“When birds fall from the sky and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds, who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the warriors of the Rainbow.”—Hopi prophecy (via oceanofmind)
“Humans are unlikely to win the animal kingdom’s prize for fastest, strongest or largest, but we are world champions at understanding one another. This interpersonal prowess is fueled, at least in part, by empathy: our tendency to care about and share other people’s emotional experiences. Empathy is a cornerstone of human behavior and has long been considered innate. A forthcoming study, however, challenges this assumption by demonstrating that empathy levels have been declining over the past 30 years.”—What, Me Care? Young Are Less Empathetic: Scientific American
Neuron Culture’s Best of Year
By David Dobbs January 5, 2011 | 12:24 pm | Categories: Neuron Culture, Science Blogs
I resist best-of-year roundups when I see the heads — but then find I usually like reading them, and lo and behold, find it instructive to do my own. While most of my attention last year went into pitching and then beginning work on The Orchid and the Dandelion, I spent a lot of time in Neuron Culture exploring other issues as well. A look back reveals some abiding interests amid my distractability: behavioral genetics; reading and writing; calling bullshit on bad media; how depression works and what it is; and the big transition in the science blogosphere sparked by Pepsigate.
I’ve pulled my own choice of Top 10 up top here, for those who want the short list approach. Same entries are also embedded in the chrono list further down.
TOP TEN NEURON CULTURE POSTS OF 2010
The depression map: genes, culture, serotonin, and a side of pathogens The most substantive post of the year, the one most relevant to the book I’m writing, and the most novel and powerful idea I blogged about this year. If the depression risk gene heightens risk for depression, how come the populations who carry that gene at the highest rates have the lowest rates of depression? A really juicy look at what we mean by “environment.”
The year’s funnest and most popular post, hands down, was Kill Whitey. It’s the Right Thing to Do, which reviews a David Pizarro study that is both rigorous and almost scandalously fun.
Does depression have an upside? It’s complicated. One of my favorite posts of the year. I was trying to respond to some slippery questions raised by Jonah Lehrer’s New York Times Magazine story on whether depression is adaptive from an evolutionary perspective. Tricky work, but I felt I got across what I wanted to here.
The Bright Side of the “Depression-Risk Gene” “The reclamation of the ‘depression gene’ proceeds apace, as a leading researcher on the Gene Formerly Known as the Depression Gene — that is, the short allele of the serotonin transporter gene — reviews the evidence for the advantages it confers.
Carr, Pinker, the shallows, and the nature-nurture canard. The debate over whether the internet rots our brains is interesting in its own right. But it also reveals a stubborn insistence on viewing nature v nurture as opposing forces instead of entwined strands.
Is page reading different from screen reading? This overlaps a bit with the concerns in the Carr-Pinker piece, and it too is responding to a rich and provocative post of Jonah’s, in this case about the future of reading. As someone on Twitter noted, my own essay turned out to be as much about writing on paper versus screen as about reading.
More metamedia: Malcolm Gladwell: Twitter, You’re No Martin Luther King. I had forgotten this one until I looked back to do this round up. This was my smack at Malcolm Gladwell for his article about limits of twitter. Fun in its own right, and nice to because a version of this ended up in the Atlantic’s tech blog, run by Alexis Madrigal. I consider that tech blog, incidentally, one of the most exciting things that has happened in the blogosphere this year. Madrigal had done great stuff writing at Wired Science, and he has simply exploded with creative ideas and great work at the Atlantic. It’s a lovely thing to see.
The Tight Collar: The New Science of Choking Under Pressure This was fun: An entire feature commissioned by the New York Times’s sports magazine, Play, never ran because they pulled the plug on the mag just before this story was to go. So I put it here. Hat tip to the Times for paying in full anyway. I followed up with an outtake as well, an opening that I didn’t use, but which tells a nice little story: The Choke Chamber: In Which I Miss A Putt and Fork Over a Fiver.
Finally, three three-in-one packages:
The Pepsi can explodes. Three-for-one here: When ScienceBlogs sold a blog spot to Pepsi. I was the second one out the door there, leaving the minute I got my posts exported. My exit post, a food blog I can’t digest, got a lot of attention, as did my rejoinder to Virginia Heffernan’s Times Magazine column, I state the problem most completely in Why I’m Staying Gone from ScienceBlogs.
The Marc Hauser scandal, which broke a month after the Pepsigate scandal, also several strong interests of mine and inspired multiple posts.The most important were Marc Hauser, monkey business, and the sine waves of science, which was my first; This Hauser thing is getting hard to watch, an update; and my last (for now), A Rush to Moral Judgment: What went wrong with Marc Hauser’s search for moral foundations.
Last but not least was the ArsenicIsLife affair, the Science paper claiming that some bacteria in Mono Lake were substituting arsenic for phosphorous in their DNA and elsewhere: a premature paper and appalling overreach in NASA’s promotion. In Is That Arsenic-Loving Bug — Formerly an Alien — a Dog?, I noted that the arsenic paper smelled funny; then I filed an objection to NASA’s handling of the affair — and reminded them what empiricism was — in The Wrong Stuff: NASA Dismisses Arsenic Critique Because Critical Priest Not Standing on Altar. Finally, I noted some historical parallels in Arsenic and Primordial Ooze: A History Lesson.
tumblr, please, please, make some progress with the functionality of the site. Do you need investment capital? What is going on? Do you need to hire more staff, buy more servers? I’ll donate hard cash, if so, because I’m thankful for what you’ve provided us, but it shouldn’t have to come to this,…
And i’ve said it and say it again, ignore users is not polite..the message i’ve sent to a staff member about two weeks ago, no anwer until now, thank you very much!
Plus, one of this days something like Tumblr, but better and functional may appear on the web, maybe then this people wake up from looking to their own belly buttons! And hey, the world is not in New York, and Tumblr are not only staff friends. Try to keep that in mind.