04
Apr
15

Roundup – Kevin James Falling Down

Best of the Best:

Occidental Justice: The Disastrous Fallout When Drunk Sex Meets Academic Bureaucracy [Richard Dorment on Esquire] (3/25/15)

The system, as it was designed and reformed over the past few years, worked here. The OCR investigation of Occidental created a campuswide, historically high sensitivity to allegations of sexual assault. The college exercised its discretion broadly, without transparency—a lone adjudicator instead of the three-person panel; an expansive, extralegal definition of incapacitation; the selective choice of which questions Jane had to answer—just as the federal guidelines allow. The criminal burden of proof proved too high a barrier for Jane to meet, but the college’s lower preponderance standard delivered the desired outcome for her. And John’s expulsion, with a potential mark on his transcript for sexual assault, is likely to result in a life of diminished opportunity. There were no mistakes at Occidental, and if John’s experience with college justice sounds reasonable—if it sounds fair—then this is all much ado about some kid getting exactly what he deserved. If, however, something about this doesn’t sound quite right, and if the L. A. Superior Court judge ultimately finds John’s “strong position” from the hearing is enough to overturn Occidental’s ruling, then there will be more and more conversations (and lawsuits) about whether colleges, with their myriad competing interests (reputation and ranking, building endowment and protecting athletic programs), can ever be competent and trustworthy stewards of justice. Whether everyone might be better served by a better-funded, better-trained police force that uses advanced police work (see page 94) to investigate all claims of sexual assault (and if it doesn’t, it’ll have to answer to the elected officials who have to answer to voters). Whether more prosecutors might be convinced to stop limiting themselves to slam-dunk cases—as many critics claim—and start taking more chances to try putting sexual assailants behind bars (and face removal from office if they refuse to do so). Whether colleges might be allowed to leave the actual investigation and adjudication to law-enforcement experts while still providing sustained, on-the-ground support and guidance for the accuser and the accused. Or, ideally, all of the above, anything that would treat sexual assault as far too serious an accusation for jerry-built adjudication—and too terrible an offense to treat as less than a crime. Such an approach would also benefit women who don’t go to college and face a 30 percent greater risk of being assaulted between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four than do their college-attending peers, according to one recent study of the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey data from 1995 to 2011.

The Surprising Way Psychologists Measure Narcissism [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (6/18/13)

The NIP stresses that there are no right or wrong answers. And while many of the traits it measures are usually considered undesirable (exploitiveness, vanity), others are not (authority, self-sufficiency). But the test’s motives are still very transparent, which would make most potential participants wary of taking it. This was the dilemma faced by several academics researching the performance of companies run by narcissistic CEOs. Their solution? Measure the size of the CEOs’ signatures on documents they filed publicly with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The bigger the signature, the more narcissistic the CEO. It’s a clever idea, but are there really no vain, self-centered CEOs writing their signature in small print? The researchers point to past studies that link large signatures with high self-esteem and status.

The Gift of Doubt [Malcolm Gladwell on The New Yorker] (6/24/13)

And from there Hirschman’s analysis took flight. People don’t seek out challenges, he went on. They are “apt to take on and plunge into new tasks because of the erroneously presumed absence of a challenge—because the task looks easier and more manageable than it will turn out to be.” This was the Hiding Hand principle—a play on Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand. The entrepreneur takes risks but does not see himself as a risk-taker, because he operates under the useful delusion that what he’s attempting is not risky. Then, trapped in mid-mountain, people discover the truth—and, because it is too late to turn back, they’re forced to finish the job. “We have ended up here with an economic argument strikingly paralleling Christianity’s oft expressed preference for the repentant sinner over the righteous man who never strays from the path,” Hirschman wrote in this essay from 1967. Success grew from failure.

Booz Allen, the World’s Most Profitable Spy Organization [Drake Bennett and Michael Riley on Bloomberg Businessweek] (6/20/13)

As the Cold War set in, intensified, thawed, and was supplanted by global terrorism in the minds of national security strategists, the firm, now called Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH), focused more and more on government work. In 2008 it split off its less lucrative commercial consulting arm—under the name Booz & Co.—and became a pure government contractor, publicly traded and majority-owned by private equity firm Carlyle Group (CG). In the fiscal year ended in March 2013, Booz Allen Hamilton reported $5.76 billion in revenue, 99 percent of which came from government contracts, and $219 million in net income. Almost a quarter of its revenue—$1.3 billion—was from major U.S. intelligence agencies. Along with competitors such as Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC), CACI, and BAE Systems (BAESY), the McLean (Va.)-based firm is a prime beneficiary of an explosion in government spending on intelligence contractors over the past decade. About 70 percent of the 2013 U.S. intelligence budget is contracted out, according to a Bloomberg Industries analysis; the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) says almost a fifth of intelligence personnel work in the private sector.

How Caffeine Can Cramp Creativity [Maria Konnikova on The New Yorker] (6/17/13)

When we drink a caffeinated beverage, the caffeine quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier—an interface of sorts between the brain and the body’s circulatory system, designed to protect the central nervous system from chemicals in the blood that might harm it—and proceeds to block the activity of a substance called adenosine. Normally, a central function of adenosine is to inhibit the release of various chemicals into the brain, lowering energy levels and promoting sleep, among other regulatory bodily functions. When it’s blocked, we’re less likely to fall asleep on our desks or feel our focus drifting. According to a recent review of some hundred studies, caffeine has a number of distinct benefits. Chief among them are that it boosts energy and decreases fatigue; enhances physical, cognitive, and motor performance; and aids short-term memory, problem solving, decision making, and concentration. But all of that comes at a cost. Science is only beginning to unravel the full complexity behind different forms of creative accomplishment; creativity is notoriously difficult to study in a laboratory setting, and the choice of one approach over another limits the way that creativity can be measured. Still, we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways. This ability depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind.

West, Texas: The Town That Blew Up [Drake Bennett on Bloomberg Businessweek] (7/3/13)

Harris had fought chemical and industrial fires often in his 31 years as a firefighter and, seeing the size of the blaze, said he wanted to make sure the local volunteers knew what they were up against. The plant often stored significant quantities of ammonium nitrate, a potentially explosive solid fertilizer, but Harris was primarily concerned about fumes from anhydrous ammonia, a liquefied gas fertilizer kept at the plant in pressurized tanks. Anhydrous ammonia is toxic when inhaled. “Go home,” Harris told Pratka. “And if you start smelling things y’all get out of town.” Then he climbed the railroad embankment that separated the park from the plant, crossed the tracks, and dropped out of sight.

The Road To Resilience: How Unscientific Innovation Saved Marlin Steel [Charles Fishman on Fast Company] (6/17/13)

The United States still makes more stuff, by dollar value, than any nation in the world except China, which moved into the top spot only in 2010. And the United States still has hundreds of thousands of factories. The ones we notice are big—GE, Toyota, Whirlpool—but most are small, like Marlin Steel. The average U.S. factory has just 40 employees. Many such factories get trampled on price alone and disappear without notice, taking a steady trickle of jobs with them. Marlin saved itself by facing a truth that few threatened manufacturers can stomach: It was failing because it had gotten everything wrong. It had the wrong customers; it had the wrong products; it had the wrong prices. Greenblatt realized—just in time—that even wire baskets could be innovative. The simplicity of Marlin’s technology is not what we typically associate with innovation—there’s no algorithm, no microchip, no touch screen. Instead, Marlin learned how its products could help its customers, providing the quiet innovation that can give a fellow U.S. factory a critical edge and help keep jobs in the United States. Today, a decade later, Marlin Steel is outcompeting not just Chinese factories but German ones as well. Its sales are six times the 2003 level, and it has almost double the number of employees. The staffers have health insurance and 401(k) accounts (five employees are on pace to be 401(k) millionaires) and an average wage four times what it was a decade ago. The little Baltimore factory runs double shifts. Most remarkably, Marlin is still making wire baskets—just not bagel baskets. Or at least not very many.

Does life have a purpose? [Michael Ruse on Aeon Magazine] (6/24/13)

But this essay is not concerned with dinosaurs themselves, rather with the kind of thinking biologists use when they wonder how dinosaur bodies worked. They are asking what was the purpose of the plates? What end did the plates serve? Were they for fighting? Were they for attracting mates? Were they for heat control? This kind of language is ‘teleological’ — from telos, the Greek for ‘end’. It is language about the purpose or goal of things, what Aristotle called their ‘final causes’, and it is something that the physical sciences have decisively rejected. There’s no sense for most scientists that a star is for anything, or that a molecule serves an end. But when we come to talk about living things, it seems very hard to shake off the idea that they have purposes and goals, which are served by the ways they have evolved…Why do we still talk about organisms and their features in this way? Is biology basically different from the other sciences because living things do have purposes and ends? Or has biology simply failed to get rid of some old-fashioned, unscientific thinking — thinking that even leaves the door ajar for those who want to sneak God back into science?

The Malice at the Palace: An oral history of the scariest moment in NBA history [Jonathan Abrams on Grantland] (3/20/12)

Stephen Jackson (guard/forward, Pacers): [Toward] the end of the game, I recall somebody on the team told Ron, “You can get one now.” I heard it. I think somebody was shooting a free throw. Somebody said to Ron, “You can get one now,” meaning you can lay a foul on somebody who he had beef with in the game.

Jack Handey Is the Envy of Every Comedy Writer in America [Dan Kois on The New York Times] (7/15/13)

This idea — the notion of real jokes and the existence of pure comedy — came up again and again when I asked other writers about Handey. It seemed as if to them Handey is not just writing jokes but trying to achieve some kind of Platonic ideal of the joke form. “There is purity to his comedy,” Semple said. “His references are all grandmas and Martians and cowboys. It’s so completely free from topical references and pop culture that I feel like everyone who’s gonna make a Honey Boo Boo joke should do some penance and read Jack Handey.”

Why Do We All Think We’re Above Average? [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (7/17/13)

One explanation given is that evidence of this overconfidence effect has been observed in the United States in Europe – and Westerners are an unusually individualistic and egotistical bunch. Some researchers testing for the effect in more “collectivist” cultures like Japan found that the effect disappears, while others did not. What gives? The answer proposed by two psychologists – one American, one Japanese – is that since, in general terms, these other cultures wrap up social relationships into their sense of self-worth, asking only about them as individuals misses out on what they consider important. When they asked Japanese students about friends and family members, they found that students rated them as above average in comparison to others – a finding replicated in other non-Western cultures.

Microsoft’s Lost Decade [Kurt Eichnewald on Vanity Fair] (August 2012)

Microsoft’s low-octane swan song was nothing if not symbolic of more than a decade littered with errors, missed opportunities, and the devolution of one of the industry’s innovators into a “me too” purveyor of other companies’ consumer products. Over those years, inconsequential pip-squeaks and onetime zombies—Google, Facebook, Apple—roared ahead, transforming the social-media-tech experience, while a lumbering Microsoft relied mostly on pumping out Old Faithfuls such as Windows, Office, and servers for its financial performance. Amid a dynamic and ever changing marketplace, Microsoft—which declined to comment for this article—became a high-tech equivalent of a Detroit car-maker, bringing flashier models of the same old thing off of the assembly line even as its competitors upended the world. Most of its innovations have been financial debacles or of little consequence to the bottom line. And the performance showed on Wall Street; despite booming sales and profits from its flagship products, in the last decade Microsoft’s stock barely budged from around $30, while Apple’s stock is worth more than 20 times what it was 10 years ago. In December 2000, Microsoft had a market capitalization of $510 billion, making it the world’s most valuable company. As of June it is No. 3, with a market cap of $249 billion. In December 2000, Apple had a market cap of $4.8 billion and didn’t even make the list. As of this June it is No. 1 in the world, with a market cap of $541 billion.

Study: Associate’s Degrees and Technical Certificates Can Yield More than 4-Year Degrees [Adrienne Lu on Stateline] (9/3/13)

Among the lessons of the study: (1) Short-term credentials, such as two-year degrees and technical certificates, can be worth more than bachelor’s degrees in early years…(2) Those who graduate from flagship campuses who entered the job market directly after graduation did not earn more than graduates of regional college campuses. (3) In all five states [Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia], those who graduated with engineering degrees earned the most. (4) Graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math earned more than other majors, but the study found no evidence that those with science degrees in subjects such as biology or chemistry earned higher wages.

Proving CEOs Overpaid for Luck Helped Stir Pay Backlash [Steve Matthews on Bloomberg News] (8/22/13)

In a 2001 paper based on her work as a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, the 43-year-old labor economist documented that chief executive officers at U.S. oil companies got raises when their company’s fortunes improved because of changes in global oil prices beyond their control. The same pay-for-luck phenomenon occurred with multinational businesses when currency fluctuations, rather than management strategies, boosted results, she found…In one field experiment, she and Harvard economics professor Sendhil Mullainathan sent fictitious responses to 1,300 help-wanted ads in Boston and Chicago newspapers. Using similar resumes, they randomly assigned names that were black-sounding, such as Lakisha and Jamal, or white-sounding, such as Greg and Emily. Letters with “white” names received 50 percent more callbacks — a result she and Mullainathan described in a paper…The study reflects social norms that may be partly responsible in lowering women’s pay, said Bertrand, who is married and has two children, ages 3 and 6. In a separate report published in May, she and her co-authors found that couples have an aversion to a wife earning more than a husband — so much so that when the wife’s salary approaches her husband’s, it can result in reducing her labor-force participation and marriage satisfaction and creates a higher likelihood of divorce. Surveys suggest most women can’t “have it all,” Bertrand said. College-educated women with careers spent a larger share of their days “unhappy, sad or stressed and tired” compared with mothers who stayed home, according to data she has studied.

Food Truck Economics [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (3/14/13)

The food truck was a creative response to particular economic conditions and an absence of government regulations preventing their formation. The confluence of these factors meant that the cost of creating a  food business was lower than ever before. As a result, thousands of food trucks flourished and created a new model. Food trucks can launch fast and cheap, instantly get customer feedback, and iterate quickly to improve their product. Restaurants can’t do any of this.  ut what is the future of food trucks? At some point, there will be enough new entrants to the market that the profits will be competed away and the market will be saturated. Or perhaps local governments will start to heavily regulate food truck permits like they do taxi medallions and liquor licenses. Already, we’re seeing evidence of each of these trends that might curb the food truck movement.

The More You Multitask, the Worse You Get at It [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (8/14/13)

People generally recognize that multitasking involves a trade-off – we attend to more things but our performance at each suffers. But in their study “Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers,” Professors Ophira, Nass, and Wagner of Stanford ask whether chronic multitasking affects your concentration when not explicitly multitasking. In effect, they ask whether multitasking is a trait and not just a state. To do so, they recruited Stanford students who they identified as either heavy or light “media multitaskers” based on a survey that asked how often they used multiple streams of information (such as texting, YouTube, music, instant messaging, and email) at the same time. They then put them through a series of tests that looked at how they process information…those who did not regularly multitask had higher accuracy and a faster response time, which suggested they could better filter out the extraneous information…Although light multitaskers slightly outperformed heavy multitaskers, the most striking result was the increase in the number of false alarms (wrongly indicating that the letter had been present in the previous screen) by heavy multitaskers as the task got more complicated.

The Toobin principle [Jay Rosen’s Press Think] (8/6/13)

Last week on his CNN program Piers Morgan had just about finished a little speech on how you can’t have any bloke with a security clearance spewing classified information “on a whim” when James Risen, national security reporter for the New York Times, interrupted him: which document that’s come out don’t you want to talk about? Meaning: which of the things we’ve learned from Edward Snowden would you, as a journalist, prefer not to know? Which part of the surveillance story that’s come to light should have remained in darkness? It was a good question. Piers Morgan did not have much of a reply. When, on the same program, Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker said that public discussion about previously classified materials was “a good thing” but he still thought Edward Snowden was a criminal and shouldn’t have done what he did, Risen interrupted: “We wouldn’t be having this discussion if it wasn’t for him,” he said. “That’s the thing I don’t understand about the climate in Washington these days, is that people want to have debates on television and elsewhere, but then you want to throw the people who start the debates in jail.” It was a sharp observation. Jeffery Toobin didn’t have much of a reply…The question that bothers me most can be put this way: Can there even be an informed public and consent-of-the-governed for decisions about electronic surveillance, or have we put those principles aside so that the state can have its freedom to maneuver? I call it unanswered but it’s more than that. It’s like we can’t face it, so we choose not to frame it that way. The question is less unaddressed than it is repressed by a political system that can’t handle the weight of what it’s done. But now that system is being forced to face what happened while it wasn’t looking— at itself.

Trigger [Michael Hall on Texas Monthly] (December 2012)

The guitar—a Martin N-20 classical, serial number 242830—was a gorgeous instrument, with a warm, sweet tone and a pretty “mellow yellow” coloring. The top was made of Sitka spruce, which came from the Pacific Northwest; the back and sides were Brazilian rosewood. The fretboard and bridge were ebony from Africa, and the neck was mahogany from the Amazon basin. The brass tuning pegs came from Germany. All of these components had been gathered in the Martin guitar factory in Nazareth, Pennsylvania, and cut, bent, and glued together, then lacquered, buffed, and polished. If the guitar had been shipped to New York or Chicago, it might have been purchased by a budding flamenco guitarist or a Segovia wannabe. Instead it was sent to a guitarist in Nashville named Shot Jackson, who repaired and sold guitars out of a shop near the Grand Ole Opry. In 1969 it was bought by a struggling country singer, a guy who had a pig farm, a failing marriage, and a crappy record deal. Willie Nelson had a new guitar.

Where Is Dick Fuld Now? Finding Lehman Brothers’ Last CEO [Joshua Green on Bloomberg Businessweek] (9/12/13)

Those still in contact with him say Fuld holds no illusion of a public redemption. “I will never heal from this,” he told the staff of Spring Hill at a lunch a few weeks after the bankruptcy. Lehman’s fall was particularly painful, friends say, because Fuld sees himself as having adhered to a code of honor during the 15 years he was building Lehman from an unwanted American Express castoff into a major Wall Street player. He famously demanded loyalty of everyone around him and demonstrated his own by keeping much of his wealth tied up in the firm—he even bought Lehman shares on margin, says a friend. That money vanished in the crash. Friends say Fuld, whose net worth once exceeded $1 billion, may have lost that much. Meanwhile, the legal morass he left in his wake is closing in on him—and threatens to wipe out whatever dignity and wealth he may have left. For all that he’s tried, Fuld can’t seem to escape the reach of the past. Although many of his peers also made disastrous decisions, no one on Wall Street has paid a steeper price in reputation and personal fortune. This owes partly to Fuld’s hubris, brutish manner, and aggressiveness—which earned him the nickname “the Gorilla”—but also, his handful of defenders insist, to circumstances and twists of fate beyond his control. As Brad Hintz, a former Lehman chief financial officer, says, “He’s the great Greek tragedy of the crisis.”

Rotterdam Rats Are Being Trained to Sniff Out Crime [Caroline Winter on Bloomberg Businessweek] (9/17/13)

Rotterdam’s police have spent two years training a squadron of five rats to sniff out drugs, explosives, gunshot residue, blood, and other substances. The rodents, which reportedly have an average success rate of 95 percent, are all named after famous fictional detectives. There’s Magnum, Poirot, Derrick (named for the Oberinspektor in a German TV series), and Jansen and Janssen, the Dutch names for the bumbling, mustachioed duo from The Adventures of Tintin. The five Rotterdam rat detectives won’t actually travel to crime scenes, and they won’t be permitted to crawl on suspects to sniff them out in the flesh. Instead, they’ll sniff clothes that have been handled by suspects to check for substances linked to criminal activity. “If a shooting were to take place today and several suspects were arrested, tests for gunshot residue would require chemicals, microscopes, and employees, all taking at least two hours,” Monique Hamerslag, who trained the rats, told Spiegel International. “Rats can do the same thing in two seconds.” (The police department has said that rats’ findings won’t be admissible in court but will be used to speed up searches.)

The Market Failure of First Dates [Sarah Scharf on Priceonomics] (9/19/13)

Over 66% of the men we spoke with chose “she was boring” as one of the top three dating turn-offs they encounter, making it the biggest turn-off on our list. This outcome may seem surprising given that first dates are often designed to cover the basics and stick to neutral territory. But according to behavioral economist Dan Ariely, this “don’t ruffle feathers” model of first dates is exactly the problem. As he writes, “when going on a first date, we try to achieve a delicate balance between expressing ourselves, learning about the other person, but also not offending anyone – favoring friendly over controversial – even at the risk of sounding dull.” While not rocking the boat may seem like ideal strategy for getting a second date, Ariely argues that sticking to neutral topics (haven’t we all been on a date where the weather was discussed ad nauseum?) creates a ‘bad equilibrium’ – an outcome where both sides converge, but neither side is pleased with it. In an experiment he ran with online daters, subjects were forced to eschew safe topics in their messages and only throw out probing, personally revealing questions like “How many lovers have you had?” or “Do you have any STDs?” The result? Both sides were more satisfied with the outcome. So the next time you find yourself on a “boring” date, the solution may be to push the envelope – and converge upon a new equilibrium. Of course, this strategy may not work for everyone. According to one survey respondent who tried to spice up a first date, “We went to a comedy show and she got offended…. as I laughed.”

The day Harry Redknapp brought a fan on to play for West Ham [Jeff Maysh on The Guardian] (9/5/13)

In the history of professional football, no fan had ever come from the stands and played for their team. That’s not to say fans have never influenced a sporting result. Jeffrey Maier was a 12-year-old American baseball fan who became famous when he deflected a batted ball in play into the Yankee Stadium stands during Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series, between New York and the Orioles. There’s footage of Fernanda Maia, a quick-thinking Brazilian ball-girl, setting up a goal with a deft pass to a Botafogo player in the Campeonato Carioca final between Botafogo and Vasco da Gama. The closest story to that of Steve Davies’s is that of music fan Scot Halpin, who became a rock ‘n’ roll legend when he attended The Who’s sold-out show at San Francisco’s Cow Palace in November 1973. The 19-year-old rock fan, then living in Monterey, California, bought a pair of scalped tickets for the show. When drummer Keith Moon collapsed for a second time due to drink and drugs, Halpin was invited to the stage and filled in for an entire set, drumming with his heroes. But what happened that night at Court Place Farm in the 71st minute was even more remarkable. It made a legend of Steve Davies, the courier from Milton Keynes. Sadly, Steve’s magical moment occurred before camera phones and YouTube. Almost every West Ham fan can tell you his story, yet there exists little evidence of what exactly happened: in the dusty archives of the Oxford Mail, the brown envelope that should hold the match reports from 1994 is empty.

The Social Life of Genes [David Dobbs on Pacific Standard Magazine] (9/3/13)

Scientists have known for decades that genes can vary their level of activity, as if controlled by dimmer switches. Most cells in your body contain every one of your 22,000 or so genes. But in any given cell at any given time, only a tiny percentage of those genes is active, sending out chemical messages that affect the activity of the cell. This variable gene activity, called gene expression, is how your body does most of its work. Sometimes these turns of the dimmer switch correspond to basic biological events, as when you develop tissues in the womb, enter puberty, or stop growing. At other times gene activity cranks up or spins down in response to changes in your environment. Thus certain genes switch on to fight infection or heal your wounds—or, running amok, give you cancer or burn your brain with fever. Changes in gene expression can make you thin, fat, or strikingly different from your supposedly identical twin. When it comes down to it, really, genes don’t make you who you are. Gene expression does. And gene expression varies depending on the life you live. Every biologist accepts this. That was the safe, reasonable part of Robinson’s notion. Where he went out on a limb was in questioning the conventional wisdom that environment usually causes fairly limited changes in gene expression. It might sharply alter the activity of some genes, as happens in cancer or digestion. But in all but a few special cases, the thinking went, environment generally brightens or dims the activity of only a few genes at a time. Robinson, however, suspected that environment could spin the dials on “big sectors of genes, right across the genome”—and that an individual’s social environment might exert a particularly powerful effect. Who you hung out with and how they behaved, in short, could dramatically affect which of your genes spoke up and which stayed quiet—and thus change who you were.

Taxonomy: The spy who loved frogs [Brendan Borrell on Journal of Nature] (9/11/13)

As Brown made his career studying biodiversity in the Philippines over the next two decades, he could not escape Taylor’s long shadow. The elder herpetologist had logged 23 years in the field over his lifetime, collecting more than 75,000 specimens around the world, and naming hundreds of new species. There is a darker side to Taylor’s legacy, however. He was a racist curmudgeon beset by paranoia — possibly a result of his mysterious double life as a spy for the US government. He had amassed no shortage of enemies by the time he died in 1978. An obituary noted that he was, to many, “a veritable ogre—and woe to anyone who incurred his wrath”. More damaging, perhaps, were the attacks on his scientific reputation. After the loss of his collection in the Philippines, many of the species he had named were declared invalid or duplicates. The standards of taxonomy had advanced beyond Taylor’s quaint descriptions, and without the specimens to refer to, his evidence seemed flimsy.

The Brain That Changed Everything [Luke Dittrich on Esquire] (10/25/10)

When a surgeon cut into Henry Molaison’s skull to treat him for epilepsy, he inadvertently created the most important brain-research subject of our time — a man who could no longer remember, who taught us everything we know about memory…He’s an old man now, overweight, wheelchair-bound, largely incommunicative. Lately, Henry’s creeping decrepitude has itself suggested some new experiments. During another meeting, Corkin quizzed Henry on how old he thought he was. He guessed that he was perhaps in his thirties. Then she handed him a mirror. “What do you think about how you look?” she asked while he stared at himself. “I’m not a boy,” he said eventually.

The Science of Snobbery [Alex Mayyasi on Priceonomics] (9/9/13)

Tsay took the actual audition recordings of the top 3 finalists from 10 prestigious international classical music competitions and asked a group of participants to select the winners. One group watched a video audition, the second group listened to an audio recording of the same audition, and a final group watched the video audition with the sound turned off. As her study participants were untrained in classical music, Tsay expected them to do no better at choosing a winner than random chance. This proved true for the first two groups, who chose the winner less than 33% of the time. But to everyone’s surprise, the amateurs did significantly better than chance when watching only a silent video. Tsay then replicated the experiment with professional musicians and found the same results. Despite their expertise, the musicians also did no better than chance at picking the winner based on audio or video recordings. But when they watched a silent video recording, they too performed dramatically better. Expert judges and amateurs alike claim to judge classical musicians based on sound. But Tsay’s research suggests that the original judges, despite their experience and expertise, judged the competition (which they heard and watched live) based on visual information just as amateurs do…In follow up experiments, Chia-Jung Tsay found that those judging musicians’ auditions based on visual cues were not giving preference to attractive performers. Rather, they seemed to look for visual signs of relevant characteristics like passion, creativity, and uniqueness. Seeing signs of passion is valuable information. But in differentiating between elite performers, it gives an edge to someone who looks passionate over someone whose play is passionate.

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