Category Archives: Linkasaurolophus

Monday Linkasaurolophus: November 21, 2011

So, originally, I had been hoping to write a follow-up post on everything that has happened in the wake of the UC Davis pepper spray incident. However, two things. First, everyone else and their mother has covered the UC Davis thing in far more depth than I would be able to do. Second, xkcd released this epic infographic on money, which makes putting anything else on the internet feel sort of pointless.

Instead, let me just point to a few Occupy UC Davis links:

Over at phylogenomics, Jonathan Eisen has tons of pictures from UC Davis, and has reposted a lot of the open letters that have been written to Chancellor Linda Katehi. He also has an impressive compilation of links on the topic here.

The most moving of the open letters that I have seen is the one written by UC Davis Professor Cynthia Carter Ching addressed to the students. Read the whole thing here. Excerpt:

So, to all of you, my students, I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry we didn’t protect you.  And I’m sorry we left the wrong people in charge.

And to my colleagues, I ask you, no, I implore you, to join with me in rolling up our sleeves, gritting our teeth, and getting back to the business of running this place the way it ought to be run.  Because while our students have been bravely chanting for a while now that it’s their university (and they’re right), it’s also ours.  It’s our university.   And as such, let’s make sure that the inhuman brutality that occurred on this campus last Friday can never happen again.  Not to our students.  And not at our university.

The other must-read piece on the subject is by Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic. It rightly points out that by focusing too much on the individual cop who did the spraying, we miss everything that is wrong with the system, and the fact that the cops are, in a sense, victims of the same broken system.

Over at Boing Boing, Xeni Jardin had been covering pretty much all of the crucial OWS happenings. If you have any interest in the Occupy movement at all, you should be following her at Boing Boing and on Twitter. For just one example, here is an interview with one of the students who was pepper sprayed.

Also check out Boing Boing’s Occupy Lulz photo collection, which features the meme-ified pepper-spraying Lt. John Pike heavily, but not exclusively. Here’s the most recent addition at the time of this posting:

For a more exhaustive collection, check out the Pepperspaying Cop Tumblr.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 23, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it’s like the Winter Linkolympics, but on just one ski.

1. Philosopher of Biology, blogger, and awesome-name-winner John Wilkins is looking for help to bridge a financial lacuna. If you’re in a position to loan or donate, please do. He’s one of the good guys.

2. Who says high schools aren’t preparing kids to function in our society? One consequence of the decade-long War on Terror™ (a wholly owned subsidiary of Haliburton) is the proliferation of secret courts, which are able to pass down judgments with absolutely no public scrutiny or oversight. Well, the kids are getting in education in twenty-first century American Justice at Alice High School in Texas, where a student was kicked off the cheerleading squad and suspended. The student claims that he is being punished for a same-sex kiss that was caught on one of the school’s surveillance cameras. The school says,

The Alice I.S.D. has recently reviewed the recent removal of a student from the Alice High School Cheerleading Squad. After reviewing the Alice I.S.D. Student Code of Conduct and the Cheer Program Handbook, the removal will stay in effect. The student’s parents are in agreement with the district’s decision. The student code of conduct and cheer handbook are designed to improve conduct and encourage students to adhere to their responsibilities as members of the school community. The student and parents are clearly aware that the student was not removed from the squad for kissing another student at school. While the student is free to discuss certain aspects of his discipline in the media, the District cannot discuss the specifics of this incident and must respect the privacy rights of the students involved in this matter.

Except, that the student’s family is not in agreement, and still claims it is about the kiss. But, you know, privacy concerns, so I guess we’ll just have to trust them. Via Jezebel.

3. Did you know that Oral Roberts has a gay grandson? Me either. He sounds awesome. He’ll be giving a series of public lectures starting today. Read about it here. And no, it appears he is no longer invited to family functions.

4. Global warming is real. Now most people who are not ideologically committed to global warming NOT being true already knew that. So what’s the news here? Well, a group of researchers called Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature has done a careful reanalysis of the major temperature records, and has concluded that, yes, things are getting warmer. The results are important in part because the group is not made up of existing members of the climate-science community, and in fact approached the question with a degree of skepticism. In a rational world, that would satisfy climate deniers. Oh well. Via The Economist.

5. And finally, if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and a whole crowd of folks singing at Columbus Circle in support of the Occupy movement. Via Boing Boing.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 16, 2011

So, a few items for the Linkasaurolophus this week.

Remember, it’s like Linkaroni, but 100% gluten free.

Let’s start with the good news. If you haven’t seen it, this is a beautiful articulation of what the whole Occupy Wall Street, 99% thing is all about. It was written as an open letter to “the 53% guy,” a critic of the protests, on Daily Kos. If you’ve got relatives who think that the protests are just a bunch of lazy whiners who want someone to blame for their lot in life, send them this. Here’s an excerpt:

So, if you think being a liberal means that I don’t value hard work or a strong work ethic, you’re wrong.  I think everyone appreciates the industry and dedication a person like you displays.  I’m sure you’re a great employee, and if you have entrepreneurial ambitions, I’m sure these qualities will serve you there too.  I’ll wish you the best of luck, even though a guy like you will probably need luck less than most.

I understand your pride in what you’ve accomplished, but I want to ask you something.

Do you really want the bar set this high?  Do you really want to live in a society where just getting by requires a person to hold down two jobs and work 60 to 70 hours a week?  Is that your idea of the American Dream?

Hat tip to Jon Woodward on that one.

Next up, New York is currently all out of the Plan B (“morning after”) contraceptive. This was covered by the Health Editor at an online magazine called XO Jane. You can read the column here, but I really don’t recommend it, as it is excruciatingly self absorbed, written in a style you might expect from someone so famous, or so rich, that they are accustomed to having to put no effort into their conversations, because everyone laughs at all of their jokes no matter what.

But, more importantly, it contains statements about birth control that are just factually wrong. It has been tackled by scicurous, who details some of the problems, and end with this piece of advice:

Far be it from me to tell XO Jane how to handle their hiring, but I do think it’s generally wise to have a heath editor who’s taken a health course. And who can read. But perhaps I’m too picky.

Finally, there’s an update on the faster-than-light neutron thing. A paper has appeared on the Physics ArXiv that claims that the Italian physicists who wrote the original paper failed to account for certain relativistic effects, and that when those effects are taken into account, the correction of 64 nanoseconds is just enough to bring the neutrino speeds back under the speed limit.

The paper, by Ronald van Elburg, can be found here.

The result has been covered by the Physics ArXiv blog, and at Bad Astronomy. Both writers caution that, while the results seem convincing, we need to wait for the response from the Italian team, and generally let the process play out before concluding that the result has definitively been debunked.

If van Elburg is right, though, it is worth noting that, rather than being a refutation of Einstein’s theory, the neutrino experiment looks more like a dramatic confirmation of it.

Recall that last week, the Wall Street Journal published a moronic editorial as part of their ongoing commitment to propagating lies about climate science. The pinnacle fo moronicity in the moronic editorial was the following moronic claim:

The science is not settled, not by a long shot. Last month, scientists at CERN, the prestigious high-energy physics lab in Switzerland, reported that neutrinos might—repeat, might—travel faster than the speed of light. If serious scientists can question Einstein’s theory of relativity, then there must be room for debate about the workings and complexities of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Do you think that, in light of van Elburg’s calculation, the Journal will now publish a retraction, saying that, well, maybe we should be recognizing the broad consensus among climate scientists?

Yeah, me neither.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 9, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, if it were 700 miles South-South-East from here, it would be Lurkusaurolophus.

First, according to the China Digital Times, Beijing is now filling up with Obama Fried Chicken:

which would probably seem racist if it were not so completely bizarre.

Next, you know that show Lie to Me, where Tim Roth is really creepy and sort of a dick, but is successful and beloved because he can tell when someone is lying by reading their “microexpressions”? The show is somewhat based on the work of psychologist Paul Ekman, who developed the Facial Action Coding System for reading people’s emotions.

The problem, apparently, is that the scientific literature comes down squarely on the side of “That doesn’t work.”

Well, as a part of civilization’s ongoing slide into self-referentiality, researchers at Michigan State performed a study to see whether watching an episode of Lie to Me enhanced people’s ability to tell whether or not people are lying.

Hilariously, the study found that watching Lie to Me actually makes people worse at distinguishing between people who are telling the truth and people who are lying.

You can read more about it over at Mindhacks.

Never one to miss a chance for self promotion, I thought I would use this as an opportunity to resurrect one of the early Darwin Eats Cake strips:

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding:

In related news, people who spend all their time sitting on the sofa watching The Biggest Loser do not get any thinner.

Finally, about a week ago, the New York Times published an editorial by self-identified neuromarketing expert Martin Lindstrom, in which he explained how brain-imaging studies prove that we are not addicted to our iPhones, we are in love with our iPhones.

The only problem is that it was a huge pile of crap. It was a misleading (perhaps disingenuous) description of research that was done badly (perhaps disingenuously) in the first place.

The multitudinous flaws in the editorial have been pointed out by a bunch of folks: Here are at least some of them. If you wrote about this, but I missed you, send me an e-mail, or add a link in the comments.

Tal Yarkoni provided, I think, the most detailed point-by-point takedown of the editorial. If you want the nitty gritty of what’s wrong read this.

David Dobbs covered it in a post entitled “fMRI Shows My Bullshit Detector Going Ape Shit Over iPhone Lust.”

Neurocritic’s post is titled “Neuromarketing means never having to say you’re peer reviewed (but here’s your NYT op-ed space).”

Russ Poldrack addresses the editorial in a post called “NYT Op-Ed + fMRI = complete crap.”

Nathan Collins relates the logical error in the editorial to George Bush (Sr.)’s infamous 1988 Willie Horton campaign ad.

Forty prominent neuroscientists wrote a letter to the Times in response to the editorial, which was promptly whittled down. However, you can read the original letter (and see the caliber of the writers) here.

Tal Yarkoni wrapped up the aftermath here, including the weasely non-response response Lindstrom posted in several blog comment threads.

It seems like a sad and embarrassing day for the Times.

On the other hand, when you remember the role that the newspaper of record played in lying to the country in the lead up to the Iraq war, maybe it’s actually a good day for the Times. I mean, misinterpreting fMRI studies hasn’t killed tens to hundreds of thousands of civilians.


Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 2, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it’s like Linkadrosaurid, but one taxonomic level down.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about Occupy Wall Street, a populist, Arab-spring-style protest in Manhattan. Or, you might not have heard about it if you get your news from television, which seems not to be giving much coverage to these protests. Or if you get your news from newspapers. Weird, it’s almost like the big corporations that control the major media outlets in this country don’t want you to know about massive protests against the corporate takeover of politics.

Boy are they going to cover the heck out of those tea-party rallys, though.

Fear is vigilance: This is a little flash game, which is not very interesting, actually, but has the following premise. You’re trying to give away personal safety alarms on a campus, but no one is very interested. So, each night, you go out after dark and punch people, to teach them the importance of personal safety. I don’t think the game’s creators intended for it to be a metaphor for the war on terror, but I’m not sure, since didn’t actually play it very long. Maybe if you level up enough, you get hired by Haliburton to go around stoking islamophobia so that you can sell expensive stuff to the military.

Speaking of corrupt people doing stuff that is patently wrong, while shrugging it off as some sort of capitalist manifest destiny, you should read the Bloomberg piece on those tea-party wonder twins, the Koch brothers. (“Shape of an amoral plutocracy!” “Form of a psychopathic lack of empathy!”) Here it is.

Finally (with a hat-tip to my wife on this one), you should read this profile of Marcia Lucas, ex-wife of serial-culture-defiler George Lucas. It is fascinating and depressing. You know how everyone goes around asking how George Lucas could have gone from being the genius who created American Graffiti and the original Star Wars trilogy to being the hack who did everything else he’s ever done? Well, the key difference seems to have been Marcia, who played a key role in editing the tone-deaf messes that George filmed into the stories that transformed movies and culture. She then left him for being the emotionally crippled narcissist who, ever since, has been systematically destroying that legacy. It’s also a parable about how women’s contributions get dismissed and denigrated. It’s a long read, but worth it.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: September 25, 2011

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.

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: May 22, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus, the weekly feature where I point you towards things that I wish I had written. This week: Kate Harding, Dorothy Parvaz, and Tim Harford.

Kate Harding writes in the wake of the week’s news about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dominique Strauss-Kahn. She eloquently makes the distinction between infidelity and sexual assault and takes the media to task not only for failing to understand this distinction, but for responding to the Strauss-Kahn allegations with a sanctimonious and hypocritical that-would-never-happen-here-in-America attitude. Highlights include:

There are certainly points of overlap between being a cad and being a criminal: An overblown sense of entitlement, an apparent lack of empathy for anyone you might hurt, an erection. But cheating on your wife is not a gateway drug to sexual assault. They are two different things, one of them a crime. If you’re a journalist, please take a moment now to repeat that to yourself a few times.

And then please consider this: A man who’s known for grabbing women’s breasts and asses without their consent (a crime) is not just some amusing, slightly pathetic Pepe Le Pew cartoon until the day someone accuses him of non-consensual penetration. He was actually already a sexual predator! And yet, inevitably, as soon as someone does accuse him of rape, friends who are familiar with his history of non-consensual groping will rush to tell the press that the accusations are absurd, insulting, inconceivable! Sure, everyone knew the lion liked to chase gazelles and pin them down and bat them around a bit for fun, but he would never eat one. That’s just not in his nature.

Do you see the difference? One guy treats women rather shabbily, and he should be ashamed of himself. The other guy treats women like inanimate objects he is entitled to do whatever the fuck he wants to, and he should be ashamed of himself and also held legally responsible for his crimes. The line between the two is really not all that fine or blurry, you guys! It’s actually pretty recognizable!

Dorothy Parvaz, a reporter for Al Jazeera recounted her experiences of being detained and interrogated, first in Syria, then in Iran. She was missing for a total of nineteen days.

One afternoon, the beating we heard was so severe that we could clearly hear the interrogator pummelling his boots and fists into his subject, almost in a trance, yelling questions or accusations rhythmically as the blows landed in what sounded like the prisoner’s midriff.

My roommate shook and wept, reminding me (or perhaps herself) that they didn’t beat women here.

There was a brief break before the beating resumed, and my first impulse was to cover my ears, but then I thought, “If this man is crying, shouldn’t someone hear him?”

Tim Harford has provided a couple of excerpts from his new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure, over at Slate. The book is about how critical it is for us to support creative, innovative, and even radical ideas. The first excerpt is about the push for innovation in the Royal Air Force that led to the creation of the Spitfire, the fighter plane that played a critical role in holding off the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain, thereby saving Britain from invasion and, arguably, saving the world.

When we invest money now in the hope of payoffs later, we think in terms of a return on our investment—a few percent in a savings account, perhaps, or a higher but riskier reward from the stock market. What was the return on Henry Cave-Browne-Cave’s investment of 10,000 pounds? Four hundred and thirty thousand people saved from the gas chambers, and denying Adolf Hitler the atomic bomb. The most calculating economist would hesitate to put a price on that.

Return on investment is simply not a useful way of thinking about new ideas and new technologies. It is impossible to estimate a percentage return on blue-sky research, and it is delusional even to try. Most new technologies fail completely. Most original ideas turn out either to be not original after all, or original for the very good reason that they are useless. And when an original idea does work, the returns can be too high to be sensibly measured. . . .

. . . . It would be reassuring to think of new technology as something we can plan. And sometimes, it’s true, we can: the Manhattan Project did successfully build the atomic bomb; John F. Kennedy promised to put a man on the Moon inside a decade, and his promise was kept. But these examples are memorable in part because they are unusual. It is comforting to hear a research scientist, corporation, or government technocrat tell us that our energy problems will soon be solved by some specific new technology: a new generation of hydrogen-powered cars, maybe, or biofuels from algae, or cheap solar panels made from new plastics. But the idea that we can actually predict which technologies will flourish flies in the face of all the evidence. The truth is far messier and more difficult to manage.

The second excerpt is about risk-taking in science, where he notes the importance of funding both safe, incremental research AND risky, blue-sky research. The problem is that the bureaucratic nature of agencies like the NIH and NSF means that they excel at the former, but fail at the latter.

Here’s the thing about failure in innovation: It’s a price worth paying. We don’t expect every lottery ticket to pay a prize, but if we want any chance of winning that prize, then we buy a ticket. In the statistical jargon, the pattern of innovative returns is heavily skewed to the upside; that means a lot of small failures and a few gigantic successes. The NIH’s more risk-averse approach misses out on many ideas that matter. . . .

. . . . We need bureaucrats to model themselves on the chief of Britain’s air staff in the 1930s: “firms are reluctant to risk their money on highly speculative ventures of novel design. If we are to get serious attempts at novel types … we shall have to provide the incentive.” That is the sort of attitude that produces new ideas that matter.

And here’s what you missed at Darwin Eats Cake this week. Eleonora and Handy Andy discussed the implications of new research showing parallels between neurological disorders and economic instability in The Economic Brain. And, Todd presented a guide to whether or not you should be reading the webcomic Darwin Eats Cake, based on your opinions on Tom the Dancing Bug, xkcd, and the Onion in Who should read Darwin Eats Cake?

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: May 15, 2011

So, here’s the newest Lost in Transcription feature: Sunday Linkasaurolophus. What’s a Linkasaurolophus, you ask? It’s like a Linkasaurus Rex, but more hipster.

Which is to say, this is going to be a weekly feature where I provide a round-up of things that I wanted to write about, but about which I subsequently found that I had nothing interesting to add.

At Science Not Fiction, Kyle Munkittrick exposes the hidden message in Pixar’s films, which lays the groundwork for social justice in the future:

The message hidden inside Pixar’s magnificent films is this: humanity does not have a monopoly on personhood. In whatever form non- or super-human intelligence takes, it will need brave souls on both sides to defend what is right. If we can live up to this burden, humanity and the world we live in will be better for it.

At The Nation, William Deresiewicz writes about the crises facing higher education, from exploitation of graduate students to the double-edged nature of tenure to the defunding of the liberal arts:

A system of higher education that ignores the liberal arts, as Jonathan Cole points out in The Great American University (2009), is what they have in China, where they don’t want people to think about other ways to arrange society or other meanings than the authorized ones. A scientific education creates technologists. A liberal arts education creates citizens: people who can think broadly and critically about themselves and the world.

Yet of course it is precisely China—and Singapore, another great democracy—that the Obama administration holds up as the model to emulate in our new Sputnik moment. It’s funny; after the original Sputnik, we didn’t decide to become more like the Soviet Union. But we don’t possess that kind of confidence anymore.

At Jezebel, Anna North wrote about a controversy in which the president-elect of the American College of Surgeons, Lazar Greenfield, tackily referenced 2002 study claiming that semen has antidepressant properties. Greenfield resigned as a result of the ensuing controversy, but Gordon Gallup, the author of the original study, has stepped forward to defend him. The story features comments by Kate Clancy, as well as this take-home:

Basically, there are a lot of questions scientists would have to answer before they could really conclude that semen is an antidepressant. Clancy also reminded me that Gallup and his co-authors were clear in their initial paper that their research was by no means the last word on the subject, and that it’s a shame that much other scientific literature (other than the Mota study) has cited it uncritically. It’s also a shame that Greenfield thought it was a good idea to present the semen-antidepressant link essentially as fact in his editorial, and then make a tasteless joke about it. His resignation isn’t a case of politics silencing science, as Gallup alleges. It’s a case of science poorly and offensively reported. If Gallup’s research were followed up in appropriate ways and appropriate venues, we might all learn something about sexual and mental health — and yes, even about semen.

Dan Adler, Democratic candidate in the upcoming special election for California’s 36th congressional district, has produced a sequence of videos, some of which have gone viral. The most viral, and the one you’ve probably seen, is Stick Together, but also check out Rudy! Rudy! Rudy!, which features his real-life campaign manager Sean Astin (Samwise Gamgee) and Patty Duke getting s**t done with Dan, which features, well, Patty Duke, who once played identical cousins. For the whole series, check out his YouTube channel.

Finally, over at Darwin Eats Cake, this week’s episodes were: Base 10 and Welcome to our OOL.