Looking forward to reading Imagine

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer – review
[Via Science news, comment and analysis | guardian.co.uk]

Alexander Linklater applauds an impressively lucid description of the creative mind at work

How can brain science explain a state of mind? That depends how you define the state of mind. There is a large difference between explaining, for example, that mirror neurons underpin imitative reflexes and speculating, from there, that mirror neurons are the brain-basis for empathy. What is empathy? You may feel it when Oliver Twist asks for more gruel, though you may not when a banker demands a bonus. There is desire in each case, yet empathy occurs not merely by mirroring the desire. It involves character assessment and social judgment too. Perhaps the banker has risked everything to reduce debt in a third-world country. Perhaps you find the characterisation of Oliver laughably sentimental. To describe the neural correlates of empathy, it is necessary to describe the neural correlates of multiple cognitive and emotional processes, not one.

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My mother sent me this book and has been sending me various tidbits as she reads it. I am very excited about reading it as it seems to parallel much of what I’ve thought.

Harnessing creativity is an important goal of 21st century organizations. Only by doing this well will we solve the complex problems facing us.

Gulf oil spill still affecting coral populations

Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill’s Effects on Deep-Water Corals
[Via NSF News]

Scientists are reporting new evidence that the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has affected marine life in the Gulf of Mexico, this time species that live in dark ocean depths–deepwater corals.

The research used a range of underwater vehicles, including the submarine Alvin, to investigate the corals. The findings are published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

The scientists used a method known as comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography to determine the source of the petroleum hydrocarbons found.

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Fingerprinting the hydrocarbons helps pinpoint where the oil came from – the Deepwater Horizon spill. And these corals at 4300 feet are suffering tremendously.

Now they can see how well the populations rebound.

How social science results can be biased through no one’s fault

Perception and Publication Bias
[Via NeuroLogica Blog]

The psychological literature is full of studies that demonstrate that our biases affect our perception of the world. In fact psychologists have defined many specific biases that affect not only how we see but how we think about the world. Confirmation bias, for example, is the tendency to notice, accept, and remember data that confirms what we already believe, and to ignore, forget, or explain away data that is contradictory to our beliefs.

Balcetis and Dunning have published a series of five studies that add to this literature by showing what they call “wishful seeing.” In their studies they found that people perceive desirable items as being physically closer to them than less desirable items. This finding is plausible and easy to believe for a skeptic steeped in knowledge of cognitive flaws and biases. But is this finding itself reliable? Psychologists familiar with the history of this question might note that similar ideas were researched in the 1950s and ultimately rejected. But that aside, can we analyze the data from Balcetis and Dunning and make conclusions about how reliable it is?

Recently Gregory Francis did just that, revealing an interesting aspect of the “wishful seeing” data that calls it into question.  Ironically the fact that Balcetis and Dunning published the results of five studies may have weakened their data rather than strengthen it. The reason is publication bias.

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Read the whole article because it does a nice job demonstrating one of the reasons to be skeptical of small studies. And it helps explain things lke why successful Phase 2 clinical trials – small trials looking for efficacy – fail in Phase 3 – large scale trials.

Small studies should have greater variation in them. So if you repeated the same small study multiple times, you should get them varying on both sides of the ‘real’ value.

As you increase the size, the variation decreases and you get closer to the real value.

Think of flipping a coin. Let’s do it 6 times. You might get 2H-4T. Do it again. 3H-3T. Again, 1H-5T.

Even though we know the real answer should be 3H-3T we have a wide variety of results around this value.

Now imagine that if you had a 1H-5T result you could get it published while a 5H-1T would not be. That is publication bias.

Only further research would reveal that the 5H-1T result was not correct.

This is why most scientists hold little belief in a single small study. We have seen too many of them that eventually revert to the ‘real’ value which is often uninteresting.

It has to be the totality of several investigations into a complex area to get their attention.

The problem is that the media simply responds to publication. They never withhold judgement.


Just a reminder that even doing something legal – filming cops– can get you arrested for a felony

NewImageby Mark Coggins

Yet Another Story Of A Guy Arrested For Filming Police
[Via Techdirt]

We’ve had a bunch of stories lately concerning people being arrested for filming or photographing the police while they’re doing their job in public. This is pretty ridiculous, and thankfully courts have started to make it clear that this is a First Amendment violation. Of course, we also just had the story of the city of Boston having to pay $170,000 to one of the people it arrested for filming them. And yet, the message still hasn’t reached the police, who seem to keep on arresting people for pointing a camera in their general direction.

JJ sent over a ridiculous story from Philadelphia where a Temple student was arrested for photographing the police, which he actually did as part of his photojournalism class, where he had a “night-photography” assignment. When he saw the police pull someone over near where he lived, he went over with his camera and started taking pictures. What happened next seems positively ridiculous:

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What happened next surely seems like a abrogation of Constitutional rights and the photographer may win in the end. But, to do that he has to spend large amounts of time and money to defend himself from a felony charge.

The cops don’t care if they violate the Constitution because it will only be the city that pays eventually, years later. In the meantime, they can continue to bully citizens.

Because seldom is anything ever done to punish the police for violating Constitutional rights.


Nice description of how traveling in America now mimics our worst stereotypes of authoritarian regimes

How The TSA’s Security Theater Harms Us All
[Via Techdirt]

Security expert Bruce Schneier has been debating the former TSA boss, Kip Hawley, over at The Economist, concerning aviation security. The argument has gone on pretty much as expected, but Schneier’s closing argument, in which he details the very real cost of the TSA’s security theater, is fantastic. First, he does a brilliant job dismantling Hawley’s “you just have to trust us that we know what we’re doing” line:

Kip Hawley doesn’t argue with the specifics of my criticisms, but instead provides anecdotes and asks us to trust that airport security—and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in particular—knows what it’s doing.

He wants us to trust that a 400-ml bottle of liquid is dangerous, but transferring it to four 100-ml bottles magically makes it safe. He wants us to trust that the butter knives given to first-class passengers are nevertheless too dangerous to be taken through a security checkpoint. He wants us to trust the no-fly list: 21,000 people so dangerous they’re not allowed to fly, yet so innocent they can’t be arrested. He wants us to trust that the deployment of expensive full-body scanners has nothing to do with the fact that the former secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, lobbies for one of the companies that makes them. He wants us to trust that there’s a reason to confiscate a cupcake (Las Vegas), a 3-inch plastic toy gun (London Gatwick), a purse with an embroidered gun on it (Norfolk, VA), a T-shirt with a picture of a gun on it (London Heathrow) and a plastic lightsaber that’s really a flashlight with a long cone on top (Dallas/Fort Worth).

At this point, we don’t trust America’s TSA, Britain’s Department for Transport, or airport security in general. We don’t believe they’re acting in the best interests of passengers. We suspect their actions are the result of politicians and government appointees making decisions based on their concerns about the security of their own careers if they don’t act tough on terror, and capitulating to public demands that “something must be done”.

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The costs are measured in lost time – more than $10 billion a year – and in lost lives – over 500 deaths a year from people driving rather than flying.

But it is the degradation of our liberties that is particularly destructive. As Schneier states:

The current TSA measures create an even greater harm: loss of liberty. Airports are effectively rights-free zones. Security officers have enormous power over you as a passenger. You have limited rights to refuse a search. Your possessions can be confiscated. You cannot make jokes, or wear clothing, that airport security does not approve of. You cannot travel anonymously. (Remember when we would mock Soviet-style “show me your papers” societies? That we’ve become inured to the very practice is a harm.) And if you’re on a certain secret list, you cannot fly, and you enter a Kafkaesque world where you cannot face your accuser, protest your innocence, clear your name, or even get confirmation from the government that someone, somewhere, has judged you guilty. These police powers would be illegal anywhere but in an airport, and we are all harmed—individually and collectively—by their existence.

Traveling in America by plane requires acquiescing to a police state more invasive than things seen in repressive governments. We have given up rights for little real safety or benefit.

And these rights have been given up to an Executive  branch that has been increasing its central power for most of the last 30 years. CHanging parties in the White House will have little effect on changing this path.

Only by getting Congress – including both parties – to actually do its job properly and push back against the Executive will our course be corrected,

Multitouch win for Apple could be deadly for Android

Legendary Judge Posner upholds largest part of Apple’s touchscreen heuristics (’949) patent in Motorola case
[Via MacDailyNews]

“In its litigations against Android, Apple is still on a quest for the Holy Grail in terms of a few patents that are broad enough to be powerful (to the extent that Android device makers would have to settle) but nevertheless able to withstand challenges to their validity,” Florian Mueller reports for FOSS Patents. “So far, those Apple patents on which any court rulings have come down are either broad but (likely) invalid or valid but too narrow to bring about settlements that would meet Apple’s strategic needs.”

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Apple’s touchscreen heuristics are really what make their devices. If others are infringing on those, then they will have a hard time coming up with something similar, unless they really innovate.

Which they really have not shown a tremendous ability to do.

Best police car backseat video of the year so far

This is why we need cameras in every police car and why they need to be released.

The guy really demonstrated he was not intoxicated by singing this particular song so well – the entire song! The patience of the police officers is pretty amazing, although they are RCMP.

“Do you have to cuff me? Physical violence is the least of my priorities!” What a way to end a classic!

I can see a Youtube meme of people singing songs in the back seats of police cars. Perhaps their charges could be reduced if American Idol likes them.

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