Unrelated to all that, 8/1 edition

Moths Attracted to Light by Steve Irvine

Moths attracted to light

Psychology Comes To Halt As Weary Researchers Say The Mind Cannot Possibly Study Itself

“Can the eye watch itself? Can a book read its own pages? No. It’s now clear to us that despite all the painstakingly conducted studies and all the data we have meticulously gathered since the late 19th century, we have, in essence, been nothing more than the snake that devours its own tail.”

The Search

Concisely ‘sell’ the value of your research right up front, in all possible application materials.  Everyone evaluates applications differently- some start at the cover letter and read through, some go straight to the cv or to your research statement, some skip all these and just read your papers.  The one universal seems to be that everyone is pressed for time, and so not all of your materials will be read deeply (or read at all!) by the committee members.  Therefore you need to be somewhat redundant in that you need to succinctly outline the questions that motivate you, the value of those questions, and why you are awesome right up front, in both your cover letter and your research statement…Finally, don’t waste your own time: make sure there is some good reason you’re applying for each position.  I found that I never heard a peep from the jobs that seemed like a stretch for me.

Subway Science

An interactive subway map of modern science

subway map of science

The End of ‘Genius’

As late as the Renaissance, people we’d now consider quasi-divine creators were more likely to be seen as deft imitators, making compelling work from familiar materials. Shakespeare, for example, did not typically dream up new ideas for plays but rewrote, adapted and borrowed from the plots, characters and language of previous works. “Romeo and Juliet,” as Mark Rose, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, notes, is an episode-by-episode dramatization of a poem by Arthur Brooke.

Skepticism about subliminal priming

The debate over the power of subliminal perception has been enduring, started before Freud’s influence (with experimental claims dating to the mid-late 1800s), and continued unabated throughout the 20th century. The reason for skepticism comes from that history. If there is one consistent, recurring pattern in that literature, it is that new claims of powerful subliminal or implicit influences on behavior are later shown to have occurred with awareness, to have been subject to uncontrolled demand characteristics, or to be unreplicable.

A Network Analysis of Food Flows within the United States of America

network analysis of food flows

Learning about theory does not teach people how to theorize

The “Robinson Crusoe economy” is the simplest possible general equilibrium model, and students who can solve for Crusoe’s leisure and coconut consumption choices have presumably learned something about general equilibrium theory.

But they haven’t learned how to theorize.

Theorizing – creating theories to understand and explain the world – starts off by identifying an interesting question. Creating exam questions is theorizing, because the question setter has to identify a puzzle. Answering exam questions is one step removed from the act of theorizing. The question has already been identified. My sense – and I could be wrong – is that a non-trivial number of post-comp PhD students feel something like this:

They can follow the most complicated plans, and build any model they are asked to build. But they struggle to come with an idea of their own; to decide what they want to build. Nothing in their training has encouraged them to fill their minds with ideas, nor taught them to distinguish the awesome from the not-so-awesome.


How did we decide what to test, or what particulars constitute distinct things? How did we synthesize all of the experimental data into a few pages of formal writeup? Through what process did statements begin to be taken for granted, losing their modalities? If scientists actually discover facts, then how can a “fact” be overturned in the future? Latour argues, and gives tons of anecdotal evidence from his time at Salk, that providing answers to those questions basically constitutes the majority of what scientists actually do. That is, it is not that the fact is out there in nature waiting to be discovered, but that the fact is constructed by scientists over time.

Sniffing out a partner at a London pheromone party

Each of them has agreed to wear the same cotton T-shirt for three nights in a row, with no deodorant or perfume, and to bring it to the party.

The clothes, infused with the pure scent of the wearer’s body, are placed in transparent plastic bags with numbers on coloured labels—pink for women, blue for men.

“Smell as many bags as you like, have fun!” encourages the organiser, Judy Nadel.

There is some nervous laughter, then a sudden rush for the bags laid out on a big table in the middle of the room.

We Experiment On Human Beings!

We noticed recently that people didn’t like it when Facebook “experimented” with their news feed. Even the FTC is getting involved. But guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.

Here are a few of the more interesting experiments OkCupid has run.


An interview with Daniel Dennett on the Hard Problem of Consciousness (PDF).

He also has some stuff to say about predictive coding, among other topics. (ht Micah Allen)

pit of hell

Q&A: The First-Ever Expedition to Turkmenistan’s “Door to Hell”

When you first set eyes on the crater, it’s like something out of a science fiction film. You’ve got this vast, sprawling desert with almost nothing there, and then there’s this gaping, burning pit … The heat coming off of it is scorching. The shimmer from the distortion of it warping the air around it is just amazing to watch, and when you’re downwind, you get this blast of heat that is so intense that you can’t even look straight into the wind. You have to shield your face with your hand just standing at the crater’s edge. Here I am thinking, Oh-kaaaay, maybe I’ve bitten off a bit more than I can chew.

Markov Chains (a visual explanation)

Markov chains, named after Andrey Markov, are mathematical systems that hop from one “state” (a situation or set of values) to another. For example, if you made a Markov chain model of a baby’s behavior, you might include “playing,” “eating”, “sleeping,” and “crying” as states, which together with other behaviors could form a ‘state space’: a list of all possible states. In addition, on top of the state space, a Markov chain tells you the probabilitiy of hopping, or “transitioning,” from one state to any other state—e.g., the chance that a baby currently playing will fall asleep in the next five minutes without crying first.

The two most famous neuroscientists

Did you know that Natalie Portman has published a neuroscience paper with more than 120 citations? And Colin Firth one with more than 80?

I don’t want to grow up either, Sadie, nor die at 100

And finally, I was in Philadelphia last weekend and I got served a square burrito. A square burrito! What is this world coming to?

square burrito


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