Here are a few personal interests, preferences, and comments (often with links) that don't fit well on any of my other pages. Opinions are expressed here. Read at your own risk.I. Free Brain Book
I. Free Brain Book
The Society for Neuroscience has been giving away a very nice, short, colorful, well-constructed, hard cover book called Brain Facts. I highly recommend it to students (and others) with any interest in — or need to learn about — any aspect of the brain or biological psychology. The book can be obtained immediately by downloading a pdf file or ordering the hardcopy. Have a look.
II. Not Just for Kids
Neuroscience For Kids is not just for kids. It's fun and friendly site for the general public to learn about the brain and nervous system.
III. Staying Informed and Staying Ignorant
Once upon a time in the United States there was something known as the "e;fairness"e; or "e;equal time"e; doctrine because broadcast bandwidth was seen as a scarce public resource that should not be devoted to propaganda. Although an imperfect approach, it was better than the current partisan advocacy, slander, and political scream fests that replaced it. Now, with the explosion of sources of so-called "e;information"e;, none of us ever has to hear a point of view with which we disagree or encounter a fact that conflicts with our conclusions.
As if the problem weren't sufficiently self-evident, there was a study conducted at the University of Maryland a few years back that looked at the relationship between knowledge of international affairs and sources of news. The results of the study found that the more time respondents spent watching FOX News, the less they knew about the world.
Despite the degraded quality of the news industry, I do try to stay informed about public and international affairs. To a large degree, I rely on the obvious sources: National Public Radio (broadcast and online) and NYTimes.com. To broaded my sources slightly, I usually listen to the BBC World Service Radio while I eat my lunch. Although the BBC's perspectives do not differ substantially from those that can be found in mainstream U.S. news media, there is a noticeable difference in geographical emphasis, with Africa and south Asia receiving more extensive coverage than in U.S. sources.
In addition to my subscriptions to psychology journals and to the AAAS journal Science, I also stay informed about developments in science through sources intended for the layperson.
My love of NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday has waned. I have become impatient with the talk show format. Interview plus caller questions end up diluting process. It requires too much time to learn too little. I prefer direct teaching/reporting with judicious use of interviews.
I now prefer to listen online to two of the science programs on BBC World Service Radio: Discovery and Science in Action. Also, I often listen online to The Science Show from Australian Broadcasting Corporation (the other ABC). The Science Show is a good way to find out if you really like science. It covers science in a manner that seems to assume the listener is already interested in science and wants to learn something new. It has good content, but it lacks glitz, glamour, and gimmicks. I think of The Science Show as the opposite end of the stylistic spectrum from RadioLab, which is much better-known in the U.S. Whereas you probably won't like The Science Show unless you truly like science, if you don't find science intriguing after listening to RadioLab, you probably never will.
I still scan and sometimes read the online New York Times sections on science, health, and eduction. (I used to look at the technology section, but it seems devoted exclusively to consumer electronics these days). However, even a source as reputable as NYTimes.com often falls short in these areas. Reporters, columnists, and editors need to sell papers and generate clicks. Headlines are often sensationalistic and misleading. I have read accounts of recent results in psychology that were presented as groundbreaking even though the findings were completely consistent with what we have known for decades. This is unfortunate, especially when the results are of practical importance, because it encourages the reader to dismiss the findings as just one more theory-of-the-hour that will need to be discarded when next week's new study is published.
Another unfortunate example was a NYTimes headline asserting that a very large new study found that daily marijuana use does not cause lung damage. The headline generated clicks, but the headline was misleading about the actual content of the article, which actually reported lung impairment at higher doses and had nothing to say about possible long-term cancer risks.
For education, the NYTimes generates clicks by alternating between articles that, on the one hand, attack mainstream education (both K-12 and higher ed) while hailing the for-profit online education industry as education's savior, but on the other hand, criticize education technologies as failures and the for-profit sector as perpetrators of fraud. Perhaps there is evidence for both perspectives, but the articles seem more like opinion pieces than attempts at objective reporting. To generate sales and clicks, they advocate and criticize. The goal seems to be to arouse outrage rather than to inform. And, sadly, this is the NYTimes, which is about as good as a mainstream news source ever gets.
I have gone for years without watching TV during several periods of my life. Although I was a chronic TV watcher as a child and teen, I did not take one to college. In fact, at the college I attended during the period in which I was an undergraduate, I would estimate that only about 1% of students had a TV in their dorm room. I have rarely been a regular TV watcher since then. Although I owned a TV when I arrived in Winona in 2005, we never plugged it in, and we finally gave it away. I doubt there is a single current show on TV that I have ever seen. I recognize the names of only a handful of shows and have no knowledge of any current TV actors/personalities. I apologize if this sounds smug or arrogant, but not watching TV gives my mind the same clean feeling that a good shower gives my skin.
Between 5 and 10 years ago, I also lost interest in the movie industry. In part, that was probably due to moving away from Berkeley, but I think changes were already occurring in the so-called 'independent' sector of the industry. Movies began to seem very repetitive and dull. That had already become my feeling about popular music. Some genres I never liked, and those that I did like began to seem like retreads of music I had already heard. Everything sounded familiar, and nothing sparked my interest.
So, here I am now: trying to stay informed on topics often considered dull, while remaining blissfully ignorant of the popular entertainment culture.
I am not a complete purist, mind you. Now that my daughter is 6, she is old enough to be interested in the PBS NOVA series and in David Attenborough's various nature series. We stream these programs from time to time. Although her current career ambition remains to become a veterinarian, her favorite theme this month for pretend play is space exploration.
I love being around trees, and one of the things I appreciate about Winona is the attractiveness of the natural surroundings. The tree-covered bluffs above Winona are wonderful at many times of the year: summer greens, autumn reds, and white surrounding bare trees in winter. Winona has great city parks, especially the tree-lined trail around the lakes. The Winona State campus is also nicely landscaped. There are very few native trees where I grew up, near the coast in southern California. Perhaps that's why I have always loved forests. While living in Hamilton, Ontario, I thoroughly enjoyed the Royal Botanical Gardens, which range from formal gardens to wooded trails and even include boardwalks through marsh reeds. In the SF Bay Area, my favorite hikes were in Redwood Regional Park, located in the Berkeley-Oakland hills. Living with trees greatly contributes to my mental health and well-being.
I once wrote "e;Starbuck's is like Wal-Mart, but expensive"e;. I now live in a town where teenagers go to Wal-Mart on Saturday nights for the entertainment value. So, perhaps some clarification is needed: Starbuck's pushes out local businesses while providing a poor product. Unlike Wal-Mart, it managed to do this while charging higher prices. Many who like good coffee refer to Starbuck's as "e;Charbuck's"e; because of the unpleasant burned flavor of their black coffee. Some of us suspect that the strategy is to discourage customers from buying the less expensive black coffee and to pay exorbitant prices for milk, sugar, and flavorings to be added in order to make the coffee more palatable. It is a very odd business model, but obviously one that has been very successful.
It is hard to find good coffee, but in graduate school, I lived one block away from the true holiest of coffee sites: the original Peet's Coffee on the corner of Walnut and Vine in Berkeley. Peet's has branched out and now has well over 100 stores. I know they have tried to keep quality uniform, but I don't think they have entirely succeeded.
Making a good cup of coffee at home isn't all that hard, but don't expect it to be cheap. Good coffee beans are essential, but they are hard to find and expensive. You need to buy whole beans, because you must grind your own. Buying coffee beans that have been ground for you is like buying bread that someone else has chewed for you. Coffee beans are supposed to be very dark, plump, and shiny. Oily is fine. I have bought bags of coffee beans that were marketed as 'gourmet' in grocery stores only to find that the beans were small, shriveled, and gray. (Someday, I'll post photos of beans from bags sold in grocery stores and photos of good coffee beans). Don't buy Starbuck's, even if the beans have the proper appearance. They are burned and bitter. Whether you use a drip or French press, use lots of coffee. Make it as strong as your coffee-maker can handle. If the result is bitter or acidic, keep looking for better beans. Strong coffee should taste like strong coffee, not the illegal outflow of some chemical factory.
Although Peet's sells good beans online, the price is beyond our budget. We get a better price from an acquaintance in the business who, as I understand it, learned the coffee roasting craft from Peet.
VI. Interesting Careers in Psychology
A psychology major is for people who want to be counselors or go into the mental health field, right? Yes and no, but mostly no. Most psychology majors do not end up going to graduate school to be trained as psychotherapists or counselors. In fact, even among those who do go on to graduate school and earn a Ph.D., advanced training in psychology can lead to a wide range of careers. Here is a site with some interesting examples. There are many undergraduate majors (including psychology, but not just psychology) that can start you down the path to being a mental health professional. Likewise, there are many different career paths (including counseling, but not just counseling) that can start with majoring in psychology.
VII. Obituary: Apple Computer (April 1, 1976 - January 9, 2007)
No, this isn't another over-the-top obituary for Steve Jobs. Rather, this is a comment that replaces a link to Apple Computer that I used to have here.
I began using computers in 1986 and immediately began teaching myself to program. (I never learned much about programming, and I'm a poor programmer, but I still manage to write all of the software I use for data collection in my research). In the late 1980s, I was an early-adopter and advocate for computers in elementary school classrooms. I was a hobbyist, a technophile, and a proselytizer. When I left elementary education, I also moved from the Apple II to the Mac.
To one degree or another, I have used a variety of operating systems: ProDOS, DOS, a few versions of Windows, and UNIX. However, when given a chance, I have always used a Mac, and I used to be one of those fanatic enthusiasts for the Mac operating system. I was one of those who referred to the "e;wintel"e; world as being from the Dark Side.
Leaving aside the old dumb jokes, I thought the point of the Macintosh operating system was productivity. It was an environment that required little maintenance, was essentially virus-proof, required little learning across applications due to interface consistency, put few interface obstacles in the user's way, and was pleasant to use -- perhaps even elegant. Again, the idea was to have a computer that demanded little attention in order to provide an easy, efficient environment in which to accomplish something.
In terms of product quality, Apple had as many very bad years as good ones until its substantial step forward in 2001 with Mac OS X. In terms of profits the road was also bumpy. In terms of market-share, Apple's performance was dismal, even during times of superb product quality. Of course, Apple's profits are now sky high, and it has a larger market share than ever. So, why an obituary?
On January 9, 2007 Apple dropped 'Computer' from its name. Apple is no longer a computer company. It is a toy company and gadget company that, at least for now, also makes computers. Although Apple was not the first to market such devices as 'smart' phones or tablets, Apple has hyped them like no one else. Whereas the point of Apple products was once to accomplish something useful, the point of the current product line is to entertain, distract, and interrupt. They are also advertisements for Apple's highly profitable online distribution network (iTunes, App Store, and so forth).
Apple's versions of these mobile products seem particularly seductive and addictive. I am concerned about the consequences of 3-year-olds spending hours with iPads as babysitters, about possible effects on the developing brains of adolescents who never have a moment of quiet in which to be alone with their thoughts, and about the loss of the boundary between work and the rest of life that has resulted from the continuous instant access employers (and others) now expect to have with their employees (and others). Further, users of these devices seem to behave compulsively. (In my research lab we have had problems with participants covertly texting while participating in experiments!) The constant interaction with the devices reminds me of experiments with rodents that can self-administer electrical stimulation to their own reward centers. By 2020 will iPhones come with an App and optional hardware for this type of direct self-stimulation?
Apple is not the only company driving these trends. They just do it particularly well. They are no longer a company that enhances human productivity. They are now primarily the opposite.
Thus, the obituary: Apple Computer, R.I.P.
VIII. Psychologists Turned Artists
Two members of the Berkeley Psychology Department faculty, who served on my committees and for whom I was a research assistant, have taken up photography as a serious hobby, or perhaps even more than just a hobby. Very nice samples of Steve Palmer's and Art Shimamura's works can be viewed online. (There is apparently at least one other photographer named Steve Palmer who has work viewable online). Art Shimamura has also branched out to writing fiction and has a first novel available. Palmer and Shimamura have also edited a collection of papers on the psychological science of aesthetics that I look forward to reading.
IX. Psychological Science versus Pseudoscience
Some fields attract nuts. Beyond the obvious ones, such as politics and religion, a few fields of science have generated more than their fair share of quacks, frauds, and incompetents. A few topics in physics, the question of extraterrestrial life, some alternative approaches to medicine, and the process by which humans evolved (or didn't) are among the areas that attract weird baseless claims. However, I suspect that psychology attracts more nuts, quacks, fakes, and professional dispensers of bad advice than any other field of science. Could you imagine there ever being a radio call-in show on which listeners phone an unqualified host to ask questions about organic chemistry?
Of course, as many have noted, science itself has become so weird and counterintuitive these days that it is nearly impossible for non-experts to distinguish between strange but genuine science, on the one hand, and pseudoscience, on the other.
Here's a site that I've browsed a bit, and rather liked, that addresses some of the quackery that masquerades as psychology. For a more general site on pseudoscience, have a look at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims Of the Paranormal (CSICOP), affiliated with the Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Whether CSICOP remains true to its original goal of conducting actual investigations of paranormal claims, or has become preoccupied with garnering media attention (as asserted by some among the paranormalists), I'll leave to you to judge. Also, there is a growing library of popular books that have taken on some of these issues, such as How We Know What Isn't So by the research psychologist Thomas Gilovich and How to Think About Weird Things: Critical Thinking for a New Age by Theodore Schick and Lewis Vaughn.
X. Daniel Kahneman's Nobel Prize Lecture
You can watch the lecture Danny Kahneman gave when he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2002. (It would have been nice if he had mentioned all four authors of our cold-pressor pain study rather than just the first two, but that's OK. I'm losing interest in that "e;15 minutes of fame"e; anyway.) It's not easy material for the non-psychologist. Videos of Kahneman talks that are easier starting points can be found easily with a web search, and of course, there's his new book.
Last Update: 1/17/2012