I’ve found a few articles that I’ve got couple sentences’ worth of thoughts about, but not a couple paragraphs, so I’m going to write them all up here. This is sort of halfway between a news and an in other news post.
1. Neuroscience and science writing. Jonah Lehrer argues that it’s okay for science writers to use generalizations like “the amygdala is the center of fear and anxiety” when actually all we can say for certain is that region is activated more when people claim they are afraid or anxious, compared to a “resting state.” I agree; writers need to take shortcuts sometimes, but an occasional reminder that that’s what they’re doing is also a good thing.
2. Are journal rankings distorting science? When journals are ranked based on how many other journals cite them, what do you think is going to happen? You got it — lots more citations. It’s actually fascinating to look at old journal articles (say, before 1980) and see how few citations there are. The claim in the linked article is that all this citing is distorting the overall message. I’m not sure we’re to that point yet — after all, citations can be helpful. But clearly at some point over-citing could be a problem. Any suggestions on other ways to determine if a journal is “important”?
3. Jason Rosenhouse on “Spirituality”: When asked what it meant to “feel one with nature” or “have a mystical experience” he replied “I think those are really just nonsense phrases people use but that don’t really mean anything.” I tend to agree, but sometimes I wonder if scientists are ignoring some real phenomena because they’ve never experienced it themselves.
4. Arguing there’s a “scientific consensus” may be counterproductive. This is another example of how scientists are different from “regular people.” I wonder if there’s an easy way of showing how scientific thought differs from ordinary thought, kind of like yesterday’s post on how artists look at pictures.
5. Speaking of thinking different — er, differently — here’s a great post on how musicians are different. Absolutely fascinating. I won’t try to explain it, just go read it.
6. I can’t decide if this is the coolest idea ever, or if it will just cause my head to explode. It’s a computer keyboard where the label on each key can instantaneously be changed, because each key is a tiny video screen. On the one hand, it would be neat if when I held down the shift key (or control, or alt, or so on), each label changed to show the actual function of the key. On the other hand, as a touch typist, I really don’t spend much time looking at the keyboard at all. Is it just a waste of — yikes — $1,490?