Monday, October 21, 2013

9 Random Ideas

I am occasionally visited by spirits bringing random ideas.  And what's a blog good for if you can't dump your stupid ideas on it?

Warning, waste of your time to follow the colon:


(1) After reading about the "elephants understand pointing" study, I got to thinking about the field of comparative cognition.  It seems like they ought to have some tasks that are basically identical when you give them to different species (so that you can, you know, compare their cognition).  Something beyond the mirror test.  My suggestion is some form of the n-back task (I'm thinking spatial, although I don't know how to do it for birds).  They've done it for monkeys but the rodent literature is pretty sparse.  And it feels like you could do it with dolphins pretty easily too.  I bet there would be some surprising results.

(2) Someone should invent a hammock that's more comfortable for your knees, like so:

Crappy MSPaint, but you get the idea.  Just move the connecting string thingy on one side so that it attaches further down the hammock part.  Yeah.

(3) Could we train other animals to play video games? I'd start with remote-controlled cars and monkeys or primates.  Familiarize the animals with the controllers, then reward them if they can win a race (could they learn the rules of the race?).  Then you can move to racing games on a computer, if that part succeeded.  I had this idea thinking about neuroscience papers that simultaneously get tons of press (coughoreosandcocainecough) and make real scientists roll their eyes.

(4) I swear I made this up myself (Ed. note: Not sure why I thought I needed to say that):

Hey, can I tell you a joke?  Okay I want you to imagine that you're out for a weekend drive down a lovely two-lane country road.  Things are going great when you look in the rear-view mirror and you see a Dodge Ram coming up behind you, fast - but you can't get over.  Not too worried, you keep driving until you notice two Ford F-150s coming up behind the Ram.  They're all tailgating, but you're going as fast as you can and you still can't get over.  Then you look in your mirror and see not one, not two, but three Chevy Silverados coming up behind the F-150s.  You're really stressed now - but the shoulder is too narrow, there's tons of oncoming traffic, and you just can't get over.  You take a couple deep breaths, trying not to totally freak out when suddenly the unthinkable happens: you run out of gas. 
As your car slows to a halt, the trucks behind you can't handle it anymore.  They all start blaring their horns and you think to yourself,  "This is the worst pick-up line I've ever heard."

Wow!  I know, right?  I can't believe I wrote that either.  The rare quadruple double-entendre misdirection nonsequitur pun with a meta twist!  Guaranteed to bring you success with only those who share my sense of humor.  (What other kind of person could you be after???)

(5) Someone should write a gently-humorous but still educational obituary for the two oarfish that washed up in Southern California as if it was to appear in an oarfish newspaper.  In general, there should be more humor and/or narrative forms explored in science communication/writing.

(6) There should be a sequel to Katamari Damacy where you have to avoid being sucked up by Roombas.  I don't know where the game would go from there.

(7) The tunicate Ciona intestinalis needs to become a mainstream neuro study organism.  It's more closely-related to vertebrates (being a chordate) than other inverts, its larval form has fewer neurons (~100) in its "central" nervous system than C. elegans, and they've made neuron-specific genetic promoters.  Yet there hasn't been a GCaMP experiment published in them that I've seen.

(8) If we ever need a neuroscientists-against-racism campaign, this could be the slogan:

On the outside, people can be black, brown, white, and yellow.   
But on the inside, everyone's brain is pink.

(9) It would be great if once - just once - my brain could spend some of its idle time coming up with ideas actually useful for my thesis.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

POLITICO's Pants on Fire

Okay, it's a little facile to pick on Politico for un-empiricism (maybe even anti-empiricism).  But this is too satisfying.  A quote from a Dylan Byers piece on Nate Silver:

"Recently for example, I saw an article in POLITICO that claimed the government shutdown was responsible for the Democrat Terry McAuliffe's expanding lead in the Virginia gubernatorial race," Silver said. "The article cited one question in the poll that the government wasn't popular and another showing McAuliffe well ahead, and asserted there was a link between the two. There was no evidence however, of a causal link that anyone had switched their vote because of the shutdown."
"It was a fine theory, but instead it was stated as a fact when there was no proof of it whatsoever," he said.
In fact, the story stated a correlation but not a confirmed causation between these two factors: "Democrat Terry McAuliffe has opened up a significant lead over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race amid broad public disapproval of the federal government shutdown, according to a POLITICO poll of the 2013 gubernatorial election," the story stated.

(1) Hahahaha, "amid"

(2) The headline of that article?

"POLITICO Poll: Government Shutdown Backlash Boosts Terry McAuliffe"



Friday, October 11, 2013

"Just" Percentages

Attention news media:

Let it be hearby declared that the use of the word "just" or "only" in front of a percentage is unnecessary. Let it also be acknowledged that the reader/listener/viewer is fully capable of understanding what a percentage means, and thereafter deciding for themselves if that number is surprisingly high, surprisingly low, surprisingly unchanged, unsurprisingly high/low/unchanged, bad for X or bad for Y, or WHATEVER.

Further let it be understood that usage of the word "just" or "only" to describe a percentage can be interpreted as making that value assessment for the media consumer, and that this can conceivably be interpreted as bias, particularly when it is not made explicit what value a percentage has to be in order to warrant a descriptive "just".

In the event that a particular percentage is being reported in an area where the consumer is not expected to be knowledgeable, then let the surrounding sentences contain sufficient context.

Finally, in an unrelated note, let it be decreed that all idle speculation as to the motive of actors in a political situation does not belong in any responsible piece of journalism.

Instead of this:

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released Thursday evening, 53 percent of the public blamed Republicans, while 31 percent blamed Mr. Obama. Just 24 percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of Republicans. 
The survey found that just 21 percent of Americans view the Tea Party movement favorably, while it suggested that Mr. Obama has received less blame for the nation’s fiscal problems. The president was viewed favorably by 47 percent of those surveyed, while 41 percent viewed him unfavorably.
Perhaps motivated by those numbers, Republicans on Friday sounded more conciliatory than they had during weeks of often angry words from both sides in the tense budget standoff.

please re-write to this:

In an NBC/Wall Street Journal survey released Thursday evening, 53 percent of the public blamed Republicans, while 31 percent blamed Mr. Obama. Twenty-four percent of those surveyed said they had a favorable opinion of Republicans. 
The survey found that 21 percent of Americans view the Tea Party movement favorably, while it suggested that Mr. Obama has received less blame for the nation’s fiscal problems. The president was viewed favorably by 47 percent of those surveyed, while 41 percent viewed him unfavorably.
Republicans on Friday sounded more conciliatory than they had during weeks of often angry words from both sides in the budget standoff.