Friday, November 13, 2009

Lazy linking...

Your semi- quasi- pseudo- weekly dose of Lazy Linking...

"Grandma Plays Favorites"
  • A report by ScienceNOW on fascinating research on grandparent kin-altruism. According to the grandmother hypothesis, older women survive well past menopause (or have it in the first place) because over evolutionary time the marginal benefits of taking care of grandchildren were larger than the marginal benefits of additional children (possibly because the chance of having a healthy baby decreases dramatically with age).
  • Various studies have been done to test this hypothesis, but the results have been mixed. Now Fox et. al. have a proposal that could account for these mixed findings: that altruism varies by sex-linked chromosomes. In terms of the sex-chromosomes, paternal grandmothers are on average 50% related to their granddaughters, but not related to their grandsons at all. (Since a male is  XY and a female XX, a boy must get his Y chromosome from his father and his X chromosome from his mother). Maternal grandmothers, on the other hand, will on average share 25% of their sex-chromosomes with both grandsons and granddaughters.    
  • In other words, if you are a paternal grandmother it makes sense to dote on granddaughters (again, at least when it comes to sex-chromosomes) and if you are a maternal grandmother, it makes sense to dote equally. And, apparently, controlling for these different genetic interests makes sense of the previously-inconsistent data.
"Who's the Scientist?"
  • Seventh graders describe scientists before and after a visit to Fermilab. Not surprisingly, meeting an actual scientist changes children's perceptions dramatically, and for the better.
"Clever fools: Why a high IQ doesn't mean you're smart"
  • Excellent New Scientist piece on how IQ does a pretty bad job of measuring intellectual competence. The problem with people like George Bush, I have long thought (and the article basically agrees), isn't that they are stupid, it's that they subscribe to an unjustified epistemology in which they elevate intuition, ideology, and "gut feelings" over critical thinking and science. As I have said time and again, the human mind is prone to innumerable biases and rigorous thinking, humility, open mindedness and a reliance on reason are the only antidotes.
"Creationism Taught as Science in South African State Schools"
  • The title says it all. Depressing, annoying, unacceptable.  
"A Language of Smiles"
  • It has been known for a long time that the simple act of smiling can lift your mood and frowning can sour it. The most excellent Olivia Judson puts these findings together with the fact that different languages require different frequencies of mouth movements, some of which resemble smiling and others frowning. So if language A has a lot of sounds requiring speakers to pull a smile-like face, and language B lots of sounds requiring a frown-like face, we might have an interesting (but subtle and partial) explanation for different national cultures. German, for example, contains a lot of vowels that make you frown... 
 "Reforming libel law: A city named sue" (registration required).
  • The Economist argues, entirely convincingly, that England's libel laws are archaic and damaging to free speech. Some American media organizations are now actually threatening to stop publishing in England and blocking access to their websites there. 
  • Good ideas for reform include shifting the burden of proof to the claimant and capping damages. Dear House of Commons: do something, dammit. 
"Probably guilty: Bad mathematics means rough justice"
  • Innumeracy - the inability to deal competently with basic mathematics and statistics - is a Bad Thing. (As John Allen Paulos has argued). As this article explains, innumeracy in the legal system leads to miscarriages of justice.
"Next-gen PhDs fail to find Web 2.0's 'on-switch'"
  • The Times Higher Education Supplement reports on a survey that suggests 'Generation Y' graduate students have not embraced Web 2.0. C'mon guys... RSS and blogs are particularly valuable tools: use them. (I have my doubts about social bookmarking).
  • A weakness: the study (at least as reported here) did not compare patterns of use among the Ph.Ds to the wider population of Generation Y.
"Face the Facts - and End the War on Drugs" - Johann Hari
  • It so obvious I find it embarrassing to have to point it out: governance ought to be evidence-based. Alas, policymakers are notoriously immune to the facts, especially so on issues people are prone to go into moral panic about. The evidence with regards to drugs is overwhelming and clear: prohibition causes far more harm than good. Deal with it like alcoholism: decriminalize and treat it like a public health issue.
  • See also: a piece in this week's Economist on how drugs are becoming 'virtually legal' due to laws not being enforced.
"How did I get Here?"
  • Wonderful post over at Science, Reason and Critical Thinking tracing various contingent links between events, books and so on that led him to where he is now. Cue a cliche about the butterfly effect.
"Cell Size and Scale"
  • Awesome little interactive on the Learn.Genetics site showing the size of various biological parts and organisma, ranging in scale from a rice grain to a carbon atom. It reminds me of that awesome video I posted a while back on the size of the planets compared to the Sun, and the Sun compared to other stars.

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