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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Marc Hauser: Plot Thickens, Solidifies, Cracks?

By now everyone's heard of the story of Marc Hauser, a well-known Harvard psychologist who's been suspended for research misconduct involving monkeys.

Until a few days ago, the situation seemed fairly clear: Hauser was guilty of several counts of misconduct, according to a Harvard committee, and there was no reason to doubt that judgement. Although the details of the investigation were never made public, it was generally believed that he'd fabricated the data from at least one experiment, as I explained previously.

However, all that was thrown into question on Monday by an article in the New York Times: Difficulties in Defining Errors in Case Against Harvard Researcher. The author, respected science journalist Nicholas Wade, writes that there's more to the story than first appeared, and specifically, that Hauser may not have fabricated data, instead being the victim of an innocent (if serious) mistake:
[A paper Hauser recently retracted], published in 2002, reported that rhesus monkeys can distinguish a novel string of sounds from a control sequence, an issue which has important bearing on their capacity for language. The novel and control sound sequences must be alternated... But the video of the experiment contains only novel sequences.

Critics like Dr. Altmann at first charged that the controls had never been done, and that since control conditions are reported in the paper, they must have been concocted. But Altmann... now says his earlier accusation was “heavily dependent on the knowledge that Harvard found Professor Hauser guilty of misconduct.” When he gave the issue further thought, he saw an alternative explanation.

In the experimental setup, the monkey is in a soundproof box. The researchers can see the computer is playing a sound but cannot hear it. What could have happened is that the computer, through a programming error, substituted a second test sound for the control sounds, and the researchers, unaware of the problem, wrote up their report assuming the control sounds had been played...

Even so, it is far from clear how the data on the video led to the reported results. This would be a devastating error, but not fraud. “It is conceivable that the data were not fabricated, but rather that the experiment was set up wrong, and that nobody realized this until after it was published,” Dr. Altmann wrote.

Wade also quoted two former students of Hauser's who praised his "unimpeachable scientific integrity” and who said his critics were “scholars known to be virulently opposed to his research program”, and quotes an anonymous Harvard academic as saying the investigation was "lawyer-driven", unnecessarily long, and unfair to Hauser.

But yesterday Gerry Altmann, the Editor of the journal Cognition which published the retracted paper, hit back against Wade in a blog post, saying that Wade "selectively quoted" him to give the impression that he'd backtracked from his earlier conclusion that Hauser falsified the data.
...there has been no stepping back. As I make very clear... the information I have received, when taken at face value, leads me to maintain my belief that the data that had been published in the journal Cognition was effectively a fiction - that is, there was no basis in the recorded data for those data. I concluded, and I continue to conclude, that the data were most likely fabricated...

It is true that I did write here that there existed an alternative explanation for what happened, based on a sequence of errors. However, for that interpretation to be correct ... the information I had been given, by Harvard’s Dean, would have to have been incorrect.
Essentially, Altmann says that while in theory Hauser could have made an innocent mistake, Harvard's investigation specifically ruled out this and concluded that no innocent explanation was possible.
So at the end of the day, it comes down to this: Do I believe what the Dean [of Harvard] told me were the results of a long, careful, and painstaking investigation, or do I simply make up a “Just So Story” instead?...

This entire saga is about the misrepresentation of truth. It is ironic that the journalists who profess to expose truth place such little value in it.
What are we to make of all this? The issue is extremely important - the "fabrication" of data in the Cognition paper was the most serious allegation against Hauser, and (to my knowledge) the only thing which proved that his misconduct was deliberate as opposed to sloppy.

The crucial question therefore is whether the Harvard investigation was right to rule out an innocent explanation of the Cognition data. Altmann correctly says that either Harvard are wrong, or Hauser falsified data.

But the problem is that the details of Harvard's judgement remain private. So we (including Altmann) seem to be left with a question of whether to trust Harvard University and their internal investigation.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Luxus Mobil Telefon

Have a wonderful weekend!

Happy (almost) Halloween! What are your plans for the weekend? We're going out for Italian food with some friends tonight, so I'm saving my appetite for a giant piece of lasagna. And I'm excited for the Halloween parade this weekend! Toby's going to be either a wolf or a tourist. Hope you have a good one, and here are a few great posts from around the web...

Pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies? Yes, please!

Alphabet bookcase.

Let's go backyard camping.

Love this wedding dress.

Do you think this ponytail styling lotion really works? If so, that's genius.

Awww, such a cute print.

Rethinking sweatpants.

What a lovely wintery shot.

Ooh, I want to go on a photography getaway.

40 clever advertisements.

This beautiful bride wore this beautiful gown!

Kate Spade's adorable inspirations.

Have a good one! xo

(Photo from the new 3191 Quarterly)

Friday giveaway!

Today's giveaway is from Penelope's, a wonderful Chicago-based boutique. They're offering one lucky reader a $200 gift certificate. They carry pieces by Built by Wendy, A.P.C. Sessun, Rachel Comey, and other amazing lines, so you could get some really fabulous pieces. (I'd go for this adorable dress and some "very tight" jeans:)

For a chance to win, please visit Penelope's and leave a comment below. A winner will be chosen at random on Monday. Good luck! xo

Update: Liza is our lucky winner. Thanks for playing.

Two pretty things

This agate locket.
This woven wrap.

Both for carrying your loved ones close to your heart.

Jean Narcy | Bravo Eddy

Van Gogh tilt-shift

Have you guys ever seen tilt-shift photography? By playing with depth of field, it makes real cities look like miniature models (see examples here and here). Well, Serena Malyon, an art student, used Photoshop to give the same effect to Van Gogh paintings. Aren't these beautiful? See more here.

downtown from behind | NYC

downtown from behind blog

DFB: Caroline Fuss (Essex St) from Roger Hie on Vimeo.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dinner in the Dark at Jimbaran Bay - PH

PhotoHunt theme : Dark

Win's Balinese friends brought us to Jimbaran Bay which is famous for its seafood restaurants by the beach.

It was late when we arrived at the restaurant. Most of the seafood was sold out.

After selecting our seafood, we handed them over to the cooks. The BBQ room was smoking hot. :P.

We were led to a table on the sandy beach. It was pitch black except for the flickering candles on the tables. It was a lovely, breezy night. Despite the noisy diners, we could hear the waves in the distant darkness. I didn't dare to explore further in case I fall into the sea. :P

Our food arrived and it was so-so. The price was exorbitant due to its popularity with tourists.

It was only after dinner that Win told me this is the exact spot where two bombs exploded among diners at about 8:00pm on 2nd October 2005, killing several diners.


Diners eating in the dark.

I may be bold and adventurous, but I am not thrilled to live so dangerously!! Jeezs.... I hate the 'B' word! 

First Commenter -

Brain Scans Prove That The Brain Does Stuff

According to the BBC (and many others)...
Libido problems 'brain not mind'

Scans appear to show differences in brain functioning in women with persistently low sex drives, claim researchers.

The US scientists behind the study suggest it provides solid evidence that the problem can have a physical origin.

The research in question (which hasn't been published yet) has been covered very well over at The Neurocritic. Basically the authors took some women with a diagnosis of "Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder" (HSDD), and some normal women, put them in an fMRI scanner and showed them porn. Different areas of the brain lit up.

So what? For starters we have no idea if these differences are real or not because the study only had a tiny 7 normal women, although strangely, it included a full 19 women with HSDD. Maybe they had difficulty finding women with healthy appetites in Detroit?

Either way, a study is only as big as its smallest group so this was tiny. We're also not told anything about the stats they used so for all we know they could have used the kind that give you "results" if you use them on a dead fish.

But let's grant that the results are valid. This doesn't tell us anything we didn't already know. We know the women differ in their sexual responses - because that's the whole point of the study. And we know that this must be something to do with their brain, because the brain is where sexual responses, and every other mental event, happ

So we already know that HSDD "has a physical origin", but only in the sense that everything does; being a Democrat or a Republican has a physical origin; being Christian or Muslim has a physical origin; speaking French as opposed to English has a physical origin; etc. etc.
None of which is interesting or surprising in the slightest.

The point is that the fact that something is physical doesn't stop it being also psychological. Because psychology happens in the brain. Suppose you see a massive bear roaring and charging towards you, and as a result, you feel scared. The fear has a physical basis, and plenty of physical correlates like raised blood pressure, adrenaline release, etc.

But if someone asks "Why are you scared?", you would answer "Because there's a bear about to eat us", and you'd be right. Someone who came along and said, no, your anxiety is purely physical - I can measure all these physiological differences between you and a normal person - would be an idiot (and eaten).

Now sometimes anxiety is "purely physical" i.e. if you have a seizure which affects certain parts of the temporal lobe, you may experience panic and anxiety as a direct result of the abnormal brain activity. In that case the fear has a physiological cause, as well as a physiological basis.

Maybe "HSDD" has a physiological cause. I'm sure it sometimes does; it would be very weird if it didn't in some cases because physiology can cause all kinds of problems. But fMRI scans don't tell us anything about that.

Link: I've written about HSDD before in the context of flibanserin, a drug which was supposed to treat it (but didn't). Also, as always, British humour website The Daily Mash hit this one on the head.

Toby in a swing

Last weekend, Toby went on a swing for the first time! He was pretty nonchalant, but Alex and I were totally into it. So sweet to see his little leg warmers sticking out; and the swing was almost as big as he was. We also thought he looked hilarious in Alex's glasses, although when we got home, I suddenly realized that we had inadvertently made him look just like the kid from The Hangover. :)


Emersonmade's clothes keep getting better and better. And she's making shoes now, too. P.S. The striped sleeves sticking out of the trench coat are so cute!

Paris versus New York

What an awesome series by graphic designer Vahram Muratyan. He calls it a "friendly visual match between those two cities." (I love the tipping one!)

(Via Smallest Things)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A solution for the Pattaya Monorail fiasco

Bus that travels over traffic..... Perfect for Pattaya Beach road, maybe....

In August, Shenzen Huashi Future Car-Parking Equipment unveiled its design for a commuter monorail that used the space between traffic and bridges. In a sense, the bus would straddle over its four-wheeled brethren at a rate of 25 to 50mph. Construction reportedly starts in Beijing's Mentougou district by year's end, but what of the rest of the world? Designer Song Youzhou has founded US Elevated High-Speed Bus (Group) Inc which, as the name would suggest, is on the look-out for manufacturers to build (and outlets to sell) the so-called straddling bus to the proper locales. Extra-Tall Trucks (and Low Overhead Bridges), shouldn't be a deterrent. 

Pattaya Rag


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Want To See Rotting Bodies On a Holiday Trip? - WW

On our way up the winding route to Penelokan Village to view Batur Volcano, we passed many ladies carrying heavy baskets of fruits on top of their heads. It's a common sight in Bali, I was amazed at how strong their heads and necks are as the basketful is indeed heavy and bulky.
The long road is lined with a mix of quaint little shops selling Balinese arts and craft. There were many fruit plantations too.

Located in Kintamani District, Penelokan Village is the best place to view Batur Volcano and Batur Lake. This volcano has erupted several time already. The biggest eruption was in 1926 which destroyed Batur Village and now it has moved to higher ground. Batur Volcano is considered an active volcano, regularly letting off steam.

There were 53 deep and 83 shallow volcanic earthquakes between 1-11 November 2009. Batur Volcano is a popular tourist location on Bali, and offers spectacular views of one of the world's most impressive calderas. The last eruption of Batur Volcano occurred in year 2000.

It was chilly on the mountain top and we were enveloped in fog. A young villager tried to persuade us to take a boat ride across the lake to see their traditional burial ground. According to him, their dead are brought to the island and left there. An unusual ritual but ....... 

Which tourist in his/her right mind would want to see rotting bodies!? *shudders*

First Commenter -

Wednesday giveaway!

Today's giveaway is from Ruth Barzel, a fabulous jewelry designer in Washington D.C. She's offering one lucky winner a $100 gift certificate to her shop. She has lots of pretty pieces under $50; my favorite is this gray shell pearl necklace, which would look good with everything. Her pieces would also make great holiday gifts!

For a chance to win, please visit Ruth Barzel's shop and leave a comment below. A winner will be chosen at random tomorrow. Good luck! xo

Update: Sarah Wondering is our winner. Thanks for playing.

Missing phone?

Whoa, this is genius! You know when you lose your phone, and you have to ask a friend to call it for you? Well, if no one's around to help, you can go to this clever website, enter your number, and it will call your phone for you. Ha, I just tried it; it really works!

(Via Swissmiss)

vicky botwright squash player

Vicky Botwright, a world-ranked pro in the racquet sport squash, made headlines when she announced plans to wear a bikini-style outfit while competing in the 2001 British Open. The "thong," as it became known, was banned by the governing Women's International Squash Players Association (WISPA). The incident earned heavy press coverage in Britain; Botwright opened her own Web site and became a modest online celebrity. Her squash tournament victories include the 2004 Forbes Open in 2004 and the 2005 Yokohama Open.
vicky botwright
vicky botwrightorn: 18 June 1977
Birthplace: Manchester, England
Best Known As: The bikini-wearing squash player
Vicky Botwright, a world-ranked pro in the racquet sport squash, made headlines when she announced plans to wear a bikini-style outfit while competing in the 2001 British Open. The "thong," as it became known, was banned by the governing Women's International Squash Players Association (WISPA). The incident earned heavy press coverage in Britain; Botwright opened her own Web site and became a modest online celebrity. Her squash tournament victories include the 2004 Forbes Open in 2004 and the 2005 Yokohama Open.
vicky botwright
vicky botwright
vicky botwright
vicky botwright
vicky botwrightVicky Botwright (born 18 June 1977 in Manchester, United Kingdom) is a squash coach and former professional squash player from England. She reached a career-high world ranking of World No. 5 in 2005. In 2008, she finished runner-up at the World Open, losing in the final to Nicol David 11–5, 1–11, 6–11, 9–11.[1] Botwright was a member of the England team which won the World Team Championships in 2006.[2]

Botwright caused a controversy which gained considerable media attention in 2004, when she announced plans to appear on court at tournaments wearing in a bikini-style outfit consisting of a sports bra and thong briefs, and posed for photographs wearing the outfit. However the Women's International Squash Players Association (WISPA), refused to grant permission for her to play in the outfit. Her popularity and fame increased after the incident, though afterwards she stated that the whole idea of "skimpy" clothing on-court was a publicity stunt dreamed up by the members of WISPA.[3] She went on to say that she was selected as the player to wear the clothing. She also said that this was not her idea at all, and that she did not think the incident would become so infamous.