Wednesday Round Up #39

Evolution: A Brief History of Us
Anthropologist Herman Pontzer covers human evolution in 12 minutes.

Bird-Watching Goes Both Ways

Before he began studying how and where L.A.’s raptors build their nests, Cooper gave little thought to bird droppings on the streets. “We’ve all seen bird shit on the ground,” he says, but it sort of fades into the background. “It makes you wonder, What else are you missing?”

These birds of prey, on the other hand, don’t miss much. Spending his days watching raptors go about their days, Cooper has been struck by how attentive they are to their surroundings. He suspects that they have figured out how to survive among millions of bipedal primates—us—through careful observation. They’re not just scrutinizing the crows and the squirrels. They’re also watching us. Bird-watching, in other words, goes both ways.

The Most Ambitious Effort Yet to Reform Policing May Be Happening In Ithaca, New York

In Berkeley, Ca., armed officers no longer conduct traffic stops or respond to mental health and homelessness calls. Portland ended the deployment of “school resource officers,” long linked to the criminalization of Black and brown youth and the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

And now, in a proposal announced today, the mayor of Ithaca, NY will attempt the most radical reimagining of policing in the post-George Floyd era so far: abolishing the city’s police department as currently constructed and replacing it with a reimagined city agency.

In a nearly 100-page report obtained by GQ, Mayor Svante Myrick will propose replacing the city’s current 63-officer, $12.5 million a year department with a “Department of Community Solutions and Public Safety” which would include armed “public safety workers” and unarmed “community solution workers,” all of whom will report to a civilian director of public safety instead of a police chief.

The neural correlates of ongoing conscious thought

A core goal in cognitive neuroscience is identifying the physical substrates of the patterns of thought that occupy our daily lives. Contemporary views suggest that the landscape of ongoing experience is heterogeneous and can be influenced by features of both the person and the context. This perspective piece considers recent work that explicitly accounts for both the heterogeneity of the experience and context dependence of patterns of ongoing thought. These studies reveal that systems linked to attention and control are important for organizing experience in response to changing environmental demands.

These studies also establish a role of the default mode network beyond task-negative or purely episodic content, for example, implicating it in the level of vivid detail in experience in both task contexts and in spontaneous self-generated experiential states. Together, this work demonstrates that the landscape of ongoing thought is reflected in the activity of multiple neural systems, and it is important to distinguish between processes contributing to how the experience unfolds from those linked to how these experiences are regulated.

What If We Pay People to Stop Using Drugs?

PROP stands for Positive Reinforcement Opportunity Project, a treatment tailored for LGBTQ+ and non-binary people who want to reduce their stimulant use. After thinking it over for a couple of weeks, Tyrone showed up for an appointment at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation on Market Street.

Unlike traditional treatments for substance use disorders, which often take place in expensive residential facilities, demand total abstinence from all drugs, and rely heavily on group therapy and the 12-steps, PROP doesn’t punish or control those who participate in the program. Instead, PROP holds substance use on a continuum, and gives people the power to determine their own treatment goals: Some might want to be abstinent from all drugs; others might reduce their stimulant use to more manageable levels.

Counseling and group sessions are also part of PROP, but the program is grounded in a highly effective behavioral therapy called contingency management, which reinforces positive behaviors through delivering tangible, often monetary, rewards. “In PROP I found community, I found support,” Tyrone said. “And it was great to have that money.” …

Here’s how PROP’s contingency management program works: Participants show up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for a drug test. Every time they screen negative for cocaine, amphetamine, or methamphetamine—all stimulants—they are rewarded with money that is deposited into an account managed by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. Participants can request to cash out at any time. The deeper into the program you get, the more money comes in each deposit. After every three consecutive negative screens, there’s a bonus. The more a behavior is rewarded, the theory goes, the more likely a person is to repeat it…

In contingency management programs, a positive urine screen does not result in punishment the way it might in other treatment programs, especially when those are court mandated and using drugs can result in jail time. The only negative reinforcement in contingency management is that a positive urine screen means the reward cycle resets, along with the bonus count. You have to start over…

Petry is known for inventing the “fishbowl” method, which the VA adopted across their facilities. Instead of receiving a set reward after each negative urine screen, participants draw prize slips at random. Some slips are worth $1, others are worth $20, and there’s one “jumbo” prize worth $100. But other slips have no monetary value and simply say, “Good Job!” After consecutive negative urine screens, the participant gets to draw more slips, increasing their chances of winning more money which is meant to reinforce abstinence over time. Veterans can earn a maximum of roughly $364, and on average earn closer to $200 in prize draws.

“Holiday season is my favorite time of year for CM,” Dr. DePhilippis said. “Patients who are doing well in CM are using their earnings to purchase gifts for loved ones, which is especially poignant because in many cases in prior holiday seasons when a patient is struggling they’re unable to have that joyous experience of buying their loved ones gifts.” …

Contingency management turns popular myths of addiction on their head, like claims that drugs “hijack” people’s brains, leaving them unable to make decisions for themselves, or ideas about “addictive personality,” as if people who use drugs are intrinsically selfish or egocentric. The contingency management model is based on the science of human behavior, and people who use drugs are human.

That philosophy is what attracted Tyrone to PROP’s contingency management program in the first place. “You were never really penalized. They never took anything away from you. You were never told that you can’t come back,” Tyrone said. “There were times we’d be in the room and there would be guys bouncing off the wall because they were so amped up, and they were treated just as equally and meant to feel as welcome as anyone else. For me, that was really important to feel like, no matter what, I was welcome.”

The Broken System: What comes after meritocracy?

Michael J. Sandel’s new book, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?, gives us a deeper view into some of the reasons why many ordinary workers have become suspicious of the highly educated elites who seek to represent their interests in the Democratic Party. In providing a damning critique of meritocracy, Sandel also documents how, as both an ideology and a set of practices, it has become a driving force within the party as its members have become more highly educated. He argues that, in stressing education as the primary means to get ahead in society, the party’s educated elites have come to offer an increasingly narrow pathway to a decent life.

In doing so, they have rationalized the rampant inequality of the past four decades and often demeaned less educated people and their contributions to society. Their meritocratic focus on technical expertise in policy-making has also excluded the less credentialed from participating in this process and displaced democratic discussion of the common good, a fundamental project in which all should be included. Even the focus of the more left-wing educated elites on distributive justice, Sandel argues, doesn’t remedy the ways that meritocracy has undermined what he calls contributive justice—fair opportunities for everyone to contribute, and be recognized for contributing, to the common good.

Albert and the Whale by Philip Hoare review – his greatest work yet

This magnificent new book by Philip Hoare takes its title from that tale, but only as a point of departure. The narrative soon turns into a trip of another kind entirely, a captivating journey through art and life, nature and human nature, biography and personal memoir. Giants walk the earth: Dürer and Martin Luther, Shakespeare and Blake, Thomas Mann, Marianne Moore, WH Auden, David Bowie. Hoare summons them like Prospero, his writing the animating magic that brings the people of the past directly into our present and unleashes spectacular visions along the way.

Is the Western way of raising kids weird?

“Is he in his own room yet?” is a question new parents often field once they emerge from the haze of life with a newborn. But sleeping apart from our babies is a relatively recent development – and not one that extends around the globe. In other cultures sharing a room, and sometimes a bed, with your baby is the norm.

This isn’t the only aspect of new parenthood that Westerners do differently. From napping on a schedule and sleep training to pushing our children around in strollers, what we might think of as standard parenting practices are often anything but.

Striatal indirect pathway mediates exploration via modulation of collicular dynamics (cosyne)

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