Articles to 2012-08-02

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First the link to this week’s complete list as HTML and as PDF.

Shtulman & Valcarcel again highlight the importance of good primary and kindergarden education. Early acquired misconceptions will never be quite lost and still hamper highly educated adults. Typically just these professions recruit from students bad at and afraid of STEM subjects. (See also Beilock, pnas 107 (2010), 1860--63, from the list of 2010-02-10.) Also plodders tend to reward more plodding approaches in their pupils, resulting in school grades at odds with real aptitude. (cf. Bailey)

In school, while it is common to sing the praises of classmates extolling in sports and quite alright for them to bring up successes themselves, the same thing done by and to those top of class in, say, maths, is seen as bragging and utterly beyond the pale. Similarly, while it is accepted as quite normal to taunt stragglers in sports and it’s not uncommon for teachers to join in, saying the same things about classmates struggling with maths or spelling will surely result in disciplinary action. I have seen one exception in my old Latin master, who divided up the class into teams and pitched them against each other in vocabulary competitions, even rewarding the winning team with book prizes once per term out of his own pocket.
According to Osborn et al. that approach is not only fair to the academically gifted but helpful and beneficial to the less gifted ones as well. There’s a big caveat here though: Contrary to what their abstract and announcements about the article claim, inferior and low ranked participants were not tested at all. By all reasonable standards all national championship participants including the fourth-ranked are highly motivated top achievers. If and by how much being included into a team effort can help true low achievers remains an open question not tackled here at all.

I find Lachance et al. rather hard to understand. One result struck the eye, though. According to current textbook lore anatomically modern humans arose about 200 ka ago, but Lachance et al. date the divergence of AMH and archaic populations to about 1.2 Ma ago, about the same time when the proto-Neanderthals became separate.

Moritz lists all the probable reasons for the recent rise in wildfires (see also Bliege Bird in the list of 2012-07-12) but still pays lip service to the global warming dogma. What’s lacking are any arguments in its favour.

Fawcett & Higginson quote Hawkins themselves: “Someone told me that each equation I included in the book would halve the sales”. I’d like to add an expansion by Gero von Randow (Das Ziegenproblem, rororo 1992): “If you skip the equations you won’t miss the central statements in this book. What you will miss however, is the satisfying feeling of having formally solved a problem. This feeling of bliss is produced by a flow of chemical substances in your brain, comparable to the experience of an orgasm. So perhaps you should reconsider about the equations.”

Tang-Martínez and Gowaty et al. strike another blow at the basics of science. How is it that in the 18th century, when a handful of scientists tackled an abundance of questions, replication was the norm and today, when there are more graduates than sensible thesis subjects, it isn’t?
As Richard P. Feynman said [my paraphrase]: “Whenever you base your own research on established rules, however well attested they may be in textbooks and other secondary literature, always go back to the primary source and check their validity yourself.”

Gervais et al. skip the very important question, to what extent this behaviour is learnt and culturally dependent. Ubiquitous pictorial displays of unclad female bodies together with prevalent costume specifically directing the eye amount to a perpetual training program while details of male physique typically stay hidden. A female dominated culture can’t reasonably first deliberately train a whole society in one direction and then complain, when that training works.

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