Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Lazy Linking

"Psychopathy seems to be caused by specific mental deficiencies"
  • The Economist reviews research that used the venerable Wason selection task to reveal psychopaths seem unable to understand social contracts. This suggests (albeit weakly) that psychopathy is a frequency-dependent adaptation. 
  • Time magazine profile of the courageous James Onen, head of Freethought Kampalaan organization dedicated to science and reason in a highly superstitious country.
    "The Shadow Scholar"
    • Disturbing Chronicle of Higher Education profile of an 'academic mercenary' paid to write essays and other academic work for students. Scary stuff.
    • It seems to me that there is little academics themselves can do about this problem. If I suspect a student has paid someone to do her work for her, then what? I... hack her email account? The only long-term solution, it seems to me, is to criminalize the companies that provide these services - after all, they're arguably committing (or at least abetting) fraud. When the companies' records are seized, guilty students should be tracked down and punished. Degrees should be withdrawn, etc. I'm not saying this will solve the problem completely, but it'll at least lessen it, and provide some deterrent. 
    "Freaks, Geeks, and Economists"
    • The subtitle says it all: "a study confirms every suspicion you ever had about high-school dating".
    • Fallacies categorized and their family relationships mapped. Good stuff. 
    "This Is Your Brain on Metaphors"
    • Robert Sapolsky does great work, and this piece is as good evidence of that as any. He reviews a bunch of research which demonstrates that the brain conflates the literal and metaphorical. That is, certain 'higher' mental functions (like morality) is simply bolted onto 'lower' mental functions (like disgust). 
    • "Nelson Mandela was wrong when he advised, “Don’t talk to their minds; talk to their hearts.” He meant talk to their insulas and cingulate cortices and all those other confused brain regions, because that confusion could help make for a better world."
    "Tanzania's first elected albino MP fears for life"
    • What's the harm? This. This is the harm. 
    • Quacks + poachers = rhinos in trouble.
    "Not so fast... What's so premature about premature ejaculation?"
    • Jesse Bering strikes again. Premature ejaculation from an evolutionary perspective... Be sure to read the incisive comments.
    • Profile of Arthur Goldstuck, premiere cataloger of South Africa's urban legends. I attended the book launch, and I've read his latest book (The Burglar in the Bin Bag). Very good stuff. 
    • Arthur is on Twitter as @art2gee and blogs at Urban Legends.
    "What’s In Placebos?"
    • Apparently placebos are not all alike. Steven Novella covers the fascinating details and discusses the consequences. 
    "Palestinian Blogger Angers West Bank Muslims"
    • It's not exactly surprising that an atheist is unwelcome in the West Bank, but (1) it's still lametable that he isn't but (2) heartening that he exists at all. 
    "10 Bizarre Medical Discoveries"
    • Sample: symptoms of asthma can be treated with a roller coaster ride... 
    "Kasparov versus the World"
    • The fascinating story of Gary Kasparov's epic game against the rest of the world (well, a huge number of chess players who collaborated online). Kasparov called it "the greatest game in the history of chess".
    "The glorious mess of real scientific results"
    • This is written by Ben Goldacre. Go, read.
    "Calculate the Effect of an Asteroid Impact on Earth"
    • Go on, what are you waiting for? You know you want to...
    "Putting a Hex on Hitler, 1941"
    • Life covers a batty attempt to defeat Hitler... with witchcraft. 
    "There Are 5,000 Janitors in the U.S. with PhDs"
    • :-(
    • Another Economist piece, this time a review of the book A Wicked Company: The Forgotten Radicalism of the European Enlightenment. According to the review, the book is the story of the salon presided over by the (unjustly forgotten - but not by me) Baron d'Holbach
    "The Fascinating Story of the Twins Who Share Brains, Thoughts, and Senses"
    Pretty / WOW / heh

    "'Dance Your Ph.D. 2010' Winner Announced"
    • This is just wonderful. Watch the video, srsly.
    "National Geographic's Photography Contest 2010"
    • Must see gorgeousness from Big Picture.
    "Wildlife through the lens"
    • Beautiful wildlife photography.
    "The Difference Between Jesus and Zombies"
    • heh
    "What I Think About Atlas Shrugged"
    • Sci-fi author John Scalzi rips into Ayn Rand. Hilarity results. 

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    15 Authors

    There is a meme going round Facebook called "15 Authors" in which you list (you guessed it) 15 authors who have "influenced you and that will always stick with you". This is mine...

    1. Joseph Heller -- Catch-22 is funniest book ever written - also: it's profound. Pity the fools who don't get it. [You know who you are].
    2. Sophocles -- his plays are masterpieces. I've read Oedipus Rex five times, and it still gives me goose-bumps.
    3. Dan Dennett -- too many brilliant books to count. Darwin's Dangerous Idea is arguably one of the best non-fiction books of the 90s. His "Postmodernism and Truth" shaped my thinking significantly.
    4. Jorge Louis Borges -- author of innumerable mind-bending and beautiful short-stories. If you've not done so yet, listen to "The Library of Babel" (the mp3 is here).
    5. John Stuart Mill -- On Liberty is his most important book, but his autobiography and A System of Logic are also very good.
    6. Mancur Olson -- An economist actually worth reading. The Logic of Collective Action and Power and Prosperity are both must-reads. (The speculation about the origins of states in P&P is fantastic).
    7. Vladimir Nabokov -- I've not read enough of his work, but Lolita is a disturbing, incisive study of obsession. His prose is sublime.
    8. Simon Blackburn -- I actually like only one of his books - Think. The latter is the best single-volume introduction to philosophy. I read it at a pivotal time in my intellectual development.
    9. Steven Pinker -- possibly the best popularizer of science around. Like Think, I read How the Mind Works at a pivotal time: it was really the start of my interest in science as a whole, and psychology and evolution in particular. The Blank Slate is also excellent.
    10. Jared Diamond -- Guns, Germs and Steel is in my opinion THE best non-fiction book of the 90s. Must. Read. The Third Chimpanzee is also worth a read. (But avoid Why is Sex Fun?)
    11. Cormac McCarthy -- The Road and Blood Meridian are wonderful both. I've decided to read his entire oeuvre over the next couple of years.
    12. Paul Theroux -- his travel writing is something to behold. I'm not a huge fan of his fiction, other than The Mosquito Coast.
    13. Richard Dawkins -- He's had a tremendous influence on me. The Selfish Gene first introduced modern theoretical biology to me, and it's had a lasting impact. The God Delusion inspired me to "come out" to my family as an atheist. His best book since The Blind Watchmaker is The Ancestor's Tale, if you haven't read it yet, do so.
    14. Malcolm Gladwell -- my favorite science journalist. I've read all three of his books (Outliers is the best, followed by Blink, then The Tipping Point). He's actually on the list for his long-from New Yorker essays. Have a look at his archive.
    15. John Rawls -- A Theory of Justice is the locus classicus of 20th century political philosophy. Reading it had an absolutely profound effect on me.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Light posting apology (again)...

    Apologies about not posting much of late - I've been rather busy in the meatspace. I'm planning a couple of posts in the next week or so, so you won't be completely without your IE fix.

    In the mean time, two bloggers who haven't been bloggily-unproductive are Ed Yong (of Not Exactly Rocket Science) and Vaughn Bell of Mind Hacks. So go there!