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In this post: the large version of the Politics, Brain & Behavior and Technology channel photos, comments from readers, and the best posts of the week.


Politics. Oxfam members protest the biofuel crisis outside the G8 summit on Hokkaido, Japan. From Flickr, by DwarfVader


Brain & Behavior. From Flickr, by liquid7


Technology. From Flickr, by Marcus Vegas

Reader comments of the week:

In The War on Drugs Didn’t Work, Eh?, DrugMonkey asks his readers—several of whom have commented in the past that the U.S. attempt to fight drug abuse has been a failure—to explain a few graphics which clearly show levels of drug use dropping since the 1970s. The results, taken from a National Institute of Drug Abuse report, were gathered from 19-45 year olds and included cocaine, marijuana, amphetamines, alochol and cigarettes.

Readers suggested several possible explanations for the data, ranging from the appearance of crack (which widely replaced cocaine) to the study’s focus on drug use rather than abuse. Will Grant provided another explanation, citing an interesting correlation between the trends for drugs and alcohol:

“The trends for 5-drinks-in-a-row (currently the definition of a “binge”) in the past two week interval were very stable from 1978-1983 and thereafter exhibited a slow decline until the early 1990s. Very reminiscent of the above mentioned drugs.”

If that’s true, then I can’t see it being the WoD that started the decline, since it wasn’t the War on Drugs and Alcohol. More likely, it is simple public awareness that some drugs are just stupid (notice the drastic increase in MJ use once it was discovered that it wasn’t all that harmful) The WoD, the money spent trying to keep it out of the country, the prosecutions, arrests, lives ruined because drug use is against the law…. THAT’s what hasn’t worked. Understanding drug use, the good drugs and the bad ones, has done more than law enforcement ever has.

Anyway, that’s just my humble opinion.

Over on the Brain & Behavior channel, Jonah Lehrer of The Frontal Cortex talks about the underestimated payoffs of Deliberate Practice. Violin virtuosos and chess masters alike, evidence shows, are not genetically blessed with talent so much as dedicated; a young piano prodigy discussed in the post is successful not because he was born with a natural gift, but because he plays the piano up to eight hours a day.

Reader Marc finds this theory a bit lacking:

While practice is undoubtedly essential for people to reach their own personal peak, I’m not convinced that the same maximum potential is available to us all.

Is it not possible that an underlying factor behind the patience is actually at work here? It has been shown again and again that levels of attention underlie performance in a whole host of cognitive tasks. I would imagine that those who practice a lot have heaps of it, because otherwise, well, they’d move on to something el . . . is that a butterfly?

And in Technology news, John Wilkins of Evolving Thoughts recalls the day 38 39 years ago when he watched the first moon landing from his religious studies classroom, an experience he describes as “one of the greatest moments of my life.”

Reader John Monfries also remembers that day:

I was in Indonesia, and a few days later one of the servants (yes, we had them) reported incredulously – “They tell me a man’s been to the moon, and what has he done? He’s brought back some rocks!” He thought it a most pointless undertaking.

I have to say I am sympathetic to that attitude. I recall an editorial in the Far Eastern Economic Review of the time, arguing that President Kennedy – who started off the whole effort – should have made his target a cure for cancer rather than a moon landing.

But Wilkins argued back:

the money spent on the space race was a good investment – it meant that we could focus on something other than military competition (the US spent the sum total of the entire Apollo program on one day’s bombing of Cambodia and Vietnam at the height of that campaign).

And Monfries conceded…sort of:

I suppose there is something in the idea of diverting money from straight-out military-weapon spending, and no doubt space research had some unexpected and desirable spin-offs; but a priority on solving human social problems here on earth still seems a better use of resources to me. And please don’t put the war on cancer into the same box as the war on drugs or the war on terror.

Some other Politics posts we thought were cool this week were:

Federal Judge Orders Endangered Species Act Protections Reinstated for Grey Wolves – At Least For Now

It’s the Stupid Economy

How Core Beliefs Influence Behavior

Campaign Polling and Cell Phones

PZ goes too far!

From the Brain & Behavior channel:

Memory and Addiction

The Neuroscience of Insight

Manipulating Sound: Two Amazing Animal Adaptations

Why do more Asians have perfect pitch?

Choosing is Hard

And from the Technology channel:

Linux Jokes

Journals – the dinosaurs of scientific communication

In the Future, We Live on Glorified Cruise Ships

The iPod Zepto: Inconceivably Small


Look for highlights from other channels coming up!