2 legs good, 4 legs better: Uner Tan syndrome, part 2

Image by massaoud el allaoui from Pixabay

(I am republishing a lot of my ‘legacy content’ from our PLOS Neuroanthropology weblog, which has been taken down, along with many of the other founding PLOS Blogs. Some of these, I am putting up because I teach with them. If you have any requests, don’t hesitate to email me at: greg (dot) downey @ mq (dot) edu (dot) au. I suspect many of the links in this piece will be broken, but I will endeavour to try to slowly rebuild this content. Originally published 5 September 2010.)

Members of a Turkish family with Uner Tan Syndrome

Beginning in 2005, reports by Prof. Üner Tan of Cukurova University in Turkey alerted the world to a number of families in which some members walked quadrupedally. This is the second part of a (so far) two-part post on Uner Tan Syndrome. Although you’re welcome to read the first part, I’ll give you the one sentence summary if you just want to push on and a piece of video clip on the cases. I should warn you though, before you read the first part, that the whole thing is sort of like the straight set-up for this piece, which is a bit of a googly (kind of like a knuckleballer for all you non-cricket followers):

Üner Tan described four consanguineous Turkish families with fourteen individuals who habitually walked quadrupedally; subsequent genetic research showed that some of the families had defects in a gene known to be essential in cerebellar formation, but not all of the cases had the gene, and at least one family member with the gene walked normally, leading most researchers to argue UTS was genetically heterogeneous in origin; some theorists, including Tan, argued that quadrupedalism was either ‘reverse evolution’ or an atavism, but not everyone was buying that explanation (including me for reasons I didn’t make entirely clear in the first post).

Well, that was — technically — one sentence.

Nova preview: The Family that Walks on All Fours

But if you read that first post, I know what you’re saying: ‘Bloody loooong post, mate, laffed mi head off at the picture… but eef thas what yous blokes do at Newroant-whatevs, well, I’m not heaps intristed.’ (Apparently, you have a bogan Australian accent, at least in my head.)

Photo by Eadweard MuybridgeAu contraire – we’re just getting started! We’ve still got bipedal dogs and goats, kids who only get down on all four when in a hurry, Johnny Eck (aka the ‘Half Boy’), capoeira training in Brazil and some other surprises up our sleeve. We’ll show you how we roll at Neuroanthropology, with lots of weird SFW videos and obscure case studies!

One of the things that we try to bring to ‘neuro-’ to make it truly ‘neuroanthropology’ is a much more open consideration of human variation. This can sometimes take us to some extraordinary case studies, not simply out of a fascination with the exotic, but because a comparative look at extreme cases – like Uner Tan Syndrome – helps us to better understand human potential. So let’s go back to Prof. Tan…

Continue reading “2 legs good, 4 legs better: Uner Tan syndrome, part 2”

Asifa Majid on language and olfaction

(I am republishing a lot of ‘legacy content’ from our PLOS Neuroanthropology weblog, which has been taken down, along with many of the other founding PLOS Blogs. Some of these, I am putting up because I teach with them. If you have any requests, don’t hesitate to email me at: greg.downey @ mq (dot) edu (dot) au. I suspect many of the links in this piece will be broken, but I will endeavour to try to slowly rebuild this content. I originally published this on 10 September 2014. I have also included at the end some of the most substantial comments from the comment thread.)When I first ran across Asifa Majid’s  article with Ewelina Wnuk in Cognition, about how speakers of Maniq, a language indigenous to southern Thailand, have a vocabulary for talking about smell, I was taken aback. In anthropology, especially since the work of people like David Howes, Constance Classen, and Andrew Synott, we know very well that different cultures privilege olfaction and other senses more than Westerners do. The anthropology of the sense has made it clear that the ideological privileging of vision in the West, and relative underdevelopment of sense of smell or proprioception, is not matched elsewhere.

Prof. Asifa Majid

However, Wnuk and Majid were attacking, with empirical observations and psychometric testing, one of the pillars of Western philosophical accounts of how human senses evolved: the idea that human evolution had tipped the balance decisively away from olfaction. The alleged weakness and imprecision of olfaction was taken for granted in perceptual psychology.

Some of these theories of sensory evolution hold that our ancestors had, in a way, paid for our distinctive cognitive and perceptual development by sacrificing olfactory acuity. Vision increased precision at the expense of olfaction.

In fact, some theorists of brain evolution go so far as to suggest that there was a kind of neurological trade-off: language use could only grow as our ancestors lost a capacity for smelling. The restraint and remove from the immediate sense-world necessary for logic and abstract thought was opposed to the kind of complete immersion and sensory triggering of behaviour that other animals had because of the way aromas dominated their perception. Were the senses in a zero-sum exchange where visual acuity and a distinctly human way of life made acute olfaction impossible?

Research conducted by Asifa Majid, together with her collaborators, suggests that language and olfaction are not at odds; the right language can actually enhance the perception of aroma, as language has also enhanced, inflected and refined our other senses. Rather than a fact of human being, the neglect of olfaction in the West is a result of our own cultural presuppositions and sensory biases: smell suffers from neglect, not an inescapable evolutionary trade-off. (Majid’s research got a mention recently from Tanya Luhrmann in an op-ed in the New York TimesCan’t Place That Smell? You Must Be American: How Culture Shapes Our Senses.)

Continue reading “Asifa Majid on language and olfaction”

Giving names to aromas in Aslian languages

The sanitary and mechanical age we are now entering makes up for the mercy it grants to our sense of smell by the ferocity with which it assails our sense of hearing. – Havelock Ellis

How do you smell?, by Harald Hoyer, 2011 (CC BY SA)
How do you smell?, by Harald Hoyer, 2011 (CC BY SA)

(I am republishing a lot of ‘legacy content’ from our PLOS Neuroanthropology weblog, which has been taken down, along with many of the other founding PLOS Blogs. Some of these, I am putting up because I teach with them. If you have any requests, don’t hesitate to email me at: greg.downey @ mq (dot) edu (dot) au. I suspect many of the links in this piece will be broken, but I will endeavour to try to slowly rebuild this content. I originally published this on 9 March 2014. I have also included at the end some of the most substantial comments from the comment thread.)

My wife and I disagree about how one should judge whether milk has gone bad or is still fresh enough to drink. She consults the date on the carton. I smell it.

My aroma-based strategy is part of my well-developed theory that milk, even when it goes “off,” simply becomes a different dairy product, maybe not quite so pleasant to drink, but perfectly serviceable in other functions such as making pancakes. My father taught me this, or at least I blame him — he grew up on a farm in Iowa — but I also recall reading with great satisfaction about the Nuer and Dinka, and how a range of fermented milk products were essential to their diet. But that’s a story for a different day…

The key is that my wife and I disagree fundamentally about the value of olfaction in judging milk even though she has a quite remarkable sense of smell. She often stumps me by quizzing me about which flowering shrubs are in bloom from their aroma. She can always tell. Like many people in the US and Australia, and elsewhere in the West, we’re ambivalent about the value of the sense of smell, using it only quite narrowly for specific tasks.

Throughout Western philosophy and psychology runs a conviction that smell is an imperfect and inexact sense. Charles Darwin, in The Descent of Man, for example, wrote that the sense was “of extremely slight service” to humans; philosopher Immanuel Kant that it was the “most dispensable” of our senses. As Ewelina Wnuk and Asifa Majid of the Max Plank Institute summarize, a range of Western thinkers from Condillac to Pinker argue that aroma offers humans little of value, that the sense is vestigial, rudimentary, and under-developed (see Wnuk and Majid 2014: 125).

In fact, the human sense of smell is far more acute than we might realize, and new linguistic research emerging from a cluster of groups in southeast Asia suggests that our inability to smell might be a cultural problem, not an invariant fact of human nature. Our language hampers our ability to perceive aroma.

Continue reading “Giving names to aromas in Aslian languages”

Life in the Dark

Photo of the Milky Way in the night sky.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay 

(I am republishing a lot of ‘legacy content’ from our PLOS Neuroanthropology weblog, which has been taken down, along with many of the other founding PLOS Blogs. Some of these, I am putting up because I teach with them. If you have any requests, don’t hesitate to email me at: greg.downey @ mq (dot) edu (dot) au. I suspect many of the links in this piece will be broken, but I will endeavour to try to slowly rebuild this content. I originally published this on 7 November 2010. I have also included at the end some of the most substantial comments from the comment thread.

I’m also trying something totally new…)

This post is available as a podcast at Anchor.fm.

My ex-wife, along with her many other jobs – paid and unpaid – is the local director of a campus exchange program that brings US students to Wollongong, New South Wales.  Because of her background in outdoor education and adventure therapy, she does a great job taking visiting Yanks on weekend activities that get the students to see a side of life in Australia that they might not otherwise see.  From Mystery Bay on the South Coast, to Mount Guluga with an Aboriginal guide, to abseiling (rapeling) in the Blue Mountains, to surf lessons at Seven Mile Beach, I think she does a great job, and I frequently tag along to help and enjoy being reminded of the distinctiveness of my adopted home.

Abdulai Abubakari holds his infant child, Fakia. (Peter DiCampo/VII Agency)

Invariably, either at the beach or in the Blue Mountains, at night, students will confront a clear, dark Australian sky, staggered at just how many stars fill the darkness from horizon to horizon. I’ve seen the US students – well, not all of them get into it – just stand, necks craned backwards, and stare.  What they thought was darkness was actually full of innumerable points of light.

I’m sympathetic because I had a similar experience one clear night in the Chapada Diamantina (the Diamond Plateau) in Brazil, when I couldn’t believe how, given real darkness, desert-like humidity, and clear, pollution-free air, the sky was crowded with sources of light, just smeared with stars.  For the first time, I felt like I understood the name, the ‘Milky Way,’ because I could see the uninterrupted blur toward the centre of our galaxy.

I was reminded of my experience with seeing stars, as if for the first time, and the reactions of the American students when I stumbled across the photos of Peter DiCampo (click here for Peter’s website), an American freelance photographer and former members of the Peace Corps who volunteered in the village of Voggu in rural Ghana.  His photo essay, Full Frame: Life without lights, is up at Global Post, an online American newspaper launched at the start of 2009.  His beautiful photos of life by flashlight, candle and gaslight, capture the atmosphere in this part of Ghana without electricity, and got me to thinking about artificial light and the way the sensory environment affects human development (additional photos at Peter’s personal website, including photos from darkness in Kurdistan).

Continue reading “Life in the Dark”

Wednesday Round Up #61

-I’m taking at least two weeks of break, so this is the last round up for awhile.

Translating cognitive science in the public square

We are at a tipping point. For cognitive science to support broader societal change, a paradigm shift in the way that we think about research and communities is required. This paradigm shift requires acknowledging that even though a wealth of research has shown that neighborhood, family, and cultural contexts all play a critical role in supporting healthy brain development [1], much of the work has been laboratory based rather than being centered on children’s and families’ lived experiences. While laboratory research is indeed necessary, children do not interact with caregivers and peers in highly controlled environments; instead, cultural traditions and local knowledge influence behavior, learning, and development. When cognitive science moves from including community members in field studies to codesigning with community members, scientific knowledge and interventions will be more culturally sensitive, equitable, and representative.

Research outside of psychology and the other social sciences offers some roadmaps for this kind of inquiry. For instance, adding green spaces to an environment can reduce aggressive behavior [2], and putting exercise equipment in public parks increases activity levels [3]. Rather than taking an intensive approach with a small group, these projects target a large swath of the population with a small dose of enrichment [4]. Perhaps public spaces can be designed with a light touch that enables a kind of ‘mental’ exercise for caregivers and children. By creating codesigned installations that ‘bake in’ the science of learning, physical spaces might empower people to behave in ways that support the kinds of caregiver–child interactions known to foster language, mathematics, and spatial learning [5]. Here, we outline how centering communities and using evidence-based principles to transform public spaces offer a new direction for cognitive science in situ.

Six pillars for designing public spaces for change

Creating public spaces that offer cognitive enrichment requires several deviations from the typical research process. First, scientists need to work in collaborative teams of community members, architects, politicians, and urban planners. Second, rather than highlighting what is not known in the research, scientists must look at the accumulated evidence over time to offer evidence-based frameworks that can guide designs, such as by relying on six principles of learning for which there is consensus in the literature. Designs should inspire active (rather than passive), engaged (not distracted), meaningful (connects to what is known and what holds personal meaning), socially interactive, iterative (rather than repetitive), and joyful experiences [6,7], which are known to predict learning outcomes. Third, designs must be informed by community input with respect to their placement, form, and uses. For example, consider a design building on the converging evidence that playing with puzzles helps children build science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) knowledge [8]. Community design input would allow members of the neighborhood to suggest what could be in a puzzle, where it might be placed, and even the design of the puzzle, be it on a wall, near a bench, or on the ground in front of a bus shelter.

Gabor Maté’s Bizarre Ideas on Connections Between Stress and Disease

Casually attaching such labels to phenomena his audiences do not understand scores points with them. It allows Maté to dismiss the knowledge and tools we need to prevent new cases of asthma among these women and reduce the toll of asthma among those women who have already developed this chronic, recurring condition.

Maté paints a cartoonish caricature of medicine locked in silos. He confuses the maps that specialist researchers and clinicians use with the territory they cover.

The Brain Maps Out Ideas and Memories Like Spaces

“Our language is riddled with spatial metaphors for reasoning, and for memory in general,” said Kim Stachenfeld, a neuroscientist at the British artificial intelligence company DeepMind.

In the past few decades, research has shown that for at least two of our faculties, memory and navigation, those metaphors may have a physical basis in the brain. A small seahorse-shaped structure, the hippocampus, is essential to both those functions, and evidence has started to suggest that the same coding scheme — a grid-based form of representation — may underlie them. Recent insights have prompted some researchers to propose that this same coding scheme can help us navigate other kinds of information, including sights, sounds and abstract concepts. The most ambitious suggestions even venture that these grid codes could be the key to understanding how the brain processes all details of general knowledge, perception and memory.

Toni Morrison on the Power of Language

Speculation on what (other than its own frail body) that bird-in-the-hand might signify has always been attractive to me, but especially so now thinking, as I have been, about the work I do that has brought me to this company. So I choose to read the bird as language and the woman as a practiced writer. She is worried about how the language she dreams in, given to her at birth, is handled, put into service, even withheld from her for certain nefarious purposes. Being a writer she thinks of language partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control, but mostly as agency — as an act with consequences. So the question the children put to her: “Is it living or dead?” is not unreal because she thinks of language as susceptible to death, erasure; certainly imperiled and salvageable only by an effort of the will.

Naomi Quinn: “The Cultural Basis of Metaphor” (1991)

Quinn’s contributions to Beyond Metaphor (1991) argues against the claim that metaphor “constitute understanding,” and instead proposes that metaphors “are ordinarily selected to fit a preexisting and culturally shared model” (p. 60).

Thought (Mostly) Structures Metaphor

Here are some more elaborate versions of the quotes in which she presents her ideas:

I will be arguing that metaphors, far from constituting understanding, are ordinarily selected to fit a preexisting and culturally shared model. And I will conclude that metaphors do not typically give rise to new, previously unrecognized entailments, although they may well help the reasoner to follow out entailments of the preexisting cultural model and thereby arrive at complex inferences. I do not want to suggest that metaphors never reorganize thinking, supply new entailments, and permit new inferences; but my analysis will argue that such cases are exceptional rather than ordinary. (p. 60)

Metaphors are usually cherry-picked on the basis of prior understanding:

I want to argue further, and I think quite contrary to what Johnson and Lakoff seem to be saying, that metaphorical systems or productive metaphors typically do not structure understandings de novo. Rather, perticular metaphors are selected by speakers, just because they provide satisfying mappings onto already existing cultural understandings—that is, because elements and relations between elements in the source domain make a good match with elements and relations among them in the cultural model. Selection of a particular metaphor for use in ordinary speech seems to depend upon its aptness for the conceptual task at hand—sometimes, as we shall see, a reasoning task. (p. 65)

The Day the Good Internet Died

For a small slice of time, being online was a thrilling mix of discovery, collaboration, creativity, and chaotic potential.

The internet lasts forever, the internet never forgets. And yet it is also a place in which I feel confronted with an almost unbearable volume of daily reminders of its decay: broken links, abandoned blogs, apps gone by, deleted tweets (miss you always, ah-well-nevertheless!), too-cutesy 404 messages, vanished Vines, videos whose copyright holders have requested removal, lost material that the Wayback Machine never crawled, things I know I’ve read somewhere and want to quote in my work but just can’t seem to resurface the same way I used to be able to.

Some of these losses are silly and tiny, but others over the years have felt more monumental and telling. And when Google Reader disappeared in 2013, it wasn’t just a tale of dwindling user numbers or of what one engineer later described as a rotted codebase. It was a sign of the crumbling of the very foundation upon which it had been built: the era of the Good Internet.

Interview with Agustín Fuentes: This Species Moment

I love the way, someplace, you described that what you got excited about about anthropology is that it was a space that linked the bones and muscles and gut and DNA — human DNA, and behavior, and didn’t detach that from culture and history and power.

Exactly. The whole idea that, for us, to really understand the human, you have to understand how muscles and bones and genetics and the circulatory system work, but you have to also understand how the neurobiologies interface with the perceptions, the histories, the social experiences, the languages, and the daily lives of people. And it’s that conflux of events, that ongoing dynamic, that really draws me. And it’s messy. It’s messy to be human, but it’s really fascinating.

Against Persuasion: Knowing takes radical collaboration: an openness to being persuaded as much as an eagerness to persuade.

Over and over again, Socrates approaches people who are remarkable for their lack of humility—which is to say, for the fact that they feel confident in their own knowledge of what is just, or pious, or brave, or moderate. You might have supposed that Socrates, whose claim to fame is his awareness of his own ignorance, would treat these self-proclaimed “wise men” (Sophists) with contempt, hostility, or indifference. But he doesn’t.

The most remarkable feature of Socrates’s approach is his punctilious politeness and sincere enthusiasm. The conversation usually begins with Socrates asking his interlocutor: Since you think you know, can you tell me, what is courage (or wisdom, or piety, or justice . . .)? Over and over again, it turns out that they think they can answer, but they can’t. Socrates’s hope springs eternal: even as he walks toward the courtroom to be tried—and eventually put to death—for his philosophical activity, he is delighted to encounter the self-important priest Euthyphro, who will, surely, be able to say what piety is. (Spoiler: he’s not.)…

One of Socrates’s interlocutors, Meno, doubts whether it’s possible to come to know anything if you know so little to begin with. If someone doesn’t know where she’s going, it doesn’t seem as though she can even take a first step in the right direction. Can you map in total darkness?

Socrates’s answer was no. Or at least: you can’t do it alone. The right response to noticing one’s own ignorance is to try to escape it by acquiring someone else’s knowledge. But the only way to do that is to explain to them why you aren’t yet able to accept this or that claim of theirs as knowledge—and that is what mapping one’s ignorance amounts to. Socrates stages an exhibition of this method for Meno by demonstrating how much geometrical progress he can make with a young slave boy by doing nothing but asking questions that expose the boy’s false assumptions.

It is when he refutes others’ claims to knowledge that Socrates’s own ignorance takes shape, for him, as something he can know. What appears as a sea of darkness when approached introspectively turns out to be navigable when brought into contact with the knowledge claims of another.

Social memory and niche construction in a hypervariable environment

Communities in southwest Madagascar have co-evolved with a hypervariable environment and climate. The paleoclimate record reflects major fluctuations in climatic conditions over the course of Holocene human settlement. Archeological evidence indicates short-term occupations of sites, suggesting that frequent residential mobility and flexible subsistence strategies have been central features of life on the southwest coast for millennia. Today, despite rapid changes linked to globalization and increasing market integration, mobility and subsistence flexibility remain key to the lives of communities of the region.

In this article, we advocate closer consideration of the social dimensions of the human niche, and their inextricable links to the biophysical world. Specifically, we explore the theoretical implications of applying a Niche Construction Theory framework to understanding the role of social memory in constructing the human niche of SW Madagascar. We look at how social memory facilitates mobility, resource use, and the creation and maintenance of social identities and ties among communities of foragers, farmers, herders, and fishers living under hypervariable climatic conditions.

The Biology of Racism

The conversation this essay is based on took place during the “Raising Our Voices” AAA online conference, in November 2020. We were fortunate, and honored, to have Professor Leith Mullings as a partner in the discussion. Her passing in December 2020 left a hole in our hearts. All of us on the panel were influenced, shaped, and/or mentored at some stage by Leith, and her powerful words, actions, and legacy continue to inspire and push us to make anthropology matter. Professor Mullings framed this discission, and the challenge before us, when she stated, “I think most of us here would agree with the often-quoted ‘race is not biological but has biological consequences.’ But the question is: How do we understand racism? What are the biological consequences? And most important, how do we address them?”

Tender Rhythms: An Interactive Art Installation Created Out Of The Connections Between People

Stephanie Koziej is an installation artist and scholar who explores, perhaps, the most fundamental concept in our lives — the connections between people. Her new experimental installation Tender Rhythms is an “interactive brain-computer interface installation” that creates music and visual art when two people connect deeply with one another. Koziej joined “City Lights” Senior Producer Kim Drobes via Zoom to talk about the science behind feelings of deep interpersonal connection, and to share how participants will be able to see, hear and feel the unique energies of their own relationships.

“I was writing my dissertation at Emory on the connections between people. I was very interested in intimacy and the invisible relationship between humans,” Koziej said. “I just noticed that in philosophy and in our society, we focus a lot on the individual; the autonomous, the singular individual. But I was always interested in the connection between us, and I wanted to let it talk.”

Wednesday Round Up #60

Sharpen your intuitions about plausibility of observed effect sizes.
r > .60? Is that effect plausibly as large as the relationship between gender and height (.67) or nearness to the equator and temperature (.60)?

Excellent thread about established effect sizes for things that many of us are familiar with. Here’s a much lower level of effect size:
r > .10? Is that effect plausibly as large as the relationship between antihistamine and runny nose (.11), childhood lead exposure and IQ (.12), anti-inflammatories and pain reduction (.14), self-disclosure and likability (.14), or nicotine patch and smoking abstinence (.18)?

The original article with the data is Psychological testing and psychological assessment: A review of evidence and issues

Towards Reproducible Brain-Wide Association Studies

Leveraging the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study3 (N=11,878), we estimated the effect sizes and reproducibility of these brain-wide associations studies (BWAS) as a function of sample size. The very largest, replicable brain-wide associations for univariate and multivariate methods were r=0.14 and r=0.34, respectively.

In smaller samples, typical for brain-wide association studies (BWAS), irreproducible, inflated effect sizes were ubiquitous, no matter the method (univariate, multivariate). Until sample sizes started to approach consortium-levels, BWAS were underpowered and statistical errors assured. Multiple factors contribute to replication failures4–6; here, we show that the pairing of small brain-behavioral phenotype effect sizes with sampling variability is a key element in wide-spread BWAS replication failure.

Brain-behavioral phenotype associations stabilize and become more reproducible with sample sizes of N⪆2,000. While investigator-initiated brain-behavior research continues to generate hypotheses and propel innovation, large consortia are needed to usher in a new era of reproducible human brain-wide association studies.

Mitch Fowler and the brain-bending world of ‘speedrunning’

Lennart Nacke, director of the HCI Games Group at the University of Waterloo, says speedrunning could have a similar effect on players like Fowler. “At the heart of every video game is a learning super engine,” says Nacke. “He’s optimizing learning. He’s becoming an athlete in that way.”

The speedrunner’s lexicon sounds like another language to the uninitiated. They “clip” through walls by hitting exactly the right screen pixel at the perfect speed. They pray that “RNG” (shorthand for random number generators that inject unpredictability into enemy movements) doesn’t interrupt their chosen path: unlucky RNG ruins flawless runs. The goal is to minimize obstacles. “For game designers, it’s all about adding friction and challenges,” says Nacke. “Speedrunners eliminate all the friction.”

“Most speedrunners are perfectly synchronized,” Nacke adds. “The cognitive system is automated. It’s become so ingrained in his motor cortex that now he’s doing that motor function to achieve the optimal time.” In other words, Fowler’s hands move too quickly for him to explain his movements in real time. But he’s typically in total control.

Many Analysts, One Data Set: Making Transparent How Variations in Analytic Choices Affect Results

Twenty-nine teams involving 61 analysts used the same data set to address the same research question: whether soccer referees are more likely to give red cards to dark-skin-toned players than to light-skin-toned players. Analytic approaches varied widely across the teams, and the estimated effect sizes ranged from 0.89 to 2.93 (Mdn = 1.31) in odds-ratio units. Twenty teams (69%) found a statistically significant positive effect, and 9 teams (31%) did not observe a significant relationship.

Overall, the 29 different analyses used 21 unique combinations of covariates. Neither analysts’ prior beliefs about the effect of interest nor their level of expertise readily explained the variation in the outcomes of the analyses. Peer ratings of the quality of the analyses also did not account for the variability. These findings suggest that significant variation in the results of analyses of complex data may be difficult to avoid, even by experts with honest intentions. Crowdsourcing data analysis, a strategy in which numerous research teams are recruited to simultaneously investigate the same research question, makes transparent how defensible, yet subjective, analytic choices influence research results.

Has the Credibility of the Social Sciences Been Credibly Destroyed? Reanalyzing the “Many Analysts, One Data Set” Project

In 2018, Silberzahn, Uhlmann, Nosek, and colleagues published an article in which 29 teams analyzed the same research question with the same data: Are soccer referees more likely to give red cards to players with dark skin tone than light skin tone? The results obtained by the teams differed extensively. Many concluded from this widely noted exercise that the social sciences are not rigorous enough to provide definitive answers. In this article, we investigate why results diverged so much.

We argue that the main reason was an unclear research question: Teams differed in their interpretation of the research question and therefore used diverse research designs and model specifications. We show by reanalyzing the data that with a clear research question, a precise definition of the parameter of interest, and theory-guided causal reasoning, results vary only within a narrow range. The broad conclusion of our reanalysis is that social science research needs to be more precise in its “estimands” to become credible.

The Myth of Panic

Why this fear of panic? What would have been wrong with allowing the public to feel afraid? Contrary to Lightfoot’s reassurances, there was a reason for the citizens of Chicago—and the rest of us—to “be fearful.” Yet leaders on both sides of the Pacific, at both the local and national levels, among both the politicians and the opinion-makers, were determined to keep their people as far away from fear as possible.

Events proved the anxieties of these elites unfounded: when cities in China, Europe, and finally the United States descended into lockdown, there was no mass panic. There was fear, yes, plenty of it—but that fear did not lead to irrational, hysterical, or violent group behavior. Our fear did not lead to looting, pogroms, or unrest. The fearful of Wuhan did not rise up in rebellion against the Communist Party; even when Italian doctors began rationing medical equipment and supplies, the fearful of Milan did not loot stores or disrupt the medical system; the fearful of New York did not duel each other to the death over toilet paper rolls.

The social “panic” that disturbed mayors, presidents, columnists, and Communists never materialized. It never does. Time and resources that could have been devoted to combatting a very real pandemic were wasted combatting an imaginary social phenomenon. In 2020, we all learned the perils of the myth of panic.

How to Unlearn a Disease

The power of the nervous system lies in this ability to learn, even through adulthood. Networks of neurons discover new relationships through the timing of electrochemical impulses called spikes, which neurons use to communicate with one another. This temporal pattern strengthens or weakens connections between cells, constituting the physical substrate of a memory. Most of the time, the upshot is beneficial. The ability to associate causes with effects—encroaching shadows with dive-bombing falcons, cacti with hidden water sources—gives organisms a leg up on predators and competitors.

But sometimes neurons are too good at their jobs. The brain, with its extraordinary computational prowess, can learn language and logic. It can also learn how to be sick.

People who experience a single random seizure, for instance, are 50 times more likely to become epileptic than someone who has never had one.1 Like Philip’s raven, the same stimuli that preceded the first fit—such as anxiety or a particular musical passage—more readily trigger future episodes. And the more often seizures occur, the stronger and more pervasive the underlying neural network may become, potentially inducing more widespread or more violent attacks.

Why Crash Weight Loss Programs Don’t Work: Clues From Hunter-Gatherer Societies

One last thing that stunned me from your book: You write about the metabolic cost of pregnancy — comparing pregnant women to Tour de France riders.

You can push the body as in the Tour de France, where riders burn 7,000 or 8,000 calories a day for three weeks. But it also makes sense that pregnancy is pushing the same metabolic limits as something like the Tour de France. They both run your body’s metabolic machinery at full blast for as long as it can keep it up. It just speaks to how taxing pregnancy is, for one thing, but it also speaks to how these things are all connected. Our energetic machinery gets co-opted into these different tasks and makes connections that unite all of these different experiences.

Why understanding inherited trauma is critical, and what it means for our kids

Scientists have also looked at the existence of inherited trauma in groups such as the children of Holocaust survivors, Native American communities and the sons of Civil War prisoners of war, to name a few. And though the findings seem to support the idea that trauma did, in fact, lead to changes in future generations, critics have noted small sample sizes, exaggeration of causality and media sensationalism as reasons to doubt them.

Marlin, who conducts her research on mice, supports making sure the “science is rigorous” and acknowledges issues with data from others in the past. However, she said that “if I take a step back from being a scientist and am just a fellow human in society, we see inherited trauma playing out in many instances across the world; it makes sense. Now we need to identify the biology behind this inheritance, which will help us better understand and navigate the stresses of our world today.”

Introducing the Other “AI”: Anthropology Intelligence

“Marriage rituals!” Marcus exploded, hoarse from exhaustion. “What the hell is the point of that?” His question masked a bigger one: Why would anyone go to a mountainous country that seemed weird to Westerners and immerse herself in an alien culture to study it? I understood his reaction. As I later admitted in my doctoral thesis: “With people dying outside on the streets of Dushanbe, studying marriage rituals did sound exotic—if not irrelevant.”

Anthro-Vision: A New Way to See in Business and Life has a simple aim: to answer Marcus’ question—and show that the ideas emanating from a discipline that many people think (wrongly) studies only the “exotic” are vital for the modern world. The reason is that anthropology is an intellectual framework that enables you to see around corners, spot what is hidden in plain sight, and gain empathy for others and fresh insight on problems. This framework is needed more than ever now as we grapple with climate change, pandemics, racism, social media run amok, artificial intelligence, financial turmoil, and political conflict.

The Science of Whiskers: How Touch Remaps the Brain

Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to your phone buzzing. Your fingertips, feeling around in the dark, somehow recognize the device on your nightstand, distinguishing it from other objects by touch alone.

To explore how we accomplish sensory feats like this, neuroscientists at Columbia’s Zuckerman Institute studied, using a novel quantitative approach, how mice use their whiskers to feel the shapes of things. The researchers discovered that the brain reconfigures itself dramatically when identifying objects by touch.

This surprising mental agility, described July 21 in Neuron, challenges the traditional view that brain cells have fairly fixed roles in controlling the body.

The Computer Scientist Training AI to Think With Analogies

But you’ve also written that analogy is “an understudied area in AI.” If it’s so fundamental, why is that the case?

One reason people haven’t studied it as much is because they haven’t recognized its essential importance to cognition. Focusing on logic and programming in the rules for behavior — that’s the way early AI worked. More recently people have focused on learning from lots and lots of examples, and then assuming that you’ll be able to do induction to things you haven’t seen before using just the statistics of what you’ve already learned. They hoped the abilities to generalize and abstract would kind of come out of the statistics, but it hasn’t worked as well as people had hoped.

You can show a deep neural network millions of pictures of bridges, for example, and it can probably recognize a new picture of a bridge over a river or something. But it can never abstract the notion of “bridge” to, say, our concept of bridging the gender gap. These networks, it turns out, don’t learn how to abstract. There’s something missing. And people are only sort of grappling now with that.

Opioid settlements are imminent. Spend the money on proven treatments that save lives.

States serious about reducing overdose deaths should devote most of their funds to harm reduction and evidence-based treatment. Harm reduction strategies – those predicated on meeting people where they are and encouraging positive change – have proved effective inreducing overdose deaths. These approaches include syringe provision programs, naloxone distribution programs and supervised consumption services.