Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Introducing the Cement Factory Home

In 1973, Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill purchased a cement factory outside of Barcelona. He set about the (still not complete) task of renovating the building into a home. Here's some pictures of what it looks like now - it's absolutely stunning:

Top-Down, Bottom-Up, and the ABCD of Personality

I've blogged many times about the human brain, taking time to discuss the various brain regions and what behaviors and processes they control. Your brain is an amazing demonstration of evolution in action, even in terms of its structure.

The lowest parts of the brain (the hindbrain - the cerebellum, pons, and medulla oblongata) control the basics of life: breathing, heartbeat, sleep, swallowing, bladder control, movement, etc. The midbrain/forebrain* controls processes that rank a little higher on the continuum, but still not what we'd consider high-level processing: emotion, sleep-wake cycle and arousal, temperature regulation, and the transfer of short-term to long-term memory (the very basics of learning), among other things.

Finally, the cerebral cortex, the outer-most part of the brain that developed last evolutionarily speaking; it is responsible for what we call consciousness, and this part of the brain in particular is responsible for many of the traits that differentiate humans from other animals - memory, attention, language, and perception. Other animals have a cerebral cortex as well but not nearly as developed as our own.

These various brain structures work together, and sometimes a lower part of the brain will take over for the higher parts of the brain, especially when there is some kind of disorder of higher brain function. Sandeep Gautam over at The Mouse Trap discusses the work of Paul McClean, and refers to activity coming from the lower brain areas as "bottom-up" and activity from the higher brain areas as "top-down." In his post, he discusses the ABCDs - affect (emotion), behavior, cognition (thought), and desire - and links these bottom-up/top-down processes to different personality traits, offering an eight-part structure of personality: a bottom-up and top-down trait for each of the ABCDs:

  • Affective
    • Bottom-Up: How we respond to stimuli, specifically Introversion/Extroversion
    • Top-Down: Analyzing the situation for things that require increased vigilance and potentially anxiety, a trait called Neuroticism (aka: Emotionality)
  • Behavioral
    • Bottom-Up: Basic response to stimuli, Impulsivity or Impulsive Sensation Seeking
    • Top-Down: A more thoughtful response to stimuli, including considering how that response might impact oneself and others, which could lead to inhibition. This trait is known as Conscientiousness
  • Cognition
    • Bottom-Up: Degree of distractibility or focus when encountering new things, which manifests as the trait Openness to Experience
    • Top-Down: Making connections between concepts, a trait known as Imagination
  • Desire/Drives
    • Bottom-Up: Degree of aggression in one's reactions, a trait known as Agreeableness
    • Top-Down: A process driven by expectation, which impacts one's desire to help or hurt others. He refers to this trait as the Honesty-Humility dimension

This structure is a departure from the Big Five personality traits. Obviously, it includes those 5 (Extroversion, Neuroticism, Conscientiousness, Openness to Experience, and Agreeableness), but adds 3 more (Impulsivity, Imagination, and Honesty-Humility). As I've mentioned before, I'm a big fan of the Big Five (more on that here), so I find this new structure interesting but a little strange. Probably what is strangest to me is that 3 of the Big Five are considered bottom-up processes, rather than the more thoughtful, controlled top-down. I would have thought Agreeableness and Openness to Experience were the result of higher-level processing.

It's a somewhat artificial divide of course. Except in the case of injury to a higher-level part of the brain, even bottom-up processes are going to be shaped by higher-level thinking. Your degree of Introversion/Extroversion, for instance, may influence your most basic response to social stimuli, but it's going to take higher-level processing to understand how best to handle that reaction and also determine what you need in that situation (that is, I'm feeling X, so do I need alone time or time with others?).

What do you think about this new taxonomy?

*These two areas tend to be differentiated from each other, but I was always taught about them in combination, under the title "midbrain." The forebrain includes structures like the amygdala, hippocampus, and so on. They rank higher up than the hindbrain, but are still considered "subcortical."

Monday, February 27, 2017

"So, What Did I Miss?"

If you didn't watch the Academy Awards last night, you might have missed a bit of insanity during the Best Picture award:

Yep, due to a mix-up in envelopes, La La Land was announced as the winner, when it was actually Moonlight. Jimmy Kimmel's quip about blaming Steve Harvey is a reference to Harvey's mistake in announcing the winner of the Miss Universe pageant (he announced Miss Columbia as the winner, rather than Miss Philippines, the actual winner). But Harvey took it in stride with this hilarious reaction on Twitter:

Oh yeah, and here's Emma Stone being awesome as usual after the show:

Finally, FiveThirtyEight reacts to the winners and discusses how their predictive model stacked up.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Finding the Most Depressing Radiohead Song with R

What's the most depressing Radiohead song? According to RCharlie and his analysis of Spotify and lexical data, it's "True Love Waits":
Spotify has already done some research on the “saddest” songs; the streaming service keeps track of a stat called valence, a psychological term that describes things that make people feel happy or sad. RCharlie used the company’s Web API to pull that data for all of Radiohead’s songs, determining that “We Suck Young Blood” off of Hail To The Thief and “True Love Waits” from Moon Shaped Pool shared the lowest values. He then added in lyrical analysis, using data from a crowdsourced database of sadness-inducing words, plus their lyrical density and weight in each Radiohead song, to create his own self-styled “gloom index” for the band’s output.
On his website, RCharlie details exactly how he did the analysis, including pulling data from Spotify's Web API and Genius Lyric's API, then conducting semantic analysis of the lyric data. He even gives you all of his R code. Here's a plot of his results, which is also a widget you can explore here.

What's their happiest song? "In Rainbows".

Friday, February 24, 2017

"It Says 'I Beat Meryl'"

More Meryl for your Friday. As Elizabeth Logan explores the movies for which Meryl wasn't nominated, Walt Hickey of FiveThirtyEight explores the 20 movies for which Meryl was nominated, and classifies them as "Overrated", "Correctly Rated", and "Underrated":

I love that he gives lots of love to Postcards from the Edge.
Still, “Postcards From the Edge” is by far her best work. She’s working with a fantastic script from Carrie Fisher, has great chemistry with Shirley MacLaine and dates peak Dennis Quaid. It’s by far the best demonstration that Streep has pipes and is the best movie she has ever been in. She lost to Kathy Bates in “Misery” that year, which is fine I guess, but this movie is the real gem of the Streep nominations.
Be sure to check out the "Emojified" chart of Streep Oscar-Nominated movies near the bottom of the article, which includes these awesome columns: Period Piece, True Story, Mom, Sings, Cheats, Sick, Dies, Accent.

Oh yeah, and through his article, I discovered this great video - Anne Hathaway singing "She's Me Pal" to Meryl at the 2011 Kennedy Center Honors ceremony:

BTW, the title of this post is a line from a movie (hint: Meryl wasn't in it), and Jennifer Lawrence got a lot of flack for quoting that line when she won her Golden Globe over Meryl. Anyone recognize it?

Fluff Friday

It's Friday and my brain is a bit tuned out today, so I'm really enjoying reading articles from the Glamour email newsletter. (Yes, I still get it because Netflix. Always because Netflix. BTW, these titles are leaving Netflix soon - better watch Jaws again.)

First, there's this great article, where Elizabeth Logan asks how bad a movie has to be for Streep to not be nominated for an award? She watched and summarized the 23 films in Streep appeared but was not nominated for major awards. Here's a few favorite takeaways:
Heartburn (1986)

It's really a pity—and a little bit of a mystery—that this movie isn't better. You'd think Jack Nicholson and Streep directed by Mike Nichols in a film written by Nora Ephron and based on her (funny, wry, wise, quite good) novel based on her real marriage to Carl Bernstein would be a recipe for success. But alas, Heartburn isn't as funny as it should be or as quick-moving as wit demands. It's also kinda depressing. It's not awful, but expectations were so high that when an essentially mediocre film hit theaters, critics tossed it aside. Streep's great in the heartbreak/marriage/parenting scenes, but she's just not neurotic enough to be an Ephron heroine. She's a woman who radiates "I have my shit together," and Rebecca Samstat does not have her shit together.

The House of the Spirits (1993)

It's hard to use today's standards against yesterday's art. Nineteen ninety-three was a different time—but Meryl, as great as you are at acting, there's nothing you can do that will make you Latina. No es posible. Everyone should just read the book.

Evening (2007) a.k.a. White Upper Class Women and Their Romantic Troubles Are the Most Important Things in the World, Let's Talk About It: The Movie

OK, so this movie is…not good, but in other ways it is extremely good. Let me explain: The costumes are extremely good, and the cast is extremely good, even if they aren't all doing good acting in this particular project. Evening features my favorite Streepism, which is that the young version of Streep's character is played by one of her daughters (in this case Mamie Gummer, though it was Grace in The House of the Spirits).

The Giver (2014)

The Giver, the book, is a vitally important and, sad to say, a timely meditation on the pros and cons (truly) of authoritarianism, aimed at an audience hungry to explore rebellion. Too bad the movie is 90 minutes of exposition with occasional "action" scenes and, when you get down to it, many implied murders. Our girl Meryl, as the Chief Elder, is a slightly muted version of Julianne Moore as President Coin in Mockingjay Part One. She gives a lot of orders but actually does nothing. She doesn't even get to enter or exit a single room, preferring to beam in as a hologram. Um, but you know who else is a hologram in The Giver? Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift is a hologram in The Giver.

Suffragette (2015)

I gotta admit, Suffragette scratches an itch. Sometimes you want to watch a movie about women who break things and yell at men until they get what that want and/or die. Unfortunately, not only does Suffragette ignore the fact that the "equality" the women were fighting for was white-centric, the movie makes the story even whiter than it needed to be by omitting Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, a suffragette who was a contemporary of the women in the picture, as well as…pretty much every other person of color. Ultimately, the film doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know (early white feminists gonna early-white-feminize, patriarchy gonna patriarch), but it scratches the itch when you want a movie with the thesis "If girl angry, girl smash."
Second, here's an article about which email sign-offs were found in research to have the highest response rate. TL;DR - pretty much any iteration of "Thanks" as well as anything involving "Cheers", "Best", and "Regards".

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Why Aren't There Any More Movies About Rainbows?

Here's a great Funny or Die video replacing Ryan Gosling's La La Land character with Kermit the Frog:

Dem Bones, Dem Bones, Dem Dinosaur Bones

For the first time, the Field Museum is releasing specimens for public viewing off site. In a unique collaboration, a pop-up bar/museum exhibit will be opening inside the Chicago Athletic Association:
As with any nonpermanent exhibition, catch it while you can: The Backroom will be open Friday and Saturday nights only and will close a month after it begins, on March 25. The space can comfortably hold 150 people.

Guests can view everything from glowing rocks to dinosaur fossils to pinned butterflies, while sipping cocktails created by Paul McGee, who runs Milk Room, Game Room and Cherry Circle Room in the CAA (as well as Lost Lake in Logan Square). McGee's Negroni (gin, vermouth, Gran Classico Bitter) and Amaro Mule (Luxardo Amaro Abano, Luxardo Bitter, Fever Tree ginger beer) feature botanical ingredients such as juniper, roots, flowers and bark, all hearkening to the Backroom's specimen-focused theme. Beer and wine will also be available.
Field Museum scientists will be present to chat and lead discussions and activities. Oh yeah, and they promise karaoke and trivia at some point. Should be fun!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Two New Books on Psychology History

I'm wrapping up reading The Undoing Project right now, which details the friendship and professional collaboration of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two giants in the field of decision-making. Today, I discovered two new books to add to my reading list:
Coincidentally, here is today's Cyanide & Happiness:

Reading List for the Day

Here are my open tabs at the moment:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why Same-Sex Marriage Laws Matter

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. Those rates are even higher among individuals who identify as LGBT. But a recent study out of Johns Hopkins University found that legislation to legalize same-sex marriage is connected to a 14% drop in suicide attempts among LGBT teens:
Researchers say suicide attempts among high school students fell by an average of 7% following the implementation of the legislation. The impact was especially significant among gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers, for whom the passing of same-sex marriage laws was linked to a 14% drop in suicide attempts.

Julia Raifman, co-author of the research from Johns Hopkins University, said she hoped the research would help to draw wider attention to the scale of the issue among sexual minorities. “I would hope that policymakers and the public would consider the potential health implications of laws and policies affecting LGBT rights,” she added.
The study uses data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a large survey conducted every 2 years by the CDC. 32 of the 47 states included in the study have same-sex marriage policies, so the researchers were able to look at trends across time (before and after the legislation passed) as well as between states that have legalized same-sex marriage and states that haven't. A secondary analysis was conducted looking specifically at sexual minorities. They identified a respondent as a sexual minority if he or she responded as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or not sure, when asked “Which of the following best describes you?”

The study looked specifically at suicide attempts because that information is captured in the data; a participant who succeeded obviously can't respond to a survey, but the study still provides important data that demonstrates why this legislation is so important. Even among teenagers who didn't identify as a sexual minority on the survey, suicide rates were lower in states with legal same-sex marriage. The teenage years are a difficult time, where people are still trying to figure out who they are. Even if they aren't struggling with their sexual identity, it's a still a time of struggle with greater identity, and legislation that demonstrates acceptance would probably help any teenager struggling with his/her identity to feel validated. Based on their study, they estimate a decrease of 134,000 suicide attempts by adolescents each year.

The main issue with the study is an issue with any studies using survey data: response bias. There could be bias in who responds to the survey as well as how honest they are in their responses. If anything, the survey will likely underestimate both the proportion of teenagers identifying as a sexual minority and the proportion of teenagers who have attempted suicide; not everyone will feel comfortable sharing that information, regardless of whether the survey is anonymous.

The full-text of the study is available at the first link above.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Today has been dubbed the "Day of Facts," and people and organizations around the world are participating:
A relevant fact is a powerful thing. In that spirit, Friday, Feb. 17, has been dubbed the “Day of Facts” and 270 cultural institutions in the United States and 13 other countries have signed up to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to share important facts.

“The idea is for libraries and museums and archives across the country and around the world to post mission-related content as a way of reassuring the public that, as institutions, we remain trusted sources of knowledge,” said Alex Teller, director of communications at the Newberry Library. “It reflects recognition among a number of different institutions that while our missions haven’t changed, they’ve taken on a new significance in an era of alternative facts.”
Here's one of the contributions from Robert Martin, emeritus curator of the Integrative Research Center at the Field Museum:

Obviously, spreading misinformation is bad, and we should always strive to only share things that are true, but as we know, that doesn't always happen. The problem is that, even people with the best of intentions, who repeat the misinformation in order to correct it and offer the truth, can still misinform people. People will often remember things they read, but not necessarily the source, and occasionally, if they read something that repeats a myth (stating explicitly that it's a myth), people will sometimes just remember that portion. So they walk away from an article intended to dispel that myth with a stronger belief that it is true. This results in misinformation continuing to be spread. I know I've done the same thing even here on this blog, and it pains me to think anyone would walk away from something I wrote with only the falsehood. So here's a list of psychology myths rewritten as facts:
  • You use 100% of your brain, and depend on both sides equally.
  • Memory is incredibly malleable, even being changed by the present. Every memory you have is likely inaccurate in small or big ways.
  • Déjà vu is a perfectly normal, non-clairvoyant experience.
  • There is little support that people have unique "learning styles."
  • Mental illness is likely to be caused by a combination of environmental factors and physiological factors.
  • The most subliminal messages can do is affect your mood, and there is a tenuous connection between mood and behavior.
  • Classical music might make your baby a music snob, but not a genius.
  • Lie detector tests measure physiological arousal only. The results have to be interpreted by a person, and people are really bad at guessing whether a person is lying.
  • You're more likely to be attracted to people who are similar to you.
  • Increases in the prevalence of autism are likely due to a better understanding of the disorder, resulting in better diagnosis (and less misdiagnosis). We're also more aware of it now, so it could just feel more prevalent than it used to be.
For more of today's activities, check out the Day of Facts hashtag on Twitter.

Goodreads for Film-Lovers

I love movies. I own a lot of movies - probably one of the first things people notice about me when visiting my place. And as a scientist, I love collecting data and making lists, even if it's all completely self-interested. I've been using Goodreads for a while to log what I read, get recommendations, and see what my friends are reading. And if you've been wondering why there isn't a similar site for movie lovers, you should definitely check out Letterboxd.

You can use the site to log, rate, and review the movies you watch. And much like Goodreads, it's a social networking site, so you can connect with friends and see what they're watching. You can also create lists on any movie topic. After a couple of conversations this week, I'm tempted to make a list of movies to watch when you're not in the mood to see any love story elements or happy endings (yes, I've been there).

You can check out my Letterboxd page here - and if you join the site, feel free to add me! I definitely don't have all the films I've watched logged, but I try to make a little time every once in a while to go in and add movies I've seen. It's a work in progress.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie Review: Split

Last night, I went to see Split, M. Night Shyamanlan's new movie. Shyamalan seems to be like cilantro: you either love him or you hate him. And his newest contribution is probably no exception. In fact, I had many mixed feelings about the movie.

The basic premise is this: Kevin is a young man with dissociative identity disorder (DID, previously known as split personality or multiple personality disorder, though these are both antiquated terms). He has 23 confirmed personalities, and there is a potential 24th personality alluded to by the other personalities. At the start of the movie, Claire, Marcia, and Casey are leaving Claire's birthday party and are kidnapped by Dennis, one of Kevin's personalities. He locks them in a room, and though Claire insists they have to fight with every ounce of strength they have, Casey instead says they should watch and wait for an opening. We see flashbacks to Casey's childhood that help show us her approach from what she learned hunting with her father and uncle.

Kevin is also receiving treatment from Dr. Fletcher and sets up emergency appointments with her via email. Dr. Fletcher senses something is seriously wrong in Kevin's life, brought on by a triggering event at Kevin's work, but is met at the appointments by Barry, another of Kevin's personalities (the one who is presumably in control of Kevin and the other personalities) who enjoys fashion design. He spends the appointments instead talking about his latest designs, rather than whatever is bothering him. Dr. Fletcher tries to use her pre-existing rapport with Barry to get at the truth. We also learn that she believes DID is more than simply a mental disorder; it is a way to overcome physical disabilities, and "unlock the potential of the human mind."

In the meantime, Claire, Marcia, and Casey meet 2 of Kevin's other personalities, Patricia, a controlling English woman and Hedwig, a 9-year-old boy who tells them they are going to be sacrificed to the Beast, Kevin's as-yet unseen 24th personality. Casey forms a bond with Hedwig, that she exploits to help them escape. Unfortunately, Hedwig is suspicious and very dependent on Patricia and Dennis (another personality), so this exploitation doesn't get Casey very far. Claire and Marcia make fruitless escape attempts that instead result in them being locked up separately from Casey and each other.

My reactions to the movie are multi-faceted, and really align with my different roles:

As a writer, my response is that Shyamalan is a good storyteller, but as a writer first and filmmaker second, he has a tendency to tell us rather than showing us. He tries to overcome this by telling us then showing us, but it is not always as organic as it should be. For instance, he tells us about a gift one of Kevin's personalities is capable of then shows us for no real purpose in the story other than, "Oh, hey, look what he can do!" That is, his storytelling is primarily dialogue driven and secondarily visually driven, when as a filmmaker, it should really be the other way around. Shyamalan also continues to use his favorite literary concept playbook of red herring and Chekhov's gun.

As a Shyamalan fan specifically, I enjoyed much of the movie, and really liked the tie-in to another work. I won't say more because

But if you're a Shyamalan fan, you'll probably enjoy the movie.

As a psychologist... oh, boy, where to begin. My main issue with the movie is the connection he draws between mental illness and the supernatural. For millennia, people with genuine mental illness were exorcised, and accused of witchcraft or conspiring with the devil, rather than being treated. This was my primary complaint about a recent horror movie, The Taking of Deborah Logan. While Split switches the relationship - rather than the supernatural causing the mental illness, it is the mental illness causing the supernatural - the connection is still problematic.

I also take issue with the fact that Kevin, a victim of horrific child abuse (which is the primary cause of DID), becomes the antagonist. There are so many better examples of how survival of such abuse changes a person that does not result in them being the bad guy. And to be fair, Casey is an example of a victim who becomes stronger as a result. (And yes, the movie passes the Bechdel test.)

So the movie, while trying to be somewhat accurate in its portrayal of DID (but also taking the concept out for a spin) ends up depending on stereotypes and myths. Dr. Fletcher's comment on "unlocking potential" of the human brain had me bracing myself for a "we only use 10% of our brain" myth eye-roll. She fortunately didn't use this myth, but I feel like it was creeping under the surface.

Overall, if you're a Shyamalan fan, I'd recommend checking the movie out. If you're a fellow psychologist (or at least knowledgeable about psychology), you'll probably have many of the same reactions, so be forewarned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Be the Very Model of a Modern Academy Awards Show

FiveThirtyEight seems to be having a lot of fun modeling and predicting what's going to happen with this year's Academy Awards. And according to their data, the most contested (and unclear) is the race for Best Actor:
The vaunted Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has begun voting on who wins what at the Oscars, and if one race is still slightly clouded in mystery, it’s the one for best actor. This contest — among Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Denzel Washington (“Fences”), Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”) — has been an odd one to watch.

Now we get to the real competition: Washington, who plays the lead in a film he directed, and Affleck, the gruff Bostonian who utterly transformed in the film “Manchester by the Sea” to play a dour New Englander. Washington received the top male acting honor from the Screen Actors Guild, and Affleck won just about everything else.

In 18 of the past 22 years, the actor who won at SAG went on to win the Oscar. The best actor SAG award is one of the most historically predictive shows in our database of 25 years of critic and guild prizes.
So Denzel won the most predictive award, but Affleck's cumulative wins give him better odds. The other issue, though, is whether people will vote for Affleck given recent sexual harassment allegations:
This contest is such a wild card partly because we have no idea whether Affleck’s PR counteroffensive is convincing academy members to consider his performance over allegations that he sexually harassed women who worked on his 2010 film “I’m Still Here.”

Washington’s SAG win could be interpreted as a sign that the academy’s largest branch is not behind Affleck. It could also be interpreted as a sign that Washington is way more famous than Affleck, had never won a SAG Award and was overdue, and was in a very good film. Affleck’s win at the BAFTAs could be interpreted as a sign that the insiders who vote on the Oscars are comfortable voting for him. It could also be interpreted as a sign that Affleck can win, but only when he’s not competing against Denzel.
Here's where the odds stand now:

Not to politicize this, but does the whole "race between candidates where one is alleged to have done some awful things to women and the other is unbelievably overqualified to win" seem familiar? Just me?

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Cooking the Books

The Guardian reports that a few days ago, antique books worth £2m were stolen from a London warehouse. Now, after that daring heist, the thieves (hilariously referred to as "tome-raiders) have the impossible task of cashing on their treasure:
The question is, what happens to the books now? How might they be sold? And who would buy them? “Criminals first try to cash out on these crimes,” leading art lawyer Chris Marinello, CEO of London based Art Recovery International, tells me. “They are looking for buyers and the more publicity the crime gets, they more difficult it becomes to sell these items. Placing them on international databases, such as ARTIVE.org, which records stolen objects so they can not be sold knowingly in the marketplace, means reputable dealers and collectors will not touch them.”

Marinello, who has been working to reduce the trade in illicit cultural heritage for three decades, explains that this, unfortunately, is when the “second crime” often takes places. “The books might then be broken up,” he says. “Some of the illuminated manuscripts and engravings contained therein might be traded in the art market, where many buyers don’t know they were cut out of rare books. It becomes a lot more difficult to trace.”

The theft of rare books, manuscripts and maps from libraries and other repositories is thought to be on the rise. An alarmingly titled conference at the British Library in 2015, The Written Heritage of Mankind in Peril, was prompted by two major heists at European libraries, both of which turned out to be inside jobs. What continues to confound the international rare book market – estimated to be worth $500m (£380m) a year – is how easily stolen books are fenced and resold.

By the way, it's Valentine's Day, which is apparently a big deal? Meh. Here's some book-themed Valentines for you:

Monday, February 13, 2017

For Crafty Science Lovers

If you loved the Pussy Hats of the Women's March, then wait until you see what's been suggested as the hat for the upcoming March for Science:
Scientists and science enthusiasts alike will march Downtown in opposition to President Donald Trump, the latest act of protest against the current administration's recent policy changes.

Chicagoans will join other marches for science in cities across the nation on Earth Day, April 22.

And like the so-called "pussyhats" that were prevalent during the nationwide Women's March, the scientists have a sign of solidarity: brain caps you can knit yourself.

Terrifying but Entertaining

The current presidential administration has revitalized many things: the nature of political satire, interest in policy and current events, existential terror so profound you're not sure whether to laugh or cry... In fact, White House press secretary Sean Spicer is pulling in better ratings than some daytime soap operas:
Mr. Spicer’s briefings, carried live by the major cable news networks, are pulling in an average of 4.3 million viewers, according to data from Nielsen. Audiences across Fox News, MSNBC and CNN grow by an average of 10 percent when Mr. Spicer comes onscreen to discuss the latest news on President Trump, statistics show.

The soap opera at the White House is outscoring actual soaps like “General Hospital” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” which typically air around the same time. Mr. Spicer’s ratings are on par with prime-time entertainment like “MasterChef Junior” on Fox and the ABC sitcom “Dr. Ken,” which draw around four million viewers each.
It's also rekindled my activity on Twitter - today, I discovered this gem:
BTW, not sure about you, dear reader, but I've been having more nightmares lately. I wonder why...

Sunday, February 12, 2017

More Videos

Trump may not be making America great again, but he's definitely making Saturday Night Live great again:

BTW, there are so many great memes about extreme vetting:

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Video Day

I'm working on a new writing project, a horror movie parody, which involves me rewatching some of my favorites for joke material. It's literally me watching movies and instead of speaking my MST3K-style jokes aloud, I write them down instead. And I'm using my favorite notebook for the project:

Side note: If you've never watched The Legend of Hell House, you're missing out, because it is the most unintentionally funny horror movie I've ever seen. It's on Netflix. Now you have no excuses.

But as is the case with me, I'm getting distracted by funny videos on the internet. I discovered this gem yesterday:

So, who wants to start a Kickstarter to get this movie made? Because this is the film the world needs right now.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

GrubHub for Books

I have a confession to make: I love bookstores. I was sad when Borders closed (and in fact, I still look at the storefront in my neighborhood that now holds an AT&T store with sad longing) - my local store was a 15 minute walk from home and I could go over there anytime I wanted to browse and make purchases, or hang out in their coffee shop upstairs. In fact, most of my statistics homework in grad school was completed in a Borders coffee shop with friends. Hanging out in bookstores, used or otherwise, is one of my favorite activities, and though I still purchase things from Amazon, I tend to prefer driving over to my local Barnes & Nobel for most of my book purchases.

Obviously, neither Borders nor Barnes & Nobles could really be described as "local," but because of large booksellers, and especially online options like Amazon, there aren't many truly local bookstores left. That's why this idea by two Viennese high school students is so brilliant - the comfort and convenience of ordering books from home, speedy delivery, and knowing that you're helping out a local business:
Granted, in its trial form it is an extremely small operation. Lobu, as it’s called, was launched by two high-school students in Vienna, one a self-described Kafka fan and the other a connoisseur of the kind of wisdom only available from erudite, wizened booksellers. The process is simple: Send over a text message with your desired tome (title or ISBN), and one of the students will purchase it from a nearby bookstore and pedal it furiously to your door. If the book’s not available, it will typically be delivered in a day or two.

Lobu’s creators write that they want to “save the Austrian book trade from destruction by big corporations” such as Amazon, which dominates the country’s online book-ordering industry. The free service is now only available in Vienna’s Währing district, but its founders hope to expand it across the city and eventually charge 2 euros to use it. They plan on keeping costs low by building a network of short-distance couriering among all of Vienna’s bookshops.
There are, however, still many great local bookstores in Chicagoland. Here's a few of my favorites:

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Booze Clues

Human beings have been enjoying booze for 9,000 years, according to an article in this month's National Geographic. Though previously, alcoholic beverages were considered consumables, the author pulls together evidence that argues these beverages have a special place in our culture, being connected to important traditions and even inspiring us and pushing us forward as a species:
All over the world, in fact, evidence for alcohol production from all kinds of crops is showing up, dating to near the dawn of civilization. University of Pennsylvania biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern believes that’s not an accident. From the rituals of the Stone Age on, he argues, the mind-altering properties of booze have fired our creativity and fostered the development of language, the arts, and religion. Look closely at great transitions in human history, from the origin of farming to the origin of writing, and you’ll find a possible link to alcohol. “There’s good evidence from all over the world that alcoholic beverages are important to human culture,” McGovern says. “Thirty years ago that fact wasn’t as recognized as it is now.” Drinking is such an integral part of our humanity, according to McGovern, that he only half jokingly suggests our species be called Homo imbibens.

The active ingredient common to all alcoholic beverages is made by yeasts: microscopic, single-celled organisms that eat sugar and excrete carbon dioxide and ethanol, the only potable alcohol. That’s a form of fermentation. Most modern makers of beer, wine, or sake use cultivated varieties of a single yeast genus called Saccharomyces (the most common is S. cerevisiae, from the Latin word for “beer,” cerevisia). But yeasts are diverse and ubiquitous, and they’ve likely been fermenting ripe wild fruit for about 120 million years, ever since the first fruits appeared on Earth.

From our modern point of view, ethanol has one very compelling property: It makes us feel good. Ethanol helps release serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins in the brain, chemicals that make us happy and less anxious.

To our fruit-eating primate ancestors swinging through the trees, however, the ethanol in rotting fruit would have had three other appealing characteristics. First, it has a strong, distinctive smell that makes the fruit easy to locate. Second, it’s easier to digest, allowing animals to get more of a commodity that was precious back then: calories. Third, its antiseptic qualities repel microbes that might sicken a primate. Millions of years ago one of them developed a taste for fruit that had fallen from the tree. “Our ape ancestors started eating fermented fruits on the forest floor, and that made all the difference,” says Nathaniel Dominy, a biological anthropologist at Dartmouth College. “We’re preadapted for consuming alcohol.”

Robert Dudley, the University of California, Berkeley physiologist who first suggested the idea, calls it the “drunken monkey” hypothesis.
Drunken Monkey would be a great name for a brewery. Just sayin'.

The article also features a great infographic about alcohol throughout history:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Bonus Post: Overheard Conversation

Actual conversation I overheard, involving two people who work in my building, but not for my company:

1: I thought she did a great job. I was worried she would do something political.
2: Yeah, she didn't do anything left or right, just patriotic.
1: I mean, there's kids watching. But she has a beautiful voice. I heard her sing something by Julie Andrews. What was it? Oh, Sound of Music.
[I realize they're talking about Lady Gaga and the Super Bowl.]
1: Oh, and after the game, he said he wanted to play a movie for the kids. Something about the Civil War. I said, 'Really? That's for kids? I mean, maybe for grandma, but do kids really want to watch a Civil War movie?' It was something about America and the Civil War. What was it? Oh, Captain America and the Civil War.
2 stares at her in shocked silence.

Checks and Balances

When Trump writes a book about his time as President, I suspect it will be called Everyone Who Disagrees with Me is Wrong, featuring a forward by Putin. In response to Judge James Robart's block of Trump's Muslim travel ban, Trump tweeted "The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Dean Obeidallah of CNN dissects everything wrong with that statement:
On Saturday morning, President Donald Trump may have unleashed his most bone-chilling tweet -- at least to those who believe the United States should not become a Trump-led dictatorship. And I don't make that comment simply to be provocative or without giving it a great deal of thought. Our democracy is far more fragile than some might grasp and Trump is engaging in a concerted effort to undermine the workings of it.

Let's be blunt, because the stakes demand it: An independent federal judiciary is our last, best hope at preventing Trump from violating the US Constitution and illegally grabbing power. And Trump has to understand that, hence his attempt to undermine it.

The President truly appears to be leading a master class in transforming the United States into a dictatorship. Trump -- and it's fair to assume it is by design -- has sought to undermine anyone or anything that tries to counter him.

It's frightening to think where this could lead. For example, when the United States Supreme Court ruled in the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education that racial segregation in our public schools was unconstitutional, it took then-President Dwight Eisenhower to implement that decision.

Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus had refused to follow the Court's decision and instead surrounded an all-white high school in his state with National Guard troops to prevent its integration. Eisenhower responded by federalizing the Arkansas National Guard to enforce the Supreme Court's seminal decision and allow black students to attend the school.

Would Trump do the same if he had passionately disagreed with the Court's decision or would he simply ignore it while attacking the legitimacy of our judiciary, sparking a constitutional crisis? And would certain Trump-supporting federal agency heads, or even federal officers, refuse to follow court orders (or at least do it very slowly) because Trump has convinced them the federal judiciary's decisions cannot be trusted?
Since Trump took office, and especially with regard to this travel ban, people have been quoting the words on the Statue of Liberty: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" But Judge Robart's block prompted artists Thea Sousa and Sam Machado to reference another important force in our country - justice:
Trump took an oath to preserve, protect, and defend our Constitution. But that oath isn't enough, and our founding fathers knew that; in their extraordinary genius, they set up a system of checks and balances, to keep any one branch of government from wielding too much power. Trump's executive order shows how little he cares about the words on the Status of Liberty, but this tweet is far worse: His attempt to delegitimize the judicial branch shows just how little he cares about our Constitution. And that is far more terrifying.

Big Changes to Blogging A to Z

As you may recall, I participated in the Blogging A to Z challenge last April. Check out those posts here, and in particular this post showing the positive impact of the challenge on my blogging patterns.

Believe it or not, it's almost time to start thinking about the challenge for this year! The Blogging from A to Z Challenge blog just released some big news:
Those of us on the A to Z Team have been talking about preparations for this year's challenge, and one of the things we've discussed is The List. The truth is, The List is a lot of work, and we have fewer people to check the list and maintain it so that the only people who are on it are the ones actively participating. Our focus changes from the people who are actively participating to those who aren't, and that isn't fair.

We came up with a great solution to this:
  • Each day of the Challenge, we'll add a post with the letter of the day to the A to Z Challenge blog. When you've posted your entry to your blog, post a comment to the Challenge blog with a link to that day's post on your blog.
  • We'll also add a status update to our Facebook page each day with that day's letter. You may also post a link to your daily post as a comment to the latter post, either in addition to or instead of posting the link to the Challenge blog. 
  • And, we encourage you to post a tweet to Twitter with a link to your blog post. Be sure you add the hashtag #atozchallenge to your tweet, so we can find you.
So now, instead of adding my name to the list once, I'll be asked to comment on daily posts with the link to that day's A-Z post. A little more work, but not really, since I tend to share my posts on social media anyway. It's just one more copy-paste. Also, each blogger is given a schedule as a guideline but they can honestly schedule their posts however they want, just as long as they get 26 posts up during the month of April, one for each letter. This way, when I go read other blogs, I don't have to scroll through blogs that are following a different schedule and perhaps didn't post that particular day (or that signed up but changed their mind about participating for whatever reason).

Next on the A to Z schedule is the Theme Reveal Day, March 20th! I'm still trying to decide what to post about this year. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Just in Time for the Super Bowl

"You'll pay for this in Odin's name."

"I'm more Jungian than Freudian."

So. Many. Gems.

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Reality of "Separate Issues"

Healthcare was a major issue in this election. And Gallup data from back in December suggests that 40% of Americans are dissatisfied with the care they receive. Many people who voted for Trump were likely motivated by that and his promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (probably one of the most misunderstood pieces of legislation in recent history).

Trump also made many promises with regard to immigration, especially of people from predominantly Muslim countries. Many people probably thought of these two promises as separate issues.

Spoiler alert: They're absolutely connected:
Like many Western nations, the U.S. has come to rely heavily on medical graduates who trained internationally, although these graduates face significant barriers to being allowed to practice in the U.S., including burdensome licensing processes and duplicative training. Still, foreign medical graduates comprise more than one-fifth of all practicing physicians in the U.S. Where a doctor trained does not necessarily tell us where that doctor is originally from — and thus whether he or she may be subject to the immigration order — but it serves as a useful proxy, if we assume that most doctors train in the country where they are born.

Our research finds that foreign-trained doctors play an even larger role than their share of the physician workforce would suggest because of the areas and specialties in which they often practice: rural, underserved regions and specialties facing a large shortage of practitioners. And of the foreign-trained doctors in our sample, about 5 percent — approximately 8,000 people and 1 percent of all doctors — completed medical school in the countries that are affected by the ban.

Many of the issues affecting healthcare today can be directly attributable to the physician shortage. This is part of the reason for the waitlists uncovered in VA hospitals and medical centers. (Not to excuse those waitlists, but at least to explain them and identify a potential solution - VA needs more doctors, and Trump's hiring freeze for federal agencies is doing the opposite of what VA needs right now.)

And new movements in the area of medicine and portion of the Affordable Care Act are also strongly affected by this shortage. In fact, other medical professionals, such as physician's assistants and nurse practitioners, are being given increased responsibilities and privileges, to help counteract this shortage - PAs and NPs can do many of the things physicians can, and I'm hearing more and more about people whose primary care provider is one of these two types of professionals.

Yes, we're facing a physician shortage in this country, especially for primary care providers. Medical school is expensive, and add to that years of post-med school training that also has a cost of lost salary. For the people who make it through all of that, they're likely to be drawn to certain specialties, which promise much larger salaries than primary care. You can call it greediness, but I can't blame people for wanting to decrease how long it takes to get out from under the crushing debt of attending medical school. This leaves a lot of empty primary care offices that could be (and are being) filled by physicians who want to come to the US.

The physician shortage is absolutely connected to the issue of immigration. The problem is that, as with his hiring freeze, Trump's order is doing the exact opposite of what this country needs.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Strong Psychological Science in an Age of Uncertainty

In our post-truth, alternative facts America, many things are uncertain - even things that really shouldn't be. But this increased uncertainty is also present in my field, not only because of politics, but recent efforts to replicate well-known research findings that have called many "established truths" into question.

With that in mind is a well-timed article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, which asks, "What Constitutes Strong Psychological Science?" The problem he brings up in the article is one many researchers know well: the trade off between doing "sexy" cutting edge research, which may lead to insignificant, or worse yet, incorrect, results, and "safer" established research topics, which lead to more accurate but less surprising results. He proposes a third option that falls somewhere in the middle of the two:
Science is a pluralistic endeavor that should not be forced into the corset of one specific format. If science is to flourish and to achieve progress, there must be room for competing theories, methods, and different conceptions of what science is about. Symbiotic collaboration must be possible between theory-driven and phenomenon-driven research. There is no reason to disqualify or downgrade properly conducted research of any particular type.

However, for science to grow and to unfold its potential in the future, it is essential to recognize the chances and limitations of distinct types of research and to deal with many challenges in theorizing and logic of science—beyond superficial issues of data analysis. No statistical analysis can be better than the design of a study, and no research design can be better than the rationale of the underlying theory.

The future growth of psychological science calls for a change in the value hierarchy from statistics to research design and theorizing. For research to flourish and to enable strong scientific inferences, in addition to surprising and inspiring discoveries and reputable methods and models, it is essential to take the diagnosticity of empirical hypothesis tests and the a priori likelihood of underlying theories into account.
Basically, we should continue exploring new topics of study, while also conducting research that is theoretically-driven. That is, use established theory and principles to generate hypotheses about more novel phenomena or test old principles/theories in new situations/applications. This gives the research a solid footing, by drawing on prior research about that theory or principle, while also giving room for exploration.

I agree completely that a lot of research has been conducted without a theoretical grounding. One of my favorite topics, pretrial publicity, has mostly been conducted atheoretically. But when researchers, including, myself have tried to apply a particular theory to understand pretrial publicity effects, the results don't conform to the theory, even though we still see a negative impact of pretrial publicity. This put me in a really uncomfortable position when I tried to publish a meta-analysis of my results; I was told by reviewers that I needed to do more with theory (like include some) and perhaps use the aggregated data to test a particular theory or set of theories. I understood their criticisms, because a theoretical basis is something this topic really needs. At the same time, when you do a meta-analysis, you're at the mercy of what previous researchers did and the type of data they collected, which differs across studies, sometimes dramatically. This makes it really difficult to test a theory with all (or even part) of your data.

This is the main reason my meta-analysis STILL isn't published, almost 7 years after I finished it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Trump's Next Order: Work Visa Programs

The nation is still responding to Trump's executive order that is totally not a Muslim ban (alternative facts, am I right?), and multiple tech companies have spoken out against the order. But he's not done yet; he's currently drafting another executive order that targets work visa programs, a move that will have an even more immediate impact on various tech companies. A draft of the proposal was leaked by Vox and can be found here.

The report specifically references the employing of immigrants (especially illegal immigrants) to fill low-skilled jobs, so one would imagine that this proposed order would seek to curtail bringing in low-skill workers from overseas, right?

Not really.

Caroline Fairchild at LinkedIn interviewed Daniel Costa, director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, who shared that (unsurprisingly) this executive order does very little to limit work visas for low-skilled jobs:
If the order is signed it will mostly impact the companies that hire and employ temporary foreign workers in skilled visa programs, like the H-1B and L-1 visa. Unfortunately there is virtually nothing in there that will impact companies that hire temporary foreign workers through the main visa programs that facilitate hiring lesser-skilled, low-wage workers – the H-2A and H-2B visa programs – which are used to hire workers to do agricultural work on farms, or for landscaping or construction jobs, etc., and where countless worker abuses and human trafficking have occurred. However, one low-wage temporary visa program, the Summer Work Travel program which is run by the State Department, may get a new set of rules, which are much needed, in my opinion, based on the multiple scandals that have occurred.
The order proposes an audit of employers using the work visa program and greater transparency of immigration data, which Costa thinks could improve conditions for both US and foreign workers, or at least lead to improvements, though I'm cynical that auditing and gathering better data will be used by the Trump administration to improve anything for anyone. And the even more cynical part of me thinks this would be a great way to identify who they can target for bribes to bypass any of these new policies. Sorry, did I say bribes? I meant alternative donations.

And, also unsurprisingly, the order proposes a commission (yes, another commission of potentially unvetted appointees) to examine current immigration policies and make recommendations for improvements.