A great TED talk by Antonio Damasio about the biology of consciousness. He is right to state that understanding consciousness is incredibly important for understanding society and culture, and I am here to emphasize it is important for understanding aspects of our legal system. Obviously the most important implications would come for criminal law, but I think his talk also touches on the important implications for animal law. It seems more and more we are discovering that animals are not as different from us as we once thought.
Every time I read about a new discovery regarding consciousness, I am amazed at how little we understand about ourselves. With new brain imaging technology and better computer processing power, hopefully a truly better understanding of one of life’s most basic questions will come to pass.
In 2005, Larry Summers infamously gave a talk about the reasons there are fewer women in the highest echelons of math and science. In it, he stated, ”In the special case of science and engineering, there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude, and that those considerations are reinforced by what are in fact lesser factors involving socialization and continuing discrimination.”
While numerous academics have chiseled away at the “intrinsic aptitude” theory, a new study by Jonathan Kane and Janet Mertz entitled, “Debunking Myths About Gender and Mathematics Performance” has finally put it to rest. In fact, the article finds that the gender gap is entirely caused by those “lesser factors.” Here is a great article summarizing the findings.
In my opinion the most important aspect of the paper is the finding that both boys and girls do better in math in a society where there is greater equality. This makes sense intuitively, because when women are equally educated and earn equal pay their children will do better. This finding is extremely important, as it contradicts those that see advancing the welfare of women as a “female problem.” This is just another piece of evidence to demonstrate that when women are treated equally, we all benefit.
Now if only someone would do a study that finds women also aren’t intrinsically better at cleaning and taking care of children, we might actually get somewhere.
This Economist article reviews the recent Durban agreements, and aggregates the coverage from several reputable sources. The Financial Times appear optimistic. “Finally the world agreed that every country, no matter how rich or poor, would cut its greenhouse gas emissions under a global pact with ‘legal force’.” The Council of Foreign Relations had a more measured reaction. Michael Levi notes that the ultimate agreement – “a process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties” – might refer to almost anything, regardless of its impact on Climate Change. David Roberts from Grist.org is similarly pessimistic. His report on the talks highlights the indeterminate and relatively non-binding nature of the promise to develop an agreement by 2015. (December 12, 2011)
This is an interview of Daniel Kahneman by Sam Harris. It’s about his latest book, Thinking, Fast and Slow - Kahneman’s first for the general public. The book synthesizes much of Kahneman’s work on heuristics and biases, decision making, and differences between the “experiencing self” and the “remembering self.” The interview probes Kahneman’s thoughts on what his research has to say for human well-being and how to improve it.
Thinking about Thinking
An Interview with Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is an extraordinarily interesting thinker. As a psychologist, he received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work with Amos Tversky on decision-making. Here is what Steven Pinker, my previous interview subject, recently wrote about him:
A previous post on this site (see below) discussed how women were far less likely to negotiate for salary increases. That post concluded that, at least to some extent, the squeaky wheel gets the olive oil. Past studies show that women are more likely to be modest. And they also show that self-promotion, not modesty, leads to perceived competence. So why not just abandon modesty and claim riches?
This paper by Hannah Bowles, Linda Babcock, and Lei Lai explains shows that there’s a very good reason women shy away from negotiation and self-promotion: they are socially penalized if they do.
Here are are the Discussion and Conclusions portions of the paper: (Or click here for the full paper.)
We posed the question at the beginning of this paper of whether women’s greater reluctance (as compared to men) to initiate negotiations over resources, such as higher compensation, could be explained by the differential treatment of male and female negotiators.
Researchers in the U.K. are claiming they can use functional MRIs and computer algorithms to predict whether patients will suffer from continuous psychosis (which is normally considered to require institutionalization) or episodic psychosis (which is not). They claim a prediction accuracy of around 70%, while the legal standard for involuntary commitment to a mental institution is merely preponderance of the evidence. Does this mean that courts should allow the use of this technique (or perhaps even compel it) when making involuntary commitment rulings?
Pope Benedict XVI and Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, called on world leaders to meaningfully address climate change at the coming negotiations in Durban. Pope Benedict told Romans that he “hope[s] all members of the international community will agree on a responsible, credible and united response to this worrying and complex phenomenon.” Rowan Williams urged leaders to show “real moral leadership.” He also urged rich nations to clearly detail how pledges for the Green Climate Fund will be fulfilled. Nobel Peace laureate Desmond Tutu called climate change a “huge, huge enemy” and noted how “no country can fight that enemy on his own.” (November 28, 2011)
“At Meeting on Climate Change, Urgent Issues but Low Expectations”
This New York Times article begins, “[w]ith intensifying climate disasters and global economic turmoil as the backdrop, delegates from 194 nations will gather in Durban, South Africa, starting Monday to try to advance, if only incrementally, the world’s response to dangerous climate change.” The article addresses the “monotonously familiar” negotiation process of international climate negotiations, but notes that the process is being internally criticized. Poorer nations risk being marginalized at the negotiations, and are keen to establish a meaningful presence at the meetings. The article also addresses the Kyoto Protocol issue, namely whether the international community will agree to extend the agreement. (November 27, 2011)
www.Academia.edu can be thought of as a social network for academics, in that it allows them to forge connections and follow updates around their field, but it has another benefit: it gives them a powerful, efficient way to distribute their research. Unlike, say, a personal website, which probably won’t have much in the way of analytics or search engine optimization, Academia.edu will let researchers keep tabs on how many people are reading their articles with specialized analytics tools, and it also does very well in Google search results. Academics are uploading 2,500 articles to the site each day, and, as a result, the site is now drawing some 3 million unique visitors, many of whom are arriving at the site’s articles via Google.
Great news for those shut off from the life-force, aka Google. A new Firefox extension called “The Pirate Bay Dancing” fixes the local DNS and IP block problem by rerouting users through random proxy servers.
“The Pirate Bay Dancing for Firefox Bypasses National IP and DNS Blocks”
Firefox: If you’re living in a location where local DNS and IP blocks keep you from visiting certain websites, The Pirate Bay Dancing is an extension that undoes that automatically by routing you through random proxy servers.