Neuroanthropology

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Archive for August 20th, 2010

Your Brain on Nature: Outdoors and Out of Reach 2

Posted by gregdowney on August 20, 2010

Daniel and I exchanged emails about the recent piece in The New York Times, ‘Outdoors and Out of Reach, Studying the Brain,’ by Matt Richtel. We both responded strongly to the article; although we liked the discussion of technology’s effects on cognition and the positive benefits of being in nature (and away from digital technology), getting down to thinking through the various points left us both feeling pretty cranky (maybe not enough time in nature, eh?). Daniel’s already taken on some of the issues that could be raised with the piece, but I just wanted to pick up a few other threads.

The article discusses a river trip including five neuroscientists who took time away from their typical routine of digital interaction, dwelling in built environments, and conducting research to float down a river valley in Utah and spend some quality time with bats and cliffs as well as each other. To be honest, this sounds pretty idyllic to me, and I think far more conferences should be held outdoors in tents rather than in rented hotel meeting rooms with PowerPoint slides, 15-minute papers and cellophane-wrapped muffins. A whole new industry of Adventure Academic Meetings could allow physicists to discuss new breakthroughs while spelunking or philosophers to reflect on Continental theory while snowshoeing. Sign me up for the Anthropologists Hike the Appalachian Trail conference, but count me out of International Neuroanthro-Bungee 2012!

The participants in the white-watering brain sciences tête-à-tête seem to share my enthusiasm for a change in conference formats:

“There’s a real mental freedom in knowing no one or nothing can interrupt you,” Mr. Braver says. He echoes the others in noting that the trip is in many ways more effective than work retreats set in hotels, often involving hundreds of people who shuffle through quick meetings, wielding BlackBerrys. “It’s why I got into science, to talk about ideas.”

One of the first things that irritated me in the NYTimes piece, however, was the conflation of living the ‘life uninterrupted’ — having a small, intimate retreat with a handful of people — and being ‘in Nature,’ as if the two were inherently inextricable. Of course, one wouldn’t have to invite hundreds of people to the hotel for a conference, and the conversations would likely be a lot more intimate and less distracted, even if your small group was at a spa or dude ranch. Likewise, you can go to Nature at an outdoor music festival and feel completely over-stimulated, even though you have no access to electricity or indoor plumbing.

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Posted in Neural plasticity, Perception and the senses | 4 Comments »

Chronicle on Marc Hauser

Posted by dlende on August 20, 2010

Big update on the Marc Hauser affair, and the seriousness of the research misconduct allegations and the irony of this from the author of Moral Minds. The Chronicle for Higher Education has a piece out today which sheds light on the internal investigation and the assertions by research assistants in Hauser’s Harvard lab of misconduct.

The research assistant who analyzed the data and the graduate student decided to review the tapes themselves, without Mr. Hauser’s permission, the document says. They each coded the results independently. Their findings concurred with the conclusion that the experiment had failed: The monkeys didn’t appear to react to the change in patterns.

They then reviewed Mr. Hauser’s coding and, according to the research assistant’s statement, discovered that what he had written down bore little relation to what they had actually observed on the videotapes. He would, for instance, mark that a monkey had turned its head when the monkey didn’t so much as flinch. It wasn’t simply a case of differing interpretations, they believed: His data were just completely wrong.

Here’s the link for more – Document Sheds Light on Investigation at Harvard

And if you’re looking for more background, Nicholas Wade at the NY Times had a very good piece a week ago, In Harvard Lab Inquiry, a Raid and 3-Year Wait.

Update: Nicholas Wade came out with further coverage at NYT in the article Harvard Finds Scientist Guilty of Misconduct.

Harvard University said Friday that it had found a prominent researcher, Marc Hauser, “solely responsible” for eight instances of scientific misconduct.

Hours later, Dr. Hauser, a rising star for his explorations into cognition and morality, made his first public statement since news of the inquiry emerged last week, telling The New York Times, “I acknowledge that I made some significant mistakes” and saying he was “deeply sorry for the problems this case had caused to my students, my colleagues and my university.”

Also, you can find the entire letter/email here sent by Harvard Dean Michael Smith to the faculty, where he confirms the scientific misconduct to the entire Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Posted in Links | 2 Comments »

2010 World Humanitarian Day Project

Posted by dlende on August 20, 2010

This collaborative film was shot in over 40 countries in under 9 weeks. Done on a shoestring budget, its main goal is to show the enormous diversity of places, faces and endeavors of humanitarian aid workers in 2010.

World Humanitarian Day was actually yesterday, so I just missed it. But here’s the info!!

Posted in Applied Anthropology | Leave a Comment »

 
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