Posts Tagged ‘Research’

In many ways the Internet is the ultimate virtual laboratory. Social media and news sites tell the casual observer much about our priorities and interests, whether it’s the grave prognosis of the U.S.’s ongoing “fiscal cliff” political negotiations or elation over England’s royal pregnancy. Social scientists believe that, beyond such superficial revelations, the Internet can also be a tool for conducting expansive, yet inexpensive research experiments at unprecedented speed. Duncan Watts has been studying the Internet’s impact on social behavior, and vice versa, for more than a decade. In 2001 Watts and fellow Columbia University sociologists published the results of their Small World Project, an e-mail version of sociologist Stanley Milgram’s famous 1967 “six degrees of separation” experiment that used snail mail to test the theory that every person on the planet is separated from everyone else by a chain of about six people. In 2006 Watts worked with a team of researchers on Music Lab, an online experiment that illustrated the difficulty of predicting a song’s popularity among a diverse group of listeners.

Online Social Science: Can the Web Graduate from Digital Petri Dish to Virtual Laboratory?: Scientific American

Posted: December 4, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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Sir Richard Branson wants his tourist spaceship also to become a high-altitude science platform. The billionaire’s rocket plane will carry six fare-paying passengers just above the atmosphere to experience a few minutes of weightlessness. But the vehicle has been designed so that its seats can be removed easily and the space filled with science gear. Passenger flights should begin in 18 months or so; research sorties could start soon after. The US space agency (Nasa) has already chartered the rocket plane. “It’s likely we might do some science flights quite early in the programme,” explained Will Pomerantz from Virgin Galactic. “Nasa is certainly eager to get their flights conducted; the ones they have already purchased. “It may also give us some additional time to show off the reliability and the operations of the vehicle, which would give our tourism customers even more confidence. “I think that if they see a Nasa flight has gone up and gone well, that will make them feel better about their purchase,” he told BBC News. (via BBC News – Virgin spaceship aims to be science lab)

We hear a lot about energy research and development. Perhaps that’s because it’s the one sort of policy that Republicans and Democrats generally agree on. But there’s a different kind of research that I’d like to see get a lot more attention and funding. I’m talking about research into what various kinds of energy policies actually *do* to shape the technical possibilities open to humanity. In my time researching energy, most of the people who actually care about where we get our energy from have committed to an energy source, be it oil, gas, traditional nuclear, wind, solar, geothermal, or thorium. Then, they go looking for policies that would benefit their technology. I’ve also run into a lot of people who believe in inexorable laws of change in energy, whether that’s decarbonization or the inevitable rise of natural gas or nuclear power. And I’ve run into a lot of energy experts who believe in a fairly simple relationship between research money going in and technologies coming out. Unfortunately, none of these three groups of people is likely to produce very good energy policy. To put it in more mainstream terms, we’ve got a lot of energy pundits and very few energy Nate Silvers, who put reality (i.e. good data) ahead of ideology and intuition. Don’t get me wrong: everyone in energy loves them some data, but few people are interested in using it the way Silver does. Let me introduce you to a scholar who I think embodies the kind of research we need more of. His name is Gregory Nemet. He did his PhD at Berkeley and now teaches at the University of Madison, Wisconsin. I first discovered his work through a 2006 paper in Energy Policy, “Beyond the Learning Curve: factors influencing cost reductions in photovoltaics.” Now, you’re probably familiar with the neat story that learning curves tell. They say that as you do something, you get better at it, and because it’s a curve, the assumption is that this happens at a fairly consistent (and therefore predictable) rate. This is part of the rationale for supporting photovoltaics after all. They’ve gotten so much cheaper (orders of magnitude) over the last few decades that proponents suggest they’re inevitably going to get cheaper than grid electricity some time in the near future.

The Kind of Energy Research I’d Like to See More Of – Alexis C. Madrigal – The Atlantic


Recent study by connectome researchers, published in the journal Science, revealed that the brain’s neurons are not the haphazard tangle that some had thought, but are arranged in a tidy grid that resembles a city street map.  

And if you have ever wondered what makes you, you, thensome of the world’s top neuroscientists might say: “You are your connectome.” 

The connectome refers to the exquisitely interconnected network of neurons (nerve cells) in your brain. Like the genome, the microbiome, and other exciting “ome” fields, the effort to map the connectome and decipher the electrical signals that zap through it to generate your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors has become possible through development of powerful new tools and technologies.

Posted: November 21, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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Read of the day:
We understand ourselves through metaphors. Many of the metaphors have been metaphors of artifacts of things that humans have constructed. We understand the function of the heart through the metaphor of the function of tools that we can create. We have understood the function of the brain through the metaphor of the information processing systems that we can build. In some sense, that is right and inevitably right. What it will mean to understand the brain will always be to have a better and better metaphor, by way of a better and better comparison system, a thing we can build that’s closer and closer in its capacities to the human mind.

Current cognitive neuroscience is struggling to understand something that is beyond any of our current metaphors, and certainly beyond our current understanding. It feels like we are before the right concept. It feels like the physicists, before they distinguished heat and temperature. It feels like the things that we’re saying to ourselves right now don’t work because they confuse central distinctions. I don’t think I am currently inventing a better way, although I would love to be. I’m certainly trying to push the empirical approaches, the data that we can collect to make it force us to something more correct.

The feeling of working with the wrong concept, which I think many of us have, knowing that our best theories are still deeply confused, if not merely superficially wrong, can be disheartening. But it is also the promise of huge future discoveries. It’s only if you’re before a huge future discovery that you have a chance of living through one.

..highly recommended reading..

Imaging Conflict Resolution | Conversation | Edge

Posted: September 11, 2012 by Wildcat in Uncategorized
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The first person electrically stimulate the brain of a living human during surgery was the 19th-century British neurosurgeon Sir Victor Horsley. The operation was to treat a deformation called an encephalocele, where the bones of the skull do not close properly in the womb, causing the brain to protrude from the head. Horsely applied a weak electrical current to the surgically exposed brain tissue, making the patient’s eyes swivel to the side, which told the surgeon that the out-of-place area was the top of the midbrain – normally a deeply embedded neural structure essential for directing vision. (via Vaughan Bell: how simulating dementia can help map our minds | Science | The Observer)

The beer-goggle effect is well-documented – the way that being drunk makes everyone look wonderfully attractive. A new study asks whether the goggles work backwards. Does being drunk affect how we judge our own appeal? Laurent Bègue and her team asked 19 patrons at a French bar to rate their own attractiveness and to puff into a breathalyser. The two measures correlated – the participants who were more drunk tended to rate themselves as more attractive. But maybe that was nothing to do with the effect of alcohol. Perhaps better-looking people like getting more drunk?

BPS Research Digest: “Beauty in the eyes of the beer holder” – people who think they’re drunk, think they’re hot