Sunday Linkasaurolophus: September 25, 2011

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So, welcome back to Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it’s like Linkasaurus Rex, but paints me as a knowledgable insider, the kind of person who knows the name of more than one kind of dinosaur. Maybe two. To the other knowledgable insiders, it also implies that these links have a big crest on their head, which they may or may not have been used millions of years ago to play a jaunty tune.

Let’s start with Facebook: TNG

You’ve probably by now experienced the panopticon bar that Facebook introduced this week. The winning commentary on the New Facebook comes from Dan Lyons (NB: not the same Dan Lyons I went to high school with, although he, also, is awesome). Excerpt:

I prepared myself. On Wednesday night I ate a light dinner and went to bed early, in order to get extra sleep for Thursday morning. Nevertheless, 24 hours later, my hands are still shaking. I’m unable to focus. No matter where I am, I am thinking about Facebook and the new, deeper connection that I immediately feel to everyone I know. It’s so deep, so rich and personal and dare I say, intimate, that the effect is almost overwhelming. It’s like Stendhal Syndrome, where you get overwhelmed by looking at a work of art. I am shellshocked. No, even that is too small a word. I sit and gaze upon the Facebook home page and my emotions begin to sweep and swirl. One moment I am elated. Then I’m struck by anxiety and panic, and want to hide under my desk. A minute later I’m sobbing, uncontrollably, at the beauty of what they’ve done. Why, Mark Zuckerberg? Why do you do this to me? To the world? You are not a businessman, not a geek, not an engineer — you are an artist, and your canvas is the human race itself, the collective hive-mind of modernity.

If you’ve not already read it (which you probably have, as it’s been making the rounds) do yourself a favor and read the whole thing here.

And, here’s something to keep in mind when you’re griping about the Facebook changes, and your supercilious friend chastises you, reminding you again that you have no right to complain about a service that is provided to you for free:

Hat tip to Chris Smith, who was the secret inspiration for U2s fifth album, The Joshua Tree.

Also, you should get better friends.

In non-Facebook news:

The estimable John S. Wilkins (no recent relation) put up an excellent, and very broadly accessible answer to the question “What is philosophy?” You should read it.

Neuroskeptic posted a discussion of the Nipah virus, which provided the inspiration for the virus in the movie Contagion. (Actually, Nipah provided only part of the inspiration. The rest was provided by the universal desire to watch Gwyneth Paltrow die a horrible, horrible death).

You’ll recall the case of Marc Hauser, erstwhile Harvard Professor, who was accused of scientific misconduct, including possibly falsifying data. Around here, we like to call him “the man who put the a** in a**ertainment bias.” Well, Princeton Philosophy Professor Gilbert Harman makes an interesting case that Hauser’s 2006 book, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, may have plagiarized the work of John Mikhail. Or, as Harman puts it, “When the ideas taken from Mikhail are subtracted from Hauser’s book, it is unclear what of value is left.” You can read about it (about three-and-a-half pages) here.

If I’ve missed anything, perhaps Neutrino Superman can fly around the world, so that I have a chance to retroactively add it.

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6 thoughts on “Sunday Linkasaurolophus: September 25, 2011”

  1. Ascertainment bias is an outcome of being evolved minds. While a Bad Thing in Science, I could forgive Hauser for that. Plagiarism of a young scholar without attribution is deliberate harm to someone for personal gain, and is a moral failing. I cannot forgive that.

    Thanks for the linkagery.

  2. I agree. What pisses me off about the whole ascertainment bias / data fabrication scenario is not the fact that he twisted the results to conform with his hypothesis, which is not that uncommon in science. The unforgivable thing is the (alleged) bullying and coercion of the young people in his lab. Whatever actually happened, it is clear that there was a culture of fear in the lab. That, also, points to a moral failing.

  3. The harman piece has been retracted. The claim about a climate of fear in Hauser’s lab is completely contradicted by the large number of awards he received for mentoring and teaching. Perhaps more importantly, in the disciplines in which he has trained students, many have gone on to be leaders in the field: Santos at Yale, Ghazanfar at Princeton, Fitch at U. Vienna, Kralik at Dartmouth, Weiss at Penn State, Miller at UCSD, and so on….A climate of fear implies that he was slipshod through and through, incapable of training. As a student of his, I should know. This comment by JW is utterly false and should be retracted. Do your homework!

  4. There is no question that Hauser is a gifted teacher, nor that he has successfully trained a large number of very successful scientists. However, there are also former lab members who raised the questions about his research, both to Harvard and to the Boston Globe. They seem to paint a different picture.

    As for the Harman piece. The link no longer works, and has been replaced by a simple statement that the piece is no longer available. That does not necessarily say “retracted” to me. I have not yet seen any statement from Harman as to why he took the piece down, nor is it entirely clear that he means to leave it down.

    Given that Hauser’s people allies seem to be out doing damage control, in the form of anonymous comments on blogs, my guess is that Harman was threatened with legal action, but obviously I don’t know. When I find out more, I’ll dedicate an entire post to it.

  5. I worked in Harvard’s pslcohyogy dept. during the investigation and prior to his suspension and occasionally crossed paths with him and members of his lab. There was not a lot of willingness to discuss the affair early on amongst folks in the department (at least, not that I was privvy to). Early on, he was being given the benefit of the doubt. One thing that always struck me as odd from the very start was that the risk/reward ratio seemed off. What I mean is: why fake data this deep into your career, after you’ve already received tenure and established a reputation as a leader in your field? Doesn’t make any logical sense that he intentionally faked data for a few papers; so much to lose, and not that much to gain. Just speculation, but my guess as to what happened is that the Harvard psych dept. community, his peers, had to decide whether or not to support him, and, that support (which was there in the beginning) started to trickle away, reached a tipping point, and then fell off completely, en masse. These academic communities are pretty tightly knit affairs, and good relations between PIs are crucial. Just speculation, but I would suppose that he lost the support of his colleagues, the department couldn’t stomach the negative attention, and he was given the option to resign or be terminated. Whether or not he actually committed intentional fraud may have become a moot point..T Lobe – I don’t think this means that all of his work must be considered untrustworthy. Much of it has been under scrutiny over the last couple years and has held up.

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