Sunday, March 02, 2008

Ed Links

Suburbia’s March to Oblivion

“Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading” thro'gh cul-de-sac suburbia, he writes in the March issue of The Atlantic. And it is not just because of the mortgage mess. A “structural change” is occurring in the housing market — a “major shift in the way many Americans want to live and work,” moving social problems out of the city and into the suburban fringe. [This is a huge issue, by the way, likely to fundamentally change the meaning of "central city" and to actually increase the oppressive nature of concentrated poverty, since these suburbs have even less of a tax base than cities, and their base is concentrated in the housing that is most likely to lose value once they start to "tip"--AS]

Foucault Beyond Foucault: Power and its Intensifications since 1984

There is a witless, though common, interpretation of Michel Foucault circulating these days. It is an interpretation that seeks to declaw Foucault's political radicalism and bring him into the liberal fold.

Long-Range Vision of the Labor Movement

For many years (and sometimes now), many people treated my optimism about the long-term strength of the labor movement as somewhat delusional.

Numbers Guy: Are our brains wired for math?

According to Stanislas Dehaene, humans have an inbuilt “number sense” capable of some basic calculations and estimates. The problems start when we learn mathematics and have to perform procedures that are anything but instinctive.


It is customary to think about fashions in things like clothes or music as spreading in a social network. But it turns out that all kinds of things, many of them quite unexpected, can flow through social networks, and this process obeys certain rules we are seeking to discover.

Good Country for Old Men (And Women)

But now comes an exhaustive survey suggesting that Grumpy Old Men may not be so fossilized in their views – particularly about race and sex. Grumpy Old Women are not set in their ways, either. For that matter, they’re not even that grumpy.

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says

With 1.6 million people in prison, the incarceration rate is now the highest in American history, a new report says.

[And from CT:] Here is an older post about how the U.S. incarceration rate compares to other countries. Here is Becky Pettit & Bruce Western’s (2004) ASR paper, with its frankly astonishing result that in the cohort born between 1965 and 1969, thirty percent of black men without a college education—and sixty percent of black men without a high school degree—had been incarcerated by 1999. Recent cohorts of black men were more likely to have prison records (22.4 percent) than military records (17.4 percent) or bachelor’s degrees (12.5 percent).Here is Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America, a superb analysis of how the prison system is now a key instrument not just of social control, but also social stratification, in America.

The Facts about Doctoral Degree Completion in Political Science [Relevant to social science in general—AS]

If you enroll in a doctoral program in political science, what are the chances that you’re going to end up with your degree? It depends, of course, on your background preparation, your determination, your “fit” with the program in which you enroll, and a host of other factors that may be impossible to foresee at the time you enter a program. A new study by the Council of Graduate Schools suggests that it also depends on how much of your life you’re willing to spend pursuing the degree. (Click here for a pre-publication presentation of some of the study’s main findings.)

Beware of Billionaires Bearing Gifts

Colleges and universities are increasingly relying on rich people. The damage — to the nation — is just beginning

Journal of Public Deliberation

[Interesting stuff on democracy and deliberation. Nice overview, for example, of the limits of deliberation as a model for democratic decision-making.—AS]

Spanking Kids Increases Risk Of Sexual Problems As Adults

Children who are spanked or victims of other corporal punishment are more likely to have sexual problems as a teen or adult, according to new research. Researchers analyzed the results of four studies and found that spanking and other corporal punishment by parents is associated with an increased probability of three sexual problems as a teen or adult.

A study investigating the effects of class size on the achievement gap between high and low academic achievers suggests that high achievers benefit more from small classes than low achievers, especially at the kindergarten and first grade levels. "While decreasing class size may increase achievement on average for all types of students, it does not appear to reduce the achievement gap within a class."

Children who under-achieve at school may just have poor working memory rather than low intelligence according to researchers who have produced the world's first tool to assess memory capacity in the classroom.

An important discovery has been made with respect to the mystery of "handedness" in biomolecules. Researchers have found that some of the possible abiotic precursors to the origin of life on Earth have been shown to carry "handedness" in a larger number than previously thought. Scientists have long known that most compounds in living things exist in mirror-image forms. The two forms are like hands; one is a mirror reflection of the other. They are different, cannot be superimposed, yet identical in their parts. When scientists synthesize these molecules in the laboratory, half of a sample turns out to be "left-handed" and the other half "right-handed." But amino acids, which are the building blocks of terrestrial proteins, are all "left-handed," while the sugars of DNA and RNA are "right-handed." The mystery as to why this is the case, "parallels in many of its queries those that surround the origin of life," one of the researchers said.

Researchers are developing an intervention using "virtual peers" -- technology driven, animated life-size children -- to help develop communication and social skills in children with autism. Preliminary findings suggest children with autism produce more and more "contingent" (conversationally relevant) sentences when interacting with virtual peers than with real-life children. What's more, virtual peers are endlessly patient, never tire and can be programmed to elicit socially-skilled behavior.

The information that a child has been diagnosed with autism often throws parents into an emotional tailspin. Most people don't immediately consider the major financial struggles that follow. She suggests more outreach is needed to help families plan and cope with the profound financial life changes they may face.

What was once speculation is now being confirmed by scientists: the brains of women and men are different in more ways than one. Discoveries by scientists over the past 10 years have elucidated biological sex differences in brain structure, chemistry and function. "These variations occur throughout the brain, in regions involved in language, memory, emotion, vision, hearing and navigation," explains a professor of Neurobiology and Behavior. While women and men struggle to communicate with each other and ponder why they don't think and react to things in similar ways, science is proving that the differences in our brains may have more serious implications beyond our everyday social interactions.

"Tweens" should receive alcohol prevention programs prior to sixth grade, when nearly one in six children are already alcohol users. The study found that sixth-grade users of alcohol were significantly different from the non-users on almost all risk factors examined. For example, users were more likely to be male, engage in violent or delinquent behavior, and have friends who used alcohol. A new study recommends that prevention programs occur as early as third grade.

Some of the oldest tales and wisest mythology allude to the snake as a mischievous seducer, dangerous foe or powerful iconoclast; however, the legend surrounding this proverbial predator may not be based solely on fantasy. As scientists have recently discovered, the common fear of snakes is most likely intrinsic.

A pair of Johns Hopkins and government scientists have discovered that when jazz musicians improvise, their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition, and turn on those that let self-expression flow.

Since the 1990s, online courses have provided an opportunity for busy adults to continue their education by completing courses in the comfort of their own homes. However, this may not be the best solution for everyone. Some students may find success in these types of courses more easily than others.

More than half of teenagers with the most debilitating forms of depression that do not respond to treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) show improvement after switching to a different medication combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, researchers have found.

A new study suggests that antidepressants only benefit some, very severely depressed patients. "New generation" antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) are widely prescribed for the treatment of clinical depression. However some studies have suggested that these drugs do not help the majority of depressed people get better by very much. Researchers looked at whether a patient's response to antidepressant therapy depends on how badly depressed they are to start out with.

Why do we almost instinctively treat babies as special, protecting them and enabling them to survive? Darwin originally pointed out that there is something about infants which prompts adults to respond to and care for them which allows our species to survive. Nobel-Prize-winning zoologist Konrad Lorenz proposed that it is the specific structure of the infant face, including a relatively large head and forehead, large and low lying eyes and bulging cheek region, that serves to elicit these parental responses. But the biological basis for this has until now, remained elusive. A possible brain basis for parental instinct has been discovered. Researchers showed that a region of the human brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex is specifically active within a seventh of a second in response to (unfamiliar) infant faces but not to adult faces.

[Another irrelevant but fascinating:] New discoveries unearthed at an ancient frontier wall in Iran provide compelling evidence that the Persians matched the Romans for military might and engineering prowess. The 'Great Wall of Gorgan'in north-eastern Iran, a barrier of awesome scale and sophistication, including over 30 military forts, an aqueduct, and water channels along its route, is being explored by an international team of archaeologists. This vast Wall-also known as the 'Red Snake'-is more than 1000 years older than the Great Wall of China, and longer than Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall put together.

A state-by-state ranking of engineering graduates shows an unmet need. A new study that examines the number of engineering graduates coming out of our nation's engineering schools reveals a mixed picture of how prepared each state is for meeting the need for high-tech workers in the coming years.

Do animals have privileged access to lower level sensory information before it is packaged into concepts, as it has been argued for autistic savants? When Temple Grandin argued that animals and autistic savants share cognitive similarities in her best-selling book Animals in Translation (2005), the idea gained steam outside the community of cognitive neuroscientists. Grandin, a professor of animal science whose books have provided an unprecedented look at the autistic mind, says her autism gives her special insight into the inner workings of the animal mind. She based her proposal on the observation that animals, like autistic humans, sense and respond to stimuli that nonautistic humans usually overlook.

Constructal theory of flows governs social phenomena like rankings. A Duke University researcher says that his physics theory, which has been applied to everything from global climate to traffic patterns, can also explain another trend: why university rankings tend not to change very much from year to year. Like branching river channels across the earth's surface, universities are part of a relatively rigid network that is predictable based on "constructal theory," which describes the shapes of flows in nature, argues one professor of mechanical engineering.

No comments: