Archive for February, 2012

AAAS President Nina Fedoroff welcome's attendees

A video of Nina Fedoroff's opening address at AAAS 2012 is available here (starts at 40 minutes in). I thought it was very interesting. She gives an inspiring account of the difficulties that she overcame in becoming a scientist, starting with getting pregnant and dropping out of high school at 17; she explains some fascinating things about the nature of transposons and the history of their discovery; she presents a strong case for the importance of GMOs and related interdisciplinary science and engineering in adapting to climate change; and she ends with an interesting tour of international science diplomacy.

Although the video presented through, I believe that it's outside the paywall.

(Please don't complain about the spelling of welcome's. Everybody make's mistake's.)

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Teaching science through language

This morning, here at AAAS 2012, I'll be attending a symposium on "Teaching Science Through Language", organized by Anne Lobeck. The abstract:

There is a need for highly effective science education and for more successful ways to teach scientific inquiry. Work on language can play an important role in developing the concepts and skills necessary for understanding how science works. Language provides a wealth of data available from the students themselves — data with questions that beg to be asked, making everyday phenomena surprisingly unfamiliar and requiring explanation. Linguistics is at the core of cognitive science, offering incomparable ways to understand the nature of the human mind. The biological capacity for language appears to be shaped in part by genetic information and in part by information gained through childhood experience. Scientists have sought to tease that information apart, and this work has yielded good explanations in some domains and a body of understanding that can be made accessible to middle school and high school students. This symposium presents examples of linguistic puzzles that can be integrated into existing school curricula and that enable all children to understand elements of scientific work quite generally and to discover their own intuitive knowledge of language. (For example, how do we know that greebies is a noun in The greebies snarfed granflons, but a verb in Lulu greebies me?) All of this can be done without labs or expensive equipment by involving experimentation, observation, and testing of hypotheses.

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Gel did good

Nekesa Mumbi Moody, "Adele top winner with 6 Grammys", AP (in Boston Globe) 2/12/2012:

"Mom, gold is good!" Adele shouted as she took the album of the year trophy.

The corresponding audio:

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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Crossing the Digital Divide

I'm at AAAS 2012 in Vancouver BC, and as soon as I can get out of the section officers' meeting (which started at 6:30 this morning), I'm going to head over to the symposium on "Endangered and Minority Languages Crossing the Digital Divide", co-organized by David Harrison and Claire Bowern.

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Wright is wrong about sociology as well as basketball

Robert Wright, "The Secret of Jeremy Lin's Success?", The Atlantic 2/14/2012:

One of the most intriguing cultural contrasts between eastern and western ways of viewing the world was documented in experiments by the psychologist Richard Nisbett, some of them in collaboration with Takahiko Masuda. The upshot was that East Asians tend to view scenes more holistically than westerners.

James Fallows, "Jeremy Lin's Secret? It's Not That He's Asian", The Atlantic, 2/15/2012:

Wright asks:

Is it crazy to think that the perceptual tendencies that [these social scientists] documented in East Asians could equip them for this sort of thing?

To answer that question: Yes, it's crazy. More precisely, it's horseshit. I say so in the friendliest possible way, but again: horseshit.

Fallows' argument is based on the facts about how Asians (specifically Chinese) actually play basketball these days. He asks "Overall do they play ball in a way the sociologists might predict?", and answers "Uht-uh" (where I infer that the 't' represents a glottal stop…).

I'd like to intervene in the argument from a different perspective: The psychological research that Wright cites does not support the interpretation he wants to put on it.

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Whatever else may be true about biologists, they generate the best spam. I've somehow managed to get on a mailing list for biological lab equipment — some conference I attended, or some journal I subscribed too — and as a result, I get lots of email like this one, which arrived this morning under the Subject heading "Upgrade your Tissue Culture Lab today":

Whether you want another CO2 incubator, biosafety cabinet, or just a water bath or new stir plate, we have it in stock and ready to ship.  Pipettes?  We have them. Media shaker? Got that too. We have some amazing discounts to our already low prices, but the offers on this email are only applicable until Feb, 29. 2012.

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"Bladed items": nerdview?

After teenager Casey-Lyanne Kearney was found dying in a park in the northern England town of Doncaster yesterday, 26-year-old Hannah Bonser was arrested and charged with murder; but according to various news sources (e.g., Sky News and The Telegraph) she was also "charged with two counts of possessing a bladed item." Why would anyone use such a strange and deliberately vague technical description of a knife?

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By now, practically everyone has heard of the remarkable basketball performances of Jeremy (Shu-How) Lin 林書豪, the Harvard grad who came off the bench for the New York Knicks last week and helped them win seven straight games.

So sensational has his play been that enthusiasts swiftly coined the term "Linsanity" to describe it.  Of course, because Lin is of Chinese (er, Taiwanese [more about that later]) ancestry, there had to be a Mandarin equivalent.  Unfortunately, I think that the translation of Linsanity, Línfēngkuáng 林疯狂, that was circulating most widely (267,000 ghits; had 212,000 ghits two days ago) is not a good one.  No sooner had I heard the expression Línfēngkuáng 林疯狂 a few days ago than was I disappointed by it.  Not only did it fail to capture the nuances of "Linsanity", it sounded as though it had been invented by someone who doesn't have a native feel for Chinese word formation.  To quote Deadspin:  "Our resident Chinese expert, Tom Scocca, gives the translation of 林疯狂 as "Lin-insane," which carries a somewhat different connotation."  Tom Scocca's unease is not unfounded.

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Backwards-correct-syntaxing-modification fraud challenged

Jillian Rayfield, "‘Sovereign Citizen’ Sues Prosecutors For Grammar-Based Conspiracy", TPM :

A so-called sovereign citizen in Washington, recently sentenced to three years for threatening to “arrest” a local mayor, is now suing federal prosecutors for conspiring against him using poor grammar, or as he calls it, “backwards-correct-syntaxing-modification fraud.”

David Russell Myrland filed a (virtually incomprehensible) lawsuit in federal court in Washington in late January, accusing federal prosecutors and Department of Homeland Security officials of violating his civil rights through “babbling-collusion-threats” and “grammar-second-grade-writing-level-fraud.”

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Valentine's Day anti-labiality

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Grid takes off her derpants

I'm going to play this for my morphology class next week when we start talking about affixation… but there's no reason why you all shouldn't enjoy it now, now, now!

Thanks to Alex Trueman.

If you enjoyed this, you may also want to check out this oldie but goodie: How I met my wife. Happy Valentine's, if you're into that sort of thing!

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Severely viral

Yesterday, Paul Krugman picked up on our "Severely X" post ('Severe Conservative Syndrome", NYT, 2/12/2012):

Mitt Romney has a gift for words — self-destructive words. On Friday he did it again, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that he was a “severely conservative governor.”

As Molly Ball of The Atlantic pointed out, Mr. Romney “described conservatism as if it were a disease.” Indeed. Mark Liberman, a linguistics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, provided a list of words that most commonly follow the adverb “severely”; the top five, in frequency of use, are disabled, depressed, ill, limited and injured.

That’s clearly not what Mr. Romney meant to convey. Yet if you look at the race for the G.O.P. presidential nomination, you have to wonder whether it was a Freudian slip. For something has clearly gone very wrong with modern American conservatism.

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"Downton Abbey" anachronisms: beyond nitpickery

I've been taking advantage of the rabid interest in "Downton Abbey" lately to report on some verbal anachronisms that have cropped up in the show's second season (originally broadcast on ITV in the UK late last year and now wrapping on PBS in the US). Over the past few days I've written about it in columns for The Boston Globe and the Visual Thesaurus, and I was interviewed on the topic for NPR Morning Edition earlier today. I also put together a video compilation of questionable lines from the show, and it's been making the rounds in culture-y corners of the blogosphere:

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