Friday, October 16, 2009

Lazy Linking

"The Durban Boredom Festival"
  • So a friend, my fiancée and I went to a local psychic fair recently. I was planning to write about it... but it was a horrid experience, so I never got round it it. Luckily, Angela (the aforementioned fiancée) has written a great account of what went down at the fair and trust me, short as it is, her post contains everything you'll possibly want to know about it. Overall conclusion: way too much incense, rampant woo, boring as hell, complete ripoff.
  • BPS Research Digest reports on using fMRI et. al. to spot lying. Short version: it doesn't work. (At least not yet).
  • Malcolm Gladwell's latest New Yorker piece in which he compares the morality of dogfighting - almost universally reviled - with that of American football. It turns out that, like with boxing, a football career often results in an Alzheimers-like condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Amazingly, new resarch using accelerometers has revealed players regularly suffer hits to the head of up to 90gs. Not surprisingly this is a Bad Thing that does severe damage to the brain over the long run. Gladwell suggests this may make football morally comparable to dogfighting: the injuries and suffering of the players are an inherent and ineradicable feature of the game.
  • As a big rugby fan I couldn't help wondering what the situation is like for my favorite Saturday diversion. Do rugby players also suffer as much damage? Obviously, only research could settle the issue (and some may already exist, I don't know). From the armchair, it's difficult to tell: on the one hand, there are many fewer hits to the head in rugby but, on the other, the players don't wear helmets or much protective gear. My (rather bland) guess, for the little that's worth, is that brain trauma is not as common in rugby as it is in football or boxing, but significantly more prevalent than in the general populace. I'm not going to stop watching though, that's for sure.
"Psychology: A Reality Check" (paywall, I think)
  • A great Nature editorial calling for evidence-based clinical psychology in the United States. I'd say it's also much needed elsewhere, the training of psychologists is often criminally devoid of science or even critical thinking. 
  • "Clinical psychology at least has its roots in experimentation, but it is drifting away from science. Concerns about cost–benefit issues are growing, especially in the United States. According to a damning report [pdf] published last week an alarmingly high proportion of practitioners consider scientific evidence to be less important than their personal — that is, subjective — clinical experience."
  • "The irony is that, during the past 20 years, science has made great strides in directions that could support clinical psychology — in neuroimaging, for example, as well as molecular and behavioural genetics, and cognitive neuroscience. Numerous psychological interventions have been proved to be both effective and relatively cheap. Yet many psychologists continue to use unproven therapies that have no clear outcome measures — including, in extreme cases, such highly suspect regimens as 'dolphin-assisted therapy'."
    "How We Lost Our Diversity"
    • Interesting piece by the excellent Ann Gibbons about new research on the causes of human genetic homogeneity (relative to other primates).
    • "Modern humans are a lot alike - at least at the genetic level - compared with other primates. If you compare any two people from far-flung corners of the globe, their genomes will be much more similar than those of any pair of chimpanzees, gorillas, or other apes from different populations. Now, evolutionary geneticists have shown that our ancestors lost much of their genetic diversity in two dramatic bottlenecks that sharply squeezed down the population of modern humans as they moved out of Africa between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago."
    • See also: John Hawks' fairly critical analysis of the same study.
    • Razib Khan over at Gene Expression on how Ardi drives home the message that drawing analogies between humans and the other extant apes can be misleading. Six million years is a long time, and there's no reason to think our common ancestor with the chimps and bonobos was particularly chimp-like. Somewhat counterintuitively, the opposite might even be true.
    "Dear Penn and Teller: Bullshit!"
    • I've only recently remembered that I have Season 6 of Penn & Teller's Bullshit so I'm only watching it now. And like Massimo Pigliucci in the above post, I just hated their episode (6-06) on environmentalism. Libertarians so obviously have blinkers on when it comes to global warming that it positively amazes me that they're not more self-critical. It also reminds us all, of course, that being vigilant about our own biases is important.  
    "Islam: A Shifting Focus"
    • One of the most widespread misconceptions about Islam is that most of its faithful are Arabs. In actual fact, Asian Muslims vastly outnumber Muslims from other parts of the world, making up 61.9% of the global number of 1.57 billion believers.
    • "A new survey of the world’s Muslim population, by the Pew Research Center based in Washington, DC, will help those who are keen to break that link [i.e. the perception that most Muslims are Arabs]. It estimates the total number of Muslims in the world at 1.57 billion, or about 23% of a global population of 6.8 billion. Almost two-thirds of Muslims live in Asia, with Indonesia providing the biggest contingent (203m), followed by Pakistan (174m) and India (160m)."
    • "Perhaps more surprising will be the finding that the European country with the highest Muslim population is not France or Germany, but Russia, where 16.5m adherents of Islam make up nearly 12% of the total national population. Compared with other surveys, the report gives a lowish estimate for the number of Muslims in France (3.6m), as it does for the United States (2.5m); in both those countries, secular principles make it impossible to ask religious questions on a census."
    Carnival of Evolution 16
    • A superb edition of the Carnival of Evolution - there are many worthwhile posts to check out. My pieces on foxes and on chameleons were featured. 


    1. Wow, good stuff. If this post is what you call lazy, I don't want you to *ever* work! ;-)

      (Just surfed in from the Gene_Callahan evopsych thread.)