Thursday, January 31, 2008

Scientific American Mind (Feb)

The February edition of Scientific American Mind is out and there are a number of interesting freely available articles online. First, there is a review article that (among other things) lists the web's best psychology / neuroscience blogs: Cognitive Daily, Mind Hacks, PsyBlog, The Neurocritic, and The Frontal Cortext all get favorable mentions. (I read all these blogs, by the way, and can recommend them all).

Then there is the fascinating column by Scott Lilienfeld and Hal Arkowitz on "brainscams" that they dedicate to the late skeptical psychologist Barry Beyerstein. (Beyerstein, incidentally, was interviewed [mp3] on The Skeptics Guide to the Universe shortly before his death). The column debunks three persistent myths: (1) that we use only 10% of our brain, (2) that some people are left-brained and others right-brained and (3) that we can use alpha waves to aid relaxation and achieve a more profound consciousness.

Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse argue that widespread public misconceptions (like most Americans believing there is incontrovertible evidence of WMD in Iraq before the war) is not due to "politically motivated disinformation campaign[s]" but to "common types of reasoning errors, which appear frequently in discussions in the news media and which can easily fool an unsuspecting public." Specifically, they think public misconception engendered by the media is due to the straw man fallacy and, a variation thereof, what they call the weak man argument (in which someone attacks the weakest argument of an opponent, falsely implying it is representative of the opponent's arguments).

Finally, Chip Walter attempts to answer the mystery of why we kiss and, in doing so, he surveys a host of intriguing recent findings that are starting to shed some light on why kissing evolved and what its biological effects are today.

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