical world of facts, a world based on reality. There are no fixed, unalterable positions. They are both the creators and the critics of their shared enterprise. Ideas come from them and they also criticize one another's ideas.

Through the process of creativity and criticism and debates, they decide which ideas get weeded out and which become part of the consensus that leads to the next level of discovery.

But unlike just about anything else said about Summers' remarks, the debate, "The Science of Gender and Science", between Harvard psychology professors Steven Pinker and Elizabeth Spelke, focused on the relevant scientific literature. It was both interesting on facts but differing in interpretation.

Both presented scientific evidence with the realization and understanding that there was nothing obvious about how the data was to be interpreted. Their sharp scientific debate informed rather than detracted. And it showed how a leading University can still fulfill its role of providing a forum for free and open discussion on controversial subjects in a fair-minded way. It also had the added benefit that the participants knew what they were talking about.

Who won the debate? Make up your own mind. Watch the video, listen to the audio, read the text and check out the slide presentations.

There's a lesson here: let's get it right and when we do we will adjust our attitudes. That's what science can do, and that's what Edge offers by presenting Pinker vs. Spelke to a wide public audience.



They have audio and video from the debate, as well as the slides used by Pinker and Spelke.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Bad Stats, Bad Medicine

The recent ruckus over the safety of the pain relievers Vioxx and Celebrex makes the opinionated Web site Improving Medical Statistics a timely read. Eric Roehm, a cardiologist from Round Rock, Texas, exposes statistical gaffes, shoddy study designs, and unwarranted conclusions that slipped past peer review and into the pages of top journals. For example, the doctor's warning that pregnant women should abstain from alcohol stems from a flawed 1984 study that didn't factor out the effects of smoking. Even the 2001 paper that first raised questions about the safety of Vioxx and Celebrex has a weakness: The researchers compared the treatment group from one study to placebo groups from other trials.

Improving Medical Statistics

(from Science magazine)

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The simple fact that there IS such a school

Showbiz Reporter

MADCAP movie-maker Tim Burton blew millions on new film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — training squirrels to crack nuts.

The Batman director was determined to recreate the “nut room” scene in Roald Dahl’s novel for his movie starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. He spent six months teaching the 200 rodents to crack hazelnuts, sort them and load them on a conveyor belt. He then spent ANOTHER ten weeks filming the scene at London’s Pinewood Studios.

Burton, 46, said: “We used actual rodents. From birth, we sent them to training school for six months.”

The 1971 film version of Dahl’s bizarre book — Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory — did not have any animals in the scene.

But a source said: “Tim was determined to bring the nut room to life. Using squirrels proved too difficult in the first film, but he spent millions of pounds getting it right.”

Burton spared no expense on the movie, in which Depp plays factory boss Willy. He also created a chocolate river and an 80ft chocolate waterfall.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Hilton Opens First Undersea Restaurant

Hilton has opened the first undersea restaurant at the Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa Rangali Island. The restaurant sits over 16 feet down in the Indian ocean and has 270-degree water views.

Pi: Less Random Than We Thought

<i>If you wanted a random number, historically you could do worse than to pick a sequence from the string of digits in pi. But Purdue University scientists now say other sources might be better. </i>
Physicists including Purdue's Ephraim Fischbach have completed a study comparing the 'randomness' in pi to that produced by 30 software random-number generators and one chaos-generating physical machine. pi's digit string does not always produce randomness as effectively as manufactured generators do.

Should we Abandon the Theory Theory?

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Recommended Articles
Sent By: Kati
1.Should we abandon the theory theory?
Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 9, Issue 5, May 2005, Pages 215-216
Evan Heit

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Sunday, May 01, 2005

Boxed Thoughts

100x100px snippets of thought. If you only had ten seconds left to live, what would you say? Membership is open now, but will be invite only 'soon'. You have to wait 4 hours between your posts. Interesting and thought provoking.