elsewhere on the net, vacation edition

I’m hanging out in Boston for a few days, so blogging will probably be sporadic or nonexistent. Which is to say, you probably won’t notice any difference.

The last post on the Dunning-Kruger effect somehow managed to rack up 10,000 hits in 48 hours; but that was last week. Today I looked at my stats again, and the blog is back to a more normal 300 hits, so I feel like it’s safe to blog again. Here are some neat (and totally unrelated) links from the past week:

  • OKCupid has another one of those nifty posts showing off all the cool things they can learn from their gigantic userbase (who else gets to say things like “this analysis includes 1.51 million users’ data”???). Apparently, tall people (claim to) have more sex, attractive photos are more likely to be out of date, and most people who claim to be bisexual aren’t really bisexual.
  • After a few months off, my department-mate Chris Chatham is posting furiously again over at Developing Intelligence, with a series of excellent posts reviewing recent work on cognitive control and the perils of fMRI research. I’m not really sure what Chris spent his blogging break doing, but given the frequency with which he’s been posting lately, my suspicion is that he spent it secretly writing blog posts.
  • Mark Liberman points out a fundamental inconsistency in the way we view attributions of authorship: we get appropriately angry at academics who pass someone else’s work off as their own, but think it’s just fine for politicians to pay speechwriters to write for them. It’s an interesting question, and leads to an intimately related, and even more important question–namely, will anyone get mad at me if I pay someone else to write a blog post for me about someone else’s blog post discussing people getting angry at people paying or not paying other people to write material for other people that they do or don’t own the copyright on?
  • I like oohing and aahing over large datasets, and the Guardian’s Data Blog provides a nice interface to some of the most ooh- and aah-able datasets out there. [via R-Chart]
  • Ed Yong has a characteristically excellent write-up about recent work on the magnetic vision of birds. Yong also does link dump posts better than anyone else, so you should probably stop reading this one right now and read his instead.
  • You’ve probably heard about this already, but some time last week, the brain trust at ScienceBlogs made the amazingly clever decision to throw away their integrity by selling PepsiCo its very own “science” blog. Predictably, a lot of the bloggers weren’t happy with the decision, and many have now moved onto greener pastures; Carl Zimmer’s keeping score. Personally, I don’t have anything intelligent to add to everything that’s already been said; I’m literally dumbfounded.
  • Andrew Gelman takes apart an obnoxious letter from pollster John Zogby to Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com. I guess now we know that Zogby didn’t get where he is by not being an ass to other people.
  • Vaughan Bell of Mind Hacks points out that neuroplasticity isn’t a new concept, and was discussed seriously in the literature as far back as the 1800s. Apparently our collective views about the malleability of mind are not, themselves, very plastic.
  • NPR ran a three-part story by Barbara Bradley Hagerty on the emerging and somewhat uneasy relationship between neuroscience and the law. The articles are pretty good, but much better, in my opinion, was the Talk of the Nation episode that featured Hagerty as a guest alongside Joshua Greene, Kent Kiehl, and Stephen Morse–people who’ve all contributed in various ways to the emerging discipline of NeuroLaw. It’s a really interesting set of interviews and discussions. For what it’s worth, I think I agree with just about everything Greene has to say about these issues–except that he says things much more eloquently than I think them.
  • Okay, this one’s totally frivolous, but does anyone want to buy me one of these things? I don’t even like dried food; I just think it would be fun to stick random things in there and watch them come out pale, dried husks of their former selves. Is it morbid to enjoy watching the life slowly being sucked out of apples and mushrooms?

4 thoughts on “elsewhere on the net, vacation edition”

  1. “Mark Liberman points out a fundamental inconsistency in the way we view attributions of authorship: we get appropriately angry at academics who pass someone else’s work off as their own, but think it’s just fine for politicians to pay speechwriters to write for them. ”

    Wouldn’t this be more akin to grad students preparing large (majority?) portions of research/papers, while the professor gets the primary credit? I realize they will probably be listed as authors, but we also usually know who a given politician’s speechwriters are.

  2. That’s pretty professor- and field-specific. I was first-author on all three papers I published from my undergraduate work (sole author on one), and I’m first-author on everything currently in submission and most of the work in prep (I do have some work in progress on which others will be first-author … mainly because they are doing most of the work).

    This may be sounding like I’m just bragging about my good luck, but my point is that not all faculty are ripping off those who work for them. In fact, among the labs I know well, graduate students are usually first author.

  3. I don’t really think it’s the same thing, Brian; for one thing, as GWW points out, in most cases, the person who does the most work does receive first authorship (and in the rare cases they don’t, they’re still on the paper). Also, it’s rarely true that that the senior author does nothing; if nothing else, they’re providing financial support, a research environment, and resources, which do count for something. I think it’s problematic that people tend to automatically associate any piece of work with the senior author rather than the first author (“oh, it’s that paper from X’s group”), but that’s a cognitive shortcut that’s hard to fault people for taking (I find myself doing it all the time, despite my better intentions), and has nothing to do with plagiarism.

    The closest thing to political speechwriting I can think of in academia occurs when drug companies pay academics to “author” articles that are actually written largely by the drug company’s own ghostwriters. But from what I’ve seen, people do get very angry when these cases are uncovered, whereas no one bats an eyelash at the same behavior in politics.

  4. Good point, maybe the grad students I know were, uh, shading their interpretation of the events. But it definitely occurs that grad students physically write a great deal of the paper itself.

    I’m still not sure that the academic ghostwriting is a good analogy, as there’s the assumption that the academic should be independent of the company, whereas no one thinks that about the speechwriter — the same goes for 2 academics; we consider them independent entities

    I think speeches, by definition, are just different type of media than papers. Speeches are policy statements, and policy statements by definition are almost group efforts, by an even wider group than even just campaign staff. I’m not concerned that a politician had someone write his speech any more than I’m concerned someone else wrote his platform on his website. Academic papers (or novels) are just fundamentally something different; they are supposed to be original work, providing new information for which the author takes credit. Political speeches aren’t “original”, they’re essential public announcements from an organization, for which authorship isn’t an important bit of information.

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