Monday, November 24, 2008

The Internet is mighty! Part 2

Casual Internet Use Is Good for Kids, 3 Year Study Concludes - ReadWriteWeb

There are all kinds of reasons why this would be true, not least of which is the idea that it promotes more reading in children. It's interesting to them and they can read on the things that are most important to them.

What's not to like?

Well, there's lots to not like as well, but it's nice to know that there are some benefits.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Music rocks.

Research shows that time invested in practicing pays off for young musicians

One more reason to make sure that we keep music in our education system, and yet another reason to make the effort and at least try to introduce your children to music in some way.

Mirror Neurons - not in my brain!

"No evidence of Human Mirror Neurons"

Wow - after all the talk about how mirror neurons are responsible for so many aspects of human cognition, and now it turns out that they may not exist at all in human brains? That is just marvelous - really. Not only does it stop a lot of fevered talk about the vast (and sometimes obviously overblown) influence of mirror neurons but it alo lets us move past it and look for other solutions.

As with most early studies, I'd take the conclusions with a grain of salt for now (just as I would have taken all the breathless conclusions about the seemingly infinite power of mirror neurons prior to this study) - but still - the contrast between the two polls is (as always) striking.

Turning 40 sucks

Brain Slows at 40, Starts Body Decline : Discovery News

And this news doesn't make it any more fun to anticipate. As someone who is rapidly knocking on the door of 40, this is just not what I want to be reading.

Evolutionary psychology

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: "Is evolutionary psychology a dubious science?" and other battles...

My answer, as always, is: yes, evolutionary psychology is a dubious science. Mostly because it's NOT science - it's speculation. There is no way to objectively verify through observation that any evolutionary theory is "truth" - it could be very accurate and even make a great deal of sense, but it is still not a true science.

If there is no empirical observation, it is a philosophy, not a science.

Brain scans LIE!

Five Ways Brain Scans Mislead Us: Scientific American

Well, not really LIE as such, but they certainly don't show us anything that is really useful in most respects. They are exceptionally cool - but they don't really tell us much about HOW cognition works or the why. All it does is tell the where, essentially it's neo-phrenology.

Is your brain asleep?

FuturePundit: Sleepy Feeling Means Parts Of Brain Already Asleep

I knew that some avians (ducks for example) could shut off part of their brain at a time - I wonder if the same effects apply in humans. Would the ability to "rest" portions of your brain give you an increased ability to avoid sleep?

Segmented Reading

Freeing up Mental RAM with Segmented Reading | Tools for Thought

Brilliant stuff. I've started practicing this and it is absolutely marvelous. It's almost addictive once you see how effective it is.

pop culture meets science?

Men are Logical, Women are Emotional

The video that the article links to is pretty funny, but I'm also seeing it as playing pretty fast and loose with scientific facts. And, ironically enough, although it's presented by a (essentially) a pastor, it follows the lines of thinking of evolutionary psychologists.

Good times.

An old brain.....

'Super-aged' brains reveal first secrets of sharp memory in old age

As with most brain science the discovery is all kinds of sexy-cool - but how does it translate into practical developments? Although, if there were any kind of breakthrough this would be one area where I'd really like to see some kind of breakthrough.

More video game crap...

Violent video games tied to teen aggression - Games -

Man, this is one of those issues that is just NOT going to go away. I'll continue to blog them because they are interesting, but I'm not looking forward to a resolution for quite some time.

The internet is mighty!

Google Brainpower

It boosts brainpower!

The there anything it can't do?

Girls in college

CARPE DIEM: Girl Power: Females Dominate US Higher Education

I'm fairly certain that the people in some of the hard sciences would like to see more females, the overall trend cannot be denied. I'm also not sure that we can project out in the methods used in the graph displayed. That looks like a bit of a worst-case scenario. Wouldn't it be more likely that we would see a plateau at a certain percentage? I don't think it's a matter that should be stressed over greatly - but it might be worth keeping an eye on, or perhaps trying to study it to find out what the dynamic involved.

Education in the new administration

Make education an early priority in administration | Viewpoints, Outlook | - Houston Chronicle

I'd like to see education be a priority as well. What I'd really like to see a grand overhaul of the system of educational funding. I'm not sure exactly how to solve the problem - and I admit that I don't know enough of the details to be able to suggest a solution, but I do know that the amount of money that is involved in education is substantial. However, the imbalance between the money that goes to the actual students or the teachers is quite overpowered by the amount of money spent on administration of all of the numerous private, city, state and federal funding that all come piecemeal into the system as a whole.

It's a pretty inefficient way to run things - but again, I'm just not sure what can be done, if anything, to resolve the problem.

The end of anti-intellectualism?

RealClearPolitics - Articles - "Intellectuals"

The article is actually quite good. I actually find that there isn't any "rampant" anti-intellectualism at any given time or era. I think it is more along the lines of certain intellectual ideologies are more popular than others with the public, while other ideologies are more popular with either academia or with government. So, it's not so much anti-intellectualism as anti-ideologism.

So, it's not so much an effect as it is a perception. At least that's my take.

Brain Implants!

Putting Thoughts into Action: Implants Tap the Thinking Brain: Scientific American


I, for one, welcome our inevitable transformation into cyborgs.....

Academics are just like the business world

The Chronicle: 4/14/2006: Mob Rule

Great. And here I am trying to get into an academic environment - nice to know that the same type of territorial disputes that you get to see in the business world remain constant as you move into other fields.

Then again, it's not surprising. To protect your reputation and your job you have to stake your academic claim and defend it, research it, publish about it - essentially it becomes your life. Anyone would aggressively defend their life.

Environment affects alcohol misues.....duh

Families, friends, schools and neighborhoods contribute to adolescent alcohol misuse

And here's the nurture article promised earlier. This is another one of those examples of the kind of study that, after you read it, you say "of course." So, let me get this straight: your friends, family, school and neighborhood (also known as socio-economic status) affect the decisions you make as an adolescent?

No. Way.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Nature/Nurture and Mental Disorders

In a Novel Theory of Mental Disorders, Parents’ Genes Are in Competition -

Well, there's the rub - isn't it? Is it more nature or nurture? The pendulum seems to be swinging away from nurture (No Child Left Behind...anyone?) and towards the nature side - although I'm about to post another article that focuses on nurture (albeit in a rather stupidly simplistic way I think).

Oh, well. One more theory that stands no real chance of being proven or disproven because of the individualistic of us humans.

Ice Age...Averted!

New Ice Age Predicted -- But Averted by Global Warming?

This article is so funny on so many levels that it really cracks me up.

More here.

Are national educational standards a good idea?

Gates Foundation Standards? Why Not? at The Core Knowledge Blog

States rights people will give you a ready answer, as will libertarians: No. Conservatives and Republicans answers will vary but would most likely say: possibly, but probably not. Democrats and Liberals answers will vary slightly but lean strongly toward: Yes.

I'm not so sure. Where in the world did we ever get the idea that we needed a homogenized national education system? Sure, other smaller nations have more homogenized systems, but they aren't generally dealing with a population of 300 million. Most other nations don't have the same system of large, relatively independent states a-la the US of A. It is a politically thorny issue because of the political climate. My question is not whether or not it could be done, but whether or not it should be done.

National testing doesn't have a track record of success, and most national programs also don't exactly engender a reputation for a likely hood of success. I think people look to the national governess to "fix" things that don't appear to be working on a local or state level. What doesn't occur to them is that most people aren't satisfied with national government programs either.

Honestly - name one governmental program run on a national level that everyone thinks works like a charm and serves as a model to all other countries as THE way to do something.

So, needless to say, I'm not a fan of "national" anything, but not because I believe more in states rights or anything, I just have zero confidence in our government to "fix" anything. Usually once the federal government gets involved, things get worse.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lazy students

College students 'get away with' poor preparation -

They get away with it because it is easy to game the system. Essentially, they can get away with it because we, as professors, allow it. We go for the short, easy route as opposed to finding more rigorous methods of assessment of knowledge. It is an unfortunate reality of mass education. To really push an individual student to learn we need to be able to customize an individual approach to teaching and assessing that individual (think "apprentice" as opposed to "student"). From a practical standpoint that just doesn't work for today's educational environment where at some of the larger universities you have Psych 101 classes of 700 or more students in a stadium-style lecture hall.

The biggest problem is how funding is handled, both at the collegiate level and the K-12 level (actually, especially at the K-12 level). Improved, streamlined funding that reduces the number of required administrative functions and increases the amount of money channeled to both teachers and students would move a long way toward alleviating this problem.

But the system we have is rather entrenched, so I don't see change coming anytime soon.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Violent Media Paranoia

Youth violence linked to Web sites, study claims - Digital Life-

So, does this effect extend backwards in time to violent movies and television? Or is it just websites?

Did they also control for SES and for violent crime statistics in their neighborhoods and schools?

This all, of course, is based on Bandura's Social Cognitive theory of learning which holds the view that we exhibit behavior based on observed models. There has been a lot of research on this and there is possibly a connection of sorts, but there is a real difference between watching real or staged violence and imagining or desiring to commit violent acts and the actual commission of violent acts.

I'm not ready to buy in just yet.