Saturday, March 8, 2008

Lazy linking: Some popular pieces

There has been a flood of really interesting popular articles relevant to this blog in the last couple of weeks. Here are a few of them...

Pride of place must go to Dr. Mark Colvin's short, sharp critique of homeopathy. Colvin argues convincingly that South Africa (and Africa generally) should only use medicine that has been shown to be effective. He concludes: "Internationally there is a growing recognition that approaches that claim to have beneficial health effects must be substantiated scientifically. Maybe we should follow suit and seriously review the contribution that homeopathy and other forms of complementary medicine have, or do not have, towards improving human health."

Scientific American's fantastic psychology/neuroscience/cognitive science blog Mind Matters published a good piece on embodied cognition. The author, Art Glenberg, begins by attacking the "mind as computer" analogy, summarizes some recent research and then speculates about the possibility of using the findings of embodied cognition research to help improve pedagogy. While I'm somewhat skeptical of the more extreme claims made by embodied cognition enthusiasts, Glenberg's article is interesting and worthwhile.

Then there is Jim Holt's genuinely fantastic New Yorker article on "the numbers guy", Stanislas Dehaene. Dehaene, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Coll├Ęge de France, is one of the leading lights in the field of numerical cognition, the study of the cognitive and neurological bases of the number sense. The article is long and detailed but definitely worth it.

The Times ran a light-hearted but interesting article on "finger expert" John Manning. Manning, a psychologist at the University of Central Lanchester, has established pretty convincingly that sporting ability, sexual orientation and a number of other variables correlate strongly with 2nd to 4th digit finger ratio. The finger ratio, in turn, is determined by prenatal exposure to sex hormones such as testosterone. (To be clear, the hypothesis is that prenatal hormonal exposure determines both sporting ability, etc. and finger ratios. The ratio, in other words, is a proxy, it's not directly causal).

Finally, Time Magazine tackled expert performance in its article "The Science of Experience". The bottom line of the literature the article summarizes is that experience alone does not result in expertize; it is the combination of "deliberative practice" ("dedicated, slogging, generally solitary exertion") and regularly obtaining accurate feedback that yields expert performance. (Please ignore the silly speculation about Obama and Clinton, I have no idea why the journalist found it necessary to ruin a perfectly good science article with such cant.)

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