Monday, August 31, 2009

Our year with Max

In inner city Chicago, Max negotiated the rough terrain of street life, wrestling with whether to fight or run when facing gang members. Concerned about his safety, Max's parents sent him "down South" to live with a relative for a year. The experience transformed the lives of three people. Read the featured essay in Journal of Family Life, published by Emory's MARIAL Center.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why Gen-Y can't read 'the silent language'

Mark Bauerlein, English professor and author of "The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future," writes in the Wall Street Journal:

We live in a culture where young people—outfitted with iPhone and laptop and devoting hours every evening from age 10 onward to messaging of one kind and another—are ever less likely to develop the "silent fluency" that comes from face-to-face interaction. It is a skill that we all must learn, in actual social settings, from people (often older) who are adept in the idiom. As text-centered messaging increases, such occasions diminish. The digital natives improve their adroitness at the keyboard, but when it comes to their capacity to "read" the behavior of others, they are all thumbs.

Nobody knows the extent of the problem. It is too early to assess the effect of digital habits, and the tools change so quickly that research can't keep up with them.

Read the full opinion piece by Bauerlein in the WSJ.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Surprising find on brains of risky teens

From Scientific American:

"Thrill seeking and poor judgment go hand in hand when it comes to teenagers—an inevitable part of human development determined by properties of a growing but immature brain. Right? Not so fast. A new study published in PLoS One turns that thinking upside down: The brains of teens who behave dangerously are more like adult brains than are those of their more cautious peers. ...

"The findings by neuroscientists Gregory S. Berns and Sara Moore and economist Monica Capra of Emory University suggest that teen risk-taking is associated not with an immature brain but with a mature, adultlike brain—exactly the opposite of conventional wisdom. ...

"Reckless behavior might in fact be a sign of adultness. Some adults do risky things (speeding, drinking, having unprotected sex) quite commonly without causing great alarm. Automatically considering such behaviors to be more objectionable just because someone is young runs into what the researchers call in their paper "a conundrum of defining risk (or dangerousness) based not on the objective attributes of the activity but on the person engaging in them."

Read the full Scientific American article about the neuroeconomics research done at Emory's Center for Neuropolicy.

Read the Time magazine article on the Emory study: "The Teen Brain: The More Mature, the More Reckless."

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Stop and smell the sunflowers

Welcome back, to everyone who was away for summer. Be sure to check out the sunflowers blooming in front of the Depot. They are the most spectacular crop of the sustainability initiative's Educational Garden Project. We hope your summer was bountiful as these gardens.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Swine flu's warning shot

From Discover Magazine:
Emory Global Health Institute's Jeff Koplan warns that public officials need to pay much more attention to zoonoses, as one human disease outbreak after another has originated in animals.
See video of Koplan during a recent panel discussion on swine flu, beginning at 1:10.

The perils of peer review

The Academic Exchange sums up an Emory talk on getting published by Randy Hodson, editor of American Sociological Review:

"It’s very easy to cast [peer reviewers] as enemies because they have pointed out weaknesses and we don’t want to hear that, and these weaknesses entail significant amounts of work on our part. ...
"Your earliest draft of the paper, before it’s been rejected several times, is probably not as good as the draft after you’ve received some feedback. If you send this early draft to a highly visible journal, your odds of getting it accepted are not so good. You might send it to a specialty journal or a lower-tier journal, and you might have a better chance. The problem is a sort of tipping point. I’ve made every mistake you can possibly make in this regard. If you send it to a less visible journal and it gets accepted, you feel, Oh, I had a chance. But if you send it to the top one and it gets rejected, you say, That paper wasn’t really ready for the top; I should have waited. This is a difficult dilemma, but there is a resolution to it: make more use of your peer-review network of your colleagues and your friends. You do not want to send other than your very best effort out for review."

The entire web cast of the Art of Publishing Workshop, sponsored by the Department of Economics, is available online.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Test your behavioral IQ

Are the following statements true or false:
1. Inkblots reveal a great deal about someone's personality.
2. Studies show a tendency for people to marry someone whose name begins with the same letter as their own.

3. Researchers have demonstrated that dreams possess symbolic meaning.

4. The defining feature of dyslexia is reversing letters.

5. Men and women communicate in completely different ways.

What do you think?
Graphic: "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology"

Actually, the only true statement is No. 2. The others are either completely false, or "gross exaggerations of a kernel of truth," says Emory psychologist Scott Lilienfeld, who co-authored the new book "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior."

"Bursting bubbles can be painful," says Lilienfeld. "But we hope that puncturing some of these myths can lead people to better life decisions, and a more realistic appraisal of themselves."

Folk wisdom and so-called commonsense too often trump science in our society, Lilienfeld says. "There is this idea that we can understand the world, including our own minds, by gut instinct – that if something seems intuitively right, it must be right. To embrace a scientific approach is to be humble, but that's not a popular message in American society, which rewards certainty."

Related story:
Is hypnosis just hocus-pocus?
The anger myth: Read this before blowing up

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Psychology 101: For parents of freshmen

Emory psychology professor Marshall Duke gives a popular seminar for parents every year, to help ease the separation process with their newly minted college students.

First, Duke advises them to think about their parting words:

"The closing words between parents and children are crucial. Whatever wisdom you have to offer, whether it is 'I love you,' 'I'm behind you,' 'I'm proud of you,' say it. If you can't express yourself verbally, write your thoughts down and mail the letter to your child immediately after you arrive home. Your children will remember your messages and hold on to them."

Read the other tips from Duke's seminar "Parenting a College Student."

What advice would you give?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Plug your data into the Galaxy

A report from Genome Web: Data-intensive bioinformatics tasks that were once relatively rare are now "permeating every aspect of biology," says James Taylor, a computational biologist at Emory and co-developer of Galaxy, an open-source software system that allows anyone with a normal laptop to analyze genomic data. Read more of the Genome Web article.

An Earthling from the unsequenced genome files:
Malaysian long-tongued nectar bat: Photo by Robert Baker.

Taylor's lab is working with biologist Nicole Gerardo to analyze the first sequencing of the ant genome, as well as the genomics of agricultural ant societies. A key part of the project is bringing genomics into classrooms, by giving high school and college students experience at analyzing genomic data.

"We hope to build up a public research community around this project to facilitate broader analysis," says Taylor, a leading expert in bio-informatics. "We will provide supporting infrastructure to allow people to discover new things. This project is novel – and it's going to be fun."

Bug splatter study is data driven
Mapping genomics of complex ant system

What genome would you most like to see analyzed?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Scientist tackles ethics of space travel

Artist rendering of simulated Mars mission, courtesy NASA

Paul Root Wolpe, director of the Emory Center for Ethics and the first chief bioethicist for NASA, tells the New York Times:

"Imagine you had a severely injured astronaut on the surface of Mars — or a dead body. American soldiers will put themselves at great risk to retrieve a dead body. On Mars, you have a different situation. You might be endangering the entire mission by trying to retrieve the body. In that case, you might recommend that it be left behind, even if that is against our ethical traditions.

"Or what do you do if someone has a psychotic episode while in space?

"I’ve written that there has to be medication and restraints on the craft. If you have to restrain the person for a long period of time, you have to do it. You can’t thank the person for their service to the country and put them out into space. You can’t medicate them to insensibility for a year and a half. You have to find a reasonable way to manage the situation."

Read the full interview with Wolpe in the New York Times.

Are astronauts at risk for lung cancer?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How the Greek gods measure up

What was Vicki Hertzberg, an expert in biostatistics and bioinformatics, doing on a remote Greek island this summer? She tells all:

"Well, this came about because my friend and colleague Bonna Wescoat approached me about a statistical question regarding the architecture of the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. Since the Sanctuary was the home of a secret cult, and the pain of revealing the secrets was death, we know very little about it. So how can we use the physical evidence to learn more about the Sanctuary, the cult, as well as classical and Hellenistic Greece?
"In general, Bonna wants to know if there are architectural characteristics about the buildings here that we can ascertain from the measurements of the remaining blocks from which we can make inferences. The particular questions are can we infer the quantum measurement (ie the unit of measurement of distance, such as our modern foot or meter) used in design and construction of these buildings and can we differentiate quanta between buildings (for instance the Hieron and the Dedication of Phillip II and Alexander IV) and/or between building styles (for instance, Ionic vs Doric). From this we might be able to learn more about the architect.

"Although both the Romans and the Egyptians had fairly standardized units of measurement, the Greeks did not."

See and read more about Hertzberg's adventures, and how computer science students are helping solve the mystery, on her blog "Going on a Quantum Hunt."

You may also want to check out Wescoat's blog, "Framing the Mysteries in the Sanctuary of the Great Gods."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Crystal-liquid interface visible for first time

"Imagine you're a water molecule in a glass of ice water, and you're floating right on the boundary of the ice and the water," proposes physicist Eric Weeks. "So how do you know if you're a solid or a liquid?"

Weeks' lab recently captured the first images of what's actually happening in this fuzzy area of the crystal/liquid interface. The lab's data, to be published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), make the waves between the two states of matter visible for the first time. "What we've done is found a way to take a picture of the intrinsic interface, measure it, and show how it fluctuates over time," Weeks says.
The experiment took a great deal of trial and error, says Jessica Hernández-Guzmán, a graduate student in physics and the lead author of the PNAS article. "I was looking for that transition," she says. "I knew what the colloids looked like in a crystal state, and I knew what they looked like as a liquid, but I didn't know what they looked like in-between. When I finally saw (the transition), I felt like I had won the lottery."

Read more about how the experiment was done.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Math's in your cards, so deal with it

Photo by Carol Clark

A 17th-century French gambler helped spark the modern theory of probability, says Ron Gould, author of the newly published "Mathematics in Games, Sports and Gambling: The Games People Play."

The textbook, based on Gould's popular freshman seminar by the same name, reveals elementary probability theory and discrete mathematics through card tricks, dice rolling, baseball and other sports and games.

The aim is to help students develop a more logical, questioning approach to solving problems. "And, I hope they have a good time," adds Gould, a Goodrich C. White Professor of Mathematics who has taught at Emory for 30 years.

Lottery study zeros in on risk

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Urban mosquito research creates buzz

"Before I joined this research project, I had no idea that many major cities in the United States let raw sewage flow into streams that border parks and homes. It just seems unsafe," says Greg Decker, a senior majoring in environmental studies.

This week, Decker is presenting Emory's research findings on mosquitoes and Atlanta creeks at the Ecological Society of America's annual meeting.

He was part of a team that monitored disease-carrying mosquitoes in Atlanta's Tanyard Creek
, which until recently got occasional runoff known as combined sewer overflows (CSO). "The creek goes right by residential areas, a dog park and a jungle gym where children play. At times, we could smell the sewage," Decker says.

The researchers found that the Culex mosquito – a vector for West Nile Virus – thrived in the creek's waters, which were loaded with nitrogen and phosphorous. The mosquitoes were more populous, bred faster, and grew larger than those found in cleaner waters, such as Peavine Creek on campus.

In addition to lots of nutrients, the mosquitoes in Tanyard Creek had fewer predators. While the research began a year ago, the city recently built a catch basin near Tanyard Creek, designed to contain sewage runoff. "We're seeing more things that prey on mosquitoes now – fish, frogs and dragonfly larvae – and the mosquito population is down," Decker says.

The researchers are continuing to collect data on urban mosquito ecology in Atlanta and elsewhere. "If we can fully understand the mosquito's life cycle and how the environment affects it, we can better understand West Nile Virus and how to control it," Decker says.

Mosquito hunters invent better disease weapon