Monday, July 21, 2014

Advice from Mr. Know It All (no, I don't mean me :-)

I am not sure how many of you read the Mr. Know It All column in Wired magazine, but it is a fun way to spend 2 minutes every month. They are a rare combination of tongue-in-cheek humor along with some uncommon wisdom - with some sarcasm thrown in.

He answered 3 questions this month, and the last two are highly recommended - not just to read but to follow his advice.  One reader asks whether it is OK to vent on his social media (photo optional) about the bad smelling egg salad the woman next him at the airport gate is eating.  Mr. Know It All uses a quote from a Walt Whitman poem and the history of interpersonal communication to prove that it would be act of moral cowardice and callous antisocial behavior.

Then a reader asks how to respond to the countless requests he gets from friends to repost on his social media their latest projects, businesses, or causes.  He is worried that the constant flow of recommendations will hurt his credibility.  Mr. Know It All's conclusion - Get over yourself you pompous hippopotamus (you need to read the column to understand the reference).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My Schick review was graded



Apparently, my Schick review was excellent.

You may remember my review of the Schick Hydro a few weeks ago.  You may also remember that I did this as part of a BzzAgent campaign.  Essentially, they send me the free sample, ask me to write a review and post it on social media.  This not sponsored by the manufacturer (e.g. Schick) so there is no quid pro quo to write something positive.  But to keep my status as a reviewer, I need to write “high-quality” reviews.  BzzAgent has a staff that reads my reviews and rates them. 

So was my review helpful?  Several of you commented or Liked it, so that suggests it was.  I got my grade from the BzzAgent staff and they said my review was “excellent.” 

So what is the point?  I wanted to introspect a little and see if I could find any influence of this process on my opinions.  Was my review of the Schick influenced by the fact that I got it free?  By the fact that I wrote and posted a review?  Does the praise from BzzAgent rub off on my opinion of Schick? Did I unconsciously feel like I had to write a good review to get more free stuff? 

I don’t think any of these influences happened.  But of course, self-delusion is rarely conscious so it could have worked some magic under my skin.  Or perhaps I am just an old cynical curmudgeon and less susceptible to this kind of influence, whereas others might be. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

This Week in EID – Episode 12



I am going to summarize this week’s EID posts out of order today because I am really interested in getting your opinions about two of them. One of them is a really controversial debate in cognitive science and the other is a really controversial debate in society as a whole.  So whichever (or both) of these groups you belong to, please let me know what you think.

The society-wide debate is whether people (kids primarily) who play violent video games are more likely to be aggressive or less considerate afterwards.  This has some visceral appeal to it.  You might think that it has a temporary effect – kids get into an aggressive mood while playing and it primes them to stay this way for some period of time afterwards, probably in the order of hours.  Or you could think that consistently playing violent games has a more permanent effect, rewiring their brains to get used to being destructive and anti-social.  But the truth is that the evidence is mixed.  It is not as clear a relationship as the most ardent believer thinks.  But it is not purely in our imagination either.  My post looked at one alternative hypothesis, but feel free to comment on the basic question too.

The cognitive science debate is whether you think that cognitive heuristics like anchoring and priming are speed/accuracy tradeoffs only, and therefore reduce the accuracy of decisions in order to act faster – which has evolutionary advantages.  Or whether unconscious thinking can increase accuracy because of its greater capacity – in which case overriding it with deliberate thought can reduce decision quality.  My instinct tells me that it is both, simply because that is the way most things usually fall in the complex world in which we live.  Occam’s razor aside, the simplest answer is not always the correct one.

The other two posts were pretty straightforward, but also important topics.  The article on Monday brought up the idea that the details of a situation can make or break whether a design works.  As with the two debates above, this is because the real world is pretty complicated.  I was not familiar with the fall-recovery system problem that this article talked about until I read about it in ISHN. 

Similarly, Wednesday’s article about safety footwear introduces the wide variety of components that go into something as simple as a pair of safety shoes.  I won’t look at my pair in the same way again.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Internet of Critters



We hear a lot these days about the Internet of Things.  Cisco, SAP, and Microsoft are big in development and the applications are endless.  In the home market we are adding sensors all over our houses to make our energy use, home entertainment, and creature comforts smarter.  Manufacturers are adding sensors to their products and facilities so that they can talk to each other without human intervention. 

One of my favorites here is the GE jet engine that can wirelessly report a maintenance need, have an email sent to GE for a replacement part, and have the replacement part shipped automatically.  Imagine the surprise of the maintenance worker who gets the part in the next delivery shipment with a notice from the engine asking him to install it !!

But I might like this example even better.  Apparently, the GPS trackers that we see on TV all the time that scientists use to track animals in the wild are kind of big and heavy.  That is OK to track a wolf or a shark.  But what about a butterfly?  Imagine the poor thing trying to fly away with a big GPS emitter strapped to her back.  So some clever techie figured out that instead of needing enough power to get to the GPS satellite, they could create an emitter that signals only a few miles.  These can be picked up by United Airlines planes flying overhead.  There are enough flights every day that is a virtually permanent matrix of sensors to pick up the signals.  Without any extra work.  The signals are picked up by the planes and beamed to the scientists pretty much automatically – the Internet of Critters.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Operationally defining intelligence for scientific investigation



This might be the best explanation of why it is important to create an operational definition before engaging in a wide body of research on a complex topic.  Whether or not you agree with the specific definition, the approach is spot on.  They aren't saying that emotional intelligence or social intelligence are not important, valuable, and also can be studied.  But they are different things from this.

This is my summary paraphrase of their three page paper.  But I think I have captured it.


There are many skills and abilities that are important and can lead to successful, happy, valuable lives.  It is useful in science to have a term that we use JUST for those cognitive abilities that are the basis for (but not exclusively) for academic type performance.  They want to reserve the term intelligence for this.
They include fluid and crystallized intelligence.  Mediators of intelligence, such as emotional control, motivation, persistence, and so on are important for intelligence, but they are not part of it.
Keeping terms narrow and distinct is important for research so we know what we are studying and talking about.

Citation: Hunt E. and Jaeggi S.M. (2013) Challenges for research on intelligence. Journal of Intelligence, 1, 36-54. DOI:10.3390/jintelligence1010036.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Public shaming is not an effective behavioral change strategy

I am glad to see this by Oliver Burkeman (I blogged about his excellent book last year).  The basic message is simple.  A lot of our bad habits are unconscious attempts to compensate for feeling bad about ourselves in some way.  For example, some people eat emotionally - they eat when they feel bad, not because they are hungry. 

The ironic thing (that Oliver calls attention to) is that one of the ways society attempts to break people of their bad habits is through public shaming.  He specifically mentions an article in the Daily Mail that calls out young women for being fat.  So here is the illogic.  They make the targeted person feel bad about herself, so she compensates by doing more of the habit you are trying to break her of.  Real smart!!!


Extreme political beliefs make you feel superior



For those of you who know me personally, you will know that feeling superior is not just a blog post for me, it is also a personality trait (yes, I do realize and admit it – the first step towards recovery).  But I think that this research will resonate with all of you, either personally or to recognize it in the people around you.

The primary finding of the study is that people at both ends of the political spectrum have more dogmatic views than people in the middle.  Not only are the views more extreme (which is the definition of the political spectrum), but they are also more likely to believe that they are correct than people in the middle. 

This seems contradictory since moderate views (in anything, not just politics) are more often correct than extreme views.  But maybe in order to hold a view that is less likely to be true, you need a more innate and visceral sense of confidence in it. 

They also found a relationship between this confidence and feelings of normative superiority.  In other words, not only did people with more extreme views have more confidence in their views’ accuracy, they also thought their views were inherently better than other views.  This made them less flexible and less likely to compromise.  Just what we need with extreme views!! 

Another interesting set of findings was when they looked at differences in liberal v conservative ends of the spectrum.  One popular hypothesis is that conservatives are more dogmatic than liberals.  Their data showed that both sides are dogmatic, with only a slightly higher level among conservatives. 

They also found a difference in which areas people are dogmatic about.  People who have extreme views about voter identification laws, taxes, and affirmative action are more likely to be conservative.  People who have extreme views about government aid for the needy, use of torture on terrorists, and basing laws on religion are more likely to be liberal.