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.

Wednesday Round Up #59

Sexism Still Winning at the Olympic Games

Most, if not all, of the IAAF investigations that have made it into the media have involved women from the Global South. Just recently, two female runners from Namibia were disqualified from running in the Olympic 400-meter event for having naturally high testosterone levels.

The regulatory focus on testosterone seems odd when you consider that there are plenty of other ways in which people have biological advantages over others, many of which aren’t considered problematic or unfair.

Take, for example, Michael Phelps, a swimmer who has exceptionally long arms and double jointed elbows, and apparently produces half the lactic acid (high lactic acid levels contribute to fatigue) of other athletes. His natural biological variation is celebrated rather than regulated, while Semenya’s is vilified—despite the fact that Phelps has won 23 Olympic gold medals, while Semenya has won only one.

The reality is that athletic performance is determined by a wide range of features, including but not limited to the complex (and not fully understood) interaction between genetics, various hormone levels, mentality, training, nutrition, recovery, and even just how the athlete feels the morning of an event. Artificially assigning one characteristic as the defining feature of athleticism oversimplifies a complex issue…

Overall, the Olympic rules seem to ignore most natural variation and perpetuate outdated feminine ideals and an overemphasis on the powers of testosterone. This fuels stereotypes, misunderstandings, and discrimination.

Vast early America: There is no American history without the histories of Indigenous and enslaved peoples. And this past has consequences today

The development of new sources, new methods and new perspectives that revise our understanding of the past constantly challenge fixed narratives… The reframing of early America – a field and a period with an outsized claim on the history of democracy – suggests that complex and newly understood histories are meeting the moment for both the nation and its publics.

Decades of research, reflected in close studies and synthetic histories, and the public writing of scholars alongside museum exhibits, are illustrating a wider appetite for nuanced history even as we hear more strident calls for the old ‘patriot’ narratives. A more capacious geography for early America, and deeper research in both slavery studies and Native American history, are showing not only a more complex era but much more connection among seemingly remote people, places and phenomena.

MOVE Bombing Remains Scandal Shows Enduring Racism in Anthropology

TV: What was it like to look up to Mann and Monge and then find out that they were involved in this?

ET-B: It’s disappointing, it’s disheartening, but not all that surprising. Anthropology as a discipline is built on a lot of racist, colonial foundations of, “There are savages over here; I’m a little bit curious what the savages are doing. Let me insinuate myself in their life and inconvenience them as much as possible to fulfill my own curiosity.” [The treatment of the remains] does not make me question the work that I want to do; it does make me question how I’m going to go about it.

(Monge did not reply to Teen Vogue’s request for comment. Mann declined to provide comment, citing the ongoing inquiries at Princeton and Penn.)

TV: What does it make you feel as a Black woman?

ET-B: There’s just this absolute sadness and despair that these remains were treated with such disregard and disrespect. These babies should have been buried. Period. They should have been buried right after it happened. And to me there’s no logical or reasonable explanation for why it didn’t happen.

Psychonautical Journalist Michael Pollan Is Finally Ready To End the War on Drugs

There are two main problems with relying on the FDA to decide how drugs should be treated. First, approval of a new medicine takes years and requires spending millions of dollars on clinical studies. Second, the agency’s mission is limited to assessing the safety and efficacy of drugs that are presented as a treatment for a recognized medical or psychiatric condition.

The war on weed continued after the FDA approved synthetic THC as a treatment for the side effects of cancer chemotherapy in 1985, after it added AIDS wasting syndrome as a recognized indication in 1992, and after it approved the first federally sanctioned cannabis-derived medicine as a treatment for two rare kinds of epilepsy in 2018. The war on psychedelics likewise will continue after the FDA approves MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or psilocybin as a treatment for severe depression. FDA approval means only that patients who have the requisite diagnosis and prescription can legally use substances that are otherwise forbidden. Every other user is still treated as a criminal…

To his credit, however, Pollan has begun to overcome the “psychedelic exceptionalism” that irritates Columbia psychologist Carl Hart, author of Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. Hart, a temperate heroin user, decries the bigotry of people who see nothing wrong with marijuana or psychedelic use but look down on drug consumers with different pharmacological tastes.

“This is uncomfortable territory, partly because few Americans regard pleasure as a legitimate reason to take drugs and partly because the drug war (with its supporters in academia and the media) has produced such a dense fog of misinformation, especially about addiction,” Pollan writes. “Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom—of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress.”

Although addiction experts such as Stanton Peele have been making these points for half a century, they apparently were news to Pollan, despite his keen interest in chemically assisted mind alteration. In support of the observation that drugs do not cause addiction, Pollan cites the “Rat Park” experiments that Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander conducted in the late 1970s, inspired by Peele’s 1975 book Love and Addiction (co-authored by Archie Brodsky). Pollan also mentions a classic study of veterans who used heroin in Vietnam that was published in 1974.

The Campaign Toolkit

The Campaign Toolkit is a new and dynamic digital resource for educating, enabling, and empowering the next generation of activists and community organizations as they mobilize to outcompete hate and to promote community cohesion, inclusion and tolerance.

The Toolkit immerses you in the journey of planning, producing and promoting campaigns for global audiences. It is built from insights we’ve drawn at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) from a decade of research and work with practitioners and activists around the world. It provides a step-by-step guide as well as resources from leading technology companies and civil society.

Do conversations end when people want them to?

Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end.

Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conversants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners’ desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic “coordination problem” that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to.

How to Tell Whether You’re Stressed or Depressed

Stress is phasic

When it comes to stress versus depression, there are distinct differences, especially when it comes to effective treatment options. One of the primary ways stress and depression differ is that stress can come and go.

“Stress is something that is phasic for most people. You have a stressful period and you come out of it,” Muskin says. “Depression is not like that. Depression goes on for years in some people. It can spontaneously remit in some people, but not everybody.”

For example, if a happy event happens, such as friends or loved ones coming for a visit, a stressed person will be able to feel happy in that moment, although the stress will probably return once they have left. For a depressed person, they won’t be able to feel happiness in that moment, even when they know they should.

“If you can get home from work and still recharge, that’s not major, clinical depression,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist and author of the book Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process. “Clinical depression doesn’t come and go.”

Beyond Statistical Ritual: Theory in Psychological Science

More than 40 years ago, Paul Meehl (1978) published a seminal critique of the state of theorizing in psychological science. According to Meehl, the quality of theories had diminished in the preceding decades, resulting in statistical methods standing in for theoretical rigor. In this introduction to the special issue Theory in Psychological Science, we apply Meehl’s account to contemporary psychological science. We suggest that by the time of Meehl’s writing, psychology found itself in the midst of a crisis that is typical of maturing sciences, in which the theories that had been guiding research were gradually cast into doubt. Psychologists were faced with the same general choice when worldviews fail: Face reality and pursue knowledge in the absence of certainty, or shift emphasis toward sources of synthetic certainty. We suggest that psychologists have too often chosen the latter option, substituting synthetic certainties for theory-guided research, in much the same manner as Scholastic scholars did centuries ago. Drawing from our contributors, we go on to make recommendations for how psychological science may fully reengage with theory-based science.

A Critique of Wierzbicka’s Theory of Cultural Scripts: The Case of Ifaluk Fago

The linguist Anna Wierzbicka casts linguistic meaning in terms of cultural scripts, which she constructs from a short list of 60 or so conceptual primes, each with a grammar, deemed basic to human language, in the sense that these occur in all languages. I focus on the Ifaluk Islander lexeme fago, for which she has published such a script, and which I have also analyzed in another context. I argue that her script for fago does not adequately capture its meaning. Instead, I show, a culturally adequate definition of this emotion term cannot be founded on metalinguistics but must incorporate relevant nonlinguistic experience pertaining to the domain in question—in the case of fago, early attachment and the cultural defenses that emerge in response to it. My analysis of fago is compatible with a theory of cultural meaning as susceptible to considerable cross-cultural variability while constrained by shared features of human neurobiology in combination with common features of the world in which humans all live.

Testing Daily-Level Drinking and Negative Consequences as Predictors of Next-Day Drinking Cognitions

Limited research has examined how alcohol use and related consequences affect drinking-related cognitions, which is important as these cognitions may contribute to future drinking. The current study examines daily associations between alcohol use and alcohol-related negative consequences with next-day Prototype Willingness Model (PWM) social reaction pathway cognitions.

Method: Participants ages 15-25 years (N = 124, Mean age 18.7, SD = 2.87) completed daily surveys for up to three weeks (i.e., up to 11 surveys/week) using an ecological momentary assessment design. Linear mixed models and Poisson generalized mixed models were conducted to examine whether number of alcoholic drinks or number of negative alcohol-related consequences were associated with next-day PWM social reaction cognitions, including perceived vulnerability, descriptive normative perceptions of number of drinks consumed and the percentage of friends who drink, prototype favorability, prototype similarity, and willingness (i.e., openness) to drink.

Results: Within-person results indicated more alcohol use on a given day was associated with lower next-day normative perceptions of the percentage of friends who drink on that day of the week and higher prototype similarity. Furthermore, within-person results indicated that experiencing more negative alcohol-related consequences on a given day was associated with higher perceived vulnerability and lower willingness to drink the next day.

Conclusions: Findings showed that next-day social reaction PWM cognitions were associated with prior day alcohol use and negative alcohol-related consequences, suggesting that an intervention might be timed to target drinking cognitions the morning following a drinking event, particularly after experiencing negative alcohol-related consequences.

False beliefs can bootstrap cooperative communities through social norms

Building cooperative communities is a crucial problem for human societies. Much research suggests that cooperation is facilitated by knowing who the cooperators and defectors are, and being able to respond accordingly. As such, anonymous games are thought to hinder cooperation. Here, we show that this conclusion is altered dramatically in the presence of conditional cooperation norms and heterogeneous beliefs about others’ behaviours.

Specifically, we show that inaccurate beliefs about other players’ behaviours can foster and stabilise cooperation via social norms. To show this, we combine a community’s population dynamics with the behavioural dynamics of their members. In our model, individuals can join a community based on beliefs generated by public signals regarding the level of cooperation within, and decide to cooperate or not depending on these beliefs. These signals may overstate how much cooperation there really is.

We show that even if individuals eventually learn the true level of cooperation, the initially false beliefs can trigger a dynamic that sustains high levels of cooperation. We also characterise how the rates of joining, leaving and learning in the community affect the cooperation level and community size simultaneously. Our results illustrate how false beliefs and social norms can help build cooperative communities.

Pain and the field of affordances: an enactive approach to acute and chronic pain

In recent years, the societal and personal impacts of pain, and the fact that we still lack an effective method of treatment, has motivated researchers from diverse disciplines to try to think in new ways about pain and its management. In this paper, we aim to develop an enactive approach to pain and the transition to chronicity. Two aspects are central to this project.

First, the paper conceptualizes differences between acute and chronic pain, as well as the dynamic process of pain chronification, in terms of changes in the field of affordances. This is, in terms of the possibilities for action perceived by subjects in pain. As such, we aim to do justice to the lived experience of patients as well as the dynamic role of behavioral learning, neural reorganization, and socio-cultural practices in the generation and maintenance of pain.

Second, we aim to show in which manners such an enactive approach may contribute to a comprehensive understanding of pain that avoids conceptual and methodological issues of reductionist and fragmented approaches. It proves particularly beneficial as a heuristic in pain therapy addressing the heterogenous yet dynamically intertwined aspects that may contribute to pain and its chronification.

Why do we buy what we buy?

I recently spoke with Juliet Schor, a sociologist at Boston College, about the history of modern American consumerism — what it’s rooted in, how it’s evolved, and how different groups of people have experienced it. Schor, who is the author of books on consumerism, wealth, and spending, has a bit of a unique view on the matter. She tends to focus on the roles of work, inequality, and social pressures in determining what people buy and when. In her view, marketers have less to do with what we want than, say, our neighbors, coworkers, or the people we follow on social media.

Wednesday Round Up #58

My Traumatic Breakfast With Gabor Maté

Which brings us back to his diagnosis of me in that Vancouver cafe: “You have deep unresolved pain.”

Telling the mark something everyone can respond to emotionally is the oldest medium’s trick in the book, as in “Someone close to you has passed, and you never told them how you felt about them.” The “psychic” is aiming to produce an emotional “breakthrough” he can play off of.

I finished my muffin and left. It had taken meeting Gabor Maté to realize what a charlatan he really is.

1. In a comprehensive review of clinical trials of alcoholism treatment, psychotherapy was ranked 46 and confrontational therapy 45 in effectiveness out of 48 therapies, while brief interventions and motivational enhancement were ranked 1 and 2 on the evidence.

Masking indoors in the age of the Delta variant

And this explains the CDC’s reluctance to change national guidance. Because no single policy or recommendation could possibly make sense for every region and every state. Massachusetts has fully vaccinated more than twice as much of its eligible population as Mississippi. Infection rates in Mississippi are about six times higher than they are in Massachusetts. The coronavirus pandemic is playing out differently state by state, community by community. Guidance needs to acknowledge that reality.

Here’s another way to think about it. Being fully vaccinated is like getting a great hockey goalie (think of Boston Bruin legend Gerry Cheevers) who blocks around 90 percent of attempts. In Massachusetts, there isn’t much virus around to even put a shot on target, and therefore little reason to wear a mask indoors. In Mississippi, there are simply many more shots on goal, and even a terrific goalie will occasionally let a shot in.

Writing Can Help Us Heal from Trauma

Even as we inoculate our bodies and seemingly move out of the pandemic, psychologically we are still moving through it. We owe it to ourselves — and our coworkers — to make space for processing this individual and collective trauma. A recent op-ed in the New York Times Sunday Review affirms what I, as a writer and professor of writing, have witnessed repeatedly, up close: expressive writing can heal us.

A certain kind of guided, detailed writing can not only help us process what we’ve been through and assist us as we envision a path forward; it can lower our blood pressure, strengthen our immune systems, and increase our general well-being. Expressive writing can result in a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression; improve our sleep and performance; and bring us greater focus and clarity.

These effects of writing as a tool for healing are well documented. James Pennebaker, a social psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin, studied the impact of a certain kind of writing on mental health in 1986. Since then, over 200 research studies have reported that “emotional writing” can improve people’s physical and emotional health.

The Resurrection of Bass Reeves

“We quite commonly refer to Bass as the most prolific law enforcement officer the nation has ever seen,” said David Kennedy, the curator at the U.S. Marshals Museum, in Fort Smith. “He was an enslaved person and ends up becoming one of the most well-known lawmen of the age as a Black man in the South.” Art T. Burton, a retired history professor and the leading authority on Reeves, added, “To me, Bass Reeves is the greatest frontier hero in American history—bar none. I don’t know who you could compare him to. This guy walked in the Valley of Death every day for thirty-two years and came out alive.”

Terrence Deacon Part 2: Consciousness, Semiotics, Symbolism and Language

North America Has Lost 3 Billion Birds in 50 Years

There are 29 percent fewer birds in the United States and Canada today than in 1970, the study concludes. Grassland species have been hardest hit, probably because of agricultural intensification that has engulfed habitats and spread pesticides that kill the insects many birds eat. But the victims include warblers, thrushes, swallows and other familiar birds.

“That’s really what was so staggering about this,” said lead author Ken Rosenberg, a senior scientist at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy. “The generalist, adaptable, so-called common species were not compensating for the losses, and in fact they were experiencing losses themselves. This major loss was pervasive across all the bird groups.”

Jordan Crowley Would Be In Line For A Kidney – If He Were Deemed White Enough

A patient’s level of kidney disease is judged by an estimation of glomerular filtration rate, or eGFR, which normally sits between 90 and 120 in a patient with two healthy kidneys. In the United States, patients can’t be listed for a kidney transplant until they’re deemed sick enough—until their eGFR dips below a threshold of 20.

Jordan is biracial, with one Black grandparent and three white ones. His estimated GFR depends on how you interpret this fact: A white Jordan has a GFR of 17—low enough to secure him a spot on the organ waitlist. A Black Jordan has a GFR of 21.

Jordan’s doctors decided he is Black, meaning he doesn’t qualify. So now, he has to wait.

Critical race theory is a lens. Here are 11 ways looking through it might refine your understanding of history

CRT has been around for decades, largely without contention, but given the increasingly divisive nature of the term, let’s put it aside and look instead at its underpinnings, the reasons many academics and a growing set of layfolk believe it’s needed in today’s educational landscape — not only on college campuses but for younger students, too.

These are established facts of American history, many of them included in “Race, Whiteness, and Education” by scholar Zeus Leonardo, who presented these and other wayposts in an effort to “capture a reliable portrait of White supremacy.”

The following list is by no means comprehensive, but it lifts key and oft-overlooked elements of America’s story to the fore in an attempt to analyze how they’ve molded the present and might shape the future.

Land was taken

Before the United States was born, European settlers killed millions of indigenous people across the Americas, but the fighting didn’t stop after 1776. The Last Massacre, as the Battle of Kelley Creek in Nevada was known, unfolded in 1911.

Deemed “savages” who must be civilized, Native Americans were left out of the 14th Amendment, which grants birthright citizenship, until 1924. This came after more than three centuries of seizing land from tribes, some of whom had been on the continent since Before Christ. The Indian Removal Act codified the relocation, regularly violent, of people from their homelands. While the Trail of Tears is the most famous of the forced migrations, state-sponsored violence against tribes was profound and persistent.

The so-called “termination policy,” another attempt to assimilate Native Americans, wasn’t abandoned until 1970. Legislative and judicial disputes over sovereignty continue today.

Why the NFL Embraced the Racism of ‘Race Norming’

On June 2, 2021, the National Football League (NFL) announced it would discontinue the use of race norming—the practice of assuming a lower baseline of cognitive abilities in Black players—in legal settlements for concussion-related injuries. For the past several years, Black former professional football players, led by former Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, had been speaking out against the practice. Henry, Davenport and colleagues demonstrated that race norming was interfering with their ability to receive compensation and benefits from the settlement. Black retirees, who are overrepresented in the number of former players, staked legitimate claims about their impaired health after risking their minds and bodies for this American sport. Bottom line: the race norming practice limited Black players’ access to the compensation they were rightfully owed.

Death Bed: The Story of Kelly Savage

In New Zealand, if a person dies in a psychiatric hospital, the death must be reported to the coroner and, by law, an inquest must be held. In Japan, there is no such law. When Kelly died after being restrained at Yamato psychiatric hospital, a private facility in Kanagawa Prefecture, there was no external investigation. In order for one to be held, the hospital’s doctors, nurses and management staff would have to report themselves to Medsafe, Japan’s medical accident investigation authority. Perhaps unsurprisingly, and despite repeated requests from the Savage family for the hospital to do so, Kelly’s death was not reported as being out of the ordinary.

In a letter to the family, as part of its reasoning for not reporting Kelly’s death, Yamato hospital denies having restrained the 27-year-old for 10 days, saying he was released “from time to time and only restrained when necessary.” The section of his medical records that have been viewed by RNZ contradict this statement; they say that Kelly was restrained the entire time he was in hospital.

Methods of data collection in psychopathology: the role of semi-structured, phenomenological interviews

Today, the majority of psychopathological research are built on data from self-rating scales, structured interviews, or semi-structured interviews, with the two former data collection methods in a dominant position. The purpose of this article is to critically assess the appropriateness of these data collection methods in psychopathological research. This article is divided into two parts.

In the first part, we try to get the object of psychopathology into proper focus. This is required, if we are to assess the appropriateness of the different data collection methods for this particular field of study. In the second part, we discuss the appropriateness of self-rating scales, structured interviews, and semi-structured interviews as data collection methods in psychopathology. In this part, we emphasize basic methodological and epistemological issues that underlie self-rating scales and fully structured interviews as data collection methods in psychopathology, and we argue that they may lead to results of questionable validity.

Stolen by the State

One vital bearer of that identity are religious sites known as mazars, a chief focus of Dawut’s research. The teepee-like structures, draped in pieces of bright cloth and other offerings, dot the Xinjiang countryside like holy antennas. Each belongs to a specific saint and all have different functions. You might pray to one mazar for rain, another for fertility. Dawut calls them “living shrines” and, in her writings, depicts them as a kind of cultural nervous system. In 2012, years before the Chinese government began demolishing mazars and other religious sites en masse, Dawut envisioned, in an interview, a Xinjiang without mazars. “The Uyghur people would lose contact with the earth,” she said. “They would no longer have a personal, cultural and spiritual history. After a few years we would not have a memory of why we live here or where we belong.”

Naomi Osaka: ‘It’s O.K. Not to Be O.K.’

Life is a journey.

In the past few weeks, my journey took an unexpected path but one that has taught me so much and helped me grow. I learned a couple of key lessons.

Lesson one: you can never please everyone. The world is as divided now as I can remember in my short 23 years. Issues that are so obvious to me at face value, like wearing a mask in a pandemic or kneeling to show support for anti-racism, are ferociously contested. I mean, wow. So, when I said I needed to miss French Open press conferences to take care of myself mentally, I should have been prepared for what unfolded.

Wednesday Round Up #57

The Pandemic Did Not Affect Mental Health the Way You Think

We were surprised by how well many people weathered the pandemic’s psychological challenges. In order to make sense of these patterns, we looked back to a classic psychology finding: People are more resilient than they themselves realize. We imagine that negative life events—losing a job or a romantic partner—will be devastating for months or years. When people actually experience these losses, however, their misery tends to fade far faster than they imagined it would.

The capacity to withstand difficult events also applies to traumas such as living through war or sustaining serious injury. These incidents can produce considerable anguish, and we don’t want to minimize the pain that so many suffer. But study after study demonstrates that a majority of survivors either bounce back quickly or never show a substantial decline in mental health.

‘Nobody’s winning’ as drought upends life in US West basin

“There’s water allocated that doesn’t even exist. This is all unprecedented. Where do you go from here? When do you start having the larger conversation of complete unsustainability?” said Jamie Holt, lead fisheries technician for the Yurok Tribe, who counts dead juvenile chinook salmon every day on the lower Klamath River.

“When I first started this job 23 years ago, extinction was never a part of the conversation,” she said of the salmon. “If we have another year like we’re seeing now, extinction is what we’re talking about.”

The extreme drought has exacerbated a water conflict that traces its roots back more than a century.

Beginning in 1906, the federal government reengineered a complex system of lakes, wetlands and rivers in the 10 million-acre (4 million-hectare) Klamath River Basin to create fertile farmland.

Suzana Herculano-Houzel: The Evolution of the Human Brain, and Darwin’s Descent of Man

The Dissenter YouTube channel provided that Hurculano-Houzel interview, and has an enormous number of interviews with a broad range of scholars interested in humans, brains, society, and more.

Uprooting the Drug War

The war on drugs has impacted nearly every aspect of our lives. Our government criminalizes people who use drugs instead of providing education and addiction health services, including treatment. Rather than invest in communities, public officials invest in surveillance, policing, and punishment tactics that disproportionately target and impact people of color, low-income people, and non-citizens. Though these tactics have fueled mass incarceration, that is not their only impact.

Finding Red Squirrels in Frozen Sweden 🇸🇪 | Diaries of a Wildlife Photographer – Dani Connor

Why some biologists and ecologists think social media is a risk to humanity

Social media has drastically restructured the way we communicate in an incredibly short period of time. We can discover, “Like,” click on, and share information faster than ever before, guided by algorithms most of us don’t quite understand.

And while some social scientists, journalists, and activists have been raising concerns about how this is affecting our democracy, mental health, and relationships, we haven’t seen biologists and ecologists weighing in as much.

That’s changed with a new paper published in the prestigious science journal PNAS earlier this month, titled “Stewardship of global collective behavior.”

Seventeen researchers who specialize in widely different fields, from climate science to philosophy, make the case that academics should treat the study of technology’s large-scale impact on society as a “crisis discipline.” A crisis discipline is a field in which scientists across different fields work quickly to address an urgent societal problem — like how conservation biology tries to protect endangered species or climate science research aims to stop global warming.

The paper argues that our lack of understanding about the collective behavioral effects of new technology is a danger to democracy and scientific progress. For example, the paper says that tech companies have “fumbled their way through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, unable to stem the ‘infodemic’ of misinformation” that has hindered widespread acceptance of masks and vaccines. The authors warn that if left misunderstood and unchecked, we could see unintended consequences of new technology contributing to phenomena such as “election tampering, disease, violent extremism, famine, racism, and war.”

Kestrel Chicks Thriving Despite Brutal Barn Owl Attack – Robert Fuller

All six kestrel chicks are now thriving, despite a very shaky start. This film takes a look back at their extraordinary story and pays tribute to the resilience and determination of their parents, two formidable falcons Mr & Mrs Kes.

What Gaming Does to Your Brain—and How You Might Benefit

Video game research truly kicked off in the late ’90s, with Daphne Bavelier and C. Shawn Green leading the charge while at the University of Rochester. They began to explore the unconventional idea that video games could impact and perhaps even aid with neuroplasticity—a biological process where the brain changes and adapts when exposed to new experiences.

After years of research, they found that action games in particular—games where reflexes, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination are challenged, like in the now-retro classics Doom and Team Fortress Classic—provided tangible cognitive advantages that help us in everyday life. As Bavelier and Green noted in the July 2016 issue of Scientific American: “Individuals who regularly play action games demonstrate improved ability to focus on visual details, useful for reading fine print in a legal document or on a prescription bottle. They also display heightened sensitivity to visual contrast, important when driving in thick fog … The multitasking required to switch back and forth between reading a menu and holding a conversation with a dinner partner also comes more easily.

What If Regulating Facebook Fails?

Facebook was designed for better animals than humans. It was designed for beings that don’t hate, exploit, harass, or terrorize each other—like golden retrievers. But we humans are nasty beasts. So we have to regulate and design our technologies to correct for our weaknesses. The challenge is figuring out how.

First, we must recognize that the threat of Facebook is not in some marginal aspect of its products or even in the nature of the content it distributes. It’s in those core values that Zuckerberg has embedded in every aspect of his company: a commitment to unrelenting growth and engagement. It’s enabled by the pervasive surveillance that Facebook exploits to target advertisements and content.

Mostly, it’s in the overall, deleterious effect of Facebook on our ability to think collectively.

That means we can’t organize a political movement around the mere fact that Donald Trump exploited Facebook to his benefit in 2016 or that Donald Trump got tossed off of Facebook in 2021 or even that Facebook contributed directly to the mass expulsion and murder of the Rohingya people in Myanmar. We can’t rally people around the idea that Facebook is dominant and coercive in the online advertising market around the world. We can’t explain the nuances of Section 230 and expect any sort of consensus on what to do about it (or even if reforming the law would make a difference to Facebook). None of that is sufficient.

Facebook is dangerous because of the collective impact of 3 billion people being surveilled constantly, then having their social connections, cultural stimuli, and political awareness managed by predictive algorithms that are biased toward constant, increasing, immersive engagement. The problem is not that some crank or president is popular on Facebook in one corner of the world. The problem with Facebook is Facebook.

Wednesday Round Up #56

The Commute: A four day paddle to work
Beau Miles at it again, finding adventure in his backyard while discovering broader patterns in our world. He drives to work in 75 minutes, but the river is much more: “Following two rivers, one drain, one sea and one creek, it turns out that paddling to work, which ends up being mostly a drag, over four full days, is bloody hard work.” His short film, Run the Line, is one of the best things on YouTube, imo, and something that many field researchers could emulate more.

Stewardship of global collective behavior

Collective behavior provides a framework for understanding how the actions and properties of groups emerge from the way individuals generate and share information. In humans, information flows were initially shaped by natural selection yet are increasingly structured by emerging communication technologies. Our larger, more complex social networks now transfer high-fidelity information over vast distances at low cost. The digital age and the rise of social media have accelerated changes to our social systems, with poorly understood functional consequences.

This gap in our knowledge represents a principal challenge to scientific progress, democracy, and actions to address global crises. We argue that the study of collective behavior must rise to a “crisis discipline” just as medicine, conservation, and climate science have, with a focus on providing actionable insight to policymakers and regulators for the stewardship of social systems.

What’s Behind the U.S. War on Science?

From 2012 to 2014, I lived in Helsinki. I was conducting anthropological fieldwork among experts developing what will likely become the world’s first deep geological repository for high-level nuclear energy waste. I often asked these experts how Finland was able to keep so closely to the disposal schedules it set back in the early 1980s. The United States’ now-defunct nuclear repository project at Yucca Mountain had, in contrast, been stymied by decades of fierce litigation, political stagnation, and scientific uncertainty.

The Finnish experts attributed their project’s comparatively smooth rollout to Finland’s broad public trust in the competence of their domestic engineers, technocrats, and scientists.

Finns from many walks of life told me of their country’s fondness of large, centralized, hierarchical organizations like public transport systems, government ministries, and the welfare state. They pointed me toward polls casting Finland as unique in its high levels of trust in its domestic civil servants, police officers, educators, journalists, and scientists. For sure, I met Finns who did not fit neatly with these generalizations. But on the whole, my findings lined up with the conclusions of Finnish social scientists: Finns generally “count on expertise, technology, and authorities.”

How to Make Your Arguments Stronger (Hint: Longer Is Not the Answer)

As it turns out, piling on the proof is an unwise approach, says Niro Sivanathan, a psychology researcher and associate professor of organizational behavior at London Business School in a TEDxLondonBusinessSchool talk. That’s because when we double down on our arguments, we’re setting ourselves up to be undone by the so-called “dilution effect”.

For humans, receiving too much information interferes with our ability to process it. Sivanathan explain that our minds deal with this by quickly sorting the input received into two types: diagnostic and non-diagnostic. He says, “Diagnostic information is information of relevance to the evaluation being made; non-diagnostic is information that is irrelevant or inconsequential to that evaluation. When both categories of information are mixed, dilution occurs.”

Michael Muthukrishna : Cultural Brain Hypothesis, Collective Brains & the Evolution of Intelligence

Large-Scale Intrinsic Functional Brain Organization Emerges from Three Canonical Spatiotemporal Patterns

The characterization of intrinsic functional brain organization has been approached from a multitude of analytic techniques and methods. We are still at a loss of a unifying conceptual framework for capturing common insights across this patchwork of empirical findings. By analyzing resting-state fMRI data from the Human Connectome Project using a large number of popular analytic techniques, we find that all results can be seamlessly reconciled by three fundamental low-frequency spatiotemporal patterns that we have identified via a novel time-varying complex pattern analysis.

Overall, these three spatiotemporal patterns account for a wide variety of previously observed phenomena in the resting-state fMRI literature including the task-positive/task-negative anticorrelation, the global signal, the primary functional connectivity gradient and the network community structure of the functional connectome. The shared spatial and temporal properties of these three canonical patterns suggest that they arise from a single hemodynamic mechanism…

The three principal components can be differentiated most clearly with reference to three cortical brain networks: the default mode network (DMN), the frontoparietal or ‘executive control’ network (FPN) and the sensorimotor and medial/lateral visual cortices (SMLV)

Neural representations of emotion are organized around abstract event features

Research on emotion attribution has tended to focus on the perception of overt expressions of at most five or six basic emotions. However, our ability to identify others’ emotional states is not limited to perception of these canonical expressions. Instead, we make fine-grained inferences about what others feel based on the situations they encounter, relying on knowledge of the eliciting conditions for different emotions.

In the present research, we provide convergent behavioral and neural evidence concerning the representations underlying these concepts. First, we find that patterns of activity in mentalizing regions contain information about subtle emotional distinctions conveyed through verbal descriptions of eliciting situations. Second, we identify a space of abstract situation features that well captures the emotion discriminations subjects make behaviorally and show that this feature space outperforms competing models in capturing the similarity space of neural patterns in these regions.

Together, the data suggest that our knowledge of others’ emotions is abstract and high dimensional, that brain regions selective for mental state reasoning support relatively subtle distinctions between emotion concepts, and that the neural representations in these regions are not reducible to more primitive affective dimensions such as valence and arousal.

The Good, The Bad, and the Scientists Who Don’t Know the Difference

So by 1870 the Darwinians were batting 0 for 2 in trying to explain the evolutionary relationship between savages and civilized people. Which brings us up to 1871 again, and the publication by John Murray of that very important two-volume work on human ancestry. Of course the author was Edward B. Tylor and the book was Primitive Culture.

What Tylor did in Primitive Culture (1871) was to give yet a third explanation for the difference between the savage and civilized person. It was not a distinction of biological evolution, as Haeckel had it in 1868. Nor was it a distinction of supernatural evolution, as Wallace had it in 1869. Nope, in 1871 it was a distinction of cultural evolution. That was the correct, and ultimately paradigmatic, answer.

Also, Darwin published The Descent of Man that year. And sadly, it doesn’t stand up much better under a modern reading than Tylor’s Primitive Culture does. They’re both quaint, insightful, and important in their time and place, and dated now. But what makes them all of those things? Graduate students should definitely try to find out with careful, critical readings…

Alas, there are some scientists out there who don’t countenance any critical reading of Darwin. Any criticism of Darwin is fodder for creationists, and therefore he must be defended at all costs. Which is is pretty much what the Darwinian All-Stars managed to splutter out in their angry letter to the editor…

So anything that we perceive as critical of Darwin must be suppressed, because it may aid the creationists. That is about the most pathetic admission of abject failure on the part of science educators that I have ever encountered. These scientists have been so unsuccessful in convincing the American public we evolved from apes, that they are going to respond by placing Darwin on a pedestal and reading his 19th century sexist and colonialist views uncritically. Good lord, could they possibly sound more like a cult?

How Industrialization Changed Childhood | Dorsa Amir | TEDxCambridge

You may think your childhood was normal: you had friends your age, attended school to learn from teachers, and maybe even slept in your own bedroom. Evolutionary anthropologist Dorsa Amir shows that these everyday occurrences in Western cultures are actually strange new experiences in human history that may have significant consequences for child development.

Heidi Larson, Vaccine Anthropologist

Larson spoke to the women through a Hausa interpreter. “Aside from the vaccine rumors, is there anything else you’re concerned about?” she asked.

Her question unleashed a torrent of answers. The women said they were frustrated by the government’s aggressive efforts on behalf of a single vaccine when their villages lacked reliable drinking water and electricity. They wondered why no one was knocking down their doors to rout diarrheal diseases, poverty, or starvation. They were infuriated by the condescending attitude of public-health officials toward their vaccine concerns; they were still haunted by a clinical trial for a meningitis drug, conducted by Pfizer, eight years earlier, which had left eleven Nigerian children dead and dozens disabled. Amid America’s “war on terror,” some found it entirely plausible that Western countries might be trying to sterilize Muslim children or infect them with H.I.V. Others were eager to vaccinate their kids but forbidden from doing so by their husbands.

Hermann Hesse on What Trees Teach Us About Belonging and Life

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

Neuroscience (and a Tiny Dose of Emotional Intelligence) Reveals the Simple Trick to Break Nearly Any Bad Habit. Willpower not required.

Say I ask myself, “Should I have some ice cream?” My prefrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for planning, decision making, and supporting goal-oriented behaviors — would answer, “Nope. Your goal is to eat healthy.”


Except my orbitofrontal cortex — the brain region responsible for emotion and reward in decision-making — would answer, “Dude, you absolutely should! Ice cream is awesome. You love it. It makes you happy. Besides, you can always burn the calories off by working out a little extra tomorrow.”

And now I’m screwed.

Because while my prefrontal cortex is a logical and rational kind of guy, he’s fairly quiet and subdued. My orbitofrontal cortex? He’s a yeller. He’s insistent. He loves to get his way.

And he loves to create bad habits.

Or, as Wood explains in neuroscientific terms, “When our intentional mind is engaged, we act in ways that meet an outcome we desire — and typically we’re aware of our intentions. However, when the habitual mind is engaged, our habits function largely outside of awareness. We can’t easily articulate how we do our habits or why we do them. Our minds don’t always integrate in the best way possible.”