Archive for November, 2009

Science books for kids

November 27, 2009

Here is a list; via Swarup.

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HowTo: fight with your spouse

November 26, 2009

Here is some useful info:

A new study of married couples, however, has found physiological evidence for one technique to diffuse tension: choosing the right fighting words.Couples who used analytical language, such as “think,” “understand,” “because,” or “reason,” during heated arguments were able to keep important stress-related chemicals in check, according to research published in the latest issue of the journal Health Psychology. Cytokines are inflammatory chemicals that spike during periods of prolonged tension and can lower your immunity and lead to early frailty, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and some cancers. The authors noted a curious gender twist in their results. Husbands benefitted from their wives’ measured language, but a man’s carefully chosen words had little effect on a woman’s cytokine balance.

By the way, some sections of the articles will make you think twice before signing up as a couple for the next psychological study:

Researchers measured cytokines before and after discussions with 42 married heterosexual couples. In the first session, couples chatted about a neutral topic. In the second, an interviewer gathered a couple’s history and then deliberately provoked a fight by asking them to hash out their hardest issues, saying to a husband and wife something like, “You hate the way her mother always comes over, and you feel like he controls all the money. Discuss,” explains Jennifer Graham, lead author and assistant professor of bio-behavioral health at Penn State.

Take a look!

Two things about Euler that I learnt today

November 23, 2009

From Rolf Jeltsch’s colloquium in the Mathematics Department are the following:

[1] Euler was probably one of the earliest mathematical modellers: for example, he turned the Koenigsburg bridge problem into one of graph theory; and, apparently, he is also the first one to consider control volumes in fluid dynamics while the other hydrodynamicists were looking at the entire fluid under different circumstances and tried to describe its behaviour.

[2] Euler was pretty open by the then scientific standards; while his contemporaries were trying to keep their discoveries secret, apparently, he wrote expository pieces and circulated them, and, never indulged in priority disputes.

I have read great things about Euler through his great admirer (probably the greatest) Clifford Truesdell. After learning about his open science approach, I am more impressed.

Montessori school of

November 21, 2009

Dentistry — from Onion of course!

NEW YORK—Inside the Montessori School of Dentistry, you won’t find any old-fashioned cotton swabs, or so-called periodontal charts, or even any amalgam fillings. That’s because at this alternative-learning institution, students are being encouraged to break away from medical tradition and discover their very own root canal procedures.

“At Montessori, we believe dentistry is more than just the medical practice of treating tooth and gum disorders,” school director Dr. Howard Bundt told reporters Tuesday. “It’s about fostering creativity. It’s about promoting self-expression and individuality. It’s about looking at a decayed and rotten nerve pulp and drawing your own unique conclusions.”

“In fact, here at Montessori, dentistry is whatever our students want it to be,” Bundt continued.

Founded in 1981, and tailored after the teaching methods first developed by Italian-born educator Maria Montessori, the three-year academy offers a fresh and innovative approach to learning seldom found at more conventional schools of dentistry.

Teachers—or “roving dental facilitators,” as they prefer to be called—can be difficult to spot: They often choose to stay out of the way of their inquisitive pupils, and only make gentle suggestions as to how an infected root chamber should be drained.

“When performing a root canal, there’s no such thing as right or wrong,” said Montessori educator Vanessa Perrin, who added that she doesn’t so much teach her students how to treat an inflamed nerve, as lead them to an open mouth and then stand back. “Sure, we could say to our students, ‘The enamel here has completely eroded and needs to be addressed immediately.’ But what’s more satisfying, what’s more dynamic, is to just let them slowly develop an ‘impression’ of why a patient might be screaming.”

Take a look!

Choosing academics and being powerful in academics

November 21, 2009

Here are the ten simple rules for choosing between academia and the industry:

1 Assess your qualifications
2 Assess your needs
3 Assess your desires
4 Assess your personality
5 Consider the alternatives
6 Consider the timing
7 Plan for the long term
8 Keep your options open
9 Be analytic
10 Be honest with yourself

Link via Abi.

Via Abi again, I get this quote about corrupt academic world and the signaling techniques used  in it:

Gambetta calls the system “an academic kakistocracy, or government by the worst,” which is definitely an expression I can see catching on.This may seem like a tangent from comparative criminology. But Gambetta argues that the cheerful incompetence of the baroni is akin to the mafioso’s way of signaling that he can be “trusted” within his narrowly predatory limits

“Being incompetent and displaying it,” he writes, “conveys the message I will not run away, for I have no strong legs to run anywhere else. In a corrupt academic market, being good at and interested in one’s own research, by contrast, signal a potential for a career independent of corrupt reciprocity…. In the Italian academic world, the kakistrocrats are those who best assure others by displaying, through lack of competence and lack of interest in research, that they will comply with the pacts.”

Have fun!

When buying from Apple feels like a Faustian bargain

November 20, 2009

Paul Graham:

In the past when I bought things from Apple it was an unalloyed pleasure. Oh boy! They make such great stuff. This time it felt like a Faustian bargain. They make such great stuff, but they’re such assholes. Do I really want to support this company?

Take a look!

Science can, at times, feel like religion

November 10, 2009

Zuska explains how:

Wilson wasn’t saying science IS a religion in the sense that there’s no real underlying objective reality, everything’s all taken on faith, and we all get together and worship the Flying Spaghetti Monster at Friday seminar. But Jesus Christ, I was a grad student once, and I’ll be damned if there weren’t aspects of that experience that weren’t more than a little bit like being indoctrinated into some sort of crazy cult worship. There was a brilliant Chronicle piece some years ago by Thomas Benton analyzing the correspondence between grad school and religious cults. He was speaking about humanities students but, as I recall, it was all the rage with science and engineering students as well. Read it and see if you don’t find it chillingly applicable. My point is: what we do at the lab bench is Science. What we do socially, to each other, when we are not at the lab bench (and sometimes even when we are) can sometimes take on characteristics that very much feel like Science as a Form of Religion.

A thousand years ago, when I was a graduate student, we often used to grumble and joke amongst ourselves about the “sacred priesthood of science”. How you basically had to give up your whole life (including sex, because when did you have time for that?), and take a vow of poverty, to pursue your work. How you had to demonstrate your undying devotion to Science above all other things. And, of course, for us women, the sacred priesthood joke had special resonance, because damn, there were just so doggone many priests running the show and precious few priestesses to be found anywhere in the temples.

Imagine my surprise and amusement, some years later, to discover that our long-running joke had real roots in the way that Western science itself grew out of the ascetic tradition of the medieval Latin church – see: David Noble, A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science. There I was in grad school, joking about being inducted into the sacred priesthood of science – and here came David Noble to explain how Western science was shaped by and formed on a monastic model, designed in part specifically to exclude women.

Noble goes beyond this thesis of science as a religious calling in The Religion of Technology: The Divinity of Man and the Spirit of Invention.

For social historian Noble…Western culture’s persistent enchantment with technology finds its roots in religious imagination. Despite their varied guises and pursuits, science and technology suggest nothing more than our “enduring, other-worldly quest for transcendence and salvation.” The pearl of great value is Noble’s contention that science and technology aren’t guilty of amorality: that was never the intent. Rather, he claims, new technologies aren’t about meeting human need; they transcend it. Salvation through technology “has become the unspoken orthodoxy.” Such is the new Gnosticism. This is a dense, fascinating study of technology and Christianity. Not satisfied with easy equivalencies, Noble challenges the idea of post-Enlightenment science as a secular brave new world and quietly offers that what we’re really hoping for is our reentry into Eden.

Noble is hardly the first historian of science to delve into the ways in which science functions as a religion (though no in the way those crazy Intelligent Designers like to think). But I particularly love what he does in exploring how the ways in which Western science’s birth in the monastic tradition has had long-lasting effects for women’s participation in science.

There are many reasonable, sound, scholarly bases for examining the idea of how science might function as a religion functions, or how it might work to meet needs and fill roles that are in other cases met and filled by what we more normally think of as religions. It might seem scary to ask those sorts of questions in a time where people who have decidedly, virulently anti-science agendas (and deep pockets to help carry them out) wish to put forth their own poisonous notion that science is just another religion so that they can pour their religion into science classrooms and control the agenda of science. But I’d like to think that at least amongst scientists, we can have a conversation about science as science, as cultural practice, as an institution. That we can step back and critically examine what it is we do day in and day out.

If you think the concept of science as a religion is just sooooooo unbearably stupid, high school debate, not-worthy of ScienceBlogs, it may not be the concept that’s ignorant. Just possibly, there’s a whole wealth of information out there to ponder that you are completely unaware of.

Take a look!

Beteille on Levi-Strauss

November 10, 2009

In The Telegraph.

Saving the fragile predator

November 9, 2009

I recently bought Ullas Karanth’s A view from the Machan: how science can save the fragile predator. This is a paperback published by Permanent Black and is nicely illustrated by Maya Ramaswamy. From the book I learnt about the writer Kenneth Anderson, about heroes like Chinnappa who almost gave their life to the conservation effort, and about Karanth’s views which are at variance with those of some of the other Indian coservationists — Madhav Gadgil being the example that Karanth quotes by name (and, having heard Gadgil on some of these issues, it was nice for me to learn Karanth’s view point).

A nice book for a Sunday afternoon reading and stongly recommended.

HowTo: take a restorative study break

November 6, 2009

Dave Munger at Cognitive Daily:

When you’re studying during nearly every free moment, what’s the best way to clear up your mind and refocus yourself for the next round of studying?

One old idea that has re-emerged recently is called “attention restoration theory”, or ART. William James actually discussed a similar concept in his 1892 psychology textbook. The idea that taking a walk in the woods can help you refocus your thoughts is at least as old as Immanuel Kant, and probably older. But how exactly does interacting with nature help focus attention? ART says that the natural world engages your attention in a bottom-up fashion, by features of the environment (e.g. a sunset, a beautiful tree). The artificial world demands active attention, to avoid getting hit by cars or to follow street signs. Since intellectual activities like studying or writing also demand the same kind of attention, taking a break in the artificial world doesn’t really function like a rest.

A must-read post!