Field of Science

Survey results: Where do you get your science news

The last poll asked people where they get their science news. Most folks reported that they get science news from blogs, which isn't surprising, since they were reading this blog. Interestingly, less than 10% reported getting science news from newspapers. This fits my own experience; once I discovered science blogs, I stopped reading science news in newspapers altogether.

I would report the exact numbers for the poll, but Blogger ate them. I can tell that it still has all the data (it remembers that I voted), but is reporting 0s for every category. I'll be switching to Google Forms for the next survey.

What you missed on the Internet last week: 10/29/2012

What is the oldest linguistics department in the USA?
Language Log tries to figure it out. And out. This is more interesting than it sounds.

Oppan Chomsky Style
MIT students remake the world's most famous Korean music video. Chomsky cameos.


Are the McArthur Fellowships the world's most clever marketing scheme?
The Lousy Linguist wants to know.

Mitt Romney's speech patterns
Mark Liberman of Language Log analyzes the presidential hopeful's disfluencies.

If I'm not looking at you, you can't see me
According to children at the University of Cambridge

Faster fMRI?

A paper demonstrating a new technique for "ultrafast fMRI" has been getting some buzz on the blogosphere. Although movies often depict fMRI showing real-time activity in the brain, in fact typical methods only collect from one slide of the brain at a time, taking a fair amount of time to cover the entire brain (Neuroskeptic puts this at about 2-3 seconds). This new technique (GIN) can complete the job in 50 ms, and without sacrificing spatial resolution (which is the great advantage of fMRI relative to other neuroimaging techniques like EEG or MEG).

Does this mean fMRI is about to get 50 times faster?

Not exactly. What fMRI is measuring is the change in blood oxygenation in areas of your brain. When a particular area starts working harder, more oxygen-rich blood is sent in its direction, and that can be detected using MRI. The limitation is that it takes a while for this blood to actually get there (around 5-10 seconds). One commenter on the Neuroskeptic post (which is where I heard about this article) wrote "making fMRI 50 times faster is like using an atomic clock to time the cooking of a chicken."

The basic fact is that fMRI is never going to compete with EEG or MEG in terms of temporal resolution, because the latter directly measure the electrical activity in the brain and can do so on very fine time-scales. But that doesn't mean that speeding up fMRI data acquisition isn't a good idea. As the authors of the paper write:
fMRI studies, especially related to causality and connectivity, would benefit from reduced repetition time in terms of better statistics and physiological noise characteristics...
They don't really say *how* these studies would achieve this benefit. The rest of the discussion is mostly about how their technique improves on other attempts at ultra-fast fMRI, which tend to have poor spatial resolution. They do mention that maybe ultra-fast fMRI would help simultaneous EEG-fMRI studies to strengthen the link between the EEG signal and the fMRI signal, but it's obvious to me just how helpful this would be, given the very different timing of EEG and fMRI.

But that's not going to stop me from speculating as to how faster data-acquisition might improve fMRI. (Any readers who know more about fMRI should feel free to step in for corrections/additions).

Speculations

The basic problem is that what you want to do is model the hemodynamic response (the change in blood oxygenation levels) due to a given trial. This response unfolds over a time-course of 5-10 seconds. If you are only measuring what is happening every couple seconds, you have pretty sparse data from which to reconstruct that response. Here's an example of some reconstructed responses (notice they seem to be sampling once every second or so):


Much faster data-collection would help with this reconstruction, leading to more accurate results (and conclusions). The paper also mentions that their technique helps with motion-correction. One of the basic problems in fMRI is that if somebody moves their head/brain even just a few millimeters, everything gets thrown off. It's very hard to sit in a scanner for an hour or two without moving even a smidge (one technique, used by some hard-core researchers, is a bite bar, which is perfectly fitted to your jaw and keeps you completely stabilized). Various statistical techniques can be used to try to mitigate any movement that happens, but they only work so well. The authors of the paper write:
Obviously, all InI-based and comparable imaging methods are sensitive to motion especially at the edges of the brain with possible incorrect estimation of prior information. However, due to the large amount of data, scan times are currently short (4 min in teh current study), which mitigates the motion problem.
I take this to mean that because their ultra-rapid scanning technique collects so much data from each trial, you don't need as many trials, so the entire experiment can be shortened. Note that they are focused on the comparison between their technique and other related techniques, not the comparison between their technique and standard fMRI techniques. But it does seem reasonable that more densely sampling the hemodynamic response for an individual trial should mean you need fewer trials overall, thus shortening experiments.

-----
Boyacioğlu, R., & Barth, M. (2012). Generalized iNverse imaging (GIN): Ultrafast fMRI with physiological noise correction Magnetic Resonance in Medicine DOI: 10.1002/mrm.24528

Is Dragon Dictate a believer?

I've been using Dictate to take notes on Talmy's Toward a Cognitive Semantics. One of the example sentences is as follows:
I aimed my gun into the living room. (p. 109)
I cannot by any means convince Dictate to print this. It prefers to convert "my gun" to "my God". For example, on my third try, it wrote:
I aim to my God into the living room.
Dictate offers a number of alternatives in case its initial transcription is incorrect. Right now, it is suggesting, as an alternative to "aim to my God":
aimed to my God
aim to my God and
aim to my god
aim to my gun
aimed to my God and
aim to my garden
aimed to my god
aimed to my gun
aim to my guide
aim to my God in
aimed to my God in 
Perhaps Nuance has a religious bent, but I suspect that this is a simple N-gram error. Like many natural language processing systems, Nuance figures out what word you are saying in part by reference to the surrounding words. So in general, it thinks that common bigrams (2-word sequences) are more likely than uncommon bigrams.

According to Google, "my god" appears on the Web 133,000,000 times, whereas "my gun" appears only 8,770,000 times. So "my god" is just much more likely. Similarly, "aim to" is fairly common (215,000,000) hits. So even though "aim to my God" is gibberish, the two components -- "aim to" and "my god" -- are fairly common, whereas the correct phrase -- "aimed my gun" -- is fairly rare (138,000 hits). (The bigram "aimed my" is also infrequent: 474,000 hits).

N-gram systems work better than most everything else, which is why Nuance, Google, and many other companies use them. But examples like this show their deep limitations, in that they make many obvious errors -- obvious to humans, anyway. In this case, because Nuance doesn't know what sentences mean, and doesn't even know basic grammar, it can't tell that "aimed to my god" is both grammatically incorrect and meaningless.

Perspective in language

Language often indicates perspective:
(1) Give me that.
(2) *Give me this.
The reason that (2) is weird -- by convention, an asterisk marks a bad sentence -- is that the word this suggests that whatever is being requested is close to the speaker. Consider also:
(3) Jane came home.
(4) Jane went home.
If we were currently at Jane's home, it would be more natural to say (3) than (4). Of course, we could say (4), but we would be shifting our perspective, treating wherever Jane was as the reference point, rather than where we are now (this is particularly common in story-telling).

A less prosaic example

That is all fairly familiar, so when I turned to section 6.1 of Chapter 1 of Leonard Talmy's Toward a Cognitive Semantics, titled "Perspectival Location", I wasn't expecting anything particularly new. Then I read these examples (p. 69):
(5) The lunchroom door slowly opened and two men walked in.
(6) Two men slowly opened the lunchroom door and walked in.
These sentences describe the same event, but place the reader in a very different position. As Talmy points out, when reading (5), one gets the sense that you are in the lunchroom, whereas in (6), you get the sense that you outside of the lunchroom ... either that, or the door to the lunchroom is transparent glass.

Implied movement


Talmy gives another great pair of examples on page 71:
(7) There are some houses in the valley.
(8) There is a house every now and then through the valley.
The first sentence implies a static point of view, far from the houses, allowing you to see all the houses at once (Talmy calls this "stationary distal perspective point with global scope of attention"), whereas (8) gives the sense of moving through the valley and among the houses, with only a few within view at any given time ("moving proximal perspective point with local scope of attention")


Writing

Talmy's purpose is to put together a taxonomy of linguistic devices, and most of this chapter is trying to lay out all the different factors along which language can vary (for instance, the different types of perspective one can take). And that is of course why I'm reading it.

But it's also interesting to think about as a writer. One flaw in bad writing is using sentences that adopt the wrong perspective (telling a story about Jennifer, who is in the lunchroom, and then using (6)). This example from Talmy shows just how complicated the issues are ... and the tools available to a good writer for subtly guiding the reader through the story.

The toughest cop "alive"

At little while back, while walking down the street and minding my own business, I saw the following advertisement:

This looks like a scare quote; the implication is that Ace Ticket is nowhere near the best, that it is absurd to suggest that it is the best, which, I assume, is not what they were trying to convey.

One of my colleagues -- yes, I did send this around -- suggested that perhaps Ace Ticket hoped we would read this as a direct quote: somebody has called them the best, and they are quoting. The BBC, apparently, does this regularly. For instance, here's a recent article headline: Families tell of their fears for Syria's 'disappeared'.

I'm not a prescriptivist. But this is confusing. I can't tell, from the article, who the BBC is quoting, especially since the term "disappeared", used to mean "abducted or killed", is now standard usage.

It seems I'm not the only one confused. Buzzfeed has a list of "the worst of unnecessary quotation marks", most of which are unintended scare quotes (the tagline: These aren't just "unnecessary," they're "incomprehensible."). For example:
and:

You can find the rest of the Buzzfeed list here.

Someone in the comments brought the World's Most Interesting Man into the mix (I can only hope this starts a meme):

What you missed in the last 2 weeks on the Internet - 10/22

Americans smarter than you thought
Or so says Mark Liberman, who analyzes some prominent examples of the "Fewer than X% of Americans knowY" meme.

Keep analyzing until you have a significant result
Joshua Carp, a Michigan PhD student, tried it out to see what would happen. Neurocritic has the skinny.

Not-final draft
PhD Comics reminds us that as nice as it feels to label a paper "FINAL.doc", you will pay for that good feeling shortly.

Brain mnemonics
Neuroskeptic suggests a few ways of remembering basic neuroanatomy terminology.

Google N-Grams relaunch
Ben Zimmer at LanguageLog explains the new features.

New Experiment: Finding Explanations


Suppose that John is angry. This might be just a feature of his personality. It might be that something aggravating just happened to him. I suppose that is also possible that he took an “unhappy” pill. The point is, that there are many kinds of explanations.

I just posted a new experiment on the website probing people's intuitions about what kinds of explanations they expect for different kinds of events. Many thanks in advance to all who participate.

Participate in Finding Explanations by clicking here.

Poll Results: How much do you revise your papers

In the last poll, I asked folks how much they revise their papers subsequent to first submission. A substantial majority said that they engaged in revisions that were "substantial" or "more than substantial". I was glad to hear that I'm not the only one.

Findings: What do verbs have to do with pronouns?

A new paper, based on data collected through GamesWithWords.org, is now in press (click here for a pre-print). Below is an overview of this paper.

Unlike a proper name (Jane Austen), a pronoun (she) can refer to a different person just about every time it is uttered. While we occasionally get bogged down in conversation trying to interpret a pronoun (Wait! Who are you talking about?), for the most part we sail through sentences with pronouns, not even noticing the ambiguity.

We have been running a number of studies on pronoun understanding (for some previous posts, see here and here). One line of work looks at a peculiar contextual effect, originally discovered by Garvey and Caramazza in the mid-70s:
(1) Sally frightens Mary because she...
(2) Sally loves Mary because she... 
Although the pronoun is ambiguous, most people guess that she refers to Sally in (1) but Mary in (2). That is, the verb used (frightens, loves) seems to affect pronoun resolution.

Causal Verbs

From the beginning, most if not all researchers agreed that this must have something to do with how verbs encode causality: "Sally frightens Mary" suggests that Sally is the cause, which is why you then think that "because she…" refers to Sally, and vice versa for "Sally loves Mary".

The problem was finding a predictive theory: which verbs encode causality which way? A number of theories have been proposed. The first, from Harvard psychologists Roger Brown and Deborah Fish (1983) was that for emotion verbs (frightens, loves), the cause is the person who *isn't* experiencing the emotion -- Sally in (1) and Mary in (2) -- and the subject for all other verbs. This turned out not to be correct. For instance:
(3) Sally blames Mary because she...
Here, most people think "she" is Mary, even though this is not an emotion verb and so the "cause" was supposed to be -- on Brown and Fish's theory -- the subject (Sally).

A number of other proposals have been made, but the data in the literature doesn't clearly support any one (though Rudolph and Forsterling's 1997 theory has been the most popular). In part, the problem was that we had data on a small number of verbs, and as mathematicians like to tell us, you can draw an infinite number of lines a single point (and create many different theories to describe a small amount of data).

Most previous studies had looked at only a few dozen. With the help of visitors to GamesWithWords.org, we collected data on over 1000 verbs. (We weren't the only ones to notice the problem -- after we began our study, Goikoetxea and colleagues published data from 100 verbs in Spanish and Ferstl and colleagues published data from 305 in English). We found that in fact none of the existing theories worked very well.

However, when we took in independently developed theory of verb meaning from linguistics, that actually predicted the results very well. All of the theories tried to divide up verbs into a few classes. Within each class, it was supposed to be all the verbs with either have causes as their subjects (causing people to interpret the pronoun is referring to the subject in sentences like 1-3). Unfortunately, this was rarely the case, as shown in Table 2 of the paper:


A new theory


This was, of course, disappointing. We wanted to understand pronoun interpretation better, but now we understood worse! Luckily, the work did not end there. We turned to a well-developed theory from linguistics about what verbs mean (the work I have described above was developed by psychologists largely independently from linguistics).

The basic idea behind this theory is that the core meaning of verbs is built out of a few basic parts, such as movement, possession, the application of force, and – importantly for us – causality. In practice, nobody goes through the dictionary and determines for every verb, which of these core components it has. This turns out to be prohibitively difficult to do (but stay tuned; a major new project GamesWithWords.org will be focused on just this). But it turns out that when you classify verbs according to the kinds of sentences they can appear in, this seems to give you the same thing: groups of verbs that share these core components meaning (such as causality).

The prediction, then, is that if we look at verbs in the same class according to this theory, all the verbs in that class should encode causality in the same way and thus should affect pronouns in the same way. And that is exactly what we found. This not only furthers our understanding of the phenomenon we were studying, but it is also confirmation of both the idea that verb meaning plays a central role in the phenomenon and is confirmation of the theory from linguistics.


Why so much work on pronouns?


Pronouns are interesting in their own right, but I am primarily interested in them as a case study in ambiguity. Language is incredibly ambiguous, and most of the time we don't even notice it; For instance, it could be that the "she" in (1) refers to Jennifer -- someone not even mentioned in the sentence! -- but you probably did not even consider that possibility. Because we as humans find the problem so easy, it is very hard for us as scientists to have good intuitions about what is going on. This has become particularly salient as we try to explain to computers what language means (that is, program them to process language).

The nice thing about pronouns is that they are a kind of ambiguity is very easy to study, and many good methods have been worked out for assessing their processing. More than many areas of research on ambiguity -- and, I think, more than many areas of psychology that don't involve vision -- I feel that a well worked-out theory of pronoun processing is increasingly within our reach. And that is very exciting.


------

Hartshorne, J., and Snedeker, J. (2012). Verb argument structure predicts implicit causality: The advantages of finer-grained semantics Language and Cognitive Processes, 1-35 DOI: 10.1080/01690965.2012.689305

Brown, R., and Fish, D. (1983). The psychological causality implicit in language Cognition, 14 (3), 237-273 DOI: 10.1016/0010-0277(83)90006-9

Goikoetxea, E., Pascual, G., and Acha, J. (2008). Normative study of the implicit causality of 100 interpersonal verbs in Spanish Behavior Research Methods, 40 (3), 760-772 DOI: 10.3758/BRM.40.3.760

Ferstl, E., Garnham, A., and Manouilidou, C. (2010). Implicit causality bias in English: a corpus of 300 verbs Behavior Research Methods, 43 (1), 124-135 DOI: 10.3758/s13428-010-0023-2

Rudolph, U., and Forsterling, F. (1997). The psychological causality implicit in verbs: A review. Psychological Bulletin, 121 (2), 192-218 DOI: 10.1037//0033-2909.121.2.192


Poll: Where do you get your science news?

Check out the new poll (top of the right-hand sidebar).

And the silliest fake-but-convincing prescriptive rule is...

Last week, I visited my grandmother in upstate New York. Mostly we talked about family or the books we were reading, but at one point she gave a fiery defense of prescriptive language rules. "Language should be logical," she said.

My counter-argument was that this was a lost cause, because language is chock-full of irregularity. For instance, most modifiers of adjectives come before adjectives:
  • the very good book
  • the extremely happy girl
  • the rapidly rising water
  • the book that was very good
  • the girl that was extremely happy
  • the water that was rapidly rising
But not all:
  • *the enough good book (cf "the good enough book")
  • *the book that was enough good (cf "the book that was good enough")

If she wanted language to be more logical, she should start saying "enough good".

Actually, that sounds like a good idea...

A couple weeks ago, Allan Metcalf, of the Lingua Franca blog at The Chronicle of Higher Education, posted a contest to "forge a brand-new usage rule that will pointlessly vex students in English composition classes, and writers for publications, for generations to come."

The rules were simple

  • State your new rule
  • Explain its logic
  • Give an example of a sentence that violates the rule, and show how to correct it

The winner has now been announced:
"Because of" should not be used to modify a sentence in the future tense, since it is a logical fallacy to impute a cause to something that is not (yet) true. Rather, a construction such as "due to" or "owing to" should be used, or the sentence should be rewritten to be more clear.
For example, instead of "He's going to Florida next week, because of a friend's wedding," one should write, "He's going to Florida next week *for* a friend's wedding."
Writers who observe this rule thereby uphold an important distinction; a sentence such as "Because of the promised bonus, he decided to teach an extra class next summer" makes clear that the promised bonus is the cause of the *decision* (which has already happened), not the cause of the *teaching an extra class* (which hasn't happened yet, so doesn't yet have a cause).
This is such a convincing prescriptive rule that Geoffrey Pullum at Language Log has issued a plea that people not start following it.

Runners-up can be found on Metcalf's blog.

What you missed on the Internet last week - 10/8/2012


My Nomination for the Ignoble
Gibbons on helium.

Fraud vs. Questionable Practices
Neuroskeptic worries that discussions of reforming science often conflate fraud and questionable practices (like the file drawer problem), when probably they have different causes and different solutions. Of the two, Neuroskeptic argues, questionable practices cause more damage.

Fake Standardized Tests
BishopBlog worries that the DoE's new phonics test may be based on faked data.

Advice for how to learn foreign languages


I am often asked for advice on how to learn second languages. I have written a few popular-press articles on the topic before, but these articles are mostly high-level advice, whereas the questions I usually get asked are specific (what books should I read, where should I study, etc.), so I thought it was time to write up the resources that I have found useful.

First, a disclaimer: What I write below is based only on my own experience learning languages. While I am a language researcher, I know no more about the research into second-language learning than the run-of-the-mill psycholinguist (that is, what you would learn by overhearing water-cooler conversations and attending talks at conferences). Second, I make no claim to be Ken Hale's second coming; that is, I'm not an especially gifted language-learner, just a persistent one.  I leave to the reader to decide whether that gives me more or less insight into the problem.

Textbooks

I cannot say enough good things about Japanese For Busy People. The title comes from the fact that the chapters are bite-sized. You can work through one in half an hour or less. The series is designed to get you speaking as quickly as possible, and so focuses on words and phrases you might actually need. (This might seem like an obvious strategy, but it did not occur to the writers of my introductory Russian textbook, which filled opening pages with words for, for instance, 18th century Russian course-drawn carriages.)

Difusion publishes a series of fantastic, conversation-based textbooks, such as Gente and Aula, at least some of which were (I'm told) developed in collaboration with my favorite language school (see below). Like Japanese For Busy People, these books use short lessons focused on high-frequency words and phrases, and provide many useful exercises (the more you practice, the more you learn).


I have used a few Mandarin textbooks. My favorite is the Integrated Chinese series, which comes in both traditional and simplified character versions. It's not as impressive an achievement as the Japanese and Spanish books I mentioned above, but a solid resource.

I haven't had as much luck with Russian textbooks, though I do have a soft spot in my heart for Making Progress in Russian (the classic 1973 text by Davis and Oprendek, not the more recent revival -- I warn you, it isn't easy to find), which is meant for intermediate students. This is not a great text for learning to speak, and especially not for learning to speak modern spoken Russian (it was because of what I learned from this textbook that one my professors in Russia told me, "You speak such beautiful Russian. Like Leo Tostoy!" which wasn't really the effect I was going for). But I appreciate its thoroughness and precision.

Schools


I have studied at several specialized language schools. I can't imagine a better one than La Escuela de Idiomas Nerja. Many of the teachers that I had in 2005 (and wrote about here) are now gone , but Paco Dueñas, who seemed to me to be the heart and soul of the institution, is still there, so I expect it is still as good. If you want to learn Spanish, I cannot imagine any faster way to do it than attend this school.

The Mandarin Training Center in Taipei, Taiwan, and the Russian Language & Culture Institute at Smolnyi in St. Petersburg, Russia, were less mind-blowing than La Escuela de Idiomas, but  and solid emersion options that served me well.


Podcasts and Online courses


These days, I find that I have little time for textbooks and certainly no time to go spend a couple months in Nerja. But I have a lot of time to listen to podcasts, especially in the gym (be kind to your ears and use a safe volume; there is no point in learning a language if you are just going to go deaf in 15 years. The real trick here is to find a gym that is quiet enough that you can keep the volume down). Here is what I listen to:


ChinesePod & SpanishPod -- the only resources on this list that require subscriptions -- are high quality mini lessons, which involve various exercises on their website, an optional phone app, and a downloadable podcast. I haven't found the phone app all that useful, and I can't say I ever actually had time to use the website, but I love the podcasts, which teach some new vocabulary based around a conversation and provide a lot of useful cultural context. Plus they are just fun to listen to.

On the topic of Internet sites, I should point out DuoLingo, brainchild of the incomparable Luis von Ahn, in which you can learn a new language (currently, you can choose between Spanish, French, German or English), while helping translate pages on the Internet (seriously). I haven't used it a great deal (again -- little time or patience for working through problem sets on the Internet), but I have poked around the Spanish site a bit, and it seems very good.

There are a couple other podcasts meant for language-learners that deserve mention. Notes in Spanish, while not as polished as SpanishPod, is free. The aptly-named "Slow Chinese" podcast provides short audio essays on various topics, using advanced vocabulary but at a slow pace (helpful for the learner).

Otherwise, I listen to a lot of news in foreign languages:  In Russian, I get my daily business news from the Vedemosti podcast (Vedemosti is the Russian equivalent of the Wall Street Journal). I also really like NHK, a Russian-language international news broadcast from Tokyo. I occasionally listen to BBSeva (from the BBC), but I find the half-hour format too constraining to listen to it regularly. In Spanish, my favorite show is from RFI (based in France), which covers mostly European and Latin-American news, though I sometimes also listen to Cinco Continentes, which is produced in Spain and similarly covers international news.

I am continually looking for short-form podcasts on non-news topics (as interesting as it is to hear the international news from several different perspectives, it does get repetitive), but I haven't had much luck, and many of the podcasts that I enjoyed have closed up shop. Right now, I occasionally listen to a science podcast called "A hombros de gigantes", which covers a range of scientific topics, both historical essays and current events, but takes around an hour to do so, and I don't always have an hour available.

Books

The other primary way I keep up my foreign languages is reading books in those languages. One particularly good option is to re-read a favorite book , translated into the language you want to work on. (Right now, I'm reading His Dark Materials in Russian.)

But the best is...


Many of the methods listed above are focused on receptive language. That's fine, but you learn more by actually trying to produce language. So nothing is better than having a friend who is fluent in the language and is willing to talk to you in it (and who has the discipline not to break back into English). Pen-pals are also good, even if the pen-pal is yourself. (When I keep a travel journal, mainly because I often travel to the same places repeatedly, and it's helpful to remember where that restaurant you really liked was. A little while ago, I started keeping it in Spanish so that I'd get at least some minimum amount of writing in Spanish in every so often.)

And personally I'm much more motivated to learn a language when I actually have someone to speak it with!


What you missed on the Web last week - 10/1/2012 edition


Forgetting kanji
Japanese computer users say they are forgetting how to handwrite kanji due to computer use. The number has increased from 10 years ago. An important question not addressed is whether they can write more kanji using a computer now than people could write by hand 10 years ago. (Hat tip: LanguageLog)

Another descriptivist/presciptivist debate
What I learned from it: I'm not the only one whose idiolect does not distinguish between relative clauses beginning with 'that' and 'which'.

Science spam
Neuroskeptic notices a dramatic rise in science spam (irrelevant conference announcements, lab products, etc.). Am I glad I'm not the only one, or sad for the world?

Animal research @ Freakonomics
A Freakonomics blogger writes that while he's generally against animal research, he supposes it might be OK if it led to saving human life. In response, Isis writes "This is someone who is pleading for us to understand animals, but is unwilling to understand where the basic health care that has enabled us (of the first world, primarily) to live as long as we do [comes from]". Or understand much of anything else. The author thinks one of the problems is that we don't understand animals well enough yet; presumably we'll understand them better if we stop studying them. The rest of the article has some other interesting flights of fancy.

PLoS retraction policy
PLoS declares that it will retract any paper, the conclusions of which turn out to be incorrect. I wish them luck in figuring out when something passes that threshold.

Is science growing too fast?
Some time ago, I worried that as more and more papers become published, it'll become impossible to keep up with the literature. Neuroskeptic crunches the numbers.