Back in 2009, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara performed a curious experiment. In many ways, it was routine — they placed a subject in the brain scanner, displayed some images, and monitored how the subject’s brain responded. The measured brain activity showed up on the scans as red hot spots, like many other neuroimaging studies. Except that this time, the subject was an Atlantic salmon, and it was dead. Dead fish do not normally exhibit any kind of brain activity, of course. The study was a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the problems with brain scanning studies. Those colorful images of the human brain found in virtually all news media may have captivated the imagination of the public, but they have also been subject of controversy among scientists over the past decade or so. In fact, neuro-imagers are now debating how reliable brain scanning studies actually are, and are still mostly in the dark about exactly what it means when they see some part of the brain “light up.” [Neurophilosophy]
What happens to people when they think they’re invisible? Using a 3D virtual reality headset, neuroscientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm gave participants the sensation that they were invisible, and then examined the psychological effects of apparent invisibility. […] “Having an invisible body seems to have a stress-reducing effect when experiencing socially challenging situations.” […] “Follow-up studies should also investigate whether the feeling of invisibility affects moral decision-making, to ensure that future invisibility cloaking does not make us lose our sense of right and wrong, which Plato asserted over two millennia ago,” said the report’s co-author, Henrik Ehrsson. […] In Book II of Plato’s Republic, one of Socrates’s interlocutors tells a story of a shepherd, an ancestor of the ancient Lydian king Gyges, who finds a magic ring that makes the wearer invisible. The power quickly corrupts him, and he becomes a tyrant. The premise behind the story of the Ring of Gyges, which inspired HG Wells’s seminal 1897 science fiction novel, The Invisible Man, is that we behave morally so that we can be seen doing so. [CS Monitor]
Participants were 152 students (88 women, 64 men; average age 19.7) at a “mid-sized university in the northeastern US.” […] Texting during class was not acceptable, but 84.7% had done this. Texting in the shower is unacceptable and 34% have done this. Texting during the Pledge of Allegiance is unacceptable and 11.3% have done it. Texting while having sex is unacceptable and 7.4% have done it. Talking to a friend and texting another at the same time is unacceptable and between 79% and 84% have done it. Texting one person in whom you are romantically interested while on a date with someone else is unacceptable and 21.5% have done it. Breaking up by text is unacceptable and 26% have done it. Sending text messages while at a funeral is unacceptable and 10.1% have done it. Texting during a job interview is unacceptable and 2.7% have done it. Fighting with some via text is unacceptable and 66% have done it. Sexting is unacceptable and 42% have done it. [The Jury Room]
An ambitious effort to replicate 100 research findings in psychology ended last week — and the data look worrying. Results posted online on 24 April, which have not yet been peer-reviewed, suggest that key findings from only 39 of the published studies could be reproduced. […] The results should convince everyone that psychology has a replicability problem, says Hal Pashler, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California, San Diego, and an author of one of the papers whose findings were successfully repeated. “A lot of working scientists assume that if it’s published, it’s right,” he says. [Nature]
A paper on gender bias in academia was recently rejected by an academic journal, whose reviewer told the two female authors to “find one or two male biologists to work with” if they wanted to get their work published. That work was a scientific survey of how and why men in academia tend to publish more papers, and in more prestigious academic journals, than women.
Prosecution is often dropped in cases largely reliant on DNA evidence when the suspect is an identical twin. The risk of convicting the wrong twin is too great. The chance of a DNA match between two unrelated individuals is extraordinarily small — one in a billion. For siblings, the chance is 1 in 10,000. But identical twins have essentially the same DNA sequence, making the identification of the forensic evidence they leave behind extremely difficult. But researchers at the University of Huddersfield recently developed a cost-effective and accurate method for differentiating between the genetic profiles of identical twins. The method looks at DNA methylation, a biochemical process that helps manage gene expression — turning genes on and off. As identical twins age, different environmental factors affect their genomes, or the ways in which their genetic material is expressed. These differences can be seen in their corresponding DNA methylation. […] The process isn’t perfect. Young twins with similar environments may not have developed significant differences in their DNA methylation. The technique also requires a large genetic sample, which may not be recoverable at every crime scene. [UPI]
Eight studies explored the antecedents and consequences of whether people locate their sense of self in the brain or the heart. [Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes]
Resistance to antibiotics found in isolated Amazonian tribe. The find suggests that microbes have long evolved the capability to fight toxins, including antibiotics, and that preventing drug resistance may be harder than scientists thought.
Marketers often seek to minimize or eliminate interruptions when they deliver persuasive messages in an attempt to increase consumers’ attention and processing of those messages. However, in five studies conducted across different experimental contexts and different content domains, the current research reveals that interruptions that temporarily disrupt a persuasive message can increase consumers’ processing of that message. As a result, consumers can be more persuaded by interrupted messages than they would be by the exact same messages delivered uninterrupted. [Journal of Consumer Research/Stanford Business]
This paper argues that there are at least five reasons why the claim that the Bible is to be taken literally defies logic or otherwise makes no sense, and why literalists are in no position to claim that they have the only correct view of biblical teachings. First, many words are imprecise and therefore require interpretation, especially to fill in gaps between general words and their appli- cation to specific situations. Second, if you are reading an English version of the Bible you are al- ready dealing with the interpretations of the translator since the earliest Bibles were written in other languages. Third, biblical rules have exceptions, and those exceptions are often not explicitly set forth. Fourth, many of the Bible’s stories defy logic and our experiences of the world. Fifth, there are sometimes two contrary versions of the same event, so if we take one literally then we cannot take the second one literally. In each of these five cases, there is no literal reading to be found. Furthermore, this paper sets forth three additional reasons why such a literalist claim probably should not be made even if it did not defy logic to make such a claim. These include The Scientific Argument: the Bible contradicts modern science; The Historical Argument: the Bible is historically inaccurate; and The Moral Argument: the Bible violates contemporary moral standards. [Open Journal of Philosophy | PDF]
At a multicourse dinner party in San Francisco, marijuana is paired like wine. But you’ll need a doctor’s note. [NY Times]