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Seth RobertsRSS Feed of this column.

I am a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and author of Read More »


Lesson 1. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

"You should go to the studio everyday," a University of Michigan art professor named Richard Sears told his students. "There's no guarantee that you'll make something good -- but if you don't go, you're guaranteed to make nothing." The same is true of science. Every research plan has flaws, often big, obvious ones -- but if you don't do anything, you won't learn anything.

Spy magazine had a wonderful column by Ellis Weiner called “How to Be a Grown-up”. (In one column, Weiner pointed out that homeless, applied to beggars, should be houseless.) Gordy Slack, a Bay Area science writer, has written the first book that might be called How to be a Grown-up About Evolution. It is an account of the Dover, PA trial in which parents sued the school board for requiring that intelligent design be mentioned in biology class.

From the Shangri-La Diet forums:

I stumbled on SLD when I, after a sinus-infection, lost my ability to smell and therefore also taste the flavor of the food I was eating. I could only tell if the food was sweet, sour or salty. I was devastated especially after reading that it could very well be permanent. During those days I noticed how much the flavor of the food means to me but also how my appetite was affected. I just didn´t want to eat. After 3-4 days my ability to smell started to return slowly slowly to my great joy and so did my appetite.

Human experimental psychologists (also called cognitive psychologists) are in a curious position. Their subject — the human brain — is obviously the most complicated thing studied by any science. Its components (neurons) are not only very numerous and densely-connected they are also very inaccessible. Moreover brains soak up their environments in a way that other objects of study do not. It isn’t impossible to do experiments, but it isn’t easy. You can’t keep a supply of humans in your lab, for example. The difficulty of human experimental psychology is the main reason I decided to study animal experimental psychology. But the complexity of the brain is not only a difficulty but also an advantage: It means there is the most to be learned.

How to reduce flies? Here’s one way:

A Chinese city suburb has set a bounty on dead flies in a bid to promote public hygiene . . . Xigong, a district of Luoyang in the central province of Henan, paid out more than 1,000 yuan ($125) for about 2,000 dead flies on July 1, the day it launched the scheme with the aim of encouraging cleanliness in residential areas. . . An Internet user said that although the office had good intentions, the action itself had made the district a laughing stock.

Elizabeth Rode, Paul Rozin, and Paula Durlach measured the remembered pleasure for meals. It didn’t matter how long the meal lasted. They called this “duration neglect.” To quote the article:

The existence of duration neglect implies that, with respect to memories of a meal, small portions of a highly favored dish will have roughly the same memorial effect as large portions.