- Website: http://ling.upenn.edu/~myl
Posts by Mark Liberman:
Jon Hamilton, "Alzheimer's Blood Test Raises Ethical Questions", NPR Morning Edition 3/9/2014:
An experimental blood test can identify people in their 70s who are likely to develop Alzheimer's disease within two or three years. The test is accurate more than 90 percent of the time, scientists reported Sunday in Nature Medicine.
The finding could lead to a quick and easy way for seniors to assess their risk of Alzheimer's, says Dr. Howard Federoff, a professor of neurology at Georgetown University. And that would be a "game changer," he says, if researchers find a treatment that can slow down or stop the disease.
But because there is still no way to halt Alzheimer's, Federoff says, people considering the test would have to decide whether they are prepared to get results that "could be life-altering."
But having a prediction with no prospect for a cure is not, in my opinion, the biggest problem with tests of this kind.
A student paper crossed my desk this week, in which the author wrote that the Letter to the Hebrews "pathed the way" for an understanding that Christ's superior sacrifice renders redundant the daily sacrifice in the Temple.
A quick Google check for the phrase (new to me) shows about 167,000 results; it doesn't seem to show up in the eggcorn database or the forums (though I may be searching poorly). The substitution makes ample sense (apart from the nonstandard verb "pathe"), but I hadn't noticed it until today.
Joseph Soltis et al., "African Elephant Alarm Calls Distinguish between Threats from Humans and Bees", PLoSOne 2/26/2014:
The Samburu pastoralists of Northern Kenya co-exist with African elephants, Loxodonta africana, and compete over resources such as watering holes. Audio playback experiments demonstrate that African elephants produce alarm calls in response to the voices of Samburu tribesmen. When exposed to adult male Samburu voices, listening elephants exhibited vigilance behavior, flight behavior, and produced vocalizations (rumbles, roars and trumpets). Rumble vocalizations were most common and were characterized by increased and more variable fundamental frequencies, and an upward shift in the first [F1] and second [F2] formant locations, compared to control rumbles. When exposed to a sequence of these recorded rumbles, roars and trumpets, listening elephants also exhibited vigilance and flight behavior. The same behavior was observed, in lesser degrees, both when the roars and trumpets were removed, and when the second formants were artificially lowered to levels typical of control rumbles. The “Samburu alarm rumble” is acoustically distinct from the previously described “bee alarm rumble.” The bee alarm rumbles exhibited increased F2, while Samburu alarm rumbles exhibited increased F1 and F2, compared to controls. Moreover, the behavioral reactions to the two threats were different. Elephants exhibited vigilance and flight behavior in response to Samburu and bee stimuli and to both alarm calls, but headshaking behavior only occurred in response to bee sounds and bee alarm calls. In general, increasingly threatening stimuli elicited alarm calls with increases in F0 and in formant locations, and increasing numbers of these acoustic cues in vocal stimuli elicited increased vigilance and flight behavior in listening elephants. These results show that African elephant alarm calls differentiate between two types of threat and reflect the level of urgency of threats.
Several people have sent me links to this recently-posted video:
Last week, a journalist asked me a question in connection with the recent flurry of stories on changes in childhood obesity percentages in the period from 2001 to 2012. When I looked into it, what struck me was that a category defined as "BMI at or above the 95th percentile" applied to about 15-17% of the population throughout the period discussed.
This sounds like a statistical approximation to Garrison Keillor's joke about his home town, where "all of the children are above average". But the normative percentiles are based on data from an earier time, and so it's perfectly logical that 17.1% of the age-2-19 sample in the 2003-2004 period should be at or above the 95th percentile for the 1963-1994 period. This is just a symptom, after all, of the famous "obesity epidemic".
Still, I remained curious about just when this large change really took place. (Most of) the raw data is available on line from the CDC, and I decided to spend an hour or so satisfying my curiosity about what is going on here: has there actually been a gradual climb over 50 years, which looks steep when a threshold derived from 1963-1994 is used for data from 2003 to the present? Or was there a steeper climb over a narrower stretch of time?
I found a clear answer to this question. But when I looked into it further, I found some additional information that made me wonder whether there has really been any change over time at all.
I was a guest yesterday on Radio Times ("What language says about who we are and where we live", 3/6/2014), and the host, Marty Moss-Coane, brought up the movie In a World, and Lake Bell's assertion that "There is a vocal plague going on that I call the sexy baby plague, where very smart women have taken on this affectation that evokes submission and sexual titillation to the male species".
Michael Janda, "Gina Rinehart takes aim at Austalia's 'entitlement' mentality, points to Thatcher", 3/7/2014:
Billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart has attacked Australia's entitlement mentality and called on the nation's leaders to emulate former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. [...]
"Our political leaders are fortunate to have a leader they can emulate, a leader who well understood fundamental economic matters, critical for all countries and their standards of living," Mrs Rinehart said.
"Margaret Thatcher took courageous decisions in the interests of Britain, despite the obvious noisy detractors.
"Thatcher steered through a lack of courage in her own political party, which had become riddled with lefties or 'non-courageous wets' and self-interested power mongrels, who didn't grasp or didn't want to grasp what was needed for their own country."
Victor Steinbok sends in an example of pan-European taboo avoidance at the BBC ("Profile: Beppe Grillo", BBC News Europe 2/26/2013):
Time magazine chose him as a "European Hero" that year, saying he used "over-the-top humour to probe the serious social issues that leaders don't want to touch".
In 2007 he organised "V-Day" – the V stands for a well-known Italian obscenity – when a petition demanding clean politics in Italy gathered 300,000 signatures in the space of a few hours.
In the tradition of other recent examples of amusingly crossed bibliographical wires, Google Books has F. Howard Collins, Authors' and Printers' Dictionary- A Guide for Authors, Editors, Printers, Correctors of the Press, Compositors and Typists, linked somehow with a very different work:
And also, how 35% of the population can be above the 95th percentile…. Razib Khan, "The Obesity Rate for Children Has Not Plummeted (Despite what the New York Times tells you)", Slate 2/28/2014:
Common sense tells you that if you run enough trials, by chance, you will occasionally get an unexpected outcome. When scientists deem a result “statistically significant,” they're just saying that given their default expectations (e.g. around 50/50 for a coin toss), the outcomes obtained are unlikely to have occurred by random chance. A fair coin is unlikely to land on heads nine out of 10 tosses, so such an outcome suggests the coin is probably not fair. Unlikely is not the same as impossible, and if you look long and hard you will inevitably stumble upon random events that seem novel but are just the outcome of chance.
I bring this up because earlier this week the New York Times trumpeted: “Obesity Rate for Young Children Plummets 43% in a Decade.” A surprising discovery, and a pretty big deal, right? The article spread like wildfire on Twitter and Facebook. For once, some heartening news about the health of this nation! My immediate reaction, however, was that there must be something we don’t know about obesity to get such a massive change in such a short period of time. Then I started reading.
It's been uh nearly impossible to understate the far right's hatred
of President Obama's health care law.